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Vrinda Vasavada's Blog

Teaching a Computer: How to Grow a Mind

In his extremely interesting paper “How to Grow a Mind: Statistics, Structure, and Abstraction,” Joshua B. Tenenbaum writes about reverse-engineering human learning, and the essential basis of knowledge and cognitive learning. Although some aspects of his paper are way over my mind, much of it is comprehendible.

For example, think back to when you were a kid. Once taught a rule or a word (for example cat) you probably applied it to every unknown furry creature you saw! As humans, we learn by generalizing, by applying simple grammar principles to every possible word and filling in the missing places in our knowledge with generalizations. This ability is extremely important in human learning and is a great challenge in AI.

In the present, the state of computing is similar to the human state in science a few centuries ago and every child’s state at the beginning of the learning process. We tend to organize objects into flat, distinct divisions, later to realize that they should be organized into trees or hierarchies. These epiphanies are not only important to cognitive learning but also to science, as shown through Mendeleev’s creative organization of the periodic table of elements and Linnaeus’ proposal of biological relationships.

Reverse-engineering the mind poses lots of challenges and three levels of analysis: computational, algorithmic, and implementation-related. Learning more about the human brain will help not only our understanding of human behavior but also the growing demand for more compassionate, personal computing systems and technology.

Smile and wave, Vrinda Vasavada 🙂

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Avoid the Parking Confusion: A Simple Lesson in Design

In the field of photography, there is a principle called KISS–Keep it simple, stupid! While tech companies such as Apple and Facebook work endlessly to follow this principle and produce sleek, easy to use designs, some aspects of our daily lives still rely on complicated, hard to understand designs!

One such example is the ever-confusing, problem-causing parking signs! As designer Nikki Sylianteng encountered in her daily endeavors, these convoluted parking signs merely caused drivers to get tickets. Setting out on a mission not to to “change the entire system” but merely to “help frustrated drivers,” Sylianteng began working on a picture-based, easy to understand prototype for parking signs. As seen in the picture below, her design is extremely more user-friendly, while still providing the required information.



A simple lesson in design, the KISS principle can be applied to make so many day-to-day experiences easier. Other things that may be more complicated than required? Driver’s Ed!

Check out the full article at

Smile and wave, Vrinda Vasavada 🙂

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Heading to BlogHer ’14 next week? So are we!

This is a really interesting opportunity! A little pricey but all the female (and male) bloggers out there should consider this! News

BlogHer 2014, the 10th anniversary celebration of the popular women’s blogging network, kicks off next Thursday, July 24th in San Jose, California. There’s still time to register, and we hope you do — we’ll be there, too!

This year, along with a Happiness Bar offering in-person support for your WordPress sites, we’re hosting a series of short workshops on the topics you care about most. We’re also excited to welcome some of the amazing WordPress bloggers nominated as BlogHer Voices of The Year — they’ll join us for a series of informal panels where we can chat all things blogs and blogging.

Interested? Here’s the schedule:

Friday, July 25

  • 10 AM: Talking Shop with BlogHer Voices of the Year
  • 11 AM: or Self Hosted: Which One is Right for You?
  • 12:30 PM: Own Your Content: Tips for Switching Blog Platforms
  • 1:30 PM: Talking Shop with BlogHer Voices of the Year
  • 2:30 PM: Getting…

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The Final Countdown: Hit the Trail!

Objective: Design and code a project, make a presentation about it, and demo it!

Programs: Processing, Prezi, Piskel, Paint, Powerpoint


Check out my Prezi presentation for the full design and prototyping process!

finalproject finalproject1

Smile and wave, Vrinda Vasavada 🙂



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A Special Thank You to Mr. Bret Victor!

In one of my last posts, I discussed the emergence of the language “D” that seeks to bridge the gap between the programmer and the user. The vision that the makers of “D” saw is now being realized thanks to researchers and scientists like Mr. Bret Victor!

Showcasing his projects in by far the most interesting presentation I have ever watched, Mr. Bret Victor simply explained some of the most complicated ideas in the industry. His work includes trying to make reading more interactive and personalized for the user, and making learning more visual. One of my favorite parts was the program for drawing things and being able to match the code with the visual.

bret victor


Thank you, Mr. Bret Victor, for giving such a wonderful talk! Your work was really inspiring and hopefully I will be doing some similar stuff sometime in the future!

Smile and wave, Vrinda Vasavada 🙂


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Happy Minions! Art in Processing

Objective: To simulate the “stippling” art technique on a computer!

