Nice to know that Keanu Reeves is a genuinely nice person

I stumbled across this post on about how “Keanu Reeves Keeps His Hands to Himself“, and linked through to another story about how he’s a genuinely nice, and generous person. This second story is based on a Reddit thread that includes anecdotes from people who have met Reeves, and is worth reading.

What I really like about these stories is that they highlight a person we wouldn’t expect to be considerate because of his fame, and the stereotypical celebrity persona. We’re confronted with high profile people who actively behave like douches because they believe that this how they can have an impact.

It’s wonderful to know there are other people like Keanu Reeves who are quietly making a meaningful difference to the lives of us “ordinary” people. I really like this anecdote from gfixler on the Reddit thread:

There are no bad stories about Keanu. I live in LA and work in North Hollywood, and everyone I’ve ever heard out here tell a story about Keanu says nothing but great things. Everyone loves that guy. It’s made me love his movies. I don’t care how great they are. I love to see him, because he makes me happy. I like to know there’s someone like that.

gfixler writing on Reddit

We need more stories like these, I think.

Image credit: Keanu Reeves by Josh Jensen, licensed CC BY SA 2.0

Mindsets Policy issues

Celebrating Women in Tech with the awesome #WITBragDay meme

My favourite meme at the moment is the awesome #WITBragDay meme on Twitter that celebrates women in tech. It seems to have been started by Alice Goldfuss with her tweet:

The result is tweet after tweet of pure inspiration from women in the technology industry. I spent some time reading tweets this morning when I woke up and I found myself smiling because these stories are just awesome.

These women, and others like them, are the perfect response to the odious Damore memo. These stories are also the stories I want both our kids to know, especially our daughter. Heck, these stories inspire me as I learn to code. Here is a selection of some of my favourites:

I’ve created a Twitter Moment for the tweets I love the most. You can find that here too (it may be more complete and up to date):

Image credit: The #WOCinTech collection on Flickr, licensed CC BY 4.0

You can read more about the #WOCinTech project here too: “#WOCinTechChat – Promoting diversity in tech through stock photos

Events and Life Mindsets

Being a parent gives you superpowers

Parents often tell their kids they have superpowers of some sort. My favourite myth (which may actually be true) is that mothers can see through walls and whatever our kids are doing on the other side of those walls.

Fortunately kids believe this long enough to give us time to come up with something more plausible (and similarly effective) as they grow older.

Leaving aside the myths, there are times I think we really do develop some kinds of superpowers as parents.

One of my superpowers is the ability to hear a crying child over some background noise (in my case a fan in our bedroom) in the middle of the night and be on my feet and in my child’s bedroom before my conscious mind has even realised that I’m awake.

That sort of thing still amazes me after more than 9 years.

Image credit: Chris Barbalis

Books Film Writing

The NeverEnding Story finally makes sense to me

I watched The NeverEnding Story when I was a child and I loved the movie. I remember it as being a movie that fanned my passion for reading and boy did I read as a child although, ironically, I’m not sure if I read the book too. I was one of those children who was reading a year or two ahead of the rest of the class. Mostly this was because I spent so much time in the school library.

The NeverEnding Story was one of my childhood favourites. If you don’t remember the story, it involves a terrible threat to the fantasy land of Fantasia (yes, that is the name) and a quest to save this land. At the same time, this is no ordinary quest. The whole thing is a story in a book read by our protagonist, Bastian.

It is a very “meta” story that, as I realised when I watched it with my children tonight, is the literary equivalent of “turtles all the way down”. I think I superficially understood the notion of a boy’s imagination creating whole worlds (that, in turn, were filled with beings whose imaginations created more worlds) when I first watched the movie.

That notion only really made sense to me this evening, partly with Neil Gaiman’s help. I’m currently reading his new book, “The View from the Cheap Seats”. I read something he said about the role of fiction authors and how they tell stories, on the train this afternoon. This part caught my attention, mostly because of his source code analogy:

We don’t give them the people or the places or the emotions. What we give the reader is a raw code, a rough pattern, loose architectural plans that they use to build the book themselves.

