Sunday May 10, 2009

Turbulent Blogging

hp-logo-v2.gif I was actually sort of dreading my flight today. Not because of the usual strip-search tom-foolery that passes for 'security' (don't get me started on the inanity of the TSA's rules-based systems with no room for the application of intelligence), but because I was flying on Southwest which continues to steadfastly refuse to provide in-seat power. Not that even that is all that great, thanks to Apple's design-flawed in-flight power adapter which will just barely run but will not charge, my laptop. But I digress.

But I am, again, pleasantly surprised by Southwest. They are 'testing' an in-flight WiFi system that allows (only slightly-limited) WiFi access while in-flight. The block VoIP (though I have heard you can bypass this even if you are willing to run the Adobe whatever-it-is voice stuff). The performance and throughput is actually quite impressive! I was able to download and install a 6.3MB application update in about 10 seconds or so.

So here I am, happily blogging away from 35,000 feet. I have read some news, watched some YouTube (though they claim that video is not allowed. I guess YouTube isn't 'video'). Done some email, twittered a bit, and am about to post this blog entry. Schweet. I only hope that Southwest decides to keep the service, expand it to all flights, and keep it free. I'll opt for in-flight WiFi on Southwest over in-seat power on American Airlines any day of the week.

[ The world is coming to an end! Repent and return those library books! ]

Friday May 08, 2009

Awesome Blog Post


No, not this one, or even one of mine! But this one from my boss, Roger.

So now we're going to have to arrange for a Sun SPOT Engineering outing to Great America in San Jose to get some telemetry off of some of the big-boy rides there.

[ Hardware, n.:  The parts of a computer system that can be kicked. ]

Wednesday May 06, 2009

Red Beta

Ok, it's been a while since we've pushed out a Beta -- we've been doing fairly regular Developer Builds -- so it's that time! Version 5 of the Sun SPOT SDK (we call it 'Red') is now available on the Beta site.

Not sure how to get the Beta Software? Here's a quick tutorial.

If you already have the Sun SPOT SDK Installed (and of course you do, don't you?), then start the Sun SPOT Manager Tool.

Go to the 'Preferences Panel:


And select the 'Beta Update Center':


Then go back to the SDKs Panel:


and install the red Beta1. It's really that easy.

And for those of you that like to live on the bleeding edge with us, you can always go back to the Preferences Pane and select the 'Dev Preview' Update Center for regular Developer Builds. Right now, the Beta1 build and the last Dev Preview build are bit-for-bit exactly the same, but just for future reference ... (Note: The SPOT Manager will remember your choice of Beta Update Center or General Release Update Center, but by design it will always 'forget' the Dev Preview selection, just to keep you from accidentally installing a (potentially unstable) Developer Build.).

Enjoy! And please report any issues you may have on the forums. Also note that the Robotics Emulator and lots of other cool stuff is included in this release, so enjoy!

[ Real Users never know what they want, but they always know when your program doesn't deliver it. ]

Tuesday May 05, 2009

Dude, come to JavaOne!

Especially if you have some Sun SPOT videos!! Here's a bonus, submit your video and use Sun SPOTs in your video! Just follow the rules here, and get entered for a free pass to JavaOne!

And if you use Sun SPOTs in your video, and get chosen, maybe we can figure something out from us in Sun SPOT land to make it even cooler for you. Who knows ...

So get entered! Like, NOW!

[ "Just remember, it all started with a mouse."

   -- Walt Disney ]

Monday May 04, 2009

Twitter ... In Real LIfe

200905041723.jpg Chances are, if you 'tweet' you've already seen this one, but if not, you really should. I encourage everyone to 'tweet' in real life. Maybe we should start a "tweet in real life" day like "Talk Like a Pirate" day.   

[ How can you be in two places at once when you're not anywhere at all? ]

SPOTs at JavaOne


As most of you are probably aware, JavaOne, the annual Java Conference, is rapidly approaching. It'll be here before you know it! (Well, actually, it starts on June 2, 2009, but that's coming up pretty fast!)

