Monday, December 11, 2017

SOL 47 - Not Completely "In The Zone"

     I tug at the collar of my white polo shirt. I shouldn't be here. I'm completely out of place. Why do they all think that I'm good at driving? Jude could drive. Sloan could drive. A piece of pizza driving a robot would probably be better at it than I. And yet here I am, in the middle of a crowded gymnasium halfway across the state, clenching a controller as my robot bumps its way to a win.
     My robot. 
     A couple of months ago, I thought robots were complicated automatons that only a genius such as, well, Sloan could build. Boy, was I wrong. 
     My team's name is 3946C. C officially stands for Clement, after a teacher here at Kent. Unofficially, it stands for "close enough." 
     My robot. I still can't believe that I, a girl who consistently fumbles and drops all the screwdrivers in the vicinity, built this robot. Sort of. For the first couple weeks when I didn't know anything, I was C's tool thief. Nobody would suspect a freshman loitering by their table to steal their metal parts, would they? Whenever Sloan saw me looking bored, she would wink and say, "y'know, Thea, I could really use a small allen right now. I saw W with one earlier, Plus, Seb's a jerk. Go do what you must," and I'd hop off the table and produce a screwdriver within 30 seconds. 
     Ah, the days before knowledge and responsibility set in. Now the fate of tournaments rests on my shoulders and whatever.

     Snap out of it! I flash back to the field. 12 feet by 12 feet, four 18x18 robots jostling each other around and competing for the win– 12 feet is not nearly enough room, and one minute is not nearly enough time. Blue versus Red, two of each team. Cones are worth two points, highest stacks in each of the zones and on the stationary goals are all worth.. five? I'll have to check with Uly. There's a five, ten, and twenty point zone in the opposite two corners of the field, mobile goals in the center and in the other corners. Remember the autonomous routine; an automatic thirty points, if all goes well. A win in Auton is worth whatever you scored, plus an extra ten. Score mobile goals in the zones. In The Zone is the name of the game. Drive–drive well–they're all counting on you–drive, Thea, drive! The game starts in ten–
Hold your controller out in front of you so the judges can tell that you aren't cheating. The first ten seconds are autonomous, then you have a minute of driver control. 
The autonomous period has begun!

     The robot lurches out onto the field. The other three robots are motionless. Ha! No, don't get cocky now. Even though you're the only team with an auton routine, you're not guaranteed a win. It's going well so far. The robot mows down cones on its way to the mobile goal. It sets the mobile goal manipulator down right on time, jerks forward again to grab the goal, picks it up, and begins the spin. We've had trouble with spins in the past. The auton routine all depends on the quadrature encoder, which has been sketchy in its accuracy lately. Come on, come on... Success; the robot turns 180º, drives forward, turns to the right about 45º, drives forward, turns to the left again, and it's right in line with the 20-point zone. Three, two, one, and it charges directly for the two raised pipes marking the zones. The mobile goal manipulator lowers, and the cone is deposited into the farthest zone. 
     Uly and Maddy, my two "coaches" who were allowed to come up to the field with me while the other three sit in the stands, are practically bouncing with relief. Our alliance partner (another team with whom we are paired up with) looks glad that Blue won, as well. Unfortunately, it's not over yet.

     "The driver control period will commence in three... two... one... drivers, begin!" And C is off, my thumbs dancing across the joysticks, my other fingers poised above the buttons for the mobile goal manipulator. The left side controls the left drive, the right controls the right. int(AllDrive) = 127; 127 might be a little too fast! Oh well, we'll change it later. For now, blue mobile goal on the left. Blue mobile goal. Drive, point turn to the left, drive, mobile goal manipulator down, drive, there we go, mobile goal manipulator up, turn, slowly, slowly so the goal doesn't fall out, now go go go and drop it in the ten! It's in! Back up, point turn to the right, let's go get the other blue goal. Uh oh, Red's playing defense. I can try to sneak right past them... Yes! Got it! Back up, point turn, in-in-in-in-in, drop it, and it's in the ten as well!
Time's running out! Go park! Remember, we checked the rules this morning and it's an extra two points if you're even the slightest bit touching your color square. Go go go– Damn! Cones in the way of my square– Push them! I'm in.

