// The Comment #6: The Side Project

The Comment is a weekly digest of the stuff that grabbed my attention or occupied some part my mind during the past week. Normally, it’ll be one thing that’s really been on my mind, followed by a handful of things that I found interesting. The Comment will be published each Monday at 10:30AM EST. 

Thanks for reading.

# The Side Project

I’ve been in the software industry, as a professional since my first internship at Bayer CropScience in 2003 (thanks Inroads!). I wrote test cases and did some automated testing for the next 3 summers. My side project was a Java Swing (remember that) GPA calculator and college. My next side project, somewhere between college graduation and Sony Ericsson was a Windows Mobile app, Speeed Reader. Speeed Reader was a Google Reader app for Windows Mobile, and also my first mobile app. A few mobile app side projects and few layoffs later, I started as an Android developer for a healthcare and conference app agency in Durham. After a 3 year stint in the digital marketing automation space, some part-time mobile contract work…and another side project, PremoFM: a podcast app for Android, I found myself back in mobile in a bigger way. Fast forward to today and I work on RadioPublic’s Android app.  Most of my significant learning and career progressions, started out as little ideas and curiosities that became side projects. Side projects allow you to exercise your creativity, while doing some learning that you would not normally get in a work setting. Finally, side projects can grow into significant things like job opportunities or even provide you the ability to work for yourself.

Side projects are great ways to get some practical hands on experience. When I graduated, it definitely wasn’t my intention to become a mobile app developer. I started out just learning some C# because as an NC State student, access to Visual Studio and the .NET technologies were free! I had a Windows Mobile device and the ability to tinker around, so I thought to myself, “why not?” I started out with the goal of gaining more general programming experience and soon found myself building real things like Speeed Reader, a Google Reader client for Windows Mobile. Over the next few years, I built things for mobile, web, and on the server. I learned new things like, building an API with Node, building MVC webapps with PHP, and SQL. Experience with all of these technologies not only made me a more well rounded engineer with a ton of different perspective’s but also critical to building the skills that enable quick and productive learning.

The wrap things up, if you see a thing you want to eventually do, don’t feel the need to wait for permission. Just do it. This applies to plenty of things, besides building software. The barrier to entry to a lot of opportunities is the friction it takes to do a Google search.

// Motivation

James Clear dropping a few words about motivation for your Monday morning:

If you only work when you feel motivated, then you’ll never be consistent enough to become a pro. But if you build small routines and patterns that help you overcome the daily battles, then you’ll continue the slow march towards greatness even when it gets tough.

// Dear Bitcoin, it wasn’t supposed to be this way

Bitcoin’s inexplicable volatility and price surge has gone mainstream and it has made a lot of people rich. Weirdly enough, Bitcoin is more popular in the mainstream as an investment vehicle instead of the decentralized digital currency it was originally intended to be (it still is). Adrienne Jeffries writing at The Outline:

On Thursday, the price of Bitcoin fluctuated by thousands of dollars in a 24-hour period. The Coinbase app — which lets you buy and sell cryptocurrencies, and is the number two free app in the App Store as of this writing — started freezing and throwing errors, which the company said was due to high traffic. At one point, I tested the app by trying to sell some of my (very small) amount of Bitcoin, and the app simply buckled. “Bitcoin sales are temporarily disabled,” it said in an error message.

This is not how Bitcoin was supposed to work.

// In rotation: The Gerrymandering Project at FiveThirtyEight Politics

Galen Druke kicks off his 6 part audio documentary diving into gerrymandering and it’s effects on politics in the US. Definitely worthy of a listen if you are even remotely into politics.

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// The Comment #5: ಠ_ಠ

Not just any tree, but a Harvard Business School tree.

The Comment is a weekly digest of the stuff that grabbed my attention or occupied some part my mind during the past week. Normally, it’ll be one thing that’s really been on my mind, followed by a handful of things that I found interesting. The Comment will be published each Monday at 10:30AM EST. 

Thanks for reading.

