Archive for the 'tech' Category

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?

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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.

TiVo: death and life.

January 30, 2008

Last night, our one remaining TiVo died.  It started rebooting and then quit.  I opened it up and tested the drives.  They worked so it’s the board.  I have another TiVo that I had deactivated so I reformatted the drives for that newer box.  I just called TiVo and they switched the service over for me without any trouble.  So my kids will be very happy tomorrow.  My 5 year old has completely mastered TiVo.  She watches TV entirely differently from a normal human being.  When she sees something funny, she’ll rewind the scene 4 or 5 times before continuing the show.  Crazy.  When the TiVo broke, she brought down the remote and put it on my desk (thinking that the TiVo was entirely self contained in the remote).  Someday, it will be.

I had hacked both of my TiVos with significantly bigger drives.  I felt quite nostalgic as I did it again this evening.  The new/old box sports 2 160 GB drives that were limited to 132 GB in the old box.  Now they are free to be used at full capacity.  This will give me well over 300 hours of programming or I should say give my kids that much.  I’m only going to put a few documentaries on it for downloading to my computer for watching while I walk on the treadmill.

My main DVR for my HDTV is a stupid cable box.  Someday I’ll get a TiVo Series III for that TV too, maybe this summer.  After 4 years of happy TiVoing, why quit now?

Building a FreeNAS file server with 4 1 TB drives.

January 21, 2008

 I ordered parts for a new server today.  With my success in building a FreeNAS based box, I’m going to try to build another one using 4 1 TB drives in RAID 5.  If it works, I’ll finally be able to put all my data in one place.  Oh and I also ordered a metric butt-ton of Cat 6 cable to try to help increase the speed of my supposedly gigabit network.  Goodtimes are ahead!  I decided to wait on building a new quadcore flagship machine, perhaps as late as until May.

I’m really scavenging my KVM lately.  One of the 4 boxes went to build my 1st server, now my Ubuntu machine is being sacrificed to build the second server.  Yet another box is going to be moved behind the TV in the basement to act as a videoserver for that.  I’ll only have one box left!

Maybe in May, instead of just building one flagship machine, I’ll build 4 and fill up my KVM with bad-ass processing power!  Muhahahaha!  Skynet will be born in my basement…

The PSP 2000 (aka Slim): a review.

September 23, 2007

PSP 2000 Console - Piano Black
I’ve spent some time with this now and it’s time to put thoughts to bits. When the Slim came out with the Daxter bundle, I snapped it up. I cannot help but feel that this device is a small version of the PS3 in many ways in terms of it’s strengths and weaknesses. This is my first experience with the PSP, I didn’t own a fat one.

The Daxter game held my attention for a few hours. I’m not so much into run and jump games. It did surprise me because the graphics are good and the sound is terrific. From a graphics and sound perspective, the PSP is very powerful. It is far superior to the DS in this regard. Strangely enough, this does not make the PSP a superior gaming machine. It does make it a superior media machine. Just like the PS3, if you want to watch movies, the Slim is the way to go.

There are more games available for the PSP than there are for the PS3. I picked up The Warriors for $20.00, mostly for nostalgia. Buying a movie game is never a good idea. I succumbed to the nostalgia feeling and for the most part I wasn’t disappointed. It does illustrate the gaming differences the platform exhibits versus the DS. The DS is a quick platform you can grab and play games on for a few minutes and put down. You need more time for the PSP. The UMD system offers benefits in that you can fit lots of sound and video on a disk, but it’s just not as fast as a flash memory based system.

Like the PS3, I’m looking for that killer game. I’m just at the beginning of my hunt. The next games on my list are: D&D Tactics and Dungeon Maker Hunting Ground. I think a good RPG would shine on this system.

The PSP has a lot of hidden power. The built-in browser has some value and you can use the PSP as a wireless podcatcher. If you have a TiVo, you can download shows to the PSP. I will probably buy an 8Gig memory stick and put a lot of movies on it. Although this weekend, I had lots of time but I didn’t make any effort to put video on my system. I had DVDs and two laptops. Of course I didn’t play them either. This is relevant because if you carry a lot of gear: ipod, DS, laptops, Blackberry, the PSP might not get as much use as it would for the person for whom it’s his or her only device. Right now, I have used it as a diversion for my kids by putting “Good Night Moon” on it. You could use the PSP to play music instead of an iPod. You could use it for wireless web browsing instead of a laptop. However, it is probably not the best device for these activities.

