Archive for the ‘Isaac’ Category

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TramBot (Originally published in 1998 or 1999)

March 6, 2017

The TramBot—When my nephew Dave Matheson (a veterinary grad student at Prince Edward Island) stopped in for a day-long visit, we constructed a TramBot that ran on a string stretched across an upstairs room with a light-activated set of “grabs”—perfect for bombing runs. This was inspired by the “Bomber Fly” seen in assorted Lego media.

Yes, I Always Over-Design

If you’ve seen the Bomber Fly in the Lego publications, then you will immediately notice that my creation is much bigger, and probably heavier. I developed a fear of minimalism after my very first RIS creation quite literally shook itself to pieces in under 10 seconds.

Features and Innovation Details

  • The forward-reverse pulleys are driven by a belt drive, although a geared drive would have been fine in this case.
  • There are bumpers connected to touch sensors on each end that reverse the drive pulley motor when triggered. Because the string is at about a 45º angle to the wall, we added the tires to keep the bumper rods from slipping. (Before this was done, the bumpers would sometimes just glance off the wall without triggering the touch sensors, as the robot tried to keep moving.)
  • We solved the problem of timing on the “grabs” (the name alludes to Gerry Anderson’s Supermarionation Thunderbirds program—see http://www.gis.net/~fm/) by using a belt drive, and setting the motor run time to one second longer than the absolute maximum necessary. This allowed the grabs to automatically re-synchronize, be movable by hand, and grip objects of various sizes.
  • The grabs are light-triggered. We used the Lego light sensor, and programmed it so that a flashlight beamed on it would trigger the grabs’ open or close sequence. This allowed for precise payload delivery.

 


My sons Isaac and John, my Nephew Dave, and I perform some final adjustments and testing.

To Boldly Go …

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3-Year-Old Builds Lego MindStorms Robot

March 6, 2017

Isaac’s First Robot—The “Punching Robot”

(Original date, approximately 1998.)

Hey, He Was Only 3

At three years old, my son Isaac might have been the youngest person ever to construct a Lego MindStorms project. Although he calls it a robot, it is more of a contraption than a real robot … but I cannot help but be impressed.

Isaac built this entirely without help—he even connected the RCX to the motor properly on his own. The design is entirely his; I never built anything similar.

Isaac grins as he contemplates his world conquest.

This contraption, which he calls a “punching robot,” uses an assortment of Lego axles that rest within a 40t gear, that is directly mounted on the motor. Attached to several of the outer axles are the shock absorber pieces. These shock absorber pieces extend outward from the central gear when the motor is activated, and will repeatedly punch whatever the robot is placed near.

A close-up of the punching mechanism.

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The Scale of the Solar System (or, the Solar System to Scale)

October 11, 2014

“Space,” [The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy] says, “is big. Really big. You just won’t believe how vastly, hugely, mindbogglingly big it is. I mean, you may think it’s a long way down the road to the chemist’s, but that’s just peanuts to space, listen …

Inspired by this NASA Web page, and Miss Sarah’s work-related interest in space science (too bad she spent all those years not reading science fiction), we decided to lay out our solar system in a manageable scale, complete with to-scale outlines of each planet.

Naomi plants herself just outside the orbit of Mars.
(Naomi plants herself just outside the orbit of Mars.)

Here are the scale sizes and distances, along with the real distances.

Body Diameter (mm) Avg. Distance
(yards)
Distance (in) Avg. Distance
in AUs
km miles
Sun 17.00 0.0 0.0 0.0 0 0
Mercury 0.06 0.8 28.8 0.4 58,000,000 35,000,000
Venus 0.15 1.4 50.4 0.7 108,000,000 67,000,000
Earth 0.16 2.0 72.0 1.0 150,000,000 93,000,000
Mars 0.08 3.0 108.0 1.5 228,000,000 142,000,000
(Asteroids) 0.00 4.0 to 8.0 144.0 to 288.0 2.0 to 4.0 450,000,000 279,000,000
Jupiter 1.75 10.5 378.0 5.2 778,000,000 484,000,000
Saturn 1.47 19.0 684.0 9.5 1,427,000,000 887,000,000
Uranus 0.62 38.0 1,368.0 19.0 2,871,000,000 1,784,000,000
Neptune 0.60 60.0 2,160.0 30.0 4,498,000,000 2,795,000,000
Pluto (avg) 0.03 79.0 2,844.0 39.5 5,906,000,000 3,670,000,000
Voyager 1* See http://voyager.jpl.nasa.gov/where/ 138.4 20,707,634,708 12,867,127,667
Voyager 2* for current locations of Voyager 1 and Voyager 2. 114.2 17,089,103,421 10,618,676,567

