Maps and Clouds
On Wednesday I spent the day at the Google Cloud Civic Tech Hackathon. It was fun day of teamwork, fancy food, data and technology. There was even an improv comedy workshop with some of the members of Outside Joke.
The Google Cloud Relay took place in 8 cities across Canada. The challenge was to build a web application to paint a picture of your city and how it is changing, evolving and adapting.
My team focused on the City of Winnipeg property locations and assessment value open dataset.
Below are two of the maps of Winnipeg we created. The first shows property values inspired by the work of Eugene Chen and Darkhorse Analytics. The second shows density of single detached homes.
Meow Reader Ex Machina
9 years, 4 months, 19 days ago I posted my first image to Meow Reader, a Tumblr dedicated to images of cats reading and cats learning how to read.
A few weeks back I mentioned the (then abadoned) site to my department chair and he (jokingly?) suggested I use Machine Learning to automate the discovery of new Meow Reader images.
A few Ruby scripts later (plus some research into the Clarifai API) and I’ve got a shiny new collection of reading cats, dogs, rabbits, sloths… you named it! I’ve documented the process below, but you can also skip straight to the images.
Finding reading animals, a play in five acts:
- Act 1 - Collect 140 existing images of reading cats.
- Act 2 - Use Clarifai to detect concepts within images from Act 1.
- Act 3 - Sort the discovered concepts by:
- How often they appear.
- Machine’s “confidence” in the concept.
- Act 4 - Collect 1000s of new animal images Tumblr.
- Act 5 - Filter images from Act 4 using concepts discovered in Act 2:
book, book bindings, book series, education, literature, newspaper, research, technology
The Clarifai API could also be used in Act 5 to filter the images even further to limit the reading animals to be cats only. View the full source code here. There’s a separate script for each step.
Oh, and I also created a new version of the Meow Reader Android app using Vue.js and Cordova.
Please install it and leave me a glowing 5 star review. (/◔◡ ◔)/
Reading and Listening in 2017
I read 20 books last year. In 2016 I read 17. In 2015 I read 15. In 2014 I read 25. In 2013 I read 19. In 2012 I read 18. And in 2011, when I first started tracking, I read 16. All twenty books were deadtree format. Eleven of them were fiction. Nine were non-fiction.
I also read to the girls almost every night and, for the first time this year, Acelyn started reading bedtime stories aloud as well.
As in 2016 and 2015, I listened to a large number of podcasts.
Fiction Read in 2017
- The Tenth Man - Graham Greene - Thirty prisoners. Three must die. A tale of cowardice and conscience.
- The Invention of Morel - Adolfo Bioy Casares - Speculative fiction from 1940. A mysterious island, unrequited love and a strange kind of immortality.
- The Robots of Dawn - Isaac Asimov - Robotolove.
- The Goldfinch - Donna Tartt - Friendship as an antidote for trauma.
- Walkaway - Cory Doctorow - Post scarcity onsens.
- Innocent Blood - P.D. James - Careful what you wish for.
- In Our Times - Ernest Hemingway - Rivers and train tracks.
- The Martian - Andy Weir - Scientific solutionism can be exciting.
- And Then There Were None - Agatha Christie - U.N. Owen’s game of guilt and punishment.
- Too Like The Lightning - Ada Palmer - A far-future 18th century treatise.
- You Shall Know Our Velocity - Dave Eggers - Friendship as an antidote for perceived trauma.
Read in that order. Not as many stand-outs as 2016 but no major duds.
Got halfway through One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel García Márquez. I started off loving it, but grew frustrated by the dense, fanciful plot. Reminded me of my experience with Ishiguro’s The Unconsoled in 2013. Maybe I don’t have the patience for stream of consciousness magical realism.
Nearly half of this year’s fiction was science fiction. Seven of the eleven were found at Value Village. Three (Walkaway, Morel, Lightning) were from the library. One (Goldfinch) was from my sister.
Top Three Fiction Reads in 2017
Walkaway by Cory Doctorow
On the dystopian side of Doctorow’s imagined future you’ve got “Default” an hyper-capitalistic oligarchy of surveillance and control. On the utopian side you’ve got the Walkaways, folks living outside default reality, building a culture that “revolves around sharing, fierce debate and open-sourced best practices.” (npr review)
Sam would say that it tapped into my solutionism tendencies, but it was refreshing to read about a near future that wasn’t all depressing.
“Anything invented before you were eighteen was there all along. Anything invented before you’re thirty is exciting and will change the world forever. Anything invented after that is an abomination and should be banned.”
The Invention of Morel by Adolfo Bioy Casares
The journal of a fugitive on a deserted island struggling with love and reality. I’d been meaning to read this book ever since I saw Sawyer reading it in season 4 of Lost. I shouldn’t say any more…
“When I slept this afternoon, I had this dream, like a symbolic and premature commentary on my life: as I was playing a game of croquet, I learned that my part in the game was killing a man. Then, suddenly, I knew I was that man.”
Too Like The Lightning by Ada Palmer
A far-future Earth ostensibly based on 18th century Enlightenment philosophy where global travel is incredibly quick, nation states have been replaced by non-geographical “Hives” with voluntary membership, religion has been outlawed, and gendered language banished.
The author Ada Palmer is a historian and this is grand scale future history world building. (She’s also written a long-read blogpost On Progress and Historical Change that I’ve been meaning to read.)
“Does it distress you, reader, how I remind you of their sexes in each sentence? ‘Hers’ and ‘his’? Does it make you see them naked in each other’s arms, and fill even this plain scene with wanton sensuality? Linguists will tell you the ancients were less sensitive to gendered language than we are, that we react to it because it’s rare, but that in ages that heard ‘he’ and ‘she’ in every sentence they grew stale, as the glimpse of an ankle holds no sensuality when skirts grow short.”
Non-Fiction Read in 2017
- The Practicing Mind - Thomas M. Sterner
- Naked Statistics - Charles Wheelan
- Cartoon Guide to Statistics - Gonick & Smith
- Mindful Discipline - Shapiro & White
- Finite And Infinite Games - James P. Carse
- Mindstorms - Seymour Papert
- How to Raise the Perfect Dog - Cesar Millan
- Waking Up - Sam Harris
- Honey I Wrecked the Kids - Alyson Schafer
Mindfulness, meta-cognition, stats and parenting. The stats books were research for my Paper’s We Love talk on information.
Top Three Fiction Reads in 2017
Mindstorms by Seymour Papert
“Children, Computers, and Powerful ideas” A must-read for anyone in the ed-tech space or anyone interested in education in general. The 1980s tech might look dated but the insights are still incredibly poignant. I’ve got two pages of back-of-the-book notes and quotes that I still need to review.
This isn’t a book about teaching kids to code. This book is about coding as a way to help children think about thinking; a tool to scaffold the learning of complex and powerful ideas.
“For what is important when we give children a theorem to use is not that they should memorize it. What matters most is that by growing up with a few very powerful theorems one comes to appreciate how certain ideas can be used as tools to think with over a lifetime. One learns to enjoy and to respect the power of powerful ideas. One learns that the most powerful idea of all is the idea of powerful ideas.”
The Practicing Mind - Thomas M. Sterner
This was the book I couldn’t stop telling people about. I built a lecture around it for one of my courses. I read it and then listened to the author-read audio book.
“Everything in life worth achieving requires practice. In fact, life itself is nothing more than one long practice session, an endless effort of refining our motions.”
Practice doesn’t necessarily make perfect; practice makes permanent. As such, it’s important to be mindful about what and how we are practicing. No skill is ever perfected, so let’s learn to love the journey over the destination.
Honey I Wrecked the Kids - Alyson Schafer
Democratic parenting that addresses “the four Cs”:
- When kids don’t feel connected they’ll seek attention.
- When they don’t feel capable they’ll seek power.
