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Unread 08-05-2004, 11:45 PM
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Exclamation It is about the robots (OpEd)

The following is my opinion, and I shouldn't have to say that. Anything anyone says is an opionion. <hippy> Perception is reality man! </hippy>

Reading the spotlight, it seems the stance of most CDers is that FIRST "isn't about the robots." I must say I disagree ferverently. Sure, FIRST should inspire kids to look into engineering careers, but it shouldn't end at inspiration. FIRST should be about satisfaction in having applied your intellect to creating a working device, and developing your "people skills" to boot, and providing a means to this end should be the highest priority of FIRST. I consider the highest honor in FIRST to be winning at nationals, certainly not the Chairman's Award.

This post was triggered by discussion of selling gearboxes as a way to raise funds. I see this as the exact opposite of what FIRST should be about. My team probably could have purchased a gearbox this season, and certainly had a better bot as a result. But we went with a ghetto direct drive and made a lot of mistakes even in doing that. In making these mistakes we developed a healthy desire to do better, and we're excited about what we can do this year. I have no problem with a team reading a whitepaper by Andy Baker about how to optimize a gearbox and then using his guide to design and order components. I don't care about whether they actually machine the parts, but they should be forced into thinking about why they are doing what they are doing. There pride should be on the line and failure/mediocrity should be a grim prospect motivating them.

The rationalization has been made that in "the real world" engineers spend a lot of time making purchasing descions and altering OEM products to meet a specifc need. This is not what FIRST should be about because its far less fun/educational. FIRST is an inherently artificial microcosm of the real world, which gives us the benefit of picking and choosing what we want to include.

If you can't spend the time about thinking what your bot needs gearbox wise and opt to buy one instead, you shouldn't get that gearbox.

Buying is a shortcut around thinking!

Sorry about the rambling, and I look foward to counter-flaming
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Unread 08-06-2004, 12:09 AM
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Re: It is about the robots (OpEd)

Quote:
Originally Posted by phrontist

This post was triggered by discussion of selling gearboxes as a way to raise funds. I see this as the exact opposite of what FIRST should be about. My team probably could have purchased a gearbox this season, and certainly had a better bot as a result. But we went with a ghetto direct drive and made a lot of mistakes even in doing that. In making these mistakes we developed a healthy desire to do better, and we're excited about what we can do this year. I have no problem with a team reading a whitepaper by Andy Baker about how to optimize a gearbox and then using his guide to design and order components. I don't care about whether they actually machine the parts, but they should be forced into thinking about why they are doing what they are doing. There pride should be on the line and failure/mediocrity should be a grim prospect motivating them.

The rationalization has been made that in "the real world" engineers spend a lot of time making purchasing descions and altering OEM products to meet a specifc need. This is not what FIRST should be about because its far less fun/educational. FIRST is an inherently artificial microcosm of the real world, which gives us the benefit of picking and choosing what we want to include.

If you can't spend the time about thinking what your bot needs gearbox wise and opt to buy one instead, you shouldn't get that gearbox.
FIRST is and always will be about inspiration. FIRST has always left up to the discretion of the teams, as to how the achieve this inspiration. To your team, it may mean lots of hands on work by students. To other teams it may mean watching as engineers create an inspiring robot. The path each team chooses is their decision. There's no need for anyone to pass judgement on what is more inspiring.

Quote:
Buying is a shortcut around thinking!
No. Not at all. Buying is a result of smart thinking. From a business perspective, why spend 80+ man hours, and $200+ on parts building a gear box, when you can buy a tested one for similar monetary cost. This is what we call smart business decision. The time saved on these gearboxes can used to teach lots of other engineering principles. Companies make decisions like these on a regular basis. Why do something yourself, when you can save money by having someone else do it.

If you think buying these gearboxes is going to hurt the inspiration level on your team, then don't buy them. I think they're a brilliant idea, and I plan on advertising them very heavily to the rookie teams I'll be mentoring in the upcoming season.

Quote:
I consider the highest honor in FIRST to be winning at nationals, certainly not the Chairman's Award.
Winning at the Championship Event, is a very inspiring event for the teams involved. But, winning the Chairman's Award means you've inspired not only your team, but other teams and usually an entire community. The Chairman's Award is about the big picture, changing culture. It's clear to me, which award is the bigger honour.
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Unread 08-06-2004, 12:41 AM
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Re: It is about the robots (OpEd)

Quote:
Originally Posted by Karthik
FIRST is and always will be about inspiration. FIRST has always left up to the discretion of the teams, as to how the achieve this inspiration. To your team, it may mean lots of hands on work by students. To other teams it may mean watching as engineers create an inspiring robot. The path each team chooses is their decision. There's no need for anyone to pass judgement on what is more inspiring.


