Thursday, February 26, 2009

Palooza Posts coming soon

Just a quick update for people waiting for LEGOPalooza 2009 posts - I will be cleaning up the stack of boxes still packed from the show this upcoming week. I plan on doing a separate wrap-up post for each display I participated in. I'll try to do each post as I finish going through each bin.

Some brief robot band news in the mean time: I will be preparing an electric guitar for a future robot band piece soon. Surprisingly few people have decided to look into ways to pick up LEGO 9V motor frequencies using electric guitar pickups, and naturally it's the angle I'm pursuing for a project in my computer music course.

By the way - the robot band remains unnamed. My job search also goes on (which is, perhaps, the only thing worth sharing from my Career Fair experience during those "Marathon Weeks"...)

A LinkShare Question has offered me a LinkShare affiliate deal (as a "Private Offer" - apparently the commission rate offered to me isn't the one available to just any blogger) very much like the one I have with LEGO for - do you think this is a sign of anything? Something to do with the new licenses, perhaps?

The real question, of course, is whether or not I should do it.

Actually, wait: a better question might be why LEGO hasn't paid up in a while now (they haven't paid commissions for the Christmas rush yet).

In any case, I've given up on trying to keep up with LMOTD by myself and brought in a co-blogger. Team member? I don't know if I want it to get too big - realistically, blogging barely pays at all to start with, but once people see ads on your site, they want a cut when they start writing for you (unless your name is Arianna Huffington, and no one knows why or how she gets away with it - then again, I suppose you get what you pay for sometimes...). I decided to go with a percentage of daily AdSense revenue (itself only a few pennies) as a payment arrangement for now - too little to be worth it for anyone but people who buy inexpensive LEGO parts from me locally. Not that AdSense is paying too well, usual when I let things fall behind there, my daily views (and thus ad impressions) have gone down by a third over the past few weeks...

So, anyone think I should take that Disney offer? Anyone know of any other programs I should be joining to try to monetize my blogging?

Monday, February 16, 2009

Automatic Gearboxes with LEGO?

Saved for reference:

There are also CRT attempts on YouTube, but none as functional as this.

All of these look better than mine, which isn't documented at all yet :(

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Marathon Weeks, Post 2: FOSS Fair

Most of these fall under "interesting notes to self", but hey, it's actually getting something written down.

Here's the run-down of Monday, February 2nd:

9:35 AM, first FOSS fair session, decided to attend a section called Predicting Vulnerabilities with Software Metrics. This was a bit dry and awkward - my Software Engineering instructor was overseeing it, and the people running it were her grad students (one of which was "Andy Programmer" of iTrust fame). If you know Dr. Williams at all, you know that she's actually pretty well known in the field for writing research papers on software methodologies, pair programming, and other things that most of us find a bit dull. Trust me, though, it's important and respected. My biggest issue with this section is that it felt too much like an abstract for an academic paper - it covered some findings, information about using metrics, but no actual metrics. I would have preferred to see some code instead of just hearing statistics about what was discovered when open-source software was analyzed (OK, the graphs were a bit intriguing - but again, not really something practical for someone like me coming in with no real knowledge of the subject).

In spite of all the other events during those few weeks, I attended all my courses regularly. So I still went to my "course" which featured my classmates giving updates on our big Senior Design Projects. I was really disappointed that this made me miss some of the more exciting FOSS Fair sessions (at least they sounded exciting to me from the descriptions on the site), and frankly, my classmates aren't that good at presenting and didn't have much to say. Sorry, but c'mon, nobody really wants to hear undergrads go on for 5+ minutes each about how they're just starting to work on something. Let me know when something interesting's already been done. Again, I'm not trying to be rude here, but note how I haven't said anything about my own project for that course yet either - I know nobody wants to hear it.

After lunch, I made it to another FOSS Fair session - this one an overall look at the benefits of open source. This was fairly interesting, with some discussion of major projects and how things fit together, but it was ultimately just a well-presented version of the sort of thing cranky Slashdotters are always saying. I was a bit surprised by a slide near the end that listed ways open source is changing the world - I hadn't really thought OLPC as an open-source project before (another interesting point, about open government policy under the Obama administration, is one I've made myself in an earlier blog post here).

The next FOSS Fair thing I was able to make it to was focused on Cloud Computing. I didn't really know much about Cloud beforehand, and this worked as a good introduction. There was some unforeseen technical issues, though, that kept the "simple" demonstration from working on campus.

The night went a bit long for me - I visited with a potential employer for an info session on a training program I ultimately did not get into, and after that I got a chance to catch up with the local amateur robotics club. This was a bit wonky for my tastes (big emphasis on discussing designs on the white board), but interesting nonetheless. I need to properly join the Yahoo! Group for that still. I briefly discussed my 'bots that I had shown up at UNC the previous weekend, and one person even asked a bit more info about LUG's (needless to say, most of the people there knew a little bit about Mindstorms already). One thing that sounded pretty interesting to me (not for the immediate future but for potential use in months to come) was that the group was talking about moving the meetings off-campus to a place in Durham that would allow people to rent metal-working machines. That has some serious potential for some larger robotics projects (not that I'm ready to give up on Mindstorms, but once you've tried building a musical project, you start to notice the limitations of LEGO parts and the presence of gear lash...)

Overall, an exciting day, and I'm hoping to make it to the next FOSS Fair (whenever that ends up being) and to catch up with the amateur robotics crowd more frequently. I'm also planning on looking into the other robotics groups on campus more - it looks like I'll have a good time to try out the UAV club next week.