I drop my arms, still holding the controller. My eyes dart around the field, totalling the points scored by both teams in my head. Red got two in the five, one in the twenty, ooh but also highest stack in the five, that's thirty-five, plus two cones, thirty seven. We have one in the twenty, two in the ten, highest stack in the ten, auton, and parking. Looks like our alliance partner stacked three on a stationary goal as well... eighty seven? No, I'm doing the math wrong, but it doesn't matter because we won!

"Good game." Red and Blue face each other and give congratulatory handshakes down the line. Maddy is grabbing the robot, and it looks like the judges are still working on the score, but it's clear where the victory goes. After they give the all-clear, I unplug my controller, and all twelve people dash over to the scoreboard. It's scrolling through the forty or so teams at this tournament... scrolling... C's in first! The other three teammates have joined us in the rush. Everyone smiles at each other before walking back out of the gym to replace the robot's battery. 
     This isn't the end. We might be in the lead now, but there are three more games to play, and then we go on to the elimination round. But for now, we're winning, so let's celebrate. Keep your guard up. Stay in the zone.

This is a map of the field.
     (The results: we made it to semifinals and lost. The other Kent high school teams, W and E, also lost in this round. The middle school team, R, made it to finals and lost as well. C may not have won any awards today, but it was only the first tournament of the season. The next one's in January, and we'll have improved a lot by then. 
     For starters, we'll have a lift (the tall part for picking up cones). We ran out of time before this tournament and couldn't attach ours, hence only being able to manipulate mobile goals. When the lift is added we'll connect two controllers. One person will work the lift and one the drive. I'm looking forward to this. Less responsibility on me.)

Thursday, November 9, 2017

SOL 46?

Imagine a room. It's a small room, about 5 feet by 12 feet, but it's missing one corner. Instead, the wall moves forward, sharply turns inward, curves back out to form a lightning bolt, and then continues inward to meet up with the other, straight wall in a triangle. It's shaped like the M of Cassiopeia.
There is one lightbulb in this room. It shines near the center of the room, closest to the M corner, casting dull yellow onto the grey carpet. The circle of light gradually fades outward to merge with the darkness of the opposite corners of the room. The only door is hidden in shadow.

You're standing directly underneath the light. You squint into the dark edges of the room, but your eyes have not yet adjusted to the dimness. You blink, and a shape starts to take form. A figure is crouched in a corner.

Who is it?

Monday, October 16, 2017

SOL 45 - A Rant About Science and Sexism

I'm on the robotics team this year. I know, right?! For all my interest, I can barely code the instructional path for a short maze, let alone an entire robot with claws and more motors than the ones on the drive and many moving parts! (the horror, the horror) Anyway, when the group first got our team assignments a couple weeks ago, I barely realized that all of the girls in robotics were on the same team.

I'm not good at pseudonyms, and I rarely use them, so I'll just call the girl we both know S. The other girls on the team are M and H.

Looking up at the three lists of names on the whiteboard, all three girls groan, stomp back to their seats, and look at me as if expecting me to react in the same way.
"What's wrong with our team?" I ask obliviously.
"We're the 'girl-powered' team," S tells me with a sigh in her voice.
"So? Why is that bad?"
M jumps in. "Usually, they put all the girls on one team to win this dumb 'girl-powered' award. It means nothing. It's an award that basically says 'holy sh*t, g... g... girls in STEM? STEM?! Gotta give them an award just for being here!' They're not rewarding us for our skill, or our brains, or our actual freaking robot, they're giving us a prize just for being girls."
"They dumb down science for our dainty little girl brains," S says in a high voice, throwing her hands up, glancing meekly to the side, and batting her eyelashes (I'm sure you can visualize this expression perfectly). "Last year at Worlds, some guys talked down on me and asked me if I could understand what they were talking about. We beat them, but the sexism is still there."
J, one of the two boys on the team, joins the conversation. "Oh yeah, everyone can see it. We're probably going to win awards that we don't deserve just because girls make up two-thirds of our team."
"I hate it. I'd rather lose than win unjustly," says H.
"Last year we had to write a story about what it was like to be a girl in STEM, so be prepared for that," S says with a grim smile.

After this, we discussed many things to make fun of the "girl-powered" award, such as having the robot hold a can of pink spray paint and constantly spraying all the other robots in the field pink (there's no rule against it!), or leaving a trail of glitter behind it as it plows down the other machines for the victory.

Now, everyone knows that I'm an anthropology nerd and I am definitely, no doubt about it, going to go into the science field of expanded learning and careers.


I'm sitting here in study hall after returning from the Monday-morning assembly. The women of the science department made an announcement about National Invincible Girl In Science day on November 7th. We will post messages of support on social media with the hashtag #girlinscience. The teachers projected a video naming ten of the most influential and important female figures in science. The whole school applauded after each one was named.

It's still appalling to think that this is necessary for people to respect and recognize women in STEM. It's easier for strangers or even extended family to believe that I want to be an artist or an actress than an anthropologist or an engineer. Even the fact that the teachers had to show that video, and that we have to post on social media for the general public to recognize that, surprise surprise, GIRLS HAVE BRAINS is a terrible thing. We are smart. We are your scientists and mathematicians and doctors and engineers, and we don't want or need you to dumb down science so we can understand. We understand perfectly that the world has a long way to go.

Thursday, October 5, 2017

SOL 44 - Tired at Robotics

task main ()


//basically until i go home

//they're really cool! not lidar, but still cool

i've set all of these to 1 minute, but robotics practice is 2 hrs. i just don't want to add all the zeros


//if you can't tell

why did i never do coding before?! it's so fun!! i mean, i knew a little bit of javascript but the orientation of the robotc commands is much easier


//the season has started and the first tournament's in december


Monday, September 18, 2017

SOL 44 - The Flag

The rips and imperfections of the flag stood out even in the dim light. Anyone who lifted eyes to her could see the bottom hem coming undone and the end fraying. Now, as she rose slowly into the air to catch the early morning breeze, people stifled gasps as the wind whistled through a large rip. A fresh, jagged slice cut through the elegant print on her border.
The flag herself, surveying the cluster of followers at her base, watched the small boy who had carried her so delicately for some pocket change slip a dagger into his pocket. The flag tutted to herself at the carelessness of the parent. 
A large percentage of the population was killed by others with this flag, along with the message for which she stood, in their minds. She had undergone more rips than she could remember, she had had her ebony sides splattered with blood and rubbed with ashes, and dirt lingered on her fabric after being buried six feet underground. 
She had survived it all.
The keepers of the flag prided themselves on their skill with a needle.
Now here she stood, wind whipping through her most recent battle wound, her message flowing proudly for the world to see.
The flag was happy.
No sooner had she recognized contentment with her place than she felt a rush of wind, a tear, a sharp knot of nothingness where there had once been woven cloth, and a bullet pinged to the dirt behind her. 
The people began shouting, punching, fighting mercilessly with each other to find the attacker. Friend turned on friend for the sake of the flag. Twenty-seven more bullets rose and fell like icy rain, and the people all dropped.
The black mist of death swirled around the flagpole.
This flag stood for life, and she had watched her saviors die.
Even the little boy, not even eight years old, fell to the ground. His blood soaked into the dark soil. It would rain that night. The blood would be washed away. But not forgotten, she vowed. His blood will not be forgotten, no matter what he did to me with his knife. An eye for an eye leaves the whole world blind.
She could do nothing but mourn.
People are so stupid.
The forest was silent. No birds sang as the sun continued over the horizon. The trees all turned a blind eye to the scene before them. Even the wind stilled. The flag hung limply on her post. Maybe this is what I deserve, she thought. I have caused so much suffering. I should stay here in tatters, forever, to pay my dues. 
Nobody came.
The flag waited.
Over time, wind, rain, and snow swept across her post, trickling through the frayed holes in the cloth. Crystals of ice formed, melted, and reformed on the metal of the flagpole. The longer she waited, the more hope she lost.
The sound of birdsong had not touched the ears of the forest since that dreadful day.
The flag loved the birds as she loved the wind, and the sky, and the sun.
She would give anything to fly again. Alas, she had nothing. For she was only an idea that some dreamers, a long time ago, dared to dream. A glimpse of a new horizon.
The one who shot the twenty-eight bullets did not want the new era to bury them as time moved on without them, she guessed.
But she is only a flag, and this is only a story.
This is a story of grief long since buried with the thick dust of time.
This is the story of the beginning and the end, a swirl of leaves in a sudden wind, and an equally sudden stillness.

