Archive for the 'opinion' Category

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.”

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Building a PC: Tall or Wide?

September 6, 2008

As I see it, anyone who wants to build a computer today needs to make a choice:  should it be built to be as fast as possible without regard to the number of cores or should it have as many cores as possible without clockspeed being a priority?  In other words, should it be tall or wide?

If you want to go tall, it seems to me that you should buy the most expensive dual core chip you can find and then overclock it as far as it will go.  If you could get a dual core up to 4.6 GHz you would have a fast machine indeed.  Couple this with fast memory and a Raptor RAID 0 set up or even a flash drive and you have raw speed.  Of course with only 2 cores, it’s not wide.  But do you need it to be wide?

On the other hand, if you buy a Skulltrail motherboard and put 2 quadcore chips on it, then you’ve got something that’s wide.  You have 8 cores!  Even with overclocking, you probably won’t be able to get to the same speed as the overclocked dual cores.  However, if the software you’re using can handle multicore processing, this computer with smoke the dual core system using that application.

But there aren’t that many programs that can use quadcore chips effectively.  Today, it would seem that you’re better off with a fast dual core than spending crazy money on a quad or dual quad system.  This won’t always be the case, but for probably the next 6 months.  It’s true.

Toshiba Satellite u305-s2816: A review.

May 25, 2008

Toshiba Satellite U305-S2816 13.3" Laptop (Intel Centrino Core 2 Duo T8100 Processor, 2 GB RAM, 250 GB Hard Drive, Vista Premium) Onyx Blue
I’ve had my Toshiba for a couple of months now. I really could not be happier. I bought two so my wife and I could each have the same laptop. This helps me with computer support as any quirk one machine has, the other one probably has it too. Another reason I wanted two of these machines is because they have built in cameras. When I travel, my wife and I can have video conferences. We have done several of these on Skype and it’s been wonderful.

The first thing I did when I first started working with the laptops was to remove the crap-ware. In place of the stuff that was on the machine, I put Zone Alarm on and AVG. After removing the crap-ware, the machines were noticeably faster. Both machines run Vista Home Premium. I have found that on laptops, Vista generally behaves itself.

I’ve used a lot of laptops over the years. I’m old. I’ve had laptops from almost every brand available for business and for fun. What I like about these little Toshibas far outweighs what I don’t. The 13.3” screens fit quite nicely on airplane table trays. I went from never using my laptop on the plane to using it all the time. Plus the battery life is a real 4 hours. I use the laptop in battery mode all the time. Very satisfying.

The graphics are good enough to play decent games. I’ve been playing a cheap dungeon crawler called Fate. It’s a Diablo II clone that runs without difficulty on the laptop. I haven’t tried anything heavier, but I suspect there would be passing game performance for most games, Crysis notwithstanding.

This laptop has become the center of my universe. It’s light enough to take everywhere and I do.

As far as cons, I don’t like the fans. They must be computer controlled because they constantly cycle up and down. If I am in a quiet room, it’s noticeable. Of course, I have big ears and very sensitive hearing. Other than that, I’ve had one or two blue screens over the course of several months of use. Not bad. These laptops were cheaper than Mac Book Pros and in my opinion, a much better deal.

We actually did buy these from Amazon, by the way.

Grandiosity versus the low profile.

May 20, 2008

It occurs to me that some people put a lot of effort into leaving comments on blogs, posts in forums and even idle chatter in IRC (if you have enough windows open). It seems to me that this is low profile effort. If instead, someone took that time and effort and did his or her own blog or podcast, the result would reach more people. I have nothing against comments, posts or chats. I do all three. However, it’s not my primary internet thing. I get a lot more return for the blogging and podcasting that I do from being someone else’s minion. Yet, perhaps there is room to be both a minion in one instance and a star in another.

Some new business models are entirely dependent on getting people to comment/post/chat. In other words, the goal is to get advertising to pay for access to these folks. Perhaps some people don’t realize that? Also, if your goal is to reach out to the internet famous person at the top of the particular new media stack, sitting in the IRC for the show might not be the best way. Certainly, it’s not if you want to actually have a conversation.

This is something I’m thinking a lot about as I expand my own internet hobby ventures. For me, it is solely about the fun.

New Media Will Eat Itself.

April 26, 2008

Two links pushed to me via Twitter are forming enough rumination to generate a post. This original video is blog worthy in and of it self and this blogger has seized upon it. It is biting but true enough to be funny. I must be a new media DB then. Except that I have a day job. I think that there are some new media people who are big who do it all for fun and have independent means (or are on the dole).

My peer group of new media folks are the ones who are doing other things for a living. Someone in this camp (who is far more successful in new media than I) is Scott Johnson. His Extra Life Radio Show is very, very popular and he has a web comic and other podcasts as well. He also has a full time regular job. He must be a very energetic guy to sustain this kind of output. I’m sure he would like to quit his day job, but the thing is that old school jobs pay a heck of lot better. That’s certainly true for me. I don’t even do advertising on my podcasts. I’m not going to be quiting my day job anytime soon.

