Cappuccino Soul

Cappuccino Soul

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Under the Sun with Erik Rico

I recently heard two songs I really like by this musician. He has a smooth unique voice and sound that recalls vintage R&B with his song "Penny", and "Under the Sun" is an alternative, sort of acid jazz number. This is a real treat, especially during these days of high commercialism and overplayed songs on the massive uninspired radio stations around the country. This is some flavorful soul food for your ears.

Here he is with Missoless, and then click the link below to hear his new song "Penny" that's to be featured on his upcoming EP, "Erik Rico's Jukebox" Vol. 1. Here's one of North Carolina's own, Erik Rico:

Check out "Penny"

Friday, December 13, 2013

Store Clerks Sing for Tata Madiba (Mandela)

This flash mob at Woolworth's in South Africa was planning a Christmastime fundraiser but changed the song at the last minute to pay tribute to their brother and leader, Madiba (Nelson Mandela). The song is "Asimbonanga," and was written in the 1980s calling for Mandela's release from prison.

Friday, December 06, 2013

Free! Nelson Mandela

I was both saddened and joyful when I heard about the passing of Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela -- a REAL man, hero, and liberator of his people. After giving so much of his life, energy, and soul to freeing the beautiful people of South Africa, he deserves to rest easy and luxuriate in all of the comforts and bliss that God has planned for him. As President Barack Obama said, Mandela no longer belongs to us, he "belongs to the ages."

As he liberated his own people, he also liberated us. He made us realize what true commitment, dedication, compassion, and courage are and I'm sure he inpsired many freedom fighters to walk in his footsteps.

When Gigi saw the announcement on the news about Mandela's death, she stopped in her tracks and covered her face with her hands. She was visibly shaken by the news. Even the children recognize the warrior spirit and great courage of President Mandela. I introduced her to Nelson Mandela when she was no more than 3, as he and other famous black people were featured in the book I read to her every night, The ABCs of Black History. Along with other luminaries of black culture, such as Zora Neale Hurston, Paul Robeson, Wilma Rudolph, Martin Luther King and others, Nelson Mandela of course was the featured profile for the letter "N."

Rest in peace Madiba!

“And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others."

I also gave all of the heros of the book theme songs when I used to read it to Gigi. I would sing the song after each entry. Here's Mandela's song:

Click here to read some of the text from the book, The ABCs of Black History

Tuesday, December 03, 2013

Pharrell Williams: Happy

This song by Pharrell Williams will definitely make you HAPPY. It's from the movie Despicable Me 2, which I saw with Gigi last weekend. We loved it! Enjoy.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Photo: Peace and Equality

Peace and Equality
(Central Avenue, Charlotte)
Photo by Alicia Benjamin

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Photo: Diva on the Block

Diva on the Block
(Central Avenue, Charlotte)
Photo by Alicia Benjamin

Friday, November 22, 2013

Helping Girls in Kenya

by Megan Mukuria for Good

What is the simplest thing you can do to change the world? I’ve asked myself that question constantly since I moved to Kenya in 2001. My experiences have led to my wholehearted belief that investing in girls’ education is truly the best thing we can do to change the world.

And how to best invest in girls' education? I found my answer in a peculiar package... a sanitary pad. You may be asking, how can a pad dramatically change a woman’s life? Considering that pads are a luxury out of reach to 80% of women across East Africa, they are items that have quite the potential for impact.

Read the entire article.

Cameroonian Proverb

Better a mistake at the beginning than at the end. 
                                                                   -- Cameroon

Monday, October 28, 2013

Male Actors Needed for Reading of "for black boys...."

“for black boys who have considered homicide when the streets were too much”
by Keith Antar Mason

(Staged Reading 
in the Spoken Word Tradition)

African American male actors needed for:

Staged reading of "for black boys...." 
in the late winter in Charlotte, N.C.

Age range:     18 – 45
Contact:          Alicia               

In the days of tragedies like that of OSCAR GRANT, the 22-year-old man who was shot to death at the Fruitvale train station in 2009; the killing of 17-year-old TRAYVON MARTIN in 2012, by armed neighborhood watchman George Zimmerman; SEAN BELL, who was killed in 2006 when two police officers fired more than 50 shots at the 23-year-old and killed him; and JONATHAN FERRELL, the 24-year-old who was shot by a Charlotte police officer as he himself was seeking help – THIS PLAY IS RIGHT ON TIME.

Somehow i know, i wuz' born to die, to die too soon.”

Friday, October 25, 2013

Deep and Home: Alvin Ailey Dance Theater

Here's why I love the Alvin Ailey Dance Theater, all of its choreographers, dancers, and especially Judith Jamison, Alvin Ailey, and Rennie Harris.

Alvin Ailey Dance Theater: Beyond the Steps from Ford Foundation on Vimeo.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Steve McQueen: Never Forget

Here is Steve McQueen's profound answer to Tavis Smiley's question regarding why he wanted to make the film 12 Years a Slave (Oct. 15 airing of the Tavis show). Yes, he did, indeed, say the first line twice. He stresses that point, with good reason.

