Monday, February 17, 2020

FIRST Robotics 2020 - What Week is it Now?

I have to admit it is getting a bit blurry.

We continue to fight the scale, with the amount of weight available to fix small problems as they arise being very minimal.   

We find that we need a bit of frame strengthening.  In it's initial version it slipped a bearing loose when the robot went into a vigorous turn.  Rather like a horse throwing a shoe.  But on the positive side the main function of this machine, the beam grabbing/leveling trick, seems to work surprisingly well.  Our best driver was able to nail it on his first two attempts.

We are also well along in our efforts to automate ball intake and shooting.  At least we are far enough to turn it over to software for tweaking.  Here's a few photos.  A bit mixed up and random because that's how I'm feeling these days.

This is probably final assembly.  We had plans to powder coat it but it looks as if we won't be able to spare the extra take down/reassembly time.  Or the 6 ounces or so it would add in weight!

Here's the little beam break sensor that registers when we have a ball in the conveyor system.  Much like your garage door opener.  This allows us to pulse the conveyor system just enough to move a ball into position without crowding.  

This was supposed to be a great picture.  The robot grabs the bar and auto levels it. You put a cell phone up with an angle sensor and Yes!  It reads ZERO!  But you can't see it on the screen because I'm at the wrong angle.  Trust me on this one.

And we kept slogging along.  By end of work Saturday we had the ball pickup and conveyor functional although it threw a belt periodically.  The shooter needs a new part.  The frame now holds solid and the climber still climbs, although we need to tweak a few things.  And other things are going on.  We have our scouting system started and have the pit set up for a complete remodeling.  I'll have pictures in a few days.

Two weeks and change to competition it now is possible to see interesting possibilities ahead.

Friday, February 14, 2020

The Old Mill in Winter

When I posted on this burly industrial artifact last fall there were some things I did not know.

1. It appears to be not so much a milling machine as a gigantic drill press.
2. It's older than I thought.

It is by the way still sitting outside the school.  I imagine it is just waiting for the annual spring scrap metal drive before it makes one last ignomious journey.  But someone in the know told me something interesting about it.

It used to be in an old armory building that had heavy equipment in it.  It was down by the river and long enough ago that water power was still a thing.  In fact, this rugged survivor has rollers on top so that via belts it can be run by water power!  

I'm still not going to offer to buy it at scrap price and haul it home.  It's probably a century old and there's a reason why it is being tossed out.  Many reasons most likely. But if we ever encountered a Y2K, solar flare, robot apocalypse scenario and you needed something to start rebuilding your industrial base in a roots and squirrel meat based economy, boy would this come in handy.

Wednesday, February 12, 2020

Time Capsule - Button Box Part Three

A non button item from the button box.  This is at first glance rather jarring to the eye.  We are accustomed to having medals display the national colors of the nation issuing them.  This is a definite and intentional exception.  Take a closer look.

The front does not help much.  It's a thematic mish mash.  An angel with shield and sword, the latter now lowered.  A radiate crown suggesting the Statue of Liberty.  Bare feet striding across a curved surface that could be the face of the earth.  I'm seeing elements of Joan of Arc, The Angels of Mons, maybe the Arch Angel Micheal.

Here's the reverse, and the start of our explanation.  All the Allied Powers in World War One.  

At the end of The Great War there was a sense of unity.  So it was decided that a medal commemorating service would be issued to all Allied soldiers with the ribbon representing a blending of all the national flags, and the back listing the Allied Nations.  It's a nice touch to include Montenegro and Brazil, whose contributions were minor, and Russia who had dropped out and to some extent even switched sides.  In fact, this medal was, in the US version at least, issued not only to soldiers who fought in World War One but also in the post war Allied interventions in the Russian Civil War!

The front images had similar themes but were a bit different for the various nations.  Here's a rather racy version representing Belgium, taken from this compilation.

The subject of these Great War commemorative medals is actually complicated, as one would expect with so many war weary nations all doing this at once.  There seem to be official and semi official versions, and the supposedly uniform size and theme requirements were not always adhered to.  Some of these are quite rare and worth a bit, but an example from a major combatant nation, separated from the history of the soldier, and lacking the various "battle honor" clips you sometimes see is not much more than a historical curio.

One final thought.  Notice the image on the back of the medal.  It is an axe and a bundle of sticks.  This is the classic "fasces" a symbol indicating that a group of people, or group of nations were stronger united together than standing alone.  When this medal was issued in 1919 a wounded Italian veteran named Benito Mussolini had already founded the Revolutionary Fascist Party with this as its emblem.  In the years that followed Fascism would spread and of the nations listed on this medal only sensibly neutral Portugal would be spared the horrors of a Second World War.

