The Deliverator – Wannabee

So open minded, my thoughts fell out…

Archive for the 'Books' Category

The Gravity of Book Stores

Posted by Deliverator on 27th October 2005

My mind has been a little more addled then usual, lately, so I sought out some clear thinkers at Bailey Coy books this evening. I picked up “The Mismeasure of Man” by Stephen Jay Gould, Oliver Sacks’ “Oaxaca Journal” and “The Pearl” by John Steinbeck. I read Steinbeck’s Travels with Charley on my recent trip and thoroughly enjoyed it. A number of his books were required reading in HS. I enjoyed them at the time, but would have enjoyed them more had they not been required. I am of the strong belief that education is much more effective when it is a guided, but self-directed process of discovery and exploration and not just a literary canon to be forced down the throats of each generation by the last – in retribution for the same treatment having been applied to them…

Although I know it doesn’t suit my mind’s present need for clarity, I also picked up “The Electric Kool-Air Acid Test” by Tom Wolfe. Alex has recommended it to me on a number of occasions, and if I don’t read it, I fear he may do so in the future. Alex and I are both voracious readers and know well each other’s prefered tastes. Our tastes have a large intersection, but we each sample from far outside our comfort zone from time to time. Doing so from time to time has a wonderful way of exposing one to all that the world has to offer while simultaneously making one more appreciative of the comforts of home.

My dad and I may take a weekend roar trip to Ashland, OR in a few weeks to coincide with my mother’s visit to my brother in Cleveland. Books are getting knocked off their shelves with increasing regularity, but I find it very difficult to pass through Oregon without stopping at Powell’s City of Books. I can seldom pass a book store without going in, and I can seldom go in without coming out with a basket full of books. Powell’s is like a black hole for me. I have killed whole days inside. God, I hate being a book addict sometimes…

Posted in Books, General | 1 Comment »

The Day…Not Quite Today

Posted by Deliverator on 29th July 2005

Yesterday I:

  • Ordered pizza online for the first time. It took 1:05 to arrive, but was oh so delicious. Very Soon Now (TM), I should be able to do this from within Second Life, as Firefox is being added in 1.7 and 1.6.9 just came out. I aim to be the first person to order a real world pizza from within SL :)
  • Finished Cory Doctorow’s SL edition of his new novel, Someone Comes to Town, Someone Leaves Town. I attended Cory’s in-world appearance/booksigning the other day and it was a lot of fun. You can see my AV in this picture. I am the nebulous inky black energy being on the left side. I will post some pictures of the event on Imob‘s Second Life Gallery, shortly.
  • Spent ~7 hours upgrading the carputer. The carputer is now running on a Via Epia MII motherboard clocked at 1.2 GHZ. It is considerably faster than the previous board, an Epia M 6000. The main reason I did the upgrade was not because of speed, but because of the MII’s Cardbus and CF slots. I have ditched the USB Orinoco adapter and am now using a Senao 200 MW pcmcia card for wifi access. In the near future, I plan on upgrading to an EVDO card so that the carputer has always on internet access. I will probably also add a CF bluetooth adapter. I was very displeased with the flakiness of the Dlink bluetooth dongle I had been using. Anyone have any recommendations for a replacement?
  • Stopped in at the hardware store to try and find a off-the-shelf solution to couple the mounting shafts of our two ROV motors together. I found plenty of stuff that would work in the plumbing and electrical conduit sections, save for the fact that the mounting shafts are a very non-standard 1″ in diameter. You see, in the plumbing world, everything seems to be measured to the inner diameter…
  • I posted to the HPC Factor forums regarding auto-launching applications from CF and got some helpful responses. After a little more searching, trial and error and reading between the lines of other forum posts, I was able to get autolaunching working and shave off another 500 KB. Read my post at HPC Factor for more info.

Posted in Books, General, Portable Computing/Gadgets, Tech Stuff, Windows CE | No Comments »

Atlanta Update

Posted by Deliverator on 21st April 2005

Quick update on happenings in Atlanta. It took quite a while last night to get everyone into their hotel rooms and give them time to wash up. By the time we were ready to eat, almost all the restaurants were close and we ended up walking all over downtown until we finally found a 24 hour diner called The Landmark. I treated my “family” (the five kids who for whom I am responsible) to dinner, so long as they kept it under $10 each. Almost every one of them figured a different way to tally up to $9.95 and managed to get the waiter to throw in free pie. I had one of my favorite meals, Biscuits and Gravy. It was definitely above average, but far from the best I have had. When we finally got through eating and managed to work our way back to the hotel at around 1 am local time. Despite being very tired, my insomnia was working overdrive and I didn’t end up getting to sleep until 3:30, after having read a book called “Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom” by Boing Boing regular Cory Doctrow. The book is about how the world might operate in a “post-scarcity future” in which all the basic needs of almost everyone on the planet are met for next to nothing and the traditional definitions of what constitutes an economy have long fallen by the wayside. The book focuses on an attempt by a group of people trying to wrest control of the Haunted Mansion ride at Disney World (which is now run by dozens of ad-hoc fan organizations.) away from another group, so that they can modernize it. The other group (of whom the main character is a member) advocates minimal restoration/revision of the ride. I think Doctrow’s idea of how a post-scarcity economy would operate is flawed in a number of ways, and his world seems internally inconsistent on a number of points, but as a fun romp, it works.

Today, I was shook awake at 6:15 by Brad, the TRC’s faculty advisor, who was also my physics teacher in HS. I shared a room with Brad at the PNW regional too, and learned my leason. What Brad does can’t accurately be described as snoring. I think it would be more properly categorized as a localized distortion of the space-time. This time around, I came prepared with earplugs :)

I rarely eat breakfast, so I took a group of students down to the pits to uncrate the robot and get things in order for tomorrow’s competition. The whole day was very chaotic and the students didn’t do everything they could have to make productive use of the time. For example, we were scheduled for 3 practice matches today. A lot of the best teams (including us) start scouting out potential partners early, and our preformance on the practice floor was less than inspiring. A lot of stupid mistakes were made (half charged batteries, people forgetting to bring the control box/joysticks, etc.), but I feel confident that we will be ready to put on a good show for tomorrow’s qualifying matches. If we do well enough in the qualifying matches, it will be up to us to choose other teams as alliance partners, and not the other way around. I know that I am being overly harsh here. I just feel that we are less organized in many respects compared to other teams. I think our team puts the vast majority of its energy into the robot itself and doesn’t spare much time/thought/money in promoting itself to other teams. We usually acquit ourselves based on our match performance, but at nationals, there is much stiffer competition and I really feel we need to do a better job of evangelizing ourselves. I think a bigger budget would help somewhat in this respect, as well as a dedicated sub-group that works on nothing but creating promotional materials, but we are stetched pretty thin for manpower and very few people have stepped up to the plate and said “I am going to take on this responsibility. I am going to make sure this gets done.” Our wireless fed, database driven scouting sytem (which served us very well at the PNW regional), which combines annecdotal feedback on individual robots, as well as statistical match performance data has been greatly expanded. Not only do we have more team member entering data about robots within the division, but we have opened up the system and created information sharing agreements with several teams in other division, so that we can at least gain a sense of who the toughest competitors might be, should we make it to the divison vs division playoffs. This expansion of the system was sorely needed, but it has left few people free to do less “sexy” activities, like serving as cameramen to record our matches, guard our booth in the pit (I was appaled to find the pit totally deserted at one point with several expensive DV cameras laying in plain sight). Several teams have reported laptops and similar items stolen and I have heard reports that pick-pockets are working the crowd. I haven’t let any of my several gadgets leave my direct possesion at any time and I have been keeping my wallet in a zipped, inside jacket pocket. A pit guard could also help keep all batteries charged, maintain other important gear and serve as our spokesperson at the same time. I think we are going to have to work out some sort of swing shift system, as I don’t think anyone is going to volunteer and it NEEDS to be done. I think the arena floor is perceived as being where all the action is, so everyone wants to scout…

Some good technical stuff happened today. Borrowing tools from neighboring booths, we got the security camera flush mounted into the frame and ran the wires to a Lexan armor covered area into which we should be able to squeeze a small DV camera (running in VCR mode) to record video. A DV cam is a little less than ideal as a recording device, as they typically only have a S-video connection for input, which results in black and white video, when hooked to a composite source via a s-video to composite adapter. I also worry about tape skipping when we colide with other robots. I would have liked to get one of Archos’ new portable video players that also have PVR functionality. I saw some neat video that was taken at a recent computer convention (Comdex, E3, ???) using a camera concealed within a cap with wires running to one of these archos PVR units in a pocket. The unit was subtle enough that many people didn’t seem to catch on to being filmed. Even in those that did notice the camera, seemed to mind it much less that a more obviously present camera. A lot of people don’t act normally in the presence of cameras, and the hatcam approach did a real good job of keeping things naturally conversational. Anyways, we will try and tackle the recording issue tomorrow morning.

By the end of the day, everyone was absolutely beat. My feet have not been this sore in years. I think even my blisters will have bliisters. Nobody seemed to object to spending a quiet night in the hotel. Tomorrow will be the first day of qualifying matches. Nasa TV (most mid-level cable and satellite tv packages should carry the channel) is going to be carrying the matches on in the late afternoon and will be carrying the competition all day Saturday. There will also be live streaming of the whole thing on the internet. Check the page for the details. Look for team 492 if you should wish to cheer us on!

Posted in Books, General, Portable Computing/Gadgets, Tech Stuff, Titan Robotics Club | No Comments »

Dear lazyweb…please solve all my problems.

Posted by Deliverator on 16th April 2005

I have been incredibly busy this week. I have been busy trying to tie up all the loose ends in my life so that I can to go to Atlanta next week with the TRC (whose website is now back up after failing to pay their bills!) for the FIRST International Robotics Championship. The TRC is the defending champion for the Pacific Northwest two years running and is the only undefeated team in the WORLD at the moment! Still, we are trying to avoid it going to our heads too much. The Galileo division is absolutely stacked this year, with something like 20 of the teams having won at least a single regional tournament in the past. I have been working non-stop this week and have been able to bank a lot of dough. My taxes also weren’t as much as I was expecting, so I have a little money to spare. I have been contemplating a few purchases, but would like some advice on potential purchases and other matters. In short, I am depending on you, dear lazyweb to answer my problems…

  • My digital camera is getting quite dated (2 MP Kodak with no zoom). I am looking for something that is pocketable (in a jacket) with a metallic case, in the 4-5 MP range, takes CF or SD media, has at least a 3x optical zoom, has a big, clear LCD, good button layout and makes intelligent “point and shoot” decisions, but also provides easy access to exposure control and other “manual” features. Panoramic assist (stiches images together), automatic image rotation, movie mode and the ability to run on AA batteries would be nice features, but aren’t show stoppers. Does such a beast exist? Some of the cameras in the Canon Powershot line seem to fit the bill. Sony also has a camera that seems pretty nice, but Sony of course obtusely continues to insist on putting their terrible, proprietary memory stick format in all their products. So, does such a beast exist?
  • I picked up a color camera for the ROV and am looking for a clear glass vessel in which to “pot” it. The idea is to use silicone sealant to mount the camera flush against a clear glass plate and then fill up the rest of the space in the glass using casting acrylic. This should make the camera extremely resistant to the effects of pressure. I have been hunting for drinking glasses, jars, etc that would be suitable for this purpose, but am not having much luck. The camera I picked up is a cheap $45 CMOS based camera that can be powered with a 9v battery and outputs video and audio via an RCA cable. The CMOS sensor is not particularly sensitive at low light levels, but it was the only camera I could find that came with an optional wide angle (90 degree) lens (and an even wider Fish Eye lens is available). Frys had several CCD based “bullet” cams that switch between B&W and color modes based on the light levels and automatically turn on a ring of a dozen or so LEDs in extremely low light situations. Some of the CCDs advertise being able to get an image at as low as .1 lux luminosity, while the CMOS cameras never seem to claim better than about 3 lux. All the bullet cams were inappropriate for general use on an ROV, though, because none of them supported more than a 50 degree angle of view. I think the ROV may actually need two cameras, one for wide angle navigation and another for picking up detail on objects. There are cameras with zooms and adjustable focus, but they are expensive and would have to be mounted in a waterproof, pressure resistant chamber, which would complicate things greatly. So, can anyone provide me with some information on inexpensive, sensitive B&W CCD cameras with wide angle lenses and preferably something with a good mounting bracket?
  • I have been trying to acquire a copy of “Build your own underwater robot and other wet projects by Harry Bohm.” without any luck. Nobody locally seems to have a copy (UW bookstore *might*) and all the major online retailers seem to be on extreme backorder. I would really like to get a copy before heading to Atlanta, so that I have something to read while down there
  • I am trying to get a hold of some detailed charts of Lake Washington that have the locations of the many significant wrecks marked on them. I have attempted to contact various members of the local wreck diving community, but haven’t heard back from any of them.
  • We will be staying near the Georgia Dome in Atlanta, but will not have access to cars (or at least not many of them). What is there to see in Atlanta that can be reached by public transportation and is worth seeing in the late evening (as evenings are all we will have free)?

Posted in Books, General, Photography, Portable Computing/Gadgets, Rants and Raves, Tech Stuff, Titan Robotics Club | 4 Comments »

A recommendation, for a change

Posted by Deliverator on 6th April 2005

Unlike the books mentioned in my previous post, I can wholeheartedly recommend One Man’s Wilderness. The book is primarily a collection of journal entries and pictures that document a year in the life of Richard Proenneke, who at the age of 50 set out to build a cabin (using only hand tools!) deep in the Alaskan wilderness, 40+ miles by plane from the nearest human inhabitation. In simple words Proenneke describes the process of building his cabin, exploring the countryside and the personalities of its animal inhabitants. Throughout, you get a intimate sense of the man’s steady, patient personality, good hearted humor in the face of harsh circumstances, incredible ingenuity and a personal philosophy that rejects much of the unhealthy consumerism that has all but consumed the western individual. Above all, one comes away from the book with a deep appreciation for the ability of man to adapt and carve out a place for himself in the world and live by his own rules, while deeply respecting the world around him. Dick Proenneke died recently, after spending most of the last 35 years serving as self appointed steward to the Twin Lakes area and living in the cabin he built with his own two hands. His home was recently made a historic site and is maintained by the park service of what is now Lake Clark National Park. This book will inspire and leave a glow in your heart, long after you finish it!

Next up on my list is American Pastoral by Philip Roth. This book won a Pulitzer a few years back and Roth has been a name that repeatedly has come up in conversations with other bibliophiles, so I am looking forward to starting in on this one…

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Partially Digested Mental Vomitus

Posted by Deliverator on 3rd April 2005

Random ejecta:

-Went to West Marine Supply and spoke to someone about motors for the ROV project. It looks like they sell a few bilge pump motors that might suit as thrusters. Bilge motors seem the most appropriate of the motors that I have found thus far, as they are well sealed/watertight, because they often have to operate in corrosive salt water. Some of the higher flow rate motors are pretty expensive, though ($100+), and we will need at least 3 for the ROV. We might be able to get by with two, but we would have to go to an active balast control system, which would add considerable mechanical complexity to the design.

-Finished two books while I have been recuperating. The first is Market Forces by Richard K Morgan. I really liked his first book, Altered Carbon, which won the Philip K. Dick award a few years ago. His second book, Broken Angels, set in the same book-verse as the first was also quite good, although not as sharp as the first. I just couldn’t suspend disbelief for this one. The world he paints, of “neo-brutalist” corporatism gone amuck, just doesn’t ring true in too many places. Too much of Morgan’s cynicism seeps on to the pages without really being articulated in a plausible way. The other book I finished was Neil Gaiman’s “short story collection”Smoke and Mirrors. My feeling about this book is that Gaiman’s publisher was trying to capitalise on Gaiman’s recent fame by raiding his notebooks for every aborted zygote of a story, poem or dirty bar room limerick and shove it into the outstretched hands of a slathering public. Both of these authors are capable of producing real gems, but neither of these works are representative of their talent. Guys, it is time to slow down, dig deep and fill the trash with some crumpled up paper…