No. Not at all. Buying is a result of smart thinking. From a business perspective, why spend 80+ man hours, and $200+ on parts building a gear box, when you can buy a tested one for similar monetary cost. This is what we call smart business decision. The time saved on these gearboxes can used to teach lots of other engineering principles. Companies make decisions like these on a regular basis. Why do something yourself, when you can save money by having someone else do it.

If you think buying these gearboxes is going to hurt the inspiration level on your team, then don't buy them. I think they're a brilliant idea, and I plan on advertising them very heavily to the rookie teams I'll be mentoring in the upcoming season.


Winning at the Championship Event, is a very inspiring event for the teams involved. But, winning the Chairman's Award means you've inspired not only your team, but other teams and usually an entire community. The Chairman's Award is about the big picture, changing culture. It's clear to me, which award is the bigger honour.
I've got to say, I like how FIRST leaves the interpretation of the I largely up to teams.

And either the championship or chairman's is a high honor, one that takes a LOT of work from a lot of people.

I will say, Chairman's trumps the championship any day of the week. However, if 1293 goes all the way through Einstein Field next year, I'll pop the sparkling grape juice all the same.

Pick your award(s), go for it with everything you've got, and don't sweat where yours falls within the spectrum of FIRSTdom. Whether your version of the I is all about the robots or has very little to do with the robot, you'll do fine.
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Unread 08-06-2004, 01:17 AM
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Re: It is about the robots (OpEd)

Personally, I like FIRST just the way it is. On the topic of "is about the robots or not?" let's look at it this way. Would we all really be here on these boards and filled in arenas to build our people skills or become gracious professionallists? No. Can you honestly say you would have joined FIRST for the sole purpose of becoming a more productive citizen? Most likely not.The robots are the attracting force, the common interest that brings us all together. Once we are together, (by force of the robots), we develop all these other great things like gracious professionallism. Today FIRST might sustain itself if the robots were no more because we have been converted into great people who see the value beyond the 'bots, but there would be no attraction for new outsiders. After being involved with a team for three years and now going on to mentor that team for year #4 for me, I can honestly say that it I am just as happy seeing a robot fail miserably as long as the kids still enjoyed the program and got something out of it and there is insight for future improvement. Now, for really totally awesome robots themselves, that's just an added bonus that some teams are very fortunate to achieve. See, building a really great robot is just a pseudo challenge for the concept of the whole FIRST program. It is just a phony way to bring people together to reach one common goal. What we don't know until we have been with FIRST for a while, is that we have subconciously been becoming better people in the process of building this robot.

You think you are building robots, but you are really building yourselves.
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Unread 08-06-2004, 02:48 AM
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Re: It is about the robots (OpEd)

Quote:
Originally Posted by phrontist
Reading the spotlight, it seems the stance of most CDers is that FIRST "isn't about the robots." I must say I disagree ferverently. Sure, FIRST should inspire kids to look into engineering careers, but it shouldn't end at inspiration. ... I consider the highest honor in FIRST to be winning at nationals, certainly not the Chairman's Award.
... But you do realize that FIRST is "For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology" ... not "For Building Robots That Win and Nothing Else" (Hmm FBRTWNE just doesn't have the same ring to it ...)

Quote:
Originally Posted by phrontist
The rationalization has been made that in "the real world" engineers spend a lot of time making purchasing descions and altering OEM products to meet a specifc need. This is not what FIRST should be about because its far less fun/educational.
Less educational? I hate to break it to you, but in "the real world" most companies don't build everything from scratch. They have people who contact companies and look through catalogs trying to decide which part will meet their need the best, based on size, weight, material, cost, efficiency, etc. And if a company can't find the exact part they need, THEN they'll either make the part on their own, or order something as close as they can and modify it to fit their needs. That's what most FIRST teams do. It doesn't get more "real world" than that. And a little "real world" experience, though boring it may be, never hurt anyone.

Quote:
Originally Posted by phrontist
If you can't spend the time about thinking what your bot needs gearbox wise and opt to buy one instead, you shouldn't get that gearbox.
So say some FIRSTer is manufacturing gearboxes and selling them at a reasonable cost to raise money for their cause or, heck, even make a few bucks for themselves. I look at the part and realize it's EXACTLY the gearbox I need. In fact, this one will work even better for me than the one I planned on using. Are you saying I should make the gearbox myself when there's one already available to me? Why? To build it, it would take many, many manhours plus I would need to find people to do it. To buy it, I would receive my part, I wouldn't have to worry about correctly building it and I'd be helping out the other FIRSTer.