Also, as many of you know, we here in Project Sun SPOT typically 'do stuff' at JavaOne. In years past we've done tutorials, Technical Sessions, BOFs, booths, etc. This year is no exception, except that we are looking for you to participate with us (ok, so that's not really an 'exception' either). But this year we plan to showcase what you've done with SPOTs.

Roger has posted a message on the Sun SPOT Forums about it, but it's really, really easy. Just post a video of what you have done with Sun SPOTs to YouTube (you know, where all the cool kids post their videos) and tag it with the keyword 'spaughts' and our automatic feed will pick it up. We'll look at it, and we might be showing it (and you!) on the floor at JavaOne to showcase the cool things that are being done with Sun SPOTs.

So break out your video cameras and get shooting!

[ People usually get what's coming to them ... unless it's been mailed. ]

Monday Apr 27, 2009

5 years old

So today is a milestone. Five years old! No, I'm more than 5 years old (though there may be some debate about that in some circles). But is 5 years old today (look back courtesy of the Wayback Machine). Yes, hard to believe that 5 years ago, got started. I was a few months behind the curve, and didn't get started until June of '04 (see my first blog post here), but I've been here for most of the ride. Of course, back then (and still!!) MaryMary was one of the most popular bloggers. Go Mary! (Maybe someday I'll make her blogroll)

Here's to hoping for another 5 years of blogging for Sun!!

[ The only really decent thing to do behind a person's back is pat it. ]

Wednesday Apr 22, 2009

More than Just A New Look

There is more than just a new look at these days. There is new content as well!

In case you haven't been following along, we have been releasing fairly regular "Developer Builds" of the Sun SPOT SDK. The upcoming release, code-named 'Red' is available to all as a Developer Preview Release, and it has a lot of cool new features (which I'm not going to go into here. A different blog post for that, I hope). What is in this release (the latest one anyway) is a Robot Simulator.

Let me say that again: A Robot Simulator. You can now, without physical Sun SPOTs, do a complete robot program to control an iRobot Create! Check out the simulator running a maze program:


And you can program the simulated Create in Java, deploy your program to a virtual Sun SPOT in Solarium, and then run it in the Robot Simulator. I have to say, this is one of the coolest things to come along in a while. Seriously.

You can work through the new Tutorial on using the Robot Simulator, or work through the standard Sun SPOT Tutorial, or just go straight to downloading the Sun SPOT SDK and playing with it! I recommend at least working through the standard Tutorial to start with, and reading the Getting Started documentation as well (does anyone really read the docs?).

This is just some of the new content we have developed and are developing to go along with the new release of Sun SPOT SDK.

Note: In order to access the Developer Preview Builds of the Sun SPOT SDK, you will first need to install the standard Blue release (if this is your first foray into the Sun SPOT SDK), and then go to the Preferences Panel of the Sun SPOT Manager and select "Dev Preview." Then return to the SDK tab and install the latest Red release.

Oh, and don't forget to visit the forums for tips, support, ideas, and just to see what other Sun SPOT Developers are up to!

[ Now and then an innocent person is sent to the legislature. ]

Friday Apr 17, 2009

Say Goodbye to the Brady Bunch!

The old website, with its Brady Bunch Navigation is a thing of the past! It looked like this:


And we've officially gone green! Check out the new layout and navigation and content and everything!


Let me know what you think of the new site!

[ Next to being shot at and missed, nothing is really quite as satisfying as an income tax refund.

   -- F. J. Raymond ]

Saturday Mar 14, 2009

Minority Report (Take II)

So many (at least some) of you may remember the original Sun SPOT Minority Report Demo (hey, it made Engadget!) that was making the rounds. It was very cool.

Now, another group, unaffiliated with Sun, has made a new, two-handed version using their own gloves and Sun SPOTs.

It's very well done, and looks very cool! Check it out!

[ This fortune intentionally not included. ]

Friday Feb 20, 2009

Awesome Twitter/Blog integration

tour_1 So You'll (maybe) notice the 'retweet' button right here, and on every blog post now. Well, I'm a big fan of twitter, and this is a really cool little widget that, if you tweet, will allow you to re-tweet my blog posts -- on the off-chance that I make one interesting enough to tweet about. :-)

So retweet my blog posts!

