Upcycling ideas

I finally feel like I got over the hurdle this week. I was working like crazy with work and school and I feel that I can finally catch my breath. I probably shouldn’t say that too loud, else the Universe is listening.

2012-10-03 at 10.02.38

I got to put my robot knowledge to good use since we last spoke, as a coworker needed a motor identified to find a replacement. After taking the housing apart it turned out to be a common Mabuchi, but the only replacements we could find had a shaft that was too short to fit into the pump assembly that it needed to interface with.

I also finally got to share the Conference model addition that we’re looking to integrate into the current district model proposed by FIRST. This has been lurking in my head for a while, and to get it down on paper, albeit digital, is a huge step for us. In essence, a set number of slots in the district would be set aside for non-native teams to apply for, and upon acceptance, would give them all the rights of a district team for two years. This makes the walls flexible, gives a predictable revenue range for both organizations, and allows teams to try out districts. I honestly think it would allow for more acceptance of the district model nationwide. That’s the exciting part about getting it out there: it’s becoming more real each day, and it’s really cool when you see something you are building in the wild.

I also went back to CT for the weekend and went to an Alanis Morrisette concert with my mother. I had forgotten about a lot of songs that she played, and…you know how people associate songs, smells, or places with particular times of their life? Yeah, that happened to me. The brain is a fascinating thing sometimes.

Which of course, ties into my class assignment for this week 🙂 I had to prepare early for the class tomorrow because my group is presenting on Social Constructivism. Granted, the constructivism group just went the week before, so there’s not too much else to present, but we hope to dig deep into Activity Theory and the More Knowledgeable Other. The MKO is the entity that allows the learner to make the jump through the Zone of Proximal Development, which is the gap between what the learner can learn on their own and what they could learn with help. It doesn’t always have to be a person who is the MKO, the internet and other knowledge resources could aptly stand in.

I apparently was a huge fan of social constructivism even before I knew what it was. This whole idea of working in groups, learning from mentors, and crowdsourcing solutions through competitive robotics is essentially what Vygotsky was getting at decades ago deep in Soviet Russia.

And in the end, I guess this post is about new applications of ideas that aren’t exactly new, but are still exciting. They just get brought up again and again through an idea, or in a song, or anywhere. It’s up to us to see them, upcycle them and put them to good use.

“I don’t know how I became the de-facto ‘Gangnam Style’ guy.”

Hands up for long weekends! The Mr had Columbus Day off and I took a PTO to extend our weekend. It’s amazing how much an extra day can affect a weekend. I finally got the FRC Firehose splash site up and running – I highly recommend that you check it out. I’ll do a separate post on that process later.

We also finally hit the milestone of finishing The Year of Weddings. We had five weddings this summer, two of which the Mr was the Best Man and two in which I was a bridesmaid. The wedding before this last one I was traveling the entire week before. Apparently, the Mr was bored enough that he learned the Gangnam Style dance while I was gone. The quote that became the title of the post occurred after he was cajoled to perform it at the latest wedding. I have a feeling this is going to become just as reoccurring as  kids requesting Hanson at robot competitions just to irritate him. If you really want to see it, here it is:

*Note: I have absolutely no idea who the other dancing guy was.

Grad school is totally kicking my butt right now. I don’t know what’s so different about this semester vs the last ones, but it definitely feels different. It could be because I’m schlepping down to Dorchester for class on a weekly basis, or that the online course is far more involved than any other online course, but I feel like I’m constantly playing catch up. Last week we discussed behavioral learning – aka carrot and stick. I somehow got most focused on a quote from the book that touched upon how behaviorism was the original basis for No Child Left Behind, which then got skewed in the implementation down to the state level in that they felt that NCLB was all stick, no carrot. I don’t know if the rest of the class got my observation (by replacing the learner as the most granular with the school in this case), but I still think it’s an interesting piece to think about. Additionally, we did a behavioral piece where my ridiculously competitive side shone like the beacon that it is. We won, so that’s all that matters. 🙂

Shameless plug. You’ve been warned.

