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Welcome to I Am. When?

After a nearly 10 year hiatus, it is my pleasure to welcome you (back) to I Am. When?, the personal blog for Andrew Maxim. On this blog you will find entries dealing with virtual environments, robotics, information systems & technologies, physics rants, and miscellaneous "whatever thought gets stuck in my head" type stuff.

Excuse the massive amount of dust on this here Internet do-hicky-thing-a-ma-bobber. I have managed to restore all of my old blog entries from 10 plus years ago and obviously need to clean up some of the stuff. Do not fret, I will not be fixing spelling mistakes or editing entries (except this sticky post welcoming one) unless it pertains to a personal possessive which has become historically inaccurate (eg saying "here is a picture of my car," when I sold said car three years back). I will also be removing the Proverbs Web Calendar posts to keep from being misleading. The static pages are all fair game though.

Again, welcome (back) to I Am. When? I hope you enjoy the madness that is my mind.

Thanksgiving

Compared to the other nations of the Earth, the United States of America is a young and inexperienced country; while the land has seen its fair share of much older nations rise up on its soil, the country itself is still in its youth. Despite our young age, this is a great nation full of know-how, ingenuity and purpose.

Throughout the history of this nation there are two phrases, historical quotes if you will, that exemplify this drive, determination, and ability to overcome obstacles. The first occurred on July 20, 1969 at 4:18pm EDT when Neil Armstrong announced to the world, "The Eagle has landed." The second occurring each and every Thanksgiving morning as a country proudly declares, "The Turkey is in the oven."

Happy Thanksgiving.

The Tattoo

Before I get into the whys and hows of getting my tattoo, let me start off by saying that if you live in the Tampa Bay area, or can get here, and are thinking about a custom tattoo, go see JD (John Dixon) at Psychotic Ink in St Petersburg, FL. JD has a relaxed, laid-back attitude, is a great artist and does phenomenal work. He is one of those rare people that are truly "about the work."

Now onto the story:

About 20 years ago, I had decided to get a tattoo. I just wanted one for no better reason than "because." At the time, I drew up a custom piece that was centered around my joining the Navy as a Nuclear Electronics Technician. The drawing was a skeleton of an American Bald Eagle perched on a typical "Navy" anchor ("USN Nuke" written on it) with a mushroom cloud in the background. I had planned on getting the tattoo on the left side of my chest; however, for reasons I won't get into, I never got the tattoo.

Continue reading "The Tattoo"

Getting Into Graduate School - Part III

Maximizing Your Bachelor Degree

This last, and long overdue, part on getting into a good graduate level program covers the seldom mentioned criteria that many (most? all?) schools use when selecting candidates for entry: the value of your bachelor degree. The obvious side of this would be knowing that some schools are considered better than others, but that knowledge doesn't do you much good unless you plan on transferring to one of those "better" schools. Instead, we will focus on the courses that make up your degree.

Take a minute and dig out the requirements to earn your degree at your current school. It should consist of a bunch of required courses, a few courses you can pick and choose from, and "other" courses. These other courses could be anything from courses to meet the minimum credit requirements, to liberal art courses (such as needing 3 communications credits that could come from a variety of places), to specialized focus courses for your given degree. Hold onto that list. Open a new web browser and go to the undergraduate program for your major at one of the colleges on your graduate school list. For instance, if you are currently attending Brown with a major in Computer Science, Carnegie Mellon is probably on your list of graduate schools, so head over to the CMU Computer Science undergraduate website.

Once you have found your way to the undergraduate program website, see if you can find the degree requirements for your chosen major. Every college website I have been on has those requirements posted someplace, usually as a PDF file. Found it? Now compare the degree requirements from your current school to those of that prospective school. More than likely, unless they are both state universities within the same state, you will see several differences between the degree requirements. Your school might require one semester of Chemistry, while the other school requires two; or maybe your school allows you to choose between three advanced programming topics such as Compiler Design, Database Management Systems, and Operating Systems, while the other school requires Operating Systems. These differences are actually pretty damn important in the aspect of graduate school acceptance.

