Non-Fiction

What I Learned from Writing a Data Science Article Every Week for a Year

17 April 2019

On the surface, this article seems to have nothing to do with the types of writing most indie authors pursue, indie publishing, etc., but PG thinks the mental attitude about learning new ways of thinking and different approaches applies equally to tasks involved in being an indie author.

SF authors will almost certainly know that data science and the creation of artificial intelligence are intimately intertwined.

From Towards Data Science:

There ought to be a law limiting people to one use of the term “life-changing” to describe a life event. Had a life-changing cup of coffee this morning? Well, hope it was good because that’s the one use you get! If this legislation came to pass, then I would use my allotment on my decision to write about data science. This writing has led directly to 2 data science jobs, altered my career plans, moved me across the country, and ultimately made me more satisfied than when I was a miserable mechanical engineering university student.

In 2018, I made a commitment to write on data science and published at least one article per week for a total of 98 posts. It was a year of change for me: a college graduation, 4 jobs, 5 different cities, but the one constant was data science writing. As a culture, we are obsessed by streaks and convinced those who complete them must have gained profound knowledge. Unlike other infatuations, this one may make sense: to do something consistently for an extended period of time, whether that is coding, writing, or staying married, requires impressive commitment. Doing a new thing is easy because our brains crave novelty, but doing the same task over and over once the newness has worn off requires a different level of devotion. Now, to continue the grand tradition of streak completers writing about the wisdom they gained, I’ll describe the lessons learned in “The Year of Data Science Writing.”

The five takeaways from a year of weekly data science writing are:

  1. You can learn everything you need to know to be successful in data science without formal instruction
  2. Data science is driven by curiosity
  3. Consistency is the most critical factor for improvement in any pursuit
  4. Data science is empirical: instead of relying on proven best methods, you have to experiment to figure out what works
  5. Writing about data science — or anything —is a mutually beneficial relationship as it benefits you and the entire community

. . . .

1. Everything in data science can be learned without going to school

Mechanical engineering, which I unfortunately studied in college, has to be taught at an institution. It’s just not possible for an individual (at least one with normal resources) to gather the equipment— labs, prototyping machines, wind tunnels, manufacturing shop — needed for a “mech-e” education. Fortunately, data science is not similarly constrained: no topic in the field, no matter how state-of-the-art, is off-limits to anyone in the world with an Internet connection and a willingness to learn.

While I did take a few useful stats classes in college (note: everything in these classes is covered by the free Introduction to Statistical Learning) the data science courses at my college were woefully out-of-date. We were taught tools and techniques that fell out of favor years ago. In several cases, I showed the professor evidence of this only to be told: “well I’m going to teach what I know because it worked for me.” What’s more, these classes were geared toward research which means writing inefficient, messy code that runs once to get results for a paper. Nothing was ever mentioned about writing code for production: things like unit tests, reusable functions, or even code standards.

Instead of relying on college classes, I taught myself (and continue learning) data science/machine learning from books and online courses/articles. I select resources that teach by example and focus on what is actually used in data science in practice today. (By these standards, the best classes are from Udacity and the best book is Hands-On Machine Learning with Scikit-Learn and TensorFlow by Aurelien Geron.) You don’t have to pay for material: fast.aihas the most cutting-edge course available on deep learning for free; Kagglegives you opportunities to work on real-world data and learn from thousands of data scientists; and, books like The Python Data Science Handbook don’t cost anything! (Towards Data Science is also useful).

. . . .

Few people know what they are talking about when it comes to data science, and if you’ve studied the most recent material available online, you’ll be ahead of most everyone else. In fact, I would argue you are better off learning from online sources/courses, which are constantly updated, than from educational institutions that revise curriculum at most once per year.

. . . .

Curiosity is also helpful when you’re actually doing data science: exploratory data analysis is driven by the goal of finding interesting patterns in the data. On a somewhat related tangent, Richard Feynman, arguably the smartest man of the 20th century, might be the best proponent for the benefits of a curious mindset. A theoretical physicist, he was as well known for picking up skills (like safe-cracking) or playing practical jokes as he is for his work on quantum mechanics. According to his works, this curiosity was integral to his work as a scientist and made his life more enjoyable.

Feynman was driven not by a desire for glory or wealth, but because he genuinely wanted to figure things out! This is the same attitude I adopt in my data science projects: I’m doing these projects not because they are a required chore, but because I want to find answers to hard problems hidden within data. This curiosity-based attitude also makes my job enjoyable: every time I get to do some data analysis, I approach it as a satisfying task.