The other link that makes me write is an article from The Los Angeles Times re: SXSW. Here we see new media doing self-cannibalizing at it’s finest with someone vlogging themselves while interviewing a blogger. If you want to take the analogy to its furthest, new media regenerates as it self-consumes. It feeds on itself but miraculously continues to grow in the process. If it is a Hydra, it bites off one of its own heads and two more sprout. Everyone is making content about each other which in turn generates new content.

How long can it continue? It will peak in growth like everything else. But new media itself is permanent. There will always be a segment of the population that like to write words and make videos. The gateway to entry has been forever smashed with WordPress and YouTube. There will always be someone to consume this. As a consequence, I think one thing that has died is the old media superstar. New media pulls market share and eyeballs away from old media even though it doesn’t pay the talent very well. Just like in the music industry, where there will never be another Rolling Stones, so will go the rest of old media. You won’t have enough money in old media to create an old school superstar any longer. Although, on the flip side, every element of human interest gets its own micro-celebrity. In certain instances, that micro-celebrity becomes big enough to be a micro-celebrity superstar, like Veronica Belmont, for example.

If the loss of superstars paves the road for participation in media by the masses, I think we’re all better off. Certainly, with our cameras and microphones and lighting kits, we are having more fun.

But on us both did haggish age steal on.

April 16, 2008

I saw two very old people in wheelchairs today at the airport.  I’m not sure if I’ve ever seen two people who looked more aged and frail.  No matter how vigorous you are in life, age will take you down.  I’d like to think that staying active can forestall the effects for some time, but ultimately I think it’s genetics.  For every hundred year old marathoner, you have thousands of wheelchair bound 80 year olds.

It’s just horrific.  My whole life I’ve dreaded the aging process.  Now I am firmly middle aged.  I feel good and all, but I certainly don’t have the wind and endurance I had when I was younger.  It is a motivation to begin exercising again.

I will say this about the old guy in the chair.  He was watching closely how they were wheeling the woman with him.  I’m assuming it was his wife.  He had dignity, this guy, and from what I could tell, some wits still about him too.

If it had to happen, he was at least making the best of it.

Twitter Nodes.

April 12, 2008

Last night, I had a video of David Allen running, I was reading blogs on blog mad and blog explosion and I was reading what people were saying on Twitter.  So I had audio input (I wasn’t really watching the video) new blog material from a variety of sources that I would not ordinarily read and the latest micro-blogging from people across the world.

Twitter is sort of like reality TV except that it’s real time.  Jaffejuice said that “Twitter is like a police scanner except you can talk to the police.”  I like that except we’re all the police.  I think it’s more like the Borg from Star Trek.  It gives you the latest information; the latest sensory input from organic nodes throughout civilization.  It is like a human botnet whose job it is to report what is happening at the moment.

Of course there is a lot of noise.  There are a lot of people talking about a lot of things in which I have no interest.  That’s why I was listening to Mr. Allen and reading blogs.  The combination of activity was far better than television or movie watching.  It was even better than playing a videogame.  It satisfied my relentless desire for new material.

I’ve written in the past how we are all nodes.  We get more connected every day.  But not all of us speak the same language and not all of us have the same interests.  Some of us are, sadly, quite annoying.  And when a node annoys me, I unfollow it.  I’ve done this three times so far and by the count of followers that I have, some people have unfollowed me as well.  This does not surprise me in the least.  I am an acquired taste.  Take this blog for example, while there are a fair amount of readers, I will never be Robert Scoble.  And that’s fine.

Virtual Navel Gazing.

April 11, 2008

I haven’t updated in a long time.  Mostly it’s been an issue of energy.  I have been putting all of my daily energy into real-life activity.  I have neglected my virtual life.  Even now, I’m lying here, in a hotel room only managing to write this with the magic that is voice-recognition software.

I’m still in playing with new technology.  My solar powered Bluetooth headset is waiting for me at home.  It is my fondest hope that I’ll be able to use that with this voice recognition software so that I can dictate from a distance without a cord.

Perhaps by beginning to write here again I will unleash the energy I need to blog with abandon.  At any rate, it’s a start.

I have been playing with Twitter a lot.  I was on Twitter a year ago, when it first came out.  I got bored with it pretty quickly.  But now there are a lot more people on it and it is genuinely fun.  Plus, I’m using my real life persona with it.  That’s different too.

I created this Internet persona some four or more years ago so I could have some level of anonymity.  However, it’s also a pain.  To the extent that I can use new media and social media in real life, it is far more enjoyable.  That’s another reason why I haven’t been writing much here.  The bang for buck isn’t as great.

Conversely the more I participate in Internet friendships and activity with my real identity, that identity begins to be subsumed into the cloud.  In other words, instead of a schizophrenic Internet life/real-life the two begin to merge.  Someday maybe I’ll abandon Thaed altogether.

It sounds heavy but what it really means is that I spend more time plugged into my laptop.  In fact my laptop becomes my constant waking companion.  I’m liking that a lot.  I dwell less in the basement but spend more time online.  What could be better than that?

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.