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Archive for Heroes

Celebration of Mind

Monday, November 1st, 2010

October 21, 2010 marked the first annual Celebration of Mind, an event honoring Martin Gardner on the occasion of what would have been his 96th birthday.  There were 66 events held on five continents around the world!

Here in Washington, our event took place at the Mathematical Association of America headquarters near Dupont Circle, and was co-hosted by Ivars Peterson, Dana Richards and myself.  It was a wonderful evening, featuring seven talks that reflected different facets of Martin’s interests and expertise, along with various collections of materials scattered around the room for people to peruse and play with.

We had about 75 people in attendance, including a number of students as well as adults, and the energy and good feelings grew as the evening went along.

The talks covered the topology, magic, puzzling, L. Frank Baum and the Wizard of Oz, skepticism, Sherlock Holmes and geometric sculpture as well as stories about Martin himself.  Check out the MAA youtube channel where all the talks are posted.  The talks are wonderful, well worth viewing!

Also, here is my flickr slide show of the event, and also pictures taken by Laura McHugh at MAA.

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FIRST Robotics Tournament

Tuesday, March 9th, 2010

This past weekend I volunteered as a judge in the New Jersey Regional FIRST Robotics Tournament.  Sixty one teams competed, coming from as far away as Brazil.  The competition was played in three-team alliances, alliances playing against each other to shoot soccer balls through goals with some significant wrinkles thrown in.   The tournament lasts two full days.  Team objectives are to win the tournament and go on to the national championship, and also to compete for more than a dozen FIRST awards celebrating both technical achievement and team attributes.  These are presented at closing ceremonies each day.

The game rules this year were more different from past years than normal, which meant that veteran teams had to change their robots more, to make more fundamental design decisions, than what they were accustomed to.  Early rumors from the practice field were that teams were struggling, that a lot of things weren’t working… and the first matches were indeed low scoring without much action.  Some of us wondered whether the changes had gone too far, if and how the players could adapt during the course of competition.

These issues hit the judges square on during our Saturday working lunch, when we caucused about that day’s engineering quality awards.  What to do with well designed machines that met most of the criteria for an award, but that hadn’t worked on the field?  Would they be performing by day’s end or not?

We needn’t have worried.  Teams scouted the field to learn best practices, shared information, worked together, analyzed and adapted, and the quality of play went through the roof.  In the end the judges struggled this year with too much excellence, we had more teams deserving awards than we had awards to give.

We had grand debates as well.  Should the Entrepreneurship Award go to the young team with the big vision, the experienced team that was rededicating itself to greater service or the team whose written business plan most clearly articulated their plan?  Should the Quality award go to the simple machine that performed at outstanding levels, the more versatile robot that had mastered several game skills or the robot that had outstanding machine quality features but was average on pit quality & team integration?

In the end it was an outstanding experience all around.  If you want to discover the best of young America, get to know more about FIRST!

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