Sunday, January 14, 2018

Star Wars: The Last Jumble

What do you get with “space bombers” actually dropping bombs on another ship? A terrible premise that falls apart before the movie even really begins. And then a low-speed chase? Anybody with a grain of sense would have just jumped out a few destroyers and then jumped back in just on top of the rebel fleet, knocked out engines or power, and let the rest of the fleet catch up. Rebellion over.

Though I am too “good” hearted to have been happy with that outcome, but really those are just the starting mistake and the rest of movie’s premise really just make it hard to suspend my inner-critic, or my disbelief at the very least; it just becomes hard to enjoy any of the rest of the movie.

I have almost no problem with saving Leia from the vacuum of space, except: Both the rebels and pursuers are burning fuel, and in space that means they are accelerating, meaning that Leia would have to react instantly to draw herself toward the ship, or be left very far behind. And she would have been shredded by debris if she wasn’t vaporized in the explosion, both requiring a presence of mind where she probably wouldn’t have floated out at all. The Expanse does it better.

Speaking of starship bridges, there are so many things wrong. Why is the bridge so close to the surface of the vessel? Does the retro style of Star Wars really explain large indefensible windows? And what is anybody doing on a starship that is so easily perforated without a pressure suit and helmet to hand? I guess it would mess with the flowing gowns the costume department insists on.

I don’t like the sharing visions, it just seems like a poorly conceived or explained way to cheat.

So if you kill a character, how fast do you replace him with another rogue? About half a movie, except this guy hasn’t bought in to the rebels, so maybe that is Episode 9? At least he is more interesting than most of the rest of the characters.

And the final jumble: Force balancing. The overall implication of force balancing makes this a very fraught subject. Does it mean, for instance, that Rey should kill all other “good” force users so that she is more powerful? Don’t train anybody? Maybe they will all end up stunted and she can be the most powerful. It’s almost Sithian.

Does having two equally balanced but supremely powerful force users mean that no others exist? Oh no that womp rat is a light-side force user, but only so far as a womp rat can be, but it means Rey is that much less powerful and unequal to Kylo Ren.

Basically they just introduced a philosophy for the world of Star Wars that is nearly impossible to continue without bending over backwards in order to explain it.

To summarize I give it full marks for getting deeper into a quagmire introduced in the Prequels,  full marks for a shiny but despicable cantina, almost full marks for imaginative action sequences, and far less than stellar marks for a plot line and any adherence to even in-universe physics.

Start 2018, Review Some 2017

What’s more disappointing than failing to do well in a class? Working hard and then failing anyway, at the last irreparable moment.

I didn’t actually fail, but C’s are no longer average and certainly not in a program with thousands of computer science students. I would like to say that I am a more well-rounded individual because I did other things that led to me not putting enough time into this class. That is unfortunately not the case. I quit orchestra, said no in several cases where the church needed help with sound, stayed home from small groups, sequestered myself from visitors, and relied on my wife’s good graces to survive and stay in an up-kept house. Really there were only two main (good) things that I got from this experience:

I came up with an effective way, for me, to study for an open-note exam. The fact that I didn’t fail it outright means that I must have done something right. Essentially it breaks down into how to go back over the lectures and the slides looking and listening for key pieces, noting them, and then having some recollection of it. This review took place for the week leading up to the exam. I didn’t do great, but much better than the test that prompted me to drop this class last spring.

And, amazingly, I learned about a few things that I would have liked to have known going into the robot competition last year. Go figure. So unless they drastically change the Computer Vision Course I would suggest giving yourself between 10 to 30 hours a week in order to get things done.

Not being one to dwell on past failures, except where it is due, I am looking forward to the next class quite a bit: Education Technology. This class is much more free-form, reading, discussing, and a project/paper. There are no lectures, but it looks like it will need a bunch more reading.

It will be challenging, but I think that if I use the resources at the lab, papers and interview people, then I should be on a good path to have a good path/project for this class. In fact I am starting a project that is all about tech and education, a bird quiz!

As the year is winding down I have been thinking of how I can improve a bunch of my processes. It is pretty hard to think clearly about life and homework while in the midst of it, especially in the Dark Playground. But now with more time, some hindsight, and a few good ideas there should be some subtle ways to improve.

Fortunately my positive goals are somewhat easy to accomplish: exercise, practice cello, write. Are these New Year’s resolutions? Yes and no. At the heart they are resolutions, however, they aren’t quite so nebulous as just those three things strung together in a sentence.

Before the new year began we had nine guests out for Christmas: my folks, my wife’s folks, my brother and his wife, my wife’s brother and sister, and her great uncle. Only one person had to sleep on a cot, and he wasn’t too bothered by that. Of course one major thing had to fail for it to be complete: The pellet stove gave out and therefore wasn’t helping the boiler to heat the house. The boiler has no way to prioritize domestic water and so we had no hot water for showers. We are remedying that this year, but I am glad it wasn’t the fridge or toilets or something else. It was great having a house full of people. We won’t do it again next year, but it isn’t out of the realm of possibility for the future, especially when we finish the inside of the barn.

