The Free-Range Technologist Nov 2020

Sharing the Things I'm Learning & Using

I hope you and yours have been able to stay safe and keep upbeat this year.

Having the election over has been an enormous relief, and I am hopeful about the new year and that Americans still stop yelling at each other and get back to solving problems.

As always, be sure to hit reply and tell me what you have been up to, what you are reading, and what neat stuff you have discovered lately!

November Edition:

  • Help needed: SXSW Proposal

  • Cloud-Based Machine Learning: Edge Impulse

  • Hardware: Wave 3 Mic

  • Hardware: Stream Deck

  • Software: mmhmm

  • AudioBook: Fall, or Dodge in Hell.

  • New Talk: Meet the Learning Machine: How Artificial Intelligence is transforming our world!

  • New Talk: 5G, Blockchain, and Self-driving Cars: Why does the pace of change keep getting faster?

  • New Talk: Smart Homes, Smart Farms, Smart Cities and the Internet of Things.

What I need your help with: SXSW Proposal

Would you "upvote" my proposal to present at SXSW?

SXSW is a big conference typically held in Austin but will be virtual this coming March. They invite the "big fish" in tech directly, but the "small fish" like me can also present if their proposal is selected. Part of that selection process is a popular vote.

My presentation is "A Student Centric approach to AI in Higher Ed," and I explain a little more in this video.

If you can take some time to register and upvote, I will be very grateful!

Click here to vote for My Proposal

Discoveries and Lifehacks

Cloud-Based Machine Learning: Edge Impulse

Edge Impulse is a company that makes a platform for machine learning on edge devices (think small devices used for smart homes, farms, cities). It is free for developers, teachers, and students. I have found this to be an excellent tool for teaching machine learning basics to a non-technical audience (no math required). Here are the main highlights:

I used it in my workshop/talk on machine learning, and it has always worked well. I do "pre-load" my project with some data so that I don't have to spend a lot of time collecting data during the workshop. (Slides for my current AI/ML talk are here, let me know if you want native PPTs).

Hardware: Wave 3 Mic

You can have a videoconference without video, but not without audio. Audio is a critical component in all any zoom, WebEx, or Google Meet conference. It is tiring to be on a call all day, but in my opinion, the main contributor to Zoom fatigue is audio fatigue.

Since starting the fall semester, I have been trying various ways to improve my audio quality (you can read about and hear the multiple microphones I have tried in this medium article. I finally settled on the Wave 3 mic from the gaming accessory company Elgato. This is one of the best mics you can get for the price, and it connects directly via USB.

For more on why audio is problematic and developments on the horizon, check out Why Do We Suffer From Zoom Fatigue? It's All About The Sound.

Hardware: Stream Deck (also from Elgato)
You can do a lot to make your presentations on zoom or other videoconferencing platforms better and provide a variety of views, etc. Both OBS and Wirecast offer ways to mix multiple cameras and images and customize your presentation.

Still, if you don't have a production assistant to make the transitions while you concentrate on the material at hand, it can be nerve-racking and makes for poor presentations. I initially thought about building a keyboard for automating these transitions, but a student suggested another gaming product: the Elago StreamDeck. This device works great and can control many programs, including zoom. If you are willing to get a little in the weeds, you should be able to control any program (especially if you use Automator on the mac).

This short video shows how I used StreamDeck to change my views during a zoom call.

Software: mmhmm
If you are on a mac and want to have better presentations, mix video sources with your slides, etc., then you should check out mmhmm. mmhmm is a relatively straight forward program that lets you do all these things and more. I tried this software out as a beta tester, but I didn't adopt it since I was already invested in another solution.

The learning curve for mmhmm is much less than OBS or Wirecast, so if you are on a Mac, I recommend you check it out first. It is a subscription-based product (there is a free version), but students and educators get a one-year mmhmm Premium subscription free of charge to students and educators in K-12 schools, colleges, and universities. Email from your school email address, and they will verify your credentials and get back to you promptly. For more, check out this recent review from the Verge.

Book Reviews

AudioBook: Fall, or Dodge in Hell.

I don't read much science fiction, but when Neil Stephenson publishes a new book, I always read it. In "Fall or Dodge in Hell," Stephenson provides a half technothriller book (like Reamde) and half fantasy rewrite of Paradise Lost. His books are always long, engaging, and make you think. However, unlike his other books, it was only the first part of the story that I found to be engaging.

The first part of the book has some interesting/scary ideas about America's future. Most of the book is set 20+ years in the future, and there are two Americas: modern, well-run techno-utopian cities and Ameristan-- rural areas that have "Facebooked." In Ameristan, the group-think echo chambers of Facebook have manifested themselves in the geography of small-town America. These towns are isolated from each other by certain beliefs and political ideology. Outsiders beware!

Everyone (city folk and Ameristans) wear AR glasses to filter out any images or events that don't fit their belief system from their view. And even worse, additions are made to what you see to confirm your beliefs further. If you believe in the Roman gods, then whenever you see lightening, the AR glasses will show Zeus pitching the lightning from the heavens.

Spoiler: A big part of the story is the digitization of the main character's brain after his untimely death. Once uploaded to the cloud, Dodge's brain struggles with making sense of the world. It made me even more convinced that I don't want to be preserved or uploaded after I die!

While I listened to the end, and it ends on a happy note (I guess), I don't think I would recommend this book unless you are really into fantasy or this particular author.

Exploring-->Learning-->Building--> Sharing

I was recently selected to represent the University of Missouri as one of it's Presidential Engagement Fellows. As such I am giving talks (20-60 minutes), on a number of technology topics. If your organization is interested in a talk on one of these topics just let me know and we will arrange a time to make it happen!

  1. Meet the Learning Machine: How Artificial Intelligence is transforming our world!
    Artificial Intelligence, in the form of Machine Learning (ML), has already transformed medicine, retail sales, and other industries. It is about to enter all our lives, whether we want it or not! In this session, we will quickly develop a basic understanding of AI, and its advantages, applications, and difficulties.

  2. 5G, Blockchain, and Self-driving Cars: Why does the pace of change keep getting faster?
    Why does the pace of change seem to be quickening? There is a reason! “Exponential” technologies are causing massive disruption to our world and livelihoods. Let's take a close look at what drives these technologies, the positive and negative effects on markets and nations, and develop an "exponential mindset" to anticipate digital disruptions.

  3. Smart Homes, Smart Farms, Smart Cities, and the Internet of Things.
    Our world seems to be getting smarter, thanks to the Internet of Things (IoT). Cheap electronics, a robust set of tools, and growing libraries of projects have enabled our surroundings to become "smart" and have empowered every day innovators. Modern-day Edisons can inexpensively and quickly create new inventions using IoT devices. Already several Missouri entrepreneurs have used this technology to create thriving businesses. Let's explore these tools are being used to shape the future!

What I am looking forward to

  • Getting a lot of reading done over the Thanksgiving break

  • Getting responses from you all, hearing about you have been creating recently, and the resources/lifehacks you are using!! Just hit the reply button and fill me in!

Thanks for reading and thanks for your insights. BTW, I a trying out a new method of sending these emails, so hopefully, more people will see this in their inbox! If you are not subscribed use this button to sign up!

Take care,