The Deliverator – Wannabee

So open minded, my thoughts fell out…

Archive for December, 2005

Will the real $100 computer please stand up?

Posted by Deliverator on 12th December 2005

I just received my $100 Brainium WiBook from off eBay. Here are my initial observations:

-screen is a nasty dstn with lots of ghosting/shadows
-touchscreen, but no stylus included (or provision for one in design). It is definitely designed to be poked with one’s fingers.
-keyboard has a very mushy feel to it
-has 1 CF slot on the right side and another hidden under a plastic panel on the bottom. Also appears to have a few JTAG and 1 unidentified diagnostic port under same panel. May be flashable/hackable, so an excellent candidate for running other OSes.
-2 USB ports. Appears to have USB Mass-Storage drivers built in. Tried it out with a 256 MB card and it worked fine.
-Has Serial, Mic, Speaker, IRDA and Ethernet Ports
-Has a blank plastic coverplace where a floppy drive was designed to go. May be possible to add a floppy disk.
-Freaking HUGE for a HPC.
-32 MB of ram. Was expecting more for some reason.
-NO VGA OUT (one was advertised in auction)
-very durable/kid-proof

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Fun with Light

Posted by Deliverator on 11th December 2005

I have a couple spare LCD panels sitting around. One of them is a 7″ panel, which seems ideal for use in a DIY projector. I took a look at the free plans available from lumenlab. One of the things that bothers me is that they use a fresnel lens to produce a more or less uniformly distributed light source (collimated) from a point source (a metal halide lamp). Fresnel lenses are generally not known for their outstanding optical quality. At the same time, a conventional glass lens would be exceedingly expensive and bulky (unless I could con my brother into grinding one for me). My basic objection is why not simple remove this lens from the system altogether by using an array of smaller bulbs in conjunction with a diffuser plate to produce a uniform light source. My thought is that an array of lights would likely be cheaper and produce less heat (or at least produce it over a larger area, thus making it easier to keep cool). What are the concerns? Interference patterns, bulb availability, spectral output of smaller bulbs? Any experts have any thoughts?

In other light related news, I picked up a 1 watt LED flashlight which uses a Luxeon emitter. This flashlight is brighter than god and I have had far too much boyish fun shinning it in people’s faces. Tom Capon posted to the Seattle Robotics Society email list that he had found a good cheap source for Luxeon based flashlights and cheap lasers through AXShop. They had a couple different 3 watt models. I chose one that is powered by CR123A batteries rather than AA cells. I don’t like the CR123A batteries, as they are pretty expensive, but in this case their use results in a slightly bright beam than the one powered by the lower voltage AA’s and a shorter length, more pocketable flashlight. AXShop also sells the batteries very cheaply, so I picked up a bunch of those as well. I can hardly wait for it to arrive.

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Jornada 720 > 728 ram/rom upgrades

Posted by site admin on 11th December 2005

I have been becoming a very active (read obsessive) eBay user of late. I
have been looking for some rare items for quite a while. There are about
a dozen or so word combos that I search for on a near daily basis. This
weekend one of those terms hit paydirt. I managed to find a short
duration “buy it now” from some company that seems to buy out and resell
spare parts stocks. I managed to win forty-four brand new ram/rom
daughterboards for the Jornada 728 for a mere $200. Buying this now was a
bit inconvenient given the outlay I have made on Christmas gifts, but it
was just too good an opportunity to pass up. The Jornada 728 has twice as
much ram as the 720, has a very slightly different OS build and different
case coloring, but is otherwise identical to the venerable 720. The 728
was released shortly before HP canceled the whole series, so far fewer of
them ever made it to market. As a result, the 728 has tended to sell for
quite a premium. They are usually found on eBay in the $400-450 range.
One the flipside, the market has recently experienced a glut of 720s,
with some eBay sellers doing buy-it-nows in the $135 range. With these
rom/ram daughterboards I just acquired, one can effectively upgrade a
Jornada 720 to a 728. Daughterboards rarely show up on the market in any
real quantities, usually being pulled from dead units. Although I could
make a total killing of these units, I don’t plan on doing so. I plan on
offering them up to the very supportive and delightfully fanatical HPC
community for around $75 each. I already have about 10 confirmed buyers
after making a post on HPC Factor. After fullfilling those orders, I will
probably start selling them off on eBay. The package containing the units
has been shipped, so I should have them shortly. I am really excited to
be able to upgrade my own personal 720 unit and the prospect of a 10
times return on my investment is nice too :)

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Robo-cam V3

Posted by Deliverator on 9th December 2005

Stayed up late having far too much fun with my Vex kit. I am absolutely giddy with excitement. I am relatively new to “real” robotics and I just love jumping in head first into a challenging subject, making lots of mistakes and getting my hands dirty. Tonight, I took apart the panning mechanism, as I figured out a way to create a sort of collared bearing that lets the gear’s drive shafts rotate with much less wobble. The gears now mesh much more smoothly and are able to support much more weight.