"To look again -- never forget. To look again -- never forget. And to remind ourselves where we are, where we come from and hopefully, where we can go in the future. You have to go back to your past to see where you're going."

Never Push

"Never push a loyal person to the point where they no longer give a damn."    -- Anonymous

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Shutdown Mess: FDA Stops Routine Food Inspections

As members of Congress and White House representatives work to reverse the U.S. government shutdown, now in its second week, here is some alarming news featured in Harpers Weekly Review:

The FDA confirmed that it had suspended routine inspections of the nation’s food, and a shortage of federal funding led several states to discontinue food benefits to poor women and children. “A bunch of little boys arguing that they want their way.”

Friends, be safe.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Gary Clark Jr.: You Saved Me

Not only can this brother from Austin write a good song, he also plays a mean guitar!

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Regarding Cecile Kyenge and Mario Barotelli

Below is a satirical letter entitled, "Letter to Italy’s Northern League Party" that I wrote to address the racist statements and attitudes of some of Italy's government officials in the country's Northern League Party that have been directed at Cecile Kyenge, Italy's first black Cabinet minister, and Italy's professional soccer player, Mario Barwuah Balotelli, a Ghanaian immigrant.

Mrs. Kyenge has been likened to both a prostitute and an orangutan by Italian government officials. Mr. Balotelli has been the recipient of a variety of racial slurs hurled at him while he has represented Italy's AC Milan team on many soccer fields. Balotelli has been called a monkey and "Italy's litte nigger" by not-so-adoring fans.

Letter to Italy’s Northern League Party
from Alicia Benjamin, United States

“You've got to keep the white and black separate!”
– Eugene "Bull" Connor, Alabama, 1961

Dear Members of the Northern League Party,

I’ve been reading with great interest about the unfortunate problems your country has been facing with the election of Congolese immigrant Cecile Kyenge, your country’s first Black Cabinet minister, and the popularity of Ghanaian immigrant soccer player, Mario Barwuah Balotelli. I’m writing to make a suggestion that might help your party and your country, in the long run, stop the influx of immigrants into your country. Also, if you can convince your country’s government to adopt these policies that I’m about to suggest, there’s no doubt that Italy will be able to retain its racial Italian purity. After all, isn’t it a pure white society, made up only of Italy’s original people that you dream of? I can see why you would want to protect the interests of the real Italians who have fought hard to maintain a certain culture and decent way of living.

I don’t know if you’re familiar with the Jim Crow Laws that a majority of the American states adopted from the late 19th century, until the 1960s. These laws, imposed by many U.S. cities and states, legally punished people for mixing together in public and private places. It seems to me, if you want to win the hearts and minds of the Italian people, then you must impress upon them the importance and necessity of keeping blacks and immigrants away from them. If you want to maintain your purity and morality, it’s important to separate the races. There’s no question about this.

Get these laws “on the books” as we say in the U.S., and you will be well on your way to achieving your desired goal of keeping the immigrants out of your country and the blacks in their places. These are laws that were once accepted and enforced in the United States. If presented well to the original Italian people — surely these regulations can be accepted and used again in your country.

Here is a description of many of the laws that were strongly enforced in many American states until the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that they were unconstitutional with its Brown vs. the Board of Education of Topeka case. (When drafting your own version of these laws, you should feel free to insert or add “immigrant” wherever the term “colored” or “black” is used. Consider the terms to be interchangeable.)

Buses and Trains

All railroad companies and workers operating the trains are required to provide separate cars for white and colored passengers. If the car needs to be divided between the two races, a partition must be used to divide the two sections. Separate waiting rooms must also be established for white and colored races. As passengers wait to get on the trains, two separate lines must be formed before they are allowed to board the train. If the race of a person is not clear, the conductor, or manager on duty, will be the sole judge of that person’s race. No touching, smiling, words, or gestures can be shared between the races. Hospitals and Other Medical Facilities Female nurses are not allowed to touch any black patients, especially black men. Blacks and whites will have separate entrances and waiting rooms. Separate rooms will be created for white and black patients, so that in no instance will whites and blacks share the same space or sleep in the same area. All surgical tools, medical supplies and equipment will be kept separate and used on the race that the tools, supplies and equipment are assigned to.


White and colored children will be taught in separate schools. No books will be shared and are not interchangeable. Textbooks will remain with the race first using them. Colored teachers will teach the immigrant children, and white children will be taught only by white teachers. If there are no colored teachers available, a white teacher may temporarily teach the immigrant children.

Cohabitation and Intermarriage

Any colored person and white person who are found to live in or occupy the same room in the evening will be punished by imprisonment up to 12 months or pay a fine of no more than $500.

It is unlawful for whites to marry any person other than a white person. Any marriage that violates this law will be void. A nonwhite person is any person who has one-eighth part or more of African; Asian; American Indian; East Indian; Aboriginal; indigenous Mexican, Caribbean, Central and South American; or Polynesian blood.


