Profile pages and other musings

Posted on May 27th, 2011

After putting off updating my profile pages on various sites for a while (apparently almost 5 years), I think I’m now caught back up.  It’s so much easier to point to my about page on this site.

For my worst transgression, here’s my former Facebook profile with comments:

Okay, in order, personal, work, school, and play, a quick summary (well, for as busy as I am, this is short) for those just tuning in….

Brenda and I are still together, recently celebrating our 9th anniversary!  Brenda’s finishing up school at GVSU, pursuing a degree to allow her to teach elementary school.  We’ll be getting married next May, and Brenda’s getting started on all the wedding plan “stuff” now.

Whoops, Brenda and I got married over three years ago.  We’re about to have our first kid.  Sorry, dear!

No surprise to those who grew up with me, I’m currently a software engineer at IBM in Rochester, MN.  I work on all kinds of interesting projects (well, interesting to geeks, anyway), most of which I can’t go into detail about.  I’ve recently become involved in the architecture of some new systems that, again, I can’t really talk about.  Ah, confidentiality agreements…a wonderful thing.

Mostly still true. The systems I referred to ultimately ended up being used to power Watson (seen on Jeopardy). I was not directly involved in any of the Watson work, but it was cool to see that hardware I helped develop (with hundreds of others) was used in such a fascinating way.

I should be able to talk about my current projects in another three years or so. 🙂

On to something I can talk about in a bit more detail.  To get kids excited about engineering in general and computer science in particular, I am currently co-leading an IBM-sponsored LEGO Education Outreach project in southeastern Minnesota and Eau Claire, Wisconsin.  This is our second year.  We have sixteen schools and over two hundred fifty students involved in the project this year, with a half dozen more schools clamoring to get in the program for next year.

What do we do in this LEGO Education Outreach program?  We teach students how to program robots to solve various tasks, using light sensors to detect changes in its environment, touch sensors to detect obstacles, sound sensors to react to the noise in the environment, and ultrasound sensors to detect how far away things are.  The kids who have participated are excited beyond words, literally begging their teachers to allow them to work with the robots more.  Much of my time outside of work is spent  coordinating this program (along with the help of several other key members of the core team).

Again, mostly still true. The numbers have changed (last year we had 26 schools and over 400 students), and the activities have evolved to more complex projects. To make time for our soon-to-be-born baby, I’m stepping down as the official leader this year, and Jim Lembke is taking up the reins. I still plan to remain involved, but on a much less-vital basis.

I also volunteer once a week at the local library, teaching students who speak English as a foreign language various subjects, from addition to calculus, biology to physics, geography to sociology, and English to Spanish. (I think that covers the broad range).

This is no longer true. I stopped this volunteer work while I studied for my Master’s Degree in Software Engineering, and have not yet restarted.

Instead, I spend more time leading the local writing group and writing my own stories. I’ve also really ramped up my freelance editing efforts. This keeps me more than busy enough, as my wife will no doubt agree.

When I do have time to “play,” I’m usually at the <a href=””>Martial Arts Fitness Center</a>.

This also is no longer true. While I enjoyed (and still enjoy) martial arts, I no longer actively participate and/or teach on a regular basis. I do, however, often use my skills against the neighbor’s kids (all around age 5) as they keep trying to take me down. When they get a little older, I’m going to be in real trouble if they learn from my techniques. Hopefully my soon-to-be born son will help protect me!

That’s my update. So glad I took the time to point people to the about page I actually keep up to date.

Hope you enjoyed my trip down memory lane!

ILEO Competition Video

Posted on January 4th, 2011

One of our ILEO volunteers was kind enough to create a short video summarizing our recent ILEO competition.  Please check out his video:

It’s great to work with such talented volunteers. We had an awesome time!

ILEO 2010 Competition Results

Posted on December 11th, 2010

Via press release from IBM (written by me):


The 5th Annual IBM LEGO Education Outreach robotics competition took place on December 8th. Area students flocked to RCTC from as far as Cannon Falls and Eau Claire, WI to demonstrate their solutions to IBM-supplied challenges using LEGO robots. This competition consisted of two parts: a long-term problem that students worked on for approximately four weeks, and a short-term problem that students worked on at the competition.

