Saturday, April 28, 2007

WAY cool

As one can guess from the title of this blog, I'm kinda into robots. And, as a kid I was fascinated with dinosaurs, as I am sure is true of most kids. So, when you combine the two ideas and have giant robot dinosaurs, well then you've really got my attention.

Friday, April 27, 2007

Itokawa in 3D

The Hayabusa team has released this video showing asteroid Itokawa in 3D. Break out the red/blue glasses and enjoy.

Hayabusa has just recently started the two-year journey back to earth. When it lands in the Australian desert, we'll get to see if the sample collection was successful.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

If I Was Made Of Lego

Have you ever wondered what you would look like if you were rendered as a Lego figurine? No? Well, neither had I, until I saw this site. There, you can mix and match various Lego pieces, various colors, and so on, and see what you would look like as a Lego dude. That's me, on the right.

OK, so I'm not actually on some moon, and they say that the camera adds ten pounds, and I don't have that little circular thing on the top of my head... but it is pretty close.

Monday, April 23, 2007

There Can Be Only One

Well, here we are, finally down to only two movies remaining in the Great Science Fiction Movie Poll. I have to say, last week's results surprised the heck out of me, as I thought for certain that 2001 would have beaten Logan's Run. However, Logan's Run managed to squeak by 2001 by a single vote, and it now faces Star Wars in the finals.

This is it, the poll closes at 2300 GMT on April 30th. Tell your friends!

Final Round - Great Science Fiction Movie Poll
pick your favorite

Logan's RunStar Wars (Episode IV - A New Hope)

Saturday, April 21, 2007


The Virginia Tech killing spree has brought the usual suspects out of the woodwork. And, I have seen a lot of fallacies put forward the last few days which need debunking.

1. guns are bad

Yes, a gun was used by some wackjob to commit a whole bunch of murders in a very short span of time. But no, guns are not in and of themselves bad. Cho was bad evil. The specific tool used is irrelevant. Guns don't kill people - people who point guns at other people and pull the trigger kill people.

2. "the worst mass murder in US history..."

Bull. There were three incidents that happened within the last 15 years that were worse. One of them resulted in the deaths of 79 people due to a fire. Another resulted in the deaths of 168 people due to an explosion of a bomb made of diesel fuel and fertilizer. And the worst mass murder in US history, resulting in the deaths of 2973 people, was caused by 19 people with box cutters. Don't trivialize their deaths.

3. "our children aren't safe in their schools..."

The people who died in Virginia Tech were NOT children. They were adults. Yes, they were young adults, but adults nonetheless. Adults who apparently had been conditioned to react passively when an imminent threat to their very lives existed. If it makes you feel better to infantilize them, consider that it was that infantilization that is in part responsible for the death toll. Cho used a Glock to kill those people, which means that he had to stop and reload three times during the course of his actions. And yet, he wasn't torn limb from limb by a snarling mob the first time he had to stop to reload, or the second. Perhaps if they hadn't been treated like helpless babies all their lives, they would have put a stop to it during the first reload, or charged at him when the shooting first began.

4. "we need more security, we need to ban guns..."

Horse puckey. Virginia Tech was already a "gun-free zone" - as is NASA's Johnson Space Center. It didn't make the victims any safer, it just made them disarmed prey. How often does one hear of a rampaging attacker, storming into a police station with guns blazing? If that does occur, how long does such an attack last before the attacker is brought down? Why is it that such attacks usually occur in schools, where there are a lot of disarmed potential victims?

The world is not a safe place. It has never been a safe place. Treating adults as if they were infants - as if they were not responsible for their own personal safety - is not going to make them any safer. Enacting additional laws against guns or even specific types of guns won't change anything - after all, the people responsible have already decided to commit murder, and there are laws in every nation against that.

So what is the solution?

Stop treating people as though they are defenseless sheep. Allow people to defend themselves. Teach people to be responsible for their own safety.

That's what it all boils down to, isn't it? The people that want to ban guns, out of the misguided belief that it will somehow make them safer, are they not viewing themselves and the rest of society as defenseless, to be protected by others more capable (and better armed) than they? Do they think that avoiding responsibility for themselves and deferring that responsibility to the police will actually protect them?

It is time to abandon the notion that your personal safety - and the safety of your family - is the responsibility of anyone but yourself. YOU are responsible for your safety. Suck it up, and take responsibility for yourself.

Update: If anyone thinks that I am "blaming the victims" here, then they should read this by Mark Danziger (hat tip to Transterrestrial Musings). In any situation like this (and I am including such not-so-dramatic situations as a convenience store robbery or a bully on a playground), you are either involved or you are not involved. If you are not involved, then you have a choice about whether to get involved or not - but if you are already involved, then you fall into one of three categories: villain, hero, or victim. If you are not the villain in the situation, then your choice is between being a hero and being a victim - and the more people who choose hero, the less chance that the villain has to claim more victims. When the bullets started flying, the results would have been much different if a couple dozen people had chosen to be heroes rather than victims.

