Author Topic: A rant about FIRST  (Read 1673 times)

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Offline z.s.tar.gzTopic starter

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A rant about FIRST
« on: October 03, 2010, 08:57:11 PM »
I was in FIRST during the majority of my senior year of high school. It was the rookie year for the engineering program there, and I was the leader of the electrical, mechanical, and programming teams. This doesn't matter. What does matter is something very disturbing I noticed at the competitions when talking to veteran teams and judges.

The entire competition seemed to be based around that idea that "just because you made it you're a winner". I say this in quotations because that's what a judge said to me as we were getting into the fifth hour of debugging why our code wasn't running. Our robot didn't work, nor did it seem like it would be working anytime soon and there was an official telling us we were the winners for making an incredibly expensive pile of junk.

I love that FIRST is getting students who otherwise would never have done anything with electronics, programming or mechanics to go and try all three. I hate that it backs all this up with the idea of 'it doesn't matter whether you win or lose just as long as you tried'.

I'm sure many of you will agree with me in saying that life in general, especially engineering, doesn't work that way. In the real world where things are not fair-and-square you win by outperforming the competition, not by having competition at all. FIRST is getting engineering to the masses, but I don't believe it's the right kind of engineering. In eastern society, there's an overall sense that average isn't good enough whereas in western society it's completely acceptable to be average. Actually I have no idea what that last bit had to do with anything but it's late and I've already warned about rants up front so it's excusable.

I could now go on ranting and occasionally using a bit of CAPS LOCK but I feel like if you haven't gotten what I'm saying by now seven more paragraphs won't make a difference. So, "FIRST is a nice club but don't read what they say too far past face value." is my opinion. My other opinion is "The vast majority of Americans are really boring, or at least most of the people I know."
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Offline blackbeard

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Re: A rant about FIRST
« Reply #1 on: October 03, 2010, 09:13:49 PM »
FIRST will be FIRST. there's a reason why they wanted nothing to do with robot combat when it emerged in the 90s.
"sure, you can test your combat robot on kittens... But all your going to do is make kitten juice"

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Offline z.s.tar.gzTopic starter

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Re: A rant about FIRST
« Reply #2 on: October 03, 2010, 09:21:35 PM »
I don't like robot fighting either as I just don't see the point. Why make robots to destroy robots when humans can do it much better?
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Offline GearMotion

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Re: A rant about FIRST
« Reply #3 on: October 04, 2010, 08:11:22 AM »
The entire competition seemed to be based around that idea that "just because you made it you're a winner".

I was raised that way. Couldn't really do much, but always got a ribbon for trying hard. Or frequently for not trying at all. Didn't really do much, but it was important that I wasn't made to feel bad even for not trying at all.

It did prepare me very well for the job that I have. You see most days I don't even care enough to get out of bed, so I don't bother going to work. I still get paid really well because my bosses don't want me to feel bad. At least that's what I think - I've never bothered to get to know them. I still cash the checks, though.

The company I work for tries really hard to make products. They have not designed or produced anything in years, but they sure try hard. OK actually they really don't try at all, but the company keeps getting investors, because no one wants to feel bad for failing. The products have won awards, because everyone does.


( Sarcasm, just in case you didn't pick up on it. )

Offline Metal Slug 2

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Re: A rant about FIRST
« Reply #4 on: October 04, 2010, 01:26:33 PM »
Hmm, this has shone new light on FIRST for me.  Having never had the opportunity to join a FIRST team (and attempting but failing to create one at my school due to lack of support), I felt I had missed out on something of great value.  Perhaps the loss isn't so bad after all.
Now it seems to me FIRST is more about getting just the general student population interested in engineering, rather than providing opportunity/helping to develop professional robots for students who are already interested in engineering.

On another note, I agree with all of you that covering up reality with a
"just because you made it you're a winner".
type mentality is completely wrong.
Even though they (FIRST) are trying not to discourage students because they may have a malfunctioning robot, saying that everyone is a winner just gives everyone a "get out of jail free" card. This leaves no reason or drive to further develop a robot/or any other project you may have...which of course will hit you hard some time later in your life when you realize that you actually can lose at somethings and have no one to hold your hand through the ordeal...

Offline Razor Concepts

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Re: A rant about FIRST
« Reply #5 on: October 04, 2010, 10:49:20 PM »
I guess its better than saying "Yeah, you kind of suck, and wasted $15000. Give us more money next year, maybe?"

