Exciting New Machine Learning Algorithm

The University of New York, the University of Toronto and MIT have made a breakthrough in machine learning. They’ve developed a technique they have termed Bayesian Program Learning (BPL) which uses an inductive approach to recognizing characters. (www.gizmag.com/artificial-intelligence-algorithm-learning/41448/) The researchers think the technique has potential applications to many other fields such as voice recognition, image recognition, and natural language processing.

On Writing, Programming, and Composing

I used to be daunted by a blank page. Now I am beckoned. It is an invitation to pour out whatever I am thinking about. I grew up in a time when you either laboriously wrote out your thoughts in long hand with pen and paper or you typed them with a typewriter. In either case erasing was complicated to the extent that it wasn’t really a good option. I think many writers just marked through their mistakes and kept writing.

I remember sitting in the spare bedroom of the trailer in Carbondale surrounded by a bunch of wadded up sheets of yellow paper containing discarded starts of the screen play I was attempting to write. I had no concept of how to write a draft. I was a perfectionist. If it wasn’t exactly what I meant to say, I ripped the page out of the typewriter, wadded it up, and loaded a clean page.

Even when I finally got a computer, I didn’t know how to write with it. I spent hours typing a few words and deleting them and then typing a few more. I had similar problems with programs. I have started many programs that never got much further than a skeleton and a few simple primitives. The important thing in both cases was that I didn’t quit trying.

For a while, I kept just starting over again doing the same thing each time. Then, I started varying my approach. I had some successes with programming at work. I eventually found The Artist’s Way and learned how to bootstrap my writing by sitting down every day at the same time and writing a minimum of 750 words. I eventually became confident enough in myself that I was able to write 50,000 words in a month.

I have learned that I must keep raising the bar, demanding more of myself. I recently increased my daily minimum to 1000 words. I decided that I would spend at least part of my words writing something that was more focused than a journal entry. Some days I find that I still spend the whole entry rambling. Others, I actually dive into a topical post as soon as I start writing. I feel the quality of my writing improve with practice. I notice my mindset while writing changing. It has become an exercise in organizing my thoughts instead of struggling with the mechanics of writing.

I have struggled off and on with integrating what I know to be good grammar with the conversational voice that often ignores such faux pas as dangling participles. I have also have had problems with sounding pedantic when I write. I am still struggling but I seem to be doing better with less struggle lately.

On the programming front, I have had similar experiences. I have learned that good tools are very important to being productive. They can help you be more productive so that you have more time to think about the code you are writing. This means that you don’t have to take the first thing that works as the final product. I am feeling the urge to rewrite more often. Too often in the commercial world the people that are paying for the software don’t appreciate the value of iterating a couple of times to improve the design of a piece of software.

I am to a point now that I am facing a common challenge in all of my endeavors. To finish. I suppose there is a corollary that has just occurred to me. Each time you iterate over a piece you should strive to finish that iteration. Each iteration should have as its primary goal to improve over the previous iteration. If you make the practice of finishing each iteration, it doesn’t matter if you have an iteration that is a regression. You can fall back to the last iteration and try again.

This is true of writing, programming, and my other artistic endeavor that I haven’t even discussed yet, composing music. In fact, it is even more applicable to composing music. So much so that there is a special name for it. It is called improvisation. There is improvisation in writing and programming but it is not as exposed to public scrutiny as musical improvisation is. It occurs to me that essay writing is literary improvisation though. And live coding is programming improvisation. So the paradigm does translate across all three fields.

A good essay would draw some conclusions at this point. I’m not claiming this is a good essay. It is certainly not a bad start though. So I’ll leave it at that.

So, Velikovsky May Have Been Right After All

Some scientists at Caltech think there might be nine planets (ten if you count poor Pluto). (www.gizmag.com/solar-system-nine-planets-caltech/41423/) Velikovsky spent most of his adult life insisting that there was a tenth planet and that the inhabitants of it had uplifted humankind from apes in order to mine gold for them back in ancient Babylon. Just watch Ancient Astronauts if you want to know more about that scenario.

UPDATE: As my friends Chuck Puckett and Shelley  Wilmoth pointed out on Facebook, I misremembered who it was that was hypothesizing the Ancient Aliens. It was Zecharia Sitchin that wrote about Nibiru, the twelfth planet. Immanuel Velikovsky wrote Worlds In Collision. That will teach me to do my research before I rip off a blog post.

Nielsen TV Ratings on Facebook?

I heard a news item on Marketplace last night (http://www.marketplace.org/2016/01/20/world/media-ratings-agency-pushes-new-ground) about Nielsen scanning Facebook and other social media for mention of TV shows. I immediately wondered how sophisticated their algorithms were and whether my mention of the Big Bang Theory in other contexts might add to the show’s already gargantuan ratings. Not that I’d mind.

The Blogger Experiments

It has been over two weeks since I wrote a blog post. There are a number of reasons but they all sound more like excuses than valid reasons to me. Rather than be hard on myself, I have decided to try an experiment. I am going to start mixing short posts with the longer, essay length posts. The idea behind this is, if I start writing a short post, it might grow into a longer one.

I’m also going to try to post more than just one post a day. This should be easier given that I am giving myself permission to make short posts. I hope this makes this blog easier to read.

I ought to mention that this idea arose from a conversation that I had with my friend Bob. His advice was to open the editor and type “I have nothing to say.” Then, he reasoned, I would sit there and say to myself, “I can’t post that!” and come up with something better than that to say. I am doing that very thing but I’m skipping the first step. I’m lazy that way.

Ham Radio Experiment

Yesterday I transmitted on ten meters for the first time. I used two different radio transmission modes that I hadn’t tried before. One was continuous wave or CW which is what hams use to transmit Morse code. The other was Single Sideband or SSB which is a technique for compressing speech into half the space on the air.

The ironic thing was that, due to numerous factors, no one heard me. Notice, I said I transmitted on ten meters, not that I had made a contact. The frustrating part is that my friend Bob was listening for my signal. Ironically, we were texting each other with our smart phones trying to get the radio to work.

We have so many more options for communications today than even ten years ago. There are cell phones and the internet that allow everyone the opportunity to communicate with anyone anywhere in the world. It changes the way that we think about ourselves and others. When one method of communication doesn’t work, there are several others that present themselves to get the job done.

We will try again with a different antenna. Since the radio is installed in my car, I may try moving to a different location to see if we can make a contact that way. Once we do get it to work, I’ll have added a couple of more ways to communicate, not only with my friend Bob, but with new friends I make from around the world.