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.
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:
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
It’s no lie that my post content has taken a dive over the past few weeks. I hope to get back on the ball soon, but I still have a back-log of miscellaneous “life” tasks to do, and most of them won’t make compelling blog content. In addition, I’ve been doing a little bit more ‘consuming’ of content lately (i.e., watching Netflix, reading comics, playing games). This is fun to do, but I find it exercises the brain a little less than actually creating something.
Speaking of consuming content, I recently listened to an audiobook named “Lying” by Sam Harris. This is a very short nonfiction book (the audiobook is 75 minutes long) in which the author argues that you should never lie. This includes white lies and those tiny lies you tell when someone asks you “how are you” and you say “good.” Of coarse, the book covers lies of all sorts, and concludes that in every case, telling the truth (and using some tact while doing so) is always superior - with only a few exceptions (such as doctors and lawyers who are bound to protect their clients confidential information).
After reading this book, I naturally considered if I should follow a strict ‘no lies’ philosophy in life. The book piqued my interest because I feel that I already live a very truthful lifestyle. This is mainly because my mind just isn’t very quick in complex social situations, and adding lies to the mix causes the complexity to compound. I prefer to operate under the solitary thread of truth. Even the truth can get hard to sort out from time to time!
After hearing the arguments in Sam Harris’s book, I’m going to make a conscious effort to live a life of complete truth. By this I mean I want to tell less ‘white lies’ and less of those tiny lies. I’m not making an oath of zero lies or anything - merely just trying something that could potentially have a positive impact on me and those around me.
[Cartoon image is from bigthink.com]
While searching online for some discussion related to a recent concert in Cambridge that I missed, I happened upon an article/discussion by Edward Tufte about volume levels and sound quality at live performances. If you don’t know, Tufte is a professor at Princeton, but is mostly known for his books about the visual display of information (i.e., graphs, tables, presentations, etc.). As a side note, I think it’s somewhat ironic that his website is a total mess (at least when rendered on a cell phone).
You can check out the discussion on Tufte’s website here:
The picture above is of Modest Mouse, who played the loudest concert I’ve ever been to (photo credit goes to The Oregonian). I remember their concert was far too loud, and it didn’t sound very good. Overall, I’d say that sound quality detracts from my enjoyment of about 1 in 5 concerts - but those issues aren’t always related to loud volume. For example, Boston Calling last year had issues where vocals couldn’t be heard properly if you were standing near the edges of the crowd. On the bright side, I find that concerts often sound great. Newport Folk Festival almost always has good sound quality, despite being a tricky outdoor venue.
Tomorrow will be my first day at a new job. I'm very excited to start something new. Yet, I still have a little anxiety about my abilities. Will I be able to cut it?! Have I just fooled everyone into believing I'm qualified?! I've recently learned that these feelings are described as "impostor syndrome." You can read about it on this Wikipedia page. It's an eerie thing to feel, but I'm used to it because I felt it for the entirety of my five years at my last job. I felt like I was hired through some sort of clerical error, and that I didn't belong alongside the MIT and Berkeley grads. It's important to power through those thoughts.
Years ago, when I played ultimate frisbee, I had a coach tell us to be "good nervous" before a big game. He said you don't want to be "bad nervous" - which is really just being a complete wreck. He said you also don't want to be completely confident; because that's when you let your guard down. These rather simple words of wisdom have helped me embrace a little bit of anxiety before big presentations and - well - first days at jobs.
I created a patch! I have a bunch of them. Read below for info on how to get a patch, and to learn how the patch was made.
Over the past few months, I've been steering the content on Comet.cool towards being slightly more about projects (while still keeping all of the other fun and goofy stuff too). I am testing the hypothesis that if someone writes about a project that they themselves are passionate about, a few things will happen: first of all, they will be more motivated in that project, the project will be more rewarding, and other people will feed off of their enthusiasm and passion.
So, I will give you one of these very exclusive and moderately desireable patches in exchange for a single post onto this site documenting the initiation, progress, or completion of a project (big or small). If you want help with the post, let me know.
(If nobody is interested in writing about projects, then I will give up and hand out the patches for free after a few months)
For the past few months, I've been experimenting with designs for a Comet.cool t-shirt, hat, or some other kind of merchandise. The problem was, I couldn't really see myself (or anyone else) actually wearing Comet.cool clothing. So, I decided to instead design an embroidered patch. I liked this better because the patch could be ironed onto a piece of clothing if desired, or it could just be tucked away somewhere like a badge of honor without any expectation of actually being worn in public.
The picture above shows the design process I went through to make the patch. I haven't ever designed a patch, so I had to do some reading to figure out what design principals to follow for embroidery. I realized I would need to keep the design relatively simple, avoid color gradients, and limit the color palette. Beyond that, I knew I wanted a somewhat geometric design with highly contrasting colors. I started with paper and pen, then used CAD to quickly sketch the "COMET" characters. I finished the design off using image editing software.
I commissioned www.qualitypunch.net for the actual embroidering. I recommend this site if you need to do any similar work. They were extremely helpful and responsive throughout the whole process.
I watched National Treasure for the first time tonight. This movie has been on my ‘to-watch list’ for a long time now. I knew it wasn’t going to be Citizen Kane; I was merely hoping for a fun Indiana Jones-alike. And it definitely delivered.
The movie is entertaining and easy to watch. Good popcorn flick. Some of the historical details are a little questionable, but I’m willing to let that slide.
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