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ThunderChickens Storm Atlanta!

Last weekend was an absolute blast in Atlanta where the Utica Community School’s ThunderChickens (robotics team 217) competed in the FIRST Championships along with 9,000 students at the Georgia Dome. You may recall from an earlier blog posting that my oldest son Chris is a programmer on the team and White Light Computing is a team sponsor. The competition is the best-of-the-best with 466 teams from 19 countries, making it more of a true world championship than a national championship.

After a slow start, the ThunderChickens finished 8th out of 85 teams in the Archimedes division and joined the number one alliance (Adambots from Rochester Michigan, our ThunderChickens, and Menlo Atherton High School team from California). This strong alliance competed in the elimination round where they became the Archimedes Division Champions without losing a single game!

The four divisional alliances (each with three teams) competed against each other for the World Championship. The Archimedes alliance won the first game against the Newton alliance before barely losing the next two games in the semifinals. The alliance they lost to eventually became the World Champions. It was heartbreaking, but the team did a great job and the alliance worked together as if they have been doing it all year long. Still, they made it to the “final four” and we are extremely proud of the gracious professionalism the teams showed throughout the competition. Many people at the competition thought the ThunderChickens had the best robot on the field.

The Woodie Flowers Award, presented by Small Parts, Inc. to an outstanding engineer or teacher participating in the competition who best demonstrates excellence in teaching science, math and creative design was won by Paul Copioli, who is a mentor for the ThunderChickens. This is a huge honor for Paul, his family, and the team.

Dean Kamen, the founder of FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of
Science and Technology), provided another inspiring speech to the bright young competitors in between games played during the finals. He is not the most dynamic speaker, but his topic is this year was inventing and protecting intellectual property. It is his opinion people will make oodles of money with intellectual property in the next decade.

Dean invited Jon Dudas, the Under Secretary For Intellectual Property and Director of the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO), to address the crowd about the value of intellectual property. He also discussed some of the complexities of gaining a patent and trademark and how they are granted. This was very interesting. He also noted he was soon embarking on a personal vacation with his family. He is visiting a hall of fame in Ohio. Most people might think about the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland or maybe the Football Hall of Fame in Canton, but his trip is going to the Inventors Hall of Fame in Akron. Very interesting.

The other guest speaker was Larry Page, one of the Google Boys. He talked about engineering and the continuous process of solving problems and making technology better and easier to use. His discussion took us through a brief overview of how he and Sergey Brin started with an idea to search Web pages on the Internet, had it rejected, decided not to quit, and built Google. I would hate to be one of the people who told Larry and Sergey they were not interested in their idea. It is simply a 50 billion dollar bad decision. Larry and Sergey have started Google.org, which is the philanthropic arm of Google. Not only are they making the Internet easier to use, driving the future of computing, and inspiring engineers to solve bigger problems, they are paying it forward by giving back some of their fortune to make the world a better place. They announced they would be contributing to the FIRST organization in the future. Larry is originally from Michigan, which is something I did not know before this weekend.

It was a very exciting weekend. One of those weekends that regenerates the brain cells and at the same time was fun. It also helps restored some faith in the future of our world and the generation we are raising. Therese and I met some brilliant kids who were more than happy to demonstrate and discuss the technology they used in their robots, animations, designs, and Web sites. Cooperative competition, exactly like we have seen in the Fox Community for nearly two decades. In the years ahead the talent pool of programmers and engineers will be stocked with some excellent men and women. I look forward to the day I can hire a few at White Light Computing.

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