Eyetracking Jetpack Joyride, Smash Hit and Dungeon Keeper

TL;DR – I got a little upset that I didn’t get any jobs I wanted, so I decided to learn how to write an Android app to relax instead. The result is eyemap.io – Gaze Analytics For the Rest Of Us. The rest of the blog post chronicles how I got to that point.

The week before last was a terrible week for me. It was one week after I had published my books. I was looking to take some time off from updating the books. After about 6 months being self-employed, doing the things I love to do, I felt it was time for me to return to the workforce. Let’s face it, it’s not easy to be self employed and get a steady paycheck. So I started looking for jobs.

All was well. I had applied to a number of jobs that I was interested in. By the end of the week however, I had nothing – nobody called back. Naturally, coming off the high of having just published a couple of books, it was crushing.

Remember a few months ago, I was mulling over acquiring a tablet? Out of sheer coincidence, I came into posession of a Nexus 10 a few days after I blogged that entry. It’s an older model, but hey, beggars can’t be choosers. Despite coming to possession of the tablet, I never really used it.

Anyway, back to the week before last. Combined with the fact that I got rejected for those jobs that I wanted plus a few more not so nice news, I was feeling pretty shitty about myself. So on Friday evening, I altered my state of mind chemically to relax a little.

After some drinks, I took out my tablet and fiddled with it while relaxing with pineapples. I decided to download my favourite game on tablets since 2011 – Jetpack Joyride. Now, when your brain is under the influence, time seems to slow down – your body appears to lag. Specifically my eyeballs felt like they were lagging. I kept looking at the right of the screen, and I could feel my eyes darting to look at the right and back to Barry on a very regular basis.

This led me to ask a question: what does Jetpack Joyride look like when one’s eyes are tracked? What would a heatmap look like? Clearly there are eye tracking devices out there like the EyeTribe or Tobii which is fantastic. But I didn’t have access to any of those. The front-facing camera of my tablet appeared to frown at me. Then it hit me: why not use it to do eye tracking?

So I dragged myself to the computer, and started learning how to write Android apps. To their credit, the Android developer page is absolutely easy to use – if an intoxicated person can read and create an app in about an hour, you know it’s bloody good documentation. I didn’t get far, except to capture videos and detect my face, which is easy stuff anyone can do. I went to bed.
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My brain is in overdrive mode again. I hate it. It makes me quite unproductive. I hate it when I’m unproductive. This post is a brain dump in bid to win my productivity back

I spent the early part of the day editing my books – pretty good effort with 1 chapter left to go for basic editing. Future edits can be done once the books have been published.

The rest of the day was spent with my brain in overdrive. No idea what caused it. Perhaps the increased sugar intake due to ingestion of carbohydrates. Either way I am overthinking the smallest of things.

The afternoon was spent evaluating a potential consulting gig. A yes/no thing took me more than 5 hours of deliberating. It was an astrophysics based statistics consulting, but I wanted more information. The domain specific knowledge usually helps me with decision making in any statistical analysis. I didn’t have enough trigonometry knowledge to take up the gig (well, I could do the statistics part, but not knowing the background of the problem makes me a poor problem solver). I should have rejected that outright. But I spent 5 hours deliberating on it.

I spent time brushing up on basic trigonometry, and then the ideas started flooding in. Maybe I could do this! Maybe I could do that! I could not calm my brain down. Maybe because it’s a Friday. I said no to the consulting job.

Then I had dinner. The food was okay. We had desserts. I recalled why I don’t actually have a food review blog – I could not stop mentally criticizing everything I ate. I deconstructed everything in my mind, down to its basic ingredients, and would be mentally telling myself how to improve textures, tastes and flavours.

One particularly sticky idea that I had was creating a milk that tasted like chocolate. By that I mean, normal looking white milk, except it was a chocolate milk. I felt like I had to go home to try. I didn’t get the chance to.

