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Category: Off Topic

Off Topic: Why I simultaneously love and hate Apple

I confess, I’m an Apple user.  My first computer when I was a wee lad was a Wozniak edition Apple IIGS, and then a Mac Plus.  I went over to PCs for a while but returned to the Mac years ago and love every minute of it.  I love the attention to detail that Apple puts into their products and the emphasis on good design.  I’m not an Apple snob or anything, but I do think it is a shame that Apple hasn’t made better penetration into large enterprises, and I admit that I do wince a little every time I go into a client site and see row after row of Windows PCs… but I digress.

Why I love Apple…

In the last update of iTunes for Mac, Apple did something that truly knocked my socks off:  Apple finally figured out how to handle classical music.

Let me explain.  If you are cataloging pop music, you will want to store the performer and the song title.  The album info may or may not be relevant but the key fields are the performer and song title.  In classical music, these fields are significantly less important in that the title of a piece might be “Symphony #5” or something like that.  What you really care about is the combination of composer AND the title.  (IE: Tchaikovsky’s violin concerto is a different work than Mendelssohn’s violin concerto) But wait… there’s more.

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A Data Scientist’s Perspective on the Election and What Went Wrong

I originally drafted a version of this article in August, but decided not to post it because I didn’t want my blog to be political commentary.  However, given the shocking election results and the epic failure of the political polling/predictive analytics industries I couldn’t resist sharing my thoughts on the matter.  As a data scientist, I have been watching this election with a lot of anticipation and curiosity.  Back in August, my original draft was entitled “What happens to Data Science if Trump wins?”  and in it, I wrote some thoughts about what the impact would be to the data science world if Trump won.  The main premise was that a Trump victory would be disruptive in how political campaigns are run and most importantly, how the analytics used to measure political campaigns would be called into question.  I also thought that the value of the super-creepy targeted advertising that Facebook and other social media sites are using might get called into question.  But more on that later…  Lastly, I’m attempting to write this article without infusing my own political opinions into the central arguments.  If I am successful, the reader will have no idea what my political views are.

Ultimately, there are two questions which need answers:

  1. How is it that nearly every reputable news source and polling agency incorrectly predicted the election results?
  2. How can data science be used to avoid repeated errors of this scale?

The first point really bears some fleshing out.  It wasn’t just that everyone predicted a Clinton victory, it was that nearly every source–including the vaulted Nate Silver–predicted a massive Clinton victory.

For this discussion, I will presuppose–perhaps naively–that the pollsters and other political analytic professionals are not themselves biased and are in fact trying to give an accurate prediction as possible and not allowing their own opinions about the candidates influence their analysis.  With that said, I hypothesize that this election was a perfect storm of polling biases, groupthink, and poor use of data that in the end resulted in the massive failures that occurred on election day.

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Off Topic: How to Automate Your Gas Fireplace

Home automation is a hobby of mine, and in our new home, I really wanted to automate our Heatilator gas fireplace.  However, this isn’t as straightforward as it might seem, and I really haven’t found any good tutorials out there as to how to do this.  This tutorial will show you how to connect your fireplace to your Wink Hub or any other Z-Wave controller.  I got this working and actually found that it is one of the easier things to automate.  I really like being able to set the fireplace to go on and off on a schedule.

Safety Considerations

Before you start this project, you should be comfortable with working with wiring and electricity.  If you are not, get someone else to do this.  Secondly, you will be working with wires that run near gas lines, so multiply every safety concern by at least a factor of three.  If you don’t know what you are doing, this is not the project to figure it out.  I take no responsibility for any damage or injury that may result from this tutorial.  It goes without saying that BEFORE you start cutting wires, make sure that you have either disconnected all power, or shut off the electricity at the circuit breaker. 

The wisdom of automating a gas fireplace is also debatable, however, I left the manual switch in place so you can always turn off the fireplace the “old fashioned” way using the original switch.

What You Will Need:

Remotec Zwave Dry Contact Fixture ModuleWith all that said, this really isn’t a difficult project to complete in a safe manner.  Here’s what you’ll need:

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