Brief report from Reconnect, and upcoming blog changes

First of all– Yes, I know, it’s yet another theme change. More on that in a minute.

It’s been a few days since my last post, simply because — as advertised — the Reconnect conference has been quite busy. “Conference” isn’t really the right word for it. It’s more like an intensive minicourse, punctuated by group projects and technical talks. And we go pretty much from 9:00 AM to 8:00 PM every day. This afternoon we have some free time to work on our group projects, and there’s an outing to New York City which I am skipping. (We’re at Rutgers University, about an hour from NYC.) I’m ahead on my project, so I finally have some time to post.

The title of the conference is “Data Analysis in Law Enforcement and Homeland Security”. We have been getting interesting talks from all sides of this general topic. During the day, Dr. Bill Pottenger from Lehigh University is giving lectures on data analytics, which is (roughly) about training software to analyze data and extract information automatically from it. An example that we saw yesterday uses a technique known as Latent Semantic Indexing (LSI) to sift through electronic documents and find relationships between entities using techniques from linear algebra (namely, singular value decomposition). We’ve also been studying decision tree and rule set algorithms for machine learning and looking at case studies where this stuff has been used in law enforcement and homeland security settings.

On Tuesday night we heard from Mike Tobia, inspector from the Port Authority of NY/NJ (and a real life New Jersey cop!), who gave us a view of what we are studying from the trenches of counterterrorism efforts in a real-life setting. It’s a rare and refreshing thing to have somebody who actually works in the field and is not a mathematician or a computer scientist come and talk about what math and CS people do. So many math conferences are just bubbles disconnected from anything real.

The main goal for us participants this week is to craft a proposal for a curricular unit that links this material to a course that we teach at our home institutions. I am leading a group making a unit called “Introduction to Data Analytics for the Liberal Arts”, which is a brief overview of data analytics for students in a “liberal arts math” course with little or no mathematical background. It’s not as cool as some of the other projects; one group is making a tank warfare video game that uses the machine learning concepts in the code so that the tanks “learn” how and when to shoot based on the other tanks’ past movements. But I think it’s a useful thing to bring this stuff down to the level of the fine arts and humanities majors and sort of demystify the idea of machine learning, data mining, and so forth.

Tomorrow is our last full day of lectures, lab work, and project work. On Saturday, we will spend the morning presenting our project proposals and getting feedback. Then we break at lunch and head home. Or in my case, head to the Newark airport and pray that there are no thunderstorms, heavy downpours (which I learned from my shuttle driver cause massive flooding at the airport), sneezes, bird sightings, or other events which might shut down the airport and get me home later than I already am. (Which is midnight on Saturday.)

It’s been a somewhat tiring week, made worse by the airport nightmares I’ve already blogged about, but quite informative and productive. I’ve gotten to know some good people, learn interesting new areas of math and computing, and begun to set some horizons for where I might go with this stuff later. It’s definitely a stretch for me — I’m an algebraist by training and have just a little statistics and very little computing background. But I see now that these are both areas I’d like to fill in.

Now, about the blog.

I’m still taking suggestions for new hosting services. Traffic’s been down quite a bit lately — it always dips in the summertime when school is out, but it’s worse this time due to all the problems with hosting, bandwidth, and so forth. So I am looking around, and if I find a better deal than what I have now, particularly with respect to bandwidth, I will be switching. Which means that I will have to install WordPress anew, transfer all this stuff over to the new place, and so on.

I’m also realizing it was a big mistake to change the permalink structure, because now people who do Google searches for some of my older and better-commented posts will get links to permalinks that no longer exist. So no matter where I end up, I’m going to be changing back to the old permalink structure and back-editing the posts from the last month or so to make everything consistent.

Once I get settled, meaning that I am in a hosting situation where I feel I’ll remain for the forseeable future, I am planning on having a grand re-opening of this blog, complete with a new theme WHICH I WILL NOT CHANGE EVERY SINGLE WEEK (that’s a promise there, see the caps?) and an optimized layout. I’m taking this period of low traffic and high, er, frequency of screw-ups to audition some new themes, such as this one (called “Rounded Transparent“). I’ve got a short list of about a dozen other themes I am considering and you might see those show up here over the next few days, depending on when you look.

This is a big deal, because a good layout and an eye-catching and -pleasing theme can really drive content. Also, as I discovered with the transfer quota issues last week, the theme I was using had so much javascript and images in it that I couldn’t keep it around due to its bandwidth-hogging tendencies. I’ve been guilty in the past for changing themes like some people change underwear. Sorry for that.

So, expect some dust around here while I get this blog in position to be what it is, whatever it is, for the long haul.


1 Comment

Filed under Blog announcements, Math, Scholarship

One response to “Brief report from Reconnect, and upcoming blog changes

  1. Good luck with the blog updates!

    Make sure to let us all know when the permalinks are fixed.