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Archive for Problem solving

What a Great Gathering!

Tuesday, March 30th, 2010

This past weekend I made my bi-annual trek to the Gathering for Gardner, a four day celebration of recreational intellectualism held in honor of Martin Gardner, who was for many years the Mathematical Games columnist for Scientific American.  Martin is a hero to generations of mathematicians, magicians, metagrobologists (puzzle lovers), skeptics, Lewis Carroll and L. Frank Baum scholars, and assorted polymaths, this conference is a true “gathering of the clans”.  And yes, it is as amazing as it sounds.

Martin Gardner (still going strong at age 95) was a hero to my father; I have vivid childhood memories of the yellow jacketed Mathematical Carnival, Mathematical Circus, and Mathematical Magic Show books that he kept on his bookshelf.  One of my grand ambitions when we started Binary Arts/ThinkFun in 1985 was to someday meet Martin… and one of my proudest achievements has been that we developed Visual Brainstorms 2 with him.  I have visited Martin several times and we are friends… wow!

Making this experience video was a lot of fun, thanks to all who were included.  And, to read more about the G4G9 experience, read the blog post from our own ThinkFun Puzzle Hunter, Tanya Thompson.

Categories : Problem solving
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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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Friday, March 5th, 2010

Hello World!

This is the official start of “Bill’s Big Picture”… my take on the whacky world of creativity, problem solving and general out of the box thinking.
Today is a good place to begin… I’m on my way to the New Jersey Regional FIRST Robotics Tournament, where I volunteer as a Team Attribute Judge. Read more about this at my guest post blog here.
Recognizing that very few people will be reading this post, I’m now going to do a little name dropping in the interest of learning how to create links and other basic blogging procedures…
I heard about FIRST nine years ago, when legendary engineer Dean Kamen (inventor of the Segway) pitched the program from the TED stage, and invited the audience to come see the world championships that Spring, which were being held in EPCOT Center that year. I loved the idea, my 13 year old son Sam loved the idea when he heard it, so we made the trek to Orlando and had a blast. Sam ended up interning for Dean’s company DEKA, in the Summer of 2008 and now works for TED, so that worked out pretty well!
Well, I’m reaching the end of my time at Union Station, my Amtrak train beckons. Trenton, here I come!

Categories : Heroes, Problem solving
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