VideoLectures.net: Good machine learning and AI lectures

A while back I posted about SciVee, a site for posting videos of science presentations. Today my old neural-networks labmate Tal Tversky commented pointing me at VideoLectures, a similar site containing academic lectures.  Although the site doesn’t seem to be explicitly intended for any one topic, the page of “top” lectures is dominated by talks in statistical machine learning.  Skimming the page, I noticed talks by such notable names as Tom Mitchell (chair of CMU’s machine learning department), Usama Fayyad (former VP of Research and “chief data officer” at Yahoo), Michael Jordan (UC Berkeley), and William Cohen (CMU).  Lots more, too.

In addition to ML and AI stuff, there are also talks by Tim Berners-Lee and Umberto Eco on the “Top Lectures” page.

Subramanian Ramamoorthy blogging on AI ‘n’stuff

My old UTexas Qualitative Reason & Intelligent Robotics Labmate Subramanian “Ram” Ramamoorthy is blogging now as a lecturer (i.e. assistant prof) at the University of Edinburgh.  He is the second former labmate of mine to end up there.  (The first is former NNRG labmate Jim Bednar.)

Posted in AI, Robotics. 1 Comment »

Bellevue, WA: Just like back home, only not really.

In moving to Seattle Laura and I put a lot of effort into finding a great place to live.   We wanted a place that was suitable for living with a small child and an active dog — I.e. a house with a yard, in an area with good schools, but with a short commute to my office in downtown Seattle.  Luckily, we were spared the choice of buying vs. renting, because sale prices for single family homes in much of the Seattle area are preposterously high, but rents are still (barely) within reach for us.   We also had the advantage of some time to shop around thanks to a month of temporary housing in my Amazon.com relocation package.  We ended up in Bellevue, WA.  More about it below the jump… Read the rest of this entry »

Rina Ferrarelli, Poet and Translator

Thanks to my sister, my mom has a working website again: www.rinaferrarelli.com.  Actually, the new site has been up for a couple of months, but I just got around to updating my sidebar links.  I thought I’d throw her some link love from the main page as well.

Posted in Art, Web. 1 Comment »

Why sell to half-price books?

Laura and I unpacked all our books yesterday and realized that we have a shelf-space crisis in our new house, so we decide to try selling some to Half-Price Books. We picked out three boxes of books, probably around 40 books total (though maybe more, I didn’t count). The were mostly hardbound, and many fairly technical, which according to HPB’s FAQ are the kind of books that fetch the most. We carted them down to the Bellevue HPB location, and I waited 30-40 minutes for their buyer to assess the haul. The final offer? Twelve dollars. That comes out to something like 30c per book.

Now, I’m a big believer in the free market, especially for things like this, so I can’t criticize HPB for trying to pay as little as possible for their inventory. What I can’t figure out is this: Why would anyone would ever bother to sell them books in the first place? The HPB is located about 4 miles from my house, and gas here is $4.40 per gallon, so just the cost of driving there ate up about $1 of my gross. Counting driving and waiting, the trip took about an hour. I specially selected books that I thought had a chance of being valuable, rather than just grabbing the many tatttered pulp paperbacks in my library, that probably added an extra hour to the process. If I value my time at Washington’s minimum wage of $8/hour, the whole trip was a net loss for me. I would have been better off just taking the oldest and most tattered books from my library and throwing them away. It would have gained me just as much shelf space with far less time and hassle.

I can’t figure out how selling to HPB ever comes out to a rational thing to do.  If you have a few high-value books (e.g. first editions or collectors editions) HPB will probably offer more than I got, but you’d still be better off selling them individually as an Amazon seller.  If you have just the average haul of old books, HPB will offer you peanuts.  I get a sense that a lot of their customers buy books there, read them, and then sell them back. If the books they buy are high-value, then maybe the fetch more on resale, but it’s still a net loss for the consumer. That’s certainly a nice deal for HPB, getting to resell the same book over and over, profiting each time. But for the reader, it seems like it would be far more economical to just use a library. At least I have the satisfaction of not having recycled any of the $12 back into HPB’s till. I just took the cash and left.

