Skydog 2019, winners again!

I intended but forgot to write about this in past years, but this year I’m remembering!

The Fools’ Rules Regatta is a Rhode Island tradition and a total blast. You can read about it on their delightfully quaint site there, but in short: every year, on some weekend in mid August, there’s a boat race in Jamestown where teams bring tools and materials to a small beach, have two hours to build a small sailboat, and then race them. And this year, we won! read more

Albania, Montenegro, and Croatia: if you’re balkin’, don’t be!

I recently got back from a trip to the Balkans and it was pretty great! My girlfriend and I were going to the south of France for her friend’s wedding, so we decided to make a mini vacation out of it. We chose the area because it has awesome hiking, it’s real cheap, and she wanted to go someplace she wouldn’t go to on vacation with her parents (she’s been to most of Western Europe already).

I arrived to Paris before she did, so I went to a modern art museum I really liked last time, Palais de Tokyo. I didn’t like the exhibit as much this time, but there were a few cools parts. One part was this funny mashup of a Seaworld/capitalism critique, so it had all these horrifying mockeries of pop icons made out of clay, like this derpy Marxist Donkey Kong: read more

The trials and tribulations of training a physical robot with reinforcement learning

This is a follow up to my article “Training a real robot to play Puckworld with reinforcement learning”. In that one, to make it a little punchier, I showed the overview and end results of the project, but left out the insane number of little hurdles and decisions I had to figure out.

So this article will be about those details instead, partly for me to justify the pain, but maybe more charitably to show that for any project with a neat (hopefully?) presentation, there’s probably a harrowing saga of hair-pulling roadblocks behind it. Here, it’s roughly in the order I encountered things. There are lots I’m leaving out too. read more

An interactive introduction to Simulated Annealing!

Simulated Annealing (SA) is a very basic, yet very useful optimization technique. In principle, it’s a modification of what’s sometimes called a “hill climbing” algorithm.

Let’s look at a practical example to explain what hill climbing is, and what SA addresses. Imagine you’re in a 1-dimensional landscape and you want to get to the highest possible point. Further, a crazed optimization expert has blindfolded you so you can’t see anything; all you can do is randomly try to go either left or right, by tapping your foot to feel if a step in that direction is higher than where you’re currently standing. If it is, you take that step, and repeat. read more