Friday, January 31, 2020

FIRST Robotics 2020 - Report 4.1

I started the week with a vague sense of....foreboding?....anticipation?  More or less the feeling that we would "make or break" the season with our progress or non progress in late January.   So a little different format for a Friday morning....progress in a crucial week.


The most interesting thing about the day was how busy things seemed.  There were a lot of people on hand.  Seven coaches.  Three alumni - who mostly drop in to visit but occasionally offer the team advice.  And of our roster of 21 students we had 20 on hand.  This is pretty amazing.  Essentially the entire team shows up to do three hours of extra work directly after a full school day.  And do so three school nights a week plus a long session on Saturday.  Time for a team photo.

A good looking and hard working crew.


We have a "beta version" of our robot coming together.  It is the drive base, super structure, climber and most of the intake and conveyor mechanisms.  That last one is still in development.  Impressive, no?

Ah but it is too heavy.  So we have to make the final version out of thiner metal and find ways to lighten up everything.  More Swiss Cheesing ahead.  Perhaps the robot name will be some variation on "Swiss Cheezit".  None of the kids read my posts so far as I know, so I'll toss the name question out for discussion in a week or so and see what they come up with.

Tuesday was one of those frustrating days when not enough happened.  Unexpected parts were required.  Decision making was slow and distracted.  It is the first time we have ever had software so far out ahead of the build team, and they can only do so much with the current drive base.  They need something with a ball shooter on it.  Well, this is rather a pattern.  After a fun and productive day comes the let down day.  We regroup and come back to work another day.


I notice the small things.  The team has changed.  This year, next to the safety glasses, there is this pack of pony tail holders.

There is perfection in small things.  Here's a sensor bracket.  Designed by one of our new recruits.  Yes, it is a small part, but the sensor unit clicks in perfectly.  Just needs a drop of glue.

Quite a bit of progress tonight.  Here's the robot with frame and drive systems done.  At least in prototype form.  In the foreground....The Enemy.  Otherwise known as the scale.  Reducing down to weight will be a most excellent engineering challenge.

There was not quite enough time to transfer the electronics and power up.  That should happen Saturday.  Along with many, many other things.  Here's the robot waiting for the next session, parked next to the software development frame.  Transferring the smart parts over should happen soon.

Oh, we have to ditch ten pounds, work the bugs out of the ball transfer system, redo the entire frame in lighter gauge steel, learn to drive it and a few other little details.  But at the end of the day four of the students hopped on the robot and propelled themselves around the room as if it were a giant armor plated skateboard.  A good  test of frame strength, and one it passed.  Kids having fun.


Wednesday, January 29, 2020

Heinrich Hertz and the tragedy of German Science

I learned things in my electronics class.  Not always things in the curriculum...because I kept wandering down interesting side paths.  For instance, we studied alternating current wave forms.  Ooh, compelling stuff.  Nah, only useful stuff.  But the unit of frequency for wave forms is hertz.  As in kilohertz, megahertz, etc.  I got to wondering who this was named after....and a remarkable but sad story emerged.  In a sense it is a condensed version of the larger somber tale of how German science and industry was bent to evil purposes in the first half of the 20th century.....

Meet Heinrich Rudolph Hertz.  A brilliant polymath he was accomplished not only in physics and engineering but learned Arabic and Sanskrit.  Although he had the previous theoretical work of Maxwell to build on he was the first scientist to prove the wave nature of electrical and magnetic fields.  Having basically just proven the principles on which radio, AC current and most modern electronics function he was asked what practical use he saw in this.  His answer?

"Nothing, I guess."

Heinrich Hertz died in 1894 at the young age of 34.  Cause of death was a disease I learned as "Wegner's Granulomatosis".  In recent years it has been renamed, as it turns out that Herr Docktor Wegener did some dodgy medical experiments involving concentration camp inmates.

Meet Gustav Ludwig Hertz, nephew of Heinrich.

