Kevin's world

My life and times in the CSIT 1110 class

April 29, 2010

Assignment 12 – This is not the end, it’s only the beginning

Well, here it is, the end of the semester.  The only thing left to do is this final blog and a final exam.  It is with a mixture of sadness and happiness that I find myself here.  I knew coming into this class that I would enjoy it.  I had already accepted the fact that I was embracing my inner geek when I decided to come back to school and sure enough, I did.  As I sit her listening to Enya and thinking about everything that has happened over the past semester, I can’t help but to smile.

I can’t say that I really knew what to expect coming into the class.  I wasn’t sure if I would enjoy it or not to be honest.  I had been out of school for many years and had almost forgotten what it was like to do school work.  My memory was quickly refreshed.  I thoroughly enjoyed my time in the class for a variety of reasons.  I guess the biggest reason was because I actually learned something and enjoyed the learning process.  The homework was challenging to me.  It may not have been challenging to some who have already been playing around in the computer field for a while have taken classes related to what we studied but they were to me. 

I think my favorite parts of the class were the assembly language and scratch projects.  The assembly language project gave me a basic knowledge of binary and how computers speak with that language.  While I have absolutely no desire to ever become a programmer, this was fun.  The scratch project was great.  Once I got past the creative block I had and settled on what I wanted to do, the programming part was actually pretty cool.  Wait, I just noticed that the two projects that I said I liked were related to the one thing I said I never want to do, programming.  How odd.

The projects that I liked the least were the robot project and the blogs.  I really hate to write because my brain doesn’t communicate with my fingers that well and I cannot seem to articulate my thoughts very well.  I have always thought that blogs were kind of silly.  People write about stuff that no one really wants to read, or so I thought.  Ok, my thoughts about blogging have somewhat changed.  I still don’t like writing but I do see how it can be a valuable tool.  As much as I enjoyed the robots, I didn’t like the robot project.  It was too limiting.  You couldn’t really build a robot because you were worried about messing up something that another class was building.  Plus it was a group project and you invariably get stuck with someone who doesn’t want to listen to ideas because they already know what they want to do.  It’s like  many people want to captain the ship but few people are content to be the force that moves it in the water.  Such is life in a group project though.  It all works out in the end though.

Regardless of what I liked or disliked, I learned a lot and realize that what I learned will be used somewhere down the road.  I am not sure when or how but I have no doubt it will.  God is funny that way.  He will take what is the least valuable thing and use it to do something amazing.  This is actually why I am in this class.  My wife and I plan on moving to Africa at some point and being missionaries.  For some reason I felt led to take network communications as a course of study.  I have no idea how God will use this in Africa but I trust Him so I am content to follow His direction.

I also met some interesting people in the class.  I think it’s my dry sense of humor but I always get a kick out of watching people try to one up the instructor and show their knowledge or lack of.  It’s like they don’t have much self esteem so they try to show everyone what they know.  We had the usual assortment of young people and older people and included those that couldn’t keep up and those that couldn’t care less.  I must say that Dr. B handled it gracefully.  That’s another thing I liked about the class.  It’s cool to have an instructor who actually cares about what he is teaching and wants the students to learn.  Ok, I am not sucking up, just giving credit where credit is due.  This class could have really been boring but Dr. B made it interesting.  Many instructors would not have put the time into doing that.

To sum it all up.  I came in knowing little and left knowing much more than when I started and with a realization that I have a lot to learn.  One of the biggest things that I learned was that Goat Weed is good for heart attacks.  Who knew?!?!?

Thanks Dr. B.  It was a cool journey.

April 22, 2010

Assignment 11 – Virtual “Real”ity

This week we looked at virtual reality and watched a film called Second Skin which was a documentary about gamers and how their lives are affected by the games they play.  I actually left the class kind of depressed and yet kind of curious after watching the film.  It was depressing (or should I say sad) seeing the people who didn’t even realize their lives were being wasted in front of a monitor.

Now don’t get me wrong, I like video games as much as the next guy.  When I had my ps2, i could sit for hours and play ncaa football or socom navy seals.  This is one reason why I no longer have a ps2.  I realized that I was wasting too much time playing games while life was passing me by.  I sold the game system and all the games and began reading again and interacting with people.  Do I miss it?  You bet I do.  I would love to have a playstation again but I realize that my time would get sucked right out the window and I won’t allow that to happen again.  However, I still enjoying playing games online.  I just know my weakness and stay away from it.

Like anything else in this world there are a lot of good applications for VR and also the potential for a lot of bad usage for VR.  Keeping in mind that this is only my opinion, I do not see how you can truly come to know someone when you are hiding behind an avatar.  You can meet people and call them your friend but are they truly?  That being said, you can meet people in real life and call them friend as well but they may not be such.

For those who are unable to get out into society and live a sheltered life due to some medical reason, VR would be a great too to be able to interact on some level with other people that they might not normally be able to.  That is a positive application.

One thing I would like to see is the ability to take VR vacations without having to leave home.  That would be seriously cool.  I am not sure where the development is on something like this but with the way computers constantly get better, I can see it happening in my lifetime.

The bottom line is this.  VR can be good and it can be bad.  That being said, I am going to go check out Second Life and see what it’s all about.

April 17, 2010

Assignment 10 – AIn’t so smart after all

This weeks lesson was on AI – artificial intelligence.  We watched a video in class that was part the matrix movie DVD extras.  I found the movie both interesting and entertaining.

I like the notion of trying to make robots intelligent and I like what has been done with them so far.  However, I can’t see the day when true AI ever happens.  Keeping in mind that I don’t really know squat about robotics or artificial intelligence, I still don’t think it will ever happen.  At the end of the day, robots are just machines and they will only do what they are programmed to do.  They can do no more or no less.  That seems pretty evident to me.  That being said, there are some people out there that can make robots do some pretty amazing and cool things.  It is very impressive. 

However, they are in the end only chasing the wind.  The problem lay mostly in the fact that part of the foundation they are building upon is completely false.  Darwin has a theory of evolution that many people have bought into.  Fortunately,  Darwin was wrong and his theory of evolution is a lie.  Sadly, scientists are still trying to prove it as true and for some strange reason, it is being taught in our schools as if it were the truth.  Leading young minds astray with a lie is not going to give them a good starting point in whatever work they chose to pursue.  We did not start with nothing, evolve out of ooze and then develop into what we are today.  There is a creator and He created us.  We have adapted to various conditions and have changed a little but no one evolved.  To quote Bill Murray in the movie Stripes, “That’s the fact, Jack!”

I do like the idea that robots may someday be able to think on their own because the possibilities and applications are endless.  However, I just don’t see it happening.  Regardless, they are still really cool to play around with and to program.

April 9, 2010

Assignment 9 – Domo Arigato Mr. Roboto

This was an enjoyable week.  I liked watching the videos in class and I really enjoyed the Honda robot.  I was really impressed at what they were able to program the robots to do.  The dancing was pretty good.  I am greatly impressed with what people are doing in the field of robotics.  We may someday have robots in our homes for everyday use.  I am not sure I follow what they are trying to do with AI.  Having had a very limited (practically nil) exposure to AI, I don’t quite get it. 

We were watching the robot race and the teams were trying to program their robots to make intelligent decisions on the fly as they were driving.  This is what I didn’t understand.  The robots were not making decisions.  They were processing information that was programmed into them and going with the solution from that info.  That is not making a decision, that is using a bunch of if/then statements.  Regardless. it was still impressive.

Now the bad part.  The lab was sort of fun but not as much fun as I had hoped.  We didn’t really have enough time to play with the lego robots and really see what they could do.  We also could not come up with a design because we had to worry about what another class was doing with the robot.  That is totally understandable but it would have been nice had we had our own robots and a little more time to play around with them.  I can see doing some really fun things with a robot if given enough time and my own bot.

