Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Test Your Mettle

  If you've ever finished up your work for school or your job and thought that you needed more questions to solve, say hello to Project Euler. Here's a brief description from the Project Euler website:

What is Project Euler?

Project Euler is a series of challenging mathematical/computer programming problems that will require more than just mathematical insights to solve. Although mathematics will help you arrive at elegant and efficient methods, the use of a computer and programming skills will be required to solve most problems.

The motivation for starting Project Euler, and its continuation, is to provide a platform for the inquiring mind to delve into unfamiliar areas and learn new concepts in a fun and recreational context.
  You're free to use any language that you feel comfortable with as each question is looking for a single numeric answer that you enter manually. Each question is designed to be solvable within a minute with a solid implementation of mathematical algorithms and good use of programming trick. After you solve a problem, either by brute forcing the answer or utilizing your own devised algorithms, you will have access to a message board about that problem, giving you tips and tricks to make your program better which you can use for later problems.
  So go ahead, create an account and start hacking away with your favorite language. One by one, you'll solve the 330 problems and get on a roll. Hell, you might even learn a thing or two.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Second Self Evaluation

Self Review #2
Second time around and this is the next self evaluation. This period I had let myself be bogged down by other classes so my update schedule suffered quite a bit. I tried to catch up during spring break so quite a posts piled up at the end.

Number and topic of posts
I had 6 total content posts for this evaluation period. This is about 1.5 posts per week not counting the week we got off from Spring Break. This isn't a strong amount of posts and could definitely improve. My posts are generally fairly long with few if any one or two line posts. I definitely need to sprinkle some short and to the point posts along with my longer posts. For now, I'm still sitting in the C range when it comes to post count.

Content of posts
The content of my posts have improved over the posts made during the first evaluation period. I don't think I utilize the deficit model nearly as much and as a result my posts are more informative and useful for those who read them. The grammar of the posts remained constant and hopefully was never really a problem. I think the content is around a B level, maybe closer to a B+.

Readers on my blog
The posts at the beginning of the evaluation period netted quite a few views and comments. I don't think many people were commenting a lot during spring break so my newer posts don't have too many comments except for the most recent. I've shared my blog with a few friends to increase readership outside of the class. This falls in the C/B range of the rubric.

Comments on other blogs
This time around I spent more time going to blogs I hadn't visited yet and tried to leave a comment or two on them. I still mostly frequent Zach's Technology Complicated and Carlos' ScanMeIn and leave the majority of my comments there. I'm probably sitting around a C in the rubric for this.

Every post I always try to include helpful links, pictures, and videos that may be useful to the reader. I've kept a consistent pace to keep references available for the reader in hopes to make enough information available. I think I've been around a B range for these posts for miscellaneous requirements.

The process of creating a blog post hasn't been much easier for me, I still sit in front my computer for a few hours to knock out a 3 or 4 paragraph post but the content of my posts have improved significantly. Keeping up with and exceeding the number of posts I should be creating is my biggest hurdle right now and what I need to work on the most now. I think my blog is around a low B in the rubric.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

If We Just Technobabble the Technobabble...

  Suspension of disbelief is an important and powerful thing to have to enjoy certain movies or TV shows. Crazy physics or wonky engineering don't bother me terribly much. Techonobabble, as popularized by Star Trek and seen almost every nowadays, can be an effective means to solve some crazy situation with equally crazy actions with logic that is so impenetrable that it sounds legitimate. However, when I notice these things in my field of study and interest my suspension of disbelief often goes right out the window.
  This isn't the 1980s anymore, the computer is not some black magic box that is both unknowable in its workings yet so simple a few key presses can do seemingly anything. Why do movies and television shows continue to treat it like such like such an abstract concept? It seems like they don't want to alienate those with limited computer knowledge by remaining safely within the confines set by old technology such as text displays or nonexistent mouse use, people slam on the keyboard and stuff gets done. This is what I see and feel when this happens.
Uploading a computer virus to the alien mothership in Independence Day
  Near the end of Independence Day, Jeff Goldblum's character uploads a virus from his Mac to the alien ship, crippling its defenses. Overlooking the fact that they used the printer serial port to somehow wirelessly upload the virus to the ship, the sheer headache that would be needed to fix all compatibility issues (language, platform, endian, would it even use bits?, etc.) between the two systems would be astronomical yet is created and implemented quickly. Fired up and sent (with the uploading virus bar) just in time to save the day.
  I guess calling out CSI for taking liberties with technology is a bit old hat but the sheer hamfistedness of this clip astounds me. The same thing happens with cybercrime committed on TV or in movies, be it War Games, Hackers, or Firewall; throw together a few technical sounding terms to the point it sounds menacing or helpful, you have your story or solution. Also, I wish we had the technology to turn a blurry six pixel image of a face into a high definition portrait.
  I'm guessing why bad computer technology bothers me so much is because I'm so close to the subject. If I were an engineer or a physicist other parts of television would bother me more than goofy computer lingo strung together.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Life Electronic: Straight to the Moon

   Sometimes, it's easy to forget how integrated computers have become in our society in the past few decades. Computers are integral parts of our lives even when we're not aware of it. In such cases, it's good at times to step back and understand some of the things we did before computers were an indivisible part of our lives. Of course much astounding work was done before computers ever really came into the limelight in the 1940s and 50s, but most of it has been repeated and replicated ad nauseam. However, there is a recent event first achieved on July 20, 1969 that hasn't been replicated since December 11, 1972. I am, of course, speaking about the moon landings. One of the most amazing things I find about the moon landings is we were able to accomplish this:
with this:
The astronauts of the Apollo 11 mission carried pocket slide rules with them into space.