Continue reading "Getting Into Graduate School - Part III"

Quack Science

Revolutionary

xkcd had this great comic strip up today (shown above). Of course it got me thinking about how I have been neglecting my own pet physics notions and that I really fall into the same realm as the comic (what scientists respectfully call "quack science") with those notions. Let's face it, I do not have a degree in Chemistry or Physics (let alone a PhD), but I do have a few things going for me.

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Getting Into Graduate School - Part II

Improving The Odds

Continuing on from where Part I left off, we should have narrowed our list of potential graduate schools down to a reasonable size. A list of about ten schools would be ideal; not that you will be applying to all ten, but because we will be whittling that number down a bit during the next part of this series.

There are several things admissions boards look at when approving or denying applicants. Most criteria should be pretty obvious such as grade point average, GRE/GMAT scores, letters of recommendation, and essays. I can't offer any help on your GPA, it is either good enough or it is not. Likewise, you are on our own for the essay portion of any application, although I will point out that there is no such thing as an "optional essay" for grad school admissions. The other two common criteria I can offer a little advice on.

First, your GRE or GMAT scores. These are pretty standard tests covering math skills, verbal skills (definitions), and writing skills. You are on your own for the verbal section, as either you have a strong vocabulary or you do not. The other two sections I can offer advice on. The math and writing (quantitative and analytical) sections of the test are based on courses you should have taken by the end of your freshman year; the end of your sophomore year at the latest. The topics are Precalculus Algebra and English Composition. Remember those? The sooner you take the GRE or GMAT after finishing those (types) of courses the fresher it will be in your head and, hopefully, the better you will do on the test.

Continue reading "Getting Into Graduate School - Part II"

Getting Into Graduate School - Part I

Selecting the Right Graduate School

Before you begin applying to Masters or PhD programs at any graduate schools, the first thing you need to do is figure out which schools are right for you. Selecting the right school is not as easy as it might first appear and should be a continuing process right up to the point that you start submitting applications. This seems like the logical place for me to start talking about the application process for graduate programs.

The best time to start looking into graduate programs is during the second semester of your sophomore year in college (undergraduate program), and no later than the second semester of your junior year. There are many reasons for this that I will cover in part II, but for now, I'll just say that it allows for proper planning. Suffice it to say that this will (should) be an evolving process throughout your school search and the sooner you begin the process, the better prepared you will be.

I hate making lists and doing pros and cons type of stuff; they work for many people but I am not many people. There are times that they are a necessary evil and choosing a graduate program is one such time. This is a list that you will want to keep for a while and make changes to on a semi-regular basis, so I would suggest using a spreadsheet program like MS Office Excel or OpenOffice Calc. (Just for the record and to keep the FTC happy, I have received no endorsements from either product manufacturer, but I would be happy if Microsoft wanted to give me tons of cash or even free software to plug their products. Actually, to be completely honest, I'll whore myself out to any company that makes a good product.) Where was I? The list, that's right. You will likely wind up with a few lists of stuff when going through the grad school selection and application process, so find something to keep all this information in, even if it is just a college composition book.

Continue reading "Getting Into Graduate School - Part I"

Miscellaneous Crap

Forty. That is the minimum number of hours I am working each week, usually it is more. Sixteen. That is the number of credit hours I am enrolled in at school this semester. What does this have to do with anything except as an excuse as to why updates to this here blog-thingy are so few and far between? The answer, simply put, is to let you all know just how insane I really am. Bonkers.

Aside from all that I have been emailing with a few people on the Proverbs Web Calendar 2.1. A long time ago, in a life far, far away, I goofed in my coding. In my own defense, the part I goofed on was how the web event calendar handled some of the special characters in languages other than English, and I only speak English (as can be seen by how poorly translated the language files are). So a few boo-boos slipped past and some language packs did not work correctly.

The good news is that I took a little time away from my very busy schedule and fixed those "undocumented features." While I was fixing that problem, I went through and made a few other minor changes to the event calendar. The full list of changes is included in the download or on the calendar page up there ^. Just like that and we are now up to the Proverbs Web Calendar version 2.1.1.
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Herbert 1701 Species D Generations 1 & 2

The previous Herbert robotic life-forms all had a single logic circuit and while some made use of different components, the results were the same from a logic point of view. If the robot has enough power then do something. Not a very exciting logic circuit, but something necessary for all life, even artificial life. We can continue to use this simple logic design in one form or another, even with very advanced life-forms. Slightly modified it can become: If you are hungry then eat. For now we will leave it as is and continue by adding more logic circuitry to the robots.

The simplest logic circuits available are the same as the logic operators taught in any introductory computer class: NOT, AND, OR & XOR. These logic chips can be made to suit the purposes of the next stage in robotic life-form evolution, but would require a lot of additional support circuitry. Lacking space on the demo platform, we will instead opt for an integrated circuit that can accomplish our next task: which direction is the better power source?

To answer this question Herbert 1701 Species D will make use of a comparator chip. In simplest terms, a comparator takes two inputs and determines whether one input is higher than the other. Generally the inputs are voltage levels that are being compared. The comparison between the two voltages usually produces one of two outputs, either a ground level or an open circuit.

Continue reading "Herbert 1701 Species D Generations 1 & 2"

Herbert 1701 Species D

As life would have it, the Maxim Maxim kicked in during my search to find the items needed to create a proper Photovore competition arena. I had figured the 250W halogen bulb would prove the most difficult to find, but it was the first item knocked off my list. The "common items" -- such as wooden dowels or Melamine board -- seem to be outside of my reach; short of paying a hefty shipping cost. Instead, I have decided to move on.

Based upon the tests and competition I was able to perform with the Herbert 1701 Species C robots it was pretty clear that the variable trigger solar engine is the route to go, proving far superior in most tests, particularly low-light and bright-light conditions. Therefore, this will be the species and generation that continues forward. At least for the time being.

Test Platform TopTest Platform SideSeeing as I have little wish and no money to create new circuit boards for each generation of the Herbert 1701 Species D robots, I have opted to build a simple test platform. While this is nothing fancy -- consisting of a solder-less breadboard, a sheet of plastic, a wheel and some motors -- it will work for the purposes of testing different circuitry configurations, as well as varying components.

As can be seen in the platform images, I have built out the variable solar engine using the Maxim MAX8212 voltage monitor. Throughout this species of Herbert artificial life form I will continue to use this same circuit and will be changing around everything else.

Continue reading "Herbert 1701 Species D"

Oil and Water

Oil and water do not mix. It is just one of those chemical composition things. You can pour them both into the same container and the water will settle to the bottom with the oil floating on top of it. Shake the container up and after a few minutes they will revert back to layering; oil on top and water on the bottom. Separate entities in the same container.

Both compounds are needed in this world. Water quenches thirst and is needed to survive. Oil, among other things, lubricates the gears and joints for movement. Even once you have both in the same container you can still separate them back out again and they will fulfill these basic tasks just as well because they do not mix.

There are ways you can force the two to combine, to bond as it were, but in doing so you wind up with neither water nor oil. Instead you have something else. Something that neither quenches your thirst nor provides lubrication for movement. A bastardized compound.
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Computer Security 101 - Part 8 - Malware

I might as well just come right out and say it upfront, during Part 2 of this series on Computer Security I lied when I spoke about the most common methods a malicious person uses to get a user's password. In this day and age of rapid information and application sharing, the number one method of gathering user passwords is through viruses and spyware. I would hazard a guess that it is also the number one method of gathering information for identity theft as well.

I am sure that some organization or another has put together specific definitions of what constitutes a virus versus a bot versus something else. For simplicity sake I'll provide my own definitions:

Virus - any malicious program capable of automatic self replication between computer systems, either through network links or removable media. Viruses can range from harmless pranks to programs that destroy computer files.

Spyware - any computer application or portion of an application that is designed to gather personally identifiable information from a computer. This can range from gathering the information on what websites you visit to recording usernames and passwords entered into various programs or websites.