I also don’t enjoy doing group projects.  It seems like you always get stuck with somebody who doesn’t want to contribute or is overwhelming and wants to have their own way with everything.  That hasn’t been an issue in my group this time but that is why I don’t like to do them at all.

All in all it was a fun week though.  I would love to do some real project with a robot even if it was within the confines of a group or a class project.  I think that would be pretty cool.

March 25, 2010

Assignment 8 – Hacking and other security related issues

I don’t even know where to begin.  I am not sure if I am really ticked off about this whole subject or really in awe of what people are able to do.  On one hand, I am interested in learning how people hack into stuff and about security related items and yet on the other hand, I am disgusted at the thought of what some people are doing with hacking.

Hacking for the sack of learning how to do things and in order to make things better sounds like a really good idea on the surface.  After all, med students need a cadaver in order to learn how to do medical related stuff.  The difference is that med students don’t usually play around with other people’s stuff without their consent or knowledge.  Hacking usually (if not always) includes messing with someone else’s stuff, whether legally or illegally.  A hacker may not think twice about hacking into somebodies system to do whatever they want but if someone broke into their house they would undoubtedly cry for the police.  I don’t have a real problem with taking stuff apart to learn what it is and how to improve it but I do have a problem with doing it illegally.  I have a real problem with people hacking into other people’s wireless.

We watched a video on how to break into someone else’s wireless stuff and I left the class kind of pardon the play on words, “hacked off”.  Someone in the class was boasting about how they couldn’t afford the internet so they hacked into someone else’s and was using theirs.  That is really irritating.  How would they like it if someone started plugging extension cords into their house and was using their electricity?  I know it’s not quite the same because the electricity bill goes up with usage but the principle is the same.  It’s offensive to me to work hard and pay for what I have only to have some jerk with a little knowledge and a computer mooch off of me.  It would be totally different if they asked permission.  How about this for a thought, get a job and pay your way thru life instead of stealing what others worked for!  It’s amazing how some people are furious that the government can invade their privacy and take away their rights but they don’t think twice when they do the same thing to someone else.  It’s hypocrisy.  Don’t try to gloss it over by saying “no one gets hurt” or “it’s no big deal” or some other such nonsense.

Now, that being said, I must confess that I was a hacker.  I have hacked into cable boxes and had the benefit of free cable many years ago.  I know what I did was wrong and I did it anyway because I thought that it didn’t hurt anyone and I was living for myself and what I wanted.  That was beside the point.  Wrong is wrong.  I now regret that I did that and will not do it again.  Why should I or any other hacker be able to get something for free because we have the ability to steal it from someone else without their knowledge?  We shouldn’t.  Wrong is wrong. Now if you want to buy something and hack into it, tear it up, break it apart and learn how it works then more power to you.  It is yours because YOU paid for it.

I wish I had a natural aptitude for electronics.  I would love to learn more about security and viruses.  I think viruses are an interesting yet dangerous thing to play with.  I would love to see how they work and replicate themselves but I doubt I ever get into the programming aspect of computers no matter how interesting I find it.

This seemed more like a rant than a blog post.  I guess I ended up venting my disgust at what constitutes hacking in today’s world.  I just hate seeing lazy people get everything they want for free and taking it from people who work hard for what they have.

March 21, 2010

Assignment 7 – Scratch and sniff

This weeks’ assignment was working with Scratch, an object oriented programming language created at MIT.  My initial thoughts on this were that this was just plain stupid.  After looking at some of the examples of stuff people did I changed my opinion.  I am the one who is stupid.  This is a really cool program with lots of potential.

You are obviously limited with what you can do with scratch but what you can do (or what I have seen so far) is actually pretty interesting.  One of the challenging aspects of programming with scratch is the limited exposure to and ability to play around with it prior to doing the assignment.  We really only had a couple of days to look at it before we started working on our assignment.

Using the program is really not that hard.  It is mostly a drag and drop type interface and is pretty user friendly.  My biggest problem is that I am not a very creative person so it was difficult coming up with ideas and keeping them within the realm of do-ability (I think I just made that word up) given my limited exposure to the program.  I tended to have ideas that would take much longer to write a program for than I actually had time for.  That was frustrating.  I finally came up with something that seems good and am working on it.  I just hope I can finish it in time.

