Array #3

Array is a weekly round-up of everything in the mind of a lateral thinker that likes too many things. 

This week, we dive into acknowledging emotions, Blade Runner 2049, the interpreters for deaf music fans, and George Washington.

Via Twitter

🤔 Mindfulness IRL

Looking through some old emails, I found something we might consider horrors: an old portfolio and high school pictures. Your reaction will range from mild discomfort to "Sweet baby Jesus, burn it with fire." I have done the later, hurling a middle school notebook of poems into a bonfire. Destroying the notebook doesn't diminish my unwanted feelings, in fact, it stokes the flame.

When you're first learning about mindfulness, it can feel like emotions = bad and negative emotions = super bad. But emotions are still a part of your humanity. It may come from past events or future worries, but it is part of your present. The power of mindfulness is acknowledging emotions and genuinely having awareness at that moment. This can mean identifying what makes you feel bad, acknowledging those feelings in the moment, and even looking at them from a new perspective.

My gut immediately twisted when I saw my old work. I skipped on kerning or making a proper grid and barely used anything other than News Gothic. Did I feel bad because it was genuinely bad? Or did I feel bad because I missed that level of confidence in myself? Acknowledging that emotion framed it for me, my gut wasn't so twisted, and I started to remember the happy moments, actual sweet nostalgia! It's not an overnight switch, but practicing at every moment helps.

This quote is a long read, but consider this section on acknowledging emotions from a talk by Ajahn Sundara.

Sometimes the mind can be so filled up with emotion that the brain loses the capacity to think and we cannot express ourselves. At such times of heightened emotion the mind seems to have a kind of protective mechanism, the capacity to disengage. When we have a strong emotional experience, we tend to over-react and lose clarity. Because we don’t have the ability to respond to the situation, the mind simply shuts down.

If we were truly in charge of our mind, we would rather have a calm and peaceful mind instead of the agitation and disturbances that we often have to experience. Yet when an emotion is present, we can see it as a priceless opportunity. Even though it may be a painful moment, when we stay very present and connected to the heat and energy coursing through us, we will see it change and lose its emotional charge. We will be able to let it go. But if we’re not aware of it, it will revive a lot of old stories. If we believe our emotions, they drag countless stories along with them, everything associated with that particular emotion. And emotions are not choosy; any old thing may come up and until we see through and understand those associations, they are a terrible burden. Sometimes you may wonder how our emotional nature and wisdom can come together.

A great master like Ajahn Chah would set up situations where his disciples would see their emotional nature. He would push their buttons to the point where they would become really angry, driving their minds into an intense emotional state. This is perhaps not the kind of teaching you would ask for right now, but if it came your way how would you respond? Would you start complaining and blaming the situation? Would you criticize the people involved? Or would you use the situation as a teaching? In fact, you may have noticed that life gives us plenty of opportunities to challenge and test us. Somebody always seems to be ‘stepping on our toes’. In that respect life is our great teacher. You may think: ‘No, I’m going to meditate so I can calm down. I’m going to stay away from all that.’ But remember that the state of calm is just one aspect of the practice. In Buddhism the mind is compared to a clear lake, but when we observe it we may overlook the rubbish at the bottom, and lose our chance to be free from delusion...

...So how can we start befriending our emotional nature? Perhaps at first the head leads. We know what to do, we may have read all the teachings on emotions and we are filled with good intentions. Then as Dhamma practice becomes part of our life, we draw closer to our heart. This may be frightening because the heart has a soft, vulnerable, fluid quality, unlike the mental energy in our head, which can be hard and quite rigid. When we come into the heart area we begin to be in touch with a much more nebulous world as we move from the mental energy towards a more sensitive aspect of our mind and body. We begin to feel and connect with our emotional experience directly, without confusion. We discover that in the realm of emotions things are much less defined. There are no clear partitions and boundaries. Emotions can be treacherous – because they can spread so far. For a mind which is attached to logic and intellectual clarity, practice can be difficult, because seeing clearly has nothing to do with having an idea about things; it is the ability to see things as they are, here and now, with presence of mind

As we become very present with our emotions, it’s amazing how this presence of mind can cool down our reactions in a very natural way. Just by staying fully present when emotions arise, we can witness how they change and fade away. Whereas if we are not aware of this straightaway, our emotions can turn into an enormous story involving ‘me’ and ‘him’, and ‘them’ and ‘us’, and ‘how dare you?’ Then emotions can become a mountain of problems. But I’m sure none of us want to have a mountain of problems. We don’t ask for them, they just happen to us. This is anattā. There is no self in control, just the results of habits. When we say, ‘I wish I was not so angry. I wish I was not so jealous’, we still think we’re in control of our emotions, but actually we are not. We are only in control when we start looking at them through the lens of mindfulness and clear understanding. In Dhamma practice, mindfulness and clear seeing are simply allowed to take charge. When we are able to look at ourselves in that calm, quiet light of mindfulness, without judgement, compassion naturally arises and we can accept ourselves just as we are. That moment is a complete acceptance of what is.