In short, I’m very glad I bought a PSP but I feel like there’s more things to explore with it. Like the PS3, I feel like it has a tremendous amount of unused potential. I feel like I still need to spend more time on learning how to unlock this potential.

Making Peace with AMD.

August 27, 2007
1 BIOSTAR GEFORCE 6100-M9 Socket 939 NVIDIA GeForce 6100 Micro ATX AMD Motherboard – Retail
Item #: N82E16813138269Standard Return Policy
$59.99
1 AMD Athlon 64 X2 4200+ Toledo 2.2GHz Socket 939 Processor Model ADA4200DAA5CD – OEM
Item #: N82E16819103053Processors (CPUs) Return Policy
$78.99
1 pqi POWER Series 1GB 184-Pin DDR SDRAM DDR 400 (PC 3200) Desktop Memory Model MD441GUOE – Retail
Item #: N82E16820141198Memory (Modules, USB) Return Policy
$43.49
1 DISCOUNT FOR COMBO #49760 $-20.00
Subtotal $162.47

The above is from NewEgg and it signifies my re-entry into AMD’s universe. I had sworn off AMD on these pages in a quite angry fashion as two AMD boxes I had built 3 months apart died within 3 months of each other. But with the above purchase, I’m effectively getting a replacement box for an old P4 2.GHZ machine for under $200. Even if this setup only lasts a year, it will have been worth it.  Thanks to Ben’s Bargains for the tip.

Ok, AMD, let’s try to make it work.

Best Practices for iTunes?

July 13, 2007

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve lost my playlists.  In the year and a half or so that I’ve had my iPod, I’ve always been moving iTunes from one machine to another.  This is usually because the machine breaks.  For the stuff that I’ve bought, I have maxed out the authorized computers.

A month or so, I had the opportunity to buy a little laptop that I can pretty much carry everywhere.  It has now become my iPod server.  All music I acquire goes on this machine.  The iPod charges and syncs with this laptop only.  I can use the automatic music management and I am happy.

When I think about all the music that’s been lost over the years, it’s frustrating.  I don’t think digital music is a better way to keep it than CDs.  Of course I lose CDs too or they get scratched or whatever.  I’m hoping now, with one solid repository of music it will be better.  Don’t get me wrong, I’ve done backups over the years, that doesn’t stop stuff from getting lost.

How do other people do it?  How do you manage your iPod?  How do you keep from losing playlists?  How do you keep from losing songs over the years?

“This is the nerd equivalent of being a cat lady.”

July 7, 2007

Normally I don’t blog about blogs, much less blog about comments left on blogs.  This, however, is a special exception.  Kotaku, the source of all information that is gaming, reported on a couple who have 46 World of Warcraft accounts, 47 PCs and manage 23 WoW accounts between them.  They have a side by side rig with two Lazyboy chairs and 7 monitors.

One can just imagine what their waking hours are like:  16 hours a day of non-stop WoW interrupted only by food and adult diaper changing breaks probably only done once a day to maximize efficiency.  Even hardcore geeks are amazed, leading one commenter, Nikolii to quip brilliantly:  “This is the nerd equivalent of being a cat lady.”

I want to know more.  I want to see them play.  I want to know how they can afford this kind of lifestyle.  I want to see these people!  Mainstream press should pick up on this story!

Of course the mainstream might wonder why they do this.  I know the answer to this, because it’s fun, in a really, really obsessive way.  And I can relate to it a little bit.  I have 15 computers (not all of them are up) but 8 are in use all the time.  I’m not sure that’s like having 8 cats though.  Computers don’t need litter boxes.

eSata Drive, No eSata Cable.

May 16, 2007

I’ve written before about how awesome the Scientific Atlanta Explorer 8300HD is.  Tonight I impulse-bought a 500 GB eSATA external hard drive for it.  The hard drive it comes with is tiny and I figured this would help.  Sascha Segan inspired me to try this with an article he wrote.  Although it looks like he has since quit using it.  At Best Buy, I had the presence of mind to ask someone if they sold the cable.  According to this fine young gentleman, it’s not out yet.  I thought perhaps I had one at home as I remembered having numerous SATA cables.  Of course I found out later that SATA cables are not the same as eSATA cables.

So now I have this nifty new drive and no cable.  You have to remember, Cleveland Ohio is not exactly the tech capital of the world.  Most of the CompUSA stores have closed.  There is a Microcenter about 40 minutes away, but it’s too late tonight.  I’ll call them tomorrow.  There’s always Newegg, but I don’t want to wait.