it’s a blog, yo — by brian copeland

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2019 Recap

So, what’d I do in 2019?

Corn Palace of South Dakota, April 2019

Travel

You’d almost guess I don’t like Minneapolis the way I traveled last year:

  • Denver, CO
  • Sunnyvale, CA ( for work) x4
  • South Dakota + Wyoming
  • Anchorage, AK
  • Las Vegas, NV
  • Vancouver, BC, Canada
The crew at Mt. Rushmore

Ten Year Anniversary

In August, Alicia and I celebrated ten years of marriage with a trip back to Las Vegas, the same city we were married in 2009.

Elevator of the Aria, August 2019

Same city, but not the same place. We were married at the Wynn, which treated us great, but we thought it was time to explore the rest of Vegas. We stayed at the Aria for a full week, long enough for us to get bored of Vegas. Well, almost – it’s pretty sweet vacationing for a week.

Alicia is awesome and I’m lucky to have her.

Job Title Change

With no effort on my part, I changed titles from “Data Scientist” to “AI Scientist”. Title inflation, yo.

…well, to be fair, I’m doing slightly more fancy stuff than before. In November, I gave a talk at Sisyphus Brewing about Natural Language Generation, part of a series of Data Science talks sponsored by Target. My coworkers have an every-other-week series of talks where we’re expected to speak about something we are interested in.

I’ve previously written about Natural Language Generation on this blog when I tried to recreate the Burger Hunter. I had been reading a lot about OpenAI‘s GPT-2, which was “so powerful, they couldn’t release it.” That certainly struck me as marketing hype, so I spent some time investigating it and created a presentation about it. No original research, but fun none-the-less.

Digitizing Slides

I FINALLY transferred slides from my parents into a digital format. It had been on my todo list for years. Feels so good to have it done. Side benefit, it is so much fun to see photos of my parents from before I was born. Although it’s been awhile since I was a beard guy, there’s definitely a resemblance.

Without permission (sorry Dad), here’s a few of my favorites:

Okay, that’s not fair. Yes, there were way more slides of my father, but I should embarrass my mother too. Here’s my favorites of her (sorry Mom):

Other Random Stuff

Livia is a chunker
Happier than over having a house alone

Here’s some other bullet points from 2019:

  • Livia is living the life having a house to herself.
  • I replaced the flushing mechanism in my toilet at home, which was running too long. Yay for plumbing!
  • I was David Bowie for Halloween.
David Fucking Bowie
Halloween 2019
  • Went thru a vegetarian phase again over the summer. I seem to do this about every four years. It’s not necessarily for moral reasons, vegetables just help me 💩better.
  • Perfectly average performance at Fantasy Football, I got 3rd in the season and 5th in the playoffs.
  • Mentored my third intern at Target over the summer, for which I’m 3 for 3 getting my intern a position at Target. My fifth year performing intern on-boarding, too!

Not a bad year, eh? Previously, I’ve said my 28th year was my favorite, but I think 34 has taken the cake.

PyData Recap

PyData (https://pydata.org/) is a fairly regular conference put on by NumFocus (https://numfocus.org/), a non-profit that sponsors most of the big Python projects (NumPy, pandas, Jupyter, Julia, Bokeh…). Within the span of a few weeks, they’ve put on conferences in Washington DC, NYC and LA. Three weeks ago, I attended the PyData NYC version – here’s my highlights:

– Lead Developer for pandas (Jeff Reback) talked about the next version of pandas (due mid-November) which will treat NaN as a first class integer system (currently, NaN forces a column to convert to float64, which is really annoying when you’ve got Int64 columns).
– James Powell gave a really entertaining talk about the nitty-gritty of unicode and identifiers in Python (Poo Emoji is a valid identifier, but an ellipse is not – he dug into the C code to prove it). I had previously seen his “So you want to be a Python expert?” talk (https://pyvideo.org/pydata-seattle-2017/so-you-want-to-be-a-python-expert.html), he’s fantastic.
– giphy is using session browse data as sentences, passing it into word2vec, and using that for gif recommendations. Sound familiar?
– Bokeh is worth checking out, Luke Canavan (developer of Bokeh) made a browser-side face recognition model easily
– Lightning Talks are amazing. Five minute presentations, hard cut-offs. It was really refreshing to see short subject presentations boiled down to the bare bones.
– Julia is getting hot.

