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Herbert 1701 Species B Generations 2 & 3

As noted with the release of Herbert 1701 Species B Gen 1, species B is an improvement over species A in the area of efficiency. A good chunk of this improvement is in the form of the MAX8212 Solar Engine versus the previous Miller SE, but you might have also noticed a difference in the transistors used in the B species. The difference was a move from the previous 2N3904 (and not seen but complimentary 2N3906) bipolar junction transistors to 2N2222 and 2N2907 BJTs (the 2N2222 you will see in the schematics below). A small upgrade, but it fell inline with an evolutionary move to a more efficient species.

If your eyes glazed over reading the last paragraph, don't worry, mine did too. I had to mention it for the sake of full disclosure on this project. And now we can move on. No wait. I'm sorry. A quick note on the difference between PNP & NPN transistors (2N2907 is PNP, 2N3904 is NPN). I'll skip the really boring stuff and just say the major differences are that PNP turns on with a low voltage (ground or -) to its base and allows current to flow across it to a load (the LEDs); the NPN is opposite, turning on with a positive voltage (current really) and allows current to dump out of a load and pass through it to ground. The reason this is important is that one device moves holes (PNP), the other moves electrons (NPN); and electrons move faster. So we like NPN. There, done.

The reason I mentioned all this is in order to keep species B as a more efficient critter than species A, we want to switch back to using NPN transistors. The problem is that the MAX8212 outputs a low signal when it is active, and as I just mentioned PNP turns on from a low signal. Thus a PNP transistor is needed, but there is hope because the PNP transistor dumps out a positive voltage, which we can use to turn on NPN transistors. And that is a good thing.

Here we have exactly that in the form of Herbert 1701 Species A Generation 1A. The poor little guy is not exactly a remarkable change in generations, so rather than a full jump ahead, it gets a letter added. Good stuffs, except it isn't.

Rather than the nice efficient energy usage of Gen 1, this Herbert behaves much in the same way as Species A. That is to say the LED flashes as Herbert charges and discharges the capacitor. The LED flashing is Herbert's way of telling us that it has used up all his energy and has to rest for a moment. Not quite the spritely little Herbert that it once was. So where did the energy go?

The answer is in more glazed eye stuff: Across the base to emitter junction of the 2N2222. The current flow to the base straight off the 2N2907 is just too high compared to the current flow across the LED to the collector, and so all that extra juice dumps straight to ground; leaving Herbert feeling empty and lethargic. Poor poor Herbert. No one to talk to, play with, or be with.

Hope is restored to the B species in the form of a couple extra resistors. The 10K/1M resistor combination that Herbert 1701 Species B Generation 2 developed drops the current at the 2N2222 base to a more reasonable level, keeping Herbert chock full of electrons to keep that LED glowing bright. Herbert with your LED so bright, won't you guide my sleigh tonight. Then how the Herbert's loved him. Sorry.

Herbert 1701 Species B Generation 3 follows in Species A's footsteps, although perhaps "light path" would be a better term. Two cells pumping out light where before there once was one. The difference is that this species continues to maintain enough energy to keep both "cells" illuminated without problem.



While not the greatest leaps in evolution, these are building blocks that will allow Herbert 1701 to continue on a path towards... well towards something else. And that is what evolution is all about. Next up, we will determine which came first; the chicken or the egg. Won't that be fun?

Evolution Side Notes

I figure now would be a good time to cover a few items related to the Evolution Project that don't really fit anywhere else. First up, I should give credit where credit is due and that begins with the schematics I draw up.

The program I have been using for schematic design is ExpressSCH, which is part of the ExpressPCB software package by expresspcb. It is a free download and, should you so choose, gives you direct price quotes from expresspcb for the PCB drawings you create. While it doesn't contain as many different components as other packages I have used, it has one of the easiest methods for creating your own custom components.

Another nice feature is that you can link a schematic created in ExpressSCH to a PCB board created in ExpressPCB, which can save you a few headaches in checking the connectivity between components. It also allows you to export your schematic to a bitmap file, which I then crop, resize and covert to jpg for upload to the great and powerful blog.

On the subject of schematics, I should mention that I haven't designed any of these circuits from the ground up. I have instead followed in the footsteps of the best and brightest and stolen from everyone else. That is part of the whole Intelligent Design aspect of the Evolution Project. This should be no big surprise, as I didn't invent the Miller Solar Engine, Andrew Miller did. In turn, he stole parts of it from other circuit designs.

