The Deliverator – Wannabee

So open minded, my thoughts fell out…

Archive for April, 2005

Carputer Revamp

Posted by Deliverator on 28th April 2005

The car-puter revamp is underway. Today I:

– Picked up a Mini-ITX case today at Computerstop and mounted my existing gear in it. Computerstop also stocks Epia motherboards, but not the model I want. The case is manufactured by Morex, which is a pretty well known small form factor case manufacturer. The case comes with a small DC powered ATX powersupply (needs a regulated input, so inappropriate for my purposes) and a laptop style transformer to power the thing. I tossed both of these into the spare parts bin, as I am using my Opus PS. I think there may be just enough room to shoehorn the Opus inside the case, if I mount it upside-down to the cd-rom mounting bracket. Doing so will require drilling some holes and breaking out the tap and die set, so I put it off for now and instead just punched a hole in the side of the case to pass through the ATX power cable to the Opus, mounted in its usual external project box. The case comes with all the hardware necessary to mount a slim-line (laptop style dvd or cd-r drive) optical drive, including the adapter for the funky notebook connector on most slimline drives to convert it to using a standard 40 pin eide connector. It also includes a 40 -> 44 pin cable adapter for using notebook hard drives. All in all a very nice case, and quite an improvement over the old project box, which itself was a major upgrade from mom’s orange tupperware…

– Got a Holux GPS “mouse” cheap off eBay. This is pretty much a gps receiver built into a small waterproof puck that sticks to your car roof via a strong magnet. These things have a single USB cable leading from them which is used for both power and data. The puck shape with the single usb cable leading away makes them look a lot like a mouse, hence the name. This particular model seems to have gotten really good reviews and the price was most definitely right.

– Hoovered the inside of the car and scrubbed the floormats. I try to keep my car cleaner these days than pre-carputer. Nothing worse than finding a french fry stuck in fan.

Posted in CarPuter, General | No Comments »

Atlanta Pics

Posted by Deliverator on 28th April 2005

Some of my pics from Atlanta have started appearing * HERE * on the TRC webpage. Many thanks go out to Ryan and his script-fu. Without Ryan’s script, I would have had to manually create all the thumbnails for the images. An improved batch upload system for the Gallery is supposedly in the works for the next version of the TRC website.

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Retail therapy

Posted by Deliverator on 28th April 2005

  • Got a Morex Mini-ITX case to replace my custom built project box in the car. If it doesn’t fit, I am going to either move the car’s amplifier to make room, or use the Morex case in the house for my media center PC, once I get the Epia MII motherboard.
  • Sandisk Cruzer Micro 512 MB USB Flash Drive – I previously used a 256 MB Cruzer Mini, which I liked very much, as it was about the only flash drive that you could purchase at the time that didn’t block adjacent ports. This one is even better, with an improved shorter design, hard plastic case and much improved lanyard.
  • Inova X5 flashlight. I have been wanting a good led flashlight for a while, as the cheap mag-light incandescent knockoffs that I usually use tend to go flakey at inconvenient times. This one uses 5 super-durable white light leds that will probably outlast anyone currently living. The flashlight can be set to always on, always off and momentary on modes and has a good lanyard, as well as a belt case. It is easily the brightest flashlight I have used, for its size.
  • Socket Communications Low Power CF Wifi Card – I got this to replace the tried and true Orinoco Gold PCMCIA card that I have been using in my Jornada. This new one protrudes much less than the Orinoco, making the Jornada much more pocketable. The site survey application is nearly identical to that used by the Orinoco, which makes me wonder if they use the same chipset. I haven’t had a chance to make range/sensitivity comparisons, but so far this new one is working well and it works with mini-stumbler, too. It is supposed to have very adaptive power saving, so hopefully this one won’t be as hard on the batteries. All in all, an excellent product and I am strongly considering picking up one of their bluetooth cards as well.
  • Generic 9 in 4 media card reader that fits in a 3.5″ drive bay. Haven’t had a chance to fool with this yet, as I need to modify a bezel to accomodate it. I strongly dislike the number of USB widgets that I end up having to plug into my main computer, so this should help rid me of those pesky wires.

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

Carputer Plans

Posted by Deliverator on 26th April 2005

I have been contemplating upgrading the carputer for a while now. I originally was planning on waiting for the smaller Nano-ITX boards to hit the shelves, but it seems increasingly unlikely that they ever will, at least not in significant numbers. Via keeps showing new generations/models of nano-itx boards at trade shows, but unlike Mini-ITX boards, they really don’t seem to be selling them in the general marketplace. If they are selling them at all, it must be to OEMs/ODMs exclusively. It is kind of sad, because these microscopic motherboards have great potential for hobbyists. So, what I am thinking of doing is buying a Via Epia MII 12000 board. This Mini-ITX board has a built in CF and Cardbus slots and has a processor that is twice as fast as my current one, while only consuming a few more watts of power. I plan on putting a 1xRTT/EVDO card (cellular based internet access) in the Cardbus slot and a Bluetooth card in the CF slot. I will run an antenna for the 1xRTT card up to the roof and then run ethernet to a WiFi access point in the trunk (also with a roof antenna). Using Microsoft’s ICS system to link the two, I should be able to get internet access on my Laptop or Jornada as long as I am reasonably near my car.

At the same time, I plan on replacing the existing GPS system with one that speaks NMEA standard sentences and has an external antenna jack. My current GPS solution (kindly loaned to me by Matt Westervelt) outputs a proprietary Rockwell binary protocol, which is only understood by a few pieces of long (in internet time) defunct mapping software. The skymap software that I use works well, but the maps are getting a bit dated.

I may also purchase a new USB hub, as the one I currently use seems to have a flakey port. I will have to test it out tomorrow, to be sure. I could simply wire up some more ports to the motherboard USB pin headers, but VIA boards don’t cut power to the USB ports during suspend to ram mode, which tends to result in a higher power drain on the battery. By plugging all USB devices into a hub powered off the +5v line coming off the supply, as soon as you put the computer into suspend mode, all power to USB devices is shut down, which is perfect for my uses.

Lastly, I plan on replacing my car battery with a Optima Yellow Top deep-cycle battery. My current battery has suffered enough at my hands and no longer holds a very good charge. I don’t need hard cranking ability (in cold weather, for example), so a deep-cycle battery should be a better fit for all the charging/discharging I tend to do on my battery.

Posted in CarPuter, General, Tech Stuff | No Comments »

Ugg talk pretty one day

Posted by Deliverator on 26th April 2005

Today was my first full day back from Atlanta and I think the five intense days and sleepless nights I spent there are starting to catch up with me. After arriving in Seattle relatively early on Sunday (around noon PST), I kept expecting to fall over in a sudden attack of narcolepsy. Yet somehow, despite feeling exhausted, I couldn’t find sleep until around 11 pm. I slept the next ten hours straight and woke today in my usual incoherent, zombie like state. I went out for breakfast with my father and tried to hold up my side of the conversation. All day, whenever I spoke with someone, I felt like I was constantly searching for words, stuttering and blurting out unintended words with similar starting phonemes to the ones intended. I would instantly recognize my mistake and correct myself, but it was disconcerting. I ended up starting into the backlog of work and thankfully all my clients today we intakes, so I didn’t have to enter into complex explanations of computer issues or much of anything that would require me to use complete sentences. By noon I was feeling uncoordinated and very weary. This went on all day. It didn’t stop me from getting a productive day of work in, running errands and TRC business (major news coming shortly), but it made everything seem a little more needful of deliberate attention. Nothing seemed to come with grace, today. I think I really need to take a day off and rest, but as I am booked solid through Thursday, I will have to compromise by sleeping late tomorrow and waiting for the weekend to take some serious R&R.

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I’ll settle for a silver for Seattle!

Posted by Deliverator on 24th April 2005

It is 12:30 am here as I begin this entry, and by the time I finish it, it will be much later. For the fourth night in a row, I will probably be getting less than 5 hours sleep, but I feel it is very important to strike while the iron is hot. I have a lot to say and while I hopefully will have a chance to write more in the coming days, real life has a tendency to intrude and push projects to the back burner. I am already booked until Thursday, for work, so who knows. For those of you who have been following the recent entries regarding Atlanta, here is the skinny about today’s events.

As of last night, we were extremely frustrated by our poor standings in the rankings (partly due to being randomly computer assigned to very weak teams). Even if we won our remaining two matches (held today), we would only finish with a 4 and 3 record for the qualifier round. This guaranteed that we would be unable to captain our own alliance, and therefore had to rely on another highly ranke team desiring us as a partner. In short, we needed to impress. Ryan stayed up till god knows when, working with Tim and calling Dave in order to understand the autonomous code enough to tweak our autonomous capture paths slightly. By some miracle of understanding and a small army of TRC members to expediate the grunt work, Ryan was able to tweak the code this morning before our first match (which we won) and again before our second match (which we lost). The changes in autonomous mode (and some last minute evangelism after a trip to Kinco’s to print up fact sheets) were enough to gain us an invitation to join Alliance 8! Our alliance performed very strongly in the playoff matches. I have always felt we play our best when playing with and against strong opponent. At least two of our matches were broadcast internationally on the Nasa TV channel. Our alliance advanced all the way to the Galileo division championship before being defeated by an alliance consisting of teams 56,64 and 254. The alliance that defeated us played for the FIRST World Championship and was narrowly defeated in the double elemination championship match. While I would have loved to play for the FIRST World Championship, I do feel that their alliance was better able to champion Galileo for the world title. The world title matches ended up resulting in huge numbers of tetras stacked as many as 9 high. It was the first matches that I have seen where I actually believed they might run our of tetras to stack. I have a feeling that our alliance, with only 1 robot capable of that level of high stacking, would have been seriously overmatched for the title. I am very pleased to have ended our season in style. After our domination of the field at the PNW regional, to have been sent packing from the national championship would have been humiliating. As it ended up, our alliance was second to only 4 others in the entire world! This year, over 1300 teams were involved in FRC, with 340 from the US, Canada, Brazil, Israel, France and other countries being represented at Atlanta. I am very proud that our team has been able to play competitively with the best of them. With a budget of $14k for the year, our team has a budget that is roughly a tenth of that of some and far less experience than the winners. Team numbers were originally assigned in numerical order. Ryan told me this afternoon that no team with a number above ~250 has ever won the national (now world) championship. TRC, teamnumber 492, has won back to back PNW regionals and has now competed in the Galileo championship two years in a row. Am I overjoyed to be coming home with a silver metal and a nice trophy? You better believe it! Next year, I predict you will see us playing for all the marbles!

After the awards ceremonies, we headed over to the Olympic Park for the post competition ending festivities. Most of the sizeable park had been barricaded off and turned into a huge carnival with rides, a climbing wall, carnival games, magicians, jugglers and enough food to feed several thousand. To close out the night, FIRST put on a firework show that shook the city from end to end. I watched from the hotel and the booms were very loud. I can only imagine what it was like for the people on the ground. I asked people to hustle back after the fireworks so that we could meet with team 842 in their hotel, nearby. Team 842, a HS team from Arizona, garnered major media attention recently by narrowly besting MIT in the national underwater robotics competition, put on by the Marine Advanced Technology and Education Center. We are seriously considering entering the MATE competition next year and will be building a ROV as an end of year project, so we wanted to pick their brains. I had already spoken to their head mentor, Fredi for quite a while over the last few days, so the meeting was mainly to inspire the team. They definitely came out of the meeting eager and feeling like this was something we could do. It is small surprise to me that team 842 won this years “Engineering Inspiration award,” which is considered only second to the “Chairman’s award” in prestige of the non-competion honors that FIRST awards. I am looking forward to building the ROV and continuing our new found friendship with 842 during the long MATE build season.

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Snail blogging

Posted by Deliverator on 23rd April 2005

Here is a brief addendum to yesterday’s entry. After posting the entry, a small group of us went up to the rotating restaurant and bar located on the 72nd story of the hotel to try and hear the Mose Davis Trio, an excellent Jazz trio that I have heard before. The view was great, but the band had just finished their set, so we went back downstairs to the lobby and went our seperate ways for the evening. I didn’t have anything too pressing to do, so I went to my room and picked up the new Canon digicam and headed back up top to get some pictures of the Atlanta skyline. When the doors of the elevator opened, I was greated by some great jazz music wafting through the air. The band had decided to do an encore. I hurridly snapped some shots from the observation level and then took the stairs (two at a time) up to the bar. I ordered a rather expensive “rum and coke” to nurse while listening to the band. I took a lot of pictures of the band. Because the floor rotates, I was able to stay at my seat and steady the camera. With the built in image stabalization I was able to do some pretty aggresively long manual exposures and capture a lot of detail, without washing out the shadows. I experimented with a lot of exposure settings. Whenever I would rotate out of site of the band, I would pick up my drink and walk to a new table just coming into view. In this way I was able to capture from a lot of unusual angels and with interesting lighting. The pictures came out wonderfully moody and I think a few might be print worthy, but will have to wait and see on a bigger monitor when I get home. I called Ryan and he and Tim came up. Unfortunately, the band decided to call it quits around 11pm, which didn’t give Ryan a chance to hearmuch of their music. We ended up hanging around the bar despite the canned (and poorly recorded)piano muzak that replaced the band. We stayed up much too late and the alarm clock came much too soon.

After setting up some students in various places in the stand with DV cams, I spent the morning taking pictures from the floor of the arena. I ended up using 3 sets of AA’s this morning alone and captured a couple hundred images (post culling of the most obviously bad ones). I found that shooting to flash cards and then transfering over to the 2.2 GB microdrive later seemed to work best to preserve batteries. The image stabalization when used with the microdrive really drains the batteries fast. I continued to leave the IS on all the time, as I found it difficult to anticipate when I would need it for zoomed in shots.

I am sad to say that we are not off to a strong start. We lost the first two qualifying matches. We got stuck with fair to poor partners both of these first two matches, while having to go up against teams with three strong robots. Our second match pitted us againts an alliance which included team 56, a definite crowd favorite and almost certainly to be in the playoffs. During qualifying matches, who you are partnered with is the luck of the draw and we were just unfortunate these times around. The third match I felt confident that we had won by about five points by my scoring. The team also felt that the opponents had commited a 10 point penalty by ramming us while in our loading zone. The judges ended up narrowly deciding for our opponents. I am still a little hot under the collar about this match. The game is really quite easy to score. Each tetra placed on top a goal is worth 3 points, each one under, a single point. The team with the highest placed tetra on a goal is said to be in control of a goal. Each row of goals you control is worth 10 points. You get a 10 point bonus if you get your whole team back behind the starting line by the end of the match. Subtract out any penalties and you have your final score. In at least half the matches (where I and people around me would independently tally the score) the score that we had mutually and independly arrived at would be different, sometimes by large ammounts from the judges scores. There was one match where one team had a score of 70, which was something like 20 points higher than what myself and other impartial observers tallied. There simply were not enough tetras and rows to account for the score.Anyways, we ended up winning the next two. This brings our overall season record to something like 17 wins, 3 losses and 2 washes. Whatever happens tomorrow with our remaining two qualifying matches, I am very proud of our record this year. I just hope a good alliance picks us as a partner for the competition, as we won’t have a high enough seed (even assuming we win the next two matches) to pick our own partners. Ryan and Tim stayed up late tonight to do some polishing of the code for autonomous mode. They will have about 2 hours in the morning to work on it prior to our first match. I think I will take that time to try and evangelize our team to other teams with which we would like to be partnered.

The qualifying matches were a bit of a sore spot with everyone today, but I tried to get beyond it and put it in perspective and have fun. I used some of the time in between matches to chat with some of the mentors from Carl Hayden HS. This is the school that recently beat MIT in the national ROV competition. There is a pretty big article about them in this month’s wired. Photocopies of the article have been floating around the pits all day.They had a lot of good advice to give and have agreed to have most of their team come over to our hotel tomorrow evening to talk with us about their experiences.

In the evening, we went to the Braves vs Phillies game at Turner stadium. We were able to get there easily using our MARTA passes. I am convinced that light rail can be very beneficial to a city, if done right. I just don’t ever see it being done right in Seattle. Turner stadium is the fourth major league park at which I have seen a game (HHH Metrodome, Kingdome and Safeco Field being the others) and I wasn’t too impressed with the park itself. The architecture is uninspired and very nuveau concrete jungle. Only two things were exceptional about the park. The first being the massive HD Jumbo-tron, which is by far the best I have seen anywhere. The second being the massive portions to most of the food available from the concessions. A”jumbo” dog is exactly what it sounds like, unlike the miniscule portions of gut-wrapped mystery meet you usually get at Safeco. I couldn’t resist ordering some of the delicious pizza that some of my “family” had been gorging themselves on. $5 even (isn’t 5 odd?) got me a little more than a 1/4 of a fresh,large pizza. It was delicious. Outside the food and giant screen TV (and what guy really asks for more than that?), the game itself was pretty good. The game was played pretty quickly, with a lot of hits and catches and very few batter vs pitcher duels.The Braves won 6 to 2, although Philly threatened a comeback in the top of the 9th.

Alright, it is 2:13 am here and for the 3rd straight day I have to get up in less than 4 hours, so I bid you all goodnight.

Posted in Titan Robotics Club | 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 usfirst.org 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 »

Atlanta, no bust

Posted by Deliverator on 20th April 2005

Haven’t written much lately, as I have been too busy getting ready to go to the International First Championship in Atlanta. Ryan and Amy have been great at working out the logistical stuff for Atlanta and we would be in pretty poor shape with out their administrative support. Trying to manage 25 students, anxious parents, fundraising, etc. is not a task for the faint at heart – meaning me! Instead, I have been busy doing “future think” for what is to come after Atlanta and working on some technical design work and acquiring parts for the ROV. Work has absolutely been insane the last few days. I had 8 clients contact me for appointments for Tuesday. I managed to cram the most urgent cases in, but it left me with not a minute to spare. I would have liked to go to yesterday’s SWN Hacknight, as Matt and Rob have been hacking away on some interesting projects of late – a very cool hack of the $99 Zippit Messenger device and playing around with a new netgear router that is currently the cheapest mass-produced device capable of running MIT’s “roofnet” system. I would have also liked to discuss some of the recent homebrew WiFI access points that uplink to the internet via 1xRTT and some of the other new “broadband” cellular data connections (Casey’s Train Node and another that was mentioned yesterday on Slashdot). I have wanted to put an access point in my car for quite a while, but was extremely dissatisfied with the cellular data connections I have tried. I put one in briefly, which used t-mobile GPRS service for uplink, but it wasn’t reliable enough for my purposes. At peak hours, it was all but useless. But I digress….back to robots. The reason I have time to write about all this is that the wait is finally over and I am writting this from 37,000 feet onboard a Delta airlines 767. I usually fly Northwest (for which my grandfather was a pilot). They charge more, but offer superior service and maintenance, and I can hardly wait to see which! Delta has been cutting back on everything to hault their hemorrhage of cash. I was really disturbed recently to hear that they were trying to get the FAA to cut the ammount of emergency fuel they are require to carry IN HALF. I have been on a few flights that have come in on fumes, so this doesn’t strike me as a very good idea. Anyways, takeoff went smoothly, so Atlanta or a firey demise awaits. If you are reading this, then you can probably work out which occured, yourself…

Anyways, back to important robot stuff. The students have been very enthusiastic about the ROV idea, so now it is up to me to get official approval from the club leadership and raise the necessary funds. Elections are next Tuesday, so I think I am going to wait until the new officers are installed to make the formal proposal. In the meantime, I have been very busy working out a lot of details (and there are a ton) of the design and getting in touch with potential sponsors and mentors for the project. I went to Captain’s Nautical and picked out some great charts of Lake Washinton. The charts don’t show wreck locations, unless the wreck constitutes a shipping hazard, so I have been emailing members of the wreck diving community to attempt to get more exact locations for some of the wrecks. There are a number of good websites about the wrecks of Lake Washington, but they tend to be purposefully vague about the exact location of things. The wreck diving community is pretty small, maybe a dozen people dive on a regular basis and they keep the locations of most things to themselves, to avoid looting. I was very pleased this morning to get a response from Robert Mester, director of a major marine salvage and commercial diving company called UAS and probably the most expert wreck diver in the area. UAS is the only company in the US that operate “Newtsuits,” which are essentially man shaped submarines/exoskeletons. These suits are capable of going as deep as 1000 feet. They also operate two deep diving ROVs and a small submarine which can go to at least 500 feet. Robert has graciously offered to allow the students to tour their facilities and speak with him and others about careers in robotics in the marine industry. The MATE Center recently sent me an information packet about their annual underwater robotics competition, which in addition to the usual print stuff, included a cd loaded with video from previous competitions and a pretty decent powerpoint presentation. I am going to try and show some of the videos to the kids if I can pry them away from oogling all the new Playstation Portables that they all seem to have bought in anticipation of this flight.

My father purchased the Canon S1 IS that I mentioned in the last post. So far, I really like it. I am going to try and explore its features on the flight and during this trip, so that I can give my parents some plain language pointers when I get back. I suspect they will be using it mainly in automatic “point and shoot” mode, but my dad might make use of some of its manual modes. If I like the camera, I will probably purchase one for myself when I get back. I suspect that they would allow me to use it pretty much whenever I want, but there is something to be said about not having to ask your parents for things.

In other gadget news, here are some brief remarks about the UPS and Bluetooth Phone Headset that I recently purchased. It is hard to say anything dramatic about a UPS. It is one of those devices that if it is doing its job, you forget about entirely. I have to say that this one has some nice refinements that make ignoring it that much easier. This model features voltage regulation that helps compensate during minor brownouts and surges, without having to switchover to battery. Avoid frequent switchovers to the battery will supposedly extend the battery’s life considerably. Another nice feature is that the battery is designed to be easily end user replaceable, and can be replaced quickly, without tools and without powering down any of your devices, by sliding aside a panel and undoing a simple plastic connector. The battery on my previous UPS, a APC 650 “Back UPS” model, was not nearly as easy to replace. The unit offers 6 battery backs outlets, up from 3 on my previous model, as well as 2 surge-protected outlets. 2 of the 6 battery backed outlets can accomodate wall warts without blocking an adjacent outlet. The unit features a USB port which can be connected to a PC for monitoring and control purposes. The Software that mine came with, Powershute Personal Edition v 1.5 is easy to use and displays almost all the data an average user would be interested in and can also be used to trigger “safe” shutdowns on Windows in the event of a power failure. I really liked its ability to display my current wattage load. Other than that, I don’t have much to say about it. It does its job well and at only $129 (until the 23rd at Compusa in Bellevue) is a steal, imo.

