Sunday, March 20, 2011

3/12/2011: Good-bye to Big Sky

Yes, this was it, the final day. We got up extra early again and went to breakfast. We ate super fast so we could get to our flight on time. Of course, this was after loading up the bags we had packed the night before.

We left the resort and said our goodbyes. The hour long ride was almost painful because of how much fun we were having here. Of course, the ride was still beautiful, so that was nice.

We saw a couple of elk grazing in the trees, and followed the same river as before. Passed the same houses, saw the same sights. We got into town, and received a little surprise: I glanced up and saw a bald eagle soaring right overhead. I quickly pointed and thankfully everyone saw it (I think).

We got to the airport... and waited. Another painful wait. Matt and I played Palace, a card game, to pass the time. Eventually the plane boarded, and we said goodbye to Montana.

When we landed in Minneapolis, we had to wait almost 20 minutes to get off the plane due to scheduling errors (fails) with the gates. This left us almost no time to get lunch, so my dad ran to pick us up subs at Quiznos. He almost didn't make it onto the plane, but thankfully he did. And with our lunches. Steak and Cheese subs (which weren't very good in my opinion, but still edible).

We got back to Boston. It was really pretty to see the city at night. We picked up our luggage, said our goodbyes to each other, and left to go to our rides. My mom came right after we got out, so it was good timing. And thus concludes my trip to Big Sky Montana.

I know, I know, I still don't have pictures. But I'm working with my dad on that tomorrow, so look for them.

Thanks for reading, everyone! You can send me emails at,, or talk to me in person if you have any other questions about the trip.

3/11/2011: Zipping Down the Mountainside

I had originally intended for today to be a relaxing day, but of course that didn't happen.

It started out like the normal Montana Trip day, waking up early to get buffet breakfast and such. Then, we split off into two groups: my dad and I, who didn't know what we were going to do, and the others, who were going to go skiing again.

We went to the lobby to try to decide what to do, and looked at all sorts of brochures to decide. Eventually we decided to do a 2-hour Zipline Tour of the mountain.

We went home and relaxed a bit, then got dressed nice and warm to go for our tour. We got to the mountain and strapped on a full-body harness-thing and "Yak-Traks", which helped to prevent slipping on the ice and snow. We hiked up the mountain a bit, taking much-needed breaks as required. Eventually, we got to the first zipline, which was also the highest up. I was deathly afraid because I didn't really know how secure the harness was, so it took me a little while to decide to just go for it. Of course, as with most situation like this, I loved it. We hiked down a little and reached the second one, this one the longest. I went with ease this time, and had a blast again. Finally, we took a two-step "hike" to the next one, this one having another mountain in the background, which the cameraman got a picture of with us in the foreground as we went by. This one gave us the option of using a sled to go down and eventually being lifted off the sled as a result of the zipline. I decided to do it, and it was really fun. I tried to look at the camera the whole way but couldn't quite find it. Regardless, it was a nice picture. We hiked back down after a fun day, and tried to buy tickets for the super-long zipline that goes right over the resort but it was sold out.

Dad and I had lunch, hot dogs, and we met up with the others. We got ready to go to the Concluding Celebration in the main hotel, and relaxed a bit beforehand. The celebration was great, and there were even small party favors. The food was excellent, and so was dessert. We met up with Alvar and a friend and colleague of his, as well as the LCA alum that we had met before. Mr. Feenstra then went to the section of the hotel that had WiFi to check his emails. He got a few important emails, so me and Matt congratulated him and then went home. We went to bed early, because the next day was the last day...

3/10/11: Buffalo and Elk and Geysers, Oh my!

Sorry for the very very delayed posts everyone. I will finish these all tonight.

March tenth was by far my favorite day of our trip to Montana. We woke up extremely early to get a to-go breakfast and head on our 1-hour drive. Where? Why?

To go snowmobiling in Yellowstone National Park. When we got there, we put on full suits of rental clothes to keep us warm and comfy. We got briefed on the rules by our guide. My personal favorite was "Don't stop next to the Buffalo", because they may injure you.

We got into the Snowmobiles with my Dad at the wheel and me in back. We drove off at full speed, which made me pretty nervous at first. The roads were a bit bumpy due to snow, so that only increased my nervousness. Eventually we got to a river, and our first sight was a Buffalo having a drink. I thought that that was pretty amazing, but the truth is it was hardly a sight compared to the rest of the time. A few minutes later, we saw a buffalo walking on the road, which instantly reminded me of my favorite rule. Already I had gotten used to the snowmobiles, and I was having an amazing time. We saw a few Elk in the same river, and more and more buffalo. After seeing tons of animals, we got to an area where there are lots of geysers. We saw lots of them, including ones that are constantly erupting. We also saw boiling mudpots and pools of crystal clear, hot spring water. After looking at these, we took off on our snowmobile again.

