Cool Stuff

I will admit, I have no idea how to organize this thing. It is a massive behemoth of everything in my life with no good organization or purpose beyond getting things from my head to not-in-head status.

There is some cool stuff that is happening though. Not just with me, but in general. I will split it into stuff with me and then stuff that is not me.

Stuff With Me:

Tim and Matt Play:
My friend, Tim, and I started a let’s play channel on YouTube. Right now we are playing through a weird Russian game called Vangers. Tim played it a lot growing up (he didn’t have cable). It just came it out on Steam so there is no better time to tackle this weird one. We will be playing more and different games when Vangers is finished up so look for those if this proves to not be your thing.
Check us out out!

#NaNoWriMo
This is more of a heads up thing. Since this month is National Novel Writing Month, abbreviated as NaNoWriMo, I asked some friends if they wanted to do a collaborative novel where we would switch off days of writing. Mike and Tim (from above, the one who didn’t have cable) signed on and we have been doing a pretty good job. As of this post we have 14,788 words written between all of us. The goal is 50,000 words by the end of November. I can’t promise we will hit that, but we will definitely have a finished, long form story.

Tim and Mike are really talented writers and I am excited to read every portion each one of those guys contributes. It is a really interesting story and a great experience because you never know what you are going to be given to write about or how your portion will influence the direction of the overall plot and characters. I can’t wait to write, read, and share the rest.

Edit: I wrote this a while ago! NaNoWriMo has come and gone and we are going to tie up the story and release it. It’s pretty awesome.

Future Projects

Just to let you know what has been rattling around in my head and what is to come.

Photo Frame
I want to build a really awesome digital photo frame. It occurs to me that we have all these photos we take, but they mostly just sit in a folder or on an SD card somewhere. Kind of useless. There are digital photo frames out there, but they are usually slow, clunky, and are a pain to have new photos transfer to it.

My goal is to take a small computer (Raspberry Pi, BeagleBone Black) and have it drive an HD monitor. It will randomly pull photos from a central location over Wi-Fi without the need to ever update it. It will also pull from Instagram and Facebook to give you photos other people posted as well. The screen will be split into different sections and maybe display some rudimentary info beyond pictures.

Open Worm/More Robots
I heard about this a project that had mapped all the neurons of a simple creature’s brain, C. elegans nematode. It’s open source and can be modified to any application. A group of people hooked it up to a robot they built.

This robot has not been programmed for any behavior like “if you hit the wall turn around” it’s all based on the virtual neurons firing after some of the sensors give input. It is absolutely fascinating. I wanted to build a new robot after I finished up the one from senior design. This seems like a fantastic project. A real AI. It might be dumb, but it’s totally real.

Science and engineering are cool.

Stay tuned for more shenanigans.

Free Time? What’s a Free Time? or Senior Design

Oh hey. Here, let me clear out these cob webs. It sure has been a while hasn’t it? I sure like your new sweater. It’s a bit chilly out there isn’t it.? Snow in November! Crazy, right? Wow! Really?! That is great to hear! Oh, my life? How kind of you to ask. Well let me tell you!

I finally started senior design for my engineering degree. Yes, that means I will be graduating soon! Finally! Amazing! Fin-mazing! One the other hand, this also means I have almost no free time. The few moments I do manage to carve out for free time, I am usually rendered useless due to the combination of work, school, and improv. These blips are usually spent watching Murphy Brown because if there is one thing I can do during my downtime it is watch old, irrelevant sitcoms (Cheers and Fraiser, check!).

It sounds like I am complaining, but that’s only is because I am. This is not all without an upside. The project I selected/was chosen for is engaging, challenging, and combines just about everything I’ve learned in school and then some.

We are trying to assemble a team for the Robotic Football competition put on by The University of Notre Dame. Basically, mobile robots that play a modified version of Football. Here is a sample video:

We have six members in total split between two groups of three. Notre Dame has quite a lot of people who participate in the designing, building, testing, and programming of these robots so we are at a slight disadvantage. One group is focusing on the quarterback, and the other on the receiver. Due to the sheer size of the project we are focusing on those two positions in particular and if time and funding allows we will expand from there. The ultimate goal is to compete with a full team in April.

Surprisingly, the hardest part now is location tracking, i.e., how far are the robots traveling, and where are they? There are many different methods: infrared, ultrasonic trilateration, odometery, acceleration, gyroscopic, and every combination in between. All methods have inherent flaws and many require prohibitively expensive equipment. The problem is that location tracking absolutely crucial to performing reliable passes between the QB and the receiver. As of this writing we are going with odometery using rotary encoders and using some advanced mathematic techniques in junction with initial calibration to hopefully yield a reliable, cost-effective solution to location tracking.

We have accomplished much as a group though and have a little to show for it now. The base has been designed to specification put out by Notre Dame. The parts have also been selected and ordered. Preliminary software tests for communication have been constructed and, well, tested. Since the group is made up of so few we are forced to wear many hats and as of now I have been 3D modeller as well as BeagleBone champion due to my Linux background and the fact that I learned how to program with net code this semester.

Here is a 3D Model of our base with the top lid removed. The parts have been ordered and the construction begins in mid to late December.

Since I have been the person pushing the group to use the BeagleBone Black as the microcontroller instead of the Arduino or Raspberry Pi, I took it upon myself to learn it. I am quite familiar with Linux. I run it on my servers, and try (whenever possible) to use it as my main OS (So I can keep my nerd cred, the primary reason I don’t use it all the time is due to software constraints. Adobe software doesn’t run well on Linux, even in Wine.). Wi-Fi is relatively ubiquitous and parts are cheap. Instead of going with a proprietary system like Xbee which is what most people use because they have Arduino libraries, we chose Wi-Fi. The plan is to use IP (same protocol you use for the Internet) using UDP for speed and if the connection becomes unreliable then use TCP.

A test created showcases the network in working order. The idea is the BeagleBone runs a server, written in Java, and waits for packets. A client, written in Java, running on a Windows machine transmits numbers to the server. The server then lights up four LEDs showing a binary representation of that number. All data is transferred over a networking using UDP/IP. Unfortunately, the Angstrom (BeagleBone Linux distro) repository was down at the time of the recording so the USB Wi-Fi adapter’s drivers and firmware could not be installed. Standard 802.3 Ethernet over Cat 6 was used in its stead.


I know this is all sounds very technical, and that’s because it is. Although this will be compiled into several papers outlining our exact reasoning, I wanted to get it out in my own words and will continue to do that as we go along, time permitting. Hopefully by the next update we will have a real world working robot to showcase, but for now this is what I can provide. I hope you found it fascinating despite the overly technical nomenclature. It’s all-consuming, but it sure is fun. I am really lucky to be doing what I enjoy.

On Poetry Month – Poem 3.

As my ongoing commitment to Poetry Month I bring you a poem inspired by my current fascination with the singularity.

I tried to write this in the style of E.E. Cummings and while it’s not up to snuff compared to him. I do think it has some caché to it.

Love in 2552

I do think when

We do merge (inevitably-finally)

With machines

We will not lose – the ability to

Love

 

Consider the works-innovations-breakthroughs

Fueled solely by

Love

 

The spectrum of emotions

Fully realized only by

The ebb and flow of

Love

 

That’s why

Though a virus at times

As machines we will be

With a heart and still with – the ability to

Love