The Final Blog

I have really enjoyed this class. Some of it made me want to pull out my hair, but overall I am very glad I took it.

When I came into it I really didn’t know a whole lot about the mechanics of PCs; I’d already done a little of my own hardware upgrading and I knew how to drive around the programs, but what I wanted was a better understanding of the reasoning behind the components. I’ve always been drawn to electronics, although getting my fingers into the actual meat and bones of it never materialized; I enjoyed the output of someone else’s input, and that sufficed – so long as it did what I wanted, anyway.

Like millions of other people I’m also drawn to having the biggest, baddest, fastest computer out there. I could probably just as easily do with upgraded memory, but it’s so easy to get seduced by the notion of having “more.” It’s the commission-worker’s skill, to take someone who already wants more, and convince them they need even more. Which isn’t so hard, actually.

So when it became painfully obvious this machine is about to go to PC hell, I began to panic because I needed a new one but knew I’d get suckered by the first guy in the store with a name tag. All I knew was I wanted “more,” and that’s doom for someone like me. So this class has given me a lot more in my arsenal now with which to play the PC game, and I’ve come to the delightful conclusion that I’ve got the brains (or they’ve dumbed them down) to build my own unit, that will do exactly what I want without having to pay for a bunch of stuff I don’t. I’ve learned which parts of the computer are where you should concentrate on real quality and oomph, and which ones upgrade so quickly you’re better off just changing with the times. I learned some really cool things about the physical components that lead me to believe the people who engineer these parts are also quite artistic, and after seeing that it’s possible to build a home PC with enough power to launch the shuttle, who wouldn’t want to put it in a clear case so everyone can admire it’s awesomeness?

I likewise learned that while I would very much love to also be able to play the programming game, I simply don’t have the aptitude (or maybe it’s just the patience) for the language. I’ll have to settle for a rudimentary knowledge about programs and extra personal footwork for the ones that do the best for my needs.

Seeing the videos related to electronics, technology and robotics was immensely enjoyable; I even saw or heard of things that I read about in my Popular Mechanics and Discover mags, which sort of made me feel a little more connected to “what’s out there.” I’ve always loved hearing stories of people using their brains to figure out really cool things, and then other people taking that and running with it and turning it into something even cooler. I mean, Alexander Graham Bell might have been a psycho (learned this from another class) but his “novelty” phone idea has literally transformed the world in ways even he could never have dreamed possible, and the world can never go back from that.

This class has enriched me in a subject I’ve always found fascinating, and I’m excited to apply what I’ve learned.

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Artificial Intelligence

AI had to be the absolutely worst movie made.

For real, though, I think the notion of an artificial intelligence is very intriguing, and I don’t think it’s possible right now to really say if it’ll ever happen or not; on the one hand a computer only “knows” what it’s programmed with, so in a sense you could create a convincing AI if you loaded it with enough information. However, that would still only be a very fancy computer, and it would still only know what you gave it, including how to “respond” to certain cues; the little robot from MIT named Leonardo (who looks a lot like Gizmo from the Gremlins movie) is designed to respond to human facial emotion and fairly complex directives, and to learn from its experiences in very much the same way a child does. It’s life-like enough that most people only take a few minutes with it before they’re interacting with it very much like it’s a living thing, and some children in the experiments even totally phased out their human companions in favor of this fuzzy little playmate.

The definition of “intelligence” has always been a debate anyway; how will we determine the intelligence of a computer when it’s still such a foggy area for humans?

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Security

I think the issue of computer security is like the saying I heard years ago: you build a better mouse trap, someone builds a better mouse. Having security in anything will always be a pushing contest between outside accessibility (the hackers) and personal ease-of-use. I mean, one of Vista’s downfalls was it’s nannying about every little thing you did – did you initiate this? are you sure? absolutely sure? – and it’s ironic incompatibility with a lot of other security programs.

The concept of the hacker, of course, has gone through a lot of morphs since computers became available to the general public. I think it’s part of human nature to want to figure things out, discover the “why” and learn how to control this wonderful thing called a computer, and that’s the double-edged sword of technology: the more we learn, the more we do with it, and that will always include ways to profit from it however we can, legal or not. The prevalence of people getting busted for various levels of computer hacking who are then recruited to help law enforcement stop their peers is testament to the human drive to find the “easy” way, which for a lot of people involves finding the little loopholes in a computer’s rod-straight programming that will allow them to “easily” steal what they want. It’s kind of like in the movies where they ask will you use your power for good or evil?

