Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Archeology Spring Training Part Five - Why is it?

Travelers have always been interested in souvenirs.  Back in my digging days up at Hadrian's Wall I admit to a wild fantasy that involved finding one of the contemporary enameled cups that Roman soldiers seem to have bought as mementos.  The best known example is the Rudge Cup but there are at least two other similar vessels, showing a stylized depiction of the Wall and listing the series of forts built there.  Yowza.

But in the theme of dialing in my eye and brain for more modern artifacts I present this little oddity.  It is a glass paperweight.  It is full of shells that sure did not come from Wisconsin.  It says "Souvenir of Eau Claire, Wis"

I'd make it circa 1910 and the peculiar thing is that Eau Claire, while certainly a nice little city, was really never a tourist destination.  Those who wanted to hang out at the lake headed further north.  Eau Claire at this time was a faded lumbering town with a variety of manufacturing plants.  The surrounding area was and remains the pastoral home of many slowly munching dairy cows.

But, somebody must have had a little business selling trinkets.  I hope they did OK in it.

Monday, March 19, 2018

Robot Larceny and Play

With competition season behind us we have free reign to show off our robot to sponsors, interested parties and the world at large.

The other night we went to the high school's "STEAM" night.  This rather unlovely acronym used to be STEM and stood for Science, Technology, Engineering and Math. The artsy folks are trying to horn in on the current wave of tech popularity by adding Arts to it.  Silly, but I have no problem personally with tech having a bit of creative panache to it.

A FIRST robot is designed to run for a series of three minute matches.  It really is not supposed to run on a continual basis from 4:30pm to 8.  We blew one pneumatic fitting from overheating, dropped a couple of bolts on the floor and have a slightly bent part in our grabber claw.  Nothing that our pit crew can't keep running in other words.  A few pictures from the evening.

The Army had a couple of bomb disposal robots on hand for display.  We had a lot of fun with them.  Here our robot has been wandering about with a box full of candy (see the sign?).  We'd drive up to people and when they reached for a piece drop the elevator down to tease them.  Eventually the Army robot - which by now was being driven by our kids - decided to reach in and grab some.  This quickly became tug of war for the whole box!  There were also robot races, we dropped the yellow box on top of their $250,000 machine repeatedly and so forth.  Good robot fun.

Our team and the military guys.  Plus assorted spectators.   

You always keep an eye to the future in this business.  Here an intense grade schooler tries his hand.  He was not bad.....we'll see him in a few years.

Friday, March 16, 2018

Archeology Spring Training Part Four - What is it?

Today an instance where I ask a question but have no answer.

This is a ceramic knob of some sort.  It is on a wooden shaft with a copper alloy band on its top.  Similar things are sometimes beer tap pulls - which are usually larger - or faucet handles.  Those of course would be smaller.

It has a stenciled image on the top.  I don't find it particularly helpful but I suppose we can exclude beer.

Theories?  A Lady's cane has been proposed.  Or perhaps a faucet handle for something bigger like a fancy bath tub.  The wooden part bothers me in that regard.

Your theories - probably being better anyway - are welcomed.

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Archeology Spring Training Part Three - Grant at Peace

Today an item of both historic and aesthetic interest.  

Even in newer sites it is uncommon to find all the broken pieces of a large artifact.  This is a plate made in commemoration of the death of General, and later President, Ulysses S. Grant.  It was likely made soon after his death in 1885.  

These also come in clear glass but this sapphire color is rather stunning.  The quote "Let us have Peace" surprisingly comes not from the gracious meeting of Grant and Lee at Appomatox, but from 1868 when Grant accepted the nomination of the Republican Party to run for President!

Monday, March 12, 2018

Robotics Tournament 2018 - Ups and Downs

Another tournament season is "in the bag" and we finished with a winning record.  Our team in three seasons actually has yet to have a losing record.

FIRST Robotics is hard.  It is designed to be hard.  Breaking through from being an average team to being a top flight team is probably as difficult as expanding your little mom and pop store into the next Amazon or Walmart.  

When you win some and lose some it is easier to focus on the latter.  As usual the "smallest widget" principle kicks in....that crucial bolt that needs to be checked and tightened can let you down.  Literally.  Several got noticed by our alert pit crew.  

You also have to decide when to take risks.  It is dangerous to rewrite software fifteen minutes before a match.  If it works, great!  If not, well the pros and cons of this plan were well understood and the students made the call.

