Weekly Update: Technology Available Cheap

I have decided to write about something every week for this blog. The subjects will be something I have been doing or am interested in.

I am a computer guy for a local shoe company. Despite all of the interesting changes I see in the world of massive systems that run large multi-national corporations (and I get paid to make work), I am still very interested in what you can pick-up for a few bucks or moderate amount of bucks and what interesting things you can do with it. Of late many of these things can be coded in Python or even graphical programming tools. The breaking out of really good and well-maintained open technology into the mainstream means that it is free or cheap and you can even get help and it lets you do cool things.

Looking back, this is my first computer:


(ZX-80 Image)

It was not what we call Open. It was a kit you bought from a magazine. My father said to my mother, “he might like this,” and got me one. I was surprised. It was cheap and amazing for its time. I loved it and began my journey coding on a ZX-80.

Returning to today, a good example of the changes I am seeing was my recent chess program. One of my first desires when I first learned to write code (back in 1980 on a Sinclar, yes back then) was to write game programs and the one that always comes to mind is chess. The amount of code to encapsulate all the rules and processes of chess has stopped me (not to mention the level of technology was much different back then). It is just not worth the work and the results will be bug filled and at the limits of what is possible, until now. Please see my code at Python Chess for my chess playing Python program. I discovered a library that covered all of the code needed to play a game. I just had to write the controls and the algorithms. The library is being actively maintained and at last count, it was on version 25! The world has changed and now I can write a chess-playing program in about 400 lines of Python. I am also able to explore, with again just a few lines of code, how to use some very basic Artifical Intelligence, to make decisions for the chess engine!


To continue the story of my chess program, I had an problem with the code and I put in an issue, using the issues that is part of open development of GitHub, on the library and the author contacted me from Germany and pointed out that I needed the new version for the code to work. I closed the problem after I checked that the update would fix the issue and included the fix (how to run an update) when I closed the issue.  This will allow the next person to avoid the same issue.

On open, I have some new hardware coming from SparkFun that is a small package but contains Tensor Flow.  Tensor Flow is one of the computer words like Bitcoin that make computer people become like a bunch of Justin Beaver fans at a concert. Ok, maybe computer nerds will not quite be like that–but they will be trembling with excitement. For a few bucks, I could put an artificial intelligence (AI) process in a small DIY robot; Tensor Flow can be described as a machine learning process for AI. The world is changing and it is exciting, see Edge Board. All available by using Sparkfun’s online order system, pay by PayPal or credit card and have it delivered in your mailbox in under a week.

All the comments about how social media creates trolls and how social media becomes platforms for the crazy are true, but what you can do with a dedicated open community is unexpectedly nice and can lead to many cool things. Free and cheap but open and functional. I get that Justin Beaver fan feeling all over now!


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