In general I think cyber security is like protecting your car; if someone wants to get in, they’re going to get in, so the best you can do is lock your doors and use common sense about where you park it. This also includes not leaving something vitally valuable inside it, like your entire vintage Metallica collection or a company laptop.

As human society evolves, so does the technology around computers, and also the techniques for both protecting and perverting it; a lot of people are given the rolling-eye when they talk about upgrading their PC security, but anyone who’s had their computer compromised would be smart to do the legwork and find the best security features they can afford. Using removable storage devices for important documents and things like bank statements would be smarter than leaving them on the hard drive, and it’s becoming more common for people to have entire vaults of information stored on external drives now to be locked safely away from virtual fingers. The availability of huge-volume devices at reasonable prices makes it silly not to take advantage of them; I know lots of people who have traded their briefcases and palm-tops for USBs on lanyards or little neoprene zip cases.

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Virtual Reality

I think the first time I experienced what I would call a virtual world was when my sister’s boyfriend’s little brother amused himself one night by watching me try to play Halo. I think he was truly astonished at how terrible I was – I couldn’t even navigate a straight line. His best explanation (aside from thinking I was just a dense old fart) was that I was used to using the old-style controllers, but even when he set it up for me with the buttons doing the “right” things, I still got stuck in corners or did 360s trying to go up stairs.

My next most-enjoyable game was a very simple PC game called Fate, with endless downward levels of a “dungeon” and about 10 monsters that got progressively nastier as you went down. There are hundreds of different bits of armor, weapons, magic gems and potions to turn your companion cat or dog into one of the beasties you’re fighting. My favorite was to turn my cat into a shrike, which looked like a 7-foot cross between an eagle, frog and dinosaur.

My avatar from Fable II; I'd just whacked the alchemist in Bowerstone Market for 900 gold

Presently I’m most engaged in Fable II, another game my sister’s boyfriend’s brother introduced me to. I think maybe he got me involved with this one as a sort of “sorry” for the failure at Halo. But it works for me; it’s a puzzle-adventure game and I love how you really can’t play it the same way twice. It’s one of those moral-choice games that reminds me of the “Choose Your Own Adventure” book series I loved in grade school; every choice you make determines the choices you get next, and even little choices can have big consequences.

All this time I’ve played the game according to the “good girl” model; a few months ago I decided to see what would happen if I made the “bad girl” choices, after remembering that in this game your inward moral standing was reflected in your outward appearance. I have to admit the thing I hate most about it is how nasty the villagers are; when I’m in a vindictive mood it’s not such a problem, but it gets to be a real nuisance to have every person you walk past spit nasty things at you.

I enjoy playing in the Fable II world mostly because of it’s total fantasy; I like the puzzle portion of it as you search around the world of Albion for hidden things like the foul-mouthed gargoyles or the keys that open the final chest in the castle. My sisters don’t understand my fascination with the game; to them, “game” means Uno or Monopoly. Although my older sister did really enjoy playing Super Mario Brothers, and I enjoyed it just as much watching her try to slide under blocks or make super leaps across gorges. She would be awesome with a controller with an accelerometer – I laughed until I cried to see her manhandling the Nintendo controller, “Jump! Jump!

I think playing games, especially virtual games, has a great value for personal well-being. People have learned how to handle the difficult choices in life through games since people started walking upright, and as we’ve made technological advances to provide even more realistic playing fields, I think it only makes it easier to visualize how to handle real-world problems, if we’re in a “safe” environment to try them out. I mean, playing Halo or Fable isn’t really applicable to the real world in terms of how to responsibly handle people you really want to shoot or incinerate with a ball of fire, but using virtual worlds to simulate things like emergencies or battlefield tactics has great application for medical and emergency personnel. In those fields in particular it’s important that your responses be automatic, because it’s entirely too easy to get fogged-up by high emotion and emergencies are not the time to stand around going “Oh, God, what do I do??”

