Day 45: Twisted Gravity

My muse has got a new assignment, which means it’s time to disappear again, very quickly. I don’t know if we’ll have access to anything digital (I hope not), so hang tight and we’ll reappear in a few days if all goes well.

Today I had brunch with someone I suspect I might be related to.

When Nick and I talk about science, we get so worked up about it that people around us ask to be re-seated, “a little farther away from those two, please.”

There’s something keeping him awake at night, and it’s very similar to something that’s been keeping me up late too. Said out loud, our conclusions sound crazy. So for the sake of both our muses, we’d better get together and hash it out for a while.

Drawing on the napkin won’t do, because the subject is the relation of mass and distance to torsion energy.

This is today’s napkin sketch.

As I get in my car, I hear a woman’s voice from about 30 feet in the air, in a grove of trees. Sure enough, there’s a young lady in a helmet and harness, doing something decidedly unsafe.

She really looks like she’s walking on something, but there’s no branch or platform under her. Just nothing. And she’s cute. Excellent.

Random assertion: Of course some of your scientific theories are wrong. So are everyone else’s. If they match your observations, keep them.

Steganographic data: 1874/0.6

Published in: on June 30, 2008 at 5:58 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Day 44: Robot Mayhem

Time for a cool surprise: I’m letting one of the Secret Plans out.

Today was pretty low-key (projects at home, and some time spent with our smart fun neighbors, discussing things which must remain secret).

So new rule: Any time I have a low-key day with no photos or dangerous activities, I’ll shed light on one of the items in the Secret Plans list.

Secret Plan #31: Wacky Robot Races

What if you could teach robotics concepts to a second-grade class? It turns out you can. In 1997 and 1998, I was the “robot guy” at the El Granada Elementary School science day. Afterward, I set up this website as a contact point for anyone who had follow-up questions.

Having no kids doesn’t get you out of science fair duty, unless you also have no neighbors.

The first year, I modified Buggo, a robot I had already built. I set him up with a system where 16 kids can drive at once, democratically.

wrr year 1 buggo

I also brought Max, and old Hero 1 robot, and disassembled him for the class, showing all of his parts and talking about what they’re for.

Lessons learned year 1:

    • Having kids shout out “Left! Right!” is less effective if they’re not all clear on which is which.
    • Robots can malfunction, but kids can too.
    • Keep the activities simple. Sixteen kids driving one robot are not sixteen times as efficient as one kid driving a robot.
    • Have a spare robot handy.
    • Rechargeable batteries are great for normal robot use, but use alkalines for special events like this. They last longer, and you can replace them easily.
    • If there is any way to make it operate without a tether, it’s a really good idea.
    • Teachers have the hardest jobs in the world.

The second year, I built three brand new robots, Pluggo, Cricket 1 and Cricket 2. These were all “light seekers”; shine a flashlight at them, and they’ll rush toward you (or away from you, depending on the setting).

pluggo cricket1 cricket2

Lessons learned year 2:

    • Kids really love flashlights. Don’t pass them out until you’re ready to start.
    • Talk first, then play. The two cannot be done in reverse order.
    • Teachers really do have the hardest jobs in the world.

Where are they now?

  • The kids: It’s eleven years later, so I guess all of those little kids are over 18. Yikes! Hopefully their memories of the Wacky Robot Races are as fond as mine.
  • The robots: Cricket 1 and Cricket 2 are dusty, but in good shape. They might even work. Buggo and Pluggo have long since had most of their important parts borrowed for other projects. Max needs a tune-up.

Here’s what they all look like today:

original brain is missing. I can’t remember which project it ended up in. It’s here somewhere.

had the same brain as the Crickets, but with a bigger platform. Now it’s essentially just a mobile platform with proximity sensors.

Cricket 1
and Cricket 2 probably still work. They were built in about a week, and their “brain” is really no more than a set of hardwired reflexes, based on a circuit board I etched in the bathroom sink at home.

is special. He needs a serious tune-up. His arm is in a box, and the last time he was actually powered up was to say something charming to my muse, when we were first dating.

Tip: Getting a home-built robot to tell her she’s beautiful works better then you’d think.

Random assertion: If you ever give 30 kids 30 flashlights, expect to lose control of the situation immediately.

Steganographic data: 1880/0.4

Published in: on June 30, 2008 at 10:44 am  Leave a Comment  
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