newsletter update 2016-07


Been absent from newsletter feeds for a year plus. During that time, several POVs changed markedly. Home: relocated from the shadows of the new Google X building …  to a rural part of Russian River Valley. Work: swapped more than an hour commute up to a SF tech start-up … for a 20 min bike ride to O’Reilly Media. Plus a few other priorities. While the newsletter name changes, its themes carry forward. Plus a few other priorities. I’ll cover: conference summaries, open source projects, interesting news items, recommendations … data science, machine learning, advanced math, sustainable ag, art, travel, artisan foods, cider, flying cars, etc. Albeit running in slightly different circles and casting a wider net.

Changing POVs: new “backyard” has less actuators, more pollinators
Changing POVs: new “backyard” has less actuators, more pollinators


Been trying to keep pace with our 20+ tech conferences each year. Lots of travel, lots of interesting people and insights into their projects. Some upcoming:
De Pijp in Amsterdam during Scala Days 2015
De Pijp in Amsterdam during Scala Days 2015
Strata EU 2016, 31 May - 03 Jun. Venue moved to the much larger ExCel London space and that afforded an expanse of incredible people, tech innovations, data insights, etc. Also, it proved to be a good base of operations for exploring two recent interests regarding London: connectography and cider. More about both in a moment :)

Strata kicked off with a “Hey, are you busy?” text from the brilliant Alistair Croll, which led to one of the best pub crawls ever. Still parsing our discussions in those London pubs. Those provided the basis for several essays linked here. Seriously. Pay close attention to the intellectual sculpting that emerges from Alistair’s endeavors.
Strata tradition: team #noscurvy w/ BLL Ladies @holdenkarau @j_houg
Strata tradition: team #noscurvy w/ BLL Ladies @holdenkarau @j_houg
Anirudh Koul invited me to a session with his Microsoft colleague Saqib Shaikh, where they delivered Beyond guide dogs: How advances in deep learning can empower the blind community. Sure enough, a favorite talk at Strata. Microsoft’s been busy building cognitive services in the cloud which developers can integrate into other software in general. Following retina surgery in both eyes in the 1990s, I experienced serious vision impairment. It was way too much to write code for a while. Switched to working on VR design for a while: shapes, colors, contrasts were much easier to manipulate than source code. Years later my vision still changes abruptly. Grateful now to see (pun intended) these AI innovations by Microsoft and I look forward to many interesting applications.
The proverbial “Full English”
The proverbial “Full English”
Arrived back to Sonoma County just in time for Foo Camp 2016. Translated: that’s an unconference while camping with 200 fascinating people from around the world. Held in the apple orchard behind our office. DJ Patil and Ed Felten opened the weekend with a lively group discussion about data ethics, where Cory Doctorow delivered the punchline: when you own a mobile device, who choses to override settings, you, the manufacturer, or the government? Lives may depend on the answer.

One decidedly tangible result of Foo: “Blockchain of Love” by Ellie Volckhausen, Edie Freedman, Ally Miller, Johnny Diggz, Tony Parisi, Brian Fan, and yours truly helped with a line or two. Tony attempted to explain the ineffable:
Geeks, guitars and a whole lotta booze. We wrote this song in 45 minutes at O’Reilly Foo Camp!!!

Got to try a Copenhagen Wheel, courtesy of Assaf Biderman @ Superpedestrian – most definitely a decade beyond the Bionx on my prior ride. A favorite session was an Ignite talk by GalaxyKate, aka Kate Compton. Check out her work on generators and related tooling at Tracery.
the old Make Mobile
the old Make Mobile
Velocity CA 2016, 20–23 Jun … Noticed that sessions related to Apache Mesos and DC/OS were standing-room-only. In other words, considering the recent Mesosphere investment by HPE and Microsoft, Mesos has arrived for the mainstream. A good illustration of this? The Container orchestration wars session by Karl Isenberg.

Having been away from SV for a while … Andrew Marantz’s recent New Yorker article How “Silicon Valley” Nails Silicon Valley struck a nerve or two. That rollerblade “scene” took place right behind our former house. Recommended.

Media Theory

One evening in late 1992, between the first Cypherpunks meeting and the FringeWare launch … I climbed aboard an opaque bus, allegedly headed to a private event at Intel Santa Clara. Probably had “press credentials” from Mondo 2000, or something. Sat down, turned around, met the person sitting in the next row. Brilliant, utterly mellifluous, compelling immediate engagement from all around, someone who soon became a star in the industry and also a lifelong friend: Mark Pesce. That evening was all about wandering into different worlds. For a brief interlude, the word “environment” itself became entirely fungible. Alice, down the rabbit hole. Guided tours of the latest in VR by Eric Gullichsen, et al.
offspring in tribal garb
offspring in tribal garb
Some things come full circle in the next generation. Our tween daughters recently chose their first “concert” experience: a first-of-its-kind world tour by celebrity YouTubers Dan and Phil. If you haven’t been tracking what’s changed in media, take a close look.

This time, the virtual from the Interwebs gets projected live and in the flesh. Spoiler alert: millennials may have leapt the Selachimorpha.
Read more in my Medium article: Wandering into an entirely different world


Les Guessing posed an interesting question recently:
Surprised how data “Storytelling” mostly talks about visualization, not video or other great storytelling mediums.

Well said! Oriole is our update on that point. This new medium combines a video timeline with hyperlinked rich text, code, data, results, instrumentation, and visualization. The point is about repeatable science, in a sense, applied to the matter of contextualized hands-on learning about technology. Also a great step toward personalized learning, with brilliant dev+design from our Brooklyn Team. We’re eager to see how other authors leverage this.
For a much better introduction, try it yourself! Check out the coding challenge in Regex Golf by Peter Norvig. That’s the first Oriole we published, as an exemplar.
Read more in my Radar article: Learning alongside innovators, thought-by-thought, in context

And join us for the first public talk about Oriole, at JupyterDay Atlanta on 13 Aug.


David Beyer recently published an excellent series of interviews about the Future of Machine Intelligence. Favorites include:
One thing has been really bothering me about recent media coverage of AI. There’s a disturbing tendency to equate ML with AI, at the expense of considering how control systems are inherent in almost any business application. For example, Uber may use lots of machine learning; however, at the heart its business a control system manages drivers, customers, offers, and other vital aspects of supply chain and contingency. Note that the field of AI emerged from control theory and early cybernetics.
Read more in my Medium article: Beyond the AI Winter

A recent conversation on video by Tim O’Reilly and Peter Norvig explores applications of AI technologies, conversational interfaces, etc. That dovetails with how Google pointed DeepMind at data center power usage, for a dramatic 40% decrease in energy needs. That prefigures many industrial uses for AI, given how “the algorithm is a general-purpose framework to understand complex dynamics” in manufacturing, transportation, energy, etc. Note that Tim and Peter will be honorary program chairs at the new/aforementioned Artificial Intelligence conference in NYC this September.

Meanwhile, other arcanum about the Greater NYC Area … note the curiously shaped post horn which marks the façade of our Brooklyn office:
O’Reilly Brooklyn office, “front door”
O’Reilly Brooklyn office, “front door”
The Trystero are out and about, and the sign is not stable.

Neurons and Art

More about applied AI, perhaps for dessert … What have artificial neurons been doing in the art world lately? Apparently they’ve evolved far beyond assembling art boxes that recall the work of Joseph Cornell. Check out the aftermath of the DeepDream: the art of neural networks show in SF this past February by Gray Area.

For an even more intense dose of narrative closure … Terence Broad applied his dissertation, Autoencoding Video Frames to have deep learning deconstruct the film Blade Runner. Using unsupervised learning in a way that Hollywood lawyers might not comprehend for quite a while, this work prompted Warner Brothers to issue a DMCA takedown notice … Except that (surprise!) the work did not include any Blade Runner footage.

