Friday, July 31, 2015

Subjected to...

Why would anybody want to subject another to targeted advertising?

Good question. Why are you reading this blog? Friends of mine? Similar interests? Family? Well the first two mean that maybe *some* of the advertising will actually of interest. It is actually along the lines of my links page that I am doing a major overhaul on: I want the links to be a reflection of what I find important or useful. The advertising should be of use to someone, especially when I am writing about interesting things. Sorry family, maybe you like some of the things I do.

So why would I want to start making an infinitesimal amount of money from advertising on my blog? Here is an article on side hustle. Do I really want to write for a living? I already do. Coding.

But what this is is a small way to write a bit and get a bit of money. I am not expecting thousands of dollars, but I do need just a bit more motivation for some of my writing ideas.

Really though I have a much more lucrative side hustle already, reviewing code for Udacity. Depending on the projects and complexity of the rubric it can pay quite well, but guess what I am doing in that situation: writing. I write comments on specific parts of the code and write broader reviews for the rubric. It has really given me an opportunity to see some pretty good code as well as help those that need a bit of support to make their code work well. The only real issue is that there are waves of activity and I am usually busy with something else when they need tons of reviews done.

Why am I busy? Work, school, life.  And two of those are writing intensive. I want to work more on my universe building, or really extending our universe. I certainly know that not everything is working together right now. I have actually been doing some research on some of the tougher physics ideas, but I really have a hard time concentrating on things like that. I have also read a ton of sci-fi over the last year, choosing it over fantasy in order to just fill my mind with concepts, what works, what is wonky, what could be done better. I really want to have something believable to base a story on, I just get caught up in the world building idea.

One thing I worry about is character development. I know about it in theory, and experienced it in “the story of my life,” but there is still something that just scares me about it. I don’t want to just focus on one character’s major development, but I also don’t want to have flat characters. So how will I balance plot, characters, and the ever so essential technology? Well the technology will have posts here, but might also have some of its own material, only appearing in the story with enough context that you don’t need to go look it up, but hopefully for all those that want to they can find it.

Completely Different

Not speaking of work or side hustles, there is a group that I have tried twice that I enjoy to some extent: Hit one another with foam weapons… what could be more fun? It is great since you don’t need anything except a foam weapon, no armor, and if the people aren’t strict, no medieval costume necessary. The C-ville club has a few loaner swords, so it isn’t necessary to build your own right away. One issue that I have with the concept is that the head is verboten, only archers and rock-throwers can hit the head. That really messes with quickly choosing targets if you have been practicing longsword in your garage, like I have. Jessie and I will be practicing with fencing helmets and a few other pieces of protection, but much more in the Germanic tradition. But anyway, the people are nice and it is a fun form of exercise!

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Contrasting Old and New

What’s the best thing about living on the mainland after seven years of living on Hawaii? Flights aren’t working out in my favor as far as schedule and cost, nor is it cheap to send furniture from my parents’. In Hawaii? Suck it up, the only way you are getting off this island is to fly or get really good at sailing. Also freight is going to cost you 1400 bucks to ship an end table… okay maybe not that much. Mainland? Okay, we will drive 3200 miles round trip for about 500 bucks, be able to take all the luggage we want, and then turn around and bring home the furniture. The bad news? We are looking at doing that in December and January. Oh seasons.

Whatever plans we have though, I think both of can be pretty flexible and be able to go before any large storms are going to occur. Then we won’t need to be as regimented to catch flights. And if we really need to we can go south. Add a few hours or more, but still make it in our own time. Also, if the weather is bad on the days we have plane tickets, the changing of plans or waiting would be frustrating to say the least.

What car are we going to drive there and pick up furniture with? Ah, but we have a direct line on a Subaru Forester, buying it Saturday. It might be the car’s first real trip period, but we are really excited to get it.

Furniture, but not really -
Due to office remodeling I also got cabinets with a countertop,  going to install that in the garage for a workbench. Might be modifications throughout the years to make it more useful, but I think it will be quite a bit easier than trying to build my own with basically no tools currently.

Short observations on work
One of the best things about working for a startup is the fact that there is huge right of way for creativity, in order for an idea to be really crazy it has to be at least one more level of crazy than normal. To put it into perspective, we have 30+ interns working for us this summer, about half the company. That is nuts in my mind, but the amount of work they are doing is actually amazing, in fact swamping our normal processes. But speaking of processes, still a large amount of room for growth or massive change.

