Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Why is the Silk Screen Asian Film Festival valuable?

At last Friday's Silk Screen Film Festival Gala, I was one of many who were interviewed by a local TV crew. One of the questions asked was what makes Silk Screen valuable to Pittsburgh. Now, I hardly claim to represent Pittsburgh, but I can think about what makes Silk Screen, and film festivals in general, valuable to me.

Now, for sheer variety of selection, we have things like Netflix that have an overwhelming selection of films. And what makes Netflix special is not that it mails these movies to my home, but that it has a selection of everything under the sun, including the most obscure (my wife and I imagine that the Netflix computers that analyze movie selections must have a real fun time working with us) and foreign films. But while Netflix computers can recommend movies similar to what you have seen before, what it would not do is expose you to something completely different.

Those who watch media have noted that over the last few years it has become increasingly fragmented. It is very easy now to see only what reinforces your current beliefs, views, opinions and way of life.

But, for me, life has not yet become a routine of the same. And given my age, I'm starting to wonder (and hope!) that it does not (since I think for most people have settled into a set routine by now). There is not a week that goes by that I don't have to deal with something that, if not completely new, is something I do not expect to deal with often. While it makes for an interesting life, I only get one of these, so do not have the benefit of experience (to be fair, I'm often in situations where noone involved has this benefit.) What film (and works of fiction in general) do is provide a window into different ways of seeing a situation, working out alternatives, and providing a mirror that asks what is it that you value. While it cannot be expected that the movie or book describe any real situation exactly (after all, it becomes a sample of 1), it can teach you to see things from several viewpoints. And if not teach you what to do, at least show you what you do not want to happen.

And Silk Screen. The festival takes on the role of an editor or reviewer. Of the myriad of choices out there, where to find the gems. And Silk Screen identifies films worthy of my time and attention, and brings them here to Pittsburgh. Showing me the world through a set of eyes I may not have found on my own here. And for that I am thankful.

See you at the movies of the Silk Screen Asian Film Festival in Pittsburgh.

Monday, May 10, 2010

PSO: Thinking about talent

[Originally posted at Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra: PSO Blogs]

Listening to Hilary Hahn starting off Sibelius Concerto I had to think about what constitutes talent. I have to recognize the reality that most of the performers (and just about all of our wonderful guest) are at a technical proficiency well beyond my ability to judge. The sheer volume of performers that come out of the world’s music schools and conservancy’s will ensure that only those that are the most skilled make their way into our notice. But there is more to talent than skill. And you realize this when listening to Ms. Hahn, who commands your attention without flash.

In my profession, computers are the instrument of use. Because for all the work we do, at some point our work interacts with the world through data, and through a computer program that takes our understanding and uses it to interpret the data. The risk is to forget that the value of the work lies in the understanding that went into the program and the interpretation of the results, not in the program itself. But this is easy to forget, especially if only viewing it from the outside. From a surface understanding, one can only see a computer and an operator. And in the shallowness of the moment, believe that the talent is the talent of the operator. But this is a trap. The point where you need to make the investment and have the best people is with the person who designs the analysis and interprets the results. Not the person to implements it and operates the computer. To implement the procedures and run a program is (comparatively) easy. Understanding is hard.

Similarly in arts, at the level under consideration, the technical capability of the performers is not a consideration. Everyone who graces the stage at Heinz Hall has demonstrated mastery of the instrument throughout its range. But we can ask for considerably more. We can ask from our interpreters (conductor and musicians) for not just the ability to recreate the written record of composers past, but to imagine what if some things were different, to use the creativity of the composer as a point of departure and develop an interpretation that includes the aspects that cannot be expressed in ink on paper. Then present that interpretation.

After that, Aaron Copeland said that art (music) is a collaboration between composer, interpreter and audience. Once the composer and interpreter have done their part, it is our turn to do ours.

Wednesday, May 05, 2010

Allegheny County Public Service Net - 9:00 PM 5 May 2010

This is KB3OGQ representing the American Red Cross as net control station for the Allegheny County Public Service Net. This Net meets every Wednesday night at 9:00 PM local time on the North Hills Amateur Radio Club Repeater, the W3EXW repeater on 147.09 MHz. The back up repeater is the Gateway FM Association repeater, the WA3PBD repeater on 146.73 MHz. In the event this repeater should fail, wait 2 minutes. If this repeater does not return to operation, switch to the back up. Is there any emergency or priority traffic - if so call KB3OGQ.
Hearing None. This is a directed net, alerted for the purpose of a training drill. When I call the roll please give your call and state if you have any comments for the net.
(roll call)
I will now take additional check ins. You do not have to be a member of ARES or RACES, or be from Allegheny County to check in. Please give your call, name and location.
(take check ins)
Are there any additional check ins.
I would like to thank the North Hills Amateur Radio Club for use of the repeater. I will now close the net and return the repeater to general amateur radio use.

