Our USCIS Interviewer Recommended AOS for Yufang!

Yufang and I just got back from our mini-trip to Cleveland for Yufang’s AOS interview, and the USCIS interviewer recommended her change of status! The only problem was with the medical documents, which were filled out incorrectly by the doctor in Stow. The interviewer told us that another couple interviewing today went to the same doctor and have the same problem with their forms. He told us that he would contact the doctor to have the paperwork corrected. If the doctor for whatever reason doesn’t release the information to the interviewer, then we will have to get the information for USCIS. Nevertheless, the big hurdle has been passed, and Yufang should receive her temporary green card in a month or so!

We stayed in the Crowne Plaza City Center Hotel last night, because it is right next to the Federal Building where we were scheduled for Yufang’s AOS interview at 8:00am this morning. I walked around last night taking pictures near the hotel:

And behind the hotel is the Federal Building:

And the city at night:

It was rainy this morning, so I didn’t get to take any pictures around Cleveland as I had hoped. Maybe next time . . .

2010 John W. Campbell, Jr. Conference July 16-18

James Gunn sent out the following reminder about the John W. Campbell, Jr. Conference in Lawrence, KS. Two years ago, it was held in conjunction with the SFRA Conference, and a good time was had by all. Read below for the details:

Lawrence, KS—New stars will shine at the annual John W. Campbell Science Fiction Conference July 16-18 at the University of Kansas.  In addition to the presentation of the Campbell Award for the Best Science-Fiction Novel of the Year and the Sturgeon Award for the Best Short Science Fiction of the Year, the Campbell Conference will be devoted to the science-fiction short story and the career of the late Theodore Sturgeon.  The awards are some of the most prized in the science-fiction field.

A great friend of K.U.’s science fiction programs, Sturgeon , who died in 1985, was an annual guest writer at the University’s Intensive English Institute on the Teaching of Science Fiction and cited by experts as one of SF’s finest short-story writers, if not, indeed, the best of all time.  Kurt Vonnegut , who named his pulp writer Kilgore Trout after Sturgeon, called him “a master storyteller.”  Samuel R. Delany referred to Sturgeon as “the American short-story writer.”  James Blish called him “the finest conscious artist science fiction ever produced.”  Sturgeon’s daughter Noёl, professor of women’s studies at Washington State University, will be present for the first time to present the award to its winner, yet to be disclosed.

In a special addition to its usual round-table discussion on Saturday, July 17, the Campbell Conference will offer a reading of Sturgeon’s stories from 10:15 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. in the Kansas Union’s Oread Bookx.  Oread Books also will host a group autographing session from 12:45-1:45 that will feature the winners of the Campbell and Sturgeon Awards, four winners of Nebula Awards and a winner of the World Fantasy Award, the Crawford Award, and two earlier Sturgeon Awards, a winner of the Hugo and Damon Knight SFWA Grand Master awards, a new member of the Campbell Award jury, and half-a-dozen other writers.

Some two dozen writers enrolled in the  Writers Workshop on Science Fiction and its novel-writing sister workshop will be in attendance as well as students enrolled in the Intensive English Institute on the Teaching of Science Fiction that begins the following Monday, local science-fiction enthusiasts, guests, and other students and faculty.

The Campbell and Sturgeon Awards will be presented at a dinner on Friday, July 16.  The Campbell Conference will be held in the Kansas Union on July 17.  Both are open to the public but require advance registrations available on the Center for the Study of Science Fiction website <www/ku.edu/~sfcenter>.   The Oread Books readings and autographing session are free.  Participants can bring their own books or purchase books available in Oread Books.

SFRA 2010 Conferees: Safe Travels to Carefree, AZ

I imagine folks are beginning to arrive in Carefree, AZ for the annual Science Fiction Research Association Conference. As I have told some friends, Yufang and I will arrive later than expected, because we were scheduled to have her AOS interview with the USCIS tomorrow. However, we should arrive Friday night, and we will be there for all of the conference happenings on Saturday and Sunday. See you all soon, and safe travels to all!

