Archive for March, 2008

Quadcore indifference.

March 27, 2008

Well the new quadcore chips are out. NewEgg has the new Intel Q9300, Q9450 and the screaming QX9770. If you recall, I was very excited about these chips a few weeks ago. But things change. I built a quadcore machine and I am now using it upstairs. It is attached to my HDTV. It’s terrific. For the first time, I can watch the HD home movies that I’ve shot over the years easily. Is it as fast as the new chips? No, but it is fast enough for now.

Two factors have affected my chip interest level. I bought a new laptop and I effectively stopped playing games. The laptop alone can handle 90% of my computing needs. It is nothing short of awesome. Inevitably, I will return to gaming. But for now, I have all the computer horsepower I need for whatever I need.

As a side benefit, I have a computer project for my parents to keep me busy. I also want to redo one of my file servers. Eventually, I want to build a third file server to act as a backup for my main file server. These projects will take me through the summer but they do not require heavy iron By the time I am ready to build at a new flagship machine, six core and perhaps even eight core chips will be available.

Right now, in this house, I am supporting more computers than any one human can use. I certainly prefer it that way.

In Praise of popSiren.

March 23, 2008

You have to hand it to Revision3.  Internet television has never been this good.  There’s several shows that I enjoy, like Techzilla and GigaOm but I want to talk about popSiren.  This show is terrific!  With any luck, it will be around for a long time.

I like shows that don’t hold back.  If something is complicated they don’t dumb it down.  The tendency nowadays is to reach the dumbest member of the audience.  popSiren doesn’t do that.  It’s like the humor of Joss Wheadon.  If you don’t get it it, they don’t care.  It is entertaining and informative.  Many shows tried to reach that level but popSiren achieves it.

The hosts Jessica Corbin and Sara Lane are veterans from The Screen Savers (which was on the old TechTV).  They also have outstanding segment hosts.  Particularly awesome is the extremely erudite Dr. Kiki Sanford.  I had been a fan of hers for a long time as the co-host of the podcast This Week in Science.  Here she takes to video with terrific results.  She made fire that danced to music on the first show.  Outstanding!  You just don’t see this level of material on cable TV.  The other segment host, Heather, looks like she could be Morgan Webb’s cousin.  That’s not a bad thing.  Her archery segment in the first show was entertaining.

This show is fresh because of the level of detail it gives its subject matter.  The smart writing and quick hosts help a lot too.  Not everything is going to appeal to everyone.  (I’m still trying to figure out why I would want to make comic book envelopes).  Generally speaking, though there are a lot more hits than misses.  It is definitely geared to the geek and nerd crowd, but of course, that’s where you’ll always find me.

Plus, it’s a television show on the internet that has terrific production values!  Who could ask for anything more?  They asked at the end of the show what people would like to see them do.  I had to think about that.  Science interviews would be great like Woz or Dean Kamen.  Sending someone out to these parts to cover the Inventors Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony would be terrific too.  I’m sure that they have a lot of great material to come and I’m looking forward to more shows.

Weizenbaum and Artificial Intelligence.

March 15, 2008

In the Wall Street Journal of all places, I read that Joseph Weizenbaum had died. He created the ELIZA computer program that simulates human interaction. While not a sophisticated program, it is always mentioned (and always will be mentioned) in discussions of artificial intelligence and Turing tests. With his simple program, Weizenbaum immortalized himself as an AI pioneer.

Even though artificial intelligence has its critics, it is already ubiquitous. Just today, I called UPS and spoke at length with a computer. It used voice recognition technology quite effectively to identify my package number. Even now, I am writing this with NaturallySpeaking 9.5. This voice recognition program is inherently based on artificial intelligence algorithms.

But artificial intelligence is not voice recognition alone. AI “perceives its environment and takes actions which maximize its chances of success.” Weizenbaum, clearly a gifted man, gave up computer programming and the field of artificial intelligence altogether later in life. In a way, he was better off than two recent leading authorities in the field. However, based on what I’ve read about him and his work, he really felt that humans shouldn’t rely on machines for decision-making. Of course, now, we do that every day. Pilots use AI to fly airplanes. People rely on AI in their cars without even knowing about it. At some point, people will rely on AI to make decisions about their lives. In one’s PDA, one will have a virtual psychiatrist/business planner/personal coach always at one’s fingertips. I suspect that Weizenbaum would not approve of this, but I think it’s better than, say, relying on Astrology for that same advice.

Weizenbaum was particularly put off by the fact that when ELIZA came out, people really took it seriously. Some people really couldn’t distinguish a simple pattern recognizer from a human being. If you have played with ELIZA, you may find this hard to believe. But remember it came out in 1966. No one had much experience with such things back then. No one had much experience with computers at all. This is how far ahead of his time Weizenbaum was.

At the same time, I think his dismay at how stupid people can be was misplaced. Artificial intelligence, in the form of an interactive program designed to pass Turing tests has not progressed much in the last 42 years. That is not to say that artificial intelligence has not progressed much, it has. However people have not built an interactive program designed to mimic humans with much more efficacy than ELIZA does. There have been some recent attempts and perhaps this is now becoming vogue once again.

Instead of worrying about people who can’t distinguish a computer program from a real person, think about how much these people can be helped. Look how many of the videos on YouTube are made by people who cannot see the consequences of their actions. A quick check with one’s personal digital mentor, might prevent the disastrous outcome from the typical “hey y’all watch this” YouTube adventure. Or Weizenbaum, who was clearly smarter than I am, could be right and such AI development could lead to a Terminator-style apocalypse. I suspect, however, no matter the outcome, such AI is inevitable in time.

Snowed In.

March 8, 2008

It would be easy for me to waste the rest of the evening. We are snowed in. I have not seen this much snow since 1978. Our street is impassable. Our driveway was plowed three times earlier but is now also impassable.

For someone like me who enjoys being indoors, this is not entirely bad. I have spent the day reading or watching TV and of course playing with my computers.

The computer experience has not been entirely positive. One of my file servers went down. I think I’m going to keep it down. It was the first one I built and I don’t really need it any more. I am fairly certain that I identified what was causing problems. It doesn’t seem to be playing nicely with the external drive I attached to it. Additionally, my Linux box is acting up. It won’t open a terminal. Instead, it crashes back to the login screen. Useless!

I have been playing with the Python programming language. Every now and then I get the urge to learn something completely new. This is definitely in that category. The book I have is on version 2.4. It relies on software accessories that do not seem to be compatible with the current version of Python which is 2.5.2. It figures. So I am bumbling through the book trying to figure this out as best I can.

In other computer-related activities, I spent some time looking at laptops online today. I know that I am very much used to having the flexibility of a laptop all the time. Because of the snow, I ended up leaving work early and not going back on Friday. This caused me to leave my laptop at work. It is my work laptop anyway but because I currently do not have a personal laptop it’s the only thing I have for portable computing. I want a new personal laptop. I looked at the Macbook Air and a host of other laptops including Dells and Fujitsus. I definitely think I want something light but useful. The Air is beautiful. I wonder how useful it is, though.

Otherwise, I am enjoying a weekend where I do not have a lot of structured and planned activities. It is rare for me. Strangely, I still have no desire to do any gaming. This is really odd.

“We can’t go on together…”

March 7, 2008

People were making fun of Priscilla Presley the other day. They said that her plastic surgery made her look bad. I don’t know. I looked at some pictures online and she looks the same as she always has to me. Then people were picking on her daughter, Lisa Marie. I guess she’s pregnant. People were calling her fat. People can be so cruel.

I finished watching “Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles” this evening. I really enjoyed this series. Hollywood scuttlebutt indicates that the series will be renewed in the fall. I cannot tell you how much I hope that this is so. There was a show on afterwards advertised during the commercials (that I mostly fast forwarded through). It was a show about a detective who had been alive for 400 years. I guess it’s kind of a Dorian Gray sort of thing. Although in this case there’s no portrait, from the previews it looks like he got his immortality from Mystic Indians. Ah yes, the Mystic Indian plot device. It is not so commonly used as falling down an elevator shaft or amnesia, but it is used.

I don’t really have many memories of Elvis Presley. I remember my neighbors really loved him. I’ve known people throughout my life who collected Elvis memorabilia. Some people truly revere him as the King. We used to joke in college, that in 3000 years people would worship him like a prophet. We really don’t have to wait 3000 years do we?

Building a Quad Core Q6600 machine.

March 1, 2008

Intel Core 2 Quad Q6600 Quad-Core Processor, 2.40 GHz, 8M L2 Cache, LGA 775
On Thursday I went to Microcenter to buy the external monitor for my damaged laptop. Microcenter was having a sale on Q6600 processors. I could not resist. The thought was that I would use the chip, memory, motherboard power supply and chip fan to build a new video server.

When I got home I realized that the video card from the old video server would not work in the new computer. So I decided to buy a fairly decent video card for the quad core machine to replace my current flagship machine. The goal has always been to have two really fast machines. I have been waiting for the new Penryn chips to come out. I figured though that I could spend a little money now and still have enough money to build an even faster flagship machine later.

Silly boy. I ended up spending way more than I wanted to.

I did however get to spend last night building a new machine. Even a casual reader of this blog knows that I enjoy building computers so yesterday was very special. This is not to say that it was easy. I had hoped to overclock it. I bought a special fan to help keep the chip cool. However, had I had a great deal of difficulty installing the fan. Ultimately I ended up using the stock fan.

While the new machine started on post, after I loaded XP I had many problems. I stayed up until past midnight but I didn’t figure out what was wrong until this morning. I traced it down to a piece of software that was causing the machine to be unstable.

That is why I enjoy building computers. You never know what types of challenges will arise I enjoy the finished product as well. For example I’m using NaturallySpeaking 9 to write this blog. The new machine runs this program faster than any machine I’ve ever used previously. That being said, the overclocked dual dual core machine I built almost two years ago is still comparable to the new machine. It is no longer 4 GHz, but even at 3.2 GHz, it’s not too shabby.

Then again I have not been able to overclock this machine because I had to use the stock cooler. I may try again at a later date to overclock it. However, right now, I don’t have time. I haven’t been playing with the new computer much today as I have been busy working.

I now also have a philosophical quandary. In my home office, I now have two powerful computers. There are two other not so powerful computers (and my daughters two computers). The quandary is this: I don’t need another computer. I realize that my hobby is not about need, it’s about want. However, even I have my limits. As I sit here today, I have no idea what I would do with two quad core machines and an overclocked dual core in addition to all my other computers. Not building another computer solves the budget problem. If I don’t build the new flagship machine I was planning on, then the current spending spree wasn’t for naught.

I could still use a laptop. Maybe I should start saving for that.