Quote:
Originally Posted by phrontist
Buying is a shortcut around thinking!
It is most definitely not. If there's a part you need and someone is already manufacturing it, why waste your time reinventing the wheel? Buy the part, save some time, get done faster.


But then again, that's just my opinion.
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Unread 08-06-2004, 03:51 AM
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Re: It is about the robots (OpEd)

Quote:
Originally Posted by Karthik
No. Not at all. Buying is a result of smart thinking. From a business perspective, why spend 80+ man hours, and $200+ on parts building a gear box, when you can buy a tested one for similar monetary cost. This is what we call smart business decision. The time saved on these gearboxes can used to teach lots of other engineering principles. Companies make decisions like these on a regular basis. Why do something yourself, when you can save money by having someone else do it.

This is right on. I can't agree more with Karthik. Last season we decided we were going to build the T-kats 2003 transmission. We did all the drawings in inventor, spent a lot of money on parts, and tons of time machining. I can't even count how many hours myself, a professional machinist, a parent from our school, and another student spent making the thing, and we still didnt finish it on time for a number of reasons.

I can't even tell you how happy I would've been if these were available for sale last year. We could've paid essentially the same monetary price, maybe slightly more, and had to do next to no work on it ourselves. A drivetrain is the integral part of any robot.

Just think of how much less pressure you would be under throughout build if you could say to yourself "Hey, I bought that transmission from that Andy Baker guy, and man does it work great. And the best part is, we didnt have to spend any time to design it or build it, instead we got to focus all our effort into making a killer arm/whatever"

It's a fact that many teams lack the engineering resources to make anything approaching the level of sophistication of a Technokats gearbox. This is something that could truly level the playing field, and allow students to feel MORE inspired when they create a killer function for their robot because they didnt have to work out drive problems for six straight week.s

$0.02 Cory
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Unread 08-06-2004, 08:05 AM
Andy Brockway Andy Brockway is offline
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Re: It is about the robots (OpEd)

I also agree that without robots there would be a lot less people in FIRST. The robots provide the excitement. Most of my goals are met the day we ship the robot. The learning, cooperation, compromise and communication provide the strength for the team and individuals.

As for buying gearboxes........I build custom assembly machines for a living. Being able to buy an assembly for these machines saves countless hours of design and testing and allows us to deliver a machine in a reasonable timeframe at an acceptable price. So let us take a look at this gearbox I purchased for my latest machine. It took many hours of design, test, refine, re-test before it was offerred for sale. The company manufacturing it does not want to spend money on field failures, service calls and returned product. And since they make more than the one I need, there is data on its life and I get a proven product. But this gearbox was not built with smoke and mirrors. It was produced on machinary that was most likely purchased. That machinary was designed, tested......

The argument of buy versus build is a healthy one. The Mars Rover has many custom assemblies because none existed to meet its specs. The Globe motor with gearbox that we receive in our kit has been reported here to be in both Ford and GM vehicles. The principles of engineering needed to build a gearbox can be learned on other mechanisms. Some teams need to allocate their resources to the game playing portions of the robot. Choices are a part of life. What we learn in building these robots is more important than which part we bought. Look at other designs and at the world around you. Borrow from others and make it better, simpler or even just unique.
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Unread 08-06-2004, 09:21 AM
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Re: It is about the robots (OpEd)

Here I am again. On the opposite side of the wall. Were would we be if people only used rebuilt parts? Were does the design and thought process come in to play? The inspiration comes from the mind not the field. When you build your first gearbox. When you understand why and how it works. I have seen the light in students and mentors eyes when something that they designed and built succeeded. The people in FIRST are the best. They have ideas. They can look inside and outside of the box. Why get in a habit of buying this transmission or that arm?

I understand why some people would rather buy than build. I still feel that to build what you can is better than buying everything. This has nothing to do with mentor bots or student built bots. I also understand that stand (still think your wrong Karthik but what else is new) and the pros and cons.

Inventions are not built using premade parts. People come up with new ideas, from different angles and with renewed enthusiasm. Playing the game is fun, building and designing is inspirational.

My $0.02 cdn.
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Unread 08-06-2004, 09:26 AM
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Re: It is about the robots (OpEd)

Quote:
Originally Posted by Andy Brockway
I also agree that without robots there would be a lot less people in FIRST.
I have to come in on that.

