Earlier I embedded a video about autonomous quadrotor flight. I checked back on the channel on You Tube and found a new video with the same quadrotors able to cooperate and grasp several objects and move them. Basically multiple autonomous drones can now work together to complete a goal. In my earlier post I thought that one of these would make a great gift simply because it would be fun, but now I see all kinds of practical uses for them: get the groceries from the car, bring me the remote, destroy mankind. The people at the University of Pennsylvania are working on some very neat stuff and I am excited to see what else they can come up with.

Camelbak M.U.L.E.

June 11th, 2010 | Posted by Gothamghost in Outdoors - (1 Comments)

I recently purchased a new Camelbak M.U.L.E. hydration pack for day hikes and such. Previously I was used to hiking with a bookbag or small pack and carrying 2-3 Nalgene bottles full of water. My old system works for those who don’t care about maximizing their trail time. After using a hydration pack it would take a lot to get me to switch back, you hydrate more efficiently and much more quickly. Anybody who regularly visits the outdoors and is interested there are a few things you should know. Try the pack on at a store like REI or a local outdoor retailer before purchasing to make sure it is comfortable and right for you, for instance, Camelbak makes a pack specifically for women taking into account the placement of the chest strap. Look for one with enough water capacity to keep you hydrated on a tough trail, as I said 3 Nalgene bottles is around 90 oz so I like the 100 oz pack. You will most likely not need that much but I like to err on the safe side. I find the packs with extra space to bring with me a compass, map of the area I’m hiking in, waterproof matches, basic first aid kit, knife, camera and a snack to be extra useful. Be sure to test the mouthpiece when you get home and you have cleaned the bladder to make sure it doesn’t leak. After one trip to your favorite state park or trail you will be glad you made the purchase. The pack is lighter because it distributes the water evenly and you won’t have to stop to drink which adds more time to stop and enjoy the outdoors which is the whole point.

I came across this video of some work being done on Autonomous Quadrotor Flight. The precision in which it flies is quite impressive. I could see the government putting this to use, but not anytime soon. It requires the quadrotor flight to be done inside a net of 20 cameras all feeding information to the helicopter. The technology is still impressive in my opinion and if nothing else would make one kick ass Christmas gift.

Astronomy Picture of the Day

May 5th, 2010 | Posted by Gothamghost in Space - (1 Comments)

If you are interested in astronomy, the universe or anything to do with either then you probably will appreciate a website I found recently supported by NASA. Astronomy Picture of the Day is a pretty cool site to make a daily visit. It isn’t all pictures of the cosmos it also has some cool pictures from right here on Earth like the volcanic eruptions from a couple weeks ago. Below is a sample picture of NGC 1055.

Bioshock 2 Review

May 4th, 2010 | Posted by Gothamghost in Video Games - (0 Comments)

2K Games Bioshock 2

 

After completing my second tour of Rapture I found myself wondering how we would return a third time. To say the first Bioshock was anything less than amazing is just plain wrong. 2K Marin had a large task in creating a sequel that would be as memorable as the first Bioshock. As you start the new game and start to get a familiar feeling of Rapture it becomes as though you never left. This is a success in my opinion.

The visuals in Bioshock 2 improve upon the first but not nearly as much as would be expected. The water is particularly good in the newer version. Dark shadows help create the creepy utopia-gone-wrong vibe that is emanating in the first game.

A lot of Bioshock’s success came from the story that pulled you in and refused to let go. Bioshock 2 is no different, from the prologue until the end you are treated with audio diaries giving you insight to the minds of the splicers and the main antagonist. There is no major plot twist like in the first game but that is acceptable. Several games that have plot twists try and repeat the process in the sequel and instead of being earth-shattering it is expected and stale.

A new feature in Bioshock 2 is multiplayer. I wasn’t expecting much to be honest and I am glad that I wasn’t. I find the multiplayer to be disappointing. 2K implemented a ranking and leveling system similar to Modern Warfare 2. This is where the similarities end. The servers tend to be laggy, there are few people playing the less popular modes and little incentive to get to the highest level. 2K also included a DLC that was already on the disc that you had to pay to unlock. After purchasing the game for $59.99 not many people wanted to drop $10.00 more to unlock ten more levels on day one. Overall multiplayer is a nice feature but I still don’t understand why it was necessary in this game. Bioshock is a story driven excellent first person shooter and I feel more time could have been spent on the single-player side.

