Monday, August 30, 2010

RCI: Robot-Computer Interaction

I happened to watch Terminator Salvation the other day.  It wasn't bad, at least not as bad as I'd thought it'd be.  A good action film.  But it does bring up a point which I tend to find extremely annoying in movies dealing with "futuristic" technology.

Side-note: A SanDisk Cruzer holds the key to defeating the machines?   I knew I had a reason to like SanDisk.

Human-Computer Interaction is a great field.  Understanding how people interact with computer interfaces and designing interfaces to take advantage of natural understanding is the wave of the future.  Nothing's worse than a machine with low usability due to non-intuitive controls or just plain tedium.  And it's blatant that Ubiquitous Computing plays a large role in this, with everything being made more powerful and interconnected.

But that's for humans.  Yes, those meat popsicles, some of whom have problems talking and walking at the same time (much less playing with their phones and walking at the same time).  However, when you have a robot (or part-robot, as it were), why take the time to create a visual display with an interface made for humans, then create an image of someone he used to know in order to speak to him.  He's got the capability for quick wireless communication as shown when he "accesses" the information on his death and Judgment Day.  Hell, even if he had to "plug-in" ala R2D2 or a USB, that's not that much harder to do.  Just creating the giant viewscreen was not worth it.  Really, who's it for?

While we're on this, why do the Terminators only have "eyes" on the front of their skulls?  Isn't this the time to improve on the human?  If it's really a killing machine why can't it see all around itself?  That seems like quite a limitation.

Another movie which fails at this is WALL-E. While an outstanding movie, the idea of AUTO (the autopilot) controlling the ship with the same controls the Captain uses is just insane.  He's an autopilot, he shouldn't have to even move.  It's like Otto from Airplane, only it's a robot mashing buttons to control things.  I don't let it bother me as much though because it's a great, light-hearted movie.

But maybe I'm wrong.  Maybe robot's will have the same problems interacting with computers that we have today.  If SkyNet does try and kill us all, it's incompatibility with Windows might save us all.  (Of course, if it's Windows based, then Linux can save the day.  But nothing that complex could ever survive in Windows...)

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Graduation, Greece, Goodbyes, and Google

Three months ago to the day I graduated for the second and hopefully last time. It was finally over, my stay at Georgia Tech. I want a shirt with Tech Tower on it that says "I went to Tech for 6 years and all I got was my Masters Degree."  That's all I feel like I'm missing.

I told myself as soon as it was done that I'd have time to work on all those projects I never found the time to do.  Unfortunately, I fell back into my rut of procrastination as I had one more major thing to do at (or near) campus: move out.  Something which should take 12 hours at most always seems to take days on end for me because I simply don't want to do it.  I pack a little here and there, then find some way to stop packing.  Moving out was the first of many ends to that stage of my life, and I'm just not sure if I'm in a rush to get through it.  As soon as I was done though, it was time to move on to my vacation.

Vacation is a trip to Greece in this instance.  Greece is a wonderful place that I encourage anyone and everyone to visit (they need your money too).  I've learned two very important things while on this vacation: 1) A month is a very very long time to spend on vacation.  2) Vacations are best not spent in small, almost cramped spaces with 8 family members and only one bathroom.  Among all this however, I have still had a wonderful time and Greece is always a wonder; a sight you never get tired of.

Once I returned from Greece though, the whirlwind wasn't over.  I had two weeks to find and pack everything I wanted to take with me on my trip to my new home: San Francisco.  Couple that with the fact that, in those two weeks, I had to make the rounds to say goodbye to friends and family.  After all, when you live somewhere all your life and then up and move 2500 miles away, it's not simple.  It was good times to be had, and a reminder of all the friends I have, but I can't say I won't miss them.  It brought to mind all the things I did in Atlanta, and moreso all the things I didn't get around to doing there.  But that's not important, as it's better to be off on a new adventure then stuck in an old rut.

This was followed by a long road trip west.  Now that I've moved and (mostly) unpacked, I'm overwhelmed with my new location.  The Bay Area is both the same and completely different; so much denser than Atlanta yet, if not in San Francisco itself, very suburban.  There are so many people, everywhere, all the time.  And Google is even more interesting than I could have imagined.  A company that almost feels more like an educational environment then a corporation.  It's about learning, doing, and having a good time of it.  This is something I can definitely get used to.

Adventures in Austin

This is a bit old, actually about 4 months old, but it's been sitting here in draft form and I think it deserves a chance to live publicly.  In March, I flew to Austin to interview with National Instruments.  While I ended up not getting anything out of it job-wise, there were many interesting things which I saw and learned on the trip:

Hartsfield-Jackson Aiport:

  • While waiting in line at Security, I swear I saw the mirror-universe Q (with the evil goatee and everything)

  • Apparently, whoever did the voice on the Tram doesn't know the NATO phonetic alphabet.  They got Alpha, Bravo, Charlie, and Echo right, but decided to use David instead of Delta.  That bothers me.

  • Flying made me wish I had a netbook, and being in a place without free wifi made me wish I had a smartphone.

  • While about to board, a cute girl came to peddle the in-flight internet service.  I wonder if cuteness is a requirement in the job application?

In-flight to Austin:

  • Easy things to see from the air: Wal-mart, Home Depot, Atlanta Motor Speedway

  • Things not easy to see: Mississippi River, mostly saw the oxbow lakes and floodplain, the main river was hard to pinpoint

Austin "International" Airport:

  • They call it International, but I didn't see an international flight listed either time I was there.  Maybe I just didn't look hard enough.

  • I always forget: When it comes to airports, Hartsfield's the exception, not the rule.

On the ride to the Hotel:

  • Drove by a place called... wait for it... BLAZER TAG!  That's right! Where Blades and Lazers combine!

  • I don't like the Texas license plate, there's one reason not to move here.

  • Saw one that said "Poopy" though

  • I don't care if Texas was once technically a nation, that's no reason to fly their flag on the same level as the U.S. flag.  I call it "arrogance"

The Hotel:

  • It was in a place called "The Domain", which seemed to be very similar to Atlantic Station (like an outdoor mall), only larger.

  • The hotel was called the Aloft.  It and the Domain were very trendy.  But even trendy, when it's new(er), got a King Size bed, and an HDTV (complete with a place to connect any device to said TV), I'm gonna feel spoiled.

I probably had more, but this is where I left off when I first wrote this, and four months has trashed my memory.