Eventually, we got to the pinnacle of our journey. We stepped off of the snowmobiles and into the recently built Old Faithful tourism building, which had exhibits, shops, and a short movie clip to watch. But first, of course, we went to the geyser, which was directly behind the building. It was a little off-schedule, so we had to wait a while to see it erupt, but we did. It was amazing! Apparently it was about 130 feet tall for a good 2 minutes. That's a LOT of water.

After, we went inside and saw the short movie and bought some souvenirs. We learned all about geysers and other natural phenomena at Yellowstone. Then, we went to lunch, where I and most others had a cheeseburger. Then, we took off again, just missing a second eruption of the geyser. On the way back we saw more and more Buffalo. Giant herds of dozens of them. And then, our guide for some unknown reason stopped us. I looked up to where he was pointing and saw a wolf walking on a ridge. That was the first time I'd seen a wolf in the wild.

We kept going, and ran into more and more and more buffalo and elk. After a while it was ALMOST a drag having to stop all the time to see them. Eventually, we got to another river that had formed a giant canyon over the years. It was huge! We followed the river upstream and eventually got to a huge, beautiful waterfall. Of course my dad used the opportunity to throw snowballs down the cliff and see if he could hit certain rocks. We circled back after a while, and came to the river I mentioned at the beginning. We looked across, and saw a big elk with huge horns sitting down looking at us. So we stopped and took more pictures.

We took a slightly different path getting back to the entrance, and to our surprise we saw a bald eagle sitting in a tree. It didn't seem to mind our presence, so we took pictures for a while. Finally, we headed back. It was a long day, and it was time to get back to the hotel.

We made it back just in time to get to the first plenary session, which was about the sun, and solar magnetism, flares, and cycles. Then we had dinner. Afterwards, the second plenary began, which was about using artificial gravity to get to Mars.

After that, we went home for a bit, but we came back for the best part of the night: the Ice-Cream Social. And it was tasty. I only had one bowl though, because I had stuffed myself at dinner.

Finally, we went home and went to bed. What a great day it was. I have tons of pictures and photos that I'll upload as well.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

3/9/11: The I-Triple-Ski Conference

Today was ski-day. We woke up early and went to breakfast as usual. Then, we split up. Matt, Mr. Feenstra, and Mr. Biron, the more experienced skiers of the group, went to go skiing, while my dad and I went back to the condo for some much-needed R-and-R.

After some nice relaxing relaxation, we went to our ski lesson that we had booked for 1:00. We met the others at a restaurant called Yeti Dog and had some absolutely amazing hotdogs. Then, we went to the equipment rental store and got skis, boots, and poles.

The ski lesson was pretty fun. Our instructor first put us on one ski and had us glide around with our poles. He did this for both feet, and then put us on two skis. We first learned how to "walk" with them. Then, we learned how to glide along flat surfaces, and then how to slow down using the Snow Plow technique.

We were brought to a secluded, private ski-school area with a "magic carpet" (a moving strip of rubber along a hill) and some short slopes. I learned how to control my speed fairly quickly, but never quite got the hang of stopping. We also learned how to turn and when and how to use the poles.

After that, we were ready for a small slope right near the section we were in. We walked over, and got on another "magic carpet", and then another, and skied down. We all went pretty slowly, because at the end of the slope there was a steeper drop that would have led us speeding into the conference building. I was a little nervous to do it again after the first time (as this was the first time I was ever on skis), but I did it again, this time, with the help of my instructor, going down in a slow but steady S-shape curves, allowing me to stop well this time (the last time I had to have a little help from my dad to stop me from going down the hill). That concluded our lesson, and we went back to the condo where the others were waiting.

After that, my dad, Mr. Biron, and I used our condo's hot-tub for the first time this week. It was pretty weird being in 98-degree water and >30-degree air at the same time. I took another shower, and then relaxed a bit. Eventually, the time came to go to dinner.

We went to the conference hall and had dinner, which consisted of a wide variety of food, including but not limited to vegetarian casserole, London Broil, and fried chicken. We then watched the second plenary session of the day (we had missed the first one), which was about bacteria that helped form rain and snow in the atmosphere and how we could use them to help areas with long droughts.

After that, we decided to go home, because we have to wake up early tomorrow. So, I'm sitting here writing this before I go to bed.

And yes, I know I promised to have videos and photos today, but they aren't quite ready yet. Tomorrow they will be.

Whew, tomorrow's going to be awesome.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

3/8/11: At Last, Release

Today was a busy busy day. This was the main reason we came to Montana: to present our experience in the Zero Robotics program.

Once again, we went to a nice breakfast. Afterwards, we went to a presentation about competition robotics and education. There were three presenters in this presentation: Jeff Norris, Dave Lavery, and Alvar Saenz-Otero (who was presenting about Zero Robotics). After listening through this presentation (and gaining our fair share of recognition by Alvar during his presentation), we went back to our condo to do some final run-throughs of our presentation. These last practice sessions made us feel great about the coming presentation, so we went back to the conference building with smiles on our faces and a few butterflies in our stomachs.

