Python and Machine Learning

One of the first online courses I took and completed was “Learn to Program: The Fundamentals” from the University of Toronto. It focused on key aspects of basic programming, using Python. Back then (2012), Python often was considered a beginners’ language and a steppingstone to more “sophisticated” languages such as Java, JavaScript and numerous others.

I managed to fight my way to a B- (or C+) finish and concluded I had no great future in the nitty-gritty aspects of modern software development. But I did enjoy the course, even if logic is not my strong suit. Since then, I have learned how to work with several other programming languages, while focusing on technical writing, book reviewing, and other endeavors.

Nonetheless, I still have fond memories of learning and using Python (and getting my brain’s butt kicked by some of the exercises in the online course).

That beginner’s course is still around on Here’s the link:

Meanwhile, as Joe Eames, CEO of, writes in a new article:

“Python [now] is the language of Machine Learning, but it’s also a very common language for Web Servers. Even for JavaScript purists, learning Python can be a big benefit as it not only gives you familiarity with one of the most popular web server languages, it also gets you started on the path of working with Machine Learning and AI.”

Thinkster is now offering a free “Better Way to Learn Python” course. Here’s the link:

To be honest, I do some non-programming tasks for Thinkster, so I am guilty of doing a bit of free promotional work here. But to be doubly honest, I still like the University of Toronto’s online course, too. If you are wanting to learn Python, I’d say give both a try, even at the same time. You might also try some of the Python how-to books available online from Amazon ( and other sources.

To be triply honest, absolutely nobody’s going to hire this 75-year-old geezer to use Python or any other programming language in Machine Learning, AI, or web server support. But I can still use Python to exercise my brain and keep mental cobwebs at bay. And I still get a kick out of making my clunky programs run and answer such questions as: “What is the meaning of life?”

>42 (

I bet you can find reasons to check out Python, as well.

Si Dunn


Evil Personified

The biological, psychiatric & related factors that give rise to modern violent crime, including mass shootings.

THE NEW EVIL: Understanding the Emergence of Modern Violent Crime

Michael H. Stone, MD and Gary Brucato, PhD
Prometheus Books
Amazon Link:

The New Evil is eye-opening and informative reading, especially if you have an interest in how criminal minds work and how people attempt to justify the horrible violence they have unleashed.

The book offers important insights useful for readers involved in law enforcement, the legal and judicial systems, mental health, and government. Other readers, such as crime novelists, journalists, and counselors, also

Published last November, The New Evil is a follow-up to Michael H. Stone’s 2017 book, The Anatomy of Evil ( ). The new book is a well-researched and fascinating study of modern violent crime since the 1960s.

A strong caution is warranted: Some readers may be shocked and disturbed by the gruesome details of just how depraved some human beings can be while committing violent crimes.

The authors–Michael H. Stone, M.D., is a professor of clinical psychiatry and Gary Brucato, PhD, is a clinical psychologist and researcher–examine how certain biological, psychiatric and related factors have had important bearings on serial killings, serial rape, torture, killing sprees, and mass-casualty events such as school and church/mosque shootings.

To help bring clarity to what they define as “evil” and “violent” crimes, they present a 22-point scale that ranks “an individual’s crime or repeated criminal acts” by their severity.

Their scale is subdivided into six categories: (1) Killing in Self-Defense or Justified Homicide; (2) Impulsive Murders in Persons without Psychopathic Features; (3) Persons with a Few or No Psychopathic Traits; Murders of a More Severe Type; (4) Psychopathic Features Marked; Murders Show Malice Aforethought; (5) Spree or Multiple Murders; Psychopathy Is Apparent; and (6) Serial Killers, Torturers, Sadists.

The New Evil offers numerous case studies that help illustrate these categories. But, in the graphic details of the case studies, some readers may encounter manifestations of evil that are much more disturbing than they wish to confront.

— Si Dunn

Hiding and Exposing Sins

Outcry Witness
Thomas Zigal
TCU Press (

This concluding novel in Thomas Zigal’s “New Orleans Trilogy” is a compelling and well-written mystery thriller. It also is timely and reflective of controvery. Worldwide, Catholicism continues to be roiled by dark headlines about sexual abuse cases involving supposedly celebate priests and other church officials.

