Category Archives: FeFNet

Galaxy Quest: Great Movie or Greatest Movie?

Have you ever realized how many great actors are in Galaxy Quest? That movie is hilarious. If you haven’t seen it in a while, go watch it right now.

OK, you’re back. Did you recognize everyone? Here’s a partial list of everyone you might recognize:

  • Tim Allen (Home Improvement, Toy Story)
  • Sigourney Weaver (Avatar, Aliens)
  • Tony Shaloub (Monk, Wings)
  • Alan Rickman (Harry Potter, Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves)
  • Rainn Wilson (The Office)
  • Sam Rockwell (Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Iron Man 2, The Green Mile)
  • Justin Long (Dodgeball, Mac Commercials)
  • Enrico Colantoni (Just Shoot Me, Veronica Mars)

Pretty crazy, right? Here’s another piece of trivia: Galaxy Quest is better than all those movies.

Annoying

It’s normal for people to get annoyed about things. One of my recent annoyances is when people capitalize things incorrectly when they should definitely know better. Here are a few examples:

  • DvD (instead of DVD)
  • FireFox (instead of Firefox)
  • FaceBook (instead of Facebook)
  • The name of our product (an acronym ending in s, which should be fully capitalized, but instead it looks like we have lots of that SYSTEMs)

There is no excuse for this. Please, people of the internet, stop it. The proper name and spelling is right in front of you.

What is Artificial Intelligence?

I ask the question because everything on Jeopardy! is in the form of a question, and because I’m excited to hear that IBM’s Watson will be invited to challenge Jeopardy! winners in a special event. In a nutshell, Watson is a system IBM has been working on to answer human-language questions. To develop its algorithms, they’ve fed Watson lots of information and then test his recall of information by playing Jeopardy!

The NY Times Magazine article gives a great introduction to answering these types of artificial intelligence questions, explaining that it uses a series of algorithms to rank possible answers with a level of confidence. If it doesn’t have a high enough confidence he won’t answer a question. If he takes too long assessing possible answers, a human opponent may beat him to the buzzer.

Jeopardy! is the perfect game for this. Aside from being a fun test of knowledge and trivia, it requires Watson to think quickly. The previously-linked NY Times article does a good job comparing it to other systems, such as the fictional computer from Star Trek which can answer questions quickly and precisely, or Wolfram Alpha, which is dubbed an “answer engine” but answers different types of problems.

My own interest in artificial intelligence began when I checked out a book from the library as an elementary student about programming games in BASIC. The book gave examples of the code and showed what it did, so I typed everything in to create my own basketball game. Of course I thought the game wasn’t good enough, so I added a few extra features, but I began to see the way that computers think. In more recent years I’ve taken formal courses in AI in grad school, where I wrote a program to run the bullpen of the Kansas City Royals.

Watson is certainly miles ahead of my simple bullpen manager, but it’s a good example of the progress that’s been made in the field of artificial intelligence. There are plenty of examples of good AI programs out there, from video game simulations to systems that assist doctors when they want to prescribe medicine, but just like the chess-playing computer Deep Blue, Watson’s Jeopardy! games represent progress toward a great goal: building a machine that can think like a human.

The Great Operating System Equalizer

I’m that guy who talks about operating systems. In my latest computer purchase, I chose Linux as my primary OS. I like that I can customize it and make it just what I like. I like what the open source movement means for software. Still, I’m not completely happy with my setup. It works, but it could definitely be easier. That’s why I always try to read up on new features that operating systems provide, why I was excited to test out Windows 7 and why I try out several different flavors of Linux in virtual machines. I’m even nerdy enough to get excited when Apple announces that it’s not focusing on any flashy new features in Snow Leopard, just tweaking a few things under the hood. To me, fixing things under the hood is a feature. Even with all those shiny new toys, the thing that excites me most is the general direction that all of these operating systems are converging to one direction: the web.

When you take away all the buzzwords and hype that come with using the web as a platform, this OS convergence can be simply described, as David Worthington does in talking about the upcoming release of Windows 7:

Windows 7 is a big improvement upon Windows Vista, but the hoopla of days when people lined up to buy OS’s is over. There are simply too many alternatives, and the Web is the great equalizer.

This convergence is bringing back the browser wars and it’s increasing innovation. It should be fun, as soon as I get Skype working properly in Linux.