On Second Thought….

Robotics is becoming very sophisticated. That’s not to say that they are becoming humanistic. We have made great leaps in the mechanical progress of machines but it is not really a great leap in evolutionary progress of man. It is only a scientific advancement that can be socially useful. A robot is a machine that can perform a or some defined (or designed) task. The brains are all the human ones that write the program however difficult the task, The bots are “computerized” machines not any more human than the Roomba. Robots have no will, no desire, and no need.Could the Roomba decide for itself that today at 2pm when no one is usually home, that it will not perform it’s scheduled task because it’s master is asleep at home unexpectedly because he is ill and doesn’t want to awakened. Or could the Roomba just not vacuum today because it just “didn’t feel like it”? Could it not “feel like it” because it is overworked and needs a vacation?  Do you have to give a set amount of time off for a robot? Is that because of the state laws or Federal laws or just due to P.E.T.oR. (People for the Ethical Treatment of Robots)?We have heard of an instance where a computer designed a cell phone based on parameters programmers gave it. Could it invent a light bulb? Could three or four of them herd sheep as well as a trained Australian sheep Dog?

There is science fiction in which robots try to take over the world. That would be a lot of coordination. Where would they meet secretly to plan the takeover? Would there be enough powered electrical outlets so that they would all be able to secretly get back to the places they were supposed to be before they were discovered missing? Would any of them be subject to recall like all the Chevy Volts due to potential fire issues when charging. Would this be what made them upset enough to want to take over? Would these type of travel restrictions cause them to have to do everything over the internet? How would they keep it a secret so that the NSA and Homeland Security wouldn’t have them under surveillance at the drop of a hat? Could they set up there own e-mail account in Outlook? Would just one of them feel remorseful and that the takeover thing was a bad idea and then spill the beans on the whole crew?

We have a lot to look forward to but let’s don’t get too carried away thinking these machines are more than what they really are.

See you in class…

Artificial my…Robotic arm

Artificial Intelligence, isn’t that what I see when Rock Stars talk about politics or when Whoopi Goldberg, Barbara Walters, Joy somebody all discuss current events on “The View? Somehow that isn’t what I think this blog was asked to be about.

Robots, (computerized machines) can only display the knowledge that is programmed into them, or so I originally thought. Now it seems with neural programming, a computer has built another computer. Somehow it is still the results of what has been programmed into it.

The most complicated of Robots that seem intelligent, have multiple computers controlling them. A lot of what I have seen almost can be describes as sophisticated choreography. The functions of what they can do is very limited in my opinion, but it is a great start.

Robots have become very functional. Sending them into burning buildings with cameras and sensors to find people inside is not that complicated to me. Build a robot that can withstand high heat. Put a camera on it. Have sensors that allows it to move around the building. Have sensors that detect humans or animals (infrared perhaps). The robot just needs to roll and be able to get around obstructions.

I bet robotic computer resources were mega-expensive until recently. It seems like they are cheaper and more universally accessible than they were previously. From my statement above, don’t assume I think that programming them is a breeze as my attempts to program Lego Mind Storm robots was no picnic. But for someone already employed in the Robotics industry, programming a Lego robot wouldn’t take anytime. Experience would help a lot. Something that I could achieve with another six weeks of labs and I’ll have it down cold.

“It Ain’t Science Fiction No More”

I never was a fan of science fiction. I had enough trouble when I was growing up trying to determine what reality was without having someone add to the “unreality” of the whole situation. If it wasn’t possible, why waste time thinking about it. “It’s not real” might have been something I would say as I disparaged someone else’s taste for the science fiction. As I read through the comic text last week, I was struck by how far back in time the references go. It made me think of science fiction in a different light. After seeing some of the videos of the Honda Robot and the Sony Robot, it made me realize that the science fiction of my youth is not fiction anymore.

The introduction to computer classes has stimulated my imagination in ways that might have been possible in my youth had I had a more open mind to what science fiction was. I find that it is true, if I am not strongly interested in a topic then I will overlook or miss what a presenter is sometimes trying to convey and the point of view from which it comes. Frankenstein is such an example. I was never interested in monsters or werewolves or the Swamp Thing as a child. I didn’t think they were very scary and usually the plot was very shallow.They were not presented in the same way as it was presented in the Comic Text: “It was the secrets of heaven and earth that I desired to learn” was the quote from Victor F. used in the comic and something I would never have seen in Shelley’s novel because I wouldn’t have read it. Perhaps since “modern” science was made to look so “un-modern” with the dark labs and smoking chemical vats and test tubes, the depth of the thought about real scientific  advancement never took flight in the imagination of my mind.

I had a friend, Steve, when I was 12 that was a bit different. He wanted me to build a spaceship with him that could take off to the moon. We first started experimenting with the homemade gun powder with chemicals we could find at the local drug store (maybe charcoal and some salt peter). We would mess around with the formula a little and watch the powders burn in our make shift pestles. It kind of reminded me of Homer and his friends in the movie “October Sky” but a lot less “prodigous” and a lot less dedicated. I got tired of the chore.  I wasn’t going to be a rocket scientist and neither was my friend. We were bad at this “rocket-hacking thing”. Together we didn’t have enough scientific knowledge to bounce our ideas off each other and the other kids in the neighborhood weren’t the brightest bulbs in the neighborhood and weren’t of any use no matter their ages. In hindsight, most of my enthusiasm came from playing with matches.

Now the tools are all available for 12 years old of today to be able to build their own rocket ships. The resources are online for how to make bigger bangs than we were able to get. Private companies are providing what could only be provided for by governments before. With personal drones and remote controls and GPS and You Tube, Steve and I might have been a lot further along in our project before we gave up to devote more time to our basketball skills.  But on the other hand, or maybe both hands literally, not having those resources might be the reason we each still have ten fingers.

See you in class.


Cyber security, hacking, etc.

I don’t understand why someone would maliciously attempt to infect someone else’s computer with a virus or malware. It’s just not right. I’ve had some problems in the past with viruses and rootkit malware at a time when I didn’t have the time to mess with them. That just made them worse.

I had a business that I sold over a year ago. When it was the week of closing, my computer got infected by a virus that took control of my homepage and also buried itself in some of my backup drives. At first the computer slowed to a crawl. I needed a fast computer to complete 3 payrolls and develop Profit and Loss Statements and Balance Sheets and my computer wouldn’t cooperate. There were a few nights of very little sleep until closing. Even after, I had to rebuild some of the steps that I had taken and trying to make sure everything was correct.

Luckily I found some good websites that helped to  steer me to some free programs that would help resolve some of my issues. SuperAntiSpyware, HiJack This, and a free Kaspersky program were just a few of the programs I ran. My problems were further complicated because the virus knocked out my networking ability and I couldn’t connect to the internet. I had to copy files from one computer and put them on a jump drive and then send them by e mail. It was very time consuming. I had so called security software installed on the computer (McAfee) but it was worthless.

Now I have a program Kaspersky’s that I think does a very good job of keeping viruses out. Another way I prevent attacks is by keeping my son off of my computer. This is how I got those nasty programs. He likes to go to sites that I think he shouldn’t and as a result, risk of infections increase.

The other security problems that we can’t do anything about is privacy. I don’t have anything to hide from our government, I obey our laws, have no influence in affairs of the government, I don’t know anybody that does. I have no doubt however that if our government wanted to see what was on my computer, they wouldn’t have to knock on the door and come in. They can probably do it from their offices and hook into my internet service providers accounts and view all they want. It may not be information that they could present in a court of law, but that is not what they are looking for. They would look for something that could get you into the court of law.

Years ago I met a man who sold me a mortgage. As I spent time with him, he told how he had software that kept anyone from being able to trace the location of his computer and his identity. He was a bit of a conspiracy theory guy. He told me I should get a book about the Federal Reserve, “The Unseen Hands” or something like that which gave the history of 5 families that controlled the world and all money. I thought he was a bit kooky but it made me think. This was in 1986 many years before 9/11 and any of Homeland Security type of laws that have restricted our rights to privacy. I  can understand a governments need to know. I can also understand people can overstep their bounds. I’m glad bad guys are caught but our freedoms have been restricted. It is becoming a guilty until proven innocent type of system these days.


If it itches….Scratch it!

I enjoy working with Scratch. This gives me a new insight into computer programming. Working with scratch gives me some idea of how many things I see on TV or on the internet are developed. Quite cool.

I had problems originally trying to work around a bug in the program. A sprite embedded itself on my stage and it wouldn’t go away. I spent a lot of time trying to figure out how to copy my scripts for my Spites and export them to another file. It didn’t work. As a results, I had to start over. And as I began the first time, the same thing happened. So, I was at a loss as what I should do. So I uninstalled the program from my computer and re-installed it. By now I was tired of my original project and began a new one.

