Hawking’s voice was his tool and trademark

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By , 18/09/2019 20:44

The technology of Stephen Hawking’s means of communication evolved but he chose the original voice.Stephen Hawking’s computer-generated voice was known to millions of people around the world, a robotic drawl that somehow enhanced the profound impact of the cosmological secrets he revealed.

The technology behind his means of communication was upgraded through the years, offering him the chance to sound less like a machine, but he insisted on sticking to the original voice because it had effectively become his own.

The renowned theoretical physicist, who died on Wednesday aged 76, lost his ability to speak more than three decades ago after a tracheotomy linked to complications in the motor neurone disease he was diagnosed with at the age of 21.

He later told the BBC he had considered committing suicide by not breathing after the operation, but he said the “reflex to breathe was too strong”.

Hawking started to communicate again using his eyebrows to indicate letters on a spelling card.

A Cambridge University colleague contacted a company which had developed a program to allow a user to select words using a hand clicker, according to a 2014 report in Wired magazine.

It was linked to an early speech synthesiser, which turned Hawking’s text into spoken language.

In 1997, PC chipmaker Intel Corp stepped in to improve Hawking’s computer-based communication system, and in 2014 it upgraded the technology to make it faster and easier for Hawking to communicate.

It used algorithms developed by SwiftKey, a British software company best known for its predictive text technology used in smartphones.

Hawking provided lectures and other texts to help the algorithm learn his language, and it could predict the word he wanted to use by just inputting 10-15 per cent of the letters.

But despite the upgrades to the software, one thing remained constant: the voice itself.

Hawking stuck with the sound produced by his first speech synthesiser made in 1986.

It helped cement his place in popular culture.

“I keep it because I have not heard a voice I like better and because I have identified with it,” he said in 2006.

Up Front with Tony Butterfield: Why the Knights will need to improve against Canberra

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By , 18/09/2019 20:44

THAT’S GOLD: Newcastle captain Mitchell Pearce and teammates celebrate after their extra-time with against Manly. Picture: Darren Pateman

ST George Illawarraand Melbourne were the most impressive teams out of the blocks in round one of the NRL.

The Titans and the Knights won on the bell, the Warriors foretold of the usual promise and the Tigers’ rebuild is so good, so far. At the foot of the mountain, the Panthers laid to rest, for now, any conjecture over the morale at the joint. The Johnathan Thurston-led Cowboys notched an impressive win against 2016 premiers and short-priced contenders, the Sharks. If the opening exchanges offer any clue, there will be plenty of congestion fighting for seventh and eighth spots come finals time.

Read more: Knights pack primed for next raid

The reduced interchange allowance, while seemingly minor in the scheme of things, appears to have ushered in a leaner, more dynamic physical profile for the modern footballer.

It was also interesting to see the referees stamping down on rolling the ball in the ruck. Irritating for some as we correct the open-slather legacy of last season, but them’s the rules. Hopefullythey stick to their guns.

Otherwise, some big games this week for those who tasted defeat in round one– woe betide any of those who finish this weekend without a win. The other side of the same coin will see some teams race to a four-point lead on the table. Big stakes already, and we’ve just got started.

On the home front, things have kicked off nicely for the local team. On the back of a low-risk strategy,high completion rate, and superior field position courtesy of a 2-1 advantage in the kicking game, the Knights did something they haven’t done for a while. Win a tight one.

Credit where it’s due, the Beagles were perhaps the better side doing more with the ball when they had it.

But with a tenacity that needs to become their hallmark, the Knights defended their tryline like it meant something. Kalyn Ponga’s effort in denying Aku Uate, in particular, a winning touchdown was as masterful as it was brave. And, he kicks goals and score tries. This bloke, he’s a keeper!

Along with Ponga, fellow debutants Slade Griffin and “JJ”Pearce were standouts, with Herman Ese’ese and Mitch Barnett busy and effective. On the whole, it’s two valuable points and a positive start for all connections. Yeah!

Read more: Knights cop warning for off-field behaviour

*NOWfor the Raiders. Ricky Stuart’s mobwere both desperately unlucky and a tad incompetent to lose from 18 points up against the Titans last weekend. Stickywill be demanding they don’t make that mistake again.

Which meansif our boys concede as much territory as they have in the past two outings, the monster Raiders could ride roughshod.