The work on the panning mechanism was only the slightest intro to the main event for the night. I figured out a way to create a tilt mechanism. The real trick was to figure a way to counterbalance the weight of the servo with that of the camera so that the resulting weight sits evenly over the 60 pin gear to which the tilt mechanism is mounted. The other major problem was to create a support mechanism for the drive shaft coming out of the servo, so that the weight of the camera on the end of the shaft didn’t damage the motor. All in all, I am quite well pleased with how it turned out.

The servo movement is a little jerky. I would have liked an easier way to tilt the camera to a given position and have it stay locked in that position. The servo will hold the camera at a given angle as long as I keep the joystick tilted just right, but as my robot is driven “tank style,” it is hard to both drive the robot around and control the camera at the same time. With a purely analog joystick, I could simply set the trim wheel on the joystick to lock the servo in place. The VEX controller is rather nice and its digital readout and trim system is excellent, but there are some cases where analog is better. One option would be to pick up a second radio and controller and allow the camera to be controlled by a second person. Another would be to replace the servo with a motor, but that option is out for the moment as I have used all the motors and servos that came with the Vex kit. If I replaced the servo with a motor I would also need to figure out a way to gear it down and I don’t think I could do that easily with the existing space constraints.

Here is a picture of the new pan and tilt design as well as a video of it in action. The video was taken by my hacked CVS $30 video camera. The video is in Xvid format, so you may need to download the codec to watch it.

Pan and Tilt Mechanism

Xvid Video of Pan and Tilt Mechanism

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Robo-cam V2

Posted by Deliverator on 8th December 2005

I had a great time driving the robot around Ralph’s Deli during Tuesday’s hacknight. I had just got the wireless video system for the robot working the night before, and it was rather unrefined. All the components at the receiver end of the system were just laid out on the table and all the wiring, power bricks, etc made for a cluttered mess. On robot side of things, the camera/transmitter burned through 9v batteries like mad and I had to purchase a fresh battery at pound-of-flesh rates from the deli. Today, I sought to put an end these problems. I ended up taking my dremel to a old plastic audio tape carrying case. I mounted the 5″ LCD panel and RF receiver on the exterior of the case and ran all the wires inside. In the interior of the case I mounted a 12v 7.2 amp-hour rechargeable battery to power everything. The unit can now operate sans wall warts for many hours without needing a recharge. The battery is heavy enough to keep the unit upright at a good viewing angle without having to lean it against anything. The case has a nice handle, making all the equipment much easier to carry.
Thanks to all the consolidation, I only need 3 arms to carry everything, rather than 6. If only I were a Motie.

On the robot side of things, I replaced the 9v battery with a 6 AA cell battery box. Alkaline AA batteries are much cheaper than 9v batteries and provide many more amp hours of use. I could run the camera off NIMH rechargeable batteries, but I would probably need a 7 or 8 cell battery box due to NIMH battery’s 1.2-1.25 volt output vs alkaline’s 1.5 output.

Video Receiver in Project Box 2
Video Receiver in Project Box

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My “New” HPC

Posted by Deliverator on 7th December 2005

I just purchased a Branium WiBook on eBay. The WiBook is a very interesting class of HPC. It was designed as a thin-client for use in low-ball educational markets. This concept caught on even less than those HPCs designed for vertical enterprise markets like health care. The WiBook’s design is novel, to say the least. It is thoroughly ruggedized, has an integrated handle for carrying and has indentations to fit the contours of one’s lap. At over 3 pounds, it is definitely one of the heaviest HPCs ever designed, although it still is lighter than the vast majority of laptops. It might make a good machine for someone that is hard on their gear, yet wants a device that would be in the typically fragile sub-notebook category.

I doubt I will make much use of it, myself, as I have become very hooked on pocketable computing – being able to put on my jacket and go without having to carry around a backpack. I bought it mainly because it has remarkably similar stats to the oh so svelte Netbook Pro. Both use a 400 mhz Xscale PA255 processor and run the Windows CE 4.20 core OS. I should be able to get a fair sense of what software will run on the Netbook Pro by testing against the WiBook.


