Entrepreneur, husband, Dad, and technology geek all contained within a single human being.
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2 days ago
This made me laugh for som reason
Waterloo, Canada
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Awesome NLP tutorials by Allison Parrish

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I love fun programming tutorials, and I love the Jupyter notebook for showing how to do cool Python stuff. So I was really happy this morning when I saw Allison Parrish (who makes a lot of delightful computer-generated language art) post these tutorials she’s written (which mostly use the Jupyter notebook) about how to parse and generate English text this morning!

First, some links to cool stuff Allison has done:

And now the tutorials! To start, there’s this a basic intro to working with CSV files in Python (which is extremely useful, but I know that.

Here are the links to the 4 tutorials I was really excited about if you just want the links and don’t care what I have to say about them :)

Text generation

First! Suppose you want to generate random text, like “I’m a banana, not a cucumber”. You could do this by writing like "I'm a %s, not a %s" % ("banana", "cucumber"), but you’ll run into problems fast because it’s “I’m an apple”, not “I’m a apple”.

It turns out that there’s a cool library called Tracery to help you with text generation. Allison has 2 cool tutorials about Tracery:

Parsing text with spaCy

The next tutorial is NLP concepts with spaCy. Basically you can take a sentence or paragraph and parse it to figure out what it means! Some example of stuff she explains how to figure out:

Where the sentences are Whether a word is a verb or a noun or what Identify more complicated grammar constructs like the “prepositional phrases” (‘with reason and conscience’, ‘towards one another’)

She linked to some examples of how to use spacy. I ran the “what they’re doing” example on Pride and Prejudice and it wrote out:

Hurst is returning
Bingley is blaming
Collins is coming
Darcy is viewing
Bingley is providing
Wickham is caring
Darcy is viewing
Lady is remaining
Hill is coming

So it seems to have done a good job of identifying the characters in Pride and Prejudice! Neat!

Previously the NLP library I’d heard about was NLTK, and she has this very useful note in the tutorial:

(Traditionally, most NLP work in Python was done with a library called NLTK. NLTK is a fantastic library, but it’s also a writhing behemoth: large and slippery and difficult to understand. Also, much of the code in NLTK is decades out of date with contemporary practices in NLP.)

Understanding word vectors

Ok, the next tutorial is Understanding word vectors

The cool thing I learned from this is that you can programmatically “average” words like ‘day’ and ‘night’ to end up with ‘evening’! You can also figure out which animals are similar and all kinds of really cool stuff. I didn’t know that you could do this, if you want to know more you should read the excellent tutorial.

Fun building blocks for doing text experiments!

I think these 3 things (tracery for generating sentences, spacy for parsing text, and spacy (again) for seeing which words are similar to each other) seem like a super awesome way to get started with playing with text!

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3 days ago
It's about a year since I did anything with Jupyter and Python. This makes me want to do more :)
Sussex, UK
3 days ago
Waterloo, Canada
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Nostalgia, Gratitude & Optimism

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The Yahoo-Verizon transaction closed this morning.  Here’s the email that I sent to company, looking back at the last 5 years and the company’s whole history.


323 days ago, we announced that Verizon would be acquiring Yahoo’s operating business. Today, I can announce that the transaction has officially closed. While reaching this moment has certainly been a long road traveled, it marks the end of an era for Yahoo, as well as the beginning of a new chapter – it’s an emotional time for all of us. Given the inherent changes to my role, I’ll be leaving the company. However, I want all of you to know that I’m brimming with nostalgia, gratitude, and optimism.

It’s been my great honor and privilege to be a part of this team for the last 5 years. Together, we have rebuilt, reinvented, strengthened, and modernized our products, our business, and our company.

Looking back on my time at Yahoo, we have confronted seemingly insurmountable business challenges, along with many surprise twists and turns. I’ve seen our teams navigate these hurdles and mountains in ways that have not only made Yahoo a better company, but also made all of us far stronger. During these past 5 years, we’ve built products that delight our users, focused on our clients’ businesses, driven substantial value for our shareholders, and endeavored to make Yahoo the absolute best place to work. I want to take a moment to remind you of some of our many achievements together. They are remarkable, and we should all be very proud.

