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FIRST Lego League Washington State Tournament 2005

Today, December 3rd, 2005, is the Washington State FIRST Lego League tournament. Middle School students from around the state will compete for a chance to move on to the FLL World Festival, held in conjunciton with the FIRST Robotics Competition Championship.

If you have some free time, come on by between 9 and 3 to cheer on one of the TRC‘s squads. This year we have two — The Neptunes and the Sea Monkeys. As an added bonus, you can even chat it up with me while you watch the action. I’m likely going to be the pit manager at the event. The tournament takes place at Highland Middle School from 8 to 4 pm today.

Bloggin on a Nomad

Since I will be attendig the Seattle Mindcamp this weekend, I talked to the Display group at Microvision and they agreed that it would be a good idea to lona me a Nomad Expert Technician System, the ND-2100 version of Microvision’s wearable heads-up display.

So here I am, wearing sunglasses and a Nomad that has been running for several hours, blogging away like a madman. Dan has photos that might be available on this blog before too long.

At the mindcamp, DAn and I will be pushing the TRC’s fundraising and outreach agendas, as well as geeking out with the 148 other nerds in attendence. It should be a good time, but I’m still planning on taking a break to see my sister who we are expecting up here from Eugene this weekend.

My biggest regret will be missing frisbee (which occurs at the same time as the mind camp’s opening ceremonies), but if we end up getting a million dollar endowment for the TRC out of this, it will all be worth it, right? Or even one year’s sponsorship… I hope the frisbee crew will forgive me…

GPSing!

A couple of weeks ago, I Ebayed an OEM GPS module for $25, including shipping. Then about a week ago, I picked up a Mighty Mouse II from Tri-M Systems. Today, I finally got around to hooking them up. Using a breadbaord, a 5-volt regulator, a 6-volt power supply, a wire wrapper, and a good supply of wirewrap and other wires, I finally hooked it all up today. The result: incoming NMEA data words at 4800 Baud!

I quickly found some free (as in beer) software to help me make sense out of it. VisualGPS showed up in Google, and is working well. See a screenshot below.

This is all in preperation for an entry to the Seattle Robotics Society‘s Robo-Magellan.

Here are some pictures of the setup:
The Setup
The Breadboard
The GPS receiver – look at the pretty wirewrapping!
The Mighty Mouse II Active Antenna (first location)
The MMII (second location)
The result in Visual GPS

Repercussions

All choices have consequences – this is an eternal principle that cannot be overcome. While we live in a generally free society, one in which you and I are free to go where we want, talk to whom we please, seek gain with many diverse scheme, we are still not free from the consequences of our actions. This is a good thing, generally, as it encourages one to make decisions carefully. Today was one of those days where I wish I had chosen better.

It started, as it so often does, with procrastination. A paper I had due for my English class today, put off until last night. Then I found out that the CEO of the TRC was expected me at a meeting that I had not been planning on attending. Since I had a night class, I had previously been expecting to be able to write the paper after work today. However, with a meeting in the way, I decided I had to write it last night. Well, I put that off too – not getting started until well after midnight. By the time I was done, it wasn’t worth going to sleep before work. But I did anyway, and ended up missing most of work – which usually is ok, excpet today, because I missed an important meeting. So while the TRC and school were covered, I’m now feeling pretty terrible about letting down my coworkers and friends at work. I do hope they’ll be forgiving, and even more that I can learn from this mistake.

Catching Up

Recent events

85/100 on Circuits test… Not exactly what I would have hoped for, but better than I was expecting after I screwed up the op-amps. I’ve gotta kick it into a higher gear here soon, if I want to pull out of the mid-B rut that I’ve gotten myself into in the class.

Started building an ROV with Dan Marsh and the TRC. For more, see Dan’s post about it.

Collecting parts for a future SRS Robo-Magellan entry. Recently picked up a GPS reciever module (thanks to Dan for the tip). The module requires an active antenna, so I went looking for a good one, and settled on the Mighty Mouse II, a high gain, low power active antenna that rocks my socks. An especially big shout out to Tri-M Systems for working with me to help get the unit from Canada to the TRC quickly and efficiently. Go buy their stuff, yo!
Tri-M Systems

Saw Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy twice in two days. Once was plenty, but a combination of circumstance and commitment led me to watching it a second time. Suffice it to say that it’s not one of those movies that gets better the second time through. I didn’t hate it the first time, though, and the second time, though not anywhere near wonderful, was not bad, and the company (Shai and Beth) was good too.

Installed a 9-in-4 card reader in my desktop computer. The unit was recieved from Dan along with a wired USB optical mouse in exchange for a Microsoft Wireless Intellimouse Explorer that wasn’t well-suited for gaming due to miniscule but noticable start-up lag times, and wasn’t well suited for a laptop due to its battery requirements. I think the trade was mutually beneficial. Everyone shoudl trade more, its good for everyone involved (but if I went too much further down this line of thought, I’d have to add this to the political category as well).

Began helping Erik set up his new dedicated server. Debian Linux is a good distro. It should go back to #1, yo. Silverfir.net, and perhaps TitanRobotics.net, will host some of their websites on the new server as well. The server is from ServerPronto, and its a good price for a dedicated server with the specs it boasts. We’ll see how it holds up once Erik’s proxy servers get going.

Played Ultimate Frisbee at the UW’s intramural field 1 on Friday with the team of Bobby, Jake, Joe, and others. We lost by a point to an evenly matched team, which seems to be the story of my ultimate life. It was good fun, however. Afterwards, we hung out at the UW until seeing Hitchhiker’s for the first time.

Went to a doctor Thursday morning. I have low blood pressure. Nothing too serious, though, apparently. I can eat more salt. Is this a good thing?