// Chance of an Artificial Intelligence Explosion

This is a pretty cool read.  Francois Chollet writing at Medium on the chances (or lack thereof) of an (artificial) intelligence explosion:

The basic premise is that, in the near future, a first “seed AI” will be created, with general problem-solving abilities slightly surpassing that of humans. This seed AI would start designing better AIs, initiating a recursive self-improvement loop that would immediately leave human intelligence in the dust, overtaking it by orders of magnitude in a short time. Proponents of this theory also regard intelligence as a kind of superpower, conferring its holders with almost supernatural capabilities to shape their environment — as seen in the science-fiction movie Transcendence (2014), for instance. Superintelligence would thus imply near-omnipotence, and would pose an existential threat to humanity.

This science-fiction narrative contributes to the dangerously misleading public debate that is ongoing about the risks of AI and the need for AI regulation. In this post, I argue that intelligence explosion is impossible — that the notion of intelligence explosion comes from a profound misunderstanding of both the nature of intelligence and the behavior of recursively self-augmenting systems. I attempt to base my points on concrete observations about intelligent systems and recursive systems.

Francois goes on to do a good job defining and describing the almost distributed nature of human intelligence.  An pretty good read and a great counterpoint to the Elon Musks of the world who are convinced that artificial intelligence is a definite threat to human life and will enslave us all.

// Jay-Z, A conversation with the New York Times

// Net Neutrality & Title II Classification

Ben Thompson and James Allworth debate the benefits of tradeoffs about the two horrible options available to us, with regard to Title II classification of ISPs.

Ben Thompson also wrote a pretty good piece on why Title II classification of ISPs may not be the most optimal vehicle for enforcing Net Neutrality.

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// The Comment #4: Net Neutrality


The Comment is a weekly digest of the stuff that grabbed my attention or occupied some part my mind during the past week. Normally, it’ll be one thing that’s really been on my mind, followed by a handful of things that I found interesting. The Comment will be published each Monday at 10:30AM EST. 

Thanks for reading.

## Net Neutrality

FCC Commissioner, Ajit Pai, unveiled his plans to rescind Net Neutrality legislation last week.  Net Neutrality prevents Internet Service Providers (ISP) like Comcast, Verizon, Spectrum (formerly Time Warner Cable) from preferring internet traffic from one website or internet service over another. It demands that ISPs make no preference, after all bytes are just bytes.  Without Net Neutrality regulations, ISPs will be free to do what they want on their networks, as long as they are transparent about it.  For example, AT&T will be free to prefer their own movie streaming products and apps over their competitor’s products like YouTube and Netflix¹. Preference can be established by either slowing down traffic from competitor’s or charging consumers more to access those products.  This is legal as long as they are transparent about it and don’t incur any anti-trust violations. Violations will be heard by the Federal Trade Commission aka the FTC.

The thinking is that customers have the ability to change ISPs (free market right?).  Except, only 22% of the country has access to 2 or more broadband providers (a broadband provider is an ISP that offers 25Mbps/3Mbps download/upload service).  This means if Net Neutrality ceases to be a thing and you only have one option for internet access, and your only option slows down Netflix, you are effectively out of luck².

To me, Net Neutrality regulation has always been fraught.  It is a partisan issue where small government, free market conservatives debate big government liberals on whether the internet should be regulated.  As the administration changes, as we see, so does Net Neutrality regulation.  Furthermore, regulation does tend to burden smaller companies with paperwork and process.  Smaller companies don’t have the resources of the larger companies.  Regulation actually favors the incumbents with access to significant resources and because of this it tends to stifle innovation and startups.  Anytime you introduce regulation, you are making a tradeoff, potentially preventing opportunities for innovation, for a societal benefit.  Regulation is not inherently a bad thing like regulations that private companies from contaminating local water supplies or health insurance companies not denying coverage for pre-existing conditions.

We need ISP competition at the local level.  A significant issue is that there is no competition for customers for ISPs in most areas of the country.  They don’t compete on price, services, performance, or reliability.  Most home and small businesses are stuck with 1 or 2 mediocre choices.  We need local loop unbundling where cities, towns, states, or other local entities own and operate the infrastructure that connect homes and businesses to ISPs.  In an unbundled environment, there’s a single connection going into homes or businesses (fiber, copper, or coax).  Those connections and infrastructure are maintained by a different entity (ie. not the Comcast, Verizon, etc).  Internet service providers interface with the city, town, state or maintaining entity offering their services to customers in those areas.  Because there are fewer obstacles to overcome (like needing to physically connect homes and businesses) there are all of a sudden more ISPs competing on price, services, performance, reliability, and in Ajit Pai’s world, whether or not they prefer an app or product over another.

