Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Programming VCRs

One of the differentiating features of our generation was whether or not one was able to reprogram the clock on a VCR. However, I would imagine that the marker of technological skill has expanded to include being able to use a computer or cellphone, or being able to discern the mess behind a TV or a desktop computer.

And these are all skills that I have. And I take pride in the fact that I am able to hook up a DVD player to a TV - even though it only takes a HDMI cable, and the HDMI cable only fits in ports designed for it...

But what I wonder is: will there be a time when I will be included in the generation of the know-not-hows. Will I be able to keep up with what I have learned and stay ahead of the curve, or will I discover that the young whippersnappers with their gizmos and what-cha-ma-bobs are completely complicated and inaccessible?

On the other hand, perhaps there is some skill that is learned once, regarding technology, and every other technological device acts in accordance to our knowledge.

Maybe it is a little bit of both. When things are new and you have no idea what they are, then usually it is confusing and mind boggling. Like when you get a new phone and all the button combinations are new and misleading - sometimes. But then you use your phone for a week (or a day, or a year - depending on what part of the learning curve you are on) and you realize you are ready to text message your friend by motor-memory. But then again, maybe we have the ability to explore and "fail" and realize that "failing" technology means that you set the VCR clock incorrectly, not that you activated a self destruct timer on your TV...

So I have hope that I have some innate ability to explore and learn - which is really the essence of technological knowledge. Which gives me hope that when future devices come along that I have no experience with, I will learn, and fail, but eventually understand.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Use Disuse Use - Keyboards

I had a previous post about parts of the computer that have fell by the wayside. What I realized the other day is that the keyboard has a more interesting story.

Here it is:

Once upon a time, the keyboard was created. Apparently, there are many possible stories about the layout of the keyboard and why the QWERTY configuration was chosen. However, the most accepted theory seems to be the fact that early models would frequently jam and this configuration would prevent jamming (since it is less efficient, slows down the person typing, and separates common keys from one another). I welcome comments about why you think this is not the most accepted theory...

Anyways, with the creation of the computer, the keyboard layout clearly transferred over. And I don't know about you but I don't fear internal jamming from my computer because of the keyboard layout. I welcome comments about the connection between your computer jamming, and your keyboard layout...?

Obviously, the reasoning for the keyboard layout was no longer important; and subsequently, it became a part of the computer that fell by the wayside!

But whats more? I think that the keyboard layout has made a comeback! With the creation of on-screen keyboards on small smartphones, companies had to create software to "predict" the probability of the next key pressed - since smaller keys mean smaller phone, and while keys can get smaller, people's fingers can't.

Bringing it all back - what a coincidence that the more likely keys are less likely to be near each other from the original design of the keyboard for typewriters! Therefore, it would be easier for software to predict what key the user really meant to type. So you see: From "Use" to "Disuse" and back to "Use" again.

The End.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

And We're Back

I like how Texas is on this map...
But this title invokes the question - where were you? And where was I? (I think that is the better question). Sometimes I feel like certain words or phrases allow for someone to ask interesting questions about their meaning. For example: I remember having a conversation with a friend many years ago. We were examining the word nowhere. No Where - maybe implying a non-place. But my friend ask if you can every be nowhere? He argued that once you are nowhere, then you are inevitably somewhere. I think we decided that nowhere exists, but you can never be there. So phrases like: "I am in the middle of nowhere" is literal nonsense (Obviously, you could argue that it makes sense colloquially). Are there any phrases you like to think about and explore the multiple issues and questions that arise from such phrases?

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Realistic Science Fiction

The Backstory:
I was using Sparks, a Google+ project, when I came across a survey that asked you to pick your top three favorite Science Fiction books. At first glance, I thought that my choice would be very easy. However, I was wrong and it was so hard to only pick three.

As you can imagine, a conversation developed in response to this Google+ post, where me and my friends discussed which three we chose. One of my friends chose "The Time Traveler" by H.G. Wells; the father of science fiction. I had never read this book, so my friend dutifully brought it over to my house for me to read.

The Middle:
Since H.G. Wells was a knowledgeable scientist, his Science Fiction is infused with scientific facts that reflect scientific theory of his time. For example, in response to evolution, he posited that in the future, humans had evolved into some other sort of species that were different than the time traveler's contemporaries.