The video of Randy Pausch was somewhat interesting.  The guy definitely had a passion for what he was doing.  I definitely liked that about him.  His ability to keep his sense of humor amidst dealing with a life ending disease was admirable.  To be honest though, I would have preferred to watch the video at home and spent time talking more about the different programming languages there are and comparing and contrasting them.  I think even talking about scratch and looking at more examples of what other people did with the program would have been better.

However, I must admit that I did learn a thing or two from Randy Pausch.  The whole “head fake” idea was a good one.  Teaching people without them realizing they are being taught and thereby keeping them interested in what you are doing is a great idea.

I was not disappointed with the video in any way but all in all would have preferred doing something else with the time in class.  But then again, I realize that I don’t have a clue what I am doing and can only see the big picture based upon my own limited perspective.

March 10, 2010

Assignment 6 – The html blog part deux

Ok, so I have finished my web page and I uploaded it to the server and it is now officially live and in living color.  I wouldn’t exactly call it a thing of beauty but at the same time, I am kind of proud of it because it is the first one that I have ever done.  I doubt anyone will ever see it but that’s ok.  I know it’s there.  At least until the school deletes it.  lol

Given that the assignment was to create a simple web page, I wasn’t that thrilled with it.  I would love to go deeper into html and learn how to do some advanced stuff like using java and maybe some other web page building tools.  I did enjoy making the page.  Even though it was a simple page, it was still somewhat challenging because I had no experience working with html.  This probably explains why it looks so plain and basic.  Oh well, Picasso didn’t paint a masterpiece the first time he picked up a brush.  Well, maybe he did.  Who knows?

After doing the assignment, I now look at web pages differently.  I view them not only as a page but as a code.  I start thinking about what the code looks like that was used to create them and I try to view the page source.  Most of the page source stuff is way beyond my understanding because it’s not simple html but there are some basic html codes used and I understand some of it.  It has certainly peaked my interest into wanted to take an html class to get a better understanding of how everything works.  I didn’t really get a whole lot out of the posting it to the server aspect of the assignment.  I guess that is partly because there really wasn’t a whole lot to it.  I just followed the instructions and copied my html code where it needed to be.

I can honestly say that at this point, I have no desire to learn more about databases.  I am sure that it is an interesting subject for somebody, but I am not that person.  I definitely understand the importance of SQL and database management but I don’t have a desire to learn more than the fundamental basics of it.   I had what I thought was a decent idea of what databases are and why they are important but I had no idea of how they work.  I now have a basic conceptual knowledge of how SQL and other databases operate, how data is stored and how it relates to other data.  Again, it’s probably fascinating for someone but I am not that someone.

February 25, 2010

Assignment 5 – The mother of all web pages. Maybe not!

This blog is somewhat challenging for me.  I am supposed to write a blog about my experiences for a project that is not due until a week after the blog about the project I am doing is due.  That makes it kind of difficult because I haven’t even really done the project that I am blogging about.  Wow, that was difficult just writing that first part.  Lol

Seriously though, I am able to blog about the part of the project that I have finished up to this point and that is all.  This then is what I shall do.

I started off the project with no concept of the layout.  I wanted to begin by thinking about my content first.  That seemed to me to be the logical first step.  That being said, I sat down and thought about the subjects that interested me and wrote a couple of paragraphs about each one.  I also searched for some related pictures and saved them in a folder on my desktop for later use.  Writing a few paragraphs about what I wanted to say wasn’t really that difficult.  The challenge was to keep it reasonably brief so that the web page was not overwhelming or huge.  I am assuming the idea is to keep the readers attention without “shock and awe” overkill on a one page web page.  Because I have never designed a web page before, I have never given much thought to things like content, layout, style or design in general.