- When they don’t feel counted they’ll seek revenge.
- When they don’t feel courageous they’ll seek avoidance.
Podcasts in 2017
I discovered podcasts in 2015 and continued to listen to hundreds of hours worth of them this past year. Looking over the length of this list, it’s no wonder I’ve got a Beyondpod queue of 19 unlistened podcasts.
I’ve continued to listen to most of the podcast I listened to last year.
New this year:
- COMMONS - The only politics show in Canada for people who “hate” politics.
- Every Little Things - Big ideas about the small stuff.
- Levar Burton Reads - The best short stories, performed just for you. In other words, Reading Rainbow for adults.
- Long Now Seminars - Helping make long-term thinking automatic and common instead of difficult and rare.
- Overdue - A podcast about the books you’ve been meaning to read.
- Philosophize This! - A podcast dedicated to sharing the ideas that shaped our world.
Top Four Podcasts
Three general interest favourites and one favourite coding podcast.
Ideas with Paul Kennedy (CBC)
- The Motorcycle is Yourself: Revisiting ‘Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance’ - This episode originally aired in 2014 but was revisited in April when Robert Pirsig passed.
Read - Listen
- Dr Owen Taylor: How Internet Monopolies Threaten Democracy - Four internet platforms — Facebook, Google, Amazon, Apple — increasingly control our lives, our opinions, our democracy. We urgently need to start talking about how we are going to respond as a society.
Read - Listen
- Michael Sandel: Why Democracy Depends on How we Talk to Each Other - A debate about immigration that is actually a debate about what it means to be a citizen.
Read - Listen
Long Now Seminars
- Geoffrey B. West: The Universal Laws of Growth and Pace - Innovation, Sustainability, and the Pace of Life in Organisms, Cities, Economies, and Companies.
- Nicky Case: Seeing Whole Systems - Exploring the non-linear feedback loops between culture, economics, and technology. Understanding how collective behavior emerges from individual minds and motives.
- Kevin Kelly: The Next 30 Years - A dozen “inevitable” trends will drive the next 30 years of digital progress.
Levar Burton Reads
- Empty Places by Richard Parks - An accomplished thief is approached by a wizard who wants to send him on an unusual mission.
YouTube: Part 1 & Part 2 - Spotify: Part 1 & Part 2
- The Lighthouse Keeper by Daisy Johnson - The story of a solitary life by the sea, and a woman’s courage.
Listen on YouTube - Listen on Spotify
- The Paper Menagerie by Ken Liu - An immigrant mother’s magical attempt to bond with her American-born son.
Listen on YouTube - Listen on Spotify
- Chivalry by Neil Gaiman - An elderly widow purchases the Holy Grail at a second-hand store, and becomes wrapped up in an epic quest.
Listen on YouTube - Listen on Spotify
Greater Than Code
- Category Theory for Normal Humans with Dr. Eugenia Cheng - Includes a discussion on replacing the gendered terms masculine and feminine with the concept of Congressive and Ingressive Behavior.
- Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and Mind Manipulation - Casey Watts and A Neurobiologist’s Guide to Mind Manipulation.
- The Accessibility of Board Games - Show notes include links to tons of great games.
Types as Concretions
I love that space where coding and philosophy collide.
Rich Hickey talked about types, such as Java classes and Haskell ADTs, as concretions, not abstractions.
People often talk about a
Personclass representing a person. But it doesn’t. It represents information about a person.
Persontype, with certain fields of given types, is a concrete choice about what information you want to keep out of all of the possible choices of what information to track about a person.
An abstraction would ignore the particulars and let you store any information about a person.
– Eric Normand, Clojure vs. The Static Typing World
From the same piece, how Clojure was designed to make a certain kind of software easier to write.
A type of software characterized as:
solving a real-world problem
=>must use non-elegant models
running all the time
=>must deal with state and time
interacting with the world
=>must have effects and be affected
everything is changing
=>must change in ways you can’t predict
My talk about Alan Turing’s 1936 paper on computable numbers. Recorded in May of 2016 at Skullspace for Papers We Love Winnipeg.