Friday, September 8, 2017

SOL 43 - Serious Thea Talks About School

Host: "Serious Thea,  thanks for joining us today on this rare event known to your loyal public as a blog post."

"Thank you for having me."

Host: "Let's get right into the questions. Our first question, chosen by voters from around the country, is:
What do you say in response to around 35 weeks of cramming seemingly endless knowledge into your brain, and not even about fun stuff like parasites or security systems, no, about the downfall of Mali and the importance of various African trade routes?"


(Really, dear public, what did you think she'd say?)

Host: "Is.... is that all?"

"Kent is good."

Host: "Could you please tell us more?"

"I do like it more than Logan. I think it's the familiarity of a set schedule versus planning each day individually and being in charge of your own time. That aspect of Logan was fine, but I am a person who does well with routine."

Host: "That's good to hear. Now, tell us about your classes. I understand that this is a school with... seven, if I'm correct, set classes that rotate. Such an unfamiliar concept to me! How are your classes going?"


Host: "Again, I'm going to need you to go into a little more detail."

"They're meh."

Host: "Adding one word in the sentence is not more detail."

"Em. Ee. Aitch."

Host: "Ohhh-kay. Next question: How do you feel about the school's dress code?"

"Ah. Now this is a subject I can tell you about. I think that the high school's dress code, along with many other schools' dress codes, is sexist. Sure, Kent tried to make it seem less so by making each rule gender neutral, but do you really think that boys are going to wear shorts that are shorter than mid-thigh? That, along with other dress regulations, is targeted at female students. Boys will probably not wear leggings, so it doesn't matter if that rule applies to every gender.
"Now, the point of this spiel is not actually pointing out that the dress code is sexist. Practically every high school's is. That needs changing, but I am not focusing on that right now. I am extremely, terribly, INCREDIBLY mad that the dress code does not allow words or graphics on shirts. How am I supposed to wear my 'meh' shirt?! This is complete and utter nonsense. I demand that your broadcasting company SUE the school for this outrage!"

Host: "Uh, I'd have to check with my superiors on that."

"Good, you do that."

Host: "So, what are the people like at your school?"


Host: "How's the bus ride? It's far, right?"


Host: "...You're just going to answer 'meh' to every question, even if you actually feel strongly about the subject, aren't you?"


Host: "This might as well be a complete waste of my time. I'll be going now. It was nice talking with you."


WE INTERRUPT THIS BROADCAST, which Mike is telling me was over anyway but who cares, let's make this dramatic, WITH A MESSAGE FROM OUR SPONSOR. THE MESSAGE IS AS FOLLOWS: "you should come to kent or at least shadow lol it would be fun and i'm a tour guide" END MESSAGE. Damnit, Mike, we didn't interrupt anything like we'd planned. Why didn't you tell me the broadcast was gonna be cut short? This woulda been so much more fun if we could actually interrupt something.

(Playfully crinkling through the leaves fills you with determination.)

(There is silence in the library.)

(What even happened to this post?)


