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It’s Pi Time… Yummy!

by on Feb.05, 2017, under PPPPBBBBTTTT!!! Raspberry :-) Pi

Well, Hey There!  It’s good to see you.  I know I have been a derelict about posting, but life has been a bit busy.  I am playing with something new though, so I will be posting as I go.  I am gonna be honing my Python skills while experimenting with a Raspberry Pi.  Stay tuned, more to come…

Pi Play

Playin’ with the new Raspberry Pi

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Help!!! We’re Drowning!

by on Mar.22, 2016, under D.Milly Dungbeetle

D.Milly Head ShotHello Again,

It is lovely to be back writing again.  You see, we dung beetles have a bit of a crisis on our hands that has kept me extremely busy.  As most of you know, this is an election year in the US, but what you may not know is how incredibly dangerous that is for the dung beetle.  This particular election year is the worst on record.

You are probably asking yourself; “Well, why on earth is it bad for the dung beetle?”  Let me take a moment to explain…  Dung Beetle’s exist to clean what most do not even want to acknowledge.  Some think it a disgusting job, but I have heard it said that without the Dung Beetle the Serengeti would be uninhabitable in a year.  Now, I cannot confirm that, but it does give a quick mental image of how much work we do.  This year, well actually starting last year, we dispatched an extra billion of our workers to the US.  The problem is that the candidates are spewing Beetle Snacks at a rate that is literally killing us.  We Are Drowning!  Seriously, our billions cannot take the output of the “funtastic four.”

“Well!  D. Milly I am offended!  My candidate…”  Let me stop you right there.  Let’s look at it, shall we?

  1. What kind of a lunatic does someone have to be to WANT to be President of the US?  It is the WORST job in the world and you are guaranteed to NEVER, EVER have more than 50% of the people happy with you.  So this leaves lunatics, power hungry, or totally delusional folks being the only ones that run.
  2. The minute ANY candidate says “I am going to…” you know they are lying.  There is an entire system of government in place specifically so no one person has that kind of control.
  3. The two front runners on the Republican side are, well, a very interesting person who has no business EVER being in the president’s office, and a man that sits under a pastor that calls for the death penalty for gays.  Before he dropped out, another was make penis size references about his opponent.  Really, are you 12??
  4. The Dems, no better really… One can’t be bothered to even use government email to send state secrets so no telling what else will be “too much trouble,” the other thinks its okay to take away from some and give it to others just because the others don’t have as much.  There is way more to that issue than “spreading the wealth.”

Now, these are single incidents and/or viewpoints, but let’s face it; The snacks are flowing at an unsustainable rate.  We dung beetles are doing our very best to stem the tide, but oh my good golly we are fighting a losing battle.  Unless we can get these folks to shut up, I fear the worst.  Honestly, is this the best we have?  If so, maybe its time we gave up.  I however, AM NOT READY TO DO THAT!

So, I am starting a Snacks pile movement to end the insanity.  I am having some T-shirts and stickers printed in case you want to show your support (of the movement, not of me).  I don’t have a resale company so contact me at (d.milly at bentscrew.com) if you are interested.  I will probably do a “Print your own” 8-1/2X11 poster, and make it available for download, sometime soon.

D. Milly says... VOTE "NO CONFIDENCE"

D. Milly says… VOTE “NO CONFIDENCE”

So, until next time, keep swimming upstream.

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The Land of the “Free”

by on Aug.23, 2015, under D.Milly Dungbeetle

D.Milly Head ShotHi Again.  I am back with another Beetle Snack for you.  It is actually kinda tough right now because we are at the beginnings of the next election season and the Snacks are flowing at a really high rate already.  It’s almost too much for a Beetle to keep up with.  Starting very soon I will begin chronicling the new political season, but for today I have something a bit different.

Russ has a copy of the neaToday magazine sitting on his desk.  If you aren’t aware, the NEA is the National Education Association and they are the largest education union in the country.  Now, just for full disclosure, I have not read the magazine or the articles, but the cover caught my eye.  The cover is about Generation Z, which basically is the folks in high school now.  There are four statistics on the cover, and although I generally believe you can make statistics support anything if you look at them the right way, these drew my attention as probably being fairly accurate.  They are: 64% are worried about getting a job, 47% say the country is on the wrong track, 64% say healthcare should be free to everyone, and 53% believe college should be free for all.

Jobs – I completely understand why so many are worried about getting jobs.  I have opinions on this that go much deeper, but that is not the topic of today’s snacks, so I’ll save those for another day.

Country – Is there ANYONE that doesn’t think the country is headed the wrong direction?  If so, please share whatever you are taking so I can live in a fantasy too.

Free – This is really today’s Snack topic.  Let’s open up with a statement; “NOTHING IS FREE!!!”  Why do these kids think that it is actually possible for someone to get “Free” healthcare or a “Free” education.  Ooo, Oooo, I think I have it… Because no one is explaining to the young people that the government that “Gives” you all these “Free” things is actually taking the money out of other peoples pay checks, going into debt, or printing more unsecured money, to be able to provide these things.  There is NOTHING free, other than maybe sunshine, the air we breathe, things like that.  Social Security, that is paid into by working folks almost their entire lives.  Welfare, paid for by taxes.  Food Stamps, same things.  Scholarships and grants, gifts of monies from people, organizations, or the government.  Even going to the food bank or a soup kitchen, someone paid for that food and the labor to produce and prepare it for the folks that need the help.

This isn’t about whether any, or all, of those programs are right or wrong.  It is about a society that is beginning to believe, and teaching the young people, that these things are free.  A teacher I know has had their students say things like; “We have health insurance, it’s called Medicaid.” and “We get free meals at the school.”  That stuff is not free, it is just costing other people what they earned.  The real Beetle Snacks of the whole thing is that these young people actually believe they are ENTITLED to these things.  What happened to earning what you have, hard work, saving…?

Trust me, no one is rolling up a Snacks ball for me to keep the larva safe.  If I don’t roll it, they will be out in the cold, probably eaten by a bird. So sad 🙁  Likewise, the Water Buffalo do not hunt me down to dump dinner on my door step, it is a search and gather thing that I have to do.  How about teaching your kids to work, save, plan?  Just a thought.  Then maybe we will at least have a few more people to share the load of all the “Free” things the upcoming generation wants.

‘Til next time, work hard, play hard, and when tax time comes around be ready to Pay Hard 😉

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To Those Who’ve Gone Before

by on Jul.19, 2015, under D.Milly Dungbeetle

D.Milly Head ShotWell, Hello There!  It is awesome that you took a minute to stop by.  My post today is not the same as what I usually write, but here goes anyhow…

For those that know about the insect kingdom you probably know that most insects fend for themselves.  Some of them will protect their young or their hive, nest, etcetera.  People on the other hand have a great propensity to sacrifice themselves for others.  Now, the degree they do this varies GREATLY, but I have seen it to some extent in most humans.  I have seen mothers go hungry to make sure their children have food.  Fathers go without new shoes or clothes so their family doesn’t have to.  Teachers sacrifice every day to teach largely ungrateful kids.  Health workers give everything only to be sued if they make an honest mistake.  Groups of soldiers risk their very lives to go back and get the one that was left behind.  I could go on and on, but I think you get the idea.

So, what is my point?  Just to say thanks for not being insects.  For those few that are selfish and step on and over others to get what you want…  To those that think you are always right…  To those that don’t care when others hurt…  BEETLE SNACKS!

To those that give of themselves…  AWESOME JOB, THANK YOU, and KEEP UP THE GOOD WORK!

I’ll be back to my Beetle Snackin’ self next time, I promise 🙂

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Here We Go…

by on Jul.19, 2015, under Project Goon

Broken Bits

Ok.  So it has been a bit since I posted.  I have been dealing with the NXT Bricks breaking.  The good news is Lego has agreed to fix them for me since it appears that it is a known issue with their screens.  The bad news is it may take as much as three weeks to get them back.  Bummer!  In the mean time, let’s build some framework, shall we?

What’ll We Use To Build?

If you don’t know anything about the Tetrix components you may want to check them out at https://www.tetrixrobotics.com/ since that will be our mechanical base.  We will also be using the NXT from Lego as a “Brain” and sensors from HiTech and Lego.  Later we will add other sensors, some of our own design 😉

But Yer Honor, I was Framed…

If you remember the earlier post Keeping Tabs on McGoon we laid out a home base type of form factor for the robot.  This is based on sound practices in that triangles are fairly stable, and, it gives us a fair amount of room for adding things later.  The other side of that coin is that the Tetrix stuff is built primarily on 45 degree angles (0, 45, 90, 135, 180, and etcetera) and fixed lengths, so we are a little limited in how we put things together.  How do we make this work, we improvise!  Because our robot won’t be carrying huge loads we can compromise a bit on the structure, and actually make the robot a bit more furniture and ankle friendly.  We will use some flat plates in the kit that we will form into arcs for our corners.

Flat Plate

Flat Plate

Now, it may not be very evident, but here is the the first mistake I made while building the base. Do you see it? Anyone? I attached the plate too far up on the piece so it would not have room to make the bend it needs for the corner.  This is much more what we need for the corners…  You can see that having the flat plate so far up would never have worked without cutting the pieces.  I probably should have mentioned this before, but I am trying to leave the pieces whole for this go-round because it is a “temporary” platform.

Plate in the Right Place

Plate in the Right Place

After Bend

After Bend

So using that technique I built the angled joints and then I used the same plates to join the top and bottom for the 90 degree angles at the front. Next comes the wheels. Tetrix uses brass bushings to support the axles and it is always a good idea to have at least TWO bushings per axle. So, we use a small piece bolted to the bottom of the frame for both front wheels.

Front Wheel Mount

Front Wheel Mount

This gives us two holes to insert bushings into for axle support.  Note that I used all four screws on this mount.  I did that to maximize the strength of the piece and keep it as rigid as possible.  Once the bushings are inserted everything should be good and stable.

Makin’ It Move

Now let’s talk about drive motors and the drive train…  There are three main methods for driving wheel in the Tetrix set; 1) Direct connection to the motor output shaft, 2) Connection through gears, and 3) connection through a drive chain like the one on a bicycle.  I have chosen to use the chain for this project because it is lighter than the gears (Textrix gears are really beefy) and I don’t like direct drive as the bearings on the motors really aren’t good for supporting the whole robot and it may make the motors fail sooner.

Next Time

I think that is about it for today.  Next time we will look at mounting the front motors and setting up the chain and sprockets to drive them.  Until then, please keep those cards and letters coming (well, you could be the first 🙂

P.S.

I have been reading a lot about AI lately, both fiction and non-fiction, and I will be writing up some of my thoughts about that reading soon as well.

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The UPs and Downs of Stats

by on Jul.12, 2015, under D.Milly Dungbeetle

D.Milly Head ShotHi Again!

Well, I came across another Beetle Snack that is just too much to swallow.  Now, in the interest of full disclosure this one some folks may find a bit… Ummmm… Too adult.  If that is the case, please skip it.

Still here… Okay Then… Just a quick reminder that all opinions expressed here are that of a dung beetle, me.

I saw an ad on television for a pill that is, shall we say, popular with men over 40. Given what this pill does this is really not a surprise at all. What is more than a bit surprising is that the commercial starts out with “…about half of men over 40 have some form of erectile dysfunction…”. FinePrint Why is this surprising? Mostly because of their named source. Here is a picture of the “fine” print. First, this was a male aging study which likely biased the study some. Second, 1,290 respondents?!? In what world of statistics does 1,290 respondents represent the population as a whole? Also, this is a Massachusetts study, how does that represent the entire country (or the world since they didn’t specify).  In 2013 Boston had 645,000 people.  If 1/2 are male then that is 322,500 men. 1,290 is 0.4%, that’s just Boston.  Now, I am not a statistician, but that number seems very small to me.  What were the reasons for their “dysfunction?”  Cancer, heart troubles, … (I’ll let you use your own imaginations here).

This sounds much more like alarmist marketing to me.  Some poor schmuck comes home after a long day, wife’s feeling a bit frisky, it’s been a while, so he gives it the old college try, but alas he fails.  “OH MY GOODNESS!!  That hot girl on the commercial is right!  I must get some medicine so this does not happen again!”  What if he just rested for a bit, took a bit longer at the wind up…  Maybe it would be better for him and his wife?

Well, I am sure I have said too much.  Bein’ a dung beetle and all this isn’t really my area of expertise, so…  What do you all think?  For me, I’m callin’ Beetle Snacks.  Weak stats, alarming message, too much for this beetle.

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AAAAHHHHHRRRRGGGG!!!!!

by on Jul.05, 2015, under Project Goon

Phew! Glad I got that out.

Well, I was about to wire up the robot and the screens on both NXT “brain” bricks died.  I assumed that it was due to the firmware update, but it appears that was a coincidence.  Evidently NXTs are known to have this screen issue.  I am now reaching out to Lego to see what it will take to get them repaired, but until I do I am a little stalled on the robot.  Hopefully I will know more by Tuesday and I can start posting some of the backlog I have waiting.  Until then, please keep checking back.  I have not forgotten you, I promise.

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Welcome D.Milly Dungbeetle

by on Jul.05, 2015, under D.Milly Dungbeetle

D.Milly Head ShotWell Hello There!