Talked to Scott about the upcoming bike trip.

The Titan Robotics Club at the Championship

This weekend, I accompianied the Titan Robotics Club as the team traveled to Atlanta, Georgia for the 2005 FIRST Robotics Competition Championship. It was a roller-coaster ride from the get-go. The drivers were nervous and out-of-practice from the five-week time off. We missed a practice round due to the control panel being left in the pits, and another two were marred by a low battery. The extensive distance between the pits and the playing fields – longer than last year to make the spectator’s walk significantly shorter – exacerbated these problems. Ian and I both had the opportunity to run from the field to the pits to pick up needed items. We both found that the round trip takes just about exactly 5 minutes.

Well, the long and short of it is that the Championship made quick work of our undefeated record – we lost our first match – the third match of the day on the Galileo Field – and it wasn’t even particularly close. Just this one loss, while not a happy moment, nevertheless seemed to lift a great weight off of my shoulders. Sleep, which had not come easily for several weeks, slipped over me then wonderfully. As things went, we also lost our second and third matches, casting most of our team into the gloom that can only be caused by unmet expectations.

However, we eventually recovered, winning the last two matches on Friday, to end the day with a 2-3 record. That did little to raise hopes, however, as there were numerous undefeated teams at the same time. Furthermore, our autonomous mode, which had been quite consistent during the regional, had failed in more than half of the matches. So, Tim, Ian, and I edited the code (a favorite TRC pasttime) to work better, we hoped. In the two hours before our first match the next day, we tested and tweaked until it seemed to work consistently on both sides of the field. Our autonomous mode still didn’t get it every time, but it did seem to generally be closer – and truth be told, it was the most work I had personally done on the robot, aside from stickers for sponsors, since the competition began in January. It felt good to finally have contributed in a concrete way.

On Saturday, after considering a variety of methods in which we could creatively throw a game, including helping the other alliance get a the highest score ever by stacking for them, or attempting to get all of the tetras on to the playing field, we ended up playing both matches straight up. We won the first, but lost the second, finishing with a loosing record of 3-4 as the qualification matches ended. Needless to say, such a performance was quite disappointing, as we had hopes of doing much better.

But, along with the joys of winning and the sorrows of loosing, competitive events have the great side effect of teaching that in the game, as in life, we must never give up. As the top 8 teams selected alliance partners to head off to the elimination matches, we had little hope to be picked, given our performance. When the 8th alliance announced their final pick – team 135 – we thought it was all over for us. But 135 had already been picked, and then, the 8th seed’s final pick – the very last team to make it into the finals – was the Titan Robotics Club – team #492.

I was shocked, but it meant that we were still alive. After a very brief aborted lunch run, we met with our alliance partners. As the lowest seeded alliance, we would have to face off against the top seeded alliance. We were not expected to win. So, like all good competitors, we decided to win anyway. After strategizing, we went out, with no expectations, but ready to prove that we belonged in the finals. Our alliance managed to scrap together a win against the number one alliance, due in no small part to our (accidental) tipping of their leading scorer early in the match. The next game, we had them up against the wall, and it showed as the number one alliance played poorly – outscoring us, but racking up more than enough penalties to nullify their lead. We advanced easily. Just that win alone, so unexpected, was golden. But the best stuff was yet to come.

Having defeated the #1 alliance, we then went up against the fourth seeded alliance. According to our numbers, we were supposed to loose to this alliance badly. But our numbers apparently didn’t include grit, and we managed to outscore the alliance two games in a row. Incidentally, we tipped over another robot, but this time near the end of the game, and it didn’t have any appreciable effect on the outcome of the match.

Now assured of the club’s best finish ever at the Championship, we were feeling pretty good about ourselves. We had earned a trophy, the one thing missing from last year’s appearance at the Championship. But in front of us loomed the Cheesy Poofs and their ridiculously strong #2 alliance with teams 56 (alliance captian) and 64. They blew us out the first match, but we put up a better fight the second time, where, for the third time is six matches, we tipped a robot (the Cheesy Poofs’) and then snagged another (56). However, the damage had already been done. We were out of our depth – both literrally and metaphorically – with teams that could stack tetras nine high on the center goal.

Nevertheless, it was an excellent run for the #8 alliance. And the Cheesy Poofs are great ambassadors from the West Coast to represent the Galileo division in the final four. They lost in the Championship match, but they did put up a good fight, loosing by just two points – less than the value of a single capped tetra – in the first match. It was also very nice to see games that were almost entirely offensive. The rules this year did that very well, forcing teams to play the game rather than battle bots. The resulting matches were significantly more interesting to watch than last years’, in my opinion. In addition, I felt good cheering for the alliance that beat us, because they won with style fair and square.

The night was concluded by a vastly price-reduced wrap party that was even better than last years. The concluding fireworks show was super-impressive, though I am confused as to why they had two identical displays set up 90 degrees apart, when both in the same place would have been approximately 75% more impressive for the same price. But whatever – well worth the $35, as opposed to last year’s $90 rip-off.

A roller-coaster ride indeed – but one that ended up, which is always nice.

Sleepless for 41 hours…

…a streak that is about to end (I hope).

An airplane departs Sea-Tac in 9 hours and 30 minutes for Atlanta, Georgia. I will be on it. I have four bags (yikes!) – back-pack (i never give up hope that I’ll do something school-related on these trips), laptop bag (required for scouting!), duffel bag with technology and tools (video camera, wireless router, hex wrenches, nut drivers, screw drivers, slu-70 lugs, etc), and suitcase with clothes for five action-packed days.

That is all. But I am not tired. Sigh…