To our users: We have enhanced our products to be far more modern and engaging, especially for mobile

  • We became 1 of 3 internet companies in the world with more than 1B monthly users
  • We grew our monthly mobile users to more than 650M (one of the largest in the world) by launching and improving our products for mobile devices
  • We dramatically focused our product strategy, dispensing 150+ subscale products and features
  • We invested in search, building an offering that drew on strengths from Microsoft, Google and Yahoo, to provide dramatically improved search to our users and attract impactful partnerships, like Mozilla
  • We fundamentally improved Yahoo Mail, completely rewriting much of the infrastructure to provide a far more flexible and reliable system, while creating a robust mobile offering. Mobile Mail recently surpassed desktop Mail in daily users, which shows the power of the product and the platform we reinvented
  • We invested in our homepage and key verticals – news, sports, finance, and lifestyles – with each remaining as the go-to destinations in their categories. And, they have found new followings on mobile through the Yahoo app, Yahoo Finance, Yahoo Sports, and Yahoo Fantasy. It’s hard to believe, but, in 2012, we didn’t have any of these 4 now-cornerstone apps on iOS or Android, we weren’t developing native apps, and we didn’t use these sought-after brands outside of desktop. Today, our users collectively spend an equivalent of 1,400 years on these products EVERY day.
  • We bolstered our security defenses with cross-company initiatives like SSL, HTML5, Account Key, and HTTPS
  • We committed to and invested in technical excellence in our architectures, reducing user-impacting incidents by more than half over the past 5 years
  • We won 2 Apple Design Awards in 2013 and 2014, and put unified product design front and center with Fuji

To our advertisers: We completely rebuilt our advertising business, putting our clients first

  • We rebuilt Yahoo’s ad tech around the fastest growing areas of digital advertising - mobile, video, native, and social (the Mavens)
  • We delivered $2B+ in Mavens GAAP Revenue last year (42% of Yahoo’s revenue!) up 10x from $200M in 2012 and essentially zero in 2011
  • Our GAAP mobile revenue last year was nearly $1.5B, making us one of the largest mobile ad platforms in the world
  • We pioneered Yahoo Gemini native and search ads, completely from scratch, now generating more than $1B in revenue annually
  • We acquired BrightRoll and Flurry to generate substantial new revenue streams in areas that aligned with our strategic growth areas of video and mobile
  • We dramatically streamlined our ad product suite, improved the functions of our auctions and exchanges, and made our ad formats work better for our advertisers while enhancing the design of our products

To our shareholders: Our stock has hit a 17-year high, more than tripling since July 2012

  • We oversaw the creation $43B in market capitalization and shareholder value. Our market cap has gone from $18B to $51B (increasing our valuation by $33B), while we returned nearly $10B in cash to shareholders.
  • We bought back 27% of our outstanding shares at an average price of $28.64. This scale of buyback is nearly unprecedented in its size, efficiency and accretion.
  • We negotiated the ability to retain an additional 122M Alibaba shares after the IPO. Today, those shares are worth an additional $9B beyond the IPO price.
  • We generated more than $800M in cash by licensing and selling non-core patents and real estate
  • We rebuilt Yahoo with the most efficient workforce and operated with the lowest cost structure in more than a decade

To our employees: We’ve helped bring to life the best of Yahoo’s culture

  • We increased transparency, accountability, and innovation with FYI, Corporate Goals, PB&J, and Hackdays
  • We expanded benefits including free food, extended maternity and paternity leave, and encouraged using Yahoo products by providing smartphones for our employees
  • We prioritized leadership empowerment, diversity & inclusion, and giving back with Yahoo for Good
  • We strategically reshaped our technical and sales talent, with a workforce that became 48% tech and 25% sales

As I look back on these achievements, I want to sincerely thank every single Yahoo employee, past and present, for your contributions both large and small. I’m tremendously grateful for all of the hard work and the many sacrifices you’ve made. We always endeavored to do the right thing for our users, advertisers, shareholders, and fellow Yahoos. This has required the most impressive displays of teamwork, innovation, and resilience I’ve ever seen, and working with you has made my time as CEO nothing short of a privilege.

Finally, I want to thank our founders, Filo and Jerry. Every entrepreneur’s wildest dream is to change the world with their ideas, and you’ve done just that. From day one, your tenacity and whimsy helped create one of the most special companies of all time – one that has employed more than 175,000 people, generated over $77B in revenue, and has informed, connected, and entertained a large portion of humanity. You’ve inspired all of us with your brilliance, values, and passion, and I will forever be in awe of you and I will forever be your biggest fan :-)  



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4 days ago
Just so we're clear: "To our advertisers: We completely rebuilt our advertising business, putting our clients first"
Waterloo, Canada
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Want More Time? Get Rid of The Easiest Way to Spend It

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Post image for Want More Time? Get Rid of The Easiest Way to Spend It

For the month of May I time-traveled back to 2007, when social media platforms were still just websites you visited. I removed Facebook, Twitter and Reddit from my phone. Throughout the month, if I wanted to use those platforms I had to log in manually at my desk.