Programs: Processing

Steps for Coding:

Although this program seems intimidating, it is actually very simple! Once again, refer to for commands. The basic mindset behind this project is to load the image, then load the colors of each pixel, and draw lots and lots of circles of those colors! Here is some example code:



Check out my example!

Smile and wave, Vrinda Vasavada 🙂

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“D”: Combining Simplicity and Efficiency in Programming


Programming has always been a tug-of-war between front-end and back-end operations, between languages that are easy to use and are extremely fast. Today, most companies use C++ because of its speed; however, it is extremely inconvenient for the programmers to use for building their software!

This is where Andrei Alexandrescu and Walter Bright come into the game. In 2005, both had a similar vision: to develop a language that could bridge the gap between the programmer and the user and could be used for both back-end and front-end operations. Eventually, they developed a language called “D,” that is now used for recreating parts of Facebook and is slowly entering the startup market.

To me, this is a very interesting field of study. Bridging this gap that separates the user from the programmer would definitely lead to higher computer literacy rates and increased interest in computers among children.

If you would like to read more about this, here is the link to the article:

Smile and wave, Vrinda Vasavada 🙂

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Updates on Mousey’s Travel Plans

Objective: Mousey wants to visit lots of places in the world (shown by the ellipses on the map) and return to say thank you to us for arranging his cheesesticks! Help him map and plan the shortest route to all of these places.

Programs: Processing, JavaScript

Steps for Coding:

Continued to work on finding and drawing the shortest distance. I encountered a couple of problems in the for loops for finding and resetting the minimum distance. Next steps include debugging to fix the line-drawing loop. This section of the code is the part that does not work. More changes to come!

doesnt work


Smile and wave, Vrinda Vasavada 🙂

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Innovations in Interactive Media!

Idea #1: Nostalgia: A Virtual Scrapbook!

Background: Even with a rapidly advancing world with some of the biggest breakthroughs in medicine occurring, 1 in 3 seniors dies with Alzheimer’s or another type of dementia. Although the causes are varied, lack of social interaction and limited usage of brain after retirement! On the other hand, things like Nostalgia and good music can bring back memories that can prevent the deterioration of dementia in patients.

Proposal: Create a virtual scrapbook that is applicable for both patients of such diseases and just for the average person as well! Similar to Facebook, the user can input favorite activities, important pictures or dates, and their most exciting memories into this interactive application. However, this would not be publicly visible and could be created by family members of the person as well.



An example layout is shown in the screenshot above. The design must be extremely user friendly because it caters to a large range of ages!

Applications: My proposal would be a different approach towards Alzheimer’s. While scientists and researchers attempt to find the biological causes and cures, this application would help improve the condition of patients with dementia. It would also be a less cluttered and extremely meaningful version of Facebook for people who want to save their key memories consolidated in one place.

Idea #2: Designing a Virtual Classroom

Background: Education has been established as the best way to bridge the gender gap in computer science and technology. However, a major obstacle in this mission is teaching computer science. By making an application or website that makes computer science easier to both teach and learn, we can make a big step in bridging this gender gap and bringing about awareness!

Proposal: Create a website or platform that makes teaching the basics of computer science easier. Similar to screensharing and the Hour of Code, this platform would allow teachers to virtually share and demonstrate their logic behind their code and show instant results as well. It is very important that this application is interactive, much like some of the exhibits at the Exploratorium because they keep kids interested! For example, this was one of the exhibits that kept many of the kids very interested!



An example of the toolbar for the application is shown above.

Applications: Museums are supposed to be informational places; by bringing awareness to kids in museums about the basics of computer science, the process of spreading the word can be expedited!

Smile and wave, Vrinda Vasavada 🙂

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Travelling Mousey: Using Classes and Processing to Simulate Travel

Objective: Mousey wants to visit lots of places in the world (shown by the ellipses on the map) and return to say thank you to us for arranging his cheesesticks! Help him map and plan the shortest route to all of these places.

Programs: Processing, JavaScript

Steps for Coding:

This problem is very similar to the Travelling Salesman Problem. We must make a class for the coordinates to prevent repetition and draw the circles at each point. Then, we have to write for loops for searching for the shortest path from each point. Finally, we have to make sure that the program draws the path when it finds a minimum value, or shortest path.

I reached the step that finds the distances between all of the points and finds the minimum value and am still working on printing the lines and fixing bugs. Mousey’s trip will shortly be all planned out!

Smile and wave, Vrinda Vasavada 🙂

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