Intention for Jan 31 (and 30)

I am still doing this, I swear 🙂 The mindfulness bell keeps turning itself off, which is odd. I haven’t figured out the right routine for me to remember to write every day but at least I remembered again.

Intention is still to take in the good. I think this is a good full-week intention. And I’m actually feeling pretty happy today (that’s a bit of a cheat, since it’s Friday).

I do have a 90 min float booked for this afternoon and then I have the evening alone because Bill is going out for dinner. I got the materials I needed to start on this course,

so I plan to get a nice warm fire going to ward off today’s downpour and play at being creative 🙂

Intention for Jan 29 (and 28!)

Well, as expected, by about noon on Monday, I’d forgotten about my intention for the day. I did remember again yesterday though and was in the middle of typing up a post for the day (same intention) but I got derailed and then forgot about the whole thing even sooner!

I’m trying again this morning and I think I might set a reminder for about 2pm to poke myself again. The trouble is, I often get distracted so I set a LOT of reminders and now I’m in a ‘broken windows’ situation where I just ignore most of them. I could probably benefit from a reminder purge.

At any rate, I’m sticking with the the ‘take in the good’ intention today, and possibly for the whole week. I did feel like it was having a positive impact (at least in the moment) on Monday and it’s certainly an area I would benefit from more strength in.

Intention for January 27, 2020

I have been reading “Buddha’s Brain” lately and I think it would be useful for me to explicitly state an intention for each day.

I want to follow the exercises in this, and other books, but I don’t tend to have these things bubble up in my mind regularly. So I’m going to try getting into the habit of explicitly stating an intention publicly to see if that might help.

Today’s intention is “to take in the good”. The exercise is intended to help counter the negative bias that evolution has gifted ya with (in order to help us survive)

But apparently actively “soaking” in positive events can help shift one’s default reactions to situations and these days, I could really use that.

Giving people the chance to say goodbye

I am thinking today (as so many Canadians are) about the final Tragically Hip concert that will start in  a little over an hour. One of the articles I read mentioned how unusual it seems for the very private Downie to publicize his diagnosis and contrasted that with how David Bowie handled his.

I found myself feeling very grateful for the opportunity to celebrate, thank, and grieve the forthcoming loss of this person who has contributed so much to the culture of our country. And I thought about some of the ‘farewell parties’ I’ve lately been hearing about – people who have terminal diagnoses participating in the celebration of their lives with their loved ones. There was even one portrayed on “Grace & Frankie.”

Death is hard for us to accept. We don’t like it and we prefer to not think about it or talk about it. But it is coming, for each of us, and despite what we imagine and hope and plan for the future, we don’t know when. By being open with his diagnosis of terminal brain cancer, Gord Downie has created space for us to talk about this most fundamentally shared human experience, and has in some ways held our hands as we look at it – frightened, angry, and sad. In some ways, it feels like another brilliant song he’s written to help us feel things that we couldn’t find our way to on our own.

I’m grateful for the example of a well-lived life. Thank you, Mr. Downie, for inviting us to your goodbye party and giving us the chance to say goodbye.

On Machine Learning and the Ethics of Computation

I was reading a recent post on machine learning from one of my favourite technical writers (Julia Evans) and was inspired enough to comment that I signed up for Disqus under my own name for a change 🙂
However, it turns out that the post was closed for comments, so I thought that I’d write up my thoughts here.  I’m pretty busy today so I’m just going to paste it as a quote rather than edit it into a more ‘first-person’ writing style.

This is a pretty interesting topic overall – I have largely avoided machine learning b/c of a lot of concerns about how it’s used (and its results assumed to be ‘normal’ or ‘correct’) but recently decided that that’s the wrong approach. Instead, I’m going to learn more about it so I’m in a better position to critique how it’s used and point out implicit assumptions and biases. To that end, I’ve signed up for the Stanford course that just started.

