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Countdown

5 days until we leave
6 days until we practice
7 days until we compet
8 days until we win?

The 2005 FIRST Robotics Competition 2005 Championship will feature 340 high school robotics teams from around the world. Some have budgets in the six figures. The Titan Robotics Club has a budget that barely breaks five figures. Yet…

The TRC is the only undefeated team in the world for the 2005 season, and
no other team has gone through even a single regional undefeated this year.

I can hardly wait. Let the games begin!

Strange Google Droppings

Google seems to have deemed Checksum Arcanius unworthy. As a result, this site is no longer #1 in a search for “Arcanius” (as mentioned earlier). That alone was not too disconcerting to me (although I was not particularly happy either). What did begin to concern me, however, was when I googled for Titan Robotics, as I sometimes do, and Arcanius was nowhere to be found on the first page. Just a month ago, I remember my site being second in that list. Now, a fellow silverfir.net’er, The Deliverator, has taken up that spot. And I have nothing against The Deliverator (heck I like him, and read his blog, and hang out with him fairly often), but why did I lose the spot? What is going on here?

My search for an answer led me to this interesting article on slate. Ok, it’s silly (and scary) to even think about regulating Google. People who have suggested need to go and choke on a slurpie or something. Seriously, government is not a solution. It is a problem that can, when used in extreme moderation, solve a few worse problems. But moving right along, the article, while interesting, didn’t really answer my question. Clearly, Google has judged this site unworthy. But why? That is the rub.

FreedomDown.net Under Investigation

I have never entirely shared Erik’s passion to provide internet filter bypassing services to the masses, but it is something that is important to him, and I am one who strongly believes that, in general, more information is good. On the other hand, I can understand the district’s filtering for, say, pornography or pirating sites, or anything else that many taxpayers (who support the schools and pay for things like the internet to the school) would generally object to funding access to.

But why, for example, are email sites filtered? In this digital age, filtering email is like breaking a tennis player’s legs and expecthing her to win. Email is vital, especially to clubs like the TRC where it is the primary form of communication. Blocking email at school is a good way of ensuring that team leaders are kept out of the loop until they get home, not the most ideal of situations. Nevertheless, the long and short of it is that while I don’t share Erik’s passion, I don’t mind it, and I certianly don’t mind spreading the word the the wonderful Bellevue School District has suspended Erik’s student account while investigating his site, FreedomDown.net.

I suggest that you go read about it at Erik’s blog, “Unknown Rebel.

SQL Case Statement

I just learned how to use the SQL ‘CASE’ statement, and my respect for Relational Databases and SQL just about tripled.

At issue was the TRC scouting program – I had implemented a system to extract all sorts of information from the data that the scouts had input, including average scoring per game. It was especially nice that we could sort based on any category. Then I added average score of the alliances per game, but I did not know how to fold that into the same SQL statement, because team colors switched between red and blue between matches. There was no single column to sum or average. So what was I to do? The solution I came up with worked well enough to win the PNW regional at least – it was to write sepearte select statements to extract the alliances’ average scores in the following manner.

First I would get the initial data dump (I know this is insecure; you can be quiet and sit down now, thank you):

$sql = "SELECT `teams`.`team_number`, `team_name`,
`carries_initial_tetra`, `teams`.`notes`,
COUNT(*) AS 'matches',
MAX(`caps`) AS 'max_caps',
MIN(`caps`) AS 'min_caps',
AVG(`caps`) AS 'avg_caps',
AVG(`contains`) AS 'avg_cont',
MAX(`auto_points`) AS 'max_auto',
MIN(`auto_points`) AS 'min_auto',
AVG(`auto_points`) AS 'avg_auto',
(AVG(`auto_points`) + AVG(`contains`) + 3 * AVG(`caps`)) AS 'avg_scoring'
FROM `teams`, `team_match`
WHERE `teams`.`team_number` = `team_match`.`team_number`
GROUP BY `team_number` ORDER BY $orderby";

Then for each alliance score I ran another SQL query (this code was more or less repeated four times):