Update 2: Dafydd ab Hugh said the same thing, only better. And I want to add something that should hopefully clarify a bit about what I wrote above; namely, that I do not mean that society is "every man for himself", in fact I mean the opposite. Yes, every man is ultimately responsible for his own safety. However, he is also responsible for the safety of his loved ones, and on a more general level for the safety of everyone around him, and it is a responsibility that cannot be sloughed off or deferred. It is that kind of sense of responsibility that motivated the passengers on Flight 93, and their actions saved lives - maybe not their own , but those of uncountable numbers on the ground in Washington. And it is that sense of responsibility that was once understood by all and taken for granted, but has slowly slowly slowly been drained from a modern society that now swaddles people, forcing them (rather than allowing them to decide for themselves) to wear seat belts or to print Caution: Hot! on disposable coffee cups.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

four years

Today is the fourth anniversary of the this blog. Over the last couple of days you've probably noticed some changes - most notably, that row of navigation buttons above, where Day by Day used to be. Don't worry, I haven't gotten rid of Day by Day, I just moved it down with the rest of the comics.

I'm always looking to make this blog more fun, constantly experimenting with the template. Seeing as how it is the start of the fifth year that I've been doing this, I figured I'd do something special. If you click on the Arcade button above, you'll see that I have added three classic arcade games to the blog: Pacman, Asteroids, and Tetris. (Man oh man, the amount of quarters I went through as a kid playing these games...) I've also updated the Sudoku game, and added another puzzle (Flood It!) at the bottom of the page. And although it still needs some work, I have managed to improve the chess game rather a lot. All in all, I'm fairly satisfied with the changes (which all work for me in IE6, Firefox, and Opera, though your mileage may vary).

Does that mean I'm done tinkering around with the look of the blog? Not bloody likely. Expect to see more little changes here and there over the next couple of months, as I approach my 1000th blog post.

Monday, April 16, 2007

The Great Science Fiction Movie Poll - Semifinals

Update, April 23: We're into the final round of voting.

We started out back on March 25th with 132 movies. Voting in the week following pared that number down to the top 32 movies by April 1st, then down to 8 movies on April 9th. Well, now we're down to the semifinal round, only four movies remain, the winners from last week's voting. You can vote once in each of the two semifinal polls (you have to click Submit separately for each poll), and voting closes on Monday, April 23rd at 2300 GMT. Be sure to pass the word around.

Last week I had the top eight movies in the quarter finals. The head-to-head matchups were based on the previous week's voting, with the top movie going against the 8th-place movie, 4 vs 5, 3 vs 6, and 2 vs 7. This week the winner of the 1 vs 8 matchup goes against the winner of 4 vs 5, and the winner of 3 vs 6 goes against the winner of 2 vs 7.

So, the first semifinal brings us one movie that totally blew away its competition last week, against another movie that just barely won its quarterfinal round.

Semifinal A - Science Fiction Movies
Pick your favorite
2001: A Space OdysseyLogan's Run

The second semifinal matchup coincidentally pits one Harrison Ford movie against another. While this might make it a tougher decision for Harrison Ford fans, at least they can take comfort in the fact that a Harrison Ford movie is guaranteed to be in the finals.

Semifinal B - Science Fiction Movies
Pick your favorite
Blade RunnerStar Wars (Episode IV: A New Hope)

Just a Reminder...

Today is the last day for voting in the quarterfinals of the Great Science Fiction Movie Poll. If you haven't voted yet, you really ought to. Voting closes at 2300GMT. Tell your friends!

parking on a dime

Literally. The Pico robot is possibly the smallest self-contained robot in the world. Yes, there are smaller robots, but none that are fully mobile and have all their control circuitry, power supply, and sensors on-board. The whole thing fits into a cube half an inch (12.5mm) on a side. Probably the best part about this robot (which moves at a blazing fast top speed of 15 centimeters per second - see if you can move 12 times your body length in one second) is that it wasn't built by some big government lab or by some big university. It was built by just one guy working on his own.

Okay, so it doesn't do the whole "edge of table" thing well, but still, it is controlling itself, changing its direction if it bumps into things. Pretty darn cool, if you ask me.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

javascript chess for your sidebar

A few days ago I added a chess program at the bottom of my sidebar, based on the JavaScript Chess With CPU Opponent program available here. That program had a few bugs, which I managed to straighten out, and didn't allow for the threefold repetition rule or the 50 move rule. I had toyed with making the program more capable, adding multiple levels of difficulty, but play at those levels simply became too slow. So, I just added the threefold repetition rule and 50 move rule. If you want to add the javascript chess with CPU opponent game to your blog sidebar, simply download the code from one of the links below (right click and Save As) and follow the included instructions.