On a side note, I am also interested in seeing what my classmate’s pages will look like.  I am curious what interests them.  I noticed that we have one student taking the course who is part of a cult and I am curious as to what this person’s page is about.  You definitely learn a lot about people with assignments like this.

I think the web page assignment is pretty interesting.  I originally thought this was going to be really tough but after sitting through class and lab I started thinking it was going to be much easier.  I am guessing that once I start writing the HTML for the page, I will revert back to my original opinion of it being really tough.  We shall see.  Regardless of how well the page turns out, and I hope it does turn out well; it is a definite learning experience.  I am not sure how or if I will ever use this skill but I am happy to be doing it the assignment.

February 11, 2010

Assignment 4 – Assembly Language Simulator

WOW!  This one was a doozy.  Having taken a BASIC class years ago I had some idea of the flow of programming but this assembly language thing was a butt kicker.  I put in some serious time on this project trying to get it to work right and I will admit that I was beginning to get a little frustrated.  I could not get it to work correctly.  Dr. B wrote something to me in an email that triggered me to look at something and I eventually worked it out.

Programming is a very logical process.  There is a definite flow to it.  This is one of those assignments that I didn’t think I was going to enjoy but like the last one, wound up liking it.  I liked it enough that I may consider taking an assembly language class.  Of course, I could just be really sleepy as I am writing this and can not be held accountable for it so don’t hold me to it.

It’s like anything else in life, if you have never done it before, it can be intimidating and look really difficult.  Once you get into it and see how all of the tools that you have to work with work, you begin to get an understanding of how to use those tools.  It is definitely a puzzle type thing.  If you don’t like puzzles at all, you probably would not like programming.

That being said, I saw it, did it and if I don’t ever have to do it again it won’t hurt my feelings.  lol

February 5, 2010

Assignment 3 – Building MY Computer

The assignment this week was too basically write about how I would build a computer from scratch, listing the parts I would use, how I would put them together and why I chose the parts that I did.  This was a challenging assignment fro me because I have never built a computer before and I do not know that much about the working parts inside one.  I know what I would like and I guess that is what I will be going by.  This assignment required a bit of research from me in order to come up with the parts.

Because I have never built a computer before, I am going to start where I would think one would naturally start.  I need the reason I am building a computer.  I am a fairly conservative guy.  I don’t desire the flashiest, fastest, prettiest or most awesome computer in the world.  My tastes are simple.  I want a computer that I can use for school, to do my work on and one that has enough power to allow me to watch videos, has decent graphics for game play and enough storage capacity for my music and digital photos.

That being said, let’s get started.  Below is a parts list containing what I believe will be sufficient to build a decent computer that will last me a long time (a long time being at least 2 years with today’s technology) and not break my budget.  My goal was to keep it under $1000 since I am assuming that I will have to update it in about 2-3 years.

I looked at different cases and really had no idea which one is better than the other so basically I just found one that I thought looked cool and decided to build my computer around the case.  The may the one of the stupidest ideas in the world but since I have no idea what I am doing, it seemed like a good starting point.  The case I chose was the RAIDMAX Tornado for $50.00.  It came with its’ own power supply and two fans so that saved me a little money.

From there I picked out a motherboard that would fit the case.  I based my selection upon the recommendations from other customers who bought that same case.  Because I don’t know anything about picking out hardware and how it all has to relate to the case (other than the fact that it has to fit together), I figured this was the smartest way to get what I needed and I knew it would fit.  I chose the GIGABYTE GA-MA785GM-US2H model for my motherboard.  The reviews said it was a good board for a media center setup and budget gaming so I was sold on it and it only cost me $80.00.  It had 4 memory slots and would expand up to 16GB so I figured that should hold me for a while.  Newegg stated that customers who purchased the Gigabyte motherboard also chose the AMD Athlon II X2 Rego processor so I elected to not argue with them and picked that up for $53.00.  Since I needed DDR2 memory to go with my motherboard, I elected to go with the G.SKILL 2GB (2 x 1GB) 240-Pin DDR2 RAM for another $50.00.  Have you noticed the color scheme yet?  I wound up saving $40.00 by buying them together as a combo package.  Hey, money doesn’t grow on trees so what did you expect me to do?  Seriously.