For those who grew up using the internet in the mid to late 90s, local loop unbundling is exactly what happened.  The Telecommunications Act of 1996 included a provision that unbundled the local telephone loop (also known as the last mile) from the phone companies. It forced incumbents to open up their telephone networks to competitors.  This gave way to dozens of premium ISPs like America Online, Excite, CompuServe and even free, ad-supported ISPs like NetZero.  These ISPs competed on services, performance, features, price, and reliability.  Customers were able to easily move from one ISP to another.  Competition amongst national & regional wireless carriers, and MVNOs (mobile virtual network operators) like AT&T, T-Mobile, Sprint, Cricket, US Cellular, and Project Fi have also led to pretty decent prices, features, and choice for people looking for cell phone service.

Read more about the effects of local loop unbundling vs Net Neutrality at Ars Technica.

1 – I keep using Netflix and YouTube as examples because those are obvious examples with very visible consequences.  The product or app could be something integral to your career working remotely or your small business.  Net Neutrality isn’t here just to protect video streaming, it’s meant to preserve an open internet.

2 – Effectively out of luck, unless you have the resources to sue the offending ISP in Federal court.

// Net Neutrality & Civil Rights

Andy Newman in his Medium article on the Internet being the next civil rights battleground

If you don’t care about equal access because your access can never be threatened, you expose those who don’t have the money or political power to fight back. This is how inequality develops. Each generation has been defined by struggles for freedom, in ways both big and small. Access to technology and the promise of privacy does not necessarily impact the body of American citizens as directly as other forms of injustice, but limiting connectivity or pushing people off of platforms for fear of tracking will deprive them of education and work. It will starve the body and mind both figuratively and literally.

// A Nuanced Net Neutrality Debate

The usual hosts of The Vergecast, Nilay Patel, Dieter Bohn, and Paul Miller have a nuanced conversation for and against the FCC’s decision to rescind net neutrality legislation. It’s a good, but long and at times, terse, discussion if you have an hour to kill.

// In Rotation: 718.fm from MICK and Chi Duly

What happens when you take Jay-Z’s most lyrical and personal verses & juxtapose them with DJ Premier’s most dark and precise works? The result is 7:18. This mixtape is a love letter to the hiphop we grew up listening to. This is for the people who grew up analyzing the b-side of every Gangstarr and Group Home single. This is for the people who listened to Jay’s “A Million And One Questions” a million and one times.

Jay-Z lyrics over DJ Premier production.  Absolutely 💯!

Download 7:18 from 718.fm.

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// The Comment #3: Gerrymander


The Comment is a weekly digest of the stuff that grabbed my attention or occupied some part my mind during the past week. Normally, it’ll be one thing that’s really been on my mind, followed by a handful of things that I found interesting. The Comment will be published each Monday at 10:30AM EST. 

Thanks for reading.

## Redistricting in North Carolina

North Carolina is home to some of the worst racially gerrymandered congressional districts in the nation.

Seriously, check out NC Congressional District #12 (NC-12 for short).

NC Congressional District #12 – Source: NCSBE

If you are unfamiliar with NC-12, it follows I-85 from Greensboro to Charlotte (hitting Winston Salem) and contains large populations of African-Americans and other minorities.  It’s no secret that African-Americans and minorities tend to vote for Democratic candidates.  This effectively creates a voting district that is overwhelmingly Democratic leaning.  This is called “packing” (where you pack all the voters from one party into as few districts as possible) and is bad because it wastes votes.  A wasted vote is every vote more than is required to elect an official into office.  For example, if candidate A beats candidate B, 78-22 (only need 51 votes to win), there are 49 (27 wasted votes for candidate A and 22 wasted votes for candidate B).  A wasted vote isn’t necessarily a bad thing and there are wasted votes in most elections.  However, a system where large quantities of votes are consistently wasted results in a diminished voice for those voters.  In gerrymandered districts, there tend to be a lot of wasted votes.

