Jan 21, 2019

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AI, Machine Learning and Lost Potential

Back when I first started working in IT, SAP was all the rage. Everyone wanted one, regardless of if they actually found the functionality available useful or necessary. And because of software consultancy, a lot of consultants made a lot of money making SAP implementations for purposes they were not suited for, sold to clients who didn’t know what they were buying, made by people who didn’t really know what they were doing. And so SAP got a bad reputation among a lot of developers. And business owners as well, to be honest.

The current situation with AI and Machine Learning reminds me a lot of that time. It seems like everyone has an opinion to offer on AI or an application to put Machine Learning to. Unfortunately, I’m also starting to hear a lot of people who don’t work in IT talking about how clueless tech bros are trying to solve every problem with Machine Learning. And often, they forget to listen to the people trying to say that they’re solving the wrong problem.

The thing is, as a developer, this is a super easy mistake to make. Most of the people I’ve met who stay as developers and don’t use it as a springboard to management love problem solving. It’s so easy to learn something new and be so excited to solve a problem with this new tool you’ve learned that suddenly every problem starts looking like a nail.

Lost Opportunities

So I have a confession; I am one of those developers learning Machine Learning and loving it and wanting to put it to use immediately if not sooner. It is honestly kind of addicting. It is such a satisfying combination of problem-solving and the kind of magic that programming can be at its best.

The thing is, this has happened before, several times. What follows has also happened before. It’s called AI Winter. The enthusiasm leads to hype which leads to disappointment which then leads to scaling way, way down on the research and development. And AI, even in its current forms, has so much to give us.

Are there ethical problems with our unrecognized prejudices carrying over? Absolutely. Are those problems going to be problems on steroids if not mitigated? You betcha! But those are all problems that can be mitigated as long as the developers are aware of them. The trouble being, of course, that unfortunately mostly the people developing AI and ML systems are the very people who cannot seem to admit that those prejudices exist to begin with. At least not in themselves.

While I hope that we are heading toward a golden age of AI and Machine Learning, I’m also worried that we are, instead, heading toward another AI Winter. And there’s still so much we could do with this technology.

What do you think AI and Machine Learning should be used for?

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Jan 14, 2019

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Goals vs habits

Last week I talked about the way having and failing in my goals partly worked for me and partly kind of broke me. It can be daunting and sometimes even have a debilitating effect on productivity.

Around this time last January, I realized that I was telling the wrong story in my novel. After I had already written some 40 000 words. I have to tell you, dear listener, that hurt. A lot. There were some isolated scenes from the draft that I could retool and use moving forward, but really, though, it was about 35.000 words that I’m never going to be able to use anywhere else. By the end of January I had already planned out the stuff going forward and on the border between January and February I grieved for the words. (Grieving is too drastic a word, but something like that.)

The thing is, it took me until the beginning of April until I actually started to make any progress on the next draft. At the beginning of January, I was already behind from where I wanted to be so that I could get in a second draft before I needed to send the book in for Blue Heaven. When I realized that I wasn’t going to be able to make my goal of two drafts before Blue Heaven, I froze. I froze for literal months. I lost all that time that could have been productive to faffing about. And I didn’t have to.

Toward the end of last year, I read James Clear’s Atomic Habits and it has honestly had a massive effect on the way I’m approaching this year, to start with at least. When I was reading, this quote hit me especially hard:

You don’t rise to the level of your goals, you fall to the level of your systems!

James Clear – Atomic Habits

And holy shit, that is so true! He also talks about how goals are about the results that you want to achieve and systems aka habits are about the processes that lead to the results. Last year, I broke myself, twice, trying to reach the outcome I wanted instead of focusing on creating the systems that would lead to that outcome. This year, I want to get much more done. So instead of focusing on the outcome, I’m going to focus on the systems.

What I’m doing

I’ve gone back to my morning writing sessions. I hate it. I am not a morning person and any day I have to get up before noon is a bad time. So why would I bring this pain upon myself? Well, it gets me to show up. When I write before work I get words my words in. Otherwise, I often end up just trying for the entire evening. And most of the time, I end up failing.

On top of this, I’ve gone back to Habitica. I’ve reduced the number of dailies from what I used to do and added more in the habit column. This is to prevent myself from clicking “wrote 250 words” on days when I’m editing. My one actual daily is a 10-minute declutter that just needs to get done every day. The actual habits are also mostly measurable stuff like “spend 1 pomodoro on fiction”. Stuff that should work whether I’m drafting, editing or even plotting.

Clear makes a lot of how habits influence identity and vice versa. So this year, I’m working on changing my identity in a number of areas. And I’m doing that by showing up, five minutes, ten minutes, 25 minutes and one day at a time.

What are you working on this year?

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Jan 7, 2019

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Failing Up – a 2018 Story

As people are wont to do this time of year, I am looking back before moving forward and on the whole, it was a weird year. For the most part, I felt like a failure the entire year. And yet, objectively, I did alright.

What I did

I didn’t finish the 12 sweaters that I had planned to finish, but I did finish 8 sweaters and they’re all lovely and squishy and I wear them all the time. I am objectively better off having finished these 8 sweaters and I have three more well on their way to being completed, all equally squishy and lovely. On top of those three, I also have a blanket that is almost all done. But eight plus three and most of a blanket on the way is not 12 sweaters. So here I am feeling like a failure.

Other things that I’m objectively better off on than I was a year ago:

  • I finished the first draft of a novel and I think it’s the best thing I’ve ever written and the book of my heart to boot. (But I didn’t get it query-ready)
  • I got a substantial raise. (But I didn’t have the courage to jump to a more challenging role that would have furthered my career.)
  • I got a hold of my budget and I’m managing to put a lot more into savings/investing and retirement and made an actionable plan for the future. (But I/we didn’t make a substantial extra dent in the mortgage.)
  • I helped resurrect the Blue Heaven workshop that Charlie Finlay started about 15 years ago with some amazing people. I also managed to give feedback that people found useful. (No buts. This thing was an unqualified success.)

What next?

The thing is, having shoot-for-the-moon objectives works for me, but occasionally it’s also debilitating. It feels like I’m getting nothing done since there’s still so much to do. But because there’s so much to do I also keep steadily working at it. It also got me close to burnout after I realized the draft I’d written 40 000 words on wasn’t going to work. So, going forward, I’m going to put more emphasis on the stuff I’ve gotten done during the month in my monthly reviews. I’m also trying to not get caught up in the day to day stuff and work more on working larger goals. Because I also have a tendency of taking on more stuff like classes etc if I find that I’ve done “everything”.

So this year, I’m going focus on making my process better and instilling some good habits. I still have my yearly, shoot-for-the-moon goals and I’m trying to break those down into monthly and weekly goals. I’m only adding items to my daily to-do list that I can get done that day. And if I can get more done that day, I’m going to check my weekly todo and then my monthly todo before I start a new project, whether it’s a creative project or learning project. Really, this is the thing about this year’s goals that scares me the most. Because not making myself crazy by adding too much stuff on my already full plate is a good thing. I think.

The road goes ever on and on.

So, allons-y, 2019! It’s going to be a good year!

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Jul 1, 2018

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There’s a word in Finnish: työvoitto. It means a victory where you had to push through with a lot of work until, finally, you come out on top. And let’s be clear; this is not a task or project that has a lot of work associated with it that all eventually gets done, oh no. This is a task or project where more or less everything that can go wrong, goes wrong until you finally manage to wrangle the project to completion and collapse on the finish line.

In related news: I finished a novel today.

This is the novel of my heart, the first thing I started to write when I started writing again. This was the third time I wrote the first draft of this novel. The sixth outline. I started work on this version of the novel in October last year. I finished my outline by about the halfway point of NaNoWriMo and then wrote about 40.000 words by January 15th when I got stalled. It turned out, I got stalled because I was writing the wrong story.

Cue heartbreak, demoralization, cries of “I am unworthy!”.

Eventually, after coming close to a burn out trying to get a month’s worth of work done in two weeks, I picked myself up, dusted myself off and started writing. Again. I got to know a new POV character and after a bumpy start finally made peace with her. I wrote and I wrote, on track to get the thing done by the deadline, planning to finish at 110.000 words. *laughter* Yeah, no. Two weeks ago I realized that the end result was going to be about 150.000 words, not 110.000 words.

