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On Holidelay, Part II

As I said earlier, the holidays were a lot of fun for me. Not long after finishing up with my school duties, my brother and sister-in-law flew into town from Michigan, bringing the winter weather with them. The Seattle area had one of its largest snows that I can remember, and my parent’s place got more snow than I have ever seen there before. The evening after the arrival of my brother and his wife, the family, my parents’ neighbor John, and my friend Dennis, headed to Benaroya Hall for a presentation of Handel’s Messiah. This is one of my mom’s favorite pieces of music, and every year she listens to it as she decorates the Christmas tree. Growing up around her, I could not help but become familiar with the music myself. Hearing the music live was great. The acoustics of Benaroya hall really are spectacular — the clarity of the sound particularly impressed me. It was a good time.

With no pressing deadlines and lots of snow, the roommates and I got to hang out a lot. Among other things, we headed to Gasworks park with Theo around midnight one night for some sledding action. While we brought along some cardboard (which, it turns out, is pretty ineffective as a sled), we found a large sheet of plastic along the way. After pulling each other around a bit, we made it to gasworks and managed to all pile onto the sheet of plastic at the same time to sled down the hill. It was great fun.

A couple days later was my family’s Christmas party. My sister’s husband couldn’t make it, so I invited along one of my roommates. Every year my mom buys tickets to a local show, and this year was no different as we ended up watching Disney’s Beauty and the Beast at Issaquah’s Village Theater. The show was excellent, and afterward we returned to my parent’s house for food. However, it was beginning to snow hard at this point, so most of the other guests (my sister’s family and other close family friends) took off. The original plan was to hit up Snowflake Lane at Bellevue Square and see the Bellevue Botanical Garden D’Lights, but the snow canceled these plans so we just ended up eating some delicious cheese fondue and hanging out a bit.

I spent Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, and Christmas Night at my parent’s place. We lost power for about 10 hours, but fortunately we were able to spend most of that time out and about the town. First, we ate a traditional Italian Christmas Eve dinner at my cousin’s place, then we headed to Mira’s place where we had our traditional get-together with the Konzens. When we recieved word that power had returned to the house, we returned home and went to sleep. I woke up remarkably early on Christmas day despite a late bedtime; mostly I got breakfast and checked out my stocking while waiting for others to wake up. We then commenced the family tradition of chosing presents for each other. My family was very generous with me — among other things, I recieved a new digital camera (a Canon Digital Elph SD 990 IS), a safe, a pull-up bar, a photo book, and a California shopping spree with my mom. What more could a guy ask for?

On boxing day, I hung out with Scott, Theo, and Courtney because on Sunday (the 28th) the family was heading down to Eugene (from whence I sent greetings earlier) and Scott was leaving before I would return. We ended up eating at Scott’s place and then playing in the snow with a boogie board that worked remarkably well. That night, I headed back to my place in Seattle and had a wonderful night with roommates. Saturday, after a lovely morning, I got together with Scott, Theo, and Maneesh and we hung out until hitting up Kat’s holiday party, and then hanging out with Jon. Sunday, we were driving to Eugene, eating luch with the Woods along the way.

After hanging out with my sister in Eugene, we headed back on the 30th, my brother and sister-in-law took off on the 31st, and then came New Year’s Eve. Maneesh, Jon, Theo, Spencer, Bobby, and others, watched the Fireworks at the Space Needle from the Seattle Center, then headed to Eric’s place to play some Great Dalmuti. I finally got to bed around six AM. It was pretty awesome.

On new year’s day, I enjoyed a Sushi party with the Konzens, and on Saturday, I headed to the FIRST Robotics Competition Remote Kickoff Event at Interlake High School in Bellevue, where the 2009 FRC game was introduced. It is an interesting competition that changes the one of the more fundamental parts of the competition: the entire floor, which has traditionally been carpet, has been replaced by a slippery plastic, and traction can only be provided by teflon-infused wheels. Its pretty crazy, but should be fun to watch. After tossing some ideas around and prototyping them Saturday night, Sunday consisted of playing Diplomacy (my first game, in which I made numerous mistakes) at Ananths before heading to my parents’ place for a dinner party. Of course, it started snowing agian, and thus I managed to get my car stuck up in the mountains, opting instead for a ride back home with friends.

Then school started, and my car is still stuck at my parents’ because, even though the snow is gone, the ground is too wet to drive my poor little car on. Fortunately, I don’t really need a car very often, so my life is mostly not impacted. Tomorrow (or, later today, rather) is the first lab for the robotics capstone that I am TAing. It should be good!

