A few research trajectory notes

Today I finished working on the main content for week 88 of The Lindahl Letter. That one is a bridge piece between two sets of more academic side efforts. I went from working on introductory syllabus to starting to prepare a bit for the more advanced set of content. Initially, I had considered making the advanced versions a collection of research notes that were built around very specific and focused topics. That is entirely a path that might be taken after the 104th week. The packaging on the content instead will be put into another companion syllabus to allow an introductory look and a more advanced topic follow up for people looking for a bit more machine learning content. Functionally those two documents put together will be the summation of 104 weeks of my efforts in the machine learning space. It is the book end to my journey into really diving deep into machine learning and studying it every weekend and a lot of weekdays.

After two years of digging into the machine learning space I’m going to pivot over and focus on writing and studying artificial intelligence in general for year 3 of The Lindahl Letter. It should be a fun departure and hopefully it will mix things up a little bit with a broader collection of literature. A lot of people talk about deploying AI in the business world and almost all of that conjecture is entirely based on deploying a machine learning model into a production environment. When those same people deploy an actual AI product they will hopefully see the difference.

Reworking some research trajectory notes

Maybe now is the time to have a whiteboard session and rework my planned academic article list. This could be as simple as making a list on a blank page of paper or it could get a lot more complex. I’m thinking taking the complex road might be the way to go with this one. To that end, right now I’m wondering about the top 5 articles I would like to sit down and write. I can begin to see a few of them in terms of structure and breakdown, but none of that inspired me to stop working on this post and begin the process of writing. I’m going to need to focus on two directional elements. First, what is my academic writing trajectory and what are the results in terms of article output that would arise from that path. Second, what are the articles that I would really like to read that would be groundbreaking in some way. Plotting out both batches of content should help me find somewhere where either some overlap occurs or maybe somewhere where a little bit of intellectual stretching could get me closer to the edge of what is possible and avoid derivative muddling. 

In order to start that effort I’m going to map out my general areas of research interest. The last time I did that in a serious way was back on September 5, 2021. I’ll take that base and begin to expand it to the next level. You could build your own base by quickly making a list of the top 5 research interests you have. From those general interests you will find that you want to add more words to the topic to shape it into a more specific and targeted point within that larger topic. 

  • Public administration
    • Local government administration
    • The intersection of public administration and technology
    • How technology influences government
    • How government uses technology
  • Changes and uses in encryption technology
    • Encryption and society
    • Quantum encryption
  • Sentiment analysis and modern polling methodologies
    • Automated sentiment analysis
    • Sentiment analysis and machine learning
    • Modern polling methods
    • The breakdown of polling
  • General uses cases for machine learning
    • Common API use cases within the ML space
    • General ML use cases compared
    • My general look at MLOps open source code
    • A review of MLOps Github repos
  • The ethical use of large language or foundational models
    • Language models and society
    • The intersection of technology and modernity
    • Oversupply of information (flooding) 

Those areas of research interest have a trajectory. Each of those general themes is going somewhere or evolving somehow. To capture that I started to draw out the 5 topics above and consider what’s next. What would be the bubble next to these 5 bubbles. How do those bubbles interact and in what general trajectory are they starting to move? Building out that series of relationships helps me think about what areas need the most consideration and where the most movement is about to happen. I’m going to spend more time today on that mapping and whiteboard effort. It is not something I can do with a pen and paper as a lot of give and take needs to occur within the live editing consideration brought to that type of landscape.

Ultimately, understanding that general research trajectory is key to being able to complete the action described above that inherently stretches things toward the possible and away from the derivative. 

Reworking all of that made me wonder if I should just pull up my 5 year writing plan and see if it still makes sense. At some point, I’m going to need to rewrite my 5 year writing plan and figure out what things on that list really deserve my time and attention. 

Researching about research

Apparently, I had forgotten about making a new static page on the weblog devoted to upcoming research. It already contained over 10 items on the list of work I’m supposed to be completing. Right now I’m looking at several different things that are lined up about what I’m supposed to be working on and they are all somewhat interesting. 