That was it for recommendations from newegg so I was pretty much on my own after that.  I figured it was time to look for the remaining components.  I knew I wanted a CD/DVD/ Blu-Ray drive so I went looking for a bargain.  I found the LG CH08LS10 Blu-ray/DVD combo on sale for $100 and grabbed it since the sale ended today.  I also wanted to add another Optical DVD-RW drive and so I picked out another LG drive at a cost of $25.00.  I figured two drives should be enough so I went shopping for some internal storage.  I found a Western Digital Caviar 1 TB hard drive for $100.  I am thinking that if a terabyte doesn’t last me for a couple of years then I have some serious storage issues.

I don’t know much about the video and sound cards so I just tried to find some that were reasonably inexpensive but not bottom of the barrel since one of my goals is to be able to watch video and do some gaming.  After reading some reviews, I settled upon the EVGA 512-P3-1241-LR GeForce GT video card for $95.00 and the HT | Omega Striker sound card for $90.00.  I needed to get an Ethernet adapter so I could hook up to the internet so I looked around and found the StarTech ST100S for $9.00.

This took care of the inside and all that was left was to get the external hardware and miscellaneous stuff.  I came up with the following items that I thought would be needed: a keyboard, mouse, speakers, monitor, printer and modem.  The Apevia keyboard/mouse combo really stood out to me and I liked this because it was red and black and would match the case.  I am a Georgia Bulldog fan so red and black are my colors and it was only $25.00.  I next went in search of something for my audio needs and found the Logitech LS21 speakers.  These were also red and black and only cost $30.00 so I threw them in the mix.  A printer isn’t a big deal to me but I knew I would want one so I looked around and found the brother HL Series HL-2170W laser printer for $100.  I couldn’t forget about connecting to the internet and since I had an ethernet card, I needed a modem.  The Zoom 5590-00-00FF Downstream was just what I was looking for and was only $80.00.  Last but by no means least, I needed a monitor.  I wanted something at least 17 inches but not so huge that it engulfed the room.  I check out the reviews and settled upon the Hanns·G Hi-221DPB for only $160.00.

Now that I have everything or at least I hope I do it’s time to put it all together.  This is another really challenging aspect of this assignment because I have never done anything like this.  I have to go buy the videos that I have watched and what appears to be a logical process.  I would start by making sure I am grounded properly so that I do not completely fry the parts that I just bought.  I would continue by installing the cpu and RAM memory into the motherboard.  It would be easier to install these items when the motherboard is outside of the case than inside.  After these two items are on the motherboard, it can be placed in the case.  From there, I would hook up the internal storage hard drive.  I would then install the Ethernet, sound and video cards in the back of the case and make sure they are plugged into the motherboard in the correct spots.  Once those three items are in properly, the optical drives would be next.  They should slide easily enough into their slots and then would be screwed into place to keep them secure.  That should take care of the bulk of the hardware installation and all that’s left is hooking up the cables to the motherboard and the various other places they go to.

Once everything is securely fastened into place and screwed down (if necessary) I can close the case up and hook up the external hardware, namely the monitor, keyboard, mouse, speakers and printer.  After everything is hooked up, it’s just a matter of turning it on.  Once turned on, I will need to install my software beginning with my OS (including all updates) and device drivers.  I can then install all other software applications that I need to.

I have to admit that when I started this assignment I was not overjoyed at the thought of doing it.  Because I know very little about computers, I couldn’t envision how this was going to turn out.  I must say that I have learned quite a bit and now see that building a computer really isn’t all that difficult.  It has also given me a confidence boost in dealing with my own computer at home and I am now going to try to upgrade some of the components in it.  It is over 5 years old and could use an upgrade on some of its’ components.

This should be pretty much everything you need to build a computer.  I am not sure that I will be undertaking this project in real life any time soon but I can see me attempting it after I have been a little further along in my education process and have a better understanding of how everything works together.