Comet


Violet’s Bandana Collection

Posted by: Ryan 1 year ago
Categories: Fluff

Jessica and I enjoy collecting bandanas for our dog, Violet. It’s a fun thing for us to collect because we often find interesting bandanas for sale while traveling.  Plus, bandanas are usually pretty cheap, and they are generally smaller than other keepsakes/collectibles.

I recently wrangled up most of her bandanas and put them through the wash.  Before putting them away, we arranged them in semi-chronological order (oldest in top-left and newest in bottom-right, like reading a book) and snapped this picture.

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Electric Forest 2018

Posted by: Ryan 1 year ago
Categories: Music

Jessica and I spent the last weekend at the Electric Forest music festival in Rothbury, Michigan.  To start with the basics, this is a music festival for EDM (electronic dance music), but it also featured some jam-band and other genre performances.  While music is a big part of the festival, Electric Forest had far more going on than just music.  There is quite literally a forest that attendees can wander through, and that forest is filled with various attractions and spectacles.

Here’s the thing about Electric Forest:  I’m not going to be able to write a description that will do this music festival justice.  I can say that we went into it with high expectations, and that those expectations were exceeded.  Beyond that, my words are going to fall short - so, I decided to post an album of photos and I’ll make the captions as descriptive as I can.

See the photo album here.

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Dave’s still got it, 2018 edition

Posted by: Ryan 1 year ago
Categories: Music

We saw Dave Matthews Band with some friends on Friday night. It was an eventful night - but I’ll start with the music...

Dave Matthews Band is a force of nature. The depth of their catalogue is insane.  If you compare the set list we heard to the previous set list of this tour, there is only ONE song in common.  The band has played 68 different songs so far this tour, and it’s not even half way over.  Judging from prior tours, they will probably end up playing around 100 unique songs. This is far from typical for most bands.  Consider the complexity of their songs too - these songs have your normal verses and choruses, but they also have tight jam sessions where the band is clearly improvising despite always being on the same page.

After the music was over, our party left the venue and decided to get some sausage subs in the parking lot. I ran ahead to get the car and wait in traffic. Long story short, I tripped over a traffic cone and dislocated my shoulder. Now, I’ve never claimed to be an American Ninja Warrior...but this was still embarrassing.  Jess ended up bringing me to the ER and a group of 3 or 4 doctors pushed and twisted my arm until it finally slid back into place.

I need to thank our friends, Pat, Casey, and Tyler for tolerating my ER trip and staying out until 4:30 am.  Jess for playing the role of Ambulance (Prius) driver and general caregiver.  Also, our friend Abby for watching Violet much longer than she signed up for. Lastly, I should thank the two strangers, Kiersten and Sam, who lent me a hand after I fell and tried (hilariously) to gently ease my shoulder back into its place (it didn’t work).  They probably won’t ever see this, but they were super nice people.

I will end this post with a vintage video of a young Dave Matthews playing a concert at Blockbuster in 1994.

 

https://youtu.be/WKCpeohHZF8

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Laughing and dancing and not being normal at Boston Calling 2018

Posted by: Ryan 1 year, 1 month ago
Categories: Music

FRIDAY

We arrived fairly early on Friday afternoon. It was nice to wander around the venue before the crowds got big. Vendors had yard games and other activities set up, so it was a nice and relaxing atmosphere.  We particularly liked the Miller Lite area, where we were able to play Plinko with our empty Miller cans for prizes. We won a hat, a pin, fake tattoos, a coozie, a fanny pack, and a bandana (over the course of the weekend). Jess and I wanted the bandana more than anything - for Violet, of coarse.

The very first band we saw was Big Thief. We saw this band last year at Newport Folk Festival - and they didn’t put on a very good show back then. But they were much better this time. This band has potential, but they might have consistency problems. 

A highlight of Saturday was Maggie Rogers, who performed a fun, energetic, and adorably sincere set while donning a blue cape.  Maggie Rogers is a new artist and she doesn’t have many songs, so I’m looking forward to her expanding her catalog a bit.

The Killers headlined Sunday night. They sounded great and had really excellent stage presence.  I was particularly impressed with their drummer, who brought a lot of intensity to the whole set.  It’s really special when the crowd enthusiastically sings along with a band, and that happened a lot with The Killers.

SATURDAY

There were a few time slots on Saturday where we didn’t have any concerts that we were excited to see. We spent some of the free time in the IKEA area, which was an odd little environment setup by the Swedish furniture company.  It had a lot of hammocks and comfortable benches set up, as well as a dance area where DJs played sets. They served nothing but vegetarian hotdogs - and they gave away free pouches of the pickled vegetables that go into those hotdogs.  What a strange place!  We liked it!

This is a good time to mention how great it is to go to Boston Calling with friends.  Jess and I went with our friends Abby and Amanda. We all did our share of dancing and goofing around.  With a good group of friends you can have fun even when you’re not listening to live music. Unfortunately, our friend Jackie couldn’t make it this year, but she was still present in our hearts - and to show that, we brought a printout of her face on a popsicle stick.

We saw the hard rock band The Manchester Orchestra up and close. I don’t know this band very well - but I was happily surprised by their set.  Their lead singer is able to blur the line between screaming and singing, so you get melody and intensity - the best of both worlds!  I think I saw their guitarist throw his guitar onto the ground after furiously shredding through the last track.  Woah!

Later that day, I was excited to see the hip-hop “boy band” BROCKHAMPTON. Despite being a new band (group?), they have a big catalogue of unique, emotional, and textured songs. Their live music seemed slightly off-kilter because they were missing one of their rappers. The next day, it was revealed that he was kicked out of the band due to assault allegations. Unfortunate to lose talent, but the fact that they kicked him out is a testament to the character of this young band.

Jack White headlined Saturday night.  His music has a ton of complexity - much of which was unfortunately lost on me. I think I would have gotten more out of his set if I had tuned my ear to his music prior to this concert.  Nonetheless, he has a cool and confident stage presence that makes you feel like you’re watching a master at work.

SUNDAY

While the weather on Friday and Saturday was nearly perfect, the weather on Sunday was cold, rainy, and miserable.  We spent some time hiding from the rain in the big tent set up by the Danish brewery, Mikkeler. Their beers were good, but the location (in the back of the festival) was a little unfortunate.  It’s bizarre that Boston Calling chose to have Mikkeler be the only craft beer at the festival - what with there being so many great craft breweries in  Massachusetts - but having Mikkeler there is sort of fun and interesting.  I think it helps make Boston Calling special. 

We ventured out into the cold to see a very fun set by Thundercat, who was very groovy. Then we saw The Decemberists make excellent music look completely effortless. We left that set a little early to see the legendary Mike D (of The Beastie Boys) play a few songs of a DJ set.

Eventually the weather and the fatigue got the best of Jess and I, our mood sharply declined, and we decided to call it quits a little early on Sunday night.  It would have been nice to see Eminem, but it wasn’t in the cards for us.

Overall, it was a great time.  We heard a ton of music - much more than I could fit into this post.  The organizers did a really good job reducing wait times for security, food, and restrooms.  Also, they did an excellent job with keeping the music punctual.  I’m already looking forward to going again next year. 

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Machine Learning Progress Update 6 (The End)

Posted by: Ryan 1 year, 1 month ago
Categories: Comet
Tags: Machine Learning

My machine learning project was on the back burner for the last few months.  I recently resurrected the project for no reason other than to just push it to a decent stopping point.  I already spent a lot of time developing a tool to categorize thousands of self-captured images of vehicles to train the neural network.  It would have been silly to leave the project off before actually implementing all of that data.

So, I re-trained the neural network last month - and just this weekend I finally got around to putting the re-trained tool to work.  I set it loose on some pre-recorded traffic footage from cameras owned by the Maryland Dept. of Transportation - and I was very happy with its performance!

If you recall, the earlier version of this tool was trained on third-party car images and - let's be honest - it didn't do such a good job.  The retrained network is much much better.  I recorded some video clips of its performance and saved it onto youtube.  You can check it out here.

My primary goal of this project was to learn as much as possible, and from that perspective, it was a success.  Some of my other goals, such as optimizing the neural network to run on the Raspberry Pi (a $35 mini computer), were not completely accomplished.  I mean it can technically run on the pi, but it only does about 5 frames per second.  With time, I am confident I can improve that - probably a lot - but there will be diminishing returns in terms of learning if I spend more time on this.  Also, it's easy to imagine developing a set of tools that would sit on top of this technology to do useful things like count cars, detect traffic conditions, etc.  All of that stuff would be fun to do, but time-consuming.

So, with this last post, I am putting this project on hold indefinitely.

[Check out the youtube video of the "final" version neural network in action here]

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Playlists

Posted by: Ryan 1 year, 2 months ago
Categories: Music

I’m generally not a big pre-made playlist listener, with one big exception: Spotify’s ‘Discover Weekly’ playlist.  Discover Weekly is a custom-made thirty-song playlist that Spotify magically generates for every user on every Monday.  It’s astonishing how good the curation is in this playlist; and that opinion is not just my own - it seems like everyone I talk to would agree.

One night while on a long drive, Jess and I started theorizing on how Spotify might generate the Discover Weekly playlists. I wagered that a combination of ‘taste-makers’ work along with an AI to generate the playlists. Jess theorized that it was all AI and that even an army of taste-makers would not be enough to guide the hand of AI when you consider the sheer number of genres, sub-genres, and users.

The information on how Discover Weekly actually works under the hood is limited. But, from what I’ve heard, Jess is closer to the right answer. From what I’ve seen, Spotify gets the secret sauce for Discover Weekly by tapping into user-generated playlists that subscribers have made For their own listening. Using those user-created playlists, Spotify can tap into the human element of music curation and make connections between songs you’ve liked in the past and songs you’ve never heard but may also like.

Despite what I wrote in the opening sentence of this post, I’ve been slowly branching out to listen to premade (i.e., curated) playlists. Unlike Discover Weekly, these playlists are not custom tailored for each user.  I’ve been liking ‘Cafe con Leche’, which is a mostly acoustic Spanish-language playlist that I’ve found to be refreshingly soothing for morning shower listening.  I also like the ‘Lush Lofi’ station for driving and doing work.  This is mostly instrumental lofi hip-hop beats, very aesthetically pleasing and great for focus. 

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Back from an unplanned hiatus

Posted by: Ryan 1 year, 2 months ago
Categories: Family, Friends, & Life Food & Drink

It seems that I took an unintentional hiatus from my own blog. I haven’t posted in about 3 weeks, and that makes me sad.

I’ve actually written a few posts over the past few weeks, but I was ultimately not very happy with how they turned out - so I didn’t publish them.  I plan to rewrite one of those and publish it soon; it’s music related.

Since I haven’t posted in awhile, here is a catch-up post about some recent happenings:

Government Emails

I am still getting the spam, but far less than I was receiving originally.  Although you can sign someone up for a gazillion email newsletters in 30 seconds, they only let you unsubscribe from them in little batches.  The state department never responded to my help request.

Cryptocurrency

For the past 5 months, my computer has been mining cryptocurrency whenever I’m not using it.  Just last week, the amount of currency it has mined ticked over 1/2 of an Ethereum (which is presently about $300).

Jess’s 30th Birthday

On the weekend of April 13, we traveled to NYC with a group of our friends to celebrate Jess’s 30th. It was a fast paced weekend, because we wanted to pack a lot into a two-night visit. Jess and I were humbled by all of our friends who made the long trip into the city to join us.  There were many highlights, but one thing that stood out in my memory was a Korean fried chicken joint named BarKogi.

My Parents’ 40th Anniversary

On April 21, my sister and I organized a surprise party for my parents’ 40th anniversary. Honestly, Casey took the lead on orchestrating this.  It was a success, and it seemed like everyone had a good time.

Hojoko

This past weekend, we mostly had to hunker-down so Jess could focus on her final paper which is due on Thursday.  We had plans to go to a Red Sox game on Saturday evening, but that plan fell through - we still had our friend Casey lined up to watch Violet, so we used that time to get a few drinks at a place called Hojoko.  We both recommend Hojoko to anyone  craving a cocktail or Japanese food in Fenway/Boston. 

Machine Learning

With the help of the tool I developed, I was able to classify several thousand images over the course of a few nights. I recently fed those images back through the neural network to retrain it. But, I haven’t tested the newly trained neural network out yet.  It should be much smarter, but I won’t know until I give it a practical test.  

Waltham

According to the Waltham subreddit (yes, that exists), someone spotted arcade cabinets being hauled into a closed storefront on Moody St.  It turns out, a store known as Game Underground is opening on Moody St. later this month. They have (or had) an arcade in Natick where they also sold pre-owned video games and hosted video game tournaments.  I am hoping they make this place an arcade/bar hybrid, which would work well on Moody St.

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Pax East 2018

Posted by: Ryan 1 year, 3 months ago
Categories: Video Games

Going to Pax East has become a yearly tradition for me. I don’t ever really plan on going. I just end up scalping a pass the day of (or the night before) and enjoying a single day wandering the exhibit hall.

Pax East is a yearly video game and board game convention in Boston.  Game developers and publishers host booths and publicize their latest games; meanwhile, the convention organizers hold video game tournaments, seminars, and other entertainment.

