Final Entry

Hey guys. So this is our last blog post for the summer 2013 Intro to Information Technology online course. This blog post will sum up my experience with the course and what information and impressions i’ve taken away from it.

Each successive section of the course had us looking at a different aspect of technological culture and industry. Each section started with the basics of the topic like going over the Von Neumann model and exploring the basic syntax of HTML. This part was presented in several different ways. One would be a comic book style overview of the subject. Then a typed out lecture containing maybe a few more details or additional information for the section. Alongside these were links and references to other ideas and complementary information for the subject. Even after all that Dr. Brown would provide additional resources and invite us to learn as much as we pleased on each subject. This course could hypothetically fill up all of your time simply roaming around learning endless points on the various subjects. The course managed to guide us students in the right path towards all this information and I’m very appreciative of that because without it some of this stuff seems kind of daunting.

The course manages to cover most of the issues and ideas in technology today. We spent time on understanding the personal computer and the brands and overall market of computer parts in our computer build. We learned how not only to have the appropriate parts to build a computer but that the different brands and designs for the parts lead to different performances. We discovered that depending on what kind of computer you want to build, there are specific parts for the job. Alongside some of this we were learning the fundamentals of the binary number system and how it relates to the transistor setup on microchips. We found out about how the hardware uses these transistor switches to digitize and store information.

Later on in the course we went over the fundamentals of HTML syntax, how browsers interpret it by the http protocol, and also about networking topology in general. We learned that certain protocols must be developed in order to allow nodes of a network to send/receive information and communicate together. We also learned how to utilize CSS to style the presentation of webpages.

After that we were taught that databasing went from being somewhat unmanageable paradigm to the standards of designs like SQL which manages to be much neater and well structured. It allows data to be stored and saved formatted for later use. Categories are associated together through rows and columns which can be expanded to include relationships to other classes and categories. All in all this system makes it possible to store vast amounts of information and still keep it accessible and easy to understand the relationships between all the data in the form of meta-data.

Towards the last part we learned about programming languages through several generations that became abstracted from the assembly language and the hardware that uses it. We learned that there are all kinds of programming languages designed for all different kinds of uses. Through scratch we learned some hands on flow of control for animations. At the same time, we learned the history of hacking and some of the ingenious techniques used to access peoples information(and also about some techniques that seem much easier to execute then they should be!).

And with this last week we have discovered some of the technology behind Virtual Reality and how the programming languages relate to the 3d environments that are created. Alongside this we were taught about some of the issues, both ethical and political, that surround the world of technology and how it is sure to advance and affect the structure and values of society.

I really enjoyed the course because it was a great starting point and springboard from which to investigate further all these subjects that play a large role in society today. I feel like i am coming away from the course much more informed about the world i live in.

 

Week 6 Robotics

Hello! This week we are researching and writing about topics in the field of Robotics. I learned a lot just roaming the internet searching for articles on robotics and roboticists as well as looking up how the topic has been treated in science fiction and general fiction.

whittaker_red

I chose to read up more and share information about Red Whittaker. He is a robotics researcher at Carnegie Mellon University. As the background info on the wikipedia page about him reports, Whittaker grew up in Hollidaysburg, Pennsylvania. His father was an explosives salesman and his mother was a chemist. He attended Princeton, took time off from school to be in the marines, and eventually went on to CMU to get his Ph.D. in civil engineering.

carnegiemellon

Also I discovered on the Wikipedia page that he first got involved with robotics during the 3-Mile Island incident when he was assigned to a team of engineers who designed robots to scout out the area of the nuclear reactor that had almost had a meltdown in 1979. After working on that project, Whittaker became involved with a new group at CMU called the Field Robotics Center. This group has played a fundamental role in developing and designing a lot of vehicular robotics and Whittaker consulted on most of their designs. An extensive list of their completed robots can be found here. They have been releasing designs and contracting work for some 30 years managing to develop all kinds of robots. Their first robot  was the Pioneer, the aforementioned robot used to clean up and scout the nuclear reactor at 3 mile island. The Pioneer was designed to operate in a radioactive environment and was capable of actively mapping its target area in 3d. It had a plethora of sensors and mobile lab modules that allowed it to take samples and process and record results in the field. After their first one, Whittaker and the team have gone on to develop robotic underwater vessels, robotic cars and buggies, as well as robotic lunar landers and mars rovers. Here is a video of Whittaker discussing some of the lunar landers.

