Robots and Linux

What free time this month wasn’t sucked up by the Advogato migration was spent working on Tankbot GTR, the current DPRG group robot project. We now have the Mini-ITX mother board that Via donated mounted on the robot. We were doing our initial testing with an old 800MB laptop hard drive but it really sucked the batteries dry quickly. So I picked up an IDE to CF adapter and Martin donated a 1GB CF card. For the moment, I just used dd to move the entire hard disk content to the CF card. This is working surpisingly well considering we were running an old Redhat 9 distro intended for the desktop.

While most distros offer bootable CD images of one sort or another, almost none offer bootable CF card images. Many provide overly complex instruction on how to get their distro to boot from a CF card but few provide something as easy to use as a simple image file that you can copy and boot. Once exception is Flash Puppy, so I’ll probably be experimenting with that later this week. I’m begining to think there might be a real need for an embedded linux distro targeted at robot applications. And one that’s as easy to install as copying an image to CF card, sticking it in a motherboard, and booting.

Moon Festivals, Moon Pies, Moon Cakes, and other Lunar events


It turned out that the preservation of Advogato by moving it to our hosting facility and migrating to newer software made a lot of folks very happy. This was nice because not everything I do makes a lot of people very happy. Advogato user Sye, sent her thanks in the form of a box of traditional Chinese Moon Cakes. The Advogato transition happened on 1 Oct and the Chinese Moon Festival was on Friday, 6 Oct. It was actually a little later before the Moon Cakes arrived and even later before I found the time to try them. But after reading about Moon Cakes and the Moon Festival, I decided it might be fun to go ahead and celebrate it.

Here in the Southern United States, we have our own delicacy named after the moon. It’s called a Moon Pie. It’s composed of white gooey stuff squished between layers of brown crunchy stuff and the entire thing is coated in something that’s “chocolaty flavored”. So, when Friday evening rolled around, I set out to purchase a Moon Pie while Susan prepared some green tea. RC Cola is the traditional beverage of choice to accompany a Moon Pie but we thought green tea a better fit with a Chinese holiday.

It turned out to be surpisingly hard to find a Moon Pie. The higher end grocery stores didn’t seem to carry them. Wal-mart had a cheap immitation but not the real thing. By an odd coincidence, while I was driving all over town hunting for Moon Pies, my brother Randy called me to tell I should check out the Moon. He had read that the full Moon tonight was supposed be look larger than usual because it’s the “Full Harvest Moon” which occurs nearest the Autumnal Equinox once every three years in October. I explained my Moon Pie search and he had a few suggestions of places to try. Finally I found a couple of authentic Moon Pies at a 7-11 convenience store.

Upon my return home, Susan and I sampled the Moon Pie, drank some green tea, and looked at the full moon. Zippy the cat managed to nab a small sample of the Moon Pie. Supposedly cats aren’t supposed to eat chocolate because of the theobromine it contains. However, the Moon Pie doesn’t appear to contain any real chocolate. It’s just some sort of “chocolaty flavored” industrial sludge, so it’s probably not any more toxic to cats than to us humans. As if we needed any more moon events at this point, friday is Doctor Who night in the US, so we flipped on the TV. Tonight’s episode was “Tooth and Claw“, about full moons and aliens that are taken for werewolves in 1879 Scotland.

Later in the month Sye’s package of Moon Cakes arrived. They were contained in a beautifully decorated metal box. The label indicated these Moon Cakes were imported from Shanghai, which sounds pretty authentic to me. I was relieved to discover they were the variety filled with sweetened bean paste rather than the somewhat more adventurous sounding ones filled with salted duck eggs. Cut in half, the bean paste filling looked like chocolate. The nearest taste analogy I can think of would be the refried beans common in Tex-Mex dishes combined with sugar.

Thanks for the Moon Cakes, Sye! The whole event seemed strange enough to warrant some photos, so have a look at my Moon Cake and Moon Pie photo gallery to see how it all went down.