Friday, 28 May 2021

IBM z50 joins the fold

 In continuing with my love / obsession with all things technical and laptops / palmtop related, I managed to get my hands on an IBM z50.

"What is that?", I hear you say... well, it is a very rare device that IBM made for 1 year.

...and YES, it can run Linux if you want it to :-)

As it states in the above website :

This is a bit of an oddity, as it's not really a laptop and it's not really a palmtop and it is not really a PDA, but it runs Windows CE.

Now, I used to write code / apps for Windows CE, back in the early days 2000-2008 for a huge variety of customers and I still have CD-roms full of PDA specific software, I even still have an Embedded C++ for Windows CE cd-rom in a drawer about 4 foot behind me.  Actually, I wonder if I should install that onto my Elonex P1 PC, just for some amusement and write an app or two.

Well, as I say, I managed to acquire one of these devices and it is in REALLY good condition!  Here are some photos of me unboxing it - I was very surprised that it was shipped to me in the ORIGINAL IBM box that it was first shipped with.

Also, yes, it came with a Wifi card, so, I might spend a few hours getting that hooked up so it can join the other devices on the network.

Tuesday, 4 May 2021

Vodafone and TOBi chat bot

 Vodafone and TOBi chat bot

Interesting headline at the top of the article....somewhat slightly mis-leading, but hey-ho Google...

Took me back a bit though, not in shock, in time!

Although I do very much like the fact that the reporter / Vodafone were honest and did explain that IBM Watson invented TOBi chatbot back in 2017 - I thank you very much, I will accept this and will take a bow..... Yes, I very much helped to make that a reality and then moved on....

That's what FOAK projects are for.... (First Of A Kind), you do something new, lay the foundations and then move on and then others come along and take it further...

Hmmm... 2017, that seems soooooo long ago now.

Tuesday, 30 March 2021

A.I. is magic, isn't it?

 I am often baffled by the external perception (ie. people who don't work with this stuff everyday) that is portrayed about A.I.. I also have issue with the usage of the term A.I. - as far as I am aware, we / humans, have not yet successfully created an Artificial Intelligence.  We have created human children, that have somewhat of a limited intelligence, but we have absolutely and genuinely no idea "how" we created the childs intelligence, that is a mystery.  Before, b!tching at me that we are the all knowing masters of the planet Earth and we are far superior, we have scientists and we know how everything works.... we don't. fact.  We can sit down with pen & paper in my garage and draw out exactly how the cars in my garage work.  We can pick any piece, strip it down, figure it out & rebuild it.  Because we have an understanding, we potentially can even improve certain elements, such as carbs or fuel injection manifolds.

However, we (mad scientists apart), cannot do this with a human.  Yes, we have moved on leaps and bounds over the past 150years, we have a lot more understanding of how human parts work, external limbs and internal components.  What we haven't truly figured out is the four square inches that sits inside your skull.  I'll also agree with you that we, as a race of humans, have figured out quite a lot by various means, some ethically, some not so, in order to understand how the human brain works.  What we do not understand is how human intelligence works.  Therefore, it is kind of technically correct to state that until that happens, we cannot create an Artificial Intelligence.

What we can create though is a sh!t load of code that performs Machine Learning and uses algorithms to make best guess choices and mis-label that as Artificial Intelligence.

Why the random rant about this?  Well, I stumbled over this article on the BBC News website:

Having been someone working "in the Industry" on this stuff for the past, 5-6years, I can 100% confirm and agree that what you don't see or hear about is the exact point that is being shown here.  People are being used to make the "Intelligent" decisions, ie. "look at this image, does it contain an animal, if so what one and could you also draw a box around it for me....thanks!".  That takes a human brain a second or so to look at something, analyse it and determine and output and perform an action.  We are sooooo far off a computer system doing something at the same speed or accuracy as a human being.

I have had many a discussion with some very senior company executives, who totally understand how to run their business to get the maximum amount of money out of it and still keep their employees employed, but when it comes to the mention of the word, A.I., they glaze over and picture all of the movies they've seen that portray an A.I.. Then, during discussions, they will say phrases such as, "...and then the A.I. will figure it out and provide us with the data to make better more informed decisions, yeah?".....

