Life’s Tough, Get a Helmet

This Robotics competition was rough. The day before we had to leave, I got sick. The ride to Cleveland was five hours and the hotel room was infinitely smaller than the last one. I couldn’t play cards with my friends because I’d spread my germs everywhere. Best of all, anyone who heard I was sick and knew of medicines was giving me advice.

I went in for a little bit on practice day, but ended up overdoing it and missing all of qualification day. I sat in bed, watching matches via live stream and texting our captain strategies to use for our matches.

Oh, our matches. We had such hope going into this competition. We really did have a great robot this year. On practice day, we had two incredibly successful, high scoring matches in a row. It was like a sign that this was finally our time.

It wasn’t. Every match we participated in during qualifying was stacked against us ridiculously. No matter what we did to be successful, one of our alliance partners would cause our loss. We had virtually no ranking points, even though we were in the top ten scorers out of sixty teams at any point during the qualification matches.

The number one ranked alliance picked the other best robot on the field and left the rest of us with no course of action. No matter what alliances we put together, it wouldn’t be able to defeat the top two robots.

When I think of it that way, our losing both of our quarter-final matches doesn’t seem so awful. But again, we did all that we could and our alliance-mates let us down.

So, now the competition season is over, and with it, my time in Robotics.

Cleveland was certainly a ride.

But hey, life’s tough, get a helmet.

life's-tough-get-a-helmet

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Threes Are Traitors

This past week was one of my last FIRST Robotics Competitions. Next week will be my final one, unless we win and attend Championships. It was an intense emotional roller coaster of failures and successes. I have never had a smoother scouting program than this past week, and each of my scouters did excellent in their own way.

When I think back on this weekend, I do not want to be negative, as I am often prone to be. I don’t want to focus on the mistakes that cost us our win, or the system of ranking that doesn’t seem to make sense. I want to remember our captain coming to the stands to tell me that teams were happy to be in matches with us, even though our rankings showed us to be a poorly performing team. The smooth motion of a mustard-colored gear sliding up a jiggling peg under the steady hand of our pilot. Dancing in my seat next to my friends. Being the first team picked for playoffs outside of the top eight ranked teams. Most importantly, many games of Fish Go.

I want to remember sitting in the third floor hallway, shuffling cards with my friends and trying to muffle the giggles that came from many sleep-deprived nights and the exhaustion that our responsibilities bestow.

I don’t know why a simple game of cards (or countless games of cards) is so important to me. I won’t remember who lost or who won. But they feel significant. Sitting on a strangely patterned carpet in a hotel hallway for over an hour with a mix of exhaustion induced laughter, serious thought, and grave game-play errors is important to me.

Aces are our favorites, except for the twos who take them.
Threes are traitors.
Fours and sevens stick together, unless they meet a ten.
Fives run off with face cards frequently.
Sixes do the same.
The eight of hearts will always be the most valuable to us, even though we aren’t sure why.
It’s hard to lose a nine.
When you both lay down Jacks, Queens, or Kings, the tension runs for the one, two, three, flip.
Especially when you lose your ace to a two.

Administrator

At first, when I noticed this problem, it seemed insignificant. Small. A slight discomfort. However, the more I mull over it, the issue seems to expand: so much, in fact, that it could affect my entire future.

Isn’t that a solemn beginning?

When I first participated in Robotics, I seemed to be in my element. Not to say I haven’t grow into a specific place within the team over time, but I simply enjoyed it. I remember being incredibly excited about kick-off and build season, and competitions. I remember when I would be so possessed by what would happen at competition, I could get up in the morning at an early hour.

I’ve not only lost that original wonder, but I also seem to have lot my nosy curiosity about new members. Once upon a time, I would verbally and electronically badger people about themselves. Name? Grade? Most importantly, favorite color? I knew the first, last, and (occasionally) middle names of every member. I knew them. I knew their likes and dislikes, and how to strike up a conversation.

However, I’m in a new role now, within the team. I’m in the administration. I have important jobs to do before and after meetings. So, instead of greeting people and interrogating them like I used to, I do my job. My job is done well. But I don’t know the names of the people walking through the door. I couldn’t tell you their favorite colors or their likes-and-dislikes if it were life or death. I don’t know any of these people.

At first, this bothered me a little bit. So what if I don’t exactly know them? That’s what build season is for. Then again, I’m going to be just as busy during build season with my responsibilities. Who says I’m going to have time to get to know people?

It didn’t hit me until moments ago that this is what I plan to do with my life. Administration. I plan to be in business, and to use my giftings to be an administrator. However, I’m also gifted in getting to know people and making them feel welcome. I don’t want to have to choose between those gifts. I need to use both.

It’s become a personal challenge, in these minutes as I sit here writing to you all. I need to know these new members. I need to know them just like I used to know my team, because they are my team. Then maybe, when I enter the real world, I’ll be just as skilled at being an administrator and a welcoming face at the same time.

Some Things Never Change.

Today, my Robotics team moved out of the building we’ve met in since our infancy into a new, larger space. In fact, we also held an Open House on the same day. I was out of my home from 8:30 AM to 9:30 PM. It was a humongous day.

I’m the only remaining member who’s been around since year one. I remember the first time I walked into that building. I sat at a table in the middle of the room. The place was nearly empty. Along the walls, there were giant pieces of paper stuck, complete with scribbles. The members were doing some kind of exercise, but I knew that I wanted to be there.

Over the years, we’ve accumulated a lot of junk. Never been quite so immaculate as that first year. Until today.

I remember when he joined the team; one of two members still remaining from year two. I went to school with him, and I was terrified to approach him and ask his name. Four years of friendship has taken care of that problem.

His first year, we went around and labeled everything in the building that belonged to us. All we needed was a label-maker and sufficient tape. Those labels lasted a long while. Today, as we were marking our territory, things had changed. We no longer have the label-maker. Yet, there he went, printing out signs and posting them with blue tape. I took a few moments to help him. I guess some things never do change.

I got kind of choked up today, as I turned off the lights. Nobody else was. Everyone was happy to be out of that basement space; the regulations and peeling paint. All I could see were the memories I’d had there.

The time that Justin ran backwards down the hall with his glass of tea. Chuck’s coffee cup. Cutting wood in the hallway, and scaring someone with my odd questions. Sitting in the windowsills. The bag of bag of bag of bags. Tripping over a vacuum cord and almost doing a face-plant into the carpet. Pulling out one final chair, and releasing the rest to clatter onto the floor. Labeling tools for hours with duct tape; strategy meetings in the kitchen; silly pictures of drinking hot chocolate. Scouting game shows and improvising with chairs. Sharpie massages, birthday cakes, pounding the bubbles out of a plastic mold set. Karen’s preference for PB&J to a hot meal.

My friend, dancing on a picnic table. Chasing the ducks by the hatchery. Testing our shooters in the yard, while little boys scurried to gather the fallen frisbees. Patrick throwing a ball at my head. Pictures while eating, laughing while eating, sitting together while eating. A little boy’s bet of a Kindle to the winner of an arm-wrestling match. Strategy lessons, reading in the fireplace, trying to sew together our bumpers. Our hushed conversation in the place where the chairs sit. Pizza deliveries; kick-off day buzz; the ring of the doors when they were left open. Standing outside in the bitter cold, while Jared wore his shorts. Pounding on the door to be let in; keys knocking on the windows.

Following my friend for a job to help clean up. Our squirrels, Crook and Nanny, who chased each other around the tree. His promise for the functionality; Josiah’s hiding from the camera; naming everything we ever saw, including Oscar the Spork (who was actually a spoon). Trying not to cry in the bathroom. Vacuuming and vacuuming up sawdust, hoping to keep things clean for only a minute. Our first fight; him cutting in the hallway; my cousin throwing a frisbee just to spite me. Writing notes and notes for meeting after meeting. When she accidentally hit the light-switch and created the perfect lair lighting for filming. Writing stories and articles in the corners of dark rooms. Being hushed; ironing fabric; rewriting lyrics for questionable songs that we didn’t want in our heads. Sitting on the steps, sharing cookies. Silly conversations about boys and dances. Rolling my eyes equally with and at my friend. Vader the puppy and Sable the puppy. Captain Safety scripts in the hallway.

So much of me and my friends are invested in that building. While I’m thankful for new space, I still hurt. The new is exciting, but the old is special.

My FIRST Parody

So, recently, I got the chance to release to YouTube my very first parody. Okay, technically, it’s my very second parody, but it’s the first to make it to YouTube.

This was an exhaustive process. Once I wrote it, I had to learn it on guitar. When my mics came in the mail, I was using all my tech-people resources to help me record the audio in the best quality. I mixed it myself (and that’s actually a great story for another time). I got the lyric video put together. Everything, I did myself, save the input I asked for from others.

And it’s finally here. If you’ve ever wanted to know what it’s like to join a FIRST team, I think I’ve captured the essence of the experience in this song. New experiences are scary, but there’s a lot to love about FIRST.

So, if you’d like to check it out, you can click right here.

It would mean the world to me. Getting this song together was so much work, and knowing that someone enjoyed it would be amazing.

 

Sleeping Bag Delivery Boy

I’d packed just enough for the weekend. I had one extra shirt in case of emergency; a sweatshirt and a pair of sweatpants for the evening campfire; and a single bath towel. I threw my pillow in my duffel and drug the bag to the van: it was time to go to camp.

In the frenzy of getting my belongings to the car, I’d forgotten one crucial element. My sleeping bag.

When I arrived at camp, I grabbed a top bunk and slapped my pillow on it: my pillow, my only bedding. I thought I’d be fine, but I think I fell asleep around 4 AM. (I forgot my clock, too.) On the bright side, I found the best way to retain my body heat (although it made me nauseous). And, I awoke at a lovely 7:30 AM and went to the kitchen to help serve breakfast, where I had two tables of hungry teenage boys who wanted more bacon (but that’s a story for another time).

Saturday afternoon, we cleaned the campground and had a quick meeting before a ton of free time.

“Do you still have your Dutch Blitz cards?” I asked Jill.

“Yeah, I do!” she replied.

I rushed to the game room to drop off my backpack. I stepped back into the gym to find Jill again, and my eyes locked on a wandering puppy, carrying a sleeping bag and looking absolutely lost.

It was my friend. My friend, who hadn’t been to camp in years. My friend, who’d gone to a robotics event with my parents that morning. My friend, who I hadn’t seen in months, had come to the campground, and searched the buildings and various lawns for signs of English-speaking life.

Dad had asked him to drop off my sleeping bag at camp, since it was on his way home. And he did, even though it was completely out of his comfort zone. He’d tried finding out where to go by asking the Spanish-speaking guest group, and had received the answer, “This is not who you’re looking for.”

So, I slept in my sleeping bag that night. Hadn’t slept better in days. And I didn’t even care that I had to wrap it up the next morning.

Regrets

There is something about knowing you did your best that is freeing. Regrets usually like to pop up and nag you, remind you that you could have done better.

I traveled to Tennessee for a Robotics competition this past week. It was our last competition, and we were determined to win. It was a little awkward, being so far out-of-state, but most of the staff were very friendly.

Long story short, we didn’t win. Our competition season is over now.

Yet, our finish filled me with so much pride, I nearly burst.

So many obstacles stood in our way, and there we were. Facing off the first and second ranked robots. A giant stood in front of us, and I knew I had to try and bring it down.

We didn’t bring it down. But we hindered it so much that its lowest play-off score was when it faced against us.

Did we lose? Maybe everyone else says we did. I say, we won. We did our best. My voice was heard. We went down fighting, and I am very, very happy.

There is nothing to regret.

Losing with Dignity

I was at the Greater Pittsburgh Regional for FIRST Robotics Competition this past week. I missed some school, missed out on a trip to the Creation Museum, and missed sleeping in my own bed. However, the actual event itself presented such a huge reward that all that “missing out on” was justified.

Our robot has been worked on tirelessly since the start of build season at the beginning of January. Most teams stop at “bag day”, when your robot goes into a bag. My team builds another identical robot to continue testing and preparing for competition. We added more features, practiced endlessly, and were confident going into Pittsburgh that we were one of the better teams.

The qualifying matches we had didn’t all run smoothly, but we managed to come in a final placement of fourteenth out of fifty-two. We were thrilled! Confident in our ability to be picked, we sat through the selection process for playoffs very calmly. Just kidding, we were totally stressing out.

One whole round of picking went by and we hadn’t been selected. Out of fifty-two teams, only twenty-four would be moving into the playoffs, and there were only eight picks left.

When it got down to three picks, we were terrified. There are so many numbers on a list, and you know you’ve done everything in your power to stick out. When the third-ranked alliance called our number, we screamed. We clapped, thundered, shouted, stomped, waved!

My job is to lead scouting. I’ve been met with surprising and disheartening opposition this year, but my scouters understood how important their job was, and we had helped our team to get to this point. We knew from our data that our alliance members were just what we needed to win this competition. They complimented us perfectly, and I anxiously watched the matches, searching for flaws in the other seven competing alliances.

We won our quarter-final, setting the regional’s best score. Then we won our semi-final, and my scouters warned me about a particularly vicious robot on the opposing alliance. The last hurdle we had.

We could beat them easily.

My team has never won a regional on its own merits. Last year, we won in Chesapeake with the help of our alliance. We’ve almost always made it into playoffs, but we had a clear opportunity to win a regional, our first regional of the year, and go to World’s in St. Louis again.

The first match went smoothly, except for an opposing robot losing connection in the middle of the match. I felt terrible for them; to have a “rookie” mistake in the middle of the finale is disheartening; and no one wants to win because their opponent wasn’t at their best.

The second match didn’t go smoothly. I watched as our score didn’t climb, and I thought to myself, “What are we doing wrong?” When I realized our mistakes, I bolted from the stands to the drive team. We only had one more shot to win this competition; we were supposed to win the second match. If we lost again, it was over.

I spit out my advice in a terrible hurry, out of breath, and my friend understood as he returned to the robot. My other friends and I stood by the sidelines, praying, as the final match went on. We knew the odds were against us now, because of two little mistakes and one very aggressive robot.

And then we lost.

The most disappointing feeling settled over us, as we’d had this regional in the bag, and little mistakes cost us everything. Some things we could have fixed, some things we couldn’t have. 

We congratulated the opposing alliance, the ones who had rammed our fellow robot without a penalty, without a care, who had damaged it. They ignored us over their cheers. They stepped on us, a foe efficiently eliminated through a lack of fair play and one key strategy move.

It was hard, to sit in the stands, knowing we technically won, but in reality, were in second place. To hear them cheering, to hear the taunting celebration of, “We are the champions, too bad for losers” music jamming in the background of our pain. It was especially hard for me; me, who had predicted what could lead to our downfall and had done everything in her power to help.

Yet we put the past behind us. We have a lovely silver medal with a pretty red ribbon attached to it; another color to add to the roster along our blue from last year. A trophy for winning the Quality Award, one of a handful of awards to be given out to excellent teams. And somehow, this silver medal is beautiful to me. We earned that medal; we weren’t dragged along. We pulled our weight, did everything in our power to assist our teammates, and we won, in our hearts.

Of course, our hearts won’t get us to St. Louis, but that’s what the Tennessee Regional is for in a few weeks.

I think we did a great job at losing with dignity. And hopefully, we’ll be able to win with dignity at our next competition.

Kick-Off Ramblings

Every year at this time, my world turns upside down. I sit in a crowded room stuffed with nerds. We huddle around a projector, eat pizza, and hash out ideas excitedly for the next six hours.

It’s kick-off. The start of the FIRST Robotics Competition season. The game reveal. The design options. The functions.

The inability to concentrate on anything else for the next six weeks and beyond.

This year, the game is incredibly complicated. As a leader in strategy and scouting, I’ve already been presented with several challenges in just two days.

Yay…

This year, I would love for us to be an AMAZING team. I want us to have everything together. To get to the World’s competition on our own merits.

Unfortunately, that’s incredibly complicated.

Here, see for yourself.

Isn’t that great?

Anyway. I’ve spent so much time thinking through strategy in the past 36 hours or so, I may have broken my communicator.

This is my documented challenge to myself to make sure we do our very best this year.

Goodnight…