Posted by Deliverator on 29th November 2005
The Vex Kit, which I won in a recent eBay auction, arrived today! At 500+
parts in the kit, I decided I better do something to keep track of them
all. I headed to Frys and picked up a couple clear plastic boxes, which
can be subdivided into up to about 30 compartments each. I also picked up
a 30 pack of AA NIMH batteries for use in the radio controller and to
power whatever robot creations I created. Vex has an official
rechargeable power pack & charger for around $50, but I got away with
creating my own for about $25. When I got home, I inspected the kit.
Everything appeared new and in good working order. After closer inspection,
I noticed something that irked me. For whatever reason, the chapters of
the “Inventor’s Guide” were not included in the package. The 3 ring
binder and the tabbed chapter markers were included, but the chapters
themselves were missing. I checked with Rob who received his kit a few
weeks ago and the official packaging list and they both confirm that the
chapters should have been included. The box and all contents in it
appeared to be new, so I am unsure if the factory made a mistake, or
whether the seller removed all that paper to try and increase his sales
margin by removing the 300+ pages in the manual. I was able to download
PDF copies of all the sections from the official Vex site, print them out
on my laser printer and 3 hole punch them myself, but it pisses me off to
have to waste all that paper, toner and time. Everything else appears to
be present, new and in working order, but I will attempt to test all the
components tomorrow. I think I will bring the kit to hacknight and build
the “Squarebot” during the meeting.
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Posted by Deliverator on 29th November 2005
Last week’s hacknight was spent, for the most part, on discussion and exploration of a new, major project that SWN is embarking upon. I was sworn to secrecy (we have a handshake and everything), so couldn’t write about it at the time. Matt has taken the wraps off the project with his announcement of the fundraiser for the project. The short of it is, SWN has managed to get some space donated to it 150′ up one of the huge radio towers on Capitol Hill. We spent a good deal of the meeting consulting pictures, topographic maps and using Google Earth to establish sight-lines. A node at this location can see a LOT, including significant lines of sight to the Eastside and Kirkland. This node represents a chance to seriously build out the network and bring nodes on the Eastside into the SWN fold. I went over to my Grandmother’s house and took some pictures, which establish a clear line of sight to her location. I believe I should also be able to see the tower from the top of the pine tree in the front yard. My grandmother’s house can see a good deal of downtown and my house can see Factoria, Summerset, College Hill and some of Issaquah, so there is very good potential to get these areas on the network as well. Although the space is being donated, it will cost some money for the antennas, node hardware and a certified tower tech to mount the gear. Please consider a donation.
Posted in General, SWN Hacknight, Wireless | 1 Comment »
Posted by Deliverator on 24th November 2005
Purchased a Vex kit on eBay this week. I was a little worried about making the purchase, as the seller only had one purchase feedback (another vex kit), but I got him to send me a number of picture of himself, photo identity and picture of him holding the kit. The next best thing to information super-highway street cred is knowing where someone lives :) The box is coming from California, so hopefully it will be here by the end of the week.
After this week’s hacknight (which is deserving of its own entry) I headed across the street to Rob’s place. Rob bought a kit after I told him about the Vex system a few weeks back and he hasn’t been idle. I got to play around with his first creation, a highly modified squarebot. He changed the design to utilize two bigger, powered wheels, shifted the axle and added a tiny third wheel (which acts a bit like a caster). To this base, he added a laser pointer to the front and a plastic rod with string attach at the back; each attached to respective servos. In short, he created a robot to torment his cat! I got to play around with it for a few minutes in the parking lot in front of his place and took some pics. Rob was nice enough to loan me the programming interface. I am loading up all the VEX software and documentation on an old laptop, along with all the FRC dev environement stuff for the IFI mini robot controller. We are using the IFI mini robot controller in the ROV project. First/IFI has been using PIC18 chips for their controllers for quite a while. I am hoping that I will be able to figure out how to program the VEX controller without having to spend $100 on the official programming kit , which looks to be little more than a USB->serial dongle and the install files for the EasyC dev environment.
Here is a pic of Rob’s cat-bot:
Posted in General, ROV Project, Titan Robotics Club | 1 Comment »
Posted by Deliverator on 20th November 2005
I went with Erik to see the new Harry Potter film at Cinerama. I didn’t enjoy this movie as much as some of the others. I didn’t feel the film was well edited, with a lot of harsh cuts that really distracted me. I did however love seeing it at Cinerama. Seeing a movie at Cinerama always adds at least a star to the entertainment value of a movie, imv.
As Ryan noted during his recent stealth exploration of Lincoln Square, their new 16-screen theater is very close to opening. There isn’t much up on the theater’s website yet, which just mentions a November opening. Erik’s mom was shopping at one of the recently opened stores at Lincoln Square and one of the people that worked there quoted a December 7th opening date for the theater. Regardless, I am going to have to get myself over there and see a film soon.
