FAHA mailbox: I Got Something To Say And It Ain't Pretty

I have chosen not to use my real name or state for fear of retaliation against my team. What I am going to say is going to upset a lot of people.

This year has by far been one of the most disappointing and frustrating years that I have participated in FIRST. I have never in my entire life encountered so much incompetence, ineffeciency, and unprofessional.

Where do I start? The kit of parts was absolutely a mess and when replacement and extra parts were ordered they took weeks to get their destinations. Overnight means two weeks in their book. I have come to the conclusion that FIRST is propping up companies that would otherwise fail in their free market. Parts in the kit were substandard, especially the drill motors. If FIRST is strapped for cash, they should not include as many parts in the kit or raise the entrance fee, no provide poor quality parts to the teams.

At the two regionals we attended, the field crew and refs were rude, unprofessional and generally treated everybody like first graders. I guess they don’t think that this punchline “gracious professionalism” applies to them. I personally witnessed refs dismiss questions, mock some teams robots as “crap”, and even grab one of my teammates when they simply asked a question of a ref. His crime? He was blocking a walkway. At our second regional, the refs didn’t seem to understand the game because they missed the practice rounds and were seemingly not paying attention during the games. At the first regional, the refs looked like they would blow a gasket at any moment, they were so high-strung. It was ridiculous!

If you were a field crew member, please stop treating us like five year-olds and show us some respect! We aren’t out to get you! We are not the enemy!

The scoring and annoucing systems were also appalling. Not only did FIRST get our team sponsors and partners wrong (despite the fact we updated the TIMS info MONTHS before kick off) they only announced them during the first matches and they didn’t even bother to put them up on the board before a match. What happened to last year’s system? Why did it look like they threw it together in Flash the morning of the practice rounds? FIRST has got to understand that many companies are buying advertising space, nothing more. Hopefully, not many sponsors showed up to the event because, they would of been miffed at the lack of recognition. If their name is not getting maximum exposure, they will not sponsor a team. FIRST is certainly NOT helping teams get more sponsors in that regard.

Some teams totally subverted the idea of gracious professionalism this year. I personally witness many teams lie, cheat, and practically steal in order to be recognized as “gracious professionals”. One common practice was for a team to go out and make a list of spare parts that each team had. When one team was looking for a part, the team with the lists would go a team with the part, claim they needed it themselves, and give it to the team requesting the part without any mention that they got it from another team. It is for this reason, that I cringe when I hear the term “gracious professionalism” because I know it has become nothing more than a punchline.

I would like to think that Dean Kamen is helping the situation, but he is not. He is just as responsible for the current environment in FIRST as anybody else. His perception of the world is totally skewed and out of wack. He honestly believes that he is preparing for us for the real world. He is not folks! In the real world, suppliers who mistreat their customers go out of business. In the real world, people see past bs and brown-nosers. In the real world, people who are incompetent are fired. Dean Kamen’s visions are so totally wrong. Does honestly believe that cities will be redesigned for his Segwey? I would beat him with a picture of Barry Goldwater for even proposing that we waste billions of dollars of the American People’s money for his own silly little transportation device. Harsh? you bet! True. I think so.

Thats all I am saying for now. More will come. Trust me.

They may be fired, but late supplies and similar things that shouldn’t happen are part of the real world workplace.

Without a vision, there will never be any changes. America is built around vision. People came here from other countries because they wanted a chance to live in a country where there was opportunity for them to do what they wanted.

my advice to you
is to forget about it and forget about FIRST because it’s really NOT that big of a deal - you don’t need it to prepare you; i’m sure you’re plenty capable of succeeding on your own

So do good in school and do good in college and then whoop @ss where it really counts!

SilenceNoMore, I can understand some of the frustrations that you’ve shared with us in your post. I just think that you’re picking some of the wrong battles.

