Okay, now that was a birthday cake …

February 10th, 2016

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Well, I spoke too soon: as a surprise during my team’s offsite yesterday, they gave me a real Googleversary birthday cake. And a gift card to Cafe Romanza, one of my favorite coffeehouses (the other two top faves being Coupa Cafe and Cafe Intermezzo). I don’t think I could have been happier at that moment:

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But I was sure happier today, having a nice dinner with my wife at our mutual favorite restaurant. We could have gone somewhere “special”, but I wanted to go to Aqui, the place that has the best memories of eating for me, not because of all the time I spend there writing, but of all the wonderful conversations I’ve had there with the love of my life, my wife.

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She didn’t let me take a good picture of her, but she certainly got good pictures of me.

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Now off to Facebook – I got over 50 well wishes from people on the occasion of my birthday, so as far as I am concerned the people who think that computers are making us less connected to other people can just go Like themselves. Gotta dash – the longer I spend saying thank you, the longer I put off my birthday spanking. (Actually, I already got that, but it’s the principle of the thing).

-the Centaur

Ten Years, Man!

February 8th, 2016

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Oh yeah, I almost forgot: I’ve been at Google ten years as of this Saturday. Hooray!

Now, I make it a policy not to mention my employer, with two exceptions: coincidentally, as a consumer, such as my recent article about running Google’s TensorFlow deep learning package on my MacBook Air; and concurrently, as an employee, when my employer’s just announced something I’ve worked on.

I’ve abided by this policy for years, even before my current employer, because you really do have no protection from your employer for anything you write: you can get fired for it. Even if you run your writing past your employer for legal approval, your company could be acquired tomorrow, and the new owners’ legal team could review what you’ve done and decide to fire you for it.

So I don’t talk about my current employer on my blog. I disclose both my writing to my employer when I’m hired, and my plan not to write about them, and then I go blog about my own damn business.

But Google’s been awesome to me for the last ten years, so it deserves an exception. It’s been awesome. Even the stuff that comparatively sucked was better than the average at most jobs I’ve held – and most of it didn’t suck. I get to work with awesome people, on awesome problems, with awesome resources, and have eaten a lot of awesome food while doing it.

So, thanks, Google, for all the awesome.

-the Centaur

Pictured: not my birthday cake, not from Google; just a great slice from Cafe Intermezzo.

Yeah, that Superbowl.

February 8th, 2016

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A repost here from Facebook … I caught the opening of the Superbowl in a Gordon Biersch waiting for my flight back from Atlanta, and damn, that was patriotic. I shed a tear when Lady Gaga sung the national anthem – straight up, no antics – and then they showed troops watching from Afghanistan, and fighter jets buzzed the stadium. God bless America.

And in case anyone’s wondering, I mean this completely non-ironically. Yes, the Superbowl is the epitome of commercialism, but it need not be crass, and it’s by choice that they’re making it patriotic. I’m not a sports guy, but I love watching football with my family whenever I go home; it gives us something to bond over.

And isn’t that what the Superbowl did for us this Sunday? A third of America watched it, everyone from football jocks to computer nerds. A whole spectrum of people participated in it, from the first Superbowl MVP to Lady Gaga to makers of two minute jingles to troops serving their second tour overseas. They even piped it into the plane, and people cheered and jeered at the outcome.

The Superbowl could just be a game, but it’s an institution that brings America together.

Thanks, guys, for a job well done.

-the Centaur

Why yes, I’m running a deep learning system on a MacBook Air. Why?

February 8th, 2016

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Yep, that’s Python consuming almost 300% of my CPU – guess what, I guess that means this machine has four processing cores, since I saw it hit over 300% – running the TensorFlow tutorial. For those that don’t know, “deep learning” is a relatively recent type of learning which uses improvements in both processing power and learning algorithms to train learning networks that can have dozens or hundreds of layers – sometimes as many layers as neural networks in the 1980’s and 1990’s had nodes.

For those that don’t know even that, neural networks are graphs of simple nodes that mimic brain structures, and you can train them with data that contains both the question and the answer. With enough internal layers, neural networks can learn almost anything, but they require a lot of training data and a lot of computing power. Well, now we’ve got lots and lots of data, and with more computing power, you’d expect we’d be able to train larger networks – but the first real trick was discovering mathematical tricks that keep the learning signal strong deep, deep within the networks.

The second real trick was wrapping all this amazing code in a clean software architecture that enables anyone to run the software anywhere. TensorFlow is one of the most recent of these frameworks – it’s Google’s attempt to package up the deep learning technology it uses internally so that everyone in the world can use it – and it’s open source, so you can download and install it on most computers and try out the tutorial at home. The CPU-baking example you see running here, however, is not the simpler tutorial, but a test program that runs a full deep neural network. Let’s see how it did:

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Well. 99.2% correct, it seems. Not bad for a couple hundred lines of code, half of which is loading the test data – and yeah, that program depends on 200+ files worth of Python that the TensorFlow installation loaded onto my MacBook Air, not to mention all the libraries that the TensorFlow Python installation depends on in turn …

But I still loaded it onto a MacBook Air, and it ran perfectly.

Amazing what you can do with computers these days.

-the Centaur

Zonked

February 6th, 2016

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Welp, there went a day. I had a lot of plans for this extra day that I had before my flight back, but mysteriously I woke up around 3pm after almost 13 hours of sleep, with my whole body feeling … I dunno … pummeled.

I was a bit mystified, until I remembered what happened at around 5 in the morning: I woke up with a vicious cough, took some NyQuil, and went back to sleep.

Now my nose is clear, and my time is gone. Apparently that NyQuil shit works.

But! As a bonus, I (and now you) get this reflected sunset, which appeared late this afternoon as I was sitting down to get some writing done. Enjoy!

-the Centaur

The Spectacle of the Silver Screen

February 6th, 2016

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So I’m continuing my adventures at my undisclosed location *cough* Atlanta *cough* and reporting my activities after they happen, as is my habit when off adventuring when I’m not making a public appearance. And one of the things I enjoy doing when on a trip is, after all the work is done, catching a late night movie. Like, at the theater, on a big screen with a comfy seat and a soda, not on your phone.

I was watching the conclusion of The Hunger Games, and I’m glad I did. The first one was OK, but the second one grabbed me in a way that no movie has since The Empire Strikes Back - not that I haven’t seen better movies, like, oh, I dunno, Mad Max: Fury Road or my favorite movie, Kiki’s Delivery Service – but I felt hooked into a series in a way I haven’t felt in a long time.

And the movie delivered something else too: big screen cinema. My buddy Jim Davies has a theory that some kinds of stories are best suited for some kinds of media, and I agree. Robert Frost’s “The Road Not Taken” would not work as a miniseries; it relies on the quick sharp punch of poetic language. Babylon 5, with its A and B endings and epic space battles would only work as series TV. The Martian movie was great, but it lacks the electric punch of that crackling opening and the games it plays with text: “Chapter 1: Log Entry SOL 6: I’m pretty much f*****.”

Each kind of medium emphasizes different elements – pure audio in radio plays; pure text in novels; an actor’s expressions in theater – and even within the medium of moving pictures, some are better suited to some stories than others. Animation emphasizes the impossible with the tools of graphic design, for example; while It’s possible to make a live action movie of Kiki’s Delivery Servicethey did – but they had to work enormously hard to create the imagery that the animation made effortless, and it still doesn’t quite have the same resonance. Even within a particular type of movie, the type of imagery has its own demands. Some images work at any size, others are best left as animated gifs or vines to be played on your phone … and some demand the big screen.

Movies are about spectacle; about imagery that can fill an entire theater. And, in one spectacular moment in The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2, in which an enormous tidal wave of oil fills the whole screen and roars down upon our heroes, my breath was briefly taken away — followed by the thought: yes, this should appear on the silver screen.

Movies have more value – in particular, having a shared experience with unchosen strangers, but more importantly, a shared narrative experience that builds a common bond – but it was a late-night show of an end-of-run movie, and the only people in the theater were a bunch of yapping effers in the back row, so that one bit was a bit spoiled for me.

But for one brief moment – actually, for many moments – I felt movie magic through the spectacle of the silver screen.

Totally worth it.

-the Centaur

The Spectacle of the Silver Screen

February 6th, 2016

atthemovies.png

So I’m continuing my adventures at my undisclosed location *cough* Atlanta *cough* and reporting my activities after they happen, as is my habit when off adventuring when I’m not making a public appearance. And one of the things I enjoy doing when on a trip is, after all the work is done, catching a late night movie. Like, at the theater, on a big screen with a comfy seat and a soda, not on your phone.

