Thursday, January 24, 2008

Robotics State Tournament

Wow, if you have any kids (or are yourself) interested in engineering, technology, or robotics, or just want to be impressed by the minds of young people, find one of these FIRST Lego League state tournaments and go to it. What you'll see is dozens of teams of young people who have taken the exact same challenges and built an amazing array of robot styles, shapes, programs, and attachments to complete these challenges. It was so cool to see how each team approached the design differently. And not just the robot design, but how it went about the missions, whether it combined them, had attachments that worked for multiple missions, or came back to base for attachment changes and sending out again.

The robot table competition was in a big gym, with six tables going at all times. Two of them appeared on the big screen at the back of the gym, which was great because you could really see the details on all of these different robots up close, and how they approached their mission objectives. The kids also thought it was pretty cool that they got to be on the big TV screen.

Our team did really well, with the most exciting moment coming on their first table run. Every one of their robot's ten missions executed flawlessly, with the last mission being accomplished just at the ring of the 2 1/2 minute final buzzer. This gave them a table score of 270, the highest they've ever achieved. Given that some of these programs were written in the weeks between the regional competition and the state championships, they were very excited to have such a perfect showing. Their top score at regionals had been 220, so this was a big leap up. Of course, the other teams here were also all regional champions, so some teams posted scores as high as a perfect 400. Still our team scored in the top 1/3 of all the teams there, and I consider that exceptional for their first time at State.

Their research presentation, teamwork judging, and technical judging all went well, and as usual I was impressed by the poise and hard work that all of the kids exhibited in these intense environments. At the end of the day, they won an award for robot reliability, which is quite an honor. I know the kids would've liked to win some big overall award, but I think they did very well to be there at State and getting an award at all was icing on the cake. Next year, they'll have a much better idea of what areas they need to focus on if they're going to perform even better, but right now I couldn't be more proud!

Friday, January 18, 2008

Fun With Animals

Not much time to write today, the kids big State Championship robotics tournament is this weekend, plus my first week of being a triathlon coach for Team in Training, and Asa has a dance team performance (not to mention I sprained my ankle this week - oh joy!) So here's a little photo journey of some of our fun with our animals this week:

Bandit is a big snuggler, especially when someone's lying still enough to get a nap on their legs:

Garfield in a first tree-climbing adventure:

I call this one "Fishing For Kittens":

Bandit in a face-off with our two oldest hens (who look supremely unconcerned):

Mackenzie holding Foghorn:

Monday, January 14, 2008

Where's Waldo?

For a couple of years now, we've been keeping our eyes peeled for a "Westie" - a Winnebago conversion of a Volkswagon Westfalia van. They stopped making them about five years ago, and they're pretty darn hard to find. When you do find them, they're often ungodly expensive. DH happened to be rolling past a VW dealership and spotted this little gem on the lot. Usually we take a lot more time with car-buying, but he knew it was a good deal, and the van looks like it's hardly been used.
It sleeps four - two down in the folded back seat area, and two up in the "pop top" and I think it will be great for more four-season camping (especially on the wet and windy Oregon coast) and taking to triathlons (where we usually have to find a hotel room). Some friends have had one for years and so we drove over to their house to get a run-down on how everything works (ours is missing its owner's manual, unfortunately!) and to look at how they have it all organized. I remember camping at Waldo Lake (elevation 6,000') one fall with our friends and as we shivered in our tent, looking out at their toasty Westie with the heater and the indoor stove for hot chocolate and thinking I would really have liked to be inside at that moment! Not that our tent camping days are done, I know the kids love having a tent and I really don't mind roughing it in the great outdoors in the summer when it's not pouring rain. But I've packed up the tent in a downpour on more than one marginal fall camping trip, so this will be a welcome addition.

And my hubby, who after 10 years in the Army developed a serious aversion to camping, will be much more likely to come with us if it doesn't mean sleeping in the tent, so that's a bonus too. We're looking forward to playing cards here in the main part of the van (a table folds out and the front seats swivel around). We were informed that if you own a Westie, you have to name it. So ours has become "Waldo" in honor of my favorite place in the world to camp. My hubby was cracking up this morning as he was ordering an owner's manual online, and the first thing you had to input on the form was the name of your vehicle! So I guess it's a good thing ours has already been dubbed Waldo, he had something to fill in on the form.