Link to the rest at Towards Data Science

Until he read the OP, PG didn’t know about Project Jupyter and Jupyter Notebooks, which are another cool online thing.

Mondegreens,Malapropisms and Eggcorns

16 April 2019

From Dictionary.com:

A word or a phrase resulting from mishearing another word or phrase (especially in a song or poem) is a common phenomenon known as a mondegreen. A mondegreen typically sounds like the original phrase, (i.e., they’re homophonous) but the meaning is often entirely changed—with presumably amusing results.

. . . .

Mondegreens are not to be confused with malapropisms, “the act or habit of misusing words ridiculously, especially by the confusion of words that are similar in sound.” One ready example is to “dance the flamingo” instead of “dance the flamenco.”

Nor should mondegreens be confused with eggcorns, “a word or phrase that is a seemingly logical alteration of another word or phrase that sounds similar and has been misheard or misinterpreted.” Where malapropisms tend to be obviously ridiculous, an eggcorn can be a plausible variant of the original phrase, often working in the same context. A common eggcorn is “old wise tale” for the more canonical “old wives’ tale.”

Link to the rest at Dictionary.com

Here are additional examples of mondegreens:

Artist Mondegreen Actual Lyric Album
Led Zeppelin and there’s a wino down the road – I should have stolen Oreos and as we wind on down the road, our shadows taller than our souls Stairway to Heaven
Van Halen Running With my billfold Running With the Devil Running With the Devil
Steve Winwood bake me a pie of love OR bring me an iron lung! bring me a higher love Higher Love
Steve Winwood I can light bananas with my nose on fire! I can light the night up with my soul on fire
ZZ Top Everybody’s crazy ’bout a shot glass man Everybody’s crazy ’bout a sharp-dressed man Sharp-Dressed Man
Elvis Presley Everybody in a wholesale frock everybody in the whole cell block Jailhouse Rock

Link to the rest at UH.edu

Elsevier’s Presence on Campuses Spans More Than Journals. That Has Some Scholars Worried.

13 April 2019

From The Chronicle of Higher Education:

On a recent panel on challenges to the future of teaching and research, Colleen Lyon outlined what was, to her, a “dangerous” dynamic in the world of academic publishing.

Lyon, a librarian of scholarly communications at the University of Texas at Austin, listed scholarly-publishing tools that had been acquired by the journal publishing giant Elsevier. In 2013, the company bought Mendeley, a free reference manager. It acquired the Social Science Research Network, an e-library with more than 850,000 papers, in 2016. And it acquired the online tools Pure and Bepress — which visualize research — in 2012 and 2017, respectively.

Lyon said she started considering institutions’ dependence on Elsevier when the company acquired Bepress two years ago. She was shocked, she recalled in a recent interview.

“It just got me thinking,” she said. Elsevier had it all: Institutional repositories, preprints of journal articles, and analytics. “Elsevier, Elsevier, Elsevier, Elsevier, Elsevier.”

Scholars are beginning to discuss the idea of Elsevier-as-monolith at conferences and in their research. Not only are librarians and researchers speaking openly about the hefty costs of bulk subscriptions to the company’s premier journals, but they’re also paying attention to the products that Elsevier has acquired, several of which allow its customers to store data and share their work.

. . . .

First, institutions fear having less leverage in negotiations, believing that it would be more challenging to move to a different provider if Elsevier’s products were adopted en masse. But, she said, they are also worried about one company’s controlling so many tools that analyze not only the reach and performance of research but also the professors and institutions that produce it.

The skepticism could complicate the relationship between universities and Elsevier just as, on some campuses, it’s showing new strain. Academic libraries have begun to muse publicly about the future of their relationship with the company as their budgets are strained by bulk journal contracts. The University of California system’s high-profile decision to cease negotiations with Elsevier this year has raised the stakes.

. . . .

In a recent paper, Alejandro Posada and George Chen, of the University of Toronto, found that “increased control of scholarly infrastructure … could further entrench publishers’ power and exacerbate the vulnerability of already marginalized researchers and institutions.”

. . . .

Also among Posada and Chen’s findings was that Elsevier’s broad acquisition of tools and services along the research pipeline makes it harder for professors and institutions to cut ties with the company.

“The integration of the data that they control, not only in terms of content but in terms of all the other data they use, makes it a lot harder to function outside the system,” Posada, a research associate at Toronto, said in an interview.

Link to the rest at The Chronicle of Higher Education

As PG has mentioned before, in a former life, he worked in a large subsidiary of Reed Elsevier and had contact with top European executives of the parent company from time to time.

The RE executives all seemed to have the same go-to strategy to increase revenues – raise prices. PG suspects the fears about Elsevier’s motives and future plans reflected in the OP are based upon a rational examination of the company’s past pricing strategies.

I Have Let Whitman Alone

7 April 2019

From The New York Review of Books:

In 1855 no one had yet heard anything like the raw, declamatory, and jubilant voice of the self-proclaimed “American, one of the roughs, a kosmos”—Walt Whitman, who in Leaves of Grass, his dazzling poetic debut, announced, “I celebrate myself,/And what I assume you shall assume,/For every atom belonging to me as good belongs to you.” Whitman was unequivocally declaring his own independence from poetic conventions and niceties. Here was a poet of the people for the people, without pretension or pomp, who wrote verse that captured everyday speech, both its fluency and its clank. “The best writing,” Whitman would say, “has no lace on its sleeves.”

In Walt Whitman Speaks: His Final Thoughts on Life, Writing, Spirituality, and the Promise of America, he again speaks to us, this time from his house at 328 Mickle Street in Camden, New Jersey. “I seem to be developing into a garrulous old man—a talker—a teller of stories,” he told his friend Horace Traubel, who was transcribing in shorthand most of what Whitman said to him during the last years of his life. By the time Whitman died in 1892, Traubel had accumulated about five thousand pages of these conversations, a monumental chronicle of Whitman’s reflections, ruminations, analyses, and affirmations.

Whitman and Traubel had been collaborating on this joint project since 1888. Although Whitman didn’t know exactly what Traubel was jotting down, he understood that Traubel would write of their relationship one day, telling him, “I want you to speak for me when I am dead.” As Whitman further explained, “You will be called on many a time in the future to bear witness—to quote these days, our work together, the talks, anxieties—the victories, defeats. Whatever we do, we must let our history tell the truth: whatever becomes of us, tell the truth.” He didn’t want to be mummified. “Do not prettify me: include all the hells and damns,” Whitman instructed. When Traubel read back to Whitman some of what he’d transcribed, as he sometimes did, Whitman replied with satisfaction, “You do the thing just as I should wish it to be done.” He had found his very own Boswell.

. . . .

“I wonder whether you understand at all the functions you have come to fulfil here! that you’re the only thing between me and death?” Whitman exclaimed in 1889. As Whitman’s biographer, which is essentially what he had become, Traubel also sifted through the heap of manuscripts, letters, books, envelopes, magazines, and slips of paper strewn all over Whitman’s second-floor bedroom. “I live here in a ruin of debris—a ruin of ruins,” Whitman sheepishly admitted. If he proposed to burn or tear up a letter, Traubel intervened, and whenever the young man asked for some document, Whitman handed it over without protest.

. . . .

The result is Whitman whole, presented informally and without polish; it reveals the breadth of his interests—from science and literature to petty gossip: “a human phonograph,” one reviewer called it. Whitman emerged as spirited and vain, judgmental and broad-minded, stoic and easygoing, enduringly warm-hearted—not unlike the courageous and brash poet who had promised in 1855 “a perpetual journey,” perpetually unfolding in a verse where “past and present and future are not disjoined.”

For though he savored untrodden paths and the open road, Whitman was also the poet of the city. “New York’s the place!” he told Traubel. “If you wish the profound, generous, encompassing things, New York is your natural center of gravity.” In 1881, in the sixth edition of Leaves of Grass, he was calling himself “Walt Whitman, a kosmos, of Manhattan the son.”

Link to the rest at The New York Review of Books

A couple of the shorter Whitman poems:

I Hear America Singing

I hear America singing, the varied carols I hear,
Those of mechanics, each one singing his as it should be blithe and strong,
The carpenter singing his as he measures his plank or beam,
The mason singing his as he makes ready for work, or leaves off work,
The boatman singing what belongs to him in his boat, the deckhand singing on the steamboat deck,
The shoemaker singing as he sits on his bench, the hatter singing as he stands,
The wood-cutter’s song, the ploughboy’s on his way in the morning, or at noon intermission or at sundown,
The delicious singing of the mother, or of the young wife at work, or of the girl sewing or washing,
Each singing what belongs to him or her and to none else,
The day what belongs to the day—at night the party of young fellows, robust, friendly,
Singing with open mouths their strong melodious songs.

And a poem written following the death of Abraham Lincoln.

O Captain! My Captain!

O Captain! my Captain! our fearful trip is done,
The ship has weather’d every rack, the prize we sought is won,
The port is near, the bells I hear, the people all exulting,
While follow eyes the steady keel, the vessel grim and daring;
But O heart! heart! heart!
O the bleeding drops of red,
Where on the deck my Captain lies,
Fallen cold and dead.

O Captain! my Captain! rise up and hear the bells;
Rise up—for you the flag is flung—for you the bugle trills,
For you bouquets and ribbon’d wreaths—for you the shores a-crowding,
For you they call, the swaying mass, their eager faces turning;
Here Captain! dear father!
This arm beneath your head!
It is some dream that on the deck,
You’ve fallen cold and dead.

My Captain does not answer, his lips are pale and still,
My father does not feel my arm, he has no pulse nor will,
The ship is anchor’d safe and sound, its voyage closed and done,
From fearful trip the victor ship comes in with object won;
Exult O shores, and ring O bells!
But I with mournful tread,
Walk the deck my Captain lies,
Fallen cold and dead.

 

Social Climbing in a Tudor Style

1 April 2019

From The Wall Street Journal:

Bess of Hardwick, though little known today, was one of the most remarkable women of the 16th century: determined, brave, attractive (when she chose to be) and richly talented. One wouldn’t call her “nice,” but then “nice” is not an adjective that one would apply to many notable figures in Tudor England, perhaps indeed to none.

With no advantage of birth, Bess was, for a time, on terms of friendship with both Queen Elizabeth and Mary Queen of Scots, Elizabeth’s great rival. She married four times, each husband a notch or two higher in the social register. She had eight children, two of whom died in infancy; she secured good marriages for the others. One granddaughter, Arbella Stuart, had a claim to both the English and Scottish thrones. Bess had a passion for property and a passion for building. Hardwick Hall, her last house—now visible from the M1 motorway as it moves through Derbyshire in north-central England—is, as the British writer Kate Hubbard notes, “at once romantic and austere, ostentatious and restrained.” Ms. Hubbard’s biography, “Devices and Desires,” engagingly traces Bess of Hardwick’s astonishing rise, her sometimes fraught experience amid Tudor power struggles, and her legacy as a patron of architecture and the decorative arts.

. . . .

Her third marriage, to a West Country landowner named William St Loe, was oddly enlivened by his brother’s failed attempt to poison her and thus improve his chances of inheritance. That marriage was followed, upon William’s apparently natural death, by her grandest alliance, to George Talbot, 6th Earl of Shrewsbury. The Talbots were great noblemen before the Tudors ever reached the throne: The first earl, known as the “English Achilles,” had been a celebrated commander in the Hundred Years’ War with France.

Bess’s new husband owned estates across the North and Midlands, and, as Ms. Hubbard relates, “was not just a great landowner, but an industrialist-in-the-making, a producer of coal, iron, lead and glass.” The marriage was a business deal, soon cemented by marriages between their respective sons and daughters from earlier marriages. It began in affection, though it would end years later in acrimony.

In 1568, Mary Queen of Scots—who had been forced to abdicate from the Scottish throne, had raised an army and been defeated—took refuge in England, hoping that her cousin Elizabeth would help restore her to power. Elizabeth had no such intention: Mary, a Catholic, had a claim to the English throne as well. So Mary was, in effect, put under house arrest, though she had her own servants and was treated as a queen. Bess’s new husband, Shrewsbury, was given the responsibility of acting as Mary’s keeper, in his own houses and castles.

Shrewsbury—“a worrier and a neurotic,” in Ms. Hubbard’s phrase—found his guardianship onerous, all the more so because Elizabeth was often late in reimbursing him for what he spent on Mary and her household. At first Mary and Bess were on good terms; they did embroidery together and gossiped happily, the Scots queen being eager to have firsthand information about her English cousin. But relations cooled, and Mary compiled what is known as the “Scandal Letter,” addressed to Queen Elizabeth and reporting the unflattering things that Bess had supposedly said about her. The letter was apparently never sent; had Elizabeth received it, Bess would have been in deep trouble. As it was, Bess came to distrust Mary, giving credence to rumors that Shrewsbury was having an affair with her. (Ms. Hubbard is sure he wasn’t.) After 15 years Shrewsbury was relieved of his guardianship but was required, a few years later, to preside over Mary’s execution after she has been found guilty (on dubious evidence) of approving a plot to assassinate Elizabeth.

