Monday, September 16, 2013

Justin Montois - This Is How I Work

This week we are featuring one of the creators of Mike and Justin in the Morning and FRC Top 25, Justin Montois. Justin has helped develop one of the most popular webcast shows in the FRC community. Each week during the competition season they compile votes and do a Top 25 show. These shows also recap many of the hot topics of the week in FRC. If you're not tuning in, you should be. The viewer chats during the webcasts are entertaining and sometimes even informative. This year they also started FRC Premier Night where they unveiled many of this seasons release videos. We interviewed Justin about his time in FRC, his role on GRR, and much more.

[Responses from July 30, 2013]

Name: Justin Montois
CD Username: JustinMontois (Formerly 340x4xlife)
Current Gig/Job: Student / Robotics Summer Camp Instructor
Alma Mater/Degree: SUNY Oswego
Current Team(s): 340 GRR (Greater Rochester Robotics)
Former Team(s): None
Location: Rochester, NY
Hobbies: Robotics, Bass Fishing, Disc Golf, Ball Golf, watching sports, mainly Hockey (Sabres) and Football (49ers and Stanford)

I want to thank Team 3847 for the opportunity for me to participate in this great initiative. The opportunity to learn about other people in the FRC community is great.

My involvement in Team 340 started in 2005. During the first few years, I didn't do much beyond some CAD work. I didn’t say much and learned from others. Since then, my main role on the team has been strategy and mechanical design. I was part of the design team of our kicker in 2010, Minibot in 2011, Dumping Arm and Pickup in 2012, and Climbing Mechanism in 2013.

I’ve also served as the Drive Team coach in 2009, 2010, 2012 and 2013. Coaching for me has been an incredibly stressful, but an equally awesome opportunity. I love strategizing for each match with my drive team and that of my alliance partners. I feel like I’m getting better as a coach mostly due to conversations I've had with some of the best drive coaches and strategists in FRC. I look up to those guys so much and you and I know who they are (Karthik Kanagasabapathy, Jim Zondag, Adam Freeman, Tyler Holtzman, and others).

If you want to be successful, learn from these guys and others around you that can help you get to where you want to be. They are more than happy to talk to you. Like me, they love this stuff and they love talking about it. That’s what makes FRC special. Even Jim and John Harbaugh, brothers and NFL coaches, are sometimes reluctant to share information with one another. In FRC, most people are more than happy to talk and help out. Remember the onus is on you to step up, not for them to reach out.

What inspired you to do what you do? Tell us a story. 
If I met my 8 year old self, I would easily be able to tell I would end up where I am now. I’ve always had an interest in robotics. I loved playing with LEGO’s and taking stuff apart. I’ve also always had a love for educating others. The connection that is made when a person is able to teach another person a skill, or give them a cool fact, is special to me. Making someone else go: “Ohhhhhhh I get it now” is an amazing thing.

When I joined Team 340 in 2005, I was able to combine my two passions. I was able to teach high school kids cool things and build robots at the same time. That combination is what makes FIRST so special. One thing that isn't always talked about and that I’m sure isn't unique to me is the relationships you develop with students. I have become friends with many of the students on the team that goes beyond the regular mentor-student relationship. Those friendships mean a lot to me and I think it means a lot to them as well. It’s definitely a two way street. I often get just as much as they do out of our friendship.

What is your day job, and how’d you get there? 
My “day job” is being a student during the school year and a Summer Camp instructor at the Rochester Museum and Science Center during the Summer. This fall will be my last semester at SUNY Oswego where I am finishing up my degree in Technology Education. Being an educator was always something I imagined myself doing. I originally wanted to teach American History, because it’s viewed by many students as a boring subject and I thought I could change that. But, due to some fantastic teachers I decided the technology classroom is where I wanted to be.

What is your favorite story to tell about robotics?
One of my favorite stories to tell is about our run in eliminations at the Finger Lakes Regional in 2009. It was my first year as drive coach and our robot was terrible. The purpose of the game, if you don’t know, was to score “balls” into a trailer attached to the robots of the opposing alliance and at the same time they were trying to score in your trailer. Well at FLR in 2009, our robot scored a grand total of 1 ball that I remember. And it was a lucky bounce off the driver station.

