On Wednesday we saw the band Sleigh Bells perform at The Paradise in Boston. It was a fun concert. The band mixes pop vocals with distorted hard rock guitars and drums. They have a really stripped down and intense sound. Even when you listen to their music on low volume, it sounds loud. I think it’s the built-in distortion on the tracks.
This band isn’t for the faint of heart!
While watching the recent Patriots game, I remembered a story about a high school football coach who chose to never punt the ball on fourth down - ever. I dug the story up again, and it's even better than I remembered.
The coach's name is Kevin Kelley. He is the head coach at Pulaski Academy in Arkansas. Before I get into Kelley's coaching approach, let me first say that his record was 77-17 as of August 2015. Looking up Pulaski Academy's 2017 record - they were undefeated.
Coach Kelley's theory is built on the concept that possession of the ball is more valuable than the position on the field. From that concept, punting the ball is clearly a bad idea. Coach Kelley never punts - even if his team is on fourth down with terrible field position.
But that's not the only strange thing about Coach Kelley's approach. Since he puts so much value on ball possession and so little value on field position, most of his teams' kick-offs are on-side kicks. If you don't know, this means that rather than kicking-off by sending the ball to the far end of the field, they kick the ball only a few yards and let it erratically skip along the ground with the hope that they can regain possession during the ensuing chaos. His team practices 12 different variations of an on-side kick.
Along with that same theme, Coach Kelley's team never returns punts or kickoffs. This is because punt and kickoff returns are often high-risk for fumbles, and since possession is so valuable, returning the ball isn't worth it.
Obviously, since ball possession is so important to Coach Kelley, turning the ball over due to an interception or fumble would be bad. To statistically reduce the likelihood of a fumble or interception, Kelley strategizes to move the ball down the field in as few plays as possible. He found that plays in which three or more people touch the ball (i.e., trick plays) are statistically more likely to result in 20 or more yards. So, his offense relies on them heavily. Rather than blocking to help shield a ball carrier from defenders, teammates will position themselves behind or to the sides of a ball carrier to make themselves available for a lateral pass. The coach says that the lack of blocking doesn't have a big impact because defenders are forced to position themselves differently to defend the potential lateral pass.
Despite the overwhelmingly strong win-loss record, there is a news story from 2016 about Kelley's team giving up 26 points in a single quarter due to the no-punt strategy. Obviously, turning the ball over on fourth down while in terrible field position would be devastating, especially if done repeatedly. But, despite this hiccup, the coach's strategy has garnered some serious attention. NFL coaches have even consulted with him.
I am definitely overdue on this post. I'm excited to write about some of my favorite music from 2017...
Before I dive into it, I want to reflect a little on how I experience music. The way I listen to music is not conducive to making "best of" lists like this. I like to find an artist or album I enjoy, and then listen to that (almost exclusively) for a few days/weeks/months until I extract every last ounce of enjoyment out of it. Then I move back into "music discovery mode" until I find something else to feast upon.
Because of this, my music knowledge tends to have a lot of depth and not a lot of breadth. I think I do this because I appreciate music more and more each time I listen to it. For the past few years, I've considered making new year resolutions of listening to an album no more than twice to curb my compulsive listening tendencies. I didn't do anything like this in 2018 (thank goodness) - but maybe 2019 will be the year where I turn into a music discovery fiend (doubtful).
If anyone else can relate to this, let me know and maybe we can form a compulsive listener support group.
Below is a list of my favorite albums from 2017. Based on the above disclosure of my listening habits, you can be sure that I obsessed over each of these albums for a minimum of 1 week. The albums are listed in no particular order.
Brooding, authentic, enduring. Ryan Adams wrote and recorded this album while going through a divorce, and that clearly amplified the usual moody emotion of his music. You'll have to go to the B-sides album to hear my favorite track, 'Stop You'. I'm not sure why that track wasn't on the actual album.