Personally I get a great relief out of playing in my virtual worlds, being able to detach myself from reality for a little while and be the hero for once, to have nearly limitless power and control over my “life” when it feels my real life is very little under my control. Playing the puzzle type of game also allows my mind to focus on something else for a while besides trying to coordinate the mundane tasks that are my daily existence, and I always feel a bit more “chill” after I’ve played around in Albion for an hour or so.

The down side to these worlds though is that people become more comfortable with their hero selves than in the real world, and it’s entirely too easy to decide it’s more rewarding to go tromp off on a virtual quest of valor (or vice) than go do the laundry or homework. I’ve heard people talk about how terrible games, especially virtual games, are, that they encourage children (and adults I suppose) to become deadened to things like violence or crime, or to think it’s acceptable to kill someone because you just don’t like them. The game Grand Theft Auto was wonderful fun to me because the world was visually so realistic compared to the 8-bit games I grew up on, and I loved the quests and challenges. My brother of course loved the criminal aspect of it, such as driving over enough pedestrians to get some award or running down the sidewalk and beating people with pipes or something.

But we heard the same complaints about our cartoons too – I grew up on Looney Tunes and it strikes me as so ludicrous that anyone might think because a cartoon character can drop an anvil on another without killing them that it would be equally funny to a human being. Even as a small child I don’t ever recall thinking that for a second; a cartoon wasn’t real, and what they did never translated to anything possible in the real world. I personally think the cartoons kids watch today are infinitely worse than anything Bugs Bunny could dish out; they’re not “cartoons” anymore when they’re talking about adult issues such as love relationships or evil warlords bent on world domination. Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck were hysterical entertainment in a non-world, it had nothing to do with reality; anyone with two brain cells knew that, even 5-year-olds.

So to me the same goes for these virtual games; they’re excellent for escaping reality for a while and doing something you would never ordinarily get to do, and to be someone you would never get to be, but anyone who for a second mistakes the one world for the other has something fundamentally wrong in the head, which the game world did not create. I think virtual worlds are wonderful for encouraging someone to use their brain in a different way, to put more wrinkles in it and problem-solve things even if it’s not really a “realistic” problem. Aviators and race-car drivers use the virtual world to help them work through potential problems, as do astronauts and divers involved in deep-sea mechanical repairs to oil rigs and stuff.

Virtual worlds are like any other tool – it’s what people use them for that make them good or bad, not the world itself.

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Robotics

This is one of my favorite fields; the idea of using machinery to supplement or repair human biomechanics is just so freaking exciting to me. The topic of my post will be robotics making strides in the medical field.

The top 12 robotic-assisted devices making waves in the world are the Da Vinci Surgical System, the NeuroArm, the CyberKnife, HeartLander, the Pregnant Robot (I laugh every time I see this one), a medication-dispensing robot, the BEAR device, RP-7, breast biopsy robots, exoskeletons (for all those Halo fans out there), the LVAD or left-ventricular assist device, and the DEKA Arm.

The Da Vinci device was approved in 2000 to do surgery using the most advanced technology we have to date. It enables surgeons to do very delicate and precise operations through very small holes in the body, and through the use of sophisticated robotic assemblies the surgeons’ smallest movements are translated to the surgical instruments. The surgeon sits at a console watching high-definition monitors and uses a series of specialized joysticks and levers to control the robotics; cameras are mounted on the machine’s arms to hold cameras and instruments steady, meaning less danger or damage to the patient. The Da Vinci device also makes it easier to perform delicate surgeries on really obese people, where the added body fat makes it difficult to maneuver standard instruments around the body cavities.

In 1997 MD Robotics produced the NeuroArm, the world’s first MRI-compatible surgical robot. It is intended for complex neurosurgery, but can also be used for working on the prostate, heart and kidneys. The coolest part of this device is it’s instruments are equipped with sensors that give the surgeon a sense of touch; sitting at a console and watching a monitor with tools superimposed over a 3D image of the surgical site, the surgeon is able to perform a number of specialized procedures including sutures, biopsies, and electrocauterization. The NeuroArm sits on casters for easy positioning, and has fail-safe braking mechanisms that prevent unwanted movement. Specialized software is used to to run the machine, whose controllers look remarkably like the game controllers I grew up with.