In fact the entire enterprise was the handiwork of the students.  I believe none of the adults coaching the team picked up a tool the entire event, and I can assure you the robot was entirely built by the team.

After a heartbreaking first round defeat dropped us all the way down to 57th out of 58 we went on a great run.  Here is a picture of our standings near our "High Tide" of 12th place....

Of course not everything that goes haywire is our fault.  By the end of a tournament those teams out of contention are often not giving it an all out effort, and that's easy to understand.  In our final two matches we were to some extent taking on the entire opposing 3 robot team as our alliance partners were limping along or in one case entirely immobile.  We came so close to pulling off the near impossible....

Well, they say FIRST is about more than just robots and its absolutely true.  So I make no apologies for my heart saying we had another win or two in us.  That is just my appreciation of a very fun robot and a very fun bunch of students.  

In recognition of their exhausting labors - hardly any stayed awake on the bus home - the coaches are graciously giving them 72 hours of break from robots.  Then they will show off at the high school STEM night.  And then help with the middle school robotics class.  And then do demos at......

Hmmm.  It looks as if the 2019 FIRST season will be starting pretty soon.

Good work team and parents.

Just a few fun pics of the event.

White board cartoon One.

White board cartoon two.  What sleep looks like in binary code.

We are visited by a bear.

This was a friendly bruin but does provide another metaphor for the season.  "Sometimes you get the bear.  Sometimes the bear gets you!"

Friday, March 9, 2018

Robotics Tournament 2018 - Rising above Adversity

Final report will have to wait a day or two, as the outcome is not determined yet.  I'm typing late Friday, tired at the keyboard.

After a very strong practice day we started the real matches with a bit of a stinker.  And it was due to the most common of problems, human error.  Our most reliable student flipped the wrong switch in the "on deck" circle disabling a major system.  To his credit he acknowledged the goof up, apologized and soldiered on.

From there we were stronger every match, with the robot and its drivers performing heroically.  Our slow start notwithstanding we are still well in contention at the 2/3 point of the qualification matches.  Just a couple of highlights...

If you see half a dozen judges clustered around a machine it is usually a bad thing.  But in this case, no.  So many teams follow a standard template, order pricey stuff from the same suppliers, bolt it together in similar fashion.

Not our team.  We had some things on board the judges had never seen before.  Ridiculous heavy duty steel bars for our elevator.  Rated for 1600 pounds they can sure handle a 2 pound box.  And because this stuff is heavy we have an air brake.  Designed, machined and constructed by one of our students.  It uses several components in a very creative, and cost effective way.  Judges who saw it summoned others.  I think we had four separate groups visit all of whom wanted us to pop the hood for them to take a look.  True creative work, proud of the kids who did it.

We have several white boards.  They come in handy for match schedules and pit check off lists.  One has sort of become an "open board".  People write whatever they want.  My idea of a robot waking up and my advice for the day"

"Fate Favors the Bold but Rewards the Pathologically Organized."

Robotics Tournament 2018 - Powering Up!

The first day of robotics competition consists of two parts.  In the morning you have paperwork to attend to and have to pass inspection.  This year our inspection went on for a long time.  We have a somewhat complicated machine, it was a rookie inspector, and actually one valve on the pneumatic system did turn out to be faulty.  We made weight by a superbly engineered margin of 7 ounces.

The second half of the day is in theory a time for the robots to run practice matches.  This helps you adapt to the actual field conditions which in terms of floor surface and many other small areas will vary from what you probably practiced on.

We were scheduled for three matches.  There are provisions for you to jump in for more if scheduled robots don't show, and my goal for the day was six matches.

We got in eight.

I doubt any other team got this much practice, why at one point we finished a match, rolled off the field, put in a fresh battery and went right back on.  This is unheard of.

With so many opportunities to find problems we of course did just that.  A loose cable here, a set of bolts that needed reinforcing over there.  Somewhat concerning our climber device put a big scratch in the field elements on our way up.  This got us a mild scolding today but would have been a penalty in actual play.  A kludged up solution was created at the end of the day, we will work on some other iterations between matches.

A good practice day, and ours was very good, does not guarantee a good tournament.  Conversely a horrid practice day usually presages a bad one.  The game this year is very dependent on cooperation between the three teams on an alliance.  Which means that in addition to the many things that could still go wrong with our machine we have to graciously accept the things that will quite likely go wrong with the many machines that could not "answer the bell" for practice matches.  Some of these issues will help us.  Some will hurt us.

Pizza and a collapse into bed, a busy Friday on tap.