[ People will accept your ideas much more readily if you tell them that Benjamin Franklin said it first. ]

Thursday Jan 29, 2009

Blogging news

So I apologize fr my quiet period recently, but I have been traveling without much time to blog. I do have a number of blog entries queued up to post over the next few days as soon as I am done with them, but I also had some "breaking news" to post: Mary Holzer, our (Labs') fabulous PR, Communications and all around everything person, now has a blog! You should definitely put it on your "must read" list and keep up with it!

Expect great breaking news, interesting articles, and other great stuff from Mary!

[ When in doubt, use brute force.

-- Ken Thompson ]

Saturday Jan 17, 2009

Get your Own eProto

200901172205.jpgOf course, you'll have to be good at soldering, or know someone that is, but you can order an eProto Kit from Brildea. But at this point, it's the only place you can get one, as we're (Sun Labs and the Sun SPOT Team) not able to manufacture and sell them.

I know it's not an ideal solution, but it's the only solution we have right now.

[ Nudists are people who wear one-button suits. ]

Friday Jan 16, 2009

Never blogging again

After my boss turned me on to this site, I have decided that I may never blog again. I may just make all my blog entries animated videos like this one:

It's a tad self-referential, but still...

[ Death is life's way of telling you you've been fired.

-- R. Geis ]

Thursday Jan 15, 2009

Bluetooth SPOT

My latest "Stupid SPOT Trick" has been to connect a Bluetooth board (from, of course!) to a Sun SPOT. It is both easier than it looks, and harder than it looks. Huh? Let me explain.

In a previous post I wrote about doing bi-directional Serial port access to a Sun SPOT so that I could talk to a device attached to the UART on the eDemoBoard of a Sun SPOT. So, of course, when my BlueGiga Board arrived, I immediately wired it to the eDemoBoard UART on pins D0 and D1. Seemed like the reasonable thing to do. At the time anyway.

Turns out that, according to the datasheet on the BlueGiga board (and don't try to buy one right now, I bought the last 2), it wants to communicate at 115200 baud, 8-N-1. Not being one to read the documentation all that thoroughly, I was unaware that the UART on the eDemoBoard will only go as high as 38400. So all my attempts to communicate resulted in garbage out (to be fair, garbage in, garbage out).

Turns out what you need is an eProto Board. With that, you can put Tx to pin A5 and Rx to pin A6, power to +3v and ground, and voila ... almost. There is one more trick to getting this board going. You need to connect the BTEN pin on the BlueGiga Breakout board via a 100k Ω resistor, to Vcc as well or the board, while powered, will not actually come up. Once I had all that done, of course, it was easy.

So I now have a Bluetooth-enabled Sun SPOT that can talk to other Bluetooth devices over the Serial Port Protocol (SPP) profile of Bluetooth via RFCOMM. I have it doing discovery (to find other Bluetooth devices), Authentication exchange, and full-duplex serial data exchange. Nice!

[ The generation of random numbers is too important to be left to chance. ]

Friday Jan 09, 2009

Read/Write Access to a Sun SPOT

So while I'm in the “use[ full | less ]” Sun SPOT tips mood, I thought I'd post this one. Since I just worked it out this morning, and since it is directly related to the previous 'tip'.

How would you implement a 'console' application on a Sun SPOT? Well, the bigger question of course is “why would you want to?” but that's a bigger question, so I will ignore it. But it is possible. Being a CLDC Device, the Sun SPOT has a System.out (as you are probably aware) but no So while your application can simply do a “System.out.println(“Foobar”); and that message will show up on a connected terminal of your host computer, you cannot read input from that computer via as you might on a regular J2SE application.

But there is a way around that. If you poke around in the Sun SPOT Developer's Guide, you will find (on page 30, in case you're interested) a brief description of using the serial port of the Sun SPOT.

