Remote Control Vandalism, and more…

Today Slashdot is running a story about hektor, a robotic graffitti artist. It is a computer controlled robot, driven by an Adobe Illustrator plugin that moves a spraycan over a wall and paints a desired pattern. The cute thing about it is that it uses a very nifty drive mechanism. Rather than using a traditional two dimensional gantry, it slings the paintcan in a harness between two independently controlled chains. I spent a short break before a meeting working on the control mathematics for a similar setup that used linear steppers. It’s not too bad, perhaps I’ll write up a quick similator using Python (and maybe PyGame) to test out the idea.

The whole topic reminded me of some work I did a while ago that was inspired by Don Lancaster called flutterwumpers. He had many nifty ideas about using Postscript to drive very simple machines drill circuit boards, route signs and the like. He uses some simple PostScript code to drive everything,
which makes it pretty cool (and cheap, given GhostScript).

Another interesting link is to the Free and Easy: CNC Machining project on SourceForge. These guys built a prototype dual rotary table which looks pretty nifty.

End of an Era for Pixar?

Pixar has decided to end its negotiations with Disney for a new contract after the current five
movie deal expires. What does this mean to the company? Who cares, what I want to know is what does it mean for the stock price!?

SCO offering $250K bounty for MyDoom author…

SCO is apparently the target of the MyDoom e-mail virus. Infected machines are supposed to take part in a denial of
service attack against SCO beginning February 1st. Toward
that end, SCO has offered a $250K reward for information which leads to the conviction of the miscreant who created the virus.

It’s hard not to gloat. SCO is after all a bunch of
litigious bastards. Daryl McBride, CEO of SCO has recently begun to lobby members of Congress with all sorts of nonsense, most of which has been critiqued by many others, including Lawrence Lessig and groklaw. SCO is failing in the marketplace for exactly the same reason so many other dot-com companies went bust: they are trying to market a piece of software for serious dollars that they can’t even give away. I doubt that litigating their way to profitability is going to prove fruitful.


I’ve become my own latest project.

During a recent checkup, my doctor noted my increasing weight (323 lbs) and my high cholesterol. He recommended that I join Weight Watchers, begin a regular exercise routine, and come back to see him in a few months to have my cholesterol rechecked.

Well, on my own I managed to dump about fifteen pounds, but I made a New Years Resolution to join Weight Watchers and begin to take my growing weight problem more seriously. Last Sunday was my first meeting, which went rather well.

Psychologically I’m feeling like I’m eating next to nothing. I have to remind myself that I am changing the way my body processes food and the way that I think about eating and food. I’m not really exercising much yet, but I’ll be increasing that more as time goes on.

Wish me luck.

Overall, my eating habits aren’t terrible. The days when I scarfed down Hostess Cupcakes and Haagen Das are long past. I try to limit the amount of fast food that I eat. I think the hardest part for me is portion control: I just eat more than I should.

Fast food restaurants are the worst though. Supersized value meals are just the kiss of death. I noted that the topic has even reached the world of the documentary film makers. To be fair, it is rather easy to find the nutritional information for McDonalds: the problem is that they have very few or no healthy items on their menus at all.

I’m pretty tired of a society that on the one hand portrays fat people as losers (anyone watched Average Joe lately?) but on the other hand pumps out large, greasy, fattening food and then wonders why some people are so "lazy" that they get fat.

Balancing Bots…

I’m kind of fascinated by the whole “balancing robot” thing so I found Dan Piponi’s Equibot to be pretty interesting. It uses a single Sharp infrared distance sensor to measure the distance to the ground, and tries to maintain that distance via by driving a pair of modified servo motors with an Atmel ATMEGA chip.

Nifty stuff. I hope to see Dan at a future Hacker’s Conference.

Fishy Tails…

Over Christmas my wife and son presented me with a couple of new Siamese Fighting Fish, or bettas. Betta is actually a fish genus, with many species, the most common of which is Betta Splendens. They are called Siamese Fighting Fish because they are aggressive nasty little fighters, and you can’t keep more than a single male in a tank or they will fight to the death. I nicknamed them Speedy and Pokey, because initially Speedy was quick and Pokey was fairly lethargic. But lately Pokey has begun to get more aggressive.

Codes… Bar Codes…

I’ve got a lot of books. I have no idea really how many.

For a long time I wish I actually had a master list of all the books I own. This goes beyond mere anal retentiveness: it dawns on me that I probably have thousands if not tens of thousands of dollars worth of books. It would be great if I had a master list if only for insurance purposes.

I also spend the weekend cleaning out my garage. Between my nextdoor neighbor Sam and myself, we easily filled a 20 cubic yard dumpster with crap. As I did so, I realized I had many
books in banker’s boxes stored in my garage. If I actually had them coded (as well as potentially
having the boxes barcoded) I could easily find books that I kept in storage.

So, towards that end, here are some links….

Andy Plotkin has a nice page on his nearly identical project. There are websites that allow you to search for books by ISBN. Even
allows you to do that, using some fairly simple web services.
If you need to print barcodes, there is some
GNU software
to help you out.

I’m also thinking about indexing my CD and DVD collections (not as vast, but probably worth
logging as well).

Fun with the Terraserver

Okay, it’s nothing really innovative. Jef Poskanzer was the first guy I know who did it. Then my friend Jeff Eaton did it. Now I’ve done it: write a program to loot images of of Microsoft’s TerraServer.

Basically I wrote a simple Python script that when given a latitude/longitude in the US, constructs an
html page that consists of 25 tiles (1000×1000) pixels surrounding that location from the terraserver.
This is pretty straightforward, requiring just the computation of the UTM coordinates (which Jef nicely provided, and was easily converted to Python) and then repeatedly accessing several easily constructed URLs to download each tile (four lines of Python). The result works quite well: consider the area around my parking space at Pixar. (The
images are old and show the old canning plant that was torn down to make the new Pixar
campus, as well as a road which is now gone).

My next project is to make a 20,000 pixel high image of the entirety of California.

Addendum: You can see the area around the Golden Gate Bridge too.

I just greatly expanded my library…

Along with my usual rash of bills, today’s mail call included a DVD from
Project Gutenberg. This
CD contains 4 gigabytes of public domain texts, about 9500 individual volumes.
Nifty! A single DVD which could be the start of a serious library. I’ve got some
ideas for projects that make use of some of these texts, perhaps similar to the
PDF version of The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus that I made last Christmas.