Two Weekends of FIRSTs

Last Saturday, I refereed for the Edmonds, WA regional of the FIRST Lego League competition. The competition went smoothly and the regional sent six teams to the state championship, which took place at Bellevue High School yesterday. Once again, I refereed and once again the competition went smoothly. The overall level of play was higher, as all teams at the state championship had already been vetted at the regionals the previous week.

Today, I was once again a referee, but this time at the FIRST Tech Challenge, a new competition that evolved out of the Vex Robotics competition, which I refereed for last year. Unfortunately, this time the competition did not go smoothly. There were numerous technical glitches for hours, and in the end the tournament turned into a “scrimmage” and the real competition got rescheduled for February. After leaving the competition, I went to check out the new robot control system that will be used for the 2009 FIRST Robotics competition. It is an interesting conglameration of commodity and proprietary hardware — 802.11N wireless gear, Cat 5 cables, National Instruments processor and breakout boxes, new “Jaguar” and old “Victor” motor controllers, and misundry connectors and accessories. All told, it’s a major update of the robot controller package, and should make for an interesting start to next year’s competition.

The Titan Robotics Club at the Portland Regional

Dan has posted some great blogs about the TRC’s efforts at the FIRST Robotics Competition’s Portland Regional. Sounds like some more shoddy work by FIRST (a borken field and reversing a ruling 15 minutes after the fact) leading to more heartbreak (similar things happened to the TRC in ’02 and ’03), but hopefully the team will take it in stride and use it as additional motivation to do well at the upcoming Microsoft Seattle Regional.

Links:

Day 1

Day 2

Day 3

Dan also uploaded lots of pictures and videos. Its a nice way to live the TRC life vicariously.

Upcoming Incoming

Tomorrow: Interview at Google

Wednesday: CSE ABET Lunch (Major Accreditation)

Thursday: Physical Therapy

Friday: Lab Due

Saturday: FIRST Lego League Edmonds Regional

Also, running out of time on the big CSE project and two new BioE projects are just starting…

MATE ROVs

I sure haven’t slept much as-of-late. Wednesday to Thursday, I stayed up working on Computer Architecture homework. Thursday to Friday, I stayed up to work on a ridiculous “Capstone Design” assignment. Friday to Saturday night I was awoken several times by phone calls and was waking up at 6:00 (actually didn’t wake until 7) to go to the Second Annual Pacific Northwest MATE ROV competition with Dan.

It was quite interesting seeing some real-life underwater robots, but what I found most compelling about the competition was that the drivers were not allowed to watch their robot while maneuvering it. They had to rely entirely on on-board cameras relayed through long winding tethers to small TVs located at their driver station. As Dan Marsh said, this twist gives the whole competition a much more “robotic” feel, rather than the supercharged “R/C Car” feeling that FIRST Robotics Competitions often degenerate to. MATE is much more robotics in the real world. Being able to watch the drivers attempt to operate their machines almost blindly also created a lot of real-world dramatic irony. “If only they knew,” I found myself groaning, “that they are still three feet away!”

Due to a Software Engineering meeting I had at 2:00, a late competition start, and the competition’s relative remoteness out at Evergreen State College, we had to leave before any official matches were played. However, I still had a good time.

FIRST PNW Regional 2007

For the first time since I lived in Utah, I will be completely missing a Pacific Northwest Regional. Last year, I only made it for Saturday, but this year it doesn’t look like I’ll be making it at all. I toyed around with the idea of heading down there this morning, but nobody else seemed to want to go with me, and so the idea of six hours of driving by myself was discarded. Instead, I have been keeping track of progress of the game over the match results and team standings pages.

The tournament has not been kind to the TRC. They are 1-5-2; thats one win, five losses, and two ties. At one point yesterday they were ranked dead last. Now that honor belongs to Bellevue High School. Not our town’s finest hour, I guess. Hopefully the kids keep their chins up and convince some of the judges about the finer points of the robotics club this year. Unfortunately, the Chairman’s Award is not on the table, so the TRC will have to pull some smooth talking magic to get themselves a trophy this time around. Certainly something I think Ian, Erik, Ann, Katelyn, and the rest of the crew are up to.

Hang in there guys, and always remember that we’ll do better next time!

Everything All At Once

I am busy these days. This long weekend is full of more work, but I am consciously taking some time off to do some important things. Like Blog. And hang out with the TRC leading into the Pre-ship event tomorrow. And watch a movie with friends. Somewhere in there I will write two lab reports, study for a test, finish a CSE project and start another, do some reading and some homework, and on and on…

Nevertheless, life is good :-)