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Showing posts from 2016

Unhealty healthcare

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I've avoided working in the US for too long, despite being a (now-former) software engineer and it being the source of the majority of interesting opportunities. There's a lot of reasons why, but near the top is its healthcare system. There's lots (and lots) of reasons why it's bad, but despite hearing the problems, it can be easy for people to dismiss them ('hey, it's not really that bad, right?'). So rather than stats, I thought it might be good to present my own anecdote as a case-study instead. As someone lucky enough to have lived on three continents (worked & studied in Australia, worked in Switzerland, and studied in Canada) I'll also add observations of what I'd expect from other countries, for comparison.

For some context: Last summer I accepted an internship position at Facebook, and after failing to secure a spot outside the US in their London office, I ended up living in Menlo Park (California) for three months. This meant having to…

Welcome to democracy; Take II

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Or: Predictably unpredictable.
It was about five months ago that I posted some post-Brexit-vote comments about the reaction, and while I'm even more annoyed by the recent US election results than Brexit, now in the post-Election period it seemed worthwhile to revisit.
First, going over the old stuff:
STILL what not to do when a population votes opposite to how you'd like: -) STILL don't ask to change the result. Yes, it happened again. Technically it's asking for the electoral college voters to not match what turned out on election night, which isn't quite as bad as just asking for another vote, but I still don't see why 6 million votes in a petition should count over the 120(ish) million votes during the election.
-) STILL don't ask to change the style of voting. There's a lot of problems with the electoral college system: all-or-nothing states, no instant-runoff, unusual weighting system, ... but that was known before the vote started. Note: if not calli…

Playing your Partisanship

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It's election time in the US, and it's hard to avoid hearing all about it here in Canada (or, I presume, much of the rest of the world). I'm not exception to that as you can probably guess by my previous post. I've been interested to see a few of the psychological aspects of polarization, especially after the Australian elections earlier this year had similar, although to a lesser extent. Two particular stand out, and are worth looking at closer:
1A) Conspiracy theory: Bayes and Unwavering beliefs. Bayes theorem is some maths regarding probabilities: The interesting thing is that it can be used as a way to model how something (e.g. you, or your brain) can end up holding beliefs about how the world works based off experience. To reword the equation above in prose:
How much I should believe that a hypothesis is true, given some evidence [P(H | E)], is equal to my old probability [P(H)] times the chance of seeing the evidence assuming it's true [P(E | H)] divided by th…

Build that App

(or: an exercise in selling falsehood. Apologies to the non-CS followers of the blog).


My app is going to be the best app you've ever used. There's a team of folks I know - brilliant people, really brilliant people - who build the best apps in the world. THE best. I mean, users pay money to use these apps, and no-one does that. They do, it's true, these people build apps that users pay money for because they're that good. So these people will build an app because I tell them, and do you know what? It's going to be the best. It's going to be so cheap to build, just wait and see. I've got a lot of experience at this, I can build an app cheaper than anyone else out there, it's what I do. Do you know how? This app is going to be so great, Amazon will PAY us to host it. They will! They'll pay us to run our app on AWS. Usually it's the other way around! But they will, trust me - they're smart people, I've met the folks at Amazon, they're sm…

Welcome to democracy

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Or: How to Lose Votes & Alienate People
If you've been keeping up with world news recently, no doubt you've heard about Brexit - a.k.a. the 2016 referendum for the UK leaving the European union, which recently passed. Depending on what sort of filter bubble you currently reside in (see my earlier post), you might have also run across a lot of articles saying why this is a bad idea. In general I agree that it's not the optimal outcome, but was pretty surprised at the way the responses came out, and feel like, if anything, they made the issues worse, not better.

Given that many of the readers of this blog live in democracies (it seems a popular form of government), and democracies at times will have votes you don't agree with (otherwise you're either the world's best bellwether, or leading your own dictatorship...), I figured it worth covering some of what I saw happening, and why it did or didn't seem a good idea...