👩🏻‍🎨 Research

I saw Blade Runner 2049 last night and Denis Villeneuve is quickly becoming one of my favorite directors. The visuals and sound design are so stunning and eerie.

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🔥 Reads


📓 Thoughts

I can feel it, the shift in my brain, my insides churning. Deep down, I know; I'm about to have another founding father obsession.

George Washington is my first love after reading Washington: A Life by Ron Chernow. There's an image of Washington I've always had in my head: a stoic and selfless man that decided to turn down the idea of monarchy. We tend to turn famous people into statues, admiring and honoring only the good bits. But he's human, with jealousies and misgivings–basically a wreck like all of us. He lusted after British style and adornments, writing sharp letters to London tailors for miscounting the number of buttons on a coat. He flirted and even confessed his love to his friend's wife while engaged to Martha. And to top it off, big Mommy issues–nothing was good enough for Mary Ball Washington. At the time, I was wrangling with my feelings of envy and jealousy. George Washington is someone I could relate to, which feels so arrogant to say about oneself and the First President. But this is why I love history: dealing with the same bullshit, different era.

Now I'm reading John Adams by David McCullough. In his 20s, Adams was teaching at a schoolhouse and wondering what he was doing with his life. He felt stuck and vowed to work industriously through his reading. English books in the mornings, Monday, Wednesday, Friday! Latin books in the evenings! All the books! His next diary entry? "Rainy day, dreamed the day away." God, I love history. Same bullshit, different era.

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Array #2

Array is a weekly round-up of everything in the mind of a lateral thinker that likes too many things. 

This week, we look at mindfulness in baking, Johanna Grawunder, The Great Deluge, and perfectionism.


🤔 Mindfulness IRL

Mindfulness isn't sitting in a dead silent room, trying to think of nothing. It's your mind fully attending to what’s happening, what you’re doing, and space you’re moving in. That's where baking comes in to me.

Baking seems future forward, but the process forces you into the moment. You need to be aware of the recipe and aware of each action you take. Too much mixing or not enough proving can lead to a not-so-great result. Mistakes can feel like a personal failure for beginner bakers, but shifting your perspective and enjoying the moment. So, how can you bake with mindfulness?

  • Sensory enjoyment. Baking isn't just for our noses and tongues, every step of the process can engage and enjoy our senses. This weekend, I made a cannoli pound cake. It was my first time infusing sugar with zest, sifting the sugar with my finger tips, the crunch of the grains against a glass bowl. 
  • Gratitude. This word seems heavy, but gratitude can be as light as a meringue (oi vey, too much Great British Bake Off for me). When you have the moment to bake, take the time to notice that. Making something for a friend or family or just because you want to? Take that moment too.
  • Mindful eating. After your bake has cooled and you're ready to dig in, take a moment to reflect why you're eating this. Are you hungry right now? Do you intend to savor this moment? I'm still working on this one, but it can mean eating only half of your cake in one day vs. a whole cake in one day. 

👩🏻‍🎨 Research

I'm working on a museum exhibit and researching how to make certain fabrications on such a limited budget. Instead of frosted glass, let's go for frosted plexiglass. Here's what I've been peeping for inspiration by Johanna Grawunder:


🔥 Reads


📓 Thoughts

I re-wrote this section so many times that the post is late. It's a timely lesson for me on perfectionism. Good is better than great if you're showing up every day.

So instead, I'll leave you with an episode from the Friend Zone podcast

Array #1

Array is a weekly round-up of everything in the mind of a lateral thinker that likes too many things. 


🤔 Mindfulness IRL

My mind is always in the future and it's a recipe for disaster. The present never matches up to my imagined expectations. I'll create goals to get to this future of daydreams, but ultimately fail. The goals are unattainable or the reward is unsatisfying. Everything was nicer in my head!

As part of my ADHD treatment, I've been focusing on mindfulness–living in the present, savoring my day-to-day. But how do you set goals for your future while also living in the moment? Here's some things I've been reading to wrap my head around it:


👩🏻‍🎨 Research

Designing for search is hard. You want to provide a motherboard of controls, but you also want it to be uncluttered and accessible. It's a tricky balance to strike. Here's the dump of articles I read while tackling this problem:

On a completely, different note: I keep thinking about the color in the photo series sofasafri by Jasmine Deporta.