*Distances of Voyager 1 and 2 are as of May 2, 2017.

Isaac and Naomi lay out the inner planets.
Isaac and Naomi lay out the inner planets.

I’ve made a Google Sheets spreadsheet with this data publicly available, here.

You can also grab and print this Acrobat/PDF file which has the sun and planets to the same scale as the planetary distances: planets_to_scale.pdf. At this scale, the sun is only 17 mm in diameter, Jupiter is tiny, and the inner planets are nearly invisible.

tiny_planets

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(“It’s cold outside, there’s no kind of atmosphere, I’m all alone, more or less …”)

Now, are you ready to have your mind blown?

Our nearest neighboring star is a binary star, Alpha Centauri. It would be, if we could see it from the northern hemisphere. It’s about 4.3 light years (271,930.8 AUs; 25,277,549,200,000 miles; 40,680,272,100,000 km) away.

At the scales we’re dealing with, how far away do you think Alpha Centauri would be?

Think carefully. When you’re sure, follow this link for the answer.

Space … is … big.

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LARP or Party Game: How to Play “Zombies”

April 25, 2010

There’s something fascinating about zombies, and a current cultural meme seems to have made them even more popular than the silly idea that the world will end in 2012. (One of the most popular video games around now is the second installment of Left 4 Dead, called Left 4 Dead 2, which is a teamwork-based game pitting humans against hordes of “infected.”) I’ll remind readers that I was a fan before the current massive popularly, generally ever since reading Max Brooks’ brilliantly-written survival-guide parody The Zombie Survival Guide: Complete Protection from the Living Dead, and his captivating World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War novel.

Zombies seem to be everywhere. There’s even a Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me parody centering on a zombie apocalypse.

LARPing—live action role playing—is detailed in Little Brother, which can be downloaded for free at Corey Doctorow’s site, or, of course, purchased in hardcover.

Somewhere between reading Little Brother and being inundated with zombies, it occurred to me that a zombie hunt LARP would make a great party game for David and his friends on his 11th birthday. Here’s what we did:

  • One person is elected to be the starting zombie.
  • The zombie “infects” others by giving them a gentle Indian sunburn.” (I didn’t want the kids biting each other.)
  • Once infected, a human has wait 30 seconds and then become an active zombie, hunting any human he can find.
  • The only way to stop a zombie is to shoot the zombie in the head with a Nerf gun. Such a shot removes the zombie from the remainder of the round.
  • Zombies move slowly and relentlessly, generally while moaning loudly.
  • The round ends when all human have been infected, or when all zombies have been killed.

Overall, this went very well. Next time, I’ll include a couple of minor improvements:

  • The kids kept barricading themselves in bathrooms. This sort of interior door will absolutely not stop a zombie, but will slow one down for a moment or two. I think to account for this, I’ll have the zombies go back to a central location, and get a paper sign that, when slid under the door, requires those within to open the door.
  • I need to figure out a way to allow for simulation of decapitation by sword. I think a Nerf or toy sword to the neck should work. Water-based magic markers would be fine, too.

There were a couple of really great moments. One was when my sweet daughter Naomi came up to me and gave me the “Indian sunburn.” This was perfectly reflective of the psychological difficulty of fighting zombies who were formerly loved ones. I should have shot her on sight!

Lego_Left_4_Dead_by_XenoPrime

Lego Left 4 Dead: Coming Soon (image thanks to XenoPrime).

(Sadly, you probably won’t see this anytime soon, but you never know. I remember when Lego wouldn’t manufacture Lego weapons for their minifigs.)

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To Boldly Go: Star Trek Online

February 8, 2010

A couple of weeks ago marked a watershed moment in MMORPGs: Star Trek Online wrapped up its mostly-open-beta program, and went live with its early-access-for-preorders launch. Delighted with the quality of the game, we sprung for a lifetime membership, which is approximately as costly as paying per-month for a year and a half. (I wish World of WarCraft would offer such a deal.)

The boys and I have been hooked. (Isaac, the weasel, has remained several levels ahead of me, and is about to get a promotion that will give him access to even better ships.) The game features space exploration and combat, and ground exploration and combat. The missions are described as “episodes,” and, like the plots of a television series, often require following unexpected developments and changing tasks as the plot unfolds across planetary surfaces and space. Each player captains his or her own starship, outfitting it with weapons, equipment that gives bonuses, and senior officers who also provide special abilities. I’ve attached a couple of screen shots of the gorgeously-rendered space exploration scenes below. The planets are beautiful, often including moving cloud layers that partly cover the ground below, as well as appropriate atmospheric illumination by the planet’s star, depending on one’s location in orbit.

The USS Naomi, approaching a planet within the Delta Volaris sector.

The USS Naomi, approaching a planet within the Delta Volaris sector.

(My first ship is named the USS Nichelle.)

The USS Naomi, exploring a system in the Delta Volaris sector.

The USS Naomi, exploring a system in the Delta Volaris sector.

Ground locations are often also highly detailed, with a wide variety of plants and terrain. Some of the outdoor ground locations (there are also caves, and starbase and other complex interiors) sometimes seem very reminiscent of the ToS set locations, although generally with more detail than the show’s budget allowed.

Combat and exploration are both integral to the game. Combat is far more skill-intensive than most MMORPGs, particularly as one commands an “away team” to whom orders must be given, and as space combat works in three dimensions and often against multiple enemies. Some missions automatically draft the cooperation of other players, and nearly everything can be accomplished by choice as a teamwork exercise. Like the best MMOs available, there are also large PVP combat areas where players can earn even more rewards.

The game is still in early release, and is apparently only going to get better, but it still shows some weaknesses of an early release with higher-than-expected levels of demand on its servers, and some frustratingly common bugs, such as the game locking up.

Overall, though, our romps through the Star Trek universe have been delightful, with much future enjoyment anticipated.

Addendum, Stardate 201002.18: I am fully convinced that this game was worth every penny. Even my beloved World of WarCraft has never captured me with this intensity.

Beaming out after an away mission.

Beaming out after an away mission.

Rescuing diplomats taken hostage; the end of a truly well-crafted mission series.

Rescuing diplomats taken hostage; the end of a truly well-crafted mission series.

Scanning with my tricorder. What could be better?

Scanning with my tricorder. What could be better?

Approaching Starbase 114.

Approaching Starbase 114.

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Merrimack High School’s Award-Winning Star Wars Parody

February 5, 2010

We were at Merrimack High School this morning for a meeting regarding some testing Isaac had done over the past couple of weeks. It was just after morning announcements, and as we went to our meeting, the music from Star Wars could be heard coming from every room.

I caught enough of the description playing with an apparent news report to later learn that Merrimack High School had worked with New Hampshire-based filmmaker Jeff Capone to produce a Star Wars parody entitled Star Sports, that won for the Best Parody in the Fan Movie Challenge presented by Lucasfilm and Atom at this year’s San Diego Comic-Con International.

Star Sports – Theatrical Trailer

Atom.com: Funny Videos | Spoofs | Star Wars Fan Movie Champions
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Ethnicity Conundrum

February 1, 2010

We ran into this problem when registering Naomi for kindergarten, and now, changes in government regulation require Isaac’s school to provide this information as well. According to the school:

  1. The school is no longer allowed to report race as “not reported.” This means we are required to report your child’s race starting with the 2009-2010 school year.
  2. The US DOE has modified the collection and reporting requirements for racial and ethnic data starting with the 2010-2011 school year. They now use a two-part question.

Amusingly, the questions the school is required to ask are as follows:

"Racial" Questionnaire

Now, how in the heck are our children going to pick a primary ethnicity?

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Ouch: New Hampshire Charter School Cap Proposed

May 29, 2009

I just received this from the Academy of Science and Design, where I teach robotics, and where Isaac attends:

As almost all of you probably know, New Hampshire is facing major budget issues. The New Hampshire State Senate is currently trying to grapple with the deteriorating situation as state incoming revenue declines. This week, an amendment was proposed and approved in the Senate Finance Committee that would cap total charter school enrollment in the state for the coming 2009-2010 year at a level of 850, which is below current enrollment levels.

If this limitation stands as the bill moves through a full NH State Senate floor vote (likely this coming Wednesday June 3) and the following conference committee, this would be a MAJOR issue for the school. Depending on the exact level allocated to the school, this could mean ALL accepted incoming students would have to have their acceptance reversed, and it could even mean that there would have to be a “reverse lottery” to eliminate existing ASD students.

We strongly encourage you to take action on this issue, as it will affect your child’s educational choices and ASD’s quality.

One action you can take is to send mail to your elected representatives. The following link can be used to do this:
http://tinyurl.com/lmku2l

Some parents may also want to call their representatives. While this can potentially be helpful, it is also very important that you express support constructively, perhaps with personal stories, but DO NOT ARGUE with them! Remember that the legislators are dealing with a very major set of issues around funding, and are facing many difficult decisions at this time. Being hostile and/or combative can easily create irate representatives, which would hurt much more than help and can be very hard to reverse. Please only call if you are sure you can keep the conversation positive.

The ASD and other charter schools have been through this before, but it has always required work to get the legislature to see our side. Right now, we are all working through the NH Chartered Public School Association at all levels of government to make sure that this amendment does not get passed into law. While we are working hard with all the charter schools, we will not know the final outcome until the end of June. We will do our best to keep you informed as we move forward.

Kent Glossop
Board Chairman, Academy for Science and Design

Chris Franklin
Director, Academy for Science and Design

Here’s what I added to the petition I submitted:

Please help public education continue to improve in New Hampshire by rejecting the proposed cap on charter school enrollment.

Our son is attending the Academy for Science and Design Public Charter School in Merrimack. We have seen firsthand just how much he has learned at such a place, which is far more challenging than the private school he attended previously.

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School Fashion: Look What Kids Are Wearing These Days

April 22, 2009

This is “spirit week” at the Academy for Science and Design, where Isaac attends. Today’s theme was, “Famous People.” He relished the opportunity to develop, with Nichelle’s help, this slightly disturbing costume.

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Can you believe what kids are wearing to school these days?

A magic trick? Well, let me show you, I’ll make this pencil disappear!

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Isaac as “The Joker,” complete with prosthetic makeup.


Turns out Isaac’s costume was voted best for the day!

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FIRST LEGO League: We Won!

November 17, 2008

Since the school year began, I’ve been teaching Lego Robotics two morning’s a week at Isaac’s new school, the Academy for Science and Design Chartered Public School, in Merrimack New Hampshire.

Many of you know I’ve been teaching Lego Robotics twice a week at the Academy for Science and Design, in Merrimack, N.H. As a function of the class, we had two teams competing in the FIRST LEGO League branch of the FIRST Robotics program, founded by Dean Kaman. (See http://www.usfirst.org/community/fll/ .) The ASD is a chartered public school, now in its second year of operation.

At the “MindStorms Madness” qualifying tournament in Merrimack, N.H., on Saturday, the two teams from the ASD came away with three trophies:

The team I officially coach, Robotic Revolution, won first place in the Technical category (Robot design and programming), and will go on to compete at the state competition on December 6 at Nashua South High School.

The other team I taught (but did not officially coach) won 2nd place in Technical, and got the top score during the seeding matches. (Sadly, they were eliminated in the finals.)

The photos from the slide show above are available here on PicasaWeb.

I’ll update this post with more details about the team and the event sometime in the next day or two.