Hashtag please stop

“So this SEO copywriter walks into a bar, grill, pub, public house, Irish bar, bartender, drinks, beer, wine, liquor”

This is supposed to be a joke. But sometimes I wonder.

WARNING: This post is going to feature my pragmatism in full force. Stop reading if you have a deep love of hashtags.

Hashtags were supposed to serve, effectively, as inline versions of the tags that started showing up on all the major blogging platforms: a way of categorizing content to make searching for related content easier and more intuitive. For lengthy blog posts that touched upon a wide breadth of topics, tags were an ingenious method of ensuring that you could always find what you were looking for later.

This, of course, saw a natural extension into the phenomenon of social networking with the advent of hashtags. Now you could inline those very same annotations, bringing the content more front-and-center while simultaneously retaining the ability to filter content on demand.

The use of hashtags came particularly in handy recently, as The Lady and I celebrated our wedding and photos started popping up all over Instagram. The associated hashtag, #quinnwitz, gave us an instant filter for all the pictures of our wedding being taken by our awesome friends.

That’s an example of, in my humble opinion, how hashtags should be used. But I suppose, in retrospect, I should have seen this coming.


#hashtag ##meta

For a service like Twitter that mandates a maximum of 140 characters, I am particularly loathe to follow anyone whose posts consist of more hashtag content than actual content. Seriously: if it requires more metadata to explain your data than you have actual data, you’re essentially saying that your abstract is longer than your main paper.

In this case, either this person really, really loves hashtags, or they’re just trying to turn their post into clickbait, SEO-style; see my opening “joke.”

The latter case, to me, comes across as Exhibit A of this Oatmeal comic (though replace “Facebook Likes” with “Hashtags”): the authors choosing to annotate their content in such a way that it will be picked up by as many automated web crawlers and indexers as possible, rather than, oh I don’t know, posting awesome stuff. It reaches a point of saturation where literally any arbitrary search term will result in a hit.

Seriously. Your tweet / instagram / facebook post is not 53-hashtags cool. It’s 3-5 hashtags cool, period.


Simple rule of thumb: if your hashtags have a bigger character count than your content, re-evaluate your strategy. Or don’t! It’s really up to you, I suppose. Just don’t be upset if I scroll past your posts.


Posted in Internet, random, The Lady | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Necks are absolutely essential

Because without them, I would’ve forgotten my head somewhere by now. But probably wouldn’t have even realized it yet.

This week has been a whirlwind. My collaborators and I are trying to get a research paper out (or, at least, in a form that doesn’t require my input for a couple of weeks) that will give my thesis progress a huge boost. I’ve also had to attend to lots of errands after, and sometimes during, normal business hours.

Why am I so busy? Aside from usual tendencies of graduate students, I am marrying my best friend in three days.


Not pictured: the person I am marrying.

Said best friend has been working remotely from her hometown all week, attending to various wedding-related final tasks in the evenings in concert with her Mom (and, as of yesterday, my youngest sister). Consequently, I’ve been holding down the Pittsburgh fort and absolutely failing miserably at keeping various commitments. To wit, last week:

1. Forgot about a meeting Monday afternoon.

This meeting had been scheduled for over a month. Blew right through it without realizing, until I received an email from the coordinator 30 minutes into the 1-hour event. Would’ve taken me 10 minutes just to get there on foot. Rescheduled on the spot.

2. Forgot about a meeting Tuesday evening.

This had been scheduled for about a week. Blasted through it and didn’t realize until the next morning. Rescheduled for later in the week.

3. Forgot a meeting on Wednesday afternoon.

This had been scheduled earlier the same day. In a stroke of luck, it was over Skype, so I jumped in 30 minutes late and caught up. No need to reschedule.

4. Forgot my laptop for a student government meeting Wednesday evening in which I was recording minutes.

Got halfway to the location for our monthly student government meeting when I realized I’d left my laptop at work. Being as how we try to keep meetings prompt and timely, taking handwritten minutes wasn’t going to cut it. I mustered as much grace as I could and informed the rest of the government that we’d need a stand-in minute-taker for the meeting.

