Python Counterstrike: Squirrel Ambush

Kurt Grandis, a soft-spoken software engineer from North Carolina, delivered a humorous and informative presentation at PyCon 2012. PyCon is the largest annual gathering for the community using and developing the open-source Python programming language. During the course of his presentation, Militarizing Your Backyard with Python: Computer Vision and the Squirrel Hordes, Kurt describes how participating in citizen science (ala the Backyard Bird Count) led him to use Python to tap into computer vision libraries and build an automated sentry water cannon capable of soaking bushy-tailed backyard bandits.

Related Resources:

  • Kurt mentions OpenCV in his presentation. What is it? The Wikipedia entry for OpenCV (or Open Source Computer Vision Library) states that it “is a library of programming functions mainly aimed at real time computer vision.”
  • He also talks about support vector machines (SVM) as a means of analyzing images so as to recognize and distinguish bird shapes from squirrel shapes.
  • Canny edge detection also comes into play.
  • NumPy (also mentioned in the presentation) is the fundamental package for scientific computing with Python.


VLC 2.0: Twoflower Blooms

VLC 2.0 Twoflower

VLC 2.0 (Twoflower) has arrived and I couldn’t be happier! Why do I like it so much? What’s not to like about it? This excellent application:

  • displays subtitles
  • enhances the sound of some media files
  • is cross-platform (works on Mac, Windows, and Linux!)
  • opens all kinds of media files
  • plays anything with minimal hassle
  • takes minimum effort to install

This is one of the first programs I install on any machine I use. To me, VLC is the Swiss army knife multimedia player. This hardy little gem can handle just about anything I can throw at it. What’s more, it works on all of my computers.

And, it’s free!

Well-Rounded About Every Corner of the World: GeoCube

A long, long time ago many people thought the earth was flat. Today, we know it’s not. In fact, according to HERODOT, the European Network for Geography in Higher Education, these days, it’s cubed.

Screen shot 2009-11-12 at 7.28.44 AM

Geocube is an engaging, FREE, online resource devoted to the exploration of geography. With an interface based on the appearance of a Rubik Cube, its six faces and 54 topics invite users to learn more about our planet.

The (Freebase) Parallax View

Sometimes, looking at an issue, a concept, or a subject from a different vantage point gives us a whole new means of comprehending the topic. Ultimately, shifts in the direction of our inquiry, engendered by changes in the manner in which we’re making observations provide new perspectives. By observing a notion from different angles, we end up with a parallax view of the idea. We begin to understand that there are more layers of meaning to take into account, additional details that are worthy of inspection.

Humans appreciate familiarity. We grow accustomed to routines and fall into them with startling regularity. When we use a particular path to arrive at a desired destination, whether making our way to a market or an answer to a question, the ruts that form our route are continually reinforced by our travel. The more often we progress along the circuit, the deeper the rut becomes, the more ingrained the routine is in our approach. For example, many individuals, when conducting research these days, automatically turn to Google or Wikipedia for an answer without bothering to deviate to an alternative road to enlightenment.

To be sure, Google and Wikipedia are useful tools for research. Both are invaluable for tracking elusive explanations. However, neither of these paragons of probe are the quintessence of query. There are other avenues of access to answers. Research scientist David François Huynh points out this fact eloquently as he discusses the merits of Freebase Parallax, a “a novel browsing interface” designed for use with Freebase, an open, shared database of the world’s knowledge. Dr. Huynh’s impressive video demonstration of Freebase Parallax ought to convince even the most die-hard fans of Google and Wikipedia that a fresh perspective can often yield richer solutions in a shorter amount of time.

Freebase Parallax: A new way to browse and explore data from David Huynh on Vimeo.

Related links:

  • Drop by Freebase and check out the Categories there.
  • What do you know about a unit of knowledge? Google’s relatively recent Knol is designed to help users locate an authoritative article about a given topic.
  • My apologies to director Alan J. Pakula and actor Warren Beatty for alluding to their 1974 film the political thriller, The Parallax View, in my post title. No conspiracy was involved. It’s an engaging (if not disturbing) work of cinema that’s guaranteed to deliver a shiver or two.


Time (is Running) Out

Students in different countries all over the globe are equal in one respect–they spend a great deal of their time in high school. They have to do that. That said, what do they gain for their efforts? Do these young people end up with the same prospects? What will they eventually contribute to the global economy, industry, and society?

Strong American Schools, a project of Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors, a nonpartisan campaign supported by The Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation investigates these and other, related questions over at ED in ’08. Parents who want their kids to live a good life will want to visit the site. I don’t expect many high schools to even know about this. Why? Considering that many of the schools I serve regularly block blogs. I doubt that this resource is even on their radar.

What are your thoughts? Are the schools that our children attend meeting their needs? Are our children prepared to make the world a better place? Will they have the skills to succeed and survive?