Final Blog

We’ve covered so much during this semester that has flown by that it’s hard to know what to write about first.  I will say that when I signed up for the class I expected it to be dry, slow and probably boring.  This class has been anything but!  I had some basic computer knowledge coming into this class but I think the material was so varied and built on itself so well throughout the semester that I have learned quite a bit.  I think I have a much broader understanding of technology in general after taking this class.
First of all I like how we went through the practice of “building” a computer from scratch.  I actually think I have a clue now about how I would go about doing such a thing and I probably wouldn’t require much assistance from my techie husband!  Then, thanks to going over binary language and the assembly language simulator I can now say that I understand binary where I didn’t know anything about it before.  I also have a basic understanding of how information is encoded into numbers.  It actually takes a little bit of the mystery out of how my mp3 player works.
I think the exposure to different applications such as Scratch, Alice, and Greenfoot was also good experience because I had never heard of those things before.  I enjoyed working with Greenfoot because it helped reinforce concepts we’re covering in my Java programming class.
My only regret is that I wasn’t able to attend the class in person.  I especially wish I had the opportunity to work with the robotics “hands on” but I still think I got something out of that segment because of the research I did on my robotics topic.  I also learned from the other students by reading their blogs and looking at their research and their Scratch projects.

Overall I’m very happy with the experience I’ve had taking this class this semester.  I even recommended it to a friend the other day at work!  I think in this day and age with so much technology that permeates every aspect of our lives it would be helpful for anyone to take this class to get some overall general knowledge of “how it works”.  Plus, it’s more than just how it works….it’s how it impacts our lives and how it may develop the future.  There are a lot of philosophical questions around technology and it’s use.  If you think about Moore’s Law and the idea of a technological singularity, artifical intelligence, robotics, and virtual reality, you have to consider the implications of our ever evolving use of technology in our lives.

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Greenfoot & Gaming

I went through the Greenfoot tutorial and found it interesting and easy to follow.  The thing I found great about it was the fact that it reinforces concepts we’re learning in Java class like creating classes and objects and using methods.  After going through the tutorial and getting the crab and lobster to do what they were supposed to do I tried a little project on my own.  I wanted to use the butterfly graphic and try to make it fly around the screen and land on flowers.  I’m not done yet.  I re-used the movement from the tutorial but it’s not quite what I wanted so I need to figure out how to modify the code.  I also want to make it so that when a butterfly touches a flower it will “land” there for a few moments and then start flying around again.

Now that I’ve done Greenfoot I think I’ll also check out Alice and go through that tutorial as well.  That way I can compare the two.  I chose Greenfoot first because of the fact that it’s based on Java programming and I thought it would be good to work in the same language that I’m learning in class this semester.  Overall though I’m not sure how interested I am in virtual reality or graphics types of things.  But maybe that will change as I explore different options.  Also I don’t work with things like this in my job…all of my system development is text boxes and drop-downs, lists, views, buttons, etc.   I never have any business need to deal with virtual reality types of things.

As far as gaming goes…..I don’t really play online computer games on a regular basis.  I just don’t have the time or energy for it.  My husband plays WOW and loves it.  I think he’s addicted but he’s limited to 3 nights/week from 8-11pm.  That’s when he “raids”…whatever that means.  I do like to play the Wii from time to time.  I like the exercise programs and I recently got Super Mario Galaxy.  The kids (5 and 6) like to watch me play and comment when Mario gets zapped.  They always seem to know what I should have done differently.  That is one way to get the kids to sit quietly for a little while anyway….they just like to sit and watch me play.  But I usually feel I should be doing something else like laundry, dishes or homework.  It’s always something.  Years ago I used to play Ultima Underworld for hours at a time so I understand the draw.  I can also see how if we had something like the holodeck on Star Trek there are some people we’d never see in real life again!  I would probably be one of them.  Imagine being able to actually physically participate in a simulated world where you could do anything you wanted to do?  Want to ride horses on the coast of California?  Zap…you’re there.  Want to join a gang of thieves and rob a bank?  No problem.  But I remember what Kirk said in the Star Trek movie where Picard was in the Nexus and went to get Kirk to help him defeat the bad guy.  Kirk was jumping a creek or a log or something on his horse and he said he knew it wasn’t real because he had no fear.

My guilty pleasure and my favorite escape is playing slot machines.  I guess that’s a kind of virtual reality.  The buzzing and beeping and lights.  The whole casino atmosphere is a world all its own and purposely designed to draw you in and keep you there.  As long as I’m playing I’m not mindful of anything else going on in my life.  I don’t worry about work or the kids or school.  I have to admit though that it’s more expensive than a computer game!!  HELLO REALITY!

