steve is currently certified at Master level.

Name: Steve Rainwater
Member since: 2001-02-25 23:17:55
Last Login: 2017-02-22 20:48:51

FOAF RDF Share This

Homepage: http://www.steevithak.com/

Notes:

I build robots, talk about robots, write about robots, and photograph robots. In addition to being an editor of robots.net, I'm also a contributing editor to Servo Magazine and Robot Magazine. In the past I've also contributed to The Robotics Practitioner Journal, and the Robot Explorer Newsletter. I've written robot articles for internal
corporate publications too. If you'd like me consider a writing project that involves robotics, please let me know

My ramblings about robots have been quoted in Forbes, USA Today, the New York Times, and other publications. I've done numerous interviews about robots on the well-known Robots Podcast, KZSC radio's Timothy Jordon talk show, and local Dallas radio talk shows. If you need an interview subject on robotics, please let me know

Recent Interviews, Publications, and Presentations


  • Quoted in Luxury Robots, 2005, Forbes Magazine

  • Interviewed for The Robot Blogosphere, 2008, Robots Podcast

  • Quoted in At Home With Robots: The Coming Revolution, 2008, Vivian Wagner, TechNewsWorld

  • Interviewed for Robots 2009 New Year's Special, 2009, Robots Podcast

  • Robot photography published in Faces magazine, March 2011 vol 27, number 6

  • Dallas Pecha Kucha Night: Talk on robot geeks from the DPRG founding the first Dallas hackerspace.

  • Presented talk: "Robot Competitions Around the World", 23 Mar 2011, American Physical Society conference

  • Robot, July/August 2011: VEX Robotics World Championship (photography and Boy Scout Robot Merit Badge sidebar)

  • Robot, May/June 2012: Dallas Personal Robotics Group Roborama (contributed photos)

  • Robot, July/August 2012: The 2012 VEX Robotics Competition World Championship (photography)

  • SERVO Magazine, Oct 2012: The ASABE Student Robot Competition (photography)

I've been consulted on robot documentary films and videos including the Nova series, a Discovery Network reality show, the Scripps Network and, surprisingly, even a CSI: New York script. Need a consultant to give you some expert robotics advice for your next project? Please let me know

My robot photography has appeared in Servo Magazine, Robot Magazine, and the Italian robot magazine, I-Droid01. Since 2009, IFI has asked me to shoot photos of the VEX World Championship Events each year. You can see my vex photos on flickr: VRWC 2012, VRWC 2011, VRWC 2010, VRWC 2009. I've also shot robot competitions for the Dallas Personal Robotics Group, FIRST, BEST, and other organizations. If you need robot or robot event photography, contact me!

I've maintained the Usenet Robot Competition FAQ for over a decade. I'm a member of the Dallas Personal Robotics Group, one of the oldest robot special interest groups in the world. In the early 1990's I was the editor and
publisher of the AI CD-ROM, an annual collection of software, papers, and documentation on Artificial Intelligence, Robotics, and other advanced machine technologies. Even further back, in the pre-Internet days, I used to maintain the Interocitor BBS, which was the largest AI and Robotics related BBS around back in the late 1980s and early 1990s.

But life isn't all about robots. You can read more about my other interests in my blog or on my Advogato profile.

If you want to get in touch, feel free to email me.

Projects

Articles Posted by steve

Complete list of articles by steve

Recent blog entries by steve

Syndication: RSS 2.0

The Women’s March on Austin

Like most people, we were disheartened by the horrible results of the 2016 election. The old quote that is variously attributed to Edmund Burke or John Stuart Mill kept rolling around in mind; “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing”. The awful coalition of the Tea Party, alt-right, neo-Nazis, white nationalists and the religious right that over-powered the Republic Party and spawned the Trump administration is as evil as anything in American history that I can think of. The growing need to do something, even if only a symbolic gesture of resistance, coincided with a chance sighting on Facebook of some event info about a Women’s March in Washington, DC planned for January 21.

