02 February 2008

Quotes 01

Robert Heinlein wrote "A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects."

Now that's a great quote! When I first read those words in high school, I had to scribble them down in my notebook. I wanted to live those words. 25 years later, I still can't conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, and probably would fail at the invasion planning but I think I'm doing alright on the others. As a married man, I'm near expert on changing diapers, taking orders, fighting, and pitching manure!

30 January 2008

Stay Sharp - Free College Courses

I'm really floored when I hear about the lack of reading and self-help effort that the average engineer does after graduating. I recently saw a survey that showed most engineers read one technical book per year. Wow. That's incredible - how can an engineer survive? I know, some (most?) will say that they get their info on the web and who has time to read a book? But didn't you become an engineer because you have that drive to learn, to make things better? What happened?

I'll never forget a meeting about 12 years ago with department heads and the VP of Engineering. The topic was upgrading the office PCs from Windows 3.11 to this thing called Windows 95. We had the budget to upgrade but no funds for user training. I was an unknown geek at the time and spoke up "Why don't we buy a few books and let the users learn on their own? Windows 95 isn't very difficult". The VP glared at me and said "These people are adults, we can't expect them to learn on their own". Floored. I was absolutely floored by his comment. I kept my mouth shut and the company stayed with Windows 3.11 for another two years. That experience though has stuck with me. Too many adults think they need a training class for everything. Very
few are willing to try a new application on their own. Is it fear of failure?

This fear also stops many from bettering themselves by taking random college classes at local schools. I love to look thru the current catalog and see if I can fit in a class. Last year I took a robotics class and an advanced design patterns class. My job will pay for tuition if the class is even remotely related to my job. And if a passing grade is obtained. I know a few engineers that won't take a class because if they don't pass, then they're out of the bucks. What an attitude. Take the class, participate, learn, and it's darn near impossible to not pass.

I'm trying to encourage people at work to take a few of the free web classes that many great schools are sharing. I know a few guys (including me) that have recently taken the excellent Java Passion on-line courses. I've been saving off the links to these web classes in my del.icio.us education tag but now that I've stumbled across Online Education Database's wrap-up post Skip the Tuition: 100 Free Podcasts from the Best Colleges in the World and 200 Free Online Classes to Learn Anything, I think I have enough to keep me busy.

For the past year or so, I've trying to watch/listen to at least two class sessions a week of the various free web courses. This isn't hard to do. I rarely watch or listen to one straight thru. Usually start one late at night and then finish it in bits and pieces over the next day or so. The key is just do it and make it fit into what time I have available. Right now, I'm doing a few from MIT's Aircraft System Engineering course which was put together by shuttle astronaut and MIT Professor Jeff Hoffman and Professor Aaron Cohen, who was the Space Shuttle Orbiter Project Manager.

Many people have said to
me "I'm too busy, how can you find the time to do those?" I always want to reply "How can you afford not to?"

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29 January 2008


I'm looking for something to help get my youngest interested in making/engineering. He's a young geek, reads lots of books, watches MythBusters, SmashLabs and such. I want to find a something to pique his interest in building stuff.

In this month's Robot magazine, he saw a two-page ad for Tamiya robocraft kits. He's really been pushing for me to spring for the racehorse. It looks kinda cheap and I hate to waste the money. It's only $14 so I guess it won't drive me all the way to the poor house but I hate buying crap. I can finds lots of places selling these kits but haven't seen a review.

When he's a few years older, I hope he's interested in building stuff like the nerdkit. When I was a kid, my dad occasionally would build things from HeathKit. He made a heath kit oscilloscope around 1973 that was still working great at least 20 years later. I loved watching him make circuit boards, fix broken motors, etc.

For myself, I bought a gumstix kit with the dream that I'll build an Unmanned Ground Vehicle (UGV) that will roam my backyard. So far I've managed to spend lots of money, destroy my son's Hummer R/C, and make a very large pile of crap on the garage bench. And I've enjoyed every minute of it.

28 January 2008

ESB 01

Enterprise Service Bus (ESB). Nice name. Every time I see something with "enterprise" in the title, I get the "ooh"s. Or is it the "aah"s? I simply can't walk past a book titled "Enterprise blah blah" without stopping to thumb thru it. It's only $59.99 and it's shiny. Should I impulse buy it now or add it to the Amazon cart for later?