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I find the topic of artificial intelligence intriguing so I enjoyed reading the lecture notes and finding out a little bit about the processes used to create AI and what the future of it might be.  I think the most interesting concept is how to “train” a computer brain to “know” things that humans know without even knowing how they know them.  For example, how to recognize a human face.  I read somewhere once about how we recognize people and it’s interesting because if you try to conjure up the image of someone, say Marilyn Monroe, you can come up with an image and if you saw a picture of her you’d recognize her.  But if you start thinking about each detail and how you recognize her as being Marilyn Monroe you begin to actually lose the clarity of the picture in your head.  So if we don’t understand how humans perceive the environment or how humans “know” things…how can we create an AI that mimics that intelligence?  I’ve always been very interested in how the brain works so I find these types of questions exciting.  Fortunately the drive to create AI can only force us to learn more about the human brain and intelligence, common sense, and learning.  That’s all good in my opinion.  Where it gets kind of scary is from an ethical perspective if you start talking about creating lifeforms that have intelligence.  At what point do they become sentient?  According to Wikipedia: Sentience is the ability to feel, perceive or be conscious, or to have subjective experiences.  It will be critical as we develop more complex and sophisticated AI to look at the questions of moral responsibility and define some guiding principles for how AI is viewed in the future.

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The robotics topic I chose to research over the past couple of weeks is Nanotechnology.  More specifically I wanted to research the use of nanotechnology in medicine through the emerging field of Nanorobotics.  Nanorobots are devices ranging in size from 0.1 – 10 micrometers that would be used for a variety of medical and research purposes including identifying and destroying cancer cells, detecting toxins in the environment, targeted drug delivery, and surgical procedures.  Theoretically the nanorobots could be used to perform work at a cellular level inside the human body.

Nanorobotics is an emerging field and still hypothetical in nature but our current knowledge of integrated circuitry and the basic assumption of Moore’s Law make the development of nanorobots a theoretical possibility.

One of the earliest comprehensive theoretical articles written on the subject of nanorobotics was developed by Robert Freitas.  Freitas is also the author of Nanomedicine which is a multi volume book discussing the technical aspects of the medical application of nanotechnology and nanorobotics.

Nanorobots would need to be able to sense the surrounding environment, store information, perform instructions to respond to the environment, have some sort of propulsion system, and be able to relay information back to someone monitoring the robots’ progress.  In theory, nanorobots would most likely be constructed from carbon molecules and use glucose and oxygen for propulsion.  They would be so tiny that they could navigate within the human body to assist doctors in diagnosis, drug delivery, and medical treatments.  Also, nanorobots would have some 2-way communication capability allowing them to relay information to someone monitoring the nanorobots and to receive new instructions.  A few available articles describing ways to achieve these capabilities are:

“Nanorobot Communication Techniques: A Comprehensive Tutorial”

“Nanorobotics Control Design: A Practical Approach Tutorial”

“Molecular Principles of Biomaterials”

Scientists use a variety of tools to research the theories behind the development of nanorobotics.  One really interesting site containing a variety of research tools is

In theory all of this is possible but the practical implementation of this in the real world is still a long way off by most estimates.  Here’s a video of Dr. Michio Naku responding to the question of the possibility of the implementation of nanorobotics in the human body.

There are also ethical implications of the use of nanorobotics in human beings and the dangers that this technology would pose to society.  One article that addresses such issues is in the Journal of Biomedicine and Biotechnology.  Concerns to be addressed would be how such technology could be used to not only help cure and/or prevent disease but also how technology could be used to intentionally manipulate human beings at a molecular and cellular level.  How could such technology be used by governments, scientists, terrorists, etc?  What legislation would have to be developed around the use of this technology and how would it be enforced?  As in all technology, it’s not the technology that is a danger but how it is utilized.

Overall I am intrigued by the ideas around nanotechnology and nanorobotics.  It is a very complex subject and, as stated earlier, for the most part in the theoretical stages.  I don’t feel like I can do justice to such a complex subject in a 1-2 week period of research and in a blog entry.  Hopefully the links provided will be more than enough to provide additional information and a jumping off place for others who read this blog and are interested in this emerging scientific field.