“No matter how bad things are, you can always make things worse.”
― Randy PauschThe Last Lecture

Since my creative juices were flowing, I decided to use Photoshop and my Graphics Tablet. I had great vision of creating

backgrounds that would be worthy of “SouthPark”. I would place my sprites in front of these backgrounds and everything would be great.  I also discovered the musical keyboard and began to create a score for the production. But, nothing was working like I thought it would.  But this is a lesson learned about programming. And this is kindergarten programming.

“Fundamentals, fundamentals, fundamentals. You’ve got to get the fundamentals down because otherwise the fancy stuff isn’t going to work.”
― Randy Pausch

To program takes a lot of analysis. If I just had one sprite that was changing costumes it would be simpler. To choreograph two sprites takes a lot of planning. If I was programming the guidance computers to land Apollo astronauts on the moon, we probably would be delaying the launch. It wouldn’t be a good idea to not have the project finished before the astronauts launched. I haven’t finished the project but I will complete it this week.

“You can always change you plan, but only if you have one.”
― Randy PauschThe Last Lecture

The Randy Pausch lecture was very moving. What a dynamic guy. Someone so positive and full of advice can be kind of sickening. The fact that he knew he was dying and had an opportunity to deliver a message to his children about how to live makes what he did very admirable.

I was kind of baffled when he was giving women dating advice(don’t judge a man by what a man says, only what he does). But at the end it made sense. What a great parent   he must have been.

In such a short lecture, he gave a lot of advice.

“When there’s an elephant in the room introduce him.”
― Randy Pausch

“Do not tell people how to live their lives. Just tell them stories and they will figure out how those stories apply to them.”
― Randy Pausch

“The brick walls are there for a reason. They’re not there to keep us out. The brick walls are there to give us a chance to show how badly we want something.”
― Randy PauschThe Last Lecture

I’ve been around people in my life that are a bit like Randy Pausch. They are teachers 24 hours a day, even if they aren’t teachers professionally. There is an understanding they have that they are willing to share. Many times it has been professional people such as a pharmacist or a nurseryman. They instruct about the specifics in their field of work but they also can instruct you about life. They constantly have a bigger picture in their view and are willing to help you expand yours. I am grateful for those lessons learned.

“It’s a thrill to fulfill your own childhood dreams, but as you get older, you may find that enabling the dreams of others is even more fun.”
― Randy PauschThe Last Lecture


See you in class.



What do you know?

SO THAT’s How They Do It

Before this class, I really didn’t have a clue as to how web pages were made. I assumed that most were like “Word Press Blogging”, you could pick a template and there you go, you are in business. I had heard of the program “Front Page” and assumed that if I was creating a webpage, I would construct a document much more along the lines of using “Publisher” where I would create a text box with borders and insert photos and such until the letter size page could be pasted as a whole as a webpage. Much like a newsletter that I would print and hand out to my local neighborhood association. Hmmm, I guess I was wrong…sort of.

I can see a resemblance in how textboxes and templates can be used for web pages just as in newsletter. The difference being, descriptions (or descriptors) are used (style sheets in CSS) that can be universally applied to every web page if wanted. There is a lot of flexibility using HTML and CSS to make web pages.

At first, I had a hard time coding the page. I would leave out a “>” or a “/” when needed and when I would try to open the HTML document in a browser, it was not what I thought it would be. Once I became a little more methodical and precise, the pages started coming together. One problem I had was trying to progress too quickly. I wanted to Bold and color and italicize and everything at once. It all went wrong. I confused adding CSS styles with basic HTML and things got confusing. I still have problems with my page but I understand it better. The columns that I tried to add early on haven’t materialized but that will come this week when I put together what I have learned. There is a real advantage to be able to style multiple pages as the same time. I think I’ll do better as I try to make everything more simple.

A friend that started a successful business integrating information from multiple operating system inside of hospitals to generate useful reports told me that his programmers were successful because they were basically smart but lazy. They didn’t want to program more than was necessary, He said a key was to make it very simple but precise. It didn’t make as much sense when he said it as it does now. Keep it simple.

