Debugging Neural Networks: A Checklist

You’ve framed your problem, prepared your datasets, designed your models and revved up your GPUs. With bated breath, you start training your neural network, hoping to return in a few days to great results.

When you do return though, you find yourself faced with a very different picture. Your network seems to do no better than random selection. Or, if it is a classification model, has curiously learned to classify all entries to a single dominant category. You scratch your head wondering what went wrong, and hit a wall. What’s more, since you’re programming at a higher layer of abstraction, you have no intuitive sense for what’s going on with your matrices and activation functions.

This isn’t a problem faced only by beginners. Empirically, it happens to even the more experienced among us, especially as the complexity of models, the dataset and the core problem increases. So if you find yourself in this situation, don’t fret. To tackle this, we’ve put together a little checklist that might help you find a way out of this hole. This was written specifically in the context of image classification, but the advice is generic enough to apply to all types of networks.

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Who Moved my Garbage: Chennai in Action

In India, we’re often satisfied with letting go of bits and pieces of our civic rights.

Potholes on roads ? “No problem, we’ll drive around them”! Garbage dump piling up? “We’ll take a walk elsewhere”! Broken footpaths? “Wait, what are footpaths”?

Against the backdrop of the far greater challenges that we face, such issues are viewed as inconveniences and luxuries that we can make do without, rather than a more fundamental loss of rights. That’s why I’m really excited to write about a case of civic action that I was privy to, in which a government body acted surprisingly swiftly and thoroughly.

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Message in a (shampoo) bottle

What really drives prices, discounts and loyalty

This is the first in a series of articles in which we use Semantics3 Brand Reports to learn more about consumer brands and the markets they operate in.

Take a look at the image below —

A new fantastic point of view
Does it inspire decision paralysis? A sense of wonderment?

Personally, until recently, I would’ve reacted with revulsion, since this volume of choice feels like chaos and inelegance to me. That was, until my inner data geek led me to dig deeper into an Excel report generated by my team, and discover a whole new world.

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A better way to measure your FMCG brand and sales channel performance

Move over Nielsen!

Gathering data about how your FMCG brand is performing can be terribly hard.

If you’ve been through the grind, you’re probably used to working with month old Nielsen data manually gathered from a small group of physical retailers, even as your costs for acquiring these reports pile up. What’s more, as a result of the hassle involved, you’ve probably not given e-commerce much of a thought, especially since it still represents a small percentage of your total sales volume.

We understand this pain … so we’re glad to let you know that we’ve found a solution!

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How I Got My Android Phone Battery to Last 2x Longer!

It’s been a couple of years since I made the switch from iOS to Android, and I’ve had little cause for complaint. Play Store, Google Now, Now on Tap, voice search, folder-level controls, system control apps … nearly every Android feature feels preferable to its iOS equivalent (or iOS compromise😛).

But there is one issue that had tempted me to go back to iOS: battery life.

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Reducing Water Wastage due to RO Purification

Wander into the kitchen at any home or office in urban India, and you’ll probably find a reverse osmosis (RO) water purification device ready to dispense drinking water. These devices have seen a significant uptake over the last few years, since they offer the promise of health and hygiene at little cost. Unfortunately, these advantages come at the cost of massive water wastage, which I believe can be avoided with a bit of imagination.

Drawing a Line between Progress and Sustainability

Earlier this week, I watched this TED talk by Hans Rosling. During this talk, Rosling asks three questions:
1) Has the number of deaths in the last century doubled, remained the same or been halved?
2) How many years in school has the average woman spent in school (given that men spend 8 years on an average)?
3) Has the number of people living in extreme poverty doubled, remained the same or been halved?

The answer ….

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Why I’m Terrified of 2016

New Years is a usually time for optimism. Heading into 2016 though, I’m far more wary than I usually am.