  1. A research trajectory summary
  2. A writing schedule plan
  3. A list of upcoming research (without any prioritization)

Right now all 3 of those things have been made into static pages on the weblog. The most straightforward part of my planning trifecta (research trajectory statement, writing schedule, and upcoming research plan) of thinking about what I’m going to do next is really the writing schedule. It really just details my plan each week to sit down and be productive at the keyboard. For better or worse that means tracking in advance what my weekend mornings are dedicated to working on and how that time will be best spent. My writing schedule can be summed up as a simple look at weekends vs. weekdays and what needs attention. 

The upcoming list of research ideas is really just a pile of problems for future consideration. It represents for better or worse a parking place for ideas in need of more attention. That means at some point on some weekend they are going to get the attention they deserve or maybe they will just be abandoned in favor of something else. I only have so much time and attention to spend on things and some items are going to get more of it than others. 

What I am going to spend some time on today after reviewing the Substack post that was written yesterday for grammar and clarity will be to revise my research trajectory statement and try to get it posted online. I think that is really where I need to spend my focus for the day. It might very well involve a little bit of time with the whiteboard and a little bit of time writing up my efforts after that exercise is complete.

A bit of a rambling mess

Sometimes the best part of working within the weblog format is thinking out loud and reviewing things from the previous day. It gives you a moment to be reflective about the nature of things and the happenings that might otherwise have been overlooked. During the course of writing my post yesterday that was oddly enough shared today and back dated as for some reason I never posted it at the end of the writing session was very focused on when to write about what. That last sentence was awfully long. I probably should go back and break it up into a few minor sentences. It was a bit of a rambling mess. Maybe it will be best to leave that rambling for posterity to enjoy.

Yesterday, I decided to post about my Substack newsletter on LinkedIn. That posting sequence was held off for thirty weeks of writing and newsletter building. To grow the newsletter more it would probably be prudent to post a snippet and link each week. Generally that is something that I have been hesitant about. The other thing that I was able to complete yesterday was sorting through all the networking requests that were sitting in my LinkedIn pending invitations screen. 

I received an invitation to speak at a conference in October. My research paper related to my conference talks should be done by the date of the talk and that content could round out a solid 30 minute speaking engagement. However, at the moment I’m undecided on committing to anything for the rest of the year. 

It took a quick search of Google Photos for the search term, “whiteboard,” but the, “Upcoming Research,” section of the weblog is not filled out. My first cut at putting something up as a list which is fundamentally different for my research trajectory sketch went up today. 

This is just a list of upcoming research paper topics that I have started to sketch out as of 8/24:

  1. Open source MLOps paper (from talks)
  2. eGov 50 revisited paper
  3. Local government technology budget study
  4. The fall of public space paper (could be a book)
  5. A paper on the quadrants of doing
  6. A brief look at my perspective on interns
  7. Some time of perspective on the audience size of ML and why…
  8. ML model stacking
  9. Something on reverse federation
  10. A hyperbolic look at the conjoined triangles of ML
  11. A literature review of modern polling methodology
  12. A literature study of mail vs. non-mail polling methodology in practice and study
  13. ML mesh
  14. A paper on political debt as a concept vs. technical debt

Upcoming Research

Yesterday I completed an order for a couple of St. Vincent vinyl records. I’m going to give them a listen and see what I think about the records after a couple of spins. 

Today I added a static page to the weblog called, “Upcoming Research.” As a space for online content it is going to be devoted to the 5 research projects I’m working on and as part of my daily focus on having a trajectory statement it makes sense to codify current work.

My modus operandi for creating prose is to open a new word processing document every day and begin with a blank page. To this end my tabula rasa approach requires me to bring forward something from nothing. However, given my renewed focus on producing papers and other manuscripts that means a sustained focus will be required. Maintaining a sustained focus on one thing is a different type of modus operandi compared to trying to really clear your mind and work from a state of a pure stream of consciousness that approaches a true state of tabula rasa. While it is totally possible that both methods can be utilized. They are mutually exclusive by definition. One is a seeded method to preload content and the other is a method to avoid preseeding ideas or intentions. 

