The Deliverator – Wannabee

So open minded, my thoughts fell out…

Archive for May, 2005

Introducing Ariel…

Posted by Deliverator on 29th May 2005

Today was the first productive day of coding for the ROV. A bunch of us met yesterday and played around with the 2004 edubot controller. It was easy to program in C, but we found that there was no easy way to hook it up to the operator interface via a cable, which would have made it considerably harder to get i/o from the surface via our tether system. The 2004 edubot controller was designed to pretty much connect to the operator interface via radio alone. Luckily, we had an older edubot controller from 2003 season which does allow you to connect to the operator interface via serial. The one major downside to the 2003 edubot controller is that it is powered by a Basic Stamp 2 sx, which you program in an 8 bit variant of pbasic. 8 bit integer math pretty much necessitates writing some ugly obfuscated code to get the controller to do what you want. Things that were simple using the C controller ended up taking us an hour to figure out using the Basic Stamp.

To provide an easy visual reference while programming, we built a quick “logical” mockup of the ROV’s systems by using duct tape to strap little motors and LEDS to a cardboard box. It is crude, but it should let us code for the ROV now and easily adapt our code to the real thing. We have nicknamed this contrapition “Ariel” (The Little Mermaid) and Ryan has suggested that we name the real ROV “Oceanus” after the Greek Titan of the same name. Ryan and Ian hung in there long enough to write a routine that allows one to control the side-mounted thrusters with a single joystick. I was in favor of a tank style control system, myself and may write my own variant of the control program (perhaps activated with a switch on the control board. After Ryan and Ian left, I did a more thorough examination of the code and implemented control of the up/down thruster through use of the Joystick’s throttle wheel. If I feel motivated tonight, I might also write some routines for turning on/off some of the other systems on the ROV.

The Little What?

Posted in General, Tech Stuff, Titan Robotics Club | No Comments »


Posted by Deliverator on 27th May 2005

I have decided that I am going to hold off on any further SIFF blog entries until the end of the festival, unless absolutely necessary. At the end I will try and do some sort of SIFF 2005 retrospective with reviews, pictures, etc. Until then, back to fun hackery.

Woke up this morning at a loss for what I could plan for the afternoon’s ROV build meeting. The last few build meetings have been “light” on the building, as we have been waiting on a number of parts to arrive. The meetings have been productive in terms of firming up the ROV design and doing fundraising. Two of the contacts made through cold calling people in the phonebook have really paid off. Novaray robotics has donated $2000 worth of 12 conductor neutral buoyancy cable and a very nice pressure housing that will serve as the camera/electronics box. Novaray in turn introduced me to a company called Seal Technologies. The have a very nicely equiped computer controlled machine shop where they can make just about anything (they currently are turning out ultra high precision parts for laser systems). Not only have they offered to do free machining for us (they are already doing some modifications on the pressure housing), but the owner has offered to teach a “machining bootcamp” for the kids this summer. Anyways, back to being at a loss. I went out to the mailbox and found a few pleasant surprises (as well as the usual bills and junkmail) waiting for me. The LED clusters (36 white LEDS on each board) that I ordered for the ROV had arrived, as well as an OBDII reader for the car.

I brought the LED clusters to school and Kevin and I proceded to “pot” them in some clear glass candy dishes using acrylic casting resin. The resin sets totally clear (unlike most epoxies) and without bubbles. The only real downsides that I have observed is the stuff stinks to high heaven and takes several hours to cure to a point where it has much mechanical strength. We ended up using up maybe a third of the resin. We may use it to seal some cable passthroughs or fill some of the electronics comparments with it entirely, so I will probably be taking a trip to Michaels to pick up some more of the stuff.

While waiting for the acrylic to set, Kevin and I checked out the documentation for the 2003 “edubot” controller that we will be using as the brains of the ROV. We originally intended to use a FRC controller, but it is too big to fit in the pressure housing, so we scrounged around and came up with this instead. It is much smaller, but should have enough IO and processing ability for our uses. After googling around for a while, we managed to find documentation for it hidden away in a disused corner of the Innovation First site. Turns out that the controller is more or less a basic stamp. The last time I did any serious programming in basic was probably about 1987, so lets just say I am a little rusty. I aim to try and get some test code running on the controller sometime tomorrow.

After the meeting, I headed over to Vetco and picked up the lamp socket connectors used by the LED clusters. I also picked up some banana probes and alligator clips. While ringing up my purchases, I noticed a solitary CCD camera sitting in the back of the display case near the register. I checked out the spec sheet and they were pretty respectible. Most importantly, it didn’t have a ring of lights around the camera, as almost every “security camera” model seems to these days. Given that the camera is going to be behind glass in the pressure housing, any lighting coming for the camera itself just results in a hell of a reflection! Anyways, I added the camera to the pile and headed home with my wares.