InputStream input = Connector.openInputStream("serial://usb”);

OutputStream output = Connector.openOutputStream(“serial://usb”);

Will open the input and output streams, respectively, of a USB-connected Sun SPOT.

while(true) {

   try {

   StringBuffer myBuf = new StringBuffer();

       int character;

   while ((character = != (char)'\\n') {

    if((char)character == '\\r') break;



    } // Blink LED


    String outString = "Read String: " + myBuf.toString() + "\\n";



} catch (IOException ex) {




Is all you really need. That will read input from the terminal, and echo it back after you hit return. Not very useful, but it could be used to send commands to an attached device (which is what I'm going to be doing. Watch for a post on controlling a BlueTooth Module attached to the eDemoBoard UART shortly).

But how does this relate to the BootLoaderListener thread from my previous post? Well, it turns out that if you followed my advice on that post, this code will fail. The BootLoaderListener will grab the serial UART, so your attempt to do so will generate a fatal exception. So while it is (generally) a good idea to run that thread, in this particular case it is a bad idea.

More to come on the BlueTooth Module as I get there.

[ A fool must now and then be right by chance. ]

Thursday Jan 08, 2009

Good SPOT Programming Practice

Since I've just been bitten by this one, I thought I would post a quick note on what I consider a good practice in SPOT Programming: Adding a bootloader listener thread. It's extremely easy to do, and (trust me on this one) it can save you a lot of time. The line you want is:

   new BootloaderListener().start(); // monitor the USB (if connected) and recognize commands from host

Add that as the first line in your MIDlet's StartApp() method. Now, why would you want/need to do such a thing? And how can it save your bacon? Well, (as I have just experienced) some things -- in my case I2C -- can get into a tight loop. Such a tight loop that it can be difficult to reset the SPOT with a button press. I spent quite a bit of time trying to time the plugging-in of the SPOT with an upgrade command to get past this tight loop I was in.

The bootloader listener thread running will 'hear' the bootloader command request when it is sent (at least after a small delay) and respond, automatically resetting the SPOT and dropping into the bootloader so that you can upgrade your SPOT, re-depoly an application, etc. Or just fix whatever got you into that tight loop in the first place. It's a life-saver when you need it, and takes very little overhead when you don't so it is definitely worth it.

[ Food for thought is no substitute for the real thing.

-- Walt Kelly, "Putluck Pogo" ]

Wednesday Jan 07, 2009

I can't say

I'd love to blog about this, but my boss said I can't. Blame him.

[ "He's the kind of man for the times that need the kind of man he is ..." ]

Monday Dec 01, 2008

New Breakout Board

Ok, so this is cool! It actually came from someone in Sun Labs, but not from the Sun SPOTs project. This is just one of those things that 'happens' when folks start playing with Sun SPOTs. 

What is it? It's a breakout board that makes access to all the various pins and inputs on the Sun SPOT eDemo Sensor Board really easy to access for prototyping. And the really cool part about this is that you can buy this board today, either as a pre-stuffed, complete and ready to use board, or as a 'kit' that includes the PCB and all the components so that you can practice your soldering skills. Once you're done, you can use a ribbon cable to connect to the Sun SPOT Header and have easy access to all the pins without having to solder to your Sun SPOT and (potentially) damage your Sun SPOT Board.

 And it's (relatively) cheap, too! Check out for the full scoop, but the fully populated, ready-to-use board is about $33.00 (US).

Cool stuff!

[ "Benson, you are so free of the ravages of intelligence"                -- Time Bandits ] 

Tuesday Nov 25, 2008

SPOT In Nature Article

So this is a really cool article on Sun SPOTs, our good friends over at Warren Wilson College in Asheville, NC, and their project in the Cocobolo Nature Preserve down in Panama. (How's that for a sentence chock-a-block full of links to just about everywhere on the inter-tubes?)

I highly recommend reading it, even if they did get the job titles of Roger Meike and Arshan Poursohi mixed up (unless there was some organizational shake-up of which I am unaware).

But the big news -- or at least the answer to the biq question is -- that you can go here to actually get involved and be a part of the project. You may not get a trip to Panama out of the deal, but you can contribute to the project, and do your not-so-small part to fight Global Climate Change. There's a lot of additional information over here as well. Come on, get involved!