The CyberKnife is for patients often undergoing radiation therapy; using sophisticated computer-aided electronics, it delivers targeting treatment more accurately than standard radiotherapy. It’s the world’s first and only robotic radiosurgery system designed to treat tumors anywhere in the body, in a pain-free, non-invasive and sometimes more-preferable way for patients who have inoperable or otherwise complex tumors or issues. The CyberKnife system is mounted on a standard, general-purpose industrial robot, allowing for near-complete freedom of movement and fast repositioning of the source to deliver radiation treatment from many different angles without needing to move the patient.

The HeartLander device is an awesome idea that allows minimally-invasive procedures to be done on a beating heart. Right now it’s still in clinical trials, but once this gets out into the real world it is going to revolutionize heart surgeries all over the world. It looks something like a fat straw with wires sticking out its rear end, and moves across the surface of the heart like the little green worms you see on rose bushes in the spring. Using this clever little thing will make standard endoscopic heart surgeries involving cardiac ablation and biventricular pacing lead placement less tricky. It’s currently being used on beating pig hearts (ew) but these trials have demonstrated a large range of potential capabilities in human use.

As funny-looking as it is doubtless awkward to use, the pregnant robot is actually a very useful device for training medical people in the potential problems that might arise in what should be a normal delivery. It simulates the birth of a child ranging from standard-issue to the highest-risk, providing computer-controlled feedback and allowing the staff to practice their bedside manner as well as medical procedures that might be needed on an infant or struggling mother.

A drug-dispensing robot is making the rounds about the country, getting more support each place it debuts; using both sophisticated programming and simple everyday computer directives, it allows for the tracking and dispensing of medications throughout hospitals, nursing homes and other medical institutions with inhuman accuracy. It can even navigate elevators on its own. Am I the only one thinking of Flight of the Navigator?

Designed to find, pick up and rescue people in trouble, the Battlefield Extraction Assist Robot (BEAR) is a human-sized machine that can do what humans can’t - lift and carry heavy loads over long distances, in places such as nuclear reactor cores, battlefields and toxic chemical spills. It is able to go up forest trails, through buildings and up or down stairs to search for human casualties after earthquakes or other disasters. Take that, Daleks!

Possessing a human-like stance as well as kneeling and a low-profile “centuar” mode, the robot is also capable of being adapted for use in the commercial capacity, like service/loading in shipping businesses, loading catalysts in energy-producing plants and in the managed-care arena.

The RP-7 reminds me of the conference room of Demolition Man, and has a similar function; it’s a mobile robotic platform that allows a physician to be remotely present at a patient’s bedside, even across the world. It is the only FDA-approved remote presence device, allowing direct connection with various Class-II medical devices such as electronic stethoscopes, otoscopes and ultrasound machines and transferring the data right to the doctor. The RP-7 can also dock itself for charging and has a cool audio feature allowing people to focus in on one person’s voice among many.

Breast biopsy robots are becoming more and more common as devices to help diagnose and treat breast cancer, a leading cause of death for American women. Advances in computer-aided robotic guidance systems make it possible to pinpoint previously inoperable tumors in the breast tissue with greater accuracy, increasing the odds of survival.

Another freaking-awesome advance is the REX robotic exoskeleton. Of course the military has its hawk eyes on it for helping out ground personnel, but the initial catalyst for the REX device was when its designers, Robert Irving and Richard Little, sought to overcome the limitations brought about by multiple sclerosis. They wanted a practical alternative to sitting on one’s butt all day, and eventually came up with an exoskeleton made of a strong, lightweight material that supports and holds a person in an upright position as they move. It’s strapped about one’s body like a pair of metal chaps, and is controlled by a joystick mechanism at the wearer’s waist level. Currently the REX is only being produced in New Zealand, but it shouldn’t be too long before it’s all over the US as casualties of war pour in.

A fervent proponent of the REX system is Hayden Allen, a spinal-cord injury victim who was told he would never walk again.