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I’ve been giving a lot of thought this week to the robotics assignment for the d2l class and I think I know what I’m going to research and write about.  I have debated between different types of robotics and their functions….military use, androids, nanotechnology, household robots (think Jetsons), etc.  The more I thought about it the bigger the topic became but I know I need to narrow it down to something manageable.  It’s not just the research into the history or creation of different types of robots but it’s also the ethical questions that it raises that seems to get bigger and bigger the more I think about it.  It just goes on and on.  For example, creating robots that can be used in medical procedures or that can perform dangerous tasks like cleaning up mines or hazardous waste sounds great.  On the other hand, creating “life” to do the jobs that we don’t want to do or that are too dangerous to do brings to mind questions about creating a disposable “race” of people.  As long as the robots don’t look like people or act like people we can probably feel far enough removed to not worry about such ethical questions.  But what happens when we have the ability to create androids that look and act human?  At what point do they become sentient?  At that point do we owe them something in terms of ethical treatment, human rights, etc.?  Also, I was thinking about what happens when we can create armies of robots to fight for us.  While that sounds like a great solution so that we don’t have to send our men and women into harms way I would worry that it would make it that much easier to go to war.  Think about how easy it is to launch missiles from a ship out in the ocean that will reach and destroy their targets on land without the people on the ship ever seeing the target.  Do we lose a sense of personal responsibility for the consequences?  It seems to me that people in this country can tolerate war as long as no one has to die so what happens when we can send robots in to take the damage for us?

I don’t have answers….just questions from my thinking about this robotics assignment and where to go from here.

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Go Phish….

I completed my Scratch program and posted it but I keep going back to it and making changes.  Not satisfied to leave well enough alone I keep thinking of ways to change the program and improve the functionality.   I have to admit that my program is not something deep and meaningful.  It doesn’t make any political statements or comments on society as a whole.  It’s a game.  That’s it.  But now that I’ve had some experience with Scratch I might be inspired to create additional projects in the future as time allows.

I guess my project is related to the topic of security in that it is a Fishing game.  Oh wait, that’s phishing isn’t it?  Oh well.  But seriously, I think computer security is enormously important and although I don’t spend nights awake worrying about it I am concerned about the vulnerability of information in this day and age.  Nowadays everything is electronic from money to medical records.  If you can access the information you have enormous power.  I am confronted with it also on a daily basis with my job.  I work for a large corporation and we have A LOT of sensitive information that has to be protected.  My company has tremendous security around the network and also has corporate policies regulating record retention and destruction, information security, privacy, etc.  On a regular basis I have to go through an online tutorial about the corporate security policies and how to protect our customers’ privacy inside and outside of the workplace.  I just hope that in our society the methods of protecting information keeps pace with the ingenuity of those people who have nothing better to do than think of ways to steal it.  I have experience with my debit card number being stolen….have no idea how it happened….but got a call from VISA wanting to know if I or my husband were in Mexico.  Um, no…why?  Fortunately within 24 hours and after 2 or 3 transactions the card was cancelled automatically by the company and we were notified.  We were not liable for the charges.  Just goes to show that it can happen to anyone at any time.  Still, I think that you have to be diligent and cautious but not paranoid.

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I had never heard of Scratch until this week.  I wasn’t too impressed at first but after working with it I found it to be more flexible than I thought it might be.  It just takes a little while to be creative and find ways to make the available commands do what you need for them to do.  It was better after I figured out I could step through the “code” because that helped me debug an issue I was having with my project.  I am really not sure what’s expected with this project in terms of content or complexity especially since coming into it I knew nothing of the application or what it could do.  I viewed several different projects to see what was possible and then got started.  It helped to also download other projects and view the “code” to see how the different commands worked.  I viewed the project and then looked at each script to see how what the sprites did and what the script said matched up.  I decided to make an interactive game and while it’s not perfect I think with a little more time it will be ok.  I’m interested to see what other people create too.

Thanks to a fellow student, I was able to access a link to the video of building virtual worlds.  I watched quite a bit of it but to be honest I could not watch it all.  Watching the virtual reality videos makes me sick to my stomach.  That’s the same reason I don’t play a lot of computer games that have a lot of movement and 3d types of effects.  I can’t tolerate it.  But I found it interesting to hear Dr. Randy Pausch talk about the process of creating and interacting with the images.  Actually the thing I found most interesting to hear him talk about was the dynamics of the project groups and the importance of learning to work in teams with people from different disciplines and with different skills and expertise.  I relate that somewhat to my experience at work where I work with groups of business representatives, developers, trainers, and others to develop and implement new business applications.  The real key to success is the relationship with the other project team members and learning how to leverage the different skills and perspectives that everyone brings to the table.