But for me, what makes the story so compelling was the adaptation of our robot to execute a strategy. We were selected by Teams 1511 and 316 to join the #7 alliance. We had to face the #2 seed of 1503, 191, and 173 in the QF. 1511 and 316 were decent scorers, but we weren’t. The only chance we had was the endgame where up to 4 SuperCells could be scored by robots or human players for 15 points each.

Our robot became the Empty Cell transporter which was a task you needed to accomplish in order to score SuperCells. We beat the #2 and #3 alliances on the way to the finals by getting our human player the opportunity to hit the opposing teams trailers with some SuperCells and he rarely missed.  We lost to the #1 alliance of 1507 and company, but it was a great lesson in strategy and execution and really demonstrated how important it is to not necessarily select the best robots, but the right ones.

What's your favorite robot that you didn't help build?
Awesome question. I have a few if that’s ok….
  • 71 in 2002 - Read the rules, understood the game perfectly, and flawlessly executed the strategy. Domination.
  • 67 in 2005 - It was the first time I saw a powerhouse team truly dominate. HOT dominated the “Flop” bot style
  • 1114 in 2008 - Elegant machine that handled a giant ball with grace.
  • 148 in 2008 - Showcased that picking a “Simpler Strategy” can work if you’re truly the best at it
  • 469 in 2011 - Holy fast elevator Batman.
  • 1114 in 2012 - Simbot Jordan lived up to its moniker
  • 987 in 2013 - Maybe the turret wasn’t necessary, but it sure was awesome
  • 118 in 2013 - How they packed all that mechanism into a robot that was less than 30” tall was incredible.
What apps/software/tools can't you live without? (Work/Robotics/Home)
All I need to design is whiteboard markers and Autodesk Inventor. I wouldn't be able to function without those two things. I also love Twitter if that counts as an ‘App’. @jmontois340

What do you listen to while you work?
I like to think I’m pretty diverse. Country dominates my Spotify playlists but I’ll listen to anything as long as it sounds good. Classic Rock, Alternative, Rap, Oldies, Showtunes, Motown, Classical, and others all make appearances.

What’s your schedule like during build season?
As a team, we meet Monday, Thursday, and Saturday. However I’m usually trying to get in the shop as often as possible. When I’m not in the shop, I'm thinking about whichever part of the design process we are in. There are times I try to disconnect, but I find it incredibly difficult. Also CAD never ends.

What everyday thing are you better at than anyone else?
Nothing. There’s always someone better than you out there. However, I think that I’m pretty good at remembering movies lines and things like that, especially from comedies.

What's the best advice you've ever received?
Find your passion. I think one of the biggest things I see with a lot of people in the workforce today is that they are working in a job that might provide well for them financially, but they aren’t passionate about what they do. However, they may very well have that job in order to have their passion outside of work. Regardless of what it is or what it takes to get there, find your passion, and do it.

What is your favorite guilty pleasure?
Binge watching TV series.  

Fill in the blank. I'd love to see ________ answer these same questions.
Karthik Kanagasabapathy from 1114 answer these questions.

“Winning is not a sometime thing; it's an all time thing. You don't win once in a while, you don't do things right once in a while, you do them right all the time. Winning is habit. Unfortunately, so is losing.”
- Vince Lombardi

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

VEX Toss Up, Ball Shifters, and Canstruction

Today we had multiple groups working on several projects. We had our seniors working on their VEX robots for Toss Up.

Our new students were putting together two VEXPro Ball Shifters. The gearboxes went together very smoothly. They will be used on our fall prototype FRC robot.

We also had our 1st Canstruction meeting of the year with English + Associates Architects, Inc.

Very productive day overall.

- Spectrum

“Perfection and polish aren't nearly as important as good light, good drainage and a passionate gardener.” - Seth Godin

Monday, September 9, 2013

Norman Morgan - This Is How I Work

Norman Morgan, or Coach Norm as he is known to most, has been coaching FRC#2468 since their inception six years ago. 2013 was a breakout year for team 2468, winning the Hub City Regional Chairman's Award, finally taking home their first regional banner at the Alamo Regional, and putting on a great performance on the Archimedes field at the Championship event. Coach Norm has been a huge part of that success and was honored by being presented the 2013 Hub City Woodie Flowers Finalist award. Coach Norm is truly dedicated to his students and spreading STEM in the community. Coach Norm expands on why he got into education, how he got the opportunity to coach Team Appreciate, and much more.

[Responses from July 30, 2013]

Name:  Norman Morgan
CD Username: Coach Norm

Current Gig/Job: Robotics Teacher/Head Robotics Coach/District Coordinator
Alma Mater/Degree: Waylang Baptist University, Bachelors of Science in Education
Texas State University, Master of Education in Educational Leadership
Current Team(s): FRC 2468, FTC 3781, 5628, 6504, 6710
Former Team(s): none
Location: Westlake High School, Eanes ISD,  Austin, Texas
Hobbies: Reading, Yellow Lab Puppy, Sports, Playing with technology

What inspired you to do what you do? Tell us a story.
I am a 4th generation teacher and the son of two teachers.  I watched my Dad work as an Ag/FFA teacher with students and the impact he had on their lives with after-school projects.  I went into education as a basketball coach, even paid for my college with a scholarship.  I wanted to a job that allowed me to not only work with young people, but also give me a chance to continue to learn each and every day. I went into the profession really because I was going to get paid to do something that I thought was fun and exciting.  I was getting paid to play each and every day - what better job could there be?

What is your day job, and how’d you get there?
I am the lead robotics teacher and coach at Westlake High School in Eanes ISD.  My principal called me six years ago with a very leading question: “Norman, Do you have an open mind?”. She went on to ask me to start the robotics program for our school which I had helped do some research on.  We started out with 35 seniors, one junior, and one freshman that year.  The program has now grown to classes for 7th thru 12th grade and over 130 students participating in after-school robotics teams for those grades.  I teach three levels of classes in the high school including Concepts of Engineering and Technology, Scientific Research, and Design I and II.  I am the CEO for lack of a better term for our district Robotics program.

What is your favorite story to tell about robotics?
In seventeen years of coaching athletics, I never once had a professional coach much less a college coach volunteer to spend time with students in the gym on a regular basis.  I currently have 16 professional coaches who volunteer each and every week to work with our students on their projects.  These professional coaches (mentors) provide knowledge, skills, and connections that I as a high school teacher can never provide for my students. I do not have to be the expert. Teaching is not about giving someone the answer. I think teaching is about providing the environment for students to grow and learn. The mentors and I provide this environment by leading the students on the projects.  

What's your favorite robot that you didn't help build?
Wow, that is a tough question.  Teams like 1477, 118, 148, and 624 are local teams that inspire me every year with their robots.  The robot that has most impressed me is probably FRC 1114’s  Simbot SS.   2008 was our Rookie year and we had a chance to watch Simbot SS at Championships in Atlanta.  The robot was simple, functional and elegant.  I was amazed at the efficiency of the machine.  

What apps/software/tools can't you live without? (Work/Robotics/Home)
I am a technology geek at heart.  Twitter has been a huge part of my professional development for the past several years.  I use Tweetdeck for both my Mac and PC computers.  iPad apps include Zite, Flipboard, iTunesU for my class as well as for me personally. Numbers, Pages, iBooks, Linkedin, Google+, Kindle for iPad, and Nook for iPad.
SolidWorks for CAD on the PC, Google Drive and online docs, Dropbox, Evernote, Skype, Facetime.  

What's your workspace setup like? (Work/Robotics/Home)
We work out of our classroom and shop which used to be one classroom. The shop is 18’ x 30’ and the classroom is also the same size.  We have an additional storage area down the hall we got this past year that we use for storage and an electronics workbench area.  We share this space between our FRC team and our four  FTC teams.  We have a Jet lathe, Grizzly vertical mill, drill press, band saw, portable saw, and Makerbot Replicator 2.  We have on order a 28” x 50” gantry style 2 ½ D CNC. The past few years, we have borrowed a similar CNC from our mentors that we use for the duration of the FRC season. We practice wherever we can arrange including outside the back of the shop, school hallway, cafeteria, etc.   

What do you listen to while you work?
I listen to anything from Youtube videos, podcasts, sports talk radio, Pandora, etc. while I work in the classroom/shop.   I personally like  country and classic rock. John Fogelberg is awesome.  We do not always listen to music in the shop, although we have a student who has an obsession of Taylor Swift.  I usually let the students control the music in the shop when we work.

What’s your schedule like during build season?
Our school day ends at 4:05 and we have most of the students on the robotics team in the last period of the day.  During season, we use the class for more of a study hall for most of the students.  We have a proposed work time that follows.
Our typical build schedule is:
Monday/Wednesday - 4:30 - 7:30 although that usually leaks over to 8:30
Tuesday/Thursday - 6:00 - 9:30 and that usually leaks over as well.
Friday - No Work until late in the build season
Saturday - 9:30 am - 4:00 pm scheduled  time but  most often that time extends as well
Sunday - not scheduled until the last few weeks before bag and tag.
Many times the students are willing and able to stay longer in the evenings to work with the input of mentors who usually do not get to the shop until 7:00ish.
We are always struggling to manage our time better.

What everyday thing are you better at than anyone else
If you were to ask my team, mentors and parents, it would probably be strategy.  I analyze each and every match from a coach’s point of view.  I was a basketball coach for 17 years prior to becoming a robotics teacher/coach.  My background of coaching has given me a different perspective than most others.  Strategy, to me, is something that can be evaluated continually not just at the beginning of the season or when you are making your pick list.  

What's the best advice you've ever received?
The best advice I ever received was from my Aunt Kaki.  She painted a poster with the following saying on it “I am not judged by the number of times I fail l but by the number of times I succeed; and the number of times I succeed is in direct proportion to the number of I can fail.”  It hung on my wall in my bedroom above my bed.  I read it everyday from the time I was 12 years old until I graduated from college.  

What is your favorite guilty pleasure?
Candy (Hot Tamales, Dots, Candy Sours) and my wife’s cookies.

Fill in the blank. I'd love to see John Novak from Bomb Squad answer these same questions.

Anything else you want people to know about you?
I consider myself a lifelong learner and believe that we all should be learning something new everyday.  

"I am not judged by the number of times I fail but by the number of times I succeed; and the number of times I succeed is in direct proportion to the number of times I can fail." - Tom Hopkins

Saturday, September 7, 2013

1st Pipefall Prototype

We built our first prototype collector today for the Pipefall game.

Its a very basic roller claw. We will continue building multiple prototypes over the course of the next few weeks.

- Spectrum

"Remember kids, the only difference between screwing around and science is writing it down." - Adam Savage

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Pipefall Fall Project Day 1

Yesterday we kicked off our Pipefall fall project. We went over the game rules and started the initial brainstorming like we would do on a real kickoff.

Here is the collaborative document we use to take notes on the game. This is a little less flushed out than one that normally comes out of our kickoff meetings but we also only had 2.5 hours instead of 10 or 12 like we do on the real kickoff day. Also all of the jokes and random things are pretty standard as well. Here is our 2013 kickoff document from Ultimate Ascent for comparison. We will be expanding on this throughout the week and prototyping will begin shortly.

We also broke down our cart today, hopefully it will be powder coated in the next few weeks.

- Spectrum

"The will to succeed is important, but the will to prepare is more important." - Bobby Knight

Monday, September 2, 2013

David Bodmer - This Is How I Work

This week we have our first mentor from the Mid-Atlantic Region (MAR) District. David Bodmer is the lead mentor for FRC#11 MORT and their Beta team FRC#193.  David shares with us a great story about arranging transportation to a regional the day of the event, his reason for why he loves what he does, and several great quotes.

[Responses from July 29, 2013]

Name:  David Bodmer
CD Username:  Mr. B

Current Gig/Job: Lead Mentor/Project Manager for FRC 11 & FRC 193 and Robotics Engineering Teacher at the Mt. Olive High School
Alma Mater/Degree: BS Technological Studies, 1993 – College of New Jersey
Current Team(s): FRC 11 & FRC 193
Former Team(s): FRC 56
Location: Mt. Olive High School, 18 Corey Road, Flanders, NJ 07836
Hobbies: Spending time with family, music (listening and playing), Indycar Racing, Civil War History, travel, log homes, and spending time at the shore!

What inspired you to do what you do?
For me it all started with my high school drafting teacher Mr. Johnson.  I loved my wood shop and drafting classes and would spend all of my extra time in those classes.  Any chance to design and build something, I was there!  It was awesome.  He was a major influence for me and gave me the guidance needed to pursue a career in education.  Where I am today is above my wildest expectations from when I started teaching in 1993.  To be a part of the FRC 11 & FRC 193 families is amazing!  My job allows me to work a talented group of people as we design, build, and compete with a robot built in our shops, what else could you ask for?  It’s AWESOME!  I love what I do and being able to get students excited about Engineering and STEM Education with the hope of making a difference in their futures makes all the long days and meetings worth it!

What is your day job, and how’d you get there? 
I teach the Robotics Engineering courses at the Mt. Olive High School and am Lead Mentor/Project Manager for FRC 11 & FRC 193 based out of the Mt. Olive High School.  My entire professional teaching career has spanned from being a Middle School Tech Ed teacher all the way to my current position which is solely focused on Robotics Engineering and our FIRST program.  The road to my current job was not a straight path and had its twists and turns, but I used all of those turns in the road as an opportunity to learn about myself and my profession.  I can say that where I am currently is the best environment for myself, my students, my mentors, and parents!  We have something special developing here and it’s something that I am very proud to be a part of!

What is your favorite story to tell about robotics?
2011 – Our team was scheduled to attend the Palmetto Regional and travel via Amtrak to North Charleston, SC for the event.  The morning we were set to leave for SC, we had a snow storm in New Jersey and our district busing was suspended due to the poor weather.  We ended up missing our 6:30 AM train!  I sent everyone home and then was making calls with my wife in our home office trying to get a charter bus that would take us to the SC!  To make a long story short, we had the bus arranged by 11:00 AM that morning and we were on our way to SC!  We made a bus change in Fayetteville, NC at about 11:00 PM (which we didn’t have lined up until we got through Washington, DC!), transferred out luggage and gear from one bus to the other, and then back on the road!  We arrived in SC at 2:30 AM and the over to the venue by 7:30 AM.  Needless to say we were exhausted, but in true MORT fashion we put our best effort forward and had a great regional winning the Chairman’s Award and event Semi-Finalist!

What's your favorite robot that you didn't help build?

What apps/software/tools can't you live without? (Work/Robotics/Home)
Google Mail!!!!!!!
Cell phone & iPad

What's your workspace setup like? (Work/Robotics/Home)
My space at school and home are similar - they are both a mess!  I have papers, folders, and binders stacked all over the place!  In true mad scientist style, it looks like a mess to the outside world, but to me I know where everything is and for me it works!  Sorry to all of you who keep neat work spaces, not my style!  The most organized piece for me is my backpack which I use daily and for team travel!  That bag is my lifeline for all that is FIRST and MORT!

What do you listen to while you work?
Sugarland or anything country
XM Radio – The Highway, The Pulse
Classic Rock – Beatles, Genesis, Police, The Who, my list here could go on and on!
Occasionally some heavy metal (Metallica, Queensryche to name a few)

What’s your schedule like during build season?
Monday-Friday - 6:30 – 9:30 PM
Saturday - 8:00 AM – 6:00 PM
Sunday - 12 noon – 6:00 PM

What everyday thing are you better at than anyone else?
Tough one to answer, but what comes to mind for me is my ability to listen.  It’s very easy to always want to get in your point of view or ideas, but to me the more critical piece is the ability to listen to others.  Taking the time to listen to others shows that I value their ideas and leads to a higher level of communication and trust with all involved in our program.

What's the best advice you've ever received?
Another tough one!  Over my years of teaching I’ve had many that offered advice to help me as a person and a professional.  The one that comes to mind is more recently when one of our team mentors, Terry Thomas pulled me aside while at FIRST Championships and we got into a discussion about why are we doing this (FIRST)….his point was that we are here to nurture and develop human beings.  While we all want to achieve levels of success on and off the field of play, the bigger and more important goal is that we are here to provide our students, mentors, and parents with the opportunity to develop and grow into human beings that will have a positive impact on our society and world. By taking the time to understand that in one form or another we all add value to our world. This is a critical concept/idea and one that I can obtain through the FIRST program.

What is your favorite guilty pleasure?
 Dark chocolate…the darker the better!

Fill in the blank. I'd love to see __________ answer these same questions.
FRC 359’s Glenn Lee!

Anything else you want people to know about you?
I enjoy reading books by successful coaches and business people and would recommend to anyone looking to become a stronger leader for their program to check out the following people and read up on them, they are amazing people and have so much to offer all of us! 

John Wooden
Mike Krzyzewski
Lou Holtz
John C. Maxwell
Abraham Lincoln
Tony Robbins
Brian Tracy

“Nothing great was ever achieved without enthusiasm.”  
- Ralph Waldo Emerson

“Ordinary people with commitment can make an extraordinary impact on their world.”  
- John C. Maxwell

“Imagination is more important than knowledge.”
- Albert Einstein