Fail Sauce

  • Mines

It’s said that a chain is only as strong as its weakest link. Today, we found our weak link.

LunOrediggers was the 10th pick over all to compete, however we ended up going 4th since there were less then 10 ten with entries that were competing.

We passed inspection, weighing in at just over 68kg1. We received our briefing on our allotted five minutes of setup time and then went to work. Like a well oiled machine, we were ready and set with time to spare.

The judges counted down to power on: 5, 4, 3, 2, 1…power on.

Now this is the interesting part. The initialization sequence takes some time to complete. So even after power is applied, there isn’t any movement for a few seconds. However, the seconds soon changed into minutes. The judges reported that we were drawing no current, which was not a good sign.

After five minutes, we finally called it. Testing confirmed that the proper power was present at the connector. The judges reconnected the power cable to rover and powered it back on just to make sure. A few seconds later, things starting moving.

In somewhat of a confused panic, the judges quickly cut power. The issue had been that while we had inserted the plug into our connector, we hadn’t twisted it to lock it. This was simply because we weren’t familiar with the plug, which was a competition defined and provided part.

A temporary reprieve was issued as the judges went off to discus things.

Sometime later, they came back and decided they owned some of the responsibility between the mating of our technology and theirs. Thus, we were allowed to restart and run!

Round two began well enough. The rover powered up and began it’s initialization cycle. The sensor turret on the top moved around and then, nothing. Well not actually nothing, the sensor turret just kept performing its sweep. But the rover didn’t move. After a few minutes, we called it quits again; this time for real.

And that brings us back to the weakest link. What went wrong? Well, we haven’t had a formal diagnostic, but it seems to be a programming issue. The rover was positioned in a corner of the sandbox, with its front facing the corner. The IR sensors were close enough to the wall that they were being triggered before the rover even moved. Due to the way our error handling algorithm works, this caused the rover to continuously skip to the next command in the sequence, which left us standing still.

There is some good news though. Tomorrow, we’ll be testing again in a demonstration program. This will allow us to vet some of our other systems. There will be no rules for this demo, so we should be able to perform a complete cycle.

I’ll have some more updates and pictures tomorrow. However, more sleep is needed at this particular moment in time.

1 The maximum weight allowed was 70kg

(cross posted from


We’re Coming

We went to the CalPoly campus and checked out the sandbox we’ll be racing in tomorrow; it looks to be a very formidable challenge.

We’re still working on getting the LunOredigger ready for competition tomorrow.
Only a few hours left though…

(crossposted from


Competition Weekend Begins

After many hours of travel, I’m finally in San Luis Obispo. My journey actually took a rather unfortunate turn even before I left.

As I was checking into my flight online last night, there was a message saying that my flight from Seattle to Salt Lake City (SLC) was going to be delayed by 90 minutes. Well, this was no good since my connecting flight from SLC to Santa Barbara (SBA) would be gone by then.

I called up Delta and talked to a service representative about what my options were. I basically had two options:

  1. Fly to SLC and catch the 9:30pm flight to Santa Barbara
  2. Fly to Los Angeles (LAX) and get picked up there

I decided to fly to LAX since I didn’t want to fly in so late to SBA. Unfortunately, the LAX flight left over an hour earlier then the SLC flight and I had already spent at least 45 minutes on the phone with Delta. Thus, I only ended up getting 3 hours of sleep.

Woke up and left the house at 4:50am. When I got to the airport, I took a look at the flight board and saw that there was a 6:00am flight to SLC that would allow me to make my original connection from SLC to SBA. After vigorously asking several different gate attendants, it seemed that the flight to SLC was indeed completely full (no doubt because there was a plane load of people trying to do exactly what I was doing).

So I flew into LAX on an Embraer ERJ-145, which I thought was kind of odd because usually 737-type planes fly that route. As I as getting off, I overheard a girl talking to her dad about her flight to SLC being delayed and how she was going to San Luis Obispo (SLO). This obviously piqued my interest, so I asked her how she was able to get a ticket. After talking with Delta for over an hour, she was able to get a ticket from LAX to SLO on American Eagle, who are apparently codeshare partners with Delta.

I thanked her for the information and went to find a check-in reservationist at the Delta counter. After presenting my case to the reservationist, she was baffled why the person who helped me with my arrangements last night wasn’t able to figure out that I could get all the way to Santa Barbara on American Eagle.

A short time later, I found myself on a flight to the Santa Barbara Airport on a Saab 340 turboprop, arriving only 10 minutes later then I would have if my original flight had worked as planned.

I’m now sitting in on the floor of a restaurant that’s being remodeled. The management at the local Holiday Inn Express has graciously allowed us to use the space as an impromptu work area.