The combination of Gaiman’s quote and watching The NeverEnding Story from an adult’s perspective brought it all together for me. It only took me about 30 years to catch on.

At the risk of stating the obvious (bear with me, I seem to be a bit slow with this one):

  • The story Bastian reads, also called The NeverEnding Story, is, essentially, the same story we watch play out in the movie.
  • The story itself is just an arrangement of words and it requires the reader’s imagination to breathe life into this “raw code” and create the mystical world of Fantasia (or the not-so-mystical world of early 1980s America).
  • When we stop using our imaginations and reading fiction, the story’s Nothing starts erasing our fantasy constructs.
  • To rebuild these fantasy worlds, all you need is your imagination, plugged into a story of some kind.

This whole thing was a little too Inception for our son. At the same time, both kids finished off the movie on a real buzz. Our son grabbed a book on his way to bed and I found him reading it when I finally put him to sleep.

The movie is more than a little dated, for sure. But the story left our kids excited about books and stories, just as it left me excited about my next book when I watched it about 30 years ago. That is a win to me.

Image credit: The NeverEnding Story by ThiagoFragosso, licensed CC BY-ND 3.0

Events and Life Mindsets

“The turning point was … finding out it was postnatal depression”

Having a child is an amazing experience (even more so with two) but there are aspects of the experience which are definitely not wonderful. Gina had postnatal depression after our son was born and it was a tough year before we realised what was going on and how to help her. I just came across a great video about a new father’s experience titled “Mike’s Story” which echoes many of my experiences in that year:

Mike’s Story from Mr Binns on Vimeo.

When you have a baby everything is supposed to be rainbows and unicorns farting rainbows in the sunlight so you don’t want to admit that it’s anything but that. You don’t want to admit that the family isn’t perpetually giddy with excitement about this little person who just ushered in that “family”. In retrospect, I think the best thing was moving past the shame/worry/denial and seeking professional help.

Just knowing that what Gina was experiencing was postnatal depression somehow made it easier to deal with it because we understood what was going on. Putting a name to the darkness opened the door to solutions and it made such a difference in what felt like a pretty short time period.

The more I think about what she must have been going through in that year, the more I admire my wife for her courage in the face of what must have felt like utter darkness. You can read about Gina’s experiences in her post titled “I didn’t know …“:

I didn’t know…

Postnatal depression is nasty but it can be beaten if you understand what you are dealing with and if you seek help, together. It really works better if you do it together. As Gina put it:

I hope that reading this makes a difference to someone who needs it. I hope they know they are not alone.


When machine learning helps us find photo memories

I am still amazed at how smart machines are when it comes to understanding what we include in our photos. I just ran two simple searches on Facebook and Google+ Photos of my photos and received these results:

I think Google’s machine learning is better when it comes to semantic searches although I haven’t conducted any scientific tests of any sort. It doesn’t really matter which is better. What does blow my hair back is that you can search for objects in the photos and have these machines show you those photos, even though your titles, tags or other metadata has nothing to do with your search terms.

I’ve been thinking about the best place to share my photos and I am very tempted to stop using Flickr and, to a lesser degree, 500px to showcase my photos and to use Google+ Photos instead. As a social network, Google+ hasn’t exactly made waves but it is an incredibly dynamic and powerful photo sharing service.

One of the aspects of Google+ Photos that I really like is Stories (here is a fascinating article about what goes into making Stories possible). Rick Klau’s post about how he started adding old photos to Google+ Photos with some pleasantly surprising results got me thinking about this again:

I prefer to edit my photos myself but the Stories feature in Google+ Photos can be a really nice way to share, well, a story that I capture in my photos. When you add the machines’ ability to recognise things in the photos and make them so much easier to find (or even discovery forgotten gems), these sorts of services become really compelling photo sharing services.

Wouldn’t it be interesting if Facebook introduced something like Google+ Photos’ Stories to its photo experience. The combination of the datasets these services have with that sort of nascent intelligence can be remarkable.

On a related note, Om Malik has published a very interesting essay titled “On visual web, a photo is worth more than a 1000 words” which is worth reading.