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FIRST Robotics

On Flourish

The FIRST robotics season has begun! I'm working with a high school team to build a robot in 6 weeks that will compete in sports-like competitions. Robots compete on random teams of three against other teams, in several qualifying matches and then elimination rounds. The theme for this year is "Aerial Assist", and the game encourages passing and teamwork among alliances, which appeals to me as the Iowa St. basketball team is currently 2nd in assists per game and makes passing a point of emphasis. A nice animation of the 2014 FIRST game is here.

I have been frustrated throughout the preseason of FIRST by the number of students on the team. There are about 90 kids that show up, and with only ~15 mentors the it gets pretty overwhelming. This is much larger than typical FIRST teams.

But, this year, in build season, we are dividing everyone up into "corps", with one mentor per corps. Corps are dedicated to different pieces of functionality in the robot, and combine students who work in mechanical, fabrication, controls, and software. For example, this year we have a shooter corps, a drive corps, a ball-pickup corps, an autonomous corps, among others. The autonomous corps is responsible for getting the robot to work during the autonomous period of the game: everything from mounting a camera system to detect which goal is "hot" to automatically driving the robot around to score the ball and end up at the best place for the teleop part of the game. I'm the mentor for the autonomous corps. Having a smaller group of students who are focused on a specific subset of the functionality is much more enjoyable than having twenty students who are good at code but don't know what task to be working on. Everybody can understand their piece better when the robot functionality is divided up.

We are also using Agile, which I've been advocating. Within Agile, teams write down a backlog of tasks to do, then plan for the week-long "sprint" selecting tasks from the backlog and committing to getting those tasks done. At the start of each day, team members talk about what they did yesterday, what they will work on today, and what is getting in their way, in a short standup meeting. The combination of splitting up tasks into week-long and then further into day-long tasks and taking personal responsibility to get them done also helps keep everybody focused and busy.

A new sport: Brainball (rules v1.2)

On Jumping on Entrepreneurship

I'm interested in activities that require a lot of physical exertion and a lot of mental focus. Chessboxing, for example, I think is fascinating. My friend Jesse Danger and I once played Bananagrams... but the bag of tiles was at the bottom of a forested hill covered in 3 feet of snow. It was a 2.5 hour game of alternating between the worst hill sprints ever and concentrating on building anagrams. Brainball, I suspect, is the natural evolution of this type of game.

Here is version 1.2 of the rules. If you have any feedback or want to play (and live in the Seattle area), please leave it in the comments or email it to me (zaccohn@gmail.com). I've italicized some of the rules that should be playtested and might need tweaks, but the fundamentals I suspect this is pretty close to the final version of the rules.

There's a square field comprised of 36 smaller, numbered squares. There are 2 teams, each have two players on the field at a time. Players have to pass a ball around and avoid being tagged by the other team while listing answers to a question (Example: Name 8 State capitals). Once they've called out all their answers, they try to "claim" a numbered square by placing the ball on it (again, without being tagged). 1 square is worth 1 point. Teams can also recapture opponent's squares if they capture all the surrounding squares (similar to Go or Othello). The game is over when all squares are captured or 60 minutes is up.

The first game is tentatively scheduled for Saturday, June 9th in Seattle. If you're interested in playing, email me and let me know! zaccohn@gmail.com

(Aside: Brainball is inspired by Mindgame, which is a fictional game featured in "Eggheads," an episode of Sliders.)

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