Saturday, April 09, 2011

Cool All Along

Well, I am almost done reading The New Cool, and I gotta say it is pretty cool, but there ain't nothin' new about Geek Cool. I think I am just lucky, because I have known, for a very long time, that when young people have opportunities and support, when learning is motivated by curiosity, when students are respected for what they can do and how much they will learn... then improbable things will happen, and impossible things will be within reach.

Some people think that for science, technology and math to be respected, for the students who choose books over malls, learning over zoning out, to be cool, that we have to drop the nerd, lose the silly-goofyness that pegs us as uncool and amateurish.

I say, we are cool. Period. In a bow tie. In a fez. With painted faces, and pocket protectors. Dancing our dances, chanting our chants, and doing the math: We are cool, and always have been. It is about being genuine, and feeling free to be your true self. Respectful, and true.

I am not naive. I understand that to raise interest and money, to market ourselves to the corporate banks and deep pockets, we have to claim our rightful place among the legitimate, pros, and we have to don the suits of their cultural values. But, I will always know that we were cool first, when no one cared, when no one was looking, and I will not surrender my spirit to satisfy the ideals of the same crowd that is tracking the antics of Charlie Sheen, or using their math to figure out how to avoid paying taxes to the very government that serves to protect them.

The New Cool, it's been a fun read, somewhat like watching yourself from a remote camera, because I recognize so very much of what teams, like FIRST 1717, have accomplished, and how they got it done. There are a lot of flavors in FIRST, every team, every member has something special to bring to the world... this isn't a unique circumstance, but one that I like to acknowledge, and sometimes have to remind myself to appreciate. The diversity is a blessing, and a challenge.

I am thankful that Alex is on a team that comes from an exceptional school, with exceptional peers and teachers. FIRST 2102 Team Paradox is composed of an incredibly diverse, talented, and dedicated group of people, and while not everyone is equally capable of lathing a wheel, calculating torque, or writing up a business plan, everyone on the team is equally capable of contributing something. The team is elite, but it is not elitist. And that is very cool. I am thankful that the team is not asking everyone to drop their quirks and flavors, their individual skills, in favor of something homogenized and glossy. It is cool to be yourself, and to bring that self to the team, for the team.

FIRST, Dean Kamen, robotics, science, technology, math, the students, the mentors, the build shops, the events... it is all amazingly cool. And I feel as though I cannot shout or whisper, or jump up and down long enough, or hard enough to get this belief out there... but I want to. I want millions of people to stop what they are doing and learn more about FIRST. I want a million people to plan their weekend around FIRST Championships, watch live coverage and cheer for students and their robots. I want a million people to mentor, or volunteer, or make a contribution to a team. It's so easy. It's so cool. It's so very, very important... I promise you, the stronger FIRST becomes, the more we give to our children of our time, faith and passion, the more they will have to give us of their time, faith, and passion, and they will achieve the improbable.

All of your comments are loved and appreciated, and your names are going in the fez. Tomorrow, Lady Betty Orpington will pluck a name from the fez for the winner of The New Cool.

Thank you.

Wednesday, April 06, 2011

Robots... in Las Vegas

You may have heard that FIRST 2102 Team Paradox was in Vegas last week, and maybe you have read about the wonderful, Spirited results of that FIRST Regional Competition.

I wrote about the six weeks of build season and the two robots built before the San Diego FRC.

I tried to describe all the marketing and outreach preparations for a FIRST Robotics Competition, FRC.

Then our chicks hatched! FIRST 2102 Team Paradox earned the San Diego Regional Engineering Inspiration Award, and racked up points playing LogoMotion!

Did I mention that a new robotic arm was built for Las Vegas FRC? Did I mention that a second mini-bot was designed and built for Las Vegas FRC? There is a lot of Passion in FIRST 2102 Team Paradox's metal shops.

But, how do I tell the whole story of what happened in Las Vegas?
I can't. There is so much to tell, so many details I am afraid to leave out. I think I could write a book. Oh, wait... someone did write a book about FIRST robotics, and building a team, building robots, and you could win a copy of "The New Cool" by following this link! And since trying to encompass the entire three day event kind of overwhelms my circuit boards, I thought I would begin with the robots... it is robotics that inspired all of this Paradox/FIRST love in the first place. So, we are going to leave the stands, and step down into the pits, and the playing field and see what it takes to play LogoMotion...

Meet Terrence. Terrence was designed, manufactured, assembled, wired, programmed, and driven by FIRST 2102 Team Paradox. Terrence is in the one hundred and twenty pound robot class. Hidden from view, waiting to be deployed in the end game, is CLU, the mini-robot. CLU is the second, after Rinzler, mini-bot designed, manufactured, assembled, and wired by FIRST 2102 Team Paradox. CLU is small and fast. Very fast!

All the preparations back home, lead to a bus ride to Vegas. Fifty-five team members arrived safe and sound, and then comes the unloading and setting up shop in the ten foot by ten foot pit area provided on the floor of the arena. The pit has to serve both as a workshop, where the team assembles, tunes, and maintains the robot, and also as a reception area, where the team talks with judges and presents itself to other teams.

When build team members, visitors, tools, parts, robots, programmers, mentors, media, judges, inspectors, and curious little sisters are all together in a space this small... it's snug. Safety, organization, planning, and ingenuity are critical. And of course looking good and presentable matters too.

Our buttons are very popular.

Gabe and Chris are the programmers, and Geoff is their mentor. Victoria is the human player on the drive team. With wicked accuracy, she throws the inner tubes onto the playing field for Terrence to grab and hang, forming the FIRST Logo. Crouched together in the pit, the programmers are working at getting Terrence to run in autonomous mode.

When a robot is done being tweaked and tuned, the team can take it to a small testing area at the back of the pits. Here is Willie, drive team coach and build president, with Terrence. Kyle is one of the robot drivers. Andy C. is the vp of build, and there is Chris. Terrence's new arm called for some significant changes in the programming, and layout of other components on the chassis, like the mini-bot deployment. In the test area the team is able to check on the changes, and see that everything is coming together.

This is Mr S., physics teacher, and team coach, photographer, club adviser, surfer, movie projectionist, cat lover. An all around great guy. It helps to have great people in the pits, because it gets intense in there. There is a lot of pressure on these students. Everyone wants all of the weeks of hard work to lead up to a successful game, winning matches. The team has wonderful ideals about learning, about participating for the love of robotics... but there does, naturally, come a point when you do feel the passion to win, to see your creation do what you built it for!

Eli and Alex, holding CLU. Alex designed and built CLU. Tatiana and Eli helped manufacture, assemble and wire the mini-bot.

I have yet to get decent footage of CLU climbing the tower... it's just so small and fast. I see Tatiana is trying to film the mini-bot. I wonder if she had better luck.

Besides a week of designing and manufacturing for CLU, Alex and Tatiana worked from dusk to dawn, before Las Vegas, to finish all the components of CLU. Geoff supervised the first shift, and I was with them from three am until school. In our kitchen, it was pancakes and physics at five in the morning.

I would like to answer one team's question about "how do we do 'it'?"
Integrity, intelligent design, innovation, evolution, and hard work. And those are some things you cannot take away from anybody. If you want 'it,' you have to earn it. Our robots earn it, and our spirit shows it. It's called Passion FIRST.

Here is our build vice president, Andy C. Another great guy in the pit, keeping all the parts coming together, easing some of the pressure.

Hello, Chris.
Do all programmers parallel process?
It's a characteristic I have noticed.

Gabe gave the credit for getting Terrence to run autonomously to Chris, but I happen to know that both of them made marvelous strides in programming the robot. They keep getting better and better, and not to get ahead of myself, but I am really excited about next year!

There were some hints from FRC officials that mini-bots may come back next year. What do you think, Eli?
I think it is safe to say that FIRST 2102 Team Paradox will be more than happy to keep mini-bots in the game.

Gabe and Chris, programming. The build team never really stops. To maintain the robots, to make the necessary improvements that inspiring engineers like to make, it takes a constant commitment, and diligence.

Here is an animation for how LogoMotion is played.

This is how we played LogoMotion.

FIRST 2102 Team Played in eight matches on Friday, and three on Saturday. Some alliances were stronger than others. One match was forced to be replayed, which was unfortunate (ie: sucked) because they didn't give the teams enough time to recharge batteries, or re-tune the bots. arrggghh Oh well. Life is complicated, and so are robot competitions!

