​Honeybees and missing data part 1: Tale of the missing bees

​Sometimes missing data can tell you its own story, while other times missing data can lead you in completely the wrong direction. As I’ve been working on a PhD studying honeybee behaviour, I thought I’d share a couple of articles about bees and how important missing data can be.

This first article is the story of how I was tearing my hair out in frustration trying to get tags to stop coming off my bees when something else entirely was going on.

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Interesting recruitment strategy

I saw this guy who works at the campus bookstore the other morning:

My initial reaction was that it felt a little dehumanising to employees, but after I chatted with him (and he agreed to have his picture taken) it turns out he found it rather amusing.

He also remarked that the novelty of the shirt seemed to make it rather effective – he was constantly being scanned by people when he was out and about. I found this rather interesting as most people don’t tend to bother using QR codes, but I suppose this is one way to stand out – I certainly noticed!

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Bees, lasers, and machine learning

I originally wrote this article about how I’ve used machine learning as part of my research for the Data Skeptic blog. If you’re interested in machine learning, I can’t recommend their podcast enough.

A couple of years ago I started my PhD at the Australian National University working to quantify honeybee behaviour. We wanted to build a system that could automatically track and compare different groups of bees within the hive.

I took the project as I had a background in biology, beekeeping and programming, and I wanted to work in a lab where I could learn from a supervisor who was incredibly knowledgeable about both biology and software development.

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There are two types of to-do lists

Nothing feels as good as checking something off a to-do list. In fact, I have added completed tasks to my to-do list purely to enjoy the feeling of checking them off a moment later.

The problem I find is that the tasks which are important to get done in the longer term and which move projects forward, tend to be:

  1. Harder to get started with
  2. Less enjoyable until I get going
  3. Non-urgent
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whiteboard notes
What does it mean to finish a project?

I’d like to address one point of contention some people have had with my previous article about finishing projects – what to do when it isn’t worth finishing. I think the important thing to focus on here is the minimal viable product (MVP) that you can tangibly show as a result of having worked on something.

Sometimes we reach a stage where we realise that a project is no longer a logical use of our time. Maybe you’re working on a startup and realise there is no market for your product, or maybe new opportunities arise and it makes sense to redirect your time to a different project.

In cases like these, I think it’s fair to re-evaluate what ‘finished’ looks like. For some of your projects it may mean releasing an MVP and open sourcing some code, for others it may mean pivoting and salvaging some of your work in the new project.

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emailing on phone
This is how you hustle

Recently, the company that provides hosting for this website experienced some technical problems and my website went down. This was rather frustrating, and I sent them a Tweet to ask them to please resolve the issue. Before they even responded to me, I suddenly had this email in my inbox.

I saw your tweet to JustHost about your site being down.

I wanted to reach out to see if you would consider moving over to PeoplesHost? I’d love to speak more about any issues you’re experiencing, how PeoplesHost can help resolve those issues for you, and provide a level of support that you expect as a customer.

I have full confidence that we’d be able to provide a much better service. I’ll be looking forward to hearing back from you!

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If you don’t finish then you’re just busy, not productive

One of the biggest realisations I’ve come to as part of my PhD, is how little people care about how I spend my time, they only care about what I am able to deliver. Yet in order to deliver, you need to finish. I was recently reading an article on this topic, and I think the advice can be best summed up as:

If you’re always starting interesting projects and not finishing, then no matter how hard you work, you’re just busy, not productive.

I find this message extremely compelling, because I frequently find myself starting new programming projects in my spare time. In a lot of ways they are not a waste – I definitely learn a lot from these projects and gain a new skill. Yet at the same time, because I move on to something else that interests me before I can finish my current side-projects, when I tell people about these projects, all I can say is:

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Google have released a Python to Go transcompiler

Google have released an open source project on GitHub called Grumpy that converts Python to Go, and then compiles it down to native code.

It’s an interesting development, but since they won’t be supporting C extension modules (which basically rules out all the scientific and machine learning libraries I use), it means I probably won’t end up using this new tool too much.

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Notes from ‘A Few Useful Things to Know about Machine Learning’

I was reading a paper by Pedro Domingos this evening which had some tips and advice for people using machine learning. I’ve written down some bullet points for my own reference and I hope someone else finds it useful. I know I’ve made some of the mistakes he gives advice about avoiding.

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Why I post my writing to Reddit

Recently, I helped establish BioSky – a website dedicated to making medical and health research accessible to people without a scientific background. As we’ve been adding content to the site, I’ve been posting the links to multiple social networks including Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Reddit.

If I had to pick only one platform to use, it would undoubtedly be Reddit. I’ve had this view for a while, but a recent experience in the /r/Biology subreddit, where I posted an article explaining prions really solidified my opinion.

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