February in Thailand

Next month I start on a string of lindy hop events through Asia as I make my way back to North America. I'll probably be looking for consulting or other work by May.

This month was spent in Bangkok's Sathorn neighbourhood


I started the month taking 4 online classes through Coursera, and dropped 2 very early on. This leaves computational investing and intro to finance, which is already plenty.


I gained >5 lbs, though much of it was fat. Blame the 199 baht lunch buffet at Ibis hotel.

I've had to adjust my training program due to shoulder pain. Squatting more than 170 lbs is out of the question until that issue is resolved. Perhaps also due to overtraining, I can now only do 3-5 pull-ups and chin-ups before failure. Next month I'll concentrate on upper body strength and range of motion with progressive work on cable machines and push-ups.


Implemented a Naive Bayes algorithm to sort twitter bots from humans. After difficulty adding log probabilities and renormalizing, I went looking for better libs in Ruby. Two had float under-flow issues because they were multiplying too many small numbers, and some made decidedly odd choices for smoothing. nbayes does all this right, so it's replaced my own library. I'm glad I tried implementing my own because then I could then recognize a well-designed one.


Took a refresher Balboa class at The Hop. The real adventure starts March 1st at SEA JAM, followed by the after party in Phuket where I hope to see sharks on my next dive.


One of the school employees where I'm volunteering this week is lucky to be alive. His bus fell down a cliff; 6 people died.

I took that bus in December last year, wanting to see the Nubri valley. Many of the students are from that area in Nepal's Manaslu conservation area, where you can see the world's 8th highest mountain. Taking a bus from Kathmandu, you can make it to Arughat Bazaar in a day.  Another half-day's travel by bus takes you to the end (start?) of the road; from there it's about 6 days walk to Manaslu base camp.

Can you imagine having only 2 week's vacation a year? If your journey to your family was 5 days each way, that leaves only 4 days spent with them! Young students also can't safely walk the path by themselves; once in the boarding school they might not see their parents again for years.

You could technically walk faster if you are in great shape, up until about 2500-3000 meters. Feeling short of breath due to altitude sickness, I chose not to go to base camp, getting a view of the other side of the great mountain on my way down. 300 meters a day is the safe limit for daily altitude increase.

The path on the way down is hard on the knees, and in a few places it's very slippery. Several villagers have died there. A few students are missing a parent.

We say "trekking". Locals just call it "walking to the village".

First MTurk Request

I posted my first task on Amazon Mechanical Turk today, paying many unknown workers the world around $4 an hour to classify tweets. Specifically, asking whether tweets containing the word "job" are:
  • related to the user's job
  • a job offer
  • another use of the word, e.g. "#AmericanIdol I love Mariah, Nicki, Keith and Randy r doing a fabulous job"
The process wasn't all easy. Some lessons:
  • Master workers agreed on 70 of the 88 items. Some of the edge cases were the result of poor instructions, although thankfully very little money was wasted. A test run was a good idea.
  • $0.02 per classification task gets quick results. I will try $0.01 and see what difference it makes.
  • Amazon gets $0.009 / HIT (Human Intelligence Task).
  • Any sentiment analysis of job-tweets is mainly affected by non-employment tweets, making it a noisy indicator of job satisfaction.
Next up: getting more data for the classifier, then sentiment analysis for those tweets that are really job-related.

Tech note: about 12% of tweets had smileys or other characters that were deemed UTF-8 by Ruby, but choked Amazon. These HEX values on a line seemed to trip them up: 62 72 69 6E 67 69 6E 67 20 68 6F and 65 72 20 68. I'm not sure what to do about these. If you have ideas, please let me know.


I landed in Kathmandu without enough foreign currency for the 3 month visa. The staff took my passport while I went down to use an ATM, walking by half the security layers without being stopped.

The ATM withdrawal cost me 400 rupees, about USD $5. They do not accept Nepali Rupees, however, so I had to lose more money getting USD. Not accepting your own currency for a tourist visa may be a sure sign of a failed state. Cambodia does the same thing.

The first time the metal detector did not ring, despite having my iphone in my pocket. The second time it beeped. Was it the passport that set it off? Since there was no security guard and the folks at the x-ray machine didn't seem to care, I just walked off. The 2nd layer of security I had walked by just waved me on. Perhaps they were only interested in locals smuggling items back.

Friends were waiting for me outside. The parking lot attendants exact their toll too, also on the honour system. "How long were you here?" 30 minutes. "20 rupees!" We pay and leave for the chaos that is Kathmandu traffic.


