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


2019 is a wrap Here's what I did last year.

This was a busy academic year. I co-organised a workshop. I took a big leap in my work and submitted some philosophically oriented work to RLDM [1,2], one of which was chosen for a spotlight talk. I received a fellowship from Borealis AI for 2018-2019. I contributed to a few other projects, including a twitterbot for combating online harassment and an exploration of my meta-learning method in a continual learning robotics setting. I ended up presenting at a philosophy workshop in Porto.

Most importantly, this year I passed my candidacy exam. The only thing separating me from completing my PhD is my thesis.

I did some career development this year. As I chart out the end of grad-school, I've started queuing up internships to try a few roles out. Oddly, all of the work I've done is research-oriented. I've never had an industrial job before.

I managed to snag a ticket to Grace Hopper Conference. Last year I spent most of GHC managing the group of. While rewarding, I didn't really get to focus on experiencing the conference myself. This year, I got to meet a lot more people, and have a much better idea of how I could fit into different organisations.

I've put off internships mostly because of the interview process. Getting prepped for technical interviews and taking the time to actually sit them means re-directing a significant amount of energy away from the research and projects I'm working on. I can't do everything all the time. I finally bit the bullet this year and did some interviews. Although a small thing, it's a big milestone for me. It's not as scary as I made it out to be. It even paid off: I'm going to be working at Twitter for a few months in the new year and have more interviews queued up.

I worked on more diverse creative projects this year. I tackled projects in some new mediums and some old mediums. I used to be a very active potter in high-school and one of my greatest regrets is not keeping it up. Pottery is one of those meditative arts that takes all of your focus and attention: a good diversion during the crush of grad-school life. This year, Maren and Anna invited me to come join their pottery class. Seven years without practice, but I've still got it.

I tried new crafts including natural dying and embroidery and knitting socks. In the final hours of 2019, I even managed to help Kat spin up a knitting machine. Hopefully the skills from these humble projects will prove useful in 2020.

I got a lot of travelling done this year. There was hardly a month where I wasn't on the move. Some of my trips were big productions, years in the making. I went to Japan for three weeks after my candidacy exam. This was my first trip to Asia and the biggest trip since I went down the Danube in 2016.

Some of my trips were spontaneous. Dylan and Mikayla invited me sea-kayaking around the Johnston Strait, where we saw orcas and waded through the mist.

Most of my trips were tacked onto work-related trips where possible. The workshop in the Barbados had opportunities for me to go diving for the first time in four years. I went to RLDM and spent time meeting up with friends and enjoying the art galleries. I eeked out a chance to see the Tate modern for the first time in ten years during a layover. I presented some of my work in porto and had a chance to explore the city while visiting with a research group. I take the chance to explore where I can get it.

I really improved my photography this year---especially travel photography. I spent a lot more time carrying around a camera, and it shows. Even just slipping my little point-and-shoot in my pocket has provided a lot of opportunities. It helps that Dylan is patient and encouraging: sometimes even joining me to freeze late at night on a quest to get a good shot of the stars.

I picked up development on my indieblog. I started the year off trying to add more social protocols and interface better with federated sites like mastodon. After wrestling with web-specs and confirming, yes, I was implementing them as specified I gave up. I learned a lesson from this: working on more protocols is fun programmings sake. Adding webfingers and trying to doesn't make, nor does it really change the accessibility of my blog.

After learning this lesson, I spent the rest of the year making minor chages to encourage better usability. The bulk of this turned out to be small UI changes to make it more comfortable to post, but I did also add some smaller features.

1) This year involved a lot travel, and I added a wysiwyg editor to quickly chart out my trips and resolve placenames to geo coordinates.

2) I wanted to spend more time on academic posts, so I added mathjax for mathematical type-setting on my blog.

3) I have an impression video is the future, so I added a dead-easy manual way to add videos to my site.

It's these small, quick changes that have proven to be the most useful, but it's had an unexpected consequence...

I didn't do a lot of programming this year and it's a shame. One of the greatest joys in (my) life is programming. There's a clear---and positive---reason why I've done less programming this year: my indieblog is stable. Much of the external programming projects were small incremental additions to my blog. There's not much more I feel like adding. I have all the bells and whistles I need to sustain myself for the time being (although there's always maintenance and refactoring to do). Most of the changes I would want to make would require lots of effort. I started this project midway through university. There's a lot of cruft, cowboy code, and naivete to clear out. I don't have the gumption to do it.

I think it's time for a new big project.


Someone just called my code clean and crisp.

This is definitely on the list of nicest things people have said to me


programming,crawler,news

Hmmm... I think for my next project I'll re-do my web-scraper. Building a data-set should be an interesting engineering problem.