A Real MuddHacker

The Muddhacks Logo

The MuddHacks Logo

Hello again guys, Izzy here! Today I’m going to be blogging about an event that happens here at Harvey Mudd, the hardware hackathon known as MuddHacks! In this “competition”, teams and individuals all come together to spend ~12 hours, night to morning, working on hardware projects of their choosing, with a small amount of funding from the school. The reason for the quotes around competition is that, really, even though a winner is declared, and you’re expected to aim for quality, the most important part of the even is working together, gaining experience, and taking chances. Now that you know what it’s all about, what I’d really like to talk about is MY MuddHacks experience, because I think there was a lot to learn from it.

The three in the middle are my team. I was asleep at this point.

The three in the middle are my team. I was asleep at this point. From left to right, Elijah, Simone, and Jordan.

Those three in the middle were my team members, and together we were Black Hack. The name was my idea, though it was very much in honor of Jordan’s “Black Pride” spirit (there’s a fist pick in his hair in the picture.) We met a few times before the event, just for some general planning, and to think about ordering parts. We decided we’d try to make a solar powered robot, which would follow the sun around, and stay in the light. Elijah and I had pretty good coding experience, and Jordan and Simone had done some hardware. I was also quite certain building this robot wouldn’t be much different than building the bot I use in my autonomous vehicles class. Not easy-peasy, but manageable. We were all excited for the event and making the robot, though I wasn’t necessarily looking forward to staying up 12 hours to do it.

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The event’s kickoff

My whole team showed up on time to registration, and went up to the third floor of the Shanahan building (where teams were housed) as soon as we were let loose. We felt ready, really prepared and capable of building this robot. Jordan went to go pick up the parts we ordered, and then when he got back…

We realized we weren’t. We really weren’t prepared at all. Because we pushed our meetings close to the deadline for ordering parts, Jordan had been forced to order the parts he thought we needed late ate night. We didn’t get all of the parts we needed, and had a bunch of parts that we didn’t. I also realized that the parts we ordered were quite dissimilar from the parts that I used in class. I was floundering. We didn’t have wheels, and had never even looked into HOW to power a robot with solar panels.

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I apologize to the girl whose face I blocked out.

I was sent on a desperate Lowes run to find ANYTHING that we could use. Like screws. Screws are important.┬áJust a couple hours in, I wasn’t sure we even had enough work to keep us there for 12 hours. We had the solar panels, the board, a couple motors, and a few phototransitors. The motors would’ve helped, but we didn’t have a gearbox, or wheels. The phototransistors were inconsistent in their readings. We didn’t know what to do with the solar panels. At this point, I also realized we had no chassis for this robot.

The people I live with, working on THEIR project, musical stairs.

The people I live with, working on THEIR project, musical stairs.

But the message here, the important part, isn’t that we seemed doomed to failure. The important part is, that for the remaining time, we kept working. We tried new things, we asked for help, we scrounged for parts. We broke things, rebuilt things, and jury-rigged possible solutions to our problems that, although mostly failing, were impressive in their creativity. We even won an award, because we used a resource that they’d made available to us that not a single other team took advantage of.

There are lots of really cool projects going on at MuddHacks.

There are lots of really cool projects going on at MuddHacks.

I left MuddHacks about half an hour before it ended. I had been awake for 24 hours, and I thought sleeping was more important than the closing ceremony. Although we didn’t win MuddHacks, and were, in the end, fairly far from a working project, I really enjoyed participating, and am incredibly proud of the work that I did. In high school, I don’t think I would have ever voluntarily stayed up that long to do something so akin to WORKING, whether or not it was something I was capable of. I’d like to think it took a little bit of bravery. And despite the failures, I learned a lot from it. Next time I know what to do, how plan. I know to come in ready to learn, and willing to help people out with their projects when they need it. I’ll be willing to try new things, and break some stuff to do it. I’ll experiment. I’ll sleep better the night before. I’m going to take risks, grow, and work as hard as I can, at a time that I probably shouldn’t even be awake, because for me, that’s what it means to be a real MuddHacker.