Aerial Assist

I spent part of Friday and all of Saturday refereeing a robotics competition. It was amazing!

The game is called Aerial Assist, and it’s sponsored by the First Robotics Competition – an organisation that organises robotics education and games for kids and uni students.

Each team consisted of four players and a rather sizeable robot. Teams rotated trough different combinations of red vs blue, with three teams aside. The fact that your opponent in one round may be your team mate in a later match helped to keep things sporting. During game play, the two teams fought for control of one of two balls on the field, and we’re awarded points for scoring in a high or low net, passing between robots, and pitching the ball over a crossbeam mid field. You could also be awarded points if the other team commits a foul – most of which were safety related.

There’s a good video explaining the match rules here. Or, a video of a real match.

I know a lot of folks who would have a great deal of fun at these things. The kids involved work closely with mentors who teach them mostly about construction (wiring, welding, metal work, mechanics, drive trains, etc) and a little about programming. In addition to the physical robot, you also have to wire up control systems so that you can drive your robot using a joystick or similar. Additionally each round begins with an automated component during which the robots are given ten seconds to try and score a goal on their own. Bonus points are awarded if you score I a net that is specially marked at the beginning if the round, so it pays to teach your robot to “see” which is the correct net.

Aside from all the engineering work, which happens pre match, there’s also the strategy in the competition, and some skill in driving your creation. As the day went on you could see strategies emerging, similar to a simple soccer match. Teams would choose one robot to run defence and block opponent goals, another to score (usually a robot who could score in the top net for more points) and a “centre” to run the ball between your defence and offence, which helps to rack up assists.

There was something for just about everyone, and pretty good stadium seating for spectators who cheered or danced to keep things lively during the day.

I did check to see if this exists in Canada – most of the folks I know who would be keen live in BC or the east coast. There are some teams, but not in these places. It does t take long to do well, this year a rookie team made it to the semifinals, and another finished in the winners group of three. I see that Alberta got involved last year, and they already have a load of teams, so it could happen. It just needs some interested coaches and mentors.

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Decisions is hard

Our computer has had it. Or nearly had it. Or maybe it was done a year ago and we just didn’t notice. In any case, the workhorse that we bought needs to be put out to pasture. Getting a replacement is hard though!

Our machine is pretty close to seven years (that’s, like, 102 in computer years) old now. It’s run wonderfully through most of that time, in no small part because we bought a top end spec. (To make WoW that much prettier). So what’s so hard about doing the same thing again? Well, a couple of things.

Computers are expensive. At least the top end ones. Sarah specced out something just shy of 4k the first time I sent her to the apple store.

Computers are complicated. we are at a point where there are too many qualifiers, and the path to more better isn’t just at the high end of the numerical scale. Do I want dual or quad core i5s or i7s? What about hdd, ssd, or fusion (that’s like teriyaki burritos, right?)? And is 3.2gHz from 2012 better than 1.6 from 2014? Sounds like it depends. On a lot of things.

I’ve got two conflicting deadlines. If I buy before the end of June, I can get a tax rebate by end of October. If I wait till October, I can (probably) get next years model. Apple always does a refresh of something in October time frame.

Not to mention, seven years later I now have a few other things that I like spending money on. Like Daycare and visits to North America.

At least for the time being I’ve got a strategy. Watch the refurb selections in the apple store. If anything with an SSD or Teriyaki Taco drive pops
up before July, I’ll pounce.

Until then I’m going to stick the old iMac into morse code mode and hope for the best.

Saying Goodbye

Today, Xavier’s best friend moves away. He’s taking Sarah’s best friend with him.

Sarah I’m sad for, but she’s an adult. She understands what’s happening, and why, and she has the ability to make new friends more freely than a 3 year old. Xavier on the other hand still doesn’t really grasp what’s happening.

“Leland is moving to his Grandmas” we told him. He knows that Grandma’s always live on the other end of a plane.
“Big plane!”
“Yes, he’s going on a big plane. He’s moving. You may not see him again.”
“Me big plane! I go with Leland!”
“No, you can’t go with Leland. You have to stay with Mommy and Daddy.”

And so it goes. He hasn’t asked yet when Leland is coming back, but I know that this is coming. His friend, who is a little older, still uses words like vacation and holiday to describe what’s happening.

Moving is hard, but being the kid who doesn’t move feels at least as hard. In Xavier’s case, nothing new and exciting happens, there is no change except for loss. On our end, we are going to try and fill his time over the next two weeks. Partly with fun things to do, and partly with play dates if we can find them. Xavier and Leland (and Sarah and Dani) played together about 6 days a week, so I don’t expect we’ll be able to fill that gap in their lives. But, given enough toddlers, we might be able to make a dent.