Once home, I tested the camera out and found it to produce a very clear picture. Color accuracy, resolution, noise levels all seem much better than the SWANN security camera that I purchased prior to Atlanta. As far as I can tell, the only way in which the SWANN camera beats this one out is in its ability to use a wide angle lens. I haven’t measured the viewing angle on this one yet, but just eyeballing it I would say it has around a 40 degree FOV. I think we will use the SWANN for general navigation and have this one focused on the near field immediately in front of the ROV. Of course the true measure of these cameras will be how good an image they can provide using only the illumination provided by the LED clusters.

While waiting for it to get dark (so that I could test the cameras using only the LEDS), I went out to the car and installed the OBDII reader that arrived in today’s mail. For those not in the know, OBDII is a government mandated interface to your car’s ECU (Engine Computer Unit?). It can be found in pretty much all cars manufactured since 1996 (except for a few that run newer protocols). By hooking up a handheld reader device or computer interface to the OBDII port (which by mandate has to be within a few feet of the steering wheel) you can gain access to a wealth of diagnostic information. While you can’t alter any of the engine computer’s settings, the information provided by the ECU is invaluable for tuning purposes, early troubleshooting of problems/breakdowns and can be used to create a “digital dashboard” as well as do neat stuff like intelligently track gas usage. Installation of the unit from ScanTool was a snap, although I am going to have to go back tomorrow and come up with a more permanent mounting solution for the interface box and a way to run the cables out of sight. The unit immediately powered up on connection to the OBDII port and started spitting out data when queried by the manufacturer’s program. OBDII is actually a query based protocol. You basically ask the car for a certain piece of data and it spits it back to you. Because of the slow cycle speed of OBDII (on the order of 3-4 hz if standard compliant), it isn’t really practical to monitor more than 7-8 values in realtime. What is really needed is a program that allows you to specify an update interval or relative importance value of some sort to the various parameter that can be monitored. So, for instance, I could measure engine RPMs and speed once a second, but only monitor oil temperature once a minute. All the programs that I have tried thus far let you specify which parameters to monitor, but query them all at equal intervals. The good news is that there is a lot of third party software available for this particular unit, and a lot of sourcecode as well. In particular, ProScan, Digimoto and PCMScan look promising. Unfortunately, they are all commercial and none of the freely available things that I have tried so far are nearly as advanced.

After a fairly unnecessary trip to a gas station (my tank was still pretty full, I just needed an excuse to try out the OBDII), I returned home and tested out the new camera with the lights. While not as good as in daylight, the camera still picks up quite a bit of detail and color information from an object placed 10+ feet away from the lights, so I think it is going to be a winner. With an additional LED cluster (or better focusing of the light coming from these ones) I think we will have just about an ideal set up. I just wish Vetco had another camera, as we have really been planning on having 3 cameras onboard.

Clusters setting in acrylic

Whole lot of light

Posted in CarPuter, General, Tech Stuff, Titan Robotics Club | 1 Comment »

And so it begins…

Posted by Deliverator on 24th May 2005

We un-officially kicked the festival off Saturday with a showing of Star Wars: Revenge of the Siff at Cinerama. I enjoyed it MUCH MUCH more than the first two. I still don’t think George Lucas can write dialogue or love scenes worth squat, but this was a real return to form for him. So much so that it makes me wonder what went wrong with the first two.

Today is my first official day of SIFF. I will be seeing a film called “The Lizard” at Neptune. The Lizard is an Iranian commedy about a thief who dresses as a mullah to escape imprisonment. It caused quite a stir in Iran until the authorities shut it down. I am really looking forward to seeing this one. I think a culture is most illuminated when you can see how it satarizes itself, so this should be a revealing experience.

Posted in General, Movies | 3 Comments »

It’s Alive!

Posted by Deliverator on 20th May 2005

I finally got OS X 10.4 (aka Tiger) working in Pear PC properly. I had it more or less working yesterday, but some dialogues were displaying as blank and the spotlight thing in the upper right hand corner was showing as a black bar. After trying a number of different things out, I finally hit on the solution. You have to edit the ppc config file to specify a G3 and not a G4 processor. It seems that altivec emulation isn’t quite ready for primetime. Anyways, Tiger now appears to be running without a fault and I have started installing 3rd pary apps and a few hacks (enabling right mouse button/scrollwheel support was top of my list.).

Tiger installed in Pear PC

Posted in Emulation and Virtualization, General, Mac, Tech Stuff | No Comments »

Insert Clever Title Here

Posted by Deliverator on 19th May 2005

Here are some things I have been up to:

  • Been fooling around with the latest builds of PearPC, in particular Prasys’s “Elite” Build. Pear PC has come a LONG way since its release to the public a year ago. Although PearPC is unlikely to get much faster at this point (It currently operates at about a tenth of host PC speed), the latest builds have introduced some neat features like G4 emulation (for application compatibility rather than speed), Sound Support, DVD support, support for 4 EIDE controllers instead of the highly limiting 2 that most build have supported. There are a few projects underway to make the user interface for PPC more friendly, including config builders and installshield type installations (that include a prebuilt disk image). One of the more interesting things coming down the pipe is the ability to suspend/resume an image, revert to a previous image and “differential” imaging. These should make Pear PC much more useful as an application testbed and will let me really cut my teeth on OS-X internals for the first time. In related news, I am taking the time to write this while setting Pear PC to installing Tiger. Thanks to information from a tutorial found here, I think I have an installation procedure that should work (and is much quicker and requires less space than the method used in the article). If you are interested in the details, feel free to email me.
  • Spent a good deal of time doing fundraising for the ROV project. We have yet to find anyone who is willing to donate cash to the project, but a number of local businesses have agreed to supply free parts, at cost parts and logistical support. In particular, I would like to acknowledge Novaray, Silent World, West Marine and Starfish Enterprise Diving for their contributions. We should have their logos up on the Titan Robotics site soon.
  • SIFF starts this weekend and I am just about having an Aneurysm in anticipation. Masochist that I am, I have been preparing for my 13 movie SIFF Schedule of Doom by watching movies that I missed at last year’s SIFF.
  • Went to SWN’s Hacknight which was considerably more technical than last weeks meeting. Matt Westervelt has a good summary at his blog. Hacknights are always a flurry of different conversations. Here are the things that I found most interesting
    • Rob’s Netgear box that runs roofnet isn’t flashy, but has amazing potential to be turned into just about anything. It has a mini-pci slot, making the default radio easy to replace. It has a USB 2.0 host controller, making it easy to hook up to external hard drives and other neat gadgets. It has a pin header for a console supplying serial port (although you do have to add your own ttl->rs232 conversion module. I think Rob should sell kits with directions for this and his and matt’s recent work with the Zippit
    • Rob worked on a script to create Blosxom blog entries starting with pictures emailed from a cameraphone. Should be interesting for those who are into moblogs.
    • Casey (working from afar, not actually at the meeting) has been playing around with video support for IMOB. I really wish Casey could make one of the meetings. I am itching to ask him questions about 1xRTT and EVDO . I might just hop a train to chat him up.

Posted in Emulation and Virtualization, General, Mac, Movies, Tech Stuff, Titan Robotics Club, Wireless | No Comments »

3rd ROV Build Meeting

Posted by Deliverator on 14th May 2005

Ryan and I met today and finished the ROV frame (minus the front runners). We then went down to Enetai and tested the frame in the water for the first time. As expected, the frame was quite buoyant with the two big 4″ tanks on top. We ended up filling up a big bucket with sand to figure out just how buoyant we had made it. We emptied sand out until the frame was more or less levitating in the water (neither sinking or rising). Once properly balanced, a miniscule tug on the rope could move the rov around in the water. Ryan took the bucket home afterwords and is going to figure out how much wiggle room we have to work with. We may be buoyant enough that we will be able to add extra batteries and extend our runtime significantly.

ROV Completed Frame

Here is a video of the ROV self-righting. You will need to have the XVID codec installed. I don’t think we are going to have any problems with the ROV rolling or otherwise becoming disoriented in the water.

Posted in General | 1 Comment »


Posted by Deliverator on 11th May 2005

Speadsheet Updated 05/13 to Reflect Best Available Data

A great weight has been lifted from my shoulders. The schedules has been finalized and tickets purchased. I will post the schedule here shortly for those that were interested in purchasing singles. I ended up getting a 20 pack and four singles to be split between Ryan and I. Some of the movies we wanted to see weren’t eliigble for inclusion in the 20 pack, as they were classified as special events. So, I had too purchase those singly. It was still cheaper to get the 20 pack than the rest as singles, so I picked up some extra tickets to a few movies. In addition to the official SIFF screenings, we are starting the festival off with Star Wars at Cinerama. If I do my math right, I will be seeing 13 movies between May 20th and June 9th. Ryan will be seeing 8. There are a number of movies that I would have liked to see at the end of the festival, but I am taking the red-eye flight to Minnesota to see Scott graduate. I certainly hopes he appreciates the sacrafice I am making ;)

Siff Schedule Spreadsheet

Posted in General, Movies | No Comments »

Browser Bits

Posted by Deliverator on 9th May 2005

I took another stab at hacking the Netfront browser to run on my Jornada after reading a babelfished translation on a spanish HPC forum from a user who had more sucess in getting it working than I. If you read my blog regularly, then you know that my only significant disappointment with my Jornada 720 HPC has been the lack of a modern web-browser. With the new information gleaned from the Spanish site, I was able to HEX edit the Netfront executable and drop in some .dll files from the PPC version of Win CE and get it running on my Jornada. The version of Netfront that I was able to get working supports javascript, css, frames and so it works properly with a number of sites that won’t work at all with Pocket IE 4.01. I tried Netfront out on a number of sites with which I have had operational/display issues in the past and it worked flawlessly. Here are some screencaps for your pleasure:

Netfront Picture

Netfront Picture

Netfront Picture

Netfront Picture

Posted in General, Tech Stuff, Windows CE | 7 Comments »

ROV – Day 1

Posted by Deliverator on 7th May 2005

Ryan, Shai and Kevin dropped by today to begin construction on the ROV. We headed over to Home Depot and raided the plumbing department. While Ryan and Shai checked out, Kevin and I went to West Marine and checked out their electric boat motors, which we are planning on using for thruster. We ended up getting back to my place at around the same time. Kevin had to go, so it was up to Ryan, Shai and I to turn our pile of parts into an ROV frame. Four hours and a lot of purple fumes later, we have an ROV frame and two ballast tanks. Here are some pics….

Small Picture of ROV Frame

Small Picture of Shai and ROV Frame

Posted in General, Titan Robotics Club | No Comments »

God loves me, for he made a tree shaped like the inverse of my buttocks…

Posted by Deliverator on 6th May 2005

Got a hold of the print schedules for SIFF yesterday. I spent a few hours last night picking 30 or so films that looked at least somewhat interesting. I spent a few more checking out websites and reviews and am attempting to cull my list somewhat. I still have to make a spreadsheet that shows the time & place where all these things are scheduled. Alex and I have tried in the past to pick movies that we both enjoy, but also an overall schedule that isn’t too frenetic. The first year, we ended up having a few days where we would see 3 movies in a single day and that was a bit much. I try to mix movies that I think I enjoy with those that present opinions or viewpoints that I might not agree with. In such cases, I have found it helpful to give myself a bit of a breather between films and let things germinate a bit. I think Alex likes to do the same. Last year he wanted to impose a rule to emphasize the international nature of the festival, namely that we not see more than one movie from each country. Anyways, Alex, Ryan and I have all started going over the catalog and I think we are planning on meeting Sunday evening to hash things out.

I got off to a pretty late start today, getting up at around 11:30. I had a rather late night and was tossing and turning all night due to some strange nightmare or another. Morpheus, king of dreams, has not been kind to me of late.

Craig, owner of silent world, sent me an email with updated contact info for Dave Hancock. Dave is agreeable to providing us with some GPS coordinates of Lake Washington wrecks. I am feeling pretty good about the number of marine industry contacts I am making. Even though not many have expressed interest in outright cash donations, I think the contacts are going to be worth their weight in gold in logistical terms. Tomorrow I am hosting the first build meeting at my house. Hopefully, by the end of the day we will have a frame built.

I stopped by Schucks Auto today and picked up a mechanic’s manual for my car, as well as some misc. carwash stuff. The manual seems to be pretty thorough and I hope to put it to good use in doing more of my own maintenance. Another tool I would like to pick up soon to assist me is an OBDII reader. There are a couple companies with bluetooth based readers now, which would save me some wiring, but they are rather expensive at this juncture. I think I will probably just get the $70 one from Scantools(.net, .com?).

After Schucks I headed into Seattle and camped out at Top Pot across from Cinerama. I am going to try and pick up some tickets to Star Wars and might go see HHGTTG there tonight with Ryan and some friends of his from Ultimate. Either that, or we will see it at Neptune in the U district. The donuts at Top Pot were excellent, but the bottom of the pot, end of day coffee left much to be desired. I am sitting outside on a rather large tree burl, as Top Pot closed at 7pm. Their wifi however is alive and kicking and I am sitting here hammering this entry out on my Jornada.

Posted in General | No Comments »