$points = 0;
$sql = "SELECT sum(`red_score`) AS 'red_points'
FROM `matches`, `team_match`
WHERE `matches`.`match_number` = `team_match`.`match_number`
AND `alliance_color` = 'red'
AND `team_number` = '{$row['team_number']}'";
$result2 = mysql_query($sql);
if(!$result2) print mysql_errno() . ': ' . mysql_error() . "n";
else $row2 = mysql_fetch_assoc($result2);
$points += $row2['red_points'];
mysql_free_result($result2);

While this worked, it didn’t allow sorting based on the average score column, which was unfortunate but didn’t end up mattering. But the Championship (aka “Nationals”) is a whole diofferent ball game. We’ll need better analysis tools. And I had heard about this ‘CASE’ statement, and thought it might be able to help me out. So today, I learned myself how to use it. And it is truly extraordinary how much simpler it is. Check it out:


$sql = "SELECT `teams`.`team_number`, `team_name`,
`carries_initial_tetra`, `teams`.`notes`,
COUNT(*) AS 'matches',
MAX(`caps`) AS 'max_caps',
MIN(`caps`) AS 'min_caps',
AVG(`caps`) AS 'avg_caps',
AVG(`contains`) AS 'avg_cont',
MAX(`auto_points`) AS 'max_auto',
MIN(`auto_points`) AS 'min_auto',
AVG(`auto_points`) AS 'avg_auto',
(AVG(`auto_points`) + AVG(`contains`) + 3 * AVG(`caps`)) AS 'avg_scoring',
AVG(CASE WHEN `alliance_color` = 'red' THEN `red_score` ELSE `blue_score` END) AS 'avg_points',
AVG(CASE WHEN `alliance_color` = 'blue' THEN `red_score` ELSE `blue_score` END) AS 'opp_points',
AVG(CASE WHEN `alliance_color` = 'red' THEN `red_score`-`blue_score` ELSE `blue_score`-`red_score` END) AS 'diff_score'
FROM `teams`, `team_match`, `matches`
WHERE `teams`.`team_number` = `team_match`.`team_number`
AND `matches`.`match_number` = `team_match`.`match_number`
GROUP BY `team_number` ORDER BY $orderby";

As you may be able to see, the CASE statement allows me to do a conditional sum. And now I can sort, and yes, the TRC does appear at the top, yes, yes indeed.

Undefeated Champions

Team 492, the Titan Robotics Club, allied with teams 1595 and 604 to go undefeated throughout Saturday’s elimination matches at the FIRST Robotics Competition’s Pacific Northwest Regional. There was one tie, when our robot mysteriously stopped working – props to our alliance for carrying the weight on that one. Nevertheless, the TRC and our alliance partners claimed the win in dominating fashion. Now we have shipped the robot off to Atlanta, Georgia for the wordwide championship event. But first, there is the small obstacle of fundraising for the $5000 entry fee to that event. So if you know anyone that is looking to get their name attached to the hottest thing from the Northwest since Microsoft went public, let them know that the Titan Robotics Club would be glad to take on their name for some sponsorship.

First day of regional

After a day of competition, the TRC remains the only undefeated team at the Pacific Northwest Regional. We’ve had a few close calls, winning one game by 1 point and another by 3 points, but we’ve always managed to hang on and get the all-important W. While there is no web cast of the even this year, you can watch other similar regionals by going to NASA’s Robotics Website. Or if following team 492 is what you want to do, you can watch the match results and team rankings by following the links. We have three more qualification matches tomorrow, and anything can happen, so wish us luck!

SilverFir.net IP Change

For the first time since getting the cable modem installed, my IP address changed. The result was an extremely unreachable host.
With me in Portland with the Titan Robotics Club for the FIRST Robotics Competition, figuring out what exactly the problem was, then fixing it, was not a trvial task. Fortunately for me and for anyone else using SilverFir.net, my wonderful mother was local to the server and after restarting the server to no avail, she was able to confirm that it was indeed the IP address that had changed. A quick trip over to No-IP.com and I had the DNS switched over (changes go active worldwide in under 5 minutes!), but then there seemed to be a few latent problems. Apache didn’t start properly, leading me to expect that the server was still down. But then later, when I impulsively checked my email, and found that my mail server was working just find, I thought, “Wait a moment now…” An SSH session proved fruitful as well, and a quick reboot saw SilverFir.net back to full potential in under a minute. Just Lovely.