5. Wrote a program Thursday morning that attempted to allocate as much memory as exists on the planet.

This was possibly my most embarrassing mistake.

Part of the publication my collaborators and I are working on involves a feature space of 72 dimensions. However, the space is highly non-linear, making it extremely difficult to determine which features (or combinations of features) result in the most accurate classification. So, I decided in my highly scatterbrained state, I would write a program that generated a powerset of these 72 features–all possible subsets–and attempt classification using each subset of features, then see which was the most accurate.

This is known as the “brute force approach” (yes, that’s the technical term). Sounds simple, right? Conceptually and programmatically, it’s extremely simple. In fact, here’s the Python code that does it:

return [item for item in itertools.chain.from_iterable(itertools.combinations(s, r) for r in np.arange(list(X.shape[1]))]

That’s it. One line of Python gives you all possible subsets of 72 features.

The problem is, this is not at all practically feasible. Those who are combinatorially inclined may be raising your eyebrows at this point. If you’re curious how many subsets this creates, the following expression tells you:


Where n = 72.

For those who see a bunch of Greek symbols, what this equates to is 272 subsets, which would require no less than 4.2 zettabytes of memory. How much is a zettabyte? 1 billion terabytes, to be exact. Think about tying together 1 billion consumer terabyte hard drives; that’s what I would have needed for this code to actually function.

Unsurprisingly, here’s what my strugglebug computer did:

Using 99% of CPU and 59% of available memory. When it last had any memory available to update this counter.

Using 99% of CPU and 59% of available memory. When it last had any memory available to update this counter.

This was taken several seconds after it had stopped responding to any kind of input. I had to perform a hard reboot. Had I taken all of 5 seconds to do the math, I would have realized I needed a better heuristic than a brute-force feature search.

So yes. This past week hasn’t been my greatest from a perspective of focus. But I suppose, given the circumstances, it’s warranted; even expected. I’m nervous, I’m excited, I’m scared, and I’m thrilled, all at once.

This will be my last post for a little while: wedding + honeymoon and all (you know how it is). Have a great (and memory-filled) few weeks, everyone!

Actually using multiple cores AND NOT trying to use the world's supply of memory. Much better.

Actually using multiple cores AND NOT trying to use the world’s supply of memory. Much better.

Posted in Academics, Graduate School, Mathematics, Programming, Real Life, The Lady | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Weddings: the best and worst

Everything you hear about wedding planning really is true; obviously there’s a continuum and everyone’s mileage will inevitably vary, but you’ll more than likely run into some person or another airing their dirty laundry.

Courtesy of Keeley.

It sucks. It sucks that the wedding can’t stay focused on its reason for being: the celebration of two individuals publicly declaring and celebrating their love for each other with the people they love most. It sucks that other people see this as an opportunity to settle scores, satisfy personal vendettas, or otherwise siphon attention away from the happy couple. It sucks, but it’s also reality. Likely most, if not all, of us have family members that cause us to inwardly brace ourselves when considering putting them in marital circumstances.

Exhibit A: I received an email yesterday that I’d been expecting for some time. The only edits I made below are in brackets and were to remove names.

Dear Shannon,

We received your wedding invitation the other day. Thanks for including us on your big day.

We’ve been thinking and wrestling with what to do regarding your wedding for months now.
Let us put our thoughts for you in proper context so there won’t be any misunderstanding.
Our thoughts and concerns are in the category of a Christian marrying a non-Christian.

Let us start by saying we have nothing against [The Lady]. This is not about her personally or individually at all. We know that you believe differently than we do regarding things from a Christian doctrine standpoint, but it’s very clear from what God says in the Bible that a Christian should not marry a non-Christian.

We’re certainly not trying to tell you what to do, and don’t want to offend you or start any debates, but feel we would be sidelining our true beliefs if we were to attend your wedding.

When someone calls themself a Christian, they are to believe the claims of Jesus. We want this for you. We also want this for [The Lady].

Not only does God tell Christians to not marry non-Christians, (2 Corinthians 6:14), but He says why….it’s because marriage is suppose to be a convenant that represents Christ’s love for His bride, the church (Ephesians 5:22-33).