I’m back on my intermittent fasting diet of only eating two meals between 1100 hours and 1800 hours. For the most part the meal plan works out well enough, but it is challenging to sustain for several weeks.

Still thinking about research

Over the last couple of days I have spent some time researching and thinking about finding a solid IRB partner to do some survey research in the technology space. It seems like the best solution may be to find a research partner at a university that has better access to that type of support. That is probably something that is possible to figure out, but it was part of a realization that some things are easier with an institutional partner. Outside of sending out physical surveys which would require approval I could write and deploy an automated analysis tool that compiles survey-like scores to support research papers. Alternatively, it would be possible to grab some publicly available data sets and do work within that space. My strong preference is to do work by creating my own method of data collection. That lets me really target the research project to the question being tested.

Ugh office chair mats

And now… at the start of this day I’m going to spend the next few words writing about office chair mats. It was an entirely tactical exercise in producing words… 

About once a year I destroy the chair mat that my office chair sits on and it is always a frustrating process. This time around the previous mat started to suffer cracks and at that point it was time to get a new one. Making a trip to our local Staples was easy enough and the Sprouts store next door had vegan gummy bears which was interesting. After looking around at the floor mat options which they had a bunch of in stock I went ahead and found one recommended for every day use and bought the bigger one this time around. I think what happens over time is that I put all of my weight toward one of the wheels on the chair in a way that is enough to depress the mat downward and crater it into the carpet. Most of the time I am sitting in my Scandinavian Designs Wau desk chair (blue and white model). It has been a perfectly workable chair and the casters seem to be pretty decent. This has been a problem for as long as I can remember and maybe it has something to do with the way I end up leaning forward during the day and focusing my weight on a front wheel from time to time. 

I really need to spend the rest of this writing session focused on something other than office chair mats. I’m not entirely sure how that topic sprang to the front of my consciousness with such resonance that it deserved a 200 word paragraph. During the course of reviewing some of my research ideas for papers it seemed like a good idea to send out a survey, but it looks like I’m going to have to learn how to get Institutional Review Board approval to engage in that effort. Getting that done is going to require some learning and a bit of poking around to figure out the right way to do something like that. It is something that is definitely much easier to do as a member of a University faculty. After figuring out where to get approval to conduct the research I have two survey designs that might work out well to produce original research papers from and work to get them published in academic journals.

Papers for the sake of papers

More papers are getting published than any human could possibly read. Those publications are getting stacked up across many different fields and in the case of machine learning the sheer volume of content is staggering. You could try to only focus on a specific journal or two, but some of the most cutting edge research barely goes into the journal system anymore. A lot of it is just sort of pushed out online and those cutting edge researchers are on to the next project. It feels like a vicious cycle of papers for the sake of papers. My efforts to communicate and share my thoughts are generally focused on the medium I’m using and having some reason to share it with people. Within that framework of the necessity to communicate something is hopefully a better line in the sand for what should end up in a paper. We may hit an inflection point where only the top researchers in a field are able to pull together references and share content in a way that is widely read and dispersed. It would be a method of gatekeeping by sustained successful communication, but this could create a type of bubble around a top set of researchers and it could very well obscure the future edge of technology. 

This is a topic that I’m really concerned about obviously. I have spent a good portion of my morning thinking about the future of academic research and the fragile current nature of the broader academy of academic thought. Intergenerational equity within the academy is about the effective storage and sharing of knowledge across the shoulders of giants as the intersection of technology and modernity occurs. Solutions to that quandary are probably beyond any single weblog post or thinking session. It will take a collective action within the academy to rebalance the means of communication toward something new. Somebody within a major field will need to hold some type of conference, lead a nationwide chautauqua, or create an institute to begin that process. Ultimately the system of introducing knowledge in any academic discipline involves lectures where a profession reduces a mountain of content into a presentable set of mapped coursework. That process sometimes ends up in books being published and other times a few of those textbooks become the standard across a discipline. Even the best ones either evolve over time or are replaced by the next set. That is a natural part of communicating the essence of an ever growing mountain of knowledge. 

