Stock Day

The day after Thanksgiving is one of my favorite days.
Our Thanksgiving day consists of hosting a dinner for 10-15 family members and friends, preceded by running the Troy Turkey Trot 5k and Grade School Mile races. We also spend most of the previous week cleaning our house as much as schedules, cooking, and children allow.
By the time Friday comes around, the house is clean, we have tons of leftovers, we’re sore from having run so a workout is optional. We also don’t participate in any of this Black Friday nonsense so we don’t even really have anywhere to go.
The only actual project we have today is to make turkey stock with the nonmeat remains of the bird. This is ridiculously simple and rewarding: just put the leftover bits in a huge pot with water and simmer on the stove for 8-12 hours. Not only do we not have to leave the house today, but the house smells amazing.
I love these kinds of days and I highly recommend them where possible.

Go Fabi!

The World Chess Championship for 2018 starts today! The match is being held at The College in Holborn in London, pitting the world champion grandmaster Magnus Carlsen against grandmaster Fabiano Caruana, a chess prodigy who grew up in Brooklyn. Caruana is the first world championship challenger since Bobby Fischer became world champion in 1972.
I’m cheering for Caruana.
Each game of the match is in an extended classical time format: 100 minutes for each player’s first 40 moves, then 50 minutes for each player’s next 20 moves, plus 15 more minutes for all remaining moves. Each player also gains an extra 30 seconds on their clock for each move. That means that none of these games will be short — a sixty-move game will run almost six hours.
Game 1 begins at 10am EST and is being streamed at Chess.com. Games 2-12 will run over the next two weeks, with a series of tie-breakers on November 28 if necessary. The first player to 6.5 points wins the match (a game win counts as 1 point and a draw 0.5 points).
I’ve only started to just barely learn chess over the past year or so, and the more I learn the more I realize I’m terrible at it. But I’ve gained a great appreciation for those who can play the sport at such a high level, and so this match will be a real treat regardless of who wins.
That said… go Fabi!

Social media and the simple blog

I’m reconsidering my relationships with social media.

Twitter was great for its ability to connect you with like-minded strangers. I connected with locals, got to know my community, and yes, I attended at least one tweetup back in the day. Then the Nazis found Twitter, and Twitter decided it didn’t really care, so to the extent possible I want out. I’ve already been posting less and less there, and I can’t imagine that trend reversing.

Facebook becomes more of a worry everyday as its algorithms are exploited to amplify political speech. And oh yeah, your private data wasn’t really private. Sorry!

I’ve taken to Instagram more and more lately. Instagram is just photos, few memes, little text content. But even Instagram has had its recent problems.

I actually liked Google+, believe it or not. Sure, Google forced it down everyone’s throats but it allowed for longer posts and friend-of-a-friend interactions which are good for community building. And Google+ seemed to bind together those creative communities, from academic to gaming to literary to maker content.

With all the evolution in social platforms over the past fifteen years, the humble personal blog has stayed pretty constant as a robust repository of personal and professional insights. Not the sexiest platform, but reliable and controllable and consistent.

So in an attempt to provide a single place to document my personal and professional projects, I’m reopening this space.

The last time I attempted regular blogging was about ten years ago. I was teaching high school and wrote physics-related content for my students and the teaching community. Some of it was really good (and I may repost that someday). Some of it was not. In the interim I’ve transitioned back into software development and management. No one wants to hear about the details of debugging WPF applications. However I have since also taken tiny footsteps into the maker movement — and that’s where I see the power of a blog, to document personal projects and find community. Blogs are social, after all.

My intended posting frequency will be occasional to intermittent to nonexistent. No promises. But I know the way I work, and sometimes having a venue to write in is enough to motivate me to keep progress moving along.

Thanks for joining me on my new social venture!

Sonification: Making Data Sound at EMPAC

I’ve always been interested at the intersection of art and science, so I jumped at the chance to attend Sonification: Making Data Sound at the Experimental Media and Performing Arts Center (EMPAC) at RPI this past Thursday evening. The lecture and workshop was hosted by Chris Chafe, the director of Stanford University’s Center for Computer Research in Music & Acoustics.

Data visualization has been a passing interest of mine for a while. Reading Edward Tufte’s The Visual Display of Quantitative Information was instructive in that I learned some of the principles of a good visual representation of data. I haven’t had the professional reason to do too much with what I’ve learned, as most of my work has been in software rather than data analytics. But like everyone else, I like to look at pretty pictures. Pretty and informative pictures are the best.

It follows then that if one can clearly identify trends with data using ink on the printed page, the medium could be changed from visual to audial: data could be represented by changing sound through time.

In Chafe’s lecture we were treated to excerpts of various aural “plots”. First, the Tomato Quintet, representing the temperature and ethylene and carbon dioxide concentrations of tomatoes, with ten days of growing compressed into ten minutes of sound. Next, continuing on the carbon dioxide theme, a sonification of the last 300+ years of atmospheric temperature and carbon dioxide concentration in several minutes. (Spoiler alert: the pitch goes up at the end.) We also were able to listen to the “sounds” of the DNA structure of particular proteins and “zoom in” by slowing down the aural representation until individual amino acids could be identified.

 

Chafe admits that as of now most usage of data sonification is for more artistic than pure scientific applications. One very important potential therapeutic application is for the diagnosis of seizures. Identification of a seizure through sonification of the brain waves of an actively seizing patient was a lot faster and more conclusive when analyzed aurally rather than via a printed chart. (And even more interestingly, listening to the sounds of a seizing brain seemed to trigger some kind of latent medical issue in one of my fellow lecture attendees. He was unresponsive for about five minutes, and I can only speculate that he may have had some kind of seizure disorder that was triggered by the sounds of a brain in trouble.)

That our ears can analyze waves better than our eyes actually makes perfect sense to me — our ears are very efficient devices at calculating Fourier transforms, the identification of the frequencies that make up a sound. These frequency peaks aren’t obvious when looking at a plot of a function against time, but our ears can pick up the component frequencies naturally. This requires a bit of training, as most people without vision impairments aren’t used to using their ears more than their eyes. But humans can do this easily (based on the exceptional compensatory hearing of people with severe visual impairment).

After the lecture, I had the good fortune of attending a workshop at which we were able to use some basic JavaScript sonification tools (available here, for the curious). Chafe was a little less comfortable in this setting, but I can’t blame him as he’s clearly a musician, and shepherding 30+ people through the details of someone else’s JavaScript is daunting even for those who speak JavaScript fluently.

The data I had brought with me was the electricity usage in ISO New England for the calendar year 1981. I had thought this data might be good for this purpose because electricity demand is triply periodic. The lowest level “carrier wave” is the daily demand — high during the middle of the day, lower at night. There’s also a weekly cycle in that demand is highest during the five weekdays when offices are staffed and industrial loads are highest, and lower on weekends. Finally there’s an annual cycle. Electricity consumption is highest during the winter (heating) and summer (cooling), and lowest during the spring and fall.

The data sonified well, and produced a single-channel signal that was about what I would expect. Note the 7/8 time signature, and the 5-beats-on/2-beats-off rhythm.

 

I didn’t resonate immediately with the JavaScript tool (based on the WebAudio API), but its predecessor is a language called ChucK which seems a little bit more mature. In future posts I hope to develop these ideas further and expand my knowledge of the available tools.

Overall this was a very worthwhile few hours spent. Thanks to Chris Chafe for coming to Troy to present this to us. I have a few ideas of future art projects based on this, and I can’t wait to get started!