Thursday, April 15, 2010

Rhumba Man?

I'm still doing the rhumba baby
I can't seem to quit
If my mama catches us doing the rhumba
Mama would just pitch a fit!
But I can't help myself
It's much bigger than me
If I were you
I'd hang on to
A rhumba man like me.
-- Jesse Winchester
I've just been waiting for a chance to use Jesse's fun song in some context (we saw him perform it live at the long-gone Much More club on Broad Street), and this seems like my chance. Jimmy Buffett does it too, and Bob Dylan considers Mr. Winchester about the best songwriter alive. That is one killer chorus.
I'm leading you on, to be honest, because if the picture were of the real topic here, the Roomba robotic vacuum cleaner, you might have decamped to something more engaging right away. In a different sense, though, the Roomba and its possibilities are fun too. Nancy found a book at the usual bargain price at Ollie's the other day, Hacking Roomba, which is one of those highly detailed and quality books from Wiley publishing on computers and technology. If you wanted a hobby less expensive than golf and had (1) basic electronics tools and (2) knowledge of Java programming, you could have a big time turning a third-generation Roomba into a roving spy camera, a little round singing and dancing Fred Astaire, an artist, a really big computer mouse, or a robot maid the Jetsons would be proud to call one of the family. The key is microcontroller programming using its ROI (Roomba Open Interface, originally the Serial Command Interface). iRobot Corporation released the ROI specifications when it noticed the hacking community was really into its product, leading to an explosion of creativity from some very talented (and maybe a little odd) people worldwide.
With an algorithm directing it and felt tip markers held in clamps, the little devil can scribe artwork consisting of geometric designs; with a piezo beeper (I used one in a light-and-sound creating interactive exhibit years ago) and use of MIDI note numbers, it will sing its little circuit board heart out for you.
Source code, schematics and projects can be found at If you're a little strange and like spending hours in the basement.
Think what a blast this would be to use by teachers and unusually energetic science museum staffers!


  1. Buffett's version is similar to his version of "You Call it Jogging, I Call it Running Around."

  2. Rumba brought to you by Java scripts. Yikes! Technology rules!.
    Cha-cha was the first dance I remember learning at camp with a hot teacher sweating in the summer breeze of North Carolina. Rumba came later.
    But to take an algorithm and manufacture that feeling? No way.
    Mama would just pitch a fit!