Monday, October 10, 2005

DARPA Grand Challenge 2005 Comments

This years "grand challenge" had five finishers as well as an overall winner: Stanford's Stanley. The finishers were:
  1. Stanford Racing Team, "Stanley"
  2. Red Team, "Sandstorm"
  3. Red Team Too, "Highlander"
  4. Gray Team, "GreyBot"
  5. Team TerraMax, "TerraMax"
This contrasts with last year's race in which no one finished, and the best distance was barely 7 miles compared with this years 132 miles traveled from start to finish.

Why so many finishers this year? A lot had to do with how this years race was organized. Last years race ran for nearly 150 miles between two distant points, while this years race was a loop where the start and end points were the same. What's more the route was more carefully chosen this time around.

Overall I'm very pleased that Stanford won. CMU came back with two teams this year (Red Team and Red Team Too) to finish, but it was the first year contender, Stanford, that beat them with superior engineering.

What Next?
  1. It will be interesting to see if there is another DARPA Grand Challenge. What DARPA should do is to start a Robot Road Rally where teams get to field robot cars that autonomously drive around varied terrain, especially built-up urban areas.
  2. Boeing and SAIC sponsored the CMU team entries. Because Boeing and SAIC are co-primes on Future Combat Systems, expect the technology developed with Sandstorm and H1ghlander to wind up being used in FCS Unmanned Ground Vehicles (UGVs).

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Can't get to my Google Mail. It's a good thing it's free.

I've grown too dependent on Google Mail (gmail). Today gmail is having accessibility problems. I keep getting a 502 error, which admittedly is the first time I've run across such a problem. But it does shake my blind faith in Google. And it doesn't reflect well on a company that on October 3rd announced it was teaming with Sun Microsystems to offer Java and other services via the web. This is one of two major problems that killed Application Service Providers (ASPs) during the late great Internet Bubble back in 2000. Once again Google is trying to become an Internet utility. A utility should never go down, especially during business hours (please forgive me my hypocrisy; I live in Florida and it's no accident the power company is called Florida Flash and Flicker, so I should not complain about 24/7 utility availability). The other problem was bandwidth. And bandwidth is still horrible, especially with WebEx running rampant through many organizations.



Let's just see how long this temporary error lasts. For me it started at 11am EST. I then tried again around 11:20.

Ah. It's 11:30 and it's back.

Monday, October 03, 2005

OpenOffice releases first release candidate

OpenOffice released RC1 this past week. I uninstalled OpenOffice Beta 2 on Suse 10 beta 3 and installed RC1 in its place. RC1 has been running like a champ. The biggest change between the beta version that came with S10B3 seems to be much better performance. It seems to start faster and the applications seem to run faster once started. I use Write, Calc, and Impress (the equivalent to Microsoft's Word, Excel, and Power Point). All three seem quite stable and I'm able to create and share documents between their Office equivalents. I even have the ability to save out to PDF (File | Export to PDF). Nice.

I can't say that OpenOffice would replace Microsoft Office for everyone. But for what I need, I really believe it can for both Linux and Windows.

Sunday, October 02, 2005

Nasty problem with SuSE/Firefox update

I've been running with SuSE beta 10 for over a month now (more about that in a later post). Yesterday I received, via susewatcher, an update notice for a Firefox update from 1.0.6 to 1.0.7. An update for Mozilla 1.7.12 was included as well. OK. I clicked on the 'Start Online' button and updated both. Big mistake.

Turns out that the Firefox update was polluted with someone else's personal extensions, specifically Beagle Indexer. That extension, along with two others, were placed in the main extensions directory with root privs. I would have never known about Beagle except it was broken, and produced the following error alert every time I hit a web site.



Not only was this annoying, it became extremely annoying on Google Mail. I lost count of the number of times the opening page triggered the alert. I opened the extensions dialog and saw the Beagle Indexer in all its glory. What was ominous is that the update button was missing. I should have taken a hint right then that any attempts to do anything was going to fail, but I didn't.



To cut to the chase, I tried to remove it as root. When that failed, I tried to edit the file extensions.rdf in the main application extensions directory. That left Firefox in a broken state (no icons, no menu bar, nada, zip). In frustration I uninstalled Firefox (along with its "international" package), then used Konqueror to go to the Mozilla site and download the official Firefox. I installed that, added a link out of /usr/bin, and got on with it. That's what I'm using now. And the funny (or sad) thing is that the Firefox installed seems snappier than either version that came from SuSE.

OpenSuse Gets Hacked

All this took place the day after I found out that opensuse.org was hacked by the "IHS IRAN HACKERS SABOTAGE." I'd gone there to check on things and found the following quaint front page.



I have to stop and think about how such a thing could happen. Hacking sites for political messages is so old school that it's positively ancient. If the opensuse site was running a current distribution and properly installed, then this shouldn't happen. Netcraft shows opensuse is running Apache 2 on Netware. Netware? Oh brother. In any event I will spend the money and purchase Suse 10. It's available now on Amazon among other sellers. I think I'll leave opensuse and its update repositories alone in the future.

Blog spam

I've been getting a rash of blog spams lately as comments to my posts. I have my blog set up to email me any responses so that I can keep up with what's being said behind my virtual back. Turns out that was a good idea, because I was able to quickly go in and remove the posts. So far it's not too bad because the spam posts are relatively few. But if it really starts to pick up it's going to be quite annoying.

The best way to stop this is to do what many sites that allow posting now follow: force you to type in text displayed in an image. Right now anyone (anonymous or Blogspot user) can post a comment without being challenged. That makes it ideal for bots. Using a graphic word image should slow it down considerably, but it won't bring it to a complete halt. For example, you could hire a human to do it if you had to. Oh well. I will wait and see how this is handled. In the mean time I'll just keep weeding them out as fast as they appear.