There are two versions of the code available. The first version is verbose, with a bunch of documentation and proper indentation, and the second version is much more compact, for a file size of about half that of the verbose version (at the expense of readability). If you want to tinker with the program to improve the game, I strongly suggest downloading the first version. (links updated May 13 2010)

Update: Of course I can't leave well enough alone. I've been fooling around with the program, and now there are two levels of difficulty available: a fast, easy mode, and a slower, harder mode. I'm going to keep on working on this program, off and on over the next little while, and see if I can speed it up a little bit more. Right now, the hard mode is a 4-ply alpha/beta search, and if I can wrap my head around the algorithm then I'll change it to a negascout or some other fast algorithm. Once I'm satisfied with the program - which could be a week or more - I'll post the updated code.

Monday, April 09, 2007

The Great Science Fiction Movie Poll - Quarterfinals

Update, April 23: We're into the final round of voting.

Thanks to all who voted in last week's elimination round. The field of movies started at 132, was whittled down to 32 by the poll voters, and now has been pared down again - only eight movies remain. So, this week starts the quarterfinals round of the Great Science Fiction Movie Poll. You get to vote a total of four times, once in each of the four polls below. You have to hit Submit on each poll separately for your vote to count. I was a little late getting to this last night, so instead of next Sunday the voting closes next Monday, April 16, at 5pmMDT (2300GMT). The semifinals start next Monday, and the finals will start on April 23. Then on April 30th, the winner of the Great Science Fiction Movie Poll will be announced, with much fanfare and rejoicing. OK, no fanfare. And the rejoicing is up to you. Anyhow, let's get started; here's the quarterfinals.

Quarterfinal A - SciFi movies
pick your favorite

2001: A Space OdysseyForbidden Planet

Quarterfinal B - SciFi movies
pick your favorite

Star Trek II - the Wrath of KhanLogan's Run

Quarterfinal C - SciFi movies
pick your favorite

Planet of the ApesBlade Runner

Quarterfinal D - SciFi movies
pick your favorite

Star Wars IV - A New HopeSerenity

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

What NASA should be doing, but isn't

The Orbital Express program - sponsored by DARPA and launched by an Air Force Atlas V rocket a few weeks ago - is testing out several new technologies in autonomous satellite operations. The tests are being done with two satellites, called ASTRO (Autonomous Space Transfer and Robotic Orbiter) and NextSat, which are currently docked. Among technologies to be tested are multiple dockings and undockings, several propellant transfer tests, and multiple transfers of batteries and computers from one satellite to the other using a robotic arm mounted on ASTRO. This is exactly the sort of thing that NASA should be doing - testing out new technologies that expand opportunities in space - but aren't doing due to budgetary constraints (such as having to maintain a huge workforce to service the Shuttles, and keeping that same workforce employed while the Ares series of vehicles is developed).

On-orbit inspection via robotic arm mounted on ASTRO

(click on images for larger versions)


Mission Timeline

launch video

Sunday, April 01, 2007

Great Science Fiction Movie Poll part 2: the poll strikes back

Update, April 23: We're into the final round of voting.

Well, the first round of voting in the Great Science Fiction Movie Poll is now over. Thank you to the hundreds of people who voted. And now, it is time for round 2 of the voting. This week's poll is similar to last week's, in that you can select multiple movies from the list below. This week's list is the top 32 movies - as voted by Robot Guy readers - out of last week's list of 132 movies. You may select up to 8 movies from this list. The poll closes in one week, on Sunday April 8 at 2300GMT (5pm MDT). Of this list, only the top 8 movies will make it to the next round. You can only vote once on this poll, so if you have your heart set on a particular movie making it to next week's voting, tell your friends so they can vote too. Starting next week there will be a playoff format, movie vs. movie duels.

Update: Trumped! SFX magazine has conducted a poll similar to this one, and just released their results. Their survey polled 3000 people, so spread the word about this poll and let's see if we can get a larger audience sample.

Sci-Fi Movies, Round 2
Choose up to 8 favorite movies from the list
2001: A Space Odyssey
A Clockwork Orange
Back to the Future
Blade Runner
Close Encounters of the Third Kind
Forbidden Planet
Independence Day
Jurassic Park
Logan's Run
Mad Max
Men In Black
Planet of the Apes
Star Trek II - the Wrath of Khan
Star Wars IV - A New Hope
Star Wars V - The Empire Strikes Back
Star Wars VI - Return of the Jedi
Terminator 2: Judgement Day
The Andromeda Strain
The Day the Earth Stood Still
The Fifth Element
The Incredibles
The Matrix
The Road Warrior
The Terminator
Total Recall
Twelve Monkeys