Even in the first lesson in that course, I saw some interesting examples that made my skin crawl. I think the biggest issue I have with it is (and I am JUST starting to learn) is that there’s an implicit assumption that all relevant information is externally observable and that conclusions drawn from objectively measurable data/behaviour will be correct. I’m fine with that when it involves some kinds of events, but I get very uncomfortable when we’re applying it to humans. So much of human motivation is invisible/intuitive that leaning so heavily on machine learning (which necessarily relies on events that are can be observed by others & fed into algorithms) leads to things like, as you say, the Target pregnancy issue. There are many other ‘positive feedback’ effects of assuming that reinforcing/strengthening conclusions based on visibly available data that are detrimental – gender-segregated toys is a primary one. “65% of people buying for girls bought X, so when someone is shopping for a girl, we’ll suggest X. Look! Now 75% of people shopping for girls bought X – we were right! MOAR X for the girls!” [eventually, the ‘for girls’ section is nothing but X in various sizes, shapes, and colours (all colours a variant shade of pink)]

Another ML issue that came up for discussion when I was working at Amazon was: some people consider LGBTQ topics to be inappropriate for some readers, so even if someone had actively searched for LGBTQ fiction, the recommendation engine was instructed to NOT suggest those titles. That has the effect of erasing representation for marginalized people and increasing isolation among those who are already isolated. In fact, one could argue that one of the things that ML does best is erase the margins (obviously, depending on how it’s implemented, but in the rush to solve all problems with it, these types of questions seem to be ignored a lot).

I mentioned positive feedback loops before. The analogy I have in my head is: ML type algorithms (unless you build in randomness & jitter) amplify differences until you end up with a square wave – flat and of two polar opposite values. Negative feedback loops lead to dynamic yet stable equilibriums.

I mean, it’s obviously here to stay, and it clearly has some very significant beneficial use cases. But there are a lot of ethical questions that aren’t getting a lot of attention and I’d love to see more focus on that over the technical ones. Thank you for mentioning them 🙂

The more time I spend in this industry, the more I believe that the one Computational Ethics course I took back in my CS degree wasn’t nearly enough, and that we could really use a much broader conversation in that area. [To that end, I’ve also signed up for some philosophy courses to go with the ML one ;)]

Site move – lost media

Hello all! I moved my site to new hosting and didn’t know that the export wouldn’t bring the media with it. So there are a lot of broken link images. I’ll working on restoring them quickly, but your patience is appreciated (especially where screenshots are involved).

Have a great day!

Is it obvious?

I was in San Francisco yesterday, interviewing for a job with my ideal company. In the first interview, which was a more technically focused one, I noticed that I often prefaced what I was saying with “well, obviously” or just “obviously”. When I noticed that, I commented on it out loud: “hunh, I’m not sure why I’m saying that – I don’t know what’s obvious to other people – it’s all based on individual experience and familiarity with things.”

The fact that I thought “why am I saying that” led me to re-read Nick’s post “Why am I saying this?” and to really reflect on what the word ‘obviously’ means when I say it and what it might mean to others hearing it. When I was saying it, I wasn’t really meaning that what came next was necessarily obvious to anyone – myself included. It’s a verbal tic that I developed at some point along the way, and probably an inherently defensive/self-protective one. I don’t feel like delving into all the subtle biases and one-upmanship that often happens in tech, and how people who don’t look like what everyone thinks of when they think of someone in tech learn coping habits, but I suspect that’s where my ‘obviously’ comes from.

So let’s walk through what it means to me and what it might mean to others.

What is going through my head when I say ‘obviously’ at the beginning of a sentence?