Bioshock 2 is a game that has a lot of hype to live up to. Building on the success of the first game looked to be a daunting task and I feel 2K did a great job.

I recently picked up a copy of Battlefield Bad Company 2 from DICE developers and was anxious to start blowing stuff up. I decided to post a quick review of the game.

The single player campaign is about 8 hours from start to finish depending on your pacing, which you can really take your time if you want to since the next sequence of enemies doesn’t begin until you move to the designated spot marked by an orange diamond. Letting you know where the next area begins is nice because it gives you time to either find the collectible weapons or destroy M-COMs scattered throughout each level. The collectible weapons are fun because it adds a search for different weapons and once you find one you can get it again each time you stop at a weapons supply crate. While most of the game strives for realism I found the weapons crate feature to be out of place. I doubt that the real U.S. Government would drop a specific crate for a specific groups of guys halfway between them and a large number of insurgents with no guarantee that the very same weapons wouldn’t be used against them. Of course I doubt they would let four of their soldiers wander about unaccounted for either.

Plot holes aside, the story is fairly cheesy but most FPS stories are and rather than take itself seriously it seems content to make jokes throughout as well as take potshots at Modern Warfare 2 (comments about snowmobiles and heartbeat sensors) which was cute at first but by the fourth time I was thinking, “All right we get it, you are supposed to be direct competition.” Which to pretend that they aren’t trying to be the franchise opposite Modern Warfare 2 would be delusional. DICE’s recent marketing campaigns of anti-mapathy and the like makes it pretty obvious. One of the things I loved about this game was the ability to utterly destroy everything (93% of the environment). Every house, shack, tree, fence, guard rail, tower, and person in it is capable of crumbling to nothing. I found myself often times wasting ammo destroying buildings and water towers which can be a fun distraction from your objectives.

The graphics are outstanding. The jungles are beautiful and the desert feels barren and hot. DICE did a great job on each level paying attention to detail and making sure you feel as though you are in that environment. The characters in the game are real enough to make me feel like I am looking at humans but not crazy enough to dip into the uncanny valley. During several sections of the game the environment plays against you which is quite realistic. In the desert you have wind blowing sand in your face, the jungle mist blocks your vision and the arctic scenes feel cold, combine that with debris flying everywhere and it sets up some memorable firefights. I have heard about some problems of screen tearing on the Xbox and PS3 versions but having played this on PC I can say that I was able to maintain a good frame rate on high graphic settings at 1920 x 1080 and my machine isn’t crazy high-end so the average user should be able to handle Bad Company 2.

The graphics are impressive.

The artificial intelligence of enemies is impressive. I would duck behind cover to find an enemy hitting it with heavy artillery and forcing me to move. I wish I could say the same for my teammates AI. I think in total I saw them kill maybe four people in the entire game, they were pretty much as useless as you can get. I found a lot of the vehicles and sequences in the vehicles to be gimmicky and forced in just to have them in the game. I enjoyed firing from the helicopter but driving a jeep and firing the grenade launcher at the same time is a little ridiculous. I prefer the option of driving or firing as is implemented in many other games for a good reason.

The sound in this game is superb I would actually say that this is where Bad Company 2 becomes amazing. Every gunshot and explosion is magnificent. DICE expertly crafted their sound to be as realistic as possible. In one particular instance there is a sniper that is firing on your squad and you hear the shot like a thunder clap in the distance and then the accompanying ricochet. Playing this game using the “War Tapes” setting is what I recommend. My sub-woofer was echoing throughout my house with each earth shattering boom. The voice acting was good and I didn’t hope for any of the characters to die to avoid hearing them talk. The music was well placed non-distracting and appropriate. All-in-all superb job on sound in this game.

Characters I don’t want to die

When you combine the decent story, great graphics and superb sound you get some fantastic battles and you truly feel like you are experiencing what its like to be in a firefight. Which is what I think DICE was striving for in this game. I don’t think you will be telling your buddies what the “Aurora” mission was or why we should still be worrying about Russians, but you will be telling them how awesome it is to shoot a guy in the head with a grenade launcher. At Gamestop, Steam or whatever retail outlet you prefer for $49.99 (as of 3/28/10) I recommend Bad Company 2.

Graphics       A
Sound             A+
Gameplay     B
Story               C-
*Overall         B+

*Overall not an average

Nao Robot

March 25th, 2010 | Posted by Gothamghost in Robotics | Technology - (1 Comments)

The engineering field of robotics and robots in general is something that fascinates me. This is an interesting video displaying a robot named Nao (pronounced “now”) from Aldebaran Robotics a French company. Supposedly a general public version will be released in 2011, but a version is already available to most universities for research purposes. Here is the wikipedia article on the robot and a video showing some of the things it can do.

I recently had someone ask if I could take a screencap with my Droid, I said of course thinking “Droid Does” anything. I was right it does, but it isn’t easy for a non-rooted user. In order to do it you have to go through several steps. (Screencaps at bottom of post)

1. First you need to download the Android SDK.
2. Once it is downloaded extract the files into a place you can find them.
3. Open the folder and click on SDK Setup. You may need to force the program to find the correct packages by clicking settings and choosing “force https…”
4. Install those packages.
5. Download and install the JDK (Java Development Kit).
6. Download, extract and install Eclipse. I highly recommend downloading 3.5.1. It is the easiest to use.
7. Start Eclipse, then select Help > Install New Software.
8. In the Available Software dialog, click Add. In the Add Site dialog that appears, enter a name for the remote site (for example, “Android Plugin”) in the “Name” field. In the “Location” field, enter this URL:
https://dl-ssl.google.com/android/eclipse/ Click OK. Back in the Available Software view, you should now see “Developer Tools” added to the list. Select the checkbox next to Developer Tools, which will automatically select the nested tools Android DDMS and Android Development Tools. Click Next. In the resulting Install Details dialog, the Android DDMS and Android Development Tools features are listed.
9. Click Next to read and accept the license agreement and install any dependencies, then click Finish.
10. Restart Eclipse.
11. On your Android device select Menu>Settings>Applications>Development and check the box for USB Debugging.
12. Connect your Android device with the USB cable to the computer you installed and did all this work on.
13. Open your “android-sdk-OSNAMEHERE” folder and then open the “Tools” folder. Double click on DDMS (Dalvik Debug Monitor Server).
14. You should see a window that has your device located on the left side. Select your device and then select Device>Screen Capture on the program. You will see a window that has your current screen on your Android Device.
15. Navigate to the screen you want to take a picture of and click refresh and save.

Once you go through all this work you will be able to skip all of this and just connect your device and follow steps 13-15. It takes seconds. Of course if your phone is rooted then you can download an Android app called “drocap2” for free and press a button. So the next time someone asks me if something can be done on my Droid I will probably still say yes but I won’t say it without reservation.

Motorola Droid Gadget of the Year

February 22nd, 2010 | Posted by Gothamghost in Technology - (1 Comments)

Engadget recently had a reader poll for gadgets of all types on their website and the Motorola Droid won both gadget and smartphone of the year. Time Magazine also decided the Droid as their favorite of 2009. It is nice to see a couple of wins for open source software.

Last.fm Scrobbling for Movies

February 18th, 2010 | Posted by Gothamghost in Technology - (2 Comments)

I have been using Last.fm a lot more lately since I started using Songbird and my Android phone to play my music. Songbird and my Last.fm app scrobble immediately to the Last.fm service the current tracks I’m listening to. Scrobbling is how Last.fm builds a personalized library of music for you in a radio format. You listen to the music library you own and when you want to let Last.fm do the work for you it has a library built specifically for your tastes in music. I think there is an untapped market for a service similar to this for movies and television shows or websites even. If anybody knows of one already out there let me know.

Update: I think I may have found a solution.