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May 6, 2009

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Autofarm - Embedded Steering Controller

I was rather surprised in September 2008 when my running buddy Dennis asked me about doing some build engineering work on Windows/CE for his company. I had retired a year earlier from Adobe and really never wanted to return to work. As the economic crisis has developed, I've been very glad to be back at work and getting a paycheck.

Here's a movie about the company and its technology: click here.

Originally, I was to be with the company for "1 week. 2 tops!". 30 weeks later, the product shipped this week. Of course, I've done far more than Dennis had in mind. The original task was to create the build environment with DevStudio to compile the company's Unix core code on Windows. However I went on to work on the parts of the UI which run in the browser. It's a combination of HTML, CSS, JavaScript and Java applets. The server side was implemented as an ISAPI DLL.

I've also contributed to the installer, documentation, the build scripts, and software "drops" to the joint venture partner. I've taken my fair share of bug reports and working with the test team. A lot of work and more than any of us ever imagined. Anyway, it's done now.

The product is amazing. It's a robot to steer a farm vehicle such as a tractor. There is a GPS antenna to provide location information. There is a hardware device to lock and control the steering wheel of the vehicle. The tractor does its work with 1cm accuracy and this results in labor and seed savings. Crop yields increase thanks to the accuracy of the vehicle positioning. The product was developed jointly with Raven Industries in South Dakota. The system runs on a custom computer running Windows/CE. The computer is a rugged little "brick" with a touch sensitive screen.

It's been a lot of fun to work on this. Of course there have been a few stressful days, and lots of tedious (and mostly boring) software work. However it's always been a pleasure to be with the team. The montage features the wonderful people with whom I've worked most closely on this project. Thanks guys - it's been a great ride. And the person I want to thank most is Dennis for inviting me into this adventure in the first place.

Sadly there's no room here for many other people from Core Engineering, HR, the Helpdesk, Customer Relations, Operations, Quality, Marketing and Management who also worked on this product. And no photos of the guys at Raven who labored long and hard to provide the display and a lot of the UI. The contribution of everybody is respected and appreciated.

And coming up....

We're looking forward to our annual pilgrimage to the Western States Training in the Sierras at Memorial Weekend at the end of May. The last weekend in June is the Western States 100 mile Endurance Run and we'll go there to encourage Dennis who will be running in the event. Ali's going to England for most of June to visit the family and do some bonding with the grand-children.

We're planning a vacation in 2009 with the 'holiday gang' to Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks, Wyoming. That's going to be a lot of fun. I think I'm beginning to count the days. Apart from public holidays, I've only had 3 days off work in almost a year. Time for a break.

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