Most of what I come up with is from memory. Once upon a time I was trained as a Nuclear Electronics Technician, which meant I knew transistor theory better than most EE professors from MIT. Being trained as a Nuke ET didn't mean you had that level of knowledge, but in my case I really did. While everyone else was memorizing the latest material, I was drawing out amplifiers and latches, but that is another story. Years of disuse later and I have a very hard time pulling that information out from the recesses of my brain, but it is still there someplace and allows me to figure out what components to put where and what I should change.

For all the other stuff that doesn't come directly from my mind, I have many Internet sources for inspiration. A snippet of a circuit from here, a modification on my own, and a snippet of a circuit from over there. That is where the previous and future circuits come from. For those curious few people, here's my top list of go to websites for those snippets (in no particular order):

1. Solarbotics.net.
2. BEAM Wiki. I've mentioned these first two a few dozen times already, and will continue to do so throughout this project.
3. Society of Robots. I use this site so much for refresher material that it has a permanent link on the sidebar over there.
4. David Cook's Robot Room. I own both his books from when I reemerged into robotics. The books combined with the website have tons of good information and circuit designs.
5. Manufacturer datasheets.
OK, got all the credits out of the way. The last side note on this project is in what you see versus what you don't see. The schematics, bread boarded circuits and completed ALs that get posted are the things that work or the necessary step to get from something that worked to another something that worked; such as Species A Gen 2. In coming up with what works, there are a lot of schematics and bread boarded circuits that do not. Some things look good on paper, but behave badly in reality.

Until all the electronics theory resurfaces in my brain (or I take a refresher course) there will be quite a many of these designs that get built out, but never discussed. Even once I have all that knowledge back, there will still be plenty of these designs. That is what makes it evolution, those species that can not survive die off and those that can live on; even if it just on paper (or in this case the web). It's my process, and I hope it explains some of what we will be seeing here as the project continues.

Computer Security 101 - Part 2 - Passwords

As I have already mentioned, I have worked for a variety of different companies. Each one has had their own policy on account passwords and those policies have been as varied as the companies themselves. Most have not been very secure at all.

One good example of this always comes to mind when I talk to people about account passwords. About 14 years ago I worked for (contracted with) a well known company in Ohio, that also happens to have one of the largest repositories of legal information in the world. My position within the company was along the lines of desktop support where we would get assigned support tickets to fix users problems. Our performance was based mostly off volume completed and the time each support ticket was open.

Invariably there would be times where I would arrive at a user's desk to fix some problem, only to discover they had left for an extended lunch (Executives were great for this) or had taken a few days off from work. As luck would have it, it was also extremely likely that the support ticket had something to do with the user's profile on their computer (a "profile" is all the settings on a computer that pertain to that particular person, such as the wallpaper or screensaver they have chosen). This meant that without being on the computer as that user, the problem could not be fixed, the ticket would remain open, our (my) performance level would go down (kind of a crappy way to do things, but it was what it was), and if cuts came, well you know the story.

To solve this problem I would immediately turn the keyboard over and look for a little piece of paper taped to the bottom of it containing the user account password. About 50% of the time, it was there. The little pull out writing tables that are part of some desks were another great place to look. And when all else failed I would open their picture frames on their desk and find their children's names. I had about a 90% success rate in getting into the computer as the user. Pitiful.

Nowadays I would verbally reprimand myself for doing that. I would write-up (or outright fire) the user. My, how times have changed. Except they haven't. I no longer "hack" into user accounts in this manner, but far too often those user passwords are still written down someplace on that desk. The excuses are always the same, "I have too many passwords to remember" or "IT makes me have too difficult of a password to remember." Well, I have a solution.

The first part is to forget about passwords. Passwords suck. Passwords are like relatives you have to visit, but go into convulsions at the sight of. Passwords are so 1990s. For you retro-people, that is not a good thing. Instead of passwords, passphrases are the way to go. It is one of those new industry best practices, and it is a smart one.

A password is a bunch of letters and numbers thrown together to let you log onto the computer. In order to increase security, IT departments have required that passwords be a set minimum length and contain a certain level of complexity (usually something like it must contain one uppercase letter, one lowercase letter and one number or other symbol. Sound familiar?). Users write these down. Passwords are bad.

