as I moved my old posts to the new site I was struck by just how long it has been since I posted anything at all. if you knew where to look online you could confirm that I continued to exist, but it wasn’t readily apparent. I have had a number of interactions in public recently that have followed a simple script

<them> Woah! I haven’t seen you in years

<me> Yeah… I exist now and then

… spend an hour catching up …

<them> I hope to see you again soon

<me> hopefully it won’t be so long this time.

given that I am not actually a ghost, what has happened in my life that makes it appear that I only exist now and then? the short answer, I am doing a master’s degree in computer science full time and am completely wrapped up in my school work.

the longer answer makes up the bulk of this post. when I applied to do my masters I had every intention of working in the human/computer interaction field, but instead I have found myself pursuing machine learning. during the winter semester last year I took a course about machine learning and discovered that it is a field that connected well with my experiences teaching and working in online education.

so what is machine learning? often I will describe computer related work as “black magic” rather than trying to communicate the details of the work to people that don’t understand it. machine learning is a process where, even knowing all the details of the implementation, I am left believing it is some form of magic. in practice machine learning is the process of solving classification, categorization, or identification problems by training a system with some example data, and then introducing an unknown dataset you want to work with.

you might think to yourself, that seems kind of boring or pointless. trust me, it isn’t. everywhere I look in the media I see mentions of “big data” and “cloud solutions”. these are leveraging machine learning techniques to identify potential customers, treads you might be interested in, or how you will spend your money.

for the final project of the course I took we were presented with a dataset of short camera reviews collected from the web. of the ~45000 reviews in the dataset 2000 of them were labelled as “Pro” for a positive review and “Con” for a negative review. the remaining ~43000 reviews had no label at all. the goal was teach a machine learner from the small set of labelled reviews and have it identify the rest.

some of the training reviews

Pro “Very versatile”

Pro “great picture quality”

Pro “small, simple, cheap”

Pro “Compact, Lightweight, Easy to use, Good for use with little kids, No wasted film, Preview pictures and delete ones you don’t like”

Con “Battery hog, missing ac adapter and charger”

Con “Close-up capability”

Con “Menus are small.”

Con “Technology is still expensive, disks can be filled fast too, user needs a computer to get all the benefits”

as you can see there is a lot of variety in the training examples. some are lists of words, some are full sentences, some are short, and some are long. for the project I created a neural network and trained it using a technique called backpropagation. coming into the problem it seems like it would be quite difficult to determine intentionality from text alone, especially when the samples are all over the place.

instead I was shocked at how well my software could learn to identify intentionality in simple sentences. below I have included some examples from the unlabelled set along with the classification my learner gave them

Pro “Great resolution, versatile, zoom capability”

Con “It is just a bit noisy”

Con “battery usage high, availability of accessories low”

Pro “Portable size and great picture quality!”

Pro “reasonable price; user friendly camera”

Pro “The price!”

Con “CAN’T HEAR ON THE EARPIECE”

skimming through the ~43000 there are definitely some that it classifies incorrectly, but generally I found myself agreeing with the conclusions the software came to. it is truly a strange experience to write a piece of software from scratch and have it accomplish a task like this. everything that happens is something that I explicitly told the program to do, and yet the output is more than the sum of what I put into it.

after completing the project I couldn’t stop thinking about communication mediums and human ability to determine intentionality. the idea that humans communicate more non-verbally than verbally is an old one that is often dragged out to admonish the future generations for too much texting and technology. in my experience it is largely true that people have a hard time determining intent in text only mediums and from this I suspected a machine learner would struggle even more. instead I found that the necessary information is contained in text alone, but we likely haven’t learned to identify it.

I think there are a lot of interesting lessons to be learned about people in the process of teaching learning to computers.

community is a large part of life. communities are things that businesses hope they can create and that people are eager to be a part of. there essentially two truths about communities.

    • communities are die without engaged people
    • people are left as hollow shells of themselves without community

with these two truths one would think that communities and the art of creating a community should be simple. make sure you have a critical mass of people and they will be happy and your community will thrive. this is the example I see most often. churches and businesses alike have great to create community (for different end goals obviously). there is nothing wrong with this desire as communities benefit both groups greatly. there are many social media experts and consultants that groups can hire to attempt to grow or cultivate their communities. I will say quite simply this is a waste of resources and time.

the fundamental problem is that community is not something that can be created. as it turns out the truths above don’t work both ways. having people does not make a community. you cannot say that you are going to grow a community if you do x, y, and z. there is a non-zero chance that a community may form if you do say those things but it isn’t a guarantee.

communities are organic things, just like people. or rather a mold. yes let’s go with mold. they will pop up where they feel like, when they feel like and die if they choose to.

expressed more fully I mean that given a group of likeminded people in a common location at the same time, they will communicate and relate. those relations will naturally grow and become bonds. this is how a community grows. a series of 1 on 1 relationships that form a network that is larger than any one individual relationship. by the same token though communities have natural life spans and at some point they die. if you try to hold on the idea of a specific community once it has passed it’s life expectancy you will find that those actions will have a negative impact on the relationships that you previously relied upon as a member of the community.

business that want to create communities generally skip over the 1 on 1 relationship aspect and wonder why no one forms a real attachment. churches on the other hand are dealing with communities dying out and respond by doubling down on the same methods using the mentality of if we try harder then people will come back. however like a bad relationship sometimes trying harder will just push people away and alienate them.

thus the problem is not that communities are dying but rather that we cling to what we know for too long. as someone who lives in a university town I experience the rise and fall of communities at an accelerated rate. looking back over the past 7 years I can identify 3 distinct, sequential communities that I was a part of. each was the product of the failure of a previous community and often shared similar components but was unique in it’s own right. life follows death, it is the natural order of things.

the death of a community is not something we need to fear. something will grow to replace it, often something that is stronger and healthier because the individuals that compose the community have learned lessons from all of their past communities. the thing we need to fear is not being willing to let go of something that has already died. when we do that we not only hurt ourselves, but also those that were a part of what made it great in the past.

there was a stage in my life where the staple food was a peanut butter and jam sandwich, I had it every day for lunch and things were great. as a special treat I would indulge in a chocolate bar. as a child this involved a special trip to the corner store with the change I had collected to collect a chocolate bar (and sometimes a pack of hockey cards!).

now imagine the wonder that existed when I realized that I could have these two substances together in one convenient cup styled delivery system! the peanut butter cup is honestly one of mans greatest inventions bar none.

of course you are all thinking ‘well he is right of course but what does that have to do with the title of this post.’ patience everyone, patience. we live in a society where every weekday we go to school/work/family-raising-situation and once a week we make that special trip to some sort of church environment. for the sake of simplicity and my ‘/’ key I will simply say ‘public school’ for the former and ‘sunday school’ for the latter.

so our life is full of public school teachings that live in one place and sunday school teachings that live in a second place. too often both places tell you that they are the one thing you should want and that they are totally incompatible and in the case of sunday school you may even get told ‘you aren’t welcome here’ if you suggest that the two things might be a beautiful combination.

the thing about science is that it is focused on goals, on pushing the boundaries of what we know, of pursuing something. whereas denying all science because you have a couple of chapters of text that very loosely tells you something and you have filled it in one way is the opposite of pursuit. it is stagnation. human beings were not created to stagnate. this is why people have mid life crisisesesss (or whatever the plural of crisis is), it is why there exists the term ‘seven year itch’ for relationships. we are created by an infinite God who wants us to pursue knowing him. we are finite beings and the relationship between finite and infinite has to be one where the finite is trying to keep up.

instead people need to find the deliciousness that is combining pb and chocolate, to blown away by the amazing creation of an astounding God, to marvel at the astoundingly complex systems that are result of his work. even just to sit in complete awe (and I mean speechless, thoughtless, stunned, awe) at the number of things we don’t know.

or we could keep pb and chocolate separate and continue to reject the wonders of creation while ostracizing people simply so that we can say we have the answers.

so this is the year end, many people generally take some time to look back upon the year that was and reflect. now that really isn’t me so lets move onwards to the other thoughts I have been having of late.

