First Coursera Registration

I just registered for the Data Science specialization from Johns Hopkins University through Coursera. I’ve viewed a few lectures of various courses on Coursera, edX, and MIT OpenCourseWare, but I’ve yet to complete an entire course. It’s been quite embarrassing knowing that I contribute to MOOC’s low completion rates. Nevertheless, I’m confident I’ll complete these courses for a few reasons:

  • I am paying $49 / course (10 courses total for $490). It’s easy to drop out of an online, non-mandatory course when there was no sign-up cost. Now that I’m paying for the classes, dropping out would give me immense guilt.
  • This specialization is 10 sequential courses, not just a list of 10 independent courses. I like the structure of taking 10 classes from the same professors each time. Independent courses mean minimal standardization, which means constantly adjusting from one teaching style to another.
  • I will get a certification from Johns Hopkins university if I complete all 10 courses. Even to those unfamiliar with online education and MOOCs, a certificate from Johns Hopkins has instant credibility.

I look forward to more specializations and certificates being offered as MOOCs. At less than 1/10 of UT’s semesterly tuition, $490 sounds like a damn good deal. Let’s hope I’m right.

Caffé Mac

One of my favorite perks of working at Apple is the delicious and fairly-priced food. I eat lunch and dinner at Caffé Mac almost every weekday, and I still haven’t grown tired of it. It offers enough variety to satisfy vegetarians (and even vegans). The only drawback is limited seating; I typically end up eating with a stranger and having an awkward conversation about how the weather in Texas is very different from the weather in the Bay Area. Once that topic is exhausted, we move on to backgrounds. You know how Harvard alumni avoid dropping the H-Bomb and instead say they went to school in Boston? Well, MIT / Stanford alumni at Apple aren’t as hesitant to expose their Alma mater. And let’s just say UT Austin isn’t as “respected” in California…

Nevertheless, the food at Caffé Mac is wonderful, maybe even too wonderful. I think my reliance on Caffé Mac has become unhealthy. Since I have such great food at work, I haven’t gone to the grocery store in weeks. This typically wouldn’t be an issue. However, not only do I not have a car, but the nearest Taco Bell is a 40 minute walk from my apartment. I’ve made the trek to Taco Bell several times before, but nowadays, it’s nearly as hot as it is in Texas during the day. For the last few weekends, I’m probably averaging one meal and one protein bar per day. The result — statistically significant weight loss from Friday to Monday:


Above is a graph of my weight measurements from different weeks while at Apple. Aside from this past week, I’ve been weighing myself ~4 times a week. I go to the gym around the same time each day, and I weigh myself immediately after each workout. So the weight measurements are fairly controlled. My weight slowly rises from Monday to Friday, and then drops all the gains over the weekend. I didn’t actually weigh myself on weekends; but my weight measurements the following Monday were always lower, presumably due to the decreased food intake over the weekend.

I notice two other interesting details from my weight measurements:

  • The orange line that hits 161 on Tuesday was the week after I came back from China. Let’s just say it’s tough to order a vegetarian meal when you can’t properly communicate to the waiter, and you’re in China.
  • “Fasting” seems like a remarkably good way to lose weight (or avoid gaining weight). I find it much more difficult to eat healthy food for every meal than to eat regularly, but skip a few meals. I wonder if the health concerns of fasting are neutralized by the potential weight loss.

The Best of TheLaughFactory

The first YouTube Channel I subscribed to was TheLaughFactory, a comedy club featuring renown comedians and fresh faces. The channel currently has over 700 videos; some are absolutely hilarious, and some are absolutely terrible. Unfortunately, YouTube makes it incredibly difficult to find the best videos.

I first search for “TheLaughFactory” and sort by View Count. The top results are clips of Dave Chappelle, Chris D’Elia, and Bobby Lee. This isn’t showing me the funniest videos — this is showing me the most popular comedians that have performed at The Laugh Factory. While these results may not be completely useless, I just want to watch great performances, regardless of comedian popularity.