Compared to the Joint Astronomy Centre the Center for Open Science is a massively younger, more flexible place. This is both a blessing, but it also means that we aren’t playing with 120 ton telescopes that can look at a gas cloud being eating by a black hole in the middle of our galaxy, trade-offs.

Probably my biggest issue is that there is so much going on that it is hard to keep track of who is working on similar or potentially conflicting things. I have to say that one of my merges of code essentially wiped out an entire commit by an intern, not because they did anything wrong, but because I started using schema validation rather than writing out a dataset line by line. Also there have been a couple cases where interns figure out that an issue already has a PR that just isn’t merged yet, after they code a solution. Even with all of that and the semi-chaotic nature of interactions I have to say I enjoy it nine out ten or fifteen days which is a bit better than some spans of time at the JAC.

And I have certainly learned a huge amount. That is not all that different from the JAC, but the pace is much faster, and the tools are so much newer in general at COS that sometimes you have to fix them and send in a PR to a stand alone tool. But that leads to other things: Open source! Oh man, so glad to still be working for science and for the greater good. I am not sure if I could work for a “business” company, even if I’ve dreamed of starting my own sometimes.

Anyway, on to solving the world’s problems by facilitating a better website for scientists to do better, more transparent work.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Done! For Now...

Sometimes progress is hard to come by. Right now, for instance, I am trying to learn something new, specifically a Python web module known as flask but running it on a ipython notebook which is probably complicating matters. Maybe I should just make another sandbox to test these things with…

Anyway, on to other more interesting things while I wait for the program to complete or fail: I turned in my final for Knowledge Based AI for Georgia Tech’s Online Master's in Computer Science. It was actually quite an interesting class. We had three projects over the course of 3 weeks looking to solve visual IQ tests using cognitive techniques.

I certainly wasn’t the best in the class by a long shot, but I know I got a pretty solid B in the course and am hoping that I somehow squeaked an A, though if I don’t get one I will be close. I really enjoyed the challenge of the class and most of the time I enjoyed writing the papers too. An interesting tool the course used was a peer feedback system for the papers. Some feedback was less than useful, but there was certainly quite a bit of it that was useful.

The topics looked into how we could model AI off of human intelligence, rather than just building a logical and/or super fast machine, think Deep Blue: brute force chess playing works, but it really isn’t the way most people would approach chess, not even the masters. No one can consider the next million possible moves in a few seconds.But even if there are approaches to how to do something that make a computer behave a bit more like a human, it still isn’t the generalists that we are. Even the most strictly uni-tasked human can generally figure out how to do something new, and we are only beginning to delve into those depths of general learning. And hopefully Empathy, but I will leave it at that.

I didn’t feel as though I got my agent to be an AI much. There was quite a bit more image processing going on than trying to follow all of the different concepts we were introduced to. It might be interesting if each of those topics had a more in-depth set of materials to mess around with and code a small agent using all of those materials. That does sound like a possible project, to make mini-agents that incorporate each concept separately and only include other concepts that are needed to facilitate the actual workings of the agent. Of course that is possibly a great undertaking… and I am mostly just full of good ideas and distractions.

For instance, I was introduced to an interesting thought just now: that could have huge effects on the wiki, by connecting it to SHARE, allowing the piecemeal typing to be sent to an agent that would use previously learned references and list them to the side of the wiki editor, so that the person writing a wiki page might see similar published items. These could also be split, sort of as the article describes, into smaller agents.

However, my agents might be grouped into science categories so that a chemist gets chemical references, and not psychological references. That could lead to boxing results a bit too closely, so there might be agents that cross disciplines so that discoveries in other disciplines might be helpful to the current project. But of course this “distraction” would have a dedicated “9-to-5” time to work on it.

Another problem with free time projects is that we just moved into our new house. It is huge, at least compared to the last, well, long while. Unpacking is nearly done and mostly waiting on Jessie to get back, but there are plenty of things to do.

One of the more fun things will be making an archery target. With all the empty boxes I have started doing triage to find the worst of them and cut them up to make the target. We also have way too much packing paper and grocery bags. Moving from Hawaii, where they were banned, to Virginia was quite a shock as to how many we accumulated over 6 months. The bags will make pretty decent fill though.