You see, the challenge of addressing problems of team cohesion rubs both withand without the ball. Conservative play with the ball can be managed to minimise combination risk.

But a passive, uncertain, or sometimes backtracking defensive line can be terminal and is not an option.

Which is not to say we haven’t had our moments, nor that a containment shape isn’t the best solution to a given circumstance. Quite the contrary.

But consistently claiming as much of one’s “real estate”, from the ref to the advantage line, each play, needs to become the default setting for this team if they’re to compete with the big boys in a game of inches. If not, the big power runners of not just Canberrawill set up camp in our half this season.

Knights by 2.

*MARK Twain once observed that history doesn’t repeat itself, but itsure can rhyme.

A pearler of an example this week is the similarity between the early public comments of former chair of the ARL Commission, John Grant, and that of his successor, (another Queenslander) Peter Beattie. In stuff you couldn’t script, the former labelled Cronulla-Sutherland the “Hawks” in 2014, and Beattie also was unable tothe name the same52-year-old club, whowon thegrand final not 18 months ago.

Spare me days. A credibility killer par excellence for the new head commissar. All the while, the average fans areshaking their heads at the failed constitutional-vote palava, and, now it seems the guy in charge is not across his brief. It doesn’t exactly inspire confidence, especially asissues of strategic importance have been on the backburner.

Meanwhile, his refreshed board is being sold with a sharper edge. I’ll reserve judgment as one hopes they get quickly into stride across some big-ticket issues. Recent tax-treatment murmurs, ominous signals from Europe over the future value of pay and free-to-air rights,and ongoing division in clubland, are but the tip of the iceberg.

Read more: Knights launch new era with golden-point triumph over Manly

Just below the waterline we have dwindling junior-boys participation,declining local clubs in the city and the bush,and increasingly scarce trainers, coaches and administrators skilled enough to manage the complex risk and protocol regimes of the modern junior game.

Throw in the festering player-agent scandal,the red herring of expansion, and the policing of rules and practices that reduce concussion risk,and it becomes abundantly clear these leaders need some time to think, and perhaps consult with those who know the game better than they.

On the positive side of the ledger, fans are engaged.The women’s league is taking off,player-workplace agreements are in place andthe 272 first-graders on display last week did what they do best.On balance, aglass half-full.

*THOSEAFL guys are always a step ahead of us leaguies.

Again this week their players announced they would forgoover $24 millionof their funding allocation for it to be redirected into past-player health and welfare programs.

What a brilliant gesture to the old guard. While the NRL has its Men of League foundation, the funding it raises (via a vast and committed volunteer base)is entirely inadequate for the task at hand, nor in the future.

They need help. The AFL players have shown the way by offering support to those that dug their well. Those in the NRL whoquench their thirst from a deep well of their ownmight spare a thought. Just saying.

For every Newcastle coffee drinker and coffee cafe, there’s a great coffee story

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By , 18/09/2019 20:44

Savour the memory: Graeme Thrift and his wife Sarah at work at their cafe, Corner Lane Espresso in New Lambton. Picture: Max Mason-HubersCoffee and stories go together like love and marriage, bread and butter, black and white.

As the Newcastle coffee scene continues to boom, so does the conversation about it.

Graeme Thrift, the owner and operator of Corner Lane Espresso and Little Lane Espresso in New Lambton,has warm memories of the cup of coffee that left the biggest impression on him.

“I was travelling through Italy in my 20s, driving around in a little Renault Clio,” Thrift said. “I stopped for gas at an old style servo with ‘cafe’. Inside an old Italian man motioned for a coffee from his old chrome machine. Not realising being later in the day, he would only give me an espresso and that’s what I got, with a couple of sugars thrown in. No English was spoken just some cash and a nod.

“It was so dark, thick and syrupy, but I was buzzing the rest of the day. Definitely got us to Venice quicker.

“I could never have imagined some 25years later I would be working our espresso bars with legendary Italian Faema coffee machines and roasting our own coffee. Grazie Millie.”

Thrift’s story about his most memorable coffee is one of 50 told in this Saturday’s Weekender cover story, as writer Nathalie Craig asks the question, ‘What is a perfect cup?’

From Adamstown to Swansea, Woodville to Bar Beach, baristas androasterstell Weekenderabout their “perfect cup” of coffee.

For AngeloLuczak, a barista at Moor in Newcastle’s East End, it was a cup of Ethiopian Yirgacheffe that set him on his career path.

