Friday, March 30, 2018

Robots = Life Part II

Expanding on yesterday's story, in our first year of metal robotics we had an incident that ended our season at the super regional level that hurt our team deeply and taught them life isn't fair.  The local high school had two really good teams and we were all at the super region and we were winning - apparently making the seniors on that team mad that they were being shown up by the freshmen at their school on THAT new private team they had refused to talk to all year.  Without the knowledge of their coach, they conspired in a match where one was our partner and the other was against us and threw the match that we would have won if our partner hadn't refused to score and took penalties instead.  (The refs were very stupid and didn't disqualify them).  It had the intended affect of lifting them up and pushing us down but the unintended effect of while we while we went far in the eliminations and beat them soundly - we didn't get to go to Worlds (takes too long to explain).  It was a very, very stupid teenage thing to do.  And when they realized it had kicked us out of worlds - it was obvious they were mortified, upset and started to do the 'cover up' on their actions.

This could have been a very bad thing.  Two excellent teams who go to school together.  Bullying, back stabbing, espionage, etc. for years.  I had talked to their coach over the year and my gut feeling was that he was a really decent guy.  Plus it was likely that we would need him to write my son's college recommendation (he did) as we couldn't and my son would take all his AP classes.   So I called him that night and we talked.  We decided to not let this rule our teams and to take steps to correct even though we wouldn't be able to change the results.  So over the years we have made real efforts to be honest and above board with each other while being likely the best two teams in the state and going head to head at each competition.  Over time, the kids who were berated by their coach for cheating went away and our kids had made it a consistent thing to be honest and treat them with respect and friendship.

Rob with the local team in the elimination pits
going over each other's robots making sure all is well together
So the state championship was AWESOME.  The local high school team had some trouble in their matches and were very far down in the rankings but we knew they were great and clutch under pressure, but they had lost their chance to move on to Super Regionals.  We teamed with another great team for the eliminations and spent quite a bit of time convincing them to forgo the teams they were looking at for the third position and take our local high school instead.  And we were convincing!  It was so heart warming to see their captain come up after the selection in front of the stands and bear hug our captain and thank them profusely.  They now had a chance as our combined team was now a dream team.

We crushed it together as a three-some.  Missed the world record by 3 points.  We won it all and automatically all three of us advanced.  The local high school senior kids came up to us (they had been on
Our state championship trophy on Saturday.
Both my boys in that picture.
And yes there is a bigger story there -
part of a very long
one to tell later about both teams.
the original team that cost us our World advancement) and hugged everyone with tears in their eyes and thanked our kids for believing in them and making their case.

They also knew that we gave up a World Championship to be honest to them two years ago.  The 1st captain asked us to lie that our robot was broken so the local high school team (2nd captain) wouldn't pick us so we could be on their team for the eliminations (The dishonest team went on to win it all).  My son came up to me and told me.  I looked him in the eye and asked him what he chose.  He said he said no and went to the local high school team and told them it would be an honor for them to be on their alliance.  We had just started repairing our relationship with them and doing a backhanded thing would kill it.  So we teamed up with them and lost with honor.

It seems our fates are interwoven no matter what.  They were so excited to win the state championship together.  We had known what problems they were having with their robot as they could trust us to come to our booth and get the repair parts which we happily gave them.

It shows that sometimes you need to trust others and you need to stick to your morals.  All great lessons our kids have learned as I have stepped out of that role - they make the right choices naturally themselves.  And as you have recently seen in the 'snow posts', they came to work at our house (and spoiler alert - while their robot didn't do as well as normal during the competition - they made it to Worlds anyways and we were screaming and hooting for them when they did).

So this bonding makes all the more sense when you know the coach.  As I said - the stories behind the story.  Jeff is the most beloved STEM teacher in the high school where all the students go on to amazing schools and the parents are engineers from MIT.  That is a pretty hard role to be in - to gain the respect of the parents and students who know their stuff.  Jeff is laid back, terribly talented and has just the right tone with all these budding geniuses.  And his courses rock!  My son loves him.  His wife always travels with us all to these away competitions and has her service dog with her.  I had never asked her what the service he is performing but she is a really nice lady to chat with.  So it was really a surprise to learn that she and her dog were the subject of a major documentary this year.  Jeff had mentioned it during our Worlds adventure last year - so we asked more about it.

