jrlynch's blog


1110 Semester Wrap-up
May 1, 2010, 6:41 pm
Filed under: CSIT1110

I went into this class expecting something similar to what my wife experienced at another  institution while taking a similar required course.  Basically she learned that a computer has a CPU, memory, a keyboard, and an output.  Then they worked with ‘Word’, ‘PowerPoint’ and ‘Excel’.  That was the extent of the intro to computers class.  Yawn!!

Dr. Brown has put together a very interesting and thought provoking course which is built around the  ‘Comic Book’  he wrote and illustrated.  This is the text book for the course.  Don’t let the label of comic book through you off.  This is a well designed and thought-out text providing a surprising depth of content considering this is an over-view type course.

At the start of the semester, this class dovetailed nicely with my other computer courses which were all examining basic computer architecture, both software and hardware.  We looked at the CPU, the north and south bridge, memory, various inputs and outputs, binary, hex, and learned a good bit about the history of the computer and the thinking that eventually brought it to society.

We then examined the evolution of languages used for communication between people and computer starting with the basis of all computer code, ones and zeros.  Its either on or off.  The state of the transistor switch in your CPU determines what shade of lavender the scales on your avatar are as it lives, bleeds, or dies in WOW.  The fact that you have multiple millions of these switches in your CPU determines the life-like qualities of your alter ego as it rampages across the battle strewn wreckage of your binary induced other-world.  The computer is the ultimate engine, and perhaps companion.  It will dutifully do whatever you tell it to.

We worked with Lego robotics.  The Lego software environment provides a very understandable and user-friendly interface through which you communicate with your robot.  The robot has the senses of touch, hearing, sight, and the ability to sense a distant object.  We used all of these senses as we programmed the robot to follow a curving course, sense an object blocking the path, turn, and stop a certain distance from another object.

Dr. Brown has built a machine code assembler in a program called ‘Scratch’.  He also developed a simple programing language which we used to perform mathematical calculations.  We were given a task for the program to perform.  We then had to write a program that would achieve the desired result.  The program was written in terms that humans can understand; terms like ‘STORE’, ‘JUMP’, and ‘LOAD’.  These were then compiled into machine code and the program ran.

The study about virtual reality didn’t resonate with me very much because I’m not into gaming, but I can understand and appreciate the draw that alternate worlds has.  The impossible can be achieved in a virtual world.

Artificial intelligence, AI, was interesting from the point that this is the future.  We learned how intelligence has been simulated through the use of tree, search,  and sorting techniques.  We looked at expert systems which are programed to be very knowledgeable in a very narrow area.  We saw how difficult it is to teach a computer about the most ordinary life experiences, in other words, teaching it ‘common sense’.  On the other hand, it is fairly easy to teach more complex things because this can be taught as a series of steps.

Dr. Brown has opened my eyes to the all encompassing world of computing.  It literally touches every aspect of our lives and we have become slavishly devoted to the wonderful things the computer can do for us.  We are hooked.  So far this has been a good trip.  Lets hope it remains so, but I don’t think there are any guarantees on that point.  The person that owns the tools has the power.  As we have seen, the computer is the ultimate tool.

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Virtual Worlds and Games
April 26, 2010, 6:51 am
Filed under: CSIT1110

I can’t really relate to this area.  My only actual involvement in gaming was with a game I played in the 90’s called “Mist”.  It was interesting and the graphics were done well for that era, but the game moved really slowly.  I think I could get very involved in the current games being offered, but I simply don’t have the time.  Sorry, but I can’t offer much more on this subject.

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What Defines Intelligence
April 18, 2010, 12:56 pm
Filed under: CSIT1110

This is the first time I have been introduced to the field of AI, and have found it to be extremely interesting.  What I found most intriguing was trying to define intelligence.    The Turing test basically states that the test of intelligence is the effective use of language.  Rene Descartes stated that “Rational thought is a manifestation of spirit in matter…it exists only in humans and is expressed as language”.  If the intelligent use of language determines intelligence, then I’ve no doubt that effective and useful artificial intelligence is only a few years away.

I see the advancement of robots and AI and concur that in time, we will lose the ability to develop new robot designs to the robots themselves.  How many people do you currently know that can derive the square root of a number without a calculator except through trial-and-error?  For that matter, I’d say there are many high school graduates that can’t work a long division problem.  Technology builds on itself.  We use current knowledge to develop new technology, and on and on.  Eventually you get to the point that society is relying on the machines that support society, but don’t actually understand the intellectual underpinning, knowledge base, that the machines are derived from. For example, our not so distant relatives used mainly herbal remedies to treat illness.  Today we use the pharmacy.  The knowledge of herbal medicine is lost to us for daily use; we don’t need it just like we don’t need to know long division.

I don’t think I really understand the idea of ’singularity’ that Ray Kurzweil speaks of, but it reminds me of a science fiction story I read years ago.  Briefly, a civilization through continual advancement migrated to space where, over millions of years, it lost the need for physical form, and eventually evolved into a single consciousness.  This consciousness had but one outlet which was thought.  This proved to be unsatisfying, so after millions of years of pondering, the consciousness thought, “Let there be light”, and there was light.  This provided the consciousness something beyond itself to think about and be interested in.  This creation eventually provided a friend, but in order for this creation to be a friend, it had to be able to choose to be a friend, otherwise, it is just a very complex robot.

I don’t think the ability to use language is the true test of intelligence.  The real test of intelligence is the ability to exercise free will.  As Descartes said, “Rational thought is a manifestation of spirit in matter”.  That ‘spirit’ is the ability to use free will, which is the reflection of God.

In my opinion, AI will develop to the point of doing unimaginable and wonderful things which will aid society, and possibly eventually damage society, but I don’t think it will ever contain the spirit of self determination or free will.

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First Introduction to Robotics
April 11, 2010, 10:57 am
Filed under: CSIT1110

After gaining a little experience with the Lego’s robot, I can see how robotics could become a very interesting personal hobby.  I need to spend more time with the MindStorm software to understand how to make the robot perform as I want.  The various sensors and the many ways the robot can be configured make this a challenging and interesting project.   I wonder if the progression in robotics will keep pace with the advancement in computer technology?

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Security is Relative
March 28, 2010, 2:23 pm
Filed under: CSIT1110

Very interesting section dealing with computer security.  I didn’t know anything about the history of hacking and had never heard of phone phreaking.  I watched the videos about the history of hacking and came away with the thought that initially hacking was an intellectual pursuit.  One person used the phrase, “Wild pleasure of exploration”.  I don’t necessarily mean this in a negative sense, but hacking seems to be a type of addiction.  You just keep coming back for more.  That fits with our mental makeup.  You seek that which give the greatest pleasure, not always what is the best for you. 

Another video we watched talked of hacking from the standpoint of a nationalistic spirit.  I think the feeling of a national identity and loyalty to it may give the hacker focus and direction, but the hacking is done from the ultimate standpoint of personal pleasure.  The feeling of exploration and achievement is very strong.  Probably similar to the thrill of the hunt.

With the open design of the web and everyone connected to it, I doubt that actual security will ever be achieved.  Security will be a moving, changing, developing target, and I think challenging that security will always maintain its allure.

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Update about ‘Scratch’
March 28, 2010, 11:51 am
Filed under: CSIT1110

When I had finished my project, I felt satisfied with it in that I had accomplished all I had set out to do.  My goals were to develop a program that was random in nature, self-terminating, and visually interesting.  I accomplished this, but now looking back on the project, I feel I should have put more time into it.  Oh well; it is published and I did enjoy working in the Scratch environment.

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Working with ‘Scratch’
March 21, 2010, 12:50 pm
Filed under: CSIT1110

Like anything new, it takes a while to learn your way around, and ‘Scratch’ was no exception.  However, this programing environment is very intuitive and easy to understand.  I like the layout of the commands into major areas of operation.

The main idea I started with was wanting to develop something that would be random, not always conforming to a predetermined set of instructions, and something that would be interesting.  Also, time constraints were a factor.  What I came up with was a set of objects randomly moving around the page, changing shapes and directions.  When certain criteria were met, the movement would stop.  This way there is a termination point to the program.  This is very simple and doesn’t begin to explore the possibilities offered by ‘Scratch’, but I found it enjoyable and am satisfied with the results for the limited amount of time I had for the project.

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Completing my web page
March 7, 2010, 11:53 pm
Filed under: CSIT1110

I enjoyed this exercise.  This gave me a chance to peek into a whole new area and I like what I saw.  As for my actual web page, I think it turned out alright, but was very rudimentary.  I don’t think Dr. Brown expected a polished final product, but wanted us to learn some about HTML and open our minds to what is possible.  For myself, I want to pursue this further.  Not sure exactly what I will do with what I learn, but started by ordering some very inexpensive books online from a list of reading Dr. Brown put together for his web development class.  Will be interesting to see where this leads.

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Developing My First Web Page
February 28, 2010, 4:22 pm
Filed under: CSIT1110

This project was full of surprises.  I have no background in HTML at all and was a bit overwhelmed at first, but with help from Dr. Brown and folks in the labs, I began to understand a little of what was going on.  When I actually started getting some positive results from my attempts, I found that I really enjoyed the process.  After you start understanding the structure of HTML and aren’t struggling with every single thing you try to do, the creative side of developing a web page becomes the major focus and is very enjoyable.  This is good stuff; putting together something that is visually pleasing and informative.

The W3Schools.com site was very helpful and easy to use.  For me, the more I discovered, the more I wanted to learn.  Think I will continue with the W3S site and learn more about this subject.  So far this semester,  I have encountered two things that have had real significance for me; using Linux as an operating system rather than Windows, and web site development.  Isn’t education great!

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Working with Assembly Language
February 13, 2010, 11:10 am
Filed under: CSIT1110

This assignment was interesting, but also frustrating.  However, I largely brought this upon myself.  I approached programing the simulator with preconceived ideas about how it should work rather than looking at the material Dr. Brown was presenting and working within that framework.  This lead to a lot of wasted time for me.

My problem was how to work with the ‘value’ statement and the ‘jump’ command.  After talking with Dr. Brown, I understood the proper syntax of the commands.  Finishing the lab project was then understandable and quickly completed.

This was an interesting assignment which simply and understandably presents the programing steps of language based instructions being converted to machine code which is then executed, producing an output.

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