Friday, February 23, 2018

The End of Build Season, the Start of Spring?

There are a lot of good things to say about being involved in FIRST robotics.  Among other things it makes winter fly by.  Kickoff is just after New Years.  Bag and Tag is in mid to late February, a time when I am capable of the delusion that spring like weather could happen any day.  I mean, warm spells happen in February.  Usually in odd Weather Bermuda Triangles such as Rapid City South Dakota, but still.

The robotics of course is not "done".  We have a competition coming up soon, and I start the middle school spring robotics class shortly.

But all the kids, all the adults, probably even the robot are a little tired out.  No robot stuff for a few days.  I'm going to be out looking for that first robin, and for those first growing things poking up out of the snow.



Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Bag and Tag 2018

"Bag and Tag" is the end of the FIRST robot building season, the point at which the machine goes into a sealed and numbered storage bag, not to be touched until tournament play.

Many teams are frantically working up to the last minute, and in their defense, there is always more to do.

But our team philosophy is "Done before Deadlines".  This proved prudent as we lost what would have otherwise been a critical work day to a nasty ice storm earlier in the week.

We of course have a half dozen small things to tweak but practically speaking our ambitions of being ready to start practice matches promptly at the tournament seems feasible.  The lost day of work likely means we won't make the ultimate goal which is to unbag the robot at the event and immediately wave inspectors over for the required pre-event scrutiny.  But we should be close.  In past years we have had to swap over electronics, and a nasty bit of work that can be.  Now we have two complete sets, one just waiting on the robot.

A few pictures from Bag and Tag, it was as planned, mostly a fun night.

Robot playing Jenga


A parade following the bagged robot into the corner of the shop.  For some reason they played taps and all saluted.


Prior to bagging, robot grabs a broom and starts sweeping.



On to competition season....



Monday, February 19, 2018

FIRST Robotics 2018 - Practice, Practice.....

Instead of doing two full on tournaments this year (money was a bit tight) we are going all in for one event.  But to get ready we also did a practice event on Saturday.  These tend to be somewhat improvised, all the arena parts are mocked up in plywood and the last time we did one of these there were a bunch of control system issues.  But as a way to see what you have as a robot - and what other teams you will be facing have - it has merit.

Pictures and thoughts....

Here's our robot - whose semi official name is "Clamps" in its starting configuration.


The fabric covered box has to be put into place on the field.  This requires that there be pneumatic pressure available.  One of the things you can do in a practice event is work on the timing of your pre match procedures....how long will pre-pressurized tanks stay above minimal limits to be effective?


The matches consist of three robots on each side, or "alliance" trying to accomplish their goals while preventing the activities of the robots from the other end of the field. The robots should be in red and blue color schemes but for a practice event attire is rather casual.


There actually is some science and engineering involved.  Here our software kids work out the equations to tweak our autonomous programming.  Now, if those other clumsy robots would just stay out of our way!


Practice events are valuable for drivers and software but perhaps even more so for the pit crew.  Our first edition of the pit check list....match times, colors for each match, starting positions.  Also a list of things that must be done between each match.  One kid tried to tell me that "Someone else checked that battery!".  Nope, check it again.  It was of course good.

The team and robot were so solid that after a while we just started getting into the "Fill Line" after each match.  As robots drop out due to mechanical issues there are often matches where the required three per side can't be rounded up.  No problem, we were ready.  Ten matches in 7 hours, about as much as a full day and a half official tournament.  Nothing bad broke but we found enough small tweaks to keep us busy for our last two build sessions.  

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Friday, February 16, 2018

The Adventures of Lib Man

I've become so accustomed to "branding" in every aspect of my world that the first thing I thought of when I saw this line of cleaning products in the store was "Hmmm, does this suggest some Masked Do-Gooding Liberal Man?  So Liberal that he insists on doing all the household cleaning?  Including the windows?"



The logo is a bit suggestive of this, the little starburst has a rather superhero look to it. And the red color scheme reminded me of the Incredibles.  I think Mr. I did a lot of housework.

Ah, but I was just being silly.  This was encountered at the Gigantic Guy Store where only manly products are sold.  And in my personal experience any connection between political affiliation and amount of guy-housework undertaken is conjectural.

Libman was simply the name of the founder of this century old company based in the Chicago area.

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Forgotten Brewery Caves - The Sanborn Evidence

There are different ways to research the matter of Forgotten Brewery Caves.  If you are lucky enough to find mention in a local history book, great.  Another good source can be archived collections of newspapers that can be scanned for key words such as "brewery cave".  I'll probably discuss the foibles of that approach another day.  

To a certain extent it will always come down to standing on a site, looking it over and saying "Yep, that's where it has to be".  But what if there is absolutely nothing to be seen?  Well, that is where Sanborn maps can help out.  Sometimes.

Sanborn maps are a great source for historical researchers.  They were compiled in exquisite, artistic detail by the fire insurance firm of the same name.  Their main interest of course is locating flammable things.  And in this respect they are a mixed blessing.  Breweries were very, very flammable things, so they often got their own detailed map.  Caves are just about the definition of non flammable so they were often left off.   

Today lets have a look at some maps.  What they can show you.  What they can't. Or don't.