This decision came after experiencing a through-the-looking-glass moment while listening to an interview with Tristan Harris, former “design ethicist” at Google. I had always known it was easy to waste time on social media, but I hadn’t quite understood how engineered our social media habits are.

The big services are designed to exploit our psychological vulnerabilities, particularly our need for frequent signals of approval from others: thumbs-up, gold stars and hearts. These small hits of pleasure are enough to keep us checking in early and often, so that our attention can be sold to advertisers. That is the business model. (More here: How Billionaires Stole My Mind

I didn’t want to quit outright, as many people have. I just wanted to get away from the ubiquity of Facebook, Twitter and Reddit. I didn’t want them in my pocket. I didn’t want to find myself swiping through them without having decided to. I wanted them to return to what they used to be: fun websites you may or may not visit on a given day. 

What I learned

Perhaps unsurprisingly, there was nothing difficult about not using these services once they were off my phone. I didn’t miss them, but I did find myself, many times a day, taking my phone out and absently swiping through it. This impulse usually came at moments when there was some waiting to do: when food was heating in the microwave, when a friend had departed to the bathroom, or even when a website was loading slowly on my laptop.

By Day 6 my phone had become a much less interesting object. I took it out much less often, and spent little time on it whenever I did. The absent-minded swiping impulse, whenever it still happened, became a reminder to either get to whatever responsibility I was avoiding, to wait mindfully, or to read a book or an article. (I made good use of an app called Pocket, which stores online articles for later reading offline.)

Whenever I did log on to Twitter, Facebook, or Reddit, I found them quite boring, and even kind of repulsive. This is how I put it in my log:

…after taking even a little time away from these platforms, whenever I check in I can’t help but see them as repositories for stray feelings, and energy that we don’t want to spend on anything consequential. They seem like places to go when you’re bored, or when you’re actively avoiding the thing you know you should be doing. I know a lot of this feeling is pure projection—I have certainly used these platforms that way.

Since the experiment began, I’ve felt an abundance of time. Part of this is the 45 or 90 minutes I’m no longer spending frivolously online every day, but it’s mostly that I’m no longer constantly recovering from interruptions. I stay with offline activities for longer stretches, and become immersed in them more easily. An hour seems like a longer unit of time now. (Because I know someone say something if I don’t, I’m aware this phrase “spending time” seems to contradict this recent post, but it doesn’t—its point is that “having/spending time” is a language convention.)

Social media was serving, at least for me, as a sponge that wicks up any stray attention—and with it, time—and then keeps drawing more of both until you consciously break away from it. And of course it does—unlike reading, working, physical activity, or real-life socializing, social media is an activity that takes no effort. It doesn’t require any confidence, resolve, or intention, and doesn’t entail any risk.

Essentially, I had removed the easiest way to spend time from a long list of possibilities, so that all that’s left are activities that require at least a little commitment and resolve. I’m reading more, walking more, socializing more, and working without so much self-prodding. I feel freer than ever to do these things, because there’s no ultra-easy competitor undercutting them. And there’s all this new time.

Facebook knows you have better things to do

It was around Day 9 that the most telling thing happened: Facebook noticed my absence. When you stop posting things, eventually the stream of notifications dries up, because there’s nothing for people to Like or reply to. Typically I would log in and see no notifications, quickly scan my news feed, and close it up.

One day, I was surprised to find a few notifications. My first thought was that somebody commented on, or liked, some old photo or post of mine.

But nobody did. I was being shown a new kind of notification: “Check out Jim’s comment on his photo” or “Jane commented on her status” as though someone else using Facebook is something I ought to be notified about.

These contrived notifications were the “Emperor wears no clothes” moment for me. It became obvious then that Facebook knows its users have better things to do, and quietly hopes they don’t notice how little they get out of it. It knows that most of the value it delivers is on the level of lab-rat food pellets: small, scheduled hits of gratification we’ve learned to expect many times a day. Facebook hasn’t been about its original purpose—keeping in touch with friends we might otherwise drift away from—since the mid-2000s, when:

  • we had many fewer ways to keep in touch
  • Facebook made no money
  • we hadn’t yet discovered that maintaining hundreds of superficial online relationships doesn’t really enrich our lives

“Notification gratification” isn’t all people get out of Facebook, of course—we do want to see our friends’ photos (sometimes), and cute animal videos aren’t unwelcome once they’re playing in front of us. But those things aren’t persistent enough incentives to keep users checking Facebook multiple times a day—it shouldn’t need to be said, but Facebook’s customers aren’t its 1.3 billion daily users, but its five million advertisers. The little number in the red circle is the first place our eyes go when the page loads. It’s the reason we come back so frequently, and the reason advertisers are willing to pay what they do.

