Monday, June 23, 2014

Thank You for an Awesome T.R.I.

(As posted on Chiefdelphi)

Thank you to everyone that came out to the inaugural T.R.I. this weekend. It was a fantastic event and all of that is due to the fantastic people that helped put it together. I promise I tried to make this short, however I failed.

First off thank you to Lucia Sevick for organizing a large amount of the event from bringing in volunteers to getting the table rented. Her experience with running events and getting all the little and big things checked off was amazing. T.R.I. wouldn’t have happened this year without her.

A huge amount of gratitude is owed to Texas Workforce Commission and FIRST in Texas. Their finical support allowed us to put on this event and remove the entry fee for teams. Thank you for all you have done for FIRST in our state, we truly appreciate it.

Mary Jo Maciejewski & Dominic Baula are two new teacher mentors on Spectrum this year and they led the school and facility side of planning and operating this event. Thank you so much for everything you did to make TRI a success. Also, thank you toStrake Jesuit College Prep and their facilities department for working through all our requests and helping put on a great event.

T.R.I. was a success largely due to the great volunteers we had working the event.

Chris Culbert didn’t really have a set position at TRI, I’m not really sure if he does at any event but he is always solving problems and working to give teams, students, and volunteers a better experience. Thank you for everything.

Judy Bryant (57) was our lead at pit admin as she is at the Lone Star regional and numerous other robotics competitions throughout the year. Cecilia Cisar was helping her out at this event as well. Thank you for all that you do for the teams and keeping that part of the competitions running so well.

Thank you to our referees at this event, they were Rachel Smith, Alan Cisar, LaQuinta Parker, Scott Rippitoe(1477), & Robert Oakley(1477). They had a number of people helping them scoring each match including Spectrum alumni, parents, and volunteers from team 3103 Iron Plaid.

We had a phenomenal field crew at TRI. Led by Mark Koors who made the trip to Texas to FTA our event and see how the new AM field perimeter would work out. AndyMark sent along Brett Heininger and Connor Forbes with the field who were awesome the whole event. FTAA for TRI was Aaron Graeve, a 1477 alumni, who has been a staple at Texas events this year helping to fix problems all over the place. Dave Cheuvront and Eldon Jackson were charged with keeping the field and the field reset crews working efficiently and they did a wonderful job of that as always. Scott Eddy and Fran Goundry(3103) were operating the scoring table for the event, and they even managed to work through our crazy elimination alliance selection process, I’m sorry and thank you. The TRI field reset crew included members and alumni from 1477, 3103, & 3847.

Paul Johnson(1429) was our MC and Game Announcer and he had a difficult job doing both tasks and keeping things moving. Thank you for your hard work.

Luis Medina(118) and The Robonauts ran the video, web stream, music, and a whole host of other things for the event. Thank you & it’s always great working with you guys. Nothing was really going are way in the morning but we came up with creative solutions to our problems. Next year we’ll get song selections for every team, instead of just the ones we think of on the spot.

Mrs. & Mr. Mendoza, Mike Outlaw (624), David Stoltz, Jim McAuliffe (3847) handled our queuing responsibilities making sure that teams were on the field and ready to play all day long. During eliminations half the time we didn’t know which alliance was supposed to be red and which was blue and we even switch bumpers mid round once but we got everything working and the matches that needed to be played were played. Thank you for your hard work.

Thank you to Lana & Steve Henderson(624) for getting the radio kiosk up and running and all the teams ready to connect to the field. 

We had three safety advisers on hand for our event. Marilyn Cisar, Robert Tinker, & Steven Treese(624) kept everyone safe at the event and I happy to report we had no major injuries at this event.

I want to thank all of Texas Torque (1477) for their help setting up and tearing down the field both processes went so much smoother having you all there. Mr. Ball, Chase, London, Domino, Robert, Matthew, Aaron, Scott, and the rest of the way to many of you for me to name right now, thank you.

I want to thank all of the students and parents on Spectrum that spent the last few weeks preparing for this event. Concessions were led by one of our parent volunteers Teresa Smith and a number of parents and students who did an awesome job. There are a ton of little details that make events run well and they wouldn’t have happened without you all. From making driver and volunteer badges, programs, signs, and a whole host of other things. Thank You.

Lastly I want to thank every team that choose to come to our home and play robots with us. Some of you had very long drives (3741 Grulla HS had a 5.5+ hr drive) to come compete, thank you for making the journey. We had 3 pre-rookie teams (Pearland ISD, Katy-Taylor, & Katy-Tompkins) and I have heard they all had a great experience working with the veteran teams and working towards building strong programs for this coming year. Our goal for this event was to build the community we have in Texas and give more teams experience to help them in the future. I hope each team was able to use this event to build their programs, train drivers, make new relationships, and learn.

I am sure I missed people but we are truly grateful to everyone that helped put on this event. Thank you all for coming, we had a wonderful time, and we can’t wait for next year. 

We’ll be sending out a team survey in the near future but most importantly please let me know how we can improve.

- Allen Gregory

"If necessity is the mother of invention, it's the father of cooperation." ~ John Ashcroft

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

P.J. Lewalski - This Is How I Work

P.J. has been on team 910 since 2007, a teacher in training at Oakland University, a trained referee and a dedicated member of The Foley Freeze. He was inspired by FRC to pursue a career in teaching and he talks about his life changing experiences he has had with his team. 

[Responses from May 10, 2014]

Name: P.J. Lewalski 
CD Username: P.J.
Current Gig/Job: Full Time Student at Oakland University, Substitute Teacher at Bishop Foley Catholic High School, Camp Counselor at Camp Ozanam, All Around Lackey for the Bishop Foley Drama Department
Alma Mater/Degree: Wayne State University/B.A. in English and History, Currently at Oakland University/M.A.T. in Secondary Education
Current Team(s): Team 910 – The Foley Freeze (2007-Present)
Former Team(s): None
Location: Madison Heights, MI
Hobbies: Reading, Watching Sports (New England Patriots, Detroit Red Wings, and Detroit Tigers), Arguing About Sports, Binge Watching Netflix, Camping, and Robotics

What inspired you to do what you do? Tell us a story.
Well in 7th grade I was at Bishop Foley’s open house, looking at all of the different clubs and teams and whatnot that the school had to offer. The robotics team was doing a demonstration and I knew that was what I wanted to do during high school. So in 2007, my freshman year, I joined the team. Back then there were only ten or eleven kids on the team and we only had a few mentors, none of whom were particularly organized. None of the freshman ever knew when there were actually meetings, so when build season rolled around none of us had any real knowledge of, well, anything. But that was when the fun began. I have never learned more than I learned in that first build season, the mentors and older students were absolutely fantastic in teaching all of us as the season progressed. After this I was hooked. Over the next few years I got more and more involved with the team, culminating in my election as team captain as a senior in 2010. 

While I hate to do it, I’m going to be cliché and say that my involvement in FRC changed my life. I’ve had people question this statement, as my majors have absolutely nothing to do with STEM. History and English? What kind of FIRSTer picks those majors? But FIRST did lead me to choose those majors, albeit along an indirect route. As a senior I spent a lot of time tutoring the younger members of the team, helping them with their homework and the like. This is what made me realize that I loved teaching. While in college I decided on dual majoring in History and English because those were always my favorite subjects in school, and I’ve had some less than stellar teachers in both subjects that I know turned a lot of kids off to them. So my goal is to be able to show students that these subjects can be fun and interesting too, opening paths to kids that might not have otherwise seen that they exist. So, in my mind, this is similar to FIRST’s goal of expanding STEM, just in my case I’m focusing on other subject areas. Makes sense, right? Probably not. But that’s my story and I’m sticking to it. So my involvement in FIRST and Team 910 definitely changed my life, and this is why I haven’t been able to stay away.

After graduation, I decided to take a year off from official involvement with the team in order to make sure that I could focus on my schoolwork. However since I knew that all Michigan teams are required/strongly encouraged to provide two volunteers for every district event, I decided to help out 910 by being one of those volunteers. On a whim, I signed up to be a referee, not expecting to be picked to be one. To my surprise I was asked to do it, and I refereed two districts that year. Including those two, I’ve now refereed at 28 events (19 official and 9 off season) in the past four years. While I can’t say this with 100% conviction, I believe that I was the most experienced Aerial Assist referee at the end of the season, with 7 events and over 750 matches refereed this season. So that’s kind of cool. In addition, beginning in 2012 I became 910’s Strategy and Scouting mentor and this past year I also began helping with Media and Award Submission.

I love FIRST, I love what I do with team 910, I love volunteering, and I love watching my students grow into young adults. The “I” is my favorite letter in FIRST, as my goal every time I go into our build space is to inspire the students to reach their full potential.

What is your day job, and how’d you get there?
Currently my main job is as a student. I just graduated on May 1st, 2014 with my Bachelor’s Degree in English and History, and in the Fall I’m starting work on a Master of Arts in Teaching with a Secondary Education Certification (Kind of a mouthful, I know). Along with being a student I also work as a substitute teacher at Bishop Foley, which is kind of weird because I still have siblings that go there. That makes for some fun classes. I also work a lot with the Drama Department at Foley, my mom runs it so I’ve kind of gotten roped in over the years into doing more and more. I started out as one of the guys in charge of the sound board in high school and have now evolved into the co-producer of all of the shows we put on, which pretty much means I do the paperwork my mom doesn’t want to do. Finally, during the summer I work as a camp counselor at Camp Ozanam. Besides FIRST this is my favorite thing that I do. Camp Ozanam is run by the St. Vincent de Paul Society and is provided as a free camp for underprivileged kids that would otherwise be unable to come to a summer camp. The camp is on a beautiful piece of lakefront property in the thumb of Michigan, on Lake Huron, and I love spending my summers up there. Overall my end goal is to become a high school teacher of History and English.

What is your favorite story to tell about robotics?
Oh there are so many…but there is one clear favorite. During my senior build season, my dad had a major stroke during Week 3. Like, “would have died if it hadn't happened just as he was getting off of his shift in the ER” major. As the second oldest of eight kids, this dumped a lot of responsibility on my lap as I tried my best to step up and help with whatever my mom needed so that she had time to go down to the hospital to visit him. As can be imagined, this began to cut into my robotics time. However my teammates and the mentors were completely understanding, doing whatever they could to cover my responsibilities when I couldn't be there. Various parents were constantly giving me food to bring home so my mom wouldn't have to cook, and every day before dinner the entire team would say a prayer for my dad to get better. This just solidified in my mind the importance of FIRST and the power it had as an organization. These people weren't just my team, they were my second family. Without the support of everyone I don’t know if I would have been able to finish out the season. A few weeks later at the Kettering District Event during Week 1, our lead scout had a breakdown and was unable to keep scouting organized. As captain I stepped up, knowing this was what my team needed and what my dad would want me to do, and during the first few qualification matches I completely redid our scouting system and started organizing the rest of my team in order to try to get some semblance of data. This turned out to be necessary, as at the end of the day on Friday we were ranked number one. We ended qualifications on Saturday ranked 2nd and we were picked by the number one seed, Team 67 the HOT team, and together we picked Team 70, More Martians, as our third robot. After some tough elimination matches we ended up winning the district, which was the first official event win for 910 in team history. As one can probably imagine, the entire team freaked out and there was screaming and hugging and crying and it was amazing; I’ll never forget that feeling. The next day I went with my mom down to the hospital to visit my dad and brought him one of the medals because, while he didn't know it, he was my inspiration at that event and I used my personal inspiration as fuel to motivate the rest of the team. I would be a liar if I said there weren't any tears in the hospital room that day.

What's your favorite robot that you didn't help build?
Just like everyone else who’s been featured in this blog, I have to say this is probably the hardest question to answer. I have a great respect for the robots built by all of the “greats,” so it’s really hard to pick just one robot. So I’m going to cheat and list a few.
·         469 in 2010: Just such a dominant robot, and not just because of the redirection. The fact that at an off-season event (MARC, I believe) they took that entire structure off and were still one of the best robots there was astounding.
·         67 in 2012: I loved HOT’s utility, do-everything magic arm. This was my personal favorite HOTbot, it was just amazing to watch play.
·         33 in 2013: It was an adorable little vacuum bot! How can you not love it?
·         1986 in 2014: While I didn’t see it play as much as I would have liked too, I just really liked the overall look of Tusk. 1986’s robots of the last few years have all been very nice looking, and they’re one of the teams that I look to for inspiration.
·         254 in 2014: That 3-ball auton though. I had the honor of refereeing on Curie this year, and watching this robot’s run to Einstein through some very tough competition was amazing to watch.

What apps/software/tools can't you live without? (Work/Robotics/Home)
FRC Spyder, I’m constantly updating it and following all of the teams that are competing in a given week. My FRC Manual App is also frequently opened, as it’s a super convenient way to look up and search rules while reffing. I use Microsoft Excel a lot to create scouting sheets and do some simple analysis of teams during our Friday Night Scouting Meetings. But my number one and two robotics tools are a legal pad and a pencil, as any of my scouts can tell you. There’s just something about taking notes on one of those yellow pads of paper that I just can’t do without, even as technology advances around me.

What's your workspace setup like? (Work/Robotics/Home)
I don’t really have a fancy workplace setup, it’s just wherever I happen to have my laptop and phone. I’m a simple guy with simple needs, all that I require is a table with a little space and I’ll make it work.

What do you listen to while you work?
I generally just have Pandora running in the background almost all the time, but what I listen to depends on what I’m doing. I love classic rock, Queen is my go to band when I’m doing scouting analysis work. While I do research for school I’ve learned that Flogging Molly and the Dropkick Murphys go perfectly with historical research, while Disney music keeps me while I’m doing research on literature (don’t judge me). I’m also a huge fan of third wave ska, Streetlight Manifesto and Reel Big Fish are two of my favorite bands in that genre.

What’s your schedule like during build season?
During build season 910 meets Monday through Friday from 6 to 9 and Saturday from 10 to 4. Personally, I only come two or three times a week depending on what kinds of projects my students are working on. I’m there more frequently as the end of build season approaches, as that is usually when I have time to sit down with some students and work on developing our scouting system for the year’s game.

What everyday thing are you better at than anyone else?
Reaching shelves that are high off of the ground (I’m 6’ 8”). Besides that, I’m pretty good at remembering robotics names and team numbers and what their robots looked like in various year, it comes from having watched a lot of matches over the past eight seasons.

What's the best advice you've ever received?
The best advice I’ve ever gotten has come from my mom, but it’s really hard to pick just one thing that she’s told me over the years as the “best.” But one of the more impactful things she’s always told me is that it doesn’t matter what you do with your life, as long as you’re happy. One of my favorite quotes of hers is “I don’t care if you grow up and become a garbage man, as long as you’re the best garbage man you can be and you go home at the end of the day happy.” This had a large impact on my decision to become a teacher, because even though I won’t be getting rich anytime soon, it’s what I love to do.

What is your favorite guilty pleasure?
Netflix. When I’m in a bad mood or just burnt out after the robotics season or finals week I’ll sit down and watch an entire season of a TV show in a day. In that same vein, another guilty pleasure of mine is doing nothing. Sometimes I just need to sit down and not do anything for a day. I’ll go up to my family’s cottage on Lake Huron by myself and just relax on the deck. It’s horribly unproductive and I’m sure there are much better things I could be doing but it’s fantastic to just have no responsibilities every once in a great while.

Fill in the blank. I'd love to see ________ answer these same questions.
Jim Zondag (Team 33), Libby Kamen (Team 1923), Bob Bonczyk (Team 107)

Anything else you want people to know about you?
P.J. stands for Philip Jr. I know you were wondering.

“How about we just don’t scout the World Championship?” – My head scout, Jack Greiner 2013

“If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle.” – Sun Tzu, The Art of War

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Texas Robotics Invitational is this Saturday

  We would love for you to attend the inaugural Texas Robotics Invitational on June 21, 2014, in the Strake Jesuit Competition Gym, 8900 Bellaire Blvd, Houston, Texas, 77036. There will be 32 FIRST® Robotics Competition (FRC®) teams participating in the event, planned and organized by Spectrum, the FIRST Lone Star Regional Committee, and Houston area teams and volunteers.

The teams will be competing in AERIAL ASSIST®; an FRC® game that challenges teams of high school students and engineers to build a robot that can autonomously launch large exercise balls into goals seven feet high while under the control of student drivers. Each match pits two alliances of three teams against each other. The alliances must work together to earn the large point bonuses earned through teamwork. Each alliance must move the balls down the field while also attempting to slow down the offense of the opposing alliance.

The event consists of qualification matches that are played with randomly assembled alliances. The teams who exit the qualification rounds in the top eight are designated “alliance captains.” The alliance captains then select their partners to play with in the elimination matches held in the afternoon. Each alliance is also given a randomly assigned fourth partner that completes their alliance. All 32 teams will be playing in the elimination rounds.

The goal of this event, with its unique alliance selection process, is to promote cooperation among teams and to strengthen the community of Texas FRC teams. In addition, T.R.I. gives teams more play time and provides an opportunity to practice competing on a real competition field. This event is free of charge to all invited teams and has the generous support of the Texas Workforce Commission, FIRST in Texas, and the FIRST Lone Star Regional Committee.

The event is also free and open to the public and press. This is a great event for children of all ages to learn about robots and the fantastic STEM programs that exist around Texas.

Spectrum is the engineering team from St. Agnes Academy and Strake Jesuit College Preparatory.

- Spectrum

“The one thing that matters is the effort.” - Antoine de Saint-Exupery

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Engineering workshops for young girls

This week we worked with two groups of girls and taught them to program Lego robots.

On Monday night we worked with local American Heritage Girls in our lab and helped them on their way to earning their Engineering Badge.

This morning we took our show on the road to Houston Baptist University to help Girls Inc. of Greater Houston at their Camp SMART. 

- Spectrum

"When one teaches, two learn." - Robert Half

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Paul Johnson - This Is How I Work

Official Logo Large Ink Jet Printer.png
Paul has been a mentor on team 1429 since its inception. He teaches engineering and is one of the go-to mentors in Texas for help with building strong Chairman's Award presentations and teams. Paul has been working on inspiring students and improving their lives for many years. He talks below about his career teaching engineering and photography.

[Responses from October 3, 2013; Updated on May 6, 2014]

Name: Paul W. Johnson 
CD Username: pjohn1959
Current Gig/Job: Engineering teacher at Galena Park High School
Alma Mater/Degree: The University of Houston, B.S. Industrial Distribution
Current Team(s): FRC team 1429
Former Team(s): -none-
Location: Galena Park, Texas
Hobbies: Golf, Reading, and my dogs

What inspired you to do what you do? Tell us a story
My father worked for NASA here in Houston. My childhood heroes were astronauts and the space program.  I guess I have always enjoyed working on, and building things. When I got to Galena Park, they needed a co-mentor for the robotics program. I didn't know exactly what I was getting into, but after one semester I found that robots was my new obsession. I learned a lot that first year, mainly studying how teams were organized and how they ran their program. I was drawn to how outreach programs helped inspire students. From that moment, I knew my calling was to the Chairman's program. I have never claimed to be a 'robot' person, but I do think I understand the workings of a successful Chairmans program, having won 4 RCA's. I have already picked up 2 new teams to help mentor for the 2015 season, so I am looking forward to a very productive year.

What is your day job, and how’d you get there?
I teach two engineering classes. These are both associated with the Project Lead The Way organization. The first one is Principles of Engineering, and the other is Aerospace Engineering. I also teach a Commercial Photography class.

What is your favorite story to tell about robotics?
My favorite story is how we worked to change the culture of the students in our program. When I first started, our team president was a Hispanic female. She was also number one in her class.  She was planning on going to the University of Texas and getting an engineering degree. Her father was very much against this, and told her that she should stay at home with the family. After many discussions with her parents, they finally conceded to letting her go and attend U.T. This paved the way for her two younger sisters who went on to graduate and attend colleges and enter the engineering program. 

What's your favorite robot that you didn't help build?
That’s easy, the 2008 robot from FRC Team 1114, Simbot SS. Their solution to the autonomous (hybrid) period was truly ingenious. Then, their simple design helped them to dominate the 2 minute driver controlled period.

What apps/software/tools can't you live without? (Work/Robotics/Home)
My favorite program to use is Excel.  I find I can use it for most document creation. I also use Photoshop and Coral Draw for graphic creations.

The apps that I really like to use are Satellite Tracker, so I can watch them fly overhead at night, FRC Spyder to keep up with current scores from other regionals, and VEX Via to track VEX competitions.

What's your workspace setup like? (Work/Robotics/Home)
I do not have an office in the robotics room. I have to bring my materials with me. At home, I have a laptop set up on the table in front of the couch, so I can watch TV and work at the same time.

What do you listen to while you work?
I usually get to listen to the kids screaming and having fun. I am also indulged with their hip-hop music they like to have blaring in the robotics room. I prefer peace and quiet, but I give that up to have the kids be productive.

What’s your schedule like during build season?
My robotics work schedule is usually Monday through Friday 2:30 to 6:00 pm. Then, 9:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. on Saturday. Our school district does not allow us to work on Sundays.

What everyday thing are you better at than anyone else?
I don’t think that there is anything that I do that is better than anyone else. I do like to support my kids and help them succeed in whatever they are trying to accomplish.

What's the best advice you've ever received?
Never give up. Make your dreams a reality. This was told to me by my parents when I was going to college. This inspired me to finish and get my degree.

What is your favorite guilty pleasure?
I guess that I’m a Homer. I like to see teams from the United States win. The latest was watching Oracle Team USA come back from an 8-1 deficit, to defeat Emirates Team New Zealand in the 34th Americas’ Cup. The robotics team watched the final races with me in the room.

Fill in the blank. I'd love to see ________ answer these same questions.
Glenn Lee (FRC 359). 

"The crew of the space shuttle Challenger honored us by the manner in which they lived their lives. We will never forget them, nor the last time we saw them, this morning, as they prepared for the journey and waved goodbye and 'slipped the surly bonds of earth' to 'touch the face of God.'"
- Ronald Reagan