Hey all! I’m looking for website evaluators and advisors to fill out this questionnaire for me. All responses are confidential and will not be shared with HQ – they’re for a class in my Masters program. Thanks in advance – please share!


Memory is deceptive because it is colored by today’s events.

This quote made me think of another Einstein…not the person, but the field. Unless you’ve been living under a rock, FIRST HQ released their report on the 2012 Einstein investigation. This was following a very extensive investigation involving all 12 robots in NH a few weeks after Championship. Go read it here. Really, you should. I’ll wait.

FIRST has concluded that there was an individual attacking the network during the matches. This person has come forward to HQ and has since been banned from all events or mentoring in the future. I only know of one other peson with this ban, and I assure you, it’s effective.

There’s a couple of things that I wanted to say immediately after Championship that have since marinated in my mind. I would like to share the following:

  • I would like to personally thank my Galileo crew for being absolutely amazing. Through the hottest of water, they kept their cool and did their job. Reset was flawless, the queuers gracefully took on the job of crowd control, and even the flags showed up in the right places. I did not have to synchronize any of it – they just did it, like they had done on Galileo all weekend long. An old mentor of mine once told me that the field is a stage. I tell my volunteers that Einstein is Carnegie Hall….and my crew put on the performance of a lifetime. I could have hugged them, but we were all a little ripe by that point. We took a picture instead.
  • From a volunteer perspective, Einstein needs some tweaking.  Not a lot of people know that each year, the best field gets chosen by the FTAs to become the Einstein field crew. It’s a huge sense of pride – I’ve been there three times, more than any other. The rules on Einstein from a production standpoint are completely different from any field – and because the VC changes every year, even though we are all well-seasoned veterans, there should be a document that the winning VC can use as their guide. I’m working on that doc, and I’m working with HQ to get it implemented. The team and volunteer experience on Einstein should be the best it possibly can be – and with the right stuff in place, I think we can make that happen easily.
  • We as a community will learn from this. Each season is a learning experience, but not only should we learn to build, code, and wire more robustly, we should learn to treat each other with respect no matter what the pressures are. Many people are already there – and some of us need work. But most of all, we should learn from our experiences and move on.

But back to that memory thing. I read the report, and that afternoon in St. Louis is now one of thousands of FIRST memories. On that day, we didn’t know what was happening, only that it was happening, and that we were going to make it through no matter what. As I read the paper…my mental archives unfolded, scrambled to reshape my memories to link the report to my experience. But my Einstein was a lot more than the field. It was the thunderous sound of hail, the broad smile I caught while watching the FLL winners, the pressure of my fingers wrapped tight around my radio call button, and Chiniqua’s laugh as she told me jokes to keep my spirits up.

What is done is done, and the best part of FIRST is that with the end of every season there is another on the horizon. My countdown to January has begun.

The success of Twitter hashtags with students

I’ve decided to consolidate the blogs The Edu-Engineer and Tres Boucher so that I can provide a richer experience. Part of that includes moving all the posts from Edu-Engineer over to Tres: here’s one of many.

The success of Twitter hashtags with students
Originally posted June 15, 2011

I’m going to talk about my off-duty activity for a moment to show the power of hashtags with students. I’ve been involved with the competitive robotics circuit since 1999. Competitive robotics usually involves one or many people building a robot to compete against other robots. I’ve been involved with FIRST and it’s competitions for many years but I am a fan of them all – Battlebots, Vex, National Robotics League, National Underwater Robotics Challenge, you name it, I’ve probably seen it. If you’re looking to get a student excited about science, this is by far the best way to do it.

Here’s Morgan Freeman talking about FIRST in a video for those of you who like visuals:

The hashtag #omgrobots, like most great ideas, started out of the blue. It started at the FIRST Robotics Competition Kickoff in 2010 to serve as the backchannel for the people who were either in the audience at the site in Manchester, NH or watching the live NASA TV feed across the world.

Capturing the Data

Did you know that hashtags were never a design feature of Twitter? The idea of using a hashtag to search tweets was popularized by Chris Messina, a developer advocate at Google. If you’re interested in capturing Twitter stats, you’ll need to go outside of Twitter as they only search tweets for a certain amount of days. I highly recommend TwapperKeeper, who offer freemium archive services for every tweet based on a twitter handle, subject, or hashtag, and also provide stats through another service called Summarizr. The #omgrobots archive is open to the public for anyone to view.

As of Feb 13, 2011 (when I started the archive, 121 days ago) the hashtag has been used 5,725 times, an average of 47 times a day. Although this does include the entire competition season plus the Championship, this archive does not include one of its highest use days, the Kickoff itself. Even with the usually very slow off-season occurring for over a month now, the average is still very strong.

What I am most proud of is the cross of the hashtag into promoting other events, such as Soledad O Brien’s “Don’t Fail Me” CNN education special on May 15th, or the showing of the documentary Bots High at SXSW. It also was used by other competitions, such as the Vex Robotics World Championship and the Battlebots / BotsIQ National event.

Here’s some tips to grow your hashtag with students:
– Provide exclusive information.

This is key at live events, and a great way to build your audience. Since the Kickoff is the place where the year’s FRC game is revealed, there’s lots of things going on off-camera that the twitter universe is dying to know about. Even if it’s taking a picture of the giant black curtain covering the game, people not at the event will eat it up. Using a hashtag allows people to be part of the conversation without first having to follow the heavy hitters in the community.

Get influencers to start using it. #omgrobots has been used by @iamwill (Will.i.Am of the Black Eyed Peas), @Soledad_OBrien of CNN, @PopMech (Popular Mechanics), and @ConnectMinds (the Connect a Million Minds Project sponsored by Time Warner), as well as many FIRST official twitter users, such as @FIRSTweets. But that didn’t happen overnight. This first means start using Twitter heavily with people in your community. Provide meaningful discussion and engage your community (personally, this is my favorite part and should be easy if you like your topic). Eventually, as you start to use the hashtag more, more people will pick it up and use it.

– Introduce it to newcomers. At the 2011 Championship this year they filmed a FIRST TV special which is slated to air this August. The host, actor Ryan Devlin, is a relative newcomer to the community and was trying to engage the audience by reading tweets sent to him on stage. Once he was introduced to #omgrobots, he started using it and was able to both understand his audience faster but also gain credibility by the community by talking in what the NY Times calls “their secret handshake”.

Tweet as if your grandmother is following you. FIRST Co-founder Woodie Flowers encourages students to “act as if their grandmother is watching”, which is good practice anywhere on Twitter. As robotic competitions have moved to use more official hashtags for their events, #omgrobots has become the official backchannel of competitive robotics. I encourage this because as Twitter use becomes more official within robotics, there still needs a place for the community to be less official and grow. That being said, just because you’re allowed to take your shoes off, does not mean that you should wear socks with holes in them. Many people read the #omgrobots feed and can still read your tweets – strive to be funny without being mean.

Meet in meatspace.
Opening ceremonies on GalileoAs a Volunteer Coordinator at the FIRST Championship I have the honor of being able to choose the crew on my field. The four fields, Curie, Newton, Archimedes, and my personal favorite, Galileo, all compete to become the Einstein field, which is the crew that works the Championship final rounds. We choose our crews carefully so that they work well together and have a great time while donating their time to FIRST. This year I was able to get a bunch of volunteers from Twitter who I was then able to hang out with for 3 days. These kids and mentors are from Michigan, South Carolina, Washington, California, Connecticut…they are all very smart, and it’s so great that they were able to network and see how we’re changing the culture all over the world. For you, this may mean putting together a meetup, or all getting together to watch an event…whatever works for you and your community.

For technologically-savvy students, hashtags are the chatrooms of my teen years. As mobile and tablet usage increases, especially among youth, the conversation just keeps on going, and travels with them. The question is, how do we as an industry keep up?

Now that I think about it, I’ve been tracking for the majority of 2012 – I should do an update post.