No colored person or immigrant will be buried on the same ground as any white person.

My friends, I believe that if you can convince your government to adopt these comprehensive laws, then your immigrant problem will be over. My guess is that not many immigrants, blacks, or coloreds would want to stay in your country very long after you’ve adopted these regulations.

In closing, I pray that you have great success with maintaining the purity and sanctity of the real and original Italian people.

Your friend in the United States of America

Friday, October 04, 2013

Loveless: My Wounds are Deep and Gaping

From "Loveless" by 4 Hero and Ursula Rucker

This is really about the Earth and her children, but read into it what you will:

They've loved me as would an unfaithful lover,
part-time and half-assed,
Now unmasked
is their deceit.
No more sweet,
sneaky thrill seekings.
Tomorrow brings
nevers and nothings.
Ended days
for my world
and its unchanging ways.
apocalyptic truths
of revelations hasten our omega
my children's and mine.
Each time
my breath, skin and tears are polluted and poisoned by their careless games and toys and
this is only the beginning
of my children's sinning.

Read all the lyrics here.

Wednesday, October 02, 2013

We Need a Laugh: President Richard Pryor


"When we fulfill the purpose that God has given us, we are unstoppable." 
         -- Mike Minter, former NFL safety, 1997-2006, the Carolina Panthers

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Black Males: What They're Supposed to Be.....

Question Bridge: Black Males is an innovative transmedia art project that facilitates a dialogue between a critical mass of Black men from diverse and contending backgrounds; and creates a platform for them to represent and redefine Black male identity in America.

This exhibition opens October 25th at The Harvey B. Gantt Center for African American Arts and Culture in Charlotte, with Question Bridge artists Bayete Ross Smith and Chris Johnson scheduled to attend.

Question Bridge: Black Males - Project Trailer from Question Bridge on Vimeo.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Sold Down the River: 12 Years a Slave

Starring Chiwetel Ejiofor, Alfre Woodard, Michael Fassbender, and Brad Pitt, 12 Years a Slave opens in theaters on October 18. GO SEE IT.

Toronto Film Festival interviews:


Monday, September 16, 2013

Saturday Musings

Photos from Amelie's in NoDa and Pizza Fusion on Metropolitan Avenue

Friday, September 13, 2013

The Thunder, Perfect Mind

I'm compiling pieces for upcoming performances and this will definitely be included in my repertoire -- From the Nag Hammadi (The Thunder, Perfect Mind - excerpt):

I am the first and the last.
I am the honored one and the scorned one.
I am the whore and the holy one.
I am the wife and the virgin.
I am the mother and the daughter.
I am the members of my mother.
I am the barren one
and many are her sons.

A friend asked what's the back story on this excerpt and I thought the answer provided such good information that I'm including the anwer here:

"The Thunder, Perfect Mind" is a poem discovered among the Gnostic manuscripts at Nag Hammadi in 1945.  An Egyptian peasant found the manuscripts, which date back to the 3rd century A.D. The Gospel of Thomas is also among those writings found. 

Friday, September 06, 2013

Before I Die.....

You can now let the world know what you want to do before you die by participating in a public art project in Columbia, S.C. that allows people to record, in public, one item on their “bucket list.”

The project, called “Before I Die,” was created in 2011 by artist Candy Change who began the project by inviting people to complete the phrase “Before I Die…” on an abandoned house in her New Orleans neighborhood after someone she loved died.

“Before I Die” is now a global art movement that invites people to reflect on their lives and share their personal aspirations in a public space.

Here’s how it works:

A wall with the headline “Before I Die” is placed in a public place and passersby are encouraged to complete this statement: “Before I die I want to______________.” People from locations around the world have shared their aspirations, dreams, fears, and wonder about their lives at "Before I Die" outlets with the public

The Columbia “Before I Die” project will be displayed along temporary walls on 60 feet of construction fencing on the 1600 block of Main Street until the last day in September. The movement has spread globally with walls created around the world in such places as Baltimore, Winton-Salem, Boston, New York City, Los Angeles, Wilmington, Del., London, Chile, Haiti, Brazil, India, South Korea and many other locations – 325 walls in over 55 countries in 25 languages have been erected.

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Do Your Work

You have to find a way to do your work, because if you don't do your work, you really ARE useless.
                                                                    - James Baldwin

Friday, August 23, 2013

What Doesn't Hurt You

"Love doesn't hurt, the misuse of love does."  

                                                     -- Camille Hines

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Ahhhh! Carolina Beach 2

Ahhhhh! Carolina Beach

We tried to experience Wrightsville Beach in Wilmington, N.C., but it was way too crowded, so we moseyed on down to Carolina Beach a little farther south, along the oceanfront, and I'm glad we did. What a relaxing and serene experience.

Friday, August 09, 2013

George Duke: Just for You

George Duke was a masterful musician and I'm going to miss him about as much as any of his fans out there. I love the more popular songs, but for me, it was his slow, sensuous songs with the odd harmonies that I loved the most. Three songs come to mind when I talk about this: "Just for You," "The Way I Feel" and "No Rhyme or Reason." There is also one of the upbeat songs that I love to dance to that's also a masterpiece, especially during the instrumental sections -- "I Want You for Myself." Here's "Just for You" and "The Way I Feel," since listeners are less likely to have heard these. R.I.P. George Duke and thank you for enriching our lives with your songs, and I appreciate the world influences you infused in much of your work.

 I just realized that the first words that this woman is singing are: "Strong, and wise, and free" Here are the links to "No Rhyme or Reason" and "I Want You For Myself"

Thursday, August 08, 2013

Cheerwine, anyone?

This is the first taste of Cheerwine I've had since I moved to North Carolina in 2007. Bottoms up!

Created in 1917 in Salisbury, North Carolina by a general store owner named L.D. Peeler, this singular soft drink with a hint of wild cherry and a bubbly effervescence became an immediate hit. Folks from all around the county came to LD's store to give it a try.

Soon cold cases all over North Carolina were filled with the "Nectar of North Carolina." It was known to put a smile on everyone's lips who gave it a try, and the Legend was born. (from

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

The Color Black

The writer over at Dwellings of Thought, Ali Altaf Mian, wrote about the Muslim practice of turning ones body toward the Ka’ba during ritual prayer and the significance of facing a dark building covered in black cloth when praying. In his discussion of what the color black represents, he says this:

The Ka‘ba is covered in black for a reason. The color black contains all shades of pigment. The color black foregoes all other colors in its ability to absorb light; it is the ultimate sponge of radiance among the colors. Symbolically, then, the Ka‘ba absorbs all colors that spill out of the divine. The color black does not reflect or emit light elsewhere; light goes into it, losing its identity in the depth of the color black. Black is the site where difference of tonalities lives fully. Black is indeed beautiful.

Indeed ...

Click here to read the entire post by Ali Altaf Mian

Monday, July 29, 2013

Faithful and Trustworthy

Most men will proclaim each his own goodness,
But who can find a faithful man?
-- Proverbs 20:6

But let your ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No,’ ‘No.’ For whatever is more than these is from the evil one.

-- Matthew 5:37

Gullah version:

Mus jes say ‘yeah’ or ‘no,’ cause any oda wod come scraight fom de Debil.

Found Wisdom

Don't believe everything you think. -- bumper sticker

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

2 Timothy 1:7

"God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind." -- 2 Timothy 1:7

From the Gullah Bible:

"De Sperit dat God gii we ain mek we scaid. God Sperit mek we scrong fa wok fa God. E pit lob een we haat an mek we able fa trol wesef."

Monday, July 22, 2013

Dog Days

"You think it's easy?... I gotta have all the ideas and I gotta do it alone." -- Al Pacino in Dog Day Afternoon

Friday, July 19, 2013

Film: Mandela! Long Walk to Freedom

This film, Mandela! Long Walk to Freedom hits theaters on November 29.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Sing! Omar

This is the CD that I'm playing in my car nonstop these days. As someone commented on Youtube, "It hurts me to think how good this man sings and doesn't get the props he deserves."

Omar has a definite gift and I'm sorry that I've only just heard about him very recently. He's got a diverse style that's a lovely soul, brazilian, salsa, hip hop, and acid jazz mix. I don't expect to get tired of his music any time soon.

Check out Omar:

In Trayvon's Name: A Teachable Moment

Cognitive Dissonance

Conflict that occurs when beliefs or assumptions are contradicted by new information. The concept was introduced by the psychologist Leon Festinger (1919–89) in the late 1950s. He and later researchers showed that, when confronted with challenging new information, most people seek to preserve their current understanding of the world by rejecting, explaining away, or avoiding the new information or by convincing themselves that no conflict really exists.

University to Offer Class on Trayvon Martin
(The National Review, July 12, 2013)

The Trayvon Martin case is already making its way into the classroom. This fall, George Mason University in Virginia will offer a sociology class called “Race and Politics, Trayvon Martin.”

According to the syllabus, the class will discuss the connection between race and politics in American history and the Martin case will be presented alongside historic cases such the Supreme Court’s Plessy v. Ferguson Supreme Court decision. Martin will also be discussed alongside African-American figures such as Martin Luther King Jr., Emmett Till, and Rodney King.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

George Zimmerman: Taking the Law

From Harper's Weekly Review (July 16, 2013)

This speaks for itself:

In Sanford, Florida, George Zimmerman, the neighborhood-watch volunteer who in February 2012 shot and killed Trayvon Martin, an unarmed black 17-year-old, was found not guilty of second-degree murder and manslaughter by reason of self-defense. “The only one who was injured at all, except for the gunshot,” said Zimmerman’s attorney, “was George Zimmerman.” The trial judge ordered the return of the gun Zimmerman used to kill Martin, protesters demonstrated in cities across the United States, and Zimmerman’s family expressed concern about his safety. “There are people,” said Zimmerman’s brother, “that would want to take the law into their own hands.”