   For those unfamiliar with slide rules (I'd wager most of the class has little to no experience with them, I know I've never played with one myself), there are a few things you need to know that make this accomplishment all the more astounding. Most slide rules are precise to two significant digits while leaving enough room for the user to approximate the third digit. Slide rules did not keep track of magnitude; that had to be kept track of by the user. Calculating 4*5 would yield the same result as 4000*0.5. To those of us used to calculators (pocket calculators weren't produced until the early 1970s) and personal computers, these devices seem ancient, almost primitive, but for the daring astronauts of the day, they were enough for many of the calculations the engineers were faced with, from launch to landing.
  Don't think that computers were completely absent from sending men to the moon. Larger batch calculations would be encoded on punch cards are passed through IBM 360s computers. The Apollo Guidance Computer was used on almost every Apollo flight to the moon for guidance, navigation, and control. Two AGCs were used in each Apollo mission, one in the command module and one for lunar module. The AGC was one of the first computers to use integrated circuits with a grand total of 2800 circuits for the logic controllers; even simple cellphones are more powerful than those 70 pound devices and could probably do most of the computer calculations done by every computer in 1969 by itself.
  This achievement is truly a testament to these days. With today's standards of technology and risk management, I'm sure most people would think we were sending those men to their deaths (which I found out was prepared for in case the worst happened and the men were stranded on the moon). Remarkable times for remarkable men.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Man vs Machine: Watson Aftermath

  If your were one of the twelve million viewers last month watching IBM's supercomputer Watson competing on Jeopardy! against champions Brad Rutter and Ken Jennings, you saw a rather dominating performance from Watson. Watson finished the first game at $35734 and completed the three day, two game championship with a total of $77147 with Ken Jennings finishing second at $24000 and Brad Rutter with $21600. IBM claimed the million dollar prize for the championship, donating the money to charities World Vision and World Community Grid. Jennings took home $300000, donating half to VillageReach, and Rutter claimed the $200000 prize, donating half to the Lancaster County Community Foundation.
Ken Jennings finishing off Final Jeopardy with a bit of humor
  Watson lead a commanding performance through most of the games. Watson would only buzz in when it had a confidence level above a certain threshold but its buzz was lightning fast. The only times Jennings or Rutter were able to chime in were either when Watson had low confidence in its answer or when Rutter or Jennings anticipated the buzz and beat Watson to the punch. Watson also played very logically, if a bit bizarrely to human strategies. It would hop around the board searching for the Daily Doubles and when it found them it would bet very precise amounts based off of the current state of the game, wagering $6435 on an earlier Daily Double and $17973 on the Final Jeopardy on the third day.
  Not all of Watson's performance was perfect. Watson couldn't "hear" what the other contestants buzzed in with, if Ken or Brad rang in first and answered incorrectly, Watson would sometimes buzz in and give the same answer. At the end of the first game, I'm sure much to the chagrin of its creators, Watson's answer of "What is Toronto?????" to the Final Jeopardy category "U.S. Cities" was a bit off the mark. The presence of the five question marks displayed a very uncertain answer from Watson. The IBM creators said they didn't give much weight of choosing answers to the category title because Jeopardy! writers would often use jokes or puns in the titles. Unfortunately for Watson's human competitors, it wagered only $947 of its $36681 current first day total, not giving an ounce of respite for the challengers. For those interested, here is the answer that stumped Watson:
"This U.S. city's largest airport is named for a famous World War II hero, its second largest for a famous World War II battle."
  Overall, I was incredibly impressed by IBM's showing on Jeopardy! Watson showed a depth and understand of the human language that could have a great number of implications. Being able to parse a question and delve through terabytes of information and return an answer in a few seconds is a critical step towards an era of intelligent, helpful computers. IBM wanted to show off what they could do, and show they did.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Class Discussion: T-Rex has Something to Say

  During class we've been talking about various methods to engage users and encourage dialogue between the writer and the reader. From controversial topics to personal interest in a story, each method has its merits and flaws. Some are more situational than others while other techniques are more universal and can be used in a variety of settings. However, T-Rex from Dinosaur Comics has something to say about one of the more common techniques found throughout the medium, asking questions.

  T-Rex makes a valid point (even if his point wanders). What's the point of asking "What do you think?" about a topic. Most everyone thinks something about everything, prompting them with a lame question doesn't really help at all. The questions posed by an author should try to be as thought provoking as the article they are about.
  Now, time to counter my own post by asking a few questions. What techniques have you found useful for creating a discussion about your topics. How much is too much going beyond the article to try to engage the reader? And most important of all, if you haven't done so already, why aren't you reading the entire archive of Dinosaur Comics?