Monthly Archives: May 2019


Lovely Probus extended walk last week. Beautiful weather! We revisited Hackfall woods, near Grewelthorpe, repeating a walk from about three years ago.

A visiting speaker from the Woodland Trust at one of our recent Probus meetings spoke about it glowingly, so it seemed right to do the walk again,

The walk didn’t disappoint. It’s a five mile walk through the woods – down to the river Ure, stopping at the numerous follies and features that make this place such a treasure, before looping back up the side of the valley to a ‘mock’ ruined castle.

The previous walk had been in the autumn, rather muddy underfoot – much better this time, though even after this dry period that we’re in currently there were a few genuinely muddy spots.

The paths are well signposted, so the chances of us getting lost were …. smaller!

View from Mowbray ‘Castle’

One lovely feature is a large pond, with a very large fountain that could be started by cranking a handle. Spectacular!

Now that’s a Fountain!

Then we got lost. Fatally not ‘walking the plan’,  having planned the walk, we went off on an interesting diversion. Very pretty stream and waterfall, a beautiful path, disappearing into bluebells and the wild garlic ground cover. A scramble up a steep slope took us back to a ‘proper’ path, sadly the wrong side of a gate with a ‘no admittance’ sign on it! uh oh!

A stream in Hackfall Woods

We safely negotiated the rest of the lovely walk, and had a nice lunch at the Sawley Arms with four non-walking Probus colleagues.

It’s good to be alive!

A.I. 2B Awe not 2B?

I’ve had an interest in artificial intelligence over the years. When I was a university researcher in the 70s and 80s I ‘dabbled’ with what was then called ‘expert systems’, in an attempt to improve decision making in medicine. A colleague and I developed a system to help medical researchers choose an appropriate statistical test to apply to the research data they’d gathered, and then apply it and attempt to interpret the results – without recourse to a statistical expert (me!).

It showed limited ‘intelligence’ – giving results that were generally as good as ‘experts’, but when it got it wrong, it got it really wrong! It didn’t really ‘understand’ the context it was working in. Not a good attribute if the expert you are trying to replace is a doctor!

Siri, Apple’s virtual assistant first got into Iphones and Ipads in 2011, so she’s (I think of her as female, but it could be any gender or nationality)  only 8 years old, but she’s pretty smart. Siri uses voice queries to answer natural language questions, make recommendations and delegate requests to a variety of internet services. She’s personalised, so gets to know what you’ve done before, and she uses machine learning to improve her responses to your questions as she gets to know you better.

So far so OK (I hope). Fast forward to the present. I was telling my wife about the excellent talk we’d had at Probus about zeppelins, and the fact that Count von Zeppelin had picked up the idea from a trip he’d made as a young man to observe the US Civil War, where they’d used hydrogen balloons carrying people as a way of observing what was going on in a battle.

Well, I was suddenly interrupted by the iphone in my pocket telling me all about the American Civil War! Amazing, but a bit worrying. I hadn’t asked Siri a question – indeed I’ve never knowingly used Siri. And here was this ‘advisor’, unbidden by me, being very ‘helpful’ in providing me with information (that I could have looked up by pressing a few buttons – but obviously don’t ever need to now!).

So, what worries me now is that, as I tend to keep my Iphone on all the time, just what is Siri listening to? I’ve got a spy in my house, apparently! And just what information is Siri passing on to companies about the views that I, and my family and friends, are discussing?

PS If I’ve ever said anything uncharitable about any of my fellow Probus members, it’s not true – Siri’s made it up! I don’t think she really likes me…. Paranoia rules K.O!