Archive for December, 2008

Becoming an Adobe fanboy.

December 27, 2008

On of my goals over my holiday vacation was to learn Dreamweaver, Photoshop and Flash.  Later I might learn more about Premiere but I’m told that Vegas Pro might be the way to go.  I’ve been sick, so I haven’t made the progress that I’ve sought, but I have made inroads on the Dreamweaver book.

I want to take the blog that I do for work out of free WordPress hosting and put it into an environment where I pay to host it but where I also have more control.  I probably don’t need to learn Dreamweaver to do this, but I think it may be a good start.

Also, learning new software causes me to make mental connections that help in ways that I have never considered.  I think that this whole software learning project is going to take several months now.  If I decide to buy the software after playing with it for a while, it’s going to be expensive.  I want to be absolutely sure that I’m going to use these tools.

You might ask why I don’t stick to open source.  Certainly, there are some alternatives.  Everyone knows about Gimp, for example, instead of Photoshop.  I’ve been using Gimp for a while for quick photo editing.  I want to get past superficial editing, though and really learn about the layering aspects that Photoshop offers.  I think that’s going to be the most fun part of the project (along with video editing).

Doing this for fun is also a real motivator.  Just starting the Dreamweaver book has made me think of some unrelated server projects that might be interesting.  So there’s real value in this and it could be engrossing too.

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Computer Vagaries.

December 24, 2008

I was reading this article on Slashdot the other day and I couldn’t help but think about how many times I’ve seen this before.  I had actually started writing a post on this back in July, but I didn’t have enough ammunition to make my point.  This article provides ample evidence of how a user’s experience with PCs is not uniform between individual boxes.  This is not just dependent on operating systems.  Time and time again, I have experienced this.  For example, I could not get iTunes to install on one of my Vista boxes.  On an XP machine, Twitter doesn’t work.  On my iMac, I can’t get Firefox 3 to install. My experience as a hardware fanatic is one thing.  But what I wonder at is the experience of the average user.  A non-geek could buy a computer with Vista on it and try to install iTunes and fail.  Another user might be banned from ever experiencing Twitter and never be the wiser that the problem comes from the vagaries of one machine.

The latest example concerns my daughters’ computers.  I bought identical parts for them to make my life easier.  The free Nero program that came with the DVD drives works on one of the computers but not the other.  I have reinstalled windows twice in trying to resolve this.  It simply won’t run.  Yet, it runs fine on the other one.  I have a workaround.  Sonic works fine on the machine that hates Nero.  So I use Sonic.  It’s no big deal, but it bugs me.  Again it is supposedly identical computers behaving differently.

Digital isn’t supposed to be like this.  This is analog behavior.  The OP from Slashdot was about how computers and cores really aren’t the same from machine to machine. Each box develops its own idiosyncrasies.  I’m frankly amazed that computers work at all given this divergence.

But from an AI perspective and from the genetic algorithm perspective, this is crazy.  You’d have to develop using several different boxes simultaneously to allow for the divergence.

I was talking about this with Jason, AI researcher and the creator of Underworld Hockey Club (and also a Friday Night Party Line panelist) and I thought his comments were insightful:

“[O]ne interesting thing with genetic algorithms is that they learn with the computer.  If I train a checkers player on the cluster in the lab, that player will not be as good when I run it on my own computer.  It’s not stupid, but it’s not as good.  It’s because it’s tuned to the specific compiler & floating point operations of the cluster.  This is why we need online learning.  Genetic algorithms simulate evolution, but there aren’t any mature methods to simulate learning during the life of an individual.  A common belief that I share is that evolution contains 99% of the knowledge we need to survive, but without the 1% from learning, it is completely useless.  Look at deer, for example.  Baby deer (and other quadrupeds) are able to walk within minutes of being born.  Clearly, the basic constructs of coordination are tied to DNA (baby deer don’t flail stupidly until they figure it out), but the deer need learning to make sure that their programming works with their specific bodies.  One student in the lab is looking at neuroplasticity, which is the study of neural networks that can adapt to their environment in realtime.  It’s really interesting stuff.”

Building computers for my kids.

December 7, 2008

This weekend I spent every waking hour building computers.  For me, this is as close as heaven on earth as it gets.  The time passed so quickly, that I am astonished that it is Sunday night already.  My hands are sore and cut up from the cases, but the computers are finished.  I wish I could do that every weekend.  Here’s a picture of the parts at the beginning of the build:

I used Asus P5Q motherboards because 1) I love Asus and 2) they were on sale.  I chose the ATI 1 GB Sapphire cards because they were also on sale and more importantly without rebates.  I hate rebates.  I’d rather not buy something with a rebate if I can help it.  I’ve never used G-skill memory before but it worked fine.  Both builds got 4 GB.  I saved money by using old hard drives I had lying around as well as reusing the XP licenses from the girls’ old machines.  I had one extra case and so I only had to buy one new one (and my daughter wanted pink anyway).

I had a little trouble with the first build.  It posted but then I had a grounding error on the USB ports.  I fixed that and it worked fine.  I bought Zalman fans because I wanted to overclock a little.  It turns out that the e8400 (which was also on sale) is an overclocking dream.  Here’s the 5 year old’s screen:

As you can see, her computer can do 4.05 GHz on air easily.  Crazy.  I remember the trouble I had 2 ½ years ago on my build and I used water.  It’s funny.  I’m still using that machine as my main rig, but my daughters’ new computers crush it.  I might spend some more money on a build for myself at year end.  We’ll see.

Another fun thing we did was to shoot a lot of video while the girls and I worked on the computers.  I’m sure I’ll put it up on YouTube after I get a chance to edit it.