So – should you attend one yourself? It was certainly not very academic: very few talks had papers associated with them. PyData struck me as much more business/hacking/results oriented. A general theme was, “hey, this works, isn’t this cool?” On the plus side, attending this conference very seriously supports open source (most presentations were by open source package authors) and it was inspiring to see short subject talks.

Bottom line: Soft Recommend

Leela

I’m sitting here bawling my eyes out, so maybe writing will help.

Cats are strange animals. Oddly self-reliant. How does the joke go? Everyone imagines a cat thinking, “Yeah, I’ll live with you and eat your food… but I could be outta here in a split second, sucka.”

That’s exactly how Leela was. My then-future-wife and I were in Brooklyn and this raggedy looking cat had been coming to our window begging for food for two years. When it was a beautiful warm June night, we’d say “piss off, cat.” But when it was a cold January night, we’d usually find something in the fridge (ham worked well!) and put it on a plate for her.

Of course, you do that once and cats love routine. Suddenly, she’s back like never before.

The problem with New York City street cats is you don’t know whether they’re just a neighborhood cat or a stray cat. Even the most well-fed cat is a food-slut, ready to give away salacious purring for some sweet, sweet ham.

But one night, after a particularly long “Rock Band” jam that ended at 3am (the video game, I’m not cool enough to be in an actual band), and there she was, ready to rub against my leg and beg for more ham. That was the tipping point: this was probably not an owned cat.

So waited a few days, checking on her at 9am and 9pm and weird hours in between. She was always outside. Crap, by feeding her, we’re probably as close to an owner as she gets. Time to form a cat-napping plan.

It was too easy. Just bring some of that sexy ham out and creepy-abduct her when she takes the bait. Luckily, cats are stupid and it worked like a charm.

Plan accomplished. It’s night one, she’s our cat now. In our apartment, she seems okay with her new circumstances. Overnight, we leave the window open so she doesn’t get hot. Granted, we had these thick bars on the window. We’re on the first floor, so it’s not a big jump, but this little shit would have to squirm to the size of a Snickers bar to get out.

…which she did. We wake up the next morning to a cat-less apartment, feeling like horrible people. “We’ll never see her again, we tried our best, oh man.”

But did I mention that cats are stupid? About an hour after we woke up and discovered she was missing, she came back to beg at the window for more ham. What a dumb-ass!

But the sweetest cat you’ve ever met. She was always prim-and-proper. Feet always together, purring constantly. The cutest meow you’ve ever heard. We moved to Minnesota with her, where she got to discover the beauty of a real backyard. She gave us nine years of love before a tumor in her mouth made her stop eating.

She’s gone today. I’m still bawling, I guess the writing didn’t help.

Rest in peace, Leela. I’ll miss you so much.

[first posted on reddit.com/r/petloss, go read some other people’s pain, it’s super real]

End-of-Sumer 2017 Update

Cold as ice, paradise
Taken at the Winter Carnival 2017

I can’t even call them mega-updates if they only happen every half a year. But at least they are content filled. Rest assured, dear reader, that I have every intention of posting more, but I’ve had that same intention for more than a decade. Oh well: progress not perfection, right?

Let’s go in chronological order.

The Cats

They’re good.

For the record, that image was taken Feb. 17th 2017, so I have no idea what that thing is on my floor. Boxing glove? Portable urinal? Probably-shipping-material-from-an-e-retailer? It’s lost to the history books.

Salt Lake City

End of March, I traveled to Salt Lake City for a business conference (Domopalooza, if you’re curious). It was pretty crazy. Great concerts, open bar, and semi-interesting business stuff. Why do I mention it? Because I came prepared.

I brought a black light for my hotel room.

I brought Bullseye for the dance floor (which, I should note, was my own decision and does not reflect the views or opinions of Target Corp).

I even skiied Snowbird, which gave me the worst sunburn of my life. I learned in the airport why the conference had conveniently provided sunscreen. This photo is prior to the burn, I will spare you with the after-burn photos. Just know that my face was blistering-red for five days. I ended up using makeup just to look presentable at work on Tuesday – after working from home Monday from embarrassment.