I think there is a subtle talent that H.G. Wells is demonstrating that I think is lost in some of the other science fiction. As opposed to just using his imagination, H.G. Wells bases his science in...actual science. Unlike Star Trek (By the way, I am not knocking Star Trek. I am a fan.) where holograms don't reflect the true nature of our current understanding of holographic technology, I think that there is some sort of scientific honesty that H.G. Wells employs that makes his book so much more realistic, despite the fictional dreams.

The Kicker:
There is a subtle difference I am trying to argue here. Its not that Science Fiction writers should not be imaginative. Rather, I think that we should go to life and apply what we know to do new and innovative things, rather than thinking of innovative things and then applying what we know. To explain differently, think of how we use computers. I think that when we use a computer, we should not look for some feature that we think a program should have. Instead, we should understand the program to the best of our abilities and then use it to do what we need to do. My brother and I play this game called Minecraft. In this game, one could say that the laws of physics don't really apply. While we dream big and have that imaginative aspect and want the game to do whatever it is we want (like having cool interactive holodecks as seen in Star Trek), we also take the laws of physics that comes with the game and do some pretty interesting and innovative things.

The Ending:

With H.G. Wells, I feel that he speaks to this impulse in me. That he takes what he knows and applies it to his imaginative world. This process makes his books so much more real despite its fictional nature. Perhaps, we should go through life taking what we know and learning to apply it in different ways, and not just seeing what we don't have and wishing for more.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

In Defense of Freecell

Sometimes I find myself in places without an internet connection! (Shocking, I know.) Luckily, I am a big fan of FreeCell, and can keep myself occupied playing it for a while. However, since I started playing FreeCell on this computer, I have attempted to keep the win statistics at a perfect 100%.
I think this is an amazing feat. But some of my friends are not that impressed. They argue that it is not impressive to beat every game when you undo all of your moves and play the game from the beginning (which I admit is part of my strategy). Therefore, I have sat down and though long and hard on why it is not only acceptable to start over, but encouraged.

First, I often don't undo the entire game. I just have to choose between two cards, and sometimes (though not regularly) I choose wrong and want to go back to a the alternative choice. Hence the 'ctrl-z'ing. But sometimes that first choice requires you to go back to the beginning...so you go back to the beginning. Rarely do I give up and shake my head, crack my knuckles, and go back to the beginning looking for a clean slate (though again, I admit that is does happen).

This brings me to my second point. The game is designed to undo your moves. Not just the last move (presumably for a misclick), but all your moves. This suggests that they acknowledge that you might want to go back to a previous point and see how different branches play out. Also, if you lose, it asks you if you want to start a new game, or if you want to go back and try again. If that really was a lose, then when you click go back and try again, it should count that in your statistics. It doesn't. This at least means that the makers of FreeCell are on my side with this issue.

My last point is that FreeCell should be seen as a puzzle, not as a lateral game. The losing isn't the fact that you didn't solve it without messing up. Unlike a maze, it is OK to color between the wrong lines. The game begs you to solve the puzzle number and figure out for yourself how to beat the game without giving up. Therefore, since I love puzzles and riddles, I suppose that this is why FreeCell keeps me entertained, and why I feel proud to have the record that I do in the classic Microsoft card game.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Life Recipes: Extra Computer

So around the same time that I canceled cable television and phone (based on rising prices), I realized that I had a spare computer lying around the house. The cable television I was only moderately upset to give up becuase with the internet, you can watch shows for free (and legally) on network's websites or on sites like Hulu. So it wasn't such a big deal.

But the phone! How could I give up the landline! Now some of my friends will scoff that landline are useless and everyone has cellphones that are more convenient and do the same thing, and I would normally agree. But then again, often in NYC buildings I don't have service, or I leave my phone on vibrate on my bed and there is no chance I will hear it ringing from the living room(unless the heat/AC is off, there is no traffic outside, the neighbors are quiet, and I am superman.) How am I to know that someone has been looking for me for the last half the night while I sat at my computer watching TV on above stated sites, or doing HW in the living room?