More thoughts on leaving Pittsburgh

Mike Madison at Pittsblog picked up on on some of my parting negativity about PIttsburgh, adding:

Just when Pittsburgh is getting ready to blow out the candles on its (cup)cake, something like this happens — the sort of thing that Lenore Blum and Project Olympus are trying to avoid by building stronger connections between local academic labs and local business.

I thought it would be worthwhile to repost part of my reply here:

[T]he root cause is the same as it has been for all the economic questions in Pittsburgh: Jobs. If you have a good job (and live in the right neighborhood, and you don’t have to ride public transportation or go through too many tunnels) Pittsburgh can be a nice place to live. But if you can’t find a job, why stick around?

I don’t think I really knew how I felt until the moment when I knew for sure I’d be leaving. That moment came during the week in March when I scheduled on-site interviews with three major west coast tech companies and I still did not have anything in-process with any Pittsburgh company. Once I knew for sure that I was leaving, I started to feel that my only regrets would be leaving my friends and family here, not leaving the city itself. Then late May rolled around and the flowers started blooming, and I thought that maybe there were some things I’d miss. Then my wife reminded me that I found a great job in Seattle and I was S.O.L. in Pittsburgh, and I realized that there are flowers everywhere.

Incidentally, the one Burgh tech company that did contact me got back to me more than two months after I first inquired with them. Most of the Pittsburgh companies I applied to didn’t even bother to acknowledge that they had received my resumé. With Amazon.com, the total elapsed time between my first contact and an offer on paper was 29 days. Are there any good engineers left by the time the Pittsburgh companies get around to talking to them?

On top of this, I admit that there were things about living in Pittsburgh that bothered me, but the details of those annoyances are irrelevant. The point is that from my subjective perspective there’s good reason to be sour on the Burgh — it didn’t work for me.

Viewed objectively, however, my move is a perfectly normal, natural event. I looked for a job — focusing my search on cities that seemed like places where I would enjoy living — I found a job in one of those cities, and I moved with few regrets. This is how we do things in America, right? We move. My dad was born in Louisiana, my mom in Italy. Now they’re Pittsburghers and they like it there. My brother lives in New York, my sister in Dallas. My wife grew up in Ohio. My daughter was born in Austin. That people leave Pittsburgh is not strange. What’s strange is that we’re expected to retain a strong identity as Pittsburghers, instead of adopting full identities as New Yorkers, Texans, Seattleites, or whatever. It’s a weird, unrealistic expectation. The Pittsburgh emigrants I’ve met identify as belonging with their new homes, just like anyone else would. It’s a mistake to read Steeler fandom as a longing for home.

When thinking about economic development, I think that Pittsburgh itself could benefit from forgetting its identity for a while. Instead of treating everything as a unique Pittsburgh problem requiring a unique Pittsburgh solution, maybe it’s time to recognize that the small cities struggling to compete for jobs and capital largely face similar problems that admit similar solutions. It seems like a distraction to constantly focus on the “Pittsburghness” of the problems. The answer to emigration is immigration, whether in Pittsburgh or anywhere else. The way to spur immigration is through job creation. The way to create jobs is by creating an attractive climate for business. The policy instruments available for doing that are mostly the same everywhere (e.g. tax policy).

Despite my personal issues with it, there’s no denying that Pittsburgh has a great deal of innate charm. A big influx of capital and people with high expectations could transform it into the city that it likes to see itself as becoming. But I’m not getting any younger, and I can’t wait around for that to happen.

My favorite Obama quote

The thing I think people should feel confident in is that I’m going to make these judgments not based on some fierce ideological pre-disposition but based on what makes sense. I’m a big believer in evidence. I’m a big believer in fact. You know, if somebody shows me we can do something better through a market mechanism, I’m happy to do it.

–Barack Obama in a Wall St. Journal Interview [Seen in The Stump]

It’s been a long time since I heard any politician talking about making decisions based on data and evidence.  Amazon.com’s reputation for data-driven decision making is one of the things that attracted me to them.