There’s only so much FIRST can do with regard to the quality of the motors and other components in the KOP. They rely on heavily discounted items or items donated free of charge. I think raising entry fees to cover the costs for “higher quality” components would drive away or force the folding of many teams. FIRST already has enough issues trying to break even on a lot of Regionals (roughly ½ to 2/3 of the events this year had scaled back A/V, and very few had a Team Social). I don’t know about you or anyone else, but I would rather have FIRST find a way to provide full A/V, and a Team Social at every event before they upgraded from the current motors. I think that the full A/V and Team Socials can do a lot to attract possible team and FIRST sponsors. I think it’s pretty safe to say that FIRST has bigger fish to fry than the quality of the KOP (which is pretty damned good, imho). Many thanks to the FIRST staff members who came up with the “FIRST Drivetrain.” You people did a huge service to rookies and veterans alike.

With regard to late shipments, I think Texan hit the nail on the head.

Having been a referee at a Regional, let me tell you that it can be quite stressful. Depending on the number of referees present, you may have to watch 5 different things all at the same time. As a referee, you want to make sure that teams play by the rules. Sometimes you need to go warn them after matches not to do something again, and sometimes you have to yell to them over the music to get their attention, but it all revolves around making as many correct calls as possible, and trying to limit the quantity of the ones you miss. Calls will be missed. It’s a fact of life.

As for saying that a robot is “crap,” that’s not cool. I’m with you that that shouldn’t happen. But how can conversations by anyone (team members, field attendants, and referees alike) about robots be regulated? It can’t be done.

I find it hard to believe that a FIRST referee assaulted a team member, but if they did I find it even harder to believe that this referee wasn’t removed or reprimanded harshly. This is, of course, unless this team member got into the referee’s face as if it were a baseball, football, or hockey game and had to be removed from the referee’s “personal bubble” (in which case, the team member had it coming, imho).

This kind of leads me to my next point… Volunteers are people, too. As a field attendant at many Regionals, I’ve had to evict many people from standing on the field without having an operator badge, and I’ve had to evict people from blocking walkways. As a longtime FIRST participant and volunteer I realize that the majority of the people I’ve evicted from the field area weren’t intentionally trying to break a rule (they were just looking for a better place to watch matches from). But rules are rules. You can’t be on the field during qualifications without an operator badge. As for blocking walkways… While there may not be a specific rule against standing in a walkway, you (as a participant or audience member) should have the common courtesy to observe the traffic patterns of people and robots and do your best so as not to block them.

Obviously you haven’t talked to any FIRST staff about their feelings on the scoring system. I’ve heard from many staff members from all over the country (who will remain nameless) that they were disgusted with how things worked out. You apparently don’t know the half of what happened this year. Even I don’t know what happened post week 3 (but I do know that we were downloading patches and updates on Wednesday night of week 3).

With regard to team sponsors buying advertising space… Yeah, they’re buying advertising space with that team, not with FIRST. If they want to be like GM, Delphi, etc. and sponsor FIRST, then they should contact FIRST. If the announcers accidentally didn’t mention your sponsors, it’s too bad, but not fatal. You put their logo on your robot, on your website, on your documentation, et cetera, right? You gave them one of your awards, right? That and a huge thank you ought to get you another year of sponsorship, unless they’ve fallen on harder times. Also, it’s not FIRST’s responsibility to help get your team sponsored. It’s your responsibility.

Gracious Professionalism is a very screwy thing. It means different things to different people. I think that GP means that you’re a good sport, you are as helpful as you can afford to be, and that you’re courteous to people around you. I must admit that I, more often than not, cringe when I hear people go on about GP, but I feel that it does have its place. A few people on my team (myself included) were told that we weren’t acting graciously professional by a staff member for something unrelated to the event at SVR (what we did wasn’t a big deal. Things were blown out of proportion. PM if you want to hear.). I think that it’s inappropriate for FIRST or for teams to play the GP card to get their way. I’ve seen it happen more than a few times. If teams want to be isolationist, then they should be allowed. Teams and team members ought to be able to decide what they want to get out of FIRST.

When I first read your post, I drew some mental parallels between my reactions to this passage and my reaction to a post from February. Read the 2nd paragraph of my post and apply it to the current topic of GP.


