Music Monday: Shelter from the Storm

October 17, 2016

Bob Dylan won the Nobel Prize for Literature. That’s weird.

Prizes are weird. It’s important to remember that they don’t mean all that much and projecting too much meaning on them is a recipe for pointless misery of various sorts. One point of prizes is to encourage and support work that needs it. I like Dylan a lot, but it seems like he’s recognised enough for most purposes.

And Zoe was definitely robbed!

“Shelter from the Storm” was one of the first Dylan songs I encountered, but the Hard Rain version:

In spite of the obvious flaws in this performance, it is sublime. These lines (and their performance) hit me hard every time:

Suddenly I turned around and she was standin’ there
With silver bracelets on her wrists and flowers in her hair
She walked up to me so gracefully and took my crown of thorns
Come in, she said
I’ll give ya shelter from the storm

I took silversmithing to make those bracelets!

This version hit me so strongly that it was a long time before I could even listen to the Blood on the Tracks version. Now I like it just fine. I find the contrast between the contemplative and the raucously desperate to be delightful. They seem more like two movements of one song than alternative versions.

Everyday Sexism: “I would never have female voices on a Beatles record”

October 15, 2016

With the Trump trainwreck unfolding in slow motion, I’ve been thinking a lot about how sexism and misogyny gets transmitted and reinforced and how things have changed from when I was young! One great thing is that there is an established (if contested) framework for hearing and interpreting things like accusations of sexual assault. The fact that accusations may not come out for years or decades no longer results automatically a dismissal of veracity. People still try the move, but they have to work it pretty hard and lots of people and institutions push back.

It’s hard to overstate the magnitude of this victory, esp. when it feels like we’re slipping back. But it truly is amazing. Thanks feminism! It’s up there with the idea that unwelcome sexual activity is wrong or that women don’t exist for the sexual pleasure of men.

However, I was thinking about how things get transmitted and how implicit biases are formed. I’ve been watching bits and pieces of A Hard Day’s Night on Netflix and I remember this McCarteny quote from a book about The Beatles I read when I was in high school: “I would never have female voices on a Beatles record.” (I recall it as a reaction to Yoko Ono, but haven’t been able to verify that.)

Now, prima facie, this is just ridiculous. I mean, how stupid a criterion could you have? Especially for the Beatles who experimented with a wide range of genre’s and songs and made plenty of use of falsetto. If the voice sounds interesting, why do you care if it’s attached to a woman?

But I didn’t recognise the rank, casual sexism of it at the time. I was busy hero worshipping the Beatles and trying to learn everything about them. I worked hard to make that make sense because that’s what you do. We  interpret stuff from people we like in ways that are flattering to them.

Even after I rejected this sentiment (which came, thankfully, pretty quickly)…it’s still there. I remember it. I’ve no doubt it affects some of my implicit biases.

And this is a good reason to fight everyday, casual, “harmless” sexism. It’s not the only reason, but it is a really good one. Even “ironic” sexism (and racism and…) seems to feed into bias formation.

Music Monday: Another Suitcase in Another Hall

October 10, 2016

Andrew Lloyd Webber has two musicals of which I am very fond: Jesus Christ Superstar and Evita.

Part of this is early conditioning. I remember seeing Herod’s song from the film version of JCS on television:

(My mom had the concept album which I promptly stole.)

I saw a very strong performance of Evita at the Bucks County Playhouse when, in high school, I was there for a contest. There was a lot going on for me in those trips, but the performance was quite splendid and was probably one of the first professional theatrical performance I’d ever seen. (It really makes a difference!) Evita also struck me because 1) it was about a woman! in politics! and 2) it was about South America?! and 3) it seemed politically and personally complex. It was all pretty new to my young self. It was also, musically speaking, rather stylistically diverse. Oo! I remember being impressed that it was mostly sung with little book. That was new for me too.

A key song is Another Suitcase in Another Hall (in this video coupled with “Hello and Goodbye”):

In many ways, it’s an odd little bit: The character is nameless and has no other appearances. She exists in the musical in part to draw out the unsympathetic side of the Perons, but also to show the path Eva didn’t take (but easily could have). It’s very poignant.

The lyrics are some of Tim Rice’s best. One striking bit is how the verse is all negative. Consider the opening:

I don’t expect my love affairs to last for long
Never fool myself that my dreams will come true
Being used to trouble I anticipate it
But all the same I hate it, wouldn’t you?

Everything is broken. Whatever is positive (love affairs, dreams) is broken and even the coping strategy fails. And the last verse almost reaches a kind of bleak optimism before crashing down:

Call in three months time and I’ll be fine, I know
Well maybe not that fine, but I’ll survive anyhow
I won’t recall the names and places of each sad occasion
But that’s no consolation here and now.

It also won’t be consolation then when this pattern recurs! As it will!

I don’t think the song succeeds in its assigned task. Partly, it’s too pretty (and Barbara Dixon’s rendition is perfect…PERFECT I TELL YOU!!!). Partly, it’s swamped by incident and song throughout the rest of the show.

Of course, the movie version gives the song to Evita/Madonna:


I certainly understand Madonna wanting the song, but I prefer it as the weird little thing that it was.

Update: I’m in the midst of first period slog (two all day classes one of which is still new and in serious flux; one I teach all by myself, the other I have Uli saving me), which means sleep deprivation Sleep deprivation means song hacks. This time it’s a song hack about not sleeping!

I don’t expect my efficiency to last for long
Never fool myself that my dreams will come true
Being used to slogging I anticipate it
But all the same I hate it – wouldn’t you?

So what happens now?
Another all-nighter in another Fall
So what happens now?
Bang your head against another wall
When am I going to sleep?
You’ll get by, you always have before
When am I going to sleep?

Time and time again I’ve said that I’ll prepare
That I’m immune to gloom, that I’ll focus and be through
But every time it matters all my words desert me
So anyone can distract me – and they do

So what happens now?
Another all-nighter in another Fall
So what happens now?
Bang your head against another wall
When am I going to sleep?
You’ll get by, you always have before
When am I going to sleep?

Call in three days time and I’ll be fine I know
Well maybe not that fine, but I’ll survive anyhow
I won’t recall the names and papers of this sad occasion
But that’s no consolation – here and now

So what happens now?
Another all-nighter in another Fall
So what happens now?
Bang your head against another wall
When am I going to sleep?
You’ll get by, you always have before
When am I going to sleep?
Don’t ask anymore

Music Monday: Blackbird

October 3, 2016

This is really about Zoe’s next album.

The song selection is mostly finished and the window for adding anything is nearly closed. Anything with serious arrangement needs (i.e., multiple studio musicians) is probably right out. It’s possible to get a Zoe + an instrument song in…but mostly only technically possible. There’s theoretically enough time left, but each day makes it much less likely.

I’m lobbying for a song or two (still!). But my efforts were swamped by Zoe’s radio promoter who was looking for a cover or trad that would ease the way for some radio play. Vincent Black Lightening worked really well on Bonfiles:

And something like that was what was requested.

Zoe does a very nice banjo accompanied cover of Blackbird. You know Blackbird, right? RIGHT?!

Normally when she performs it, there’s a story woven in about taking the last train to Manchester (from Liverpool). It’s a wonderful story that inflects the song in a complete different direction. Alas, the unstoried version is what makes sense for radio purposes, so that’s what’ll go on the album. However! She also recorded the storied version, so I hope it will make its way out there.

There are lots of covers out there! By far the most striking I’ve heard is Bobby McFerrin’s:

Brad Mehldau’s instrumental version is worth a listen to:

Ontology Management on the Gartner Hype Cycle!

