November 24, 2013

Prior Lake Minne-Mini Regional Robotics Tournament

Prior Lake Minne-Mini Regional Robotics Tournament
Todd Swank's Diary Entry for November 24, 2013

Miss Sheri has been cleaning out the basement and stumbled across Luke and Avery's old Thomas the Tank Engine set.  She set it up to see how we'd all react when we came home.  Of course we played with it for quite awhile and decided it's way too valuable to get rid of yet.  So back in the basement this one will go!

This weekend was spent at the Prior Lake High School Minne-Mini Regional FRC Robotics Competition.  It's quite the show.

Luke and Avery were in the middle school robotics program the past couple of years, but we were nervous about them making the high school team because there's a lot of competition to get on it.  Lucky for us, they both made the team.  They have been hard at work with their team-mates building this robot for an upcoming set of FTC tournaments.  It's been weird for us because in middle school we were very involved in helping them build their robot, but this year it's only the kids.  Parents aren't welcome to help.  Who made that silly rule? 

When we showed up at the high school Saturday morning, I was surprised to learn that both my boys had their band instruments and were going to help perform the national anthem during the opening ceremonies.  I had no idea that being in band would give them opportunities like these, but needless to say I was quite excited to see Luke walking around with his snare drum.  Even if it was only a couple of inches above the floor.

The robotics band played the national anthem which whipped the crowd into a frenzy.  Then we were ready for some robot on robot action!

Before the tournament began, though, the Prior Lake Arts and Activities committee honored Joe and April Passofaro with a Lifetime Achievement award for all of their years of dedication to building the Prior Lake robotics program.  It was a well deserved award because these guys helped build an absolutely incredible program!

Joe Passofaro retired from the program last year when his oldest son graduated high school, but the program is still going strong after the school board stepped up and found a teacher who is now going to be the full time coach of the team.  Our old friend, Mike Lins, helped form a parent booster club for the program and that seems to be a success as well.  The program is definitely going to be different going forward, but it looks like the strong foundation will continue to pay dividends for the many students who benefit from being part of it.  I'm so excited that my boys are two of them. 

We helped run the concession stand this year and helped serve pizza to the hundreds of people in attendance.  We gave them chips, cookies, and pop also!

KING TeC's robot was a champion in several tournaments last year and even made it to the finals of the World Championships in St. Louis!  This was our first time to see it compete live and it didn't disappoint when it went on to win the tournament.  Last year's team figured out an ingenious strategy for the "Ultimate Ascent" competition which involved having the robot shoot Frisbees into various goals.  Here's a video of their robot in action during a couple of the matches we watched.

SMB Solution Providers Still Value Distributors, But Fall Back On E-Tailers

Although online e-tailers like Newegg and Amazon (NSDQ:AMZN) have gained ground with VARs looking to purchase technology products, IT distribution remains the dominant source of products for the channel.

Newegg, Amazon and TigerDirect are known for their cheap prices and convenience, however, VARs and solution providers are sticking with distribution, according to Todd Swank, senior director of product marketing at Equus Computer Systems, a Minneapolis-based system builder. 

 "Distribution adds a lot of value to the reseller community that they don’t get from Newegg or Amazon when it comes to training, support, financing options," said Swank. "E-tailers only focus on price, getting product out there and turning around inventory. Distributors are focused on helping the VAR and reseller community build their business for the long term."

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November 17, 2013

Legally Blonde at Prior Lake High School

Legally Blonde at Prior Lake High School
Todd Swank's Diary Entry for November 17, 2013

On Friday night, we went to see the Prior Lake High School Musical, Legally Blonde, starring the daughter of some friends of ours named Dana Bunker.  She played Elle Woods and did a darn fine job at it as she sang and danced her way through law school.

The high school students did a great job and the play stayed pretty true to the movie.

Except there was a lot more singing and dancing.  Which I guess are kind of important elements to have in a musical.

We ended up knowing a lot of the performers including our former next door neighbor, Greg.  I never knew he was such a song and dance man else I would have asked him to entertain me a lot more when he lived here.

It was a great play and it was made even greater when a couple of scene stealers strolled onto the stage.  I still don't know who received more cheers between the pup and the UPS Guy, but they were both pretty popular with the young ladies in the auditorium.  Lucky dogs.

On Saturday morning, we woke up bright and early to go help the Boy Scouts set-up the Christmas tree lot.  It's hard to believe it's already Christmas Tree season again, but that calendar doesn't lie.  

The boys had fun working and hanging out with their friends.  Emphasis on the latter.

Life has been pretty mellow around the Swank house.  So mellow in fact that for the first time since I can remember, I skipped doing a blog update last weekend.  I just didn't have anything to post.  Except for this picture of playing cards with some old friends of mine from Nor-Tech last Friday night.  I'm sure these guys would have been devastated if I didn't mention them on my website, so here it goes even though I'm a week late.  I hope they will forgive me.

Sunny doesn't mind that it's so gloomy outside.  He still wants me to throw him the dang ball.  At least the lake isn't frozen yet.

On Sunday, we took him to the dog park instead so he could go steal some other dog's ball instead.  It's a lot easier on my throwing arm that way.

