[vcf-midatlantic] MARCHIAN invasion of Trenton

Douglas Crawford touchetek at gmail.com
Sat Mar 25 17:12:24 EDT 2017

On 3/25/2017 2:20 PM, Herb Johnson via vcf-midatlantic wrote:
> Herb Johnson:
>>> Evan is correct, in his reportage that I said his and Jeff's 
>>> robotics talk was more
>>> technically informative, than my discussion with a student and 
>>> faculty-member of their
>>> $40K demonstration robot. I could not get those persons, to describe 
>>> the programming
>>> interface to their tower of plastic and motors. Evan showed a BASIC 
>>> program with peeks and
>>> pokes. The 20th century won that "battle of the 'bots". Am I a 
>>> judge? I worked on robotic
>>> system interfaces to minicomputers in 1975.
> Neil Cherry:
>> I find great humor in this. Evan who learned on his own (with help, 
>> but still) knew more
>> about the technical details of his project than the students did of 
>> theirs. This says
>> good things about Evan.
> This is amusing but don't take my remarks too far. I'm sure a 2017 
> engineering student knows a lot that I don't know. I'm sure a 
> professor of electrical engineering knows a lot I don't know. Read 
> what I'm saying. I said "I could not get these persons to DESCRIBE the 
> programming interface...."
> My casual understanding from discussion, is that the college's robot 
> was obtained a few months ago. And the plan is to work harder on it, 
> in the summer. So it simply may not have been familiar to either 
> party. And the student may have been intimidated by hard questions; 
> and the instructor may not have had time to look at the programming 
> features.
> All that said, my point was that neither person could DESCRIBE in a 
> technical way, what their robot could do at the program command level. 
> It was sold as a development tool, not just some pick-n-place robot. I 
> asked the question a number of ways, and couldn't get a straight answer.
> The most direct inferences are 1) they weren't prepared for technical 
> questions or 2) the robot did not come with a clearly defined "API" or 
> applications programming interface or 3) the robot wasn't well 
> documented.
> The instructor said something about supporting the "Robotics Operating 
> System" which is "open source" but could not (or would not) inform me 
> further. I've heard of it:
> http://www.ros.org/
> and so I go to the Web page. The home page points to "features" which 
> are listed as:
>     Standard Message Definitions for Robots
>     Robot Geometry Library
>     Robot Description Language
>     Preemptable Remote Procedure Calls
>     Diagnostics
>     Pose Estimation
>     Localization
>     Mapping
>     Navigation
> Creee-IPES! What a bunch of gobble-gook! I'm an engineer, dammit, not 
> a linguist, or a choreographer! It's nice to know I can pass messages, 
> that will help me in homeroom to send notes to my buddies and that new 
> girl. But - what can I move, what can I sense, what can I *see* 
> through this ROS, for this robot?
> The page talks about "poses" and "graphical interfaces" and 
> "diagnostics", "data logging"....(sigh) I'm aware of these issues and 
> methods, I understand you can write a MS-degree thesis by playing with 
> this stuff. And I see their "testimonials" from PhD's and grad 
> students, and one "hobbyist".
> This goes to my "thesis" - anyone can pose a problem as a thesis, you 
> know. My thesis is this: it's worth preserving 20th century (early) 
> vintage computing, because the technology of the era is simple enough 
> to grasp at a fundamental level. Therefore, it's accessible to those 
> of modest skills, or those looking back at forgotten technology.
> More important, this technology solved problems and provided access to 
> a class of computing and control technology. If another generation of 
> devices, or another class of technology, comes around - why not see if 
> THOSE solutions will work for those NEW devices and technology? Or see 
> if the same problems were already solved, or not solved - learn from 
> our mistakes and successes?
> I don't expect personal computer collectors to have these goals and 
> these considerations; they have personal reasons and interests. But 
> some of us have this perspective.
> So - if you aren't a grad student or scholar, which robot is going to 
> teach you something? the robot with the operating system and 
> message-passing protocols and pre-established methods? Or the robot 
> that you say "move this joint motor" with "peek(12379)" in a FOR loop?
> You can argue you are peeing away your time with primitive coding. But 
> I'd argue you are pissing away what you might learn about control and 
> sensor problems, if you only use a graphics interface and script 
> messages about tasks. Not much difference between some game-design 
> avatar and a robot, at that level.
> 20th century versus 21st century. Engineering design versus product 
> design. These are old tensions. And as they will occur again, this old 
> stuff is worth preserving, to show how we dealt with these conflicts, 
> the last few times they occurred.
> Herb Johnson
> retrotechnology.com
Great post, Herb, on all accounts.
I had to look at ROS recently and I had the same reaction to their web 
site in trying to glean
what was all about.  I'm convinced its not us, their presentation is flawed.

More information about the vcf-midatlantic mailing list