We were treated to a great lunch consisting of some fantastic chili and some strawberry shortcake. After, we went to the conference hall and waited for 20 other Junior presenters to finish before we presented.

And then... it came. That moment when we go on stage and suddenly realize they only have one mic. This damaged our presentation fundamentally because Matt and I alternate quite a bit in the simulation vid section (which, by the way, worked perfectly fine). After that, we did great. It was ALMOST as good as our final practice run. We got some great pictures taken and received small glass trophies and a mysterious CD, which we have yet to analyze.

Right as the Junior Conference ended, a Tubing session was beginning. So we rushed back to the condo, changed our clothes, and rushed back. Alvar and Sreeja also came with us, and we all had a great time.

Afterwards, it was about time for dinner. We decided to offer Alvar and Sreeja the option of coming to dinner at a local restaurant with us, which they decided to do. The food was amazing, and we had some great, fun discussion with our "guests".

We came home and dropped off Alvar and Sreeja, then went back to the condo. Matt, Mr. Feenstra and I played Clue. A funny thing happened the first round of the night: I completely randomly guessed perfectly correctly on the first turn. Of course I was accused of cheating because I had dealt the cards (not really, it was a joke), but it was all in good fun. I sat here writing yesterday's post, and now I'm about to go to bed. Hopefully tomorrow I'll have some nice videos and pictures up of all of the events of the week.

And now, the most stressful part of the week is officially over. Now it's all fun and games until we come back (for the most part).

3/7/11: Oh Joy, Technology

I forgot to post yesterday, so I'm writing this now.

Yesterday we woke up bright and early to have a nice breakfast provided by the Big Sky Resort. We all stuffed ourselves at the buffet. After that, we went to the presentation of Scott Martinelli, the LCA alum I mentioned earlier. His presentation was about heat-shield systems on things like missiles. Then, we saw Sreeja Nag's presentation about laser communication systems, specifically to the moon. She was also a part of Zero Robotics.

After that, we had a short practice session in the room we'd be presenting in... unfortunately, as is normally the case, technology hated us. The video of a simulation of HelioSPHERES that we embedded into the presentation wouldn't work. We waited quite some time to get the chance to fix it on the presentation laptop. Thankfully, we managed to fix it--it worked completely and properly.

While that one worked, there WAS something that wouldn't... Our Electronic Presentation Hall presentation. The EPH is essentially a room with a computer that has links to several powerpoints that are completely independent. We had been planning on putting our PP their, but the two videos we had embedded wouldn't work--We had been told it would be on a Mac, but the actual computer was a Mac with the Windows OS. So we've spent hours working on it, but still no luck. Thankfully, Alvar (who ran Zero Robotics) said he would help us fix it. So we're looking forward to that tomorrow (Wednesday).

We then went to the two "plenary" sessions, one of which was about the nose and its ability to identify things and the other of which was about supermassive black holes in the middle of our galaxy and others.

The EPH presentation is still depressing us even now, but hopefully Alvar will be able to fix it up for us.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

3/6/11: The First Day

Today is our first day of our trip. In case anyone needs any background information, Matt Biron and I, along with our fathers and Mr. Feenstra, are here in Big Sky, Montana at the IEEE Aerospace Conference because we won the Zero Robotics National Competition. Matt and I will be presenting on Tuesday, March 8th about our experiences in the Zero Robotics program.

Today we had to wake up early and get to Logan Airport by 6:30. My dad and I stopped for a quick bite to eat at Dunkin' Donuts first. We departed at about 8:00 AM and arrived at our layover destination in Minneapolis at about 10:30 local time. We stopped for a snack/lunch at Subway while at the airport. Our flight to Montana was delayed by almost 2 hours, so Matt and I played some games and went over our presentation. We departed at 2:00 PM local time and arrived in Montana at around 3:30 local time. We grabbed our bags and our rental car, a maroon Chevy Tahoe, and headed off towards Big Sky. Matt, my dad, and I threw lots of nice snowballs at each other.

We crossed through beautiful mountain landscape, and saw some fishermen fishing in a river during 30 degree weather--yikes! After about an hour of driving and/or getting lost, we reached the resort.

Mr. Feenstra went in to check us in and find out which room we were staying in. When he came out, he had some awesome news: we had received a free upgrade. And what an upgrade it was! A 3-bedroom, 3 bathroom condo with a couple of 50-inch TVs, games, and its own Wi-Fi router.

We got ready to go see some of the presentations, as well as eat dinner. We saw first a presentation on the irrationality of human thinking and reasoning, and then a presentation on a quantum theory that explained gravity (went WAY over my head; I don't even know what the 5th dimension is, let alone the 8th one!). We saw an LCA alum from the class of 2004 who immediately recognized Mr. Feenstra, so we had a chat with him. We had dinner, and were going to go to an Ice Cream social, but were far too stuffed. So, we went home, lounged a bit, and went to bed... sorta. I'm staying up writing this. But now I'm done, and I'm going to bed.

What a great way to kick things off!