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html: part II

I have posted my website but I’d like to have time to do more with it.  I still might make some changes if I have the time because it’s still pretty basic.  Anyway, it was fun to get back into using html.  I’m thinking about taking a web design course next semester partly because I’m interested in web design and doing this has gotten me back into it again.  I’d like to learn more.

I also enjoy database design which is why I had decided to pursue the database design and development concentration in computer science.  When I worked in Connecticut I worked in an area that did component based development working with db2 and relational databases.  Currently I work with Access databases and sql databases which are also relational.  I have some limited experience with writing and reading sql but I would like to learn more about actually designing a good database structure not only for use in front end applications but also for reporting purposes.  One of the challenges I’ve seen at work is the problem of accessing data in a database for the purpose of developing management reports.  If the database isn’t structured properly then the reports don’t run fast enough and/or the needed data cannot be accessed properly.  I’ve learned that we can use aggregated tables to improve the performance of the reports.  In general, relational database design makes sense to me and I can visualize and understand how tables relate to each other and how to build queries to access the appropriate data.

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I am really enjoying this week’s assignment to create a webpage from scratch.  I have used html in the past but it’s been years ago.  When I relocated to Connecticut with my job back in 1999 I took an html class for work and then created my own webpage.  I like designing things and then creating them so I think developing web pages is a lot of fun.  My problem is that I’m not an “artist” so my vision of what things might look like is probably limited.  On the other hand, sometimes I have a great vision but can’t figure out how to make it happen using html.  So this week I tried to keep it simple and tried to not get in over my head.  I used a simple frameset and then had a navigation menu to open up each page featuring different topics.  I tried to incorporate outside links in my text and made sure to make the links open in a new tab because I can’t stand when I open a page link and it takes over the tab or browser that I’m currently using.  That drives me crazy!  I think one of the biggest challenges with creating a web page and using html is getting everything lined up nicely.  I use tables mostly but even then you have to get them aligned properly and sized, etc.  Then you have to get your pictures sized right and figure out how to do the text.  One thing I was worried about with my webpage was how it would render on different browsers or in different resolutions.  I know that you’re supposed to use certain standards so that the page always looks right no matter who is trying to view it but I’m not really sure how to do that yet.  I took Dr. Brown’s advice and looked at the links for cascading style sheets and JavaScript.  A guy I work with showed me how we use styles in one of the web applications we recently developed as a project that I managed.  He’s a developer in Hartford and he showed me how the styles are used to control how the tables look and feel throughout the application.  I’m going to try to use styles in my pages if I can.   Another thing I tried to consider was the font face and color.  I know that there are “safe fonts” and “safe colors” that you can count on to be consistent across different browsers.  The main font I chose for my site probably is not one that everyone would have so I put in an alternate font just in case.  I did go ahead and choose “safe colors” though for the background and font so that the page wouldn’t look weird.  One mistake I made during my web page development was in trying to get the font size the way I wanted it.  I was thinking that the font size would be like font sizes in Word or other MS products so I was trying to put in a font size of 12 or 36 or whatever.  Then I realized that the font sizes are from 1-7 and that’s why no matter what I was entering the size never changed and it was always too big!!  J  It’s also very important to get all the tags in the right places and remember the closing tags.  The results are definitely unpredictable if you get that part wrong.  And working in Notepad makes it hard to see all the tags and troubleshoot your “code”.  I also couldn’t get it lined up nicely like I would have liked but I did the best I could.   Anyway, I can’t wait to see everyone’s pages….at least I assume Dr. Brown will make them all available to everyone so we can check out what everyone did.

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Exam 1

I took the first exam this past Wednesday and I was not very pleased with how I think I did.  I thought parts of it were pretty hard.  I’m not saying that’s a bad thing…it was a good test of overall knowledge and understanding…I’m just saying that I need to redouble my efforts.  Now, don’t get me wrong.  I don’t think I failed but I’m sure I didn’t do as well as I would have liked.  I thought I had studied hard and kept up with all of the material, etc.  I’ve done well on all the quizzes and I’ve been doing all of the assignments.  But I guess I need to do something a little different for next time.  I still think this is a great class and I’ve learned a lot already.  There’s just a lot to know!!

This is part II to this blog post.  I found out my exam 1 grade today and I’m very pleased.  I thought I had missed more than that but I guess not so I feel sort of silly for worrying so much about it.  Now I’m busy developing my web page.  I was excited when I saw this assignment….I like to design and build things and it’s been years since I’ve used html.  I’ve definitely had to brush up on it again and relearn.  My next post will be all about my experience with the html assignment and building my web site.  More to come…..

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