I'm Alex Kearney, a PhD student studying Computer Science at the University of Alberta. I focus on Artificial Intelligence and Epistemology.

When I'm not playing with robots, I hang out with the indieweb community, drink tea, and scubadive.

Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial


Korean War Memorial

Johannes and I had a some time before our flight left after the AAAI Fall Symposium Series to go check out some of the sights in D.C. We walked around the mall in the morning before the crowds descended and had a chance to take in the monuments with very few people around.

You often see the Vietnam War memorial in popular media, and for good reason: the Vietnam memorial is impactful.

I had never seen any depiction of the Korean War memorial: a lush statuary, rather than the typical neo-classical plaza.

The only way to experience the memorial is through a forest. To get to the inscription and the fountain you must emerge from cover into a clearing with a platoon of brass statues. The first statue seems to be waving you back.

The monument brings the environment to the statues.

There were a few wreathes laid down by the fountain, both with fresh flowers from Korean community organizations.


Walking Around Washington

I had a chance to walk around Washington for a few hours with Johannes.

Lincoln Memorial

We first visited the Lincoln Memorial, which was shockingly smaller than I had expected. You grow up seeing all these monuments in art and movies; when you finally see the real thing, it's a bit weird.

It's this uncanny valley that you wander into. You're so familiar with the monument as media short-hand for some idea, that the real monuments seem somehow incomplete. There's these grand larger-than-life expectations of iconic monuments, and then there's the reality of wandering up to the monument which looks largely the same as any other statue.

There's several minor monuments around the perimeter of the mall. This one was one of my favorites, because it's been transformed into a roundabout.

When I die, I want my legacy to be immortalized into a neo-classical traffic circle.

MLK Memorial

The MLK memorial was strange. It's much newer than I expected---completed in 2011. To get to the plaza, you emerge from between a mountain split in half into a plaza. The plaza is wide open space looking over a lake with what looks like the peak of the mountain hurled into the center.

When you approach the slab from the other side you're greeted with MLK's likeness looking off into the corner. The concept is neat. The statue itself seems a bit stern.

"Out of the mountain of despair, a stone of hope."

Vietnam War Memorial

The Vietnam War Memorial is probably one of the most influential monuments on popular culture---It seems to be referenced the most. It's relevance makes sense: it's the most recent war monument. Many people have immediate family who fought in the war.

It's simply a chevron of names cut into the ground. What was truly interesting was the collection of volunteers manning the monument.

These volunteers seemed to predominantly be Vietnam vets. They stood around the monument, helping visitors find the names of loved-ones. They even had cards and a step-stool to take rubbings of the monument, allowing people to take the name home with them.

Jefferson Memorial

The Thomas Jefferson Memorial is almost feels more impressive than the Lincoln memorial.

The statue was placed in the centre of a circular room. Inscribed on the walls were a selection Jefferson's quotes.

Interestingly, there was this quote on constitutional inerrancy which I thought was strikingly poignant, especially with the discussion of restricting gun ownership in the wake of numerous mass shootings. I guess certain legislation gets enshrined as being beyond criticism, even against the intent of those who influenced it.

Tidal Pool

Johannes and I continued around the park, wandering around before grabbing a bite. As the morning shifted into the afternoon, the mall came alive with numerous charity events and political marches.

White House

Before heading to lunch, we made an obligatory visit to the White House. Again, it was much smaller than I imagined it would be. I'm fairly certain it's smaller than the albertan provincial legislative buildings.

Examining the roof-line, there is a hint of grey concrete which seems out of place with the neo-classical mansion. There's what looks like a reinforced bunker on the top of the building. On closer inspection, there was someone standing on the roof with some kind of gun, surveying the surroundings.

People-watching in front of the White House is fascinating. A number of protestors were lining the pavement where tourists were taking photos. A man was pacing back and forth across the length of the White House Lawn with a sign imploring republicans to stand up to Trump.

When I was crossing the border, the homeland security officer gave me recommendations for Washington. One of them was Old Ebbit Grill.

This place is my aesthetic. It has a nice, quiet warmth to it. Wood paneling and dim lighting; hunter green velvet couches; walls mounted with trophies rumored to be shot by Teddy Roosevelt.

After lunch we wandered around town, spending the last couple of hours taking in the streets on the other side of the mall and lamenting the fact we didn't get to visit any of the Smithsonian museums during our trip.


My favourite part of working on papers and proposals is comparing the feedback from different people. A lot of the time I get suggestions which are diametrically opposed. It's fun seeing what people disagree on and why.