A passphrase is a phrase or sentence that is easy to remember. Passphrases are easy to create that will meet any level of complexity requirements. Users do not need to write down passphrases. Passphrases are good.

Here's an example of the difference between a password and passphrase. For this example let us say that the "password" must be at least 10 characters long, contain at least one uppercase character, one lowercase character, one number and one symbol. Relatively complex and difficult to brute force (brute forcing is throwing characters at a password until the right combination is obtained, more on that in a minute).

For our password we have: Id10t.Error
For our passphrase we have: Mydaughteris17yearsold.

Which is easier to remember? The first one has 11 total characters, the second 23 characters; yet the second would be easier to remember for any parent. Heck, a lot of systems will even allow you to use spaces as characters, thus making the passphrase much the same as typing a sentence. The second is also more difficult to brute force attack due to the increased length, and given such a huge range of possible passphrases that a person might pick, pretty much impossible to simply guess.

Now a word on cracking passwords. There are a few methods for getting a password, the most common is for the user to tell you; either directly or by writing the password down. Flat out guessing, or making educated guesses is the second in the list of most common and easiest. Lastly comes cracking the password (there are other methods, but these are the most common). This is generally done using brute force attacks, so named because it is similar to a physical brute force attack in that a would-be hacker just continues to pound away at the possibilities until security falls away. A variation (although some consider it completely different) on brute force attacks is the use of dictionary files, where entire words are thrown at a password, alone or in combination. Still qualifies as a brute force attack in my opinion.

Brute force attacks are generally done using specialized programs that allow the hacker to set a few parameters, such as minimum password length, and the program does the rest. Character by character these password crackers plug-in sequential combinations of letters and numbers until a successful password attempt is achieved (aaaaaa, aaaaab, aaaaac, etc). These attacks take time, based on the possibilities for a given password. The more confined the password requirements are, the less time a brute force attack will take. The fewer characters in a password, the less time an attack will take. The fewer types of characters in a password, the less time an attack will take. Using dictionary files instead of strictly sequential attempts also reduces the attack time. And to top it off, each year computers get faster and faster, allowing more password attempts to occur over a given period of time, and thus, the less time an attack will take.

After touting passphrases over passwords I present the doom and gloom. Bad, bad Andrew. There is good news though, I promise. The first piece of good news is that if you read back you will see that brute force attacks are third on my list of methods for gaining someone's password. That means that the other two items are far more likely. Using complex (containing numbers and letters with a minimum set length and no, or very high, maximum length) passphrases over passwords greatly reduces the likelihood of a person ever guessing a password. Passphrases, as mentioned, also increase the likelihood of a user remembering their password, and as such greatly reduce the likelihood of someone finding it written down.

That leaves one further part from the list of the three methods: telling people your password. Don't do it. Not ever. Never ever. Your passphrase is yours and yours alone. Do not, under any circumstance, tell anyone your passphrase. Not your spouse, not your manager, not the CEO of the company, and especially not someone from IT. People always try to tell me their passwords. I make loud noises and cover my ears until they stop, and then proceed to tell them that they are trying to do something bad. No one, let me repeat, no one needs your password but you. In the unlikely event that someone someplace needs to access your account, IT can reset your password. The glory of this is that it creates a paper trail showing that someone changed your password, and you will know it has been changed.

Returning to the doom and gloom of brute force attacks, there is more good news. A big help with stopping these attacks is in changing your passphrase on a fairly regular basis, at least once every 60 days, preferably 30. On that note, when you change your passphrase you should not use the same one you have used previously. At least not for a year or two. The reason? In the event that a passphrase is compromised (meaning you told someone who called up and said they were from IT), it is only good for a certain period of time. Then poof, it is a new password. This also hurts brute force attacks, because if they get a password and it is changed, they have to start all over again. IT personnel should set these options in their systems to force regular password changes to occur.

The last note on passphrases is for the IT persons out there: set an automatic failed attempt lock-out. Huh? Almost all systems that use passwords have a setting that will lock out a user account if the wrong password is entered X number of times within a given time period. You can even set the lock-out to expire after X period of time automatically on many systems. A good setting level is to have automatic one hour account lock-out after 3 failed attempts. This effectively reduces the success level for any brute force attack to 0, because three attempts in an hour will take many, many lifetimes.

To sum things up, here is the simplified version of all the junk above. Learn it. Live it. Love it.