In U.S. law, according to Wikipedia, “an outcry witness is the person who first hears an allegation of abuse made by a child or another victim of abuse or sexual crime. The witness is legally obligated to report the abuse, and may be called upon during the trial proceedings.”

In Thomas Zigal’s Outcry Witness ( ), a priest, Father Edward McMurray, and the priest’s nephew, Peter Moore, director of communications for a Catholic diocese in New Orleans, first help cover up the sex-related murder of a parish assistant pastor. Later, they conduct their own dangerous investigation, both to try to find the killer and to keep the police misinformed about how the assistant pastor died.

Allegiance and Cover-up

Why do they risk their careers and also their lives to do this? “Call it Catholic allegiance. Semper fidelis,” Peter Moore confesses to himself at one point in the novel. “Religion had been a blood sport for centuries, and even as schoolchildren, we Catholics had been taught that an attack on the Church was an attack on each one of us. I didn’t want to give the smirking haters an excuse for ridiculing the faith I’d practiced all my life.”

But, if they are able to find the murderer, can ufficient justice be achieved, and meted out, within the protecting walls of the church?

Si Dunn ( )

My thanks to TCU Press for sending an advance reading copy of this book for review, and for granting use of the book’s cover image.

Wrestling with God and Faith – #bookreview

I didn’t believe in God anymore, but my faith was like a faucet with broken handles. It kept coming in gushes and I couldn’t seem to turn it off. I needed a hand to hold on the other side of belief.

When I Spoke in Tongues: A Story of Faith and Its Loss
Jessica Wilbanks
Beacon Press

What can happen after you lose a lifelong belief in God’s existence? And what might happen if you attempt to find that faith again–or at least try very hard to understand why you clung to it in the first place?

When I Spoke in Tongues, a debut book by Houston writer Jessica Wilbanks (, offers intriguing insights into these and related questions, from a personal perspective.  

In this well-written, absorbing memoir, the author draws readers into her innermost thoughts and feelings while she examines how she lost the faith she previously shared deeply with her parents and brothers.  

“The nights were the hardest,” she writes. “I felt so alone, lying in bed in the dark, and found myself wanting desperately to pray. I didn’t believe in God anymore, but my faith was like a faucet with broken handles. It kept coming in gushes and I couldn’t seem to turn it off.”

Jessica Wilbanks’s book also describes struggles with other issues tied in some ways to her lost faith, including sexuality, anorexia, college life, work and personal relationships. Meanwhile, her mother clung to her hope that Jessica someday would return to the family’s Pentecostal beliefs and practices, including speaking in tongues.  

When I Spoke in Tongues ( can be thought-provoking and compelling reading for anyone with questions about their faith, their lack of faith, or why others believe in God.

Si Dunn

See my longer review of this book in Lone Star Literary Life,

Yes, DO Touch That Dial!

Becoming a “BCB listener” or “BCL” is one of the world’s easiest-to-begin hobbies. Just switch on your AM radio and start turning its dial.

A broadcast-band (BCB) listener seldom leaves his or her AM radio locked onto one favorite, local radio station. Instead, the goal is to tune to other frequencies and hear “local” stations in distant cities, states, and even other countries. The AM broadcast band has hundreds of “local” radio stations transmitting news, weather, sports, music and other matter to their regional listening markets on “medium wave” frequencies between 530 to 1700 kHz. These stations generally use amplitude modulation (AM) to help convey voices, music and other sounds to radio receivers built to receive AM signals.

AM radio has been around for about 100 years, and its popularity has waned after the creation of higher-quality FM (frequency-modulated) radio and then television, computers and the Internet. Still, many stations remain on the air, broadcasting from cities of all sizes and from rural areas, as well.

What is DX?

During daylight hours, medium-wave signals typically travel a few hunded miles at most. During the night, atmospheric conditions generally improve, and an AM broadcast station’s signal may traverse thousands of miles.

Dedicated BCB listeners keep simple logbooks of the distant (“DX”) stations they hear, with goals such as receiving stations located in as many U.S. states or Canadian provinces as possible or distant stations in Mexico, Central America, the Caribbean, and beyond.

They also may post and share their latest DX reports or get useful information from websites such as DX World (, the Facebook group “I Love AM Radio, ” which recently had nearly 7,700 members, or the National Radio Club (, among others.

A Long-Enduring Avocation

The broadcast-band listening hobby got its start about 100 years ago during the very earliest days of radio. In the 1920s, as more and more households purchased radios, distance listening (a.k.a. DX’ing) became something of a national mania.

Jerome S. Berg noted this trend in his book On the Short Waves, 1923-1945: Broadcast Listening in the Pioneer Days of Radio (

“Until the creation of networks and the ability to receive the same program in different parts of the country,” Berg wrote, “many ordinary people spent a lot of time tuning the standard broadcast band, seeing how far their receivers would pick up. The 1920s probably boasted the highest percentage of long-distance radio enthusiasts.”

Do You QSL?

For many years, chief engineers and others at AM broadcast stations valued getting reception reports mailed to them from faraway listeners. They, too, were fascinated by how far their “local” radio signals could travel during good atmospheric condtions. Indeed, they often would respond by sending out “verification” letters or station “QSL” (verfication) postcards that BCB listeners collected and liked to show off to friends and relatives.

Today, some AM broadcast stations still respond to listener reports ( ). But email and budget cuts have dried up many sources of collectible QSL cards and letters.

But a personal log can be kept and shared with others, using a simple notebook or an Internet blog site. You can list date, time, frequency, station call sign, location, quality of the received signal and other information, such as how you identified the station.

Two Reception Problems

At least two problems can stymie potential broadcast-band listener hobbyists. In some locations, spurious radio signals generated by nearby computers, televisions and other electronics devices can interfere with the reception of weak AM radio signals from distant places. You may only be able to hear very strong local stations, unless you can find a listening location with a lot less radio spectrum pollution (

Also, much of today’s AM standard broadcast band has been taken over by politically conservative “talk radio” and religious broadcasters seeking money to support their ministries.

Fortunately, you can time your listening efforts to the top few minutes of any hour, when U.S. radio broadcast stations are required to identify themselves with their “call signs” issued by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). Other hints to a station’s location often can be gleaned from local news breaks, weather forecasts, traffic reports, sports broadcasts, and advertisements. And this information, along with your radio’s dial setting (such as 670 kiloHertz or 1200 kiloHertz, etc.), can be compared with online lists of radio stations, such as this one: .

How I Got Started

In my Vietnam War memoir, Dark Signals: A Navy Radio Operator in the Tonkin Gulf and South China Sea, 1964-1965 (, I describe how my interest in listening for distant radio signals began at age 10:

My parents put a small table-model AM receiver in my bedroom so I could hear baseball games, music and dramas such as “Sergeant Preston of the Yukon.” But soon, I was turning the dial and discovering that I could hear stations far beyond Little Rock, as well.

One night, clear as a bell, an announcer said: “This is radio station KOA, Denver, Colorado. Soon, I heard another announcer say: “This is WBBM, Chicago.” I was hooked.

For another view of the BCB hobby, check out this blog post titled “How to Get Started as a Radio Hobbyist without Really Trying” (

— Si Dunn is an Austin, TX, novelist, screenwriter and nonfiction writer. For more information, visit

Consuming too much information can make you fat, clueless, and dead. #bookreview

I reviewed this book seven years ago on another blog. The Information Diet is not new, but it still makes sense today, given how much and how often we are now carpet-bombed with news, fake news, fake fake news, charts, graphs, videos, photographs, graphic arts images, and desperate celebrities being asinine for clicks & “likes.” It’s time to try a little harder to take care of our brains and our spirits. This book can help. — Si Dunn

The Information Diet: A Case for Conscious Consumption

By Clay A. Johnson
hardback, list price $22.99; Kindle edition, list price $19.99)

We are sitting down too often and too long while we consume information. It pours into our heads from the Web, from TV, from smart phones, from books, and as blather from our car radios while we drive around.Much of the information we consume is drivel and crap – the digital equivalent of high-fat junk food and raw sugar. And some of us are driving ourselves to destructive distraction through gluttonous obsessions with tweets, status updates, downloads, videos, instant messages, text messages, emails and restless Web surfing.