Brain on overdrive, I started overthinking everything. I went to the supermarket to pick up grapes and fruit. I thought about a joke about Abelian grapes and started chuckling to myself. Partner thought I went a little nuts, so I told her. She didn’t find it funny. Told the joke to 3 other people. Nobody found it funny. Told a number of other jokes that nobody found funny.

I started wondering about the concept and nature of humour and what makes people laugh. Clearly not me. Then I recalled the stereotype people laugh at. The Big Bang Theory was one of them. I used to like it a lot. Then I realized that you were supposed to laugh at the characters, not with the characters. Now I just watch it because I had followed it for 7 seasons so far – the sunk cost fallacy clearly affects even my currently hyperrational state of mind.

I cannot shut off. I am so tired. I know a few things will shut me off – movies, or drugs. Even with movies I don’t seem to enjoy them as much as I used to. I overanalyze every frame. I overanalyze story structure and see twists coming a mile away. I overanalyze cinematography and colour grading to get a sense of things. In the past this used to be subconsciously done. Now it’s active and conscious. It’s tiring.

So very tiring. Before writing this post, I sat in bed wondering how Superman would navigate given that he has just learned how to fly. Clearly navigating the skies by ground based landmark is one way, but then the vivid scene of Superman flying across the African savannah breaking up herds of zebras kept playing in my mind. It was a wonderful scene but it raises questions about how Superman navigates while flying. Birds can sense magnetic fields in their beaks. Can Supes do the same? Perhaps he goes home by doing the Christopher Reeve thing – flying to low earth orbit and re-entry. But how would he deal with the relativistic effect? Assuming he has a superior sense, he would definitely sense the difference.

By then it was obvious I needed a brain dump. My laptop is closest, so my blog is my tool. These things are running in my head all the time. I can’t sleep nor can I be productive. My thoughts branch out way too quickly and way too often now. I don’t really feel like sedating myself, and I don’t do trees alone, nor do I want to given my hyperactive state right now.

I’m just so tired.

Programming is Fun

This thought came to mind as I was working on various miscellenous devop stuff for new Pressyo projects:

Programming is fun and easy. Software development and engineering is tedious as fuck.

I like to think of myself as a guy who programs for a hobby. I cannot see myself doing everyday what I just spent the last 4 hours doing. Devops is schlep. Sure, things like Vagrant and Docker makes things a lot easier, but it’s still extremely time consuming and quite honestly, soul crushing. Devops isn’t for me. Yes, I know about Chef, Puppet. I love Salt myself. But even then, setting those things up are a pain in the ass and very time consuming.

But besides devops, there are other things that are pain points too: a webapp must be set up to be used for every web facing project we have. Even if a framework is used, a lot of time is spent building out the frontend. Developing frontends is schlep too.

And then somewhere in the deep depths of my memories, I recall a phrase, “a startup is defined by the schlep it is willing to undertake”. And so, I’m jumping in.

Do Not Expect Breakthroughs

I run in multiple circles of acquaintances. Amongst my circles of acquaintances, one is a heavily transhumanist/futurist/post-human circle. I would often engage in discussion – over drinks usually – about the Singularity and what’s to come, our minds would meander amongst the hopeful and not so hopeful futures.

There were many ideas floated. Most were interesting, but few were realistic. Being around transhumanist acquaintances gives me a feeling of hanging out amongst science fiction authors of the 1950s. I often get a sense of retrofuturism when I discuss transhumanism. There is just this feeling of un-realism that I get when I hear people talk about transhumanism. Granted, a lot of these people who talk about these things are fantasizing and do not have a realistic hold of what is possible. There was a guy who seriously thought nanobots were literally robots shrunken to molecule size. It was a very awkward moment explaining that really, nanotech and nanobots are basically chemistry, and how to structure molecules so they do stuff.