Comforting, smooth, and confident. Love this album. This sounds a little bit like Bob Dylan, but please don't let that turn you off. I mean it in the best way. This is the sound of a band that is entirely on the same page; they know their sound, they figured it out, and they bring it on every track.
Dreamy, charming, and cozy. I read that this album was recorded in the lead singer's bedroom - and I totally believe it. The guitars have a hint of surfer vibe, and the singing always has a whisper element to it. It adds up to a unique sound that can't be found elsewhere.
Haunting, thoughtful, patient. Full disclosure: these guys had one of the worst live performances I've ever witnessed at Newport in 2017. Yet, the quality of their studio albums still impresses me. The songwriting is great. Jess and I will see them again in 2018 at Boston Calling - perhaps because it's hard to look away from a car crash. But, I genuinely hope they can put on a live performance that their albums deserve.
Clean, sparse, and vulnerable. The xx is a three-part band consisting of a male vocalist/bassist, female vocalist/guitar player, and DJ. The DJ, known as Jamie xx, is the secret sauce here, mixing samples and echoing beats into the otherwise extremely sparse pop/rock tracks.
Out-of-the-box, passionate, collaborated. This band's story is almost as good as their music. The 14+ member ensemble met on a Kanye West internet forum and decided to make a band. The fact that such unique and heartfelt hip-hop can come out of such an origin is amazing. The band released three full-length albums in 2017 and they're all good. The music seems to have an inexplicable consistency hidden away under its highly variable sonic qualities.
Meandering, echoing, carefully-paced. This is a great album to enjoy when you've got plenty of time to be patient with it. It will reward you. Get some good headphones, and settle down. Or listen while on a road trip. Just make sure you turn up the volume a little bit. Fleet Foxes released this album after a long hiatus, and it's great to hear that they're still performing at a high level. Fun fact - did you know that Father John Misty (AKA Josh Tillman) was the former drummer of Fleet Foxes?
Movement-inspiring, Catchy, Synthesized. Going into 2017, I liked Future Islands. Coming out of 2017, I love Future Islands. These guys delivered one of the best concerts I've ever attended, and now I'm a believer. It's hard to not - at a minimum - bob your head to their music. It's just fun to listen to, and it's delivered with an unparalleled level of enthusiasm by the lead singer, Sam Herring.
I've come to the conclusion that the performance of my vehicle detection neural network is being severely limited by the dataset of car images I used to initially train it. Those car images were almost always taken from the side, front, or back of the cars. So whenever the neural network looks at a car or truck from a diagonal angle, it struggles to classify it.
I got that batch of training images off the internet. I pieced together a couple different pre-made datasets to total about 6,500 images. If I want better performance, I will need A LOT more data. I need to collect it myself.
I wrote a program to detect movement in a videofeed (from youtube, for example). If the movement meets certain criteria, then the camera saves a picture of the localized movement area and re-sizes it to 64 pixels by 64 pixels (the size I am using for the neural network input). Using a video feed from a traffic camera, I can easily collect 1,500 images per hour (or a lot more if I increase the screen-shot frequency). The images will often contain cars, but they also sometimes contain other movement (such as shadows, moving trees, clouds, etc.) That's good, because the neural network will benefit from learning what non-car images look like.
Now I am capable of collecting (comparatively) massive amounts of image data. I can set this thing to run overnight and wake up with tens of thousands of images. The problem is, the images aren’t labeled. The neural network can't learn from them unless it knows which images contain cars and which do not.
So...I wrote a program that can be used to quickly flip through images and manually label them as car or no-car. The program is designed from the ground-up to be quick. It can work with the mouse, but it can also work with just key presses. I am working on getting it to output the labels directly into a sqlite database.
With these new tools, I will be able to expand my training dataset.
Last Saturday, my family held the 2nd annual beer challenge. This is a competition where we each bring a six pack (or similar) of beers and then hold a blind taste test and ultimately select the best beer.
For the second year in a row, Casey won the challenge. Congrats Casey! You are a true master beer picker!! The winning beer was #NO FILTER by Thomas Hooker Brewery. It's a very tastey IPA.