Also, Whittaker and the FRC team have been involved in what is called the DARPA Grand Challenge. A competition held by the defense department for teams to prove their technology and design skills for potential use in defense and military contracts. Their most notable involvement with the challenge was the 2005 autonomous vehicle challenge where contestants were to design a vehicle that could navigate across desert terrain and be driverless. The “Red” team led by Whittaker took 2nd and 3rd place with their Sandstorm and H1ghlander vehicles.

red_team_h1ghlander

And here is a video of Whittaker discussing the event and some of the technology.

Whittaker’s CMU Professor Profile states that he holds sixteen patents and has authored or co-authored over 200 publications on engineering and robotics. A lot of his own thoughts on his projects and work can be read here. He is currently and actively working on a wide range of robots to assist people in all kinds of terrain. His website lists some such as the RoboHost, a robot to assist in Hotel maintenance or Museum guides as well as the Demeter, an unmanned grain Harvester.

All in all, I thoroughly enjoyed researching Whittaker’s work. He has been involved in some significant advancements in robotics for the last 30 years and is still researching and developing new robots every year. I thought it was pretty neat seeing the projects he has been a part of because they are so diverse in their parameters. He has developed technology for space, underwater exploration,desert terrain, urban terrain, and domestic use. He really seems intent on getting robotic technology just about every where on earth and beyond which I think is a great idea.

Hope everybody has a good week!

 

Week 5 Part 2 Computer Security

The second blog post this week of the Intro to Technology Course we are assigned to discuss a topic in computer security and it’s significance to us. Here goes nothing!

A very important topic to me is the subject of internet data-mining. A general article concerning some of the issues is hosted on CNN.com. To me this activity of keeping tabs on people’s use of the internet for whatever interests, be they commercial or political, is completely counter-productive against the real value of the internet. We are an advanced society. We all strive as individuals to take care of our personal level of responsibility and maintain a standard of living. Collectively we make and establish the value and meaning of this country. Absolute freedom of information and access to information at any time are such powerful tools in improving and maintaining the way we live. It is the absolute equalizer and establishment of our rights. Staying informed and educated and not being subject to misinformation is an undervalued pillar allowing us to live our lives in a fulfilling way i think.

kdd-data-mining

Looking at this diagram, you can see how groups can pull information from people’s activities and develop strategies in dealing with them commercially or politically. This is done online with keystroke loggers and spyware programs that keep track of online browsing activity in order to sell this information to market analysts. To a much more benign and transparent degree, even google makes money this way by inserting appropriate ads pages we look at. I am absolutely of the opinion that we as a society have to come together and really settle what our values are as regarding our information and technology. The information we receive out to be unpolluted by vested interests. There should never be as many steps between the public and the actual details as in this diagram.  There is such a huge difference between commentary on information offered along side the facts and distorting information or collecting it to develop clandestine strategies. No group or society should be subject to these biases and exploitation. It is the entire point of our having a political body and branches of government to prevent such nonsense.

Computer-spyware

This topic has been brought to the forefront of the media recently with the issues of Julien Assange and more recently with the situation with Edward Snowden.Both men have been implicated in somewhat ridiculous charges of espionage and treason. Now i have no idea whether these are well-meaning guys or whether they are just trying to get attention. I am not trying to merely defend them. Regardless, the government has handled it in an embarassing fashion. Ron Paul had said in response to the Snowden debacle that charging Snowden with espionage by definition implies that Snowden released information that endangered the Government of the United States and in doing so endangering the American people. Paul says that since Snowden released the information to the American public the government is implying to say the people are the enemy to the government and their own well-being. This is without a doubt pure nonsense and the government should feel more responsibility for using tact and well thought out principles rather than throwing their power around bullying people for using free speech.