Over 300 students from 20 schools competed in various divisions. Ranging in age from 4th through 12th grades, students showed how they addressed long-term challenges like:

  • Creating an autonomous robot that could follow a trail through a forest without damaging any trees
  • Playing tug of war against another robot
  • Reading instructions from the floor to tell the robot what to do next
  • Clearing a room of ping-pong balls

These challenges pressured teams to come up with unique mechanical and progammatic designs. “I was impressed by the sheer variety of solutions presented,” said one judge. “Every solution was different, but effective.”

Once all of the teams presented their long-term solution, the teams were given a short-term challenge. In forty minutes, teams had to solve problems like:

  • Creating a robot that could bowl down pins in a narrow lane without falling off the edge of the arena
  • Competing with other teams to try to clear out a room of ping pong balls by throwing them into the competition

These challenges measured how students “thought on their feet”, and allowed students to demonstrate how they could adapt their solutions to solve new problems.

Here are the final results:

RCX Standard:


1) Willow Creek Middle School: ILEGO (George Bao, Noah Hart)
2) Schaefer Academy: Brainstorms (Joshua Hamel, Caleb Hofer, Billy Ricker)
3) Fairmont Middle School: Team ABBA (Aaron Hendricks, Blake Haugen)


1) Kellogg Middle School: Built (Jeff Duffield, Logan Hotlen, Nate Schrader, Nick Holden)
2) St. John the Evangelist School: LEGO Jedis (Peter Alexander, Michael Ellman, Kyle Jakub, Mitchell Nelson)
3) Schaefer Academy: A Team (Alex Douglas, Ben Harker, Tim Waters)

RCX Advanced:


1) St. Francis of Assisi School: Beastly Brownies (Andrew Kowal, Riley Orr, Matthew Ryan)
2) St. John the Evangelist School: Wall-E (Luca Galbraith, Dean Nation, Natalie Nation, Joey Stein)
3) St. John the Evangelist School: TF141 (Amrita Bhagia, Michelle Fitzgerald, Nick Johnson)


1) St. Francis of Assisi School: Awesome Robot Unicorns (Brad Fisher, David Wick)
2) St. Francis of Assisi School: Meynka (Catherine Cunningham, Becky Frank, Tessa Nordman)
3) St. John the Evangelist School: TF141 (Amrita Bhagia, Michelle Fitzgerald, Nick Johnson)

NXT Standard:


1) Dover-Eyota High School: Eagle 1 (Jeremy Evans, Tirzah Jones, Logan Pearson, Tony Staloch)
2) Dodge County Home School Association: Team Ultimate (Alex Verburg, Spencer Zweifel, Kendra Willette, Morgan Verburg)
3) Zumbrota-Mazeppa High School: Robot Rats (Nick Majerus, Evan Kienholz, James Goodman)


1) Zumbrota-Mazeppa High School: Robot Rats (Nick Majerus, Evan Kienholz, James Goodman)
2) Zumbrota-Mazeppa High School: A-Team (Cody Spidahl, Ben Budensiek, Nikki Stehr)
3) Friedell Middle School: The Storm (Nikhil Marda, Sam Rowekamp, Ben Fick, Andy Sadler)

NXT Advanced:


1) Lourdes High School: Ja-Lo (Jacob Nordman, Logan Jenson)
2) Century High School: THEM (Elden Lai, Sean Lin, Frank Peng)
3) Lourdes High School: Z Squared (Zachary Larsen, Zachary Belch)


1) Century High School: THEM (Elden Lai, Sean Lin, Frank Peng)
2) Dodge County Home School Association: Team Awesome (Noah Zwiefel, Ashley Verburg, Mitchell Verburg)
3) Pine Island High School: TNJE (Tommy Palof, Nate Simon, Evan Jaeger, Jordan Cook)