I’m always on the lookout for fast estimation tools and this is a real gem of one
time is a funny thing.
two years disappeared in the blink of an eye.
two years seems like a lifetime ago.
the one thing I have learned in the past two years is that no matter what happens you just keep living.
my father taught me that the best way to be alive is when you are helping other people grow.
this is why I teach. this is why I coach.
when I was seven I wanted to play hockey. this was a surprise to no one in my family. my mother grew up playing and eventually coaching hockey. my father volunteered with the local can skate program. playing hockey was the natural progression for me.
unfortunately there was a small “situation” at the beginning of the season. when it was time to purchase my hockey gear mom was away and so the task fell to my father. full credit to him though, he didn’t have any experience with hockey gear but I was fully equipped for my first ice time. he stepped up to the challenge because making sure I had a great experience was the important thing.
this story doesn’t end at that first ice time. buying all my equipment came right down to the last minute and resulted in the purchase of a pair of hockey pants that could be described as “large”. they were the only pair available so dad bought them. they were so large on me that I pulled them up to my armpits and they still went almost to my ankles.
I wore those same hockey pants until I was a teenager in bantam.
I still laugh about it every time this story comes to mind.
making sure this hockey player had fun meant my dad was willing to appear a bit foolish
my father was a silly man.
we loved laughing at him, he loved hearing us laugh.
I miss you dad.
playing our game
For the 2014-2015 season I have been afforded the privilege of being the head coach of the Acadia Atom A hockey team. Five years ago it occurred to me that I really wanted to be involved in coaching and found an opportunity with the local sledge hockey program, which was great and I will continue this year, but the truth is I couldn’t be more excited about being a Head Coach.
I am not excited because I get to say I am the head coach, or because I am at a higher competitive level than someone else. I am excited because I get to be the final say on creating an amazing experience for 17 young hockey players. It is my job to make sure they are having fun during practices, games, tournaments, and road trips.
We kicked off the season by attending the Jordan Boyd Memorial Tournament in Bedford over Thanksgiving Weekend. With the help of my assistant coaches I was able to distill my plans for the season into a simple message before the tournament. We play with our heads up, our feet moving, and by passing the puck. The city teams we were playing in the tournament were much bigger than us, physically imposing even, but I hoped that getting my players to buy into the message of what our game would see success.
The players bought into the idea of Our Game quicker and with more drive than I could have hoped for. Even in moments where we were hopelessly behind when I took a moment to talk to the players on the bench I was greeted with smiles from players having fun.
We ended up earning a spot in the championship game, and after falling behind in that game my team dug deep, and kept playing our game, managing to force overtime. A bad bounce in overtime ended our run differently than we might have liked, but I couldn’t be more proud of my team or more excited for how much hockey is yet to be played this season.
It will be a fun season, and it will be Our Game.
the ghost in the machine
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.
the midnight watchman
I often have found myself picking on the church. I do this not because I have been wronged by it any way but more because it is the environment that I know. the following thoughts can be applied directly to any church although really it is directed towards the “moral authorities” whoever they may be.
I have written many times about ideas of love and interactions with the people of our lives. I am beginning from a similar place although going in a different direction. another appropriate title for this post might have been “strangers”. regardless of affiliation the community you belong to has a profound impact on how we are raised and this in turn sets us into motion for how we will interact with the world. one of the first ideals that we strive to instill into children, partially because it is aided by their biological instincts, is trust. specifically who to trust and who not to trust. we are constantly telling children to not talk to strangers and definitely not to take things from them. we teach about authority figures and how children can ALWAYS trust them (which is always a good plan right up to the moment when it isn’t true).
as children continue to grow, social interaction and relationships are a big focus of education. teachers will notify parents if a child doesn’t interact with others well, a heavy focus on sharing, etc. this is important because relationships are the thing that defines our lives. sure there may be other accomplishments but the ones that really matter are the people in our lives that will always be there. because of the importance of this we teach from a conservative place. always concerned with safety and injury — either physical or emotional — because we don’t want them to have to experience our own pain or fears.
the peak of this educational strategy comes when we teach teens about romantic relationships. these are often the cause of most of our own pain so they receive the closest of instruction. the teaching often takes the form of “guard your heart”. don’t let anyone get too close unless you are sure they are worth it, or have earned it.
brief disclaimer, I am not saying we shouldn’t teach caution nor would I ever say that. my issue with this is that we have taught future generations to be closed, to hold tight to what they have so that they will never have less. the process of loving others, romantically or platonically is an action of pouring yourself out, making yourself vulnerable and showing those people that you value you them enough to risk yourself.
the scope of this is not limited to troubled or stifled social interactions in the future. it is a killer for creation. our culture is often lambasted for it’s consumerist or sheeple type ways. a cookie cutter culture if you will. the way to overcome this of course is to develop people who are creating art, creating music, leaving a mark in ways that I cannot define. however art and creation is an act of pouring oneself into something, often bigger then themselves. however the guards and walls we teach people to build around their hearts are killing art before it even has a chance to form.
art comes from pain, from tragedy, from hope and hopelessness alike. these are all states that we teach children and teenagers to avoid. we should be teaching the process of embracing these things, how to move forward when it feels like we have no more forward in us.
we need to embrace our own pain that has us teaching things like “guard your heart” so that we stop killing the capacity for great creations of others.
scientific approaches to god
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.
being what you are
recently I spent a friday night with some good friends in a lovely pub type restaurant in halifax. the thing that really set this evening apart from other pub type adventures I have had would be the accessories that my friends brought along. on the large table that we occupied there were at least 3 coloring books (with large numbers of crayons), a buddha board on which you paint with water and finally a chess board one which at least one epic game of chess was played. I did not partake in the game of chess myself as I do not have the attention span for such endeavors but that is the item that I want to focus on.
on my last post a friend commented about the nature of understanding people through the stereotypes that we form about people and the way that people will change to become like the way they are perceived. this is the same friend who is responsible for delivering the chess board to our night out and from whom I have learned a lot about chess and other things interesting. while I don’t disagree with what he had to say about people in his comment I am going to take it in a bit of a different direction.
people are like chess pieces.
also people do not know they are chess pieces.
the second point is the part where confusion and problems stem from, a clear understanding of the first point would improve the lives of people at large significantly. the problem is one that runs deep in people, to their very cores. culturally there is an attitude that anyone can do anything that they put their mind to if they have enough focus and determination. I will flatly suggest this is a lie. like pieces on a chess board people are different, not entirely unique, and in some cases different people can accomplish the same task albeit with varying degrees of success. I am in no way insinuating that there are classes of people and that some are better than others by suggesting people are like chess pieces. any good chess player, as my friend has taught me, knows that all pieces are valuable. I am also not saying that there is never a case where someone drastically changes their lot in life to become something else, in chess terms a pawn that reaches the opposite side of the board becomes a queen, one of the most dynamic pieces in chess.
the US army really had it right for a while with their slogan “be all that you can be.” this is a slogan that suggests that every person is already something and they should be that and nothing else. the most obvious case of this in my life is teaching. I have had a number of conversations with people about the state of education and education training and heard a number of complaints about how the program doesn’t do x, y, or z to get you ready to be a teacher. having been through the ed program and with some, albeit not much, teaching experience I have come to a simple conclusion. when you enter an education program you either already are a teacher or you aren’t. the one or two years that you spend in that program are not going to magically make you become a teacher because you learned the right things. if you already are a teacher it is a program that will make you a better teacher, much like putting cookie dough in an oven will make delicious cookies but putting applesauce in an oven will just make a mess. there is nothing wrong with applesauce, or in this case people who aren’t naturally teachers, but they don’t belong in a teaching program.
it has taken me almost 25 years to figure out that at heart I am a teacher, even still when I look back over the past ten years I can see that I had an understanding of that at some subconscious level as many decisions were impacted by my passions for teaching. deep down we all know whether or not we are a bishop that can move infinitely in a finite number of directions or if we are a knight or is never quite going in a straight line. until we really take the time to own what we are we cannot truly be happy in all aspects of our lives. the pursuit of joy and happiness requires us to know who we are, and knowing who we are requires us to understand what we are.