Do I really take my phone out of my pocket while I’m waiting in line somewhere because I’m suddenly struck by an urge to see my friend’s vacation photos? No, it’s because I’ve learned that in my pocket there is an ever-renewing promise of a small reward: someone may have mentioned me, or liked something I said. If, after that, I go on to peruse photos and articles and short diatribes, that’s merely incidental.

Even my beloved Instagram is jumping the shark. There are increasingly more ads, and now they’ve begun to jumble up the feed chronologically, so that you see your friends’ posts from throughout the week—a picture from ten minutes ago, then one from six days ago, then one from eight hours ago, and so on. Ostensibly this is for “bringing users the experience they want” even though Instagram’s users unequivocally do not want this and still have no option to turn it off.

What this unwanted change really does is ensure a steadier stream of waiting notifications, as users’ posts are dripped out to followers over the course of a week, instead of spiking immediately and dropping off quickly. Facebook bought Instagram in 2012 for a billion dollars.

What now?

So social media has kind of lost me, or at least its 2017 version has. I’m not quitting these services, but I remain committed to using them 2007-style: deliberately rather than reactively. I’ll use them to share things I think people will want to see, to get in touch with people when there are no better methods, to send and receive invitations to real-life events, and to see what people are up to when I consciously decide to see what people are up to.

But I’m done using them as an unwitting Pavlovian dog. They’re off my phone for good, I’ve deleted the quick-launch icons in my desktop browser, and I’m prepared to memorize passwords again. In spite of all of Facebook and Twitter’s attempts to make it difficult, I’m going to use them like websites.


[If you’re interested in another person’s experience, my friend Cait did a complete social media detox last month too, and had some interesting revelations.]

Photo by vodaphone medien


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7 days ago
Waterloo, Canada
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Meanwhile in Kylo’s basementThe modern adventures of Han and...

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Meanwhile in Kylo’s basement


The modern adventures of Han and Ben Kylo feat. Uncle Luke (Manip AU)

Han goes missing when visiting his son. Unsurprising, Kylo has something to do with his disappearance.

The rest of the series is here

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15 days ago
Waterloo, Canada
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Not By Aspiration

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Olfactory Bulb by Greg Dunn, neuroscience student and artist


In Your Ordinary Life….

In your ordinary life,
with its handbag of pain
and your few little coins of success,
an entire star burns with pure glory,
a field of wildflowers exults.
This is not good luck, or physics gone wild.
It’s God.

What can you do, you who are made of delight,
but fall defenselessly in love with everybody,
and give yourself away
until you are pure song?
What can you do but
shuck off your burlap clothing,
catch fire
and dance?
Steve Garnaas-Holmes
Unfolding Light


"The history of the universe…is the handwriting produced by a minor god in order to communicate with a Demon"

Jorge Luis Borges [Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius] 


I Am So Small
By Denise Levertov

I am so small, a speck of dust
moving across the huge world. The world
a speck of dust in the universe.

Are you holding
the universe? You hold
onto my smallness. How do you grasp it,
how does it not
slip away?

I know so little.
You have brought me so far.

- The Beginning of Wisdom


"The Garden is gained through practice, not by aspiration."
Imam Ali 


"Upon the demon-ridden pilgrimage of human life, what next I wonder?"
The Sea, the Sea by Iris Murdoch


"I believe in colors, that colors sing
With the splendor of the brilliant yellows of a beautiful mid-day,
Surprising forms conquer me and tenuous transparencies
Enchant me like a vague melody
Or the June sun that bursts harmonic and vibrant;
In it, I admire God, I admire Nature
And a flowering almond tree, a pure atmosphere
Heighten the sensation, make me feel larger.

I live with my face to the light as the sunflowers do
And I believe in myself, I believe in expansive Art
That calms my anguish, making it for me alone,
Because the meadows have bloomed, because it is summer,
Because everything murmurs, everything grows, everything lives;
Because there are rich greens high up in the pine grove
And the mysterious shadows seem intimate
Where the voluptuous fairies live.

I believe because the trellis, the meadow, the oak grove
Are tender, are beautiful and sharply colored;
I believe because a branch catches fire with golden light
Because the sun-beaten rock on the cliff trembles
Because the poppies flourish among the tender wheat,
Because the sea turns violet in the evening sun,
Because the shade of the forest holds marvels for us
Because the creek is deep and the wave is green.