On the field the drive team is working to play LogoMotion, which includes carrying the robot on the field, setting up all the controls, listening for start buzzers, watching the clocks, staying focused on five other robots, watching boundaries... it is intense. The pit crew is on standby, and between every match they race to the floor to get the robots repaired and ready for the next round. The stress is palpable. Will we score? Will the robot be damaged? Can we deploy? Have we checked every battery, cable, connection, wire, switch, chain... ?

From top: Greg, he's a driver, and Kyle, also a driver. Gabe is in the jacket, he's a programmer. Tatiana and Alex are mini-bot pit crew, and to Alex's right is Andy C, pit crew member. There wasn't much time between matches, so the pit crew is working furiously on Terrence and CLU before the next match. They are lined up to go on the field, and must finish before time is up...

After twelve weeks of building and working together, people know their jobs, know how to help, and when to step out of the way.

I step out of the way!
I saw this through my lens, and thought: What the heck are they texting for?!
They are using their smartphones for flashlights. The arena floor is a bit dim, all lights focused on the playing field. So the flashlights in their phones were illuminating the small spaces in the robot where hands had to work quickly and effectively. Time is running out...

Times up! Out! Kyle reminds everyone to get to their places, so the robot can be carried to the field.

Referees and judges watch for players in the wrong place at the wrong time, and now pit crew has to step away from the field area.

And the robots go to the field. Three teams will play in alliance against three other teams. Everyone has to pay close attention, and keep things moving. Not showing up at match, or missing certain meetings can cost a team points, and make alliance members question a teams ability to play well.

Our red bumpers show that we will play in the red alliance for this match. Greg and Kyle will place the robot in its assigned position, then take their place at the drive station.

I remember back in January when team members were tossing tubes, proving the best techniques for getting the logo pieces on the field.

Victoria was good right from the start. She may be petite, but she has a powerful throw. Go Victoria!

First 2102 Team Paradox, and Terrence, about to score in LogoMotion!

And, up in the stands... we cheer wildly, with great spirit!

We are proud of you!
Say: We are proud of you!

Sunday, April 03, 2011

What Happened in Vegas...

What happened in Las Vegas is going all the way to St. Louis! They are taking their Inspiring Engineering skills, and their award winning Spirit to the Championships, ever more confident that they are a strong team, with winning abilities.

2011 FRC San Diego: Engineering Inspiration Award, and Semi-Finals!
2011 FRC Las Vegas: Regional Team Spirit Award, and Quarterfinals. Also remarkable acts of Gracious Professionalism and Cooperition... FIRST 2102 Team Paradox assisted FIRST 1631 Rockin' Robotics, helping them set up their deployment, so they could race one of our mini-bots, Rinzler, in the Quarterfinals. A Paradox programmer also worked on helping Rocking Robotics with its autonomous programming. Wish we had a third mini-bot, and more time... Paradox would have been happy to share it with our other alliance team, FIRST 2429 The Spartans.

For a small taste of Vegas, off the strip, where the real fun was happening, check out match 28. The camera, unfortunately was not on our mini-bot, but the announcer calls it. Skip the ads in the middle to see the final score.

Where it says "Race," those are points from CLU, Mini-Bot #2!

Match 40 was another success for FIRST 2102 Team Paradox. Terence, the robot, earned points hanging inner tubes, and there was another high scoring CLU race to first!

Congratulations to fellow Team San Diego FIRST Robotics teams.

FIRST 812 Midnight Mechanics: Regional Team Spirit Award in San Jose. Tools are Cool!
FIRST 2984 The Vikings: Regional Champions in Las Vegas. Go Vikings!
FIRST 3128 The Aluminum Narwhals: Quarter finalists! Las Vegas.
FIRST 1572 The Warlords: Quarter finalists! Las Vegas.
FIRST 1572 The Hammerheads: Semi Finalists! Las Vegas.
FIRST 1266 The Devil Duckies: Regional Chairman's Award in Las Vegas! Quack-quack-quack!
FIRST 1538 Holy Cows: Regional Champions in San Jose.

More pictures, more memories! Coming soon...