Saturday, October 07, 2006

2006 Prairieland Robotics Club Gets Under Way

For the second consecutive year, Prairieland Elementary students are participating in a Robotics Club. The goal is similar to last year, design and build a robot using the lego mindstorms system, and enter competition with other schools in the F.I.R.S.T Lego League. Most of all though, the plan is to have fun, and if we're lucky, the kids will learn some stuff along the way.

Last year the Prairieland Explorers garnered a 3rd place victory at Regional, and then went on to capture 3rd place at the State competition. Last years competition was called the Ocean Odyssey.

This years robotic challenge is called Nano Quest. Both the research project and the robot missions will involve concepts related to Nanotechnology. According to the FIRST Lego League site, "Nanotechnology is a new scientific frontier that will impact many facets of society, such as medicine, computers, and the environment."

Here is a list of the missions and the maximum points involved with each.

Individual Atom Manipulation - 40 Points

Smell - 20 Points

Stain-Resistant Fabric - 60 Points

Atomic Force Microscopy - 40 Points

Self Assembly - 30 Points

Smart Medicine - 50 Points

Nanotube Strength - 40 Points

Molecular Motor - 40 Points

Space Elevator - 40 Points

Complete 6 Missions - 20 Bonus Points

There are two separate robotics teams at Prairieland, this blog will be chronicling the journey of one of them, the Prairieland Nanobots.

Update 10/18/2006
The Prairieland Nanobots have been divided up into smaller sub teams. Researchers, Builders, Programmers, and Programmer/Testers. They've made some progress in developing the nano-tube strength mission, the dirt trap mission, the space elevator mission, and have begun to put together some research. Next week will be a continuation of the same. Once these initial missions have been mastered, the Nanobots will begin to add additional missions to their repertoire.

Here is the tournament schedule for the Nanobots.
November 4th (Saturday) scrimmage in Peoria.
December 9th (Saturday) Regional tournament in Peoria.
January 13th (Saturday) State tournament in Arlington Heights (if we qualify in Regional).

Prairieland Explorers go to State!

January 14, 2006:
After capturing 3rd place at the Regional Tournament in Peoria, the Prairieland Explorers robotics club moved on to the State Competition in Arlington Heights, a suburb of Chicago. Up against over 100 teams, the Explorers pulled out a 3rd place State victory and also won the Spirit award for team enthusiasm.

Below are some photos that chronicle this adventure. You can also view video of the robot in action at the tournament by clicking here, or here. There is also video of the 3rd Place Award Presentation, and the Spirit Award Presentation.


The Explorers iron out their strategy in the school library.

The competition floor. Loved the giant flat panel viewing screens.

The Explorers posing with their Coaches.

Each of the Explorers got a cougars paw painted on their face.

An Explorer carries the team placard. The mention of a middle school is a misprint, the Explorers are in Elementary school. The team consists of 4th and 5th grade students.

The Explorers getting in some practice on the practice table.

Another view of the practice table.

The Explorers robot is positioned for first run.

The Explorers cheer as their robot completes another maneuver flawlessly.

The Explorers grabbed 3rd place on their first run, and held that spot throughout the competition. They are listed as team 1528. The score of 305 for the first round was later raised to 335 due to a scoring error by the judges. To see a listing of all the teams final scores, click

The Explorers accept the 3rd place trophy.

Alex poses with the two trophies brought back from State.

Prairieland Elementary Principal (Kurt Swearingen) is presented with the two trophies awarded at the State tournament.

Friday, October 06, 2006

The Prairieland Explorers at Regional Competition

In September of 2005, Prairieland Elementary formed a Robotics club so that interested students could experience firsthand the design and programming of a robot. Once completed, the students could then enter into competition with other schools.

This competition is made possible by A multi National organization called F.I.R.S.T (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) formed in 1989 and aspires to make "science, math, engineering, and technology as cool for kids as sports are today." FIRST was started by Dean Kamen, inventor of the Segway Human Transporter.

F.I.R.S.T has different types of robotic challenges based on age of participants. The Prairieland Explorers entered into the FIRST Lego League which is designed for kids from 9 to 14 years of age. Each year a new challenge is put forth, and the one for 2005 was the Ocean Odyssey. The goal was to complete missions with an Ocean theme.

The scoring at the competition is not only based on robot performance, the kids also have to do some research on a topic and put on a presentation for the judges based on that research. Since the theme for 2005 was the Ocean, the research had to be about a problem we face with the Oceans, and a proposed solution to that problem.

A few members of the Explorers smile for the camera.

A scrimmage before the Regional tournament.

The Explorers practice before the start of the Regional competition.

The explorers pose between runs.

Preparing to Compete.

The Explorers ham it up after capturing 3rd place in Regionals.

