Robots vs. castles - Gilford FIRST team well on their way to competition

By Roger Amsden


Connor Craigie, Brad Parker and Ayden Carpenter of the Gilford High School FIRST Robotics Team and the robot they are working on which will take part in competitions next month. (Roger Amsden photo for the Laconia Daily Sun)


Connor Craigie, Brad Parker and Ayden Carpenter of the Gilford High School FIRST Robotics Team and the robot they are working on which will take part in competitions next month. (Roger Amsden photo for the Laconia Daily Sun)



Members of the Gilford High School FIRST Robotics Team are putting in a lot of hours these days building a robot which will compete for glory next month by attempting to breach the defenses and scale the walls of a miniature castle.
Jackie Drever, one of the team's mentors, said the students, 22 of them in all, spend four to five hours a day and as many as eight to 10 hours on Saturdays working on the project, which is as much time as they spend in all of their other courses combined.
"It takes a lot of effort and a lot of dedication on their part," says Drever, who points out that the benefits of the intense involvement are shown by the fact that in the last 10 years of the FIRST program in Gilford, students who took part in the program have been awarded over $500,000 in college scholarships.
The team is one of 3,000 from around the world with an estimated 78,000 students involved in the For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology competition, which was launched in 1989 by New Hampshire inventor and technological innovator Dean Kamen, with an eye to inspiring students to explore science and technology as future careers.
The competition sees teams involved in a six-week project in which they build a robot from a kit which is provided for them and requires them to use their math, science, technology and engineering skills to design and program the robot to perform certain tasks which are required as part of the competitions.
This year's challenge, FIRST Stronghold, is played by two alliances of three teams each. Alliances compete against each other to breach their opponents' defenses, known as outer works, and capture their tower. They score points by crossing elements of their opponents' outer works, hurling basketball size inflatable balls into their opponents' tower goals, and surrounding and scaling their opponents' tower itself.
The team has $6,000 in support from the Gilford school system but also is allowed to raise as much as $4,000 from sponsors and local fundraisers in order to purchase other items needed for the project. New Hampshire Ball Bearings is their major sponsor and they also receive assistance from Meredith Village Savings Bank. Meals for the team are provided by places like Taco Bell, T-Bones and Fratello's and parents of the students provide Saturday meals.
Drever says that other mentors include her husband, Chris, who is director of infrastructure at Plymouth State University; Mike Andrews, a mechanical engineer at New Hampshire Ball Bearings; Scott Plessner, a software engineer, and Steve White, who works at the Anheuser-Busch brewery in Merrimack, who helps the students with building the robot.
Connor Craigie, a junior who has worked with a computer-assisted design program to help design the robot, says that he utilizes knowledge he has acquired from high level math and science classes in the building project.
He said the code which will enable the team to control the robot is based on Eclipse software but hasn't been fully uploaded yet. By next week he expects that the team will be able to start testing out their fully functioning robot and then work to fine tune it.
Craigie says that he wants to become an aerospace engineer and that the project is providing the hands-on kind of experience that he and other team members will need in their future careers.
Cameron Fraser, a junior, said he has always been interested in building and design, starting with Legos as a child, and that he is looking forward to a career as an architect or engineer.
Ayden Carpenter, a senior, is in his fourth year of involvement with the FIRST program and will be handling the controller for the robot,
He said he has seen the team grow better each year and advance further in the competitions.
"I grew up with mechanical toys and I always loved building things," said Carpenter, who wants to become a mechanical engineer.
He says that his experience with the FIRST team has helped him in physics and calculus classes in high school and that the one of the major benefits of the program is working with others as a team to solve problems.
The first district will be held at Windham High School March 4 through 6. The second district event is March 24 through 26 at the University of New Hampshire, followed by a regional championship from April 13 to 16 in Hartford, Connecticut. The world championship will be held in St. Louis, Missouri, from April 27 to 30.

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Sled dog race nixed - ‘Crazy winter’ causes derby cancelation

By Roger Amsden

LACONIA — "This is the craziest winter I've ever seen. It's the winter that wasn't," said Dave Emerson of Emerson Aviation, the official ice-out observer for Lake Winnipesaukee.
Emerson wasn't surprised by the Lakes Region Sled Dog Club's announcement that the 87th annual World Championship Sled Dog Derby, scheduled to be held Feb. 12-14, has been canceled.
"I've never seen it like this. There's no significant snow on the ground anywhere. And the Broads on Lake Winnipesaukee are wide open. It's going to be the first winter since 2001 that the Broads don't freeze over," said Emerson.
The lack of solid ice cover on Lake Winnipesaukee has caused the postponement of the Great Rotary Fishing Derby from Feb. 13-14 to Feb. 27-28. And the New England Pond Hockey Classic, scheduled for this weekend in Meredith, has been moved from Meredith Bay to Lake Waukewan due to poor ice conditions.
Jim Lyman, president of the Lakes Region Sled Dog Club, explained the decision to cancel the derby.
"The lack of snow and the warm weather scheduled for the coming week are without a doubt the determining factors. Warm weather in the high 30s and no major snow in the forecast will not allow the Sled Dog Club trail crew to establish and maintain a safe World Championship trail," he said.
The sled dog race tradition in Laconia dates back to 1931, when the city hosted its first race. In 1936 the name of the race was changed to the Laconia World Championship Sled Dog Derby.
With war clouds on the horizon, the race was canceled in 1938 and sled dog racing didn't return to Laconia until 1956, when it was brought back by the Belknap County Sportsmen's Association.
During the 1960s and 1970s, the race was a major annual event and drew many presidential candidates to the start-finish line in downtown Laconia. But numerous cancelations due to poor snow conditions over the years and the difficulty of bringing snow into the downtown area for a course on North Main Street led moving the starting line first to Opechee Park and later to Old North Main Street across from the former Laconia State School property.
Even though the race has been canceled, the Lakes Region Sled Dog Club will still host a raffle to support future races. Tickets to win $2,000, $1,000 or $500 are $100 each, with only 100 tickets to be sold. The drawing will take place Friday, Feb. 12, at 8 p.m., at the Christmas Island Steak House, 644 Weirs Blvd., Laconia.
Tickets may be purchased from club members or by calling 524-4314.

Jeb Bush touts his experience as NH primary draws near

LACONIA — Speaking to some 150 people gathered at the Margate Resort last evening, Jeb Bush said that he has come to New Hampshire “to show my heart, my spine and my mind at as many town halls as I can.”
Once the presumed favorite for the Republican presidential nomination, with just five days until the New Hampshire Primary, Bush has yet to gain momentum. He left Iowa with less than 3 percent of the vote in the caucuses and polls show him only flirting with double digits in New Hampshire.
Bush rattled off his achievements during his two terms as governor of Florida, which included cutting taxes by $19 billion and trimming the state workforce by 11 percent, and said that other candidates also promise to reduce taxes and shrink government. “But, you can’t just talk about it,” he continued. “You have to have the experience.”
Recalling he was impressed by Barack Obama’s rhetoric in 2008, Bush said that the failures of his presidency reflect his lack of experience of leadership.
“First you have to listen, then you learn,” he said, “and then you’re ready to lead.” He remarked that “the lesson of last eight years is that a president cannot provide leadership by “pushing other people down to make himself look good.”
By the same token, alluding to Donald Trump, whose presence has overshadowed the race for the GOP, he said that leadership does not consist of disparaging and insulting others.
Asked how he would make difficult decisions, Bush began by stressing “humility” in the sense of “knowing what you don’t know.” Next he said that a leader reaches out to those individuals with the deepest understanding of the issue at hand along with the best ideas for resolving it.
“You cannot operate in a bubble,” he said. And he concluded with prayer, explaining that “my faith informs my life.”
“This is not about me,” Bush said. “It is about whether this country will lead the world for the next generations.” That, he said will require a president who will lead through strength. “You’re looking at that guy, by the way,” he remarked.

Jeb Bush speaks at the Margate.

Jeb Bush speaks to a group at the Margate Wednesday night. (Michael Kitch photo/Laconia Daily Sun)