The LVAD device, an implantable mechanical pump that helps circulate blood from the lower left chamber of the heart, is a godsend for people who have weakened hearts or heart failure. It can buy them life-saving time while waiting for a heart transplant or while their own is healing from trauma. Requiring open-heart surgery makes it extremely risky, but considering one’s reached this point, I doubt many would turn it down. Some people can live out the rest of their lives with this simple mechanical addition.

The DEKA arm was invented by the same guy who brought us the famous Segway and iBOT, Dean Kamen. This remarkable device is a prosthetic arm that allows for the most natural movement yet achieved for mechanical limbs, using the same brain power that runs the natural limb. It’s not yet available to the general populace, but is in wonderful trials at the Walter Reed hospital.

It is similar to the CyberHand, which uses complicated cutting-edge technology to mimic the sense of touch, and even in some cases of heat and cold, allowing the greatest freedom of any prosthetic device out there.

The face of humanity is being shaped in incredible ways unthought-of even in our parents’ time; I laugh at the old Star Trek episodes where the writers thought up some really innovative ideas such as faster-than-light travel, aliens that magically speak English, a transporter that shoots one’s atoms across space like radio waves (which I find funny because it’s creation was primarily to save costs in showing shuttles every time someone left or boarded the ship) and devices that heal by being waved over one’s body, they still couldn’t fathom something better than good ol’ pencil and paper.

I really want to be around for the next thousand years just to see where we go  – and how we get there.

Information from davincisurgery.com, neuroarm.com, cyberknife.com, heartlandsurgical.com, medgadget.com, intouchhealth.com, trendhunter.com, gizmag.com, and cyberhandrobotics.com

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Scratch

I haven’t managed to get this one to work. My PC is either too old, too crotchety or my internet is messed up. I had fun watching the tutorials but the program itself won’t run right on my PC; way past time to upgrade but can’t swing that right now. Can’t make it into the computer lab to dilly around either, so I guess this one’s just not going to be in my cards.

I had thought to make up some sort of story, perhaps illustrating a long-winded joke or something, and add in appropriate backgrounds or try some uploaded sound-effects. I’ll keep trying to get this to work, but the animations cause my PC to freeze and I have to unplug the whole thing to get back to start again, so there’s no telling when.

 

I enjoyed watching the video of Randy Pausch; it’s so not fair that so many of the world’s best people end up having their lives traumatized and cut short by illness or accident. I was impressed that he just flopped down and belted out a bunch of push-ups; I think the audience didn’t know what to make of it either. I was also impressed that he was able to maintain this zeal for life and his work even though he was in the process of seeing his participation in it end; I liked his statement, “It’s easy to be smart when you’re parroting smart people.” I’ve encountered that a lot. I also agreed with his belief that it’s a good thing when people get onto you for being a jerk – when they stop, it’s because they’ve given up on you.

Years ago I heard a motivational speaker mention something similar to his philosophy about your dreams, that you’ve got to specify your dream if you ever want to see it be real. Like, saying “I wish to be successful” isn’t quite as helpful as saying “I wish to have a great-paying job and a big house on the beach.” You can be “successful” at failure too, so being more specific about your goals gives you something more tangible to work toward.

The Nintendo glove on the VR slide made me smile; I dreamed of having that glove when I was a kid.

Randy Pausch was a great guy, and he started something huge that will keep getting bigger long after him.

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HTML – The Web Page

Admittedly I waited literally until the last second to do this one; blah blah blah, I’ve got too much on my plate, etc. etc. I also wasn’t looking forward to this part mostly because I’m already failing my Java class so I figured if I had to code anything that would suck too; I went to Books-A-Million and got a For Dummies book on HTML coding, and I am so freaking surprised at how much more sense it makes to me than freaking-nuts Java. I mean, I know much of these two languages are the same, but for some reason these little codelets just sank into my brain so much easier than any of the Java. The best I can figure is that Java uses English in non-English ways, and the HTML script uses them more correctly. If you want to apply something to a header, you use “head.” In Java, if you’re talking about a number, you use something like “double,” which has nothing to do with two of something. More and more I’m thinking I might go into the hardware/software area rather than the actual coding area of my major.

It was really hard to pick just three things to talk about; like a kid with a plate of peas, my interests are pretty spread out and cover a large variety of subjects. It was also hard to pick just a few of the thousands of pictures I wanted to upload, and it only took two runs for me to get the link code down pat and it was so difficult to stop making links to things!