Well, order to "figure it out", you need data....a LOT of data....and you need to have a way to understand that data.... age old saying = "garbage in, garbage out".  Also, there is no magic A.I. robot sitting in a box someplace, just figuring stuff out like a 3year old human child.  There are lines of code, written by human beings (and therefore inherently buggy), that execute some logical algorithms that make guesses, albeit intelligent guesses that can then provide you with an output that you can then decide to action upon.  The machine is still dumb.  It cannot be associated with "blame", if you actioned out the output and the actions caused you to lose $10Bn of your companies assets, you asked it a question and based upon it's limited (yes, I shall still state limited) access to data, it's "training" (we'll come back to this in a moment), it then provided you with a result.  There was no intelligence involved, until the result was taken by a human being and assessed.  Then intelligence was applied.  Limited or otherwise.

Training data is a difficult problem.  You think you're doing the right thing by providing relevant data that is associated with the problem you want the M.L. algorithms to solve, however, you can then add in a lot of bias, as has been proven in numerous public situations exposed by the worlds press & media.  So, not only do you have a problem about needing a lot of data, you also need a balance of that data and you also need preparation of that data - ie. "labelling".  Yep, you know it, a lot of large IT corps. pulled some funny fast one's on the general public (thanks public!), by making phone apps that allowed you to do X,Y & Z, and you did it as you got a benefit out of it, but behind the scenes, you are actually doing the manual "labelling" for them, with it costing them much - I won't say it's without a cost, as they had to make the app, test it, deploy it, host it, etc..etc...but it's still way cheaper than getting dedicated "labellers", however, and this is the ref. to the BBC News article, you also need levels of approval for that labelling and you need humans to do that mundane task.  Think about the scenario when you remove those humans who are double-checking.... and some malicious "kids" decide that for fun, they are going to start labelling/tagging all cats in images as dogs, if everyone started doing it, the M.L. algorithms wouldn't have the Intelligence to know they are being duped.  Initially, it would be detected as an anomaly, as a glitch, as an acceptable percent error....but as it happened more and more, if left "unsupervised" the M.L. algorithms would then start to retrain themselves based upon the data they have been presented with... and then cats would take over the internet....oh, wait a minute! ;-) 

Whilst, we are making huge steps forward with the current tooling and mechanisms we have in place and I am mightily impressed with how far everything has come along over the past decade, we really need an injection of "something" to boost us to the next level, where we can have a genuine Artificial Intelligence made available - however, and I will point this at our American friends, once you have true A.I., you will have fear, human fear, to deal with.  In the same light as UFOs and Aliens, if the general public were to be informed that such things existed, then they would feel threatened, suddenly we're no longer at the top of the food or Intelligence chain and natural human behaviour will kick in (literally), humans will then seek to either limit, incarcerate or destroy the Artificial Intelligence.  I am saddened by this potential prospect, I seriously think we, as the race of human beings, need something to help us move along/up to the next level and we shall have to get over our ancestors instincts to kill something that threatens us, something we cannot control.  We do it fine for the 3 year old human child, who then grows up within our society (that we control every aspect of) and we have absolutely no real idea of what "thoughts" are going on within the same 4 square inches inside that child/adolescent/adults skull - if we have learnt to "trust" human children, surely, we can learn to "trust" an A.I. when it arises.

Well, that all got a little bit serious a little bit quickly didn't it!?!

I'll see if I can find a video that I made back in around 2012017-ish entitled, "A.I. is not magic", except I'm not sure if it contains too much work/work content to be made public.


The question that I shall giggle about for a short time is: Did "I" write the above content, or was it written by an M.L. algorithm that I fed some data and pointed at some online articles?..... you'll never know!  And, that is a slightly scary thought to deal with.... you assumed "I" was talking to you, that "I" as a human being was conveying this information for discussion (albeit one-way).... it's going to be an interesting future.  I'm getting a deck-chair and some popcorn....



