Sunday, March 25, 2012

How do you Break the Spell?

I read somewhere, I don't remember where or when, a story about an old lady in 18th century Scotland, (or was it Ireland? England?, doesn't matter where) the thing is this lady's son went out on a fishing boat, and the boat didn't come back, it may have been a storm, pirates, a fire on-board, something happened, bottom line, the ship sailed and it was never heard from again.

After some years, in these situations most people give up on hope on ever seeing their loved ones, but not this lady, she would assert that her son was still alive, she had no reason or evidence that would support her belief, but that didn't stop her. She just knew that her son was out there, alive, somewhere, and it was only a matter of time before she got to see her son again.

I can only imagine what it is not to know what happened to someone you love. I put myself in that lady's shoes and can see where she is coming from. You want to keep the hope alive, you don't want to face the unthinkable, the worst case scenario, the excruciating pain that comes from losing your son.

Perhaps she thought that her son was in some tropical paradise, they wrecked with no way out of it, and settled in with the natives, had 10 kids, and was living a happy life secluded from Civilization. Most likely he drowned in a bad storm, who knows? The question is, which version would you rather believe? The lady, let's call her "Mary" chose to believe the version that made her feel better, not the one most likely to be true. Who can blame her?

As more and more years passed it become more apparent that the son was probably not coming back and Mary would not see her son again. But then, one day, 27 years later, a stranger showed up to Mary's town claiming to be her son.

I can see the commotion, the excitement, he's back! Our Mary was right all along. But then things turned ugly, the guy claiming to be Mary's son, had no resemblance at all to him, the more they town people got to know the guy the more apparent it became that he probably had heard about Mary's story and wanted to take advantage of her.

But Mary saw things differently, she was so happy that her son was back and she thought that the town people were jealous of her happiness she wanted to believe that her son was alive so badly that she ignored any signs that it was not him. He didn't look the same, did not act the same, it was a complete stranger, but she could not see it.

My question is, if you care about Mary, do you make her see the truth or do you let her be happy the way she is?

The answer depends, is she really happy? or does she know, deep down that her son is gone? What if she really believes it? Who are we to interfere? Do we draw the line when she starts to make bad decisions? When others start to take advantage of her faith to gain favors? Do we draw the line when she starts hurting others?

Is it wrong to let her live her life in such delusion? Is it wrong to make her suffer and shatter he hopes?

Some say no, let her be happy. I can relate to that, live and let others live, as long as she is not harming anyone else, that's ok.

But others would say, well, if you care about her, if you really have love, concern and respect for that person, the dignified thing would be to help Mary face reality with courage and strength, help her grieve her loss and move on with her life.

The right answer should be somewhere between those extremes, you can't make a person see reality if they don't want to. You have to let people have the freedom to make their choices as long as they are not harming anyone else. You can provide guidance if they ask for it. But you can't go around telling them how wrong they are.

And that's kind of how I feel about atheism. I see people believing in all kinds of stuff that I see as superstitions, as something slightly above Santa Claus for grown ups. But I can't go around telling people that, especially if they don't want to hear it, if they don't want to question their beliefs. I used to take for granted that since I am always trying to question what I think its true, I thought that others would do the same. But that's not the case, in fact, most people would love to share their beliefs with you, but not the other way around.

But, sometimes, faith can have its consequences, when it goes to extremes, let the law take care of it, otherwise, education will solve the problem, since religion has evolved a lot since the elighqment, I think that it will eventually go away on its own now that we live in the age of information, thanks to the internet, curious minds will have access to other people with the same questions, and ignorance while it may never go away, it will be mitigated effectively.

How is that for a self-delusion?


Monday, March 12, 2012

A tale of two robots

It was the best of teams, it was the worst of teams.

One robotics high school team had all the resources it needed, it had an excellent teaching staff, involved parents, a bunch of smart kids, and adequate funding to go to three Regionals. Let's call this school "A.

Another high school robotics team had enough funding for only one tournament, it had a handful of kids, one teacher, and no parents, not a lot of support, not a lot of evident motivation. Just some kids and a volunteer. This team started building their robot only days before the competition (As opposed to weeks before, which is what A did) Let's call this school "B"

Both robotics team were sponsored by my employer. A few of my co-workers and I spent some time helping out these schools.

One school finished last place in the tournament, while the other ranked 14 out of 63 and played in the quarter finals in the Regional competition. Guess which one won and which one didn't?

If you guessed school A. Guess again. School B made it to the second round. While school A, with all the great kids and staff didn't make it.

I've been trying to figure out why for the past couple of days.

Is it talent? School A had a bunch of smart kids, some of which will probably be accepted to Ivy League schools, a big chunk of them will go to the University of Florida's college of Engineering. So what happened. Was it the way the team was managed? Was there some kind of systematic problem with school A? Was it luck? God? The Liberals?

Although winning is not the most important thing in these Robotics competitions, it does raise an important question. How do you put together a winning robot? How do you get these teams to win?

First let me explain what happened.

Rebound Rumble is this years Robotics Game. In order to win,two competing Alliances compete to score as many basketballs into their hoops as they can during a 2 minute and 15 second match. Each alliance consists of three robots. The higher the hoop in which the basketball is scored, the more points the Alliance receives. The match begins with a 15-second Autonomous period where the robots operate independently of driver input. Baskets scored during this period are worth extra points.

The match ends with robots attempting to balance on bridges located at the middle of the field. In Qualification Matches a team scores extra points if they try to balance in the center bridge with a robot from the opposing Alliance.

Robot A was designed and built to do all the tasks in the game, it had a camera that talked to the processor in order to perform computer vision. It would scan the image it was fed for targets, then it would determine the distance to the target and figure out how much current it needs to send to the rollers that will make the basketball shoot.

Robot A also had an arm controlled with pneumatics that was going to bring the bridge down in order be able to get on the ramp.

Robot B could only do two things, it could move, and it could shoot, there was no time spent trying to get a camera vision thing, it spent no time trying to have a ramp mechanism.

Robot B however, had one thing that Robot A didn't have, it had a student that could drive that robot like it was nobody's business. Not to say that the drivers for Robot A sucked or anything, they were adequate, but Robot B's driver was good, it made no mistakes, and it had a sense of where to put the robot. It knew how to use what it had to get the most out of the game. Robot B had strategy, it could do a couple of things well, and it stuck to it. The team knew strategy, the team was able to build a shooting motion that was repeatable enough that it could land a ball in the basket time after time once it found the sweet spot. Robot B also got lucky, but I'd say that it manufactured its luck.

Did Robot A make any mistakes? perhaps it did. A lot of effort was put on making a mechanism to lower the bridge that was never used and was not crucial to winning the game. As a result, no time was spent on perfecting the shooter. The pit for Robot A was full of well -intentioned, talented people, but, nobody brought up this fact until it was too late.

Lack of vision? foresight? perhaps lack of leadership?

Probably a bit of everything. You need both, you need the talent and the leadership to set direction. You can have a bunch of talent but if nobody knows where to go, you will not get anywhere.

Well, that's all I have for now. I got other stuff going on but remember, be good to each other ya'll.