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15
Nov

The lost Armidale to Wallangarra railway

Running more-or-less alongside the most remote section of the New England Highway, through the Northern Tablelands region of NSW, can be found the remnants of a once-proud train line. The Great Northern Railway, as it was known in its heyday, provided the only railway service linking Sydney and Brisbane, between 1889 and 1930. Regular passenger services continued until 1972, and the line has been completely closed since 1988.

Metro map style illustration of the old Armidale to Wallangarra passenger service

Metro map style illustration of the old Armidale to Wallangarra passenger service

Thanks to: Metro Map Maker

Although I once drove through most of the Northern Tablelands, I wasn't aware of this railway, nor of its sad recent history, at the time. I just stumbled across it a few days ago, browsing maps online. I decided to pen this here wee thought, mainly because I was surprised at how scant information there is about the old line and its stations.

25
Jul

Japan's cherry blossom: as indisputable as climate change evidence gets

This year, Japan's earliest cherry blossom in 1,200 years made headlines around the world. And rightly so. Apart from being (as far as I can tell) a truly unparalleled feat of long-term record-keeping, it's also a uniquely strong piece of evidence in the case for man-made climate change.

I think this graph speaks for itself.

I think this graph speaks for itself.

Image source: BBC News

I just want to briefly dive in to the data set (and the academic research behind it), and to explain why, in my opinion, it's such a gem in the sea of modern-day climate science.

25
Jun

On Tina

Continuing my foray into the world of Static Site Generators (SSGs), this time I decided to try out one that's quite different: TinaCMS (although Tina itself isn't actually an SSG, it's just an editing toolkit; so, strictly speaking, the SSG that I took for a spin is Next.js). Shiny new toys. The latest and greatest that the JAMstack has to offer. Very much all alpha (I encountered quite a few bugs, and there are still some important features missing entirely). But wow, it really does let you have your cake and eat it too: a fast, dumb, static site when logged out, that transforms into a rich, Git-backed, inline CMS when logged in!

08
Jun

Introducing: Is Pacific Highway Upgraded Yet?

Check out this fun little site that I just built: Is Pacific Highway Upgraded Yet?

Spoiler alert: no it's not!

Spoiler alert: no it's not!

I got thinking about this, in light of the government's announcement at the end of 2020 that the Pacific Highway upgrade is finished. I was like, hang on, no it's not! How about a web site to tell people how long we've already been waiting for this (spoiler alert: ages!), and how much longer we'll probably be waiting?

Complete with a countdown timer, which is currently set to 1 Jan 2030, a date that I arbitrarily and fairly optimistically picked as the target completion date of the Hexham bypass (but that project is still in the planning stage, no construction dates have currently been announced).

Fellow Australians, enjoy!

14
Apr

On Eleventy

Following on from my last experiment with Hugo, I decided to dabble in a different static site generator (SSG). This time, Eleventy. I've rebuilt another one of my golden oldies, Jaza's World, using it. And, similarly, source code is up on GitHub, and the site is hosted on Netlify. I'm pleased to say that Eleventy delivered in the areas where Hugo disappointed me most, although there were things about Hugo that I missed.

11
Feb

On Hugo

After having it on my to-do list for several years, I finally got around to trying out a static site generator (SSG). In particular, Hugo. I decided to take Hugo for a spin, by rebuilding one of my golden oldies, Jaza's World Trip, with it. And, for bonus points, I published the source code on GitHub, and I deployed the site on Netlify. Hugo is great software with a great community, however it didn't quite live up to my expectations.

02
Feb

Private photo collections with AWSPics

I've created a new online home for my formidable collection of 25,000 personal photos. They now all live in an S3 bucket, and are viewable in a private gallery powered by the open-source AWSPics. In general, I'm happy with the new setup.

28
Jan

Good devs care about code

Theories abound regarding what makes a good dev. These theories generally revolve around one or more particular skills (both "hard" and "soft"), and levels of proficiency in said skills, that are "must-have" in order for a person to be a good dev. I disagree with said theories. I think that there's only one thing that makes a good dev, and it's not a skill at all. It's an attitude. A good dev cares about code.

There are many aspects of code that you can care about. Formatting. Modularity. Meaningful naming. Performance. Security. Test coverage. And many more. Even if you care about just one of these, then: (a) I salute you, for you are a good dev; and (b) that means that you're passionate about code, which in turn means that you'll care about more aspects of code as you grow and mature, which in turn means that you'll develop more of them there skills, as a natural side effect. The fact that you care, however, is the foundation of it all.

11
Oct

Tolstoy: the forgotten philosopher

I recently finished reading the classic novel War and Peace. The 19th-century epic is considered the masterpiece of Leo Tolstoy, and I must say it took me by surprise. In particular, I wasn't expecting its second epilogue, which is a distinct work of its own (and one that arguably doesn't belong in a novel): a philosophical essay discussing the question of "free will vs necessity". I know that the second epilogue isn't to everyone's taste, but personally I feel that it's a real gem.

I was also surprised to learn, after doing a modest bit of research, that Tolstoy is seldom mentioned amongst any of the prominent figures in philosophy or metaphysics over the past several centuries. The only articles that even deign to label Tolstoy as a philosopher, are ones that are actually more concerned with Tolstoy as a cult-inspirer, as a pacifist, and as an anarchist.

So, while history has been just and generous in venerating Tolstoy as a novelist, I feel that his contribution to the field of philosophy has gone unacknowledged. This is no doubt in part because Tolstoy didn't consider himself a philosopher, and because he didn't pen any purely philosophical works (published separately from novels and other works), and because he himself criticised the value of such works. Nevertheless, I feel warranted in asking: is Tolstoy a forgotten philosopher?

23
Mar

How can we make AI that reasons?

The past decade or so has been touted as a high point for achievements in Artificial Intelligence (AI). For the first time, computers have demonstrated formidable ability in such areas as image recognition, speech recognition, gaming, and (most recently) autonomous driving / piloting. Researchers and companies that are heavily invested in these technologies, at least, are in no small way lauding these successes, and are giving us the pitch that the current state-of-the-art is nothing less than groundbreaking.

However, as anyone exposed to the industry knows, the current state-of-the-art is still plagued by fundamental shortcomings. In a nutshell, the current generation of AI is characterised by big data (i.e. a huge amount of sample data is needed in order to yield only moderately useful results), big hardware (i.e. a giant amount of clustered compute resources is needed, again in order to yield only moderately useful results), and flawed algorithms (i.e. algorithms that, at the end of the day, are based on statistical analysis and not much else – this includes the latest Convolutional Neural Networks). As such, the areas of success (impressive though they may be) are still dwarfed by the relative failures, in areas such as natural language conversation, criminal justice assessment, and art analysis / art production.

In my opinion, if we are to have any chance of reaching a higher plane of AI – one that demonstrates more human-like intelligence – then we must lessen our focus on statistics, mathematics, and neurobiology. Instead, we must turn our attention to philosophy, an area that has traditionally been neglected by AI research. Only philosophy (specifically, metaphysics and epistemology) contains the teachings that we so desperately need, regarding what "reasoning" means, what is the abstract machinery that makes reasoning possible, and what are the absolute limits of reasoning and knowledge.

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