April 30, 2017

The FIRST Championship Robotics Tournament 2017 in St. Louis, Missouri

The FIRST Championship Robotics Tournament 2017 in St. Louis
Todd Swank's Diary Entry for April 30, 2017

Hang in there, baby!

We took a road-trip to St. Louis this week, so we had to stop and see our old buddy Ron "Sugarman" Myers and his family along the way.  Sure it was only for like 5 minutes, but quite a bit of fun none the less.

The reason we headed to St. Louis was for the 2017 FIRST Robotics Championships.  More than 400 FRC teams from around the world were there to compete.

Luke and Avery have been on the robotics team for 6 years and their high school careers are just about over.  Being here was a great way to go out on top!

We checked in on the kids in the pits from time to time.  It's always very intense down there as the students work on the robot and their tournament strategy between matches.  I like to go down there and pretend like I know what I'm talking about, but they see right through me pretty quickly.

Head Coach Mike Lins has a son that was on Luke and Avery's team back in 7th grade and the boys learned a ton from him back then.  It's been nice that they have had the opportunity to work with him again the past couple of years that he's been head coach.  

We had the chance to connect with friends from other teams in Minnesota including Mark Lawrence who is the Minnesota Regional Planning Committee Chairman.  He's always been a great supporter for our team.

I also had the chance to spend a few minutes with Yoji Shimizu who is the Assistant Dean at the University of Minnesota.  He was the MC and game announcer for the final competition on Einstein field.  He's a great guy and a lot of fun to watch when he announces a tournament.

We  were there to support Prior Lake High School FRC Robotics team KING TeC #2169.  They had a really great competition this year!

The Chairman's Award is the highest honor given to any team at a FIRST Robotics competition and we were so excited when we found out that KING TeC was named one of the three finalists for the Championships.

The team had a phenomenal performance in the competition as well.  There were 6 fields running for 2 days of qualification matches and then a final tournament was run from the winners of those.  KING TeC ended up in the finals on Curie field, but unfortunately lost so they didn't get to advance to the ultimate championships on Einstein field.   They had an absolutely amazing season and we were so proud to have the opportunity to watch them do as well as they did.

Avery was the head of programming this year so we didn't get to see him much for the three days of the tournament.  Every time we'd go to talk to him, he had his head buried in his laptop computer and didn't seem to be in much of a mood to chit chat with his parents.

We did manage to sneak in a couple of photos of him and his teammates.

These were Avery's programming mentors and were just so awesome.  He's learned so much and I know it's going to help him greatly when he goes to college next year to study computer science.

I think the highlight of Avery's tournament was when he and a couple of the other department heads earned "Pit Crew" status and were allowed to go on the field during the matches to help their team.  Normally, only the drive team is allowed on the field so this was a fun, new experience for him.

Luke was the captain of the JR FLL team this year and worked with the elementary school students during their season.  His role on the FRC team was to support them with scouting and spirit during the matches.

He also has become quite the connoisseur and I can always count on him to tell me where to get the best food in any of the arenas we visit.  It was pretty common to find him visiting one of the various food stands around the dome.  That boy sure likes to eat.

Spending three days at the tournament gave us a few opportunities to go out and explore downtown St. Louis.

Our favorite stop was to the City Museum which is a MUST Stop for anyone visiting St. Louis for the first time.

It's kind of hard to explain what the City Museum is because a lot of it just seems like old industrial equipment that was given to some eclectic artists and re-purposed into fun exhibits for the whole family.

This old airplane is suspended about 100 feet in the air and seems to be about 100 years old and kind of rusty.  I'm sure it's safe for us to be climbing around in.  At least that's I kept telling myself while we were up there.

There were a lot of passages and crevices that were obviously designed to be only passed through by children.  I did my best to avoid those, but sometimes it wasn't evident where they were.

The kids had to miss Prom to go to the tournament, but luckily for them, FIRST holds a "Roboprom" for them to join while they are down there.  These were some of the dudes dressed and ready to go.

We wanted to go to the arch to get pictures, but unfortunately the sun went down before we could arrive so it's a little hard to see in the background.

We had 11 seniors go to the tournament and they were ready to have fun.  It's hard to believe this will be their last chance to attend this tournament as participants.

We hung out with a lot of fun parents while our kids were off doing their things.  We explored a variety of restaurants and taverns during our three nights in St. Louis.

 We also shared breakfasts together since we had to get up and be at the arena by 7am every morning so they could fit in all the matches.  It was actually a pretty exhausting week when I come to think about it.

