Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Parenting month 56: Hosting people in Pittsburgh

Memories from this past month was playing host to people.  The highlight was the visit of the older cousin. The first time that their older cousin came to Pittsburgh was when T was just born, so these visits over the years have been touchpoints on both (now all three) of them maturing.

Cousins reading
Cousins reading and laughing (and definitely not settling down before bedtime)

We covered many of our usual activities: playing with LEGO, reading books, going to the Carnegie Science Center and the Museum of Natural History.

Paleontologist dig at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History
Paleontologists at work

There is a box turtle looking at us
There is a box turtle looking at us
P' J was adamant the entire trip that he did not want a younger sister. He is just getting to that age where girls are not fun.

Big cousin reading to little cousin
Reading for his younger cousin

Our other opportunity to play host is a chinese family who has moved into the neighborhood for the summer. They have two young girls, so they look for things to do around the city.  And we get to run into them in many of the family destinations.

We met each other at the zoo

Pittsburgh zoo visit for Fathers Day
Polar bear looking at two juvenile humans through the glass

Pittsburgh zoo visit for Fathers Day
Diver at Pittsburgh aquarium cleaning the glass

the museum of natural history and the science center. We enjoyed showing them how we maximize our enjoyment of these places.  The other benefit of this is that T has other kids around close to his age who speak Chinese in normal conversation. We have seen the chinese kids in his daycare gradually stop using chinese, even the ones who go to chinese school, and all of the parents think about what to do about that. But having peers having fun in the language may help.

In other news, T achieved his yellow belt (in ATA Taekwondo, yellow is after orange which is after white).

Jump kick at ATA Taekwondo testing
Line sparring while testing for yellow belt

One thing we are gratified by is that the school maintains individual standards, even at this age. They have a sense of what he is capable of, and hold him to it. So things that they may let slide with other 4-year olds, they don't let T get away with.  (and this goes for testing too, I watched them make a group of 4/5 year olds repeat their forms during testing because that group could have done better)  T responds as well. He is still too much in his own world to consider that he is being held to a higher standard.  A funny, a couple of the moms commented to me that they point out T to their kids as an example of focusing during class.

A's milestone for this month is walking. She always gave the impression that she would have preferred to skip the crawling segment and go to walking, now she can walk reasonable reliably (i.e. in the toddler way of wobbling around trying to keep balance.) And she likes to practice following people around. It is very funny when T is trying to get away, and they go around in circles around the house.

Coming up, a couple more lazy months of summer as we look forward to T starting kindergarten in the fall.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Applied Predictive Modeling By Kuhn and Johnson: Book Review

Applied Predictive ModelingApplied Predictive Modeling by Max Kuhn
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I regard this as a more applied counterpart to more methodology oriented resources like Elements of Statistical Learning. So it applies machine learning methods that are found in readily available R libraries. In addition, the author is also the lead on the caret package in R, which provides a consistent interface between a large number of the common machine learning packages.

1. Built around case studies that are woven through the text. For each chapter, the math/stats is developed first, then the computational example is at the end, so that the example can develop data manipulation, application of method, then model evaluation. I like this as it allows for more complex and messy data sets than when using a new, small example for each problem. Also allows for better discussions when illustrating the differences between methods.
2. Data manipulation/data processing is given a separate chapter early on. I appreciate the attention given to working with the data (e.g. missing value imputation). There are other resources in data handling, but not in the same place as those that address the statistics methodology.
3. Emphasis on model evaluation. There is an early chapter devoted to model evaluation. Then each major section of the book has an early chapter devoted to model evaluation of that class of problem. This is in contrast to many books that are built around types of algorithms, and model evaluation is fit in. Methods and algorithms are relatively easy compared to the thought process of determining what is the right thing to do. It figures that this book will be strong in model evaluation when one of the authors is the lead on the caret package in R.

I used this as a supplement in teaching a data science course that I use a range of different resources because I need to cover working with data, model evaluation, and machine learning methods. The next time I teach this course, I will use only this book because it covers all of these aspects of the field.

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Monday, June 01, 2015

There are pirates at Fiddlesticks!

Fiddlesticks Pittsburgh Symphony Summer Escape Concert

Today's Fiddlestick's concert theme was summer vacations, and as we had recently taken one we were all prepped for this concert. So we very much enjoyed having the thread and mini-story of finding a vacation story for Fiddlesticks.  And as my son is getting older, he appreciates more aspects of this. 

Now that my son is old enough to be learning to play piano himself, we are more like the intended audience of the Fiddlesticks concerts.  So what do we want to see.

1.  The experience of hearing a symphony live, in concert, in a venue with the right proportions, which sounds richer and with more layers than anything that can be played on home speakers.
2.  A sense that music can exist in a context and communicates something.
3.  An experience in a place where responding to music is acceptable.

Fiddlesticks Pittsburgh Symphony Summer Escape Concert
Making a pirate ship

Certainly, the discovery time activities are meant to put the kids at ease. We watched and listened to the contra bassoon and heard a talk and got an autograph from an oboist.  We sang with Katy Williams to Bippity-Boppity-Boo and the Fiddlesticks song. We made a pirate ship and sailed it in the outside fountain. All of this was to make the kids comfortable.

Fiddlesticks Pittsburgh Symphony Summer Escape Concert
Sailing in the courtyard fountain

The activities in large part are making what is obviously adult space (Heinz Hall) into a place where kids have the freedom to explore, play, and interact with things musical, or even peripherally related to music. So making a pirate ship and sailing it in the fountain is related to a sing-a-long at the piano and watching and listening to symphony musicians playing in the lobby. And by the time they get to the hall, the kids and adults are comfortable with the setting.

In the concert itself, the sense is that music is meant to be responded to. Whether it is Katy, Fawzi, or Fiddlesticks running around on-stage or the symphony playing a piece, unlike a normal PSO concert, there is no need to try to stop a child (or adult for that matter) to express amusement, recognition, joy, or empathy in the moment. When an audience member reacts, we can acknowledge the reaction instead of trying to contain it. and it makes for a different experience (I noted that there were a number of adults in the audience without any obviously attached children, so this may go beyond kids.)

My son enjoyed the experience. I spent the concert watching his expressions change as the pieces developed and listening to his observations. Then the story he told my wife about the concert when we got back. We enjoy having music part of our lives, and want our kids to share the wonder and delight in listening and creating music themselves as they grow up,  And Fiddlesticks is a part of that.