Also a very bright fellow, he was one half of the team that presented the Franck-Hertz experiments to the scientific community in April of 1914.  These studied the electrical properties of gases in a vacuum and demonstrated the quantum nature of atoms. 

Oh, and about 1914 and gases....

Hertz served in the German army during WW I, in a special unit commanded by Fritz Haber that for the first time developed and deployed poison gas in warfare.  Pioneer Regiment 35/36 had no fewer than four future Nobel Prize winners in its ranks.  Franck and Hertz won the Physics prize in 1925.  Otto Hahn discovered nuclear fission and won the 1944 Nobel for chemistry despite carrying on his research in Berlin!  (To be fair it was only announced post war).  Fritz Haber topped them all.  He won the Nobel Prize for Chemistry in a time when the acrid stench of poison gas still lingered in the depths of shattered battlefields.

An interesting reflection on a different mind set.  Haber won his prize for discovering a way that atmospheric nitrogen could be "fixed" and utilized in chemical reactions.  It allowed the mass manufacture of high explosives that tore apart millions of soldiers.  Also the commercial production of fertilizers that fed billions of civilians.  How different from our "woke" modern attitude that requires past figures be subjected to modern judgments, their statues removed, their presence in texts erased or marked with asterisks!

It has become fashionable to condemn any questioning of science as an "attack" and those who do so as "deniers".  But let's be fair, brilliant men are far from omniscient. H. Hertz discounting electromagnetic waves as a clever parlor trick.  Haber, Hahn and G. Hertz not seeing past their equations to gasping and incinerated bodies.  But in the epilogue to this tale there are rays both of dark and light.

James Franck and Gustav Hertz arranged to defect to the Russians at the end of World War II.  They worked on the Soviet nuclear program which thankfully to date has never been used in war.

Gustav's Hertz's defection meant that his son, Carl, also a physicist would not be allowed to work in the US.  A POW captured in North Africa he went post war to Sweden where he pioneered inkjet technology and performed the first cardiac ultrasound.  

Otto Hahn was also captured by the Western Allies.  When given the news of Hiroshima and Nagasaki he was appalled at the direction his work had taken.  His immediate response was to get very drunk.  In the longer term he became a prominent advocate for the abolition of nuclear weapons entirely.

Ah, but Fritz Haber had the strangest journey.  He continued work in secret on poison gas in the post WW I era.  But being of Jewish ancestry he fell into disfavor with the rise of the Nazi regime.  Remarkably he was invited to emigrate to England, where he worked for a few years. 
Fritz Haber
Finally Chaim Weizmann reached out to Haber, inviting him to come to Jerusalem and head up the Sieff Research Institute.  In failing health, Haber died en route.

The Sieff was later renamed the Weizmann Institute, premier academic organization of the post WWII state of Israel.  It was of course named for Chaim Weizmann, first President of Israel and a man who attained his early scientific fame by devising a method of making high explosive cordite by fermenting starch, thereby making his own contribution to the ability to destroy human life on a grand and grotesque scale.

Monday, January 27, 2020

FIRST Robotics 2020 - Report 4.0

Weather cooperated so we got our full week of work in on the robot.  In the traditional six week build season this is where we would look around and ask this half way done?  Even with two weeks "extra" it is a very fair question.  After all, you need a little time to learn how to drive the robot.

CAD design.  More features being added all the time.  More than 50% complete?  Oh yes.

The annual weight control tally board.  There's a lot that is not on here yet.  More than 50% to goal.  Oh no.

Ball transfer unit.  It turns out that it is harder to convey multiple balls versus one, and the new design has a weird bend in it to get more capacity in less space.  We are being vexed by feeding issues.  More than 50%?  Yes, but a ways to go.  Switching back to surgical tubing and perhaps making custom rollers.

I can't say much about software.  It seems they are getting things done. They have adopted the open office-standing work station policies of one of our sponsors.  Some team members do better standing on a cinder block!

One of the pulleys that will let our robot go sideways on a suspended bar.  It has been "Swiss Cheesed" for weight reduction.  Also it makes it look really cool.

