Judging Lego Robotics @FirstLegoLeague World Competition-2016

P.S : Copy of my blog in Linkedin

As usual, was fortunate enough to be a Robot Design Judge at the FLL Robotics World Festival this year. I have been judging FLL Robotics for more than a decade and plan to do so in the future. Also been building 5000+piece Lego sets !

Here is a summary from ~ 150 pictures, visiting and talking with teams from all around the world – Asia, Europe, Australia, Africa, Far East and Of course the Americas.

If you are involved with an FLL team next year (anywhere in the world) and need my help, ping me – would be happy to share insights. Have some thoughts for potential teams at the end of this blog.




The FLL events were at the Edward Jones Stadium and the America’s Center













The Chronicles of Robotics at First Lego League – Day 1

This week am at St.Louis, volunteering at the First lego league World Robotics Competition. Have been involved with First Robotics since 2004. Usually my position is Robotic Design Judge – a front seat view to interesting & innovative ideas on Robots.

For 3 days we have the Edwards Jones Dome & the America Center in St.Louis, MO.

Day 1 : Stardate : 91913.81

Judges’ on-site meeting & briefing, allocations & FLL opening ceremonies.

Some quick pictures … Full day of judging starts tomorrow early morning  … looking forward to it ….

  • View From my Hotel

  • FLL-01 FLL-02 RoomView-01RoomView-02
  • The Trophies

  • awards-01 awards-02
  • The Field 

  • The field occupies the stadium. It consists of six areas – Einstein(FLL), Geleleo, Franklin, Newton, Edison & Curie. I have tried to capture the view of the fields from the ground and from the bleachers.
  • Galeleo

  • Field-01-01 Field-01-02 Field-03 Field-04-01Field-04Field-01 Field-05
  • NASA Truck to beam the competitions live via satellite

  • Field-06 Field-07
  • Franklin & Newton

  • Field-02-01 Field-02 Fig-05-01 Field-08 Field-09
  • Einstein (FLL and the venue of opening ceremonies – below)

  • Field-10 Field-11
  • FLL Opening Ceremonies

  • Open-01 Open-02 Open-03-01 Open-03 Open-04
  • Tomorrow is a busy day – robot judging whole day. Might not get time to take pictures
  • Still have to cover the pits, convention center hall filled with team stalls et al. One has to be there to understand the scale and the energy !

A Glimpse of Google, NASA & Peter Norvig + The Restaurant at the End of the Universe

I came across an interesting talk by Google’s Peter Norvig at NASA.

Of course, you should listen to the talk – let me blog about a couple of points that are of interest to me:

Algorithms that get better with Data

Peter had two good points:


  • Algorithms behave differently as they churn thru more data. For example in the figure, the Blue algorithm was better with a million training dataset. If one had stopped at that scale, one would be tempted to optimize that algorithm for better performance
  • But as the scale increased, the purple algorithm started showing promise – in fact the blue one starts deteriorating at larger scale. The old adage “don’t do premature optimization” is true here as well. 
  • Norvig-02In general, Google prefers algorithms that get better with data. Not all algorithms are like that, but Google likes to go after the ones with this type of performance characteristic. 

There is no serendipity in Google Search or Google Translate

  • There is no serendipity in search – it is just rehashing. It is good for finding things, but not at all useful for understanding, interpolation & ultimately inference. I think Intelligent Search is an oxymoron ;o)
  • Same with Google Translate. Google Translate takes all it’s cue from the web – it wouldn’t help us communicate with either the non-human inhabitants of this planet or any life form from other planets/milky ways.
    • In that sense, I am a little disappointed with Google’s Translation Engines.  OTOH, I have only a minuscule view of the work at Google.

The future of human-machine & Augmented Cognition

And, don’t belong to the B-Ark !

One Band to Rule them all – Nike FuelBand+ vs. Fitbit Flex


  • I had the Fitbit Flex for a few months. But am not that satisfied with it. Is Nike FuelBand+ any better ? Plan to find out, by wearing them both for a week or two. Am tracking a few factors, pl suggest more …



  • The Good
    • The style & form factor of Nike FuleBand +
      • I am sorry guys, Fitbit is ugly ;o(
    • Fitbit sends you e-mail when the battery is low ! Good work guys
    • Hours won feature of Nike+
      • Good concept. Basically, it wants to you to move periodically
    • Fitbit is a lot lighter than Nike+
  • The Bad
    • Nike Fuel, while a good concept, is a black box. Couldn’t internalize it
    • Hours won notification of Nike+ is useless. It shows on the band’s display, but I miss it most of the time. Others notice the scrolling display !
  • The Ugly
    • The metrics like steps et al from both bands are so different that they can’t be compared
    • Fitbit is maturing. They add more devices in a short span and there is a fundamental difference between the versions. Would have been good if they have an upgrade plan
    • Tracking sleep on both are not that useful

Band Log:

  • Stardate  91454.39 Day 1 : Both devices fully charged
  • Stardate 91461.40 Day 3 : Have been wearing both devices for 3 days. Updating the comparison.
  • Stardate : Updated Summary above.

Comparison: (I will start filling-in in as I go along):

  • Aesthetics – Fashion vs. Functionality:

    • Of course, Fuelband + is a lot good looking.
    • Fitbit should definitely change it’s looks. 
  • Dashboard:

    • First cut, Fitbit looks better, may be because I am use to it.
    • Day 3: Am used to Nike+ dashboard as well. The Nike+ dashboard on iPhone 5S looks very functional
  • Track:

    • Nike has only one main trackable feature NikeFuel against a goal.
    • Fitbit has multiple features – each one with it’s own goals
    • Two Screens after Day 1 below
    • Day-01-fb Day-01-n
    • Nike
      • Nike Fuel Graph : My Nike Fuel goal is 2500. Haven’t yet figured out how it is calculated
      • Hours Won is interesting. Keeps you moving
      • Steps, Calories – Informational. But they are different for the devices.
    • Fitbit
      • Very Active Minutes – 30 min is my goal. Good metric to track
      • Distance, Steps, Calories – Normal metrics
  • Gamification

    • Both devices have badges, trophies, buddy system (friends, groups). I haven’t explored them yet.
    • May be I will buddy with a turtle and feel good ;o)

  • Inactivity

    • Fitbit does nothing except log it
    • Nike has an alert mechanism. Let us see if it works
  • Accuracy:

    • I will jot down counters from both devices. Let us see how they stack up
    • Here are the screen shots for 2 days. I took the shots at the same time.
    • The devices do not agree at all. I think Fitbit is far off on the plus side while Nike might be more closer.
      • This was my first concern with Fitbit and I had contacted their support. Didn’t get a satisfactory response. The support folks are very good, but I think this i a technical fault.
    • Day-02-fb  Day-02-n
    • Day-03-fb  Day-03-n
  • Sleep

    • Fitbit’s sleep tracking is a little awkward. You need to log time went to bed & time woke up. As far as I can tell, if you miss one day it is gone
    • Nike has the session feature, I haven’t yet tested it
  • Battery Life and ease of charging:

    • Fitbit sends an e-mail when the battery is low. Very cute and useful.
    • Let us see what Nike Fuelband+ has in store for us
  • Conclusions after 3 days

    • I think I will go with Nike+
      • Nike is more mature in many ways
      • Nike Fuel is a better motivation than FitBit
      • Overall Nike has a better form factor & a better app
      • Fitbit has better counters & goals for each metric. But they are not cohesive
      • Tracking sleep, while kludgy, is better with Fitbit ! (I never thought I will say this ;o))
      • Fitbit has the premium subscription ($50/yr) that gives more analytics.
        • But am not sure it is worth the price. I think it is an overkill.
        • And Nike has the analytics feature in the base product. Of course, Nike might add a paid feature set
      • Fitbit Flex lacks the display
        • I bought the Fitbit Flex and they have the Fitbit Force. Came out within 3-4 months after they introduced the Flex. I think they should have provided an upgrade path
        • I think Fitbit need at least couple more product revs to add a better display
  • Not so fast !

    • 11/11/13 : Nike+ FuelBand crashed ! I get an page full of error when I connect it – even the Nike web site is crashing ! Looks like the Fuelband crashes the Nikeplus site !
    • NikeError
    • I couldn’t fond a way to report this to Nike. Finally send them a mail via their site & twitter
    • I also contacted the Fitbit guys to see if I can swap out the flex for their force. They released Flex too soon.
    • Let us see how the response is from both the companies …
    • 11/11/13 : Night
      • Heard from both. So support is good from Nike and Fitbit.
      • Nike’s twitter support came back. Mail via web site is stuck somewhere
      • Fitbit (via e-mail) politely refused to swap my Flex for Force.
        • I understand – I bought the device 5 months ago.
      • Nike Plus web site is up; my FuelBand Plus doesn’t crash the site anymore
      • Fuelband SE got reset & reinitialized. It is up & running (Unfortunately we can’t say the same about me ;o( I am static & typing)
      • One good side effect – In the process I discovered where Nike has the manual for FuelBand SE. The links are not that obvious. 