The slides for the talk are also available.
I’ll be speaking at Papers We Love again this year on May 24th. This year’s paper will be Christoph Adami’s What is Information?
This presentation will carefully introduce the concepts of entropy and information, explaining them intuitively while still rigorously defined. The presented paper argues that a proper understanding of information in terms of prediction is key to a number of disciplines beyond engineering, such as physics and biology.
Reading and Listening in 2016
I read 17 books last year. Two more than 2015. Eight less than 2014, Two less than in 2013, one less than in 2012, and one more than in 2011. All seventeen books were deadtree format. Thirteen of them were fiction. Four were non-fiction.
If we also count the books I’ve read to my girls before bed, the number would larger. This was the first year I started reading chapter books with the girls. We finished four chapter books together.
As in 2015, I listened to a large number of podcasts, but I took a break from audio books and audio lectures.
Fiction Read in 2016
- Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix - J. K. Rowling
- Q - Luther Blissett - 16th century Europe. Reformation, early capitalism, and the journey of an Anabaptist radical.
- Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince - J. K. Rowling
- How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe - Charles Yu - An exploration of the melancholy nature of consciousness. And time-travel.
- Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows - J. K. Rowling - Late to the game, but I can now officially call myself a Rowling/Potter fanboy. The final book did not disappoint.
- Golden Mean - Annabel Lyon - Fictional account of Aristotle’s years tutoring Alexander (later to become The Great) of Macedon. A search for the mean between action and thought.
- The Cat’s Table - Michael Ondaatje - Friendship!
- Purity - Jonathan Frazen - Although sunlight is a disinfectant, too much is a cancer.
- Seveneves - Neal Stephenson - We never learn who blew up the moon. Survival story. Post-apocalypse far-future history.
- Embassytown - China Miéville - Must-read for language nerds. Aliens whose native language doesn’t support falsehoods. Through humans they learn to bridge similes into lies.
- A Thousand Splendid Suns - Khaled Hosseini - The lives of girls and women in Afghanistan, 1960 to 2000.
- Children of Dune - Frank Herbert - Free will versus prophetic determinism on the formerly desert planet.
- The Wise Man’s Fear - Patrick Rothfuss - Out-of-the-pan-into-the-fire hero fantasy of epic scale. Much fun.
Read in that order. No incompletes or duds this year.
It’s my usual mix of science fiction (How to live…, Seveneves, Embassytown, Children of Dune), fantasy (Harry Potter, The Wise Man’s Fear) and historical fiction (Q, Golden Mean), with a dash of “coming of age” (The Cat’s Table). Purity and A Thousand Splendid Suns sit outside my wheelhouse and I thank my sister for those. I found ten of the thirteen novels at Value Village. Still rocking the serendipity-driven reading plan.
Children’s Fiction Read in 2016
Read with the girls:
- The Secret World of Og - Pierre Berton
- The Search for Sunken Treasure - Geronimo Stilton
- The Quest for Paradise - Geronimo Stilton
- The Kingdom of Fantasy - Geronimo Stilton
Top Three Fiction Reads in 2016
Oh boy! Can I pick more than three? No?
Seveneves by Neal Stephenson
“As it turned out, imagining the fate of seven billion people was far less emotionally affecting than imagining the fate of one.”
The moon explodes. Within two years moon parts will rain down on earth, destroying the planet’s surface. 1,500 humans are selected to live in space, the other 7 billion will die. The only plan is to orbit earth and survive the 5000 year wait until the planet is re-habitable. The page count is worth it. Includes orbital-mechanics porn.
A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini
Summarized in a quote and a poem:
“Learn this now and learn this well, my daughter: Like a compass needle that points north, a man’s accusing finger always finds a woman.”