Tomorrow’s USCIS Interview for Yufang’s AOS

Tomorrow, Yufang and I will go to the Cleveland United States Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) offices for her adjustment of status (AOS) interview. In the picture above, you can see our primary evidence. It is weird looking at these three folders/scrapbooks and thinking that our lives together can be consolidated and condensed into such a small space–it makes me wonder just how far can a marriage be reduced–one scrapbook, one DVD, a single picture, etc. We have included photographs, letters, bank statements, and other evidence that prove we have a bona fide marriage. Certainly, we could take more things with us to the interview, but from reading other folks’ experiences with the AOS interview, you can bring too much. You have to find the right balance of evidences that show to a stranger and government official that you have a dedicated and loving marriage. I certainty don’t know yet if we have struck the right balance, but I hope that we have. We have gone through the checklist, and we feel that we have accumulated the right documents for our case. However, there are more things that we could have done had we thought to do them more in advance. We have taken on a Herculean task on top of other challenging professional events–PhD exams, conferences, and publications. There will be more of this in the future with renewing the AOS and eventually applying for Yufang’s citizenship, but we will take those things as they come. For now, our focus is on tomorrow and its important hurdle that we will be very happy to have behind us.

Differential Gears for Lego Robot Fred Arrived!

As you can see in the picture above, I finally received my assortment of gears and rods from ebay seller specialty_bricks. Through no fault of his own, it looked like I wasn’t going to receive my gears at all. The seller shipped the gears in a nice polybag envelope with First Class Parcel and Delivery Confirmation with the USPS. Unfortunately, they were confirmed as delivered last Friday, but apparently at someone else’s house. The person who received my package was kind enough to cut through the poly bag to see what was inside before taping it back up and giving back to the postal carrier for delivery at my house. I wish that I knew the kind soul who thought it was okay to open a package addressed to a different address than his or her own, and I think it’s ironic that Delivery Confirmation, which is meant to ensure delivery at the correct address, actually put me in a worse situation as a claimant for lost mail, because as far as the postal service was concerned when I called the local office was that their computer system showed that it was delivered and the postal carrier claimed to have delivered it at the right house. I have had many adventures with lost, misdelivered, and stolen packages, but I don’t think I have ever been in a catch-22 like this one.

In any event, the gears are now safely here, and the one that I needed the most is this one below–a differential gear. Using two of these, I will be able to use two motors to drive and steer the robot with only two wheels.

I probably won’t have the time to work on Fred again until after SFRA. I will post updates as they are available, and if you live around Kent, you’re welcome to stop by and play with Fred soon.

iOS 4 Installed on my iPhone 3GS Without a Hitch

iOS 4 installed without a hitch. R2-D2 is proudly displayed as my new wallpaper underneath my home screen apps. I had already backed up my iPhone with iTunes 9.2, so the update process took about 10 minutes, which it did seamlessly while I was doing some writing in Pages. I will play with the phone more today, but I will say now that the app transitioning is nice, fluid, and fast.

Lego Power Functions and Building a Remote Controlled Robot

I have been interested in Lego’s Mindstorms robotics systems: RCX, NXT, and NXT 2.0, but I have been wary of investing the $200-300 in the base system without knowing if I could build a robot that would be interesting to me. Brick sorters, Rubix cube solvers, printers, etc. are interesting, but I would like to create a more intelligent version of Tomy’s Omnibot line or Heathkit’s HERO. I imagine having a robot that can navigate a space, learn it, and interact in meaningful ways with that environment. Perhaps I am thinking of the Roomba without the vacuum and brushes and with more pizzazz.

Robotics is a series of interconnected systems that operate together to fulfill programmed functions and behaviors. To build a robot, you have to design the robot’s body and mechanical functions. How will it move? What kind of drive system (for those that move) will it employ? Next, you have to consider how will the robot learn from its environment? What kind of sensors will it use? How many sensors are needed to effectively navigate a space? What sensors will provide the robot special functions? Finally, you have to program the robot to control its body in response to sensor stimuli and execute other operations with arbitrary timings or responsive subroutines. What do you want the robot to do in a given circumstance? Is there a way to give the robot a series of choices in a given circumstance? How can it be made to decide what to do with a series of choices? Etc. In short, building robots that do more than very specialized functions can be an overwhelmingly complex endeavor.

With any elaborate problem, I like to break things down into its constituent parts and learn by doing. As such, my first project is to build a remotely controlled robot platform so that I can learn design principles with Lego Technic bricks. More importantly, I need to learn how to use gears and motors to do work efficiently and reliably.

In my first robot iteration, I decided to build a carrier robot that is inspired by the Tomy Omnibot line. Fred is a simple robot that carries a tray and has the ability to move around through a two motor powered dual differential drive system [based on the Hacienda Robotics Program’s compact design found here].

The system will be powered by Lego’s Power Functions. I ordered two small motors, a battery pack, remote control, IR receiver, and lights from Lego. In the photo’s of Fred, you can see that I constructed his body so that the battery pack easily slides into a carrier so that it need not be locked down and it can easily be removed to replace its 6 AA batteries.

Eventually, Fred’s head will swing back and forth using a piston drive that takes rotational power from the forward drive gears. I have built a prototype of this system pictured below.

As you probably noticed in the pictures above, I don’t have the differential gears in Fred’s drive platform. Unfortunately, my local mail carrier delivered them to the wrong house or they were stolen. USPS Delivery Confirmation shows that the package was delivered somewhere on Friday, June 18 while Yufang and I were at home, but we never saw the package. Until I know for certain that I won’t receive those gears, I have put further development on hold until after the SFRA conference and a trip to visit my folks in July. Fred is sitting on a bookshelf surrounded by the Power Functions gear.

Eventually, I will take what I learn from building Fred and scale up to a larger robot that will use the NXT 2.0 Intelligent Brick to control itself. I will obtain experience with sensors and programming with the Mindstorms set [more info on this here]. I would like a robot to do more than carry things around the house, such as playing with Miao Miao, so I imagine his exterior design will change as I move forward with the project.

See more pictures of the nearly-completed Fred in the gallery below. Your thoughts, suggestions, and helpful links are welcome in the comments.

Huge Lego Acquisition from North Canton

I replied to a listing on Craigslist in the Akron/Canton area for a garage floor covered in Legos. On the day before my last PhD exam on Philip K. Dick, I drove down to North Canton to take a look Rick’s collection.

Rick told me that he was getting out of the Lego selling business, so he wanted to unload what he had left. It was cool talking with him about his experiences as a seller, and I was happy to find out that he knows another Lego collector in the area named Jack, who I have met on two other occasions.

After talking for awhile, we completed the deal and loaded everything up. There are various bricks, plates, and pieces from Star Wars, Arctic, Harry Potter, Castle, City, Technic, and many other themes. There were some Megabloks that I hope to sell on Craigslist. My plans for all of the Lego bricks are to sort and rebuild some of the sets that I know there are parts for including the original AT-ST and Boba Fett’s Slave I. Other pieces will go into the remote control robot that I am building now. A few others I will keep, but I will try to find new homes for everything else. It may not seem like I am trying to deal with household clutter by the looks of the following pictures, but it is a process that will ultimately lead to some things that I will enjoy working with in a cleaner environment. In fact, as I am writing this, my floor is actually clean enough that Yufang ran the Dyson around this afternoon.

Above: Yufang is helping me sort pieces prior to washing. I use bra containers to hold Legos and I wash them in the washing machine on a light cycle with the drum half full of water and then I dry them on the drying rack supported by screen netting with a floor fan running over them.

Above: Yufang and I sorting in the middle of my office floor. Miao Miao is sleeping in the background behind Yufang’s shoulder.

Thanks for reading all of this week’s Lego posts. Expect more posts in the future, but now I can say I am finally caught up with these posts!