My name is D. Milfred Dungbeetle, but all of my friends call me D.Milly.  I want to start out by saying how much I appreciate Bent Screw giving me this forum to air my, ummmm, well… We’ll call them Beetle Snacks.  Now I don’t know how much you know about dung beetles, but we are a very necessary part of nature.  We eat, live in, raise our young in, and do about everything else in DUNG (poop, doodoo, caca, crap, …).  If we didn’t do this the world would be overrun with Beetle Snacks,  which is my name for dung.  I won’t bore you with a whole lot of science stuff but if you want to know more about my family and me you can click HERE to jump to Wikipedia for an overview.

So, why is a Dung Beetle blogging?  I am really happy you asked that, please allow me to explain…  I am really more  of a city dung beetle, so I really have a different lifestyle than my other family members. As a city dweller my diet is not the typical animal-produced fare.  I subsist more on other types of beetle snacks.  Unfortunately sometimes these are not very tasty and they are very hard even for a dung beetle to swallow.  That is where the blog comes in as a place to write about the unsavory side of BS.

Now for Today’s Snack

Fat Free Half-and-Half

Beetle Snacks!!!

Recently I got into the ‘fridge at work and I just could not believe my eyes. Here was the biggest piece of beetle snacks that I could imagine fitting into a refrigerator. Fat Free Half and Half! Can you imagine?!?! A company actually has the nerve to advertise Fat Free Half and Half. The Food Network Kitchen Dictionary defines Half and Half as “A mixture of half milk and half cream. It has 10-12% milk fat and cannot be whipped.” If Half and Half is 10-12% milk fat then HOW CAN IT BE FAT FREE? I am calling BEETLE SNACKS on this one, and it is too much for even a dung beetle to swallow. Maybe they should try a “Chemically enhanced fat free half and half like substance that is trying to act like something it is not.”  That rolls right off the tongue.  (Ingredients: Skim Milk, Corn Syrup, Cream, Contains less than 0.5% of the following: Carrageenan, Sodium Citrate, Dipotassium Phosphate, Mono and Diglycerides, Vitamin A Palmitate, Color Added)

That’s about it for today.  Remember, some posts will be funny, some will be serious, but they will all be Beetle Snacks!  Post with you later.

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What’s up, No Posts???

by on Jun.21, 2015, under Project Goon

Well, have ya been wondering where I have been?  Busy.  That is really all I have in the way of an excuse.  With the advent of summer comes yard work and now that the monsoons seem to be over here in Colorado it seems everything is overgrown and in need of attention.  No, we really didn’t have monsoons, but we did have an amazingly wet spring including over 20 days of rain in less than a month, which really is unprecedented.

Progress

I have actually done quite a bit on McGoon I just haven’t had the quality time to sit down and write.  I can build a robot 10 minutes here and 10 minutes there, but I cannot write that way.  So sad 🙁

The mechanics of the chassis are assembled.  I made some… shall we call them booboos… along the way.  Don’t worry though, as promised I will document the mistakes along with the good stuff.  Mistakes are always a part of learning so never worry about making mistakes (unless you keep making the same ones over and over again, then maybe we should talk…).  I have all the electronics mounted including some we will not be ready for until the next phase of the project.  I do not have any of the wiring done though.

Next Up

Next up will be a walk-through of the build, including lots of pictures.  I will discuss the decisions (and mistakes) that I made along the way, my reasoning as to why I chose to go a certain way, and some other options that are also available.

So until then… which will hopefully be later this week… take care, tip your wait-staff, and remember that bartenders use your stories when they do their stand-up comedy routines so be careful what you tell them.

See Ya!

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Keeping Tabs on McGoon

by on May.31, 2015, under Project Goon

Time To Build 🙂

Last time I said we would start talking about, and maybe building, hardware.  Being a man of my word let’s get down to it…  Oh, before I forget, I got hold of a copy of Heiserman’s book (See the first post) and am in process of re-reading it.  I am finding that Peavy’s articles are a bit “lighter” than I desired so I went back to the start.  I will have updates from my reading in the near future, but for now Back to the Hardware!

WooHoo!  I love building things.  Software is awesome but it also my full time job so there is little diversion and relaxation in the software.  Building though is very therapeutic for me.

I said in the first post that I received a great set of Lego/Tetrix building stuff, so the build will be based on those.  First requirement down… Oh, did I forget to talk about requirements… Naughty Russ.