Databases are very useful. A few years ago I attempted to teach myself “Access”. I was going to generate all kinds of useful data from my sales reports and customers reports that I received when I was selling medical supplies. I was going to take my monthly sales reports and synthesize them into tables and be able to tell you which of my accounts were buying the most item #40332s and which of those also were buying item #164221s and which months. I could see all kinds of possibilities and it was going to save me time from studying the monthly reports. There was just one problem. I couldn’t teach myself effectively. I couldn’t get my tables set up correctly so that the key data that was linked was correct. I still don’t know exactly what I needed to do to fix the problems that I was having with my links. I spent days on it and came up empty. I got behind on some other items that I needed to do.  I recognize the power inherent in the Databases and using SQL. I may attempt to learn it again if I can find the program on my old laptop.



The Assembly Language Simulator

I enjoyed this lesson on the ALS. This helps me to understand the way instructions are written and how a computer carries out the steps it takes. It gives a good idea of how programming language is translated into binary and how execution takes place.

I get confused when “Value” and “Load” are used. If the number is the same as a RAM address location for these, sometimes I’ll put in the value from the statement and then sometimes I’ll put in the value in a memory address. It clears up when I go step by step.

By reading the simulator instruction, it makes more sense.

I like the exposure to the various topics we cover in class. It is not so much introducing me to new topics but it is tying the topics together in a way that I didn’t expect.

From what I have learned, it is my opinion that Babbage, Turing, Von Neumann were geniuses with their developments. Bill Gates, Steve Jobs although significant in their contributions, took advantage of and developed the abilities of others at an opportune times. Gates used IBM technologies and MacIntosh’s and Jobs others technology for the mouse and the graphic interface. They both had driven and significant vision that pushed the industry forward. Jobs may have been a marketing genius that allowed his company to another level. (I just contradicted myself, didn’t I?). Scientific genius versus marketing genius. Jobs knew ‘cool”.

I look forward to the rest of this class.

See you in class.





At the Post………and we’re off !!!

Are you ready? I want to start my initial blog by saying something profound and relevant.

I hate to disappoint you but I don’t have something profound. Some may not think this is relevant either. I struggle for what my initial content and context should be. By default, I will begin by giving some of my thoughts about computers and what I have learned so far.

I spend a lot of time these days in front of a computer. I like to read my daily news online. I like to keep up with my family and friends by e mail and seeing what they might have to say on Facebook. My mobile phone gives me instant access to that if I wish. I like to take photographs (like the fields of Cades Cove above) and edit them with Adobe LightRoom and Photoshop. I do my banking online. Now, I am taking classes on the internet. Sometimes I think a computer keeps me from accomplishing more than it actually helps me accomplish. My “wasting” of time on computer can be more than I really have to spend. Other times it is something that provides me with instant access to bargain pricing on items I am going to buy. In fact, Christmas shopping has never been easier since I do most of it online.

A topic that was inferred this week was “can the computer be a blessing or a curse”?. Of course the answer is both.The complexity of a computer can be mind boggling but at the same time, it can be so simple. After reviewing the history of the computer, I am a believer that this is the greatest invention of all time. Developing a computer that cracked codes during WW II changed everyone’s life. But, when I sit here typing and my computer notifications sounds are signaling to me that my USB ports are turning on and off….. and on and off… and on and off… and on and off…. I wonder whether a ball-peen hammer “up the side of” my Dell Vostro 410 CPU might not be a world changing event even if only in my life.

Incessant USB notification Gremlin


AND of course when the USBs turn on and off (as they are doing now), I get the bubble notification above. How many times have you seen this problem? AND of course the Kaspersky Internet Security 2012 wants to know whether or not I want to scan the external hard drives that keep reconnecting every time I get the notification. It seems to be never ending. This is where the hammer would come in to play. A simple hard blow to the CPU would make me feel much better. (I remember as a child, when our TV picture would get whacked out horizontally, a gentle tap to the side of the tuning box would sometimes straighten the picture so that you didn’t have to fiddle with the “vertical” or “horizontal” hold knobs. That may have been before any of you in this class were born.) I have a friend that swears that when he had computer problems, he took his hammer out of the closet and placed it on top of his CPU. He said his problems instantly cleared up. This may have been in the early days when computers began having a conscience and a soul. I can’t say for sure because I haven’t gotten that far in my reading.

I can see one day off in the future where I will be able to troubleshoot and repair my computer and know why I am doing what the steps that will fix the problem. Maybe that will be the day when my ball-peen hammer can return back to the garage.

See You In Class