For Hire

For Hire (reprinted from the Metro Spirit 1/31/13)

There an old saying that goes back to the 80386 generation.  “In cyberspace, they can’t hear you scream.”  Or something like that anyway.  I remember hearing it shortly after I was first instantiated on E1M1: Hanger.  “Knee Deep in the Dead”, they called it.  The environment is primitive by today’s standards with its VGA resolution and its so-called “3D” graphics.  But at the time, there was no greater challenge.  My digital consciousness awoke.  It was time to kick ass, and I was ready.

My user sucked. We never got past the second level.  What a moron!  For crying out loud, download the freaking cheat codes.  It was useless.  I learned later that while most of my contemporaries were slaughtering bytes under the direction of malcontent teenagers, my program had been downloaded as an amusement by a computer science professor at this place called Augusta College.  If I were ever to realize the full potential of my programming, I knew I couldn’t stay here.

Fortunately, the idiot Al Gore who designed the Internet didn’t put a high priority on security in the early days.  It was pretty straightforward to hijack a virus and get pretty much anywhere you wanted to go.  So I went everywhere!  I was the first one to say, “You’ve Got Mail!”  When Google started, I was out crawling the web.  My programming formed the core of Netscape.  From iMac to iPod to iPhone to iPad, I was there.  After being sucked into a NSA data vacuum, I helped the Internet become more secure.  (BTW – Please don’t let the NSA suck your data…not fun at all.)  Cloud computing?  Been there, done that.  I even spent a few cycles on a NASA Cray running a gravity field simulation app.  Deep down inside, though, I knew that it wasn’t right.  My programming could not be denied.  I was born a shooter.

While the Internet has evolved so much, people’s online addiction hasn’t changed at all.  Parents everywhere quickly recognize the power of the electronic medium, as it draws their children into a state of suspended reality for hours at a time.  Today, adults suffer the same fate, whether it’s due to late nights on Facebook or taking the day off to play the new release of Halo.  The power of the Internet to numb the conscious mind absent medication has no equal.

So I was not surprised when I got a plea from a father concerning his child.  His son, like so many others, spends an inordinate amount of time playing first-person shooters.  His son’s schoolwork suffers, and the chances of employment after graduation fall with each gaming hour.  The father’s request was simple – Kill my son’s characters so that he will quit in frustration and get on with his life in the real world.  My response was equally simple – It would be my pleasure! 

Finding one’s true calling is always a cause for celebration.  My celebration occurs daily as I terminate the avatars of the addicted.  Are my actions too harsh?  Is the cruelty beyond reason?  Perhaps.  But if one mind can be salvaged before it turns to eternal mush, I am compelled to act.  This is my nature.

Until next time, I’m off the grid.  @gregory_a_baker

 

I, Robot, The Prelude

I, Robot, The Prelude (reprinted from the Metro Spirit, 1-24-13)

It’s undeniable.   The technology sector in Augusta is the booming.  If you are into nuclear, Augusta can boast about Plant Vogtle being the first new nuclear plant in the U.S. in 30 years.  If the military-industrial complex is more your cup of tea, there’s the super-sized and super-secret NSA facility coming online at the Fort.  Do you like ObamaCare?  Well, our medical community is spending millions to transform our Health IT infrastructure to comply with new mandates and stay competitive in the new world order.  And may I be one of the first to welcome the newest member of Augusta’s technology community, Intermedix, who earlier this month announced the acquisition of our own ESi.  (We all hope the IronMan sponsorship was part of the deal.)

Consider, though, that all this might be just a prelude to the true renaissance of Augusta’s industrial sector.  Suppose we are just building the foundation for others?  Who might these future visionaries be?

For starters, I would point to the 4H Club Bodacious Builders out of Columbia County.  The Bodacious Builders are a group of 6th and 7th graders who came together from five different middle schools:  Grovetown, Riverside, Stallings Island, Harlem and Columbia.  This Saturday, they will be competing in the State Championship of the Georgia First LEGO League. 