1. Use passphrases instead of passwords.
2. Ensure your passphrases contain both upper and lower case characters, as well as numbers. Symbols are also good.
3. Never write your passphrase down anywhere.
4. Never tell anyone your passphrase.
5. Change your passphrase at least once every two months, preferably once a month.
6. Do not reuse a passphrase for at least a year.
7. For IT: Automatic account lock-outs are your friend.

There. You have your 20 minutes of security work for the week. And it didn't even cost you a dime, imagine that. Next up we'll move out to the network perimeter and start working our way in. Stay tuned for Part 3 - Firewalls. Until then, be safe.

Herbert 1701 Species B Generation 1

The previous species of Herbert 1701s have all made use of a Miller Solar Engine, thanks to its simplistic design and low level of parts required. There are other solar engine designs that would work about equally, some better, some worse; it just depends on the application and part availability. If you have an interest I would encourage you to take a look at the variety of different solar designs at solarbotics.net.

There is one problem with the majority of solar engines out there, including the Miller SE, and that is the lower voltage levels that each handles. A portion of the SEs make use of the 1381* chip to determine the turn on and turn off voltage levels, which requires replacing that chip with a different 1381* to raise or lower the "trigger" level. Despite that, the base voltage levels for the 1381* designs remain quite low. Other designs use various diode combinations, again producing lower voltage levels. There are methods of increasing the voltage trigger level for most of these designs to higher levels and perhaps we shall delve into those during a revisit to Species A, but for now it is time for a new species to emerge.

The reason a higher voltage trigger level is desirable at this point is the need to allow for further growth and evolution. Many components exist and can be used that would work fine in the 3V range, but if something requires more power it can be a problem. To that end, we will evolve our existing Herbert to a new species, one that possesses a different style of SE at its heart; the Maxim MAX8212 Voltage Monitor.

The MAX8212 can be used in solar designs similar to other SEs, at the cost of additional resistors to the circuit. The benefits of the MAX8212 are a lower power consumption (compared to many other voltage monitoring SEs) and the ability to vary the voltage trigger level by varying the resistors. Both of these things make sense from an evolutionary stand-point; energy efficiency is a highly desirable genetic trait and if a life form is to continue to evolve and grow, it will require more energy to handle the various systems that take shape. After all, what would be the sense of developing a tail to swim with if the fish lacked the energy to move it? That species would die off pretty quickly.

The basic design around a MAX8212 Solar Engine is simple; three resistors are used between power, two pins and ground. The two pins are Hysteresis output (HYST) and Threshold (THRESH). The other pins involved are power (V+), Ground (GND) and Output (OUT). In a nutshell, the three resistors flow energy from the power source to ground, across HYST and THRESH, and as the laws of energy would have it, they drop the entire voltage level down to nothing in the process. The magic happens based on how much of that voltage each resistor drops along the way.

By varying the resistor values, we can set how much voltage hits each pin for any given supply voltage. A spreadsheet to determine these resistor values can be found here, as well as a little schematic showing where they go. The MAX8212 contains a self regulating 1.15V reference source and a comparator. When the voltage on the THRESH pin hits 1.15V the comparator notices this and sets the OUT pin to a low level. This low level will remaining active until the supply voltage drops down to a preset amount. The preset amount is determined by what is going on at the HYST pin and, by a strange coincidence, the voltage level sitting at the HYST pin when the THRESH pin hits 1.15V happens to be the turn off voltage (Vl). Basically it is magic.

You can use the spreadsheet to determine the resistor values needed; just enter the On Voltage (Vu), the Off Voltage (Vl) and first Resistor (R1) Value. The Maxim datasheet recommends an R1 value in the 10k ohm to 10M ohm range. Higher values are better as they allow the circuit to consume less current, but too high can result in insufficient current for the comparator to use. It is a balancing act.

Using the base MAX8212 design, we can combine it with most of the same components used in Herbert 1701 Species A Generation 1, merely replacing the voltage trigger with the new MAX8212 trigger, and replacing the transistor with a PNP type transistor to create Herbert 1701 Species B Generation 1. The schematic shown depicts the finished design for this species of Herbert, with resistor values that will turn the circuit on when the capacitor charges to around the 3.15V level and turn it back off when it drops down to about the 2V level.