And so went my first experience as net control. Thanks to everyone for being nice :-)

A Taste of Art: the student run restaurant at the Art Institute of Pittsburgh

A Taste of Art
420 Boulevard of the Allies
Pittsburgh, PA 15219-1301
(Note: check website and make reservations as menu and times change over the course of the year)

A Taste of Art is a student operated restaurant at the Art Institute of Pittsburgh. It is operated by the A la Carte class in the Culinary Arts program. They are supervised by their instructor, who informed us that the students spend the first two weeks of the semester developing a menu, costing it, and deciding on dishes from those created by them that fit the theme chosen by the instructors (this semester is Mexican). By week three, the restaurant opens and students rotate through the positions both in the kitchen and hospitality staff. (the instructor told us that when they first open, the students in hospitality are terrified at dealing with actual customers).

We enjoyed talking with the instructor, who was modeling the practice of hospitality like good owners do.

For the food, we had appetizer, main dishes and dessert. The appetizer was interesting, the dessert wonderful in creativity and flavor (we had Blueberry Bird's nest and Banana cheesecake and something else I don't remember).

However, the main dishes left something to be desired. We had steak salad and beer braised turkey tacos. Both of them were lacking in flavor. Disappointing. We wish the students would be more aggressive in trying something creative.

A fun place for a different lunch in downtown Pittsburgh. Definitely go for an inexpensive meal (entrees $6.50 - $8)

Tuesday, May 04, 2010

Lessons Observed: Teaching Design of Experiments

This past semester I taught Design of Experiments. The primary reason I was teaching this was that this is the point of departure from one of my research areas. In particular my PhD student's thesis builds on this field, and he had never taken design of experiments. The course had not been taught in this department for years, so I offered to teach it. I ended up getting my students, and a MBA who was working at a local manufacturing company.

1. Textbook - I used Dean and Voss Design and Analysis of Experiments. This is a very comprehensive text. For this purpose, it was overkill. It covers methods in depth. So much so that it went into areas that showed the weakness in the use of software packages. So the SAS code they have to give for examples is quite sophisticated. Minitab, as far as we could tell, was completely outclassed by the end of the course. I was doing everything in R. But I believe what my students decided that I was a better programmer then they were. For statistics majors, this is probably the right book. And I picked it because it gave perfect lead ins into some topics I wanted to learn. But it was too ambitious (and I was not even trying to cover the whole book. I was using a slightly modified version of their sample curricula) But the next time I teach this I would use Box and Hunter. Which has the advantage of having an associated R package for examples. One real good aspect of Dean and Voss are the datasets. They made a point of having real data sets in the examples and in the homework sets. So we were forced to deal with messy data.

2. Material - I was actually learning some of the material myself along the way, since I had not taken a true DoE course (only one focused on applications in simulation). So some of the lectures took me a long time to prepare. On the other hand, I found that I was developing a deeper understanding of statistical methods. In particular, I now think if multiple comparisons is an issue whenever using statistical inferences. When Tom Siegfried wrote his Science News editorial Odds Are, It's Wrong: Science fails to face the shortcomings of statistics, I was able to identify just what the misuse of statistics was for all of his points (except for the Bayesian, because I have not had much exposure to Bayesian methods.) So I learned alot about the underlying assumptions of a many statistical methods. And one of my students is actually a statistics Ph.D. student, so someone was around to keep me honest.

3. Software. The book uses SAS. I used R. My own graduate students started in Minitab and switched to R as the material in the book reached the limits of what Minitab could be made to do. The MBA stuck with Minitab and we had to live with its limits. I ended up getting much better at R and Sweave (because I forced myself to use it for everything, even when no package was found for a method). Even redoing Dean and Voss examples. I am now a big fan of list comprehensions and I think I can almost program in a functional style (as opposed to procedural and object style). I won't say I like R better then Python, but I am almost as fluent now.

4. Summary. This course took a lot of time. Partly because I was learning much of it as I went along. And I was also learning the tools as well (R and Sweave). It is gratifying to know that I actually taught something useful. The MBA student has started using the material at work (and can now go toe-to-toe with the Six Sigma Black Belts in his company when talking statistics). My PhD student incorporated some of the material into his proposal. He also keeps saying that he wish he took this class years ago (he said this after the last class I taught, which was basically created for him). And my statistics student seems to have learned a lot about working with real data. (Dean and Voss have a lot of real, and messy, data sets.) But in the future, I think I'm going to find textbooks where I can also get some solved problems, because this was a lot of work for a single class.