Windows IoT Developer

I just signed up for the Windows Developer Program for IoT. It turns out I have more experience, now, than I realized. And it looks like Microsoft is really trying to lower the bar to get people involved in developing for the internet of things, for which I thank them. In my application I noted that

I am interested in how we can take complex artifacts, like novels or spoken discourse, or complex behaviors, like the approach of a weather system to my home, and model them computationally — essentially, turn them into numbers/vectors — in order to understand them and/or to provide useful feedback to users.

Amazon 3D Prints

Amazon now offers 3D printing on demand. It looks like you can only order from some pre-determined templates, but I wonder if there isn’t a way to upload designs — I know a number of on-line vendors offer this. Speaking of which, that reminds me that our local library now has a 3D printer. It’s time to swing by to see what they are up to and to get more involved with the local maker scene.

Re-thinking Educational Opportunity

William Deresiewicz in The New Republic confronts the the nature of private schools — and he means universities — and their meritocratic notions that really rely on the kinds of things only the upper middle class — doctors and bankers, he notes, in particular — can provide to their children.

This system is exacerbating inequality, retarding social mobility, perpetuating privilege, and creating an elite that is isolated from the society that it’s supposed to lead. The numbers are undeniable. In 1985, 46 percent of incoming freshmen at the 250 most selective colleges came from the top quarter of the income distribution. By 2000, it was 55 percent. As of 2006, only about 15 percent of students at the most competitive schools came from the bottom half. The more prestigious the school, the more unequal its student body is apt to be. And public institutions are not much better than private ones. As of 2004, 40 percent of first-year students at the most selective state campuses came from families with incomes of more than $100,000, up from 32 percent just five years earlier.

The major reason for the trend is clear. Not increasing tuition, though that is a factor, but the ever-growing cost of manufacturing children who are fit to compete in the college admissions game. The more hurdles there are, the more expensive it is to catapult your kid across them. Wealthy families start buying their children’s way into elite colleges almost from the moment they are born: music lessons, sports equipment, foreign travel (“enrichment” programs, to use the all-too-perfect term)—most important, of course, private-school tuition or the costs of living in a place with top-tier public schools. The SAT is supposed to measure aptitude, but what it actually measures is parental income, which it tracks quite closely. Today, fewer than half of high-scoring students from low-income families even enroll at four-year schools.

His advice to private schoolers who want at least some sense of the bubble in which they live:

You cannot cogitate your way to sympathy with people of different backgrounds, still less to knowledge of them. You need to interact with them directly, and it has to be on an equal footing: not in the context of “service,” … [but] service work[:] That’ll really give you insight into other people. How about waiting tables so that you can see how hard it is, physically and mentally? You really aren’t as smart as everyone has been telling you; you’re only smarter in a certain way. There are smart people who do not go to a prestigious college, or to any college—often precisely for reasons of class. There are smart people who are not “smart.”

The best line of the essay?

Not being an entitled little shit is an admirable goal.

I Am Not Late

Kevin Kelly tells those of us interested in the conjunction of the internet, the internet of things, artificial intelligence, and sensors that we are not late:

Because here is the other thing the greybeards in 2044 will tell you: Can you imagine how awesome it would have been to be an entrepreneur in 2014? It was a wide-open frontier! You could pick almost any category X and add some AI to it, put it on the cloud. Few devices had more than one or two sensors in them, unlike the hundreds now. Expectations and barriers were low. It was easy to be the first. And then they would sigh, “Oh, if only we realized how possible everything was back then!”

Good thing I spent the weekend with an Arduino board.

Storytelling as an End not a Means

Renown graphic designer Stefan Sagmeister rose to the occasion when asked about the relationship between storytelling and design. His response? “You are not a storyteller.” (Watch the video to understand his argument, which is frank, and filled with colorful language.) The video was created by FITC, a Canadian event production company, and is part of a series on storytelling.

Essentially, Sagmeister calls “bullshit” on the idea that designers are storytellers: a roller coaster designer doesn’t tell stories, and if they think that is what they do, then they are not going to be very good at their job. The reaction from the graphic design community has mostly been to call “bullshit” on Sagmeister, which, I think, largely misses his provocation: by focusing on our current era’s obsession with the buzzwords of stories and storytelling, people who don’t tell stories are missing opportunities to do what it is their media/modality does best.

As I noted in my original comment on the Vimeo page, while Sagmeister’s language and comparisons might be over the top, his point is essentially that stories are things made out of words that seek to capture some dimension of human experience, especially the temporal nature of our experience. Other artists/designers create other kinds of experiences, but they are not with words. And that’s not a bad thing.

An architect who creates a space that invites exploration is not telling a story, but, er, creating a space within which many kinds of stories may unfold, because many different kinds of humans will experience that space in many different kinds of ways. And this is something to be celebrated: architects have, for example, a much better chance of creating an experience of the sublime than a storyteller ever will.

Think of it that way: why would a graphic designer, or anyone else not limited by words, want to limit what they are doing to the telling of a story? Shouldn’t you be working with that dimension of human experience that your media/modality most clearly addresses? As humans, we are always experiencing the world, some times, for a variety of reasons, that experience coheres into a particular experience, an experience, that we are later able to re-present to others using words — because for a long time the only portable way we had of re-presenting experiences was with words. But now we have images and video and audio and even combinations of all those things.

By casting ourselves as storytellers, we are leaping to only one possible conclusion of the things we create, and possibly missing the possibilities inherent in the things themselves.

Negative Stride

Here’s a truly handy thing to learn about Python. First, in addition to slicing lists, it has an ability to stride through them. The default stride is [::1], which simply means walk through everything, but you could choose every other item in a list quite simply: [::2]. But here’s the one that got me: you can stride backwards through a list, so reversing the order of a list is this simple:

backwards = a_list[::-1]

That is so useful.

Iteration

I am genuinely delighted with the Codecademy course on Python: there are a number of basics to programming that I was having a hard time grokking while reading the various books on programming. I don’t think it’s really a matter of book versus interactive website, however. I think it’s just that the folks who wrote the Codecademy course, perhaps in the process of trying to develop something interactive, stumbled upon the sticky points for newbies.

One of those fortunate stumbles was the concept of iteration, which was not something I could figure out on my own. I of course had poured over any number of Python scripts, trying to understand how it was people were able to tell python really nifty things like:

for word in words:
    do this

How did Python know what a word was? Did the script tell it that some place else? Was it part of something the script imported? Was it black magic? It turns out that Python has a built-in sense of iteration that is characters for strings, items in a list, keys in a dictionary. What you call the iterator in a loop is fairly unimportant, Python knows what to look for depending on the type of object with which you are working, the utility of the label you give the iterator is in how easy it is for you to remember when you type it again, and perhaps again, in your description of the actions to be performed (within the loop).

The coders among you are thinking? What. Is. Your. Deal? That. Is. So. Obvious.

Maybe so. Consider me a thick-skulled Cro Magnon. The humbling nature of this experience has been really instructive. I hope to bring it to bear on future students and readers: all the things you should not assume.