Custom frame this year, laser cut from sheet metal.  This will probably not be the final version...we need to see how this all comes together, but time to burn a 1.0 version.

Robot frame coming to life in the harsh, stark lighting of the welding shop.  

And so it goes.  We have one eye on the calendar, one on the weight tally board.  Most subsystems sorta work and software has been doing assorted arcane things.  Stay tuned....the pace picks up shortly.

Going now to sacrifice a chicken to the weather gods....

Friday, January 24, 2020

Schedule of upcoming Speaking Events

Now there's a post title I never thought I would use.   For those who know me only in the virtual sphere I should explain that I am by default something of an introvert, and the notion of standing up in front of sizable groups of people and informing/entertaining them would not have occurred to me until rather late in life.

But my odd little hobbies have taken on their own life, and people seem interested in hearing about them.  So here's what I'm up to in March and April.

March 2nd, 1pm.  Digging Hill 80, Archaeology of a World War One Battlefield  This is one of three programs I'm doing in an "archaeology series" for Chippewa Falls Community Education.  Like the others it is an updated version of something I did for the Chippewa Valley Learning in Retirement program.  I now have the benefit of better photos of the conserved artifacts, and of course the somber reburial of the dead, at least one of whom was identified by our efforts.  

March 24th, 1pm.  Robotics in Education I'm doing this one for the Learning in Retirement program.  It's part of our efforts to help the Pablo Center for the Arts get a team going for next year's campaign.  I'm hoping we have enough of our robotics team around on spring break week that I can just be a sort of "ringmaster" while robots and students amaze retirees.  I did something along these lines three years ago and it worked out  pretty well, but that one was done in Chippewa Falls.  This will be at the Pablo Center proper, a rather impressive space. 

March 31st, time TBD.  Brewery History of Western Wisconsin  This one is at the Chippewa Valley Museum and is part of a series they are doing on the German heritage of our area.  Some Learning in Retirement members suggested I just redo the Forgotten Brewery Caves  talk that went well last fall, but I'll try to be a bit more wide ranging. Not that a few cave photos won't turn up also.

April 6th, 1pm.  Visiting Rome.  Skip the Colliseum. Another reworking of a prior program for the Chippewa Falls Community Ed folks.  This one might actually be the most difficult one to pull together, it reprises one from years back and neither my photographic skills nor my Powerpoint mojo have held up well.  Lots of work on this one.

April 20th, 1pm. Vindolanda, Archaeology of Hadrian's Wall.  Also for Chippewa Community Ed.  This should be an easy one....I'll be in the final packing up stage for the 2020 digging trip to Vindolanda and should be "in the zone" for this.  Also I've availed myself of some images of recent finds that are spectacular.

If anyone is interested in attending these, here's the particulars:

For the Chippewa Falls community ed programs, info at:  Cardinal Learning

Here's the Chippewa Valley Museum calendar.  It has not been updated yet.

The Learning in Retirement Program wants you to be a member and sign up in advance HERE.  But if you turned up and said you were a friend of the robotics team I think you'd be fine.  

Tuesday, January 21, 2020

FIRST Robotics 2020 - Report 3.0

Those familiar with FIRST robotics probably know about "Bag and Tag" day.  This was, prior to the current campaign, the Tuesday evening six weeks and two days after kick off when all teams had to put their robot into a sealed storage bag until competition.  There were various ways to game the system, mostly by building multiple clone robots and only bagging the "comp" machine while you practiced and did software development with the beta versions. This was felt to favor the high resource teams.  So this until you compete.  This means that we have eight weeks instead of six.  But in a practical sense you should still get things done in someone can actually learn how to drive the critter.

Maybe this means teams will get a bit lazy in the early weeks.  Or will they simply do the same amount of work on a more forgiving timetable?  Let's have a look at what things look like in the middle of week three.

I should mention we lost our long Saturday session to blizzard conditions.  Yuck.  Southern California teams are laughing at us.