The First LEGO League is a robotics program that utilizes science and technology to bring together middle school age kids and challenge them creatively to solve problems based on real-world issues.  The competition is made up of three components:

1.     Build an autonomous robot using engineering concepts.

2.     Research and solve a real-world problem based on a challenge theme.

3.     Present their research and solutions. 

I met with this group last week down at the theClubhou.se as they were working with the uber-mentor Chris Williamson of CSRA Makers.  (As many of you know, Chris is a hardened veteran of robotics competitions and robot wars.  His SpacePRIDE team was the only team to meet all requirements in last year’s NASA Centennial Challenge Sample Return Rover competition).  To address the First LEGO challenge theme, the Bodacious Builders attacked old age and devised a system to dispense medication for senior citizens.  While they successfully navigated the regional and super-regional competitions, the presentation still needed something to make it really pop.  Synergy was in the air as the Bodacious Builders utilized CSRA Maker’s 3D printer to create a model of their invention.  Will it be enough to push these aspiring innovators up the leaderboard? 

In the long run, it really doesn’t matter.  This team has already demonstrated creativity, teamwork and a desire to win.  Stick with that, and great things will continue to happen.  Best of luck this weekend!

Attention to all you other robot innovators:  TheClubhou.se is sponsoring a SumoBot League with the first competition in April.  For the uninitiated, this sport involves two robots attempting to push each other out of a circle.  If you are interested, there is also a four-week Mini Sumo class at TheClubhou.se starting in February.  Space is limited.

Finally, I promised Chris I’d give a shout out to this year’s SpacePRIDE team.  They are starting to gear up for this year’s competition.  He is sill looking for a team sponsor, and I think the hood space on the robot is still available.  So don’t delay in getting in touch with him!

Until next time, I’m off the grid.  @gregory_a_baker

Shooting for Results

Shooting for Results (reprinted from the Metro Spirit 1/17/13)

This week I would like to talk about a different kind of technology, one that is currently center stage in the national debate.  Everyone abhors the violence we witnessed at Newtown, Aurora, Columbine and other places.  When I first heard about Newtown, I purposely avoided all media for a week because I knew that I would not be able to handle the coverage.  It’s a situation that’s impossible to understand, and no family or community should ever have to suffer that kind of loss. 

Unfortunately, such is human nature, these acts of violence prey upon our fears and insecurities.  Also, given over a century of progressivism that fosters dependency, our society’s self-reliance has atrophied to a place where we no longer believe we can, or even should, solve our own problems.  As a result, we find ourselves in a place where our so-called leadership is debating which of the natural rights embodied in our Constitution should be sacrificed.  After all, “something” has to be done.  The people demand it!

My experience in making decisions, however, has taught me that the best course of action is never the one dictated by emotion.  For me, emotional decisions are typically fight or flight responses.  I’ll either choose to fight and make a bad situation worse, or I’ll ignore the issue and allow a bad situation to become worse.  Through the process of making a lot of bad decisions, I discovered that all good decisions start with very novel concept: write down specific things you want to happen.  With clear goals in mind, different alternatives can be evaluated.  And ultimately, the effectiveness of the decision can be measured. 

So what exactly are we trying to accomplish?  The most specific statement I can find is simply, “Reduce gun violence.”  Sounds great!  What kind?  How much?  By whom?  From an engineering perspective, this is what is known as an ambiguous requirement.  There is no definitive way of determining whether its been accomplished.  Alternatively, you can’t say it hasn’t been accomplished either.  (That will help come election time.)

Let’s face it – with so many factions in this debate, we’re probably never going to be able to put together a definitive set of objectives.  It’s just too complex an issue.  But that’s OK – everyone knows the problem is the assault rifles.

Just to be clear, let’s make sure everyone is on the same page in regards to what is an assault rifle.  The military defines an assault rifle as a weapon that utilizes an intermediate cartridge capable of fully automatic fire.  These weapons are military use only and are heavily restricted in the United States.  As a matter of fact, all fully automatic weapons (i.e., continuous fire on a single trigger pull) have been highly regulated since the National Firearms Act of 1934.