We hope this doesn’t hurt you and hope you can find a way to understand.
We do appreciate you inviting us, but wanted to let you know we won’t be coming, and why.

Thank you for reading. If you have any questions, please ask.
We’re completely open to discuss this further if you desire to, but just wanted to explain our decision.
Thank you Shannon!


As you might expect, I have a couple comments on this. But they might not be exactly what you’re expecting.

1: This was completely and fully expected.

My immediate reaction upon receiving this email was “That sounds about right.” An hour later, my delayed reaction was “Yep, that sounds about right.” And it has continued to be such ever since.

I’ve known for awhile that there are elements of my extended family who have very different perspectives on life–religion and politics in particular. I’ve engaged some of them in debate, to no effect. It’s become the elephant in the room that nobody wants to acknowledge anymore, because we all know what happens when someone does.

Of course, avoiding talking about our beliefs is one thing. They have no problem acting on those beliefs when the time comes, and this was one such time. I was fully expecting someone to bow out.

In retrospect, I probably could’ve made some money on that. Blast.

2: This was the best possible outcome.

In keeping with item #1, I’m actually glad this happened. The alternative would be relatives bringing their antagonistic beliefs to an event of celebration, inclusion, and love. Those ingredients don’t exactly mix. They had the foresight to contact me ahead of time, explain their reasoning–however much I may disagree with it–and remove themselves voluntarily.

It sucks when your entire family can’t be present for reasons you personally find less than lucid. But I would rather be surrounded by a handful of people who really want to celebrate with us than hundreds who are just going to hang out in their respective corners and murmur to each other.

Although, the best possible outcome, as The Lady pointed out last night, would’ve been to simply send the RSVP back with a “no” and no reasoning attached to it. It’s very, very difficult not to take something like faith personally–it is, by its very definition, deeply personal–and while I understand wanting to explain one’s reasoning, there is also absolutely zero obligation to do so in almost any case (seriously: you don’t have to explain to your boss why you’re taking PTO or taking a sick day). Which leads us to my third and final point…

3: I don’t understand the reasoning.

This goes beyond simply having a different perspective on faith. This delves into the specific evidence cited for God disallowing marriage between Christians and non-Christians.

First, they cited 2 Corinthians 6:14, which states

Do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers. For what partnership has righteousness with lawlessness? Or what fellowship has light with darkness?

In and around this verse, there is exactly zero mention of marriage. There is, however, a glaring implication that “unbeliever” is used to mean “non-Christian,” which I not only vehemently disagree with in principle, but which I’ll also contradict later at face value. Remember this one.

Second, they mentioned Ephesians 5:22-33, which says

Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything.

Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. After all, no one ever hated their own body, but they feed and care for their body, just as Christ does the church–for we are members of his body. “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.” This is a profound mystery–but I am talking about Christ and the church. However, each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband.

So I feel I should mention: I really, really despise this bit, in particular the difference in marital duties between husband and wife. But that aside, there is no mention whatsoever of faith. An analogy is drawn that a couple should love each other as Christ loves the Church, but no mention is made of what faith both partners should be.

Third, I found this gem in my own research in 1 Corinthians 7:12-14, stating

To the rest I say this (I, not the Lord): If any brother has a wife who is not a believer and she is willing to live with him, he must not divorce her. And if a woman has a husband who is not a believer and he is willing to live with her, she must not divorce him. For the unbelieving husband has been sanctified through his wife, and the unbelieving wife has been sanctified through her believing husband. Otherwise your children would be unclean, but as it is, they are holy.

Correct me if I’m wrong, but does this not directly contradict–and in no uncertain terms this time, no need to infer certain relationships–the earlier 2 Corinthians passage?

This is not to say I agree with everything the Bible has to say to the literal word. After all, I would think God’s chosen people are believers by default; I’m pretty sure belief in God makes one a believer by definition. This is “merely” to point out that not only does the Bible contradict itself and by interpreting it literally you are in actuality cherry-picking what to obey and what to ignore, but that this argument doesn’t even interpret the Bible literally. Assumptions were made to justify a preconceived notion.