September 28, 2016

The Gartner hype cycle is an analytical construct (of sorts) which tries to capture the relation between a technology and the expectations we have for that technology. It’s based on the pretty reasonable observation that esp with new technology, there’s a tendency for expectations to outrun the current or even potential benefits. Everyone wants to use the new glittery magic, so vendors and specialising consultants do very well for a while. But it turns out that the new technology isn’t magic, so people find that they’ve spent a bunch of money and time and energy and they still have the problems the tech was supposed to magically solve. This leads to a crash in expectations and a backlash against the tech. But lots of new tech is actually useful, used appropriately, so some of the new tech, its shiny worn off, finds a place in our toolkit and tech landscape. The Gartner hype cycle is a pretty iconic graph with fun-ish labels:

(The y-axis gets different labels over time.)

And people try to operationalise it:


But I’m skeptical about a lot of this as being rigorously evaluate.

Of course, sometimes a tech takes off and doesn’t really stop. It goes pretty straight from trigger to productivity. The iPhone/iPhone style phones comes to mind. It Just Grew. It may level off as it hits saturation, but that’s a completely different phenomenon.

This is all pretty banal stuff, but Gartner takes it very seriously (they’ve branded it!).

ANYWAY, this year’s hype cycle, excitingly, includes ontology management for the first time! WE’RE ON THE MAP!

  • 16 new technologies included in the Hype Cycle for the first time this year. These technologies include 4D Printing, Blockchain, General-Purpose Machine Intelligence, 802.11ax, Context Brokering, Neuromorphic Hardware, Data Broker PaaS (dbrPaaS), Personal Analytics, Smart Workspace, Smart Data Discovery, Commercial UAVs (Drones), Connected Home, Machine Learning, Nanotube Electronics, Software-Defined Anything (SDx), and Enterprise Taxonomy and Ontology Management,

Alas, if you look at the graph, we’re on the downslope into the Trough of Disllusionment:

And it has a “more than 10 years” to mainstream adoption label.


This is discouraging and perhaps hopeful. Remember that the hype cycle doesn’t tell you much about the qualitymaturity, or utility of the technology, only the perception and influence of perception on the market. (To the degree you believe it at all.) 10 years to mainstream adoption is not 10 years from being a boon for your business or a viable business itself. It means you will often have a hard sell, because people are skeptical.

Update: Oh WordPress. Picture management please.

Music Monday: Zoe Mulford’s Small Brown Birds heading into endgame

September 26, 2016

Yay! Zoe had a couple of studio days last week and made a fair bit of progress on getting some more new album songs into the can. Most of the recording for these songs is done, so we’re in the editing stage. There are still some songs to come which will need recording.

(She had a lengthy period where not much was happening because of some vocal issues. Lots of nasal spray of various sorts later, things seem much better!)

You can hear a preview of one of the tracks:

I’m pretty sure that this is mostly done. It certainly hasn’t been mastered, but any further engineering tweaks will be minor.

You can compare this to an earlier production for a Holiday Sampler:

Should you prefer sensitive (noisy) or insensitive (lagging) poll aggregation?

September 22, 2016

There are quite a few poll aggregators and predictive models based on poll aggregation. This is a huge improvement on the status quo ante where our basic access to polling data was at the individual poll level.

Polls have error. Polls have biases (hidden and otherwise). Polls are a snapshot.

When you see a headline number of a poll, remember there are at least three factors: The poll’s data acquisition methodology (their sampling strategy, questions they ask, etc.), the actual data gathered, and the interpretation of that data. Each of these can have a very large effect on the headline numbers and any of them could easily reverse the rank order of the candidates. (See the wonderful Upshot article wherein they gave the same gathered data to 4 pollsters and got 4 different results which include a Trump and several Clinton leads. These pollsters were all doing a defensible job! No hackery there!)

Poll aggregation is, in effect, a poll of polls. So the same things feed in: their methodology (do you include 4-way race polls?), actual data, and interpretation (do you weight your averages?). As a result they can give you different results. For example, Talking Point Memo’s PollTracker:

Is generally a bit more pessimistic about Clinton than the HuffPost Pollster

And the RealClearPolitics one is more pessimistic about Clinton:

(I’m going roughly by the number of times Trump’s trend line touches or crosses Clinton’s.)