My biggest struggle is how to make the images do what I want, and to put the paragraphs where I want; I intended to do a sort of zig-zag approach to the composition, but was unable to figure out how to apply the right-justify or right-margin or right-whatever to the second image to make it go to the right. Also, I couldn’t make the headers for the paragraphs all begin at the left margin, and to line up nicely with the text.

My favorite little triumph was making the background image seamless; so many of my first choices for backgrounds kept tiling in a very obvious manner, but after a hundred false starts I found how to make it work. I’m still not positive it’s a good result, but it’s better than the tiling.

I had a devil of a time with the pstcc.11 deal. Even reading through the discussion posts of troubles of my peers wasn’t a lot of help; much of the language is still foreign to me, so I just had to dork around with it until it worked. I was surprised to see the c prompt pop up though; I had a great flashback to my Apple IIe days.

I also had a really frustrating time getting set up in a way to write and then test-run my script; for all I know there are four hundred variants of my web page floating around there. LOL

Learning this stuff has given me a new light on the shadows of the computer world; I see things happen on web pages now or even just on my PC doing its thing that make me smile because I’m seeing a real-world application to something that was earlier just an abstract concept. It’s like the moment when I was a little kid learning how to crochet, and realized I’d just finished a block that not only didn’t pucker in weird places, but also had the correct number of rows and stitches to the inch. (cue the cricket out in the audience)

Anyway, this has been fun, and I can’t wait to polish it up. I still don’t like Firefox, though. Nowhere to put quick-tabs or links to places I go a lot, and I still have no idea what to do with Firebug. It just sits up there in its corner looking dejected. Actually, if it were orange, it would look a lot like the beetles that dork around my porch light at night…  lol

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The Simulator

Have to say I really do not get the Assembly Language Simulator. Not any of it. Don’t know what it’s good for and I don’t know how to use it. I found the “instructions” not too instructional and I couldn’t find anything helpful on the web to explain it better. I managed to slog through the test with 84%, so I’m not going to cry over it. I’m sure if I really hacked at it some more it might make some sense, but at the moment it just looks too confusing.

I’m really enjoying learning about where the desktop PC has come from and the way it’s expanding, encompassing much more of our daily lives than I think most people realize. For those of us who do remember what it was like before cell phones, before the Web, even before the advent of mostly-computer-controlled cars, it’s an amazing road that I’m glad to have been a part of, even if only as a consumer. Now I’m getting an insight into how it works from the other end of the equation, and the notion of being able to have some of that control for myself is pretty exciting. With the advent of computer languages that are more like human languages, it’s getting exponentially easier for us to create machines that will do more and more specific tasks.

I really enjoyed seeing the videos of the debut of the Mac in 1984; I actually remember seeing the 1984 commercial. I didn’t get my hands on a Mac until I was 11, when Jefferson got one for the 6th-grade classes to share. Seeing Jobs present the machine with the Great White Disk of Knowledge reminded me of the stack of disks we had beside ours that we marveled over because all you had to do was pop one in and the machine just did all these amazing things.

I often wonder what Babbage and von Neumann would think of where their ideas have gone; I’ve had the same questions about Ferdinand Braun and Alexander Graham Bell. Would any of them have believed us if we told them that together their novelties would literally reinvent the world? It’s also interesting to me that Graham Bell had the idea for his “speech machine” more to help deaf and hearing-impaired people than any desire to connect the globe with the touch of a button. Sort of like the monks who accidentally discovered champagne; some unintended consequences end up being better than what we expected in the first place.

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The Computer Build

Okay, so my first move on building a new computer would be to have someone else build it. I mean, that’s like, the American way, right? I put in a couple of memory cards and a new video card into my current PC like a million years ago but that’s the extent of my “building” experience. This assignment actually made me freak a little because when I put my toe into this sea of information it was considerably deeper than I expected. I shall have to come here again when I have my swimmies on…

I checked out several disappointing leads about how to choose the best stuff for a new computer, along with a couple that build them for you, and finally came to this great Build-Gaming-Computers.com. About all I really care to do with computers is to do my email and play my PC games, and I’m really mad that Vista totally blew that away (heh-heh, I said Vista blows…) Anyway, I haven’t played Age of Empires in like 2 years, and my stack of games is so dusty it looks like a dejected little animal sitting on my shelf.