🔥 Reads


📓 Thoughts

Depression is a fun, miserable beast. It morphs into different shapes, sneaking up on us in the moments where everything should be fine. The spiral starts with should; I should be happy because my life isn't terrible, I should be grateful because I have a lot of privilege, I should be okay, so why am I not?

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Many people visualize depression as a cloud, following you around and filling up until the point of bursting. But mine feels like The Nightmare.

Every day, my body feels heavier and heavier. The basics become a burden; sleep brings fatigue, food brings nausea, people bring anxiety. The strain of apathy and darkness pulls my head down, pulls my heart down until I retract into the shell of my person.

I blabbed to everyone, expecting my thoughts to validated, but nothing but love and support. My friends understood, my family was worried, and my brain was confused. The more vulnerable I am, the better I feel. Shouldn't people hate me for not being grateful? Shouldn't they see me as a bother? No. Because it's okay to feel like this and it's okay to ask for help. Each day seems a little better. My depression isn't the imp on my chest. Now it's the horse; peeking behind the curtain, waiting.

Machines and Our Craft

When you tell people you work in artificial intelligence, you'll get one of the following responses:

"Can you make sure the machines don't kill me when they take over?"  

"Are you working on SkyNet?"

"So, the machines will take my job?"

Dystopian sci-fi isn't a reality (yet), personal voice assistants still have a long way to go, and hell, AI is still really freaking dumb, but we shouldn't write it off completely. 

I have very mixed feelings about AI. It can be a time-saver for tedious, manual work, it improve our performance at our jobs, it can help us make connections. The future is exciting! But it can potentially be misused and misinterpreted, resulting in life-changing (and ending) errors. The future is scary! The natural inclination is to brush those concerns off to the people in power, the people who care. But creatives should care. We have a responsibility to create ethically and understand the consequences of our actions, like everyone else.

Here's a look into artificial intelligence. The basics, the good stuff, and the scary bits.


What is deep learning?

You'll need to understand a couple of things to understand deep learning. This is overly simplified, so feel free to browse around the internet for more complex explanations. 

Machine learning is a method of helping computers discover patterns and relationships in data, instead of being manually programmed.

Deep learning is an approach to machine learning. It uses the concept of neural networks, an imitation of the human brain's awesome ability to take lots of layers of information and make connections. You might see deep learning and neural networks used interchangeably. Deep learning is often used to imply more layers of information and complexity for the computer to consider.

Source: NVIDIA blog

Source: NVIDIA blog


How can I use this in my day-to-day?

Deep learning, in it's current state, can help us with tedious and time-consuming tasks in creative work. It doesn't mean bowing down to the machine and abandoning your craft, but rather, using machines to do the work you know you dread. Here's some examples:

"Freeze. Zoom. Enhance." IRL with Neural Enhance

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As seen on TV! What if you could increase the resolution of your photos using technology from CSI laboratories? Thanks to deep learning and #NeuralEnhance, it’s now possible to train a neural network to zoom in to your images at 2x or even 4x. You’ll get even better results by increasing the number of neurons or training with a dataset similar to your low resolution image.

The catch? The neural network is hallucinating details based on its training from example images. It’s not reconstructing your photo exactly as it would have been if it was HD. That’s only possible in Hollywood — but using deep learning as “Creative AI” works and it is just as cool! Here’s how you can get started...
Neural Enhance on Github

Color palettes, demystified with Colormind 

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As a designer one of the first things I do when starting a new project is to get a sense of the color palette. Making color palettes is a difficult process because while most people can tell when a combination of colors is pleasing, it’s hard to explain exactly why. It’s thus doubly difficult to produce something that’s pleasing and fits with certain pre-requisites, like branding guidelines.

In fact this is something I still have trouble with, and more often than not I resort to a “guess and check” approach, sampling colors from online color generators and sometimes photography. This is obviously pretty tedious and I’ve long thought that there should be a way to automate the process, somehow distilling the required intuition into a machine learning model.
Colormind Blog

Create alt-text for images with Auto Alt Text

Auto Alt Text is a chrome extension that can generate descriptive captions for pictures.

Currently, users who are visually impaired must rely on metadata and alt-text descriptions put in by website developers in order to understand what an image actually contains. However, not all web developers take the time to caption all their images. This is where Auto Alt Text steps in.

Using artificial intelligence, the extension can analyze an image and detect the contents of the scene depicted in it within 5 seconds!
Auto Alt Text

Save on load time with RAISR

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Traditionally, viewing images at high resolution has also meant using lots of bandwidth, leading to slower loading speeds and higher data costs. For many folks, especially those where data is pricey or the internet is spotty, this is a significant concern.

