March 26, 2017

Eagle Scout Court of Honor

Eagle Scout Court of Honor
Todd Swank's Diary Entry for March 26, 2017

I've had a fascination with public speaking for some time and have been a member of the Oracle Toastmasters team for the past couple of years.  I decided to throw my hat in the ring for the local area international speech competition and was fortunate enough to win and advance to the district contest in a couple of weeks.  
Wish me luck!

On Saturday morning, we went to see my old Oracle buddy, Orlando Mazzolini along with his daughter and brother in law as they raised money for a local charity.  Billy runs Laker Outfitters the Under Armor dealer in Prior Lake and they were selling a bunch of cool merchandise for a great cause.  They're such good people.

Ten-year-old Sanya Pirani has spent the last three years organizing donation drives for various charities in the metro area.  You can read about her here.  She's a pretty impressive young lady and has collected more than 13,000 diapers for needy families.  Very inspiring.

On Saturday, Uncle Jerry and Grandma Leona came to town for a visit.  We went to Outback and had a darned good time.

The reason they came to town was to help us celebrate Luke & Avery's Eagle Scout Court of Honor.  We were very happy they were able to attend.

Luke and Avery celebrated their achievement of earning the rank of Eagle Scout with two other fine young men, Parker Jorenby and Adam Fowler.  We were very fortunate to be able to share this honor with two great families.

We have known the Fowlers for several years now and spend a lot of time together for Scouts and Robotics.  We really got to know one another the past couple of months while spending many hours together preparing for this event.

Parker is a year younger than Luke and Avery, but he is an over achiever who could have earned his rank of Eagle several years ago if he would have chosen to do so.  Lucky for us, he timed it the way he did and allowed us to celebrate the event together.  Chuck and Clarice are very involved in Boy Scouts so their input was quite valuable for planning of the actual ceremony.

There was a time where I never thought it possible that our boys would stick with scouting long enough to attain eagle scout status, but they continue to amaze and inspire us every day.  Miss Sheri and I are very proud of these boys.

We were excited to have Grandma Linda and her good friend, Mike, join us for the ceremony.

Prior Lake Mayor Kirt Briggs was kind enough to attend and spoke during the court of honor.  His words were inspiring and made me feel like we've got a great guy in charge of our home town.

Minnesota State Representative, Drew Christensen, also spoke at the event and informed us that he created a House resolution congratulating the boys for receiving their Eagle Awards.  We thought that was extremely cool!

We had several community leaders in attendance including our old friend and Scott County Commissioner, Tom Wolf.  He was kind enough to help present the Eagle jackets that were given to them by the Lions.

We were blessed to have so many wonderful scouts in attendance with us to celebrate the occasion.

The ceremony had a lot of speaking parts, so the boys thought it would  be a good idea to rehearse their lines before things began.

We created this video featuring pictures of the Boys' scouting adventures over the years and played it before the ceremony.

We held the event at the Savage Environmental Learning Center and it was getting filled to capacity before we started.

Before we knew it, the clock struck two and it was time for the ceremony to begin.

The Troop is boy led as much as it can be and we had several great young men help lead the ceremony.

Eventually the boys recited the Eagle Oath and their designation was official.

They bestowed Miss Sheri and I with Eagle parent pins and we repaid them the favor by helping them put on their new eagle neckerchiefs.

They received some pretty nice red jackets from the local chapter of the Lions to commemorate the occasion.

Each of the boys paid honor to mentors who helped them earn their achievements.  Troy Brown was with both Luke and Avery from the beginning.  He was recruiting Cub Scouts back when we were in the first grade and looking for a Pack to join and he was with both of them as they attended their Eagle Certification meetings.  Pretty cool for him to be with them throughout the entire process.

Our neighbor, Jim, was also very helpful to both of our sons when they completed their required Eagle projects.

Lisa Maldonado has been a mentor for the boys in robotics and was instrumental in helping them come up with the ideas for their eagle projects.  We certainly appreciate all the help she has provided them.

We had lots of friends in attendance to us help us celebrate the occasion.

It was a whirlwind of activity and I wish we would have had more time to talk with everyone who was kind enough to attend, but we certainly enjoyed the time we had.

My Oracle co-worker, Aaron Symicek, attended with his son who just recently crossed over from Cub Scouts to Boy Scouts and was excited to be there.  I'm glad they had the chance to join us. 

One of Chuck and Clarice's friends was kind enough to make us this incredible cake for the occasion.  Unfortunately, I was too busy taking pictures to even have a piece of it.  Sure looks tasty, though.


March 19, 2017

2017 First Robotics Competition in Peoria, Illinois

2017 First Robotics Competition in Peoria, Illinois
Todd Swank's Diary Entry for March 19, 2017

It's FIRST Robotics season again, so we drove to Peoria, Illinois for this weekend's regional tournament.

On our drive down, we were pulled over by the deputy sheriff in Waverly, Iowa.  Lucky for us, the deputy sheriff is none other than one of my oldest friends, Ron "Sugarman" Myers.  We let him know about when we were coming to town and since he was on duty, he tracked us down as we drove by his town.  Miss Sheri knew it was him, but said it was still a bit stressful being pulled over like this.

We went to Peoria to cheer on Prior Lake High School's FRC Robotics team, KING TeC #2169.  Here's the release video for this year's robot.

This year's game is a fun one called FIRST Steamworks.  Here's the official game video for how it's played.  The kids saw this video back in January and then had only 6 weeks to build a robot for the tournaments.  They're not allowed to work on it again except for a few hours before the tournament begins so it's always a lot of pressure to be ready.

This year, the team's strategy was to be one of the best gear scoring robots in the world.  Based on their results in this tournament, I think they are doing pretty well in this regard.

Being able to hang at the end of each match is also worth quite a few points, so that was another function they wanted to be able to accomplish.  I believe they achieved this goal in every match but one so they should be pretty happy with that performance.

Between each match, the kids bring the robot back to the pits to work on it.  It's pretty intense kind of like a NASCAR pit stop, but I was very impressed at how well the kids work together to accomplish what needs to be done in a timely fashion.

Avery is the head of programming, so it's his team's responsibility to make sure the robot can perform by itself in autonomous mode and respond to the commands of the human drivers during Tele-Op mode.  Other students are in charge of different departments like mechanical, electrical, drive train, and the other functions of the robot.  They have to strategize and negotiate on the fly which is pretty fascinating to witness.

Luke was the captain of the junior FLL elementary school team this year and participated in the tournament in a scouting and spirit role.  All the kids in the stands always have a real good time supporting the team.

This team is full of great kids who are passionate about supporting KING TeC.  It's a lot of fun coming to these tournaments because the kids are singing and dancing all through the day and the robot matches are extremely competitive and exciting.

There's a bunch of fun parents that we get to hang out with as well.

Even the coaches come up and hang out with us from time to time.  As you can probably tell, Bob on my right just LOVES getting his picture taken.

We had a great group of coaches and mentors this year.  Our team has a very solid group of students who pretty much design and build the robot all on their own. The mentors help challenge their ideas, make sure they are thinking things through and follow engineering processes that are used in industry today.  These kids are building skills that they will most definitely be using later in their careers.

On Friday night, we had a parents dinner at Biaggi's Italian restaurant while our kids were back at the hotel strategizing and planning for the next day's matches.

When we came down to the pits on Saturday morning, we were interested to see that several judges were stopping by to talk to the team in greater depth about the robot and it's technical capabilities.  Quite a few of the judges visited and spent considerable time with the team which made us think they had a chance to win one of the big awards of the tournament.

KING TeC performed very well in the qualification matches and ended with the 7th best score out of 40 robots.  For the finals, they were selected by the 2nd ranked robot to join their alliance and battled several other very competitive teams to advance to the finals.  But not before winning two extremely close matches in the semi-finals by the same exact score of 250-249.  It made us feel bad for the other alliance because that really sucks to lose two matches that were that close, but we were still happy to win and advance.  We ended up in the finals against the defending World Champion robotics team called Roboteers out of Tremont, Illinois.  Our alliance put up a pretty good fight, but ended up being defeated.

Losing in the finals did not mean we left the tournament empty handed.  KING TeC was awarded the Chairman's Award for the tournament which is considered to be the most prestigious award at FIRST.  It honors the team that best represents a model for other teams to emulate and best embodies the purpose and goals of FIRST.  This team has a long history of success and has done so much to promote STEM over the years.  This group of students and the alumni that came before them really deserve a lot of praise for the effort and hard work they've put into this program.  I'm very proud of all of them.

The team was so excited to achieve this honor.  It was really a great way to end a long and hard fought tournament full of so many great teams from schools all over the Midwest.

It feels like only a short time ago that these kids were freshman, but they are now the ones graduating in a few months.  The program should continue to be very successful in future years based on all the young talent I witnessed in action over the past couple of days.

And for the bizarre coincidence of the week, the boys rode home from Peoria on the bus with the team.  In the middle of the 7 hour trip, they just happened to stop at a restaurant for lunch in Waverly, Iowa.  My boys walked in and just happened to see the same guy that pulled us over on the way down.  

Deputy Sheriff Ron "Sugarman" Myers.

How amazing is that?

March 12, 2017

Twin Cities Auto Show 2017

Twin Cities Auto Show 2017
Todd Swank's Diary Entry for March 12, 2017

On Tuesday night, we went to Luke's band concert.  We do this every couple of months or so, but this one felt kind of felt bitter sweet because I realized it's one of the last high school band concerts in which our sons will be participating.  It again makes me ask, "Where does the time go?"

On Thursday night, I headed to Total Wine with my buddies Troy and Tom for a "Whiskey Tasting Event".  I've never been much of a Whiskey Man before, but it sounded like an interesting opportunity to learn and taste various types of Whiskey from around the world.  They taught us the various processes involved in distilling it and aging it in barrels.  The people around me all thought they could really taste the differences and used adjectives like smooth and tangy peaty and identified tastes like caramel, nutmeg, and strawberries.   To be honest, it all tastes like liquid fire to me.

I have no idea how anyone could justify spending $4000.00 on a bottle of whiskey.  There's no way it tastes any better than a $3000.00 bottle.

On Saturday, we went to downtown Minneapolis to the Convention Center and the 2017 Twin Cities Auto Show.

We went with our good friends, the Zitzewitz Family.  They're always up for a new kind of adventure with us.

There were so many fast and beautiful cars, we didn't quite know where to begin.

Technically this Polaris Slingshot is a motorcycle, so not sure why it was at the auto show.  

Jeep had a really cool exhibit where they gave us rides in their various vehicles and took us "Off-Roading" through an indoor course.  

They even took pictures of us while riding.  Lucky they snapped this one when they did because I was actually screaming in fear throughout most of the ride.

Karl looks good in a Mercedes, but he has a tough time getting rid of this surprised look every time he sits behind the wheel.

I can see how this could be kind of an expensive show if I was one of those fathers who bought their kids nice cars.  Lucky for me, I'm not one of those kinds of fathers.

Miss Sheri has always dreamed of driving a new Mustang.  Lucky for me, I'm not one of those kinds of husbands either.

I tried to convince Miss Sheri that we don't need a new car at all.  We just need to talk the Zitzewitzes into buying one and then they can give us rides everywhere!

Ana isn't old enough to drive quite yet, but in a couple of years I'm going to trick Karl into buying her this vehicle and then she can drive Luke and I around also.  Our transportation problems are almost solved then.

Nice grill!

I want a job like this working at the auto show.  I'm just afraid I'd get too dizzy spinning around in a circle like this all day.

We looked everywhere we could to find Lego Batman, but he must have been taking a bathroom break or something.

I thought it was a pretty nice place to hold an auto show, but when I spotted the rat it just made me feel like the place was kind of dirty.

Toyota has a neat virtual reality demonstration where you could witness what it was like to drive around in one of their vehicles.  I was fascinated with it.

All was good until Luke was busted trying to drive one of the vehicles out of the show and the rest of the day went downhill pretty quick.