Rest in Peace Trayvon.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Arts of Africa at The Mint


Recently Gigi and I took advantage of a free admission event at the Mint Museum - Randolph. Among the exhibits that we saw were: "The Genius of Richard Caton Woodville," "The Fashions of Dior, Balmain, Saint Laurent, and more," "American Ceramics," "Threads of Identity: Contemporary Maya Textiles" and Arts of Africa: A collection of art forms showcasing the vast cultural, physical, historical, and religious diversity that can be found across the African continent. We had fun!

Yes, that's Gigi behind the mask.

Tuesday, July 09, 2013


If I am in harmony with my family, that is success.
                                                 -- Ute Proverb

Wednesday, July 03, 2013

No More Time

There comes a point when editing copy that you have to say, "I'm just not going to put any more time into this. This is as much as I can do with it."

Sadly, this is also true of some relationships.

Saturday, June 29, 2013

Black Ivory: You and I

"No spoken words express my love for you."

I was looking for a song and came across this one. This tune is filled with emotion, love, persistence, and a certain kind of innocence. It's certainly very touching. I'm dedicating this song to a beautiful California couple -- Cheryl and Robert. Keep on keepin' on y'all.

Friday, June 28, 2013

Winter Hat in the Summer Time

I took Gigi over to a friend's house today and before we headed for the door I spotted a winter hat on her head. I said, "Sweetie it's way too hot for that hat." (It's 90 degrees here y'all). Thankfully she took it off, but frankly, it's the kind of thing I would have done at her age......sometimes some of the crazy gets passed on.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Park Avenue: Money, Power, and the American Dream

“What’s hard to understand about this relentless push to cut taxes for the rich is that they already have so much more than the rest of us.” -- from Park Avenue: Money, Power, and the American Dream (Directed by Alex Gibney)

Friday, June 21, 2013

The Roots: Organic Hip Hop Jazz

I’ve been looking for this song, "I'm Our Deah" for years! From Organix (The Roots):
Abstract organic artistry Thought is he, that I be Gravity does not hold me down As I rise from the ground into sound Melting browns drip like wax Building blocks, nappy cat Blazes acts, filling facts Mental sax, sweet mental sax Sweet mental horn, taking the physical form Of a storm of abnorm-ality, re-ality's Lo-cality, vo-cality, low calorie NOT
(Check out the spoken word segment at the end.)

Thursday, June 20, 2013

With a Love Like That

Even after all this time
The sun never says to the earth,
"You owe Me."
What happens
With a love like that,
It lights the
~ Hafiz

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Friday, June 14, 2013

Keith Ellison Speaks Out Against Cuts to Food Stamps Program

For those of us who have had to rely on Food Stamps at one time or another in our lives, and for all of us who care about other people's well being, we appreciate Minnesota U. S. Representative Keith Ellison (D-MN), who spoke on the floor of the House of Representatives yesterday to criticize a $20 billion cut to SNAP, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, which helps millions of Americans who have fallen on hard times, feed their families.

Thanks for Representin' us all Mr. Ellison!

Check him out:

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Gigi's 5th Grade Graduation Ceremony

Entering the room
I couldn’t have been prouder as Gigi graduated from elementary school with flying colors last week. She was recognized for being in the Math Olympiad group (a math class for students with high math scores), given the IB award for consistently demonstrating the character trait of being Open-Minded, and she is a member of the National Elementary Honor Society. Go Gigi!

Principal Alicia Hash gives Giovanni her 5th grade graduation certificate.

Also, check out how excited she was to see her second grade teacher Mrs. Jenkins, who retired after she so lovingly taught Gigi and her classmates three years ago.

Gigi spots her 2nd grade teacher.
" I can't believe how tall you are!"  
"I'm so proud of you!"

Tuesday, June 04, 2013

Paul Robeson Film In the Works

Paul Robeson
Here's some great news -- In the pre-production phase is a film about the great Paul Robeson.

The film "Robeson," is the true story of a great American and the most talented all-round African-American in history -- a graduate of Rutgers and Columbia Universities, professional football player, lawyer, actor, singer, orator, political and civil rights activist, international star, and tireless campaigner for human rights. (IMDb)

Director: Darrell Roodt
Playing Paul Robeson: David Harewood

David Harewood

Friday, May 31, 2013

Artificial Intelligence Explanation Even I Understand

I was honored when, earlier this week, my friend Adelson de Brito, a Professor of Physics in Brazil, decided to break down some very scientific information about Artificial Intelligence, in a way that even I, more of an artist than academic, can understand. Here, Adelson (who speaks Portuguese and many other languages) writes simply and beautifully about professor Andrew Ng’s research, AI, and algorithms — concepts I probably would have no hope of grasping had it not been for Adelson's fine craft as a teacher.