Tuesday, February 11, 2020

FIRST Robotics 2020 - A balancing act

No, not time, money, Mountain Dew, patience.....although we balance those as well.

This year's competition has major scoring points if you and one or more of your alliance partners can reach up, grab a hanging bar, lift yourselves off the ground...and make the bar come into perfect balance.

Difficult?  Team 5826 says "Hold my Mountain Dew".

The robot has an autobalance function.  Push a button and sensors detect the degree of tilt.  And correct for it.  

Monday, February 10, 2020

Time Capsule - Button Box Part Two

Today a bit of Canadian history from the button box.   

This is a uniform button from the Canadian Militia.  You can think of this organization as being a combination of National Guard and Army reserve.  The lineage of the militia goes all the way back to the days of French rule in Canada.  A summary of militia history can be found HERE. 

I'd call this an effective design.  It's not easy to make a chubby rodent look capable of combat but I think they pulled it off.  Various militia buttons feature either a beaver or the crown as the central device.  I've seen one source that plausibly says the crown was favored in English speaking Canada, the beaver in the French speaking parts.  As to the date.....I thought 1900 give or take a decade.  When war broke out in 1914 it was realized that the militia was not much of a fighting force and it seems to have become largely obsolete at that time.  

The back of the button makes things more interesting.

P. Tait and Co.  Limerick (Ireland).  Peter Tait started a factory for making uniforms in 1852.  Two years later the Crimean War proved good for business.  Soon after that the American Civil War broke out and Tait not only sold uniforms to the Confederacy but  even delivered them on his own small fleet of ships.

Tait prospered, being elected Mayor of Limerick and later being knighted.  He handed the business over to his son in the mid 1870's.  At this point it was renamed "The Auxiliary Forces Clothing and Equipment Company".  

I suppose the buttons used could have retained the earlier company name, but it does appear my ball park dating of the item could have been off by a couple of decades.

Friday, February 7, 2020

FIRST Robotics 2020 - Laser Day

 At last the final version of the robot is ready to come out of the virtual world.  The design has been slimmed down, swiss cheesed and simplified to the point that we appear, just barely, to be able to make weight.

And so....could it be.....?

I doubt many other FIRST teams get their robot started by hauling out a big piece of steel with a fork lift!

The laser cutter has to be programmed to "cookie cutter" out the parts in an organized fashion.  Here's the pattern.

Starting to slice.

Other sub groups on the team think they are cool.  But hey, laser guys....well what can I say?

Of course laser cutting leads to....

A surprisingly large collection of individual parts!

And a "leftovers" sheet that can be curled up into a modern art installment for the shop.

At close of day Thursday the welding had begun.  I like this photo as it captures the eerie blue light on the wall.  The peculiar shapes of the metal frame are casting their blue shadows....

Wednesday, February 5, 2020

Time Capsule - Button Box Part One

My better half is interested in buttons, so of course people regularly give her batches of them.  Usually they come out of some obscure drawer, or are the collection of a recently departed family member.  Most are not of value, but that's not to say there are not interesting things mixed in at times.  A recent batch had several oddities.  Starting with these:

I've given them a bit of a clean, but in their original form they were dark grey, encrusted with stuff, and tied together with a bit of thread.  So, what do we have here?

The larger buttons show a cannon and flag.  The material is pewter, that odd conglomeration of tin and other metals, often with a fair percentage of lead.  They are rather heavy.

Notice that this is not a traditional American flag.  Below is the smaller size, it has an odd monogram.

Naturally one turns first to a scholarly work that actually is called "The Big Book of Buttons".  It has a lot of info but does not rival the internet.  Just a couple of clicks showed me several similar buttons including a grouping just like mine that was being offered for sale as "possibly Revolutionary War" era.  Hmmm.  I had my doubts.  The two styles were very different.  And what are the odds that identical sets would survive?  Also on the back there were numbers stamped.  6 on the small ones and 4 on the larger ones.  It looked like such a clean, deep strike that I doubted it was done 200 plus years ago.

Just a little more sleuthing uncovered this:

Looks pretty familiar, no?  This is a set of reproduction buttons, based on actual specimens excavated at Revolutionary war battle field sites.  They are not even from the same uniform, the larger ones being a style worn by Continental Army artillery officers, the smaller ones are from a New York militia unit. The odd monogram is a version of NY. 

They were given away on July 4th 1969 by Time Magazine as a commemorative item.  

So I'm 99.9% sure I don't have actual Revolutionary War pewter buttons here.  But still, its history after a fashion.  It is after all about a half century since they came out, and in a very momentous year.  Moon Landing, Woodstock, assassinations, etc.