I then search for “TheLaughFactory” again but sort by Rating. Now the top results are of videos with 2,077 views, 269 views, 143 views, etc., and some aren’t even uploaded by TheLaughFactory. These videos have such few raters (e.g. 2 likes, 0 dislikes), so technically they’re the “top rated.” But this obviously isn’t what I’m looking for.

First of all, If I’m sorting by Rating, why the fuck doesn’t YouTube show ratings next to the results? Second of all, how has YouTube not implemented functionality to omit videos with few raters from the Rating Sort. It’s like looking at NBA 3-PT FG % leaders; nobody wants to see a list of guys that have attempted four or five 3s and made them all. We want some minimum requirements or perhaps an adjusted rating.

Fortunately, they’ve already thought about this at IMDb. Top 250 list uses a Bayesian estimate to adjust the rating based on the following inputs:

  • Original rating
  • Number of votes for the movie
  • Minimum number of votes required to be listed in the Top 250
  • Mean vote across the whole list

Basically, the adjustment moves each rating closer to the mean. The magnitude of the adjustment is based on the number of votes. A well-rated video with many votes will have a smaller adjustment than a well-rated video with few votes. In essence, it rewards well-rated videos with many votes.

I wrote a small script to perform this adjustment on TheLaughFactory catalog. Here are the top 15 videos based on the adjusted ratings:

  1. Godfrey – Gingrich
  2. Dave Chappelle – Kramer
  3. Dov Davidoff – Love Drug
  4. Jay Larson – Wrong Number
  5. Chris James – Black British Accent
  6. Brent Morin – Bad at Leaving
  7. Bobby Lee – Korean War
  8. Dave Chappelle – Man Rape
  9. Godfrey – African
  10. Tony Rock – Stoner Philosophy
  11. Al Madrigal – Day Laborer (EXTENDED)
  12. Dave Chappelle – The Secret
  13. KT Tatara – Dumb Girls
  14. Bobby Lee – Asian Parents
  15. Moshe Kasher – Hairy Arms

The results are certainly an improvement over YouTube’s current offerings. While the popular comedians are still ranked high on this list, there are some unfamiliar names. And all of these videos have a significant number of raters, so I’m not just getting videos with a small sample of generous raters.

But the list isn’t perfect. All three of Dave Chappelle’s LaughFactory videos are in the top 15; they’re funny, but not hilarious. This is expected. Not many people are going to dislike a Dave Chappelle stand-up, especially when considering these videos came up after his extended absence. Also, YouTube lets users express their opinion in three ways: Like, dislike, or don’t rate. In YouTube’s rating formula, a like counts as a 5, and a dislike counts as a 1. It’s a bit misleading to convert categorical ratings to numerical ones — not all likes are the same.

So YouTube could do two things to improve the adjusted rating. First, offer a numerical rating system to give users the opportunity to show how much they like or dislike a video. Second, implement a professional rating system similar to Amazon Vine, and give those ratings more weight. Amazon invites the most trusted reviewers to post opinions about new items to improve the experience for everyone else. Similarly, a qualified comedy fan’s ratings could be given more weight when ranking YouTube videos to provide the rest of us with a higher-quality experience.

Will this ever happen? Probably not; what new feature has YouTube ever offered since it came out nine years ago? Sure, higher video resolutions are allowed, but the maximum audio bitrate is still a piece of shit. Thank god for Adblock, or I’d still be wasting my time watching a 60 second advertisement for a 30 second video. YouTube also started forcing Google Plus down our throats in a pathetic attempt to save their shit social network. With all their interface redesigns, I don’t even see funny YouTube Comments anymore.


Beautiful, but Useless

My manager is quite generous; he gave me an iPhone 5S and an iPad Retina Mini to use for work. These are my first mobile Apple devices, so it’s been an interesting experience.

The iPhone 5S is beautiful. Just unboxing it was an experience. This phone is seriously an aesthetic gift to the world. I sort of understand why people pay so much for a phone with arguably inferior hardware to several cheaper, Android phones.

But really, is beauty a quality we should seek in a mobile device? Whenever I eat, I now place the phone on a napkin to ensure it doesn’t get dirty from the table. I use to keep my phone in the same pocket as my FitBit, but now I isolate the phone to avoid any potential scratches. I cringe when I see others treat their iPhone 5S like I used to treat my Galaxy Nexus.

Maybe I should get a case, but I don’t like the added thickness and weight. Getting a case defeats the purpose of getting an iPhone. I’d just be paying extra to use a fat and ugly device… I might as well go back to the Galaxy Nexus! Treating the iPhone with extra care might get annoying, but at least it functions exactly as my old phone did.

The iPad, however, doesn’t seem to fit any function. The first hour I used it was amazing. Again, just unboxing it was exciting. Unfortunately, I have since been unable to find an opportunity where an iPad suits my task better than an iPhone or a Macbook Air.

The iPad Mini is still too big to comfortably hold in one hand, so I don’t want to call it a truly mobile device like the iPhone. And it has no proper form of input, so it’ll never be as useful as the barely heavier Macbook Air. I just don’t know what to do with it, and it’s a shame to have such a beautiful device collecting dust on my desk.

Although I can’t imagine paying for an iPhone, I still enjoy using it. As for the iPad, I think this blog post describes it best; our love affair with the tablet is over.

The “Great American Novel”

After re-reading George Orwell’s novels, my passion for literature has been rejuvenated. I don’t expect this to be long-lived, so I plan to read as many “great” novels as I can while I have time. I browsed several online compilations of top modern novels, and I cross-checked them with Project Gutenberg — an archive of free eBooks. The first novel I settled on was The Great Gatsby.

The Great Gatsby is a novel from the 1920s that appears on literally every list of top American literature; it’s apparently a contender for the title “Great American Novel.” These rankings really scare me. Either standards for top literary works are incredibly low, or I’m severely incapable of recognizing literary quality.

Do you remember the scene in The Dark Knight when the Joker was caught and put in jail?

When I saw this scene for the first time, I thought the movie was almost over. Turns out, it was only the start of an incredible plot twist, and the movie was only halfway done.

I experienced almost the exact opposite sensation when I read The Great Gatsby. I got to the scene where (spoilers coming up) Gatsby confronts Tom about his relationship with Daisy at the hotel in New York City. Finally, the plot was getting interesting; I thought I was near the halfway point. About 15 pages later, the book was done.

Given it’s universal recognition as a literary classic, I expected some brilliant underlying theme or message like the ones in Animal Farm or Nineteen Eighty-Four. I guess it went over my head. I also expected a captivating plot full of unforeseen plot twists like in the Christopher Nolan movies (The Prestige, Batman trilogy, Inception, Memento).  Those never came either.

Overall, I felt like I just read the plot of every other Bollywood movie. The novel seemed like any other tragic love story. When I google for answers to why this book is so great, I find responses describing how it “perfectly captured its time.” Well that’s fine, but the book is still fucking boring, and I can’t comprehend why it’s upheld as a classic.

Nineteen Eighty-Four

Apple aired this commercial during the Super Bowl on January 22, 1984, and it revolutionized Super Bowl advertising. Today, the commercial is unanimously praised for challenging the convention. Even Apple so proudly played it in front of us during new hire orientation. It’s definitely unorthodox, but I’m surprised it faces little criticism.

According to Steve Jobs in an Apple keynote address, the commercial represents Apple being the savior from an IBM dominated future. But Nineteen Eighty-Four, the novel, presented themes of nationalism and censorship. Privacy was eliminated, and the government controlled everything.

If anything, the commercial should be the other way around. The Apple cult-like community is as “nationalist” as you can get. Censorship by Apple is prominent enough to earn its own Wikipedia page. Leaked NSA documents put Apple on the wrong side of privacy debates. And Apple is notoriously known as the most controlling tech giant.

