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07 December

After several years of successful underwater robotics experiments we had our first case of water leakage into the inside of the robot. As one might expect, it was due to human error -- a miscommunication regarding who was responsible for tightening certain seals. As a result, water from the McGIll pool leaked into the robot vehicle during a test and quite a lot got in before it was discovered. THings seems more-or-less OK; this is the kind of problem you want to have in frash water, not salt water. As such, it may have an up-side getting rid of complacency and reminding everybody to be fanatically careful when the robot is at the real sea trial.

Thinsg are still being dried and re-assembled, but it could have been a lot worse.

FOLLOWUP: All this stuff was repaired and worked in later pool trials.

By Gregory Dudek at | Read (1) or Leave a comment |    
27 December


Well, Nicholas and Natasha got a Nintendo Wii for Christmas. It really is a very interesting gaming console. The basic console is not that unusual, but the remote unit uses an accelerometer to steer the pointer and there are some games that capitalize on this nicely.

It also supports internet connectivity, but this is not uses to much effect. Setting it up caused a few problems (erro 51130, 52230, etc.).

To allow it to use the internet, I had to disable WEP on our wireless box. It is capable or WEP, but there is clearly something "funny" about it; I am pretty sure it needs the WEP key in hexadecimal, and I was entering it in ASCII.

The error 52230 seems to be a result of the Wii sending a TCP SYN request to conntest.nintendowifi.net on port 80 (the usualy port for HTTP), but not getting a response SYN-ACK response back. This is a typical symptom of a failed internet connection. Such an error is probably not due to a firewall rule, but can be caused by other kinds of router security such as restrictions on access to only registered computers.

When it connects it looks for conntest.nintendowifi.net (connection testing) and gets a simple test HTTP page. A bit later is asks for wiinat.available.gs.nintendowifi.net, which it contacts using UDP -- this may only happen if the above fails. After that, it asks for wiinat.natreg1.gs.nintendowifi.net (as well as natreg2 and netreg3).

Later it does a bunch of UDP traffic to, which I
think it looked up from the previous UDP traffic.

The wii shop is at the web site oss.shop.wii.com. Communication with it seems to place via https (encrypted http). The weather connection seems to be with weather.wapp.wii.com Simply vising this site shows nothing, but my wii asks for "http://weather.wapp.wii.com/1/018/forecast.bin" and gets an actual file (which I can not decipher yet).

By Gregory Dudek at | Leave a comment |    
08 January

I recently used Apple Pages, the document editor, to produce a newsletter. Pages is an elegant and easy-to-use program. It made document creation much more pleasant than it would have been in Microsoft Word or LaTex (which I use for scientif document editing). What 's nice about it is the spare natural interaction -- the interface is well done and responsive. It does not have a lot of fancy features so for an long document, or a document where you need specialized control or fine tuning, it's probably not right, but if you want to assemble something quickly that looks good, it's a solid choice.

One huge gap though, is the utterly awful save-to-HTNL feature. I wanted to put my newletter on the web and expected this to work as it should. Even with a standard example document that comes with Pages, the "save for the web" feature is badly badly broken. It probably works for single-column documents, but anything fancy (like banners or multi-column) seems to throw it for a loop. The feature is so terrible I thought it must have been incompletely installed. No, this is how it works for everybody. It's so bad I think they might have been better off just disabling the menu item. Better not to fool people into thinking they can save to HTML, when so such feature is available. What a pity.

By Gregory Dudek at | Read (1) or Leave a comment |    
09 January

The Apple iPhone looks very very promising and has a slew of great features. The prospects for availability in Canada are worrisome though.

Apple announced the much anticipated iPhone January 9th, 2007. There had been literally years of rumors about this device and it seem to live up to much of what people had hoped for. A lot of the promotional discussion has related to the iPod features, which indeed seem very nice. What really excites me however, is the overall feature set and system environment.

Years ago Apple sold the first serious PDA, the Apple Newton, and the Newton included several features that would still be innovative today, include a brilliant (albeit imperfect) recognition engine for cursive handwriting. I owned one, and have been hankering for similar features on my Palm Treo every since.

