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.

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