I would write more, but at ~4:15am this is pretty exhausting.

First off, SilenceNoMore, I am glad that you have brought up all these issues. I know people who would just let them fester and become bitter about them. Thanks.

Why exactly do you “do” FIRST? To anybody who is reading this, please think about this for roughly one minute.

If one focuses on the competetion, then criticizing the Kit of Parts and Referees and Announcement/Information Systems is valid. These problems detract from the fairness and excitement of the competetion and “unlevel” the playing field. When Dean said something like, “Life isn’t fair” at the kickoff, I was most annoyed at him. On one hand, he believes that his visions can change the world. Fine. But on the other hand, he is throwing around the cliche that “life isn’t fair”? I am not five years old. I do not see the world through rose-colored glasses. I know “Life isn’t fair”. Even then, isn’t it worth trying to achieve? Dean, a visionary, is ignoring that. That bothered me a lot.

I have not been to a FIRST regional in two years, and I will never be a one again. I have never been to nationals. Many of you would say I am missing out on some of the best parts of FIRST. Yet I didn’t need to worry about the fairness or unfairness of referees, scoring systems, and the lack of a team social. I didn’t even need to worry about the robot’s performance. I don’t truly like robots and robotics systems. I hated many of FIRST’s rules, which stifled unusual designs. I did FIRST for the other people on the team I was on. I enjoyed working/playing/inventing/tinkering beside them more than anything else. I hear so many jokes about inventors and engineers being solitary figures. Well this here future-engineer isn’t that way. And from what I gained from working in teams, I doubt that anybody can truly enjoy working alone.

What I am trying to say is that there are many reasons to “do” FIRST. Some of them will bring suffering and frustration. Others will not. Sure, I was annoyed at my team members on more than one occation. But those annoyances did not make me bitter and cause me to hate what I did. I enjoyed being a teacher to younger students far more than any other position I ever held on team 30. I hope that my work impacted them in a positive way. Some of you are able to point to a brilliant robot and say, “That is some of my work.” Two years from now, I will be able to point to several once-freshman wiring and programming, and say, “That is some of my work.” The reason I ended up with has brought no frustations that you spoke of.

I have noticed “Gracious Professionalism” being used as a metaphorical bludgeon, Monroe-doctrine style. People question the actions of others while wielding the famous phrase all about, and it continually beats down about FIRST-ers. Sort of like the works of Lenin in the Soviet Union. However I have a very good simplification of GP here. At my high school, almost nobody closes their lockers. Hell, I don’t know how to use a combination lock. There is an unwritten trust amongst members of my school, that nothing will be stolen. Also there is a sort of unwritten trust with the authorities of the school that there will not be any meddling with the open locker policy. I see these trusts and GP as the same concept. Both of them depend on bilateral (or multilateral) honoring of an agreement of kinds. However the interesting part is what happens when people ignore GP or forget the unspoken trust. At my school, we almost always ignore it, realizing that it was an aberration, and it will go away. I believe that FIRSTers should respond in the same way, as violations of unspoken trust between teams are unusual.

And finally (I promise), I do not agree with Dean Kamen (sp?)'s visions for the world. My visions for the world have nothing to do with technology, but with more political goals. So? Many of you would disagree with my visions. That doesn’t make my visions any less valid, and it doesn’t detract from your ability to criticize my visions. Keep on criticizing people - it is only through negative feedback can we correct and improve.

Alright, I’ll throw in my two cents that I found at the bottom of the Georgia Dome escalator…

(Bear in mind, I’m on a rookie team. So I’ve only heard about past seasons.)

I’ll have to agree on the drill motors…our team was considering their use on our robot, and we were holding the whole assembly in our hands when one kid said, “Yeah, I think this’ll work…” Then the motor goes ker-splat out of the housing. Not devastating, but more funny than anything.

But as for the kit, I think it was entirely possible to build a sturdy robot from the kit. Ours was bombproof in matches, and we just used the 2x4s in the kit with some diamond plate on the roof. If it were easy, everyone would do it.

