Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Space City Vex & Houston Renfest

We spent this past weekend at two events. On Saturday we were at Space City Vex helping out our friends the Robonauts FRC#118 with their VEX tournament. 11 of our members volunteered as refrees and field reset.

Our head coach received the volunteer of the year award for being the Head Referee of the tournament.

Sunday we did some team bonding at the Houston Renfest.

Lots of STEAMworks related items at Renfest, including this store.

We'll be off for Thanksgiving break, but we have our FLL qualifier on Dec 3rd and lots of preparation are underway for that.

- Spectrum

"Millions long for immortality who do not know what to do with themselves on a rainy Sunday afternoon." - Susan Ertz

Friday, November 18, 2016

Houston Mini Maker Faire and Spacecom 2016

This past weekend we took the Stronghold field to George R. Brown Convention Center for a two very special events.

Houston Mini Maker Faire

First was the Houston Mini Maker Faire, celebrating makers and DIY experts in a variety of areas.
Full Maker Faire Gallery can be found here: 2016 Houston Mini Maker Faire

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Our second event of the week was the 2nd Annual Spacecom Expo. This is a very exciting event for the space industry. NASA and many of the other organizations and companies that looking to commercialize space flight were on hand. We were able to speak to many engineers that are working to make space the next big industry. We even got to speak with Astronaut Josh Cassada about FRC.

The entire Spacecom Gallery can be found here: Spacecom 2016

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In all over 5,000 people saw our FRC robots over the past week. Many were able to drive them, speak to our students and get a better understanding of FIRST's mission to change the culture.

- Spectrum

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Friday, November 11, 2016

Greg McKaskle - This Is How I Work

This week’s How I Work focuses on Greg McKaskle, a FIRST mentor of not only 2468 Team Appreciate, but also a FLL and a FLL Jr team. Greg began his involvement in FIRST through his work with LEGO which eventually led him into FRC where he has gained many years of experience mentoring 2468. Greg tells many interesting stories and advice about robotics in his article so be sure to read more to get some more insight on how he does what he does!

[Responses from October 11, 2016]
Name: Greg McKaskle
CD Username: Greg McKaskle
Current Gig/Job: Chief SW Architect-Education Focus, National Instruments
Alma Mater/Degree: Texas A&M, BS in Computer Science, EE minor
Current Team(s): 2468 - Team Appreciate, Club Oreo (FLL), Blue-Jay-Bots (FLL Jr)
Former Team(s):
Location: Austin, TX
Hobbies: SCUBA diving, wood working, raising kids

What inspired you to do what you do? Tell us a story.
I’ve always enjoyed technical diagrams and illustrations. Chilton manuals showing how a brake assembly goes together, a Popular Science article showing the subsystems of the space shuttle -- those were like a candy bar for my brain. My math and science teachers were also willing to feed me more material. Don’t be afraid to ask your teachers for more.

What is your day job, and how’d you get there?
National Instruments was just a few hundred people when I joined, so the president and other owners also performed interviews. It was very cool, because I could see that they were smart, energetic, and hard-working. I felt at home. We were writing software for Macintosh, Windows, and UNIX, all at the same time. There was a lot of work and a great group of smart people to do it with. I’ve always enjoyed talking to our customers, learning about their research or how they tested some product. Time flies when you’re having fun, and I’ve been at NI for over 25 years, providing tools that help to measure and control things in the real world.

I’ve held a number of roles over the years, but in 2004 I was given the opportunity to work on educational products with LEGO. It was a new challenge because you really need to be aware of who will use the product in what setting. You need to understand their goals and understand how to motivate them to take on a challenge. I was the technical lead, but I worked closely with designers and researchers. This naturally led to involvement in FIRST programs and eventually FRC. In my current role, I spend the majority of my time focusing on the design of the software that will allow the user to be more productive. I still review architecture and write code, but it isn’t my primary responsibility.

What is your favorite story to tell about robotics?
For the 2008 championship we needed a robot to demonstrate the cRIO control system. About a dozen people received project time to build NItro, a three-wheeled kiwi with an air cannon. I was only involved at a high level to make sure it came together. A few days before we were to ship, I reviewed the software to find that things weren’t well integrated. Everyone’s code was in their own project -- there was no flow, no coordinating panel, etc. I had a fishing/camping trip planned for the weekend, but signed up to do the integration and UI work. I picked up an inverter from Frys, packed the camping gear, kids, and laptop and went to the lake. The weekend went sorta like this -- wake up early, start campfire, write code, put water on to boil, write code, coffee, code, repeat a few times. Later in the day it was -- bait hook for kids, write code, clean fish, write code, fry fish, write code, … hand washing inserted as appropriate.
By Monday there was an editor for defining waypoints, a fancy display of controller inputs, wheel speeds, video feed, etc, just in time for the celebratory gathering where the robot showed its dog-n-pony tricks. Part of the celebration was a platter of breakfast tacos placed on a table near the wall. A new driver took the controls and immediately drove the robot into the table, dumping a large bowl of salsa into the robot. Chunks of tomato and onion were flying out of the custom CAN motor controllers, the cRIO looked like a fiesta bowl, and lots of engineers turned very pale.
The electronics were taken apart, some elements went into the sink, others went to the board wash machine. A few of us worked through the night, and 24 hours later, the robot was going again with much better safety, without driving lag, and was soon on a truck to Atlanta. No food near the robot.

What's your favorite robot that you didn't help build?
I have been impressed with many of the 1986 robots. Cool team, cool designs, and they deliver the autonomous points.

What apps/software/tools can't you live without? (Work/Robotics/Home)
I use Sketchup quite a bit -- for furniture design, landscaping, and basic 3D sketching. I use Keynote for slides and 2D work. I fell in love with Painter when it was by Fractal Design. It is not as robust these days, but I still love using it. And of course I write a ton of stuff in LabVIEW, Mac and Windows versions, and my go to dev tool is XCode.

What's your workspace setup like? (Work/Robotics/Home)
My primary computer is a MacBook Pro. It is pretty loaded and runs Windows on Parallels. I often have twenty apps open. I do lots of work away from my desk, but here is a photo of that.

What do you listen to while you work?
Long periods of listening to nothing, then I binge on stuff. Lately, Brown Sabbath, Reckless Kelly, and Sia.

What’s your schedule like during build season?
I think it is important to balance shop and family time. So sometimes my kids are at the shop on Saturday or for an afternoon. I probably spend between six and twenty hours on a given week. I stay in touch in between visits, reviewing code and answering questions via email, etc.

What everyday thing are you better at than anyone else?
Modesty. Next question please.

What's the best advice you've ever received?
Our CEO, Dr T, is retiring this year, and to paraphrase him -- Know where you want to go, start from where you are.

What is your favorite guilty pleasure?
I’m pretty fond of coffee I guess.

Fill in the blank. I'd love to see _ Joe Ross__ answer these same questions.

Anything else you want people to know about you?
I’m not into the robots that much. I do FIRST because of the impact I believe it makes to future generations.

“Make it work” -- Tim Gunn

Monday, November 7, 2016

Canstruction and Barnes&Noble Mini Maker Faire 2016

Press releases from this weekends events.


Spectrum 3847, St. Agnes Academy & Strake Jesuit Preparatory students, use their engineering design skills to combat hunger at the CANstruction Houston Design Build Competition benefiting the Houston Food Bank

(Houston, TX) Spectrum 3847 took on the challenge of building a structure made of 3,000 cans on Saturday, November 5th. The fun event showcased 32 design and high school teams’ colossal structures made out of full cans of food which will be donated to the Houston Food Bank.

“It was so rewarding for Spectrum 3847 students to participate in this unique design competition to help end hunger. The students designed their CANsculptures with an engineering software called Solidworks. This is the same software the team uses to build their FIRST FRC robot. The teens constructed “Hunger is no imaginary” featuring the famous duo Calvin and Hobbes. They took what they learned in the classroom and applied it to real life. Fred Wilson, Jr. from Wallace Garcia Wilson Architects, Inc sponsored the team.” said Spectrum 3847 Engineering Coach/Mentor Allen Gregory IV. “This is our fifth year participating in CANstruction. We have donated over 15,000 cans to the Houston Food Bank. It helps provide meals for the holiday season.”

Photographer: Suanne Bouvier

More Photos are located on our smugmug page: https://spectrum3847.smugmug.com/CANstruction/CANstruction-2016/

Barnes and Noble Mini Maker Faire

We were also at the Barnes and Noble Mini Maker Faire this weekend as well.

Spectrum 3847 inspires young children and their families at the Barnes & Noble Mini Maker Faire

(Houston, TX) On Saturday, November 5th Spectrum 3847 engineering high school students showcased their FRC robot at the annual Barnes & Noble Mini Maker Faire. Children had an opportunity to talk to the teens about the robot, learn about FIRST, and get excited about their potential in science, technology, engineering and math.

The Mini Maker Faire at Barnes & Noble brought together tech enthusiasts, crafters, educators, engineers, science club members, students, entrepreneurs, hobbyists and Makers of all kinds to learn from each other, get craft ideas and science fair project ideas, hear the experts, and work on projects.

Photographer: Suanne Bouvier

More Photos on our smugmug: https://spectrum3847.smugmug.com/Demonstrations/2016-Barnes-Noble-Mini-Maker-F/