I was watching the conclusion of The Hunger Games, and I’m glad I did. The first one was OK, but the second one grabbed me in a way that no movie has since The Empire Strikes Back - not that I haven’t seen better movies, like, oh, I dunno, Mad Max: Fury Road or my favorite movie, Kiki’s Delivery Service – but I felt hooked into a series in a way I haven’t felt in a long time.

And the movie delivered something else too: big screen cinema. My buddy Jim Davies has a theory that some kinds of stories are best suited for some kinds of media, and I agree. Robert Frost’s “The Road Not Taken” would not work as a miniseries; it relies on the quick sharp punch of poetic language. Babylon 5, with its A and B endings and epic space battles would only work as series TV. The Martian movie was great, but it lacks the electric punch of that crackling opening “Chapter 1: Log Entry SOL 6: I’m pretty much f*****.” It’s possible to make a live action movie of Kiki’s Delivery Servicethey did – but they had to work enormously hard to create the imagery that the animation made effortless, and it still doesn’t quite have the same resonance. Some images work at any size, others are best left as animated gifs or vines to be played on your phone … and some demand the big screen.

Movies are about spectacle; about imagery that can fill an entire theater. And, in one spectacular moment in The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2, in which an enormous tidal wave of oil fills the whole screen and roars down upon our heroes, my breath was briefly taken away — followed by the thought: yes, this should appear on the silver screen.

Movies have more value – in particular, having a shared experience with unchosen strangers, but more importantly, a shared narrative experience that builds a common bond – but it was a late-night show of an end-of-run movie, and the only people in the theater were a bunch of yapping effers in the back row, so that one bit was a bit spoiled for me.

But for one brief moment – actually, for many moments – I felt movie magic through the spectacle of the silver screen.

Totally worth it.

-the Centaur

The Spectacle of the Silver Screen

February 6th, 2016

atthemovies.png

So I’m continuing my adventures at my undisclosed location *cough* Atlanta *cough* and reporting my activities after they happen, as is my habit when off adventuring when I’m not making a public appearance. And one of the things I enjoy doing when on a trip is, after all the work is done, catching a late night movie. Like, at the theater, on a big screen with a comfy seat and a soda, not on your phone.

I was watching the conclusion of The Hunger Games, and I’m glad I did. The first one was OK, but the second one grabbed me in a way that no movie has since The Empire Strikes Back - not that I haven’t seen better movies, like, oh, I dunno, Mad Max: Fury Road or my favorite movie, Kiki’s Delivery Service – but I felt hooked into a series in a way I haven’t felt in a long time.

And the movie delivered something else too: big screen cinema. My buddy Jim Davies has a theory that some kinds of stories are best suited for some kinds of media, and I agree. Robert Frost’s “The Road Not Taken” would not work as a miniseries; it relies on the quick sharp punch of poetic language. Babylon 5, with its A and B endings and epic space battles would only work as series TV. The Martian movie was great, but it lacks the electric punch of that crackling opening “Chapter 1: Log Entry SOL 6: I’m pretty much f*****.” It’s possible to make a live action movie of Kiki’s Delivery Servicethey did – but they had to work enormously hard to create the imagery that the animation made effortless, and it still doesn’t quite have the same resonance. Some images work at any size, others are best left as animated gifs or vines to be played on your phone … and some demand the big screen.

Movies are about spectacle; about imagery that can fill an entire theater. And, in one spectacular moment in The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2, in which an enormous tidal wave of oil fills the whole screen and roars down upon our heroes, my breath was briefly taken away — followed by the thought: yes, this should appear on the silver screen.

Movies have more values – in particular, having a shared experience with unchosen strangers, but more importantly, a shared narrative experience that builds a common bond – but it was a late-night show of an end-of-run movie, and the only people in the theaters were a bunch of yapping effers in the back row, so that one bit was a bit spoiled for me.

But for one brief moment – actually, for many moments – I felt movie magic through the spectacle of the silver screen.

Totally worth it.

-the Centaur

Back in Business

February 4th, 2016

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We are back in business. Apparently it was a temporary database glitch. Time to make sure my backups are up to date. Meanwhile, since I’m waiting to find out where my next meeting is, enjoy a picture of a coffeehouse that I am totally not at right now.

-the Centaur

Weeeird…

February 4th, 2016

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… the Library of Dresan is letting me add posts, but all other operations are squirrelly. Stand by.

-the Centaur