The Deliverator – Wannabee

So open minded, my thoughts fell out…

Archive for May, 2005

Machine Immitations of Life

Posted by Deliverator on 5th May 2005

Spoke with a customer service rep for Iguidance today. They are going to send me an updated version of the software, but are going to wait two weeks for the release of 2.1.1, which fixes a rather glaring bug in the 2.1.0 version. Namely, in the 2.1.0 version, half the onscreen keyboard is “missing.” In the meantime, I am happy as a clam with version two.nothing. Today, I tried out some third party applications/widgets for Iguidance. The first is a little program that clicks away the obligatory legalese “don’t use this software while driving, or at least don’t sue us when you run into a tree/telephone pole/child.” warning message and a few other pointless dialogs, including a “I’ve lost the GPS” message that appears when you resume from suspend mode. It finds the GPS about a half second later, so the message is pretty pointless. I am also testing a neat little application that allows you to control most major program functions by voice. With the strength of Iguidance’s turn by turn voice directions and this app, some people actually use Iguidance purely through audio!

I decided to test out the route finding features by driving to Novaray in Kirkland. Novaray makes a small commercial ROV whose shape is remniscent of a Manta Ray. Most of the company is off doing underwater projects around the world, in particular some sort of archeology for auction gig they have going in the Philippines. They are recovering all sorts of pottery from the Song dynasty. It is pretty interesting to find all this Chinese stuff there. It really show the many major cultural influences that the Philippines have had throughout history (Spanish, US, Muslim, Christian, Budhist, the list goes on…). Anyways, most everyone with financial authority in the company was out, but a guy by the name of Campbell Williams, their production foreman was slaving away in the back. He was kind enough to take some time out of his busy day to speak with me. He showed me some of their ROVs and different configurations they can be put into, including some models with side scanning (must move forward at a constant rate to build up a map) and forward looking sonar. He gave me some names of people that he though would be helpful with the project and gave me contact info for the missing execs. They have sponsored other school endevours in the past, and Campbell was enthusiastic enough, so I hope they will become our third sponsor for the ROV.

In rather exciting news (exciting to me, anyways), the SIFF schedule has been released online! I am currently on Capitol Hill hoping to acquire a print copy. Alex and I will have to move quickly and hash out a schedule soon. I don’t know how we will see as many movies as last year, given both of our current responsibilities and time commitments, but Alex wants to try. Last year, Alex tried to get me to use a fancy spreadsheet that attempted to weigh the degree to which we wanted to see certains along with other factors to create a schedule automagically. We ended up working it out over malts at Red Robin instead. We both find such places to be close to our conceptions of Hell, so it encouraged us both to compromise and arrive at a mutually agreeable schedule quickly. Somehow, I think that if North and South Korea met at Red Robin instead of these rediculous venues where everyone measures the height of their flag with a caliper, then we would have world peace. Does anyone care to suggest a meeting place for this year’s contention of the wills?

Posted in General, Movies, Titan Robotics Club | No Comments »

hackdays?

Posted by Deliverator on 4th May 2005

Last night as I was headed out of Crossroads, I noticed a table filled with geeky looking people and a sign announcing it as the monthly Eastside Webloggers group. Having nothing else to do (sad, I know), I grabbed a nametag and introduced myself. Apparently they have been meetups.com to arrange the meetings for quite some time. It was interesting to meet someone that uses the service and get their take on the recent switch to being a user paid service. I also had some fruitful conversations about del.icio.us (particular data-mining thereof), various blogging packages and some new, highly effective methods of blocking comment and referal spam. So, in a way I got my hacknight anyways. After all the caffeine from camping out by starbucks all evening the thought provoking conversation and some research into ROVs that needed some time to sink in, I had great difficulty getting to sleep. I ended up getting about an hour and a half of sleep before needing to get up and get ready for my first client of the day.

Today I had a new corporate client that ended up being very pleased with my work. I have a feeling she will be a good source of referals, as she runs a business management company that handles front office tasks and rents space to dozens of small businesses. Afterwards, I had just enough time to stop at Fry’s and pick up iGuidance and install it on the way to the first ROV design meeting. It took quite a while, as it does some extensive map parsing/decompression during the installation process. I actually needed to put the carputer into suspend mode midway through the installation process so that I wouldn’t be late for the TRC design meeting. The installation resumed with no complaint a few hours later and I have to say I am extremely impressed with this package. The maps are great, positioning is dead on, controls large and simple to use with a touchscreen and it has what is easily the best adaptive turn-by-turn routing system I have seen. If you make a wrong turn, it instantly recalculates a new route to get you back on track. There is an updated version (2.1) that is available for the cost of S&H that I am requesting from the company. It has a couple nice features, including full-screen mode, better skinning support and 500+ MB of new maps. It is easily the best package I have use, but this update should make it that much better.