I keep thinking that maybe every discipline will end up with a sort of encyclopedia of knowledge for that core area of exploration. Just like people built out giant tomes of knowledge to share content when print was the primary medium of communication, some type of modern encyclopedia for a field could provide a foundation for begging to understand a vast accumulation of knowledge within a field. You have to have some way of opening the door to people wanting to learn about the content, but most of them cannot start at the end of the stream of knowledge by reading the latest work by the foremost experts in the field. They need some type of foundational knowledge to be able to understand and consider that work at the bleeding edge of what is possible. In some of the sciences reading the mathematics presented on the page alone requires a certain amount of knowledge before it could be comprehended. My abilities in mathematics are decent, but occasionally when reading a machine learning paper the mathematics on a page are daunting and take me a bit to try to figure out exactly what the researcher is trying to communicate to me as long strings of math are not annotated and commented like code to help people along the way of reading them from start to finish.

Thinking about research schedules

Some of my thoughts have drifted toward the productivity that having due dates from classes provided me over the years. Maybe I need to start thinking about turning the cycle of writing a paper into a scheduled thing like a class. A few different examples exist related to creating timelines for writing a research paper. Waiting for the paper to organically develop is not really working at the moment. It may very well be time to start working toward a new writing plan that involves a research schedule just like starting a class and working toward turning in a research paper at the end. I’m going to start working toward an August 16, 2021 start date for a planned cycle of research. 

I sort of started my effort by going out to consider literature reviews:

Thinking about methodology

We stand at the door of so many possibilities.

Dear Reader, 

Today we are going to dig into the nature of survey driven research. I’m interested in learning about the respondent from a 360 degree perspective. A survey is designed to extract information from the respondent. That information being extracted should be useful and definitive in some way that could not have been otherwise derived by observation. That last assertion could be debated. It could be evaluated from a lot of different perspectives. I’m wondering just how much of the research being conducted utilizing survey methods takes into account how the respondent feels about being a participant in the study. All of the recent talk about political tracking polls has probably raised my interest in the aforementioned research methodology question. A lot of different lines of inquiry could be raised to really dig into this question about respondents within survey based research methodologies. Generally speaking I have not participated in a survey in some time. I cannot to the best of my knowledge remember completely a survey outside of maybe a few clicks online here and there. 

At the moment, I have taken to wondering about who has the best deep fried appetizers in the area. By who I mean to say what restaurant. It seems that during this great year of pandemic the delivery services that bring food from restaurant to customer are growing. That business model appears to be working out well enough for those services. The cost of the delivery may very well be wreaking havoc for the restaurants. This is not an example of pure arbitrage, but instead it is an example of a service existing on the basis of another service. I’m sure an economic term exists to explain the dependence of the backward linkages between the delivery service and the origins restaurant. At the moment, I cannot remember that term so you will have to just imagine that one exists and it is pithy, resplendent, and otherwise eloquent. Getting back to the topic at hand, I should be able to pretty easily figure out based on the places I have been where I might want to do business again. That would be the easiest way to answer the question. It would be true empirically based on a direct sample and my preferences and the quality of the restaurant at the time of dining, delivery, or pickup. Answering the question in a more complete way would require a much larger sample size than my own personal experience. It would be possible to look at the ratings of some aggregation websites or even sort and filter within some of the aforementioned delivery services. Those methods might be the right way to go or it might be simpler to make a choice about dinner and then return to the search at a later time.

Several quick searches by rating as the only factor quickly put me right back where my initial decision would have taken me anyway. I could have and perhaps should have just gone with my initial reaction and avoided a bunch of additional research. Keeping my mind focused on a solid research agenda seems to be harder and harder over time. Honestly, it is much easier to just not do anything than to actively tackle hard questions each day. During this year of pandemic a lot of time has been spent in the pursuit of just waiting for better news. That alone was enough to push forward my academic research agenda. Right now conference requests are starting to come in and journal deadlines are the same as they have always been. Every day is a good day to sit down and write a paper, but that is easier to say than to accomplish. A cup of afternoon coffee just got brewed and I’m writing along here while watching the Green Bay Packers play football against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Dr. Nels Lindahl
Broomfield, Colorado