I believe in the Truth of plastic harmony
In breathable space, distances and light
In the sublime spell of peace cast by a beautiful day
And in the life that is Beauty, its perfume that is Art."

Alexandre de Riquer I Ynglada’s Credo 
(via turnofthecentury)


May Your Trails Be Crooked…

‘May your trails be crooked, winding, lonesome, dangerous,
leading to the most amazing view.
May your mountains rise into and above the clouds.
May your rivers flow without end,
meandering through pastoral valleys tinkling with bells,
past temples and castles and poets towers into a dark primeval forest
where tigers belch and monkeys howl,
through miasmal and mysterious swamps
and down into a desert of red rock,
blue mesas, domes and pinnacles and grottos of endless stone,
and down again into a deep vast ancient unknown chasm
where bars of sunlight blaze on profiled cliffs,
where deer walk across the white sand beaches,
where storms come and go as lightning clangs upon the high crags,
where something strange and more beautiful and more full of wonder than your deepest dreams waits for you —
beyond that next turning of the canyon walls. “

– Edward Abbey (1927-1989)


Kahlil Gibran’s Almustafa on everyday gods
“Let us speak no more now of God the Father. Let us speak rather of the gods, your neighbours, and of your brothers, the elements that move about your houses and your fields.

“You would rise in fancy unto the cloud, and you deem it height; and you would pass over the vast sea and claim it to be distance. But I say unto you that when you sow a seed in the earth, you reach a greater height; and when you hail the beauty of the morning to your neighbour, you cross a greater sea.

“Too often do you sing God, the Infinite, and yet in truth you hear not the song. Would that you might listen to the songbirds, and to the leaves that forsake the branch when the wind passes by, and forget not, my friends, that these sing only when they are separated from the branch!

“Again, I bid you to speak not so freely of God, who is your All, but speak rather and understand one another, neighbour unto neighbour, a god unto a god.

“For what shall feed the fledgling in the nest if the mother bird flies skyward? And what anemone in the field shall be fulfilled unless it be husbanded by a bee from another anemone?

“It is only when you are lost in your smaller selves that you seek the sky which you call God. Would that you might find paths into your vast selves; would that you might be less idle and pave the roads!

“My mariners and my friends, it were wiser to speak less of God, whom we cannot understand, and more of each other, whom we may understand. Yet I would have you know that we are the breath and the fragrance of God. We are God, in leaf, in flower, and oftentimes in fruit.”

Kahlil Gibran (also transliterated Khalil and Kalil; Jubrãn, Gubran, Jibran) in The Garden of the Prophet, completed and published posthumously by Barbara Young, (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1981), p. 39-41. First published (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1933).

[via Entersection]


“Touching hands are not like pharmaceuticals or scalpels. They are like flashlights in a darkened room. The medicine they administer is self-awareness. And for many of our painful conditions, this is the aid that is most urgently needed.”
- Deane Juhan


"The secret of forgiving is to understand nothing."
George Bernard Shaw


The Great Bell Chant

Buddhist Prayer for the End of Suffering
by Thich Nhat Hanh

A prayer written by Zen Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh, chanted by brother Phap Niem.

May the sound of this bell penetrate deep into the cosmos
Even in the darkest spots living beings are able to hear it clearly
So that all suffering in them ceases
Understanding comes to their heart
And they transcend the path of sorrow and death.
The universal dharma door is already open
The sound of the rising tide is heard clearly
The miracle happens: a beautiful child appears in the heart of a lotus flower
One single drop of this compassionate water is enough
To bring back the refreshing spring to our mountains and rivers.
Listening to the bell I feel the afflictions in me begin to dissolve
My mind calm, my body relaxed
A smile is born on my lips
Following the sound of the bell
My breath brings me back to the safe island of mindfulness
In the garden of my heart, the flowers of peace bloom beautifully.

Thich Nhat Hanh, born October 11, 1926, is a Vietnamese Zen Buddhist monk, teacher, author, poet and peace activist. He lives in the Plum Village Monastery in the Dordogne region in the South of France, travelling internationally to give retreats and talks. Wikipedia.

He has also published more than 100 books, including more than 40 in English.

Nhat Hanh's teaching combines a variety of traditional Zen with insights from other Mahayana Buddhist traditions, methods from Theravada Buddhism, and ideas from Western psychology to offer a modern light on meditation practice.

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19 days ago
Just found this Tumblr today and really like its mix of poetry and insight. Best on this post is the "Great Bell Chant" video at the end
Waterloo, Canada
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