The third section was mainly my inner scientist, logician, and Catholic scholar run amok. If someone on our invite list doesn’t want to attend our wedding, for whatever reason, they are more than within their rights not to attend. I have no intention of dragging people to the event against their will. Of course I’d prefer people be happy for us and show their support, but I will take an abstention over willful drama any day.

Plus, that’s fewer mouths to feed at the reception. MORE FOR ME.

I suppose the moral of the story is this: weddings really do bring out the best and worst in people. But by focusing on the best, you minimize and potentially drown out the worst. We’re going to have some pretty spectacular folks at the event, and that’s going to eclipse everything else. A good philosophy for almost any part of life, I suppose.

Speaking of which, I hope you like the tuxedos I picked out for my groomsmen and me:


Posted in Real Life, Religion, the fam, The Lady | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Job Hunt

Since the start of October, I’ve been in full-on job-hunting mode. Courtesy of Ph.D. Comics, this pretty much sums up how I feel:

Something any prospective doctor of philosophy should know: academic and industry hiring processes are very different. Universities are going to follow the academic calendar, and therefore are going to advertise start dates near or around the fall of each new year. Given the number of applications they receive per open faculty position, and the process through which hiring takes place–faculty visits, talks, rounds of interviews, committee meetings to decide on candidates–this takes awhile. So be prepared to start applying for positions nearly a full year before you think you’ll be done.

As of Jan 1, I’ve applied to quite a few universities that span the spectrum from R1 to more teaching-oriented academic institutions, spread pretty well across most of the lower 48. It’s a little bit nerve-wracking, considering the level of competition for these positions, and the fact that I’ve decided against an explicit postdoc. I know I can succeed as a member of the faculty, so I’m set on joining those ranks either within a university setting or an equivalent position in industry.

Which brings me to a very exciting announcement: I have an on-site interview scheduled for next weekend at Cal Poly in San Luis Obispo, CA!

Beyond excited.

I’m working on my presentation as we speak. Good vibes are always much appreciated. The phone interview a handful of weeks ago went extremely well, and I can’t tell you how thrilled I am just with the opportunity to visit and meet with the folks I’ve spent so much time reading about.

Broadly speaking, here’s my only problem with academia: the tenure process. It’s a lot more than a little intimidating, especially in the current economic climate. I’ve watched my own advisor struggle through this process, and I thoroughly admire the grace and elegance with which he’s handled extremely crappy situations (with an outcome entirely deserving of his strength of character and intellect, thankfully). But I can’t exactly say I’m excited to enter that process myself.

This article, on the other hand, gave me a glimmer of hope that, independent of the system itself, there were things I could do to mitigate potential problems on my end. This is probably one of the best articles I’ve read in years on how to not just survive academia, but to thrive and enjoy the process itself (reminiscent of my new year’s resolution?). I won’t rehash the article–I highly recommend reading it in its entirety–but I will post the main seven points around which the article revolves.

  • I decided that this is a 7-year postdoc.
  • I stopped taking advice.
  • I created a “feelgood” email folder.
  • I work fixed hours and in fixed amounts.
  • I try to be the best “whole” person I can.
  • I found real friends.
  • I have fun “now”.

I consider myself an expert in a few of these points already (being a “whole” person, having real friends), and some of them I royally suck at (taking advice, fixed hours in fixed amounts, having fun “now”). They’re all excellent points, and I hope to emulate them going forward. At the end of the day, it’s the research and teaching that really engage me, not the cutthroat competitiveness, something I appear to have in common with this article’s author. A little competition can be fun and motivational, but when it defines the process itself, it loses its allure.

I want to succeed and see others succeed not because we published a paper two days before our competitors, but because we made a freaking awesome discovery or computational pipeline that others find useful. Isn’t that the point of science and teaching?

It's how I roll.

It’s how I roll.

Without going too much into the industry side of things, I wanted to make one quick mention: I will indeed be applying to industry positions, but only after this semester. I’ve contacted / been contacted by a couple already, but given that hiring spans the entire year, I’ll need to be closer to graduation before those processes can move forward. I’ll certainly update as things progress!

