The STEMpunk Project: Sixth Month’s Progress

You may have noticed that I’m getting worse about writing these monthly progress reports well after the month is finished. I apologize for that, other things have been coming up which had to take precedent.

Here is a sampling of what I built in August:

car_car  er_catapulter_crane  car_suspensioncar_steering  car_misc

The first three are from an erector set and the last three are from a charming little children’s book about cars. I also build a model of a jet engine, but since I had six pictures and they make such a nice 3 x 2 grid I decided to not include it 🙂 In addition I read sections of Basic Machines and How They Work and The Basics of Mechanical Engineering.

I was set to begin Robotics in September but recent life events have caused me to reconsider and make the first major structural change to The STEMpunk Project so far.

Each of the modules was designed to expose me to theory while allocating plenty of time to actually tinkering with physical devices. Even though that hasn’t turned out the way I’d hoped it would, I have basically been successful. Robotics was included because it seemed like a natural extension of computing, electronics, and mechanics; but the more research I do, the more I realize that building a foundation in robotics requires a lot of programming skill.

There are good robotics kits out there, but most of them don’t seem like they would be as effective in cultivating useful intuitions as the model engines and electronics kits have been because they don’t bear the same relationship to the actual physical systems which they represent. A toy engine may be wildly oversimplified but real engines also have cylinders, valves, a crankshaft, etc. As far as I can tell, however, code is the heart of robotics, and most of the kits I’ve examined don’t factor that in.

So I’ve been thinking, if I’m going to have to do a bunch of programming anyway I may as well shift my focus to Artificial Intelligence instead of robotics. AI was one of the fields I was thinking about exploring post-STEMpunk, and I may have successfully corrupted a dear friend into moving to Boulder and working on AI safety professionally. If either comes to pass, the work I do now will put me in a better position moving forward.

Moreover, I’m twenty-eight years old and must therefore give thought to the long-term stability of the people whose lives are bound up with mine. I haven’t started a family yet but I suspect that it won’t be long now, and besides that, with my ebbing youth comes the fact that I have a finite number of years left in which to develop the skills I’m going to develop and make the contributions I’m going to make. Since AI is a serious interest of mine, it would behoove me to spend the last leg of The STEMpunk Project working on it.

Finally, these days no one’s job is really safe. The STEMpunk Project probably hasn’t done that much to make me more employable, but a few months spent programming and playing with Machine Learning libraries — especially if I continue on after the main project is finished — probably will.

This is all very new so I haven’t chosen my learning goals and charted a course yet. But I was thinking I’d spend about a month brushing up on python, then maybe read Russell and Norvig’s “Artificial Intelligence: A Modern Approach”, then maybe start exploring some of the AI work being done with python, possibly going as far as to get a Machine Learning Nanodegree from Udacity.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s