Also I have been working pretty much eight to sixteen hours extra a week on the class, no real down-time. Some projects, especially on my own will have to far away from code so I can mentally refresh and prepare for the Machine Learning class that starts at the end of August! Oof.

Maybe I should just keep the nose to the grindstone in order not to miss the fleeting down-time.

Sunday, July 12, 2015

The Only Constant

I have no idea how many people read this blog, or rather I haven't looked at in depth stats recently. One thing I will tell you is that I certainly have an issue with consistently writing. So I will keep this short in order to motivate myself to write another post with more details about the specific things that have been keeping me from writing.

First and foremost: I no longer work for the Joint Astronomy Centre, it is no more. The telescopes were successfully transferred to University of Arizona and the East Asian Observatory. I did not want to transfer, and could give you many reasons which sum up to the fact that I am not enamored with Hawaii. (Nice place, but needed to move back to a larger bit of land.) I interviewed with two telescopes: NOAO in Tucson, AZ and NRAO in Green Bank, WV. Didn't get either of those jobs despite my experience, I think I definitely flubbed the NRAO one with choosing a topic I am only now becoming familiar with and of not much interest to them. But I also interviewed with Center for Open Science in Charlottesville, VA.

Despite having 7 years of pure telescope experience and seeing exactly how I could help the NOAO I didn't get an offer from either telescope organization. However, COS offered me a job despite my nearly complete lack of web development experience. To put it shortly: In the last 6 months I have learned a huge amount about the web as well as having a supportive environment to delve into interesting software engineering problems. Ironic, really.

I also started a Masters with Georgia Tech in January, and moved during my first big project for a class. I got a 20% but managed to claw my way to a B, including managing and coding for a group project at the end in which we got a 98%! I will go into more details at some point.

Oh yeah, we are set to buy a house tomorrow. Oh man, a bit of a vertigo moment. Am I finally an adult?

Maybe more on all this next time. I also read some of my sci-fi physics posts, I certainly want to edit and add more posts in that area, but homework. Hopefully soon.

Seattle, Alaska, and Back Again

This is an old post that never was posted from 2013.

Our usual summer trip usually involves family, check. Though 'our' and 'usual' don't quite go together yet. We've been married for a bit more than a year and a half, so this is our second summer traveling together. And last summer was very unusual because we went to Europe.

To continue: We went to Seattle to see my brother get his Mechanical Engineering Master's. Does it bother me that my little brother has his master's and I don't? Yes. How much? A bit, mostly in the fact that it might be easier to apply to all these jobs that have 'senior' prepended to the software engineering title. I am interested in getting a master's, but out here in the middle of this puddle the closest master's is at UH Manoa and that is a 200 dollar round trip ticket.

But before I get into what I want to do: Udacity is working with Georgia Tech for an online Master's in computer science. That will be another post.

My brother picked us up from the airport and we met up with family. Got to do some site seeing in Seattle. The last time I was there I didn't have too much time because I was on Amazon's schedule. We had awesome weather, mostly the same as March, but maybe warmer. And a really cool sun halo, high clouds of ice.

We saw my brother graduate and got to hang out a bit more with family. Got to visit with Jessie's Aunt and Uncle as well. Then we were off to Anchorage.

So just a bit about time-shock. Not too bad going to Seattle, but going to Anchorage was a shock. Not so much in the many timezones crossed usual problem, but rather we arrived in Anchorage around 11pm and it was still civil twilight! In Hilo the latest the sun sets is around 7pm and dark by 7:05, so this was the shocker.

The first day we took a cruise around Prince William Sound <> and then we were driving back after eating dinner and it was still light, so stopping off at the many pull-offs along the Cook Inlet Highway we hiked a few miles starting around 8 pm. Sun still high in the sky.

Thank goodness the motel had blackout curtains. The sun really messed with our sleeping schedule, but we got up the next morning and drove north to a glacier. We hired a guide and gear and went adventuring across the glacier. <> A great time indeed! We were the only two that day and so our guide could move faster than he ever had with any other group. We were still going slow, but it was quite fun and we got to climb and poke around. If you are interested: Nova out of Chickaloon.

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