[ Yes, but every time I try to see things your way, I get a headache. ]

Monday Nov 17, 2008

StarOffice 9.0 is here!

So Today, amidst all the other turmoil, Sun has released StarOffice 9.0. Why is this a big deal? Because it (finally!!) gives native support to Mac OS X! YES! Finally, after all these years of running under X11 (notthatbad, but not ideal) or running NeoOffice, we get to be first-class citizens! This is also a big deal because the Blogging Plugin is also available for Mac OS X, which means that now I can use StarOffice to post new blog entries.

Yes, this is a big deal. Yes, I'm really happy about it. If you're a MicrosoftOffice User, I suggest that you give StarOffice a try. The price is a lot more manageable ($34.95 for a single license, $25/user for enterprise volume pricing), the features are outstanding, and it's a nice, pretty interface.

[ "We don't care. We don't have to. We're the Phone Company." ]

Thursday Nov 06, 2008

The Finger

As you may or may not know, I did some fairly serious damage to a finger over the weekend. No, I didn't almost cut it off, but the effect is roughly the same. Crushed it beyond recognition.

I thought it would be better by now, but alas, it is not. I went back to the Dr. this morning, and was told that, in no uncertain terms, I have to stop using the hand altogether for at least the next 3 - 5 days. No typing with it, etc. That, or he will pull the fingernail out, which made him sound more like Dick Cheney than my doctor, frankly. He's not as scary looking as Cheney, but his threat seems credible.

So, I'm breaking his rules and typing this message, but I will be doing my dead-level best to not type any more than is absolutely necessary, since I believe his threat, and am really not up for Gitmo-style medicine.

Don't look for many blog posts, etc. until this finger thing is resolved.

[ "We are upping our standards ... so up yours."

-- Pat Paulsen for President, 1988. ]

Wednesday Nov 05, 2008

My one political post


For those of you who have followed me on Facebook and/or Twitter, you will know how extraordinarily difficult it has been for me to keep politics off of this blog. But I have. Until now. So this will be my one, and only, political post on this blog.

I am proud beyond measure of this country. While I have some minor disappointments (what were you thinking up there in Minnesota's 6th congressional district? And California? Passing prop 8? I am stunned by the bigotry and intolerance showed by those two votes, but I digress) I am encouraged by the election of Barack Obama as President of the United States.

I encourage you to watch this:

It is inspiring and intelligent. It shows grace and tolerance, and a depth of understanding that this country sorely needs.

I will also say that Senator McCain's concession speech was a class act. I suggest that you also watch it.

His speech was gracious, and inspiring. The actions of his supporters, on the other hand, was disappointing and revolting. I hope that this country can move forward, heal the divisions, and allow President Obama to lead this country.

While I am inspired by President-Elect Obama, and encouraged by the hope of this nation, I am, as always, disappointed that there are people like Christine Distelhorst in this country, who say such things as these. Please, let's move forward. When you hear such hate-filled and ignorant speech, call it out into the light. If you are tempted to make such comments, think twice. Then think again.

Let's all remember that we are in this together. No more "us vs. them" please.

Wednesday Oct 29, 2008

Map of where I've been

Cool little tool to map where you can map out where you've been in the world:

Make yours @
Make yours @

Or in the US:
Make yours @
Make yours @ BigHugeLabs.comLooks like I've been lots o' places. Not enough, but I've seen at least \*most\* of this country.

[ Never be led astray onto the path of virtue. ]

Legal (dis)claimers

I love the “notices” that come on the bottom of email messages. Many of them (most) are so farcical and ridiculous as to be laughable. Like this one, which is typical:

Notice: The information contained in this message and any attachments is privileged and confidential and protected from disclosure. Any dissemination, distribution or copying of this communication is strictly prohibited.

Of course they are completely useless and unenforceable, but everyone insists on using them anyway.

And then a person I know sent me the following “claimer” which I love:

Claimer: Views presented in this article probably or definitely allude to people real, unreal, imaginary, virtual and otherwise. Any harm or libel cast on people dead, alive or transient is either intentional or otherwise. The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author, however he refuses to take responsibility for said views and believes the use of "airquotes" to be a birthright. Claims not included in this claim are also claimed.

