Machine Learning or The Robots are Coming!

Lately I’ve been working on some interesting topics at work. Right now I am gearing up for a project starting in November that will utilize machine learning, and using what some call collective intelligence.

Skynet Logo“So what the heck is machine learning? Are you finalizing Skynet or your own robot army, David?”

Well, first, let me say that my 3D printer is nearly complete, and should be before this project starts. So the answer to your question about a robot army is a solid: Maybe.

Machine learning however is both more simple and more complicated than it sounds. Machine learning takes in data, usually lots of data, and data that on the surface doesn’t always make sense, and makes sense out of it. Often finding patterns and relations in the data that help the machine/computer, to make specific decisions based on the data.

Many of the algorithms used are actually ones that humans use everyday, if they are statisticians. They are used to make choices in the stock market, suggest movies you might like based on your’s and others’ previous movie ratings, and what you should watch next on YouTube.

Nearly all of the algorithms are understandable, at the start at least, but deal with so many variables, and such large quantities of data, that the computer does what it does better than any human. It calculates. It does a lot of calculation. As I said earlier, statisticians do similar things, but when they use a computer to do it, the results are downright amazing.

So for this project, I am working on finding the right combination of variables that will lead to the best user experience. I know what is a good user experience, but I can’t sit at every user’s computer and tweak their settings to make it right. That’s where the machine learning comes in. I’ll be coding a set of algorithms to look at how fast their computer is, if they are even using a computer or using a phone or tablet, taking into account the user’s preferences, and the client’s needs as well. From those algorithms, the app will then be able to deliver the best user experience that is possible, at that moment.

At that moment is yet another data point, as are the moments in the past. See, as the user continues to use the app, the machine learning algorithm will continue to learn, and to tweak the settings it has available to make the user experience better and better, all without any downtime.

It’s a daunting task to say the least. It’s also a challenging and exciting one. I’m really jazzed to be working on it, and have been diving into white papers, books, and every article I can on algorithms related to statistical analysis and machine learning.

I see so many uses for it, it’s pretty amazing.

As they say in that movie: “Would you like to know more?”

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A 3D printer is coming!

Nearly a year ago, I Kickstarted a project called Eventorbot. It seemed a good project, an open source plan by a young man who had come up with a good design for a stable and easy to build 3D printer. It had some good rewards, and after hearing about some Kickstarter horror stories, they didn’t seem overreaching. The creator also had built a machine, and claimed he also owned an import business. Overall, it seemed to be a good deal, so I put my money in.

Well…

It’s been a few months since anyone has heard from the creator, and even Kickstarter can’t get hold of him. His last few posts were telling us that he needed to order some more parts, and then, nothing. The circumstantial evidence points to some bad parts from China, mainly the frames not being square as they should be. A rigid and square frame is essential for precise printing. If that’s the actual case, we don’t know for certain, but it’s the predominant opinion. We’d all be more forgiving if the creator were more communicative, but he’s most likely terrified of the things that he has promised and can’t deliver.

That’s the past, and a lesson about Kickstarter. Take from it what you will.

When I ordered the parts for the Eventorbot, I didn’t get a full printer. I knew I had some of the parts already, and could source some of the rest for less than the full kit price. So for nearly a year I have had rods, stepper motors, a control board, linear bearings, skate bearings, bolts and nuts, just sitting in a box in my basement.

Until a few days ago.

That is when I discovered the Printrbot Simple. I’ve known about Printrbot for a while now. They did a Kickstarter too, but obviously that one went better on deliveries than the one I was in on. They’ve put out several printers from their first, and the Printrbot Simple is their most recent one.

It’s small, a starter printer at an economy size. The print area is 100mm x 100mm x 100mm, about a 4″ cube for those that still prefer the English units. It prints PLA instead of ABS, and doesn’t have a heated bed. That’s actually good in this case, since cost is a factor in the economy printer. For the fully assembled printer, it is only $399. As a kit, $299! It is the cheapest printer I have seen in a while, unless you happen to have access to a laser cutter or someone who can print plastic parts for you already. I don’t, but I do have all those parts laying in a box.

That’s when I saw they offered just the laser cut wood frame for $40! (Total of about $50 with shipping.)

So sometime next week, I will be getting a package of wooden parts in the mail, and hopefully another package from Ebay for the hot ends that I ordered to complete the build. I’m enthusiastic, you would not believe how much. It helps out with my secret project, it lets me actually use the couple hundred dollars in parts that I had ordered, and I’ll have a 3D printer when it’s all done.

So, anyone want anything printed?

Categories: 3D Printing, DIY | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

One project down. On to the next!

So yesterday, I talked about all of the projects I have been doing this year, and how I’ve finished a few. Today I can chalk up another one done.

The laser engraver that I have been reworking is finally running smoothly. The small one I had posted about before has been up-sized to be useful for what I wanted it for in the first place, that being cutting vinyl templates for etching glass. It’s cutting second template right now. Well, not now as you read it of course, but as I write this. There are still some kinks to work out by dialing in the settings, and the electronics all need to go into an enclosure, but the bulk of the work is complete.

Pictures? You want pictures?!? *sigh* Ok, here’s pictures. The original, next to the new version:

IMG_20131006_200858

As you can see, the new one is quite a bit bigger than the original. I haven’t used the whole bed yet, and I may not, since the part you can see in the picture is actually all I need for what I had originally planned. Perhaps larger templates are in my future.