I still remember the first time I went, a couple years ago.  I didn’t know what to expect. Before I knew it, I was on an escalator down to the exhibit hall - and I was blown away by the size of the crowd, the colorful displays, the enthusiasm, and the energy.  Everything about it is unapologetically nerdy and overwhelmingly fun.

The venue is a massive exhibition hall with two skywalks passing through the middle. Because of those skywalks, it’s impossible to get a single picture that effectively conveys the size of this massive event. Which is a shame, because you can certainly feel the size of it when you’re actually there. It just keeps going on and on.

It’s lots of fun. While there are many booths set up where you can demo new video games, most of them require waiting in a line. I only ended up actually playing two ‘indie’ games. I spent most of the time walking around and enjoying the atmosphere.

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Government Emails :(

Posted by: Ryan 1 year, 3 months ago
Categories: Fluff

About a week ago, I started receiving emails from the US Government.  A lot of emails.  Like 50 per day.  I understand that sounds scary - and I guess it sorta is - but you should know I am just receiving subscription emails.  From government mailing lists.

Nonetheless, somebody has maliciously signed me up for dozens of government mailing lists.  Some aren't even in English.  There is definitely some Spanish and Russian mixed in there; I think I may have seen Portuguese too, what does Portuguese look like?

The emails are mostly coming from the Department of State, but I also get emails from the Census Bureau, Citizen and Immigration Services, the CDC, and many other organizations - even the National Portrait Gallery.  Coincidentally, I think I might be the only person on the email distribution for the National Portrait Gallery.

What's going on?  Am I being hacked?  I checked my credit scores, bank accounts, 401k, Amazon account - there's no malicious activity.  I checked my Facebook - secretly hoping some evil hacker gained access and posted something on my behalf - but there was nothing.

I thought maybe this is just some sort of glitch.  Maybe I signed up for one government subscription service and somehow all the other subscriptions somehow got switched on in their database.  But that's unlikely - because I've never signed up for one subscription.

I emailed the Department of State two days after this started asking them to please stop the emails.  To take me off their lists.  They didn't take me off the list - they haven't even responded.  I doubt they will ever respond.

Meanwhile, my inbox is a complete disaster.  I usually like to keep it fairly tidy, but now it's just a mess.  I've got Portuguese Portrait Gallery emails and all sorts of nonsense in there.  I can't live like this.  I try to unsubscribe, but it's an uphill battle.

Someone doesn't necessarily need to breach my secure information - or passwords - to sign me up for an email distribution.  I did a little investigative work to see what it takes to get onto the Department of State email list.  It's really easy.  You go to the top of the US State Department's blog website (here) and type an email address into the bar and click "subscribe".  The site will ask you to confirm the email address, then you click subscribe again.  That's it.  No captcha, no verification email to confirm.  And here's the worst part - after you subscribe an email address (it can be any email address), they bring you to a giant checklist page where you can select other government-related subscriptions to join.  When I say giant - I mean it.  It's massive.  There are even buttons you can click to expand the checklists even more so you can reveal more subscription options.

A big shout-out and thank-you to the kind soul who subscribed me to all of these government email lists.  And another shout-out to whoever designed this subscription system on the gov website.

If I find out a quick way to unsubscribe, I will follow-up here.

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Dan Auerbach @ The House of Blues

Posted by: Ryan 1 year, 3 months ago
Categories: Music

On Sunday night, I went to a Dan Auerbach concert at The House of Blues with Jessica and my parents.  Dan Auerbach is a singer and songwriter; he’s best known for being the singer of The Black Keys and The Arcs.

This concert was unique. First of all, Dan Auerbach is a good, but unusual frontman. His stage presence is not boisterous or high-energy; instead he exudes confidence and humility. His band-mates included several old-timers who mirrored his cool and confident on-stage demeanor.  They put on a very tight and well-rehearsed performance.  It sounded great!

For the set-list, Auerbach stuck to cuts from his solo albums, but supplemented them with tracks from guest singers. His first guest singer was a female crooner whose name eludes me. While her vocals were good, her overall performance was sadly lacking any memorable qualities. It didn’t help that the sound mixing heavily favored the guitars while she was performing.

The second guest singer, Robert Finley, was a fascinating entertainer.  Finley is a blind R&B singer from Louisiana. Despite being 64 years old, he’s an up-and-coming star who’s finally finding an audience.  He has a booming voice and a soulful, energetic stage presence.  Truly a captivating character!

My parents have been #DanFans ever since we all saw The Arcs at Newport two years ago. It was great to see this band, and I’d recommend seeing Auerbach whenever he’s performing...regardless of what band he’s fronting.

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