There was no way we could attend a march in Washington, DC but there appeared to be ancillary marches in the State capitols as well. Austin seemed possible, so we put it on the calendar. The event info also mentioned the Pussy Hat Project – a good-natured poke at Donald Trump’s hypocritical “Make America Great Again” hats. His hats promoted bringing jobs back to America while ironically being mass-produced by low income workers in China. Pussy Hats, in contrast, would be hand made by individual American makers everywhere. Neither Susan nor I are knitters but I am a member of Dallas Makerspace, the biggest collective of hackers and makers in Texas, so it was pretty easy to find a like-minded knitter there. The talented Devin Burnett knitted us a few hats in exchange for the pink yarn.

Early on the morning of Jan 21, the day after Trump’s inauguration, we set out for Austin. There was a beautiful sunrise but almost immediately a weird, dark haze began to settle over the landscape. There was no rain. It was more like a thick dark fog. We joked that perhaps as in Lord of the Rings, the rise of evil is always accompanied by a physical darkness settling over the land. The dark haze was with us most of the way down but finally began to break up as we approached Austin, revealing a beautiful, warm sunny day. Along the way to Austin we saw numerous buses and I noticed someone on Facebook saying they were taking a bus from Dallas to Austin. Had we known about them, we’d have taken a bus too. Our biggest worry was that it would be impossible to find parking close to the capitol. As it turned out, everything worked out perfectly.

We found the Cap Metro Howard Station Park & Ride on Google maps on the northern outskirts of Austin and decided to take a chance that there would be a way to get downtown on a Metro bus. We parked free and walked straight from the car to a waiting bus with Cap Metro employees waving us aboard. We tried to buy two day passes but it was an “exact change only” situation and the smallest bill we had was a ten that the cash scanner didn’t like. The driver asked if were going to the Women’s March. We said yes and she comp’ed us two day passes. The bus was full of other happy, pussy hat wearing marchers.

The bus arrived downtown and let us out a couple of blocks from the capitol. It was no problem finding the march. There were people from every direction converging on it and within moments we had merged into a stream of marchers. Originally, the plan was for everyone to meet at the capitol and then march a 1.5 mile path around downtown. As it turned out, there were so many people that the entire capitol grounds were filled as well as the entire 1.5 mile marching course. The Austin police estimated 50,000 marchers. So there was a continuous, endless loop of marchers on the 1.5 mile path for nearly four hours as well as the massive crowds on the capitol grounds. It was the largest crowd we’ve ever seen in person.

We marched for a while and then mingled with the crowds at the capitol. I shot lots of photos. I was amazed at the range of ages and the diversity. There were people of every race, old women in wheel chairs, children of all ages, I even saw one blind woman. There were lots of men as well and entire families marching together. There were lots of religious leaders marching too.

I was especially pleased to see the wide range of issues, well beyond just women’s rights being represented. I think this election may have awakened a widespread recognition that we have to stop taking things for granted, that we have to get out and work together or the forces of ignorance and superstition will overtake us all. I saw many signs advocating science and evidence based policy. There were a surprising number of signs bearing inside jokes of geeks, nerds, and science fiction fans. There was a general feeling of good-natured humor and fun among the marchers. Overall it was a great experience and I think it really encouraged everyone that maybe there is some hope after all. Maybe what we’re seeing is not the pendulum swinging back into the ignorance of the past but, rather, the last gasps of an ever shrinking minority who want to hold back the rest of the world and who may well die out in a generation.

We eventually headed back to the bus stop and made the drive back to Dallas. It was a long day but well worth it. Now we just need to get back to the everyday work of trying to make the world a better place.

Syndicated 2017-01-24 04:56:31 from Steevithak of the Internet

Walden by Henry David Thoreau

Leaves beneath the ice of Walden Pond. Photo by Flickr user Bemep, CC BY-NC 2.0

Leaves beneath the ice of Walden Pond. Photo by Flickr user Bemep, CC BY-NC 2.0

I usually review pulp science fiction books, science books, even the occasional graphic novel, so a review of a classic like Walden may seem a bit out of place here. But I do try to read a little of everything including the classics and Walden has been on my reading list for a long time. The edition I chose is Walden and Other Writings, 2000, Modern Library Paperback Edition; partly because I also wanted to read Thoreau’s essay, Civil Disobedience, which is in this volume, but also because I like the cover art depicting a winter scene near Walden Pond. I admit, I’ve bought more than one book based solely on the cover art.

