"We're all just fragile threads, but what a tapestry we make." – Jerry Ellis

Archive for the ‘FIRST robotics’ Category

What’s Going On These Days…

One of the things that I do that drives my kids crazy is to start a sentence and not finish it when I’m talking. Sometimes it’s because I assume they know the end of the sentence, but other times it’s just because I’ve gotten distracted. I realize that my blog has kind of gone in the same direction as some of those unspoken sentences.

Here lately, I’ve been very distracted from blogging and writing in general. As a Financial Peace University graduate, it’s good, because the reason is that I’ve been working a side job as a form design contractor. It’s a great gig—I can work in my PJs on the couch on my laptop. However, as a paid gig, it takes precedence over other things—like writing. I wish I could put things on hold like laundry or housework instead, but for some reason it’s frowned upon to go out with no clean clothes.

So as to not leave some of the more recent blog topics dangling like a participle in one of my unfinished sentences, I thought this would be a good time to follow up to some “goings on” around here recently.

The Wall

The new view from the living room into the kitchen.

The new view from the living room into the kitchen.

The wall we removed the week of Thanksgiving was successfully taken out without incident. Over that weekend, Darrell removed the wall and finished it with the wooden trim he painted, leaving a strip in between the two floors of the kitchen and living room unfinished (for now—I’m not the only one who runs around like a loon).

The strip that needs to be covered.  There's a teeny little hole that peeks into the basement.

The strip that needs to be covered. There’s a teeny little hole that peeks into the basement.

He touched up the paint on the living room side, and I decided that it really was time for a new color in the kitchen. My friend brought over a gallon of paint she had leftover from a project at her house, so we tried it out in a couple of spots in the kitchen. The color is “smoked taupe” and it looks pretty good. Now we just need to paint!

Here's "smoky taupe", the color we'll probably go with.

Here’s “smoky taupe”, the color we’ll probably go with.

 

Robotics

 

Our Engineering Notebook

Our Engineering Notebook

Last Saturday the Nuclear Unicorn Girl Assemblers (NUGAs) attended the FIRST Robotics qualifier competition. After an (almost) all-nighter the night before, complete with printer issues and a few robot hiccups, they managed to do quite well. (By the way, the girls did win the 3D printer, we just haven’t received it yet!) The game, called the Cascade Effect, required our robot to try to score points on the game field by knocking out the kickstand of a container that had wiffle balls in it, and then trying to loft them into these tall beakers. The teams were assigned other teams as alliance partners for six separate matches. The girls had to make sure that the robot was programmed keeping in mind that another robot would be in the same general area, trying to do the same general thing. One robot starts on a ramp and the other one on the floor (hence, two possible programs to use). There is also an “interview” type of judging session (our girls rocked!) and an Engineering Notebook they have to turn in documenting their work and how it progressed.

A scene from the qualifier.

A scene from the qualifier.

In the robot matches, the girls came in tenth out of thirty-three teams, which was amazing. They did not make the cut to advance to the next competition, but we are attending another qualifier next month to try again. This month we will spend updating the robot, its programming and the presentation to wow them at the next competition. The girls all learned a lot from Saturday’s competition—and I know I gained valuable insight as well. I can’t begin to tell you how amazing the kids that do the FIRST Tech Challenge are. The atmosphere at the competition is one like no other. Yes, they are competing against each other, but teams are continually helping each other with troubleshooting and supplying items that a team may have forgotten. Officially it’s called “gracious professionalism” and it’s stressed throughout the competition. It is so encouraging to see it being practiced by these very mature, very smart young adults.

Adelaide/NaNoWriMo

Maybe next year???

Maybe next year???

Poor Adelaide. She never saw it coming, which is kinda crazy because seeing things coming is a big part of her story. Adelaide is a little bit psychic, but not of anything of importance. Just weird, small stuff that doesn’t really amount to anything, so she really keeps this “gift” a secret. Until this nudge causes her to uncover the plot of a murder. Now, usually-reserved Adelaide has to go out on a limb to protect people she loves. Will she risk leaving behind her “normal” life to set the story straight?

That’s the premise of my silly little story I started for NaNoWriMo at the beginning of the month. I’m not anywhere near the 50,000 words that is the goal by month’s end, mostly because I didn’t see my side job coming. It’s not a huge deal, so it does fall into the realm of possibility to be the type of thing that my character would get a heads up on.

I haven’t completely shelved her at all. I just have gotten swamped with home improvement projects, robots, work and Christmas. Hopefully someday Adelaide will get all the attention she deserves so she can be brought to life on the paper. In the meantime, I just keep writing her story in my head.

When I’m not thinking I’m George Jetson on the treadmill screaming, “Jane, stop this crazy thing!”

Pink Safety Glasses and 3D Printers

This past fall I’ve become involved with my daughters’ FIRST FTC (FIRST Tech Challenge) Robotics team. For the past three years, it was Emily and Darrell’s “thing” and I didn’t really do much more than hound my husband to make sure he read his emails from the coach. This year, the woman who had been the coach/Girl Scout liaison in the past was planning to move out of state, so I agreed to be the person to help coordinate our team, the Nuclear Unicorn Girl Assemblers (NUGAs for short). If you’ve read my posts about coaching running or leading Girl Scout troops, you may begin to see a pattern in my acceptance to lead things that I have no experience in. Robotics is no exception. Thank goodness that we have involved parents (including my husband), who know the ins and outs of building and programming robots. I jokingly say that I can fire off a pretty good email now and then.

Let me tell you about these girls—in a word, “awesome”. They are all Girl Scouts from five different troops in 7th – 11th grades. NUGA has girls from public, private and homeschool environments – 10 girls in all. What I enjoy most about these girls, besides admiring just how very smart they are, is that they are just fun people to be around. We spend Sunday evenings hammering out details of how our robot would best complete its assigned challenge. Each year there’s a different game field the robots compete on, with a different challenge. You can see it in action at FIRST’s website at http://www.usfirst.org/roboticsprograms/ftc, but to put it simply, the robot basically needs to be able to put two different sized whiffle balls into “beakers” (clear tubes on rollers). There are three separate, timed parts to the run in the competition—Autonomous, Driver and End Game, and teams earn points in each of these segments. As a team, part of the design process is coming up with a strategy to earn the most points during the judge competitions. The girls have to learn how to design, wire and logically plan to efficiently create programs and designs that would benefit our strategy in the competition.

What’s really interesting to see with these girls is how they all have special, individual talents that they contribute to our team. While they all share and work on design ideas, some of the girls work on building the robot using Tetrix. Others program in LabView by National Instruments and download it into our Lego Mindstorm Brick to control the robot. The team has to maintain an Engineering Notebook (another part of the Challenge), and build relationships with other teams. Especially because we are sponsored by Girl Scouts, we participate in a lot of outreach efforts by mentoring younger teams and getting girls excited about Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM). The girls have a blog they post to—www.NUGAteam.tumblr.com to share what they’ve been doing. Not all of it is relevant to the robot and the challenge, but they seem to enjoy having a forum to post their interviews with one another.

Sunday night we worked on writing a 300-word essay to submit to win a 3D Printer from EKOCYCLE, who is giving away 1,600 3D printers to FIRST teams this year. The girls had a lot of good things to include and I was impressed with their ability to articulate what they needed for their robot that they thought the 3D printer could help them make.

The NUGAs, who just four years ago were mostly strangers, have become friends. In fact, one of the biggest obstacles we face on Sunday evenings is getting the girls to focus on the task at hand instead of socializing with one another. But slowly our plan is coming together. We hope to be participating in a newly formed practice league in our area soon and getting our robot out on the field to see him in action.

If you are ever asked to help out with a robotics team, I’d advise you to accept, even if, like me, you haven’t a clue as to how to program a robot. There are a ton of resources available, and the FIRST league is definitely first-class in gracious professionalism, a core value it promotes. Robotics is much more than just kids building and programming a robot. When you see these kids in action, you get the feeling there’s a lot of hope out there with kids like these building the future.

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