When we get to forecasting models, we get even more variance. A forecasting model is a prediction of a candidates chances of winning, usually expressed as a probability. So if you see that Clinton has a 65% chance of winning, it’s not that she’s polling at 65%, but that she has a 65% chance of winning the election (which she might do by a razor thin margin!). For win probability, a very stable razor thin margin is better than a highly volatile large margin. Or it should be!

Some predictive models are more volatile than others. You can see this most easily on FiveThirtyEight’s prediction page because they have convenient radio buttons for selecting between three models with different levels of sensitivity to the polls (with the “nowcast” being is a “straightforward” poll aggregation). In contrast, Sam Wang’s model tends to move more slowly, by design.

So, which should you prefer?

In general, just as with polls, it’s good to look at multiple models. It gives you more information and reminds you that prediction is a tough tough game.

I think, in general, it’s worth being stable rather than highly reactive, so I tend to lean on less volatile models. There are several reasons:

  1. We’re still pretty far out. Getting worked up about something that might be a statistical blip or a cyclic movement is pretty unwise. If some movement in the averages or forecasts is worth worrying about, then it will be durable and show up in all the models. Getting a “jump” on bad (or good) news isn’t really helpful, esp. as there’s little to do in response (for most of us). It’s similar to the stock market: Most of us aren’t equipped to do much short term trading efficiently, so it’s better off thinking long.
  2. We really don’t know the underlying causal structure. One phenomenon that has been shown in the lab is “differential (non-)response”, that is, it is common that people respond (at all!) to polls depending on “(de)energising” events. Thus, consider convention bumps. Each candidate typically gets a boost in the polls that then fades after their convention. Why? Are people changing their mind? Are they really that fickle? Perhaps, but it also could be the case that there voting intentions (which is what we care about) don’t change, but whether and how they respond to polls changes. Thus, in addition to sampling error and other methodological and interpretive biases, we have the possibility that salient events might change polling results without there being a change in the phenomenon we’re trying to measure.
  3. Given the strong negatives associated with a Trump victory, anything from a 10% on up is extremely worrisome. It’s worth being worried. If you can use that worry to prompt action, you should do it regardless of the current state of the polls.

So, prefer the more stable aggregators and forecasts. Also prefer the ones that are most inclusive of polls and minimise the “special sauce” in their models. If you want to know what a fundamentals model predicts, just use a separate prediction rather than trying to weave it into your polls based predictor. There’s enough interpretative variably that adding things which aren’t really made to work together is a bad idea. Better that each sort of evidential base has it’s own predictive model and you can compare them more or less directly.

Note: scrubbed all the embedding code for the aggregations. I’ll try to update with screenshots later. Sigh.

Update: PollyVote is a forecast model aggregator! So it saves you the work🙂 (It seems to have two levels of aggregation: It aggregates with a type of forecasting method, e.g., prediction market vs. econometric, and it aggregates over those types.) One interesting thing is that it provides a popular and EV vote total, as opposed to a win probability. Another is that it doesn’t incorporate error estimates (indeed, it’s hard to see how to do it). OTOH, it’s super simple and straightforward and covers the main sources of evidence. It will be interesting to see how it does in this weird weird year.

Blog Shout Out for Now Face North

September 21, 2016

Now Face North is a blog by LGM long time most-valued commenter JL. Any JL comment is worth reading. A JL comment about sexual or domestic abuse or rape victims (esp. about support) or activism is worth spending some serious time with. As we go into the election, her stuff will present a side of electioneering that you won’t typically see. Whether it’s about political trials and public defenders, the differential treatment of pro-Trump and anti-Trump by police at an RNC protest, or the ins and outs of being a Street Medic, there’s a lot there. It’s experientially grounded but clear, coherent, and thoughtful. And sometimes pretty funny:

Do you know where this march is going?

