The Deliverator – Wannabee

So open minded, my thoughts fell out…

Archive for March, 2006

Vex Robotics – Good News and Bad

Posted by Deliverator on 19th March 2006

I got word today from Larry Barello that Radioshack will no longer be carrying the Vex Robotics System. This is sad news, as Vex was really the first general purpose robotics system to be carried by a major retailer. I’ve had a great deal of fun with mine! The upside of this news is that Radioshack is clearing all remaining stock at 50% off and providing free shipping for all orders over $50. You can take advantage of the offer at the Radioshack online store.This is a great opportunity while it lasts!

VEX

Posted in General, Titan Robotics Club | 3 Comments »

Minimo Nightly Builds

Posted by Deliverator on 19th March 2006

Doug Turner, the lead developer of Minimo, recently updated the project to build against the Mozilla 1.8 code tree. Minimo is now being compiled nightly, with a windows based installer available here. This is a nice change from the past, infrequent way that updated versions were released to the public. I wish that the nightly build was being released in .cab form, so that it could be downloaded directly onto a Windows CE device without needing to connect up to a full blown Windows box using Activesync. The windows based installer just plops a .cab file into the Activesync directory, to be installed when next the PDA syncs, so it isn’t like it would be hard to do. I know of several people whose sole computing device is their HPC, or who travel away from home for months on end, so a direct installer would be nice.

Posted in General, Portable Computing/Gadgets, Windows CE | 1 Comment »

An evening with a master

Posted by Deliverator on 19th March 2006

When it comes to art, very few people can inargueably claim to be masters of their craft. One person who can make such a claim is Ray Harryhausen. Ray Harryhausen is one of the great pioneers of special effects (particularly, stop frame animation) in cinema. His effects are some of the most “believeable” that have ever graced the silver screen. Without the benefits of computers, he breathed life into dead skeletons in “Jason and the Argonauts” and created a giant ape for far less than King Kong’s 200 million dollar budget in “Mighty Joe Young.” On the evening of April 4th, he will be speaking and showing clips from his movies at the Science Fiction Museum in Seattle. He will also be signing copies of his new book, The Art of Ray Harryhausen. I have four tickets to the event. If you would like to join me, post a comment listing some reasons why you are oh so worthy.

Posted in General, Media, Movies | No Comments »

iRex ebook reader – coming real soon, we promise!

Posted by Deliverator on 19th March 2006

iRex iLiad

I just read on engadget that it looks like the iRex iLiad ebook reader device is actually going to make it to market. It will be going on sale next month with an expected price somewhere between $300 and $400 (which probably means $399.99). The iLiad is, in my mind, the first real stab at a general purpose ebook reader device since the Gemstar Rocketbook (now available through eBookwise). Sony has been selling an ebook reader in Japan for a number of years called the Librie, but its strange control layout and crippling DRM makes it a non-viable option, imo. Sony is also planning on releasing an ebook reader for the US market, but I am not much interested in purchasing Sony products any longer. The Sony rootkit debacle left a very bad taste in my mouth and until I see some signs of real contrition from Sony, I will not be purchasing any Sony branded products.

Anyways, back to the iLiad. Here are the reasons I think it will be a success:

-support for a large number of non-proprietary formats at launch
-very high resolution display
-20 hour battery life
-high contrast eink display, which is readable in direct sunlight
-touchscreen
-wide variety of connectivity & storage options

Some fairly detailed specs of the iLiad have been released, but I still have a few concerns.

-The iLiad appears to be a totally flat tablet, without any consideration of the ergonomics of actually having to hold the device for hours on end. The gemstar line included a curved , rubber molded grip so that the reader could be held comfortably with one hand for hours on end.
-no indication of dedicated page up and down buttons. Ideally, the device should be able to be held in one hand with controls for basic functions such as flipping the page accessible without having to use one’s other hand or having to reposition the device.
-Uses rechargeable batteries. Lets face it, batteries technology just plain sucks and trying to find a replacement battery years down the line for a gadget that is no longer sold comes close to my vision of the ninth circle of hell. I cannot recall the number of battery packs that I’ve had to rebuild over the years. I would much rather see a device like this come with NIMH rechargeables in a standard size.

Unless this device receives some very bad feedback, I will almost certainly be purchasing one. You should be able to order your very own iLiad next month through iRex’s online store.

Posted in Books, General, Portable Computing/Gadgets | 5 Comments »

VMware Server – Now Free (As in Beer)

Posted by Deliverator on 14th March 2006

VMware has made the latest BETA version of their product, VMware Server, free. They promise that future beta versions and the final version will be free as well. VMware has been developing their virtual machine products for quite a long time now, and even though it is a BETA release, I have found it to be quite stable and haven’t noticed any bugs, yet. I have been a paying user of VMware Workstation for quite a while now and I have to say that Server is a nice bump up in features. The ability to remotely manage running VMs from another computer is particularly nice. Think of it as remote desktop, only at a local console level. Vmware Server also makes it easy to move VMs between different physical servers. This is a particularly nice feature, as one could simply move a VM over to another physical server if the machine it was originally running on needed to be taken down for upgrades/maintenance. It should be possible to perform a “rolling” upgrade on a cluster of servers with almost no perceptible downtime, simply by bouncing the VMs from one computer to another, as needed.

Posted in General, Tech Stuff | No Comments »

Atlanta and Bust

Posted by Deliverator on 14th March 2006

Puchased my airline tickets to go with the TRC to the International FIRST Champsionship in Atlanta. I was actually able to use my frequent flyer miles, so I don’t have to pay anything for the flight. I had been saving those miles to visit my brother, Scott, so it is really just a case of robbing Peter to pay Paul. Still, with taxes and health care payments due soon, I would rather keep my pockets a little more full in the near term. I am planning on trying to have more fun in the evenings, this time around, which I am certain will burn cash at a high rate. I would probably be better off locking myself in the hotel room with a cup of top ramen, but what fun would that be? I think I am going to try and take the kids to another Brave’s baseball game, find a good Jazz joint and Amy found a Segway tour of the city.

My father might come along as well, but I think he is going to hold off on his decision until the last minute in case my grandma’s health takes a turn for the worse.

Posted in General, Titan Robotics Club | No Comments »

Marking Time

Posted by Deliverator on 14th March 2006

We all note the passage of time in our own unique ways. One of the things that makes me note “hey, another year has gone by” is my annual purchasing of the humungous and authoritative anthology “The Year’s Best Science Fiction” edited by Gardner Dozois. I have been reading these annually for as many year’s as I have been able to read. I had very little pocket change growing up and more than that, there were few places nearby to spend it, so my insatiable reading addiction had to be satisfied by the local library. As such, my personal collection did not start until the 7th annual anthology. I recently started a minor personal quest to make my complete my collection. It has taken months of searching, but the end is in sight. As of a few days ago, I now own every yearly anthology from the 2nd to the 22nd.

The second annual edition was particularly difficult to nail down, as it has become quite collectible for rather more morbid reasons. The cover depicts a “future history” of New York, starting with the present on the far left and the distant future on the right. The leftmost part of the cover shows the World Trade Center, with a fireball explosion blooming out of the upper floors of the building. The cover art for this book was created in the early 80’s, almost twenty years before 9/11.

Dozois Second Annual Anthlology

As of now, the only one for which I am still searching is the first annual collection from 1983. I have found copies of it for sale, but not for much less than ~$500, which *personal obsessions aside* I am not willing to pay.

Posted in Books, General, Rants and Raves | No Comments »

New Wireless Products Abound

Posted by Deliverator on 13th March 2006

Went down to Fry’s today and spent some time looking at the new wireless doodahs and doodads. One of the neat product categories to emerge of late are devices that act as a USB Wifi Dongle, but also have a small LCD screen and Lithium Ion rechargeable battery, so that one can quickly check for the availability of wireless signals – without having to pull out a bulky laptop. Wifi finders have been around for quite a while now, but almost all of them only have indicator leds, that really only tell you if 2.4 ghz radio signals are detected. These devices can have a lot of false positives on things like microwave ovens, wireless phones, etc. Plus, even if it was truely a wifi signal, it woudn’t generally indicate if the signal was protected in some way (i.e. wep or wpa). Up until this latest generation of hardware, the only wifi finder with a screen was, to my knowledge, the Canary Wireless Digital Hotspotter. Having a screen lets one check on ssid, encryption status, signal strength, channel info, etc.

