Goodbye Facebook

Intro

Hello all, first and foremost, happy Independence Day to my American readers. It has been over a year since I created since I created this blog and proceeded to write 0 posts. I figured I would use the holiday to write an update on my life. As many of you were probably directed here from Facebook, you will know that I have decided to delete Facebook. I have been meaning to do this for a long time but it is my main form of communication and connection to the communities I am a member of and I did not want to lose this. However, in light of the recent scandals involving Facebook (Cambridge Analytica, intentional dark patterns to confuse users, morally vacuous ads), I have decided to do my part and cast my vote against Facebook by no longer using its services. I will try to keep this post short and talk about three things: why I am deleting Facebook, an update on my life, and my plan for this blog.

Why I am Deleting Facebook

As alluded to above, the main reason I am deleting Facebook is because of its dubious role in our lives. What started out as something meant to connect us has turned into a monstrosity that has eroded the meaning of meaningful social interaction. As something I have noticed firsthand, Facebook is primarily composed of echo chambers where members simply express like-minded opinions and receive praise from the crowd in the form of likes. If you are part of my echo chamber of students on a liberal campus, this consists of the typical Democrat platform. Now, I am not saying that I disagree with the Democratic views; simply, that I see no purpose in a platform where the spreading of ideas serves to primarily embolden ones already deeply ingrained beliefs. This problem was in full force this past American election when, seemingly, my entire Facebook feed was shocked that Donald Trump was elected. Gerrymandering aside, how can it be that 46% of the population voted for this guy and whose geographical electorate comprises the majority of the US yet my Facebook feed would lead one to believe that the number of Republicans is roughly zero.

Partly, I blame Facebook for segregating these two groups of people (at least in my generation). Evidently, I was sorted into the Democrat chamber. Probably because of my “progressive” views of accepting people of all backgrounds. The fact is that I differ in many regards: strong opposer of gun controls, liberty over security, and even support private healthcare. Realistically, I am more similar to a Republican except for their archaic stances on marriage and abortion. I would even say that marriage as an institution serves only to provide a tax benefit and so I do not really understand why it matters who one marries. The key takeaway here is that the original reason I joined Facebook no longer serves its purpose. To connect me to my friends and family. Now that there are other ways to connect, which I have posted on Facebook prior to its deletion, I no longer feel the need for my account.

Secondly, I have always felt that I communicate best by having the time to think and write my ideas down before I say/do something that I regret. Committing to writing long form on my blog will hopefully allow everyone who wishes to stay in contact with my a better, more meaningful insight into the world of Zach. So, while the blog serves many of my desires, I hope it provides you, my readers, some benefit as well.

Life Update

Much has happened in the past year but I will skip ahead to the most recent months. In late May, I successfully passed my general examination at Princeton. For those that don’t know, this means that I presented what I intend to write my thesis on to my committee and they accepted that it was worthy of a thesis. I won’t get into what my thesis is, I will probably write a blog post on this in the fall, but just know that it is related to AlphaGo. AlphaGo is the algorithm that Google developed that beat the best human player of the Chinese game of Go, widely considered one of the most complicated games to play. By passing my general examination, I am officially a PhD candidate, received my Masters degree, and the only barrier from and my PhD is the successful defense of my thesis. No more courses unless I want to.

This summer, which I have dubbed ML - machine learning, Michael Lewis, and my legs - is in full swing. I am interning at a startup in New York City called Stratyfy. I am the first engineer in the New York office. Stratyfy is working on a platform that enables humans to make better decisions. We use advanced machine learning techniques that take in human experts’ knowledge and enhances it by providing other possible decision trees and optimizing the current decision trees. For example, in the loan lending business, perhaps I believe that we should not lend to people whose debt-to-income (DTI) is over 40%. But obviously this depends on income (40% on $10 might be better than 40% on $1,000,000). Our platform seeks to find this additional usefulness in knowing the income and might also suggest that the number should be 38% instead.

To get to work everyday, I commute 1.5 hours from Princeton. This is where Michael Lewis - my favourite author - comes in. It was my goal at the start of the summer to read all of his books. As it turns out, I read much faster (or the train ride much longer) than I thought. I have already read 8 of the 12 books I intended to read. I have thus added Thomas Piketty’s Capital and the Expanse series to the list of things I want to read. I also intend to write summaries of everything I read on this blog. Which means that I am already 8 blog posts behind and hope to do this weekend.

Finally, we get to the most esoteric ML, my legs. I was trying to come up with something clever for my commitment to fitness this summer. As I have taken up cycling, my legs are the subjects of abuse, so they deserve a spot in the ML. As many of you don’t know, I stepped on a scale in October 2017 and weighed 197lbs. I am happy to report that I stepped on the scale today and it read 135lbs. This is in no small part due to the amount of cycling I do. I spin twice a day at Flywheel Tribeca and either spin or go for longer rides outside on the weekends. Check out my Strava if you want to follow my rides. First and foremost, I would like to thank my sister Sarah for bringing me into the spinning world and being a source of inspiration for me. I don’t think I would have considered going vegan if it weren’t for her. There are many more people I need to thank and so I will them all justice in a future, more elaborate blog post. Also, I am using this opportunity to train for ultracycling races so definitely keep stay posted if you are interested in hearing about the stupidly long and challenging races that I will be attempted in the upcoming year/years.

Plan for Blog

Don’t worry, this is the shortest section. Apart from the blog posts I have already mentioned that I intend to write, there are a couple of other things I want to do for my site and blog. First, I intend to commit my Sundays to writing my posts. I hope to maintain several series: updates on my life (think quarterly Christmas card), book reviews, and some others that I don’t want to commit to on paper yet. Thus, I will need to upgrade my blog to better navigate these different series. I also want to add search to make it easier for you to find posts because I will hopefully be writing so much that finding one of my old posts will be an issue. The big thing I want to add is an easy way for people to contact me without a third party (email, phone, etc.). So, I am currently looking into software application I can deploy on my website so that you can sign in directly on my blog and have a direct feed to me. It will also have a community aspect where all my readers will be able to discuss individual posts and ask me questions directly. You know, something like Facebook, but more personal. Aside from that, I want to update the style of my website.

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Cheers for now,

Zach


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