I just noticed this article (the DAY AFTER I posted the above) - title says it all really :-)

Friday, 19 March 2021

Raspberry Pi and an affordable LIDAR

 Now, here's a thing of joy that won't break the bank....

Well....£245 isn't "cheap", but it's about 10 times cheaper than they were when I last looked!

I wonder if I could stick it on the roof of my 1959 Austin A35?..... now that could be interesting....

Well, these people have a slightly more expensive LIDAR and stuck it on top of a 3D Printed (?) vehicle - again, it's all about the software behind the hardware:

Saturday, 27 February 2021

AWS Sumerian - a quick & easy 3D chat bot?

Last week, I republished my "old" article on IBM developerworks as it had defaulted into "draft" mode as I hadn't kept it up to date.  So I make a few tweaks and republished it. 

I then noticed that I could potentially use it for the content of an internal IBM badge for Intellectual Capital, so I applied for it and got the badge.

Then I was asked by the reviewer, James Belton, if he could publish on LinkedIn / Twitter about the article as he was genuinely impressed and was actually going to follow it himself this weekend:

This got me thinking.  Maybe I should do a refresh, start again article, seeing as this article originally started life in early 2018.  I mean technology has moved on soooo much since then, hasn't it?....

.....well, apparently not!....

An internal request came up during this week, requesting to have an "Avatar" as a front for basically a chatbot using IBMs Assistant and Discovery services.... I naturally pointed them at the above article and said, "that'll probably do what you want...knock yourself out".


Then, this very morning, via a totally random connection, I stumbled over Amazon Sumarian.

What's that I hear you say? looks like AWS took the best elements from Unity and Unreal engine, stripped it down to the bare bones and made their own "Engine" for making 3D, Web GL, VR, AR digital human chatbots, well, you can do so much more, but that's what you can do as well.

Bring a new dimension to your web and mobile applications with Amazon Sumerian. 3D immersive experiences are breathing new life into user experiences on the web, increasing customer engagement with brands and improving productivity in the workplace. Amazon Sumerian makes it easy to create engaging 3D front-end experiences and is integrated with AWS services to provide easy access to machine learning, chatbots, code execution and more. As a web-based platform, your immersive experiences are accessible via a simple browser URL and are able to run on popular hardware for AR/VR.

After digging around deeper, it turns out that Amazon was publishing about this back in early 2018 as well - there must have been something in the air at that time!  Maybe it was something about 2019 or Covid-19 kicking in during 2020, but this stuff seems to have stalled a bit and risks getting lost to time, which would be a shame as it has got great potential and the service from AWS looks to be a "little bit" simpler than doing it via Unity.

I do have a backlog of a lot of things I want to get down during 2021, but maybe a NEW article using AWS Sumarian hooking into IBM Assistant/Discovery (rather than Polly/LEX) will appear on the horizon and refresh this concept.  If nothing else, I can use the new article to help me get my L3/Thought Leader Architect certification later in the year!  LOL - it's all about the badges....

UPDATE:  right, well seeing as I'm not allowed to go anywhere thanks to Lockdown rules (I can get the cars out of the garage, but cannot drive them anywhere, so what's the point?) I thought I'd create a new AWS account and give the above a quick go.... the honest truth is this took me about an hour and I did re-use an existing LEX Bot conversation asset about booking a hotel room, but I'm sure if I spent a bit more time I could write my own one...which I may actually do...

So, getting used to the IDE was the main thing, it did remind me a lot of Unity and a cross-hack of Unreal Engine too, but I got there in the end.  I am still having trouble moving around and seeing stuff properly in the edit camera mode - but the runtime camera mode works okay.  I think I had the same problem when using Unity - I think it might be due to the weird way that the Mac does it's keypad stuff and I'm no expert with that, I do the minimum.

Right, so I got to here:

and I deployed:

I must say....for something that was knocked up in an hour from never having used these tools before, I am actually impressed.  Yes, I did make it snow, why?  just because I could.  What with all this being OOTB, I am actually very impressed.