In this controversial new [in 2012] book from O’Reilly Media, veteran software developer, open source guru and political advocate Clay A. Johnson makes the forceful argument that our current mania for consuming information is killing us, mentally and physically.

For instance, suppose a tweet just went by mentioning some kind of rumored problem with pig populations in Zambia. You idly read it, process it in your head, waste a few more seconds of your life, take another sip of your latte and another bite of bagel while continuing to sit on your butt much longer than you originally intended.

Now you check your Facebook account on your iPhone or iPad, take another sip of your latte, take another bite of bagel, and go back to Twitter. There, you follow a link to what seemed to be a review of a movie you’ve already seen to see. It turns out to be just a lame blog post about how Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich resemble certain characters in Avatar. Then you take another bite of bagel, another sip of latte and check your email and follow a link to something inane about Lady Gaga.

More wasted time. More attention to generally useless information. And more sedentary life has gone by.

We now spend nearly 11 hours a day [likely even more in 2019] consuming and frequently gorging on information, Johnson’s book points out. And it’s driving us to distraction – and killing us.

First, the physical dangers. Johnson notes: “In 2004, one physician coined the term Sedentary Death Syndrome to classify all the diseases that come from the sedentary state. The effects: heart disease, diabetes, cancer, and yes, obesity. Some researchers are calling it the second largest threat to public health in America. What are we doing when we’re sedentary? Few of us are meditating. We’re consuming information.”

He continues: “New research points to sitting, especially amongst men, as a leading cause of death. Even if you exercise regularly, it turns out that sitting for long periods of time can be deadly.”

It’s also easy to lose track of time and lose control of time management while distracted by the free flow of information. Something unexpected or surprising or outrageous on the Web grabs your attention, and your carefully crafted to-do list for the day is shot to hell. And, relationships can be affected: “Just a quick check of email when we get home can often end up in evenings entirely lost to LCD screens…” instead of talking and paying attention to each other.

Then there’s the problem of “attention fatigue.” Writes Johnson: “About two years ago, I started to wonder: what the heck happened to my short-term memory? And where did my attention span go? I’ve written a little pithy 140-character tweet, sent it into the universe, and in no more than five minutes, I’ve received a reply. The only problem is, I’ve already forgotten what I wrote in the first place. I’ve had to go back, and look at what I said just five minutes ago to understand what the person replying to me is referencing.”

This book offers more dire warnings about consuming too much information. But the author also offers ideas and recommendations for achieving “Attention Fitness.” You can still have your information and consume it, too, in deliberate, conscious doses that are healthier for your mind, body and your participation in American democracy.

If you pay attention to The Information Diet long enough to actually think about what it points out and proposes, you may figure out how to get healthier again, how to regain your focus – and how to better understand the ways you are being duped by some of the misinformation constantly sucked into your head by your addiction.

You can become a more conscious and proactive consumer of information and not just another wasted – and life-wasting — data junkie.

Si Dunn

No comments:

Rod Pyle’s new ‘Interplanetary Robots’ likely will please many space geeks, plus casual readers – #bookreview

Award-winning science writer Rod Pyle’s new book, Interplanetary Robots: True Stories of Space Exploration, shows how far we have come — and gone — by sending unmanned exploration probes into space during the past 60+ years.

Pyle provides intriguing and entertaining looks at many of the successful space probes launched to our solar system’s planets and beyond, by the United States, Russia, China, Japan and other nations. He also covers some of the missions that failed and some of the planned missions that never left the drawing board, because they were simply too ambitious for the technology available at the time.

The author also looks ahead to possible future missions now in development, including new landers and rovers for the Moon and Mars, plus new probes that will explore Jupiter’s icy moons and some asteroids. The long-awaited launch and deployment of the huge James Webb Space Telescope also is discussed.

In this book, Rod Pyle’s writing is clear, often wry, and sometimes geekily funny. Some of his other books include Amazing Stories of the Space Age and Space 2.0.

Click on the book titles for more information.

Interplanetary Robots: True Stories of Space Exploration
Rod Pyle
Prometheus Books

Si Dunn

(Note: Prometheus Books sent me an advance reading copy to evaluate. This is not a paid review, but I can earn a tiny commission from Amazon if you buy a book through the links on this site. It will not affect the price you pay on Amazon.)