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When it comes to programming a swarm of robots, the question has always been do you program from the top down or the bottom up? According to the Technology Review, you no longer have to decide between programming each robot individually or programming the flock as if it were a single entity. Carlo Pinciroli and a collection of his friends and colleagues at the Ecole Polytechnique de Montreal have come up with Buzz, a programming language that allows you to combine both kinds of commands into a single language. It allows you to tweak the two kinds of command structures to any level of detail you feel is required, and it scales easily to control any size of swarm. If that weren’t enough, they have started building and collecting libraries of program modules of common swarming behavior that researchers and hobbyists can drop into their own programming projects. That means for the first time swarm programmers can actually share their work in a common environment, and not have to be constantly reinventing the wheel someone else already solved.

According to the article Pinciroli did at RoboHub the language syntax was inspired by JavaScript and Python, meaning it should be instantly familiar to any programmer, cutting down on the learning curve involved. And the base run time platform itself is so lean it only takes 12KB, so you can do meaningful programming in the smallest of robots. It also interfaces nicely with other types of languages, such as the ROS, or Robot Operating System. The most exciting part? They released it as open-source software under the MIT license. It can be downloaded at The Swarming Buzz, so you can start programming your hoard of Evil Robot Overlords today!

I have sat through a lot of tutorials about how to do things in a 3D CGI modeling and animation software package before, and this one just made me grin. Jay Johnson has a kid who had an animation project in mind, which he shared with his dad. Dad installed the full free DAZ Studio Pro software suite on his computer, the child beat on it for half an hour getting nowhere, and gave up in frustration. Jay then showed his kid how to use the software to make his project come to life in about 20 minutes, and he reports that two days later the end result was amazing according to dad.

That event caused Jay to assemble this 20 minute Quick-Start Guide for DAZ Studio Pro, paring the process down to just those components needed to get a project started and come up with a final product. Mind, he did jump to the various library segments that he knew held the components needed for the specific project to hand, so you can expect to spend a bit of time looking through each area for the building blocks required for yours. But the important part is the way he trimmed back the process to just the bare bones required to complete the task. Follow that process, and save your work often under incremented file names so you can go back to any step of it later. Once you get the first one built, you can go back and tweak any aspect of it to your hearts content until you get it perfect, but this tutorial should help you get started (and finished) a lot quicker than you expected to.

The folks over at Sabayon have two attitudes that make me appreciate their Live Discs; they want it to “just work” right out of the box, no questions asked, and they are constantly updating to the latest and greatest versions of the software in the package. They have now released a series of variants on version 14.05. They are live DVDs, in 32 or 64 bit mode (only get 32 if you have an older computer) and come in Gnome, KDE, XFCE, and a minimalist variant that runs smaller desktops like Fluxbox or Openbox. The exciting part is the KDE and Gnome versions are optimized for Steam, meaning they are setup for some serious network gaming. If you want to you can install them to hard drive or memory stick, as well, but they do everything I want them to do booting from the disc. Like almost all Linux builds, they are a free operating system filled with tons of free, open source software programs, so you certainly can’t beat the price.

Getting ready to step out the door and hit X-Men Origins: Wolverine in an hour or two, which I have been looking forward to for a while. If I was anywhere near Michigan, though, I would be joining Elizabeth Bear, Wil Wheaton, John Scalzi, and over a thousand others at Penguicon 7.0. A three day Con celebrating Linux, free and open source software, and Science Fiction? Had I heard about this a few weeks ago I would have been there; thanks to GeekDad for the heads up!