Offline Ro-Bot-X

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Re: A rant about FIRST
« Reply #6 on: October 05, 2010, 06:03:38 AM »
I have not participated in FIRST competitions, because when I grew up in highschool there was nothing like this in Romania. I learned robotics on my own, as a hobby, just because I am passionate about it. I had to go back to Romania and stay there 2 years between US and Canada and I wanted to spark some passion over there too. There were only 2 teams competing in the national qualifications for the Eurobot competition (this is for university students). I was a one man team and got qualified with a Lego robot that did more than their heavy metal robots could do. I tried hard to get more people interested. Most of the people told me, why should I invest time and money for something I don't get any material compensation in return? Just because I will learn something? That's not enough!

At the moment, after almost 5 years, there are only a few (less than 5) teams competing in Eurobot Junior, but more than 10 competing in the Eurobot competition. I have seen the built but not ready to compete robots but the students are encouraged to find ways to improve and find other students that have specific knowledge to help them have a competing robot. I coached a team from Sibiu and on their first year missed the qualification by a hairline. This got them more ambitious and next year, on their own, they won first place in Romania. Since then, they are coaching more students and always win. They always set a higher goal for next year, like be in the first 16 international teams, then get passed the second round in the final competition and so on. They know they can't really compete with Europe's finest universities, but they still try. In return, they get great recognition from the University and the ones that graduated got the best payed jobs available and the companies were fighting for them.

As for any competition, there has to be a goal in mind and adequate compensation and recognition to get the best results from students. It's good to give something just for participating, but they have to see great advantages if they win.
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Offline z.s.tar.gzTopic starter

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Re: A rant about FIRST
« Reply #7 on: October 05, 2010, 09:17:13 AM »
The thing is that you don't have to have a robot at all to go to the FIRST competition. If you payed the fees and filled out the forms you can compete whether you ever built anything at all.
This makes the whole "everybody's a winner" concept even more ridiculous since you literally can enter the tournament not having anything at all.
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Offline macdad-

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Re: A rant about FIRST
« Reply #8 on: October 06, 2010, 04:44:00 PM »
I have not participated in FIRST competitions, because when I grew up in highschool there was nothing like this in Romania. I learned robotics on my own, as a hobby, just because I am passionate about it.

I'll second that, I've always had a feeling about FIRST(never participated, just read a pamphlet) and other competitions(JETS, anyone?) where I seem to have had a limit or something that was buffering my hobby and intellect. I've just always done better on my own or, occasionally, with a couple friends, than in an organized competition. I have been burned several times by my soldering iron, shocked a few times by circuits, and accidentally set a few things on fire, to learn some of the stuff about robotics and electronics. There is just no one-size-fits-all way of teaching engineering. Self-study on engineering is a more strengthening experience, in my opinion.

This leaves no reason or drive to further develop a robot/or any other project you may have...which of course will hit you hard some time later in your life when you realize that you actually can lose at somethings and have no one to hold your hand through the ordeal...

Now it is a good idea for encouraging effort, but there is a balance to be struck. If you fail, then the thought process is inhibited when to much of the "Effort Award" is given, there are no gears turning to find out what you did wrong, there isn't an example to what you did wrong and some consequences if this was designed for use in the real world(Although if they did that then they would start to lose competitors  ::) )
« Last Edit: October 06, 2010, 04:47:27 PM by macdad- »

Offline Metal Slug 2

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Re: A rant about FIRST
« Reply #9 on: October 06, 2010, 06:10:49 PM »
I have not participated in FIRST competitions, because when I grew up in highschool there was nothing like this in Romania. I learned robotics on my own, as a hobby, just because I am passionate about it.

I'll second that, ... There is just no one-size-fits-all way of teaching engineering. Self-study on engineering is a more strengthening experience, in my opinion.

I'll Third that, and also agree with everything macdad- said.

Just to throw this out there, there is also the factor of 'consequence' which plays a large part (I believe) in the quality of a project, the learning experience you gain, and the determination to make it good and see it through until completion.

For us hobbyists, we have to spend our Own money on components, building materials etc. This motivates us to make the most of what we have instead of being wasteful.  If we create inefficient designs or poorly fabricate robot parts, then the consequence will be more money wasted on new material to construct a better design.  In addition, if you purchase a bunch of stuff you don't really know how to use...(memories of your $50 robot anyone?  ;))...you will be more motivated to learn how to use/work with whatever you bought, than if someone just gave it to you for free.

I know it sounds rather negative, saying that basically in order to be more effective in your work there must be a significant level of consequence involved if you perform poorly...But, Its rather true I find.  Or at least it was back when I was in grade 10 construction class...the school had to stop paying for students' projects because students would carelessly cut a piece of wood, only to find it not fitting with the rest of their project, and then go back and destroy another board...."measure twice, cut once" just doesn't apply when your not the one paying for the mistakes =/

Offline macdad-

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Re: A rant about FIRST
« Reply #10 on: October 06, 2010, 06:36:52 PM »
For us hobbyists, we have to spend our Own money on components, building materials etc. This motivates us to make the most of what we have instead of being wasteful.  If we create inefficient designs or poorly fabricate robot parts, then the consequence will be more money wasted on new material to construct a better design.  In addition, if you purchase a bunch of stuff you don't really know how to use...(memories of your $50 robot anyone?  ;))...you will be more motivated to learn how to use/work with whatever you bought, than if someone just gave it to you for free.

Agreed, It took me four years to finally gather the components for my first robot(Not that I had design problems, it was just tight budget). And I made sure that I got the right components with the right specs, pricing, so on and so forth, so that I didn't have to restart and re-accumulate my funds. Patience is a virtue that is well rewarded in the end.

Offline z.s.tar.gzTopic starter

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Re: A rant about FIRST
« Reply #11 on: October 06, 2010, 07:53:46 PM »
Our team spent several thousand dollars on a robot that came in 39th place and was 150% the weight limit. This obviously doesn't make sense from any perspective unless you look at it this way:

slacker 1: hey these are really cool looking wheels I just found on [shady looking website]
slacker 2: yeah those are really cool lets order them.
(the wheels are ordered and two to three days go by)
supervisor: where did these wheels come from?
slacker 1 or 2, it doesn't matter: [insert other slacker] wanted to order them, and excuses excuses excuses.

In the end the wheels would be completely impractical (soft rubber treads on a live axle) and also against the rules, so there goes whatever they cost plus fast shipping. You can see how I refuse to be a mentor this year or any year for that matter.

Also a nice summary would be that FIRST doesn't believe in the second half of trial and error.
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Offline Gertlex

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Re: A rant about FIRST
« Reply #12 on: October 14, 2010, 06:30:23 PM »
Our team spent several thousand dollars on a robot that came in 39th place and was 150% the weight limit. This obviously doesn't make sense from any perspective unless you look at it this way:

slacker 1: hey these are really cool looking wheels I just found on [shady looking website]
slacker 2: yeah those are really cool lets order them.
(the wheels are ordered and two to three days go by)
supervisor: where did these wheels come from?
slacker 1 or 2, it doesn't matter: [insert other slacker] wanted to order them, and excuses excuses excuses.

In the end the wheels would be completely impractical (soft rubber treads on a live axle) and also against the rules, so there goes whatever they cost plus fast shipping. You can see how I refuse to be a mentor this year or any year for that matter.

Also a nice summary would be that FIRST doesn't believe in the second half of trial and error.

Who's the moron that gave the kids the purchasing means?
I did three years of FIRST in high school and mentored my team for two years after that. (and now the team has been dead for a couple years...)

There are bigger problems than what you talk about, such as the "worship mentors" mentality.  Though that's similar to what you've talked about.  In essence, the mentors can do no wrong.  My team didn't have that problem, mind you, but reading about other teams where the kids had no say in designing, machining or otherwise building the robot because the mentors took it all upon themselves.... and then seeing other mentors degrading the guy posting about said situation... Lotsa BS.

My team had the problem of there not being enough competent people during the build season, such that all the work was done by a handful of the students + mentors.  We never could seem to train people during the rest of the year.

In conclusion: FIRST was my entry to developing design and machining skills, and robotics to a lesser degree.
I

Offline z.s.tar.gzTopic starter

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Re: A rant about FIRST
« Reply #13 on: October 14, 2010, 08:00:14 PM »
The director of the engineering program I was in did. I could rant about her all day because it basically comes down to this: the engineering program that I was used to be cool several years before I entered but then the old director retired so she became the new one and the program goes farther and farther under every year. She spends all year raising money and blows it all on stupid projects like a biodiesel powered go kart and a small scale version of FIRST which increases focus on the ceremony and politics.

Well there I go ranting all day. Anyways the fact that I'd have to be in the same room as her is a major factor in me not being a mentor this year.
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Offline futurrobotech

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Re: A rant about FIRST
« Reply #14 on: October 14, 2010, 08:14:26 PM »
First has good intentions however sometimes its not directly their fault for people who are involved in the program. I would complain about this to someone such as a director over the state. Furthermore FIRST has competitions other than FRC like FTC that are somewhat easier and I believe a high school in its inagural season should mabye do FTC

Offline z.s.tar.gzTopic starter

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Re: A rant about FIRST
« Reply #15 on: October 14, 2010, 08:20:49 PM »
I have no intention to change FIRST, only to rant about it which is what the internet is for. Plus, if they are the director of the state then obviously they have already justified all the aforementioned points and will just ignore me.
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