Adele was the world's first cardiac service dog - literally saving Marty's life on a daily basis from her rare heart condition.  But dogs age and Adele needed to retire.  The question was if a new dog could be found with this extraordinary skill to save Marty's life daily from the cardiac disorder and could Marty trust the dog so she could continue the new expanded life that Adele had given her.  The documentary is about this transition.  Of course Jeff takes a prominent role in the film.  Their robot team was treated to a premier of the film on the bus ride to St. Louis.  We haven't been able to get tickets as a team to the two showings locally - but it just came out on iTunes and we have a movie date for the extended teams next week to watch it together - so we understand the characters behind our biggest robot rivals and neighbors.

Documentary about the wife of Lexington High's Robotics
coach and her extraordinary service dog
I had a hilarious talk with Jeff at our qualifier a few weeks ago - the same weekend a major article about the film had come out in the Boston Globe to promote the iTunes release.  Adele still lives with them - we are more familiar with Hector, the new dog.  But once a service dog, always a service dog. They are desperate for being useful to their owner and have tons of special skills to help in the household.  Adele does laundry.  Hard to believe but yes - the dogs are trained to do things to help Marty keep upright so her blood pressure doesn't drop from leaning over and laundry is one of them.  So Jeff says that when they go out - they usually take Hector and if Adele is home alone, she starts trying to prove to them that she is still useful.  She works on the laundry, takes food from the refrigerators, turns lights on and off, etc.  Demonstrates all her skills to 'win her job back'.   Hilarious.   Jeff was telling me how exhausting it has been over the last year to be competing with and against us while going to so many film festivals and premiers of the movie.

So rent the film and watch it - especially if you like dogs!  And you will know that the life of those in the film is interwoven with mine on weekends at competitions where we share the task of teaching 70 kids between us to be good people as well as learn robotics.  

You can embroider while watching it - until the tears start to flow!

Thursday, March 29, 2018

Robots = Life Part I

So those who follow my blog get a dose of needlework interspersed with my musings of how we can make lives better by being respectful of differences and that usually comes through my work in robotics and the small victories.

Life has been especially difficult this year and of course the robotics are the thread that weaves through it all for me.  In a week where a national news story of a random murder touched our team (a friend of one of the girls), one of our families was kinda failing apart emotionally at the six month point over the death of the mother, and our having to decide to move our child from his school because of racism against him - we had two state championships in seven days.  It was unbelievably stressful.  So I am choosing to talk about something that happened that will make you smile (over two blogs, this is the setup) and believe that good can triumph if we all try hard to look for it in others.

I am not ready yet to tell this year's Robot Story - as we aren't done yet.  But it might just top all other years in a way.  Full of life lessons and almost at times made for one of those TV shows on the Hallmark Channel.

The progression for the older team goes through a series of qualifiers to the state level and then super regional and then worlds.  We have a problem in our area with an extraordinary talented region of teams faced with too few teams on a whole to earn slots for advancement.  So while many regions can send 11-15 teams onwards, we are allowed to send only 5.  Last year we had 3 teams in the World's eliminations (ie. best 24 teams in the world).  So every year, more than one team that could have made the World's eliminations will be left behind at this level and their season will be over.  Tragic for those kids.  And you can imagine how hard they all work on their next season while the rest of us are getting beaten up for three more months in the current year competition.  It is making it fierce and has now spilled over to Vermont where they don't have enough teams to run a state competition - so they allow us to come up four hours north and compete in theirs for two spots.