I guess the best example of privacy as an issue is in the news right now. after the underwear bomb incident on christmas day the news seems to be all in an uproar about these imaging machines that can see through anything and everything that you are wearing. this sounds all well and good except that they are not in use because of “privacy concerns.” now I am most certainly not going to get into that debate now because I am more interested in the issue of privacy.

the place where this is of course the biggest concern of the common person is the internet. yes there are cases of identity theft and yes it is probably easier to have your credit card stolen now than it used to be. this of course is not the fault of the internet but mostly the person in question. you wouldn’t give your card to a sketchy looking clerk and let him disappear for a few moments with it and the same goes on the internet. people assume they are safe and that there are no consequences for their actions.

more to the point is that there is no more or less privacy now than there was before. people are just acting flat out stupid. last year I completed my education degree and I think the horse the was beaten the most in those classes was the discussion about privacy and what you could put on places like facebook and how people deserved to get a break from being a teacher and cut loose. to this I laugh and say that you have admitted your own problem, you want to be two different people without having the two lives cross paths.

traditionally when one’s integrity was compromised all that was required to start over was simply packing up and moving to a new community. the problem today is that there are no “new” communities. advances in modern technology have eradicated the borders that traditionally kept your secrets in geographic locations. in those older small communities there was no such thing as privacy, everyone knew everything about everyone else around. now we have removed geographic barriers and suddenly we expect different things to happen, like privacy and dual lives.

what I suggest for most is simply coming to terms with no expectation of privacy. sure it’s a “right” but that doesn’t mean anything if it never existed to begin with. instead of worrying about what you do people should take responsibility for their actions and deal with the reactions. not everyone will agree with all of your actions but in the long run people will respect your honesty and the integrity with which you lead your life. the idea of secrets that would “change how someone thinks of me” goes away because you have no secrets or regrets, just respect that was earned by owning what you do.

as an example of how little privacy one has I will share a small story. early in the fall a young lady dropped a piece of paper on my table while I was visiting a local food establishment. upon that paper was a name, a phone number, and an invitation to communicate her. before the end of that I knew who she was, where she was from, how old, family ties, schooling from a couple of clever searches on the internet. simply put privacy doesn’t exist and we are deluding ourselves when we suggest otherwise.

this past summer an author for wired magazine tried to disappear and start a new life for 30 days and I highly recommend reading his article detailing the experience he had as it has made me think a lot about privacy and even ideas of identity.

congratulations for making it to the end, this turned out to be much longer than I expected so I look forward to hearing comments from those of you that agree and especially from those that disagree.

How often through a course of a day are we afraid?

I think it might be more than we would really want to admit. Which in and of itself is odd, we are afraid of what other might think if we admit we are afraid.

Last night on his show Rick Mercer did an excellent rant that very nicely summed up my feeling towards the whole flu situation and the way the media is handling it. Various news organizations, who claim to “serve” their viewers would be doing everyone a lot of good if they would just shut up and cover some actual news rather than inciting fear and panic in people over something as trivial as a sickness that everyone has had several times in their life and will have many more times before they die – and no this one isn’t any more likely to be the one that kills them then any other flu was.

I think the only thing that makes me more upset than the media inspiring fear in people is people blindly following. Personally when I am trying to avoid illness I avoid large groups of people, I stay warm and don’t stand outside for hours. Apparently though people have been sent into such panic that they have left common sense somewhere else and will stand outside in line for hours to get a vaccine who’s affect may or may not do anything for you. I can guarantee that you are probably more likely to be sick now than you were before since you stood outside in the fall air for hours.

Fear of course is not just the fault of the media or as a result of some new flu, this is just the most prevalent cause of fear at this moment. So then how do we overcome the fear? Or even why do we overcome the fear? Is being terrified really so bad?

So this past weekend I completed yet another lap around the sun and the above photo was the sweet gift I got from my brother. An original soundtrack for Back to the Future.

Despite being older I felt no different in any significant manner so I decided it is time for some change. Thus the new look of my blog, it is possible that you may be thinking “My his blog looks a lot like the blog of Sir Johnson Pennyworth or <insert other preposterously made up name here>!” This would be since I just picked a theme that came packaged with iWeb. No customizing for me, thats what I do at work not at home.