What not to do when a population votes …

Neuro misconceptions

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I'm sure it's due to the frequency illusion, but having switched from tech into more of the psych/neuroscience fields, I'm starting to notice an increase in the number of articles coming out claiming new findings on how the brain works. For example, this coverage of the effects of LSD on the brain, or this one on creating a map of where each word is 'represented'. (Note: using guardian articles just for consistency, not because they're particularly good/bad). This time related to the Gell-Mann Amnesia effect, I also find articles about the brain to be fairly poorly written - e.g. misrepresent the trial, explain it badly, leap to wrong conclusions, etc. The same is true sometimes also when talking about the research, and surprisingly, even in the research papers themselves! So in case it's useful for anyone reading these things, I figured I'd note a few things to be wary of when reading any upcoming neuro-related news. With the caveat: this is only my f…

Sounds good - part 1.5

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The last few posts on sounds seemed well received, so I'm inserting a few more explanations of sound-related concepts between the first (basics) and second (spectrogram-based) installments. Consider this part 1.5, covering some of the more fundamental topics, but migrating towards spectrogram-based ideas at the end.

Karplus–Strong (string synthesis):
You might recall from part 1 that pressure that changes in the form of a sine wave is interpreted by our ears as a single, pure tone. As explored in the waveforms section though, other shapes (triangle, square, saw, ...) when repeated at the same frequency also sound like the same note, just the acoustics are a bit different. This leads to the question: if it's just the repetition that is important, what do other shapes sound like? It turns out, that you can start with a random shape, repeat it at the right frequency, and it will usually sound like a stringed instrument. Adding in a filter (see below), you get a nice synthesized (i…

Kindling #4

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This post is from a series of review posts - for the whole list, see my Kindling page.

Now that I've finally managed to finish the novel I've been reading for almost half a year now it seemed a good time to do another book review dump in case anyone is reading these (and while waiting for music uploads to be processed for another post).

Catch-22(Joseph Heller) - On my list of 'classics to read', I didn't really find myself getting in to Catch 22, although I can see its appeal. It fits in a style of novel that I see a lot but doesn't gel with me: a collection of weird events that aren't that related, centered around unusual characters and their weird behaviors and circumstances. In an earlier post I mentioned the same problem with Kurt Vonnegut, so while it was well written, I couldn't help feel I would rather be reading about Milo's story of growing his trade empire, rather than Yossarian's.

Armada(Ernest Cline) - Armada is the second novel from t…

Application architecture predictions

I'm still trying to keep up with web / app technology, and every now and again something comes up and I think: "Ooh, that seems like what I was trying to do with Project Ion" (my old experimental project, mostly dead). I figured it was worth to document these so I can see how many ideas in it eventually make it into general use, and what to work on next. So, to summarize the main ideas:

1) Reactive data-binding UI
Status: Many popular libraries (react, angular, knockout, polymer, ...)
This was the biggest divergence at the time, but is now pretty much everyone. It's always a pain updating you view once your model changes, making sure all the constraints still hold, so a declarative UI that binds things tends to be a clear improvement. The idea has been around for a while now, and it's nice to see that its popularity for application development has increased.

2) Observable live data model
Status: Implemented in Firebase, share.js
Not surprisingly, this idea (as with m…

Eventful Javascript

let data = {child:[]}; treevent.Listen(data, "child[*].name[0]", (path, params, type, index, oldValue, newValue) => { console.log("woah..."); } ); data.child.unshift({name: ["first", "last"]})
For any front-end developers out there, you may have noticed the increasing popularity of reactive / event-driven / data-binding architectures. Call it what you like, but things like React, RxJS, Angular, Web Components, Meteor, Firebase, ... etc are all built along similar principles.

Whenever asked about them, I always recommend usage (it's a much nicer style of coding that a non-binding way) but I also tend to complain that 'arrays aren't done properly', which understandably confuses people, as it's intentionally reductionist. There's obvious things, like Firebase's lack of native array support, but I realized that what I more meant was that array mutations weren't handled well, which means that mutati…