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal

And here’s a photo of Hardwick Hall:

Hardwick Hall (Wikimedia Commons)


Michelle Obama’s Memoir on Track to Become Most Successful Memoir Ever

27 March 2019

From BookRiot:

Former First Lady Michelle Obama made history last year when her memoir, Becoming, broke the record for most books sold in 2018. It was published on November 13, and broke the record in just 15 days. It is still the No. 1 hardcover nonfiction title on the New York Times’ bestseller list and has been there for 18 weeks.

Now, months later, the book has sold nearly 10 million copies and boosted revenue for Bertelsmann SE (the media company that owns American publisher Penguin Random House) to its highest since 2007.

. . . .

With the success of Becoming, PRH is hoping for a similar response with the former President’s memoir, which is still in the early stages of development. PRH reportedly paid $65 million for both of the Obamas’ books, extending a relationship they had had with Barack since his Senator days.

Link to the rest at BookRiot

Melville House Will Make the Mueller Report Its First Mass Market Title

25 March 2019

From Publishers Weekly:

The Mueller Report is the hottest manuscript in political publishing today, and Melville House is preparing to join the race to acquire and release it.

The independent publisher, like Skyhorse Publishing and Scribner before it, has announced plans to crash the special counsel’s recently-filed investigation of the Russian government’s efforts to interfere in the 2016 presidential election, should it be made public. But while Skyhorse’s trade paperback edition will include an introduction by attorney Alan Dershowitz, and Scribner’s edition, also a trade paperback, will be produced in conjunction with the Washington Post and include an introduction by Post investigative journalists Rosalind S. Helderman (a Pulitzer Prize winner) and Matt Zapotosky and some of the Post‘s original reporting on the investigation, Melville House is going a different route: it will be the publisher’s first mass market paperback in its nearly two decades of history.

Melville House will publish the book, which will be priced at $9.99, with a first printing of 50,000 copies. Pending the release of the report, the press will be prepared to publish it as early as possible, with a stated placeholder pub date of April 16.

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly

“Our formatters are faster than your formatters! Our printing press is faster than yours!”

And people claim there’s a lack of creativity in traditional publishing.

UPDATE: PG omitted, “We’re faster than the Government Printing Office!”

Oxford English Dictionary Adds New Entries: Chuddies, Jibbons and Fantoosh

22 March 2019

From The Guardian:

English speakers from around the world have flocked to help the Oxford English Dictionary expand its coverage of regional vocabulary, with a new update including suggestions such as jibbons, chuddies and sitooterie.

The dictionary launched its Words Where You Are appeal to the public last year to mark the 90th anniversary of the completion of its first edition. The regional vocabulary suggestions which have poured in from readers ever since span the globe, from the Welsh English term for spring onions, “jibbons”, to the name for the regional dialect heard in New Orleans, “Yat”, which is derived from the greeting: “Where y’at?”

The public appeal also yielded a host of Scots terms, from “bidie-in”, which the OED defines as “a person who lives with his or her partner in a non-marital relationship”, and which it says was first recorded in 1916, to “bigsie”. Meaning “having an exaggerated sense of one’s own importance”, bigsie’s first recorded use was in 1881, when the Aberdeen Weekly Journal told the story of a tailor who was known locally as a “gey bigsie kin’ o’ bodie”. The Scottish word “fantoosh” has a similar meaning – dating from the 1920s, it is used to describe anything showy or flashy, often disparagingly. The OED points to a 1936 article in Scots Magazine: “Ony sensible body wad be only too pleased if I washed their windows for naething, but jist because ye think yersel’ fantoosh, I’m no’ guid enough.”

The word “sitooterie” is another Scottish term to make the cut in the OED’s latest update, with editors Jane Johnson and Kate Wild saying that there is “something just generally pleasing about the word”. Meaning “a place in which to sit out”, it dates to at least the 1920s.

A host of Scottish insults were also submitted by members of the public, from “bam”, defined as a foolish, annoying, or obnoxious person, as in the pronunciation from Aberdeen: “Awa ye ham, Yer mither’s a bam”, to “geggie”. Meaning mouth, geggie is frequently used in “shut your geggie”, said the OED, which found the earliest evidence of its use in William Miller’s 1985 short story Andy’s Trial: “‘Good fur you, wee Andy!’ shouted his grandmother. The judge looked over his specs. ‘Mah dear wumman,’ he said patiently, ‘will ye kindly shut yer geggie?’”

Link to the rest at The Guardian

PG admits to loving new words and phrases, especially when they’re old.

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