Archive for September, 2008

Most Expensive Thing Ever

One of my classes this semester is on multimedia systems. It’s a seminar class where the student presentations make up the second half of the semester.

I’ve decided to do my bit on multitouch displays (touch screens with multiple styluses ala the iPhone), and for the project I want to actually build one.

To this end I need a projector. I hunted around, picked one out, and my credit card rejected the purchase as a fraud. I called, got it cleared, and attempted to buy it again. It was again flagged as a fraud.

I was irritated until I realized that at $750 this is easily more than twice as expensive as anything I’ve purchased on this card in the two years I’ve had it. I suppose I can’t blame the algorithms for being suspicious. ☺

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Bring Back Adult Films

I was watching an interesting film the other night called Indie Sex: Censored on IFC.

One of the more interesting tidbits was that when the X rating first came out it was for films like Midnight Cowboy and Last Tango In Paris — actual artistic films that depict adult themes unsuitable for kids. Then Deep Throat came out which was essentially a comedic hard core porn, and based on it’s massive commercial success the “adult film” industry was born making an X rating synonymous with pornography.

The NC-17 rating was produced to try to increase the respectability of adult films. Unfortunately, Showgirls came out in an attempt to legitimize the new rating and its subsequent box office bombing has had lasting repercussions for theaters and rental agencies willingness to show movies bearing the rating.

I get frustrated because film is, for me, an opportunity to experience the filmmaker’s world for a brief span. I really like the opportunity to see the world for a bit through someone else’s eyes and to have that perspective sanitized for consumption by children leaves me wanting something more realistic.

It also irritates me in a larger social sense as well. One of the issues that I dealt with when working for MPP was the massive misunderstandings that exist in our society in relation to mild-altering substances.

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Finding God

I discovered what I needed to help me find religion. Forget about the Methodists and Unitarians, apoplectic about ten minutes into the aerobics class I went to tonight I was praying fervently for either myself or the instructor to drop dead, I was in sufficient pain to not really care which.

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Computational Modeling

Last semester I sat down with one of my professors and talked through my interests in the psychological sciences. After I’d described what I was interested in, he told to give PSY-351 – Computational Modeling.

I’ve been to a couple classes now and I’m coming to better terms with what exactly a computation model is and isn’t. To be a computational model, you need not only a “what,” but also a “why.”

Take, for example, collaborative filtering that I worked on this summer. This is a statistical model. There’s nothing in it about why people like things, only the assumption that people tend to like similar things, so by looking at bunches of things that people like, we can pick out trends.

A computational model is actually something like the semiotic model I was playing around with which not only describes a method for determining what people like but does so by positing a structure for why they like those things.

Why is a computational model desirable? Well, consider physics. We could have a model that tells us how fast things fall out of the sky. It could get the rate of 9.8m/s2 and describe motion well. That is a useful model. Having a model of gravity and universal attraction gives us a “why” things fall and in doing so allows us to predict things about falling objects on other planets and orbits and all sorts of things.

Computational models, as opposed to statistical models or empirical curve-fitting models, because they provide a theoretical handle on to why the process takes place can be tested much more rigorously and ultimately, if proven reliable, may well provide predictions into areas where observation is currently impossible.

To date all that we have been discussing are models of object categorization, but our final project is to implement a computational model from a field related to our research and implement it.

I’m in a slightly difficult position in that the models that are most closely related to the research grant supporting my studies (interfaces for soldiers using robots searching for IEDs) would likely be computer vision and I don’t particularly want to learn those in depth. I’m going to go meet though with the professor and hopefully we’ll work something out. Maybe I’ll end up doing something related to preference modeling.

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Methodists vs. Universalists

I went to the Methodist Church this morning to get back in touch a bit with my childhood roots.

To some extent I was comparing it to the Unitarian Universalist Church I went to last weekend.

Accessibility: This one went to the Methodists hands down. They’re right by Vandy, and what is more important they’re accessible by bus. To get to the UU Church I had to walk through the lawns of a string of $500,000 houses because they’re half a mile down a busy road with no sidewalk from the closest bus stop. (I’m giving my car to MPP.)

Friendliness: This was what bothered me the most at the UU church. I stood around for a long time and almost no one said “hi.” How a community treats strangers is important to me. In the Methodist Church I had at least half a dozen people say “mornin'” to me or introduce themselves. In fairness though, I was at the morning service at the UU church, and a good percentage of the folks there were guests themselves.

Study: This one I’m not really fit to judge. The UUs have a meditation room open between the early and late services when the Methodists have Sunday school. Sunday school was somewhat interesting, but we didn’t really dig into anything. I didn’t try the meditation room. I’m really wanting to talk to people and understand their positions as of late. I just want them to be a little older than me (which the average college student isn’t).

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