The ROV design meeting went well. Attendance was high and the kids were eager to ask questions and voice their opinions. We have a pretty good idea sketched out as to the general components and functionality of the ROV and should be able to start on the frame this weekend while we let some of the other subsystem designs gel a bit. One thing that I wasn’t expecting is that outgoing TRC Ceo, Cheuk allocated us $625 from the TRC budget for the project. I was expecting to have to do some fundraising before any serious construction could begin, so this was a nice windfall. We should be able to get the ROV itself build for somewhat less than that, but some of the things we need to do with the teather to enable reliable signalling over 350+ feet of cable will likely push us a few hundred over. Still, we won’t have to worry about that eventuality for some time to come. Towards the end of the design meeting we took a conference call with Fredi Lajverdi from Carl-Hayden HS. He had a lot of great tips for us and gave us some good leads on parts sourcing. I am really glad to have found someone as generous with his knowledge as Fredi, as many within the Marine community seem to keep pretty tight lipped. I have heard that there isn’t nearly the same spirit of “gracious professionalism” in the MATE competition as is the norm in FIRST. After MIT’s defeat at the hands of a high school team, I have a feeling they are going to be even more stone faced next year. Hopefully, the friendly collaboration between our two teams can help to change this sad trend.

After the meeting, I drove Greg Barello home and pulled into his driveway right as Larry was getting home. We ended up talking robotics for about an hour before he and Greg had to get ready for a lecture at Beneroya Hall. Larry is working on a really neat, two wheeled balancing robot (think a Segway sans driver) that he is planning on entering in the Robo-Magellan contest in the fall. The whole contest centers around robots autonomously finding their way to a destination (hopefully following a series of traffic cones) over fairly difficult terrain. Last years robots didn’t come close, but a lot of people have kept their eyes on the prize and Larry says there is a report about a week old of the first robot to sucessfully touch the final cone, though it bypassed most along the way. Ryan wants to create an entry and I am interested in working with him on the task, but I think he is underestimating the scale and complexity of the project, particularly given how little time remains. Larry has been working upon his entry for several years. Given my time commitments to the ROV project I don’t think I will be able to devote much time to the project until summer, at which point Ryan intends to go on an extended bicycle trip with my brother along the whole of the eastern seaboard…I also somehow managed to find the time to wash two cars and see the movie “Kungfu Hustle,” so who knows, we might pull it off. If nothing else, it should give me a chance to learn more about GPS, accelorometers, gyroscopes and computer vision systems.

Posted in CarPuter, General, Tech Stuff, Titan Robotics Club | 2 Comments »

My own private hacknight

Posted by Deliverator on 3rd May 2005

I had planned on going to Seattle Wireless Hacknight today, but Matt canceled it. He is probably out enjoying the nice weather and zipping around town on his electric bicycle. I was really in the mood for a technical project tonight, so I took some time and installed the new GPS and tested out some software packages. The new GPS (a Holux GM-210) works really well. It seems to lock onto a few more satellites than the ETAK GPS does, even in the best of circumstances. It reacquires lost satellites almost instantly in dense foliage & urban canyon conditions (aka high rises). The thing I like best about it is its almost instant lock when coming out of suspend to ram mode. The ETAK shut itself off entirely, and thus required a few minutes to do a “cold start” when the carputer came out of suspend mode. This made it not really worthwhile to use while out running erands. So far, the only software packages I have been able to test it with (besides the included test application) are Microsoft’s Street and Trips 2005 and Delorme’s Topo 4.0. Both of these programs are almost useless when it comes to using them in conjunction with a touchscreen. I haven’t found a way to easily resize fonts and control buttons in either of them, so I am looking at some other packages. Destinator 3 and I.Guidane 2.1 both seem to be very well regarded in the car-pc community, with I.Guidance (also sold as Routis) seeming to be the favorite. One very cool thing about Destinator is that it is fairly easy to embed in other application, and a number of popular car-pc frontends like Frodoplayer already have mature support for it. Microsoft’s Mappoint also has this functionality, but is significantly more expensive. I.Guidance just had a new version released that adds something like 500 MB of updated maps to the US/Canadian mapset. I.Guidance is already supposed to have the most complete maps in the industry, so that is a definite plus (a lot of the high-end integrated mapping packages in BMW’s a nd the like use the same maps). I.Guidance is also skinable to a certain extent, and with a little work, fonts and buttons can be resized. I.Guidance also ships with both PC and handheld versions included in the package, whereas Delorme and Destinator sell them as seperate versions. Many PPC apps will run on my Jornada (sometimes requiring a bit of .dll/resource hacking), so that is a definite plus in I.Guidance’s favor. I currently have an older version of Pocket Street’s installed on my Jornada, but it doesn’t support GPS. Fry’s supposedly has a wider selection of mapping software than most places. Compusa and the like usually only stock Microsoft and Delorme mapping solutions. So, I might make a trip down to Fry’s in a few hours, when the traffic dies down. In the meantime, I am sitting at Crossroads letting the Frappuccino induced caffeine high cause me to make lots of typos on my Jornada keyboard. I can actually touch type on this keyboard pretty well, but when I get a little jittery or excited, watch out!

