Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Frostings 2 - 19,500 Items

Wow.  It has been a total production facility around here this week.  Ok, that is the rosy view of the place, my husband and kids would instead characterize it as a 'little plastic box sweat shop'.  Why?  Because I am getting geared up for the Frostings Box Session 2 to be packed and sent out to the people who are excited to get new threads.  Tonight my husband spent three hours watching comedy shows while placing stickers on little plastic bags.

It is a long road to getting the box in your mailbox!  There are the months (in this case 18 months) of designing threads, checking colors and waiting... waiting... waiting... for the threads to start trickling in.  The last one arrived days ago.  There are 39 individual threads/colors and 500 boxes to pack so somehow all those big spools that come in have to be divided up and labeled.

Just the act of opening up the little clear plastic boxes to put something in takes a tremendous amount of time, then you line them up, load them and close them and then apply a label.  If I do a box of 500 of them of one thread, it can take me about 6-8 hours.  So this time the family has taken quite a bit of pity on me and finally pitched in to help.  19,500 little boxes or bags have to have cut and wound things put inside and labeled.  Then there is the packing of the actual white frostings boxes and shrink wrapping - that will take a week before I sit for a whole two days and making/printing shipping labels.  A couple of hours then verifying that the label is correct and marking up the database that a box is leaving.  And then many emails assuring people that the label I created on Monday and wasn't ready to adhere to the packed boxes until Thursday hadn't gotten lost by the post office as I haven't gotten a slot in the post office truck schedule until Friday to do the massive pick up.  :-) All-in-all the process is about 1.5 months from starting to cut the threads to the boxes leaving on their journey to you.

Thursday before the Memorial Day weekend, I cried 'uncle' and decided to bring in the big guns, paid teenagers.  While I only intended to hire one of them - one of the girls on the robot team that I knew was looking for some work - I managed to get a gaggle of them.  Guess they are all growing up and realize that all my time helping them with roboting costs me dearly in my work time.  So amazingly when she showed up there were others in tow.  Over the course of two days (and some sleepovers) I had four different teens (boys and girls - sorry if a few labels aren't as straight as I might like) here to help me as well as family too.  We voted on movies and had a whole Pirates of the Caribbean marathon.  Took them to see the 5th movie on Sunday to celebrate getting 3500 little plastic boxes packed and labeled in three days.  It would have normally taken me seven days.

They certainly made the work much more fun.  Sounds like they are planning on coming back for the shrink wrap party - heck - why not?  Sounds like cool tech toys and we all know robot boys like cool tech toys!

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

World Championship Finalists*

It is with great, great, great pride and also some sadness that I announce that The Brainstormers are the World Championship Finalists* for 2017!  This is just an astounding accomplishment... there are 5,200+ teams in the world.  Depending on their path, they need to be usually one of the top 1-3 teams at a competition of 32-72 teams to move to the next level, having gone through five levels now.  At each competition, they will play between nine to 18 matches and come out as elimination winners in the last nine.  Because of the narrow number of teams that can move on until the super regionals, we certainly saw some amazing and great teams fall by the wayside and not move on because our state is a powerhouse that can't send all the world class teams on from the state because we are a small state.

Working on the practice field and explaining features to
another team watching
The kids worked quite hard before we left for the championship and managed to completely develop a new autonomous strategy to deal with some of the problems we had at competitions, especially with set-up issues with the fields.  It required both mechanical changes and some significant new programming feats - all accomplished in less than five weeks.  And it was killer.

This year with the splitting of Worlds to a North and South to double the number of teams who could attend because of expansion of the programs, there was a decision to give a percentage of spots to lottery because the logistics of expanding the super regional level had not occurred on schedule.  So that meant that teams who had never progressed to Worlds on merit were allowed to put their name in the hat and get a slot by lottery.  But that meant that some partners weren't as strong as others.  The kids did great during the qualifiers, almost overcoming some partnerships with teams that only scored five of the 250+ points our alliance put up.  We all felt good, the robot was working and working well.  Teams would stand and watch them practice, that felt good to be admired by their peers.

This is a favorite picture of mine because of what it says.
This is the captain of another team, sitting in our booth
watching an important match of ours on the live stream with
Rob.  Our team is known as general 'good actors' and we
have many hang out with us.  When we were in the finals, the
only cheers you would hear was for our alliance.  I find this
important - when your peers not only admire your work
but find you good people and want to see you win.
I have mentioned that at previous competitions teams have come into our booth to thank us for our how-to videos and Worlds was no exception to our complete surprise.  The one that really tickled us - the Russian team thanked us and showed us and Sofia their robot - they built their shooter based on a design she came up with and showed in one video.  As the youngest member of the team (8th grader) it was just such a great thing to hear.

It was a nice experience as my brothers came as well, driving from Michigan to see their nephew compete for the first time ever.  Part of the reason they came was that the team 'grandpa' and my brother who makes their shirts at his screen printing business, had decided to surprise the kids with a set of special commemorative hockey jerseys that would be something they could wear and keep for years past these experiences.  They included an American flag patch and a special 2017 Worlds St Louis patch they designed on one arm.  It was a great night when we got the kids together to have him give a speech on how they had inspired so many people they didn't know and give them the jerseys.  They were just blown away!

This is how they move around - together.  No one is 'out of it'.
They are attentive and in the moment and on point.  
Near the end of the competition, it became obvious that we were a highly desirable alliance partner and so one of the World Champions from last year started asking us to make some autonomous routes together.  The kids got to work and there were some outstanding joint programs written on the fly - that worked and later (as we did become partners) blew people away in the eliminations!  That night, we went out to a great Italian restaurant and I took the opportunity to make a speech as the seniors were flying home for their prom the next morning right as the elimination matches were to begin.  I reviewed their amazing accomplishments over the years and that year and that no matter what happened the next day - I was so proud of them and would miss them so much.  And that if I am not invited to their weddings, well, there would be hell to pay!
The new jerseys!

My son was trying to hold it together and not cry and as soon as I sat down, the first senior stood up to my surprise to say some words.  And one by one the three of them stood up and gave the most inspiring speeches, each about a topic.  Ethan, only on the team for two years, talked about Family.  How John and I had invited him into our special extended family, made him feel part of it within days and how that made him feel.   Then Ben, an original Brainstormer starting when he was nine years old, got up and gave a long talk about Trust.  How the arc of being on the team had taught him to trust others, trust in their collective abilities, trust others to do their job, and trust that all would be good in the end no matter how dark and horrible some situation looked at the moment - no matter how broken the robot seemed to be he could trust that somehow they would figure it out and get it running in the 5, 10, 30 minutes they had.  It was an amazing speech, of course I remember each of their personal journeys from wanting to control a task because they didn't trust another child to do a good job to today, when they could give up control and inherently understand that they were all on the same team and how talented each was and hardworking and so trust in each other.  An amazing journey and something that Ben said they would all take forward in the future in how they treated others they worked with.

11pm Waffle House Run.  The boys were never
full.  I must have ordered tons of room service,
made bagel runs, pizza orders and late night
runs to waffle house.  All the nervousness
makes those wiry 6' frames bottomless pits.
As they were woofing down a big room
service order one night - the girls just couldn't
help saying - 'we are leaving for dinner in
20 min, how come you are eating now!?"
Yeah - they also woofed down pounds of
BBQ only 30 min later.  BOYS.
Then Dan got up, on the team for a little more than three years, and he gave a talk about Failure.  He discussed how John and I had taught them how to fail successfully and created a climate where it was totally ok to fail in the small and big things - that it wasn't failure but an opportunity to learn, try new things and expand themselves individually and collectively.  He discussed how many trials had come up for them all, things that were unfair, parts that broke at the wrong time, and days that didn't go your way but that we had helped them all learn how to face these things with grace and how to turn them into motivation for the next day.  Obviously I cried quite a bit.  It was beautiful and also hilarious to hear all the rest of the kids talk about how they needed to get their speeches started now for next year!

So the next day luck went our way and we ended up partnering with our 'dream partner' in the alliance selection.  The matches were tough and fast paced (I heard that several of you watched - WOW).  Two divisions play simultaneously and the winners of each vie for the championship in a final set.  That is the first time the teams from the divisions meet in competition during the five days.  At the point we won the division, I lept out of the stands and ran down towards the pit and was hugged by each of the kids - most of them squeezing me so tight I almost couldn't breathe while I was crying.  At that point - the worst they could do was be the World's Finalists and take home a big trophy.  They were all crying.

I am not sure exactly how to express what happened next.  We won the first match by more than 150 points, lost the second by the other team making a mistake and preventing our big ball from scoring (questionable call), and it was all down to the third match.  During the last match, one of the opposing teams collected our balls and scored them in their vortex, an explicit major penalty of 40 points and seen by all - all but the referees apparently.  Upon review, the team did it at exactly the same time stamp in the first final match as well - at a time when one team from each alliance was lifting the big ball and the refs would be looking in that direction.  You can imagine how we felt upon review of that video.  It was the first and only instance in competition that this was done worldwide that anyone knows of.

So the kids were sure they had won as the penalty would put them over the top by quite a bit.  Instead, the scores were put up - we lost by the two of our balls scored by them and no penalty.  What??  But in a situation that we now know was an innocent mistake, the organizers had brought the trophies onto the field and as soon as the scores were shown, they thrust them at the winners.  Now, there is a process for disputing scores or calls and that is a marked out box - but it was covered by photographers, and some organizers who were trying to keep the area clear actually held our kids in the driver box and refused to let them out to get to the box which is the only way they are allowed to challenge.  Apparently there will be a huge rule change for next year now.

One of the boys having Dean Kamen,
co-founder of FIRST, sign his special
jersey.  Signing shirts is a 'thing' and he was so excited that
Dean showed up and he was able to get signature. 
You can imagine how this played out.  I won't go into all the details in a public forum.  I was heartbroken to watch my son sob and sob as they weren't allowed to challenge.  It got worse and again I won't say in a public forum.  Tonight, the organization held a call to allow the kids to discuss their challenge but insisted that while the video evidence showed clearly that the penalty should have been called, the refs insist they never saw it and there is no time machine and so they are the World Championship Finalists.  Hence the (*).

Beginning of the fateful last match.  
It is not how I wanted to season to end.  I also can't tell you the depth of hurt the kids have gone through, as the devil is in the details and they don't feel too good about them.  And I will state this - everything they have done was honest, professional, with grace, honor, openness and integrity.   But that isn't always how others play and when mistakes are made by others that let that get by, it is upsetting.

I thought robot season was over but as one of the top teams in the world, they were saved a space at a top-teams only invitational in Maryland at the end of June.  I am taking them as I just can't let this be the ending to an amazing season.  They need to get back up on the horse and ride again together.

At the beginning of the season they declared that they would be World Champions and worked their fingers to the bone to get to that point.  Their arc has gone from starting out as the worst team of 64 at their first FLL competition when they were only 9 years old.  Today they are considered by their peers (we keep getting messages) as the champions.

And they really are... I am so amazed and proud.

The whole crew the weekend after with all the trophies they earned this year - Champions in my book

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

I Think I Have Created Monsters...

So the World Championship was finished three weeks ago and yes, I have news but I am not ready to talk about it yet.  It isn't actually over and that is part of the story.  Maybe later this week.  I hope.  Thanks to everyone who has emailed me.

But before we left, we took down the robot room and cleaned it up.  Moved the field into closets and put the furniture back.  There was just one little table off to one side with the robots on it and the rest of the room was empty and back to normal.  And CLEAN.  We could watch movies together again with the couch in the right place.  No food wrappers hiding under piles of papers, there was space to walk, play ping pong/pool and our vacuum wasn't sucking up screws anymore.

Well, at the World Championship there are 120 or so First Lego League teams, 128 First Tech Challenge teams, about 100+ cute little Lego League Junior teams (they are six years old) and about 400 enormous First Robotics Challenge teams.  So just tens of thousands of kids and their mentors.  It takes up all the venues in a big city and there are screens everywhere bunched together running the live stream from the other venues simultaneously so you can check in on what is going on in other divisions while you are in yours.  Well, my younger son Andy was there of course and he is captain of his FLL team.  You know that he barely missed going to Worlds this year and is a bit miffed at that as his system was quite good.  We never expect that they would do well at Worlds if they made it there because the USA rules cut the age off at 14 but the rest of the world can field lego teams as old as 16.  And that 14 to 16 years old difference is enormous in cumulative ability.  So it was quite a surprise to see that if they had gone, they could have ended up 7th with the system as it was in December (without working another four months straight on it).

So that created a monster.

When we came back he started looking up the videos from the live stream.  Then identifying the top teams and finding You-Tube videos they had posted showing their systems working with more close ups.  Analyzing them every morning over breakfast.  Then the LEGOS came out again in the family room and he started building.  He knows that competition field forward and back for this year and he started building different concepts for detachable robots, exoskeletons that fit over the robot, etc.   In one case the winning team had a 5 second animation where their robot was built from the ground up in the LEGO designer program (think a CAD program for legos) as a insert in a larger video.  Well, over a two hour stretch with his team mate, they froze frame the you-tube video and figured it out and built the darn robot to understand the concept that group had used.  They are now on the third iteration of that concept making it their own.

The team mate who lives next door has been watching the same videos this weekend on our TV and going ballistic with excitement at some of the out of the box ideas.  Started their research notebook for next year's challenge already in Google Docs and shipped the notes off to all the other kids.  This next year the challenge is "HydroDynamics" - the water system and its challenges (think Flint).  They are looking up waste water treatment plants and contact info for me to try to arrange them meetings already.  Krikee!

Then yesterday I spent 11 am - 3 pm up in my attic office catching up on Frostings work.  Little did I know what was going on downstairs.  At a nice dinner with my husband last night he mentioned that 'the table is back'.  I said 'what?'  So he proceeded to tell me that while he was working on a little home repair project, the two young boys came through the shop getting the drill and saw horses and carrying out the wood that makes the FLL competition field.   Amused, he told me that they had set it all up, found the matt in the closet and put all the mission modules on it as well as a folding table as a work space.  All he did was answer a question on drill bits.  Gone was our clean media room and it was back to being a robot room.

Those little monsters wanna win.

And I didn't tell you that they spent Jan-April building a metal robot to do the challenge that the big kids were doing.  By the time we left for Worlds, it could do many of the things on the field and might have progressed from a qualifier to the state level.  We were happy as they were learning the metal robot division skills and were keeping busy while we were so preoccupied with the big team.  They would use it as a nuisance robot to drive against the big kids to improve their practice.

Yikes.  Roboting is becoming a year-round thing.

My clean room is no more.  I have no idea what those kids are planning as I just saw they did this.
Season doesn't start again until September.  
The black thing in the foreground is the replica of the winning robot
from St. Louis a few weeks ago - a German team that was amazing.

Saturday, May 20, 2017

First Looks at Harmony with Nature Casket

Left Frieze for the Harmony with Nature Short Flat Casket
I am running a course for those already in the Cabinet of Curiosities universe called "Harmony with Nature Casket' that is a stitch-along piece.  It starts on June 1st and will be put on the short flat casket piece.

Later, the casket project course will be opened to other people (i.e. when it is finished) as then I will have a complete total for the piece and can take sign ups.  But most of the threads for this will be ones that have been already sent to the current students through the Cabinet of Curiosities, Stumpwork or Frostings Boxes.  So they can stitch along with me if they don't want to wait.

And the first panel of the box is finished and ready to take a look at - the instructions for the panel will span June and July and will be up for those registered on June 1st.  The materials list for this panel just went to the web guy to be posted by the end of the weekend in the stitch resources part of the website for the class.

Sunday, May 7, 2017

Choices - Tin plated Brass or Brass?

When people are working on their caskets, one of the decisions they have to make is what color hardware to use on their casket.  This decision cascades through and impacts what color of woven metal tape is used and the metal color stamping on the papers that are inside the casket.

What is hard is to visualize the choice.  So I have taken two pictures to show the difference between  the voice of tin coated brass (silver colored), which was the traditional choice, and brass (gold colored).


Top of Tent Stitch Casket with tin plated brass hardware laying on top and edged with silver woven tape
Top of the tent stitch casket with brass hardware on top with the gold woven tape on the edges