Supply Chain In Crisis: One Disaster Can Have It All Come Tumbling Down

Todd Swank, senior director of product marketing at Equus Computer Systems, a Minneapolis-based custom system builder that depends on a steady supply of components, said he has seen the impacts of those kinds of disasters, and they are not pretty. For instance, he said the fire at the Hynix DRAM factory might have been overblown. 

"But vendors take advantage of any chance to increase prices," he said. We're seeing memory prices shoot up. It was the same with the Thailand flood. Component prices can double in a couple of weeks." 

In such a situation, system builders can be in a precarious position, Swank said. For instance, while a shortage of a components can significantly increase costs or decrease supplies, system builders cannot renegotiate existing purchase orders placed by customers. "You're damned if you do, damned if you don't," he said. "You have to roll the dice. You can't stock up heavy. Remember, prices are more likely to fall than go up. Stock up in a big way based on the wrong information, and you're stuck with high-priced components." 

Equus' Swank said the biggest issue in a disaster, at least initially, is whether suppliers are providing enough information. 

"Those that can tell you what's happened and what the current situation is are important," Swank said. 

That includes knowing the status of the lowest-value-add components of a solution, Swank said. 

"If only one part is missing, even a hard-drive rail or adapter plug, you can't ship a server," he said. "A guy who handles Intel motherboards told me there may be a component, such as a resistor or transistor, which if it were in short supply would mean Intel couldn't build a PCIe connector, which means it couldn't build a motherboard. The impacts are up and down the supply chain." 

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Follow Up Article: 

Typhoon Haiyan Slams Philippines, Channel Braces For IT Impact

"Disasters like this have a ripple effect that usually takes a week or two to really impact companies like us in the channel," said Todd Swank, senior director of product marketing at Equus Computer Systems, a Minneapolis-based custom system builder.

Read Rest of Article Here:

November 3, 2013

Spiceworld 2013 in Austin, Texas

Spiceworld 2013 in Austin, Texas
Todd Swank's Diary Entry for November 3, 2013

I had a very busy week, this time traveling to Austin, Texas for Spiceworld which is a huge convention for IT Professionals.  This is a target market for my company so I was asked to go check out the event and learn what makes these people tick.  It was certainly an interesting assignment.

There were 1200 people registered to attend this event.  Some of them were very interesting!

Very, very interesting.  I saw this guy later on in the lunch room without his mask and was surprised to see he had a face fall of facial hair.  I can only imagine how annoying it must have been to wear this mask all day!

I walked around the first couple of days without knowing anyone when suddenly I ran into my old buddy, Byron, who I used to run around with at the Intel Solution Summit tech shows for many years.  Byron lives in Texas and is a Spiceworks community member.  It was great to see him and we hung out together for the rest of the evening.

We both entered the Karaoke contest at the evening party which allowed us to sing with a live rock and roll band.  I didn't do very good, though.  The judges didn't seem to enjoy my version of the Beastie Boy's "Fight for your right to party!  I think they were more into country music.

When the show was over, I had the chance to hook up with Uncle Cliffy, my brother in law from a former life.  He moved to Austin a few years back so we decided to hook up for the evening.  Cliff surprised me with a special treat even!

Cliff was able to obtain us tickets to see the live taping of Austin City Limits which claims to be the longest running music program on television.  It appears on PBS and has featured some of the biggest names in music.  I'm not sure when our episode will be airing, but we smiled and waved to the cameras a lot when they spanned the crowd, so hopefully we'll make the final edit!

The band we saw was called Portugal the Man.  Unfortunately, I'd never heard of them before but they were a good group.  They had an interesting version of Pink Floyd's Brick in the Wall which I really enjoyed.  Although honestly, the whole experience made me feel very old.  All the members of the band and most of the audience were closer to my kid's age then mine.  When the heck did that happen?

On my flight down to Austin, I had a long layover in Dallas which allowed me to spend an hour with my sister, Tracy, and step-mom, Joyce.  Although our time together was way too brief, it was real nice to see them regardless.

I came home on Halloween just in time to see my boys preparing to go to the high school Halloween dance.

We embarrassed Luke and Avery by volunteering to be chaperones at the dance, although we were very good and respected their wishes by pretending not to know them.  It actually worked out pretty good for all of us to just ignore each other all evening!

On Friday night, we had the opporunity to see the finalists of this year's America's Got Talent at Mystic Lake Casino.  It was a great show!

We got to see the winner Kenechi Ebina, Cami Bradley, Collins Key, Jimmy Rose, and the Kristef Brothers.  As well as Tone the Chiefrocca singing B Double O T Y.  But our favorite was Taylor Williamson just like it was on the show.  That guy is funny!

To top the week off, the centerpiece of our backyard project was installed.  We got a screaming deal on a new hot tub on the last day of the State Fair and it was just too good to pass up.  So we stepped in there and now have a new hot tub which should help warm up some of those cold, Minnesota winter evenings.

They brought the hot tub last week, but they brought the wrong gazebo so we had to wait until this week before we could use it as the electrician couldn't hook it up until the gazebo was installed.  It was well worth the wait!

We had our friends the Zitzewitzes over for our first team bath, but we need to figure out a better way to take pictures in here in the future if we're going to be able to show everyone!