Of robots & memories

For those of you who've had the misfortune of sharing a house with me, this may not come as much of a surprise but I have to admit to something rather gross;

We haven't used our vacuum cleaner even once since arriving in Berkeley over 9 months ago.

Now before you jump to conclusions & envision mounds of fetid debris ammasing in the centre of our tiny apartment, let me put your mind at ease by way of a brief explanation;

I have seen the future and it sucks!

It also sweeps, dusts and eats dirt, hair and biscuits ... I like to call it "Munchie".

Munchie is our surrogate pet "robot" who wakes from his hiding spot behind the bookshelf at precisely 5pm each Monday and Friday to methodically clean and vacuum the house while we're making our way home from work. When we return from our day at the office we find him curled up, sleeping on his charger ready for another day of dirt-busting. Somewhat resembling a shiny blue cockroach on steroids, Munchie's brain is remarkably small (~256byte program-space) yet his self-preservation instincts are impressive (not that we have flights of stairs to prove it) & he's even smart enough to double back when a particularly grubby area is encountered, a fact Matt put to great use by feeding him a trail of cookie crumbs and watching the A.I. re-route for more sugary goodness. Every few weeks I empty his bag-less dustbin with the regular trash but otherwise the act of keeping our house dirt, dust & hair free is completely automated.

Munchie was conceived and manufactured by iRobot corporation ... a group perhaps better known for their millitary and bomb-disposal robots. For the last few years they've been branching into home automation and cleaning units and I'm told Munchie now has a sister in store who even mops & scrubs sealed floors. He doesn't say much, except to toot a short victory jingle at the successful conclusion of a scheduled cleaning "mission" before going back to sleep. I say "successful mission" because the converse also holds, and we have on occasion returned home to hear a distant melancholy tune wistfully echoing from the bedroom where the poor robot has choked on a shoelace or errant sock.
Now that we've had Munchie cleaning our floors for the last 9 months, I can't imagine the place without him!

Friends from Oz have been visiting San Francisco & (a testament to this crazy small world we're living in) we've been lucky enough to catch up with one of my long missed friends of childhood from the north coast of NSW. Lisa Pirlo (who also studied music at the small convent in Lismore where I learned violin as a youngster from the incredible Sr. Frances) has impressively been in touch with her Pen-Pal of 16 years who last week was married here in California. During Lisa's week-long visit to the area (her first trip overseas) we were lucky enough to spend the day catching up & seeing the sights in our local 'hood of Berkeley.
Reminiscing about people & places in Lismore has reinforced my desire to head back there with Zoe before too long & spend a nice long Autumn cruising up the coast & through the rainforests of NSW & QLD.

We also recently hosted PY here in Berkeley after his 3-week stint working in New Jersey. Masterfully, this particular version of PY was delivered complete with sleeping bag & a few camping essentials so we could hit the road in our little car and re-discover Yosemite national park. We hiked many a mile, lit many a fire & laughed heartily at many a chipmunk.

Resurrection of Bravo Unit.... Back in the day (the day being circa ~1996), when the internet was enthusiastically squirming along the freshest fiber-optic submarine cables encircling the globe, on the hunt for the blood of venture capitalists (pre-pre-pre dot-com bust), three starry-eyed geeks in Adelaide were camped up in their bedroom screaming sound effects into a portable minidisc recorder's microphone and writing (albeit remarkably poor) scripts for a military action computer game that later became Bravo Unit. Significant innovations of the time included an album-length CD audio soundtrack and comprehensive in-game 256 colours at a resolution of 640x480 pixels (yes mighty! ... stunning for it's time), stereo sound, 2-player co-operative play, an end-user level designer & of course what 90's computer game would be complete without cheat codes! Alex's rock-solid hand-drawn graphics, my occasional ray-traced sprites via POV-Ray (hand-coded animation including a full-motion-video intro) and mountains upon mountains of Simon's fresh undergrad ANSI C++ code and copious (if not overabundant) combined sound effects; screams, grunts, ooomphs and ug's!
The soundtrack alone is a telling time-capsule of our brain-space, trippy featherweight drum'n'bass, solid punchy trance and Alex's MASSIVE electro staple.
Now with the advent of ludicrously powerful CPU cores, my little laptop computer is capable of hosting virtual machines which mimic the behaviour of our computers of old and accordingly, Bravo Unit lives on long after the measly 486DX2-66 dev machine has been reclaimed & melted down for it's precious metals.

So why did we do it? (Apart from the obvious millions to be made from the thronging hoards of consumers who we presumed would line up to throw their money at us). At the time, Alex, Simon & I would readily succumb to our inner-engineer, marvelling at the technical chops of the coders artists within the underground demoscene & accordingly I'd invested the better part of my entire savings into a massive tome of a reference game-programming text book for Simon's birthday and hence the project was born.
We had an amazing time throughout the design & development phases learning much that put us in good stead to further our careers in later years.
The game was picked up by a publishing house in the UK but I'm not sure if it ever came to commercial fruition or if it's destined to forever remain a distant memory in the minds of our friends & fellow students who gladly stepped up to our beta-testing sessions between classes at University.

Good times!

"Come in Alpha Unit, this is H.Q ... do you copy ... crshhhhhhhh .... do you read alpha unit? ###..#%%%## .....crzzzzzzk bshhhhhhhr .... crackle ... say again Alpha Unit, what's your status? ......."