So keeping the state of teams (about 1000 kids) in a balance where we are helping each other and respecting each other is a challenge for us adults - it could get really, really nasty.  At the state championship yesterday, one coach decided to run an hour meeting, closed doors for the rest of us to chat and get to know each other better.  It was a great idea.  Us adults all are in it for the education of the kids and so we were trading ideas and talking about the unique ways we all run our teams.  As my team has dominated the state robot game and world stats for several years, we have noted a really big uptick in nasty comments on social media forums as well as 'memes' with pictures of our kids (one shows my son as the multiplied evil guy from the Matrix, another with one kid floating as Yoda while driving the robot).  Comments run from how we are rich with private jets, the adults do the work, we cheat, and things like that.  Of course, not stating the obvious - the kids work really, really darn hard.  We have become the "Patriots" of our region.

A current internet 'meme' running around the FIRST social media where my son's head is transposed onto everyone like the evil guy in the movie 'The Matrix'.  What starts to happen when a team does well for awhile.
When it came to me, I had to be honest about how we 'recruit' and how/why I got into this, as for all of us coaches it is a thankless and non-paid job no matter if you were a teacher or a parent and everyone had an interesting story.  It is something we all believe in for some reason - so the coaches are often people of principle and character when you dig deep.  I stated that it all started to be a safe place where my dyslexic child could see that he was good at something and we invite only kids with dyslexia, autism, asbergers, ADHD, or some other sensory or medical disability onto the team.  The coaches were stunned.  I then talked about how we were an emotionally wounded team having gone through parent deaths, suicides, and now a murder and how that has made the kids extremely close and makes them have to work through their issues as well as be here all the time as a 'safe place' where they can bury themselves in their joint work.  I then mentioned how my job wasn't to teach them about servos or motors, it was to be a mom and feed their emotional souls and teach them about life and help them deal with what they are all going through.  I stated that our success was born of these difficulties.

I could see in the meeting and during the rest of the day that the tone had changed towards us.  Coaches were chatting nicer to me, other teams were coming over to look at our robot and while our treatment of them hadn't changed (we are really helpful and respectful to others), I could tell how they saw us had turned from the Goliath that kept others from moving on to something else more respectful and positive.

It just shows how you need sometimes to understand someone's story...

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Another Yummy Sampler

The embroidery gods are smiling on us for this Whitework course, I tell ya!  Guess what arrived last week to give up its secrets and provide more great patterns?

For some reason not as desirable to the antique market with the stain on the side.  (WHO CARES!) but the embroidery on this one is top notch.

I have been busy organizing the themes, figuring out the technical aspects and looking at how to diagram some of the techniques that really aren't known well.

Later in May I will be getting these out of the frames and doing some really high resolution photography.

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Snowtastrophe and More

I am feeling like the month of March is a wash.  As soon as we clear the debris or so off the driveway and get the power on, we get news of another major wallop to come.  (Apparently there is ANOTHER one coming next week)  It hasn't been since the all-time record breaking storms of 2015 that resulted in the snow mountains downtown from our 9 feet of snow we have been in this sort of situation here.  We have lost 2 days of school each of the three weeks of March so far!

So the latest is 22" of snow that dumped yesterday and we are on day two of no school this week.  Since we are leaving tomorrow for the Robotics East Super Regional, a snow day is both a blessing and a curse.  The kids who were working on a critical project can't get here.  The kids who were left had the phantom controller problem crop up again after 24 hours of perfect operation.  Three con-calls with the technical support, electrical diagrams flying back and forth, and authorization to open up the device and start measuring resistances of the circuits to give back to the manufacturer.  And FedEx again.  Hundreds of dollars of equipment to replace the burnt stuff is arriving in an hour again.  The kids who did get here through the snow were banging their heads on the wall.   They started working at 6am and didn't finish for the night until 10:30pm.  But a possible breakthrough.  This morning at 6am, they ripped the robot down for the fifth time in a week and started rewiring it again.  We pulled in favors from other engineers we knew over the phone to help us with this problem by brainstorming.  It is yet another example of how this group of kids just doesn't give up.  I would fly on any device they invent.  If we were stranded on a desert island in a plane crash - they would invent a speed boat from the wreckage and we would get home.

Last year's World Quarterfinalist Captain
next to our Finalist Captain trying to figure out what is
wrong with our respective robots while the snow raged.
On top of it - our rival robot team and friends at the local High School haven't been able to get in to work on their robot - loosing four days in a short cycle between the state championship and the regional.  So a desperate call came on Monday - could they join us in our house if school was called??  Yup.  So yesterday I had TWO robot teams here.  Today will be the same.  It was funny seeing two of the top robots in the world working next to each other in our basement and going through lots of problems - and helping each other all day long try to come up with solutions.  As all these kids were seniors - it is kinda a swan song of sorts.

In fact, in a move that said so much, they brought their robot and stuff over the night before and left it here so they could walk to our house through the snow.  I was stunned.  The same group that told us never, ever, ever to leave our robot unmanned because they had seen people sabotage before.  That was trust.  When you know our long history together, which I might write about, you would be heart warmed on how we turned the relationship around after year 1.

A month like this is tough.  I sit in a chair upstairs above the staircase to the workroom and embroider while listening to the noise in the basement.  Haven't seen my workroom in a few weeks.  I have gotten good at hearing the patterns of the robot and knowing what is going on.  Giving them autonomy to solve problems and run things - but listening to their comments and knowing when to go down and deal with the emotions of frustration or rising disagreement.  Sometimes coming down as an engineer and debating the solutions to help them.  It is surprising how having to defend your idea shows the holes in it or another solution that should be considered.  So you aren't giving them an answer - but a useful sounding board based on your own years of experience.  This is especially true when they are under a time deadline with a season ending problem as it has been the last week.  Yesterday I insisted that we put together a time line with any mechanical/electrical change to the robot along with every burnout and solution found.  It was so helpful as your brain just doesn't see where the problem really started and focuses on how 'it can't be that' or must be related to the latest error code.  It brought clarity to the desperate frustration and they got down to business of measuring everything - nothing was ruled out in the end as not being the source of the problem.  And yes - something we didn't think was it - was it and we found that the hardware company hadn't recommended the wiring of a unit correctly.  We dug up the obscure wiring diagram - and we are off again to the races.

It's a marathon through the snow.

Thursday, March 8, 2018

Snowmageddon comes back! No Embroidery Today - Just Mayhem!

The Snowpocalypse hit us again yesterday with the second serious Nor'easter in a week, with another on the way on Monday.  We had done well in the Bomb-Cyclone of last weekend and had no flooding.  But this one got us!

Last night we were all laughing a bit when all the schools closed for today and there wasn't any snow on the ground - the TV weather people all standing in town swearing that our town was at the rain-snow line and it was gonna get bad.  The kids had been sent home early from school, I did the traditional run-to-clear-the-store-shelves thing, and we were hunkered down.  And then it just drizzled.  We were so confident that we ate the fresh bread that was supposed to be the emergency peanut butter-sandwich meal.  Then it hit.  Yea.  It did overnight.  We woke up to almost nine inches of really heavy snow and trees everywhere snapped in half.

It was all looking good - we had missed out on the agony - we got plowed out and had a snow day with our huge robot push going on to get ready for our super regional on Thursday.  We had power.  Kids were pouring in.

And Mr. Mayhem visited...

At 9 am it went to hell.  The trucks were outside looking like they were taking care of a line down on our next door neighbors house (robot kid) and the power all of a sudden went off.  The power company made the choice of cutting the power to the grid of 200 houses instead of cutting the line to her house to make it dead (it was in the road).  Yes, 200 houses!

So I went off to another robot house with power to charge cell phones, computers, robot batteries and controls.  While I was there - I got a text from my husband telling me he had lacerated his face.


So he walked into the garage door that was opening really slowly (backup battery) while carefully looking at the ice he was walking on.  Sent me a pic of his face and it was a detour to meet him at the urgent care to glue up his nose while the robot kids were sitting in the dark waiting for me with their batteries.

So while they are operating on my husband's face - I get a call from our neighbor - the power company informed her that she had to get her own electrician, have them reconnect the downed line to her house, move the tree, then call the town inspector, and get them to inspect.  Then the inspector would enter the PIN number into the power company system and our neighborhood would be put in line with the rest of the 475,000 people needing restoration of power.  OMG.

That process starts tomorrow at 7am with the electrician (hopefully).  They tell us to expect days.  UGH.  So I abandoned the hubby with the doctor and started looking for a hotel with the lovely and bored urgent care receptionist.  She called out phone numbers and I found hotel after hotel without power or full.  Finally one that could take us tonight but full the rest of the weekend.  UGH.

Run home with Mr. Glue Face and the robot kids are ready to beat the robot with a hammer as they are so frustrated and in the dark.  The control system fried with some short.  Ok Fed-Ex, you are my friend and I call to order a new one.  I think Mr. Mayhem had gone into overdrive!  So they are told to load the robot and fix-it stuff in our truck to take it to the hotel.  We also take the load of clothes from the washer.  Seems one kid had loaded all his clothes into it before the outage.  They are wet and there is nothing to wear (of course).

At this point we realize with our neighbor that we are the only ones of the 200 homes that know what is up and we have retirees, handicapped neighbors, people with new babies, wheelchairs, etc just in our little corner so we go out and go door-to-door to spread the bad news that we will all be out for a few days - and they come out and start spreading the word too.  

Our street is a major pass through and some idiots start moving the cones to try to drive past them to go through.  So she and I got the bright idea of drawing the tree back into the street to block it.  The dead power line was down and it was getting dark and any SUV that did that would get caught in it and if they were lucky - it would snap and keep us from fixing it.  If they were unlucky, they would pull down the pole and kill themselves.  So it must have looked hilarious to the Comcast truck that pulled up - watching two middle-aged women drag a huge tree back into the street.  But he could see the issue, leaned out his window and said 'that was so smart - you just saved someone's life'.

So tomorrow we load up the robot field and stuff and truck off to another team kid's basement to work all weekend.  They have offered showers too.  Think we will sleep in the cold house - doesn't look too good on the hotel front.

They have called school again for tomorrow in town and will open our high school as a shelter.  The robot team hip-hip-horayed for that as our 3-D printer is dead - minutes before they were going to print the part needed for this weekend's work.  We will pull in a chit with the town team at the school and get it printed there!

But in the most twilight zone move, my youngest's school called at 8pm and REVERSED their earlier snow day call of 5pm.  Yea.  Never heard of that ever.  I am not getting up early (we are several towns away) and getting him to school where they had 20 inches of snow.  Just for the half day before Spring Break.  Yea.  No.  Not happening.

SOOOOO... if you don't get questions answered, orders out, etc. for a few days.  Ya know why.  It's the Robot-Zombie-Snowzilla event around here keeping me from it.

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

What's on my Frame?

I have been working on the Harmony with Nature casket non-stop for several weeks and am getting really close to finishing the front of the piece.  Thought I would show a picture of what it is looking like.  The lion is not finished - as his mane is just the under layer and the details for the lion aren't added yet.  But I am especially excited about the two flowers on the sides.  One is almost finished (I need to tack the 3-D parts down) and the other just has the under layer stitched.  But I think the extreme dimensional nature of the big flowers will be so cool.  Getting excited to get it finished!

Front of the Harmony with Nature Casket underway

Tulip that is 4" tall

Monday, March 5, 2018

A Heart Warming Trend - Good Stores with a Cause

One of our robot kids - a soul who is way older than his age - has a sister with developmental disabilities due to epliepsy.  She is wonderful, sweet and also a beautiful girl.  The other day, I had helped them with laundry for the week (frozen pipes) and she brought me the loveliest flowers and we had a long chat about her job hunt which has been a perennial topic for a few years.

We have known her now since she was in her mid-teens and going through first a high-school special program and then a college-age program to prepare her for living independently and gaining job skills.  While there are programs out there to train, the transition to actually finding a meaningful job is horrible.  I hadn't known this until the last few years.

While some people, notably some autistic people, are satisfied with repetitive and detail focused jobs, others such as those with downs syndrome are 'people people'.  Downs adults are highly sensitized to others emotions and will reach out to you in ways that are so cathartic and caring.  People with epilepsy sometimes can't drive and many others with disabilities aren't able to travel like that either - so they need to find jobs which they can get dependable transportation, limiting the choices.  And jobs are often found in grocery stores where the tight margins, bad hours, and no training cause situations that produce verbal abuse by the other employees to the disabled person (and often worse, especially for disabled women who are vulnerable and working the midnight shift).  I have no end of stories of things that have happened to her in jobs she has managed to get - and just getting in the door is a long story of trial.

We have all been trying to get her into an elderly home situation where she could work in food services or something there - knowing that as soon as she is in the door, she will never leave as the residents will just love her (I have in the past watched her interaction with older people - she is a natural).  She loves playing games and is such a sweetie that they will all 'care for her' - she would be a natural in a wing with the memory impaired.  I was thrilled beyond belief when she finally, after years, got such an opportunity a few weeks ago and we are crossing our fingers that it is a home run.

So it is with this day-to-day experience of watching a child who just wants so bad to be independent and contribute to other people meaningfully that I am soooooooo excited this morning.  I had noted that a new store opened up in town a few weeks ago and planned to visit.  It is a comic book store - and a type that looks so organized, clean and bright inside - with plenty of space for game playing, snacks and a drink fridge.  The type of bright place that a mom says - yes, hang out there.  My brothers have been involved or owned stores like this in the past and didn't listen to my suggestions to make them spaces a mother would let her pre-teen hang out in.  I always thought that they might be missing their mark in making it more of a young male adult space.

Store owner Omar Masood and store manager Sally Hoops
Well - the Boston Globe did an article on the store this morning and I about jumped out of my chair!  The store was founded by parents for their Down's syndrome child off a new model for businesses.  He is obsessed with super hero and comics and thus is quite knowledgeable.  Very often people with some disabilities focus on something they love and develop deep knowledge - our friend Ron Suskind's autistic son is an expert on Disney (Really - download the movie about them today, Life Animated,  and watch it - you will think differently about autistic kids afterwards).  The store has a neurotypical-abled manager and some regular employees but the rest of the employees are disabled and many are interns from our local high school program learning job skills in a fun and people-centric environment.  Brilliant.  Good Morning America just did a bit on them.  I hope when people from around the nation visit Lexington to see our history - they also visit Omar.

A business that is focused on providing a safe job atmosphere, promoting positive interactions between the public and disabled people to break down barriers, and giving them a place where their expertise can be on display is a god-send.  For us mom's in town - a place where our kids can go for a snack and a card game night and knowing that the staff is caring and also has a heightened awareness for inclusivity overall is a community dream.   It is now going to be our next place for a robot kid gathering - likely today.  I can imagine now my kid heading to the center with his robot friends for a break and screaming over his shoulder 'going to Omar's' and smiling.

You may have heard about the coffee shop called Bitty and Beau's that was awarded the 2017 Hero award by CNN.  An amazing story and the store has rocketed to success.  They are starting to think about franchising around the USA as a way to provide employment for disabled people that is meaningful and joyous.  They were brilliant about it, hiring managers who had business experience but also social work or special education experience as well.  So they are both manager and teacher/helper as well.  When I read about it - I had called our robot mom with the daughter and said 'we need a Bitty and Beau's in town' and we are just the right place for it.

And now we have something just as good and kid focused - and I am thrilled!

We need more businesses like this in communities everywhere!


Sunday, March 4, 2018

The Book will be Published!

Just to make sure everyone knows - the Fashioning New England book made its goal!  A significant reason it did was the readers of this blog and the Mary Corbet's group.  The days we promoted it - it jumped significantly in supporters - so thank you!!

Now I will have to follow up with the museum about their experience after it comes out this fall and learn and think about how I can plan for something like this in the future!