Saturday, October 11, 2008

Delusions of Competency

More and more, I'm starting to think that people should have to be tested for competency before they're allowed to use different kinds of technology.

What I mean is that before someone is issued, say, a debit or ATM card that requires them to use something like the little terminals in the grocery store, there should be some way of ensuring that the individual actually knows how to use the card before being turned loose on an unsuspecting public. If they can't demonstrate competency, they simply aren't given it in the first place.

I bring this up because a couple of days ago, I was in line (yes, at the grocery store) behind someone that wanted to use a debit/credit card of some kind to pay for their stuff. The problem was that the person basically had no idea how to do it: first, they ran the card through the reader the wrong way no less than 3 times, then had to have it explained to them which button to push for their particular card (after they guessed wrong TWICE), another explanation of what a "PIN" was (followed by much soul-searching as they tried to recall what it was), and ending with being told that they also had to press another button to actually approve the debit. All in all, what should have been perhaps 30 seconds ended up occupying a good five minutes. Throughout it all, the clerk demonstrated an inordinate level of patience and tolerance; I'd have been tempted to tell the moron to give up and go home.

Similarly, I've been behind people at an ATM who act like it's the first time in their entire life that they've encountered such a thing: that all the menus and other on-screen information is in a foreign language, and that each press of a button results in the machine doing anything BUT what they want it to -- so that they have to completely stop what they're doing and try it again (perhaps even a couple of times) from scratch while the line builds behind them.

As part of the 'licensing' process, there would be a probationary period after someone gets a particular bit of technical equipment -- the idea being that they not only have to demonstrate they know HOW to operate it, but WHEN, as well: an induhvidual using their shiny new cell phone in a theater gets the phone taken away for a period equal to the probationary period, for example.

I don't think it'll ever happen, but I can always dream, can't I?

Friday, October 10, 2008

The (inde)Terminator

I'm continuing to make progress on my 'bot project.

I decided to make the circuitry for it modular, so I can incrementally improve on (or add to) each section without having to completely redesign everything with each upgrade. Toward that end, I've got the main control and (motor) drive boards; I plan to add a sensor board, and then perhaps an 'environment' board. The way I'm going to accomplish all that is to stack the boards one on top of the other, and use one of the built-in capabilities of the microcontroller to let each of the drive/sensor/other boards pretty much do it's own thing with oversight by the main logic by using what is called a 'two-wire interface' (an alternative to the trademarked Inter-IC [or I2C] system developed by Philips).

I've breadboarded the main controller, and verified that it does what I need/want, so I've gone ahead and laid out a printed circuit board for it:
(click to view 'full size')
The board is actually only 3-1/2 inches on a side; the four big dots are where the spacers will be between the boards, and "J2" there on the bottom left is the TWI connector that all the boards will share. The stuff along the righthand side is the power supply and regulation, while J3 and J4 along the top are the digital input/output lines. J5 is to let me add 3 additional analog signals, Just In Case :-)

If you're into this kind of thing, here's the schematic diagram:
(click to view 'full size')
When I go to a more advanced 'bot, I can swap out the circuit above with something with more computational horsepower; going to a larger platform means just changing out the motor drive board, and so on. It's a little more effort up front, but will simplify future updates or upgrades by limiting the number of ways I can shoot myself in the foot: I'll only have to figure out what's wrong with the 'new' section, instead of troubleshooting the whole 'bot...

Monday, October 6, 2008

Congress? We don' need no steenkin' Congress...

At least that seems to be the result of an opinion poll courtesy of Rasmussen Reports.

From the article:
If they could vote to keep or replace the entire Congress, 59% of voters would like to throw them all out and start over again.
Only half (49%) believe that the current Congress is better than individuals selected at random from the phone book. Thirty-three percent (33%) believe a randomly selected group of Americans could do a better job and 19% are not sure
...there is agreement across party lines when it comes to whether or not most Members of Congress understand legislation before they vote on it—25% of Democrats say yes along with 24% of Republicans and 24% of unaffiliated voters.
Anybody with me on implenting the first option?