So this site had some serious suggestions for three basic computers to build for the gamer. Being my first PC build, I would go with the “budget” set-up, with a few modifications of my own that may or may not bite me in the butt later on. For example, I think I would forgo the $50 mouse, the $60 keyboard and the $125 speakers, although I haven’t priced many of those recently so that might actually be the bargain.

The author of this article has basically everything you’d want for somewhere around $630, although I’ve been burned on the RAM thing with all my computers so I’m going to upgrade to as much as I can stuff in it, which might be considerably different from the little changes I’d make. I was going to go with Newegg.com for my pieces since I’ve already got an account there, but after checking out this Tigerdirect.com I think I might have to switch. They really do have some awesome deals on components, and a much larger selection than Newegg.

I would go with the ASUS M4A88TD-V EVO USB3 Motherboard, suggested for its popularity with gamers and versatility for the price. To give oomph, I would also add in the suggested AMD Phenom II X4 955  Black Edition Quad Core Processor, a lot of words and numbers that I still don’t understand but sound really impressive. From what I’ve checked up on, Intel and AMD seem to be the Coke and Pepsi of the CPU world, at the moment more of a personal preference than a great difference in performance.

For the RAM I would go with the Kingston KHX1600C9D3B1K2/8GX HyperX Blu Desktop Memory Module, which would be twice the memory for just a little twice the price of the suggested 4Gb version, but as I said before, from my experience I believe them when the pros say to get as much RAM as you can afford. When it’s discovered how to add RAM to the brain, I’ll be first in line.

I actually think I have a very similar video card in my existing PC, older though. The EVGA GeForce GTX 550 Ti sounds like it should suit my needs, since my games aren’t hyper-realistic, just colorful. I mean, Age of Empires actually has more complicated character interactions than graphics, and so far that’s the most involved game I’ve gotten. Well, I’m addicted to Fable II now, but that’s a different computer…

The Seagate brand I’ve seen around for a long time, a fairly standard name in hard drives that I believe is proven enough to go for, especially here at TigerDirect for just about $60. The Seagate Barracuda 1TB made me sort of drool a little at the idea of having a whole terrabyte at my command.

I’ve never burned any CDs or DVDs, so I might skip that part, although in the interest of future availability I probably should go ahead and snap a couple in. With that wishy-washy attitude, I would go with the suggested ASUS DRW-24B3ST/BLK/G/AS Internal 24x CD/DVD Drive, since it’s really just about the price of a new pair of sneakers anyway. Well, my sneakers.

I was really zinged with the variety of PC cases out there, and I can see where someone could go completely ape-doo with them; however, since realistically I’ll be staring at my screen and not the tower, I think I’d go with something that really just covers all the parts. The suggested Cooler Master RC-310-RWN1-GP Elite 310 Mid-Tower Case is pretty cool-looking for its $40. Or, I might very well go with my old Dell box and get a good laugh that it would finally be doing something worth its penny.

I admit I hadn’t considered just how much heat these little suckers put off doing all these fancy commands, and that a large number of PCs take up a heck of a lot more energy than most people realize; having been at odds for years with my inner hippie, I like the notion of the “greener” power usage of the Thermaltake W0382RU Modular Power Supply 750 Watts.

Having to look into monitors took me back to the nightmare of picking a new TV; there’s so much to choose from now, like trying to decide on toothpaste, shampoo or deodorant. What I learned about TVs pretty much stands for PC monitors too, since they’re really the same thing; I’m chagrined that I decided not to go with the higher refresh rate on my TV, so I would definitely pick an LCD monitor with the suggested lower-than-8ms response rate. I don’t think I’d have to have a specialty “gaming” monitor or a monster-sized screen though, so the standard 17-inch would suit fine I think.

The Build-Gaming-Computers web site was also very useful for detailing how to best assemble these amazing parts; after running through a few other demonstrations from a few other places, I found this to be a relatively easy way to do it, considering I’ve never built one from scratch.

