Excerpts from the blog It was unusually quiet at Bellevue game publisher Valve last week. The entire team — and their families ...

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Excerpts from the blog

It was unusually quiet at Bellevue game publisher Valve last week.

The entire team — and their families — took a spring break in Cabo San Lucas, on the company’s dime. The company employs about 160, and took 358 on the trip.

Valve has been hosting the trips since 2004 as an unofficial reward for shipping products. Last fall’s big release was the “Orange Box,” a compilation of Valve’s “Half-Life 2” games plus a puzzle game called “Portal.”

Spokesman Doug Lombardi said the company used to take the trips in the winter, but shifted to spring after they had a few chilly days during last year’s Caribbean cruise.

Life can be tough sometimes.

Not elementary

Maybe this will help finally locate Osama bin Laden.

Seven universities, led by the University of Washington, announced Wednesday that they’re looking into ways to harness the power of complex, distributed systems to interpret data and predict behavior.

The project, funded with a five-year, $6.5 million grant from the Department of Defense, involves research in machine learning and artificial intelligence.

Software companies, such as Microsoft, are also exploring this frontier, trying to figure out how to make the most of diverse information streaming from cameras, sensors and other monitoring devices.

Here’s how the UW announcement described it:

“The basic approach is the same as that of fictional detective Sherlock Holmes: using the powers of reasoning to discover the best explanation for a set of clues. But today’s reasoning can’t be done by a single, pipe-smoking sleuth. The modern military has millions of possible clues, including sensors on soldiers, satellite maps, road monitors, aerial drones and written observations from reconnaissance missions. The Army Research Office that provided the grant wants to make sense of this information to make decisions and predict an adversary’s next moves.”

The project is led at the UW by Pedro Domingos, associate professor of computer science. The UW is receiving about $2.5 million of the grant.

Products of the research will be made public, and could benefit other areas such as the medical profession, Domingos said.

Other participants are Thomas Dietterich at Oregon State University; Raymond Mooney at the University of Texas; Carlos Guestrin at Carnegie Mellon University; Jerry Hobbs at the University of Southern California; Henry Kautz at University of Rochester; and Josh Tenenbaum at Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

The big conversion

To help educate people about the switch in February to digital TV, Seattle City Councilmember Bruce Harrell has arranged a public forum at City Hall at noon on April 22.

Topics include: the transition, how to connect a digital TV converter box, where to get federal coupons for the boxes and how to dispose of old TVs.

Panelists include Seattle Chief Technology Officer Bill Schrier; the city’s solid-waste director, Timothy Croll; Radio Shack district manager Greg Jones; Glenn Farley, of KING 5; and Comcast spokesman Steve Kipp. The forum will also be broadcast on Channel 21.

Seattle and the FCC have Web sites that explain the switch and provide some Q&A.

It’s not mentioned by the Feds, but there are alternatives to a digital converter box, if you have an analog television and don’t want to upgrade. If you have cable or satellite TV service, you may not need a converter at all.

Another alternative that’s not much more expensive is a digital video recorder or DVD player/recorder with a built-in digital tuner.

This material has been edited for print publication.

Brier Dudley’s blog appears Thursdays. Reach him at 206-515-5687 or bdudley@seattletimes.com.