I also hang in another circle of acquaintances who are very much into startup and hacker culture. Given the topic matter at hand, it is obvious that these two circles do intersect. We would hang out and talk about the Glorious Transhumanist Future, and how we can profit from it. I do however, have some reservations about these discussions.

One particular discussion stood out for me. We had just came off playing with an Oculus Rift, and he mentioned that in the future, we would be replacing our eyes with digital cameras which feed directly into the brain. And he mentioned that NOW would be the best time to get prepared for such an event: create a startup around the expectation that people will replace their eyeballs with straight-to-the-brain cameras.

Yes, you read that right. Not start a startup to get the tech, but start a startup anticipating the breakthrough.

To me, that was the most ridiculous thing I’ve heard. The level of ridiculousness would have dropped had he said “let’s work to bring the eyeball-replacement tech to the public”. Instead, when I asked him if he knew roughly the basics of replacing a human organ, he merely replied with “I trust someone will discover how to. And by that time, if we decide to enter the market it’d be too late”.

I’m sorry, but that has got to be the most bullshit thing I’ve heard. The fantasizing that someone will bring a breakthrough that will benefit you. I’d be a lot more sympathetic to the idea if he had said he’s working on the breakthrough.

And I think this is the problem with a lot of futurists. The ideas remain in the realm of pure fantasy and are not rooted in realism. Another discussion I had centered around powered exoskeletons. If one had given even the mere thought to conceptually building a powered exoskeleton (like say an Iron Man suit), one’d immediately run into problems that would require breakthroughs to solve. In the case of the Iron Man suit, there would need to be a breakthrough in battery technology, or portable power (miniaturized arc reactor, anyone?)

I’m not being a Debbie Downer pissing on everyone’s optimism though. My main thesis is: if a certain future you expect requires a breakthrough in technology or scientific knowledge, you shouldn’t be counting on the fact that the breakthrough will happen due to someone else’s hard work.

There is a lot to be said about black swans and counterfactual thinking, but I shall instead end with this xkcd from yesterday.

Obsessive Frenzy

I like to think that I understand myself very well. But there are bits of me that even I don’t get. Over the past three weeks, the online advertising world had been rocked by massive incidences of fraud and malware. As part of my day job I have traced the sources of malware and fraud and we have ceased working with those companies behind them. At the same time I was also involved in a … let’s just call it consulting capacity to another potential fraud case (not within online advertising). I got into a frenzy working on both projects at the same time. Usually I would be happy that I’m highly productive, but this time round I felt rather miserable. Continue reading

An Aversion To Ship

I have a confession to make. It had been slightly more than a month since I last committed any code to Fork the Cookbook. In fact, the whole team hadn’t contributed to Fork the Cookbook in about a month. Only the scant updates here and there. If you were to have a peek into what we were doing, you would think it was abandonware.

commit chart for fork the cookbook

Only that it wasn’t. For two weeks now, I have been actively writing code for Fork the Cookbook again. Today I wrote the third shippable feature since a month ago. And yet you will not see those features publicly yet. I have it committed on the dev branches, but they’re not in the master branch yet. In short, they’re not shipped.

I have developed an aversion to shipping code. Not due to laziness or ineffectiveness. It’s something else. I feel like there is some sort of psychological factor that prevents me from typing git merge dev-x. Not quite sure what it is. I’ll need to meditate on it tonight.

Or maybe I am making excuses for myself. Or if I listen to my bitchy critics, I’m just writing a “flawed system”. Who knows, eh?

Lost Faith In Humanity

Today has been a generally dark day for me. Today, for the first time in almost 6 years, I lost faith in humanity completely. This sounds terribly pompous of me, but this is my blog and I can say whatever the fuck I want, although these sorts of posts are usually kept private and later deleted. Today will be different. Today my rant will be public. Continue reading

What You Love; What You Are Good At

Several discussions I had throughout today has brought me into this funk that I am in right now. But first, let me regale you with a tale of yonder. In my university years, I concentrated my study on two ‘streams’ of economics – the microeconomic ‘stream’ and the econometric ‘stream’. In the microeconomic stream, I did stuff like experimental economics, game theory and the like – you know, micro stuff. In the econometrics stream, I did stuff that had to do with data analysis. I love both streams. Then I graduated, and found a job.