I have to stop there as my brain will go off on one about how security is applied, if I were to use this for something like a real use case, how would it handle it etc..etc.. but for now, I just want to appreciate what AWS have done.  I just might write that new article using this and seeing how the <scripting> can be enhanced to use the IBM APIs...

Friday, 12 February 2021

Epic Games’ MetaHuman Creator lets developers create realistic digital humans within minutes


Epic Games’ MetaHuman Creator lets developers create realistic digital humans within minutes

Why is this relevant?  Well.....way-back-when....I was looking into having Digital Humans as an interface for things such as Chatbots etc... and to be honest, the technology was at 2 extremes.  You had the likes of Soul Machines that would ask you to part with a few million quid for an awesomelly realistic digital human interface or you could use the Open Source version that was, well, let's just say, a bit 1995 PS1 style, but it would kind of do the job., you can create that Soul Machines level of Digital Human and not only that, you can do it pretty quickly too.

I might have to go back and create a new updated developer article using the new technology.

Thursday, 4 February 2021

Let's rewind the Web

As an amusing piece of BBC News, this story came out after I published the info about it being BBS time, well, I was writing it for what seems like ages, so maybe it was 10 mins before or after, whatever....

The funny thing is.... he's a multi-millionaire sitting on a tax haven island someplace getting bored - yes, read how much he sold the Bebo site for,........twice!  Yes, I fully appreciate that he had to put the "hard work in" in the first place to make it happen, in essence fleecing people for their details and then flogging all that data to a company who was going to try and find a way to exploit it and/or sell it to others....

That's not what I wanted to focus on though, what I was amused by was the fact that he is sitting there, bored stupid (island or no island) and he's fed up with Social Media sites (as I was eluding to in this Page), and was no doubt thinking to himself.... hmmmm.... what the world needs is some form of, oh I don't know, maybe some form of "Online Community".....
A place where you could connect to, a place you could virtually meet up with other people, have chats, maybe send an email or two to each other, perhaps, y'know, share some files or even some photos (careful!)....
Yes, in essence, he's describing a glorified BBS.

....then scrolling through the comments, yes, I am probably one of the few people who actually do scroll through some comments, just coz..... I find this nugget of wonder, totally 100% on the ball:

See.... the pure essence of the concept of a BBS is a "local pub online", but it is for people who wouldn't have gone to the pub, the pub was for social people, these people (and I include myself 100% in this group) would have been too geeky to have gone to a pub... that was for, social people... people who liked to brag about stuff, wear the latest fashions and liked to see others and be seen - I assume all of the above, as I wasn't there during my late teens / twenties!

Maybe....just maybe it might be worth writing a NEW hybrid of a BBS, mixed with a bit of MySpace, a bit of, Friends Re-united, Bebo, tw*tter, f*ceb**k, Y*uT*be all thrown into the mix and make a new form of BBS.....

But, still keep the Time Limit feature - I REALLY like this concept, I appreciate why it existed in the first place, but I am thinking that if you limit access to something that people are addicted to, they'll keep coming back, they'll manage their time better when they are, there's so much of everything, all of the time, instant access, whenever you want it and even when you don't.  We've spoilt a generation giving them the very thing our parents denied us - I do recall only being allowed to use the family Amstrad CPC-464 on the dining room table for 1hour per night, no if's, no but's, 1 hour limit was hit, that switch was flicked and it was off....the monitor (it was huge) and keyboard were then ceremoniously moved to the other end of the living room and there it stayed until tomorrow at 7pm.... On a Saturday morning, I was allowed to switch it on from 8am (when parents had gone to work) and I could use it until midday, when I had to then go meet parents at work, OR, if it was a great day, I could use it all day until 6pm, when I would hear the car pull up on the driveway and then it was panic time to clear the computer up and set the table for dinner, all in about 30 seconds..... I'm sure my parents used to sit in the car for longer, just to give me time to clear everything up!

Anyway, I digressed again.....the point being, by having that limited time / access, I was more efficient with the timeI did have, I valued it more.  I planned what I was going to do, I actually wrote code (in BASIC) in pencil on A4 paper, I debugged that code in my head and fixed it (hence the pencil), so that I could spend the most efficient amount of time with the computer.

That is where I believe the next BIG THING is going to go towards.  Limited access.  Ability to earn extra time, I don't know, like selling some of your soul to advertisers, by doing some survey or something.  Still have the Social element, but cater for unsocial people too...

I've waffled on for far too long, again.....I wonder, if I had 100hours a week "spare", whether I could design and code a platform.....not for selling, that's against the point, but for helping the Gen Z's to actually experience or have a glimpse of what we had (or not) back when we first experienced computers and technology.  As sad as it is to say, I have to go back to work / work on Monday and I'm pi$$ poor at my job, I dedicate all of my time and effort to make my company's customers happy that it leaves me with very little time and brain power to do stuff on my own.... I have tried to cut it down a bit, but I find I can't and I've been doing it for so long now that my company's managers kind of expect it now... 

Now...where did I put that "Socket Programming in Turbo C" book?..... I reckon that might be a good place to start, I still have, what 3.5 days left of "vacation"..... :-D

Although I just burnt up 1/2 a day getting the Mystic BBS / MS-DOS File Upload / Download capability working and updated in the article!

Wednesday, 3 February 2021

It's BBS time!

"What the...? Why?.....Really?.... Have you got nothing better to do?"

These are all the types of phrases I've heard from Mrs.IsAGeek all week....well, I am on "vacation" this week, during a Global pandemic, with a Lockdown being placed on us I can't go anywhere...

So, what is a late 40s IT Geek meant to do?.... setup a BBS, of course!

So, fire up your 56k Baud modem, strap yourself in.....and let's go back to the 1990s!

and yes, here is a teaser - I did indeed get it all working (eventually), well, nearly, kind of....

Yep, those are real files available within the BBS....for me to download and use on the IBM PC 110 device.... except that one is precious, I'll wait until I get some of the TFT screens setup on the other devices before I use this too much.  Still, pretty awesome though.  Sigh...I'm such a geek.

UPDATE: I finally got the File Upload / Download from MS-DOS sorted out!  It took a tiny bit of head-scratching, but got there in the end!  Woo!hoo!

Here's the UPLOAD:

and here's the DOWNLOAD:

Why on their own?...well, am having trouble downloading non .TXT files.....hmmmm......

checking through the C source code to see if there is anything that needs to be set/configured to allow for binary downloads versus just plain text?
(btw -as the github states, this is a fork/backup of the original source-code, full credit goes to Mr.Brutman - the man is a genius)

Sunday, 31 January 2021

New Geeky toys - HP200LX and Compaq Contura Aero 4/33c

Okay, so these particular one's are not "new", they have been sitting on the shelf for the past few years gathering a bit of dust.  I did stick 2xAA batteries in the back (as that is all they need), but they turned on and went straight off again.... I assumed they were broken or something.  Then I found the CMOS battery slot hidden behind the IR cover, swapped that out for a new one and plugged the external PSU for the Atari Portfolio (more about that later!) in and lo'and'behold, we have working devices!  I started with the 1MB model, just to make sure I didn't fry anything and then I moved over to the more "precious" 2MB model.  I also switched out the Duracell batteries for rechargeable ones and then had to find out how to "up" the contrast so I could see stuff!

Well, I was mightily impressed by these little devices, they are awesomely powerful with their little 486 motherboards and no moving parts.  They run MS-DOS v5 too...  I'll figure out what to use them for at some point in the future, as for now, they'll just be part of my "1990s collection of small devices that are awesome".    (The very smart chap who is doing the IBM PC 110 screen fix is also doing some magic in relation to these HPs, PCMCIA cards and I'll stay tuned on that progress!)
and then the really "new" geeky toy arrived..... the Compaq Contura Aero 4/33c!

CF Card for size comparison on the top of the device - yes, that is the built-in mouse roll ball on the right-hand side - it works really well!
The previous owner, Ollie, did a great job of restoring and setting this device back up.  The HDD is the old IDE 250mb version that makes a lovely clicking noise as the device boots up - it genuinely "sounds" like it is thinking, like an old 1930s robot that you can hear the clunking of the gears whiring away.

Obviously, it lasted about 10minutes before I got it connected to the inter-webs!  I love those old Cisco aironet 350 series cards!  Also, just like the HP 200LX / IBM PC 110 devices, this is a 486 too!  Currently running 8MB RAM... I just looked up how much a 16MB RAM module is (>£100) WOW! and an extra 8MB RAM module is around the £60 mark...ouch!.... I would like to get it to 20MB to match my IBM PC 110, but, y'know...there are limits...

I know it's probably not that easy to see, but this is actually a really small device, it's about the size of an A4 piece of paper and about the thickness of a good book.  As you can see the 3.5" floppy disk, off to the right, is attached via PCMCIA, which in my opinion is a good decision.  I have a ton of 256Mb CF Cards that I use to copy DOS files around between the machines, so that suits me great.

Talking of those spare 256Mb CF Cards, here's me doing a full HDD backup (just incase), it came with MS-DOS v6.22, Windows 3.1, Microsoft Office 2 (Word, Access, Powerpoint) and Lotus suite too - it was like going back to my first days in the work/work environment!

I know it's hard to see, but the design of this device is really nice, it is sleek, it has curves in the right places, it has worn REALLY well for it's age, they keyboard is nice, it has PROPER keys, not these 2mm Apple crap things that we all apparently use nowdays, they are proper keys that you have to properly press down....

And of course, here's the "Let's surf the internet" on this device (I put my hand on the device at the end to give you a sense of scale).  If I can get the battery figured out on this device, I will be using this as a portable sub-netbook for daily usage.... that clicking HDD was annoying me - I like to have silent devices, but, after speaking to Ollie and gazing over a few websites, it sounds like a CF Card conversion is not worth the hassle... we'll see....

Well. I couldn't resist.... the original July 1992 PC Format disc - that I have had in my possession since then (and have installed onto many a PC since then), was winking at me... also, gave me a good excuse to test out the PCMCIA floppy disk drive. 

Installed to the HDD and played rather well!  Due to the LCD screen style, the germans were a little blurry at they were moving about, but it certainly played just at the right speed and how I remember it!

Ah......nostalgia!....can't beat it.

This weekend, on Mars... (in the very near future)

UPDATE: okay, okay, my time machine is playing havok with me at the moment, I got my timeline out of sync.... apparently this event is NOT GOING TO HAPPEN for another 3 WEEKS!  But, it will happen and I imagine the following will still be 100% valid :-)


so...this weekend will be noted by most people as being pretty much the same as the past X amount of weekends during the COVID-19'll involve minimal "going out", maybe an essential trip to the supermarket and far too much viewing of Netflix or Amazon Prime.

However, I am a little shocked (but not surprised) about the total lack of news / information that this weekend is also the time when 'Perseverance' is going to land on Mars.  Yes, yet another piece of robotic NASA junk is going to be hurled at Mars, drive around a bit, crush some rocks, gather some questionably grainy images and pretty much not do much and be a total waste of "normal" peoples time....

Well..... this time, it's a little different, okay it's a BIG difference!  This is like one of those, in 50 years from now, they'll reach back in time and ask people, "what were you doing when" moments.  As I say, most will moan that they were not allowed to "go to the pub", there will be a geeky few that will smile and say, "that was an awesome weekend that paved the way for the future of human-kind....a helicopter on Mars"......

"A what, what now?", I hear you ask!  yep - not only a delivery drone, but also a helicopter on Mars.... if it works out, imagine now sending 50 of them, think of the range you could cover in the air, rather than being restricted by driving on the ground....

There a quite a few other goodies on this mission that are going to lay the foundation for it being a game changer....I'll let you spend a little bit of time and watch / listen and learn all about it:

I am also very much liking the concept / idea of starting to make a "Universe Internet"..... www.base1-alpha.moon or www.base2-beta.mars - Naturally, I'll still be trying to get MS-DOS based 1990's equipment to send/receive those network signals across the universe!  In fact they will probably be the most efficient devices to be used - minimal moving parts, minimal fuss..... they'll probably be based around an RPi PICO no doubt....we'll see.