A Tale of Four Cities

I call four cities/regions of the world home. Here’s a look at what each one of them endured last year:

  1. Chennai: Hit by the worst floods seen in decades, the city came to a standstill for several days. Some of my nearest and dearest were in mortal danger, communication lines were cut off for days, homes became swimming pools, and my own family began rationing food and water since supply lines were cut off. 300+ people lost their lives and many more lost their life savings.
  2. San Francisco / California: Faced with prolonged drought, California is in a state of emergency. Regular wildfires, rising food prices (projected to rise 6% in 2016), popular foods under threat (almonds!), groundwater drilling frenzies, hundreds of millions of dollars of losses, and more. Farmers have been the most affected to date and it might not be long before urban dwellers are hit where it hurts.

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How We Say Thank You

Walking around San Francisco this afternoon, I was considerably overwhelmed by the contrast between rich and poor. Broke my heart to watch the crowd apathetically glide past the homeless, the deranged and the naked, some of whom were literally screaming out for help. The rumbling construction work, signs of growing wealth, only served to further highlight the inequality.

The piece below is my way of venting the deep despair and pessimism that I felt. I am neither Anarchist nor Luddite; this is just me setting aside frameworks and ideologies for a while and calling the chaos as I saw it.

How We Say Thank You

Our Mother, the Earth, cradled us into life,
nourishing us with her primordial soup,
nurturing us through our evolutionary genesis.
When we came of age, we offered our gratitude –
by stabbing our Mother with spades and drills,
repeatedly and methodically as a psychopath would,
and making merry with her shattered entrails.
Her black blood we siphoned; pumped from stab wounds,
channelled into our ravenous industrial arteries.
We fashioned cement buildings from her carcass,
and plunged them into holes where flesh once lay.
Our fetish unquenched, we unsutured her corpse,
shoved rods and wires into her open lacerations,
and poured hot black tar all over her green skin.
This was our way of saying: thank you Mother!

Our Friends, the animals, once frolicked with us,
side-by-side, taking turns on our green playground,
rolling the dice in our collective game of evolution.
When we won the game, we offered our gratitude –
by skinning some of our Friends and roasting the rest,
decimating their homes and destroying their families.
At times, we shot at them and watched them scamper,
(like molesters leering at their gagged victims),
snatching them from their mothers without remorse,
until, without trial, we summarily executed them.
Their bodies we dragged home; to grill over a fire,
or decapitate and embalm as spoils of our prowess.
Some whom we spared, we threw into steel cages,
for our children to point and laugh at on Sundays.
Yet others we forced to mate with their neighbors,
so we could package their children into containers,
to peel, open and devour in the comfort of our homes.
This was our way of saying: thank you Friends!

Our Relatives, fellow members of the human race,
peers in our conquests, plunders and progress,
compatriots in the relentless rise of mankind.
When it came time to share the abundance,
we offered our gratitude, and true to our nature –
decided that we wanted it all to ourselves.
We enslaved those who looked different from us,
and subjugated the gentler sex that blooded us.
At first, we openly bought and sold our Relatives,
and made them do our bidding; brought them to heel,
crushed their souls, became masters of their free-will.
When the thrill subsided, we took up a new challenge,
introduced political systems and economic constructs,
that would now crush our Relatives’ souls on our behalf,
preserve our spoils even whilst appeasing our conscience.
Safe in our cement boxes, devoid of responsibilities,
we could now humiliate our Relatives condemned to streets,
with that ultimate expression of dominance – pity.
This was our way of saying: thank you Relatives!

Our Children, future generations that succeed us,
helpless when they see first light of Mother’s bosom,
reliant on us for guidance and a free world to inherit.
When it came time to grant them this freedom,
we offered our gratitude and returned their faith –
by chaining them to the very systems that we’d built,
leaving them with little choice but follow in our trail.
Engineered crack babies, injected incessantly from birth,
so deeply hooked that stepping off the hamster wheel,
this man-made rat race to either exploit or be exploited,
will trigger, ironically, “unnatural” withdrawal symptoms.
Thus we deprived our Children of a lovable Grandmother,
handing them instead weapons to further deface her.
Thus we snatched from our Children their Friends,
replacing their harmless toys with butchers knives.
This was our way of saying: thank you Children!

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