With Herbert all built out into a solder-less breadboard we can see the new AL in action. Drum roll please. In light, the green LED illuminates and Herbert expends energy. Pretty similar to our previous Herbert species except where Species A would flash the LED as the circuit charged and discharged, Species B stays lit under the same conditions. This is because of the greater efficiency of the MAX8212 SE design, which I believe I mentioned previously. While the new species does very little that is new, it is a more efficient design and will allow for better, stronger, faster and prettier generations to come. And that is what evolution is all about.

Computer Security 101 - Part 1 - Introduction

I have worked professionally in the computer industry for almost 20 years now. Throughout this career I have found employment within a plethora of differing companies, as both a W2 employee and contractor. Whether the company was large, medium or small in size, housed hundreds of servers or none, possessed an IT staff to rival Microsoft or none at all, and regardless of the industry, one thing has remained a constant; computer security has been lacking across one or more areas.

Lack of knowledge, lack of funding, lack of training and, pitifully enough, lack of caring are the culprits for this. As Information Systems go further into the 21st century, these culprits are starting to dwindle, but are far from gone. Almost all companies have heard of the need for some level of computer security or another by now, yet still the systems tend to be piecemealed together, assuming they exist at all. I blame this on a lack of knowledge and understanding by the IT professionals, as well as a lack of readily available information on the various security subjects.

Just about every IT person knows you should have a firewall for your Internet connection, even most home users know this; but few of those know how to set it up correctly. This even pertains to many security specialists. Once again, a lack of knowledge and understanding.

"But Andrew," you say, "security systems are expensive. Security training is even more so. We just don't have the budget for this." To which I say, "Yes. Yes you do." Aside from the obvious, "You can not afford NOT to invest in security" (gotta love double negatives), computer security does not have to be expensive, nor should it be.

There are only two things you need to purchase to maintain a good level of security on your computers (aside from the necessities like the computer itself) and those are a good desktop antivirus program (hence forth called client A/V) and a firewall or router. Odds are you have those already or they can be placed in any budget without a second glance. The rest of it is all just best practices (those annoying things everyone talks about, but no one ever says what they are).

That is what I will be covering in this series of blog entries, computer security best practices. It costs nothing upfront but a little time, and saves tons of time on the back-end, while also saving money in the short and long run through reduced break/fix costs, consulting fees, loss of reputation, lawsuits, regulatory fines, etc, etc, etc. For less than 20 minutes per week, you too can have rock-solid abs, umm, I mean a secure network. Best of all, I'm going to give you all that information for free in simple terms that even I can understand. So stay tuned for Part 2 - Passwords.

Herbert 1701 Species A Generations 2 & 3

Strange things happen in the biological world when dealing with evolution. Some of these things work, some do not. One such evolutionary change that occurred somewhere along the line is that a single cell organism split into two duplicate cells, but rather than detaching completely, those two cells remained joined together as one organism. This event did not happen overnight and was actually set in motion through multiple generations of changes, eventually resulting in the first multicell organism.

Multiple cell organisms are where the cool stuff begins to happen. There are plenty of interesting and diverse single cell organisms out there, each of which has some very fascinating characteristics and traits. We can and do continue to learn from these single cell organisms, but when it comes to developing higher level functions you need multicell organisms and cellular specialization. This is where I will continue the next phase of the Herbert 1701 evolution projects.

While I am not an expert in taxonomy, I do believe that a single cell organism and a multicell organism would probably be classified as different species, regardless of how close those cells are in all other regards. Of course, in layman terms algae is algae, whether it clumps into multicell plants or stays as a single cell plant life. Despite this, for my own classifications I will be keeping these next two circuit designs as part of Species A. I am sure this will not be the only Herbert 1701 classification that does not make sense from a taxonomic point of view, merely the first.

Herbert 1701 Species A Generation 2 represents the splitting of generation one into two identical, but joined structures. As you can see from the schematic, this generation shares a power source between the two "cells", but otherwise is just a duplicated design. For anyone familiar with solar engines, this is the base design for miller solar engine powered solarbots: one solar cell with two circuits feeding two loads.

The interesting thing that comes about as a result of this new generation of AL (artificial life form) is not in the design so much as the actual function of the circuit. Placed in an appropriate light source one might expect the AL to react with both green LEDs flashing in sync, but as most persons who have built an electronic circuit or two could have told you, it does not. Instead one of the two solar engines activate, flashing the green LED, while the other circuit stays dormant without flashing. In bright enough light (direct Florida sunlight), both cells do flash, but not in sync and not for the same durations.