Week 5 Scratch and “The Last Lecture”.

The first part of this weeks assignment involved playing around with MIT’s scratch program language to make an animation or game. I had heard about the language around the internet and in some of my other classes but never got around to trying it out. I decided to start out by checking out the assignments from past semesters of this course. I also browsed a lot of the programs uploaded by people to Scratch’s website. I was just extremely impressed by some of the immense creativity people managed to upload given something that seems so simple. After seeing a few dozen animations and games I came to the conclusion that it wasn’t necessarily a simple language but that it had been streamlined in order to make it accessible to people. Sometimes it is easy to think of simplicity as a limitation. I certainly learned otherwise after seeing some of the stuff on the site. I’ve really enjoyed messing around with it and getting familiar with it. It’s fun and a good tool for practice in understanding what code will do when run.

My final little game can be viewed here.

Another part of the first section of this week had us watching a video recording of Randy Pausch’s “The Last Lecture”. Again this is something i have heard about around the internet and from people mentioning it in conversation. I have always heard good things about it but have just now got around to sitting down and watching it thoroughly.

It seems like i get into this rut of just appraising and saying something is cool when, in these blog assignments, we are assigned to talk about our impressions of something. I feel like it may come out reading as obsequious drudgery on my part but i really have been impressed each week with what i have learned on the various topics i thought i already had a grasp on. But I really am not sure how to describe the effect Pausch’s lecture had on me. More than anything, i was deeply moved by how much he cared about the subject and how stout and determined he was to keep a positive tone while knowing he had very little time left. The entire video, again and again, Pausch  manages to prove that he’s not only smart and driven but also just a geniunely good guy that enjoys sharing his reflections and feelings about the more important values that work together to make life something fascinating. It’s so good because you can tell he’s being extremely honest and real the crowd. But besides that some of his points are just very well thought out. The remarks he makes about his experiences playing football and his remark about leadership being its own separate set of skills that sometimes involves getting more capable people organized and moving forward are all just great advice. Later on in the video he elaborates on how he has taken his opportunities as a professor to enable other people in achieving their childhood dreams. It was just such a moving and inspirational lecture and he was able to pull it off while being down to earth and realistic about the situation. I really have tremendous respect for that guy and its tragic that the world lost a guy like that.

With all that said, coming up is my security topic blog. Have a good week!

Week 3 HTML Website

We are now around the end of our 3rd week of the Information Technology Introduction online course and this week we were to hand code our own HTML and HTML webpage and upload to the school’s computer. I have taken a couple of courses for web design here at Pellissippi although they didn’t apply to my major i did thoroughly enjoy learning about HTML. I took those courses just out of curiosity having seen some very well designed and attractive websites on the internet. I wanted to understand some of the thinking and technology behind the creativity.

Learning HTML is pretty interesting because it really seems menacing at first but by the time you’re done it seems very reasonable and manageable and I have since taken some programming courses which has made me realize also that it isn’t necessarily an intensive coding system. But I’ve also come to realize and appreciate the fact that HTML has an extensive amount of tools provided by the developers to allow developers and designers creative freedom to realize their ideas. Even from the 90’s to now websites have taken a big leap from simple boxed layouts to an almost innumerable amount of styles and rich media layouts.

Specifically, this week we learned how to use a text editor to write HTML and CSS. The HTML you use to lay out the page with the head and body tags all within the opening and closing HTML tag. The body tags contain the media the browser renders on your page when someone loads it. The head section contains information about the document as well as the internal style sheet for the CSS. The CSS is specifically for the styling of the webpage i.e. the colors, fonts, borders, margins etc. Using the img tag and the src attribute with a relative file path we are able to get the browser to render images onto our webpages. With tags like the p tag and h1 tags we can display text and with the ul tag we can make an unordered list either with bullets or without(depending on our css styling). Lastly, we use the a tag with the href attribute to create links to other websites.