I had vaguely thought that Walden was a work of philosophy resulting from Thoreau spending time alone pondering Life, The Universe, and Everything. It’s really nothing like that. It’s much more modern that I expected. Imagine reading a blog by someone who decides to give up television, WiFi, social media, modern technology and civilization in general as an experiment. Imagine this person finds some land by a lake and determines to live a DIY existence. They build their own tiny house from available materials, they eat only what they can find or grow, and make their own clothes. And they write weekly updates on their progress as they do all this. That’s basically what’s going on in Walden. It’s a DIY book mixed with some appreciation of nature.

Thoreau doesn’t completely leave the world behind. He walks to town periodically to give lectures, his writings are published, he has frequent visitors. A lot of the townsfolk think he’s a bit odd and keep their distance but he interacts with a wide range of other eccentric characters: hunters in the woods, fishermen on the pond, rail workers from the railroad that passes near his tiny house, transients who wander through. When he can, he invites these random people into his house and questions them about the nature of the human race and civilization. The bravest strangers even taste some of the weird foods Thoreau subsists on.

Some chapters are strictly DIY stuff like lists of materials used in building his tiny house and their costs. Or what he eats and how he obtains it. Other chapters are observations about nature – what animals he runs into, the sensory experience of the pond and woods in the different seasons. And there actually is a little bit of philosophy hidden away here and there; do humans really need to eat meat or would we be better off if we were all vegetarians? Should we be more self reliant? Why do we waste so much time and energy making money for things like clothes and homes that we could make ourselves much more simply?

The book is laid out chronologically by seasons and takes the reader through the first year at Walden Pond. The first few chapters are the most interesting as they contain the parameters of his experiment and most of the details on how he builds his shelter and gathers his supplies. Later chapters tend to be his observations of nature once things have settled into a routine. Amusingly, the descriptive part of the book ends after the first year with the sentence, “Thus was my first year’s life in the woods completed; and the second year was similar to it.” The book, while interesting and sometimes profound, is not a page-turner and you’re probably be as glad as I was that he decides not to chronicle his second year as well.

Thoreau doesn’t think everyone should give up on civilization and live as he did at Walden, of course. He clearly thinks of his two year adventure there as nothing more than an experiment to see what the minimum lifestyle could consist of. Just like modern writers who give up The Internet or some other modern convenience for a year, Thoreau fully intends to return to civilization when his experiment is done. Despite finding it a slow read and difficult to slog through at times, particularly in the second half, I still recommend it. There are more than enough interesting and enjoyable bits to make up for it.

Syndicated 2016-10-02 23:53:54 from Steevithak of the Internet

Morning After Dallas Sniper Attack

View from my office the morning after the Dallas sniper attack.

Wow, how to summarize the last 12 hours. Last night there was a peaceful protest march in downtown Dallas in response to the recent killings by police in other states. Towards the end of the march, snipers began shooting at police officers. The shooting was audible a half mile away at my office in Deep Ellum where I was working late. I thought at first it was fireworks, then I starting seeing events unfold on social media with posts from friends who were at the march. At least 14 people were shot, 12 of them officers. 5 officers died, 4 DPD and 1 DART officer. There appear to have been four suspects, 3 male and 1 female. One of the suspects holed up in a parking garage and was involved in a standoff with police that lasted for hours. When neogtiations with police broke down and the suspect started shooting again, the police killed the suspect using a bomb delivered by a DPD robot.

A lot of downtown was on lockdown most of the night, including the parking lot where most of the protesters parked. My friends in the march were unable to get back to their cars and had to spend most of the night in Union Station. Uber was providing complimentary rides to get some of them home. I stayed over night at my office in Deep Ellum. Everyone I know at the march and in downtown is safe. From early reports of what the deceased sniper said to police, the shooting was racially motivated but does not appear to be associated with the protest march aside from taking advantage of the police protection that DPD always offers to marches and protests downtown. The route of the march had been announced beforehand, so the shooters could easily have planned the best location for their attack.

It’s morning now and already the political spin is running full bore, try to turn this terrorist attack into rating points for one side or the other. Either we have to support all police, who are universally good and we must believe everyone they shoot to be evil thugs; or we have to assume that all cops are bad and corrupt and that everyone they shoot is innocent. This political effort to force all issues to be black and white is intentionally divisive and needs to be rejected. Reality is never that black and white. We need to support good cops while still calling out bad ones and peacefully protesting against injustices. There’s nothing inconsistent about marching in a protest against unjust police killings while still supporting our local police who are risking their lives to protect our right to free speech.

Syndicated 2016-07-08 14:18:31 from Steevithak of the Internet

Civic Republicanism by Iseult Honohan

The School of Athens by Raphael

The School of Athens by Raphael

In 2013, I wrote a review of the excellent book, Common as Air by Lewis Hyde, about the history of the commons. I became interested in learning more about the history of “Civic Republicanism” while reading that book, which touches on the relationship of republicanism to pursuit of the common good. In later correspondence with Lewis, I asked for a recommendation on a good general book on the concept. He recommended Civic Republicanism by Iseult Honohan. So I picked it up from Amazon and it sat in my reading queue until recently. Now I’ve read it and it’s time to write a review.

To start off, let’s clear up some terms. A “republic” is likely a form of government you remember from high school or college. We’re interested in a particular type of republic known as a “Civic Republic” – that is, a form of government in which citizens rule themselves either directly or through representative leaders. If you live in the United States, you are familiar with the basics of a civic republic because it’s the system on which our country is based. It’s also important to point out that the terms republican and republicanism have absolutely nothing to do with the modern American right-wing Republican political party. When founded in 1854 by anti-slavery activists, the political party took its name from the idea of republicanism and originally advocated principles of republicanism and classic liberalism. Over the years it abandoned those principles, shifting right towards conservatism as the Democratic party shifted left towards modern liberalism. Eventually, the two parties reversed their original positions. More recently, the Republican political party seems to have broken into factions that advocate theocracy, plutocracy, or authoritarian nationalism. Ironically, republicanism is anathema to modern Republicans. The author is not an American and the book doesn’t address this difference between republicans and Republicans, which can lead to some confusion if the reader is unaware of it.

I read Civic Republicanism shortly after reading Steven Pinker’s enjoyable book, The Sense of Style. Unfortunately, this made me more aware than I might otherwise have been that Civic Republicanism is rife with examples of the problems Pinker describes in academic writing including “highfalutin gobbledygook”, overly abstract metaconcepts, and the curse of knowledge. It’s a hard book to read and definitely not an enjoyable way to pass the time. I found myself having to re-read paragraphs and sometime single sentences several times to work out what the author was trying to say. Here are a couple of random sample sentences from an early section of the book describing Aristotle’s views:

Because people are naturally undetermined as wholly good or wholly bad, but develop their character through acting, the social and political relationships in which they live are crucial to their possibility of self-realisation

and another

Moreover, the hierarchical division of human nature means that the obligations of citizens to anyone outside the political community are very limited.

Decoding 300 pages of that sort of writing takes a bit of work! That’s the bad news about the book.

The good news is that it does provide an excellent survey of the major historical thinkers on republicanism including Aristotle, Cicero, Machiavelli, Harrington, Rousseau, Wollstonecraft, and Madison (who designed our republic). It also covers modern political philosophers’ attempts to bring republicanism into the 21st century to compete with the currently more popular ideas of modern liberalism on the left (what we in the US might call “direct democracy” or “universal democracy”) and nationalism on the right (basically the modern Republican Party in the US – think flag waving, patriotism, belief in exceptionalism). The book is divided into two parts, the historical overview and the modern debates. The book does a good job of laying out the evolution of republicanism and points the way to all the original material if you have the time to pursue it.

The basics of a republic seem pretty simple. You get some people together, form a community, agree on rules for self-government and go to it. Generally, the goals are to maximize individual freedom while collectively pursuing common goods. If you want your republic to survive, it must have the qualities of civic virtue, political participation, personal and political freedom, equal political recognition, and equality of wealth. All the philosophers agree that a republic cannot survive long if there is corruption (a lack of civic virtue), lack of participation, or unequal distribution of wealth. So my earlier comment about the Republican political party having nothing to do with republicanism should be further clarified now. Their policy choices are a recipe for destroying a republic by maximizing wealth inequality and stamping out civic virtues.

