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Ask Slashdot: How To Begin Simple Robotics As a Hobby?

mcpublic Visit on-line robot hardware parts vendors (166 comments)

There has never been a better time in history to dive into robotics from where you are coming from. There are a solid handful of really high quality, on-line vendors that sell individual parts and complete robot kits. For many items there is extensive documentation and a community of hobbyists who help each other get over the growing pains.

My three favorite "robot stores" are

  • Pololu Robotics and Electronics
  • SparkFun Electronics
  • RobotShop (based in Canada)

I don't work for any of these companies, but in the spirit of full disclosure, I did go to school with one of Pololu's founding partners.

about a year ago
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Ask Slashdot: How Do You Sell an Algorithm To Venture Capitalists?

mcpublic VCs don't respect NDAs, focus on your biz plan (205 comments)

When you are pitching to venture capitalists, it will be the rare exception where you can expect any sort of confidentiality. VCs will act in their own interests, and if they think that leaking/sharing something you told them will help make them money, they will do it. They don't care about the details of your algorithms. They probably won't understand what you say anyway. They only care about what your technology will do for them (i.e. make them piles money). More important than any technical details is the assurance that you can protect yourself from copycats. And of course they also want some assurance that you can be trusted to make money with their money, should they give it to you. Use your PowerPoint deck to tell them about your past successes, your credentials, your well researched business plan, how you are uniquely qualified to make their investors money, and how much interest you've been getting from competing sources of funding.

about a year ago
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The Mystery of the Mega-Selling Floppy Disk

mcpublic Blame it on Microsoft Genuine Advantage! (558 comments)

Back when I worked on digital camera firmware in 2004, our Taiwanese manufacturing partner asked us to make sure our USB interface worked with Windows 95, claiming that a significant number of their mainland customers were still using this ancient OS. Maybe they're still buying floppies too.

more than 4 years ago
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Apple iPad Reviewed

mcpublic Flash is a serious battery waster on laptops too (443 comments)

I'm not surprised Apple doesn't support Flash on the iPhone and iPad. I can personally testify that Flash is a serious battery-life waster on laptops too. One morning I was using a web site that had an animated banner ad at the top of each and every page, and I got only 2.5 hours out of my unibody 13" MacBook Pro's "9 hour battery." Without Flash running I can get at least six hours. Then I found the BashFlash app, and realized how often Flash takes 30+% of the CPU. Now I regularly use it to kill the Flash plug-in. Too bad Adobe doesn't give you tools to manage irresponsible Flash adds. A second or two of animation would be fine, after that Flash should "dial it down," but no... continuous attention-grabbing is what the advertisers seem to want, at the expense of my hard-earned battery life!

more than 4 years ago
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Intel Allows Release of Full 4004 Chip-Set Details

mcpublic Re:Awesome! -- here are some process detalis (124 comments)

The 4004 family was fabbed using a 10um pMOS process. Single metal, single poly, self-aligned gate. No depletion. Buried contacts were only used in the 4004 due to density requirements. Pretty sure the rest (4001, 4002, and 4003) used the same process as Intel's SRAMs of the day (e.g. the 1101). Not sure how the diff layer was made. I can ask. Bootstrap loads were used for high-side of push-pull inverters needed to drive big loads. Much to my surprise, diff was used instead of poly for interconnect that couldn't be done in metal.

more than 4 years ago
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Sparc Sends SparkFun Electronics C&D Letter

mcpublic SI: Stop harassing SparkFun, it makes you look bad (219 comments)

Dear SPARC International, Inc,

If you want lots of current and future tech professionals to hate you, keep hassling small businesses like SparkFun. Your trademark case against them borders on frivolous. It is a battle that you are unlikely to win in court, and that you will certainly lose in the court of public opinion. Stick with your bread and butter mission: championing the SPARC architecture. Leave popular "Davids" alone, unless the goal is to smear your own brand name.

more than 4 years ago
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Good Robot Projects For K-5?

mcpublic For ages 7-11, keep things VERY simple (136 comments)

In grad school I studied and developed methods to make programming accessible to young children. At the time, the general consensus in the field was that before the ages of 11-14, children don't typically have the cognitive ability to write programs, even simple ones. Even though I am a professional programmer now, when I was introduced to BASIC at age 9, I definitely didn't "get it." When I got to 7th grade I did.

Radia Perlman did some groundbreaking work in the 1970's to develop technology in the hope that 6-years-old could learn programming skills. Years later, Ken Kahn developed a game/programming environment called ToonTalk. From my personal experience and research, I don't think you can expect kids younger than 9 to build and program robots, but they can start playing with the physical and conceptual "building blocks."

I see from LEGO's literature that WeDo is aimed at children 7-11 years old. Their approach is very sensible: Keep things very, very simple: One motor, one motion sensor, and one tilt sensor. RoboSoccer can wait until they are older.

For further information

more than 5 years ago
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A Replica of the First 4004 Calculator

mcpublic Re: He should be incarcerated or worse (NOT) (63 comments)

Back in the late-60's and early-70's, when the Busicom 141-PF calculator software was written, United States copyright law was very different, you needed to explicitly mark a work with a copyright symbol, and register it with the U.S. Copyright Office. Nowadays everything is automatically protected by copyright law. Back then it was not. There was no copyright on the Busicom binaries, so this code is free-and-clear. The re-created "source code" was written without access to the original Busicom source code. In this sense it was done using techniques similar to a traditional "clean room".

more than 5 years ago

Submissions

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Computer History Museum gets the attention it deserves

mcpublic mcpublic writes  |  about 2 years ago

mcpublic writes "For years the Computer History Museum has been quietly collecting and displaying the computational relics of yesteryear. Now, finally the New York Times Arts Section shines the spotlight on this most nerdy of museums. Speak Steampunk? You can find a working replica of Babbages Difference Engine in the lobby of the Museum's Mountain View, California home. Of course the vast majority of the collection is electronic, and though 'big iron' is king, that hasn't stopped dedicated volunteers from bringing back to life pioneering 'mini' computers like the 1960 PDP-1 and the first video game software ever: Spacewar!"
Link to Original Source
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Everything you wanted to know about the MOS 6502

mcpublic mcpublic writes  |  more than 3 years ago

mcpublic (694983) writes "The MOS 6502 microprocessor is famous among the vintage computing and classic gaming crowds. It was used inside the Apple II, the Commodore 64, the Atari 2600, and the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES). Need I say more? In 2010, the chip's 35th anniversary year, reverse engineers came out in droves and published more details about the 6502 than ever before—yes, really! For the assembly language crowd there is Michael Steil's excellent 50 minute talk on the 6502's architecture and instruction set delivered at 27C3, the video posted just yesterday. Or maybe you just want a quick read on 6502 history and some awesome reverse engineering efforts? Check out Russ Cox's blog. But if you are looking for the original 6502 netlist, accurate down to the last undocumented instruction, or want to run an animated 6502 chip simulation in your browser, you'll definitely want to visit Greg James, Barry and Brian Silverman's visual6502.org web site. These pied pipers have attracted an enthusiastic following of like-minded engineers who are now photographing and disecting even more classic chips."
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Intel allows release of full 4004 chip-set details

mcpublic mcpublic writes  |  more than 4 years ago

mcpublic (694983) writes "When a small team of reverse engineers receives the blessing of a big corporate legal department, it is cause for celebration. For the 38th anniversary of Intel's groundbreaking 4004 microprocessor, the company is allowing us to release new details of their historic MCS-4 chip family announced on November 15, 1971. For the first time, the complete set of schematics and artwork for the 4001 ROM, 4002 RAM, 4003 I/O Expander, and 4004 Microprocessor is available to teachers, students, historians, and other non-commercial users. To their credit, the Intel Corporate Archives gave us access to the original 4004 schematics, along with the 4002, 4003, and 4004 mask proofs, but the rest of the schematics and the elusive 4001 masks were lost until just weeks ago when Lajos Kintli finished reverse-engineering the 4001 ROM from photomicrographs and improving the circuit-extraction software that helped him draw and verify the missing schematics. His interactive software can simulate an ensemble of 400x chips, and even lets you trace a wire or click on a transistor in the chip artwork window and see exactly where it is on the circuit diagram (and vice-versa)."
Link to Original Source
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First replica built, mother-of-all 'Intel inside's

mcpublic mcpublic writes  |  more than 5 years ago

mcpublic writes "For the 37th anniversary of Intel's 4004, the world's first COTS, customer-programmable microprocessor launched on November 15th, 1971, vintage computer enthusiast Bill Kotaska has successfully built the first replica of Busicom's historic 141-PF printing calculator using vintage Intel chips. Decades before the ubiquitous 'Intel inside' sticker, Japanese calculator maker Busicom introduced the first product ever to sport an Intel microprocessor inside. Bill's homebrew replica includes a rare Shinshu Seiki Model-102 drum printer and runs firmware extracted from the original Busicom ROMs. Schematics and photos of his re-creation are available at the unofficial 4004 web site, along with Tim McNerney's new PIC-based emulator of the Model-102 printer. As reported here last year, the web site includes the Busicom 'source code', 4004 details, interactive simulators, and other goodies for students, engineers, and computer historians alike."
Link to Original Source
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Historians Recreate Source Code of First 4004 App

mcpublic mcpublic writes  |  more than 6 years ago

mcpublic writes "The team of 'digital archeologists' who developed the technology behind the Intel Museum's 4004 microprocessor exhibit have done it again. 36 years after Intel introduced their first microprocessor on November 15, 1971, these computer historians have turned the spotlight on the first application software ever written for a general-purpose microprocessor: the Busicom 141-PF calculator. At the team's web site you can download and play with an authentic calculator simulator that sports a cool animated flowchart. Want to find out how Busicom's Masatoshi Shima compressed an entire four-function, printing calculator into only 1,024 bytes of ROM? Check out the newly recreated assembly language "source code," extensively analyzed, documented, and commented by the team's newest member: Hungary's Lajos Kintli. 'He is an amazing reverse-engineer,' recounts team leader Tim McNerney, 'We understood the disassembled calculator code well enough to simulate it, but Lajos really turned it into "source code" of the highest standards.'"
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mcpublic mcpublic writes  |  more than 7 years ago

mcpublic writes "Intel is celebrating the 35th anniversary of the Intel 4004, their very first microprocessor, in a way they've never done before, by releasing the chip's schematics, maskworks, and users manual to the public for non-commercial use. This historic revelation was championed by Tim McNerney, who designed the Intel Museum's newest interactive exhibit. Opening on November 15th, the exhibit will feature a fully-functional, 130x scale replica of the 4004 microprocessor running the the very first software written for the 4004. To create a giant Busicom 141-PF calculator for the museum, 'digital archeologists,' Fred Huettig, Brian Silverman, and Barry Silverman, first had to reverse-engineer the 4004 schematics and the Busicom software. Their re-drawn and verified schematics plus an animated 4004 simulator written in Java are available at the team's unofficial 4004 web site. Digital copies of the original Intel engineering documents are available by request from the Intel Corporate Archives. Intel first announced their 2,300 transistor 'micro-programmable computer on a chip' in Electronic News on November 15, 1971, proclaiming 'a new era of integrated electronics.' Who would have guessed how right they were?"

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