Hello, Internet! Cole here. It’s been a while since I wrote about a robotics competition, so I’ve decided to write about last month’s FIRST (that is, the name of the organization) World Championships. This year, we didn’t perform as well in District and Regional Competitions as we did last year; however, since we won Championships last year, we were allowed to attend this year’s festivities as well. This time, I rode with the rest of the team on the bus instead of traveling by plane with Dad.
Hello, Internet! Cole here. This month, at the request of my beloved matriarch, I’ve decided to try an interesting exercise: I’m going to respond to random questions. Hopefully, my responses will provide insight as to how my brain works; if not, they should at least prove entertaining.
I Read a Book
Hello, Internet! Cole here. Recently, I read a book called Population: One. It was about the author, Tyler McNamer, and his life experiences with Autism. In my opinion, the book needed a bit of work. I didn’t hate it, but it wasn’t without its share of noticeable problems. Naturally, I’m going to write my thoughts about the book in this article; otherwise, I would have just been wasting words with the other sentences in the article.
November 2016: An Unfortunate Loss
Hello, Internet. Cole here. On the ninth of this month, something alarming happened – something that could greatly change our nation for better or for worse. Depending on who one asks, this event is either a symbol of America’s triumph or its demise. Regardless of opinion, however, many can agree that the repercussions of this event are going to be serious. Since serious things are no fun, however, I’m not going to talk about it. Instead, I’m going to talk about my robotics team’s latest competition, Rumble of the Roads. (Hopefully I’m less likely to be swamped with half of America’s hate this way.)
This competition deserves some introduction, since it wasn’t a normal robotics competition. We were – and currently are – off-season; this means that FIRST isn’t directly hosting any major competitions. Thus, this was much smaller-scale than anything like Worlds. Fewer points were scored overall, and there were only 30 teams, including ourselves. Our own entry into the event was pretty shaky: we were invited by the leaders at the last minute after a large number of teams unexpectedly cancelled. As a result, only 12-16 members attended the event – mostly veterans like myself.
Despite this smaller scale of competition, I still had a good time. The ride there was pretty long, so I passed the time by staring out the window and listening to music. Once there, most of my time was spent alternating between watching from the stands and trying to help the team in the pit. Our robot wasn’t performing well; it often stopped during matches, and it handled very poorly. We were having a lot of technical issues that we couldn’t quite understand – more on that later – so I found myself drawn to the pit on more than one occasion. At lunch, a team member went out and brought us Chick-Fil-A. The food was a bit salty, but adequate.
After the qualifying matches ended, things got… interesting. We discovered that our gearbox, an integral part of our drive train, had one of its axles bent. This was why we couldn’t move properly. In order to even come close to fixing it, we had to take an entire side-plate off of the robot, which put us way behind schedule and caused us to miss our alliance’s first qualifying match. Some members of Triple Helix, another team on our alliance, eventually came and helped us try to fix it. In the end, though, we made only marginal progress and had to send the robot out to the next match at below-average quality. We did… surprisingly well in said match, but it wasn’t enough; the opposing alliance won the quarterfinals, and we were out of the competition proper.
Most of the team, including myself, left after that – it being a relatively minor competition, after all, we had little reason to stay. A few people remained for their own reasons, though, and it ultimately paid off; we ended up winning the Captain’s Award, which is, according to my coach, on par with the Chairman’s Award, and those people got to carry the thing back to PCS.
This excursion could have gone better, to be honest. We were given very short notice on account of being a replacement for another team, and our robot was already battered a bit from a pretty difficult season… the whole scenario sort of lent itself to disaster. I don’t really mind, though – after all, the things that go wrong are more memorable than the things that don’t. Even though we lost, I was satisfied by the competition. Besides, we won an award anyway. Thanks for reading, Internet, and I’ll be seeing ya!
Cole is our young adult monthly contributor. He is an incredible asset to all of us. He is in the IT program in Henrico County, has Asperger’s and is also an animal whisperer.
Phantom of the Byrd Theater
Hello, Internet! Cole here. Last week, the Byrd Theater hosted a fundraising performance of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s iconic play, Phantom of the Opera. I, of course, was in attendance, since this introduction wouldn’t make sense otherwise. The play was okay – not great or excellent, just okay. The actors put forth a clear effort, and it was quite impressive in regard to costume design and performance; however, the experience was irreversibly damaged by the play’s Second Half. I will explain what I mean by this shortly. First, however, I’m going to go over everything else; I could honestly talk about the Second Half all day, but that would be poor form without the context of the rest of the play.
I’ll start off by discussing perhaps the most solid part of the play overall: the performance. The play was staffed with both professional actors and upstarts, and the acting was firm all around; even the child actors had memorized their lines fairly well and didn’t overact – or underact – to a noticeable extreme. Probably the best of the troupe was the Phantom – the actor used a smooth, Victorian style of eloquence interspersed with loud, intense outbursts to create a frightening, temperamental character whose obsession knew no bounds.
In addition to a decent amount of talent, the performers also sported an exemplary wardrobe. The costumes were distinctly Victorian. Most of the men wore business suits and top hats, though some wore plainer clothing; the women donned vibrant, strongly-colored dresses of all shapes and sizes. Unlike in most plays I’d seen before, the characters changed their costumes throughout the play; the main character, for example, changed from a dark purple dress to a bright red one at one point. The costumes were never distracting, though – while they were elegant, they were never so elegant as to detract from the rest of the play.
For the most part, the stage was not so fancifully decorated. In fact, during the first half of the play, there was no real set decoration at all. My dad justified this initial design choice as the result a lack of space in which to put things, and I was not bothered by it because the Byrd Theater, with its old-fashioned, elegant style and its multicolored chandelier, more or less served as a backdrop in and of itself. In the Second Half, however, Dad’s claim was proven incorrect; two candelabras, a table of some sort, and a fog machine all appeared on the stage at once. (Believe me, this is far from the Second Half’s only inconsistency, and it’s hardly the most jarring.)
That’s all I have to say about the technical aspects of the play. Now, I’m going to discuss the narrative . . . of the first half. The first half followed an opera singer named Christine, who was being courted (coerced?) in secret by Eric, the eponymous Phantom. The plot thickened as her childhood friend, Raoul, fell in love with her and vowed to find and stop Eric from stealing her heart – for reasons both selfish and unselfish. Interspersed with this main plot was a subplot in which the characters portraying the new owners of the theater, who did not believe that the Phantom actually existed, failed to comply with Eric’s demands. This subplot ended with the Phantom sabotaging the chandelier in the middle of one of the other performers’ big moments, causing it to “fall” and end the first half.
This, of course, leads us into the Second Half. Before I begin discussing this segment, however, I need to get a few things out of the way first:
-Apparently, the running time of Phantom is normally somewhere around the range of 2 to 3 hours. The show I went to was initially planned to be two hours long without any sort of intermission – setting it on the lower end of running time right from the start. As such, it may have had to cut certain corners.
-This production being my only exposure to Phantom of the Opera, I’m not entirely sure which sections may or may not have been omitted for brevity. It’s entirely possible, in fact, that I somehow missed something crucial during the play that would have greatly augmented my understanding of the transition between acts. In any case, I can certainly speak for my own confusion.
The Second Half went as follows, directly out of the intermission: Christine was taken to a hidden chamber by Eric that was, according to outside narration (an element not seen in the first act), connected to another chamber where Raoul and some other characters were imprisoned. Eric proposed to her and set her up with a sort of mechanism with two switches, one shaped like a scorpion and the other like a grasshopper. She was told that the scorpion meant “yes” and the grasshopper meant “no”, and she was also told that if she selected the grasshopper, the building would be detonated with gunpowder. After a period of internal debate over whether the Phantom was telling the truth about the nature of the switches, Christine selected the scorpion, which flooded the chamber rather than exploding it. She then firmly asserted that she did not and could not love the Phantom, which finally broke him; he let her go, and he then died of a broken heart. Cue curtain call and confused Cole.
My biggest problem with the Second Half was that its connection with the events that came before the intermission was tenuous at best. The same actors played the same characters, of course, and the overall plot was about the same; the details of the sections, however, were completely at odds with one another. The first half let its events speak for themselves; the Second Half added voiceover narration in an attempt to clarify them. The first half had sparse on-set decoration; the Second Half saw the use of candelabras and a fog machine. The first half took its sweet time in establishing the details; the second half rushed its details on in rapid succession. Even if the missing elements of the plot were easy to glean from certain details, the complete difference in style would still create a high degree of confusion.
All in all, though, the play was alright. There was a clear amount of effort and love put into it, and it managed to captivate me during its first half with its sense of style and focus. If this play were re-performed, however, the producers would have to focus on connecting both acts. All in all, I’d give it a 3.5 out of 5.12 stars. Thanks for reading, Internet, and I’ll be seeing ya’!
Fresh New Summer
Hello, Internet! Cole here. It’s now the month of June, which constitutes the beginning of summer in the Northern Hemisphere. This, of course, means that I’m almost done with my first year of high school. I’ve only got the finals and some projects to do, and then I’m free! …At least until next September. Bleh. Anyway, I’m going to directly rip off the format of my New Year’s article and write about both my past experiences from this school year and my plans for the summer. (It’s lazy, I know. You try to work on a bunch of projects that the teachers gave for the sake of giving projects and prepare for finals at the same time. It’s not easy.)
Ah, freshman year. Where do I start? Presumably with an overview. This year was probably one of my better ones. I got relatively good marks in all of my classes overall, and most of my assignments were turned in on time. I even did well enough in Algebra II to constitute my receiving of an award for mathematical performance. I wasn’t as “popular” this year as I was last year among my peers – not that that matters to me – but I did make a few lasting friends, with whom I sat during lunch every day. I also performed in a mandatory one-act play for Theatre Arts I; several people have told me that I did very well, and I appreciate their congratulations. Perhaps most importantly, I entered Deep Run’s robotics club, Blue Cheese, which has provided me with both work experience and writing material. All in all, this was a very good scholastic year for me.
My plans for the summer aren’t laid out very well, as always, but I believe they will consist primarily of self-improvement. My summer will start with a work camp hosted by my church, where I’m going to help reconstruct houses for impoverished communities. I feel that this job will help to build my work ethic, as well as to enlighten me on the conditions of the poor; as such, while the camp will not be the most “fun” thing that I will do over the summer, it may be the most important thing that I will do. After that, I’m not going to do very much in the way of big outings, as most of the budget that could be used for such activity is going towards next summer’s planned trip to Costa Rica. I will, however, be attending a summer PE course (bleh) at Glen Allen High School, and during my spare time I plan to refresh my knowledge of Algebra in preparation for next year’s math course. For the sake of “catching up” to my peers in terms of technical knowledge, I’ll also attempt to advance my knowledge of programming through self-directed study. These activities will be essential for my self-improvement.
This was my first year of high school, and I consider it to be significantly better than my previous years in middle school. I made some new friends, kept my grades up, and even managed to win an award. Hopefully my summer will be better in terms of self-improvement than my other summers as well, though I doubt that it will be as fun. As always, I’ll be sure to write about anything that happens this summer that is interesting enough to write about. Thanks for reading, and I’ll be seeing ya!
After the tree was out of sight, the bees gradually rose from the grass level for the sake of visibility. The Cardinal could no longer be seen, but they knew that it was still not entirely safe to drop their guard. If the Cardinal decided to look for them somewhere else – which, although unlikely given the thing’s relentless nature, was not at all impossible – and found them, there would be no guarantee of another successful escape.
As such, the return trip was significantly quieter than the approach. It was more or less unconsciously agreed that communicating at this point would be too risky, and no one really knew what to talk about besides. The closest anyone came to real discussion was when one of the bees thought that they saw the Cardinal.
Eventually, they reached the colony. There was significantly less activity than there normally was, and they were initially scared that no one was left; however, the sight of a few stragglers proved otherwise. There was still time.
Flying into the hive, the bees saw the extent of the damage. The Infirmary Section was completely full, so many of the patients – and the medic drones trying to take care of them – were spread out throughout the hive. There were many bees on the ground, and it was hard to tell which ones were alive and which ones were… less alive, as there was very little motion from even the healthy bees – Where would they go, honestly? Hiverson mused. It’s not like anybee would leave the others behind, and at this point most of the hive is filled with infected bees.
Barnabee flew down to one of the medic drones. “Is-is Charlie okay?”
“Yes. He’s fine, or as close as can be considered. He’s held out surprisingly well, but the disease is taking its toll.”
“Can-can you… take me to him?”
“I’m actually treating him right now.”
“…Oh.” Barnabee looked down at Charlie. “H-hi, Charlie. I… I’m sorry. I didn’t recognize you.”
“It’s… alright,” Charlie responded weakly. “I mean, we all… kind of look the same.”
“T-true.” Barnabee looked up at the medic drone again. “We-we have the Silver Honey now. We can-we can cure the Skells.”
“…Really? Wait…” The drone looked up at Hiverson and Beeter, then looked back down to Barnabee. “…Are you the three who were sent on that fool’s quest? Because I can’t really tell.”
“Yes!” the three responded in unison.
“… I’m still not sure.”
“Sh-should I show you the honey?” Barnabee asked. “W-we can prove ourselves- ”
“No. I’m just a lowly medic drone; you’d do better to prove yourselves to someone else. If you are who you say you are, then go to the Queen and show her. She’s… not doing too well. If she doesn’t get help soon…” The drone stopped. Clearly he didn’t want to think about it.
“We’re on it,” Hiverson said. “Barnabee, Beeter, come on. We have to cure her.”
December 2015: The Experience of Being at FTC Without Actually Helping
Hello, Internet! Cole here. As many of you will know from my December 2005 article that does not exist, I am a member of Deep Run High School’s robotics team, 1093 Blue Cheese Jr. (Side note: Yes, that is our team’s actual name. It’s based on our school colors and a technique related to robotics, or something along those lines. Of course, this means we essentially have a monopoly on cheese puns.) I can’t do much since I know very little about robotics, but I regularly attend team meetings and extracurricular activities, such as this year’s Makerfest and a Lego League meeting (hosting, not participating). This month, I attended a very important extracurricular event: the 2015-2016 FIRST Tech Challenge, or FTC for short. For those unfamiliar with robotics, the objective of FTC is to build a robot based on the year’s game and then compete with other robots for the most “points”. Eventually, though, the semifinalist teams can form alliances with losing teams, effectively giving those teams another chance. I’m too lazy to explain what FIRST stands for or anything else about its structure, though, so if anyone out in Internet land wants to find out more about it, they can go to firstinspires.org. (Yes, I am advertising my robotics program, kind of. Is that alright?)
I woke up at 6:00 the morning of the competition and got dressed. Since I’m a member of Team Blue Cheese, I had to wear a special uniform to distinguish myself – specifically, a blue shirt with my team number on it; semi-formal pants; and an oversized orange chef’s hat with a cheese motif that was surprisingly non-ridiculous. (That said, I might just have a skewed perspective, especially since our senior members wear giant foam hats shaped like blocks of Swiss.) After I helped myself to something I shouldn’t have eaten for breakfast, my Dad drove me to the parking lot of Deep Run High School, where members of the team were meeting up; at 6:45, I carpooled with a friend’s mom, and we all traveled toward Arthur Ashe Jr. Athletic Center, where the competition was being held.
The competition itself was quite eventful for our team. Our robot actually performed terribly; the two phones that we used to establish a wireless connection with the robot ran low on battery, and the robot failed to do anything for most of the rounds until the situation was remedied. We eventually “won”, but only because we managed to form a proper alliance with a team whose robot actually worked as intended – namely, the Tuxedo Pandas. (Unconventional team names are, in my experience, about as common in FTC as team names that actually relate to robotics.)
My experiences at the event were mixed. I was more interested in our overall performance than in the individual matches. I tried to participate directly in the robot’s upkeep several times but was turned down because I am only a rookie and don’t know enough… yet. I can see their point of view, but I really want to help! As such, I had to settle for watching the event. At 12:30, I got lunch from a concession stand. I bought a hotdog and fries, as well as an apple so I wouldn’t feel like garbage after eating the hotdog and fries. I also tried scouting to help the team, but when I couldn’t find one of the robots whose data I was supposed to be recording, the scouting leader gave up on me and told me that he should scout instead. After the competition ended, there was an award ceremony for the winning teams, as well as for teams that were outstanding in other regards (enthusiasm, inventiveness, etc.). Once that was over, the teams left, ending the competition. I was sad that the event was over, but after about 11 hours at the school, I wanted to move on to other things. All in all, though, it was an interesting experience.
This season of robotics is hardly over. Our team was elected to the State level of the FTC competition, which will begin in a couple of months. Additionally, another competition – the FIRST Robotics Competition (FRC) – is going to be revealed in January, and our team is going to participate. (If you don’t know what FRC entails, please see the first paragraph.) I plan on attending those events as well, so I may write more about my robotics career in the future. Thanks for reading, and I’ll be seeing you!
A Very Special Day
Once every year, my family and friends celebrate a special holiday. We all get together to celebrate, and it almost feels like there is a magic in the air, an aura of brotherhood that encourages peace on earth and goodwill toward men.
I am talking, of course, about the annual Autism Society of Central Virginia 5K. …What did you think I was talking about? Christmas? It’s not even December!
…Anyway, I wanted to talk about my experience with this year’s race.
I woke up early that morning and went about my daily routine. Uncle Tim and Aunt Dana were already staying at my house so that they could participate in the race, and we had a sort of… breakfast arrangement on the counter. I don’t remember the details of what was there, but I knew that there were some Pirouette cookies in the arrangement, because I ate them.
Soon it was time to head to the starting square. I hopped out of the car and rushed to the site – and had to wait on everybody else. Many members of my extended family came, including Sam, the athletic child of my aunt Jan; Jason, the less-athletic but better-at-games son of aunt Shelly; and Brosef, aspiring lawyer and older brother of Jason. My friend, Chad Chaddington, and his mother also showed up to race with us.
When the race started, Sam told me he was going to race alongside me. Although he could easily leave me choking in his dust, he decided to keep pace with me because he didn’t get to see me very often. As we ran we talked about various subjects, such as the teaching of evolution in schools (Did you know whales evolved from wolves? It’s Troo! (maybe)).
After 35 minutes of running we finished the race. I returned to our starting point, feeling quite satisfied. Then I went to get a snow cone to replenish lost calories. I also saw my dad back at the starting point, and since I had never seen him pass me, I was naturally confused. He informed me that he was already back because he had never left. I was both relieved that I hadn’t been beaten to the finish by my father and rather disappointed in his decision not to run.
When everyone had finished the race, we packed up and headed back to my house to participate in the next, and most important, event: the after-race barbecue. As my family and friends came, I called Sam, Jason and Chad upstairs and I utterly defeated all of them at Super Smash Bros. we enjoyed a friendly game of Super Smash Bros.
That was how this year’s race went. I’m looking forward to next year’s race and particularly to seeing my friends again. I’d also like a camera to record the race; maybe I’ll get one for Christmas. See ya!