Galleria 11, located just across the street from Lincoln Tower, was sold recently (presumeably due to the impending stiff competition from Lincoln Tower’s theater) and is under new management. Galleria has been one of the only theaters on the Eastside to show indie films, although usually on just a few screens. I hope Galleria chooses to differentiate themselves by showing more indie films as a way of competing against Lincoln Tower.
I love movies of all eras and was pleased to see that Harold Llyod is getting the recognition he so richly deserves with the release of a 7 DVD, fully restored and scored boxed set. Harold Llyod is one of the all time great physical comedians, along with Buster Keaton and Charlie Chaplin, but he is not nearly as well known today. Llyod tended to play characters that were very much representative of the times, unlike Chaplin, whose characters have always had a very timeless quality. While his characters are somewhat dated, in other ways, he was very progressive. He was one of the first artists to retain the copyrights to his own works and exercise private control over his works. Today, so many artists have very little say in how their works are distributed. I know a lot of artists are very upset about their works being tied to the recent Sony rootkit debacle, for instance. Lloyd was also quite the technology nut, with a serious technical interest in the art/science of photography. He was particularly interested in 3d and color film processes and some of the earliest color films were made at his house. He combined this love of technology with his other great love, women. He went so far as to produce a (now classic) book of 3d nudes, which you can still buy today. I’ll pass on the book for now, but I can’t wait to see his acrobatic nuttiness in the near future.
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Posted by Deliverator on 18th November 2005
Met up with Erik today at school and headed over to Larry’s garage (by way of Jack in the Box) to work on the ROV. Larry took the plastic backing off the mini controller board to examine the power regulators for the board. Though the power plug on the housing says +9v, the regulators are of a type that will happily run off higher voltages just fine. We were concerned that we might have to have a bunch of power supplies for the control unit, lights, camera, etc. Larry hooked the controller up to a bench supply just to make sure and the controller ran happily on 12v. He scrounged around on one of his computers and found some code that he had written for it 3-4 years ago, while waiting for the full-size FIRST boards to arrive. Larry hooked up the controller to a neat circuit that simulates PWM input from a radio-interfaced operator interface (Joystick) and the controller with his code responded to it. It is questionable whether we can run PWM over such a long tether wire as will be used, but I think we will give it a try. If not, the control board has a TTL port and we can probably get some TTL->RS485 chips that do differential voltage signalling for longer distances.
After playing around with the controller for a while, we figured out where to mount everything on the “sled.” We will have 2 cameras, 3 motor speed controllers, the controller and a fuse panel. The only fuse panel I had been able to find was total overkill for the job and would not have fit. It had mounts for about a dozen fuses. Rather than scrounge for a smaller panel (Larry though IS might have a 4 fuse unit somewhere in the rat-sized Labyrinth that is the TRC room), Larry solved the problem by cutting the panel in half with the bandsaw! Larry is definitely a master of quasi destructive creation! Perhaps he is the American version of Shiva, ala American Gods. After figuring out where to mount everything, we used the drill press and created some threads and bolted everything in place. We test fit the sled (with all electronics mounted) in the cavity and everything fit, with a planned 1/4″ margin for error. Measure twice, cut once, indeed! There will definitely be quite the rats nest of wires inside once we get everything wired up. Next time, we will have to unmount all the electronics, get the sled welded, drill and tap the holes for the electronic connectors and start wiring everything up. I think this sled idea is really going to work out quite well, as we can remove all the electronics from the cavity by simply pulling off the end cap and disconnecting the tether. Should make things simple to replace if we burn out a fuse or something. Here are some pictures from tonight’s events.
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Posted by Deliverator on 17th November 2005
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Posted by Deliverator on 16th November 2005
Getting a modern web browser to run on older HPCs has been seen by many in the community as the holy grail in keeping these wonderful devices alive and relevant. While there is considerable hope for a port of Minimo in the near future, up until now the best solution has been to hack Netfront 3.0 to run on HPCs. Attempts to hack newer versions of Netfront have failed.
Someone named rgisondi recently posted on hpcfactor that he had been able to get the preview release of Netfront 3.3 working on a variety of StrongARM based HPCs through some clever hex editing. The instructions were a bit too vague for me, but Cmonex, one of the most experienced resource hackers in the HPC community was inspired by the claim and managed to get it to work! Download the Netfront 3.3 technical preview package here. Run the setup program. It will fail, claiming that your device is not supported. No problem! Simply copy the .cab installer from C:\Program Files\ACCESS\NetFront v3.3 for Pocket PC (PPC3ARENR102TP) over to your hpc and double click it to install. Your HPC will probably complain, but install anyways. Do a soft reset and than overwrite all the files in the directory you installed the program into with the ones found here. Launch the program and you should be good to go. You will need to use WinWatch to adjust some of the settings in Netfront’s options menus, as they are “off screen.” I had no difficulty moving Netfront 3.3 out of ram and over to my Compact Flash card, unlike Netfront 3.0 which requires a few files be left in ram. The only current limitations with the technical preview is the inablity to open more than two tabs and lack of JAVA support. Netfront’s excellent JAVA support has always been one of its top selling points for the PPC crowd and it will surely be in the final version. If the final version is hackable, I will definitely be making a purchase.