We had a bunch of fun with these other families.  They're all really good people.

When you mix in the mentors and students, there's just a lot of good people in general that we spend time with at these robotics tournaments.

FIRST Founder and Segway inventor, Dean Kamen, is like a god when he walks around the arena.  It reminded me of Tiger Woods at the Masters the way people swarm around this guy.  He spoke for a while at the closing ceremonies and always has a very inspirational message around the benefits of STEM to help these students achieve their dreams.  He has built an absolutely incredible program.

KING TeC's chairman's video was played for the entire audience as part of being one of the three finalists for the Chairman's award which was very cool.  Unfortunately for us, the award ended up going to another well deserving team, but just having the opportunity to be a finalist was an incredible achievement that I'm sure our kids will remember forever.

2017 members of KING TeC.

2017 members of KING TeC with their coaches and mentors.

2017 members of KING TeC with their coaches, mentors, and parents.

Luke, Avery, and Jackson have been on the same robotics team for 6 years now.  It's kind of sad to think it's all coming to an end unless they can all join some kind of robotics team together next year in college.

This was the Fantastic 8.  We car pooled together back and forth to the tournament each day.  On Friday morning while we were driving to the tournament, we were coming out from under a bridge when suddenly a massive bolt of lightning struck somewhere in front of us.  We were all blinded by the light for a split second and then shortly afterwards had another unique sensation when the thunder boomed and we could all feel the shock-wave roll through us afterwards.  Ted speculated about us being affected by the radiation from it which I'm guessing means that we will all have some secret super powers that should start appearing any day now.  I can't wait to see what mine's going to be!

April 23, 2017

Springtime in Minnesota 2017

Springtime in Minnesota 2017
Todd Swank's Diary Entry for April 23, 2017

It was a beautiful day in Minnesota on Saturday so I woke up early with the desire to get outside and enjoy the weather.

We bought a couple of these new bird feeders that suction cup to the outside of our windows so we can see the birds up close.  I absolutely love them!

You can see them here if you're interested:

I saw a Goose nearby me on my morning journey and he looked like he really wanted me to take his picture.  So I walked pretty close to him, but then he started honking at me really loud so I stopped.  Maybe I mis-read his desire to have his picture taken.

When I came home, we thought it would be fun to take the dogs swimming.  They always love to do that.

I don't know how much time Ole Sunny has left with us.  He turns 12 this week and has started having some heavy breathing issues.  He wheezes constantly and really has stamina issues.  He's been diagnosed with Laryngeal Paralysis and we're trying to decide if it makes sense for him to have surgery or not.  If he does have it, he'll never be able to go swimming again, which just sucks.  But it's hard to hear him struggling to breathe so much, so we're just not sure what to do with him.  It is no fun to get old.

Luke talked me into buying him a new drone this week even though we've never had much luck with them.  They always get lost and broken.  This time was no exception:

This is the drone we bought on Amazon:


In less than 24 hours after opening it, the drone was lost in the lake. It's too bad because we were having fun with it until it hit the water and was lost forever.

My old buddy, Orlando, brought his daughter down to see us sink drones and take our dogs swimming.  I think she enjoyed it.

Orlando likes to take me on new adventures around my house that I haven't done before.  This week we went near Carver, Minnesota to the Minnesota Valley National Wildlife Refuge.

Orlando tried to tell me if we were ambitious, we could follow this trail all the way to Bloomington and beyond.  I told him, I'm not that ambitious.

For a moment, I had a shiver go up my spine that perhaps Orlando was trying to lure me into the woods for unpleasant purposes.  Then I remembered that Orlando was my buddy and he's never tried to murder me before, so I had that going for me.

When he brought me to this abandoned house, I started saying my prayers.  Then I discovered that all of the windows were boarded and the doors were chained shut so there was no way we could get in to it.  This house is more than 100 years old and right over the river so I imagined that at one point in time, some family lived here and there wasn't anybody around for miles.  I have to imagine, there were some pretty spooky moments spent here.

The barn next to it said it was built back in the 1880's.  I couldn't find any leftover animal carcasses in there, but I'm sure they were pretty spooky also when they were still around.

Eventually we wandered down the trail and down to the Minnesota River.  It was an absolutely beautiful day!

There was supposed to be a bunch of rapids down the trail, but we couldn't find them so we climbed on to these rocks to see if we could get a better look.

We waved down this boat and asked where the rapids were.  They said we were looking at them, but the water was too high to get an appreciation of them, so we left.  Worst rapids ever!