The iPhone runs a variant/derivative of OS X, Apple's UNIX-based operating system. As such, it finally promises to provide an ensemble of real desktop-class applications in a fully portable device. Sometimes such promises from phone manufacturers fail to come to fruition, but the fact that it runs the same operating system as desktop machines (not a second-rate clone with only a similar name, like Windows CE) makes this promised software a very safe bet.

Further, a comment lament from smart phone users is that...

their phones don't really sync properly and/or fully with their desktop machines. This one really will! Oh, any the fact it both runs a real web browser and also a real email client (with IMAP as well as POP) is a big win for me, as I am sure it will be a hit for many users. Why other companies didn't do this before is beyond me, although the extensive infrastructure and vertical product integration is almost certainly the reasons. I'll bet the power management and price are also issue too.

Better yet, the iPhone is a quad-band GSM phone!! This means that, unlike most phones you can buy, the iPhone will work EVERYWHERE: Canada, USA, Europe, India, China. I have been looking for a Quad-band phone with a good feature set for a while, and this is great news. (In Canada, the compatibility should be with Fido and Rogers.) The really bad news for Canadians is that there is an ongoing trademark dispute between Apple (who filed for a Canadian trademark on the iPhone name), and another company who filed an earlier trademark on the same name and who are opposing Apple's request. This might delay rollout even beyond the sad but normally sluggish pace of Canadian phone companies phone adoption rates.

On top of that, Apple seems to have built a really nice phone-specific user interface based on the touch screen. This device really knocked me over. It's also kind of interesting to compare this to the Zune, which was a much-hyped device that really failed to deliver something desirable, and in fact seems to have embodied a series of astonishingly-poor design choices such as imposing DRM even on public-domain MP3 files you download into it.

My one really big regret is that I didn't buy a pile of Apple stock before the product was announced!

By Gregory Dudek at | Read (2) or Leave a comment |    
14 January

We had the first tests of Ramius, the premiere model of version 2.0 of the aqua robot platform, in the open ocean today. The weather in Barbados has been quite rainy, which is unusual for early January, but not exceptional. As a result, we had two major problems: the water visibilty was moderately poor, and the people on land monitoring the tests by computer had lots of trouble with the risk of rain hitting the laptops. As a result, we had a fairly bad weekend, even though we did get some useful data.

There are also some broken wires that developed inside the robot, but those have been fixed all all systems are "go", although we are not almost a day behind schedule. In addition, the silt from the rain can takes days to dissipate, and there is more rain in the forcast.

Despite the problems, there are some exciting tests scheduled for tomorrow including a deep water validation of the Kroy model of Aqua 2.0. If all goes well, we'll take it down to 120 feet at the Stavronikita wreck at the South end of the island. Even in the rain we can run Ramius off the shore with the land users inside a covered boat house. (These tests are the subject of a future blog entry.

While doing the tests,we also completed the rescue diver course we started back home. The skills should be useful for finding lost robots, as well as divers in distress.

By Gregory Dudek at | Leave a comment |    
20 January

News on the amphibious robot we have dubbed Ramius: version 2 of the AQUA platform. I had previously noted that we were having some problems with the hardware and the weather. The weather eventually improved and while the visibility has remained corrupted, the tests went ahead successfully. We used 3 scuba dive teams to ferry the robot down to 120 feet, take stops along the way to calibrate the strain guage used for depth measurement, and had one team devoted to keeping an eye on the other cognitively loaded diving team(s). The procedure was carefully planned and included precautions in case the robot imploded, or for ditching the gera in case of emergency. After all that, the whole thing came and went very quickly.

We also validated some important new hovering and station keeping behaviors by the robot: various ways of staying on one spot and keeping an eye on things. Some behaviors didn't work well, or couldn't be properly tested. The sub-optimal weather not only hindered visibility, but also led to a high rate of sea sickness. The rate at which we lost fiber optic cables was a bit alarming, but the core requirements of the test went well.

By Gregory Dudek at | Read (2) or Leave a comment |    
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