11 years and one month ago, a colleague and I wondered what the next attack would be. At the time, I thought it would be a remote controlled plane dropping chemical and biological weapons on the White House. The idea being that the US's military might made terrorism more likely, since it was the only effective form of violence left to opposition groups. Attacks were getting more numerous and brazen. Terrorists were going after symbols like a military ship and a US embassy. It was only a matter of time before another attack on US soil.

Why was I looking at this? In his last course at Dalhousie, Anthony Barton warned us the cultural divide between Muslim and Western worlds was about to explode. Unlike the Cold War, this time we knew almost nothing about those who hated us. How many letters are there in the Arabic alphabet? Who was their equivalent to Shakespeare? Their most famous mathematician? Hardly anyone in the class knew, as hardly anyone reading this. During the Cold War, many universities were teaching Russian Studies. How many teach Arabic? At the time, a mere handful.

Because our elected officials everywhere reacted to people's fears, our world is more cruel and violent than it was 10 years ago. Staggering sums have been spent trying to give people the illusion. Countries have been invaded, causing far more casualties than the initial attack. Rather than make more attacks less likely, they have only helped fringe groups recruit more members while creating new targets.

11 years is enough time.

We need to stop being afraid.

We must accept that perfect security is an impossible goal. Even if we sacrifice all our liberties.

We must heal the cultural rift.

SPVM, BDSM, et la culture du viol

(Réponse à une conversation sur FB)

Bon, va falloir parler de sexe. De liberté, de normes et de viol.

Imaginons il y a 50 ans, une manif dans la rue. Les policiers sont violents. Plus tard, on entends des rumeurs que certains des  policiers les plus violents sont fifs. On peut pas faire confiance à ces gens-là!

Scénario bien entendu effrayant. On se bat pour des questions sexuelles entre adultes consentants, plutôt que de trouver des moyens d'arrêter la répression policière.

Quand un(e) policier(e) s'en va jouer dans la "scène fétish", c'est aussi entre adulte consentants. Peut-être que ça dégoûte, comme certains sont dégoûtés par l'idée même de rapports entre hommes. Cette réaction, c'est pas mal la base de la moralité de droite autoritaire.

Dans le BDSM des adultes peuvent simuler un viol, mais il doivent avoir un mot qui signifie "arrête" (sans ça, on peut pas évidemment réaliser de manière sécuritaire un fantasme ou on dit à l'agresseur d'arrêter).

Le viol, c'est grave. Pire, on vit dans une culture de violence sexuelle qui protège les violeurs. Pour arrêter ça, il faut pas s'en prendre aux adultes consentants; ce sont nos allies.

Ce qu'il faut changer?

Une fille en bikini c'est faite dire par le SPVM "tu sais y'a des filles qui sont font violer pour moins que ça?"

j'va te l'crisser dans le cul ton mégaphone

Tant qu'il y a des policiers qui disent ce genre de conneries et utilisent la menace de violence sexuelle, il faut que des chefs de police perdent leur job. La culture de la force de police, c'est leur responsabilité.

Quand vous entendez ces menaces, prenez le nom et numéro de matricule de l'agent. Documentez pour qu'on puisse un jour changer la culture.


The declaration form to enter Hawaii asked for my home address, which is no longer applicable. 48 hours ago I put most of my belongings in storage, intending to travel in Asia for the next year.

Last night friends and I went dancing, drinking and eating, part of a plan to beat my body's diurnal cycle into submission. While in Hawaii, I'll visit a cocoa plantation with the folks at Madre Chocolate then learn to surf and go on hikes.

Travel plans so far include Tokyo next for 10 days, followed by Bangkok and Phnom Penh where I'll be visiting the swing dance community. After that everything is wide open, with only a wedding in Australia in early December. Looking out to Diamond Head and Waikiki from my friend's place in Honolulu.

Conversation with a striking student

Last night I spoke with a student who's only missing 2 credits to graduate. She's out in the streets trying to block a tuition increase she will never pay.

She's already doing her practice teaching. Students are shocked that she would be on strike, not for herself - but for them. Your children, whom she'll also be teaching.

The language of spoiled brats infantilizes and casts this as an issue of order with Charest as the authority figure. This is obviously the framing that Charest wants us to have, but there's a better one. For more on political language, I recommend Lakoff's Don't Think of An Elephant!

Anyone who went through post-secondary education in the last 40 years is asking the next generation to pay much more than they did, and trying to cast it as getting students to pay their faire share. To add insult to injury they're reneging on the promise to eventually make it free.

In material terms, it is the students that are risking their sessions for someone else's gain - making a sacrifice. Meanwhile, their older generation is selfishly asking them to privately assume debt we used to have collectively. Who's spoiled again?

Making all post-secondary education free in our province would cost us 1% of our provincial budget. That's much less than we gave up in capital gains tax cuts and 10% what we could save by getting rid of corruption.

So the best frame for this is the red herring. While we shower opprobrium on those "spoiled brats", media spends less time talking about corruption. Plan Nord? Fracking? Anticosti? Out of sight, out of mind. The diversion is working: Charest's poll numbers are up.

I want Quebec to become a prosperous, tolerant and green society. This requires the rule of law, uprooting of corruption and an educated population. It is why I support the students.

What's your frame and vision?

Stopping the Spiral of Violence

"Those who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable" -JFK

Today terrorists shut down the Montreal metro with smoke bombs. The spiral of violence in Quebec has reached a new low. It's only going to get worse, because THERE ARE NO ADULTS IN CHARGE.

Starting a spiral is really quite simple.

First, make sure there are no common goals. What are we trying to build in Canada? In Quebec? Yeah, I can't answer either. We no longer stand for anything.

If you're under 30, chances you don't remember the last major public transit development. Even before the recent protests, you've never had a positive encounter with the police. You know the mafia rules your province and bible-thumpers run your country. Cheap tuition and the promise of free university have been reneged.

Second, sabotage language. In a spiral of violence we need to think clearly, and we can't do that without basic definitions. We talk past each other we confuse "proposal" with "agreement", "anarchy" and "civil disobedience", "protester" with "terrorist".

The definition of terrorism, so often forgotten, is to use fear (terror) to gain political advantage. Unlike blocking a bridge or throwing a pie in someone's face, being forced to inhale an unknown gas is likely to have people fearing for their lives or health.

To recap: we have no common vision, and most of the population can't think clearly because it lacks basic vocabulary. We've alienated more than youth. Think the metro being down is a pain? Try being disabled and barely able to use it in the first place. Ask anyone the difference between "sex" and "gender", "marriage" and "civil union". If you can't define those, you can't be an ally.

Third, block all avenues in which a group could argue for equality. Naturally, the media uncritically uses the language of the government and paints all protestors as violent. Courts are a dead-end. Negotiations take months.

Fourth, wait for the inevitable violent revolution to crack down. If this takes too long, a government can always use agent provocateurs. *cough* mosque informants *cough*.

So that's about it. The nature of a spiral is you can repeat steps 1-5 as you travel towards an increasingly authoritarian culture, side-lining one group each turn: queers, students, trade unionists, socialists, muslims, etc.

The way out is also simple.
  • Build and communicate a vision for a better society.
  • Be pedantic. "Feminism", "Anarchy", "Gender": insist they be used properly. If you're unclear, ask.
  • Make peaceful revolution possible. Ensure our education, justice, political and police institutions are responsive to groups with less power.
  • Denounce violence on all sides, keeping in mind the difference between a broken window and a broken skull.
Although our government has visibly done none of this, it is not clear to me whether the other parties could. Which means it's up to citizens to provide adult supervision.

Fixing the rift between police and youth

If you're under 35, you've probably never had a positive interaction with a police officer. Student protests have exacerbated the rift. 

Cell phone or bike stolen? They will likely tell you it's not even worth filing a report.

Drugs? Just an excuse to harass you.

Something more important like rape? Cops might victimize you instead of helping.

We used to see cops mostly Friday and Saturday nights. Now we're more likely to think of them pepper-spraying protesters or kicking someone already down.

Unless they're hitting their batons on their shields. "Move, Move, Moove, Mooo". That's the sound of cattle, not humans.  They're even branded with numbers, though sometimes they even refuse to show those.

Anonymity is a breeding ground for violence. Like a terrifying re-enactment of the Stanford Prison Experiment, we are slowly descending in a hellish nightmare. Others have already predicted at least a death in these protests. They are optimistic.

The militarization of police and use of non-lethal equipment actually exacerbates the problem. Tasers, sound / flash grenades. The chemicals that are used would be illegal in a war. All of these can be lethal.

This weaponry has become the norm without any real oversight. Our political powers have not put in place the institutional controls necessary to control police forces. Police are policing themselves. Can anyone be surprised that it's not working?

These protests have exacerbated the rift between police and youth. To repair it, we'll need to start by adding police oversight. Then, we need police to actually be helpful when youth are victims of crime.

Failing to do so means that the next spiral of violence will see a lot more bloodshed.