America’s Cup Aftermath: 5 Management Lessons

Americas Cup 01Team USA’s win was very impressive – coming back from an 8-1 deficit, with 2 penalty points, and winning with 8-9 was spectacular, indeed!

Naturally corporate leaders everywhere are asking the questions – How did the team achieve this against an equally versatile and talented opponent? What heroic efforts did the team take ? How did the leads motivate the team to stage such a win ?

Interestingly, simplicity is the key

A thought-provoking article by @juliasulek “America’s Cup: Oracle’s ‘secret weapon’ to pull off historic comeback was largely bluster” has some illuminating answers.

5. Reengineer & Redesign your equipment, processes & services based on real-life learning’s  from the marketplace

During Race 5, Oracle had started strong and was leading but fell apart as it rounded the leeward mark and tanked on the upwind leg

  • They made a few design changes to the 130 foot tall wing sail, adding more curvature down low and more twist on the top.
  • The fine tuning of the win trim control was done over time, incorporating the learnings from the races

4. Reduce to the bare essentials (ie keep your drag minimum)

  • The team realized that they need to reduce the drag. They shorted the central spine of the boat, removing the bowsprit to reduce drag

3. Regroup & Rethink (ie Sail the boat differently)

  • The biggest change, came from the crew

We started sailing the boat differently

Even we were surprised how the subtle changes were so significant in the performance of the boat. But we changed the way the guys actually sailed the boat. It took us three or four days to do that properly

  • Even after making the structural changes after Race 5, the team lost 2 more races. … but they were a little more confident with our speed
  • They achieved a knot more speed after the changes. But the most improvement was the learning by the team that created the winning spirit

2. Relearn

We were able to keep learning. In the end, that was the deciding factor

1. Winning Spirit, Confidence & Pep Talk

  • The Skipper (Jimmy Spithill) maintained confidence that a come back is possible
  • Kinley Fowler, one of their sail trimmers who had injured his back and couldn’t race, entertained the crew each morning with his own Australian brand of pep talk.

Lots of laughs at difficult moments !

And that worked ! Lessons, we all can incorporate into our corporate projects !

[Update 10/6/13] Comments from Justin Tsao : Lesson 0 -To do the Impossible, you must bend the Impossible (rule wise). 

Building London Olympics in A Complex World – Lord Sebastian Coe at TCS Summit Europe

No Powerpoint, no slides – just an insightful, motivating, thought-provoking, engaging conversation …


  • Lord Sebastian Coe, the Olympian, delivered an inspiring speech about the agonies & ecstasies of bringing Olympics to London.
  • If you get a chance to hear from @SebCoe, don’t miss it.
  • The talk was full of insightful observations. I could only capture a few highlights. I will post a link to the video if it becomes available.

The two important questions : How & Why

  • The Why of London Olympics : “Use the London Olympic Games to produce lasting change – especially for young people”
  • The How took them more than 13 years and finally it was a success

Understand whom you are delivering to; and the landscape

  • The stakeholders of London Olympics were the 60 Million people on UK; not the Olympic Committee

Demanding stakeholders are good – the more demanding they are, the more committed they will be to your cause. But you should be constantly communicating with them

You can overcome failures so long as you are brave enough to analyze and understand the contributing factors; you need to be brutally honest. Once the factors are understood, the rest gets a lot easier

Understand what “Great” looks like. The quality of your deliverable depends on the amount of work you put in to crisply define “Great” on whatever you do.

Trivia : Seb Coe has good roots in India. His grandfather is from Delhi !

  • Good IMG_1543
  • Guess what was waiting at my hotel room at the Majestic, Seb Coe’s book !
  • In time for my reading during the long flight back …. I will write a review …
  • And, views from my room at the Hotel Majestic and Cannes …


The Struggle is where greatness comes from

Today, my son (who is just 14) pointed me to an insightful blog by Ben Horowitz of a16z.com.


Couple of interesting observations (Of course, I urge you to read the full blog):

  • Technology business is extremely complex – a game of chess rather than checkers
    • Interestingly another partner at a16z.com, Scott Weiss also referred to a successful entrepreneur “laying out a series of chess moves that reveal an even bigger ambition” in a recent Wall Street blog
  • When you are in a turn, focus on the road not on the walls !

Be strong & you will get through, with a little help + a dash of luck

Finally, I am glad to see that folks like Ben are interesting to the young generation … Kaushik (the son) has been encouraging me to start a company … May be I will …

Ref: Image from Microsoft Gallery