There is a video that shows the announcement of the Prairieland Explorers 3rd place victory, that can be viewed by clicking here.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Jason Kubel Grand Slam

On June 13th of 2006, we attended a Twins Red Sox game at the Metro Dome. I had always liked the Twins, but this was my first time seeing them live. It turned out to be the best live game I've ever been to, thanks to Jason Kubel's game ending Grand Slam in the bottom of the 12th inning. For more information on the game, click here.

This is the 3 1 pitch that filled the count. You can see the determination in Jason's stance.

On the very next pitch, with 1 out and a full count, Jason Kubel sent the ball into oblivion.

In this photo you can see the ball passing in front of the window just below the Blue Bud Light sign.

At this point the pitcher realizes this ball is gone, some in the crowd begin to realize it too.

Here is Jason as he ran around the bases.

This shot shows the scoreboard at the end of the game. Jason's jersey number (16) still shows as the current batter.

Here is Jason getting doused with Gatorade.

Here is a picture of Jason doing an interview right after his teammates doused him with gatorade.

This is the Twins mascot doing a victory lap.

I had the 1st picture of the grand slam from above enlarged, and then sent it to Jason Kubel as a gift. I received the following letter back from him and his wife:

Thank you so much for that fantastic photo of Jason! He gets quite a bit of fan mail but the picture you shot and sent is hands down the most fabulous gift you could have given us. We are glad that you will hang it in your home! And we want you to know we will be framing it and hanging it in our home. That was such an amazing moment in our life and we are glad you were there to share it and capture it on film! Hope you enjoy it as much as we do. Glad your sons could be there! This is a memory they will take with them through out their entire lives. It's moments like that, that make baseball such an amazing sport! Thank you. The letter is then signed by Jason and his wife Blake.

I am truly honored to know that a photo I took will be hanging in their home. I am also honored that they took the time out to acknowledge my gift. That photo takes on an extra special meaning to me now knowing that it brings joy to someone else.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Beich Candy Factory Fire

Wednesday March 25, 2005 started as a typical work day. It ended though as anything but typical. I had just left work, and as I drove North on Veterans Parkway I noticed a dark thick plume of black smoke off to the West. I entertained the thought of detouring to check it out, but decided against it since I had to make a stop at Wal-mart to pick up stuff for supper. Besides, I didn't have my camera in the car, and I knew that I would have been kicking myself for not having it along had this been a photographic event. So I put it out of my mind and headed for Wal-mart.

When I came out after about 15 or 20 minutes, I noticed that the plume of smoke seemed even thicker and blacker than when I went in. I remember thinking to myself that maybe this was something to see. I got into my car and tuned the radio to WJBC, knowing that if it was newsworthy, they would mention it. Shortly after tuning in, the announcer stated that there was a large factory burning, and that the police were requesting that people stay away as the roads were getting congested, and the fire was becoming more intense. This was an indication to me that this was not just an ordinary fire, this was a BIG fire. I made the decision to get home as quick as I could, drop off the groceries, and collect my camera. I didn't want to miss out if this fire was as big as my mind was imagining it could be.

As it turned out, it was even BIGGER. Below is a sampling of the photos I took that day, clicking on an image will give you a larger version.


After fighting traffic for about half an hour, I finally found a place to park about a mile or so from the fire, and I started to walk. I was stunned by the size of the fire in the distance, and just kind of walked in a trance towards it. Then suddenly I heard "Hey Dave" and found myself in the company of some friends who also appreciated a BIG fire. I asked John, Grant and JT to pose with the fire, then bid them farewell, and pressed on for a closer view.

I had never seen a fire this BIG in all my life, and found it difficult to look away. I also found that I was not alone in this regard. I noticed as I got closer to the fire that there were perhaps 100 people or more standing and staring in silence.

As I walked amongst the crowd, it was obvious which ones had been standing there the longest, since the heat made many of them look sunburned.

Things really got crazy when the walls decided to fall. Suddenly the roar of the fire got louder and louder, people started to scream and to run. I too was taken back somewhat by the panic of those around me and began to retreat, but then the photographer in me told me to raise the camera and start shooting. I managed to capture a large burst of flame as it shot out from the collapsing walls, as well as a scared kid running for his life.

As the smoke from the collapse cleared away, I was able to peer into the belly of this angry beast.

I walked away with a heavy heart, I think that fire and I had made a real connection.

I miss that fire.

If you haven't seen enough of this fire and wish to see more, there is a photo montage here of this fire set to music that includes some of my pictures, as well as pictures from other photographers present that day.

I later Learned that this building had previously housed the Beich Candy Factory, and that the fire was fueled in a large part by the sugar solution soaked into the all wood floors throughout the building. The Factory was in operation from around 1900 until 1973 when production moved to a new facility. This fire was started by a 16 year old girl who was later arrested and charged.