But don’t get me wrong — I love Apple. Their products are a perfect blend of engineering and marketing. Their customer service is unmatched. The company makes a fuckload of money. Oh yeah, and I work for Apple. I just don’t appreciate the commercial.

But enough about the company; I don’t want to get fired. Seeing this commercial on the first day of work inspired me to revisit the work of George Orwell. His novels have exploded in popularity in the aftermath of Edward Snowden’s recent revelations regarding the NSA (aka a modern equivalent of Big Brother from Nineteen Eighty-Four). I just never found time during the school year to re-read them.

But now I have time.

So I re-read Animal Farm and Nineteen Eighty-Four. Animal Farm is an allegory to the Russian Revolution of 1917 and the rule of Joseph Stalin. Nineteen Eighty-Four is George Orwell’s depiction of the future with government surveillance and tyranny. Both revolve around the corruption of power and suppression of the individual.

Animal Farm was required reading for the non-GT students in 8th grade, and Nineteen Eighty-Four was required for the Honors students in 10th grade. I read Animal Farm at my brother’s suggestion in middle school, and I “read” Nineteen Eighty-Four in high school. Required reading for school makes it impossible to properly enjoy a novel. I have to highlight character development in blue, setting in green, literary devices in yellow, plot in pink, and theme in orange? Yeah… I’m not actually going to read this fucking book.

But after reading the books willingly, I not only appreciate both novels for their entertaining story-lines, but also for their themes which are still appropriate today. Animal Farm resembles our blind acceptance of government’s growing control, and Nineteen Eighty-Four quite accurately depicts our modern surveillance state.

Both novels are available for free on Project Gutenberg (Animal FarmNineteen Eighty-Four). If you haven’t read either, I’d recommend picking one up. If you’re a slow and impatient reader like me, I recommend Animal Farm. It’s very short (112 pages) and doesn’t require an advanced reading comprehension ability (middle school level).

I’m surprised these books are still required reading in public schools; it’s a shame the classroom detracts so much from the reading experience and the books can’t leave an even greater influence on students.

California Gurls

I have switched back to WordPress from Ghost; I made the mistake of transitioning before Ghost was stable. I initially made the switch to Ghost because it allowed for iframes and JavaScript, but neither feature could properly be used. The ability to email subscribers is also not yet included in Ghost, and this is of great importance now. It’s crucial that my friends keep up with my blog so those fuckers don’t forget about me while I’m in California.

So here’s my first update from the Bay Area. By the way, this post isn’t really about California Gurls. There aren’t very many girls in Apple’s Engineering teams… I finally understand the value of diversity.

I miss all my friends back in Austin and Houston, and I occasionally wish I stayed in school rather than taking the co-op. My roommates here are extremely nice, but I don’t expect to develop the same relationships with them as I have with my friends back home. I’m often bored at work and at home, and I undoubtedly would be having more fun back at Austin.

However, I have not yet been paid. I expect the nostalgia to disappear once my first paycheck arrives. I’m still in the introductory phase of my internship, so I have a decent amount of idle time. One of the many useless activities I do to pass time is calculate the amount of money I will make this internship. I’ll be here for 4 full months, so I’ll be making a good amount (more than the bankers, hah). It’s always nice when I first reach the final number, but then I remember rent and tuition and get depressed. Remember when 1 summer job could pay for all of college?

I wanted to talk more about life at Apple in this post, but I’m scared of getting in trouble. Apple explicitly warned about blogging, so I guess I won’t brag about the iPhone 5S, MacBook Pro, and 27″ Retina Display cool stuff I have for work. But seriously, Apple sure knows how to treat its employees.

I intend on posting more frequently now and making my posts less informative and more personal. This makes it easier and quicker to write a post, reducing the barriers to blogging. I forget why I initially created this blog, but now I want to use it to keep my friends updated. Maybe my friends aren’t interested, but who knows, they may change their mind when they hear about my Apple friends and family discount…