In other tech-project news, tomorrow will be the first official design session for the TRC’s ROV project. I have a pretty good idea of a design that should be inexpensive for us to build, but the new law of the land in the TRC is to include students in all decision making processes. I believe that it is almost always beneficial to get a lot of eyeballs involved in a design this complex. Given that this will be the first ROV for any of us, I am sure we will make a lot of mistakes along the way, so any that we can avoid early will really help us out in the long run. I just wish we had more mentor’s involved that have some level of Marine experience. I am going to try to run a number of things past Fredi Lajverdi, Carl Hayden HS’s chief ROV mentor as a sanity check. Fredi came up with a number of inventive, inexpensive solutions for their last ROV project (which won the MATE ROV competion), including a a $3 waterproof camera housing and judicious use of tampons!

I am in the process of trying to clear some space on my main workstation to work on the TRC videos. I have gotten rather sloppy in the way I store my data these days and a little spring cleaning is in order. I could brush the problem under the rug by getting another hard drive, but my tech budget for the month is rather spent and I would rather address the crux of the problem, which is that I collect data (much of which I don’t make any immediate use of) at a quicker rate than I get rid of data. A cursory check of my hard drives showed that I have over 300,000 files and the load is becoming very difficult to keep organized. The whole nested file/folder metaphor is getting extremely dated and I am frankly surprised that database metaphors like WinFS & Spotlight offer haven’t trickled down to desktops until just recently (and only on the MAC side of things, in terms of actual public availability).

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Adenda to the day.

Posted by Deliverator on 2nd May 2005

I ended up going with my father to the Mariners game. I was already in Seattle, so we just met up at the stadium. He bought some tickets from a scalper. They were good seats in the 15th row right past third base. I am really surprised he bought them off a scalper, as he and I had a particularly nasty run-in with one a few years ago. He doesn’t remember the incident, which is somewhat disturbing to me, as it certainly stands out in my mind and we have joked about it a few times since then. I really hope my dad isn’t going senile. I really don’t think I would handle that very well. Anyways, the basic story is that a couple years ago my dad and I were racing down to see an important game late in the season and the game was all but sold out, so we had to resort to a scalper. My dad pays a small fortune for two adjacent tickets from a scalper, but doesn’t bother to examine the tickets. They were both genuine tickets, but the guy sold us one excellent seat and one nosebleed seat. It worked alright, as there was enough room in the row of the good seat to accomodate us both, but it was certainly a lesson in trust for us both (I would like to think that I wouldn’t have fallen prey, but can’t say with absolute certainty). Anyways, the seats tonight were great and we had a nice evening of conversation. The ballgame itself was a pretty big bust, with some excellent baserunning by Ichiro and a fantastic homerun robbing, wallclimbing catch by the same the only real highlights on the M’s side of things.

I arrived home to find that my new GPS has arrived. Installation will have to wait until tomorrow, and I will likely evaluate a few of the latest mapping packages on my PC before migrating everything over to the car.

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Bad Weather = Productive Me

Posted by Deliverator on 2nd May 2005

Only had one client today, so used the rest of my free time to work on fundraising for the ROV project and did some work on my carputer and primary workstation.