Perfect. Love it.

[ Smoking is one of the leading causes of statistics.

-- Fletcher Knebel ]

Off Topic Post, but Important

[ Olivia and Carolyn waiting to meet Michelle Obama ]

This is off-topic for my blog. Wildly so. I almost never post anything so personal here. But it's important to me, and important in general, so I think it needs to be said.

I know this amazing person. I've known her for almost 30 years. We went to high school together, and that was a long time ago. She is, and always has been, one of the more outstanding, upstanding people I've ever known (and not insignificantly because she still even speaks to me after all these years).

Yesterday she sent an email to her family and friends after getting to visit with Michelle Obama. I am honored to have been included in the distribution of that message, and she has graciously consented to let me post it:

Words can't express how much fun this event was. I have more pictures posted on facebook (thanks, David!) for those of you that want to have more peeks.
Carolyn was "speaking out" for herself and her fellow special needs friends. We wanted to make it clear that we don't need Sarah Palin as an advocate for Special Needs. She's an insult to the intelligence and well-being of the HUGE umbrella of special needs syndromes. The current administration has caused us to lose top researchers, lose hope, and lose lives. It's a crime and, just as W, McCain is not going to advance stem cell research, he's only supporting the existing lines of stem cell funding.
It's too late for Carolyn to benefit from advancements, but not too late for many of her friends. Many of you are blessed with healthy children...please don't let one day go by without being grateful. Current lines are excellent for the AIDS, Cancer, Parkinson's, Alzheimer's....but for "orphan diseases" we are at the mercy of advancement.

I could never have said it that well. And I believe that she is entirely correct. Any belief that McCain/Palin would give 1/100th the attention and dedication to our Special Kids is laughable. They don't understand what that means, and are incapable of doing it.

Her daughter, Carolyn, has Mucopolysaccharidoses, which is a mouthful to say. Visit the MPS Society Website to find out more about it, and consider making a donation to support their research.

[ Micro Credo: Never trust a computer bigger than you can lift. ]

Tuesday Oct 28, 2008

Cary Area Murder follow-up


In a follow-up to a posting from several months ago (and feel free to file this in the "really not all that surprising" category), police arrested Brad Cooper, the husband, last night and charged him with murder in the death of his wife. Full story here. While not the end of the story, at least there is the hope that there will be a final resolution to this tragic story.

[ Know what I hate most? Rhetorical questions. -- Henry N. Camp ]

Friday Oct 24, 2008

Sun SPOT Media Feed


[photo courtesy of Pete "The Plumber" St. Pierre]

No, the Sun SPOTs don't feed off of the media (though that's an idea ... ) but we do have a couple of interesting feeds for Sun SPOT related information.

  • Planet Sun SPOT

    This is an aggregator for news and blog posts about Sun SPOTs. If you have a Sun SPOT-related blog that you want listed here, please let us know and we'll add you!
  • Sun SPOT Media Feed

    This is a page where we gather pictures, videos, etc. of Sun SPOT projects. If you want your project, picture, or YouTube video to show up on this page, just make sure that you tag it with 'spaughts' when you post it (or go back and tag it now!) and it will automatically show up here.

So get blogging, photo-ing and video taping! And get them posted!! We want to see it!

[ If you think nobody cares if you're alive, try missing a couple of car payments.

-- Earl Wilson ]

Thursday Oct 23, 2008

Addition to the blog-o-rama


A warm welcome to someone I have never met, except in the Twitterverse, Rick Kenney (aka tehduh) and his new blog. Ok, so I have talked to him on the phone once, but that doesn't count. He's part of the team that does wonderful stuff for us like make possible, so be nice.

[ Grabel's Law: 2 is not equal to 3 -- not even for large values of 2. ]

Maze Game


Nice video of one of our users developing a Maze Game using Sun SPOTs

Remember, if you do a video of your Sun SPOT Project, put it on YouTube with the tag 'spaughts' and it will show up in our YouTube Feed for all to see, and possibly get featured on the website, or here!

[ Only God can make random selections. ]




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