I just looked at the image again, wow, what a mess! That’s boxes from the office, my dog’s feet, an old QuickCam from my Quadra 660AV days, and some plaster molds. As you can see, I still have a lot of cleaning to do in the basement.

What next?

Well, I have the deck still, though I got in all of the posts for the main portion this weekend. Given all the delays with getting holes dug, and family emergencies, I am going to have to get an extension on the building permit. Hopefully they actually give extensions. It’s coming along though, and the octagon’s posts should go in tomorrow, weather permitting. After that are the beams and inspection, before moving on to the joists and decking. That will be my main focus over this next week while daylight permitting.

Work is research right now. I’ve reached out to a friend, Jim Van Verth, to help me with some of the higher order math involved. At least it’s higher order enough to me that I don’t know what the symbols mean. I am sure Jim can shed some light on them for me. Thanks in advance Jim!

I’m also working on AngularJS, since it’s something I’ve been seeing worked on more and more. I have a nice little test project for learning it. It’s an interface to a home kegging system for beer. The original project Kegerface, was php and a flat file with beer information. I’m using it for inspiration, but will be completely rewriting it in AngularJS and running on a NodeJS server. More on that in the future, and links to my Github repo when I’m ready for people to hack on it with me.

Don't forget to wear these. Your safety glasses.

Don’t forget to wear these. Your safety glasses.

Work on the secret project also got done this weekend, and it’s running even smoother now. If I can dial in the base rotation system, I will be just about done with the prototype. I’ll keep teasing you with the details until I can talk about it.

I could keep going, but I have more to get done!

A final note. When working with lasers, don’t forget these, your safety glasses. (With thanks to Norm Abrams.)

Categories: About Me, DIY, eRoom-D, Things at home | Tags: , , , , , , | Leave a comment

I am now the answer to life the universe and everything.

I tried to get this out on September 27th, when it was actually my birthday, but… well, you know how things go some days.

What has this last year been like? What have I gained? What have I lost? What do I look forward to?

As much as the answer just asked more questions in the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, turning 42 is no different.

Over the last year at work, I have worked on several great projects. One for a major sports franchise doing an app for SmartTVs. Another for a major creator of yearbooks and rings. I’ve worked on the Randori framework, an open source project that allows developers to work in the language they like (currently ActionScript is supported), and have  it output to HTML5, with abstractions for allowing designers to now have to touch the code. I worked for a large bank, doing enterprise development work that handled billions of dollars of reporting data. I even wrote a book!

At home, I’ve been writing more, and raising my wonderful daughters. I’ve been working on building a deck, which has been no mean feat so far, maybe I can get that done before I am 43. I’ve been working on a secret project that early in 2014 I can talk about. My father-in-law has moved in with us, and my own parents have moved from Tucson to Indianapolis so we can see them more often as well.

It has been a full year.

So what have I gained and lost?

Time, in both senses. When I started working on the book, I had such a short set of deadlines to get the chapters in that I cut out all of my computer gaming entirely. Since I had been playing the Champions MMO, that had been a not-insignificant change. I miss the people there, and the role-playing of the life of a super hero. I don’t miss the time it took from me though. I am constantly surprised still at the amount of time I have for the rest of my life.

I have less time now too, both in my overall life, and in my day to day. How so for the day to day, David? You just said you have more time since you cut out gaming! Well, yes, but a vacuum likes to be filled. That time was filled with writing, with being more with my kids, with other projects, with going to bed at a reasonable hour. So I do have less time, however, I *feel* better about it than I had been. I have been more productive overall, and that makes me feel that time is well spent. Overall, a net positive.

I have slowed down my pace, though if you look at the list of things to do I seem to have increased. The difference has been focus. Doing one thing for a span of time, rather than trying to multitask, has been the key. Right now I am writing, but I have my laser engraver, my deck, and my secret project to work on today. Right now, I am writing, not doing all of those. Which has been the key to getting things done for me, your mileage may vary, but it works for me. It’s why you will see this post, instead of having it sit as a draft for another month.

What do I look forward to?

This year, everything. Life right now is really good. I’m employed, I have a great family, and the projects I am doing have been things have scratched a Maker itch that has been pestering me for a long time now. There aren’t many clouds on the horizon, and I hope that it stays that way. I have always believed that people make their own fate, though I have not always followed that belief. Now however, I am. I have the reigns firmly in hand, and I am controlling this horse called life.

What do I have planned for this year?

Good question! I have a lot of things planned. Not all of them will get done, but I will get to them as time allows. I plan on finishing the laser engraver within the next month or so, as long as nothing further goes awry (more on that in a future post). The deck certainly needs work. I am planning on writing a series of short books on 3D printing, now that the first one is out I realize there is a lot more that I can say on the matter to help people get into the hobby side of things. The secret project definitely needs work. I had a breakthrough late last week, and it was what I needed to get my enthusiasm for it ramped back up.

On the horizon is editing the fiction book I co-wrote with Katherine Guevara-Birmelin, working title of Sky and Storms. It’s massive, and written over email, so it has a *HUGE* amount of editing to do. I have a setting for another fiction novel in my head, spawned by the fallout from having to cancel Vegas After Midnight. Mick still has the fire in him to get his version out, and I encourage you to check it out.

From my desk here in the basement (moved here since the office is now the father-in-law room) I hear the pitter patter of little feet upstairs, which sound much larger than they used to only a few years ago, I know I need to wrap this up. Until next time, so long, and thanks for all the fish!

Categories: About Me, Blogroll, eRoom-D, Things at home, Writing | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment