Category Archives: Navel Gazing


Some reading and writing that started as thoughts from going shooting a few times with some firearm enthusiast friends has evolved into something of a Writing Project about various exploratory examples looking at human competency, polarization in politics, statistics and sampling in human populations, and other things healthy normal people like myself like think about in our spare time. I’m enjoying writing it, I’m enjoying researching it, I’m really enjoying thinking about it; I’m going to put up at least three parts of it as I finish and polish them (which might be a while, y’all know how back burner projects go). Hopefully someone will enjoy reading it. I even have clever titles for some parts, like “Dangerous Hobbies, Competent Humans”, and “(Gun) Politics: Loud Liars From the Fringes.” …Yeah, I’m such an academic that when I get intrigued by something I go off and write what is effectively a research paper about it… for fun. I figure other people might find it interesting, and maybe, just maybe, I’ll manage to start some fun arguments.

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This is now the longest consecutive span I’ve not been enrolled in a class since the summer between my sophomore and junior years of highschool (in Kentucky, you can take college courses for keeps after your junior year. I did.) I’ve forgotten how to make myself do anything while living a fully unstructured existance. I can’t focus on anything. I’ve lost my drive to be productive… and oddly, I haven’t lost my reserve, so I’m not partying, I’m just frittering. Mostly on the interwebs. It’s kind of freaking me out. That said, it is rather relaxing, even if I would like to be doing other things, or letting loose for a bit(either would do nicely). The failure to blog is related to the failure to focus; I haven’t been forming or sitting down to articulate the kind of cogent meditation on topics that make for good blog posts.
Projects-wise, In addition to the pile of projects which have been mentioned in the past on here, almost none of which are complete, I’ve picked up an additional physical computing effort. The collexion folks have a bourbon barrel to be gussied up for a charity auction, in the same vein as the various horrible fiberglass animals that have been popular for such things. Being electronics people, we are making it into an electronic, musical bourbon barrel. The hoops will be touch sensors, connected to solenoid strikers with xylophone tiles (keys? I’m not really a music person). Someone else has taken the lead on design, but I’m now getting involved for the “Making it work” and “Making sure it won’t hurt anyone” processes. I’m hoping having one project with some form of external pressure will help me to focus on others. In a related note, I’m half-seriously becoming tempted to start carrying a pocket-sized DMM around with me. Practically every time I’ve been out of the house this week there has been something I wanted to poke with a DMM to figure out. I’m refraining from looking seriously into finding a baby (pocket size) DMM because 1. I already carry too much crap around with me and 2. Even I would fell like a horrible dork doing such a thing.
On the topic of dorkery (dorking?), the great summer reading project continues; I finally have my sought after copy of Joseph Weizenbaum’s Computer Power and Human Reason, and have set to it. I’m a little afraid from the portion that I’ve read that it won’t live up to my expectations; some of the portion I’ve read reads like Weizenbaum covering his ears and chanting “I want there to be a soul, I want there to be a soul”, and a few of the “Can/Should computers do this” questions posed in the book (written in the mid 70s) have long since come to pass, and worked out fine. It is however, as I understand, still the seminal work on human/technology interaction, and is therefore well worth reading simply because it is the framework for discourse.

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I’ve been reading Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers, continuing my quest to take advantage of having some time to read and culture myself. Like all of Malcolm Gladwell’s books, it is very nifty, but also frustratingly lacking in rigor. The really, really irritating part of this one (to me) is the shifty metrics he uses for success; he poses that somewhere around an IQ of 130, the competitive advantage flattens out, which I actually am not disinclined to believe. The proposed reason for this cutoff is that somewhere around the quoted 130 IQ, individuals’ increasingly weakened ability to relate to the world catches up to their intellectual advantage; this seems entirely reasonable. The problem is that this conclusion is based almost exclusively financial metrics for success; my observation has always been that the very bright tend to have a pretty strong predisposition for taking positions that are more personally than financially rewarding (he does admit to the problem. He just doesn’t do anything about it). Conversely, the best part of Outliers for me is contemplating the group of gifted kids I grew up with as samples for the described phenomena; we so match.
Sadly, one of the better matching points is the “gifted kids have trouble relating to others” portion. I’ve been feeling it more than usual lately, I blame seeing the dwindling collection of old (GT) friends passing through as the summer begins for starting it. Now it’s mostly exhibiting as frequent bouts of the “alone in a crowd” sensation most times I’ve been out of late (with one surprising exception…hurray cute smart girls, boo deeply ingrained shyness). I’ve actually heard similar remarks from a few of said old friends as well. This probably also relates fairly directly to both my failure to post anything for over a week, and my recent urge to watch through Buffy. Theres nothing quite like watching a show based around metaphors which gratuitously translate personal issues into genuine otherworldly (stabable) daemons to soothe the soul….

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At the beginning of the semester, I wrote up my expectations for classes, so I would actually have them at the end of the semester to compare. The semester is over, so now it’s time to compare.