-Trendnet has two different models available, one that acts as a basic USB wifi dongle + site survey and another that adds 512 MB of flash storage. This is the sort of device consolidation that I would like to see more of, rather than yet another “phone that does everything but make phone calls.”

-Linksys has a basic usb dongle + site survey of their own, but it seems to be priced around $80-90, putting it a full $30 more expensive than the basic Trendnet model. In other Linksys news, Frys is the first store in the Seattle area that is stocking the WRT54GL. The latest version of the WRT54G (version 5) uses significantly different hardware than before and as a result, can no longer serve as a platfrom for some of the nice Linux based firmware projects. The WRT54GL is the same as the WRT54G version 4, so you can tinker with the firmware to your heart’s content.

-Zyxel seems to have the best of the 3 available dongle + site survey devices. Their product, the AG-225H supports both 802.11a and 802.11b/g networks (including site survey ability) and can also act as an infrastructure mode wireless access point, giving you the ability to easily share your internet connection with others.

Frys also now stocks a wide variety of travel routers, with 2 models from Linksys, one from Netgear, one from Belkin and one from D-link. The only two models that really popped out at me were the Linksys WRT54GC and the D-Link DWL-G730AP. Rob brought the Linksys for show and tell at Hacknight a few months back. The WRT54GC is nice in that it includes a 4 port switch for wired computers, and also has a pop out connector for attaching an external antenna if the internal proves inadequate. The D-link doesn’t have a switch, but comes with a lot of other compensations, including the ability to act as a router, ethernet< ->wireless bridge or as a client bridge. Another nice feature of the D-link is its ability to be powered through a USB port or via an wall wart. I ended up picking up the D-link model. It should come in handy on my coming trip to Atlanta.

Posted in General, Wireless | No Comments »

Asus A8N32-SLI Deluxe – If at first you don’t succeed…

Posted by Deliverator on 10th March 2006

My previous motherboard, an Asus K8N-E Deluxe has been ailing for some time. After a bios update some months back, I started getting random hangups and warning messages at POST, usually only when cold booting. I reflashed to the prior bios revision and the problem did not go away. All the subsequent bios flashing has been to no avail. The end result is that 3 out of 4 attempts to cold boot tend to result in having to do a warmboot to get to the point where the OS can bootstrap itself. Once the OS is loaded, I never experience any problems, and as my computer is usually powered up for weeks at a time between reboots, I have chosen to live with the frustration.

Recently, I did some drive hacking that left my USB subsystem more or less unfunctional. I could have reimaged to the most recent hdd snapshot and gotten up and running in a snap, but I decided it was high time I clean out the cruft and do a clean install of XP. Do to the complexity of my operating environment, this is usually a couple day process. I have plenty of other computers to provide redundant functionality, so I have no need to hurry. I decided while I was at it, I would try and find a replacement for the flaky K8N-E motherboard.

I hunted around town and nowhere could I find a socket 754 motherboard with a decent feature set. I tried Computerstop, Frys, Hard Drives Northwest, etc. Pretty much every place with a large motherboard selection. All of them stocked 754 motherboards, but almost universally they were “value” line boards with very limited feature sets designed to be paired with AMD Sempron “value” CPUs. For the life of me, I couldn’t find a single board with more than 2 SATA ports (I run an all SATA system), firewire, decent number of USB pinheaders, etc. On top of that, most of the value boards were sporting PCI-Express slots instead of AGP slots. I did find one that had an AGP slot (added via a AGP< ->PCI Express bridge chip), but the very well informed salesperson alerted me to the fact that these bridged AGP designs ran at 1.7 volts instead of AGP’s spec of 1.5, and had been known to fry high end AGP cards. I spent somewhere on the order of $450 for my Gigabyte 6800 GT (with factory overclock to ultra speeds) and I sure as hell wasn’t going to stick it in an off-brand $80 motherboard.

