rgoodreau's blog

December 13, 2009

Goodbye….for now.

Filed under: CSIT1110 —— rgoodreau @ 6:54 pm

So, it seems this is my last blog entry for my current CSIT course. After re-reading all of my blogs, I must say it has been an incredible experience. It’s really hard to believe we started out learning simple binary and now we just capped the course off with studying the effects of virtual reality and A.I. on our society. Just considering the scope of that scenario is mind-boggling. Many people are still completely mystified by computers, yet the basis for them is so simple at the low-level. Binary encodes information as numbers, then those numbers are encoded as binary. When you first consider that, it almost takes the magic of it all away. However, once you consider just how far along we’ve come, and how many amazing feats are being accomplished with just binary being at the root of it all, it’s impossible to not marvel at how incredible computer systems have become.

The several programming languages we studied during the course of our class were incredibly interesting. Especially once you have an understanding of the low-level operations behind them. Learning to master a programming language unleashes so much potential to be a creator. While using HTML to build our own web sites was fun, I enjoyed working with object oriented programming the most. Through Alice, which is an object-oriented language, I had a chance to be a creator. While I’ve worked with code before, I must admit I’ve never had an affinity for it. This class changed my mind. Through code you can immortalize yourself in digital form.

Despite loving everything I learned in the class, the history and theory of computer science has proven to be what I’ve found myself coming back to the most. I’ve spent many hours analyzing interesting lectures in class, even after it had been days since I heard them. Many of Dr. Brown’s lectures were so powerful that I’m still engaging in many of the provocative questions, all without even realizing it. I loved starting with Charles Babbage’s idea of the universal machine, and then hearing Ray Kurzweil make fascinating predictions about the future.

It’s the future that drives my interest in computer science. The future holds so many open-ended questions with so many possible answers. Nobody can predict the future with total accuracy, but with hard work we can help to shape the future.

To anyone with even the slightest interest in computer science- take this class. This will be one of the most unique, informative, and engaging educational experiences you can have at Pellissippi. Dr. Brown gives incredible lectures and teaches utilizing unconventional, yet effective methods. I can truly say Dr. Brown’s class motivated me as a person to take my programming education to the next level.

Thank you to anyone who has taken the time to read my blogs!

It’s been one heck of a ride, but now I have to say goodbye….for now.

December 12, 2009

Virtual Worlds

Filed under: CSIT1110 —— rgoodreau @ 8:17 pm

There’s little doubt I’m familiar to virtual worlds. I’m currently 22 years old, and I’ve been an avid gamer since I was 2. I can’t really tell you what drew me into them when I was young. There was always an unexplainable draw to engage in these virtual, yet magical worlds. I can definitely say why I love gaming now. Gaming is an art form to me. Gaming is an escape from everyday life when the real world just sucks (often). Gaming is anything I want it to be. Many people will have their own unique take on virtual worlds. Some people just view them as a casual time sink. As for me, I have immense respect for the creative process involved in crafting a meticulously detailed, gorgeous virtual world. When a game is incredibly good, I must dissect it as a piece of art, marveling at how it all comes together to form a master piece.

I partake in several online virtual communities, but my favorite is a game called Guild Wars. I’ve been playing the game for over 4 years now, and I find it incredibly engrossing. There’s obviously some disadvantages, such as the average prepubescent gamer who’s up past his bed time wreaking havoc on my experience. Fortunately, not everyone is that way, and connecting with people across the world in virtual form is something that never ceases to amaze me.

Here’s a picture of my avatar:

My elementalist!

November 19, 2009

Artificial Intelligence

Filed under: Thoughts —— rgoodreau @ 8:34 am

Artificial Intelligence (A.I.) is fascinating because of the vast implications it will have on our society. There are so many facets of our culture that will become radically warped that I believe even the most imaginative people cannot possibly predict all of the effects A.I. will have on us.

That element of the unknown is what intrigues me the most. How will A.I affect war? Health care? Travel? Entertainment? Food industry? Sex industry? There’s a virtually limitless pool of outputs to any of these questions depending on how the input varies.

Of course there’s the question of how much control over ourselves to we give to A.I.? How much is too much? We’ve already become largely dependent on computer systems. People fear what they don’t understand, so there has always been an inherent sense of caution within people regarding self-aware machines.

The Matrix, my favorite movie ever, illustrates a very possible outcome of A.I. having too much control. There is absolutely zero reason The Matrix could not happen, or might already have come to pass. Could you REALLY prove otherwise? The mere fact that you cannot should get you thinking.

Recently I watched an animated version of Plato’s Allegory of the Cave. After drawing parallels between The Cave and The Matrix, it’s obvious that the possibility of The Matrix has been considered for a long time.

November 4, 2009

Are we ever secure?

Filed under: Thoughts —— rgoodreau @ 6:32 pm

The issue of computer security has been rapidly garnering mainstream media attention. While IT experts have recognized the growing dangers of the malware threat, only now are common people starting to take notice. This is largely because of the recent “cyber attacks” on the U.S. and South Korea, both of which claim the attacks originated from China on a line leased by the North Korean government. I’m not so sure I’m willing to believe that, but it’s plausible.

Straying away from IT politics, I think the “hacking underground” scene is fascinating. There is a wealth of knowledge that can be had from these very talented, misrepresented individuals. We owe many advancements in security to the hacking community.

October 25, 2009

The Last Lecture

Filed under: Thoughts —— rgoodreau @ 6:45 pm

I’ll start out by saying I’m not a very impressionable person. I just don’t get easily inspired by other people. I find motivation within. However, that ALL went out the window watching Robert Pausch’s Last Lecture. Now, I had heard of it before I’d seen it, but never got around to watching it. I was utterly blown away by the brilliance of this speech, and I was completely moved. Robert Pausch seemed like an incredibly special human being, and I would have loved to meet him. That’s all I’m going to say on the subject, because I’m not doing him or his video justice at all. Do yourself a favor and watch it, you won’t be disappointed.

As for programming with Alice, I think it will be a great experience. I’ve never used it before, so this is new territory. It’ll definitely take some time to work with, but I’m confident I’ll get the hang of it. Object-oriented programming is by far the most fascinating type of language to work with in my opinion. I’ll keep you updated on how it turns out!

Uploading HTML

Filed under: CSIT1110 —— rgoodreau @ 6:34 pm

Since I’ve previously uploaded a hand-coded HTML website before, I’ll primarily sum up my experiences then move on to databases. The HTML assignment all and all was very fun, even though HTML isn’t difficult. I believe HTML is very fun to work with because it involves instant gratification, you can see the results of your work instantly as you go.

I am a certainly a proponent of learning hand-coded HTML. There are lots of debates on web development suites vs hand-coded HTML, but Dr. Brown said it best for sure. If you’re a programmer, which I hope some people are interested in coming since this is a Comp Sci. course, how are you supposed to write a program that needs to use HTML if you don’t know it? I’ve had experience working with software packages before, and while they are a useful tool, they don’t always do what you want them to. Knowing HTML is very helpful in these scenarios.

Just as interesting, is the process in which HTML is uploaded and stored. For this assignment we were given unique ID’s to log in with an SSH client. I used Filezilla to upload it from home and stupidly named my code Index.html instead of index.html :). Blasted caps lock!

October 11, 2009

Working with HTML

Filed under: CSIT1110 —— rgoodreau @ 11:56 pm

HTML is very easy to work with. I’ve messed around with it enough in the past, so much of what we’ve seen I already knew. It’s still a great refresher, and I find HTML very fun to work with. I haven’t started coding my page yet, but I’ve been thinking of what I’m going to do. For fun, I’ve been going to random websites and viewing their source code and seeing how they’re using certain code. Obviously many web pages these days go far beyond old-school HTML.

Between this assignment and the pseudo computer assignment, I’ve definitely decided I’m going to go the distance with coding. Although I’ve messed with many languages before, I’ve never really given coding a fair shake in general. I want to actually become a good coder. Object oriented programming has captivated my interest, but for now, I’ll stick with mastering very basic “languages” such as HTML.

*EDIT* Whoops. Originally posted under thoughts. Fail.

Pseudo Computer

Filed under: CSIT1110 —— rgoodreau @ 11:19 pm

At first, assembly code and the pseudo computer confused me a first, but I was also out of class sick the entire week. Of course, I didn’t know a tutorial video existed until a couple of students pointed it out to me. After a little while though, it started to definitely make sense. I found Dr. Brown’s assertion that low-level programmers must first understand the hardware before effectively coding for it to be completely true. Once I understood what I was essentially dealing with, it was like a switch of enlightenment was suddenly turned on.

As for dealing with the actual pseudo computer, it was very fun to play with. I certainly enjoyed seeing what role each component of the CPU played in how the program was processed. It was also very easy to see how learning binary was important for this assignment. At low-level programming like this, there’s no way you could get by without it.

September 20, 2009

Building a WHS system.

Filed under: CSIT1110 —— rgoodreau @ 11:14 am

Today I’m going to give you a step-by-step tutorial on how to build the system of your choice. As someone who has put together a myriad of systems for other people and myself, I’m particularly excited about this blog post. I will also teach you a few tricks on saving money while doing it!

The first thing you need to do when building ANY system is consider what it will be used for. Are you building a server? A general desktop PC that will be used for internet browsing, IM, word documents, etc? Will it be used to play MMO games? Will it be used to play the most graphically demanding games on the current and future market?

The above is incredibly important to consider, as it brings me to my next point, which is budget. This is especially important when building for another person. Always ask the minimum they’re willing to spend and the ABSOLUTE maximum. Unless you really feel the build would be vastly improved with more expensive components, try to stay as close to their minimum as possible, while still maintaining high quality of course.

Going forward with the type of system you want to build and budget in mind, the next step is research. Always do your research when doing a new build, I don’t care how experienced  you are with building systems. It goes without saying that the face of computer technology changes at an incredible rate. What was a good deal last week might be an extremely mediocre deal currently. You’ll specifically want to look at performance benchmarks for individual components. The goal here is to find the best bang for your buck. Unless money is not an issue for you, this is usually the smartest way to do a build.

Consider this for a moment: Graphics card A costs 150 dollars and graphics card B costs 250 dollars. Graphics card B is around 15% faster in real-world performance benchmarks, yet it’s 100 dollars more. Four months down the road, a new series of cards come out. One of them costs 160 dollars and performs 90% faster than graphics card B in our previous scenario.

These types of situations are all too common. Although there are people that differ on this, it’s very hard to justify spending 100 dollars more for 15% increase in performance. Why? Because in four short months, that 100 dollars you used for a 15% gain could have been used for a 90% increase and it would have covered more than half of the cost. The longer you wait to upgrade, the more of a difference you will see in what you get out of your money.

Now you’ve done all the necessary research to make educated buying decisions, it’s time to learn which web sites you should use. Finding deals can save you a LOT of money on your system . If you play your cards right, you can take a 900 dollar build down to 600. In some cases, much more. I will list a few of some of my favorite web sites to use. As you come to frequent them, you start to notice patterns in the frequency in which certain components appear on sale. Certain components should be can be bought  in advance if you come across a fantastic deal,  others there is not much point in buying early and just letting them sit on your shelf for a few months, effectively making them outdated. ALWAYS look for free shipping on the case and power supply, as they’re the most expensive to ship in a typical PC.

As for where you can purchase parts, there are several websites. Personally, I prefer newegg, although there are many other good sites to purchase from. They generally have fantastic prices on most things (Not always, but usually). They have an unbeatable RMA policy for when something goes wrong (Build enough computers, something will ship DOA eventually, trust me on this). Their customer service is bar none the best in the online retail industry.

I’ll give a  quick personal anecdote as a testament to their fantastic service. I was out of state building a PC for my brother at his house, which is where I had the parts shipped. When UPS came, everything was there except the hard drive, even though I was charged for it and it was listed in the receipt. When I got back to Knoxville, I called customer service, told them my situation, and I was  taken care of. I was refunded for the entire shipping order and they sent me a brand new hard drive, even though it looked shady because I was asking them to send it to a different location in a completely different state. Essentially, I could have very well been lying and just been trying to snag a free drive off them, but they took the hit anyway because they had faith in their customer.

Websites for deals:

http://www.techdeals.net/

http://www.slickdeals.net/

http://www.dealigg.com/ (As an example of just how much you can save, I recently purchased a brand new ethernet-enabled HP officejet 8000 printer including 500 pages of printer paper, for 98 cents. Yes, you read that correctly.)

Websites for research:

http://www.anandtech.com/

http://www.extremetech.com/

http://www.tomshardware.com/

Websites for purchasing:

http://www.newegg.com/

You’re now armed with the knowledge you need to begin the building process. For my example, I will choose a build I did recently. My brother decided he wanted a more sophisticated solution than NAS. He wanted to keep it under 300 dollars, low power consumption, would be using it to stream media, host daily back ups, and as a general file server that runs 24/7. I decided to go with Windows Home Server (WHS), as it’s extremely simple for most anyone  to use and relatively powerful since it’s based off of Windows Server 2003.

For the actual build I did for my brother, I salvaged an old case and dvd-drive to cut costs. Also, I wanted to list the actual components I used in the build, so many of them are no longer on sale. This means I paid less for most of the components in the list, with my total system cost coming out to just under 280 dollars in the actual build .  Since this is a tutorial, I’ll make the list under the assumption you do not have access to an old case or dvd-drive.

Here’s the part list for my Windows Home Server system:

Hard Drive:

Western Digital Caviar Green WD15EADS 1.5TB 32MB Cache SATA 3.0Gb/s 3.5″ Internal Hard Drive – OEM

I went with the Western Digital Caviar green for a few reasons. The two largest factors were the size and low power consumption. Because this is a file server that will be running 24/7, it needed to have a large hard drive to store massive amounts of data and  it needed to have low power consumption. This version of the WD Caviar Green  fulfills both of these requirements, having 1.5 TB of space and a very lower power draw.

