Mary Dickson Diaz

Code, Life, Learning

Month: November 2015

the plan, part 2

Hey, you got a few minutes? Ok, let’s talk about The Plan.

In January, I quit my job to pursue a path in software development. I didn’t really know then that it was called “software development.” I’m still not particularly married to that job title or role, strictly speaking, but a lot of other roles stem from that one so it’s not a bad place to start.

(I am married to Josh, though! I wasn’t when I started. Pretty cool, huh?)

But be ye more educated than I:

credit Brandon Hays 2015 RubyConf talk, full slides here

Knowing very little about the tech industry, I made several key assumptions going into this journey.  In this post I’ll detail how these assumptions have panned out (and in a follow-up post I’ll talk about where things go from here).


  1. I can learn to code in a year
  2. I will be job-seeking in a year
  3. I can tailor a program of free resources and paid classes for less money and time than the cost of graduate school
  4. As long as I can build software, the amount of math I’ll need to know is minimal
  5. An all-women learning environment is preferable to co-ed (but not a deal-breaker).
  6. MOOCs will be a great tech resource for learning computer science
  7. Meet-ups will be a great way to network, make connections, and find job leads

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build something with socrata’s api — check

weed violations screenshotTop of my to-do list has been to build something using data from the City of Seattle data portal (, powered by Socrata. This one is not particularly useful, but I’ll share with you anyway!

One of the things I like least about homeownership is the need to keep up a yard. Thankfully I’ve never received nastygrams about yard care, but I’ve heard some horror stories. One couple in Texas was in the process of removing a dead tree from their yard — they had just cut it down and into transportable sized pieces, and piled and covered the logs up with a tarp, and THE NEXT DAY they got a note demanding they remove “tree debris” from their yard within three days or pay a penalty.

Anyway, in that frame of mind I giggled through the “weed and vegetation code citations” available via public record. Since Washington legalized marijuana last year, I had an idea in my mind to track code citations like these:

  • Large overgrown blackberries and vegetation encroaching sidewalk
  • Hazardous vegetation encroaching on sidewalk forcing pedestrians into street

…and present them as our city’s most pressing weed violations.

Clever? Maybe. Half-baked? Definitely. My first idea was to tweet out the description of the citation, with a google maps street-view image of the address in question. That might be visually interesting but seemed like a huge invasion of privacy, so I quickly shelved it. I have no interest in actually shaming the property owners.

So instead I started with the easiest path, tweet the generic descriptions, to see where that led me. Here are the “get-started” steps:

  1. Register for a developer key with Socrata
  2. Identify the data set you want at (for me: code violations)
  3. Use developer key to access the API (I used a Ruby gem from Socrata) to fetch that data set
  4. Filter (for code group: “weed and vegetation”) and collect results in an array
  5. Set up a Twitter API client to talk to twitter, via a new twitter account if needed (I recycled an existing bot!)

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where i’m from

where i'm from screenshot

I finished the first part of my #NaNoGenMo project, a “Where I’m From” poem generator.

click meeee for poetreeee

It’s nothing fancy, but I’m really pleased with how it turned out.

Some technical notes:

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November kicked off the third installment–and my first–of National Novel Generation Month (#NaNoGenMo), with a stated goal to “Spend the month of November writing code that generates a novel of 50k+ words.”

I’ve been excited to play with natural language processing tools, so I dove right in! Procedural note: Darius has requested that participants open an issue on the shared Github repo and update from there, so that link is where I’ve been writing and tracking progress. The repo is here.

Here’s my inspiration poem. In my teaching years, this poem made the rounds — it’s great for teaching memoir and descriptive writing, and easy and satisfying for students to emulate in order to create their own “Where I’m From” poems.

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wait, wait, don’t tell me…

Background: I was sent a coding challenge via Codility, and before diving into the (timed) test, I spent some time working on the demo. I won’t be sharing the actual code challenge, but the demo is fair game to discuss, it’s featured in a public blog post. It took me a few tries, but in a nutshell, I went from 17 points out of 100 (incorrect answer) to 64 points (mostly correct answers, complexity too high), to … well, I’m going to make you read all the way through to find out.

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