As for the refs, yes, that shouldn’t have happened. But people get stressed out, and maybe some haven’t had the chance to get in tune with the teams. They can be firm as much as they want, but rude is wrong.

Now on the scoring system, I’ll say this: Yes, it’s Flash. Yes, it had its kinks. (Such as the alliances being on the opposite sides of the scores on Archimedes, for example.) But overall, given a good operator, it works well.

As for teams being the middle men, I think it’s a matter of giving credit where credit is due. I’m all for the concept of teams simplifying the doyougottapart problem, but when they deliver, there should be a note on the source. That, or everyone sticks a sticker on their Fisher-Price motors that says “This was from Team XXXX.”

On the subject of Dean, I liken his vision to the method of my AP Stat teacher. He threw on us tons of information, much more than the minimum. His reasoning was that if he gets out enough material for a 5, and we don’t get everything, we’re still in 3-4 territory. Dean’s ideas are a bit on the idealistic side (sometimes, admittedly, a LOT on the idealistic side), but I doubt he expects everything to stick. Some of the stuff gets passed (such as Segways being allowed to drive on South Carolina roads–just stick to the right and use the sidewalk if you can), and we’re better than we were.

In the end, society is still run by a government. And government waters down everything…well, nearly everything.

I think I hit all of the bases.

I’ve seen GP discussed time and time again. I’m glad it is because it’s a tricky issue. To begin with I just make a general suggestion: if you know how to act GP (you here have the right idea from what I’ve read) then do it. From my experience this is more important than recognition. (I hope anyone who knows what this next stuff is about specifically won’t take this the wrong way) Last year when I started 1020, I have to say there were some very important people. However, for once I’ll boast just to make my point: everyone on that team, myself included, knew that I was the driving force and the reason it got off the ground. I’m not saying no one else could have done it. I hate boasting, but I have a point: I received very little recognition outside of the team while others around me (who did help and thus deserved) were given great honors and respect, etc. It was frustrating, yes. But it’s so much more important to me that the team got started and they were able to compete again this year. I’m drawing a parallel to the GP and parts issue. You had a part that you were willing to donate and the team that needed it got that part. Yes, it’s frustrating that the middle-man got the recognition, but again - isn’t it more important that the team got their part? I hate that this happens, but I just mean to say that if stuff like this happens, you shouldn’t let it upset you so much. Be GP as you are and then when you come back home, discuss it here calmly in such a way that you won’t have to mask your name.

BTW - if anyone wants to discuss that little story above more, feel free to IM me because the short version is a poor picture - I just used it to illustrate my point.

I’d like to add my frustration with the announcement of team sponsors, but let me elaborate. I don’t think they should announce it all for every match. Some teams have such long lists that it would take forever. My team has four schools, a university, and several sponsors. My frustration is just that their inconsistent about it. It’s really no big deal, but it’s just kind of funny that they announce more for some teams during some matches and what not. Maybe what I’m getting at is just that they should announce it maybe your first time on the field and thereafter just say “Team 1020, The Prank Monkeys.” Again not a big deal, but I do see some frustration there and I agree with what was said earlier that it is the teams’ responsibility to get sponsors’ names out there. Ask them for key chains, buttons, pens, and mouse pads - handouts are the best.

Maybe I’m just as delusional as Dean is, but I personally aim to have an enormous and positive impact on the world. Maybe in 20 years, few will remember me, but maybe in 20 years you’ll all come back to the forum archives and laugh at how people said I was nuts. Dean isn’t trying to cause harm. He’s trying to motivate us. FIRST is not like the real world. That’s the point! Dean is in some ways in his own little world. He saw a problem with society: people were aspiring to become things that were either nearly impossible to achieve or just simply not useful to society. I’m sorry for the humanities majors who want to take that the wrong way - I mean no offense. The humanities are necessary. But how can we turn out so many English doctorates when there are so many engineering jobs going unfilled? Dean wants to put us into another perspective. A world where science, technology, and engineering are more fun that anything else. This has been the truth in many scientists’ and engineers’ lives in our real world, but society doesn’t see it that way. I think that’s what FIRST does - it puts you in a society where you see that these things are great. As for real world experience: because of my involvement in FIRST and what I have been inspired to do therein, I am able to perform lab experiments that most gradate biology students don’t know how to do; I’m able to understand and create complex programming; I’m able to lead a large group of people successfully to goals and with enthusiasm; and I’m able to teach anyone I’ve ever met anything I already know. FIRST gives and inspires real world experience that makes any resume glow radioactively.