Adware - any computer application designed to automatically display advertisements on your computer or redirect your web browser to alternate (competitor's) websites from the page you intended.

Bot - any computer application designed to perform nondestructive tasks on a computer system without the user's intervention. Bots can range from small programs that download and install other programs automatically (without the user's knowledge) to programs that perform coordinated attacks on Internet websites.
Continue reading "Computer Security 101 - Part 8 - Malware"

The Nature Of Light

At 8:00am I wake up, drink some coffee, shower and am into work at 8:30am. You work directly with me and spend the entire morning from 8:30am until 12:00pm along side me, following my every movement. At 12:00pm we go to lunch together, returning to work at 1:00pm. From that time until 5:00pm you never leave my side. At 5:00pm we leave work and head out to dinner together where we discuss the day's findings and observations. At 9:00pm we depart the restaurant and each head to our separate homes. At 9:15pm I have a few glasses of mead at home and go to bed at 9:30pm.

While this is completely unrealistic for my actual schedule and does not allow for separate bathroom breaks at the work place it will suffice for the topic at hand; and that is the nature of light. Of a 13 hour and 30 minute day, you would have spent 12 hours and 30 minutes with me, or 92.6% of my waking day. From the time spent with me you could observe that I am capable of walking in a straight line. As a matter of fact, you could infer that 100% of the time I am capable of walking in a straight line. With me so far?

What you do not see is the 2 minutes when I first wake up and wander to the coffee pot for my first cup of coffee, often bumping into the walls of the hallway on my journey for caffeine. Nor do you see the 2 minutes between when the alcohol from the mead kicks in and I make my way back into bed. For those 4 minutes or 0.49% of the day I am not capable of walking a straight line. 4 minutes of the day that 99.99999% of the world will never observe, unless you were stationed with me in the Navy, at which case you saw me stumbling drunk a lot.

Continue reading "The Nature Of Light"

Computer Security 101 - Part 7 - Personal Firewall

I already covered firewalls during part 3 of my computer security series, but now that we are focusing on desktop security we once again have to review the subject. For part 3 the firewall topic was in regards to the perimeter, or network; which is usually a hardware based device. In part 7 the topic is desktop or personal firewalls.

I won't bore everyone by going into detail on firewalls again, but if you have not done so already, please read the original topic Computer Security 101 - Part 3 - Firewalls. Instead, I will be covering the importance of having a separate personal firewall on each and every desktop computer.

To most people, including many industry professionals, a personal firewall is considered overly redundant. There is a hardware based firewall keeping your network secure already, why would someone want a firewall running on their local computer? It is also an extra application running on the computer, taking up resources and slowing everything down. So why have one?

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Herbert 1701 Species C Generations 4 - 6 Builds

I want to start off by apologizing for an inaccuracy in the Herbert 1701 Species C schematics. I had grown so accustomed to using reverse biased LEDs as photo sensors that I placed the photodiodes in a reverse biased position in all of the schematics. This, of course, is incorrect as photodiodes function in a forward bias position. The charge circuit for Herbert 1701 Species C Generation 6 is correctly biased as it makes use of an infrared LED instead of a photodiode and should remain reverse biased. All of the affected schematics have been updated to fix this screw-up on my part.

Moving on, I have been building out each of the three species C robotic life forms, generations 4, 5 and 6. Although I will not be labeling each as a separate generation, there are many aspects of the mechanical build that are subject to the same evolutionary process that I have been following for the circuit designs. Use of different components and their placement have just as profound an effect on the effectiveness of each Herbert as the initial circuit design, even more so in some instances. Just as with the trial and error used in those circuit designs, the builds have required much redesign and tweaking.

Beginning the design phase, I had decided on an outer shell to hold the various sensors and solar panel in place. I produced this outer shell using a two piece mold process, which will be used for the depictions in the upcoming tutorial. While this design seemed like a good idea in principle, the application left a lot to be desired. Herbert 1701 Species C Generation 4 was the guinea pig for this design and would have likely yelled at me for my idiocy if it were capable of such.

Continue reading "Herbert 1701 Species C Generations 4 - 6 Builds"