What I Learned in 2016

Following the lead of the  online technical learning resource Pluralsight, I thought it might be interesting to look back over the past 12 months and take note of some of the new stuff I learned this year. My focus here is on technology: there is so much to try to keep up with, and I make it a high priority to stay on top of it, with a view toward figuring out what will have applicability to the indie theater world.610sfktplul-_sl1000_

So, in (more or less chronological order):

  1. Data Science/Big Data/Machine Learning: These are very popular buzzwords these days, but they represent some really significant areas of exploration. I spent some time brushing up on statistics (which I studied in college) and then read and did some video training in some of the ways statistical methods can be applied to help businesses make decisions. Machine Learning leverages statistics to automate decision-making processes. There’s not a lot of direct application of these techniques to NYTE’s mission, but it underpins some cool stuff that we’ll be working on in 2017, such as how to collect and analyze data to automate sophisticated recommendation systems.
  2. Python: This is a programming language (not a big snake). For the past seven or eight years or so, I’ve worked almost exclusively in C# (another language; I’m not composing music!) to write the programs that drive all of NYTE’s websites and databases. But Python offers some very intriguing opportunities, especially in areas where a lot of data is being processed (such as analyzing website traffic); it’s also really good at analyzing text. To that end, I’ve learned a lot this year about a Python software framework called the Natural Language Toolkit. I used this to do some fun analysis of Indie Theater Now’s plays back in February, and I’ve got some plans for making this resource valuable to our community this coming year.
  3. New Microsoft Azure Services – DocumentDB and Search: Our online ecosystem is deeply rooted in Microsoft Azure’s services, because they’re reliable, affordable, and easy to work with. I explored a couple of their new offerings this year, a new-style database called DocumentDB which I think may lend itself to a redesign of our play database on ITN this year; and their new search offering, which is going to serve as the engine for the nytheater indie archive site as well as a new search facility on ITN.
  4. Raspberry Pi, Arduino and the Internet of Things (IoT): Here’s a case where a pursuit that started as sort of a hobby wound up bumping against my “job”. I got interested in playing with the Raspberry Pi, a very inexpensive computer ($10-$35) that can be used in a variety of applications, from learning about electronics and circuits (which I spent some time on) to building a home media center, to driving projects in home security, wearables, and other areas that are broadly being referred to as the “Internet of Things”. Raspberry Pi is cousin to another teeny computer called the Arduino–a version of that powered my little robot that I told you about in my previous blog post. Anyway, this whole world of robotics and electronics and making tiny single-purpose useful computer-based products feels pretty significant and I am continuing to learn more and more about the field!
  5. Node.js and React.js: These are two JavaScript software frameworks that I have begun experimenting with that I think will pop up in some of our web development in 2017. Their main strength from my perspective is that they’ll reduce the amount of time it takes to refresh web pages on our sites–which I think is something our readers will appreciate.
  6. Conversational UI and Bots: This is the latest technology that has captured my attention. There are lots of flavors of this tech, most popularly Amazon Alexa. Bots were featured in the latest issue of Wired Magazine; they’re hot. Do they have application in our world? You bet. Stay tuned.