Why brag about going to a business conference? I’m by no-means a veteran. But these things are so sterile, the moral is that any signs-of-life are well received. Take ten minutes to plan some fun ahead of time and you’ll be the hit of the party.

Boston + Maine

One of my favorite parts of transitioning into my thirties has been semi-financial freedom. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not rich and still feeling my student loans. But now that Alicia and I have a house and a car, there’s some extra saving money for vacations. The hallmark of my thirties thus-far has been determining where to spend it.

My current favorite splurging on vacations with friends. Above, you can see Alicia and I traveling with the Bernses to Boston, then Maine. It was April, so not the warmest climate, but it was awesome. This was our third vacay with the Bernses; easily the best.

Brian the Artist

So, here’s the deal. I stuck with STEM in college. But that doesn’t mean I don’t feel things, yo. I have something to express (shut up, I’m being vulnerable and sharing here). So when I was walking home from work and saw this canvas on the street…

… I told myself I could make something of it. I still don’t know why some artist decided to discard such a huge canvas, but it had a note saying “Free to anyone that will create.”

Me, I’m a fan of minimalist art. I’m not going to create some photo-realist work. I’m not even good enough to create pixel-art yet. But I loved the size of the canvas and thought, “I can draw some lines.” And so I did. I picked some sexy colors, used painter’s tape to make straight lines, then set out to make a masterpiece. After I was done, I let it sit out overnight to dry.

The next morning, the wind decided to destroy my work:

The cut in my new canvas, le sigh

But when life gives you lemons, you make lemonade. The canvas was free, for goodness’ sake. So I cut the canvas in half, right at the tear, and it hangs on my wall to this day.

It doesn’t have the same amount of open space as the original, which breaks my heart. But if I’m honest, the original size of this canvas was WAY too big for the wall. The new, smaller size fits much better. And the colors (I think) match the wall. What do you think? Ugly?

Brian the Gardener

After several years of killing stuff in Alicia’s raised garden-bed, I finally found winners. I planted a rose bush that has just loved me. About once a week, I dead-head it and it’s rewarded me with roses all season. I’ve got the cuts to prove it! …seriously, I thought gardening gloves were stupid fashion statements until I started dealing with rosebush thorns.


But I’m even prouder of the flower boxes on our windows. In previous years, I’d forget to water these boxes for a few days, then they’d dry out like crazy. From 7am until 2pm, these boxes get crazy sun. So I decided to put some Hawaiian flowers in there and they are thriving! I guess it helps that I water them every day, but let’s just chalk that up to my disciplined thirties-something lifestyle. Next year, I’m going crazy on exotic flowers.

Eclipse

Don’t expect a photo of the eclipse from me, you had to be there to experience it. I wasn’t about to waste my time trying to point my cell-phone at the sun. But we still had fun!


This is Alicia and I (on my pouch-couch) in a casino parking lot in Boonville, Missouri. We managed to find a parking lot with a bar and open backyard-jenga set, then camped out. It was worth it, completely. I won’t attempt to describe it to you, just go see a total eclipse the next chance you get.

Almost as amazing was the drive back. Totality finished at about 1:10pm. We thought we were being conservative by leaving the casino at about 3pm, “just to give traffic a chance to die down.”

You probably know where I’m going with this. We didn’t get home until 1am. It was a six hour drive to get there, it was a ten hour drive to get home. I’ve never seen a busier Highway-35. On the plus side, Mother Nature decided to provide a crazy show that day.

I know the photo won’t do the clouds justice, but it was a breathtaking view at this Iowa rest stop. Also, +1 for Iowa rest stops, they have their game together.

Brian the Charitable

That’s me in a Yoobi truck unloading pallets at the Rooseville Kids in Need location. My Data Science team had a volunteer event to pack backpacks for school kids. 8 of the 10 members of my team packed four pallets of backpacks with school supplies for ready shipping to kids affected by catastrophic events (think Hurricane Harvey). While she was introducing the back-packing process, the coordinator casually mentioned, “By the way, if anyone is willing to lift stuff (no pressure), we have a truck to unload.” And unload I did.