The final result of my HTML coding can be seen here.

So that’s it for week 3. Time to study for the midterm! Wish me luck!

Week 2 Computer Build

 

This week in the Introduction to Information Technology course we are putting together a computer build by finding parts online. The process of choosing components can be challenging given the diversity of brands and parts as well as specifications for each item. But while being somewhat technical, the process is also a lot of fun because there is a lot to discover and learn about the various devices and parts that make a computer. I also feel like there is a lot of individuality and creativity in the process because a lot of the choices are based on how each person intends to use the computer and the end result can be quite expressive and personalized as far as the case design, style of mouse and keyboard, and the monitor setup

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There is a huge number of websites to order computer parts from. I decided to stick with some of the more reputable and popular ones like Newegg.com, Amazon, and Tigerdirect.com both because they came recommended from my professor Dr. Brown and because I have had positive experiences with them before. Also all three have a huge catalog to scour for parts. They are all also very easy to navigate have tons of user reviews and feedback that can be priceless in deciding on new devices or brands while avoiding problems.

Here are the components i decided on.

NZXT Phantom ATX Full Tower

NZXT Phantom ATX Full Tower

For a case i chose the NZXT Phantom ATX Full Tower. This thing has a sleek design and a lot of space for upgrades and adjustments. It has fans and slots for more fans all over and should have plenty of room for any other cooling systems i could want. I really like the idea of leaving my options  open as far as what parts i can use and have space for. That way i can play around with different designs and setups later on. I has been highly reviewed and recommended on Newegg.com which makes me think it will live up to the expectations.

MSI Z87 MPOWER Max LGA 1150 Intel Z87 HDMI SATA 6Gb/s USB 3.0 ATX Extreme OC Flagship High Performance Triple CFX/ SLI Platform Intel Motherboard

MSI Z87 MPOWER Max LGA 1150 Intel Z87 HDMI SATA 6Gb/s USB 3.0 ATX Extreme OC Flagship High Performance Triple CFX/ SLI Platform Intel Motherboard

For the Motherboard I’ve chosen the MSI Z87. It should fit nicely with the Phantom being an ATX shape. It was all kinds of connections for USB, HDMI, and SATA and i have heard from friends that it is well made and reliable. I tend to have a lot of devices, controllers, speakers, and external hard drives hooked up at once so a high performance motherboard is the way to go. Its got the DDR3 slots i need for my RAM as well.

i7 Intel

For my processor i have selected the Intel Core i7 chip. This is one of the newer processors from Intel and is a leader in setting the pc market standard. Its operating frequency is 3.5 GHz and the IPC is high too. Its been 3 years since i’ve built a computer myself and I’m sure this thing is going to impress me.

Graphic Card

I will be using the MSI N770 TF 2GD5/OC which shares some of the technology from the geforce GTX 770.The last graphics card i bought and installed was the geforce 550 ti which still can hold its own on most games that are out. I’m sure the performance of this thing is going to blow me away.

Hard Drive

This is the seagate Desktop HDD with 1TB space, 64mb cache, and 7200 rpm. I remember when 1 tb of space would go for $400.00! Anyway these days this thing is pretty standard and i store a lot of games, music, movies on my computer so i’d rather have the space than pay more for less space on a solid state even though i think they are much cooler.

discdrive

For a disc drive I’m picking the LG DVD/BLURAY/CD drive. I really don’t use disc drives much but this one should cover any of the needs i’d have for one. Good playback, reading, and writing speeds and a reliable brand.

monitor

For a monitor I’d pick up the 23” Asus with some built in speakers. Good size and good price. I like Asus products. The speakers at least make full use of the HDMI hookups so the on board sound card and these speakers might make for an interesting sound layout. But most of the time i just use my 30” Samsung LCD TV as a monitor.