Cue panic, wailing, ridiculous days with 7.000 words done in a day (my normal is about 2.000 when I’m well-rested), picking up the pace of action.

But I finished. Today I finished the book of my heart that has no doubt taken 10 years off my life. I ended up finishing at 126.00 mostly because the last three scenes were much shorter than average for this project and I more or less completely bracketed the villain’s last POV chapter because I just could not find it in me to go back into his head. This thing will need a LOT of editing and probably a complete rewrite, but at least the story is pretty solid and – for now, at least – I think this is one of the best things I’ve ever written. It was totally worth it, but I’m also glad it’s over.


And then, as a housekeeping thing, my first week of Clarion Write-a-thon, I have managed to gather 29 hours out of my goal of 150, all on the novel. Next week, I’ll finally be working on something else. I wonder if there is anything else ever, anywhere? We will find out! You can still sponsor me for Clarion Write-a-thon, here.

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Jun 23, 2018

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Clarion Write-a-thon 2018 Edition

Last summer I went to Clarion UCSD writing workshop and I can honestly say it was a singular experience. Basically, you go to a San Diego University campus with 17-19 other writers and an instructor for six weeks. The instructor changes weekly and technically, every week the writers are supposed to deliver a new short story for critique by peers and the instructor and to critique everyone else’s story in return. I’m still trying to digest all the lessons I learned during my time there, but I can honestly say that Clarion made me into a better writer. Even during those six weeks, I grew immensely as a writer, just by virtue of the process.

And I want to make sure that other people can have that experience as well.

Every year, both Clarion UCSD and Clarion West hold a write-a-thon, during which writers from all over come together, post a goal and beg people to pledge and hopefully get to that goal. This year is no different. Starting tomorrow, June 24 and running all the way to August 4, you can help writers reach their goal.

I’m joining the Clarion UCSD write-a-thon with a goal of 150 hours of butt-in-chair time. I’m due to deliver a novel draft for a workshop I’m doing with some friends on the 28th, which means I’ll be working on my novel for the first five days, then editing some short stories to get them back out into circulation, hopefully writing a new short story, critiquing the manuscripts of other participants to the aforementioned workshop, and outlining my next novel. Because my projects are so all over the place right now, it seemed wiser to go with butt-in-chair time as the measure. 150 hours over the next six weeks is doable but a bit of a stretch since I’m also working full time at the day job until the beginning of August.

There’s also a list of the other fine writers who have joined!

If you’re a writer yourself, you can also sign up to write and be sponsored!

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Mar 18, 2018

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The death of Stronginthearm

This past week was the anniversary of Terry Pratchett’s death. He’s been a tremendous influence on me both as a writer and a person even if I never actually met him. So I’ve been listening to his books again and lamenting the fact that he’s gone and there will be no more new books. But it also got me thinking about the living, breathing worlds some authors manage to build. And because of the nature of the beast, the rest contains spoilers for the Ankh-Morpork City Watch series.

At the beginning of Night Watch Samuel Vimes comes to work to find that one of his sergeants, Abba Stronginthearm has been killed on his way home from work. It turns into a slow moment where Vimes tries to deal with the fact that one of his people is dead. For a short time reader, it’s just that; a superior trying to deal with a loss of someone who’s not close to them but who they still feel responsible for. On the other hand, for me at least the effect is somehow larger.

Stronginthearm was never a large presence in the books. He was introduced as just another hothead who got conscripted into the Watch in Men at Arms. He gets a few exchanges with various characters in Feet of Clay, Jingo, and The Fifth Elephant, never anything that actually affects the plot. He is, in other words, a bit player in the books. But somehow he manages to have a character arc somewhere in there. In fictional time, he’s with the Watch for years before he’s killed on duty (“or close enough”). He goes from being a swiftly radicalizing young dwarf into someone who takes pride in who he is and the work he does by the events of The Fifth Elephant.

