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.

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.


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.

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.


Recently, I was invited to give a talk at a philosophy workshop co-located with one of the conferences on interdisciplinary science in Porto. I spent close to two weeks in town. While I was mostly focused on work, I did have a chance to dip out and explore the city. Here's my thoughts after walking around town. Here's a list of some of the places that stood out:

My Favourite Places to Visit in Porto:

Serralves is a contemporary art museum and one of the best galleries I've ever visited. The curation is fantastic; it gives visitors enough context to understand what the artist and the gallery are trying to communicate, without hand-holding the guests. Even if you're not a fan of modern art, Serralves is worth visiting: there's something for everyone.

The gardens surrounding the gallery are lush, and marked with several installations. In the center of the gardens is a fantastic example of art deco architecture: a house with a fountain leading from a cliff up to the main house.

Centro Portugues de Fotografia isn't a place highlighted by travel guides. It's close to all the tourist hot-spots, but receives much less attention.

It's worth a visit.

The centre for photography is a free museum located in a repurposed prison dating back to 1582. They didn't change much. The inner courtyard is a small square with iron bars for windows. The entrance to many exhibits is through heavy doors and bars.

Not all of the exhibits were worth writing home about, but several were exceptional. locating the gallery in a historic jailhouse gives it quirky charm. On the whole, it's a well curated gem close to where most people will be anyways. What's to lose by stopping by?

The Waterfront in Porto is a great place to wander and explore the city. There's an abundance of colourful buildings and neat narrow streets to explore. If you're willing to step off the tourist track, good, cheap food is abundant.

There's a number of wine houses along the shore of the river: a great place to grab a drink while watching the sun set flanked by Porto's iconic bridges.

A great way to get to the waterfront is to walk behind the Center for Photography to a look-out point of the river. From there, you can take steps that carve into the side of the hill down narrow streets that are decorated with the traditional ceramic tiles found in porto and a smattering of street art.

My Favourite Cafes in Porto

Epoca Porto is a great place for brunch. I had indescribably great eggs on sodabread toast. What was in them? I don't know.

early is a little cafe that seems to be built into an old bank. If you look into the back room, there's an old vault door that's mirrored on the inside. Dylan and I grabbed a bunch of plates to share as nibblies. Their roast cauliflower is the best I've had.

My Favourite Restaurants in Porto

O Calcua is a nice little place close to the centre of town. A group of us went here after the conference I attended, and it was memorably tasty---served family style.

O Comercial is a treasure hidden away in Palacio da Bolsa: a historic stock exchange in the center of town. There's only a handful of tables, so it's a quiet little getaway.

The Overrated

Taylor's Port is the oldest port firm, but it's not worth the trek. If you're interested in boozy drinks, chances are you're probably familiar with winery tours, or have at some point wandered through a distillery. The joy of these tours is getting to see where your favourite libations are made: getting to walk through the process.

You'd think that port--a fortified wine--would be the best of both worlds. Unfortunately, it's little more than a walking tour through one of the historic storehouses. Save yourself the time and drink port at any number of other places in town.

Livraria Lello is a breathtakingly beautiful bookstore. If you are at all interested in visiting, make sure you're one of the first 20 people through the door at the beginning of the day. At any other point in time, it is unbearably packed. It can take two or three minutes to descend the stairs as you weave through all the visitors taking selfies.

While the craftsmanship is excellent, it's near impossible to enjoy when peering through the crowds. It hardly seems safe; I can't imagine how deadly a fire would be with the way they pack tourists in.


Misreading some derivations you did months ago and fundamentally questioning whether or not you know what maths is feels like a uniquely grad-school thing.


There's nothing quite like noting the trail of red-scribbles left by your advisor on draft manuscripts are slowly evolving into check marks.

I'm getting better at writing!


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


Procrasticoding: for when you really don't want to work on that essay