Edits put in February 26th:

Some obnoxious happenings lately regarding my BrickLink store:

1. Too many people have not followed the Terms of my store, forcing me to upgrade to a different type of PayPal account in order to keep receiving payments. I was allowed so many exceptions to the rule each year, but all these people ignoring the terms have used up my exceptions already. This means that all prices have to go up - as of this past Tuesday, everything costs 4% more. It hurts a bit - everything was priced in fairly round numbers before, and now everything has awful fractions of cents involved. I will be upgrading the PayPal account sometime between now and March 12th - I'm trying to put off the upgrade as long as possible so I won't be out another $10 for the orders that haven't been paid yet but were processed before the need to raise prices. I have now upgraded my PayPal account. All because a few people couldn't follow the rules...

2. I will probably work out new promotions soon to bring prices back down for people paying with cash locally or with Revolution Money Exchange.I am now offering 4% off for people paying with Revolution Money Exchange. I have not decided what new discount to offer for local buyers paying in cash. It's only fair that I don't punish everybody for the sins of PayPal users.

3. I might be fine with the inevitable decrease in sales related to this. Things are starting to pick up again here and it's doubtful that I'll be spending much time on LEGO things for a bit. I'm not sure when I'll revive LMOTD again (although there is a post scheduled for Valentine's day already), but I'm hoping to get a few posts in. The job search continues, as does my sorting through parts I'm buying locally from someone who graciously is allowing me to determine how much I owe him whenever I can.

It is possible that I will work LEGO into some academic projects, though. Frankly, expect this blog to get much drier and more school-oriented for the next few months - the only LEGO projects I'll be doing are BrickLink orders, sorting/cleaning/storing, and whatever I can work into my schoolwork. No less than 4 of the 5 courses I'm taking now involve large, open-ended projects, and I'm looking forward to blogging about them at some point in the future. Only one of them currently looks like it'll be of interest to the LEGO fans that make up most of my readers here, though (hint: it involves AI and some robot band ideas).

Saturday, February 7, 2009

LEGO logo mosaic

Found this photo while skimming through LEGOPalooza photos and thought I should blog it. This was built in the late 1990's, when I was still "little". No software was used - this was just a freehand build on a 32x32 baseplate. I occasionally compared with various LEGO logos I had handy to figure out where parts looked like they should go.

This has never been fully taken apart, but the odd part has come loose over the years because I don't glue my models together. You may have seen this at LEGOPalooza 2008, DGXPO 2008, or LEGOPalooza 2009.

The picture's not quite the whole thing, but you know where the other red and black bricks go. No need for building instructions here!

Friday, February 6, 2009

Marathon Weeks, Post 1

This picture was taken by another NCLUG member, I forget who at the moment. You can see me tweaking the code for guitar-playing robot, though. You can also click on that picture to go to flickr, where there are more photos from LEGOPalooza. Mike Walsh has rounded up some photos and videos from LEGOPalooza over at the NCLUG site. Normally I'd be doing that sort of thing, but I've been very busy these past few weeks - the three days of LEGOPalooza have been surrounded by coursework, homework, a FOSS Fair, a two-day career fair, and a variety of smaller events and BrickLink orders.

I had a pretty interesting set-up at Palooza for my robot band (one of several displays I was "running" essentially by myself, and the only one I was able to actually keep an eye on) - a dual monitor set-up much like I got used to working on iTrust last semester (Oops, haven't blogged that yet either). I had originally planned on doing some things with LEGO Vision Command, as the previous post suggests, but I ultimately wound up putting the camera away (after a kid said "he's recording us" I realized that it's actually quite creepy to leave a camera out if you're not doing something with it) and showing off IDE's and code on the monitor facing outward.

This lead to an interesting situation - during LEGOPalooza, I spent much of my weekend talking about code, open-source, LEJOS, Bricx CC, NXC, various pbricks, etc, and not much time focusing on LEGO. During Monday (which I had written off as booked due to the FOSS Fair I attended), I wound up going to an amateur robotics meeting and talking LEGO. Not that I mind, but it's certainly unusual.

That's not even the worst of the whiplash of the past two weeks. On Saturday at LEGOPalooza, I had kids coming up to me that recognized my robotic band from my most recent appearance on the LAML Radio podcast and was asked some questions by numerous newspaper reporters (only article I've successfully dug up featuring me so far is in the Daily Tar Heel, UNC's student paper). People I'd never met before were acting like I was someone famous, and I guess in the online LEGO community, I sort of am (in spite of how few of my own models I've actually posted). On Thursday, I was at a career fair being asked if anything sets me apart from my classmates (the list of things I can actually put on a resume is surprisingly short). On the bright side, at least I had something to say when people asked if I had any embedded C experience (everybody forgets that NXT programming is technically a form of cross-compiling for an embedded device)...

I intend to post a bit more recapping this past week (LEGOPalooza in particular, since I know most people who read this are LEGO people and not software people or graduating Computer Science majors) soon, but that's probably about it for today.

One last thing, though: My family has moved suddenly twice now because of work shortly before a LEGO store has opened in our area (we lived in southern New Hampshire shortly before the first store in northern Massachusetts opened, and we moved out of Sammamish, WA, just as the Bellevue store opened minutes away from where I was attending college at the time). I've been joking for a while that Raleigh, NC will get a LEGO store as soon as I have to move away. Although I don't have any serious job offers yet, it's hard not to take the news that we're getting a LEGO store in mid-May as a sign that I'll be working elsewhere shortly after graduation (in early May). We'll see, I guess, and if I don't get something lined up by May, perhaps I'll just apply there - I certainly don't have any issue proving credentials as a LEGO nut. I'm not making any long-term plans, though, just in case I do end up moving out of the Triangle area.