The reason for this phenomenon is the basis of evolution, and is the reason I bring it up. Despite both cells in the AL consisting of the same components, the two cells do not behave identically. This is because there is no such thing as a perfect copy. Each set of components has slight variations from the other, producing different electrical reactions; in this instance one cell activates at a slightly lesser voltage than the other, draining the source of energy before the other cell has the chance to activate. Were this to happen in nature, the second cell would die off; likely bringing the first, more dominant cell down with it.

In organic cells this behavior occurs on a fairly regular basis. When an organic cell splits, its sets of genetic coding split and duplicate. In the case of DNA there is a built-in mechanism that checks to ensure a near perfect copy; there is no such mechanism for RNA. RNA mutations are far more common and is the reason why RNA viruses are more difficult to fight against, they adapt too quickly.

Were Herbert 1701 Species A to have a chance of surviving this cellular multiplication, further mutation would be required. First, the original capacitors I removed in gen one from the standard miller solar engine across the 1381 leads would need to be added back. Basically this would be similar to an organic cell being able to store its own energy for use. The second change is the addition of a balancing mechanism that would have to appear during the split, in this case a 100K potentiometer between the circuits and ground. This balancing mechanism would be automatic in an organic life form, for the sake of keeping costs down it will have to be manually balanced.

Now we have a proper multicell artificial life form that can survive just as well as the single cell. In proper lighting the AL behaves as originally expected, the two green LEDs light up and dim in concert; gathering and expending energy as a single unit. Herbert 1701 Species A Generation 3 is a thing of beauty that, combined with the prior generations, has shown the very basis of evolution, as well as the difficulty in achieving successful new creatures through this process.

I Have No Words

Before you read on down further I would like to point out that I was told by an old friend that I have rather liberal views. She might be right, but I am pretty certain that this blog entry will see me firmly seated in both liberal and conservative hell. Not something I am proud of, but this has to be said...

It has just been brought to my attention that I owe some people an apology. I have never been very good at apologizing because, well, I am so rarely wrong. So here goes: I am deeply sorry for ever saying that any creature, whether it be plant, animal, bug, human or whatever, came into existence or its current form of being through evolution. There, I said it. Whoo. Glad I got that off my chest.

Apparently, I was wrong about that whole evolution thing, so I am sorry to all the creationists out there for saying I was correct about evolution. I was wrong. But so were all you creationists. We were all wrong. The worst part of it all is that the Pastafarians were wrong as well; the Flying Spaghetti Monster did not decide, in Its Noodley Wisdom, to make each creature the way it is. It was, in fact, PETA. Yes, you read that correctly. PETA. People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals. Who knew ecoterrorists were that powerful of beings, right? I certainly didn't.

I know what you are thinking, "Andrew has finally lost his mind." I can assure you, one and all, that there is no "finally" about it, as I am pretty certain I never had it to begin with. I digress though. To get back on track, you should take a quick look at this website PETA has put together. Go on, I'll wait. Mmmm. Mmmmm. Mmmm. Mmmmmm. Back? Oh sorry, I'll wait while your jaw reattaches. Mmmm. Mmmmmm. Mmmmmm. Mmmmm. You can read on, the awe doesn't go away. Really.

In their supreme power, PETA has not only managed to remove the scales from the animal formerly known as "fish" and replace it with fur, but have also turned them into warm blooded creatures. Just like that. Poof. Are you as amazed as I am?

While I, a mere mortal, am certain that the great and powerful PETA have thought this entire thing through, I do have a few questions to ask of them. Being such powerful beings, I would expect them not to take the time to answer, but maybe they will have a preacher in their cult, I mean organization, that can provide some answers. I will also admit that some of these may be answered on that website as I did not see myself as worthy enough to read their divine words and closed the browser window very quickly, lest my jaw become permanently detached.

Anyway, questions.

1. How did you solve the whole hypothermia problem that other Kitten species succumb to when placed in water for too long? Does this mean global warming has really been a PETA plan all along to keep the Sea Kittens nice and warm?
2. About that whole kittens breathing air thing? Or should we expect mass Sea Kitten kills to start floating to the surface of our lakes and rivers?
3. I live in Florida, and currently if an Alligator were to eat someone's Land Kitten that gator would be relocated or possibly killed. Will there be the same enforcement for alligators eating Sea Kittens?
4. Do you have any statistics available of the likelihood of being attacked by a large Sea Kitten while swimming versus, say, being killed by a falling coconut?
5. When people go fishing. Wait. Am I still allowed to call it fishing or is it something else now?
6. When people go Sea Kittening they use a rod and reel to get their dinner. Does this mean they can now use their rod and reel to catch and eat Land Kittens?
7. Will you be petitioning the government to require Land Kittening permits, and if so when does the season open?
8. Do Sea Kittens now taste like chicken or do they still have that fishy taste? I only ask because I never ate fish in the past because I don't like that fishy taste, but if they taste more like what I would imagine Land Kittens to taste like (i.e. chicken), well then I will have to get me a Sea Kittening Pole and permit.
9. When I go through the drive-thru should I now be ordering a Filet McSea Kitten?
10. Will PETA be killing off, I mean euthanizing Sea Kittens now, just like they do Land Kittens?
11. What is wrong with you people?

I have a few more questions, but these should do for a start.

I guess I did have a few words after all.

Herbert 1701 Species A Generation 1

I have mentioned previously that all my robots are named Herbert. It would only make sense that I would have a sound logical reason for this choice of name, but of course I do not. Truth be told, the name comes from the song Starface by White Zombie, which actually comes from an episode of Star Trek.

In order to keep each Herbert separate (in my mixed up mind at least), I attach a number to the end; thus Herbert 1, Herbert 2, and so on. I figure I should keep this same naming convention for the Evolution Project, but would like to avoid any overlap between robots I build "just because" and those designed as a part of the project. To that end I have opted to use the moniker of 1701 for all evolution project robotics, or rather artificial life forms. And yes, 1701 is the number of the Enterprise in Star Trek. It seems my geekiness knows no bounds.

The project begins in the realm of solar power. Evolutionary it makes sense; energy for life must come from some place and without another life to tap into (consume) there is no other available source of sustainable energy. For robotics this means solar cells. The second part of this is the consuming of said energy to perform some arbitrary task or another, even if it is just to regulate the energy. These two parts could be met by attaching a resistor to a solar cell and calling it a day. This is not enough for the project, as the goal is artificial life and therefore will need something more to meet those requirements. That something more comes in the form of a solar engine.

There are a variety of solar engines that can be created, many of which are outlined on the BEAM Wiki and at Solarbotics.net. Each engine has different strengths and weaknesses, as well as different levels of complexity. For now, simpler is better; provided the core requirements for artificial life are met. One of those requirements is Organization and logic circuits. For this I have chosen the "Miller" solar engine. The design and function of a Miller solar engine are described very well in the above websites, so I will spare you the details and only cover the application and changes I have made.

The base Miller solar engine provides a logic circuit to our little life form. When voltage reaches a certain point from the solar cell, the circuit turns itself on and expends the energy across some load. For the sake of simplicity that load can be a resistor, but then it would be quite boring and we would never be able to witness the metabolism or response to stimuli (in this case the stimuli is light energy). Instead we will use an LED as the load and to fall in line with what would really be the simplest artificial plant life possible, it will be a green LED.

The only other change that is made to the base Miller solar engine is the removal of the second capacitor (usually labeled C1 in schematics). The second capacitor allows the voltage trigger mechanism (in most cases a 1381 IC) to remain "on" past its normal shutoff point. This provides power to the load for longer periods of time, which is helpful for heavier loads such as a motor. For a simple diode it is not needed, and the removal gives us a little more of a living effect. Thus we have a completed schematic for the first artificial life form in the evolution project, Herbert 1701 Species A Generation 1.

For all cases throughout this project I will create a circuit design and corresponding schematic. Where it is possible, this schematic will be put together on a solderless breadboard to test and tweak the design, as well as show proof of concept. Some generations I will build out the completed circuit to create the actual artificial life form, but others I will not. It will really depend on the differences between generations and species, the cost and availability of parts, and the level of circuit completion required to test the life form's function.

In this instance I performed all three. It is after all the first of the Herbert 1701 series and should be available for generations to come to look back upon and say, "This is where we came from." Alright, maybe not for that last part. In the case of Herbert 1701A Gen 1 I went the freeforming (creating a circuit without breadboard) route, as it provides a smaller footprint. The soldering is a little trickier, but it creates a nice compact circuit that, despite its simplicity, manages to look pretty cool. So without further adieu, I present the first of the Evolution Project artificial life forms: Herbert.