The other gadget I purchased recently is a Jabra BT 800 Bluetooth headset. I really disliked my previous Bluetooth headset, made by a company called “Just Wireless.” One of my chief complaints about the “Just Wireless” headset is that all function were accessed via two buttons and listening to beep codes. You pretty much had to carry around the manual to use the damn thing. This new one from Jabra solves this chief complain t by integrating a backlit display into the device. In addition to two main buttons, which each only activate a few easy to remember, context sensitive functions, there is a two position “twist” knob that controls the volume and serves as menu up/down when accessing the settings. There is also a backlit button in the center of this knob that serves as a mute button. The controls are really simple to operate, and because you have the nice little LCD screen, you never question what your are trying to do.The LCD enables the headset to display caller-id information and the buttons allow you to accept/reject incoming calls, which means you can leave your phone in your pocket the vast majority of the time. Another feature that I feel bares mentioning is the elelegant charging system, which allows you to charge from either the included wall wart, or from a USB port by using a short (3-4 inch) cable (also included). This is a very handy feature for people who try to travel light. Lastly, they include a nice little belt case, so that you don’t have to jam itin your pocket.

Well, that is all for this edition. I will try to provide daily TRC updates, though they will probably have to be brief.

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And on the 7th day he rested…or not

Posted by Deliverator on 17th April 2005

Today is the first day in a while where I haven’t had clients or other “must do” work. I slept late and spent a lazy morning putzing on various projects. I could have let it go like that all day, but I got motivated, instead.

I ended up calling around to a bunch of bookstores and found a copy of “Build an underwater robot…” (the book that I mentioned yesterday) at a store in Seattle. The book has significantly larger pages than I was expecting from pictures of the book that I had seen online. It is filed with wonderful diagrams and I think it is going to be a good resource when building the ROV. I look forward to reading it on the plane to Atlanta.

On the way back, I ended up driving by The Mac Store in the U district and decided to stop. I had never been to their new location. I spent some time checking out Final Cut Express HD, iLife 05 and the Mac Mini. Mac OS X 10.4 “Tiger” is coming out in a few days and a new version of Final Cut is coming out within a month, so it might be an appropriate time to get myself a Mac.

Afterwards, I stopped by Compusa to check out digicams. I am looking at a number of models in Canon’s Powershot line. I really like the S1 IS model. It is a bit bigger than I was originally planning, but it has a very nice body style that lets you get a real good grip on it. It would still fit in a jacket pocket, but would definitely produce a bit of a bulge. Some of its high points include a 10x optical zoom with optical stabilization, type II CF slot, pop out LCD so that you can “shoot from the hip” and from other odd angles, high quality movie mode, uses double AA batteries. The only major downside that I can see is that it is only 3.2 megapixels. I don’t plan on doing really large prints, so good optics are more important to me than megapixels. I am also considering the S300, S400, SD500 and A520 models.

While at the store, I picked up a beefy uniteruptable power supply from APC. I have been really pleased with my existing APC UPS, but I think the battery is close to being shot and I am placing a greater load on it (during transient conditions like turning on my laser printer) than it is really meant to handle. I also picked up a Jabra BT800 bluetooth headset for my phone. This one looks pretty neat on paper, but I haven’t had a chance to try it out. It has an adjustable volume slider, can be charged from a USB port and has a backlit LCD which displays caller id information when the phone rings and lets you choose whether to accept the call or not, without having to fish in your pocket for your phone. I will try to provide some more feedback on the UPS and headset in the next few days.

When I got home, the weather was really nice, so I washed the car and made preparations to change the oil in my car tomorrow (Once the driveway dries off). I am trying to do more of the basic maintenance on my car, so I bought some ramps to elevate the front end of my car and provide more clearance. I just hope that the bolt in the oil pan is positioned at the rear, so that the oil can drain properly with the front end elevated. Otherwise, I am going to have to figure a way to elevate the back end first. I replaced the windshield wipers and my dad used some sort of silicone based window treatment on the windshield. The water really spots up now and sheets off cleanly.

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