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Continuing this week's theme of doing important things without leaving town, I present our results foran exciting project I started earlier this year.
For seven weeks, my coworker Mark Haye and I voluntarily led a class of students here in Tucson, Arizona in an after-school pilot project to teach the ["C" programming language] using [LEGO® Mindstorms® NXT robots]. The ten students, boys and girls ages 9 to 14 years old, were already part of the FIRST [For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology] program, and participated in FIRST Lego League[FLL] robot competitions.Since the students were already familiar building robots, and programming them with a simple graphical system of connecting blocks that perform actions. However, to compete in the next level of robot competitions, FIRST Tech Challenge [FTC],we need to leave this simple graphical programming behind, and upgrade to more precise "C" programming.
Mark is a software engineer for IBM Tivoli Storage Manager and has participated in FLL competitions over the past nine years. This week, he celebrates his 25th anniversary at IBM, and I celebrate my 23rd. The teacher, Ms. Ackerman, and the students referred to us as "Coach Mark" and "Coach Tony".
This was the first time I had worked with LEGO NXT robots. For those not familiar with these robots, you can purchase a kit at your localtoy store. In addition to regular LEGO bricks, beams, and plates, there are motors, wheels, and sensors. A programmable NXT brick has three outputs (marked A,B, and C) to control three motors, and four inputs (marked 1,2,3,4) to receive values from sensors. Programs are written and compiled on laptops and then downloaded to the NXT programmable brick through an USB cable, or wirelessly via Bluetooth.
We used the [RobotC programming firmware] and integrated development environment (IDE) from [Carnegie Mellon University].The idea of this pilot was to see how well the students could learn "C". With only a few hours after class on each Wednesday, could we teach young students "C" programming in just seven weeks?
My contribution? I have taught both high school and college classes, and spent over 15 years programming for IBM, so Mark asked me to help.We started with a basic lesson plan:
At the completion of these seven weeks, I sat down to interview "Coach Mark"on his thoughts on this pilot project.
This is a practical programming skill. The "C" language is used throughout the world to program everything from embedded systems to operating systems, and even storage software. This would allow the robots to handle more precise movements, more accurate turns, and more complicated missions.
Can kids learn "C" in only seven weeks?
Part of the pilot project was to see how well the students could understand the material. They were already familiar with building the robots, and understood the basics of programming sensors and motors, so we were hoping this was a good foundation to work from. Some kids managed very well, others struggled.
Did everything go according to plan?
The first two weeks went well, turning on motors and having robots move forward and backward were easy enough. We seemed to lose a few students on week 3, and things got worse from there. However, several of the students truly surprised us and managed to implement very complicated missions. We were quite pleased with the results.
What kind of problems did the kids encounter?
Touch sensor required loops waiting for pressing. Motors did not necessarily turn as expected until more advanced methods were used. Making 90 degree left and right turns accurately was more difficult than expected.
Any funny surprises?
Yes, we had a Challenge Map representing the Mars planetary surface from a previous FLL competition that was dark red and divided into squares with thick black lines. An active light sensor returns a value of "0" (complete darkness) to "100" (bright white).However, the Mars surface had craters that were dark enough to be misinterpreted as a black line causing some unusual results. This required some enhanced programming techniques to resolve.
Did robots help or hurt the teaching process?
I think they helped. Rather than writing programs that just display "Hello World!" on a computer screen, the students can actually see robots move, and either do what they expect, or not!
And when the robots didn't do what they were expected to?
The students got into "debug" mode. They were already used to doing this from previous FLL competitions, but with RobotC, you can leave the USB cable connected (or use wireless Bluetooth) and actually gather debugging information while the robot is running, to see the value of sensors and other variables and help determine why things are not working properly.
Any applicability to the real world of storage?
We have robots in the IBM System Storage TS3500 tape library. These robots scan bar code labels, pull tapes out of shelves and mount them into drives.The programming skills are the same needed for storage software, suchas IBM Tivoli Storage Manager or IBM Tivoli Storage Productivity Center.
The world is becoming smarter, instrumented with sensors, interconnected over a common network, and intelligent enough to react and respond correctly. The lessons of reading sensor values and moving motors can be considered the first step in solutions that help to make a smarter planet.Read More]
Happy Earth Day everyone!