Okay, seriously, undercover/plainclothes cops, I don’t know why you all always seem to think that medics will know the answer to this question, but we usually don’t. Please stop asking me. Also, most of you are bad at pretending to be protesters. There are notable exceptions, but they are generally not the ones who meander up to street-medics fake-casually to ask where the march is going. If you’re not a cop and you’re asking me this question anyway, I still probably don’t know. Ask an organizer.

Add it to your rotation this election season. JL doesn’t post that frequently, but binge reading is a delight.

Grumpy about Textbooks

September 20, 2016

I definitely need to do more research but I don’t feel that there is a really solid textbook on software engineering. I use Steve McConnell’s Code Complete (second edition) and Making Software for readings.

These are both pretty good. Code Complete is a bible for many people (not for me!) but regardless it’s definitely on a “you should read this if you are a software engineer” list. It has a few problems though:

  1. It’s not written with courses in mind, as far as I can tell. It introduces a lot of stuff and sometimes in a helpful order, but other times not. The “learning objects” are not clear at all.
  2. It’s not super well written. You get a lot of interesting lists (e.g., of program qualities) but they are often not coherent, have some redundancies, are are perfunctorily designed. These often feel revelatory on a first read but if you try to work with them you get a bit grumpy. For example, we have 4 kinds of tests: unit, component, integration, and system. Unit and component test bits of the same size: a unit. The difference is whether the unit is maintained by one team (thus a unit test) or more than one team (a component test). This is bonkers. It’s esp. bonkers to compare with integration or system tests. It could be part of an interesting axis (who’s the owner vs. who’s writing the tests). But there are much better frameworks out there.
  3. It’s a bit dated. The second edition came out in 2004 and is thus 12 years old. This doesn’t invalidate it per se, but given that the book itself has a prominent discussion of the need for life long learning because the fundamentals of software engineering keep changing, it’s a problem. I’d prefer something other than Basic as the “other” example language.
  4. It pretends to focus on code construction, but has just enough architecture, etc. to be almost a reasonably complete text. But the scattershot approach is a bit disorienting.

If you read it cover to cover and absorbed it all with an appropriately skeptical eye and organised it appropriately, then you’d be in great shape.

My pal Mark suggested reoriented on The Pragmatic Programmer, which is another classic and definitely on the must read list. But a lot of my concerns apply to it too. (That there’s a basic divide between those pushing Code Complete and those pushing the Pragmatic Programmer is interesting. The lines I’ve seen is that Code Complete aspires to be encyclopaedic and the Pragmatic Programmer is more opinionated and thus effective. Roughly. They both feel scattered to me.)

I could try both (not this year!). I could go with Pragmatic Programmer because it’s smaller and thus they could possibly read the whole thing.

But neither feel satisfactory as a textbook. The systematicity and pedagogic logic just don’t seem to be there. So I’m left imposing some order on them.

Music Monday: Think Respect

September 19, 2016

I finished the Aretha Franklin biography and it was interesting. Her response in the press is exactly what you’d expect having read the book, so it has that going for it. It still didn’t really help me understand her musically. I’d really like to see “music biographies” emerge which trace the music and it’s connection (with audio obviously). However, here’s are two of her most famous and celebrated songs.

Think is awesome, of course:

esp. in the Blues Brothers:

Who doesn’t love Respect?

Interestingly, Respect was written and originally performed by Otis Redding:

It was Franklin who transformed it into a feminist anthem. Which is pretty cool.

While looking for the Redding version, I stumbled on his cover of (I can’t get no) Satisfaction:

Which Franklin also covered!

I guess I prefer Redding’s, because I think the arrangement is more interesting (the prominence of the driving beat during the verses is a pretty big and interesting departure from the Stones’).

Of course, the definitive cover is Devo’s deconstruction:

The performance on SNL is very interesting but it’s dropped off YouTube, at least, to my searching.