Enter spare computer and Google voice. With this free service I was able to always have google voice (really G-chat in Gmail) open for free and always have "landline" (Really a VOIP phone?) that my friends can call when I am MIA on my cell, but they know I am home.

---This Section Contains Numbers and Easy Math and May Appear Scientific---
This is great since I don't pay for electricity usage in my apartment, but it is not great for my economically inclined mind. So I tried to see how much an average laptop uses if left on for 24 hours. I found that the average is 33 Kilowatt hours per month. That's about the same as leaving one 100 watt light-bulb on for 10 hours every day. With the monitor off (or the lid closed in my case) it subtracts about 15 watts from the computers usage. That is the same as the light bulb for 6 hours per day (42 hours per week)

So what is my point? On the one hand, someone might say that we should all switch to CFL bulbs and make a big difference. Which is true. But on the other hand, I am thinking about all the lights we might leave on outside our home as security lights (to deter crime), all our electric ceiling fans we use to cool off rooms, all the pool pumps, water heaters, and TVs that we use all the time. And by we, I don't me me. With an apartment in NY, I don't use any of these things that a homeowner in Florida might have (I only say Florida because of the reference to the pool pump...and I no longer really use my TV since I don't have cable) I feel like we use electricity to make our lives better and quite frankly, I need a phone.

Though I still think we can always cut back on energy we don't need/use...

But this brings me to my last point. As long as my computer is going to be on as a phone, I might as well make it a "server" for my printer to have "networked" printing as well as for my external hard-drive. I will always be looking for more ways to use this computer in order to maximize its time spent being on. Perhaps I can donate some of its idle processor time to something or SETI...

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Speaking Up

What does it take to get you to raise your voice on a particular issue?

In my Law, Science and Society - Sociology class, we spent a few classes discussing the issues of freedom in the United States and its limits in terms of National Security. The premise of the discussion was: What rights would you give away in the interests of national security?

Many people shared their insights into which rights they would feel comfortable giving up and naturally the conversation turned to the USA Patriot Act. If you take a look at the provisions of the USA Patriot act, you will see many provisions that detract from individuals' liberties in the interests of National Security. [Here is a wikipedia link with quick information about the USA Patriot Act]

Specifically, my professor had us take a closer look at the Surveillance Procedures. Under this provision, the government can observe the communications (Email, telephone, library records...etc) of suspected terrorists. The question then becomes: Who do you trust to decide who determines who is a suspected terrorist or not?

The implications behind this question is that perhaps you are seen as a suspect. Then under these new surveillance rights, the government can look into your communication history. If their suspicions were wrong, they still might uncover information about tax fraud, or some other crime and charge you for that instead.

When I was sitting in class I remember thinking: "If I didn't do anything wrong then of course I would trust the government to sort things out and judge that I have done nothing wrong." But the more I thought about this, the more uncomfortable I felt with giving up my rights to privacy. Do I feel safe checking out books about terrorism from the library because my social grouping is currently not the target of national investigation?

The question then morphed into: So in what ways do you address your concerns? And the answer is: None. I don't take time to lobby my senators. I don't organize rallies in the community to raise awareness on this issue. Maybe I'll write a blog post about it, but how far reaching will that post be? I imagine it wouldn't be so inspirational.

So, what would it take to raise my voice? Would I only raise your voice if the issue effected me directly? Would I only raise my voice if I felt that my voice would be heard?

I think we live in a world where we all shout and nobody listens. Everyone can write a blog and shout as long as they want. But what good does it really do. Does marching in the streets really bring about change? I think that from the Middle East, there is some power in standing up for your beliefs. While the effects of such protests has yet to be fully realized and understood, I applaud those who will raise their voice and make themselves heard.

I think the only way to really live in this democratic society, we not only need to vote for the right representatives, but we must raise our voice, write to those representatives continually, and speak up on issues that we deem important. Individual Freedom vs. National Security was just one example that I personally I should speak out against. But I would hope that others would speak out opposing my beliefs, as well as for other beliefs that they believe in. Ideally, i hope we will invested more time and energy in the social discourse of our society.

I know that from now on, I will invest in a few extra envelopes and stamps in order to at least write to my representatives, and send them emails - all in the interests of making my little dent in the American social experience.