The goal of FIRST is to "Inspire" people. However, without the robots, what exactly would we be doing... If it was all about the community work, then we're just a bunch of co-ed Boy/Girl Scouts. (No offence to any boy/girl scouts out there.) What would be left if we took out the 6 week build time, official competitions, off-season competitions, preparation time for the build time, fund raising for the robot, and showings of the robot at community events? You need to the robot to be able to have those things. FIRST is very much about the robot, because that's what makes it different than different than a large community service project.

I hope my point is made.
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Unread 08-06-2004, 09:29 AM
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Re: It is about the robots (OpEd)

Quote:
Originally Posted by Katie Reynolds
It is most definitely not. If there's a part you need and someone is already manufacturing it, why waste your time reinventing the wheel? Buy the part, save some time, get done faster.
You aren't just letting someone else manufacture it, if that were the case I'd take no issue with it. You are letting someone else design it, allowing you to focus on some other design. I see this as detrimental to the FIRST experience on whole, as it means some teams don't have to make tradeoffs. They can buy their way around deciding "awesome gearbox, or awesome arm?" That kind of tradeoff is, much more indicative of real life, no? Making sacrafices builds character
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Unread 08-06-2004, 09:33 AM
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Re: It is about the robots (OpEd)

Quote:
Originally Posted by Karthik
No. Not at all. Buying is a result of smart thinking. From a business perspective, why spend 80+ man hours, and $200+ on parts building a gear box, when you can buy a tested one for similar monetary cost. This is what we call smart business decision. The time saved on these gearboxes can used to teach lots of other engineering principles. Companies make decisions like these on a regular basis. Why do something yourself, when you can save money by having someone else do it.
I like the idea of that kind of constraint. I want teams to have to deal with:

"Oh man, can we really afford the weight/time of building this CVT? Will we be able to have it AND that [insert other component here] we wanted? " - (Actual Internal dialog going on in my head right now)

On a totally unrelated note: You have to coolest, name, ever.
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Unread 08-06-2004, 09:36 AM
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Re: It is about the robots (OpEd)

Quote:
Originally Posted by phrontist
This is not what FIRST should be about because its far less fun/educational.

If you can't spend the time about thinking what your bot needs gearbox wise and opt to buy one instead, you shouldn't get that gearbox.

Buying is a shortcut around thinking!
I just want to touch briefly on these points:

1. Are you sure it is less fun?
I imagine the students on team 47 had a pretty fun season this year, even though they bought commoditty DeWalt drill transmissions for their robot, rather than creating custom ones.

2. Are you sure it is less educational?
I'm fairly sure that any mentor worth half a dang can turn anything into an educationall, and inspirational experience for the students. Reverse engineering can be fun lesson to teach. Even with a stock gearbox solution, optimization still needs to be done (final sprocket-chain ratios, wheel size). Even with a stock input-output transmission, there is a SIGNIFICANT amount of engineering that goes into mounting/utilizing it on a robot in any effective fashion.

3. Why is it shameful to adapt a working product to my needs?
You said, essentially: "If I can't build it, I don't deserve to have it." Okay... interesting. Where is the line? My team can't mold rubber or plastic. Does that mean we're not allowed to use Skyway wheels? Let's say... I'm on the "arm" subteam for our design group. My kids and I calculate we need a 367:1 reduction off the Chip motor for our application. We realize, that... (hypothetically) DeWalt makes a transmission to just about fit our needs. Rather than spend $200 and countless design-hours on a custom tranny, we pick up DeWalt's solution. My kids go nuts working with me to make it dance to our tune.

What exactly is wrong with this?
My kids didn't learn anything? SURE they did.
It's not that tough to make it a positive experience for them.

My kids didn't have fun? SURE they did. You'd be surprised how satisfying it is to "engineer" a solution for a problem, even if that solution involves off the shelf parts. (My team can't cut/cast gears, does that mean we shouldn't be allowed to buy from Boston?)


4. Am I really taking a shortcut around thinking by buying something?
Heck no! It shows that I'm thinking MORE. I'm doing the smart thing. S-M-R-T, smart.



Overall I would argue:
My kids would still have a strong positive experience, even if we built our robot out of "Industrial Erector Set" and prebuilt mechanical solutions. It's still OUR robot.

It is easier on mentors this way, and allows them to spend MUCH more time mentoring. If I don't have to worry about designing a custom transmission, and working the bugs out of it, I can focus 200% on making sure the kids have fun, and get a lot out of the process (another way around this, is to do the development/debug in the fall, then redesign/tweak/rebuild during the 6 weeks, but this is another story).
Plus, mentor burnout sucks. Making things easier for mentors in this competition (while allowing them to provide the SAME positive experience) is a definite good thing. There are so many people busting their butts for this program, and for these kids... why make their lives harder?