I often find that it is a fun exercise to think about what the future will think of our current culture. I think futurama always has done a good take on what people would think in a thousand years. Yesterday I came to the conclusion that they will think we are idiots and that we will tolerate anything. My basis for this is that while mattress shopping (Full sized bed, not air mattress or sleeping foam) I came across the following standard warnings:

  • Do not wash
  • Do not tumble dry.
  • Do not iron.
  • Do not dryclean.

For a mattress!! Seriously though who has a washer or a dryer big enough to fit a double mattress? The thing that saddens me most is that someone must have tried to tumble dry a mattress and then claim their warranty…

Seeing that it is the end of another university school year, the sixth time I have witnessed this event, thoughts and discussions have turned inevitably to employment. For me personally I have been constantly answering questions about what I want to teach, where I want to teach, or &lsquo;Why the heck did you take this degree at all!&rsquo; That last one is my own personal favorite of the bunch. Personally I love teaching and I love the teenagers that I get to work with when teaching however I am not a super big fan of the school system. Just not the kind of place I really want to spend my life.

I personally think that loving what you do is the most important thing when it comes to a job and that money is a lesser consideration (There are people I know that will give me grief about this but I am okay with that). Having the desire to go into work and the ability to love what you are doing contribute to your mental health, your productivity at work and also your happiness outside of work. Of course I have nothing firm to back these claims up but as I like to do I will leave that up to someone else.

I came across an interesting interview about the Love/Growth/Cash Triangle on the internet that go me thinking about this. Read it here.

Now I am probably not your typical computer user, what with having a degree in computer science and all, but I think that there is a problem that we all deal with daily that most don’t even realize is a problem. Now I have somewhere in the ball park of 3 to 15 different email addresses, at any given moment sending an email to 10 of them may end up somewhere that I check and will respond. This is absolutely out of hand! Fear not though for I retain my sanity through the simple fact that my inbox is always empty. Yes Empty. About a year ago I listened to a talk given by a gentleman named Merlin Mann called Inbox Zero (Click here to listen, or watch the video below). I really suggest listening or watching, however if you are really lazy and don’t want to the gist of the talk is that if you don’t need it DELETE it, if it can be replied to in 3 sentences then use just 3 sentences, and finally learn the joy of search.
Watch (or listen) Away!

I started today engaging a friend in a conversation about the fact that it is his birthday and today he turned Old&trade;. Thus the train of discussion moved on to the the difference between turning Old&trade; and the point in our lives at which we start being Grown Up&trade;. As I approach the end of my university years I have quickly realized that it is time to become Grown Up&trade; or I will miss the boat entirely. Well that isn&rsquo;t exactly what I have realized, I have come to the realization that it is far more efficient to pretend to be Grown Up&trade;, it has all the benefits with none of the negative connotations that come along with it.

The first act of being grown up that I have discovered over the last six months is following the news of the world around us. Once again I found a way to cheat and pretend to be grown up, and this is by getting my news through avenues like The Daily Show, The Colbert Report, The Rick Mercer Report, etc. Shows that present me with the world news through a comedic filter. While it could be seen as cheating at being Grown Up&trade; I see it more as a survival technique. It is no wonder that being Grown Up&trade; is generally seen as a bad thing with the general negativity that surrounds news and the things of the world as presented by the media.

Even through a filter of comedy it has been made very clear to me that America and Canada are in dire straights when it comes to employment situations. Finishing my Ed degree I see it a lot in my classmates, people taking jobs across the country, and general anxiety over job prospects or lack there of. During this past summer I was told to take an online personality test, and being that it was a summer in Wolfville there wasn&rsquo;t a whole lot else to do. In the end I was shocked at the description it gave of me and just how accurate it could be. One specific part that struck me as just another odd fact about me at the time was &ldquo;This type of personality wants to experience the whole of life and may change careers more often than many other types.&rdquo; (From Here) It seems that this is the way the world is going, that the idea of a life long career is going to be far from the norm. I am okay with this, mostly because I don&rsquo;t have that kind of attention span, but I know that a lot of people aren&rsquo;t comfortable with the idea, what with it being change and all.

Has anyone else made similar observations?