Author Archives: Alex

About Alex

As you can probably tell from this blog, I'm really a kid at heart. My little girls teach me a lot about being an adult.

Cutting the Cord: Introduction

We’ve been without pay TV (excluding Netflix) for about a year now and now that we have most of the kinks worked out, I thought I’d give you an update on how we’ve done it.

For our cord-cutting experiment, we’ve tried three different solutions. This has been fun for me to be able to try out different options, but it also means that it’s been hard for Julia since she’s had to learn how to use three different TV setups. Luckily, though, she’s pretty smart and has picked it up really well, but it’s not always easy to teach new visitors how to use our new setup. There’s certainly a lot of room for improvement in that category, but hopefully it won’t be too tough.


  • Play back our media collection from any TV
  • Ability to watch and record TV
  • Watch Netflix from any TV

Other Parts of Cutting the Cord:

Cutting the Cord: Introduction
Backend: Desktop Computer (acting as file server) and TV Tuner
Master Bedroom: Roku streaming
Living Room: HTPC and TV w/ built-in Netflix
Basement: Original Xbox with XBMC

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.


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.

RBI Baseball 4ever

Pretty much the best baseball article of the year, about the best baseball game ever. This game was the reason I wanted a Nintendo when I was a kid. I especially enjoyed his comments on playing with a younger brother and throwing the ball away after making out #3. Sometimes I’d throw the ball away when someone was on base, too. There are videos in the article to show you what I mean.

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.