I’m going to call it Lt. Dan.

Still tinkering with the little robot kit I got a while ago. I made some new legs and thought I’d do a before and after.

Here, with the originals that came with the kit.

And with the new, more terrifyingly clawlike upgrades.

I have never gotten it to walk in a totally straight line – there’s always at least a little drift (typically to the right). This may be due to the leg design, as I am not using the same orientation as shown in the example videos presented by the guy who put the kit together. I might not be compensating correctly for the way the legs attach to the brackets. They all attach to one side, so they don’t line up perfectly. Or it could be that some of the servo gear teeth were stripped when my nephew kept insisting he needed to help its legs.

After I got the new legs on, I recorded it walking and then slowed down the video to try to see what was happening. This resulted in the following revelations:

1. Without the little foam wheel-feet, the legs seem to just slide around on the floor a lot.
2. Servo motors slowed to .25x speed sound a lot like heavy mouth-breathing.
3. My dog’s will is utterly broken by the mechanical horrors he has to contend with on a daily basis. He doesn’t even try to hide from them anymore.


I got some Sugru to put on the tips of the legs. Hopefully this will help with getting some traction.


I tend to think of the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness in terms of the three laws of robotics. Or at least I always thought similar caveats were implied. So, given this:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness.

My interpretation would be:

Ok, humans have been around long enough now that it has become obvious that we are more or less the same. Most people can look at another person and know they are of a kind, driven by the same urges and feelings. But it’s like 1776, and we don’t know why that is so, God. That given, there are a few thing that we just have to agree to be cool about.

  1. We each have the right to life. This is predicated upon non-interference with rule 1 (in the immediate sense).
  2. We each have the right to liberty. This is predicated upon non-interference with rule 1.
  3. We each have the right to pursue happiness. This is predicated upon non-interference with rules 1 & 2.

Curiouser and curiouser.

Here is a picture of some dirt. On Mars.

I know curiosity is not the first of our robot emissaries to the red planet, but gazing at the soil on another world has not gotten old yet. Even though we have apparently been doing it for some time now. And when I say “we”, I mean “we” as in humans collectively, not Americans. That particular feather was in a Soviet cap1.

I kinda miss the cold war. It was understood that we could destroy each other, but nobody really wanted to do that so we just competed over who had the most awesome space program. Then people lost interest – probably because exploring space is something the Nazis would do.

As John and I were watching the landing sim and mission control cam Sunday evening, he asked me “What would you do if the first images that came back were of some horrible, demonic looking alien things creeping up and peering into the camera?”

I really don’t know, but I do think there’s a good chance my reaction would be something along the lines of “Well, huh. Ok then, let’s see how this turns out I guess.”


Language Barrier

This morning I walked past my roomba, and noticed that it was sitting slightly off the charger and every led on it was blinking frantically. I nudged the little robot back up on to its dock, which resulted in it announcing something about a charge error – first in English, and then (presumably) repeating it in French. I started pressing buttons trying to cancel out the message, which resulted in it continuing to complain exclusively in French.

It eventually quieted down, and I flipped it over to see if it had something blocking the charger connection points. As soon as I flipped it over and started brushing at the connections, the thing goes completely franco-batfuck again, flashes all of its lights once or twice and then dies completely. It is now sitting on the charge dock not charging, so I am pretty sure I witnessed some insane robot death-rattle.

When I was a kid, I assumed I would have robot servants at my disposal. I never really contemplated the scenario in which they go mad and scream at me in French.

T-1000 wants to sweep your floor.

And by sweep, I mean absorb debris into its gelatinous form.

As it lurches to and fro in your home it will undoubtedly leave disgusting little snail trails of pseudo-organic slop in it’s wake. It’s . . . it’s probably good for the floors, right? Like wood polish.

Just kidding, iRobot didn’t make this to clean your house. They just won a contract from DARPA and U.S. Army Research Office to make a ChemBot. It probably won’t even show up at your house until it needs to impersonate one of your loved ones.

From the article on CNET :

DARPA envisions the palm-size ChemBot as a mobile robot that can traverse soft terrain and navigate through small openings, such as tiny wall cracks, during reconnaissance and search-and-rescue missions. It gets around by way of a process called “jamming,” in which material can transition between semiliquid and solid states with only a slight change in volume.

They say “search-and-rescue”, but all I can picture in my head is this scene. It would be extra horrifying if the little blob-bot actually thought it was helping the whole time.


Little kids sort of freak me out. That is not to imply that I have child related phobia, it’s simply that I’m never quite at ease when one is around due to the fact that they are 1.) small and 2.) ignorant of the notion of their own mortality. As I understand it, children don’t have a real sense of self until around age 21. Or I guess more appropriately, they have no sense of self as a distinct object careening around in a 3-dimensional space where objects are often hard and unyielding. Or sharp. Or fire. Not sure if I have the age right, and I’m certain it varies. If any parents or shrinks have some actual data they’d like to share, feel free to correct my heresies.

In any event, the defining attributes of children seem to be inquisitiveness and utter disregard for safety. As a result, their investigative methods are somewhat lacking in the necessary sophistication to ensure relatively safe experimentation. It essentially boils down to “Ah, look! An as yet unidentified object! I ought to put it in my mouth to determine its nature and origin.”

The point being here, that you have to pay attention to them. At all times. I’m bad at focusing on anything that is not aggressively demanding my attention2, so that is more than a little intimidating to me. It is also possible that an infant might make both better reasoned and less impulsive decisions than I do.

This attitude and its exploratory trial and error manifestation in and of itself is rather delightful to observe. When not distracted by an immediate need such as hunger or the need to be cleansed of its own feces, small children are almost exclusively preoccupied with figuring shit out. That’s pretty cool.

My sister had a kid this past October, and whenever I’m around him, I find myself fascinated by his fascination with that which I have long since considered mundane3. If not for the expense, mess, time consideration, pregnancy, labor and general responsibility, I would have a child of my own.

Of course I fully recognize that, absent those factors, I’m essentially left with a learning algorithm. Which is why I intend to craft my children of metal and light instead of settling for the product of our baser exertions45.

Right. So anyway, I’m looking for edutainment toys for my nephew – or at least something sort of science-themed. As opposed to plush, squeaky-themed toys, because those are for dogs. I ordered him a baby version of a Hoberman Sphere and was very pleased with myself. I went back to check on my order and found my money had been refunded, as they were out of stock. I griped about this in front actual parents, who were horrified because playing with one of these things is obviously a death sentence for a child. Again – it was in the infant section. They’re in stock again – I’m still going to order one because, well, there’s a picture of an infant playing with it on the site, and that seems to pretty solidly support my case.

I’ll hear other suggestions for toys if anyone has any. Obviously he’s a bit young for a chemistry set. Which is to say that I asked my sister, and she said no. Rendered terrified of an accusation of child endangerment, I’m basically just compiling a list of ideas now, which I will present to her for approval. And before anyone mentions it, it is also apparently “too soon” for a rock tumbler.

Oh, and since I’m discussing my sister’s kid, I will mention that she and baby-daddy tied the knot last weekend. Here’s the best picture taken that day:

Bitches don't even know.

Amber, from now on, it is inappropriate to refer to your friends as anything other than your crew.


1Incidentally, I’ve also read that children do not develop a sense of other until around 5 or 7. For some reason that seems rather late to me, but it would explain why kids are kind of assholes.
2I have taken some pretty intense stimulants designed to forcibly wrangle my thoughts into some sort of manageable direction. I am, on occasion, uncomfortably energetic.
3Although to be fair, I was also pretty fascinated by watching my dog figure out how to eat a tortilla off of the kitchen floor.
4No offense intended to current parents. I’m certain your progeny are all the very essence of cherubic perfection, yet as individual and special as a snowflake crafted by the hand of a loving god.
5Have I been using superscripts correctly? I feel like they are supposed to go before the punctuation when used on the last word in a sentence, but it doesn’t look right for some reason.

Curious Little Monkeys

I am a fan of science – I feel I need to say that up front. Forge ahead confidently, nay, boldly in the pursuit of knowledge. I want a time machine and a re-pet and a replicator and a goddamn spy vacation on Mars injected straight into my brain. I want vials of embryos available at Walgreens just in case I think my caffeine shakes might be early onset Parkinson’s. Maybe powdered embryos, so I can mix it up in my coffee.

But even I will occasionally adopt a “just because we can doesn’t mean we should” attitude. I recant – I’m not even going that far. I’m merely suggesting that “Let’s try it and see what happens” is not a globally applicable policy. Specifically in the following cases:

Ok, maybe try it and see what happens is ok for the robot issue. I will admit that there are appealing possibilities. But then I look at the hyper little engineer, excitedly pointing out that “The robot has no additional control from a human or a computer, its sole means of control is from its own brain.”

Huh. Right. So, we get a robot up and running, let it think for itself and remove any possibility of interfering with its actions other than, well . . . killing it. Have I summed this experiment up? Well that sounds like a top notch idea. Hey, lets put a brain in one of these things. Does it have guns on it? No? Well why the fuck not? Give someone a grant, and get them on that shit.

Can we get these guys a copy of The Terminator? 2001? The Matrix? Anything?

I’m impressed at the ballsiness of attempting to re-create the very beginnings of all we know. Really guys, super cool. I’m just curious – and only because I haven’t seen anything yet released, I’m sure this is all worked out – but what happens if the project yields successful results. What if you make a universe in the basement? Will it be a very small universe? Or will you simply halt Genesis before it gets too far? Perhaps you’ve developed a way to contain it?

The best thing about the big bang article actually has nothing to do with the experiment itself. It’s the fact that political correctness has reached it’s apex:

“In a way it’s biblical”, says Limon. “I’d like to think that this curiosity, this need to know is, if you’re not a religious person, the soul of human beings, the thing that makes us different from dogs and cats. Even though dogs and cats are wonderful”.

Our natural inquisitiveness is what separates us from the lower beasts. Not that there’s anything wrong with being a cat or dog. It’s their choice of lifestyle, and it’s beautiful and valid.

And yes, I added the zombies tag to this post. Because you just never know how it’s going to start, and this is exactly the sort of attitude that opens the door for bullshit like the undead.

More reference: