Jun 202006

It seems that these are the only pictures I have of Heeder and Ska YoYo, taken at an O’Phil concert. I just bought them a present. It might make them laugh if they remember why I gave it to them. Either way, hopefully they’ll find it useful sometime in the next eighteen years or so.

Jun 152006

By popular demand (my little brother Northwood asked for it), I put up pictures of my robots, Kiki and Lola. Also, a video of Lola (*.mp4, 20 mb), the second one. Here’s the lowdown on them:

Kiki (circa December 2001) was the first robot I ever worked on. She is Ska Yoyo and my first daughter. She’s driven by two god-awfully large (for her scale) stepper motors, which required (if I remember correctly) a minimum of 12 VDC to operate. I think we used the insides of two six-cell battery packs to come up with a half-assed rechargeable 14.4 VDC battery, which we had rigged specially to split into two, so we could use the off-the-shelf charger on each half in turn. The idea was to make her go through a maze, map it out, figure out the shortest route, then go through the maze again taking that path. She would get through the maze occasionally, and we never got completely finished, so we never even worked much on the maze-solving algorithm. We had enough trouble just getting her to go through the maze. Due to the immensity of our stepper motors, she had somewhere between a 1/4″ and 1/2″ clearance from each tire to the maze wall, which made navigation very difficult. She had three distance sensors (similar to the kind that activate hands-free sinks and stuff), one pointing left, one right, and one forward, which she used to keep herself centered in the maze-hall and figure out which directions were available to her at intersections. She also had a light sensor on her bottom which told her when she crossed a black stripe (indicating an intersection). We learned a lot. She was named after a Denny’s waitress I had met that semester who had rainbow colored dreadlocks. The Denny’s Kiki eventually became a stripper and disappeared.

Lola (circa December 2002) is our second daughter. We learned enough from Kiki to make Lola a huge success. Lola was designed with two IR sensors (the two black stalks on top coated in electrical tape). They’re coated in electrical tape because we discovered that IR travels through thin PVC pipe pretty readily. Her chassis was based on a Tyco Fast Traxx radio control car (can’t find decent pictures of it anywhere on the internet). Control board is in the black box on top, and is based on a Motorola 68HC11 microcontroller. The target you see Lola chasing after is a radio controlled car that the instructor was controlling, with a ring of IR LEDs around it. At one point in the video, you can see Lola spinning in circles (that’s search mode, when she doesn’t see anything at all), even though the target is nearby. The problem was actually that a segment of the LEDs on the target were out. Her control pattern was a rough-estimate-proportional scheme; if left sensor was picking up more than right sensor, turn left until they’re equal, if they’re both equal, go forward as fast as you can. Obviously she’s much quicker than the target. There were, I believe, six levels of difference. If left is WAY higher than right, turn hard. If left is only a little higher than right, don’t turn real hard, but go fairly fast. If I remember correctly, our catch time for the target was around 9 seconds, and the second best in the class was around 50 seconds. The “latch” mechanism was obviously simple: A hook designed for holding up one of those bars you hang hangers on.

I have custody of both of them right now, but I probably don’t deserve it, because I think I starved them to death.

Jun 142006

I felt peer-pressured into posting, since Andipoo did. Now if only Wilmbo de Norte would. Not that I even posted anything interesting.

I went underway. So of course I read a lot. I also worked a lot. I also witnessed multiple dance-offs, a couple wrestling matches, and over all probably around 12 hours of karaoke. I’ll put up some pictures later if I can. Here’s what I thought about the books I read:

30 May 2006: Mars, by Ben Bova. For the most part, I immensely enjoyed this book. The plot, as can be surmised by the title, is Earth’s first manned mission to Mars (for those of you unsure about it, that’s the fourth planet out from the sun, red, and the location of such famous creatures as Martians). In such an expensive endeavor, several countries (notably USA, Russia, UK, Japan, and China) decided to split costs, which of course leads to political personnel issues; for every Russian, there must be an American, for every Jew there must also be a Muslim, etc). Then there are the personal political issues: Jews hate Russians, Americans can’t read Asians’ emotions. In my opinion, Bova handled all of these very well, with reasonably believable character interaction thrown in for good measure.

He also took very good care of character development, and had sound science (or at least sound enough to convince me). I liked (and disliked) the scientists’ versus the politicians’ effects on the program’s goals. It’s a fairly long book (550ish pages), but I wouldn’t have minded at all if it had gone on. It had a reasonably conclusive ending, but there was more story available for expansion.

There was one major part that I didn’t like that I won’t go into great detail on, as it might spoil the plot a little for you, should you decide to read it: On at least one occasion, the scientists (chosen for being the best and the brightest in their country if not the world) were blindsided by something that seemed obviously to me, an uneducated yokel by comparison.

31 May 2006: Today We Choose Faces, by Roger Zelazny. Action-packed would describe it fairly accurately. It was only 174 pages long, and included at least one twenty-page fight scene. “Epic battle” might be a more fitting phrase. I like the main character: 20th century mobster makes arrangements for his body to be cryogenically frozen upon his death, which (as you can imagine) is untimely. Many many years later, his progeny (gone ‘legit’ enough to be on the stock exchange) under the idea that they need his throwback ruthlessness to defeat their current enemy. From there it starts to get weird. A little hard to follow in parts, but Zelazny is sometimes like that. I enjoyed it. I like loose ends. It’s more like real life. There are always questions which remain unanswered.

1 June 2006: Bridge of Ashes, by Roger Zelazny. A little shorter than the last one (152 pages or something), but I thought this one was easier to read. But I think I liked the other story better. I liked this one’s depiction of a telepath’s personal development. It was a fun read.

5 June 2006: Eon, by Greg Bear. I thought it was more fiction than science. I liked it, but it definitely wasn’t my favorite. If you continue reading from here, it’ll spoil any surprises the plot might hold: It’s the year 2020 or so, and a big asteroid is coming toward Earth and is expected to enter orbit. Investigation reveals that not only is it hollow, it was hollowed and settled by humans (who are no longer there). To make matters more confusing, the data in the library inside the abandoned cities accurately the history of Earth up to present day, and continues into the future, and describes in detail a nuclear war that kills billions. This of course turns out to be true, and the asteroid (the Stone) turns out to be from an alternate universe several centuries in the future. Oh, and the inside of the asteroid is millions of times larger than the outside of the asteroid.

So now I’m reading T. H. White‘s Once and Future King, and it’s going pretty slowly because I have things to distract me, unlike on a ship. Underway, when I don’t have work to do, I have uninterrupted hours without internet or much else. So I read.