And I want to add one more: about the Segway of course: Dean did not envision lobbying governments to redesign their cities. He envisioned creating a market for his invention, by ensuring it would be legal first. Then he envisioned that over time, as people begin to see Segways as a useful part of their lives, cityscapes would have to be adapted to accommodate the overbearing Segway population. Let’s not compare this to the automobile in everyway, but at least this way: When autos came out, they were regarded as despicable monsters that disturbed carriage horses and were extremely dangerous. Few liked them or thought they were necessary. That’s a little different today, don’t you think? Maybe I’ll eat my hat later. Then again, maybe you’ll eat yours.

Please use the FIRST-a-Holics Anonymous Mailbox for making anonymous postings.

Lately there are some heated discussion in the CD forum, and a lot of us moderators are a little touchy about threads getting out of hand. But I think an organized, well spoken debate can be quite healthy for people to vent their frustration, and some how reach some sort of conclusion in the form of constructive criticism. The only thing I don’t want to see is childlish name calling, and finger pointing without any evidence to back them up. Other than that, lets get started.

The thread author started an anonymous account to post this message, so I am just going to merge that thread into here. Remember, all post will need to be approved before getting posted.

Since a lot of my opinion on these thoughts has already been up I’ll try to retain my posts to only a couple of these thoughts.

If the quality of the Kit of Parts is definitely one of your issues get out of FIRST. Go put up your own money and purchase the parts you want and go do battlebots or just build it for hobby. If you have that kind of money and see that KOP is ineffective for your imagination do that. There is yet to be a realistic idea that I can think of that we can’t do without the current Kit of Parts.

You are right that the KOP could be better but you threw in the magic word. Cost. To raise the cost of up from 5 grand we would see a major drop in teams and teams coming in. FIRST isn’t trying to be built to be exclusive. Some may say that FIRST is growing to large for to quick but I disagree. There are definitely areas where FIRST needs to grow including my home state. It is definitely hard to sell people or a school on a program that initially cost 5,000 and can cost a lot more already. But raising the price so that we use “better” parts is unjustified in the mind of a lot of people. Remember this isn’t a robotics competition. If you want only to build robots with quality parts go to school and be inspired.

About shipping and missing parts, FIRST could always do a better job at this but you have to remember that a lot of people who help FIRST are volunteers and a lot of parts are donated and that they are building nearly a thousand kits. My closest experience with this is helping filling bags with Easter candy for a local easter egg hunt. We make a couple hundred bags and sometimes things aren’t perfectly divided even so someone may get two of one thing while some might be missing that. Whatever the case I am sure there were always teams willing to give parts they weren’t using to teams missing those parts. About teams not getting parts for several weeks that is rare and unfortunate. Sometime mistakes are made and I imagine FIRST has already apologized for this.

As to the fake GP. Dealing with other teams to get teams spare parts they need can be difficult. It is again unfortunate that a team used this particular tactic of not being able to move the parts without fully disclosing where it came from and where it was going. I am happy however the team who needed parts was able to get them. I can not be for sure that they would have gotten the spare part if it wasn’t for the middle man . I can not be sure that the middle man’s team intent was to deceive the two other teams for their personal recognition or it was more that the team wanted to be sure the team would get the spare part.