To help everyone be able to see the beautiful photos that photographers share to Google+ in their full glory, we’ve turned to machine learning and a new technology called RAISR. RAISR, which was introduced in November, uses machine learning to produce great quality versions of low-resolution images, allowing you to see beautiful photos as the photographers intended them to be seen. By using RAISR to display some of the large images on Google+, we’ve been able to use up to 75 percent less bandwidth per image we’ve applied it to.
Google+ Blog

Furthering reading on practical applications of ML


So, why is it potentially scary?

The possibility of machine learning in our daily lives, especially with accessibility, is exciting. But despite our best efforts to detach our creations from the world, to put it in a box and touch nothing in reality, we do not create in a vacuum. When we talk about the potential horrors of artificial intelligence, we focus on the machine taking over, not the messy humans using them.

Machines handling subjectivity and bias

Machines were made for computation. There is always a set answer: the altitude is X, the speed is Y, the sum is Z. But many of the decisions we rely on machines for are fuzzy, so how do we account for that? Zeynep Tufekci, an associate professor at UNC, discusses the needs for safeguards and ethics in her talk: 

Machine intelligence is here. We’re now using computation to make all sort of decisions, but also new kinds of decisions. We’re asking questions to computation that have no single right answers, that are subjective and open-ended and value-laden.

We’re asking questions like, “Who should the company hire?” “Which update from which friend should you be shown?” “Which convict is more likely to reoffend?” “Which news item or movie should be recommended to people?”

Look, yes, we’ve been using computers for a while, but this is different. This is a historical twist, because we cannot anchor computation for such subjective decisions the way we can anchor computation for flying airplanes, building bridges, going to the moon. Are airplanes safer? Did the bridge sway and fall? There, we have agreed-upon, fairly clear benchmarks, and we have laws of nature to guide us. We have no such anchors and benchmarks for decisions in messy human affairs.
Bernard Parker, left, was rated high risk; Dylan Fugett was rated low risk. (Josh Ritchie for ProPublica)

Bernard Parker, left, was rated high risk; Dylan Fugett was rated low risk. (Josh Ritchie for ProPublica)

In her TED Talk, Tufecki calls attention to a 2016 ProPublica investigation of COMPAS, a machine learning algorithm designed to predict recidivism—how likely will a criminal re-offend. Recidivism is not the same as calculating altitude. The attitudes and beliefs on incarceration and rehabilitation vary from person to state to country.

We believe machines will take every factor and return with a logical and fair assessment. However, we've built bias into our machines:

When a full range of crimes were taken into account — including misdemeanors such as driving with an expired license — the algorithm was somewhat more accurate than a coin flip. Of those deemed likely to re-offend, 61 percent were arrested for any subsequent crimes within two years.

We also turned up significant racial disparities, just as Holder feared. In forecasting who would re-offend, the algorithm made mistakes with black and white defendants at roughly the same rate but in very different ways.

The formula was particularly likely to falsely flag black defendants as future criminals, wrongly labeling them this way at almost twice the rate as white defendants.

White defendants were mislabeled as low risk more often than black defendants.

Could this disparity be explained by defendants’ prior crimes or the type of crimes they were arrested for? No. We ran a statistical test that isolated the effect of race from criminal history and recidivism, as well as from defendants’ age and gender. Black defendants were still 77 percent more likely to be pegged as at higher risk of committing a future violent crime and 45 percent more likely to be predicted to commit a future crime of any kind.

The algorithm used to create the Florida risk scores is a product of a for-profit company, Northpointe. The company disputes our analysis.

Failures in process and design

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Ellen Broad, a data consultant, shared an alarming research paper on Twitter titled, Deep neural networks are more accurate than humans at detecting sexual orientation from facial images.

Without sufficient and scientific evidence, the authors asserts that sexuality expresses itself in physical, computer vision detectable traits. Governments and "bad" people will use this information in "bad" ways. Therefore, we'll assert that the machines know better than us. (???)

As Broad points out, however, the authors fail to mention their ethical considerations for the designing the experiment, the consent of participants, or the bias of participant selection (no people of color, no self-identified bisexual or fluid people). The "success" is based upon a very unreliable data set, yet the study continues to circle around mainstream media as the power of artificial intelligence.

Frescoes

Roman frescoes remind me of velvet. Soft and crunchy, almost tingling under your fingertips.

My favorites depict the flora. Blooming roses and carnations, open and bright from the streams of light.

It makes me wonder what the paint looked like, freshly finished, sticking into the white plaster. It's a race against the clock; beautiful details scraped to avoid painfully chiseling off mistakes. I can feel the artist's sigh at the moment of completion and put down the brush.