This week I am in Costa Rica to celebrate[Earth Day] and promote IBM's [Smarter Planet strategy] to help solve the world's energy and environmental problems. This is thethird in the series. The first two posts were:
Most people are familiar with the [star rating system] that rank most hotels from one star (budget class/economy) to five stars (deluxe/luxury). The nicest hotel I've been to was the [Burj Al Arab] in Dubai, which claims a seven star rating. For eco-tourism, there is a similar "Green Leaf" rating system. According to Patrick,the Instituto Costarricense de Turismo [ICT] (tourism board of Costa Rica) rates hotels from one leaf (adopting some measures, like separating recyclables shown above) to five leaves (entirely carbon neutral).This Green Leaf system seems more important to European and Canadian tourists, but those from United States may not even be aware of it.
The food at these hotels vary. The typical dish here for breakfast, lunch and dinner is the Casado, consisting of mostly rice and beans. I have found thatCosta Rica has come up with as many creative ways to combine rice and beans in various proportions as Starbucks® serve various combinations of coffee and milk.The locals might be accustomed to a steady diet of rice and beans for every meal of every day, but those of us from North America aren't! Not counting tourist flatulence, Costa Rica has[pledged to be carbon neutral by 2021], the country's 200th birthday.
Sadly, most folks in the United States don't categorize their hotels with a Green Leaf rating system, nor do they even bother to categorize their recyclables. I spent 18 months in the field doing Information Lifecycle Management (ILM) assessments for clients, and most didn't categorize their data either.So, the next time you have some combination of coffee and milk, whether its a Latte, Misto, Espresso, or Macchiato, remember that the coffee came from acountry trying to be more environmentally responsible, grown by a farmerwho eats a simple diet of rice and beans, and has no problem separating different categories of recyclables. Perhaps you will remember to separate your data, and store it on an information infrastructure based on an envi We're all on this planet together.
We're all on this planet together.
Finishing off this week's series of Pulse 2009 videos, I wrap up with a video on IBM's exciting data deduplication appliance.
With mixed emotions, Jon Peake announced he will retire from IBM next week. Jon is known as thefather of IBM Virtual Tape Server (VTS), the industry's first virtual tape system, announced in 1996and generally available in 1997.One of my 19 patents was for the VTS pre-migration capability, and as lead architect for DFSMS, I worked closely with Jon and his tape systems team to ensure its success.
At his retirement celebration, Jon was awarded the coveted "Project Bulldog" jacket, which has an interesting history.
In response to IBM's 1996 VTS announcement, the top StorageTek (STK) tape sales teams and most of the dedicated tape technicians were invited to a global assembly at a fancy resort in Winter Park, CO (about 90 miles west of STK's Louisville headquarters) in early 1997. The gathering was named Project Bulldog, after Ron Korngiebel, STK's director of competitive marketing, who I am told had voice and facial resemblance to justify the project moniker. Ron had recruited Fred Moore, Steve Blenderman, and other prized engineers as speakers. I have seen both Fred and Steve speak at various conferences such as SHARE and GUIDE, and agree they are high quality speakers.
The goal was to have STK's brightest in Louisville go down in the trenches, work the field guys into a frenzy, defend STK Tape at any cost, and send IBM packing. At the end of the two day fest, many participants received the coveted Project Bulldog jacket.
Former STKers who now work at IBM can remember this meeting involved:
While some analysts frowned on Sun's [2005 acquisition of StorageTek], IBM was delighted, given Sun's previous track record in storagecompany acquisitions. I joke that we are still picking up confetti in the hallways of IBM's Tucsonlab. I was in New York city when I heard Sun's announcement, and it didn't take long for STKemployees offering me their resumes.Since then, many STK engineers, technicians and sales team have left Sun, many coming over to IBM.Back then, there were many intelligent and talented people working for StorageTek, and IBM is gladto have hired them.
With the resurgence of interest in tape systems, from dealing with new legislation for long term retention of electronic data to a focus on energy efficiency, Jon leaves much like a champion retiring at the top of his game.
Jon, I am going to miss you! Enjoy your retirement!Read More]
Continuing my two-part series on this week's announcements, I presentIBM's latest for tape and storage software.
Hopefully, you can now see why I had to split up all these announcements into separate posts acrossmultiple days!
technorati tags: IBM, TS7650, TS7650G, gateway, appliance, ProtecTIER, HyperFactor, TSM, DB2, BIRT, deduplication, Veritas, NetBackup, EMC, Legato Networker, LPAR, VMware, Xen, Hyper-V, z/OS, Linux, TKLM, TSPC, SSPC, Productivity Center[Read More]