If you can read this you can be a data scientist!

 

The opening lines of Virgil’s Aeneid. Turns out it’s a stepping stone to learning de scientia data sit amet.

As a humanities guy with strong technical and quantitative interests, I’ve watched the explosion of data science* as a component of business, education, culture and career. It is a data age.

 

Found a first-person account of a Classics grad student turned data scientist; interesting take in particular that there are some commonalities that are not necessary top of mind.

“It was true that I needed to know statistics and how to write code to function effectively in these roles, but that knowledge was a given. It turned out that the differentiating points between a great data scientist and an average one were in the researcher’s ability to deal with that same uncertainty that had driven me from the humanities and into quantitative research in the first place. In other words, the scientific methodologies had all the same epistemological concerns and issues as the humanities — they just tackled those problems with different tools.

My experience has lead me to believe that graduate humanities work is in fact one of the most useful backgrounds for an industry data scientist. While there’s often a lot of focus on data scientists being experts in statistics or coding, these tools are simply a means to an end — they’re necessary but insufficient for doing great data science. If you’re a humanities graduate student and are interested in data, I’d feel confident in your ability to succeed in the field based on your less technical skills. Specifically, experience as a graduate researcher in humanities makes you an expert in:

    1. Going deep into topics and teaching yourself anything
    2. Stating research questions and supporting your answers with evidence
    3. Communicating the limitations and assumptions of your approach

    In my mind, these broad research skills are more valuable (and rare) than knowledge of the specifics of any particular quantitative methodology.

*”Data scientist is just a sexed up word for statistician.’ Nate Silver

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Quotable Words: What’s Next for AI?

Linked by the indefatigable people at O’Reilly, I came across a Q&A with Judah Pearl, an AI pioneer, who has some measured criticism of the enterprise as it stands:

Hartnett: People are excited about the possibilities for AI. You’re not?

Pearl: As much as I look into what’s being done with deep learning, I see they’re all stuck there on the level of associations. Curve fitting. That sounds like sacrilege, to say that all the impressive achievements of deep learning amount to just fitting a curve to data. From the point of view of the mathematical hierarchy, no matter how skillfully you manipulate the data and what you read into the data when you manipulate it, it’s still a curve-fitting exercise, albeit complex and nontrivial.

Hartnett: The way you talk about curve fitting, it sounds like you’re not very impressed with machine learning.

Pearl: No, I’m very impressed, because we did not expect that so many problems could be solved by pure curve fitting. It turns out they can. But I’m asking about the future—what next? Can you have a robot scientist that would plan an experiment and find new answers to pending scientific questions? That’s the next step. We also want to conduct some communication with a machine that is meaningful, and meaningful means matching our intuition. If you deprive the robot of your intuition about cause and effect, you’re never going to communicate meaningfully. Robots could not say “I should have done better,” as you and I do. And we thus lose an important channel of communication.

So maybe it’s not all curve fitting and optimization problems? Seems plausible, but the already formidable mathematics would seemingly get nearly impossible.

Still an interesting read.

Rainy Day Words


“I
think that the
world should be full of cats and full of rain, that’s all, just
cats and
rain, rain and cats, very nice, good
night.”
― Charles Bukowski

Félix Bracquemond, Decoration for a Plate: Rain

“Rainy days should be spent at home with a cup of tea and a good book.”
― Bill Watterson, Calvin and Hobbes

Porcelain Designs for Tea Cups, Anonymous, French, 19th century

The rainfall in June –
the poems I’ve pasted to walls
peel off, but leave traces.

–Basho

Night Rain at Ōyama, from the series “Eight Famous Views of Kanagawa” by Utagawa Toyokuni II

 

 

Bernstein’s Candide

Took in Washington National Opera’s Candide, their season closer, and part of the celebration of the centenary of the maestro’s birth.

Been meaning to get down some things to say about it:  the show was the usual mixed bag, and the production’s ineptitude–despite good voices and some strong performances–failed to solve the abundant problems. Is it an opera, an operetta, or a musical? Should the winking parody style of the musical numbers (including Gilbert and Sullivan and Jeanette MacDonald & Nelson Eddy) be reflected in the production or underplayed? How do you deal with the picaresque narrative, which jumps continents and timeframes in its catalog of disasters with cinematic rather that stage logic? And most of all what to do about the fact that, at its core, it’s not a drama: it’s a satire that centers on a philosophical issue rather than a character-driven conflict (the key ingredient of almost all successful operas*). The protagonists,  without the directorial attention of a Mary Zimmermann, turn into very thinly drawn puppets. And even her musical comedy version was a bit like a revue (if winningly so).

That said, if anybody could have done a music-theater piece about an idea, perhaps it was Lenny. After all, He did write a violin concerto about a Platonic dialogue. But even he never seemed to be able to pull the threads together on Candide, and although I don’t regret taking in WNO’s as they did right by the intermittently wonderful score, the show never quite lives up to that wonderful fizzy overture, here conducted by the man himself.

Perhaps somebody should do a movie–the material might not fight the form so intensely.

*Strauss’ Capriccio is perhaps another example of an opera based on an idea “words vs. music” but it has better character development, and still has some problems in the theater.

Consultant Humor

Heard at the beginning of a two-day tech meeting years ago (back when I was working on my first websites in the mid-90s). It’s been knocking around a while.

A frog lived on a lily pad in the middle of a pond. Unfortunately, the pond had become infested with alligators, and the frog couldn’t figure out how to get to the shore to escape them and save his life.

Thinking all was lost, he noticed an owl in a tree, and knowing their reputation as sages, he implored, “Oh, wise Owl, I’m trapped here in this pond, and alligators will eat me if I can’t get to shore. How can I escape?”

The owl, who weirdly looked a lot like Clay Christensen for some reason, paused gravely and said, “Well, I think you are missing an obvious approach. Just fly away and you can reach the shore, escaping the alligators who are competing to eat you!”

The frog began to hop frantically, waving his appendages. But instead of escape, this commotion delivered him into the gleaming jaws of a nearby alligator.

As those jaws came clamping down on the poor creature, he shouted at the owl, “didn’t you know that frogs can’t fly?” The owl merely said “my plan was sound, you just had an implementation issue.”

Although the room was packed with actual consultants trying to sell us stuff, it got a big laugh.

Poetry: In Flanders Fields

As we head into the Memorial Day weekend, I remembered a poem from childhood. First asked my mother about it when I was a small child in Chicago and saw WWI Vets selling paper poppies.


Envelope with stamps honoring Moina Michael, Athens, Georgia, 1948. Moina Belle Michael was a United States professor and humanitarian, known as the “Poppy Lady” for conceiving the idea of using poppies as a symbol of remembrance for those who served in World War I. In 1948, four years after her death, the U.S. Postal Service issued a commemorative stamp honoring her life’s achievement.

In Flanders Fields

By John McCrae
In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
    That mark our place; and in the sky
    The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.
We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
    Loved and were loved, and now we lie,
        In Flanders fields.
Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
    The torch; be yours to hold it high.
    If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
        In Flanders fields.

 


The Met has a post worth reading,
In Flanders Fields, 100 Years Later: Comprehending the Incomprehensible, and a lithograph from 1918.

Bad Arguments: Illustrated

Via a visit to a real bookstore, found my way to Ali Almossami, an author and software engineer, who has done the public service of posting a free book on bad arguments.

Amusing examples and illustrations, covering some of the same ground I encountered implicitly in high school geometry and directly in a college logic course, using Copi’s text, nicely summarized over at the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (and of course philosophized about at length).

For all these efforts, we seem to be drowning in bad arguments all the time (as it has ever been).

 

Opera Wednesday: Crespin

éIt’s been a while since I have curated any opera clips for you. Following a wild goose chase reference questions about U.S. performances of the Gounod rarity Sapho, I rediscovered its chief (perhaps only) gem, “O, my lyre immortelle” performed here by the late, and much missed French mezzo Regine Crespin.

And keeping with Crespin in French repertoire, but moving to Berlioz, here is the song “Le Spectre de la Rose” from Berlioz’ song cycle “Nuit d’été.”

Given the elegance and control, it’s possible to overlook that this was one of the grandest, largest voices in opera. And what words…you could take down the poem verbatim from this performance.

Finally, some gutsy Verdi–another side of this artist. (Sorry about the weird audio edit.) “O Don Fatale,” from Don Carlo.

Literary Steps

Came across this photo of great books steps at a university in Lebanon in a post on Brian Leiter’s philosophy blog. As a long time list-maker (who did a lot of it when I co-produced a show on world literature),  I’m always interested in choices of this kind.

Lots of these make sense to me, Gilgamesh is an inevitable and reasonable starting point.  I don’t read Arabic so can’t assess those titles. The others are mostly good company, whether literary monuments like Goethe or Dante, or core philosophy texts from The Republic to Thus Spake Zarathustra. And while I get while The Prophet, Steven Hawking, and even Toynbee are there. But the final step appears to be Bill Gates’ The Road Ahead has me a bit stumped, although acknowledgment of the digital age is valid, and perhaps what seemed like a tepid read 20 years ago or so has aged better than I would have predicted. But in the company of Descartes? Kant?  For reals?

I like the collection of books that the Kansas City Public Library built into its architecture too:

Photo by Dean Hochman, Flickr.