Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Class Struggles in America

CNN "top story" this evening:

Title: Diplomats angry at forced Iraq postings

Summary: Several hundred U.S. diplomats expressed resentment Wednesday over a new State Department policy that could force them to serve in Iraq or risk losing their jobs. One veteran staffer told bosses: "[It] is a potential death sentence and you know it. Who will raise our children if we are dead or wounded?"

Of course, as usual, CNN misses the most important point of this story: the culture of diplomats is such that most of them clearly believe that they are better than the average enlisted person in the armed services.

Most public servants do lip service to the 'public servant' part, but are clearly focused on their personal situation (e.g., your average elected official), and use the 'good of all' reasoning only when it suits them. What the average enlisted person accepts as a part of their responsibility, the average diplomat views as a hardship of the utmost extreme, where they will fight to make sure they serve their own interests instead of the public's.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

The Roombinator - Milestone #1

Major milestone this past weekend on developing an attack robot from a Roomba. After months of preparation, false starts and failures, all the hardware (except the industrial-strength "laser") was functioning as a single, untethered, stand-alone unit.

It's pretty ugly and unbalanced: it is using cardboard boxes and velcro to hold it all together and I just stuck things in the most convenient places. Turns out that the auxiliary battery is all the way at back, which might be good if I can get it to do some wheelies, but otherwise is not good.

See the ugliness for yourself in the photos. His name is "Sparky".

First picture is from the front, second from the back, and third is the first picture taken from Sparky's webcam after attaining his initial freedom.

Sparky currently consists of the iRobot's Roomba (Discover SE) itself for locomotion, a Creative Instant (VF-0400) webcam for vision (no link here because the Creative web site sucks), a Lynxmotion pan-tilt head and SSC-32 servo controller for moving the webcam around, and a Linksys WRTSL54GS wireless router for the brains (which runs Linux via openwrt). There's also a special Lantronix WiPort wireless device that drives the Roomba and pan-tilt servos (via serial interfaces), while the linksys router operates the webcam and sends pictures back over its own wireless connection. The linksys router is powered by 8-AA batteries, while everything else is powered from the Roomba battery itself.

This was all only remotely controlled through a simple web interface (php), but getting all the hardware build, working and connected was a challenge. Next up is to start refining the remote control software and writing the software to make it fully autonomous.

Mac OS X 10.5 Leopard

With another 'bad back' couple days in horizontal mode, I took the time to read the lengthy ars technica Mac OS X 10.5 Leopard Review. Was a good balance of reviewing from front-end eye-candy to back-end OS/API/internals perspective. I went in not thinking there was any chance I would be interested, but the 'time machine' backup feature and (finally) virtual desktop support did start to make me interested.