Current Requirements
Read/Write 5.4 Watts
Idle 2.8 Watts
Standby 0.40 Watts
Sleep

(Source: Western Digital)

Cost: $119.99

RAM:

G.SKILL 2GB (2 x 1GB) 240-Pin DDR2 SDRAM DDR2 800 (PC2 6400) Dual Channel Kit Desktop Memory

This set of G.skill ram has rock solid stability, is highly compatible with most motherboards that use DDR2, performs well, and it’s very cheap. As long as you meet the WHS system requirements of 512 MB of memory, RAM is not a very large factor in a WHS file system. While WHS has very low memory over-head for most of its general functions, this is still a server that will be streaming h.264 encoded media while running lots of add-ons. The safe route is just to throw 2 GB in the system, since it’s extremely cheap to do so.

Cost: $32.99

Power Supply:

PC Power & Cooling Silencer PPCS370X 370W ATX12V 80 PLUS Certified Active PFC Power Supply

PP&C arguably has the best reputation in the entire industry for reliable power supply units.. Since one of the main objectives is low power draw, a PSU with high wattage was unnecessary. I also wanted to go at least 80 PLUS certified and above for even more energy efficiency. Finally, since this is a system that is constantly running, stability was another major factor in purchasing this particular model.

What is the 80 PLUS specification?

The 80 PLUS performance specification requires multi-output power supplies in computers and servers to be 80% or greater energy efficient at 20%, 50% and 100% of rated load with a true power factor of 0.9 or greater. This makes an 80 PLUS certified power supply substantially more efficient than typical power supplies and creates a unique market differentiation opportunity for power supply and computer manufacturers.

(Source: http://www.80plus.org/80what.htm)

Cost: $44.99

Case:

APEX PC-389-C Black Steel ATX Mid Tower Computer Case

The case was largely unimportant to the  build. This system will be sitting in a closet hooked up to a router, so the only purchasing factors in the case were price and compatibility with my chosen motherboard.

Cost: $29.99

Optical Drive:

LITE-ON Black 18X DVD-ROM 48X CD-ROM IDE DVD-ROM Drive Model iHDP118-04

The optical drive is on the bottom of the priority list for this build. I only needed it once, which was just to install the WHS operating system. After the install, I just unplugged it to eliminate unnecessary power draw on the system. The deciding factors in the purchase were being able to read the DVD format and price.

Cost: $17.99

Motherboard:

GIGABYTE GA-MA74GM-S2 AM3/AM2+/AM2 AMD 740G Micro ATX AMD Motherboard

One of the deciding factors in the motherboard purchase was the AMD 740G Northbridge chip. The 740G is has fantastic power management and is extremely energy efficient. This motherboard is compatible with a wide ranger of processors, including the AM3 standard, which is what my chosen CPU uses. Since this is a file server, a powerful video card is completely unnecessary. This motherboard has on-board video, which is perfectly suited to the build. Stability, as well as price, were also large factors.

Cost: $54.99

CPU:

AMD Athlon II X2 240 Regor 2.8GHz 2 x 1MB L2 Cache Socket AM3 65W Dual-Core Processor

The CPU for this build did not have to be powerful at all. However, this CPU is actually quite capable of handling most intensive applications, especially the h.264 media this server will be streaming. The price point and power draw were probably the most decisive factors in choosing this particular CPU. While intel has a stranglehold on the high-end CPU market, AMD is arguably the best way to go when choosing extremely cheap low-power processors,  which is exactly what a WHS file server calls for.

Cost: $60.00

Operating System:

Microsoft Windows Home Server 32 Bit 1 Pack (Power pack 1)

Cost: $91.99

Now on to the number break-down:

Total system cost: $452.93 (Remember, for the build I actually did, I paid just under $280. This is without the optical drive and case mind you, but it does highlight how imperative finding good deals is to your build.)

Read the rest of this entry »

September 13, 2009

Binary Assignment

Filed under: CSIT1110 —— rgoodreau @ 7:54 pm

I’ve messed around with binary before, although never the hexadecimal format. I was actually quite surprised at how easy the majority of it came to me, given my lack of affinity for working with numbers in general. The classroom lesson Dr.Brown gave on the many ways computers work with different inputs was extremely awesome. Seeing a breakdown of a digital audio signal into binary was particularly fascinating.

Going off topic for a moment, watching the World Of Warcraft retrospective was awesome, even though I’ve seen it before. As an avid gamer in general, it never ceases to amaze me at the pace in which video games are evolving. Cloud computing is one of the hottest topics in IT right now, and it’s even being applied to gaming.

Keeping it short and sweet this week, until next time!

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