Another strategy used by those wishing to gerrymander is a tactic called “cracking” where the desire is to split up a concentrated voting bloc (ie. urban Democrats into many Republican leaning, rural districts).  This dilutes the voting power of the “cracked” bloc.  Both “cracked” and “packed” districts lead to situations where a legislative chamber is more extreme leaning despite demographics that state otherwise. I should add gerrymandering is not illegal and is an effective political tactic to extend or magnify (or reduce) the legislative strength of a political party.  It becomes very problematic when those tasked with drawing congressional districts explicitly desire to diminish the voting power of a group of people because of race or ethnicity.

The North Carolina GOP has a hard time drawing districts that aren’t racially gerrymandered.  They recently redrew congressional maps that do not satisfactorily eliminate the racial gerrymander exacerbated in the maps submitted in 2011.

Federal judges announced their plans on Thursday to ask a Stanford University law professor to look at nine North Carolina legislative districts as they weigh the constitutionality of election maps adopted in August.

The news came in an order filed in federal court by the three-judge panel asked to decide whether the new maps correct 28 districts drawn in 2011 and later found to be unconstitutional racial gerrymanders.

The judges raised questions about seven state House districts and two state Senate districts that “either fail to remedy the identified constitutional violation or are otherwise legally unacceptable.” One Senate district was in Guilford County; the other was in Hoke and Cumberland counties. The House districts were in Wake County, Mecklenburg County and Guilford County.

As unaffiliated (also known as independent) voter, I’m of the opinion that a non-partisan independent commission should be the one drawing our congressional districts.  The North Carolina GOP is unable to draw suitable voting districts, so the federal courts have decided to have a handful of districts analyzed (and possibly redrawn) by Nathaniel Persily, a Stanford professor who has drawn districts for other states.  I just wanted to highlight this step in a journey that, hopefully, leads to more equitable maps.  More equitable maps would help North Carolina to return to a more moderated state of governance that has been absent for some time.

Stanford law professor could help draw NC legislative districts

// In Rotation: Uncivil

The Uncivil podcast, from Gimlet Media, explores interesting and untold stories about the American Civil War.

A new history podcast from Gimlet Media, where we go back to the time our divisions turned into a war, and bring you stories left out of the official history.

The latest episode, “The Spin”, goes deep into how the defeated Confederacy effectively spun a story of treason and protection of a barbaric slave system into one of pride, “state’s rights”, and the continuation of near slavery conditions for freed African-Americans.

// The iPhone X w/ TechMeOut

The iPhone X went on sale over the past few weeks.  I’ve been checking out a few reviews because I’m interested in the tech.  I like this one from YouTube creator, TechMeOut.

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// The Comment #2: “Forever is a mighty long time”


The Comment is a weekly digest of the stuff that grabbed my attention or occupied some part my mind during the past week. Normally, it’ll be one thing that’s really been on my mind, followed by a handful of things that I found interesting. The Comment will be published each Monday at 10:30AM EST. 

Thanks for reading.

// Things That Matter with Big K.R.I.T.

Big K.R.I.T. was interviewed on The Breakfast Club.  It highlights the cool part about becoming a fan of an artist and watching them grow as you grow and age.  I’ve been a huge K.R.I.T. fan since I heard “Return of 4eva”.  I went to a Big K.R.I.T. show at the Cat’s Cradle (Freddie Gibbs was one of the artists that opened up for K.R.I.T.).  That show was crazy.  K.R.I.T. talks through the moments he realized that the superficial stuff (fame, fortune, accumulation of status symbols) does not lead to happiness. Comparing his music from then to now, I can appreciate the growth in his sound and material because it reflects how things have changed and matured in my life.

// Secret Sauce Behind Deep Learning

Deep learning is a very complicated subject, but changing so much of the world around us and a very valuable skill to have under one’s belt.  Read everything you need to know about deep learning.

Everything you need to know about neural networks

// In rotation: The Midnight Snack w/ DJ Ill Digitz and Charlie Smarts

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