My family is clearly a group of IPA drinkers. Last year everyone brought IPAs to the challenge. I proposed a special honor to be awarded to the first person to win with a non-IPA. Maybe next year!
We've all been there before. You've used the last roll of toilet paper...yesterday. And for whatever reason, you can't get to the store to buy more.
So what do you do? Comet is here to help. After hours of research, consultation with experts, scientists, doctors, engineers, and technicians, we've assembled a ranked list of paper products which can 'rise to the occasion'. If you run out of item 1, then you move to item 2, then 3, and so on.
I haven't posted much lately. That's partially because I've been quite busy at work. The little time I've had over the past two weeks for extra-curricular activities has lead to a string of failures. I will now blog these failures to officially put them behind me...
I've been experimenting with a machine learning package named "Yolo" (which, in this case, stands for "You Only Look Once"). This is supposed to be a very fast object detection framework. I thought it would be good to implement this for my machine learning project. It has been fairly difficult to get it running, mainly because it was written in the programming language "C", and I am trying to run it through a modified "python" wrapper so it can play nicely with other things I've programmed so far in this project.
After a lot of effort, I was able to get it running. I trained the "Yolo" model on my car image dataset. But, the final results weren't so great. I need to tinker with it some more. There really isn't any fun output that I can share on this yet.
After failing fairly hard with the "Yolo" stuff, I went back to tinkering with the Raspberry Pi a little bit. Except, for seemingly no reason, the camera stopped working. I checked the connections, reinstalled some of the firmware, searched online a bunch, but found no solutions. Then, after about an hour of troubleshooting, I noticed that there is a little orange-colored plug above the camera lens that wasn't perfectly seated into its connection. I fixed that, and it started working again. Nice.
I've been trying fairly hard to buy some cryptocurrency. So far I've mined a grand total of $25 in Ethereum (over the past 16 days). That's not bad - but I've noticed a few "up and coming" cryptocurrencies that I'd like to make an investment into.
The problem is, TD Bank is being a major pain in the butt. They keep blocking any crypto-related transactions. At first, I gave them the benefit of the doubt. Buying cryptocurrency looks shady, and it would likely be a good way for a scammer to steal cash. But, I've been on the phone with them a few times and they continue to block my transactions. I havent been able to buy anything, and I've been trying for 2 weeks now. I'm convinced that TD Bank must have an anti-cryptocurrency stance, and they block these transactions for strategic reasons (i.e., they feel that cryptocurrency might someday challenge our banking systems, so banks want to make using crypto as inconvenient as possible). That's a little bit of a conspiracy theory.
The major cryptocurrency exchanges (which you use to buy these coins) now have my account blocked because they think I'm a scammer. I guess sending through a few transactions that get blocked by the bank doesn't look so good to them. I don't blame them, but it's got me very stuck.
Also, while making this post my hard drive filled up. Geeeez.
The second installment of the new Star Wars trilogy was released a few days ago. Jess snagged us some movie tickets for Friday night at Jordan’s Furniture (the best place to see a movie, if you didn’t know), and we enlisted our friend Casey to watch Violet (thanks, Casey).
I build these movies up a lot in my head. I might be fanatical. I strictly avoid reading/watching/hearing anything Star Wars related – I didn’t even know who was directing this movie. I have a romanticized idea that I will sit down in the theater without any preconceived notions and get blown away by something great.
So, I obviously had expectations – but let me dial it back a little bit. I know I can’t ask for Disney to deliver us another “The Empire Strikes Back”. I’m really just looking for three things: a good story, some good characters (I’d argue those were already created), and a lot of that familiar Star Wars aesthetic.