Although we did similiar things with our program at LSR we never did the things mentioned in these post. We were more on the lines of letting teams see the short list of what other teams had and referring to these teams when didn’t have the part. At championship we only got to handing out the three hundred flyers, giving out/loaning out 40+ parts and tools, and making a couple rounds to talk with people. We want to do more next year and involve other teams. I’ll write more later under its appropriate thread.

But that is all. I could touch on the others easily but that is it. Good luck on whatever you choose.

I would like to know what real world you live in. To be honest, the problems with a few parts and shipments and deliveries and everything else is the real world I live in.

We have parts recalled from suppliers for a quality problem. We sometimes campaign an entire fleet to fix a problem part or error that was made. We often go to a supplier because they are the only supplier and we have no other options - and we deal with them as best we can. The reason cars get recelled is because something wasn’t right and it needs to be fixed. The world ain’t perfect.

I am not sure who you are refering to as ‘incompetent’. I surely hope not the hundreds of volunteers that make FIRST happen. Without them, probably half the teams could not afford to be involved.

The price to participate today is steep - no one will argue with that - but just imagine if everyone putting together the kit and designing the game and referring the matches and so on were being paid. Thousands of donated hours make this thing what it is. Volunters are human, probably doing something that is outside of their normal worklife and sometimes mistakes happen. But I think if you look at the number of teams and number of kits and number of individual parts - the error rate is pretty small.

And, most bs’er and brown nosers do not get fired - if anythng they get promoted.

You probably expected some negative back from your post - you’re getting it here. I would suggest you volunteer to help at FIRST or at an event. Most Regionals needed people to help. I think a few days on the other side will change your views on the entire program.

I would like to know what real world you live in. To be honest, the problems with a few parts and shipments and deliveries and everything else is the real world I live in.

The fact that these suppliers have time and again shafted many teams again and have provided terrible technical support tells me they are no worthy of FIRST’s business/support. Thats the real world I live in. Thats the way I operate.

If the quality of the Kit of Parts is definitely one of your issues get out of FIRST. Go put up your own money and purchase the parts you want and go do battlebots or just build it for hobby. If you have that kind of money and see that KOP is ineffective for your imagination do that. There is yet to be a realistic idea that I can think of that we can’t do without the current Kit of Parts.

I already have to put up my own money to buy parts because of the poor quality of the Kit of Parts. :ahh:

And, most bs’er and brown nosers do not get fired - if anythng they get promoted.

Their bs always catches up with them someday. In FIRST, if it tries to catch up with them, the BS gets banned from the Chief Delphi forums.

I am not sure who you are refering to as ‘incompetent’. I surely hope not the hundreds of volunteers that make FIRST happen. Without them, probably half the teams could not afford to be involved.

Quite honestly, its a miracle that FIRST happens after dealing with the volunteers. Again, I point back to my original post. I am not pulling that stuff out of thin air. All that and more happened and those people who I am talking about are volunteers. They didn’t seem like they wanted to be there and they were almost making it known that they didn’t want to be there.

If your going to be a jerk, if your going to be rude, and if you don’t want to learn the rules of the game, don’t be a volunteer!

As a scoring operator at one event, a scoring trainer at two other events this year, as well as many events in previous years, I can say a few things about the scoring system comments…

-Regarding the TIMS info…the easiest way to see if your information was indeed updated in TIMS is to see what FIRST’s web site lists your team as in the event registration list. That same information is passed to TacOps(the scoring software) for use in the printed reports, etc. The most common thing I have found that throws teams off when updating their TIMS info is that there are both “long name” and “short name” fields…in many cases, a team will update one but not the other.

-Regarding the look of the system…as it has been previously mentioned, yes, it is Flash…however, “thrown together the morning of practice rounds” doesn’t do justice to the amount of work put into the system every year. The “thrown together” system you mention is simultanously retrieving the current match team numbers from the TacOps system, retrieving the real time scoring information from a separate Flash entry system on two iPaq handhelds, communicating with the PLC field controller to start & stop the match, as well as changing field state from autonomous to remote control. Personally, if it came down to having a “pretty” system or one that worked, I’d vote for the one that worked…