ESBs. I've messed with a few of them, probably used Apache's ServiceMix the most. Using servicemix, I had a Groovy SOAP server working with a JMS app in about 10 minutes. Maybe it was 15. I tend to exaggerate. Whatever time, it was short and servicemix was easy. Speaking of MQ, have you read Linda's Open Message Queue Blog? It looks pretty good but she hasn't updated since October 2007.

Some guys at work are using BEA's Aqua Logic. I've not had the chance to use it but they seem to like it, especially the message transformations. I've got a demo disc sitting on my desk and anyone can download a demo. I should test drive this soon. Last summer I used both JBoss and WebLogic JEE servers and I found that WebLogic was much more stable. I think the price is a little steep for mortals but the product was better.

There's also Mule which I've never tried. I've stumbled across an interesting article "Exploring ESB Patterns with Mule". Yet another thing to work thru and try out when I have a spare hour or ten.

Bluetooth Dongle Crap

Yesterday I mentioned that my new Bluetooth adapter was packaged in an odd case. Although I found the "deal" on bargain jack, the crap came from meritline. Other than selling the device, meritline did nothing wrong, the transaction was smooth,they did fast shipping and I'll definitely buy more crap from them in the future.

The actual bluetooth device isn't much bigger than a quarter but was in a case pretending to be much more.

Okay. I'm being tough on them by calling a a device crap that actually works. It does appear to work just fine with my cell phone and other bluetooth devices, I just had a problem using any stack other than Toshiba's to pair with a wiimote. That plastic stick masquerading as an antenna just gets me. Why would they do that? To get suckers like me to buy their crap.

The bluetooth chip is Cambridge Silicon Radio (CSR) but I can't quite make out the markings. As you can tell, my camera is not the best at taking close-ups. It appears to read BC212 015BD A21AA. I'm guessing that it's one of CSR's BlueCore3 ROMs. A quick Google leads to quite a few hits - I'll need to look into this in more detail.

Also talked yesterday about the BlueTunes app that lets me use a wiimote as a remote control for Media Player. Even though the crap adapter pairs with my cellphone all the way across the house, I've found that unless the wiimote stays about 10 feet from the adapter, BlueTunes reports a problem and puts up an error dialog every few seconds. When I noticed the problem, I had over 100 dialogs that I had to click OK. Cool app, dumb bug.

wiimote 01

Finally some success. Ever since a friend showed me Johnny Chung Lee's wiimote projects, I've been wanting to try 'em out for myself. It's taken me a few weeks but I finally had something working this weekend.

The coolest wiimote app that I've tried so far is bluetunes. My laptop can be across the room and I can sit on the couch and wave the wiimote around to change tracks, up/down the volume, and play/pause. Yeah, nothing amazing but I'm lazy when it comes to music and remotes.

Now I'm messing with Johnny Lee's whiteboard app but I lack a good IR source. I'm using my tv remote and it kinda works but not very reliable. Tomorrow, I'm going to break open an old remote to make an IR pen.

I think I told you the story about my lost bluetooth adapter. A while back I bought an adapter to use with my gumstix. I've looked everywhere for that thing but it's now been declared MIA. So this past week, I bought another adapter thru a deal for $8.99 that I found at bargainjack.com. Remember kids - you get what you pay for. See that really cool antenna? Fake. It's just a plastic stick. See the thumb drive sized case? Empty. The whole actual bluetooth card is about the size of the USB plug. It's like a bag of potato chips. All air and a tiny board. No idea why they did that. The adapter works pretty well and pairs with my cell phone on the other side of the house so it has range. Just weird crap.

The new adapter came with BlueSoleil drivers which seem to work ok with my cell phone and my GPS but just wouldn't work with the wiimote. It would discover the device as "Nintendo RVL-CNT-01" but then wouldn't start the Human Interface Device (HID) service. During the 23 odd times of installing/uninstalling/reinstalling, I saw that I also had a Toshiba bluetooth stack installed but I couldn't get it working with the wiimote either so it was dumped.

I then tried the widcomm drivers but they didn't work at all with my adapter. No fault of the drivers, they've worked for me before. I was losing patience and probably didn't spend enough time with them.

I've finally reinstalled the Toshiba bluetooth and it works great. Unfortunately, it says it's a 30 day trial but has no option to buy.

The final secret for it to work for me seems to be pressing and holding down the the wiimote keys during both the discovery and pairing process. When the software asks you to type in a pairing key, type nothing and just hit return.