Wednesday, August 2, 2017

SOL 42 - A Fan-TASC-tic Hike

One, two, three, four. One, two, three, four.
I breathed out the rhythm through clenched teeth as I plodded up the mountain.
One, two, three, four, left foot, right foot, left, right.
All you have to do is keep moving, Thea, put one foot in front of the other.
Ignoring the sharp pain from my bad knee every time I pushed it behind me at the end of each step, I hoisted my backpack higher on my hips. Matt was surely right behind me, and as I could see now out of the corner of my eye, he was trying to get in front of me. Did he think I was too slow? Screw that. I'm sorry, budd-o,* you try carrying this group trash bag and see how much faster you are. 
Onetwothreefouronetwothreefour, I seethed quietly as I rushed on as quickly as my pack and the five-pound swinging weight would let me. I'd show Matt that if he can't even catch up to me enough to pass me, why should he?
A backup started building in front of me as the rest of the group of 12 TASCers clambered over a fallen tree. This was the last day of the backpacking portion of the 10-day trip, and this was the second half of the six miles we had to cover to get back to the van. Six miles, all uphill. The forest service had come in and cleared much of this section of trail of fallen trees, said Mara, who was doing TASC (Teen Adventure Service Core; the program in camp for 9th graders) for the second time. We'd driven four hours out to somewhere in the middle of the mountains, parked the van and the U-Haul trailer at the top of the mountain, and began the hike down. The journey through the Indian Peaks and Arapaho wildernesses to Strawberry Lake had taken part over the span of six days. And of course, what goes down must come up. That's not the expression, but it works.
Earlier in the day, to ignore my aching knee, I'd counted steps. I reached 6,000 before getting bored. Assuming that each of my steps was around two feet, that's 12,000 feet hiked in an hour or two. Uphill. Nothing would let me forget about the agonizing slope.
Image result for strawberry lake colorado
Strawberry Lake. It's full of leeches. 
Back to the log. This one was a toughie. On the second or third day of backpacking, the trail had been practically covered with fallen trees we'd had to climb over or duck under or around. They were all thin trees that had probably been knocked over in a storm. It had rained every night we were out there.
Alright, how do I do this? This tree was too low to go under, and too thick to easily straddle. Plus, I was carrying the group trash bag. Mind you, this was the last day of the backpacking portion and on some parts of the hike there wasn't even a trail, much less trash cans in the middle of the forest. So I had a huge, swinging weight strapped to the outside of my pack. I'd fallen more times today carrying this as it offset my balance than on the entire rest of the trip.
I pushed my hands up on the bark, hoping to hoist myself onto my forearms on the log, and promptly fell backward. Damn trash bag. I flailed like a tipped turtle as someone came over to help me into a sitting position.
"I can't stand up."
"Pull up on my hand on 3. 1, 2, 3... Thea, you were supposed to pull."
"I did, but I can't stand up. The bag's too heavy."
"I know, but come on. Elle, pull up on her backpack, and stand up on 3."
On the second try, I made it over the log. I looked up to see that Matt had simply hiked a meter uphill and gone around it, passing me in the process. Damn it.
One, two, three, four. The knee brace the doctor had prescribed was all but holding my entire leg together. I'd tried taking it off on the third or fourth day and my leg collapsed as soon as the second Velcro strap was off. Now I didn't dare to do anything but sleep in it. I was definitely not going to risk taking it off now, especially since my knee was bothering me even with it on.
One two three four one two three four one two THUMP! I was face-down on the ground again. I couldn't wait until lunch. Not because of the food; every breakfast and lunch had been tortillas and Nutella (they're easy, and we only have our backpacks to carry all the supplies in until we get back to the van). I disliked Nutella from the start, ate it for a few days only for the nutritional benefits, then gave up and had eaten plain tortillas for two means a day. I hated the taste of tortillas now. Too... buttery. No, since Sami and I are the same physical size and this was the heaviest the trash bag was going to be, we'd agreed in the morning that we'd switch at lunchtime.**
One, two, three, four. One foot in front of the other. Only about an hour left until lunch, I assumed. No one could really keep track of time while hiking. You can do it, Thea. Keep going.

Here's the group after the day of community service, where we repaired a horse trail.
Bad quality, so I didn't feel the need to blur anyone's faces.

*Sans from Undertale has ruined my life.
**Sami ended up carrying the trash bag for twenty minutes after lunch, remarking how I could have possibly carried this thing for hours, and handing it off. If I'd known I could have complained and given it to someone else, that would have made my day a hell of a lot easier. A normal 70-liter backpack felt like a school day-pack after that trash bag was gone. Sami had only volunteered to carry the trash so she wouldn't have to do bear bag (empty her bag and stuff all the group food and anything that might smell like food into it, then have it put in a tree so no bears would come to the campsite. Last year on the 8th grade four-day, Matt's bag was eaten through. And did I mention that it rained every night? I couldn't really argue with her logic.) for the last night.

SOL 47 - Not Completely "In The Zone"

     I tug at the collar of my white polo shirt. I shouldn't be here. I'm completely out of place. Why do they all think that I'...