Jornada 720

1 week:

Branium Wibook

1 Month?:

Netbook Pro

Posted in General, Windows CE | 2 Comments »


Posted by Deliverator on 6th December 2005

I was contacted yesterday by a reporter today asking if the TRC would like a Robosapien. He just finished reviewing it for his paper and decided to give it to us, afterwards. I am not sure if it is an original Robosapien, or its much more capable elder brother, Robosapien V2. I got a call from Brad Moore, the TRC’s faculty advisor, saying that it had been dropped off in his room. Brad is a big kid at heart and his phone call was just overflowing with glee. I will try and make sure he has a chance to play with it before we vivisect it for servos and sensors. Who knows, we may keep it relatively intact and add our own control modules. Between the Robosapien and the mouse trap cars, the next general meeting promises to be loads of fun. In other TRC news, I read on Ryan’s Blog that the TRC has paid its $6000 entrance fee to the 2006 PNW First Regional. Now I just hope there is enough money left over to well…build the robot. If worse comes to worse, we will wrap Ian Hovander up in tinfoil and push him out onto the floor :)

I spent the afternoon shopping for Christmas gifts on eBay. I noticed there are a number of brand new vex kits for sale right now at a fraction of the cost of retail. If you are looking for a great educational gift, I highly recommend it. After finishing my online shopping, I went to Computerstop and the hardware store. I picked up a couple gifts, as well as a some ram and a neat little wireless camera.

I had seen the cameras on the shelves months before, but passed them buy. I saw one in use on a hatcam at Mindcamp. I decided right then to buy one, but the next time I was at the store, they were gone. The store must have found some in the back or something, because this time I managed to find ONE on the shelves. I took it home and mounted it on my Vex Trike’s new gear reduced camera mount. I had fun driving it around the basement from several rooms away, watching it on a 5″ LCD that I had sitting around. I think I will mount the LCD and receiver unit in a project box and make myself a portable rig. I plan on making a still better camera mount that allows for both pan and tilt control. I found a great, simple pan and tilt design earlier this year while browsing the web for DIY ROV projects. I picked up some threaded rods while at the hardware store that should be suitable. I will see if Larry will let me machine the other needed parts sometime.

In still more robotics news, I just learned that MATE will be holding the 1st annual PNW Rov Competition in Washington in May. I hope to get the TRC motivated enough to enter. We have been working on our own ROV project for a while now. I just hope we have time and money enough to build an entry.

Posted in General, ROV Project, Titan Robotics Club | No Comments »

Lazy Sunday

Posted by Deliverator on 5th December 2005

Had a nice lazy day today. I started off with the intent of being productive. I got up and got a printer problem solved for a client, then helped my mom do some Christmas shopping for my father. He is getting a brand new *censored*. After returning home, my body protested. By a little after noon, I lay down to read a book and ended up waking up again about five. I drove into Seattle and had a nice long dinner at The Hurricane Cafe. On the way home, I stopped by the Ellis household to help them with a few minor user problems and then headed home, whereupon I turned into a vegetable.

While watching TV, I spent some time reworking the camera mount on my Vex Trike. The servo motor jerks between positions far too quickly and causes the camera coupled to it to take very motion blurred video. Gearing the servo down was not an option, as that would have severely limited its possible field of view. I replaced the servo with a circular spinning motor and used two 12 tooth and two 60 tooth gears to reduce the rpms from the motor by a factor of 25. This new mount lets me pan the camera very smoothly. I may add tilt control, as well, at some point, but will need more gears to do so. The gear kit, available for $13, included all the original gears, plus two 84 tooth gears, which would really let me play around with speed and torque much more. I just wish the kit included some sort of bearing which would lock tight to drive shafts but spin freely in some sort of mountable collar. Right now the shafts wobble a bit too much for my taste.

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Busy Saturday

Posted by Deliverator on 4th December 2005

Saturday I:

* Got up a 6 am to help out at the Washington State FIRST Lego League Competition at Highland Middle School. I helped out with the AV for the event, spending most of my time shooting video on my Canon S1IS. I didn’t have the CF microdrive with me, so we devised a relay of dumping 256 and 512 MB CF cards onto one of the laptops. I shot about 8 cards worth of photos and video at the event. I still haven’t gotten an email from the AV guys who were supposed to be providing a dump site for all of us to download from, so for now, I have only a few pics from the last card I shot on my gallery. Kevin and I got bored with our tasks later in the afternoon and went about modifying my Vex Trike. It now has better gearing, lower center of mass and we added a servo controlled rotating camera mount. I slapped my CVS camera on it and captured some rather on-robot footage of it wheeling around people’s feet.

* Worked on 3 seperate clients computers

* Went out for dinner with the TRC at Red Robin, which was a poor choice of venue due to Bellevue Square being a zoo this time of year.

* Went to see Aeon Flux with Ryan at Factoria. I liked it far more than I thought I would.

Posted in General, Titan Robotics Club | No Comments »

Lincoln Square Opening

Posted by Deliverator on 2nd December 2005

It looks like the new Lincoln Square Cinemas, mentioned in this prior entry, is having its grand opening on December 9th. The website for the theater, which was previously a couple short paragraphs of text, has been replaced with a functional, graphically rich site (no flash, yay!). The site is a tad on the orange side, but who am I to be a critic of color choices? I am colorblind, after all. Anyways, I can’t wait to checkout this new theater!

Posted in General, Media, Movies | No Comments »