I returned home empty handed and started checking around online. DFI makes/made an excellent Nforce 3 based “deluxe” board, sold under their “Lanparty” branding. This board received strongly favorable reviews and is considered one of the best S754 boards ever made. It is also next to impossible to find online (many claim to have it but are actually out of stock). The only other deluxe board that I could find with the feature set I needed was the Asus K8N-E. I wasn’t about to purchase another of those. I consigned myself to a forced upgrade to a Socket 939 system, which unfortunately also meant an upgrade to a new proc and a new graphics card. Hopefully I can find a buyer for my S754 Athlon 64 3000+ and AGP Gigabyte 6800 GT (factory overclocked to Ultra levels with an awesome double sided heatpipe cooling unit). If you are interested in purchasing either, please contact me.

After spending an hour talking to Rob at Computerstop and a few hours of reading reviews online, I decided to get an Asus A8N32-SLI Deluxe motherboard. This motherboard is the first motherboard on the market that can do SLI and run each video card at full 16x PCI-Express speeds. Pretty much no card on the market takes advantage of this huge bandwidth, but who knows what Nvidia or ATI have coming down the pipe? The real reason I wanted this board is for its wonderful feature set and extremely full featured bios. The board comes with 4 DDR slots, 6 SATA ports, 2 firewire pinheaders and no less than 10 USB ports. What really got my attention was the 8 phase power design and the board’s heatpipe based cooling of the north and southbridge chips. As usual, Asus’s board layout is immaculate, with everything positioned for easy access. I was somewhat hesitant to purchase another Asus board, after my experience with their previous AMD boards, but Asus has always been a mainstay of the industry and every review I could find proclaimed this board to be simply the finest Socket 939 on the market.

I headed to computerstop and picked up the motherboard, an Athlon X2 3800+ CPU (which mounted for me, for free) and a PCI-Express Nvidia 6800 GS. I got the board home, read the manual for any gotchas, carefully installed it into my system and left everything detached for the initial smoke test. I always start with a minimal system configuration (motherboard, video card and ram) and then add devices in one at a time. It saves a lot of diagnostic headaches, usually. I flipped the powerbutton on the back of the powersupply and the motherboard’s powerlight lit up a friendly green. I hit the powerswitch and NOTHING happened. I verified that the motherboard power switch was connected to the correct pin (asus includes a good diagram and even color codes their motherboard pin blocks, now), but to no avail. I am no spring chicken when it comes to building systems from scratch. I have built or done major upgrades to literally thousands of machines over 15 years. I did a good job of keeping myself grounded and kept the physical warping of the motherboard to an absolute minimum (these 6-8 layers boards are fragile). I really feel like I got a board totally DOA, which doesn’t speak well of Asus’s quality control.

This is now the second time this year that I’ve had a profoundly negative experience with an Asus board. As the saying goes “once is a coincidence; twice is happenstance; three times is enemy action.” Who is the enemy? I can only conclude that god hates me :(

Uggg.

UPDATE: Computerstop replaced the motherboard and everything is now good. They tested the faulty motherboard with one of their power supplies and had no luck with it either. They installed a replacement board and tested it with my components and found that the faulty motherboard had killed the +5 line on my Antec NEO power supply. They offered to replace it with one of equivalent value, so I picked out an Enermax 500 watt supply with modular power connectors, which was the defining feature of the Antec NEO. New motherboard and power supply are working happily and I got my XP install done in record time.

Posted in General, Rants and Raves, Tech Stuff | 7 Comments »

Robocam videos from 2006 PNW Regional

Posted by Deliverator on 8th March 2006

This year, we managed to get some on-robot video footage. The video was taken by a CVS video camera strapped sideways to the front of the robot using a whole lot of velcro. I rotated the resulting footage so that up is up. Because the cameras were strapped sideways, the video is in a bit of an odd aspect ratio, but it is fun to watch, none the less. You will need the XVID codec to view these.


Robocam 1

Robocam 2

Posted in General, Titan Robotics Club | No Comments »