The build process sounds to me sort of like a kind of mini-engineering feat; it would be entertaining to me to see a documentary on the process that goes into making these features that are basically plug-and-play for the end-user. I’m sure it wasn’t so easy for the people who made them that way.

First step for the build would obviously be to get the motherboard all loaded up, beginning power supply and CPU (with heatsink to keep it all chill); I think if most people knew the brain behind these monsters is about the size of a postage stamp, they might be a little more impressed when updating their Facebook or emailing their vacation pictures across the planet. Based on issues associated with having a house of cats, I think I’d have the fan blowing outward this time, and possibly located at the top of the unit (since heat rises).

Adding the memory cards to the RAM slots should take all of 4 seconds; being not-so-concerned with uber sound, I’d just leave the standard motherboard sound card intact. Of course, I could easily change my mind if I were to experience the real difference for the money…

Installing the hard drive would be so much cooler if I could get one with a clear case like the one I saw on the demo about how they search for tracks. Not like I’d be able to see it of course, but it’d still the “ooo!” factor at work when I hear it doing its thing. Another wow factor would be having 2 hard drives, but in the interest of simplicity I’d just set the jumper to Master, slide it into its little shelf, plug up the IDE cable and move on. Hook that sucker up to the power supply and that element’s ready.

A suitable bay for the CD/DVD component is opened, and in keeping with the standard set-up, the unit itself is “slaved” to the hard drive before being set into its bay and screwed into place. Next a free connection from the IDE cable between the motherboard and the hard drive will be connected to the CD/DVD drive, and then the unit is plugged into a 4-pin connector on the PC’s power supply.

Had a bit of a chuckle when reminded of the imperative to keep oneself and one’s tools grounded when working with the graphics card; some part of me wonders if maybe being a little lax about that is what jinxed my current one. After removing the PCI slot cover, the graphics card is coaxed into its slot and screwed into place, then connected to the monitor, where the PC can now be turned on and drivers installed.

Power up, load in Windows 7, and stuff that puppy with data! For me that would include Microsoft Office, Photoshop, NetBeans, DAZ Studio, iTunes, some sort of security/registry clean-up program, and of course my beloved games. After all this, I would dare it to be as rude as my current PC by lazing through log-on, killing itself after every update-induced restart, or being nannied through every single command I give it. Am I the one who started this? Am I sure I want to do this? Am I really sure? Really? Oh, then…am I sure I want to just cancel the command? Really sure? For real?

 

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Binary

On the videos: (the videos that opened, anyway :p )

Arthur C. Clark was a pretty forward-thinking guy for the 60s. His predictions about the evolution of AI and wide-scale communications were pretty on-the-mark, as were his thoughts on his “replicator” (3D organ printers are already making bladders, kidneys and lengths of veins), augmenting memory (small electrodes are being tried to help people with PTSD and Alzheimer’s) and that a time will come when Man will spend extended periods of time on the moon. He also had some wacky ideas though, like monkey servants, living under the sea and using cryo-stasis for space journeys and critically-ill patients. His notion of using his “replicator” to create “unlimited abundance” would be an awesome thing, but human nature dictates anything like that would be monopolized by one party at the expense of everyone else. There may be plenty to go around, but you’ll still pay out the nose for it.

I loved the exhibition with the interactive binary display; I think especially in today’s tech-centric world, the best way to engage people is to do it with the technology you’re pushing. The game Pong was basically created from the idea of how to draw more people to a TV company’s booth at a trade show.

The guy demonstrating the hexadecimal to binary thing was pretty cool. There’s a watch in a catalog I get from time to time that displays the time in binary; I might have to get it now and take the risk my choice in time pieces will be taken as a sign of intelligence and not that my bike’s slipped its chain.

Found it really funny that any video dealing with Pi would be banned in this country (as declared when I tried to watch it). Of all countries, America is not one known for censoring its digital information pool. “Oh, no! Quick – block it! They might learn something!” LOL Having grown up in the “No Child Left Behind” era, I find that really hard to believe. I mean, by the time I got to high school, teachers were no longer allowed to use red ink when grading papers because it was thought to be “damaging to the students’ psyche” to see so much red on their work. No word on how damaging it would be to let them out into the world thinking they could divide by zero if they really wanted to.

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