- Khaled Hosseini
“Every street of Kabul is enthralling to the eye
Through the bazaars, caravans of Egypt pass
One could not count the moons that shimmer on her roofs
And the thousand splendid suns that hide behind her walls”
- 17th-century Iranian poet Saib Tabriz
Children of Dune by Frank Herbert
“The malady of indifference is what destroys many things. Yes, even civilizations die of it. It’s as though that were the price demanded for achieving new levels of complexity or consciousness.”
Where there is energy there is struggle. Abandon certainty! That’s life’s deepest command. The only order is the order we create ourselves. Fear is still the mind killer. :)
Non-Fiction Read in 2016
- The Annotated Turing - Charles Petzold
- The 4-Hour Chef - Tim Ferriss
- How to Sit - Thích Nhất Hạnh
- How to Behave So Your Children Will, Too! - Sal Severe
I first attempted to read the Annotated Turing in 2013. In 2016 I forced myself to persevere by promising to give a “Papers we Love” talk on Alan Turing’s 1936 paper on computable numbers. Charles Petzold’s book is an heavily annotated version of Turing’s paper. I enjoyed the process of reading the book, grokking Turing’s Universal Machines, and giving the talk. I also got to reconnect with my year 2000 engineering thesis advisor, Bob McLeod, who attended the talk and asked some tough questions at the end. The slides for the talk can be seen here.
Podcasts in 2016
I discovered podcasts in 2015 and continued to listen to hundreds of hours worth of them in 2016. The podcasts I’ve been listening to, in alphabetical order, split into non-technical and coding categories:
General Interest Podcasts
- Ideas with Paul Kennedy (CBC) - Documentaries in which thoughts are gathered, contexts explored, and connections made.
- Invisibilia - The invisible forces that control human behavior – ideas, beliefs, assumptions and emotions.
- The Longest Shortest Time - The parenting show for for everyone.
- Philosophy Bites - Top philosophers interviewed on bite-sized topics.
- Public Philosopher - Harvard political philosopher Michael Sandel examines the thinking behind a current controversy.
- Reply All - A show about the internet.
- Song Exploder - Musicians take apart their songs, and piece by piece, tell the story of how they were made.
- The Tim Ferris Show - Interviews with world-class performers to extract the tactics, tools, and routines you can use.
- Think Again - Surprising the smartest people you know with ideas they’re not prepared to discuss.
- This American Life - Themed story-driven journalism.
- We Turned Out Okay - The modern parent’s guide to old-school parenting.
Programming Related Podcasts
- Greater Than Code - Panel discussions and interviews about people, politics and technology.
- Hanselminutes - Weekly tech interviews.
- The Laila & Brenda Show - Software is eating the world, but who’s building the software?
- Why Are Computers - A podcast about computers and computer programs and why.
- Ruby Rogues - Panel discussions and interviews about coding in Ruby and beyond.
Top Three Podcasts
Binge listened to over 150 episodes of the Tim Ferris Show in 2016. Most episodes are long-form (1 to 2 hour) interviews with interesting people. Tim has a knack for making his guest feel comfortable and chatty. I likely could have pick 50+ favourites, but here’s three.
- #93 - Jane McGonigal - Jane is a world-renowned game designer and the Director of Games Research & Development at the Institute for the Future. Her research focuses on how games are transforming the way we lead our real lives, and how they can be used to increase our resilience and well-being. Listen on the web.
- #157 - Mike Rowe - Mike’s performing career began in 1984 when he faked his way into the Baltimore Opera. His transition to television occurred in 1990 when — to settle a bet — he auditioned for the Shopping Channel and was hired after talking about a pencil for eight minutes. Amazing story teller. Listen on the web.
- #148 - Josh Waitzkin - Josh was the basis for the book and movie Searching for Bobby Fischer. Considered a chess prodigy, he has perfected learning strategies that can be applied to anything, including his other loves of Brazilian jiu-jitsu (he’s a black belt under Marcelo Garcia) and Tai Chi push hands (he’s a world champion). He talks about everything from dynamic quality (Zen and the Art) to parenting to athletic training and learning. Listen on the web.