These boxes were only 25lbs each – each was a classroom full of school supplies – but there were hundreds. I was the lightest, so it was my job to step on the boxes and pick up from the top of the truck and hand down to someone to assemble the pallet.

I’d love to complain about how much my arms hurt, but it was great. This was a secular charity that is aiming to make sure kids have everything they need to learn, which is fucking amazing. We’re talking pens, notebook paper, folders. It re-ignited my passion for academia. I haven’t been so proud in a long time. Even better, Yoobi is a huge Target partner, so it made me just-a-tiny-bit-more-proud to work for Target. I couldn’t have more evidence that Yoobi lives up to their promise of “You buy, we give.”

Seriously, I’m not sponsored by either Target nor Yoobi to say this, and this is my own opinion – but they’re totally delivering on their promise.

Conclusion

Given my blogging rate, I’ll probably write again in 2018, so take it easy, yo.

Rest in peace, decent shirts

One of those hard things in life is learning to let go.

Wait, Brian. You mean loved ones? Did someone die??

No, far more vapid than that. Stuff. Strangely, it’s really hard to throw away stuff you own that aren’t specifically broken. Take these t-shirts:

The Filthy Hippies

Mario Kart Tutelage

These T-shirts are awesome. The top one comes from a time when Alicia and I really enjoyed bashing ironically on hippies back in New York. Did we actually hate hippies? Naw. But they’re so friendly, peace loving and generally easy-going that the irony of hating them is delicious. It’s like hating astronauts.

And the second shirt it’s a subtle reference to Mario Kart 64, a video game that introduced the blue shell – far superior to the red or green shell. Okay, not that subtle, but if you’ve not played Mario Kart, you have no idea what this shirt is about. That’s my favorite kind of pop culture reference – on the down low.

Both these shirts were purchased from http://shirt.woot.com/, back when I was really loving woot. Frankly, I still like these shirts and would consider rebuying them.

So what’s the deal? 

I lost 50 lbs. These are large sized shirts. They’re American Apparel large, which means not as large as normal, which is why they survived the cut I did to my clothing last summer (I purged upwards of two dozen articles of clothing). But I don’t wear ’em. They look dumpy on me and as a result, I just don’t feel good in ’em.

What’s more, they represent a bygone area of my life. I don’t want to be a guy that wears the same t-shirt for a decade. That’s one of the reasons I love Forever 21 now-a-days. Their clothing is super cheap, both in price and quantity. During my purge last summer, I bought 6 shirts from them for 3.97 each. Are they going to hold up? Probably not – I’ve thrown two out already because the stitching was coming undone. But that’s perfectly fine for me.

The big lesson here is that I threw these out back in June and haven’t thought of them since. These things we hold onto because we think they’re amazing, they deserve a profound thank you, a spot in a scrap-book (or blog?!?), and a spot in the donation bin.

I’m hoping you’ll see more of these posts from me ditching stuff and immortalizing them on my blog and I hope you’re not hanging on to crap you don’t use.

Summer Update

ribs, maybe sexy?

Fourth of July has come and gone, we’re in the depth of summer now. I made ribs.

It’s been the summer of biking for me! I found The Zissou at a garage sale and have been rocking it around town. Not every day to work, but at least one day a week.

Unlimited Coffee This Summer!

It’s been the summer of Peace Coffee, where I bought their unlimited anything deal. They’re located on Minnehaha Ave, which is undergoing major street renovation. As in, don’t-drive-here-if-you-can-avoid-it street renovation. To lure in customers like myself, they offered a flat rate. I’m probably not getting my money’s worth, as I only go about every third day. That said, the flexibility of any drink I want is pretty sweet. Mostly, I love the excuse to wake up early and bike over before work.

Favorite Couples Costume

Convergence is a Minneapolis area convention that has lots of drinking and cosplay. Alicia and I returned for our second year, it was a blast. Here’s a photo of my favorite couple’s costume, Waldo and Carmen.

Outdoor loving cats

Summer is here, thus the cats are out. Here’s Leela in a barely-feral pose.

Pride Parade, TargetStyle

Once again, I rocked the Pride Parade – this time it was TargetStyle.

Other photo-less updates:

  • Good friend Carl Cooley got married!
  • Work is awesome
  • New favorite-show-as-of-late: Veep
  • New albums being played in my house: Radiohead, Kaleo, The Avalanches, Mick Jenkins
  • Old albums being played in my house: Father John Misty, Cake, DJ Shadow
  • Speaking of music, Alicia and I have seen several musical acts lately! Violent Femmes, Tyler the Creator, The Kills, plus several random bands at the Kitty Cat Klub
  • Back to running again, hit a 22:20 5k and a 49:50 10k. Ya know what? Screw running longer. An hour is a _really_ long time to run.
  • I learned the value of white paint. The garage has never looked better, and it all it took was covering up some of the less clean spots.

I’m off enjoying the best months of Minnesota, hope your summer pleasant, to say the least.

San Diego Recap

Work has been treating me pretty well, lately – I was sent west to California to a Big Graphs Conference (housing data in a graph instead of a table has some nice advantages). Here’s a photographic recap!

Arriving at San Jose International Airport on Sunday evening, visitors are proudly greeted with an upcoming event:

Fur Con was proudly advertising it’s upcoming conference in San Jose – interesting!

Furries are an interesting new trend growing in the world. Mark my words, it’ll be as popular as the 50 Shades of Grey stuff in ten years.

Having no where to go on a Sunday night but my hotel, I didn’t mind the 30 minute delay on baggage return. It’s actually one of my favorite things – being around a bunch of frustrated people when you’re perfectly chill. There’s just a tension in the air that washes right past you. Here’s an action shot:

Angry passengers waiting for their bags at San Jose International Airport

I spent Sunday – Wednesday in Sunnyvale, CA at the Target office. Just work stuff there, nothing super special to report.

Wednesday, three coworkers and I headed to San Diego to the University of California – San Diego campus for a Workshop on Big Graphs. I haven’t done much graph theory since my Ph. D. studies back in New York, so it was fun to get a taste of academia again.

I was reminded how important sampling is (and how nuanced it is to sample a graph and maintain the same structure), important questions to ask about graphs, and generally get a sense of where current development is in large graphs. I’ll post more of that stuff in later posts, let’s talk the UCSD campus:

Just an epic view of one of the libraries on the University of California – San Diego (UCSD) campus

That’s the Geisel Library off in the distance (recognize the name?). It overlooks a decent size ravine that we had to cross walking from the parking lot to the auditorium. I fear the picture doesn’t do it justice, but it really sits god-like over you.

There was a ton of varied and interesting architecture on the UCSD campus! What do you think of the Engineering building?

Notice the house? Gotta notice the house!

The conference itself was in the IT Building and had this performance space going:

That’s 24 flat screen TVs connected to one PC. This wasn’t even where the talks were given, it was just where attendees were fed. UCSD goes big and goes home. I have a hunch why – here’s an ad I found in the CS building:

I certainly didn’t see ads like this at my alma mater – this was spotted in the CS Building

I guess the competition is strong down here – Snapchat is looking for programmers, btw.

So talks were all day Wednesday through Friday, with nights being taken up by movies (surprisingly). My coworkers had kids and usually don’t have a chance to get away and see a film. Ended up seeing Star Wars and The Revenant. Other highlights? Lox:

I tried Lox!

It was fabulous. I don’t think I’d had lox like this before – I didn’t know how well capers, tomato and onions mellow out the smoked salmon. Yum.

Pillow for sale in San Diego.

I found this pillow that I forgot to pick up for Alicia. It’s poop!

Had some fabulous mexican here!

As advertised, the mexican cuisine was legit.

Headed home on Saturday, by way of Seattle (so many cursed Seahawks fans were on this flight). On the plus side, it sure looks like the future arrived. This was only a 3 hour flight, but had inflight entertainment in every seat.

Delta’s Seattle -> Minneapolis flight really looks like the future

So, fabulous trip. I should totally go back sometime this year. Heck, April maybe?

Updated Theme

The really observant of you will notice I’ve switched themes (from Cols to Manifeset). I really liked Cols’ simplicity and dynamic two columns for posts. But after looking at it for a month, it really isn’t straight forward to read. Thus, for 2016, I’m trying a new look.