Week 1: Hello, RC!

Published on 01.10.2020 in [rc]

Hello! If you are reading this, welcome! This is my attempt to be a better (technical) writer, starting with writing about my programming life at the Recurse Center. For more about me, please visit my personal website. For a quick intro, I make installations, performances, and sculptures that let you explore the world through your ears. I surface the vibratory histories of past interactions inscribed in material and embedded in space, peeling back sonic layers to reveal hidden memories and untold stories. I share my tools and techniques with others through listening tours, workshops, and open source hardware/software. During my time at RC, I want to dive deep into the world of machine listening, computational audio, and programamtic sound. To do that, I'm splitting my time, 2/3s of which will be spent on audio ML and audio signal processing. The other 1/3 of my time will be spent on getting a better foundation on computer science, algorithms, and data structures. In the following post, I'll write about my experience with those areas, and pepper in some observations along the way that I've had since being here!

On the audio ML side of things, this week I dove into fastai's new version 2 of their library, specifically so I could start working on their new audio extension! I'm really excited to contirbute to this extension, as this will be the first time I've really contributed to open source. The current team seems incredibly nice and smart, so I'm really looking forward to working with them. The first thing I did was get version 2 of fastai and fastcore setup on my Paperspace machine, but then I realized that I could/should get it set up on RC's Heap cluster! This took a bit to get working, but it was pretty smooth to get everything setup, so now I feel ready to start working with it. My first project idea was to build a bird classifier, using examples of birds found around the Newtown Creek. I was able to put together a test dataset from recordings I downloaded on https://www.xeno-canto.org/. I did want to start training this week, but I think that's going to have to happen next week. This week I also finished up to week 3 of the fastai DL lectures, so that was good progress. Next week I'll tackle week 4 and use the rest of the week to actually code something.

On the audio signal processing side of things, I was able to finish week 3 of the Audio Signal Processing for Musical Applications course on Coursera, which I've really been enjoying. Week 1 and 2's homework assignments were pretty easy and straightforward, but this week's homework assignment was way more difficult! I didn't expect it to take as much time as it did, and I did have to cut some corners at the end and look at someone else's example to finish it. It wasn't the most ideal situation, and I now know going into next week to anticipate needing to spend more time with the assignments.

Finally, on the algos side, I finished Lectures 1 and 2 of Introduction to Algorithms 6.006 from MIT Open Courseware. I tried a couple of LeetCode questions related to those lectures as well. I need to find a way to make sure I actually code things related to that course, instead of just simply watching the videos. My approach has been 1) Watch a video 2) Do a couple of problems related to that, all before lunch. I think if I can get into a good flow for this, I'll be doing just fine.

Over the course of my first week, I've already had my ups and downs. One thing has been being overambitious in what I can get done in a day. I'm ready spending 9am-7pm at RC, and I still have the feeling that I can't get everything done. I'm going to have to be ok with not getting everything done that I've set out to do each day.

I had a nice check-in with one of the faculty members about algo studying and project management. Two takeaways were: 1) Don't spend all your time at RC griding on algorithm studying/cramming videos. Do some, but don't spend the entire day doing it. And 2) Once you feel like you know enough of what you need to get started on a project, start! Let the project drive what you need to learn.

One of the things I think I should start doing is create a list of goals for the week on Sunday night, and then let that drive what I should be focusing on for the week, making sure I've planned out enough time and space during the week to realistically make those goals happen, knowing that I want to leave space for serendipity while at RC.

Going forward with RC, I made a list of projects I want to work on. I'm categorizing them as "Small/Known" (as in I already know how to do them or have an understanding of a clear path as to how to make them real, and "Big/Ambitious", as in I'm not exactly quite sure where to start and they will be take a longer time to do.

For now that list looks like:

Small / Known

Big / Ambitious

For next week, I want to:

Week 4 of fastai
Week 4 of ASPMA
Lecture 3 and 4 of MIT 6.006

Make bird classifier
Make Shepard tone sound generator
More LeetCode problems