Okay... I guess I wasn't so brief. I feel strongly on this subject.
I guess, it all comes down to mentor quality. With good mentors, anything can be good for the kids.


$.20 (10x over my limit here)
John
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Unread 08-06-2004, 09:38 AM
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Re: It is about the robots (OpEd)

Quote:
Originally Posted by Steve W
My $0.02 cdn.
Don't be so hard on yourself (*rimshot*)

Thanks for elucidating!
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Unread 08-06-2004, 10:20 AM
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Re: It is about the robots (OpEd)

Quote:
Originally Posted by JVN
I feel strongly on this subject.
I guess, it all comes down to mentor quality. With good mentors, anything can be good for the kids.

John
Amen. The decision making process still weighs heavily for teams no matter what the choice. There are a lot of parts/systems to a robot. Buy a gearbox? Build a gearbox? Use a white paper design? Create your own? Adapt a readily availble gearbox for the kit motors? In all of these cases student learning and inspiration can still be high. In all of these cases student learning and inspiration can still be low. It's not the "WHAT you do" it's the "HOW you do" that makes a difference in our society. Every one of the above choices is accepted practice in today's global economy. Why create artificial boundaries that don't exist in today's world?

A team can choose or not choose to buy/use a stock gearbox. I won't argue over philosophical views on which one a team should do - that's up to the team and I respect all views/decisions that are well thought out.

I will tell you what inspires me about the selling of one awesome gearbox. A team is willing to take their own invention and share it with other teams at the risk of getting beaten with their own design. This elevates the level of competition and pushes all teams to "do it that much better" while encouraging teams to share more at the same time. I say horray for any team willing to make such a bold move. They've just increased their own workload, made it easier on others, and taken a step toward more highly functional machines at all regionals which will attract more sponsors and media. The end result is a huge win for FIRST and it's participants.

I'm quite sure Phil Jackson never took his coaching staff to other cities to teach the fabled triangle offense to help elevate the level of competition in the NBA. This is a culture changing activity we engage in for the betterment of society as a whole.

I guess I wasn't brief either ...... oops
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Unread 08-06-2004, 10:39 AM
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Re: It is about the robots (OpEd)

Quote:
Originally Posted by Cory
This is right on. I can't agree more with Karthik. Last season we decided we were going to build the T-kats 2003 transmission. We did all the drawings in inventor, spent a lot of money on parts, and tons of time machining. I can't even count how many hours myself, a professional machinist, a parent from our school, and another student spent making the thing, and we still didnt finish it on time for a number of reasons.

I can't even tell you how happy I would've been if these were available for sale last year. We could've paid essentially the same monetary price, maybe slightly more, and had to do next to no work on it ourselves. A drivetrain is the integral part of any robot.

Just think of how much less pressure you would be under throughout build if you could say to yourself "Hey, I bought that transmission from that Andy Baker guy, and man does it work great. And the best part is, we didnt have to spend any time to design it or build it, instead we got to focus all our effort into making a killer arm/whatever"

It's a fact that many teams lack the engineering resources to make anything approaching the level of sophistication of a Technokats gearbox. This is something that could truly level the playing field, and allow students to feel MORE inspired when they create a killer function for their robot because they didnt have to work out drive problems for six straight week.s

$0.02 Cory
So suppose that a middle ground was struck.

Instead of getting a plop-it-in-and-go TechnoKats gearbox, you received the gearbox with some assembly required. You've still got to learn how to put it together--you just don't have to worry about puzzle pieces not fitting.

Teaching how to assemble off-the-shelf parts can be fun, I swear.

<storymode>

This past year, I was in Teacher Cadets at my school. And we had to teach a minimum of one lesson...of course, I had to teach this to about twenty fourth-graders in front of the teacher I was paired with and the TC teacher who determines my grade. So during my full day at the school (oddly enough, the day before Palmetto), I taught how to design, build, and test a communication device: radio-controlled cars. I explained the components, how the drivetrain works, the radio...the whole schimaymay. And then I turned the kids loose on their own kit of parts--a mostly-disassembled car.

It didn't matter to them that the trucks were all off-the-shelf components. It didn't matter to them that they didn't get to do any high-end machining. It didn't even matter to them that none of the groups managed to finish by the end of the school day (mostly due to bad planning on my part). These kids were inspired anyway...and I hope when they hit high school in about five years, they'll join 1293.

</storymode>

Moral of the story? You can inspire kids with a lot of things--including twelve-buck R/C cars.
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