Adelson’s students are blessed to have him. Thanks again Adelson!

Here's the article:

[Not long ago] I read [an article about] Dr. Andrew Ng.

When he was a kid, he dreamed of building machines that could think like people, but when he got to college and came face-to-face with the Artificial Intelligence (or simply AI) research of the day, he gave up. Later, as a professor, he would actively discourage his students from pursuing the same dream. Later on, fortunately Professor Ng changed his mind back to his primary visions of AI. He reportedly claims his 180 degree navigation course correction took place when he ran into the “one algorithm” hypothesis, popularized by Jeff Hawkins, an AI entrepreneur who’d dabbled in neuroscience research. And the dream returned.

Well, Andrew Ng (born 1976, Chinese: 吳恩達) is an associate professor in the Department of Computer Science and the Department of Electrical Engineering by courtesy at Stanford University, and he works as the Director of the Stanford Artificial Intelligence Lab. He also co-founded Coursera, an online education platform, with Daphne Koller. He researches primarily in artificial intelligence machine learning, and deep learning. His early work includes the Stanford Autonomous Helicopter project, which developed one of the most capable autonomous helicopters in the world, and the STAIR (STanford Artificial Intelligence Robot) project, which resulted in a Robot Operation System (ROS), a widely used open-source robotics software platform. Ng is also the author or co-author of over 100 published papers in machine learning, robotics and related fields, and some of his work in computer vision has been featured in a series of press releases and reviews. In 2008, he was named to the MIT Technology Review TR35 as one of the top 35 innovators in the world under the age of 35.

In 2007, Ng was awarded a Sloan Fellowship. For his work in Artificial Intelligence, he is also a recipient of the Computers and Thought Award (Wikipedia, 2013).

Well at this time and place I think of my friend Alicia Benjamin
and will try to explain what is an algorithm.

In mathematics and computer science, an algorithm is a step-by-step procedure, to be used for calculations as much as a cake recipe is worth for making cakes.

Algorithms are used for calculation, data processing, and automated reasoning. It is an effective method expressed as a finite, concise list or set of well-defined instructions for calculating, for example, the value of a mathematical function. Starting from an initial state and an initial “input”, the instructions work as a combined set of actions designed to stimulate the whole process to proceed through a finite number of well-defined successive states, eventually producing an “output” and terminating at a final ending state.

According to Ng, in the early days of AI, the prevailing opinion was that human intelligence derived from thousands of simple agents working in concert, what MIT’s Marvin Minsky called “The Society of Mind.” In his book Minsky brilliantly portrays the mind as a "society" of tiny components that are themselves mindless.

To achieve AI, engineers believed, they would have to build and combine thousands of individual computing modules. One agent, or algorithm, would mimic language. Another would handle speech. And so on. In short, they believed the brains disposed of one algorithm to be used at a time and each one would deal specifically with the task that fits its particular nature. Well, to “reproduce” such a machine seemed an insurmountable feat.

The good news as seen by Ng is the solidity of the concept introduced by Minsky aside with the concept of “one algorithm” hypothesis popularized by Jeff Hawkins.

Deep Learning is a first step in this new direction. Basically, it involves building neural networks — networks that mimic the behavior of the human brain. Much like the brain, these multi-layered computer networks can gather information and react to it. They can build up an understanding of what objects look or sound like.

Now it is time to raise a simple question: What are the primary ideas behind the quest of men after a society that offers more time to have fun and less time to spend with bothering tasks of a mechanical daily life?

First, it was the Industrial Revolution that brought about the transition to new manufacturing processes. It occurred in the period from about 1760 to sometime between 1820 and 1840. This transition included going from hand production methods to machines, new chemical manufacturing and iron production processes, improved efficiency of water power, the increasing use of steam power and development of machine tools. The transition also included the change from wood and other bio-fuels to coal. The Industrial Revolution began in Great Britain and within a few decades had spread to Western Europe and the United States.

Then the Information Age, that I will refer to by the acronym “IA” was advanced by a society marked by the capitalization on the computer microminiaturization advances, with a transition spanning from the advent of the personal computer in the late 1970s, to the Internet's reaching a critical mass in the early 1990s, and the adoption of such technology by the public in the two decades after 1990. Bringing about a fast evolution of technology in daily life, as well as of educational life style, the Information Age has allowed rapid global communications and networking to shape modern society.

Next will be the Artificial Intelligence “AI” Revolution with its machines or software, and is also a branch of computer science that studies and develops intelligent machines and software. As we have seen by the topics we discussed above, the central problems (or goals) of AI research include reasoning, knowledge, planning, learning, communication, perception and the ability to move and manipulate objects.

At the end of the day, industry is becoming more information-intensive and less labor and capital-intensive. This trend has important implications for the workforce; workers are becoming increasingly productive as the value of their labor decreases. However, there are also important implications for capitalism itself; not only is the value of labor decreased, the value of capital is also diminished. In the classical model, investments in human capital and financial capital are important predictors of the performance of a new venture. However, as demonstrated by Mark Zuckerberg and Facebook, it now seems possible for a group of relatively inexperienced people with limited capital to succeed on a large scale.

To see Adelson's original blog post, along with references used for the piece, click here.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

The People's Report: Wilmington, Delaware

Yasser Payne
This documentary is a long time coming. For those who know all of the shades of Wilmington, Delaware, UP CLOSE, the devastating effects of an ineffective education system and lack of job opportunities in the city is not news. Now the documentary, The People's Report, brings the despair and dichotomy between the haves and have nots in Wilmington to light in a most provocative way.
Kudos to Yasser Payne, University of Delaware Associate Professor of Black American Studies, who put a lot of work, research, and passion into helping to get this film made.

The People’s Report, a Teleduction/Hearts and Minds film production that reveals the in-depth details about the prolific violence and apathy in Wilmington, will be shown at the Delaware Center for Contemporary Arts next week on Thursday, May 30, 2013 at 12 p.m.

Doubling as a research project and film, The People’s Report, includes data collected by Payne and 15 Wilmington residents (21 to 48 years old) from Southbridge and the East Side that Payne trained to participate in the project. Payne and these community recruits created a survey, conducted more than 500 interviews, and analyzed their findings. His process, called participatory action research (PAR), involves using members of the target population, as part of the research team.

“We equipped them all with a skill set,” Payne told radio station WDDE. “They received two months of training, the same as doctoral students get, and they were paid $17 an hour.” Payne, who grew up in Harlem and Englewood, N.J., told WDDE that the PAR approach is effective because “the people in the community that is being studied are also experts.” Their lives are invested in the communities and so they are vigorously motivated to gather information and ultimately, to help implement change.

The opening of the film gives an overview of what’s to come, as these words are shown on the screen:

“Wilmington, Delaware is a small city of 73,000 people.”

“Its violent crime rate per capita is among the worst in the nation.”

“In 2010 a team of 15 researchers, part of a Participatory Action Research project took to the streets, armed with cameras and clipboards to find out why.”

Here are some of the gripping questions the PAR survey asks:

-- How many times have you yourself actually been shot with a gun? -- How many times have you heard about someone else getting shot with a gun? -- Have you ever had a relative killed with a gun?
A majority of the survey respondents reported losing at least one family member (55 percent) and/or at least one friend (59 percent) to gun violence. About 25 percent indicated that they had been attacked or stabbed with a knife at least once, and another 20 percent reported that they had been shot at least once.

The survey also found that 44 percent of the respondents did not have a high school diploma, 64 percent total (70 percent of the men), were unemployed, and 64 percent of the respondents lived in low-income housing.

We also learn from the film that for the first time in three years, a male student from South Bridge graduated from high school.

“The loss of jobs and quality school opportunities is predicative of physical violence,” Payne says. “We are advocating for Wilmington and the state of Delaware to find innovative ways to bring more high quality jobs and better educational opportunities to these communities.”

But Payne hopes that the intervention in the lives of the PAR team members and the issues that the film raises will help to turn things around in Wilmington.

“The PAR team is required to organize an action agenda to complement the data analysis,” Payne said. In other words, the PAR team is expected to formulate ways to make their communities better.

If you plan to be in the Wilmington area on Wednesday, May 29 — Go see this film!

Click here for more information about The People’s Report, directed by Sharon Baker and produced by Daniel Collins.

Go here to register to see The People’s Report and attend the lecture following the film.

Monday, May 20, 2013

My Peace I Give To You

"Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid." -- John 14:27

Gullah version:

"Now dat A da gwine way fom yah, A da gii oona peace een oona haat. Me own peace A da gii oona. A ain da gii oona de kind ob peace dat de people an de ting een dis wol yah da gii. Oona mus dohn leh oona haat be hebby bout nottin. Mus dohn be scaid."

oona means you

Thursday, May 09, 2013

If Somebody Hurts You: Message for Children Only

What they're doing in Spain to help child abuse victims:

Child Abuse Hotline Ad Uses Photographic Trick That Makes It Visible Only To Children From The Huffington Post, May 6:

A Spanish organization called Fundación ANAR, or Aid to Children and Adolescents at Risk, created a bus-stop advertisement in April that features the group's hotline number for children to report abuse. But by using a process called lenticular photography, the company made the hotline number, and much of the ad's content, visible only to those under a certain height -- presumably children.

Lenticular photography allows companies to create an image in a way that lets viewers see one of several different photos, depending on where they're standing. In the case of ANAR's ad, anyone taller than 4 feet 5 inches -- the average height of a 10-year-old, according to the group -- would see a picture of a boy with an unmarked face and the following message: "Sometimes, child abuse is only visible to the child suffering it." Anyone under that height would see an image of the boy with a bruised face, the organization's hotline number (116-111) in white text, and the message, "If somebody hurts you, phone us and we'll help you."

Tuesday, May 07, 2013

Children and Guns

Children and Guns -- Should those two words go together?

From Harper's Weekly Review (May 7, 2013):

A five-year-old Kentucky boy shot his two-year-old sister with a .22-caliber Crickett youth rifle, and a 13-year-old Florida boy shot his six-year-old sister with a handgun. “The little boy’s used to shooting the little gun,” said a Kentucky coroner. “The little boy just sat there rocking back and forth,” said a Florida neighbor.

Monday, May 06, 2013

No Moor by Shafiq Husayn

Here's a strange, but rejuvenating and funky tune by Shafiq Husayn:

(This song really did change my mood.)

Wednesday, May 01, 2013

Italian Racists and Cecile Kyenge

New Black Appointment Showcases Racist Italy
by The Associated Press, May 1 2013

ROME — It was hailed as a giant step forward for racial integration in a country that has long been ill at ease with its growing immigrant classes.

But Cecile Kyenge’s (pictured) appointment as Italy’s first Black Cabinet minister has instead exposed the nation’s ugly race problem, a blight that flares regularly on the soccer pitch with racist taunts and in the diatribes of xenophobic politicians – but has now raised its head at the center of political life.
One politician derided what he called Italy’s new “bonga bonga government.”

On Wednesday, amid increasing revulsion over the reaction, the government authorized an investigation into neo-fascist websites whose members called Kyenge “Congolese monkey” and other epithets.
Kyenge, 48, was born in the Democratic Republic of Congo and moved to Italy three decades ago to study medicine. An eye surgeon, she lives in Modena with her Italian husband and two children. She was active in local center-left politics before winning a seat in the lower Chamber of Deputies in February elections.
Premier Enrico Letta tapped Kyenge to be minister of integration in his hybrid center-left and center-right government that won its second vote of confidence Tuesday. In his introductory speech to Parliament, Letta touted Kyenge’s appointment as a “new concept about the confines of barriers giving way to hope, of unsurpassable limits giving way to a bridge between diverse communities.”
Unfortunately, his praise and that of others has been almost drowned out by the racist slurs directed at Kyenge by politicians of the anti-immigrant Northern League party, an on-again, off-again ally of long-serving ex-premier Silvio Berlusconi, and members of neo-fascist Internet groups.
In addition to his “bonga bonga” slur, Mario Borghezio, a European parliamentarian for the League, warned in an interview with Radio 24 that Kyenge would try to “impose tribal traditions” from her native Congo on Italy.
Kyenge on Tuesday responded to the insults, thanking those who had come to her defense and taking a veiled jab at the vulgarity of her critics. “I believe even criticism can inform if it’s done with respect,” she tweeted.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Think Not of Bombings, but of a Red Balloon

Questlove of The Roots tweeted something very thoughtful last night regarding the Boston Marathon bombing tragedy. He wrote:

Parents please monitor your kids' TV activity. Watching and rewatching [the] explosions is way too traumatic for young minds to process.

Of course he's right, but I'm sure many parents were way too caught up in the emotion and shock of the whole devastation to remember this. I heeded Questlove's advice and steered Gigi away from the news coverage of the bombings. But my inquisitive child was.....well .....curious, and so she googled the event and read about it on the internet. A few minutes later she came to me crying because it was all so sad and depressing.

To get her mind off the doom and gloom I turned to Hulu Plus and we looked for an uplifting family movie to watch. She saw a photo of a little boy holding a balloon and requested that we watch that film. It turned out to be The Red Balloon, a fantasy short film by French filmmaker, Albert Lamorisse, that features his son Pascal as a boy in Paris who finds a red balloon that follows and befriends him. It's a sheer pleasure to watch the joy that this inanimate object brings to the boy. I won't tell the ending, but the message to me was: When somebody takes something that you love away from you, God showers you with way more than you initially had.

And to my delight, the film is available for viewing for free, so I've placed it here for you to see. Enjoy! (...whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.) -- Philippians 4:8

The Red Balloon won the following awards after its release: Louis Delluc Prize, Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay, Short Film Palme d'Or, BAFTA Special Award (Film)

Friday, April 12, 2013

The Art of Visual Storytelling

I took the plunge and took a three week course called The Art of Visual Storytelling recently and I'm so glad that I did. Since the price was right ($15), I couldn't imagine passing up the opportunity.

Although I don't have a background in drawing or animation, I figured the class would get the juices flowing and inspire me with other projects -- and that's exactly what it did! I also figured the teacher, Daniel Gonzales, an Animator at Walt Disney Animation Studios, would be able to pass on some valuable knowledge that I'd be able to take with me anywhere. And I was right. He turned out to be a really good teacher with patience and an ability to present the basic principles of the craft for people like me who have no background in it.

Here are a couple of the images that I came up with for the class:


Now I'm looking forward to continuing the creativity in my writing and video production.

Thanks Daniel!