The CAD team has been busy.  Here's a 3D model of the robot they are expecting to build.  From this design it is pretty easy to laser cut all the parts.  Welding them together is a bit more of a task.  Keeping the entire beast under 125 pounds probably will be a challenge.  Expect the final version to have lots of "Swiss Cheese".

The above design does not have the ball pickup and transfer units on board yet.  We are still testing the prototypes.  Here's ball transfer unit version 2.0.  The bright orange bungee cord seems to work well.

I don't have a picture to show it but software has made a sensor that detects the ball when it enters the transfer device and signals the motors to run until the ball is no longer breaking the beam. Sort of like your garage door sensor.  This should automate ball collection so the drivers just need to, well, drive.

Software has been up to some other tricks as well.  Sensing the target is pretty important in this game, especially as it is at the far end of the playing field and your vision will be partly obscured.  So....they are working on both vision tracking of the reflective targets AND distance sensing.  In fact, the robot should have distance sensors on both front corners so it can read distance and angle to target.  For now these sensors are mounted on "Chairbot" the better to push it around the mock playing field.

And so it goes.  But as with humans so also it is with robots.  With new life comes the passing of the old guard.  Last year's robot being broken down for parts....sniff.

Monday, January 20, 2020

The Aardvark Bait Report

I've decided to report in early on my attempt to punk Facebook by putting out random topics (all starting with the letter A) to try to lure in irrelevant ads...


Round One looks like a stalemate.  The peculiar on line gaming opportunities featuring winsome elves have gone away.  I actually get a number of ads that relate to relevant things, one of our robotics team sponsors and the on line company from which the team orders T-shirts.

But otherwise, the most common ad I've been seeing is for a company that sells insurance to tree trimmers.  Seriously.....what a niche market and one I have no connection to.  Now, the company's name does start with the word "Arbor" so this might be a harmonic ripple of my "Letter A" campaign.  I can't think of any other plausible explanation.   Maybe I was mumbling when I read the "A-list" into the microphone.

And speaking of computers picking up unwanted data, perhaps I was overly worried about the microphone and camera.  In the first few weeks of 2020 I have gotten many ads for scented candles and Febreeze air freshener.  Maybe there are sensors built into laptops that are entirely covert.

Slightly more concerning is this.  Over the holidays we had company.  One old friend of the family is in the car business.  In the weeks that followed there was a noteworthy uptick in ads for cars...mostly of the brand his company sells.  I keep my locators turned off on phone and computer, but in a gathering that features a number of my facebook friends and frequent email contacts it appears the algorithms were able to piece together enough data to think that this target (friend of these two and in the same room as a person selling this) should be bombarded with suggestions that he needs a new car.

Well let's give it another try.  Next round of Facebook/google bait is brought to you by the letter B.

Binomial equations
Burmese Pythons

I'll report back in a few weeks.

Friday, January 17, 2020

FIRST Robotics 2020 - Report 2.1

It's always nice to have visible results.  Let's start with those. Images from the middle days of build week two.

Our crew building field elements outdid themselves.  Behold this magnificent and made to specs target tower.  It has since been outfitted with reflective target tape.  It can just be squeezed into our ceiling space.   Software is now working on targeting algorithms.  No fair doing bank shots off the rafters.

We have some new builders who need to learn basics.  While our elaborate custom frame is being designed they modified old components into a functional analog.  This goes to software as a test bed for their work.   Since the best way to learn is to see both the right and wrong ways to do things I hope the cumbersome modifying of beat up parts will make the later (hopefully) smooth assembly of the final version be the work of a pleasant afternoon.  I think the test bed turned out rather well.

We have lots of new components to figure out.  Big time teams meet year round and have five times our numbers.  For us it is "in season" learning and everyone has to wear multiple hats. 

My biggest job this time of year is making sure the team has all the parts they need.  I can usually stay a jump ahead of them....unless they need something really weird.  Which they regularly do.   Time to inventory wheels, pulleys, belts.

