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We had an amazing Saturday thanks to a tip from one of Theo’s classmate’s mom.  There was a robot competition happening last Friday and Saturday between International teams with $3.5 million in prize money. The Robotics Challenge is one that has a real impact beyond the competition itself. The competition is really about improving technology in disaster relief response situations using robotics; the competition merely funds the research and innovation.

It’s a free event for the general public. You not only get to watch the robot teams compete in a series of tasks, but there are a number of booths that let you participate in hands-on demonstrations using robotic technologies. It’s a really fun experience for the kids and adults too.

We spent about three hours at the event, which was enough time to see one round of competition and fortunately for us we did see the First Place winner: Team KAIST. The challenges included walking out of a vehicle, opening a door, turning a wheel, cutting open a wall, removing tools from a shelf and finally walking up stairs. It was funny watching the audience react to each successful task with applause. It was like a nerdy sport competition. That’s not to say it was a bad thing, it was just kind of hilarious having a stadium full of people cheering on robots. We loved it.

The booths were interesting too. Our boys had opportunities to use a robotic hand to do tasks similar to what the competition robots did. They also were given robot licenses and controlled robots using game controllers. There were also demonstrations featuring some advanced robots from NASA, JPL, and many others in the robotics industry.

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Theo has a real love for robots and both boys are taking a robot LEGO programming class for summer school. They came away with more excitement about robots and robotics as a possible choice in their careers. Of course at 9 years old, decisions are likely to change. What’s important though is they were each inspired and wanted to know more about what it takes to become a robot engineer.

Thanks DARPA for providing such a great event and we are sure to attend next year too!

I’ll leave you with this a video someone put together using footage from DARPA of robots falling. Unfortunately, the version with a WWE wrestling voiceover was removed by the copyright owners… You’re welcome.

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Spending the Day Picking Berries

On June 6, 2013, in Family, by Chris Baccus
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A conversation at home.

What are we going to do this long weekend?
How about picking blueberries?
Why? Can’t we just buy them already picked?
But It’s fun.
Really?
Let’s just do it. What else is there to do today?

And that is how we ended up at the Underwood Farm in Ventura County the Sunday of Memorial Day weekend.

I honestly was looking forward to the drive more than the farm. I had picked strawberries a long time ago when I was 13 years old in Gresham, Oregon.  We had a couple strawberry farms near our subdivision that kids would hear about how you could make money filling baskets of berries. With only a meager paper route at the time, yes I had a paper route – boy do  I feel ancient, making some extra dollars picking berries sounded like a great idea.  That is until a couple friends and I decided to do it one morning.

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We went down to the field and were given large wooden buckets to fill with berries.  We were told what to look for and to be gentle placing them in so as not to bruise them.  I believe each bucket paid us 50 cents or some small amount like that.  Bending over and squatting to get each tiny berry off each plant was tedious.

What was more frustrating was watching the berry pickers who did this all the time.  They picked a heck of a lot faster than us and it seemed like forever to fill the bucket meaning we were not going to make the money we had hoped for.

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My time at Underwood Farms wasn’t about speed or making a few dollars.  It was all about getting outside and spending time with the family. Oscar and Theo had a great time walking through the fields finding blueberries and asking mom “is this one good? How about this one? Is this one blue enough?”

Underwood Farms takes you out to the blueberry bushes on a tractor train and then you fill large plastic containers.  They also have raspberries and strawberries you can pick too; though, Memorial Day was just blueberries and a small amount of raspberries.

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The farm also has some barn animals you can feed where a small twenty-five cent vending machine will give your kids some food for the sheep, goats, chickens and alpacas. There is also a wooden play pickup truck that all of the kids were climbing on next to a small market full of fruits and vegetables.

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It really was a fun excursion from the city, plus it’s less than a hour away. Most importantly we came home with some beautiful, tasty blueberries!

Learn more about Underwood Family Farm.