I’ve listened to all 90 episodes starting in June 2015. Host Jason Gots and guests explore surprise topics.The conversations are fun and wide-ranging.
- #47 - Kate Tempest - Poet and spoken word artist Kate Tempest won the Ted Hughes award for her epic poem Brand New Ancients. Her 2014 album Everybody Down has been described as “novelistic hip-hop”.
- #50 - Ethan Hawke - Ethan Hawke and host Jason Gots discuss fatherhood, perpetual warfare, and the daily struggle between light and dark within every person.
- “Best Of” Mixtapes - Mixtape #1, Mixtape #2, Mixtape #4 - Listen to these to get a feel for show and then cherry pick the archives for guests you know.
I listened to the 2016 season while on vacation in the Netherlands, Greece and Spain. Made for some heady runs.
- The New Norm - Social norms determine much of your behavior - how you dress, talk, eat and even what you feel. Hosts Alix Spiegel and Hanna Rosin examine two experiments that attempt to shift these norms.
- The Problem with Solutions - Are there problems we shouldn’t try to solve? Lulu Miller visits a town in Belgium with a completely different approach to dealing with mental illness.
- The Personality Myth - We like to think of our personalities as predictable, constant over time. But what if they aren’t? What if nothing stays constant over a lifetime?
Audio Lectures and Audio Book in 2016
Before taking any serious examination of the flaws inherent in internet voting, the question must be asked, why do people want internet voting? The answer is: 1) civic engagement, 2) money, 3) want of power, and 4) technophilia.
--[ Table of contents 1 - A Backstory 2 - Why Do People Want Internet Voting 3 - The Evolution of Counting Votes 4 - Where is Internet Voting Piloted and Used 5 - Other Problems of Being On the Internet 6 - End-to-End Verifiable Internet Voting Schemes 7 - Push Back 8 - But We Use The Internet for [Foo] 9 - Imagining a More Secure Internet Voting System 10 - Conclusion 11 - Acknowledgements 12 - References
Thinking in Tic Tac Toe
Thirty one years ago I typed tic tac toe code, found at the back of a computer magazine, into my VIC 20. I didn’t understand the code but I felt wizardly when the game popped up on the living room TV. Thirteen years later I would code my own tic tac toe game for the first time while learning to build Microsoft Access apps during my coding internship at MTS. I added the game as an easter egg to the time tracking app I built for the MTS Solutions Group.
The first two were written in flavours of BASIC. I’ve since coded tic tac toe in Pascal, Perl, Ruby and Clojurescript. The Pascal one was Connect Four, a 4-run tic tac toe with gravity.
All were written as code kata in the name of learning through experimentation. Sketching with code.
“This kind of coding as thinking out loud is known in the Agile methodology as a spike. It is meant to be as informal as possible. It’s the equivalent of whiteboarding. And just as whiteboarding sometimes leads to a formal solution, sometimes it’s benefit is in quickly and simply framing a problem. Coding allows us to whiteboard directly with data.”
This quote is from my friend Sam’s talk on Coding and Humanism for the UTSC Digital Pedagogy Institute.
Sam’s talk is embedded below. Worth the watch if you’re into such things as digital literacy in libraries, agency through computational thinking, formalism vs hermeneutics, amateurism, openness and pedagogy. ლ(´ڡ`ლ)
Sam’s talk got me thinking about how I learned to program computers. It also got me thinking about the privilege of having spent three decades thinking in code. I was fortunate to have access to a computer from a young age, with leisure time for computational tinkering, encouraging parents, friends, teachers and mentors. The gender, race and class issues present in the tech world have not been working against me.
Sketching with code. As an IT educator I’ve tried to balance the strict formalism required by technology with an informal exploratory approach to learning.
Sketching with empathy. To better serve all my students a recognition of privilege must also inform my teaching practice.
* * *
My most recent tic tac toe sketch can be played here. The computer plays randomly, not strategically. View the game’s source code, written while learning Clojurescript, Reagent and React.