Posted in General, Portable Computing/Gadgets, Windows CE | 7 Comments »
Posted by Deliverator on 15th November 2005
Has a day chock full of robotics. The TRC had a general meeting this afternoon and there was quite a turnout. I would estimate close to 30 people were there. After general announcements, the group split in two, with one group working on fundraising and the other group working on resurecting a robot from four years back that had been partially stripped for parts.
The fundraising group is getting ready for its first fundraising event. The event is tomorrow (Wednesday, Nov 16th) at the Baja Fresh located at 120 Bellevue Way near Bellevue Square. If you come in and treat yourself to anything on their menu tomorrow and mention the Titan Robotics Club when you order, we will get 15% of the gross proceeds. The TRC is in dire need of funds this year. So, come order a tasy burrito and help some kids (over 50% girls!) get inspired about engineering!
The other group of kids worked on Chronos. The TRC recycles a lot of parts from year to year, but has recently recognized that large working robots have great fundraising value. So, we are going to attempt to rehabilitate Chronos for public relations purposes. The roller assembly that scoops balls into the robots large hopper will need to be replaced, as will some of the pneumatic systems. We were able to power up Chronos and hook it up to the operator interface via a serial tether, but were unable to get it to do much more this first time around. The operator interface board indicated a problem with one of the relays, but Kevin thinks that will be easily remedied.
After the TRC meeting, I headed to Seattle for Hacknight, only to discover that the Capitol Hill Internet Cafe, where we usually meet, is still closed, ostensibly due to electrical problems. I happened to meet up with Rob while walking down broadway. He had just received his $300 Vex robotics kit by mail, so I headed over to his place to check it out. It looks to be a very versatile and thoroughly documented kit of parts, although I would advise spending some extra dough on the programming module and some additional sensors. If you are looking for a good way to get your feet wet in robotics or are looking for a fun and educational xmas gift, I highly recommend picking one up.
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Posted by Deliverator on 15th November 2005
I did a complete reformat/reinstall on my Jornada today. On a normal PC, reinstalling the OS and all associated applications would have taken the better part of a day, but it only took me about an hour on my Jornada. The Jornada’s OS (Handheld PC 2000 – based on the Windows CE 3.0 Core) is stored in ROM, with applications and user data installed in ram or to a storage card. I have been careful to store everything that can possibly be installed on a storage card, rather than waste precious ram. This and a LOT of tweaking has enabled me to keep a couple hundred apps installed on my Jornada while only using up 5-6 MB of the Jornada 720’s 32 MB of ram. Windows CE is a real fun OS to tweak and I have gained a pretty solid understanding of Win CE OS internals in the process. I have managed to screw up my Jornada a number of times from all the tweaking, but the ROM includes an excellent backup utility. I store my backups on my 512 MB CF card. If I manage to hose the OS while out and about, I can simply reset the unit, run the restore utility and have all my settings restored in a few minutes. Despite my best care, I have been accumulating cruft from applications that I have tried and subsequently uninstalled, leaving behind orphaned .dll files, registry entries and misc detritus. I decided it was time do a hard reset, wiping the ram and bringing the unit back to factory defaults. Most of my programs were installed to my storage card, so reinstalling was just a matter of reinstalling the drivers for my bluetooth and compact flash cards, reconfiguring a few programs whose settings were stored in the registry database (and were thus reset back to defaults when the registry got zapped) and installing a few applications that insist on being run from ram. I now have 3900 KB of ram in use, compared to ~6MB before the reset and my Jornada seems far more responsive than before.
Posted in General, Tech Stuff, Windows CE | No Comments »
Posted by Deliverator on 15th November 2005
Rockbox is a neat project aimed at providing high quality open source firmware for portable music players. Currently, they have released polished code for a number of Archos players, which deliver far more advanced features than found in the original, manufacturer supplied firmware. The Rockbox feature set is also highly extensible through 3rd party plugins including picture and movie viewers and even a gameboy emulator. Rockbox has also been making a strong effort to support iRiver players. They have released non-final but very useable code for the H100 series of players. In addition, their work on porting Rockbox to the H300 series seems to be making considerable progress, with support for most of the major chips being listed as 90% complete or done. One of the last major hurdles seems to be creating an effective LCD driver, particularly given the H300 series potential as an excellent portable video player. A picture released today reveals that progress is being made on this front as well.
Posted in General, iRiver, Portable Computing/Gadgets | No Comments »