  • “Oh, shoot, I wasn’t thinking – I know the answer but still needed a cue to pick up on it. Dammit, they probably think I’m an idiot now!”
  • “This feels like a trick question…” [the answer to this question can’t possibly be the obvious one (to me), so saying ‘obviously’ is a way to prompt them to provide more hints/details]
  • “…” (i.e. nothing at all) – the word can be just a linguistic space-filler or habit. I have a few of those & I’m trying to identify and remove them (‘definitely’ is definitely top of that list)

What goes through my head when I hear ‘obviously’ at the beginning of a sentence? (putting myself in the listener’s place)

  • If I didn’t know what was being said: “Oh shit, I’m the only person here who didn’t already know that. I should have known that. I’m horribly under qualified to be here!” [Depending on how they said it, I might also think they were a bit of a jerk who wasn’t supportive of people with different experience and knowledge.]
  • If I did know: That depends on how they said it. If it was neutral/verbal tic, I might not even notice the word. That’s the best case. In the worst case, I’d probably think they were a bit of a jerk who wasn’t supportive of people with different experience and knowledge.

So where’s the upside in using ‘obviously’ word to introduce a statement? The only value seems to be protecting my own identity/ego. And since I’m working on not doing things to protect my identity/ego because that protection leads to lack of real communication and connection between people, any upside to me is heavily outweighed by the potential downside to others. Allowing myself to be vulnerable, and to be wrong, and to be seen being wrong is an important growth goal for me.

In fact, there seem to be a lot more obnoxious ways to use the word ‘obviously’ than helpful ones and I’m going to work on purging it from my spoken usage *. Even if something does seem obvious to me, what value in stating that? How does that help anyone with anything?

* I was trying to think of genuinely inoffensive ways to use the word and the best example I could come up with is play/stage direction notes and narrative:

  • “Kara was obviously moved by the story she heard”
  • “Michel was obviously upset with the situation”

But for first-person usage? I’m not sure it’s ever a good idea. [Maybe in cases where defensiveness is actually warranted (Barty Crouch has just accused you, Harry Potter, of casting the Dark Mark, I guess?)]

 

 

Going on record with my Jon Snow theory

Before we get to the next season of Game of Thrones, I want to get my personal theory about what’s going on with Jon Snow published so I can point back at it and gloat later.

Much as I adore Joanna Robinson and her crew at Cast of Kings and her other crew at Storm of Spoilers, I have a fundamental difference of opinion from them regarding Jon Snow.

They all seem very convinced that what’s going to happen in Season 6 is that Melisandre will resurrect Jon Snow from his vicious murder by Ollie (a la Thoros of Myr resurrecting Beric Dondarrion). See, me, I don’t buy it. Not because I think Jon’s gonna stay dead, but because I don’t think he ever died in the first place.

GRRM’s text left it hanging, the same way he did when Arya was blinded, when Tyrion was supposedly drowned by the Stone Men, etc etc etc. Sure, Jon was stabbed. A lot. And in the show, sure, that was a pretty big pool of spreading blood and Kit Harington’s lovely blue eyes were open and staring up at the sky, unblinking. But y’know what keeps you from bleeding out so fast? Motherfucking freezing temperatures. I actually know this firsthand from an unfortunate slip & fall when I was in grade 1 in Saskatchewan. I had a pretty harsh cut on my little head that stayed frozen and contained until I got home and inside when it really started bleeding.

See, we know that sometimes, they come back wrong. Beric didn’t, but he didn’t come back fully right, either. Lady Stoneheart came back wrong (although, in my opinion, she wasn’t that right when she was alive either – her predecessor falls in the “Ron Weasley” category of fictional characters for whom I have very little sympathy). And if Jon is going to be the hero I think he will be, as important to the show/series as we all think he is, then it’s important that he is fully human, not a shade, not a zombie (whether an ice zombie or a fire zombie or whatever. A slush zombie). It’s crucial that he not have died.

So my money is on him walking up to the brink of death & not stepping off that cliff. Melisandre may help keep him from dying. But I unequivocally do not accept him dying & being resurrected. That breaks a fundamental part of what makes him a compelling character – he needs to be OUR hope, which means he needs to be human, like we are.

Nope.