Requirements

Requirements help us know what we want to do so we can figure out how to do it correctly.  The more time we spend doing requirements the better defined our project is, and the better its chances for success.  That said, this project is going to take an iterative approach to requirements.  We will define the basic ones, get started, and then re-visit requirements, design, and build as needed.  This is similar to the Agile process used for software development and it allows us to evaluate the success of the current set of requirements and make course adjustments without going back long distances.  So, what are the requirements we know right now:

  1. Use existing hardware components
  2. Three wheeled – Triangles are very stable (think tripods) and have a pretty tight turning radius
  3. Front two wheels are driven, back is an idler
  4. Must have a sensor to measure the magnitude of movement
  5. Built with room for adding sensors and other hardware as the project evolves

So, that is a REALLY simple list of requirements.  Obviously if I were doing this as a real engineering project the details in the requirements would be much, much greater.  Weight carrying capability, battery size and/or life, battery type, terrain capabilities, and the like are but a few of the things we would cover.  But, because this is a hobby/experiment project we won’t go quite that deep just yet.

Back to the Build

Okey Doke, Faux Pas recovered from, back to our hardware…  They say a picture is worth a thousand words, and I am a really bad typist…

Rough Sketch

A simple block diagram

Please excuse the rough sketch, but at this point I didn’t think it needed extreme detail.   I assume the driven wheels are fairly obvious (Please leave me a comment if you disagree and I will make sure to cover all the details).  Really, I think the piece that probably deserves the most attention is the Sensor/Idler wheel combination.  The purpose of the sensor on the idler wheel is to be able to give magnitude to the success of our movements.  What do I mean by magnitude?  Well, higher values for more “Successful” activities and lower values for less “Successful” ones.  As an example; for our robot, moving forward unencumbered is a VERY highly successful activity while going in a circle is certainly movement but it is a very low success rate because you never really get anywhere.  Being stalled is really no good at all, and neither is being stuck.  What is the difference between being stalled and being stuck?  Awesome question.

Stuck or Stalled? Why do we care?

The motors that will be used have shaft encoders on them.  If you are not familiar with a shaft encoder, its basic function is feedback to the computer about how fast and how far a motor is turning.  We’ll get into the specifics of “how far” once we get further into the design, but how fast needs to be measured so that we can make sure the wheels turn at the same rate when we are going straight or we will think we are going straight while we are really slowly going in a circle.  Soooo, back to being stuck versus stalled.  When any vehicle is stuck its drive wheels (tracks, treads, legs, etcetera) may continue to move even though the machine isn’t.  When a machine is stalled, the drive mechanism can no longer move.  If we were to use the shaft encoders by themselves to judge our magnitude we would ONLY know when we were stalled, not when we were stuck.  Imagine the robot going merrily along and Aunt Maud walks out in front of it.  The machine hits Aunt Maud, because we haven’t installed proximity sensors yet, which is bad enough, but because the motors are strong with the Force (Shameless Star Wars reference 🙂 ) the wheels don’t stop turning, no stall.  So now we have Aunt Maud screaming “Get this infernal contraption off’n me!!”, the dogs are barking like crazy, the robots wheels are starting burn a hole through Aunt Maud’s bunny slipper’s ear… Oh The Humanity!… all because the robot still thinks it is happily moving forward.   This is why we need the other sensor and cannot just rely on the movement of the drive wheels.

The Idler and the Sensor

Tetrix Omni-WheelSo the wheels (I think I am going to use two connected together) that will be used for the idler will be universal wheels (also known as Omni-Wheels).  These wheels have the unique ability to go in all directions.  This is accomplished with little wheels within the big wheel.  What this does for us is it allows us to mount the wheel facing forward without any pivot, but allows the robot to move in all directions freely.  If we monitor the forward/backward rotation of the wheel we will get a “magnitude” of how well we are achieving our goal.  If you want to review the goals they are here.  When the robot moves forward or backward the wheels will rotate forward or backward at a proportionate rate.  When the robot is turning, the wheels will rotate at a slower rate.  While going in a circle, stuck, or stalled, the wheels will not rotate at all. (I will post videos of these movements once the robot is built)  So how do we measure this movement?  Because of how the Tetrix wheel is made we can use a light sensor.  This type of sensor measures variable values of light and dark and is typically used for line-following robots that follow a dark line on a light background (or vice-versa).  If we mount it right above the wheel we can monitor the dark/light transitions of the wheel as it rotates, and Ta-Da! we have a way to monitor the magnitude of our movement.

I did consider using a pivot mounted idler and measure the rotation of the wheel (With pointing forward being zero degrees) along with the rotation, but I think this option will be simpler to implement.  The one concern I have is running the universal wheels on varying surfaces and how that will work.  This is one of those “Try it and see how it does” things, so that is exactly what I am going to do.

Well, I don’t know about you, but I am all “Worded” out at the moment.  The next post will be exclusively about assembling the robot, well it may take more than one, so be sure to check back soon.  For now, Have a great day!!

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