For Alice Joy at Pickled & Pressed cafe in The Junction, “coffee is a moment of pure pleasure”.

Enjoy our Saturday read.

Tasmania on top in battle for Shield final

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By , 18/09/2019 20:44

Andrew Fekete has put Tasmania in the box seat to make the Shield final after a six-wicket haul.Tasmania are in the box seat in their battle with Victoria for a Sheffield Shield final berth after a career-best haul from Andrew Fekete on day two in Hobart.

At stumps on Thursday, the Tigers were 4-73 in their second innings – an overall lead of 235 runs.

The winners are guaranteed second place on the ladder and a spot in the final from March 23 against runaway leaders Queensland in Brisbane.

Fekete was the chief destroyer under overcast skies at Bellerive Oval, taking 6-67 as the Bushrangers were skittled for 182.

The 32-year-old had openers Travis Dean and Marcus Harris nicking and bowled the dangerous Glenn Maxwell for 17 before lunch.

He took three scalps in an eight-ball burst in the middle session.

“Post-Big Bash, I found a bit of rhythm which I probably haven’t felt for a few years,” Fekete said.

“The last few games, I feel I’ve been bowling well. Today was just the day where I got the edges and rewards.”

“(There’s) a lot riding on the result – very happy with the performance.”

Allrounder Dan Christian played a lone hand with an aggressive 69 but was bowled by Tom Rogers (2-24) trying to accelerate the scoring.

A brace of wickets to former Test quick Peter Siddle late in the day kept the Bushrangers in the running.

Jake Doran (23no) and Matthew Wade (2no) grafted to stumps for the Tigers.

Tasmania have maintained second place on the ladder ahead of Victoria after the allocation of first-innings bonus points.

“I’d rather be in our position than theirs at the moment,” Fekete said.

“But as we’ve seen, batting conditions have been challenging most of the game.

“We’ve still got a bit of batting to come but need to have a good first session tomorrow morning.”

Earlier, the Tigers’ lower order added 40 to their overnight score to finish on 344.

Chris Tremain was the pick of the Bushrangers’ bowlers with 6-81.

Why Stephen Hawking didn’t win a Nobel

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By , 18/09/2019 20:44

Stephen Hawking missed out on a Nobel Prize because his theories have not yet been proven.Stephen Hawking won accolades from his peers for having one of the most brilliant minds in science, but he never got a Nobel Prize because no one has yet proven his ideas.

The Nobel committee looks for proof, not big ideas. Hawking was a deep thinker – a theorist – and his musings about black holes and cosmology have yet to get the lockdown evidence that accompanies the physics prizes, his fellow scientists said.

“The Nobel Prize is not given to the smartest person or even the one who makes the greatest contribution to science. It’s given to discovery,” said California Institute of Technology physicist Sean Carroll.

“Hawking’s best theories have not yet been tested experimentally, which is why he hasn’t won a prize.”

Hawking has often been compared to Nobel laureate Albert Einstein, and he died on the 139th anniversary of Einstein’s birth. But Einstein’s Nobel wasn’t for his famed theory of general relativity. It was for describing the photoelectric effect, and only after it was verified by Robert Millikan, said Harvard astronomer Avi Loeb.

The theory behind gravitational waves – suggested by Einstein – didn’t win science’s highest honour until there were direct observations of the faint ripples in space and time. And Peter Higgs’ theory postulating the so-called “God particle” named the Higgs boson didn’t win its Nobel until the actual particle was discovered by a massive European particle collider.

“In all cases, there was an experiment-verified prediction,” Loeb said

Hawking’s greatest contribution – that not everything is sucked into a black hole but some radiation known as “Hawking radiation” escapes – could be proven if astronomers find the right-sized black holes. Smaller black holes – those with the mass of an asteroid – likely would produce more Hawking radiation than larger ones, Loeb said.

“People have searched for mini black holes of this mass, but have so far not found any,” Hawking said in a 2016 lecture. “This is a pity because if they had I would have got a Nobel Prize.”

Hawking lost another chance when an experiment at first seemed to find waves from inflation in the early universe that would also have confirmed Hawking radiation. But the observation didn’t quite hold up, Loeb said.

NASA astronomer and Nobel laureate John Mather said he doubted it would have changed Hawking’s life. Anyway, he said, “everyone loves Stephen’s work”.

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