Nothing is that simple of course and where our philosophers disagree is over the exact definitions of each of the desired qualities and the relative importance of each. For example, is freedom the complete lack of government coercion? To live in a community is to be interdependent on each other under the rule of law. But even if we make our own law, we must be subject to it. Does that limit our freedom or is the law an expression of our freedom? When Odysseus begs his crew to untie him as he listens to the siren song, does the crews’ lack of compliance indicate that Odysseus is not free? It was his own order that he be tied and that the crew refuse any plea to untie him until they are safely past the sirens. If citizens of a republic agree to jointly fund some common good through the collection of taxes, does being coerced later to fulfill that obligation represent a lack of freedom or an expression of the freedom?

Who should be counted as citizens of a republic? This was another question that evolved over time. Aristotle would have excluded women, slaves, young men, and many others. The circle of citizenship gradually expands with time. Eventually Wollstonecraft includes women, making republics encompass nearly everyone in time for Madison to pick up the idea and run with it.

What is the exact nature of civic virtue and corruption? Corruption as thought of in republicanism may seem non-intuitive to a modern reader. Today we think of corruption as a problem with politicians but in a republic, corruption is the problem of citizens who place their private interests above those of the common good or community interests, so political corruption is merely a subset of a larger problem. The citizen who avoids paying a fair share of taxes, who out of greed tries to influence politicians, citizens who avoid jury duty, voting, or participation in local government – those are the forms of corruption that will eventually destroy even the strongest republic.

What are the common goods that a republic should seek? There’s more agreement on this one. Common goods include building infrastructure such as roads, maintaining military strength for defensive purposes, providing universal education, and any other long term goals that are the will of the citizens and from which all citizens benefit such as protecting the environment, scientific research, universal healthcare.

The problem of wealth distribution is particularly interesting given our modern situation in the United States. Historical republicans from Aristotle to Madison would not be surprised to see the Occupy Wall Street movement given that corruption has resulted in so much of our nation’s wealth becoming concentrated in a tiny percentage of the population, a condition which is fatal to republics. For a good explanation of how wealth inequality became so severe in the US, see the excellent documentary by the economist Robert Reich called Inequality for All.

The sheer size of the Unites States would have presented problems to the earliest republicans, but not Madison. His improvements included the idea of a multi-level government that broke citizen participation into local, state, and federal levels. He added the concept that “representation” could be a partial substitute for participation in government among those who were incompetent to participate or merely apathetic. He dropped an idea held by earlier theorists that a republic needed a common religion or a religious test for participation in government, thus allowing a republic with the added freedom that a citizen could choose any religion or none. With these improvements, Madison hoped the United States could defy the expectations of earlier republicans that all large republics were doomed to fail.

Finally, how about a personal anecdote to take this from theory to practice.

On 23 May, 1745, an ancestor of mine, John Rainwater, went to the Edgecomb County, North Carolina court in order to record a deed. He came home having been appointed by the court to provide room and board to a fellow named John Jones who was overseeing the construction of a road through the county. It’s likely John Rainwater was appointed merely because of his presence in the court that day. Being a citizen of a republic who strove to exhibit civic virtue, he fulfilled his obligation because it promoted a common good from which he and others in his community would benefit. Can you imagine being asked to contribute towards a modern road construction project by hosting a construction foreman? We have little civic virtue left in this country. I have some conservative friends who believe what was once known as civic virtue is “government intrusion” on their freedom. They believe paying taxes is equivalent to the government taking their money (or even “stealing” their money). They not only wouldn’t be willing to contribute their time or money to building a road that benefits the community, they often actively oppose the very concept of the government pursuing any common good (e.g. roads, public schools, protecting our common environment).

Civic virtue remains as an idealistic goal for many but often a goal they hope someone else will achieve for them. Aristotle, Cicero, Rousseau, Wollstonecraft, Madison agree – all citizens in a republic should participate directly. Paying taxes is essential but not enough. Citizens need to learn how their government works and take part in it. Run for public office; volunteer for military service; take a civil service job; volunteer for a community board; join a CERT team; become a civic hacker. Today there are an endless number of ways to participate on many different levels of government.

I was inspired to join an Advisory Board in my hometown of Irving, TX. Coming from the business world, I had to adjust to the slower pace of government. But having been involved for over a year now, I’m beginning to see that what I’m doing is really making a difference. Ideas I’ve initiated have wound their way through city government and slowly taken effect. Here’s one way to look at it. If you’re like me, you’ve probably wasted hours of your life arguing politics online. No real change ever comes from those arguments. Instead, devote that time to learning about and participating in your local government. It’s a simple reallocation of your time that will result in less stress and real changes for the better.

Syndicated 2016-05-30 16:06:08 from Steevithak of the Internet

Triumph of the Fail Whale

Fail Whale by Matthias Töpfer (CC-BY-NC)

Early social networks had status fields; little boxes where you posted a short status line about your current emotional state (“I’m bored”) and maybe an emoticon. As social networks proliferated, Twitter came along, based on the useful idea that you could enter your status one time and have it automatically sync to anywhere else you wanted. I adopted Twitter relatively early on and it was a great time saver.

It was also easy to generate tweets from programs. When I published a new blog post, like this one, WordPress generated a tweet; the tweet then appeared as my status on Facebook, Google Plus, LinkedIn, on my personal websites (even on Myspace back in the day). Flickr and other sites could generate tweets to reflect current activity and I often wrote programs for websites I developed that generated tweets. For example, I wrote a bot for Camera-Wiki.org that tabulated the number wiki edits each week and posted it as a tweet. Twitter was the universal plumbing of the social media universe.

Gradually, Twitter has stopped talking to most sites. One of the earliest ones I remember this happening with was LinkedIn. One day my tweets stopped appearing on my LinkedIn profile status. LinkedIn claimed Twitter had changed their policy and no longer allowed LinkedIn to display tweets. Twitter claimed LinkedIn changed their policy. Sometime later, Google Plus started blocking Twitter. Then Twitter dropped their RSS feeds and created a new system that allowed them to block usage on personal websites unless you gave them your mobile phone number for tracking and demographics purposes. The final straw for me is that Facebook, while still allowing me to sync my Facebook status from Twitter, considers tweets as second class posts. If I post a status update via Twitter maybe 1% of my Facebook followers will ever see it. If post directly or from other, non-Twitter services such as Instagram, a much larger percentage of my followers see it.

For me, the sole purpose of Twitter is syncing my status with other social networks, so Twitter is now next to useless. I recently turned off my Facebook to Twitter sync. I think it’s not just me. Twitter seems to be largely a wasteland of lost status postings these days; an endless stream of status messages flying into a vacuum with no humans left to read them. I’ll probably keep posting there out of habit for a while longer but I think Twitter’s 15 minutes of fame are winding down.

Syndicated 2015-10-26 21:39:54 from Steevithak of the Internet

252 older entries...

 

steve certified others as follows:

Others have certified steve as follows:

[ Certification disabled because you're not logged in. ]

Robot of the Day

ALIAS

Built by
Pulkit Gaur

Recent blogs

19 Feb 2017 mwaibel (Master)
16 Feb 2017 AI4U (Observer)
24 Jan 2017 steve (Master)
17 Jan 2017 shimniok (Journeyer)
16 Aug 2016 Flanneltron (Journeyer)
9 Jul 2016 evilrobots (Observer)
27 Jun 2016 Petar.Kormushev (Master)
2 May 2016 motters (Master)
6 Nov 2015 wedesoft (Master)
10 Sep 2015 svo (Master)
6 May 2015 spirit (Journeyer)
14 Nov 2014 Sergey Popov (Apprentice)
3 Jul 2014 jmhenry (Journeyer)
10 Jun 2014 robotvibes (Master)
13 Nov 2013 jlin (Master)
23 Jun 2013 Mubot (Master)
13 May 2013 JLaplace (Observer)
21 Apr 2013 Pi Robot (Master)

Newest Members

Newest Robots

7 Aug 2009 Titan EOD
13 May 2009 Spacechair
6 Feb 2009 K-bot
9 Jan 2009 3 in 1 Bot
15 Dec 2008 UMEEBOT
10 Nov 2008 Robot
10 Nov 2008 SAMM
24 Oct 2008 Romulus
30 Sep 2008 CD-Bot
26 Sep 2008 Little Johnny
X
Share this page