A Week-Long Alaskan Dream: Mosquito Cove Trail

We gathered in the hospitality room for Alaskan Dream Cruises in Sitka, Alaska, four couples from Michigan, New York City, Minnesota, and Australia. Introductions were made and we sized up our shipmates for the upcoming week. While the Misty Fjord finished its preparations for the Inside Passage cruise departure that afternoon, we were invited to join Alaskan Dream staff on a morning hike in the nearby Tongass National Forest.

The day before had been rainy and gray, so it seemed a good omen that the skies cleared and sun shone as we loaded into the van to hike the Mosquito Cove loop together. Making small talk and taking turns to point out interesting observations, we climbed timbered steps in the temperate rain forest, stepping carefully past piles of bear scat, while large slugs slowly made their way across the trail.

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We learned that only in the cleanest of atmospheres can a certain moss grow — usnea or “Old Man’s Beard” — a gossamer-like thread dancing in the slightest of breeze on the spruce and hemlock branches.  Old Man’s Beard reminded one of the delicate balance within Nature, and John Muir’s quote, “When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the Universe.”

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We emerged from the deeply-shaded forest to a cove at low tide, greeted by a world that is revealed periodically as the water recedes: broken shells left behind by ravens and other creatures seeking morsels from within; tiny crabs scurrying under rocks; slow-moving snails carrying smaller travelers on their backs. A person could miss the sub-plots as the allure of the main landscape story drew the eye to the larger vistas across the bay.

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Mosquito Cove, Sitka, AK

Looping back to the trailhead, the clear blue skies yielded unobstructed views of the dormant volcano, Mt. Edgecumbe.

Mt. Edgecumbe, Sitka, AK

We walked the remaining trail back to the van, to return to Sitka before embarking on our cruise adventure later that afternoon.

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Conversation already flowed more freely, and a casual, comfortable vibe was established among our new travel companions after sharing the meditative beauty of the forest together.

~ Kat

Next post: Leaving Sitka on the Misty Fjord

 

Who Knew Stacking Totes Could Be Such Fun?! FIRST: More Than Robots, Indeed.

I had no idea stacking plastic totes could be so exciting. FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) Robotics is an amazing opportunity for students. Adult mentors work with student team members to brainstorm strategy, teach machining and programming skills, promote and manage a team, and transfer knowledge gained from life experiences that students will benefit from long after their time with robotics. This year’s competition challenge for the high school level teams was themed “RECYCLE RUSH” and involved stacking totes and recycling containers on platforms while working cooperatively with other teams to maximize points.  I wrote this post at the beginning of the season, as the new game was revealed.  Details on the upcoming Minnesota State Robotics Tournament can be found at the end of this post.

This is my first year of exposure to the sport, and I had the opportunity to cheer on two of our area schools’ FRC (FIRST Robotics Competition) teams, East (Daredevils Team 2512) and Denfeld (DNA Robotics Team 4009), at two different regional events.  The competitions are full of energy, music, and technological inspiration. The events also hold constant reminders of the values of FIRST Robotics:  collaboration, hard work and persistence, and the overriding FIRST value of “gracious professionalism.”

The Duluth East Daredevils had secured a berth at the World Championships in April by winning the Chairman’s Award at the Northern Lights Regional in Duluth.  FIRST Robotics website explains this award: “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.”

To help friends and family get a glimpse of what the sport of robotics is all about, and to encourage them to support the team as they raised funds for the World Championship, I put together this short slide show (which includes a brief video excerpt of a match) from the team’s regional competitions:

At the World Championships in the FRC level of the competition alone, there were over 600 teams — including teams from Israel, China, Mexico, Canada and Australia, as well as the United States — with 8 different division fields competing concurrently.

FIRST Worlds arena panorama 2015
The Edward Jones Dome in St. Louis, site of the FRC World Championships.

Duluth East Daredevils compete in the World Robotics Championships

The Einstein field at the FRC World Championships.
Recycle RUSH — totes, totes, everywhere!

In the FIRST press release following the conclusion of the 4 days of competition involving all of the different FIRST robotics programs, it was noted that over 18,000 students participated, with an estimated 40,000 spectators watching the final round of FRC competition!  It was a particularly memorable experience for me, because my son’s team, the Duluth East Daredevils, was one of the teams competing in that final round!

Duluth East Daredevils celebrate their Hopper subdivision win!

