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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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Strawberry Fields and Getting to Know Your Food

On May 26, 2015, in Family, Food, by Chris Baccus
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With the long three day Memorial weekend, we were kind of struck with what to do since we didn’t head out of town or had any big plans for the holiday. Saturday we saw the film Tomorrowland which the boys liked but I started to fall asleep during. Sunday and Monday were blank canvases until my wife mentioned a strawberry farm in Irvine. I wasn’t really that interested in strawberry picking, and if I’m being honest, I was more interested in it being in Irvine which was close to Santa Ana and a butcher I have wanted to go to.

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So we decided to head to Tanaka Farms with a stop afterwards at Electric City Butcher.

Tanaka Farms practices what they call “responsible farming” that you can learn more about here. Basically they practice many organic farming methods, but will use stronger pesticides if a crop is failing. They also are much more than just strawberry fields. They grow a variety of fruit and vegetables and have a small market that sells the produce on property.  You can also take a tour for $18 per person (kids 2 and under are free.)

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We opted for the tour which included a ride on carts pulled by a tractor.  Our tour guide explained the farm’s approach as well as showing us all of the various crops they grow.  The tractor made a couple stops along the way where everyone had a chance to taste whatever was in season. For us, we tried carrots, corn, green onions, celery, and cilantro.  You can really taste the freshness when it is immediately picked.  The difference is amazing!

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Eventually we ended up at the strawberry fields where each of us had a 1 lb container to fill.  What’s great about Tanaka Farms compared to some other U-Pick places we’ve been is that they actually have plenty of beautiful fruit ready to pick.  It wasn’t the typical overpicked farm we usually experience. Or at least it wasn’t that way when we were there.  So we came home with some beautiful, tasty strawberries that later became homemade jam, because what else are you supposed to do with 4 lbs (4 1/2 lbs to be exact) of strawberries?

What I love best about experiences like this is that our boys get a chance to learn where food comes from, plus they get exposed to new food they might of passed on at the dinner table.  For instance, Oscar enjoyed the green onion and probably would’ve put up quite a fight to try it if it wasn’t for it being passed around on a farm.  Theo wasn’t a fan, but at least he tried the onion and some other vegetables too.

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We are lucky in that our boys eat a lot of fresh fruit and vegetables everyday. They eat tomatoes, green peppers, snap peas, and cut up fruit with every lunch and dinner.  They’re pretty good about it with the things they’ve tried and liked. Getting them to add some new options is where the problem is.  I’m guessing it’s because most of the time a parent is asking to try something new it is poorly received, so the instinct to new food is negative. That’s what’s nice about excursions like this.  It’s not about us as parents asking to try something new; instead, it’s the experience that opens up experimentation.

In the end, we came home with a lot of fresh strawberries that ended up in a stockpile of jam jars.  Here is the recipe of for what we made.

Strawberry Jam
Makes about 80 ounces

4 1/2 lbs of fresh strawberries, hole to remove stems
1/2 cup fresh lemon juice
6 cups sugar

Place jars in a large stock pot covering them fully in water. Add a small splash of vinegar to avoid water from getting any film, this is definitely necessary in Southern California. Heat to a boil and then reduce to gentle boil until ready to use.  In a separate pan, bring lids to a gentle boil and leave in pan until needed.

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Cut the strawberries to remove stems and rinse fully in water using a colander.  Place the strawberries in a large pot and heat on medium-low setting.  Mash the berries to your desired chunkiness. You can also gently puree them using an electric hand mixer. Though I would just use a potato masher.  Mix in the sugar and lemon juice. As the berries heat, a pink bubbly film will rise to the top. Keep skimming that off with a large spoon and discard into a bowl next to your pot. After 30 minutes you should start testing.

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Put a small plate in the freezer and remove it after a minute or two. You’ll want to test your jam to see if it is runny.  Basically, you want the jam to hold on the plate when you tilt it vertically.  Continue to test until the jam doesn’t run down the plate.

Remove the jars from the water and fill jars with the jam leaving about a 1/4 of an inch from the top.  Remove lids from water and place on top of jars.  Then seal each jar. Tighten by hand and then slightly loosen just a small amount so the jar lids are not on overly tight. They will seal properly when boiled during the final step.

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Submerge the closed jars of jam into water in large pots and heat to a boil.  Heat in a full, rough boil for 15 minutes making sure the jars are fully covered by water. When finished, remove using jar tongs or kitchen tongs. Wipe up and moister and label the tops and date. Jam will keep for at least a year and likely longer.

 

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