Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Embedded Systems notes

I'm impressed by the Embedded Systems newsletter from Netrino. There's a lot about programming I can learn from them! My favorite links:
  • Inside info on the Mars Pathfinder rover software failure.
  • Michael Barr's blog.
  • Nigel's Jones' blog.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Fractal fun and more

After a couple of back-and-forth e-mails with the judges, it turns out that the MSU SECON team was judged third, due to eight penalty point assessed in the final round (a total of two were assessed in the previous three rounds; the behavior of the robot didn't change). Oh, well -- that puts us in 3rd place. It's a great robot and a good reminder to focus on standards other than winning.

Some fun links:
  • Johnny Lee produces absolutely amazing videos of this HCI ideas. Wow.
  • Fractals can be quite pretty (and there are more!).

Saturday, March 20, 2010

SECON frustration

I've just come from the awards ceremony, in which MSU received the 3rd place trophy while the University of Florida received 2nd place. The Florida team confirmed that they thought their score was lower and ours higher. However, the person that did the scoring is now sleeping. That's both disappointing and frustrating.

SECON results

The day is mostly done and the results are in. The robotics (hardware) team ended up with 2nd place overall, a great feat. In the initial three rounds, they scored 271 points (best 2 of three games), while the next team came in at 211. In the final match, all earlier results are ignored and the 3rd place robot built by Western Kentucky won with a very strong run of 166 points, while the MSU's SPIDR scored 111 and Florida's robot scored 105.

The software team didn't place and was frustrated. They were placed in a cloud computing environment, which meant that keystrokes sometimes took seconds to appear. The problems primarily dealt with UI creation, rather that classical problem-solving. Given this is an IEEE programming contest, I'd like to see all teams given some sort of hardware (say, an iRobot Create) plus a task of making the robot do something interesting and useful.

I took lots of video and photos, though I don't know when I'll sort through it all. Unfortunately, the Windows 7 Starter on the laptop doesn't play MPEG files from the camera, which is a bit disappointing.

Go Dawgs!

The competition begins

Today is competition day here at SECON! The software competition team got started half an hour ago (it runs from 7 AM to 2 PM, with finalists then going an extra two hours). From what I hear, the hardware competition team (MSU_SECON on Twitter) is having a hard time, trying to improve their robot to take on the top dog, which can run ~6 laps compared to the teams ~4 lab abilities. Last-minute changes are always scary; I hope the robot still runs consistently for the competition!

Internet service got much better last night, so I'm more able to catch up on e-mail and get a few things done. That's nice.

I always learn something when I come to SECON. For example, one team showed me their Arduino environment. The things that made it useful for then is the object-oriented libraries for the processor (an Atmel 8-bit part) with a C++-like syntax based on Wiring. Essentially, a good library enables a wider audience to get involved in microcontroller development. I think my Python idea is therefore good, though the slowness and bulk of Python might be a barrier.

Interesting links:

I'm doing some catch-up, going through my inbox as usual. That always takes time. Projects for today (hopefully):
  • Permissions for the review paper -- I still haven't applied for them.
  • Salary request for Eglin trip.
  • Paper review -- I'd like to at least start reading a paper today.
  • Proposal review -- I need to download and take a look at this stuff.

Beach and SECON

It’s been busy. But then again, when haven’t I been busy? I’ve enjoyed a vacation to the beach in Destin, Florida with my family. Praise God for very pleasant weather – the boys had lots of fun.  While there, my laptop died Sunday evening! Ouch – I’d been working on a presentation to give to a research group at Eglin AFB on Tuesday, plus hoping to do a bit of work on a presentation on Friday at SECON. It’s a rather helpless feeling to be not only without Internet, but without a laptop when it’s needed!

However, that served as a good reminder for me that God is good; he provides for all my needs. I found a computer repair guy that actually came by my condo and picked up the laptop, then dropped it back at the main office when he finished without charging me for his time. That was very gracious; he was able to determine that the root cause wasn’t as simply as a corrupted boot sector, but looked more like a hard drive controller failure.

Hmmm. That left me without a laptop! So, based on the very positive feedback from several students who owned netbooks, I decided to purchase one -- $300 from Wal-Mart. Wow. I’ve been very happy with it thus far; it enabled me to give my presentation (after my grad students sent me the necessary files), plus be productive here at SECON.

We drove back from the beach on Wednesday, then I headed out Thursday morning for SECON in Charlotte, NC. The drive went well, but was (of course) long. We arrived, checked in, picked up our registration materials, then had dinner. I was scheduled to give a presentation on microcontroller education the following day at 10:00 AM, but I hadn’t created more than two slides! So, I stayed up and did some work on the presentation, then worked on it the next morning. By God’s grace, it was in decent shape and the presentation went quite well. I got to meet several possible collaborators afterwards, then spoke with Microchip representatives. Both opportunities were very encouraging; again, praise God.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Back to blogging

Sigh; I think I've let busyness overwhelm me lately, since I haven't taken any time to think or plan. Instead, I've mainly be doing. That's fun, but not a good long-term approach. So, in an effort to reorganize a bit:

Random links:

My p14p project doesn't work, though I can't figure out why. Sigh. I am making good progress on implementing features, though.