Pittsburgh, in 21 Films

Last week I went to see Fences, the film adaptation of August Wilson’s play by the same name. It represents the 1950s-era installment of his Pittsburgh Cycle, a century-long portrait of the African American experience in the 20th century, using the city of Pittsburgh as its platform. I’ve been on a kick of watching movies set here in my adopted hometown for the past…

An Analysis of FAWM (2017)

Thirteen years ago, I started a project called FAWM (February Album Writing Month) with a few friends. It was a way to motivate ourselves to make more music. The goal is to write 14 songs in the 28 days of February, much in the same way NaNoWriMo challenges you to write a whole novel in a month. Maybe it’s crappy, maybe it’s not. Don’t…

Designing the JANUS Overdrive

For about three years now, I’ve been teaching myself guitar electronics (which I’ve written about before), and stompbox effects in particular. As a software and data kind of guy, it’s a nice to have a hobby that’s physical — but still technical — and also useful to my band as we explore new soundscapes. After building a few DIY all-in-one kits, I…

The Three Faces of Bayes

Last summer, I was at a conference having lunch with Hal Daumé III when we got to talking about how “Bayesian” can be a funny and ambiguous term. It seems like the definition should be straightforward: “following the work of English mathematician Rev. Thomas Bayes,” perhaps, or even “uses Bayes’ theorem.” But many methods bearing the reverend’s name…

Machine Learning Roller Derby Names

I have several friends who do roller derby, and one of my favorite things about the culture is the derby name. This is a fun way for skaters to express their personalities through witty, satirical, and mock-violent alter-egos. Since most of my derby friends also have PhDs in computer science, machine learning, or statistics, they can be wonderfully nerdy, too. A while back I was…

Transistor Clustering for DIY Guitar Effects

For the past couple of years, I’ve been teaching myself analog guitar electronics. (I previously wrote about fixing an old tube amplifier.) It’s nice to have a hobby that is “material” in nature — a departure from my usual world of data and software — but that also complements my musical interests. In fact, two of the seven pedals on my delicious…

Rebuilding A Vintage Tube Amplifier

As someone who works mainly with digital data and software, it’s nice to have a “material” hobby that can get my hands dirty. That’s why I’ve been building my own guitar effects recently (but more about that in a later post…). For now, consider that the only guitar amplifier I’ve had for ages is my Peavey Classic 30 (ca. 2000, back when they were still made in…

Most Livable Cities: A Meta-Analysis

Every few weeks, my Facebook newsfeed throws me an article like “Most Livable Cities” or “Best Cities for Quality of Life”or “Happiest and Unhappiest U.S. Cities” or somesuch. These rankings are generally quite different (though with a few common themes), and often include — in the top ten or so — the home city of whoever shared the link with their…

Encoding Human Thought Processes into a Computer

One of my favorite characters in William Gibson’s Neuromancer was a so-called “psychological construct” named The Dixie Flatline. Dixie wasn’t a person, really, but an emulation of a famous computer hacker named McCoy Pauley (based on a brain scan that was made before he died). As he — or, it — said in a conversation with the novel’s protagonist…

On “Geek” Versus “Nerd”

To many people, “geek” and “nerd” are synonyms, but in fact they are a little different. Consider the phrase “sports geek” — an occasional substitute for “jock” and perhaps the arch-rival of a “nerd” in high-school folklore. If “geek” and “nerd” are synonyms, then “sports geek” might be an oxymoron. (Furthermore, “sports nerd” either doesn’t…

Machine Learning and Social Science: Taking The Best of Both Worlds

Machine learning and social science are converging, since both are hot to answer questions and challenges raised by vast modern social data sets. The more I talk to and work with social scientists, the more I realize that we use the same basic statistical tools in our research (e.g., linear or logistic regression), but in…

Machine Learning and Personality Type

Here are some thoughts on statistical approaches for pinpointing personality types. Text analysis and crowdsourcing FTW! Myers-Briggs I recently discovered Typealyzer, a service that analyzes a web page and tries to determine the author’s personality type, in terms of Myers-Briggs Type Indicators. I’m not sure what kind of classifier it uses, but it’s apparently built on uClassify‘s API…