If all goes well 2018 will be the year that I graduate.

P.S. This year I learned about events, that is, remembering events is so much better than just buying a new thing. Avoiding the detailed discussion that I would love to have about that: I went to Brain Candy Live and paid the bunch extra to meet Adam Savage and Michael Stephens in person! It was totally cool, geek credentials are totally secure.

Also my wife took me to a Piano Guys concert in D.C.! It was awesome, if a bit loud. Both within weeks of each other. I am pretty happy with that, now just to write the next great American sci-fi novel, right? Okay, maybe I should focus on Homework.

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Solar Eclipse!

We made our way down to Kentucky and saw the solar eclipse! We did not go to Hopkinsville where there was two minutes forty seconds of totality, but we did see two minutes thirty seconds.

We got there quite early and were lucky enough to find a field that the town of Dawson Springs mowed and let us park on. It was close to the interstate and so we could make a quick retreat north afterward.

The seven foot triangular prism of cardboard is a pinhole camera that I made for a class, Computational Photography at Georgia Tech. It extends to reach 7 feet but collapses for transport or smaller images to 4 feet and a bit.

It could certainly be improved, but it was still quite fun to get all the attention of people near us. This has a few ideas on how to build one: Essentially the longer the tube the larger the projection.

Of course it was awesome to see the totality! Xkcd has a really good graph to show excitement: It is just mind-boggling how many variables align to make it so spectacular. Of course eclipses happen all the time:, but that doesn’t really matter because not all of us can travel to each one. Transits are much less common which might make them more exciting, for instance the next Venus transit isn’t until the year 2117. But unless you have some serious gear it really doesn’t have the same impact as a solar eclipse.

Not zoomed in…

It was just plain awesome, and then we drove back, managed to miss much of the traffic.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Tolerance, Once Again

Do not tolerate intolerance, it comes from indoctrination or ignorance. My previous thoughts on tolerance: Progress Stunted, Revisiting Tolerance.

Tuesday, May 09, 2017

Integrated Memory and What It Means

Can we see the next thing in computing from here? I don’t mean just the next fastest processor or the next larger memory, but a true turn like smartphones were, now that we are living ex post smartus. That is the issue, will it be soft electronics? A totally new way of non-invasive interface that allows us to control the new technology that might be around the corner?

As an unpublished, except for this blog, science-fiction writer I have to say that it frustrates me at the same time it intrigues me. I have written stories about nanotechnology, others about genetics, especially AI, as well as space travel and the differences it may make in our lives, or how it might not be as drastic as we all hope or fear.

So let’s start with a simple, but gargantuan advance: Integrated memory. IEEE reported on a new technology that Intel is releasing soon. It is basically the RAM of the computer integrated into Non-Volatile Memory. Or to put it simply, the entire state of the computer could be saved in such a way that turning it off and then on again would seem not to have an effect.

Oh wait, off and on again is a good way of resetting the OS. If we take that away how will less technical people fix their computers? I’ll leave those implications for thought.

Focusing on the more positive aspects: If we can have one fewer piece to worry about in the computer architecture, or more likely: turning “RAM” into just a virtual partition of the “Hard disk” might mean a large simplification for internal networking architecture and the massive amounts of timing that goes into making a beast like the one I am writing on right now continue to function well.

But one of the major directions this has implications for is the next step of integrated processing. Essentially computers have a really hard time emulating the human brain for the main reason that its architecture is utterly different. With the innovations of potential 3d layering in this iteration and simplifying the overall communication architecture; maybe future innovations such as photonic circuits will allow a chip to be close to emulating a human brain with its integrated yet distributed properties.

This could majorly boost Artificial Neural Networks in that they could actually be physical networks of memory and processing. Where these new, or at least finally realised, ideas will take us, I don’t know. But what I truly wonder about is the technology that maybe only a few people know or are thinking about. How radically will it change the world?

Friday, May 05, 2017

The Odd Case of Charity Lending

I would ask what hole you are living in if you don’t know what micro-lending is, except you may see, soon, that I would like to join you. Basically micro-lending is set up like a charity where you give money to someone, but you know who it is, what they are trying to do, and you expect them to pay you back. This is so you can lend again, and again.

Let’s take Kiva for example: It has funders, like me, who put in $25 per person to fund an enterprise (farmer, banker, mechanic, store owner, etc.) Kiva takes this money and forward it to in-field institution, Field Partner, who is responsible for distribution and collection. The debtor pays this loan back and you get a portion back until the entire loan is paid. If you have multiple “investments” in your “portfolio” then you may get the $25 to relend sooner and be able to add to your portfolio.

This is great for a few reasons: you are getting capital investment to parts of the world that want to make things better and you have a tenuous but real connection to people around the world. But there are a few issues:

Kiva derives its funding from donations by the funding users. Essentially this makes it a charity, merely a way to funnel capital to other parts of the world. But this means that Kiva is always asking for donations, and if you aren’t adding money then you will at some point not have enough to make an investment.

Oh yeah, you won’t have enough money because you aren’t receiving any of the interest from these investments. It’s a charity, not true investment. Add to this that the fact a borrower can default, and then you lose the rest of the un-repaid amount. What happens to the loan? What does the Field Partner do, just leave it be? If there aren’t some strings attached, then every borrower would figure out the amount of a grant they need, get a loan and then default. Of course they can’t apply again, but a few thousand free dollars in a third-world country could certainly get you quite far, whether or not you are setting up a business for success.

So there must be something more that Field Partners can do to enforce a loan. But if we can consider the remaining amount as lost to us, the lenders, where does it go? I don’t like either implication.

And lastly by making people in debt to us, we are essentially spreading America’s idea of how to get ahead. Which is great in some regards, but really it’s just become how to get money for the things we “need” to buy, speaking as someone with a mortgage. We are in debt to many people, and as Americans are not as good about paying it off as the rest of the world. But let’s spread that idea to other people, so maybe we don’t feel as alone.

One thing that I have been wrestling with as a Christian is that we aren’t supposed to make money from usury, which is more specifically lending at unreasonable rates. So definitely not credit card lender… But what is an unreasonable rate? Of course we are not making an unreasonable rate from the transaction, but some of the Field Partners may be charging going rates in those countries, which by current American standards could be considered highway robbery. But back to who to lend to.

It really depends on the situation. With friends and family, unless you have a codified contract, in most cases you should only be ‘lending’ about as much as you would be willing to give away. And never co-sign. The idea here is that unless you are actually going to be a part of a business venture, you should expect it never to come back. Of course you don’t have to tell them.

Another case is absolute poverty, or extenuating circumstances. Lending money to a region that has no money isn’t going to help, how is the borrower going to pay back the loan if nobody else can pay them? War zones too, if someone can turn around and pay you back tomorrow you might very well get caught up in something very bad.

Now here comes the hard part, lending money can actually spur growth with the right business and in the right area. That is the idea of many of these micro-lending entities. The problem is how do you jump through hoops of actually lending money abroad without all the tax implications? You make it a charity. Good, but also not good. There is no way, as explained above that this will ever work out for you, the lender, other than just to feel good.

So I am becoming more convinced that we should be looking at traditional investing, idea investing like Kickstarter, and true charity rather than attempting to blend charity and debt. I would urge you to stay away from debt in general, but in some cases it can be useful to bootstrap ideas, or buy mundane possessions.

I would like to see something similar to Kiva except that we are actually investing and receiving returns, not just enough to lend to the next one, but enough to slowly grow the impact that we can have. Of course there are many regulatory issues with this, but it may be worth it, spreading a *slightly* better idea from the US.

Some links:
Kiva is not Quite What It Seems
The Joy of Pretending...
Wikipedia: Microfinance - 5/5/2017

And I might be a few years behind the curve. Hopefully not with my stories.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Another Attempt

Hairy Woodpecker taking off.

Or, I got really self-righteous writing an attempt at this post, or at least righteous.

So what am I doing now without two classes to keep up with? First, my wife is really happy that I am contributing more to chores. It is amazing how much she likes that, even with understanding just how much work school is. So if I don’t kill myself trying to do two classes maybe I can keep up more than just a token effort on chores.

And speaking of helping I was able to get her research back on track after five minutes of fiddling with the configuration files. It is nice that she can bother me without feeling guilty.

I really want to go fencing. This time for sure, no stopping me, we have all the gear.

More outdoor exercise, oh wait it dumped snow on us last week, just the walk to work was a workout. But the wife and I built a giant snow monster:

More birdwatching. Birds are coming to town! But it snowed and we’ve had some of the coldest weather of all winter. I am afraid that March regressed toward the mean, but it certainly didn’t mean that ski stores kept their supplies of skis in stock, I guess I’ve lived too close to real mountains to consider anything but mid-June to be the end of ski season.

Writing more: this, short stories, and my 2015 NaNoWriMo novel editing. Still learning. Blogging short stories has certainly not picked up a following at all. I need to be more consistent with those.

Learning Computer Vision. Wait, but didn’t I drop that class? Why yes, yes I did, but it doesn’t mean there aren’t resources like pyimagesearch.

3D-printing. It goes badly, two more failed prints, but I think I am having power issues because the power supply is so close to its limits. Fortunately I have an extra 500W supply just lying around from upgrading my desktop because it was right on the border too. With my electrical engineering knowledge I should be able to safely add the new supply, but we’ll definitely have to see.

And doing all these things I will still have time to spend with the wife, eat, and sleep. It isn’t weird how much time school takes up, but it certainly is a relief when it’s done.

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John studied himself in the mirror as best he could through tears. Red, puffy eyes stared back at him, a running nose already leaked just a ...