Back From New York!

I just spent the last week in New York on vacation and it was fantastic! Since I generally don’t like to blog about when I’m on vacation live, I thought it would be a good idea to take some notes so that I’d have some material when I got back. I had a bit of downtime so I was actually able to do a lot of writing. What I’ve done is set all the posts to auto-publish over the next week, one day at a time. Each day corresponds to the same day of the week, one week earlier.

Anyone who gets a chance to go, has to go. It’s unlike anything you’ll see anywhere. I hope you enjoy reading about my personal experience in New York over the next week.

Lightning vs Capitals

I’m on vacation in Tampa, I’m at the game and they’re warming up right now. Ovechkin, LeCavalier, St. Louis, Fedorov… They’re all here.

Oh yeah and we’re in the second row behind the penalty box. Happy Valentines day to me from my awesome wife.


Robot Update

There should be a few more of these in the next little while. Some of you may recall that I had been working on a robot some time ago. Since that time, I’ve bought some more parts, gotten my Arduino working with a new Atmel chip, completely re-designed the chassis (though it looks similar) and have started cutting prototype chassis parts out of 1/8 inch MDF.

I’m going to post some more details including pics and such but for now, here’s a nice little movie of the new design and a few chassis details. Enjoy until I get some more posted.

prototype vid

Learning About Libraries

Since I started my new job, I’ve been exploring the web trying to better understand just where this field as a whole is going.

One thing that I’ve found very interesting is that while Computer Science is often seen as a field that changes a lot, the fundamental delivery of the material hasn’t changed a whole lot. The classes I took during my time as a student are not very different from the classes that are offered now. The Dalhousie Libraries, and for that matter many libraries over the world, are a whole other ballgame though.

The first major change that I’ve seen at Dal and that seems to be common everywhere else is a change in the way libraries use their space. Now that most journals are available in digital form, the stacks of physical journals are almost all gone, replaced by learning commons. Learning commons are spaces that are filled with computers, but rather than having a computer lab feel, they are far more open, have a great deal of additional space for books and other study materials, casual lounging space and a slew of on-site help from all corners of the university.

Whereas the library was an intimidating place to go as an undergrad so many years ago with a very sterile feel in the air, things are different today. The learning commons and additional study spaces now progress from having a fun murmur of students hanging out on the ground floor commons and first floor hallway study spaces, to the very quiet spaces found in the study carols and higher floors of the library. It’s a much more comfortable place to work and it shows with the volume of students that you can see in the library.

Now that libraries have moved on past the initial need for digitization, they’re moving heavily into the other realms of modern web technologies. They’re using these technologies to help connect to an audience that is increasingly remote and wants to work online. It’s a pretty cool place to work since libraries are embracing and leveraging technology in a big way.

Last Day At Work

Well I just went through my first last day at work in a long time. This past Wednesday I had to wrap everything up, pack up all my belongings and be ready to head out. Well the whole wrap-up portion was much bigger than I had expected and I accidentally scheduled something substantial on my last day. It made for a day that felt like it took a week to get through, but I suddenly found myself at the end.

It’s a bit of a bummer since I’m having to leave a lot of people that I’ve enjoyed working with over the years. I never really realised that fact until the end of the day came. I’ve been so excited for the new position that leaving my current one never really set in. I knew I was leaving from a logistical standpoint. As soon as I put in my resignation, I started working on tying up loose ends. But the reality of leaving the people I’ve been working with had escaped me.

It’s a few days later now and I’m focused once more on the task ahead. I can’t wait to see what they have going on over at the Library. Some of their systems are obvious, but I’m sure there are many behind the scenes systems that helps everything move along smoothly. Every technical department has them. The interesting part is that they’re rarely the same so I’ll get to see another take on things.

It goes without saying that I’m also very eager to meet all of the people I’ll be working with there as well. While I’ll miss the people I used to work with, I know I’m going to meet lots of great people in my new position. Just a few more days to go :)

Another Great Open House Come And Gone


What a great day. After having some drizzly weather last year, the sun was shining on us today. Dalhousie holds an Open House every year around this time in October. It’s the university’s flagship event for prospective undergraduate students. With that comes a ton of preparation and effort from many, many people on campus.

In computer science we spent the last several weeks making sure that everything was going to go well on today. We did tons of preparation and it seems that things went very well. As always, there were some minor glitches, but the overall picture sounded pretty good. The reason I only heard about it was that once the organization was all done, there wasn’t much of a role for me on the day of the Open House so I volunteered my time to lead one of the groups of students (cohorts) around campus.

I was fortunate enough to be able to be a group leader last year and had lots of fun doing it. This year was no different :) There’s nothing more fun than being able to share your past experience with people who really want to hear about them. Prospective students have so many questions and while I certainly won’t have all the answers for them, I love to share what I can.

With all of the effort that goes into something like this, there’s a huge high on the day of, followed by the strange anti-climax of having to get back to work as usual on Monday. It certainly will feel odd on Monday.

What Will My Robot Do

I’ve been asked this question many times. I thought now would be an appropriate time to discuss this since my electronics should be arriving on Tuesday. to put it simply, my robot has no real purpose.

The only reason I undertook this task was so that I could learn about building a robot and I wanted to build something cool. So really the robot serves no specific purpose in terms of accomplishing a task. It’s not going to go get me a beer, clean my house or anything else of that nature.

What it will do in a functional manner is be able to drive around and not bump into things. Once I’ve achieved that, I’ll have reached my goal with this particular project. If I do anything more than that, it’ll be icing on the cake.

So what will I do once I’ve achieved my goal? I’m not quite sure yet, but I do have a few ideas. I’ll let you know when I get there.

Robot Update

I’m very happy with the progress so far. I was able to find the 4″ bolts I needed. I got them from a nuts and bolts wholesaler in Dartmouth called Transmetal. They’re hard to find, but a friend of mine pointed me in their direction and they have pretty much anything you need in this area. Since they’re wholesalers, they have a minimum $5 cash purchase policy and minimum $20 debit.

Once I got home, things started to come together. I had to do a lot of filing to get the slots and tabs to line up since none of the holes are exactly where they needed to be, but that didn’t take too long. I’ve now got a robot with the side panels :) That’s a critical move forward since those are the components that the motors are going to mount to.

I can’t take pictures of it right now, but I promise that I’ll post a few shots once I can.

Parts Are On Their Way

I ordered some of the parts I’m going to need for my robot last week. They should be here on Friday if everything continues on schedule. I’m really excited because the tank treads are on their way. The specific tracks I ordered are the ones used on this kit (link dead). While they’re not directly available for sale on the budgetrobotics website, I found out by e-mailing them that they are indeed selling them and will eventually have them on the web site.

I also ordered the 360 degree turret from them as well. I discussed this one in my post about choosing a blind spot. In hindsight, I think I’m going to deviate from that plan and go with a roll bar style overhang that will protect the sensor(s) in case of rolling over. This will move the blind spot to either side of the robot. This made sense when I drafted it up since the robot will be able to move forward, backwards, and then pivot on a point. It will never need to move directly sideways. In a case where it determines that sideways is the best way to go, it will pivot, look around and get its new information form the front and back.

While these parts are only the start of a very long process, I’m happy to see things starting to shape up :)