The job mainly focused on the data analysis part of things – I have gone on to gain experience in all sorts of data analysis, from linear regression to support vector machines. I think I am good at it – I cannot be too sure after today. The new stuff I had to learn and pick up came fairly easily to me. PRML? No problem – consumed in about a week’s worth of baths (twice a day), and committed to memory. Heck, I even implemented some of the cutting edge machine learning algorithms ┬álike sparse coding at work.

So far, it’s about 3 years since my last course in the microeconomics stream. A discussion amongst colleagues today required my expertise (or lack thereof) in game theory. I could provide enough resources on the game theory end of things. But I decided to come home and do some research on the problem anyway to see how I could better improve the algorithms discussed. Lo and behold, my knowledge in that area is very spotty, and I had to wikipedia a lot of the concepts for refreshers.

This depresses me.

Why? You see, my one true love in economics had always been Consumer Theory, and the behind-the-scenes of it – you know, budget sets, convexity, clopen sets, the lot – but it’s really hard to find a well paying job that involves these theories directly, short of getting a PhD and being an academic. Money was always an issue for me – my parents aren’t wealthy people and I can’t thank them enough for struggling so I could do a degree with a not-so-high-paying job. Doing a PhD meant getting a post-graduate degree like a Masters before being able to do a PhD (which may or may not be sponsored). So the plan was to work and save up enough cash to do a post-grad degree that will eventually lead to a PhD.

So, thankfully enough, I had the presence of mind to do something that could potentially feed me as well – data analysis, a.k.a econometrics.

But this becomes a self-fuelling cycle of positive reinforcement. The more I worked in data analysis, the proficient I became at it, but that came at the cost of not remembering as much of what I love to do. Just before I wrote this blog post, I was combing through my bibliography of hundreds of papers on the Core and auction theory. I remember the gist of most of those papers, but a lot of key concepts I was once familiar with, I had to reacquaint through wikipedia.

Oh well, doing what you’re good at makes you only better at it. To excel in something you love, you must do it too. Lesson learned. May I be good enough to eventually do that PhD.

The Economics of Andrew Niccol’s In Time

In Time poster. Copyright of 20th Century Fox

I watched In Time a couple of days ago and while I’ve been a huge fan of all four of Andrew Niccol’s big name movies (In ranking order: Gattaca, S1m0n3, Lord of War, Truman Show), I must admit that In Time let me down quite a bit, but also strangely I loved the rather nicely realized version of an economic model. The movie was fine – Cillian Murphy’s acting was top notch, but the same cannot be said about Justin Timberlake. I loved the premise of the story, I loved the setting of the story, and I am fine with the story being all over the place. They kept hinting at more (I personally was hoping for a Logan’s Run-esque payoff – i.e. something larger than themselves), but there was no satisfying payoff in the end, and I was fine with that. I give In Time a 6.5/10. The following will be an exploration of the economics in In Time. Needless to say, here is a spoiler alert

What really bugged me though, was the mechanics of the currency. The premise of the movie is as such: time is now a currency, and intrinsically linked to their lives, and the lower class of society has to fight for their lives. They live from day to day, working just enough to earn them one more day of living. Another premise is that at least nominal price inflation happens. At the beginning of the movie, we the audience are told, and shown with rather emotional consequences that the prices of things are rising. A third premise that I think is fairly important in considering the economics of In Time is that the currency is spent every living second of a person’s life. Let us not consider to whom first, and assume that the currency evaporates. It is on these premises the plot of the movie was built upon. Essentially what bugged me the most was this: Given the premises of the movie, why was there even inflation to begin with? I try to give reasons in this article. Continue reading