Friday, March 27, 2009

Notes on a young country and our best and worst from a taxi trip

I took a short taxi trip to town the other day that epitomized some of the best and worst of South Africa. The human contents of the taxi were as varied as any SAB commercial could imagine; a Muslim couple on there way back from mosque in the front; a well dressed older black man behind them; next to him was a young Indian guy in clothes that showed he was clearly trying to hard; one row back was a guy in overalls holding a flat car battery and next to him was me. In a city like Cape Town diversity itself is nothing remarkable, in fact the point is that nothing I am about to describe was that remarkable.

The humans inside the taxi were not just sitting waiting for their destination to arrive. They were engaged in great and vibrant conversation. Everyone was laughing and then talking gravely, heads nodded in agreement and figers were wagged in dischord. The conversation involved everyone and was permeated by a feeling of commonality of being South Afrcian and a simple respect for each others opinions and person. When out stops began to arrive and people got out hands were shaken, cellphone numbers swapped (which will probably never be called but acts more as gesture of appreciation of one another) and good wishes flowed all around. That was the good part, that was the encouraging face of our not so fledgling country.

Not our taxi, but pretty much the same

The sad face was the topic of our discussions; corrupt politicians, broken promises and the failure of basic service delivery permeated out words, Grimaces and tears followed the sad words about the sad state of sad northern neighbour Zimbabwe and our governments sad and inept handling of the situation. The worst part about South Africa is that increasingly the point we use to find commonality as a nation is our supreme dissapointment with our leaders and government.

Someone we all decided we don't like

I was torn about whether to see the experience positively or not. We have tried for so long to discover national commonality and a common South African identity, but is this really what we want to base it on?

Thursday, March 26, 2009

My trip on Google Maps

So since I am obviously back I am now nostalgic about traveling. So by now I am retelling stories you will all get sick of soon. But anyway while there is still a bit of interest out there that hasn't been killed off by bad story telling I am going to take the chance to do something cool with it on my blog.

Below is my the trip I took on Google maps, Some of it is annotated, but I got a bit lazy, you should be able to see from my route that it wasn't the best planned trip ever, but it was allot of fun.

By the way, I am still on the prowl for people to eat lunch with. Don't think you can get out of it.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

What I have been filling my head with

These the things that have entered my head from books I am reading, poems I have remembered and songs I have been listening to recently. They are all interesting, some are superb, others simply perfect in the sentiment they express. Read them, go listen to the songs, recite the poem and laugh at the comic.
Sadly, sadly, the sun rose; it rose upon no sadder sight than the man of good abilities and good emotions, incapable of their directed exercise, incapable of his own help and his own happiness, sensible of the blight on him, and resigning him-self to let it eat him away.
- Description of Sydney Carton, Tale of Two Cities, Charles Dickens
I'm sure you know its true

Oh one day when you're looking back
You were young and man you were sad
When you're young you get sad
When your young you get sad then you get high
-Second verse of To Be Young, Ryan Adams
Had I the heavens’ embroidered cloths,
Enwrought with golden and silver light,
The blue and the dim and the dark cloths
Of night and light and the half light,
I would spread the cloths under your feet:
But I, being poor, have only my dreams;
I have spread my dreams under your feet;
Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.
-He Wishes For the Cloths of Heaven, W.B. Yeats
The only girl I've ever loved
Was born with roses in her eyes
But then they buried her alive
One evening 1945
With just her sister at her side
And only weeks before the guns
All came and rained on everyone
Now she's a little boy in Spain
Playing pianos filled with flames
On empty rings around the sun
All sing to say my dream has come
-First verse of Holland 1945, Neutral Milk Hotel
Everybody's building the big ships and boats
Som are building monuments, others jotting down notes
Everybody's in despair, every girl and boy
But when Quinn the Eskimo gets here everybody's gonna jump for joy
Oh come all without, come all within
You'll not see nothing like the mighty Quinn
Come all without, come all within
You'll not see nothing like the mighty Quinn.
- First verse of Quinn the Mighty, Bob Dylan

-asofterworld 413, E Horne and J Comeau

I wish I could add something up here that I wrote, I hope to put something that you write up here one day.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

My Honours Project - Robot Localization

I did a small honours project last year in the University of Cape Town Robotics and Agents Research Lab. In simple terms it involved using a laser scanner mounted on a robot to perform mapping and localization. In fact it was a a new system to make previous methods more stable in rough terrain. It was developed for an Urban Search and Rescue robot, that is currently being built in the lab. I got the top mark for the project, so some one thought it was alright. If you are interested (which you should be, cause everyone knows robots are cool) you can read the full report here, there is also an associated presentation here. If you are interested enough to want the source code you can email me and I'll be happy to organize it for you. The abstract of the write up is below to give you a better idea of what it was on.
Dealing with uneven floors during planar robot localization
Traditional robot localization and mapping techniques have been developed for simple environments, making them very sensitive to uneven floors. This makes them unsuited for use in many situations, including urban search and rescue scenarios. This paper introduces a novel method that allows traditional 2D laser scanner based localization techniques to be used in environments that are not perfectly flat. The method is efficient both in terms of computation and hardware requirements, requiring only a simple hinge in addition to the laser scanner. The method works by first using multiple laser scans to calculate the relationship of the robot to the level plane, and then projecting the information of the laser scans onto the level plane, after which traditional 2D localization can take place. The method is described in detail and analyzed. Testing and experimentation is done to show that it greatly improves the accuracy of scan matching, the core method in laser scanner based localization.

A screen shot of the system (fancy hey)