For an epic recounting of neurons and art, check out Neural Networks and the Digital Hallucination by good friends over at Lumo Interactive. Also, links highly recommended in Beyond the AI Winter:
Check out the inexplicably entertaining short film Sunspring, authored by an AI named Benjamin.

That script writing AI leverages a recurrent neural network approach called long short-term memory (LSTM ) which takes abductive reasoning to new levels.
ebumna lw’nafh
ebumna lw’nafh

What AIs aren’t quite dreaming about (yet) are seemingly less probable matters in generated imagery: crystals in a 4.57 billion-year-old meteorite found in Chukotka, Russia showed the first naturally occurring Forbidden Symmetry. YMMV.


Recently finished Connectography by Parag Khanna. Well worth a good read on several levels. See the especially interesting insights about city-states and SEZs. Had me at the maps. Even so, I’d suggest taking this text with a sizable grain of salt. Perhaps a boulder, caveat lector. The basic premise obtains: how supply chain economics have usurped national borders and trade restrictions. To wit:
Infrastructure, markets, technologies, and supply chains are not only logistically uniting the world, but propelling us toward a more fair and sustainable future.

brilliant maps in Connectography
brilliant maps in Connectography
OTOH its trappings as a book-length hagiography of corporatist values may required antiemetics. Read more in my Goodreads review:
The analysis of geography and history is thought-provoking, albeit some flawed historical citations. Clearly he loves major cities. Plus, there’s a bunch of “US bad, China good” on the surface. Quite a bunch. Dig deeper, it’s worthwhile.

Not to change the subject, but for a truly fun read: The Peripheral by William Gibson. One of the best novels I’ve read in a long while – had much catching up to do on books by the Great Dismal. Read more in my Goodreads review:
Chapters alternate POV between a young female protagonist of near-future and our male anti-hero of farther-future. Extra points for picking up the narrative at the start of some chapters in the “wrong” tense, rear-view mirror syntactic suspense for major plot beats. Like a video rewind after an unexpected concussion.

If you’d like to compare books, reviews, etc., please friend me on Goodreads.

Orchard Brew

A few years ago I was enjoying a seasonal, organic, farm-to-table meal with a close friend at Farmhouse Evanston. Ordered a cyser to drink, notably a Puff the Magic Cyser by Vander Mill – for something local to the Midwest. One sip took me on an adventure that’s kept unfolding in marvelous ways ever since.

ICYMI, ciders are making a huge comeback. Cider used to be the most popular alcoholic beverage in the US, prior to the insanity and cultural warfare of Prohibition. Especially in Sonoma West, where we live on a property that’s partly apple orchard, where we work on a campus built amidst an apple orchard. One fun aspect is that the ciders tend to be hyperlocal. In other words, one can travel the globe and encounter novel brews which stay close to their orchards of origin.
ngram occurrence for “cider” in Google Books, 1650–2008 ce
ngram occurrence for “cider” in Google Books, 1650–2008 ce
Here in Sonoma, ciders have little to do with the nasty, too sweet, apple-juice-with-vodka mush flavors that so many folks associate with the phrase “hard cider”. Cider makers here use champagne yeasts and other techniques to produce dry brews with complex flavors. Along with that, federal legislation in the US just revamped arcane tax laws that made The new CIDER Act allows small producers to get in the game with artisan brews, without getting stomped by weird post-Prohibition wine laws. This renaissance is good for the land, good for family farms, and great for drinking IMO.
Cider Bar @ Foo
Cider Bar @ Foo
So we held a taste test at Foo Camp this year. Brought in some of the more popular and interesting ciders from orchards near Sebastopol. Almost everyone (except DJ) favored Cider with Hops & Honey: a personal favorite from our neighbors Horse & Plow run by Chris Condos and Suzanne Hagins. That’s both good and somewhat dangerous, since Chris and Suzanne just opened their new “tasting barn” across the road from O’Reilly Media.

Also … LONDON! One of the best places in the world for cider. Fine folks at Orchard Pig recommended visiting The Williams Ale & Cider House, which was outstanding. Will be hosting drinkups there whenever I’m in London. Another couple great venues for sampling UK ciders are Euston Cider Tap and The Green Man. Favorite ciders in the UK? Reveller by Orchard Pig brings the fine flavors of Somerset, available far and wide. Top delight of this trip was Scotland’s Thistly Cross: off-dry, crisp, so smooth, the closest thing I’ve experienced to a Devoto Cidre Noir outside of Northern California :) Another treasure to seek out: Wild Summer by Kentish Pip:
Hints of Elderflower alight sea foam spray in a Nordic summer. Delicate, lightly astringent aftertaste.

As we tour the world with O’Reilly conferences, I’ll host drinkups at nearby cider bars. Here’s a toast to meeting you and sharing a brew or two! Meanwhile, if you’d like to share reviews of ciders, beers, etc., please friend me on Untappd.
Kane’ohe Bay Sandbar: grateful to visit with family in Hawaii recently
Kane’ohe Bay Sandbar: grateful to visit with family in Hawaii recently


Loved this informed, scathing rebuttal by the brilliant Wendell Berry, Wes Jackson, et al. Money quote:
What is remarkable, but unsurprising, is that these two gentlemen managed to write an entire column about agriculture without mentioning farmland or farmers.

That, in response to a NYTimes op-ed piece earlier this year entitled We Need a New Green Revolution. Note the key word entitled in that sentence: beware just about anyone who lauds a “Green Revolution” without recognizing the terrible consequences that resulted, i.e., financialization being a polite term. In other words, vast claims of battling starvation, while the most wealthy leveraged this vector to institutionalize mass starvation as their business model. There’s far too much “science” bandied about w.r.t. agriculture, pumped into media, heavy on funding ties yet light on scientific falsification.

I believe that politicians and other corporatists who side with Big Ag are behaving immorally. No other word for it.
Read more in my Radar article: Ag+Data

OTOH, absolutely LOVE it when intellect, integrity, and endurance overcome oh so many tedious decades of thoughtless aristotelianism. Check out How a Guy From a Montana Trailer Park Overturned 150 Years of Biology:
“Toby took huge risks for many years,” says McCutcheon. “And he changed the field.”


Apropos of the above, I’ve been testing chapter ideas and other material for a new Liber 118. In particular, I’m a huge fan of Universal Basic Income, which has intriguing historical precedents plus enormous implications for the game that comes next.

After running the numbers for what UBI might cost in the US, implications became all the more urgent. It’s within striking range of commercial alternatives, i.e., corporatist funding in lieu of government initiatives. That got me thinking … about parody and science fiction to caricature what UBI might look like if everything went horribly wrong? What if corporatist values seized the day? Key portions of that parody got trumped, so to speak, by an even more bizarre happenstance in alleged reality.
¿quién es más macho? alleged reality vs. parody
¿quién es más macho? alleged reality vs. parody

Read more in my Medium article: Guaranteed Basic Income (cynical remix)

I’ll just leave you with …

Flying cars. It’s happening. When friends at Bloomberg first gave a heads up about this two years ago, the whole spiel sounded unreal. Now 2 out of 3 of the promises foretold in Planet Unicorn have come true. The big picture is that people travel into work in metro areas via line of sight. No more traffic congestion. Or something.

I guess that’s great for people who work in large cities. Not everybody. But there are likely some other intriguing uses.

Meanwhile, in the lesser hells of drone wizardry, one regrets that the noun #WTFery does not enjoy more regular usage in the English language.

Thanks for your attention, and I wish you all the best in your endeavors. Sign-up for the newsletter version at liber118.com