* Digital Controls (EE572) /Walcott
Expected: Its going to be hard. Its going to be a lot of work. Its going to teach me a whole new model for thinking about things, and make me actually learn the signals material I half-learned in Signals and Systems (EE421). Every expectation that it will be a good course.
Actual: I’m actually a little disappointed. I didn’t feel like I had the prerequisite knowledge for the class, and spent the whole semester struggling to catch up. Also, everything was abstract enough that it would be difficult to apply to the kinds of situations I wanted it for. I should have bailed to the applied controls class, the people who went that way showed me what they did and it was more applicable (and easier). Oh well, this was reasonably interesting anyway, and it’s good to stretch ones self.
* Solid State Electronics (EE661)/Hastings
Expected: The graduate version of EE360 “Introduction To Semiconductor Devices”, which I didn’t really feel like I absorbed as well as I should have. I’ve heard good things about the class and good things about Dr. Hastings’ handling, so I have high hopes.
Actual: I pretty much guessed right, I actually understand semiconductors reasonably well now. It’s a shame they try to sterilize the quantum mechanics out of the undergrad version, this are actually easier with limited portion of quantum than trying to hand-wave around it. It would have been nice if it got a little more into fabrication, but there isn’t time, and my interest is mostly because the way UK’s fabrication class is taught doesn’t appeal to me (boo industry focus).
* Introduction to Cognitive Science (CS585/CGS500) /Goldsmith
Expected: Definitely going to be a fun course. Lectures are going to be scattered, and the material may not be of much utility, but it will definitely be interesting and fun, and shouldn’t be too time consuming. Looking forward to being able to do some non-technical writing again.
Actual: Called this one pretty well too, it was really fun, Dr. Goldsmith is a VERY interesting and well connected person. I got play with things I can’t usually justify spending time on, and accelerated the expansion of my ever-growing reading list. I’d recommend this class to just about anyone reasonably smart and interesting.

In another ending, the assured broadcast run of Dollhouse also ended Friday. It was not a satisfying ending, but it was a perfectly good plot development episode. I’m sadly not hopeful that FOX will continue it. Maybe we’ll get a movie like last time this happened (to make the disclaimer I always feel the need to put on such comparisons, Dollhouse is no Firefly, but if you aren’t judging it against Firefly it’s a perfectly good show).

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Is a state of being and a way of life. Better to be interesting than sane, right?
I may have done myself in this time though, I don’t think I can get an honest feedback-employing controller running on my XY Table by Friday… but I can probably get something that sufficiently resembles one to get away with it. Again.

As far as the specific case of burying myself for fun, I designed and understand an algorithm, I’m just finding myself unable to implement it in a timely manner; I haven’t worked with an ATMega chip’s timers in too long. I know what I need is to run my pair of 8bit timer/counters so that the full 255 count is 2kHz (1uS high, 1uS low, 50% duty cycle square wave) set the output compare registers so it actually runs at about 1500Hz (toggle and reset on match), and use the (scaled) difference in the output pulse train and the pulses from the encoders to adjust the output compare registers up/down to accommodate missed steps. I’m just being dumb with BOTH the encoders and the timers, so it doesn’t work.

EDIT: Toggle at TWICE the desired output frequency, not half. Dumb.

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Culture Experiment

Last night I had the sudden realization that I had NO IDEA what the US Top 40 chart looked like, so I went and found a listing. Turns out I only recognized 5 tracks out of the 40. I then proceeded to ask around; of the 6 quick responses I got, individuals recognized an average of 4.5 tracks, with a spread from 0 to 11. Either I know very cultured people, or the Internet really is making radio irrelevant. Or some partial mixture thereof. I’d be curious how other people do.
The second part of the experiment was trying to listen through the whole list. It really is godawful, I ended up stopping over half the tracks before they finished because I just couldn’t stand it, and I only made it to about #30 before I gave up. Perhaps my generation is becoming old. Damn kids, get off my lawn?

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It’s amazing how a night of debauchery every now and then can improve one’s feelings about the world (once the hangover wears off). Pictures and specifics intentionally excluded.

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Bored Should be Obsolete

The collexion meeting tonight had a discussion basically on the idea that no one should be ever be bored anymore, because there are so many cool things one could be doing. My current list of things I want/need to spend time on, ignoring the mundane:
* Working on my SmartLEDs project [If I remember, I’ll edit to a link to the pending project page once I put it up]; the basics are almost done (software PWM for color mixing, etc.), next I want other people playing with it too and try different sensors and behaviors and diffusers and such.
* Getting started with the LARs stuff my masters project is based around; I think I want my first major contribution to be a behavioral-level software simulator for a full implementation of the proposed architecture. If I’m feeling really bold it might be parallelizable to run on the big machines (or their smaller, older siblings). I suspect before that I will be working on cleaning up my predecessors’ mess, and helping to get their SC paper out the door.
* Continuing to start up my desktop CNC mill project; I want to try to build one for <$200, and I get to write off the time and money guilt as school activity, as the XY table component will serve as the class project in EE572/Digital controls for myself and two other students. I’m getting a good feel for parts and designs, going for something not dissimilar to this.
* Arranging my CGS500 final project, I’m fairly sure I’ll be doing it on UI/UX, and supporting analysis of current and notable historical examples of computer interfaces with articles (using The Humane Interface as a jumping off point for the analysis). I think it would be REALLY fun to do it as a heavily multimedia presentation, with virtual machines running different systems and applications to demonstrate interspersed with the slides, but I’m afraid it would detract from the depth and be difficult to do gracefully.
The consensus was that bored people are boring; there’s really no excuse for not being able to come up with things you want to do, especially with the power of the internets focused through places like make and hackaday to use for inspiration.
I had to type this post TWICE because flatpress failed me when I accidentally hit shift+back and navigated back without saving. Flatpress is really not an ideal engine, the “Post to the date when the draft is created, not when the post is posted” misfeature drives me nuts, but I still can’t fault it for being easy to deploy in space I don’t have to pay for.