Menomonie Wisconsin.  I've marched up and down this hillside a dozen times.  Nothing, unless you count a lone drainage pipe sticking out of the hillside.  But.....



If you can squint enough to read the fine print it says: "Steam Pump in Beer Cellar 50' below Brewery in Bed of Rock".  I imagine that it was the presence of the pump, necessary for water supply in the event of a fire, that got the cellar mentioned.

From Dubuque Iowa is a view of the Glab Brewery.  



This is the place where  the trusty guard dog "Punch" was buried next to the cave.  The notation says No Watchman.  Well, with Punch's spirit guarding things one would hardly be needed.  Note that the Beer Cellar has a board roof, something I have never seen, and given the rock structure of the area, something that would hardly be expected.

Now here is an example of what is not shown.  This is the Argall Brewery in Mineral Point, a continuation of the first brewery in Wisconsin.  There is a cave there. I've seen it!  But, and this is quite common, it is not shown.  But a helpful clue, often the ice house is either above or adjacent to the cave site.



Whether or not brewery caves are shown appears to be very hit and miss, perhaps depending on the inclination of the surveyor.  Here are two images from Hudson Wisconsin from the 1884 map.

This one shows the "Casanova" caves in fabulous detail.



And this one is from the other brewery in town, on a site I have looked over twice and with considerable effort.  Although it clearly shows "BEER CAVE" I can at this late date see no sign of it.  Occasionally destruction efforts were comprehensive even in caves like this which were chiseled into solid rock.



If you want to do you own research on brewery caves, or anything else, your tax dollars have in this instance been put to excellent use.  HERE  is a link to the appropriate section of the National Archives.  Happy hunting, free of cockleburrs and mud!

Monday, February 12, 2018

FIRST Robotics 2018 - Report Six

In some ways Week Five has always been the toughest.  Fatigue has set in.  There is no time to take on major new initiatives.  The robot has to be shared between builders and coders, with neither side being entirely happy with their access.

And the panic that usually kicks in just before deadline is only starting to creep in around the edges....

Again for a bit of variety in my reports, this week we'll do a day by day.

Monday (Build session countdown: 11 to completion)



We have the wooden parts of the bumpers made and fitted.  Also an accordion system for wire and pneumatic tube management.  Modest driving practice.  Claw is still off being worked on.

Tuesday
I went in early to get things organized for the after school session.  With 20 kids working on six different projects a pretty big mess is generated.  It gets hard to find specific tools and materials when needed.

In many ways this was the classic week Five day.  Restless kids, more goofing around than usual.  Work done slowly and not all that well.  One critical part basically ruined by careless machining.  But then...in the last half hour of the session the robot was fired up and performed flawlessly.  Great driving, great programming.   

Robot running in autonomous mode

Wednesday Modest progress on our last three issues.  Took no photos.  Best part of the night was 45 minutes of driving practice.  We had our first big crash when the robot went over backwards.  No damage done, which is a tribute to the basic strength of the machine.  It looks as if driver skill is going to be key with this top heavy beastie.

Thursday.  Dialed down a notch.  We still have three or four engineering problems to solve and they look solveable.  Plenty of time for programmers to do their thing.  Robot still drives smooth.  We did hear a "plink" from a bolt dropping out.  A survey showed other loose ones.  Now if only somebody had not lost that little tube of loctite!  



Saturday.  Light crew due to Science Olympiad.  We got done what we could.  Minor things tweaked into better shape.  And two larger projects.  The "end game" involves putting a hook on a high bar and lifting the robot.  We figured to have a detachable hook going to a winch.  Here is the mounting arm for the hook...



Looks a bit wimpy.  And was.  Just putting it onto the bar and dropping the elevator to pull loose the velco holding it on was enough to bend the aluminum arm before hook release.  It was redone in redoubtable steel.  The other project is a "stretch goal".  Perhaps more on that tomorrow.

Sunday.  Back to more like the usual crew, a dozen or so hard working team members. Lots got done. We are a couple of days from a fully competition ready machine, and most of what remains is just mounting systems that have been completed.

One of which is....interesting.  Because our elevator is so heavy it drifts down when the power is turned off.  Oh, you can get by with just continuing to apply power to the motor, but that is not good for battery life or for the motor.  The answer is some kind of pneumatic brake.

One of our students designed, machined and assembled such a device.  Here he, and it, are.



Clever work, it uses parts we had on hand and should save us some battery power.  Plus its just cool.

The build season winds down and the competition season looms.

Friday, February 9, 2018

As if the Wooden Shoes were not odd enough....

From time to time we haul a bunch of stuff down to the on line auction place and try to get rid of it.  This is a modestly successful strategy for "stuff reduction", one that works so long as you don't at the same time buy other people's things. 

While we were dropping stuff off something caught the eye of my Better Half.  She wanted a picture to send to a dear friend of hers, a woman for whom the saying "If you ain't Dutch, you ain't much" is a code to live by.  Mayhaps she needs a set of ceramic Dutchies smooching.  As if she does not in all probability have a phalanx of these in her garden already.

But I Comply.  And in my close up noticed something odd...




Little Dutch Boy is wearing more eye shadow than Little Dutch Girl!  Or in these silly times are we still allowed to notice such things?