I filled out a form that will let the TRC get at cost pricing from West Marine. I went to turn it in, but the store manager was out for the day, so I will have to run it by tomorrow. I went across the street to Silent World, a local dive shop to talk to the owner, Craig, who just got back from a 10 day dive trip. It sounds like they are willing to provide some logistical support in testing the ROV in the water and doing underwater filming/photography of the ROV. They also have a small chamber that can be used to pressure test out assemblies. It can only hold a few gallons, but should be useful in testing our camera and electronic housings. Craig also gave me an introduction to a man by the name of Dave Hancock, who can help us pinpoint some of the Lake Washington wrecks. I also spent a few hours online compiling a list of local marine companies and getting contact numbers for them all. If we have any free time Wednesday after the design portion of the TRC meeting is through, I am going to have the students begin cold-calling all these numbers to see if we can scape together some cash.

I installed a generic four port USB hub (drive bay mounted style) in the car, replacing the Belkin one that has been flakey of late. One of the ports on the Belkin was definitely burned out and another one was intermitent. The ports on the Belkin are located so close together and have no molding/shroud to provide protection against short circuits. I have a feeling that I must have shorted the two flakey ports across each other while trying to plug something in, at some point. This new hub has the ports spaced evenly across the full length of the bay and provides a bit of raised plastic molding around each port, so it should be much harder to damage. All my USB devices are now fully operational. It wasn’t too much of a hardship going without a few of these devices while the flakey hub left me down two ports, but with the new USB GPS on the way, I wanted to get them all fully operational. Switching over to the USB GPS will free up the Epia’s one serial port. I am thinking of adding an OBDII reader to interface my carputer to my car’s engine diagnostic omputer. Scantool.net sells one for around $100 that seems to be well supported in terms of third party software and comes with a heavy duty metal case and all necessary cables.

I installed a neat bay mounted reader in my main desktop to read camera cards. It reads CF (both flash and microdrives), SD, MMC and Memory Stick (ewwww) and somehow squeezes a floppy drive in to boot! My Lian-Li V1000 case only has a single external 3.5″ bay, so having such an integrated combo reader is really nice. This did leave me with a BRAND NEW (sealed in box) 9 in 1 bay mounted media reader left over, so if you would like it for your desktop, just ping me.

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Nice Weather = Sociable Me

Posted by Deliverator on 2nd May 2005

Went to spuds at Alkai with my parents for lunch and spent some time walking the beach. The weather was nice and it seems everyone in Seattle was making excuses to get outdoors. After a brief stop back in Bellevue to get my car, I headed to Capitol Hill and met up with Alex. Alex grabbed some grub at Noah’s Bagels and I grabbed a few drink. We then walked around broadway, stopped at a 1 hour photo place to get a “mystery” roll of film developed, photographed the remains of a church and stopped by Broadway Performance Hall to see if catalogs were available for SIFF (Seattle International Film Festival), yet. It sounds like the schedule won’t be available for a week. Alex and I have been going to SIFF for a number of years and we usually meet a few weeks beforehand to hammer out a schedule. Our differing tastes and the need for occasional compromise usually lead each of us to see some films that we wouldn’t have picked for ourselves. This has lead us to see some real dogs, but for the most part it results in a far riched and varied experience than had we been left to our own devices. This year, despite restrictive schedules for both of us, we are going to try to see between 10 and 12 films. From what I can gather, the catalogs will be out in about a week. I have a feeling I will be obsessively hitting the reload button quite a lot in the next few days. After our disappointment at BPH, we headed back and collected the mystery photos from the 1 hour place. They turned out to be pictures of Marmots taken at Mt Rainier. I was hoping for something more dramatic, but oh well. The photo-tech had an interesting tattoo of a human heart (anatomic depiction) on her bicep, which I took to mean that she wears her heart on her sleeve! Alex proceeded to name a number of major arteries/veins being depicted, which launched us into a discussion about his human anatomy/dissection class. Surprisingly, the lab allows students to bring visitors, so I might hang out with Alex in a few weeks as he and his partners work on the brain. I have helped dissect a human brain, cow eyeball and a fetal pig and have never felt nausea in doing so. Alex had simila r prior experience and told me that the only parts that really weird him out are the face, hands and genitals. Anyways, I think I will give it a shot if he offers. After our walk on the hill, we took my car and spent a little time at Glazer’s digital store. Alex picked up some sample papers for a new Canon inkjet and I picked up a remote co ntrol for the new digicam. By then, it was getting fairly close to Alex’s weekly quality time with his family, so I dropped him off at his car and then headed back to the Eastside. Along the way, I phoned my Aunt Nancy, Grandma L. and Cousin Carolyn. I met Carolyn back on the Eastside and we went out for coffee. All in all, a fun, social day.

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