Monday, April 25, 2005


Monday April 25, 2005

Saturday morning we felt we had a real good chance for the Chairman’s Award. Fredi and I discussed whether we should prepare the kids for not winning or let their enthusiasm and expectations keep soaring. We were afraid that if we did not win, they would be really disappointed. We kicked the ideas around and we knew we should tell them not to get their hopes up too high, but how often are we in contention for a national championship?

During the afternoon competitions, Josh Davis and Dan Green took advantage of their media passes and went to the media room. They also met with Dean Kamen and the top administrators of FIRST. We wondered if they were told the award winners, but we did not ask them because we assumed they wouldn’t tell us and we didn’t want to put them in an uncomfortable position. They never rejoined us as “team members” after their meeting so we assumed they were tipped off.

Between championship matches, lesser awards were awarded: Autodesk Animator award, Sportsmanship award, etc. During that time, Josh, Dan and the camera crew went up to the press room. That’s when we knew they HAD to know AND that we were not going to receive any awards until possibly at the end. We also noticed they were smiling a lot! The whole team was very pumped up.

After the last of the championship matches were over, it was time for the last three awards: The Rookie All Star, the Engineering Inspiration Award, and the Chairman’s Award. The camera crew was all over us, Josh and Dan were smiling, and we were ready.

The All Star Rookie Award went to a first year team, of course. When they started reading the presentation for the second highest award, we didn’t realize it was going to be presented to us until half way through the announcer’s script. I think we were all crushed and yet the kids kept up the smiles and cheered, even though they (and the adults) were very disappointed. And on top of all of that, the ABC camera crew is recording our reactions. We really did not prepare the kids on how to celebrate second place, yet they were truly phenomenal. Not one complaint, not one bad attitude. When the Chairman’s award was announced, our kids were one of the loudest teams in the 20,000 audience. I’m so proud of them.

The Atlanta weather turned bitter cold and the wind was blowing hard. The kids were emotionally drained, yet they bundled up and went to the large outdoor party held for all the teams at the Olympic Park. Everyone was asleep by 11:00 pm (I think). They had been running with little sleep and under high pressure for the last four days and their personal batteries were drained.

Sunday, everyone was awake by 10 or so and we had donuts, bagels, and some left over fruit for breakfast. The main event for the day was a trip to Six Flags and dinner at the Hard Rock Café.

With 1000 FIRST robotics teams competing, being awarded second place is quite an honor and no other Arizona school has gone this far. Even though we though we had done our best this year, the kids are already talking about what more they can do in the next 12 months: working in more junior high schools, reaching out to students who don’t see that they can excel and showing by example that math, science, engineering and hard work is very satisfying and a lot of fun. The students from Carl Hayden didn’t have to be prepared for second place; I think much of our culture has prepared them very well to be satisfied with second place. The Falcon Robotics team has learned how to get to first place. It’s in their character. In some ways it might be fortunate that they did not win first place because there is a lot more in them and there is a lot more in them.

Monday we visited the Arthur M. Blank Family Office building for lunch. We met a few old friends and made some new ones.

The flight back to Phoenix was uneventful and we were met by family and friends and our principal, Steve Ybarra.

Tuesday its back to school and time to get really serious about the ROV competition in June. MIT expects a worthy opponent!

Teachers Allan Cameron, Fredi Lajvardi, Ruth Reynoso and Debbie Cameron and Eunice DeRose are so in awe of our champion team members: Cristian Arcega, Michael Brown, Cindy Castaneda, Daniel Federle, Luis Gutierrez, Marco Gutierrez, Viridiana Gutierrez, Richard Hartlaub, Marie Keller, Gerica Rayas, Annalisa Regalado, Lorenzo Santillan and Pablo Santillan. And thank your Karen Suhm and Jerry Suhm for flying to Atlanta to help us out. You are the greatest mentors ever!!


Saturday, April 23, 2005


Saturday April 23, 2005

We started the morning off with an exciting victory. There was one undefeated robot on the opposing team that had not lost a game. The strategy was to have Cristian drive into their backfield and prevent him from scoring. That’s exactly what he did. It was a game of high speed maneuvering and anticipating moves. It was an awesome match up. We handed them their only defeat.

Out second match was exciting also, but we lost. We played a great defense, but without our ally robots scoring, we really had no chance of wining.

We were treated to lunch by some administrators and students from Purdue University. Sometimes I report too much about the competitive aspects of the FIRST experience and not enough about the friends we make. Purdue held a regional competition this year and they think it is a terrific way to recruit perspective students into their engineering program, including students from Arizona. They were a fun group of people.

All day yesterday and today, Cindy and Viri have visited all 340 teams and asked them for team t-shirts. They must have close to one hundred now and they plan to make a quilt with the t-shirt designs. It’s a great idea.

Dan Green from ABC news and his crew have been filming us today. He is quite a guy. He had a meeting with Dean Kamen and talked Dean into coming and visiting us in our pit area. We took photos and had a nice visit. He mentioned quite a few people sent him the Wired article.

Late afternoon everyone was in the Georgia dome. We felt we had a very good chance to win the highest award, the Chairman’s Award. It was not to be. We won the second place award, the Engineering Inspiration Award, a first for the state of Arizona and by for the best we have ever done at FIRST.

We all experienced a strange set of emotions: joy for winning the second highest award, and disappointment for not winning the first place award. I guess that is how silver medalists in the Olympics feel. Everyone is proud that we genuinely did our best to promote math, science and engineering in our school and community and we have the most graciously professional young men and women but I think the kids will somehow do even more in the next 12 months.

We spent the last hour this evening in our hotel room with a team from Washington state. They are interested in expanding their team into the MATE ROV tournament..

It’s been quite a day (and some of it will be on Nightline in a week or two) and I’m tired, Good night


Friday, April 22, 2005


Friday April 22, 2005

Well, the bad news is that we lost our first three games. The kids really drove the robot well, but the competition IS tougher and our allies did not score as many points as we wished. The forth and fifth games did go our way and our recode is 2-3-0. There are two more qualifying rounds tomorrow.

The last game we played had an undefeated robot and our alliance told the Falcons to contain that number one robot. Although the opponent was fast, Cristian was able to pin their robot. It was quite a one-on-one match up. Our alliance won that round thanks to our great defense.

Marie, Annalisa and Luis made our Chairman’s presentation to the judges at three o’clock. They felt they did a real good job of presenting our influence on the local community, especially with junior high students and our lobbying with Governor Napolitano and legislators. Throw in all the national publicity that they have garnered and they have a strong case. Tomorrow afternoon, the last and most prestigious award will be announced.

This evening, Dan Green from ABC News Nightline joined us. Josh Davis, author of the Wired article also arrived. The kids questioned them for tow hours this evening. It was the best seminar I have ever attended. Cindy was so interested in their careers that we asked Dan if Cindy could intern with him tomorrow when he meets with Dean Kamen. Hopefully that will happen.

We found out this evening that our team will be on page A1 of the Arizona Republic We all phoned home so our families will save copies.

It’s late and everyone is sleeping and this is going to be a short report.



Thursday, April 21, 2005


April 19, 2005 Update
Scholarship fund as of 4/18/2005: $47,830
Update, Thursday, April 21, 2005

We left school about 9 am Wednesday morning for an 11:30 flight. Our party consisted of 13 students, 4 chaperones and 1 grandma Teachers Fredi Lajvardi, Ruth Reynoso, Debbie Cameron and I, along with Deb’s mom, Eunice DeRose, are taking 13 of the most fantastic kids to Atlanta for the FIRST National Championships. Several people recognized Christian and Lorenzo from the WIRED article at the airport.---the price of celebrity!

The flight was uneventful. Marie, Cindy and Lorenzo were doing homework the whole flight, Mrs. Reynoso was busy putting the boarding passes in alphabetical order – not a good sign – we will have to watch her.

We arrived in beautiful Atlanta and boarded the subway to the hotel, Deb and Grandma rented a car and became the official Falcon Robotics “crate toters. We celebrated our arrival with a “barbeque beef dinner”.

At the hotel, we met a group of Lego League students from North Carolina. The “Fuzzy Monkeys” are now our shadow team. They come by our pit area and we treat them like insiders. They and we LOVE it.

This morning we went to the arena and unpacked our robot, Adam. He’s been in storage in Atlanta since our March contest in Arizona. Teams are not allowed to work on their ‘bots between competitions. Except for dead batteries, Adam is ready to go. We did some programming, made some minor improvements, and played a few practice rounds.

A team from France came and visited us in our pit area. Gerica, who is bilingual used her French class skills and we communicated rather well. I guess Gerica is bilingual-and-a-half

We have four freshman with us. They are the most amazing freshman we have ever had on our team. Michael and Daniel went to each and every one of the 341 high school team pit area, introduced themselves, told them about our robot team and gave them a copy of the Wired article.

Frosh Marco has taken over the pit area. He has become the consummate Pit Boss. He knows where every tool is supposed to be and he makes sure it’s there. He reminds everyone to wear their safety glasses. We have the tightest pit area in the arena.

Pablo is Lorenzo’s younger brother. He is the master-of-all-trades. He has become our “goto guy”. Freshmen are supposed to be shy and quiet. This year we have veterans. It’s amazing!

Deb and Grandma have been driving around all day doing our shopping: a cart from Home Depot, food from Costco, and driving back to the hotel for the forgotten items. They ran back to Costco and brought back 5 pizzas, 3 cases of soda pop and fruit and salad. Party Central was in Mrs. Reynoso’s room. I guess we won’t worry about her any more,. The kids love her.

The kids are now swimming, relaxing, and getting ready for the competition to start tomorrow.

Breaking News:. We were on National Public Radio’s Here and Now”. You can hear it on their website::

Speaking of websites, Fredi is posting pictures of our trip on our school site:

The FIRST competition is being televised:
NASA Television can be seen in the continental United States on AMC-6, at 72 degrees west longitude, Transponder 9, 3880 MHz, vertical polarization, audio at 6.8 MHz. If you live in Alaska or Hawaii, NASA TV can now be seen on AMC-7, at 137 degrees west longitude, Transponder 18, at 4060 MHz, vertical polarization, audio at 6.8 MHz.
In the Phoenix Areas, COX digital cable channel 117
Direct TV channel 376
The programs listed below are changes to the general NASA Television schedule. All programs subject to change without notice. All times are Eastern U.S. time.

April 22, Friday
1 p.m. - 5 p.m. Eastern Time - Championship/FIRST Robotics, Atlanta, Ga. - AMES

April 23, Saturday
9 a.m. - 5 p.m. Eastern Time - Championship/FIRST Robotics, Atlanta, Ga. - AMES

It is also being webcast over the Internet, but I don’t have the details. Search for “NASA FIRST” and you find the details.

Competition starts tomorrow.

Saturday, April 16, 2005

April 16, 2005 -------- Update

April 16, 2005 -------- Update
This has been a busy few weeks for the Carl Hayden Robotics Club. The April Wired article “La Vida Robot” which highlighted four of our students has produced an outpouring of support for the four kids as well as congratulations for Fredi Lajvardi, Sam Alexander and myself. We will see where this all leads.

Right now we are packing for our trip to Atlanta for the FIRST robotics championship. A few weeks ago we competed in Arizona and we were awarded the highest award, the Chairman’s Award:

“The FIRST Robotics Competition is about much more than the mechanics of building a robot or winning a competitive event. It is about the impact FIRST has on those who participate in the program and the impact of FIRST on the community at large. The FIRST mission is to change the way America’s young people regard science and technology and to inspire an appreciation for the real-life rewards and career opportunities in these fields.
The Chairman’s Award was created to keep the central focus of the FIRST Robotics Competition as our ultimate goal for transforming the culture in ways that will inspire greater levels of respect and honor for science and technology, as well as encourage more of today’s youth to become scientists, engineers, and technologists.
The Chairman’s Award represents the spirit of FIRST. It honors the team that best represents a model for other teams to emulate and which embodies the goals and purpose of FIRST. It remains the most prestigious team award FIRST presents.”

We are departing Phoenix this Wednesday with 13 students and a few chaperones. Josh Davis, the author of the Wired article and friend, will meet us there. I think there will be some other media coverage there also. I will email our experiences when we are in Atlanta.

Speaking of media, we have received quite a few movie offers. I’m thrilled to report Warner Brothers has bought the rights to the ROV story. They plan to make a feature theatrical film. The producer is John Wells (or West Wing, E.R.) The current game around school is who should play everyone. (I think Sean Connery should play me. “Cameron, Allan Cameron”. It will take years, but what a surrealistic experience.

For those who have been asking about the four kids: I think they will all get the higher education they wish. They have received over $44,000 in scholarship money to split and many offers of assistance. Most likely they will choose local community colleges and/or Arizona State University. I know they will be successful because they have hundreds (if not thousands) of people encouraging them. Their world has expanded a hundredfold.

A lot of people ask what they can do to help. The article mentions the “Dream Act”, federal legislation that is introduced every year that allows undocumented children who have been in the U.S for years and graduate from high school and have no criminal record to apply for temporary residency. If they go to college or the military, they can become permanent residents. It will take a lot of people writing to their congressman encouraging them to support the bill. These kids already are Americans. They were brought to the U.S. by their parents; they attended our school, play baseball, join the Scouts and most go to church every week. As young adults they will get married, have children and will be contributing to our society. These are exactly the people we want to belong in our neighborhoods, not drive them away.

This morning, National Public Radio’s “Weekend Edition, Saturday” played an interview with us. Susan Stamberg interviewed us and it can be heard at:

We are building our current ROV to compete in the June MATE ROV competition in June. Not only will we be competing against MIT, but aobotics and Artificial Intelligence powerhouse, Carnegie Mellon University will be joining the competition.

I should be sending the next report from Atlanta, GA. Thanks for all your support.


Friday, April 01, 2005

April 1, 2005 -------- General Information about the Robot Club follows:

The Robot Club: Falcon Robotics Team 842
Now, about the robot team. The ROV competition is only a small part of what we do. Fredi Lajvardi and I have always had "clubs" at school so we could work with the kids on project that may not exactly fit in a particular class’s curriculum. I have had the Amateur Radio Club, KC7KFF, for 13 years or so. Fredi had the kids build and race electric cars. They were quite successful. We still continue the activities.

However, four years ago we decided to enter the FIRST robotics competition
Just two weeks ago, the team was awarded the highest award at the Arizona Regional competition, the Chairman's Award. It was presented to us by the inventor and founder of FIRST, Dean Kamen. We will be going to Atlanta GA with 13 of the students on the team to compete for the national title. There will be 300+ schools, 10000 people all cheering and celebrating engineering! It's really something!

We also build a pumpkin throwing trebuchet in the fall and our high school kids mentor six FIRST Lego robot teams in neighborhood schools. The Arizona State Lego robot championship is held at our school.

The point of all of this is not to build the killer robot, but to expose our kids to the excitement of engineering and the value of an education. We have a few engineers who come and help us. The kids become friends with them. Except for teachers, it is usually the first person they ever knew with a college degree. It really makes a difference. Grades and attendance usually improve.

What we really want to see is kids starting to look at math, science and engineering as something attractive and exciting, not subjects to be avoided. The culture in our country is not promoting too many positive values. When we give talks we like to quiz the audience about a sports figure or someone in the entertainment industry. It's amazing the wealth of knowledge we have on so many people in the "amusement industry". But when we ask the audience to name an inventor -- who is alive, it is usually very silent. We don't even ask for the name of a female inventor, or a Hispanic inventor. The point being, Who are the role models for our young people? What do they see on television on in the movies? How are scientists portrayed? We are really trying to change our culture.

So, while the story in Wired was about four students, there are dozens of students who are equally talented and dedicated. The real story is that there are probably hundreds of very talented young men and women at our school that we are not inspiring or who give up because they see little value in a high school diploma. There are a lot of closed doors when a person is undocumented.

We are trying to involve as many people as possible. There have been, literally, hundreds of individuals who have donated money or time in our projects. Companies like Honeywell, Intel, Microchip, Wells-Fargo, and Phelps Dodge have helped sponsor us. (The trip to the nationals in Atlanta costs $17,000). Many neighborhoods businesses like Fastsigns, Southwest Fasteners, have donated supplies and services

Fredi and I (and Sam and Marcos and all the other teachers) appreciate all the praise that people have sent us. The author, Josh Davis did a fantastic job and we have all became fast friends with him and the photo crew and editors of Wired. I think the majority of teachers that I have ever met work very hard and do wonders to raise all of our kids. We really are not doing anything that millions of other teacher are not doing. However, I don’t think anyone can possibly be having more fun than we are having!

I’ll keep you posted. .

Our Robotics web site: