A note on similarity search

Monday 19 July 2010, 19:26

Hi! I'm a scientific researcher. I have a PhD in computer science. My doctoral dissertation is mostly about the mathematical background of "similarity search." That means looking at things to find other things they are similar to. I've travelled the world to present my work on similarity search at scientific conferences - and some very smart people with very limited funds chose to use those funds to pay for me to do that.

Argument from authority has its limitations, but I would like to make very clear: I am an expert in the specific area of how computers can answer questions of the form "Which thing does this thing most resemble?" Gee, why would I mention this right now?

Back in business

Sunday 18 July 2010, 11:25

I just got back from a week in Sweden at ACL 2010. It went pretty well. I presented my paper, which you can read online as a PDF; I didn't get a lot of response or questions right at the presentation, but I said what I wanted to say and at least they didn't throw things, and I'm told there was a lot of interest in it offline. In one of the workshops I actually found several people who wanted to talk to me about my dissertation research, and it'd be really cool if I could somehow redeem some of the years of work I put into that, so that's good. I took photos and some may end up posted here eventually.

Judging covers by the book

Friday 9 July 2010, 09:32

Here are the covers of two different editions of the book Silver Phoenix, by Cindy Pon. One of them is horribly offensive - "like the ugly, stupid, festering toad that you just can't squash no matter how many times you hit it with a shovel" - and the Web logger on whose site I found the pictures and quote thinks it's obvious which one that is.

On the marshmallow test

Wednesday 30 June 2010, 09:46

Show a four-year-old child some marshmallows and a bell. Tell them that you're going to leave the room for a while (fifteen or twenty minutes). Say that if they ring the bell, you'll come back and give them a marshmallow. However, say that if they don't ring the bell, but wait until you come back without ringing it, then you will give them two marshmallows. Record what happens.

Ten years later, assess the child's personality and general success in life by means of a questionnaire sent to their parents. What you discover is that the ones who rang the bell, or who rang it earlier, score relatively poorly on questions that measure social adjustment, "emotional intelligence," and so on. The ones who didn't ring the bell, or rang it later, score much better on those measures, and also score better on the SAT. Shoda, Y., Mischel, W., Peake, P. K. (1990). Predicting adolescent cognitive and self-regulatory competencies from preschool delay of gratification: Identifying diagnostic conditions. Developmental Psychology, 26(6) [PDF]

The part I think is really interesting is what the authors of that paper don't say about the experimental protocol.

An index for all reasons

Sunday 27 June 2010, 16:52

There are probably as many reasons to save money as there are savers. One of mine is as follows: I don't want to be forced to change my lifestyle. In particular, after I'm retired and living on the savings I create today, I don't want to find myself in a situation where, because of changes in the world beyond my control that affect prices, the money I put aside to buy goods for myself during retirement is no longer enough to cover the kind of lifestyle I intended for myself, and so I'm forced to cut back. I want someone else, not me, to be accountable for cutting back to make sure I don't have to, and I'm willing to pay money up front in order to remove belt-tightening from the list of things I have to take responsibility for.

Gerard Kennedy on copyright, other issues

Thursday 24 June 2010, 10:42

Last night I attended a meeting called the "Community Council on Federal Issues," hosted by Gerard Kennedy, Liberal Member of Parliament for Parkdale-High Park and my Federal elected representative. I didn't vote for him; never mind whether I would have, I was living in a different city at the time of the last election. Apparently he holds these meetings periodically as a way of keeping in touch with constituents; this one in particular was advertised as having a focus issue of "Locked out? New Federal copyright laws and you," which was what drew my interest. I didn't take notes and don't plan to report on the entire meeting, but will cover a few points of interest to me.

Writing update

Tuesday 22 June 2010, 19:43

Ever since 2002, when I wrote The Fickle Finger of Fate as a NaNoWriMo project, I've had it in mind to write another book set in that universe but done properly, at publication quality. The NaNoWriMo word-count constraint is interesting as a personal growth exercise, but not really conducive to the output being a good book, and its effects show in the output. Over the years since Fickle Finger I was gradually collecting material for the next book, and as of when I finished my PhD in mid-2008, my plan was that I would work at the University of Toronto for the calendar year 2009 (details are private and beyond the scope, but I was in a position to make them an offer I didn't think they could refuse), and I'd move to Toronto four months early and spend September to December 2008 writing the book at about a third of NaNoWriMo pace.

Another wacky theory

Sunday 20 June 2010, 16:39

I just noticed that the way Téodor gets out of his horrific night of high school fun with Nice Pete, is exactly the same way that Kyon gets out of his horrific time loop of high school fun with Haruhi. You realize what this means, don't you?

Rogers annoyance

Friday 18 June 2010, 14:34

It turns out that although I thought I was connected to the Net again, all outgoing email from my system was being queued until a few minutes ago, because I use a third-party SMTP provider (for which I pay a fee) rather than trusting any connection provider with my email. Rogers blocks outgoing port 25 connections, in an effort to force their customers to use their servers, presumably as an anti-spam measure. This does not please me at all, especially on top of the DNS problems already noted. A complaint has been filed. Seriously considering telling them to go fuck themselves, never mind that I just paid an installation fee I'd be unlikely to get back.

In the matter of the 465 Hz tone

Friday 18 June 2010, 09:41

So, you've got an audio signal contaminated with a continuous tone at about 233 Hz, with a really strong second harmonic at 465 and some others throughout the audio spectrum. It sounds like a swarm of angry bees and makes the main signal hard to listen to. You can notch it out - that means applying a filter that simply removes the frequencies in question - but since 465 Hz is right in the important part of the speech band, the result is going to sound really bad. Any simple frequency-notch filter that blocks the interference is going to destroy things you want to keep, too. Look around the Net these past few days and you can read a lot of broadcast audio people complaining about this issue.