-Went and saw Sin City with Alex. I didn’t really like it, but it interested me deeply on a technical level. I am always interested in seeing what Rodriguez produces, because he breaks all the rules and gets away with it. Rodriquez has become the figurehead for a new era of ultra low budget film production. His first commercial success, El Mariachi was made for around $5k. Hollywood really hates him, but his ability to consistently deliver box office profits, if not critical aclaim (Desperado, Once Upon a Time in Mexico, Spy Kids, etc.)
has made everyone take notice…

Posted in Books, General, Movies, Titan Robotics Club | 1 Comment »

reflecting pools

Posted by Deliverator on 16th January 2005

I stayed up till near dawn to finish reading “The Etched City” by first time novelist K.J. Bishop . My head is still reeling, although still firmly attached to my neck (if only, just). The Etched City starts off as an otherworldly western, but just when you think you have the basis for the story, the plot changes venue and you find out that the story was all prologue to something much grittier, stranger, darker and haunting than you imagined. As the story progresses, the world takes on layers of rational complexity and mythic uncertainty. It is really difficult for me to classify the genre of “The Ethced City.” In the last few years, after having encountered the works of authors like Neil Gaiman and China Mieville, I have begun to feel that there is a new genre of literature is emerging. As yet nameless, this new genre blends the fantastic and horrific (in the victorian sense) together with equal ease, adds a generous dash of myth and plops it all down in a cityscape that is both familiar and alien. A suitable, although inadequate title for this new genre might “The Urban Epic Myth.” Trying to balance as many (often contradictory) themes would play hell with and most likely crush the confidence of the most seasoned authors, to see it done by such a newly forged wordsmith for page after page with such apparent ease was one of the greatest pleasures I have had in bed in quite a while! ;)

Bishop displays such utter mastery of the english language in describing characters, places, thoughts, etc. that it leaves you sincerely wondering what she will do next to top herself. Whatever it is, I eagerly look forward to reading it.

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The King of Dreams

Posted by Deliverator on 5th January 2005

I first got tuned in to Neil Gaiman after seeing the video version of Neverwhere. I saw Neverwhere more or less coincident with the torrent of critical claim for Gaiman’s book American Gods. I ended up reading American Gods (which subsequently won the Hugo), the book version of Neverwhere and Coraline. This week, I managed to purchase a few of his graphic novels from The Sandman series. Gaiman has a great talent for conveying his singular style through a variety of different mediums. Gaiman’s writing is dark, haunting, full of lively places and characters and intertwines myth and reality so completely that you will be pinching yourself while your read just to make sure you are still awake. If you ever see something with Neil Gaiman’s name on it, pick it up, it won’t disappoint…

Posted in Books, General, Media, Movies | No Comments »

Reading, the last legal addiction?

Posted by Deliverator on 3rd January 2005

Despite not having visited Powell’s this last weekend, I did manage to accumulate a few new books recently. As usual, as new books they will have to go to the rear of my shelf (from which I can only take books from the front). I instituted this system years ago as a way of ameliorating the effects of my reading addiction (although you could actually say it was a book buying addiction). I noticed long ago that I tend to acquire books faster than I can read them. This fact is downright scary, given that I read several books a week. If I allow myself to pick books off my shelf at random, or as whimsy strikes me, a lot of books that I mean to read end up going unread. So, books must go on my “shelf” (it has actually become a spreadsheet) at one end, and I can only take a new book to read off the other end. I have hovered at about 30 books on my “shelf” for quite a while and it has really helped cut down on the number of impulse buys that I make. Anyways, here are some books that I will be reading soon:

  • The Thackery T. Lambshead Pocket Guide to Eccentric & Discredited Diseases
  • Uncle Tungsten – Oliver Sacks
  • Foucault’s Pendulum – Umberto Eco
  • The Etched City – K.J. Bishop
  • One Man’s Wilderness – Sam Keith and Richard Proenneke
  • Poker Nation – Andy Bellin
  • The Wisdom of Crowds – James Surowiecki
  • Byrne’s Complete Book of Poolshots by ….surprise….Robert Byrne

I am also planning on picking up a few used graphic novels from Neil Gaiman’s “Sandman” series this Tuesday from a seller off craigslist.

Posted in Books, General | 3 Comments »