After winning their sub-division (Hopper), the four-team alliance of which the Duluth East Daredevils were a part went on to compete in the final rounds played on the so-called “Einstein” field.  The Daredevils and another Minnesota team were the first to progress this far at the FIRST Robotics World Championships, and the Daredevils went on with their alliance to finish second overall, finishing the highest of any Minnesota team to-date.

Most importantly, these students experienced global camaraderie, and realized that collaboration and gracious professionalism are critical to success.  From FIRST’s website:

FIRST Founder Dean Kamen urged students to inspire the world and to use what they’ve learned from their FIRST Mentors and Coaches as a tool: “Don’t leverage your experience here as a privilege but rather a responsibility,” he said. “We expect you to go off to college and give; go off to industry and give. Figure out how to reach people who are not already your friends or your neighbors. Get a little out of your comfort zone and help us bring a more diverse community to FIRST.

Team 2512, Duluth East Daredevils
FRC Team 2512, the Duluth East Daredevils, at the 2015 St. Louis World Championships

All FIRST Robotics competitions are free and open to the public — and hundreds of volunteers are needed to make each event a success. After volunteering at the Duluth regional event and the World Championships in St. Louis, I find myself encouraging everyone to check out a competition, support your local robotics team with time or money … This “sport of the mind” is worth supporting.

Come watch the Minnesota State Robotics Tournament on May 16, 2015 at Williams Arena on the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities campus and see for yourself why robotics continues to grow in popularity.  The schedule for this free event is: Opening Ceremonies at 8:30 a.m.; Preliminary Rounds involving randomly drawn alliances from 9:00 a.m. to 1:15 p.m. and 2:00 to 2:45 p.m.; Semifinals, Third Place and Championship matches in best 2-out-of-3 competition involving the top four qualifying teams that choose their own alliance partners begin at 3:15 p.m.; Awards will be presented at about 4:30 p.m. 

Ciao! ~ Kat

Weekly Photo Challenge: New

All around the world, students were exposed to something new this morning … the 2015 FIRST Robotics Competition challenge was unveiled through a live webcast.

FIRST Robotics Game Reveal

FIRST Robotics is a global competition for 9th through 12th graders (14 through 18 year old students). The vision of FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) is:

To transform our culture by creating a world where science and technology are celebrated and where young people dream of becoming science and technology leaders. ~ Dean Kamen, Founder

UMD Robotics Kickoff Event

Each year, a new game is announced for FIRST Robotics teams on a set date at a set time, regardless of where that team is located in the world. Scrolling through the list of kickoff events, one could see team events in Australia, Canada, China, Dominican Republic, Israel, Mexico, and many places throughout the United States — including Duluth, Minnesota, home to several teams, including the Duluth East Daredevils!

UMD Kickoff Signs

As the hour of 10:30 a.m. EST approached, teams of high school students from around the region counted down the seconds until the live broadcast began.

FIRST Robotics Kickoff Countdown

The broadcast opened with reminders of the far-reaching skills these students learn through this program — things like collaboration, the value of hard work and persistence, and the overriding FIRST value of “Gracious Professionalism.”  (Pretty sure we can all think of many adults who could learn a thing or two from this program’s value system!)

Then, the new game for 2015 — RECYCLE RUSH — was revealed, as explained in this post on the Duluth East Daredevils’ website.  Previews of the competition field and game equipment were shown by a quick video demonstration, with reference to certain new rules that would be contained in the Competition Manual.

After the live broadcast concluded, teams were allowed to pick up their 2015 Kit of Parts.

Robotics Kit of Parts  FIRST Robotics Parts Distribution

As teams collected their parts and dispersed, the air was abuzz with excitement and energy.  Team members began sharing ideas and the 6-week design and build season clock started ticking.

FIRST Robotics build season begins

FIRST Robotics is an amazing opportunity.  Adult mentors work with student team members to brainstorm strategy, teach machining and programming skills, and transfer knowledge gained from life experiences that students will benefit from long after their time with the program.  All regional and district FIRST Robotics competitions are free and open to the public — check out an upcoming event in your area in February, March, or April, by checking this calendar.

Ciao! ~ Kat

This post was in response to the Daily Post’s Weekly Photo Challenge.  ”New” was this week’s theme.  Everyone is welcome to join in the Challenge; further details on how to participate and links to others’ responses are found here.