AFL Ladder Widget is Broken!

On March 23, 2006, in AFL Ladder, Tech, by tom

Update: The widget is fixed, download the new version here!

The AFL has recently changed the layout of their website, including the ladder page where the AFL Ladder Widget v1.4 (and all the earlier versions) downloads the ladder data from. Thanks to John Reed for letting me know. A fix is in the works and a new version will be available to download in the next day or two.

For those who want to know the technical details behind the problem, well the widget is simply downloading the entire ladder page from the AFL website and then parsing through the ladder page source code, looking for the ladder data, which is in a HTML table structure. Once it has found all the data, it is displayed on the front of the widget.

Every time the AFL changes thier website, the formatting of the ladder table changes and because the current algorithm the widget uses to find the ladder data isn’t fool proof, it will more than likely fail to locate it, giving the “Error with data” message. The AFL changing their web site is unavoidable, and it’s not possible to write a fool proof parsing algorithm, given that the AFL can change the site in any way they want at any time.

But I’ve already taken a look at the AFL’s new ladder page and to their credit, they’ve made it easier to parse for the ladder data by including new unique attributes along with the ladder table data elements which they previously didn’t have. So as long they don’t change these, parsing the ladder page should be simpler and more robust, until the next time the AFL makes a major change to their website.

Does anyone know of an XML feed from the AFL which provides this kind of data without all the formatting?? That’d make my life so much simpler…


A New Look

On March 20, 2006, in Uncategorized, by tom

So now my website has a new look. I recently upgraded all the web applications on my server which allows this new look. Inspired partly by an inability to leave well enough alone, and in part by a curious email server incident last week, I decided it was time to bring everything up to the latest revision in the hope to fix bugs and make everything more secure. The web applications are also more tightly integrated than before making for an overall more consistent look to the site.

It is still based on WordPress and Gallery, only now I am using the latest releases of both packages which proved both easier to configure and easier to get working together than the earlier version I was using. Integration of the two was made even simpler than before using the WPG2 plugin and the vSlider theme. A few hours of Googling for setup hints and some Photoshop frustration later (to create the header images), and you have what you see in front of you.

Migrating to Gallery2, which uses an actual database for image storage instead of the file system as in the old version was fairly painless, although it did mess up the descriptions and witty comments on some albums and photos and required some hand editing to fix – let me know if you see any problems and I’ll fix ’em!


Robot 1

On March 5, 2006, in Tech, by tom

Over the last few months I’ve been working on a robotic platform. It’s been slow going and it’s still in the design stage but the plan is to create a mobile, rover type autonomous robot. I’ve spent most of the time so far thinking about how it’s all going to fit together, but have made some progress over the last couple of weeks towards getting the basic motor drive system working and tested.

Photos from the initial work I’ve completed can be found in my photo gallery.

I am no mechanical engineer, and I don’t have a decent workshop to build hardware in so I didn’t attempt to build the chassis myself. Instead I purchased it, along with the motors and wheels from Lynxmotion. Similarly, the motor drivers (internal to the chassis) were purchased from Pololu, another decent place for robotic parts.

I intend to design and build custom electronics for the main controller on the robot, based around the Atmel ATmega128 microcontroller, but at this stage I am using a Ethernut 2.1b board from Egnite to fill in for now. I’m also using their Ethernut RTOS to make software development simpler.

The final system will be autonomous, meaning it won’t require any connection to a computer to operate, it will just do its own thing. But for now I am using a Bluetooth serial adapter from Brainboxes for debugging and control – this thing is in the very, very early stages of development!

The robot as shown in the gallery has no collision sensors, no motor speed control sensors or any of the other things I want to add to the final platform like a digital compass or video camera on a pan/tilt platform. All this will come at some time later.

Below is a short clip (requires Quicktime) of the robot driving around under my control via a Bluetooth connection to my Mac.

It's alive!