#phdchat


Grace Hopper 2018


Really excited to head to my first #GHC2018 tomorrow! Does anyone have advice for how to make the most of it as a first-timer?


What I did Sept 8 - 16th

  • Went to Amii's inaugural monthly AI tech meetup and chatted with a bunch of people.

  • Moved into the Amii office downtown.

  • Worked on my Camera-ready copy of my AAAI fall symposium paper.

  • Wrote a proposal for the Distinguished Lecturer Series.

  • Watched Christopher Robin.

  • Read Weapons of Math Destruction.

  • Harvested what was left of my garden.

  • Finished the skull on my sweater.

  • Made yogurt!


Are any #indieweb folks heading to #ghc2018 this year? If there's any interest, I'd love to have an ad-hoc homebrew website club!


At the wildly talented @melosare’s tech talk at @AmiiThinks #AI meetup. Learning about the promise and peril of #ml in medicine.

The room is absolutely heaving! It’s great to see so much interest in #yeg AI 😊 🤖


What I did Sep1 - Sep7

Indieweb-stuff:

  • Tried to federate my indiewebsite so that I could interact with mastodon through it (unsuccessfully)

  • Hacked together a websub hub which passes all of the websub.rocks tests.

  • Rebuilt large chunks of my site---particularly the back-end---so that the posting interface is nicer and easier to test.

  • Factored out my markdown albums, webmentioning, and hashtag extensions into separate repos which I can independently maintain.

  • Hooked up webmentions again so that I can see webmentions as part of an ongoing effort to improve usability of federation.

  • Hooked up in_reply_to again, so that I can send webmentions. This also lets me reply-tweet using brid.gy

  • Started posting albums and articles I'd held off on posting.

Reading:

  • Research proposals from different disciplines to figure out how I want to structure my candidacy document.

  • Bickhard's interactivism and process metaphysics

  • Anthony Chemero's take on representationalism

Other stuff

  • Karaoke 🎤
  • Symphony under the sky
  • Knitting an aran sweater I designed
  • Yoga 🧘


Important points about the value and importance of communication in research here.

Other additional factor to note:

  • spending time on outreach will necessarily mean less time on fundamental research. It’s a trade-off that needs to be appreciated more.

I often see this expectation that the people doing outreach and community coordination will just magically be able to do that and produce the same amount of work as people who aren’t taking on these other tasks. Eventually it just becomes expected that some of the students will take on these projects alongside their research responsibilities.

They get burnt out. They stop. The community goes through an outreach drought.

This happens a lot with minority students in STEM get tapped to do community outreach. It’s all good if you’re interested in community building, but you shouldn’t feel obligated to work on these issues. The effort should be recognized as coming at the expense of research.

Moreover, people leading diversity initiatives shouldn't feel entitled to minority student's time when it comes to contributing to diversity projects just because they're a minority. Too many times I see people working on these sorts of projects getting shoe-horned into the roles because they're in an under-represented group.

Even if students are interested in diversity projects, it becomes a balancing act in maintaining their academic reputation: the more they work on these community and diversity building initiatives, the less of a serious scientist they are to some people---even if they're a wildly talented researcher. This is a massive shame that holds the whole community back.


Deep Learning Summer School & Reinforcement Learning Summer School

Sights from DLLS & RLSS 2018 in Toronto.



MOMA with Kathy

Visited the MOMA in San Francisco with Kathy after Grad-CRAW


Grad-CRAW San Francisco


I got to drive in a Canadian #autonomouscar today! 🚘 🇨🇦 # sucansummit



Walking in Toronto


Art Gallery of Ontario


Swimming With the Fishes: Visiting Ripley's Aquarium


In Ann Arbour for #RLDM 👩🏼‍💻


Today in grad-school: robot tea parties.


Someone complimented me on my handshake: apparently it's the best in the room.


Where I'm living for the next two weeks. #yyc


That feeling when you finish a semester and get back to living like a real human being 💀✨


Today in grad-school: brains need 25 watts---the same amount as a light-bulb.


Today in grad-school: French robots reciting Asimov's laws of robotics.


Today in grad school: learning how to play poker really well.


Today in grad-school: students pretending to be dolphins to understand actor-critic reinforcement learning.


Things I did yesterday: throw a large number of pom-poms at my supervisor's head.


The lab telepresence robot is actually being used, and it's kind of weird.

The robot sways to give a life-like sense to the speaker, but it still feels like they're a disembodied head.