FIRST Robotics is a program for high-schoolers that teaches invention, design, and teamwork through the process of designing and building a robot to accomplish several tasks during competition. Although most of the teams are in the US, teams in over 25 countries worldwide take part in the program.
Each year the competition has a different theme, and the tasks change. For example, in past years, robots had to be designed to shoot basketballs, throw frisbees, and climb a tower. The competition is announced in early January and teams have approximately six weeks to design, build, and troubleshoot their robots before competition. My sons participated in their high school’s team and count their robotics experience as one of the best parts of high school, and their teammates as among their closest friends.
So, we were especially excited to discover that the theme for the FIRST Robotics Competition this year is Steampunk! And the game was introduced by none other than Professor Elemental, steampunk and chap hop musician extraordinaire. The good professor even wrote a song specially for the competition:
If you’re interested in learning more about this year’s competition (narrated by Professor E.), you can see an animation here that outlines the rules and scoring opportunities:
as well as an even longer description featuring more steampunk antics here:
I think this year’s competition looks to be the most interesting and entertaining to watch in years (and that’s topping last year’s Storming the Castle theme!). And it’s a great introduction to steampunk for all the students taking part in FIRST.
A steampunk outfit is really made by its accessories. They at once evoke the Victorian era that typifies the time frame of much of Steampunk culture, as well as adding bits of interest to your outfit. And no matter what manner of steampunk outfit you wear, you can always think up a reason why your character has been awarded a medal.
I’ve got a few medals that I’ve bought over time. My airship wings are one of my favorites, as is the George V cap badge from the Royal Engineers that I turned into a pin. (I know, not strictly Steampunk era, but close!) But I wanted something unique. Continue reading
From the always entertaining and informative website, Atlas Obscura (if you’re not already reading it, you really should be…) comes the story of a sunken steamship that was discovered in the middle of a corn field in Missouri. How the steamboat Great White Arabia ended up in the corn field is only half the story (the Missouri River shifted course, leaving it on, or rather under, dry land).
Some of the crockery excavated from the hold of the Arabia (Photo by Wikimedia user Johnmaxmena2).
The amazing part of the story is the amount and variety of immaculately preserved cargo found on board. The Arabia was on its way upriver loaded with all the sundry items required for life on what must have been not too far from the American western frontier when it sank in 1856. Because the ship and its cargo has spent most of the time since underground and not underwater, they have been amazingly preserved.
The team that discovered and excavated the steamboat have opened the Arabia Steamboat Museum to display some of the 200 tons of cargo excavated before the field had to be replanted with corn. If I’m ever in that part of the country, I think it would be an extraordinarily interesting museum to explore.
Photo credit: Yale University Art Gallery
We are living in times in which we are striving to make the digital look more and more perfectly mechanical, especially here in Silicon Valley.
So it is refreshing to see something that is purely and simply mechanical in its very being. No pixels, no user interface, no MP3 files. Just gears and springs and levers artfully crafted, and beautifully encased in hand-worked precious metals and gems, depicting the Diana, goddess of the hunt in her chariot.
From the always entertaining and educational blog Two Nerdy History Girls, the video shows the automaton/clock in action. I can imagine it being quite the site at early 17th century soirees Even today, it is quite amazing!
Thirty Days Later, the steampunk short story anthology that I mentioned here launched a couple of weeks ago at Clockwork Alchemy, San Jose, California’s steampunk con. I am honored to be amongst the talented writers that have come together to create this collection. The concept is a bit different: each writer pens two short stories–separated from each other by Thirty Days.
Proceeds from the book will be donated to literacy charities. You can order Thirty Days Later from Amazon as paperback and for Kindle, and from Smashwords for many other ebook formats.
Back in September 2014, when I was preparing to launch my first book To Rule the Skies, I posted on this blog, an Anteprologue to the novel, that is, a prologue that comes before the actual prologue that begins the book. At the time, I likened it to the short between-seasons webisodes that Doctor Who was presenting, or the Marvel One-Shots that served to connect the various Marvel Cinema movies.
I’ve continued to putter on this piece and have now re-written it a bit and fixed what I thought were some inconsistencies. So, in celebration of 2016 Clockwork Alchemy, San Jose’s steampunk con that’s taking place this weekend, I’ve now published it as a free download on Smashwords. Take a look at it and let me know what you think. If you like it, you might be interested in the novel that it’s an anteprologue of, also available on Smashwords as an ebook for everything but Kindle, and on Amazon for Kindle and in paperback.
And if you’re at Clockwork Alchemy this weekend, stop by Author’s Alley and say Hi to me and all the other talented authors that will be there.
Before there were MP3 files, before CDs, before vinyl, there were waxed cylinders upon which were stored the faint tracings that could be replayed as sound.
Thomas Edison patented the first phonograph in 1880, and cylinders maintained their popularity until the 1910s when discs began to outsell them. The University of California, Santa Barbara has archived and digitized over 10,000 of these cylinders and made them available on the web.
Rummaging through the collection gives a real taste of the turn of the (last) century. Most of the cylinders contain music. If you like marches, this was the time of John Philip Sousa. There are also some recordings of important speeches of the day, including several by Theodore Roosevelt, and a description of his journeys in Antarctica by Ernest Shackleton.
For the steampunk enthusiast, there’s also a recording from 1905 of a song titled, “Come, take a trip in my air-ship.” (And for a modern recording of this song, listen to Unwoman (a Steampunk favorite) sing it. You can even buy her version on a cylinder, in case vinyl isn’t hip enough for you!)
Personally, I’ve used these recordings to give a bit of ambience as background music in a historic house museum I’m involved with. Most people don’t notice it, but it lends a bit more authenticity to the experience, I find. And I’ve spent a fair amount of time just perusing the archives, listening to the sounds of ghosts from the past.