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Saturday, May 29, 2010

robotics fun times

MOAR epic times!  
The good times started rolling Thursday evening when I received a welcome bit of communication from a dear friend  [ :D  ]   This resulted in the effusion of the last post, teehee.  
I was going to ‘go to bed early’ Thursday night, so as to be reasonably sleeped up for Friday morning’s math test.  This didn’t work out so well. In fact it didn’t happen much at all. I was ENTHUSED.  I was working on insane amounts of extra credit for math class....basically writing out notes from the entire the time I got to the last page, I was working on scratch paper from was a print-out of the kit of parts checklist. I felt a certain poetic justice. Actually poetic justice has been a motif of the entire past few weeks. Anyways, what could be more appropriate than doing math work on robotics papers? I commented to that effect near the bottom of the page....I think my teacher will understand all too well ;)   I was ALSO listening to The Final Countdown [Europe] and this resulted in a lot of enthusiasm. The Final Countdown is played at robotics competitions...a LOT....

Let us say that I did not get a lot of sleep.
Nevertheless I set my alarm to go off at 6 AM next morning...had to be at school by 7:30-ish to take the test early, because I’d be leaving for a robotics gig at the time my class ordinarily starts. 
The epic day started off when my alarm failed to wake me at 6. A subconscious warning of impending Doom woke me in 20, however. All this getting-up-early business was to allow me to type up and print out a mentor sign-up sheet for the robotics gig...we thought it would be nice to have a sign-up sheet for any victims who might like to support our team, or be a mentor, or that sort of thing. There were also business cards in the offing, which look, I may say, very professional. Yes, well all this goings-on to get the mentor sign-up sheet printed out and I was STILL working on that dratted thing up to the last minute before we left [late]. I was busy having a good breakfast and chatting with a buddy, I had no TIME for such unimportant matters as printing that thing off! I got it made up in my text editing program [Open Office] and then transfered it to the desktop computer via a flashdrive, to print [we have two printers in the house, but only one works at any given time, and right now the working one HAPPENS to be the printer which does not recognize Eddie [laptop]. Eddie sees the printer but the printer thinks if it can’t see, it can’t be seen..... 

So yes. Get the computer fired up, go to print, and the only paper around is BLUE. I race out to the front of the house to get more paper: ‘Oh! Cardstock, that would be nice!’  and take it to the printer. I then had to feed the paper in, in attempts to snooker the printer [‘Out of paper!’]  Printer promptly has a hissy fit: ‘Paper jam. Please remove paper, press Enter, and bug off’. 
Pull the paper out, back to the paper stash to get regular paper and finally print successfully, and race out of the house in the nick of time. 

Math test went well. Promptly at 9, I was down at the robotics lab to catch a ride, as planned, with the CHS robotics team, over to the competition [on Oregon State U campus, cross-town.] They didn’t show. I was worried that maybe I’d missed them, and they’d be fretting over where I was...nipped up to the main entrance, and back down to the lab a few times. I was destitute: no phone, and no laptop with important phone numbers. The main school office proved very helpful however and I was able to get in touch with the important people, and got ride as promised with team.  

Our team, 956, showed up around 11, owing to mandatory school assembly. Opening ceremonies and then we all went off to lunch as provided by the OSU Robotics Club. We all frolicked round in the parking lot, waiting in line for Subway....lots and lots of Subway...

The two teams I have worked with, 956 [‘my’ team] and 997 [team at high school where I take classes] have gotten pretty friendly with each other. This is mostly because of none other than ME. Obviously my chief selling point to convince 997 to take me to Nationals with them was the fact that I’ve been on the Santiam robotics team for years. There was a lot of communication between my dad [teacher/robotics mentor at Santiam 956] and the 997 mentors, also because all 6 of the local robotics teams have mentors on FIRST Force, a fundraising group. 
Both our teams are fairly small and losing a lot of seniors. There has even been talk of our teams combining next year, though of course I hope Santiam can get enough recruits to continue on next year. 
It is really cool to see the sense of community in FIRST. Yesterday our two teams stood around talking, in a big circle...’one big happy family’ as someone put it. 

After lunch we moved on to tours of the OSU engineering buildings. I am becoming very enthused. OSU is one of the top colleges for engineering/technology around. Great school for robotics folks. 
OSU has a lovely campus. Old-growth trees....HUGE trees...lots of them. Old brick and stone buildings...well my town is beautiful in general.  And inside the buildings [I’d never been inside before yesterday] is just as impressive. Then there is the computer lab for students, equipped with Windows, Linux and Macs for engineering students, and Macs for everyone else because of a sponsorship fluke. Big beautiful Mac desktop computers...very new...

The robotics club is a huge part also. One of the students who headed up the event yesterday [a MAMMOTH undertaking] is also on the Mars Rover project, which took first place in the country a few years ago. The Mars Rover project is just that, designing robots to operate on Mars. Cool stuff.  

Aforementioned student is very busy convincing me that I want to take his place in a few years, carry on the torch so to speak. This is HIGHLY convincing, when I hear tales of insane 36-hour days preparing for yesterday’s event....there is just SOMETHING about robotics that ensures that no-one involved gets any sleep. 

But we know that sleep is for the weak  >:D

The competition went VERY well also. Only 8 teams showed for the FRC competition, but there were a lot of FIRST Tech Challenge teams too, it was a busy day. I was behind the camera most of the day and got the usual few hours of assorted robotic footage. Our matches went really well. As usual I vibrated between my two teams, filming one, helping carry stuff in from the car for the other, back and forth, hehe. Coincidentally our teams were assigned spaces in the pit right next to each was great...I walked in with 997, dumped my stuff in 956’s spot, and to and fro, charging batteries and dealing in power strips and totes. The business cards materialized as promised, in 956’s tool chest, and looked very snazzy indeed. 

Oh! At the event last week in The Dalles we had forgotten to bring our beloved sawed-off allen wrench, which was required for getting to inaccessibly little screws. The janitor offered use of some sort of dad demurred, afraid of injuring it...janitor said there wasn’t much you could do to hurt the shears :P
Well dad and the other student who was with us took hold, one on the shears, the other holding the allen wrench [which should NOT be cuttable]. I mentioned something about ‘SAFETY GLASSES would be a good idea! That thing is going to flip off!’ but they paid no heed [VERY bad example btw, don’t try it at home].  Well Dad bore down on the shears.....and BING. OFF pops the offending part of the allen wrench. It flew twenty feet through the air and hit the wall [I was watching it]. 

Ah where was I. Competition. It was a very cool event. These were some of the top teams in Oregon....regional winning team...regional second-place team..etc. 956 and 997 both did really well. 997 threw a tread [tank drive] halfway through, but it was rather epic....they sent someone back to school for a spare, didn’t even miss a match. 

At the end of qualifying rounds WE, 956 were ranked #2, and 847 was ranked #1  [exactly what our mentor had predicted, come to think of it..]  Team 847 PHRED [Philomath High Robotics Education Department] is rather widely beloved. They have an insane program. Recruit a huge team, but are really helpful to everyone, volunteered to help 997 afford to get to nationals, organize fundraising stuffs, and so on. 847 and their alliance took second place at Regionals in Portland. 

997, on the other hand, was ranked third. 956 was for the first time in the position of choosing our alliance partners. Exciting. A good place to be :)    We, 997, and 847 wound up in a big huddle. We all wanted to be on the same alliance [which would have been absolutely UNBEATABLE] but the way the alliance selection works, that wasn’t possibly. We discussed the ramifications of every choice. 847 wound up choosing another strong team [not local], then we of course picked 997, then we divvied up the remaining two best teams. We went into the finals fairly evenly matched, but figuring 847 would take it. 
We played 3 matches in the finals. First match we were absolutely creamed. One of our alliance partners got flipped over, then 997 discovered that those treads break in pairs. They were out for half the match. 956 was doing well but we obviously couldn’t win against 3.  We called a time-out [6 minutes] to fix the tread. I got some epic footage of members of several teams gathered round 997’s robot, putting a new tread on and frantically putting in screws. 

Worked right up to the time limit. Went back out in the nick of time. We knew this could be the deciding match: if 847 won again, they would win the competition...if we won, we played another match. 956’s mentor got finished getting our robot set up and the announcer said, ‘Team 956 says we’re going to play three matches today.’  Twas epic times. The Final Countdown was, as usual at finals, playing to get us enthused...we were enthused all right. WE WON THE MATCH. 

Went on and played the third match....they trotted out The Final Countdown again....we won. At the end the other alliance only had one robot working which I felt bad about...847 lost communication and one of the other teams got flipped....but we were winning before, while they still had three strong teams active. 

It was a good moment. It was somewhat of a come-from-behind victory, because 847 chose a team that [at least they thought] was better than either 997 or 956. Then we came and took them down. 997 and 956 allied at last.....the Spartans and the Eagles....
[cue epic music] 

Of course it was all the more awesome because 956 was doing the picking this time :)  It gave us another chance to show how well we could do. We could easily have done that well at regionals....the important thing is to feel that you have had your fair chance. We did. We took home a trophy to prove it.   :D 

I came out of there massively enthused, almost as much as Friday [twelve weeks ago in fact....] at regionals, when we’d just played really well all day and unexpectedly got the Xerox Creativity in Design award.   That was easily one of the best days of my life.   After three years in robotics, you don’t really care about anything except giving it your all. Our team was near the top of the stadium, where people don’t usually stand to clap during awards, but I was so enthused I was bounding up out of my seat to clap for each team when they were awarded. 
Then the near-shock when the announcer read out the description of award...then as usual, said a few words about the winning team...this is traditionally a hint about which team it is...we never guessed....then !!!!956!!!!  
and we were running down the dozens and dozens of stairs to go down to the field to receive the get down near the bottom, all the teams are standing, dozens of people giving you high fives....down on the field where the volunteers are lined up to do the is indescribable, knowing that these incredibly awesome people are excited for YOUR team. 

[more on the epic humor of today in a later post, heeh]


Anonymous said...

This is so AWESOME! Congrats!

Bethany said...

:D :D Thank you!! I was [and still am] over the moon about it!!

Einar said...

Fun times! I loved the bit about the printer, ours actually has an error is flashes that simply says "DO NOT TOUCH!" And if you open the paper bay while it is running it shouts "CLOSE PAPER BAY!!!" in big black capital letters.... love printers...

Bethany said...

Ohhh the woes of the printer..we have had a long succession of printers. There is something in their nature that makes them just want to mess with your head :D
And the inkjet-cartridge racketeering that goes on! My dad knows more of the details, such as the fact that cartridges are MADE to not work after they are kinda-sorta empty, so one is forced to head off to bust out the big monies at Staples....