Quick update on happenings in Atlanta. It took quite a while last night to get everyone into their hotel rooms and give them time to wash up. By the time we were ready to eat, almost all the restaurants were close and we ended up walking all over downtown until we finally found a 24 hour diner called The Landmark. I treated my “family” (the five kids who for whom I am responsible) to dinner, so long as they kept it under $10 each. Almost every one of them figured a different way to tally up to $9.95 and managed to get the waiter to throw in free pie. I had one of my favorite meals, Biscuits and Gravy. It was definitely above average, but far from the best I have had. When we finally got through eating and managed to work our way back to the hotel at around 1 am local time. Despite being very tired, my insomnia was working overdrive and I didn’t end up getting to sleep until 3:30, after having read a book called “Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom” by Boing Boing regular Cory Doctrow. The book is about how the world might operate in a “post-scarcity future” in which all the basic needs of almost everyone on the planet are met for next to nothing and the traditional definitions of what constitutes an economy have long fallen by the wayside. The book focuses on an attempt by a group of people trying to wrest control of the Haunted Mansion ride at Disney World (which is now run by dozens of ad-hoc fan organizations.) away from another group, so that they can modernize it. The other group (of whom the main character is a member) advocates minimal restoration/revision of the ride. I think Doctrow’s idea of how a post-scarcity economy would operate is flawed in a number of ways, and his world seems internally inconsistent on a number of points, but as a fun romp, it works.
Today, I was shook awake at 6:15 by Brad, the TRC’s faculty advisor, who was also my physics teacher in HS. I shared a room with Brad at the PNW regional too, and learned my leason. What Brad does can’t accurately be described as snoring. I think it would be more properly categorized as a localized distortion of the space-time. This time around, I came prepared with earplugs :)
I rarely eat breakfast, so I took a group of students down to the pits to uncrate the robot and get things in order for tomorrow’s competition. The whole day was very chaotic and the students didn’t do everything they could have to make productive use of the time. For example, we were scheduled for 3 practice matches today. A lot of the best teams (including us) start scouting out potential partners early, and our preformance on the practice floor was less than inspiring. A lot of stupid mistakes were made (half charged batteries, people forgetting to bring the control box/joysticks, etc.), but I feel confident that we will be ready to put on a good show for tomorrow’s qualifying matches. If we do well enough in the qualifying matches, it will be up to us to choose other teams as alliance partners, and not the other way around. I know that I am being overly harsh here. I just feel that we are less organized in many respects compared to other teams. I think our team puts the vast majority of its energy into the robot itself and doesn’t spare much time/thought/money in promoting itself to other teams. We usually acquit ourselves based on our match performance, but at nationals, there is much stiffer competition and I really feel we need to do a better job of evangelizing ourselves. I think a bigger budget would help somewhat in this respect, as well as a dedicated sub-group that works on nothing but creating promotional materials, but we are stetched pretty thin for manpower and very few people have stepped up to the plate and said “I am going to take on this responsibility. I am going to make sure this gets done.” Our wireless fed, database driven scouting sytem (which served us very well at the PNW regional), which combines annecdotal feedback on individual robots, as well as statistical match performance data has been greatly expanded. Not only do we have more team member entering data about robots within the division, but we have opened up the system and created information sharing agreements with several teams in other division, so that we can at least gain a sense of who the toughest competitors might be, should we make it to the divison vs division playoffs. This expansion of the system was sorely needed, but it has left few people free to do less “sexy” activities, like serving as cameramen to record our matches, guard our booth in the pit (I was appaled to find the pit totally deserted at one point with several expensive DV cameras laying in plain sight). Several teams have reported laptops and similar items stolen and I have heard reports that pick-pockets are working the crowd. I haven’t let any of my several gadgets leave my direct possesion at any time and I have been keeping my wallet in a zipped, inside jacket pocket. A pit guard could also help keep all batteries charged, maintain other important gear and serve as our spokesperson at the same time. I think we are going to have to work out some sort of swing shift system, as I don’t think anyone is going to volunteer and it NEEDS to be done. I think the arena floor is perceived as being where all the action is, so everyone wants to scout…
Some good technical stuff happened today. Borrowing tools from neighboring booths, we got the security camera flush mounted into the frame and ran the wires to a Lexan armor covered area into which we should be able to squeeze a small DV camera (running in VCR mode) to record video. A DV cam is a little less than ideal as a recording device, as they typically only have a S-video connection for input, which results in black and white video, when hooked to a composite source via a s-video to composite adapter. I also worry about tape skipping when we colide with other robots. I would have liked to get one of Archos’ new portable video players that also have PVR functionality. I saw some neat video that was taken at a recent computer convention (Comdex, E3, ???) using a camera concealed within a cap with wires running to one of these archos PVR units in a pocket. The unit was subtle enough that many people didn’t seem to catch on to being filmed. Even in those that did notice the camera, seemed to mind it much less that a more obviously present camera. A lot of people don’t act normally in the presence of cameras, and the hatcam approach did a real good job of keeping things naturally conversational. Anyways, we will try and tackle the recording issue tomorrow morning.
By the end of the day, everyone was absolutely beat. My feet have not been this sore in years. I think even my blisters will have bliisters. Nobody seemed to object to spending a quiet night in the hotel. Tomorrow will be the first day of qualifying matches. Nasa TV (most mid-level cable and satellite tv packages should carry the channel) is going to be carrying the matches on in the late afternoon and will be carrying the competition all day Saturday. There will also be live streaming of the whole thing on the internet. Check the usfirst.org page for the details. Look for team 492 if you should wish to cheer us on!