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.