Archive for August, 2020

Meaningful looking fake data

Friday, August 7th, 2020

I was on a Zoom call today, working with some colleagues on a slide presentation. The presentation will, among other things, describe a forthcoming user trial of new techniques we are developing for physical therapy.

To give our audience a sense of that user trial, one of my colleagues, a computer scientist, suggested we put up some example data. Of course no example data yet exists, since we have not yet done the trial.

So my computer scientist colleague suggested that we use meaningful looking fake data. That got a laugh from our colleague who specializes in physical therapy.

She said, kiddingly, “I really like that phrase — ‘meaningful looking fake data’. Maybe we should use that as a new term of art.”

At that point I had a revelation. “You know,” I said, “a good technique for generating meaningful looking fake data is actually what I am best known for in my field.”

The computer scientists on the Zoom call all laughed. “That’s true,” they nodded, “that is exactly what Ken is best known for.”


Thursday, August 6th, 2020

A long time hobby of mine is creating new kinds of text typing systems for situations when there is no QWERTY keyboard available. I’ve been doing this now for literally decades, and I have lost track of the number of different systems I’ve come up with.

It’s a topic that is becoming newly relevant as VR gradually becomes more widespread. Yet I wonder whether all such systems will fall away, as AI and other technologies advance.

Will typing itself will simply become superfluous. Will people eventually just talk to their computers and come to expect an accurate result?

Perhaps the skill of using ones hands and fingers to generate text will fall away. It may become one of those quaint cultural artifacts of long-ago, like knowing how to sharpen the tip of a quill writing pen.

But I kind of hope not — I like typing, and I would love to see it stick around. I also suspect there are still people out there who know how to sharpen the tip of a quill writing pen,

Full moon over water

Wednesday, August 5th, 2020

I took this image the other night with my phone camera. Sometimes something is so beautiful, it simply speaks for itself.



Tuesday, August 4th, 2020

I’ve started reading about mindfulness and am thinking of trying out mindful meditation. I have a number of friends and colleagues who do it, and they all speak very highly of the practice.

As I understand it, the goal is to develop a certain kind of mental state in one’s daily life of being relaxed yet alert and present in the moment (good), as opposed to either zoned out or emotionally reactive (bad).

I know that I am pretty consistently in that kind of good state when I am teaching or giving talks. I wasn’t always — it’s something I gradually learned over the course of years.

I also know that I haven’t always been consistently in the good state in other situations. Sometimes, when things get stressful, my emotional state can be very inconsistent indeed. And that is definitely not good.

I suspect that mindfulness meditation is like any other exercise: You gradually build up certain muscles and skills over time, until eventually what had once seemed difficult gradually becomes easy, and eventually becomes second nature.

Seems like something worth trying.

New beginnings

Monday, August 3rd, 2020

It’s the first Monday of a new month, so my mind turns to the thought of new beginnings. How much are new beginnings really possible?

When you wake up each morning, you have the opportunity to make many decisions. You might even be able to set your entire life in a new direction.

Yet like Buckaroo Banzai once said, no matter where you go, there you are. So whatever path you choose, you need to take yourself along with you.

Which means that any real change is not going to be in your surroundings, but in yourself. In principle, this means change should be easy.

After all, if you want to change yourself, you don’t need to rely on others. And yet, it can be a lot harder to look inward than to look outward.

Like nobody ever said ever, a journey of a single step begins with a thousand miles.

Oklahoma, part 3

Sunday, August 2nd, 2020

So what do you do in the face of the sort of blind prejudice that just casually blames the victim of that prejudice? Do you try to engage?

I am assuming you know the ugly history of Oklahoma, and what happened to the people who had been living there for many centuries. In any case, it’s quite easy to learn the terrible truth on the internet.

I could have spoken about all that, but I suspect the person I was talking to was separated from such thoughts by a lifetime of assumptions and ingrained attitudes. Even now, with lots of time to think back on it, I can’t think of anything I could have said that would have made a bit of difference.

But I am open to suggestions.

Oklahoma, part 2

Saturday, August 1st, 2020

The conversation I was alluding to in my previous post took place the day before yesterday, and went something like this. I was having a very nice conversation with this woman, and she asked me where I was from.

I said “New York City”, and we talked about that for a bit. Then I asked her where she was from.

She said she was born in Philadelphia. “Oh,” I replied, “I have a number of friends who are from Philly”.

“But then,” she continued, “my parents moved to Oklahoma. A lot of our relatives stayed in Philadelphia. So I didn’t see them that often.”

“They didn’t want to visit us in Oklahoma,” she said. “They were afraid they would get scalped by wild Indians.”

At this point in the conversation, I think she saw that there was now an odd look on my face. She hastened to clarify, so I would understand.

“This was,” she explained, “back in the seventies.”

More tomorrow.