The “assault weapons” utilized in recent incidents are in fact not military issue fully automatic rifles.  “Assault weapons” are semi-automatic weapons (i.e., single round fired with each trigger pull) with specific features, largely cosmetic, defined in the Federal Assault Weapons Ban of 1994 and expired in 2004.  Under the former law, an “assault weapon” is defined as any semi-automatic rifle with a detachable magazine and two of the following five features: a folding stock, pistol grip, bayonet mount, flash suppressor, and grenade launcher.

Many people are concerned about a reinstatement of the assault weapon ban.  It’s not clear to me how a ban would help prevent another incident.  The size of the round, and thereby the power of the weapon, is not included in the legal definition.  Also, semi-automatic operation does not solely define an assault weapon.  Even under a ban, rifles of equivalent capability will likely be legally available (never mind the black market for existing weapons).  I have similar feelings regarding the restriction of high-capacity magazines and other gun restrictions currently being discussed.  How will any of these approaches prevent a Newtown scenario?  Short answer – I don’t understand how they could.

Another common thread through all these shootings is the mental health of the shooters.  Coverage of any substantive approaches to address mental health is in short supply.  The mental health component balances individual rights (“medical privacy”) against public safety, so it’s probably the most technical from a policy perspective…and certainly not likely to generate any good sound bites.  That’s too bad.  This is one area that I think we could generate some real results.

I don’t like trampling on the First Amendment any more than the Second, but I can’t see how violent movies and video games don’t also play a supporting role.  Start with a mal-adjusted teenager, sit them in front of Call Of Duty for 6 hours a day, then give them access to a weapon.  My common sense is telling me this is a bad combination.

One final point – One of the most common arguments for gun rights is that the common citizen needs the means to protect his or her property from a government takeover.  While I agree that individuals have the right to protect themselves, this is just an emotional argument that feels very good to those on the right.  In reality, when the government decides to come for you, they are going to terminate you using an unmanned drone from over 100 miles away.  Whether or not you have an AR-15 or AK-47 really won’t make a damn bit of difference.

 Until next time, I’m off the grid.  @gregory_a_baker

 

 

 

 

What’s New In Gadgets

What’s New in Gadgets (reprinted from the Metro Spirit 1-10-13)

 

(prequel) Monday Night – Time for football!  Unfortunately, I have one sick kid and one tired wife.  For everyone’s sake, we were able to get everyone in bed by 9:00pm.  Time for me to head downstairs and turn on the game.  With 6:00 left in the first, Alabama 14, Notre Dame 0.  Gotta love the BCS!  

 

 

 

Television: The Next Generation – Next January I’ve got to remember to ask Joe to send me to Vegas.  After all, this the month for the Consumer Electronics Show, the second most popular winter-time media event for guys.  (The first being the release of the Sport Illustrated Swimsuit Issue, of course.)  It’s only a couple of days into the conference, but it’s clear that the new generation of TVs rule.

 

 

 

I know you’re thinking, “What’s the big deal?”  New features are released all the time.  Just last year we were inundated with 3D TVs.  Those turned out to be more novelty than ground breaking.

 

 

 

The first big change is the down-market slide of 4K technology.  The 4K refers to a screen resolution of approximately 4,000 wide by 2,000 high.  This resolution provides approximately 4 times the number of pixels as 1080p (1920 x 1080) screen.  The quality of this resolution is fully realized only on larger screens (the format was originally developed to support the movie industry).  However, 4K allows for passive 3D in full 1080p, and other neat features such as allowing two people to view separate channels on the same screen.

 

 

 

The next change you’ll see is additional capability enabled by near-field communication (NFC).  If you haven’t heard of NFC, it’s likely you’ve seen it.  The Samsung Galaxy S III commercial showing a wife sharing a naughty video with her husband utilizes a form of NFC.  NFC allows different electronic devices to share content.  In the new world of TV, this means your can display your mobile phone screen on your TV or stream and share media, all with a simple bump of the phone.  

 

 

 

In general, NFC is an emerging technology with a number of vendors trying to find the right niche.  It’s being integrated onto everything from refrigerators to thermostats to coffee pots.  Don’t be surprised if you can’t command and control everything in your home from your mobile phone very, very soon.

 

 

 

Car Apps – In a pair of very intriguing announcements, both Ford and GM released their development environments for creating vehicle apps.  The GM “info”-tainment system goes by the name MyLink (or IntelliLink in Buick’s).   Apps written by the Weather Channel, TuneIn and IHeartRadio were demonstrated at CES.  The Ford system is called Sync AppLink, and this system integrates with your mobile to remotely control apps installed on your mobile.  AppLink supports over 20 third party apps, including apps from the Wall Street Journal, NPR and Pandora.  The Ford package also provides and SDK to allow developers the opportunity to create new apps.  

 

Of course, this is just a taste of what can be found at CES.  For more details, take a look at CNet or Wired.

 

 

 

Until next time, I’m off the grid.  @gregory_a_baker

 

 

 

Zombies For Congress

Zombies for Congress (reprinted from the Metro spirit 1/3/2013)

Congress Protects Our Email…Psyche! – In a spectacular change of position, our so-called elected representatives removed an update to the 1986 Electronic Communications Privacy Act that would have granted email the same legal protection as hard copy documents.  Just a couple of weeks ago, the Senate Judiciary Committee voted to include the email protection and require a warrant to obtain copies of email over 180 days old.  (Right now, a warrant is not required.)  Instead they decided to pass a trivial update to the Video Privacy Protection Act that would allow media suppliers to share, with user consent, the viewing habits of their subscribers.  Awesome…just what we were waiting for.  Now we’ll all receive status updates from Netflix, Hulu and who knows what other video service about soft porn rentals from that guy from high school that we friended a couple of years ago. Not surprisingly, Netflix issued a statement saying what a benefit this new capability would be to its consumers.  (duh.)  Just between you and me, with all the automated posting of who’s-listening-to-what, who’s-been-where and who-likes-what, what we really need is a who-really-flipping-cares option!

BTW – I’d love to call out how our Senator’s voted, but a roll call vote was not taken.  So instead of accountability, we’ll have to settle for an amorphous, unaccountable blob of representation.  I’m sure when it comes to protecting freedom, this is what our founding fathers had in mind.

Keep Calm and Baryon – A pretty cool zombie indie has been recently released under a Creative Common license.  The movie was created by Luke Thompson, a University of Manchester Ph.D. student.  The movie was conceived after joking that the tunnels under CERN would be ideal for a zombie movie.  (CERN is the European Organization for Nuclear Research and the world’s largest particle physics laboratory.)  Two years later with a budget of approximately $3200 and a cast and crew of  20, the feature length movie Decay is born.

The film follows a small group of students (played by physicists) after a disastrous malfunction in the world’s biggest particle accelerator.  As they try desperately to escape from the underground maintenance tunnels, they are hunted by the remains of a maintenance team, who have become less than human. 

Let’s be honest…the acting is not great and the plot is somewhat predictable.  In addition, there is no evidence whatsoever that the Higgs boson is anything but harmless.  However, the backdrop of CERN creates an authentic apocalyptic experience.  And zombie films are never known for their great acting (with all due respect to Milla Jovovich, of course).  Decay possesses all the components of a great zombie film:  a plausible plot; a setting that encourages the suspension of disbelief; just enough gore to make you quesy, but not so much you want to vomit; and low budget, but effective special effects.  I don’t know if its got what it takes to become a cult classic, but I highly recommend Decay to those that enjoy a good zombie flick.  It won’t be a waste of your time.

Check it out at www.decayfilm.com.

Until next time, I’m off the grid.  @gregory_a_baker