Posted in Graduate School, i ken make living plz, Occupation, Real Life, Research, Travel | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

How to remember 2013

2013. So much to say about it. The downside is my gut check, instinctual response goes something like this.

grumpy-cat-new-years-resolution-i6In many concrete, quantifiable ways, 2013 was frustrating. Running didn’t go particularly well. I didn’t even finish half of my 101 items from a couple years ago. I spent the entire year working on a publication that wasn’t submitted until just before going on Christmas break. And just beneath everything, stress was omnipresent.

It was everywhere. I have never dealt with such levels of stress. Even though the year in of itself wasn’t awful, the stress dampened enthusiasm, and made everything feel worse than it actually was. It colored events with an extremely negative hue, fostering a “let’s just get this over with” mentality that is, by itself, unhealthy and completely boring.

ALL the work.

Do ALL the work!

I won’t rehash the year’s stressors; they are numerous enough and can likely be distilled from previous postings here. What I do want to hammer upon is something I already alluded to, something is more or less going to be my “resolution” for 2014:

Love the process.

My primary failing in 2013 was spending too much time and energy fighting battles that were unwinnable or simply not worth fighting (protip to anyone reading this who might be planning a wedding: there are LOTS of battles. Choose wisely). Spending so much time struggling against the system or impending deadlines or unreasonable demands spawned a feeling of obligation: I just needed to “get through this” and “get it done.” That’s fine for the occasional, exceptional run or work milestone. However, this is a problem when every single project or training run has the same get-it-over-with undercurrent. One starts looking past it, but to nothing in particular. The mental dialogue goes something like:

“I can’t wait until I’m finished.”


“Because this is stressful.”

“What will you do when you’re done, then?”

“Not be stressed anymore, I guess?”

“So once this is done, you’ll pull an Office Space and sit on your ass and do nothing?”

“Hmm. You make an annoyingly valid point.”

Remember that old adage “it’s the journey, not the destination”? Turns out, it’s quite literally true. Forsaking the journey entirely and focusing exclusively on the destination paradoxically robs the end goal of its purpose: accomplishment.

Love the process.

I really and truly love what I work on. I’ve learned so, so much in my years as a graduate student, and I wouldn’t trade it for anything.

This graph represents one of the coolest things I've worked on. It's seriously wicked awesome.

This graph represents one of the coolest things I’ve worked on. It’s seriously wicked awesome.

Something I haven’t spent enough time reminding myself of this year is that I love this stuff. I really, really do. I put my heart and soul into my work, which inevitably leads to disappointment when something doesn’t work, but also instills a great deal of pride and accomplishment when it does. And contrary to my knee-jerk reaction, I have accomplished a lot this year. 2013 was a complicated year, and should be remembered as such.

But frankly it pales in comparison to what 2014 will bring: my thesis defense in September, the start of a new job, and marriage to my best friend and partner in crime. It’s so exciting to consider; I’m amped about the work I’m going to be doing to complete my thesis, and I couldn’t be happier to marry the woman I’ve been dating for over seven years. The key in all this, at the risk of sounding like a broken record, will be:

Love the process.

To put it bluntly, stress will be part of the equation. Unavoidable. So rather than waste energy fighting the inevitable, I’ll need to plan for mitigation instead. Focus on how much fun it is to be healthy and running through the great outdoors; focus on how neat each aspect of a hierarchical eigensolver ported across several distributed frameworks will be; focus on how exciting it is to see all these research papers coming together after so much hard work; focus on the anticipation of seeing my wife-to-be as she enters the hall for the first time on our wedding day.

We ran together in single digit weather. If that's not love and dedication, I don't know what is.

We ran together in single digit weather. If that’s not love and dedication, I don’t know what is.

My 2014 resolution, dear readers, is not to join a gym or eat healthier or focus on work more or be nicer to my fellow human or any of that crap. My 2014 resolution is to love the process. Love what I’m doing, when I’m doing it. To wax disgustingly philosophical, we have a limited amount of time here, so don’t waste it looking beyond the present. Even if the present is something tedious, boring, and you’d rather be off doing one of hundreds of other things, it’s still worth doing and doing well, otherwise you really would be off doing something else.

Happy 2014, everyone! Make it a great one!

Posted in Blogging, Graduate School, i ken make living plz, Occupation, Real Life, The Lady, Year in Review | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

101 in 1001: Round 2!

As I alluded to at the end of my follow-up post on the topic, I’ve decided to take the plunge again, taking a stab at accomplishing 101 discrete tasks in 1001 days. Some clever IPython manipulation (ok, a grand total of 2 lines of Python, one of which is an import statement) tells me that 1001 days from now is September 10, 2016. What will the world look like then, I wonder?

Continue reading

Posted in 101 in 1001, Uncategorized | 2 Comments

101 in 1001: Follow-up

Just about a week ago, the deadline for my Feb 13, 2011 post came up. It was a pretty neat idea: rather than go with a “new year’s resolution” that is usually poorly-defined and craps out within the first couple months, or a “bucket list” with a nonexistent timeline for accomplishment, this addresses both issues. There are a large but manageable number of tasks to accomplish, and a time frame in which to accomplish them: 101 items in 1001 days.

The results were illuminating. You can see the final listing of items I did and didn’t accomplish, but rather than rehash them here, I want to confer a couple interesting tidbits I learned.

1: The only failure condition should be time.

One of the core guidelines to this whole process was that the tasks should be “measurable and clearly defined.” For the most part, I did this pretty well. But an important point that was implied but not explicitly stated is that the only failure condition should be the 1001-day deadline. It makes for pointless dead weight if certain tasks can be rendered completely unachievable halfway through the time period. See #41, #84, and any other points that require some sort of minimal time frame to complete.

Granted: the whole point of the 1001-day time frame is so you can accomplish tasks that take more than a day, a week, or perhaps even a month to fully check off. But my feeling is that it should be intrinsic to the task itself, rather than tacked onto the requirements that already specify an overall time frame. This may effectively eliminate recurring events, but the way I see it, getting the ball rolling is the hardest part. If you want to make it a recurring event, that’s extra credit; this list should be initiating the events in the first place.

2: A lot changes in 1001 days.

It’s nice that one has 1001 days to accomplish not-insignificant tasks, to push one’s limits and comfort zones a little (always a good thing). But interests and priorities can shift practically overnight, to say nothing of over two years. I realized very early on that I just wasn’t interested in crossing off some of the items, while at the same time, had other ideas I really wanted to spend my time and effort on instead. #7? Meh. #12? Sure, but honestly I’d rather spend that time getting even better at Python. #15? I like Chrome better now. #93? Maybe, but frankly this book is more relevant and more interesting.

There’s something to be said for using those tasks as a different kind of motivation: sometimes you have to do things you’re not terribly crazy about. But on the other hand, you had full control over what went on the list when you first made it, so as long as you’re being honest with yourself, why not swap out near-irrelevant or uninteresting tasks for ones you feel you’ll get something out of and benefit from?

3: It’s hard to get everything done.

Priorities are everything, and sometimes other tasks take precedence. There are a lot of items on that list that I wanted to get–still want to get done–but haven’t quite managed just yet. Item #1 is something I’m dying to get back to, but just can’t justify putting it ahead of my graduate work at the moment.

But, on the other hand, that might be part of the point: progress is its own reward, and in the process we gain some insight into where we choose to devote ourselves. In that sense, we can evaluate whether our progress is in the right direction or requires a small steering change. For instance, I crushed quite a bit of the Health and Finances sections; Projects was a bit less thoroughly addressed. That can be explained perfectly well by way of graduate school: I learned to operate within the financial parameters of my current employment and used fitness to relieve the stress of work, but the work got in the way of my personal projects.

Conclusion: again?

Ehhh. Not sure yet.

The time frame encompassing the next 12 months is going to be extremely unpredictable, particularly given my impending wedding and graduation. It’ll be tough predicting where I’ll be this time next year, let alone what I’ll be working on.

But! Maybe that’s the exact reason I should still do it: give me something to orient myself towards.

Hmmmm. Decisions, decisions! Any suggestions?

Posted in 101 in 1001, Academics, Graduate School, Occupation, Polls, Real Life | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments