Good Intentions

Are not enough and often misguided.  When it comes to the environment where there more emotion than facts it can lead to more hard than good.  Here is a great example of bad ecological decisions made by a misunderstanding about the underlying facts as reported by The Huffington Post:



Go into Jamba Juice today and you’ll find something new. Your drink will be served in a specially designed double-walled paper cup.

That’s because, back in August 2012, when fifth grader Mia Hansen ordered a smoothie at a Jamba Juice in Carlsbad, California, only to have it served to her in a polystyrene foam cup, she started a petition on asking the company to stop using foam cups. After her petition received 135,000 signatures in three weeks, Jamba Juice announced it would end its use of foam food service containers. Recently, the company began phasing in what it calls an “eco-friendly” cup — a paper cup featuring a design created just for the drinks it sells. “As a company with a strong concern for people and the planet,” CEO James D. White said about the cup, “we continually seek to improve our environmental footprint across all areas of our business, and our move to this innovative paper cup is a major milestone in these efforts.”

But there are problems with this foam-to-paper shift. Despite common public perception, paper cups are not easy to recycle. Most paper cups are lined with a thin layer of wax, which makes the cup difficult to recycle. Indeed, one recent study revealed that in major American cities only 10 percent of paper food service containers are recycled, lower than the 16 percent for foam containers. In addition, a paper cup creates more solid waste, by weight, than its foam counterpart.

Consider also the process used to make a paper cup — harvesting wood, converting wood into paper, then producing the cup itself. “It takes two and a half times as much energy to make a paper cup as it does to make a foam cup,” Christopher Bonanos wrote in New York. “Foam cups are also much lighter than paper cups, reducing the amount of fuel needed to ship them to the store and to cart them away as trash. Foam also produces a lot less manufacturing waste, because there are no paper offcuts to discard.” As a result, a paper cup actually creates a larger carbon footprint than a foam cup, a result opposite to what Jamba Juice is trying to achieve with its move from foam to paper.

Such problems are a thing of the past with…  ecoSmart.


ecoSmart Beta Version 0.1



Over the long 4 day weekend, Beckett and I worked up the initial questions for our ecoSmart web app and outlined a few more for Lucy and Savannah to complete.  These will be the ones we demo at our tournament in less than 2 weeks.


This week we’ll work through the web site and begin outlining our presentation strategy.  More to follow

Tournament Tchotchkes

FIRST LEGO League encourages each team to come with small giveaways they can present to other teams and visitors at tournaments.  These are called tchotchkes and are commonly handed out in business conventions, tradeshows and exhibitions to promote companies and their products.  The word tchotchkes derives from the slavic word for trinket.


Examples of tech tradeshow tchotchkes

In the context of FLL the idea is to not only promote your team and research project but to also provide a physical connection between teams.  In addition, it gives FLL teams another way to think about connecting with others and provides an excuse to have kids work the floor and go out to meet other kids and learn about their projects.

When we thought about this years theme “Trash Trek” it seemed to go against the idea of “tchotchkes”.  Most tchotchkes are low-value throw-away gifts of poor quality that only add to our trash problem.

Beckett came up with the idea of a drawing of a single higher value gift rather than many low-value disposable tchotchkes.  We thought about which kind of gift would fit this years theme so we searched and ebay for upcycled and repurposed gifts and came across the idea drawing prize:


Our Upcycled Raffle Prize for this year’s tournaments

Another problem we had last year was that most teams just handed out tchotchkes without taking advantage of the exchange.  This year, we thought we’d advertise our drawing giveaway on our business cards.  People could either scan our QR code or go directly to the printed URL and enter the drawing by completing a simple ecoQuiz.


Our Team Cards for this year’s Trash Trek Theme

This would not only raise awareness of for our Research Project, but would also educate people on some of the key issues:

  • Common misconceptions about what is best for the environment
  • How these misconceptions can actually hurt the environment
  • Introduce a science and fact-based way to act smarter for the environment
  • Show them how fulfilled a unique and needed role
  • Introduce them in how to use to make smarter decisions to save the environment

Brainstorms, Logos, Branding and T-Shirt Designs

Based upon our brainstorming sessions last week and working with Beckett at home we’ve come up with our first pass on our T-Shirt design.   With our Costa Rican connection and “flops” in our team name our brainstorm led to a tropical theme this year to layer upon our eco Trash Trek theme.


T-Shirt Front


T-Shirt Back

Green is associated with ecology and allerates with GambierGigaflops nicely so we’re looking with a tropical green color palette and fun fonts to match.  Here is some research Beckett did to help with the design:



BlogTropicalGreenVideoColorPalette BlogSweetSummerVideoColorPalette

We’ll get some feedback today on the T-Shirt design.  The T-Shirt printing company needs several weeks lead time so we’ll have to finalize the design this week.

Our working title for our Trash Trek app is and we’ll discuss a logo for our app today as well as our site functionality and structure.

Flowcharts, State Diagrams, UML and diagramming Thinking and Work Flow


We discussed flowcharts in our last meeting as a way to document the logic and flow of our LEGO programs.  Flowcharts are a graphical way to describe thinking and work flow.  There are many apps and websites that allow you to create and edit flowchart diagrams.


Each geometric shape represents a different computational function that maps directly onto our Mindstorms programming blocks (eg  parallelogram for input/output = sensors/motors).  Here are the main symbols we used:


Here is a more complete list of flowchart symbols

Here is a more detailed flowchart diagram that documents a LEGO Mindstorms program controlling a robot exploring an unknown environment from an engineering lab in Switzerland:


And flowcharts are not limited to just describing software programs, since they are often used to document business processes and workflow.  For example, here is diagram that shows the workflow for the sales process in an organization:


Finally, flowcharts are not the only way we can describe software, thought and work flow.  Unified Modeling Language (UML) is the current standard for documenting complex software that goes far beyond just software flow including things like specific architecture decisions like object, properties, methods and how they interact.  We can also describe our software in terms of state diagrams which is one of the many types of documents that UML can encompass.


State Diagram




Unified Modeling Language


UML encompasses many different documentation types

Missing eV3 Robots, Motors/Sensors and other Equipment


Since our last meeting about a month ago when we programmed our two eV3 robots they have gone missing.  Not only does this represent significant financial loss, but we have also lost all the work we put into building and testing our robots this summer.

To help towards recovering our equipment, here are some photos we took over our summer development that capture images of our robots.


( Recreation of missing bin which had our two eV3 robots and several boxes of parts )


eV3 Lost Robots Build

eV3 Lost Robots JP

eV3 Lost Robots Mateo




eV3 Lost Robot Devin

eV3 Lost Robots Underside

eV3 Lost Robot Side

eV3 Lost Robot Diagram Mateo

Trash Trek Kickoff!

FIRST LEGO League just officially announced the full details of this year’s Trash Trek FLL challenge.  Be sure to view the videos below and check out all the details at the FLL Trash Trek web page.



The Robot Challenge is very different from last year.  There are some very creative and well thought out missions that reflect real-world waste management issues we discussed this summer:

Our team rule master will have to go through the documentation with a fine-tooth comb.  The video above explains that there is a 60% reduction in words and a 30% reduction in rules.  From our experience last year, at the highest level the Robot Challenge involves carefully dissecting the new FLL rulebook to find the legal exceptions/interpretations that allow for optimal engineering solutions.


The Research Project is refreshingly open-ended.  It appears that all the ideas we discussed this past summer are viable under the Trash Trek Topic Guide published today.

We’ll review and summarize at our first meeting.  Go GambierGigaFlops!