Software already has more things figured out this season than in any previous one.  It won't all make it into the 2020 machine but with a young team in rebuilding mode this sort of experimental work will pay off in seasons ahead.

Oh and we have to play around with physical prototypes of ball pick up and launch systems.  We can't count on CAD to do everything virtually!  Pick up prototype version one:

Here's ball shooter version 1.0.  It needs a fair bit of tweaking but was able to hit the target from about 12 feet out.

And finally, the conveyor system that moves the ball from the pickup system to the launcher.  Just loops of surgical tubing driven on shafts.  This version is crude but does work, and there's no reason to doubt we can make a polished version.

So things are moving along.  It's the interplay between physical prototypes and ideal CAD drawings that helps the most.  Already our designers are peering over the test bed and wondering if we can make it "tighter", squeezing the spaces in which the wheels run down another half inch on each side.  With the really exotic mechanisms that are starting to emerge we'll need every bit of it.

Progress as related to earlier seasons?  I think we are about the same.  Crossed fingers regards weather.

Wednesday, January 15, 2020

Dumpster Dive Electronics

The high school is getting a new STEAM center.  This seems to have prompted a general tidy up and updating of things in the Tech Ed department.  I've already posted about the magnificent manual mill that was parked outside the door.  As of January 6th it was still there.

And next to it.  Oh, the things they are throwing away.  I can pass on the dozens of desks and work tables that were stacked up.  Most of them are fine, just a bit old and scruffy.  Replacing them will cost a bunch.  But I don't have room for such things and am reluctant to bring semi-junk into our robotics work space.

But the dumpsters.  I shouldn't peek.  A bunch of metal parts bins, always worth grabbing.  And thousands of brand new electronics components.  Bags of resistors, capacitors, rheostats....and things I really could not identify with a cursory glance.

All being tossed.  Why?  Ah, kids don't want to learn old school electronics any more.

So I grabbed enough to half fill the parts bins that I was going to snag anyway.  And now for a bit of detective work.  What do we actually have here and will it ever be of any practical use?

Handfuls of stuff.  Some are easier to identify than others.  The SANGAMO bricks are capacitors, perhaps for sound amplifying systems.  They seem to be going for about 50 cents each on ebay as "vintage" electronics.

Hundreds and hundreds of resistors, the tropical fish of the electronics world.  Most of these are fairly big boys in terms of size.  Probably only worth a penny or two each.

A bit of an odd ball.  Why is it called Vitamin Q?  This is another "vintage" capacitor of a type that appears to be used in guitar amps.   Could this bag full really be getting $14.90 a pop on ebay?  This source  seems to hold them in high regard.  And they are only selling units that go up to 400 Volts.  The bag o' bad boys I salvaged run a head bangin', Led Zepp' caliber, 600V!

Neither starting a garage band, nor building my own amps has much appeal in retirement, likely to the relief of many.  So, what to do with this eclectic stash.  Above is my impression of nerd art.  "Still Life on Bread Board".  Hey, I've seen worse...

But maybe there's another possibility.  This sort of stuff turns up on etsy pretty often in jewelry.  Below are a couple of examples.  Maybe the robotics team can twist them together into robot charm bracelets for event give away items?

Monday, January 13, 2020

FIRST Robotics 2020 - Report 2.0

Progress, in its various forms and at its various paces....

Most years software lags early, having after all no robot to program on and being a smaller sub team.  This year we have a large and enthusiastic crew working on programming and sensors.  And we kept two drive worthy frames intact for them to use as test beds.

On the build side a somewhat different pace.  Every year we've gone further in the direction of CAD design before starting to slap stuff together.  That's good.  Great really, but does give one a lapse of several weeks where the builders have to have productive things to do.   Various logistics challenges had field element production set back a bit.  And pending final decisions on drive train specs we could only prep those components that we knew would be called for.

Still, for new members learning how to do quality electrical connections and where to actually find everything has some merit.

A few pictures from Saturday.  The long sessions on that day of the week fortunately have a tendency to get us back on track.

Until we have an approximate drive train to work with software has been working on various sensors.  This one tells the RPMs of a motor.  Others detect the revolutions of shafts, locate the source of reflected light or even - a sort of garage door sensor - can detect a beam break when a ball comes into the collecting system.  This is more than we were able to do all of last season.

Most of the robot only exists virtually at the end of week one.  There's some very interesting stuff being drawn up.

A couple of first time builders are making a practice drive base using the "H-drive" system we had going last season.  Always fun the first time you build a "big" robot.

It's too soon for teaser photos but I can share that the long silver device in this photo is a gigantic pneumatic cylinder.  The tank in front looks big...but what they have planned might need three of these!

And so it goes.  It took them six days to finally settle on build priorities, and they are taking on two major and one minor engineering challenge that will be new ones.  Fitting it all in the required space and getting the software able to semi automate all these bells and whistles is not going to be easy.

It's not supposed to be.

If they can pull this design off it will be a marvel.

Friday, January 10, 2020

Coincidence? I think not.

The robotics team does not do late night marathon sessions.  Nobody does their best work under those conditions although in our adult careers we often do highly necessary work that way.  But our gracious hosts and sponsors always have plenty of Mountain Dew on hand anyway.  It comes in cube shaped 24 packs.  

They remind me of this:

Caffeine, sugar and green food dye.  Resistance is Futile.

Wednesday, January 8, 2020

The Time Travel Alley

I mentioned in my meandering New Year's post that I've been thinking about Time.  So here's a little mental exercise.  Take five seconds to envision a scene where a time traveler comes to 20th century earth. 

Got it?

You probably set the scene in a dingy alley lined by brick buildings.  A wino/street person may have been involved.  The police turn up.  Why?  Well now.  It starts right here:

This is from a 1964 episode of The Outer Limits called The Soldier.  Written by the brilliant if mercurial Harlan Ellison it has a plot that involves two combatants arriving from a dystopian future.  And the arrival point is this dingy alley.  An encounter with the police ensues... 

Fast forward to 1967.  No doubt these guys are familiar.  They have just stepped through a time portal in the classic Original Series episode "City on the Edge of Forever".   The portal opens into a dingy alley.  And, since they can't go walking around 1930's New York City dressed like that, they've just stolen some clothes.

A beat cop shows up but instead of more vigorous measures Spock just gives him the ol' Vulcan neck pinch.  Of course McCoy had turned up in the same alley earlier and a homeless/hobo type person was accidentally vaporized by his phaser.

If you think these two scenarios look and sound quite similar, well you are correct.  The unifying link is that Harlan Ellison also wrote the much beloved "City on the Edge of Forever" episode.  And, as is only appropriate in a time travel scenario, let's jump 1984 and the original "Terminator".  Here Kyle Reese, the human half of the pair coming from a dystopian far future, materializes.  In a dingy alley.

I can't actually claim to have "met" Harlan Ellison.  That would suggest that our brief encounter was enough to do more than confirm the conventional wisdom that he was a brilliant, talented....jerk.  But even a person of serene temperament might look at the Terminator plot and conclude that a teeny bit of idea swiping was involved.  Harlan sure felt that way.  He threatened to sue.  (To be fair, he was pretty notorious for either suing or threatening to sue people.  It was usually not about money...just ego.).  The particulars of the case are still debated among sci fi fans but evidently there was enough merit to his claims that a modest cash payment and a special credit at the end of the Terminator film were forthcoming.

Ugh.  I'd rather ignore any of the more recent attempts to reboot the Terminator franchise.  But the video above has a side by side comparison of Terminator and Terminator Genisys.   Of course the latter was a lame effort to reprise/reboot the original material but the same alley as a time portal theme is again front and center.

At first I thought the look of these Time Travel Alleys was so similar that they must be the same location.  But no.  The Outer Limits ep was filmed at Paramount Studios, the Star Trek episode on the now defunct Desilu lot.  Terminator went with an outdoor shoot, here's the alley in downtown Los Angeles.

I won't bother trying to track down the later versions of this scene.  After all, we've seen it time and time again.

Monday, January 6, 2020

Sure, We Can Build That - FIRST Robotics 2020 1.0 report.

(The first of assorted reports on the 2020 FIRST robotics season.  The 1.0 means week one of the season.  If there happen to be multiple updates in a week we might end up with things like 2.1 or some such.  It's hard to know what will be worthy of reporting and when.)

I led a contingent over to Minneapolis to attend the big Kickoff Nerdfest at Northrup Auditorium.  

This year's "game" was announced.  It involves various things a robot will have to do. Pick up yellow foam balls and deliver them to targets of varying difficulty.  Engage and spin a sort of "Wheel of Fortune" device to either turn it a designated number of rotations or make it land on a specific color.  (At FIRST tournaments you do see mascots and cheerleaders in all manner of crazy getups....will we see a few Vanna Whites?).  Here's the "reveal" video.

And the end game is to grab an elevated teeter totter and not only lift your robot off the ground but keep the bar level when multiple robots are hanging on it.  OK.  Not exactly what I had predicted.  In fact I'm giving myself a provisional "F" on this year's prediction but we did have three students - one a senior and two 8th grade rookies - that got enough details spot on to earn an "A".  Our team facebook page is worth a regular look btw, we hope for multiple updates and video each week.  You can see me go on record as being wrong, wrong, wrong on December 16th. 

Below is part of an ongoing series of brainstorming sessions.  The entire group of attendees (about 18 students) would meet, break up into three subgroups, come back together and present/react to ideas.  

Several observations.

I stayed out of this process mostly, it's their team, their robot.  So I was sometimes upstairs stowing gear for the process.  It was very encouraging to hear rounds of applause coming up the stairs.  This is a new thing this season and I like it.

Note the odd phenomena of young people who are happy to walk around outside in January wearing thin shirts but keep coats on when indoors.  This I do not understand.

They managed to break a white board.  I prefer to think of this not as an ill omen but as being akin to smashing a bottle of bubbly on the prow of a newly launched ship!

After six hours of this everyone was dogged.  I think 75% of the priorities are settled, pending the outcome of 48 hours to reflect before we meet again.  What they are proposing looks audacious....yet not too far beyond things we have managed in prior seasons.

So....can they build it?

They say yes.

Oh, and this year it's all metric, baby.

Updates on a schedule predicated on the unpredictable nature of things...

Friday, January 3, 2020

Dispatches from an Alternate Work Shop

My long years of involvement in student robotics projects have taught me a lot.  For instance, Sharpie never have enough of them.  They end up on the floor, in seldom used parts bins, in people's pockets.  So when you need one it is always a time wasting scramble.  

In fact, one question I pose to new roboteers is:  "Is it possible to ever have too many Sharpies?".  I have always held that the answer is, no, this is not possible.

But even in my dotage I am seeing new things, learning new things.  It may be that I spoke too hastily and from too narrow a mind set.  I mean, is it theoretically possible that in some peculiar alternate universe where things are similar to ours but also radically different, that there might be Too Many Sharpies?

Well, perhaps.  But since we are not living and working in the Alternate Star Trek/Bearded Spock Universe, there will never be enough Sharpies.  So a few days before build season I decided to make a little "shop warming" present for the team.

My scrap pile included this piece of 80/20 extruded aluminum stock.  Oh, I should mention up front that it is probably not a good idea to scrutinize odd corners of the workshop that might be glimpsed in some of these photos..

Next, mark it up with - of course - a Sharpie.  And onto the drill press.

It's a good sized drill bit and it tends to chatter going through the upper gap space.  So go slowly while occasionally adding needed lubrication for both tool and operator.

Final result: a 13 space Sharpie holder that can be mounted on any workbench, robot, wall that is desired.

So will a Baker's Dozen Sharpies actually be enough?  Oh, of course not.  In our universe there are never enough Sharpies.