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I am Psychotic.

I definitely just made another editing pass on a paper that I got an A on and have no plans to resubmit anywhere, just because I wasn’t happy with it. Urgh. The link is updated in the Multiracial Cognition post.

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Retro Computing

I saw retr0bright, a hobbyist produced restorer for antique plastics go by on the geek newses(first via /.) today. It probably does do a little bit of damage to the plastics when used, but I doubt it’s much worse than another year of aging. I love antique computing tech, and this provides a flimsy excuse to ramble about it a bit instead of working on all the things I should be.

I’m specifically interested in retr0bright for restoring the plastics on the Mac SE I yardsaled some years ago. I picked it up partly out of waning to poke around in a one-piece Mac, and partly because the case information indicates it is +/- a few months of my age, which makes it a nifty conversation piece. The machine is a fun project box as well; Mac SEs have bays for two drives, either two floppy drives or a floppy and a hard drive, I mounted a small spare SCSI hard drive into the internal frame with a little bit of EM shielding, and kept both floppies. Having grown up on Macs (the formative computer for me was a Macintosh Centris 660AV running OS 7.1. The machine is still in my parent’s attic, but I’m fairly certain its video board has died. The SE is sitting on a shelf in my old room in my parent’s house, and when last I tried it was still fully functioning. People who knew me in middle and high school will remember that one side of my room was covered in a selection of aging Apple hardware, it was a big part in making me the hacker I am today.

I am mostly unimpressed by modern Macs (although I wouldn’t mind a Mac or a hackintosh to play with), but still sometimes pine for awesome old mac software; this is what Basilisk][ is for. Coupled with an appropriate ROM image and disc or disc image (both of which I keep around), Basilisk][ can emulate a 68k mac on a Windows, Linux, OS X (and possibly others) host. This lets me reminisce, and play with old software from my childhood without having to bust out any finicky old hardware. A lot of the things I keep on the drive image are games I remember from childhood, especially a couple of old Ambrosia software titles like Barrack (a particularly awesome jezzball-like game) and the first two titles in the Escape Velocity series (which are perfect non-classical RPGs). I also keep a copy of Word 5.1, which is in some ways still the best thing Microsoft ever made, and some other productivity titles from the time. It’s always neat to see what changes and what stays the same.

In the same vein as Basilisk ][, one of my other formative experiences in geekry was learning about emulation, staring with the Super Nintendo and snes9x. The joy of “You can play all those awesome old games on your computer” has always been an almost irresistible motivator, both for myself and for passing on to others. Emulation also provides a great outlet for compulsive behavior for lots of people, especially when you start to look into the world of ROM collectors (ROM in this case refers to software copies of games, which were traditionally stored on ROMs). My interest in emulation waxes and wanes, but I always keep at least a distant eye on the scene, and have always sort of wanted a MAME Cabinet (a standup arcade cabinet with a computer that runs MAME to allow it to be all arcade games in one. Maybe now with the hacker space I can interest some others in putting one together, so that I don’t end up with a full-sized standup arcade cabinet that I have to worry about moving around with me, but can still build and play with one.

While talking about retro tech, it’s important to mention the other computer really important to my geek development the Winbook XL my parents bought me when I started middle school. It is a bog-standard, if slightly cankerous, Pentium MMX laptop (intel chipset, yamaha OPL3 sound, Chips&Tech graphics, etc.) with an awful, awful 12.1” passive matrix LCD. The machine was my first serious experience with windows, with hardware and software upgrades, with system administration, and, most importantly, with Linux. My first distro was SuSE 7.2, I then bounced around for a while, briefly settling on Slackware, and eventually finding my way to Arch, which has been my primary OS for years. As for the machine itself, some of the port covers fell off in its first few years, and the hinges failed after about 5 years. A few months ago the backlight(or backlight transformer) gave out… but the bulk of the machine still works, and has BeOS (a wonderful, beautiful OS that is a perfect example of computing that could have been) and Debian systems on it. I get it out from time to time when I need another beater box to try something on.

Obviously computer history is something I love, from the truly early stuff, (Babbage, Lovelace) and even more the World War 2 era (Mauchly, Eckert, Aiken, Von Neumenn, Turing, Zuse…) into the 70s, 80s and 90s when computing technology really began to permeate the world. The best book I know of on the topic is A History of Computing Technology, 2nd Edition, if anyone knows of something better, especially for more modern stuff, please tell me.

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