Monday, March 26, 2007

Although it didn't attract the worldwide media attention that the World Cup did, the RoboCup 2006 certainly generated plenty of excitement and enthusiasm for those that attended the event. Billed as the most important robotic competition in the world and patterned after the World Cup, RoboCup is a series of soccer matches played by teams of mechanical robots. Not remote controlled robots, but programmed robots that operate autonomously with no outside interference. They must know their location on the field at all times as well as that of the ball. As in real soccer the object is to score goals. Kind of reminds me of an episode of the Jetsons where George and Mr Spacely attend a robotic football game. Truly an example of life imitating art.

With over 2500 participants, the competition was made up of more than 400 teams from 36 countries. American soccer fans can console themselves with the fact that the small robot competition was won by the team from Carnegie Mellon University. Possibly the most intriguing bit of info in this story is the additional service provided by Carnegie Mellon - live play-by-play commentary during the event. Admittedly, it can't be too difficult to call the action with such relatively slow moving robots, but Carnegie Mellons announcers weren't human - they were two four legged robots named Ami and Sango, developed and built by Sony Corporation and programmed by Carnegie Mellon researchers. The announcer-bots can track the ball, know which team has possession and move their heads and bodies to follow the action on the field. Using synthesized speech, they announce when a robot player kicks or passes the ball, how fast the ball is moving and when a goal is scored. When a goal is scored the announcer-bots are programmed to respond accordingly. One might dance around with arms waving while the other shouts out appropriate comments. Each robot calls plays on only half of the playing field because of limited vision range, but they are programmed not to talk simultaneously. If action occurs on one side of the field while the other robot is talking, the first robot can interrupt and the other will stop talking. In the future these mechanical marvels will be able to handle many more announcing duties, all completely autonomously. Not only will they accurately call the action on the field, but they can instantly provide, from sophisticated onboard computers, additional commentary on a variety of topics including in-depth individual statistics and intricate rules of the game.

Howie and Terry might be looking for new jobs soon...

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

The First Day of Spring

Tuesday, March 21, 2006 - the first day of Spring - was one of the most difficult and painful days of my life. On that day at 8:20 AM, I had to say goodbye to my dear friend and companion, Sterling. As I cradled his head in my arms and whispered in his ear "Its ok, boy", the Vet injected a strong anesthetic into the vein in his left foreleg. His head grew heavy in my arms as he drifted off. Ten seconds later the Vet, holding a Stethoscope to Sterlings chest, said softly, "He's gone."

Even though my heart still aches with the guilt and the loss, logic and compassion tells me we did the right thing. His eyesight was almost completely gone, and he sometimes got stuck in corners. Watching him prepare to lay down made it painfully obvious how badly his joints hurt. He would seldom go out into the yard any longer, I think for fear he would not be able to find his way back to the porch, so he 'did his business' on the sidewalk just a few feet from the porch steps. Back in January, when my wife said that we needed to see about putting him to sleep, I thought he was not that bad off. We heard about a young bulldog pup (Petunia) that needed a home, so we took her in. I hoped that having an active dog around would perk him up some, and it did for a while. Then he began to have 'accidents' in the house. He had had a couple of accidents before, but that was because he had been left inside for too long when we had to go out somewhere and could not take him with us. Those times he actually seemed to be embarrassed by what he had done. This time it was different, though. He seemed to not even realize he needed to relieve himself. It just 'happened' as he lay sleeping on the floor by my desk. He was eating less too. I noticed this past weekend that he only ate about half of his food. Petunia was eating the rest. There was no longer any denying it. I knew it had to be done and on Monday I made one of the most difficult phone calls of my life. The receptionist asked if we wanted to be present. I honestly didn't know, I've never had to do this before, so I asked my wife. With no hesitation she said "Yes, it would be cruel not to". Bless her heart, she was so right. Sometimes it amazes me how she is so wise about exactly the things I seem to be ignorant of. So I am at least comforted by the thought that the last thing he felt was my arms around his neck and my words of comfort in his ear. He was my friend and he deserved that much, no matter how painful it was for me.

I am also comforted by the many fond memories of Sterling, moments forever frozen in time thanks to my wonderful wife and her digital camera:

Find the Cookie!
Is it Nap Time Yet?
Fearless Bird
The Things I do for a Cookie!
Sterlings first christmas with us. He got his own present, a rawhide package filled with rawhide bones.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007


Well, I geuss its about time I got started here....

I'm a techno geek, so I suppose this blog will be mainly tech/computer oriented, although I may occasionally toss in an odd thing or two about other subjects.

Ok, so a little bit about me and my background...

Science was always my favorite subject in school, and I've loved techno toys ever since I can remember. I've always liked tearing stuff apart to figure out how it worked. My family never had much though, so tech toys were very rare. I can remember when we finally got an Atari video game, it was basically just variations on 'Pong', and was quite outdated, but it was all we had. We couldn't afford a computer, though I would have died to have one as a teen. I can remember spending hours in Radio Shack ogling all the tech stuff, wishing I could get one of those early Tandy TRS-80 computers....

So it was really no surprise to me or anyone else when I joined the Navy in '81 and was selected for the Nuclear Power Program. A Nuclear Power Plant - The ULTIMATE Tech Toy! But sadly, that dream was not to be. After waiting 11 months for my class seat, I was disqualified the day I reported for my physical. Seems they didn't like the school I graduated from - Porterville Adult School. They required a diploma from a 'regular' high school and would not budge on the issue. So I ended up 'settling' for the Advanced Electronics Program. In the six years I spent as a Navy Electronics Tech, I still never got that computer I longed for so bad. Computers were quite expensive and I just was not good at managing money. My family never had money, so I never really learned to manage it wisely, I just frittered it away.

I finally got my first computer in '97 when a friend brought over this huge box that his uncle had given him. In it was a 25Mhz 486-DX2 based IBM PS-1 that would not boot up. I took it to a local computer shop and they put DOS 6.2 on it for me. I played around with some DOS based games until a friend gave me his Windows 95 Disk so I could have a 'real' operating system. I managed to get a Modem for it so I could go online, and I've been 'hooked' on the Internet ever since. I met my wife, Joy on the Internet and we have been happily married for over six years now. I really don't know what I would do without her - she puts the joy in my life, quite literally.

Eventually I saved enough to get a new Biostar motherboard, a Trident 4 MB video card and a P120 processor, so I could actually play some of the games I wanted - like Lords of the Realm, Outpost, Warcraft and Starcraft, my all time favorite. I had all this stuff crammed into the old IBM desktop case, and since none of it 'fit' it was just sort of hanging out everywhere. I called it my Frankenputer. Finally I broke down and got a mid-tower case for it all and it became a 'normal' computer. I've gradually upgraded one piece at a time, so none of the original remains. I do still have the old soundblaster ISA card in another computer, though.

In the meantime, in August of 2000, I went to work for a large Biotech company, Beckman Coulter, that has a circuit board manufacturing facility here in town - finally making a decent wage for a change, and doing what I love most, testing and repairing electronic circuit boards. There's nothing I like more than figuring out why something doesn't work, and then fixing it so it does.

Since my wife has built an extensive personal website, I decided two years ago for her birthday I would give her what she needed most - her own Domain. She became the proud owner of "" and I put a web server on her computer so she can easily manage the files without having to deal with FTP and hosting hassles. Since it is so much easier to work with now, her site has grown signifigantly - over 300MB of files now. She is very proud of it, and rightly so. You can visit it here

After a few months I thought it might be a good idea to build my own website, since I do a little bit of side business working on computers, doing repairs, upgrades and spyware/virus removal. I figured it might be a good idea to have a web presence and so I became "". When it came time for the domain renewal, I decided to get my own domain name instead of piggybacking on hers. I became "" You can see my website here

Anyway, thats my story and I'm sticking to it.