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At LHS, applied physics students flex their robotic arms

LACONIA — Members of Laconia High School's applied physics class got to use hydraulically controlled robotic arms to do some precision lifting Monday morning.
One team of students, Trevor Blake, Andrew West and Michael Hodge, all juniors, were using the arm they put together to pick up thumbtacks by the slender tack end and then drop them into a soda can. Nearby, seniors Christian Miles, Ben Ainsworth and Tom Nickerson used their arm to lift and nestle small metal cups inside each other.
Another team of students, Richard Humphries, Tyler Reichel and Dillon Ellsworth tried to manipulate kinetic balls of energy while yet another team, made up of Josh Mariano, Brian Englesen, Tristan Jerrier and Rose Therrien, were using a magnet to lift 10 thumbtacks at a time and deposit them in a lab beaker.
The robotic arms are made from kits that the teams assembled last week and they are moved by applying pressure to liquid-filled syringes which are connected by tubes to the hand-like gripping devices and lifting parts of the arms, helping give the students insight into fluid dynamics and the principles which make things in the real world actually work.
''They're learning the science behind fluid dynamics and dong it in a very hands-on way'' says their teacher Jo-Ann Gilbert, who says that the students' first exposure to those principles came earlier this year with a log splitter.
Students last week put together the robotic kits, mounting them on rectangular wooden 2 by 4 blocks, and made their own modifications to them once they started to experiment with them, adding elastics wrapped around the robotic hands in one instance to give them a better grip. They then designed tasks for them, which had to be accomplished in less than five minutes. Monday they were timing themselves on how fast they completed those tasks and then moving on to the other student-built robots to see how well they could perform on those challenges.
''We've got this pretty much down to a science,'' said Ellsworth, who said that the smooth, round surface of the kinetic energy balls made them difficult to grip at first and required precision maneuvering by the operators of the robot arms.
Rose Therrien observed that one of the keys to getting good performance from the robot arms was ''filling up the syringes so there are no air bubbles in them. If they have bubbles, they don't move smoothly or have a strong grip.''
Gilbert said that unlike most of the other challenges that the class has undertaken during the course of the first term, kits were used for this challenge. Other projects have included building CO2 propelled dragsters, designing rockets for launch, and solar cars and that the class will also be building a solar oven.
''The students love these kind of hands on challenges and it really gets them involved. It's also fostered a lot of cooperation because they all help each other out and learn a lot from what the other teams are doing. They're learning that it takes practice and the good use of technology to make things work the way you want them to,'' said Gilbert.

Last Updated on Tuesday, 26 November 2013 02:47

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Boothby Announces & Files in District 1

MEREDITH — Accompanied by a group of his closest supporters at the State House yesterday, Christopher Boothby of Meredith became the first Republican to enter the race to succeed the late Ray Burton as Executive Councilor in District 1.

The district sprawls across two-thirds of the land area of the state, reaches into six of its ten counties — Coos, Carroll, Grafton, Belknap, Strafford and Merrimack — and includes four of its 13 cites, 101 of its 221 towns and 19 of its 25 unincorporated places.

Boothby acknowledged there is a lot of ground to cover and voters to reach in the 58 days before the primary election on January 21, particularly since three major holidays — Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year's — will punctuate the campaign. The winners of the primary will have 42 days to campaign until the general election on March 11. "This campaign will be all about making strategic use of resources," Boothby said.

Boothby, a resident of Meredith, served as an intern with Burton while attending graduate school at the University of New Hampshire. Boothby served as a Belknap County Commissioner for 12 years and during his tenure was twice president of the New Hampshire Association of Counties. For the past 15 years Boothby and his wife Maren have owned and operated Boothby Therapy Services, a Laconia firm that provides occupational and speech therapy services to school districts. During the same period he also worked at LRGHealthcare, as director of outpatient services as well as in philanthropy and community affairs.

"I'm working hard to assemble a strong team of advisors and network of supporters from around the district," said Boothby, who intends to devote all his time in the coming weeks to the campaign. "I'm very honored and pleased by the response I've received so far," he added, suggesting that that with the expansive district and abbreviated timetable the advantage will lie with candidates with an existing identity and presence in the district. He expected that his experience as a county commissioner and tenure as president of the association of counties would lend momentum to his candidacy.

One Democrat, Michael Cryans of Hanover, who with experience in banking and teaching has served 16 years on the Grafton County Commission, filed yesterday while Mark Hounsell of Conway, a former state senator and Conway selectman, and Jack Savage of Middleton, owner of Carriage House Publishing and moderator of the school district, have both said they are considering entering the race.

Among Republicans, Rick St. Hilaire of Lebanon, former Grafton County Attorney, and Josh Youseff of Laconia, who lost a bid for the New Hampshire Senate in 2012, have been mentioned as possible candidates.

Last Updated on Tuesday, 26 November 2013 02:46

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Big week on Sanbornton turkey farm

SANBORNTON — The last full week before Thanksgiving is always a fretful and busy time for Monique Lebrecque, owner of Hermit Brook Farm. Late November is when she is about to be rewarded for the months of labor and dollars invested into her turkey flock. It's also the time of year when the predators of her neck of the woods are instinctively fattening up for the long winter ahead. Black bears are a primary concern, and they're why she stops allowing the birds to peck throughout her green, grassy fields and keeps them in an enclosure that is secured by wire fencing, an electrified fence and a pair of vigilant Anatolian shepherd guard dogs.

"The last two weeks is when I've lost the most of them," she said. But, with no breaches of security this year, she was happy to begin the processing of her flock at the end of the last week prior to Thanksgiving. Each of her 200 birds will be slaughtered on site by herself. Each bird will be dispatched, defeathered, placed in a chill tank to cool it down, then eviscerated, back in the chill tank, then bagged and placed in a cooler.

Labrecque has been raising turkeys for meat for more than two decades and she estimates she'll be able to complete the entire process in about 12 hours, completed just in time for Sunday morning, when the driveway at the end of a long dirt road on the back side of this rural town will be filled with customers queued up to acquire the crown jewel of their holiday feast. The customers, most of whom have done business with Labrecque for years, will happily pay $4 per pound for their turkey, which will fall somewhere in the range of 12 to 30 pounds.

Despite the welcome influx of revenue Labrecque will realize on Sunday — after all, many of the birds will fetch more than $100, and she has 200 of them to sell — she said raising the flock is more about a way of life than it is a means to profit. "You don't make what people think you should make," she insisted. The price of grain is her main opponent when it comes to turning a profit. Her flock consumes up to 300 pounds of feed per day, and while she remembers paying $16 per 100-pounds of grain not too long ago, the diversion of the country's corn crop to ethanol production has doubled the price of feed grain.

The turkeys have been at Hermit Brook Farm since July, when Labrecque purchased them as poults. There were years during the previous decade that she ordered as many as 700 poults to raise on her farm, many of which would be purchased by companies to give as holiday gifts to employees. Those orders dried up with the recession, and although the corporate customers haven't returned, she's seen demand start to pick up again as more and more consumers are interested in eating food produced by a person they know and by practices they find appealing.

During most of the growing season, when the bears are busy with berries, Labrecque's turkeys are free to roam through her fields. Because she's meticulous about keeping their environment clean, she doesn't need to add antibiotics to their feed. As a result, her customers regularly tell her that the turkeys are the best they've ever tasted, even though the breed she raises — broad-breasted white — isn't genetically different from the turkeys available at any supermarket. All but a few of her turkeys this year are already reserved by customers — call 286-4121 to see if there are any still available — and she said she plans to increase the size of her flock next year.

Labrecque has been farming on Plummer Hill Road for 21 years, though she's only the most recent farmer to raise food on that land — the farmhouse she's living in was built in 1788, and many of its prior residents are buried in a plot that overlooks her pasture. She was born and raised in Salem, Mass., in a more suburban environment though at the end of a dead-end street where her family had chickens and horses. "I always wanted to grow my own food," she said. Agriculture started as a self-sustaining venture for her, though it quickly spiraled into a commercial affair when friends and family kept asking if they could buy the fruits of her labors. She plans to keep it up, even though the rising price of grain has dramatically reduced her profitability. "I like farming and I've never really been motivated by money."

Come Thanksgiving, hundreds of families will be sitting down to a meal made possible by Hermit Brook Farm. Her customers find various ways to prepare the bird. Some fry them, most roast them, a few swear by cooking them breast-side down. Lately, brining seems to be spreading among home chefs like a new religion, said Labrecque. She doesn't get too fussy, though. "I just stick it in my woodstove," she said. Not too long after her dinner, her phone starts ringing again. It'll be her customers, praising her for providing the best bird their guests have ever eaten, and many will ask to reserve a bird for next Thanksgiving.



Monique Lebrecque, of Hermit Brook Farm in Sanbornton, checks on her flock of turkeys. She's been raising turkeys for Thanksgiving feasts for 21 years. (Laconia Daily Sun photo/Adam Drapcho)



Hermit Brook Farm in Sanbornton raised 200 turkeys this year, though had raised as many as 700 in the early 2000s. (Laconia Daily Sun photo/Adam Drapcho)

Last Updated on Saturday, 23 November 2013 12:59

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Burglar alert leads police to arrest man on credit card charge

LACONIA — Police arrested an area man on an outstanding warrant Thursday night while responding to a call for a burglary on Union Avenue.

Officials said they received a report at 10:54 p.m. from a person saying she had just seen a man crawling through her neighbor's window.

Scott DeForge, 21, was arrested on an outstanding warrant from Belmont Police for the fraudulent use of a credit card.

He was released on personal recognizance bail.

Laconia Police said they are still investigating the burglary report.

Last Updated on Saturday, 23 November 2013 02:14

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