This is where I start to geek out; Stronginthearm’s character arc feels familiar because Vimes goes through the same arc. I don’t know if Pratchett did it intentionally or if it was just a happy accident, but for me at least it has caused a subconscious unease about Vimes’s fate. I only became aware of it on this last re-read when I’ve been reading all the City Watch books in a relatively short period, one after the other. It’s a wonderful effect regardless. If a reader should stop to think about Stronginthearm, they’d probably wind up with an interesting story on a small scale.

It’s the details as much what happens that keep me coming back Terry Pratchett’s books. I’m drawn to Seanan McGuire’s InCryptid novels for similar reasons but that’s a post for another time.

What worlds do you, dear reader, keep coming back to again and again?

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Feb 26, 2018

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The remarkable femininity of Okoye

Black Panther was amazing! Go see it now! If you’ve already seen it, go see it again! The rest is spoilers.

Before I actually begin, I would like to note that I am by no means an expert on black womanhood. For that, you will have to go elsewhere. I am literally a white woman from one of the whitest countries in the world and as such not part of the primary target audience for Black Panther. And that’s entirely okay! I’ve never been part of the primary target audience for any Hollywood movie and that’s never stopped my enjoyment. What I do know, however, is that I didn’t know I wanted Okoye as much as I do.

I’ve never exactly mainlined Black Panther in comics. It’s Marvel, yes, but it’s not one of the more easily accessible series in Finland. Until Comixology and Ta-Nehisi Coates’s excellent run, I’d only ever read disparate issues. I knew about Dora Milaje but not about just how amazing they are. And while I was so happy to see such a variety of womanhood on the screen, Okoye is the one who stuck with me. See, while I never did mainline Black Panther, I’ve mainlined several other comics and epic fantasy on the regular and that storyline of duty vs love vs honor is such a recurring theme. Usually, it just wears a very different face.

It’s clear from the very first moments that Okoye loves her king as a friend as well as someone she protects. But when tradition states that he is no longer her king, she protects the usurper, no matter how much her own heart is breaking. While I don’t begrudge a single moment in the movie, I still wanted Okoye’s struggle to have more space. There’s a whole movie’s worth there, just happening in the background. Okoye is loyal to Wakanda, first and foremost. And when W’Kabi – her beloved – goes against honor by attacking T’Challa, she faces him on the battlefield like the badass she is, even if her heart is breaking again. “For Wakanda… No question.”

What makes Okoye as a character so revolutionary is that she always feels like a woman, not a guy who was just cast as a woman, or a plot point / throwaway joke cast into a female body (I’m looking at you Riddick). Not necessarily a woman I’d like to have a beer with – Nakia’s more my speed – but someone whose presence would not only make me feel more secure but also like things are under control. And that’s still, sadly, kind of amazing outside of fiction written by women.

Okoye doesn’t get that hero moment that Wonder Woman and Black Panther do, but she’s still a big damn feminist masterpiece of a hero to me.

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Feb 25, 2018

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Knitting under the sea

Eat.Sleep.Knit 2018 Yarnathon map

I’ve talked before about how my favorite yarn store is unaccountably in Dallas, Georgia. I love Eat.Sleep.Knit primarily because they carry all my favorite dyers and often have colorways that you can’t find anywhere else. But the other thing I love about Eat.Sleep.Knit is their yearly Yarnathon. Basically, you get yards for the yarn you buy and knit-along-projects made from yarn bought from them. Completing certain types of projects will also earn you badges and when you have enough badges you get stars for your team for the team event (GO DOLPHIKNOTS!), yards for your individual Yanrathon and store credit. It’s basically a Batman-deal for knitting (to quote Neil Gaiman: “The reward for being Batman is that you get to be Batman”) – the reward for knitting is that you get to do more knitting.

This year’s yarnathon the theme “under the sea”, which, you know, I am totally here for. Every month has a new set of new exclusive colorways by one or more of the dyers they carry. It’s only February, but I’m confident these are all going to be amazing.

I mentioned some time ago that I’m working on sweaters this year and that still holds. Inspired by this year’s theme, I’m planning to round out the year with the Embrace Octopus Sweater but there’s still 8,5 sweaters to go before then! Let’s see if I can make it! Keep on knitting!

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