Star Wars fans had to endure a pretty bad spell from 1999 to 2015. During that time, three Star Wars movies were released that didn’t really accomplish any of those three wish-list items. The story lines were dull, the characters were dull, and the aesthetic was nowhere to be seen. Then, there was all of the merchandise. It might be hard to take a Star Wars fan seriously when people see nothing but R2D2 pencil erasers, Yoda backpacks, Lightsaber candies, and Chewbacca slippers for 20 years. Don’t get me wrong, I love my Star Wars juice glasses – but I eventually started to wonder if the general public remembered that all of this nonsense actually started with three good movies, and it’s not all about Darth Vader driving mugs.
In 2015, Disney released their first movie to reboot Star Wars. Overall, I’d say it was very good. It hit all three of those wish list items. I’d say the “good story” task was only lightly accomplished, but it did a really great job at hitting on the Star Wars aesthetic. Plus, it introduced a new cast of good characters while staying true to the old characters. It left off on a pretty great cliff-hanger ending. If you don’t know, it ended with the new protagonist, Rey, finally finding an old, wizened Luke Skywalker in a remote hideout on the edge of the galaxy. Rey hands Luke his old lightsaber, and then without any dialogue, it ends.
Now we are caught up to this weekend. While walking into the theater, Jess and I had to dodge people walking out from the previous showing because we were afraid of overhearing spoilers. I had to overt my eyes from posters and video screens showing previews while waiting in line. We managed to get our concessions and a set of decent seats.
If I did a good enough job with this post, then you’ll understand that when the iconic opening frame flashes onto the screen “A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away…”, I am happy. I am happy regardless of how many of those wish list items get accomplished.
While staying true to my promise of no spoilers - I will say that I had a great two and a half hours. There was action, there was suspense, there were lightsabers. If you're a fan of the franchise even a little bit, I encourage you to get out to the theater and experience that pang of joy and anticipation when you see the opening frame.
I have been developing this Spotify playlist full of songs that sound like Christmas songs, but are actually not Christmas songs. This is a great playlist for someone who's natural tendency is to be a grinch, yet still wants to get into that festive mood.
I was adding songs to this for a few months, and then just recently scoured the internet to find some more tracks to help fill it out.
Serving suggestion: Listen while drinking a heavily sweetened white russian (which may look/taste a bit like eggnog) and some peppermint hard candies (which look like candy canes...wait what do candy canes taste like??)
Click here to access the playlist (will require a spotify account) - I set it as a "collaborative playlist" - I think that means that anyone can add more songs. So...I guess we will see how that pans out.
Disclaimer: I am not going to claim that all of these songs are good. All I am saying is that they sound sorta like Christmas songs.
For those we don't have Spotify...sorry. I pasted the tracklist below (for what it's worth).
|Hospital Food||David Gray||Life in Slow Motion|
|White Winter Hymnal||Fleet Foxes||Fleet Foxes|
|Two Weeks||Grizzly Bear||Veckatimest|
|Standing in the Back at Your Show||Wild Ones||Mirror Touch|
|Amour Amour||Livia Blanc||Amour Amour|
|Step||Vampire Weekend||Modern Vampires of the City|
|Phantom Limb||The Shins||Wincing The Night Away|
|Welcome Home, Son||Radical Face||Ghost|
|Somewhere Only We Know||Keane||Hopes And Fears|
|Soul Meets Body||Death Cab for Cutie||Plans|
|Heartbeats||José González||Imperial Recordings Best Of|
|I'll Be Home||Harry Nilsson||The Best Of Harry Nilsson|
|Disarm||The Smashing Pumpkins||Rotten Apples, The Smashing Pumpkins Greatest Hits|
|Beth/Rest||Bon Iver||Bon Iver|
Ryan just found out this week that he passed his PE Test for Stuctural Engineering. It is such an accomplishment, especially because he had to prepare while working sometimes a 10 to 12 hour day. Without getting too mushy on this somewhat public blog I just have to say how proud dad and I are of you.
To repeat what I posted in your high school yearbook.
“You have brains in your head. You have feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself any direction you choose. You're on your own. And you know what you know. And YOU are the one who'll decide where to go...” --Dr. Seuss
Love, Mom and Dad
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