After everything arrives I’ll insert the motherboard into the case by pushing it down into the peg/standoff and make sure it is secure. I’ll slide the power supply into the bottom rear corner. After that ill slide my DDR3 RAM cards into the dual channel slots and hook the graphics card into the motherboard. I’ll pop the processor into its housing on the motherboard. Then i will be sliding the BluRay drive into its housing in the front. I will run all the appropriate cords from the power supply to their connections on the motherboard and hard drive.I’ll hook the hard drive to the motherboard with a SATA cord as well. Then it’s time to connect the monitor via an HDMI cable and the mouse and keyboard via USB.

For my keyboard and mouse I’ve selected the ROCCAT USB wired gaming keyboard. Honestly, i am very picky about keyboards for some reason. I can’t stand when they feel like or cheap. I’m usually a pretty simply guy when it comes to devices except when it comes to keyboards.

For my mouse I’m going to grab the Logitech T400. Looks  like it has a nice grip to it and a simple, familiar design.

I’d probably opt for a USB network adapter which i’ve used for years and never had any trouble with.

So that’s it for my build! I really like the reviews and specs for these various components. I’d love to get my hands on them, install them and get to clocking the performance of the whole group as a single system. I’d use this computer to play some Counter-Strike:Global Offensive, some Diablo 3, as well as some Street Fighter X Tekken. I could do some homework,write some papers, and watch movies in high definition.

 

 

 

 

 

Week 1

Hey everybody! My name is Michael Reed. I had no idea Pellissippi State Community College had these blogs set up for the students! They seem pretty well laid out and have some extensions like the “Jetpack” aspect that i don’t really understand yet but seems cool.

Anyway, I am currently enrolled at Pellissippi as a computer science major which is an area of study i find especially interesting. I was born and have lived in Knoxville all my life, having attending high school in Halls, in the northern part of Knox County. I have always really enjoyed electronics and technology. I grew up playing video games on the N64 and Playstation. My family has had a personal computer in our living room for as long as i can remember. Our first one was a “Tandy” brand which at the time astounded me. It had a barebones graphical operating system and some pretty fun games like “Number Munchers” of which i have some very nostalgic memories. Later on in the 90’s my parents bought a dell that ran Windows 95 which seemed like huge leap forward compared to the old Tandy. I was fascinated by that machine. It seemed like i could spend hours on it browsing the web,via AOL, and never get bored. From those days up til now technology and computers have increasingly become a bigger and bigger part of my everyday life as well as the society around me. It is insane how much society has changed due to the influence of new technologies from the time i was young.

I have so far taken a few programming classes and a few web design classes here at Pellissippi. With each course, my interest in technology and its potential seems to grow. I really look forward to learning what this Introduction to Information Technology course has to offer.

Throughout my 20’s I have been a constant visitor to some pretty popular websites. In my teenage years i frequented sites like albinoblacksheep.com,ebaumsworld.com,funnyordie.com for the funny videos and flash animations. I also had account on sites like mindsay and Myspace like every other teenager. Nowadays i browse sites like steampowered.com for computer games, reddit for the niche communities and subreddits for socially shared media, and cracked.com for funny and sometimes insightful articles written by their author’s.

At this point in the course I’ve learned a lot about how any kind of information can be converted into the coded language computers can understand. All the information and experiences in our world can be reevaluated and represented as numbers. Particularly, a lot of the technology we use day to day like audio and video equipment has been engineered ingeniously to take information from the world and code into series and systems of bits and switches. After reading some of the details, I am really amazed that people came up with the ideas and techniques to do each of these tasks. The whole section and video has made me even more curious about the technology and techniques that go into developing computers,software, and other devices that involve encoding information. Also, we have taken a look at the fact that given the architecture of the computer and its ability to store bits of information as on and off electrical switches, the information stored and utilized by a computer must be written and input as binary which is a different way of writing numbers in base 2 as opposed to base 10. In more modern times programming languages and compilers have been developed at a “higher” level to allow people to access the functions of a computer without having to write strictly in the assembly language of computers which involves a large amount of binary.

So far i am really enjoying the material of this course and my curiosity is piqued. I’m looking forward to what comes next. Til next time so long!