The competition starts tomorrow and you can watch it live (kind of) at

You can also check back here or at the official CSM NERDS website


Alumni Profile: Andrew Ferguson ’04

Over winter break, I had a chance to talk with Michael Fiorito, a faculty member at Seattle Academy (where I went to high school). He asked me to write a “synopsis of [my] scholastic and internship experiences for the alum newsletter.” The profile I wrote was just published in the Summer 2008 edition of After SAAS. The following is the original article I sent to Michael and is slightly different then the version published in After SAAS.

I graduated in June of 2004 and spent the summer having fun (as opposed to working). I started at the Colorado School of Mines in the Fall of 2004 and I’ll be graduating in May of 2009 with a Bachelors of Science in Engineering with a Specialty in Electrical Systems and an Area of Special Interest in Mechanical Systems.

I interned in the IT department at Nordstrom in Downtown Seattle the summer after my freshman year. It was a great experience and a great primer for working in the “real world.” Contrary to popular belief I was not a secretary and did not have to fetch coffee and make copies for the higher ups. My time at Nordstrom was spent helping with the 4th release of the Point-of-Sale system and included everything from helping run tests after the builds were updated (called smoke testing) to creating a database to help coordinate the nationwide training process to creating materials for the training processes.

I went back to school and studied some more. I was also the Chief Engineer for Mines Internet Radio, a new club on campus that was formed to broadcast music and sports games to students, parents, faculty, alumni, et al. We received funding from the school and I spent a large majority of my free time setting up computers, a server, remote broadcast system, website, and all the other things that fell under the per view of the Chief Engineering (which, as it turned out, was a lot). I also applied to, and interviewed with, the CIA; although I did not get in (they rarely accept students who are not juniors or seniors). However, an internship at Boeing ended up finding me. So the summer after my sophomore year, I worked at Boeing at Kent Space Center in Kent, Washington for the Integrated Defense Systems division (side note: the Lunar Rover was built in the building next to where I worked). I was tasked with writing code for a pending upgrade to the United States Air Force AWACS (Airborne Warning And Control System) fleet. In a word, the experience was: phenomenal. I had a fantastic mentor, an excellent boss, working at a fantastic job, doing something exciting.

I went back to school again, studied even harder and decided to come back to work for Boeing again (at the end of the previous summer, they had invited to me to come back again and placed me on Educational Leave of Absence). So I came back to the same group (USAF AWACS upgrade). But software programming wasn’t my thing. I had made this known at the end of last summer and on my last day, I asked what my other options were. I sat in on a meeting with the Mission Computing Hardware group and so I made my home there for this summer. My job this was a lot more interactive. I designed, updated, marked up Interface Control Documents (large drawings and documents that show where cables connect to, what type cable it is and what type of connector is needed). I also was tasked with selecting some of the hardware for the AWACS. Again, I had a great time and learned even more.

I’m now a non-graduating senior (4th year) with the end in sight. I left Mines Internet Radio at the end of last year to pursue other endeavors and I’m currently involved with a team on campus that is working on building a rover for a NASA contest to scoop up 150kg of lunar regolith (moon dirt) in under 30 minutes. I’ll be taking a three week field session this summer (a requirement to graduate from Mines) and then heading back to Boeing where I’ll work with the same group, but a different project which is to be determined.

Other things of note:

  • The summer after my freshman year, I spent a weekend (and then some) participating in a 72 hour film competition. I started out as an assistant and ended up editing the film when the other editor left. We won the Audience Award for our entry “No Witnesses”.
  • I’ve entered several photos over several semesters in our schools art shows.
  • I maintain a blog,, where I write several times a week.


  • Mines

…with finals.
…with Spring 2008 semester.


Andrew Ferguson: The Final Frontier

  • Mines

My friend Ben and Mike took a film studies class this past semester for their final LAIS (Language Arts and International Studies) class. Part of the goal of the class was to make an actual film and Ben and Mike wanted to make one about me.

Being the general good sport that I am and also my somewhat long love affair I have with film (and being creative in general), I was more then happy to have them make a mocumentry about me.

Now, I feel the need to point out that while the film is based on me, it is still very mockumentry in nature. In short, they’ve taken little bits of my life and blown them waaaay out of proportion. Some parts are also made up and don’t have any truth to them at all. I really can’t emphasize this enough.

Also, I’m only an actor (and technical consultant). I didn’t write the script, I didn’t film it, I didn’t edit it. Please, have a good laugh. I certainly did. But remember that it’s still a mockumentry and should be treated as such. (Note: the only reason I bring this point up is that I think people who don’t actually know me will get the wrong impression. I’m more then happy to poke fun at myself, as long as others realize it’s all in good fun.)

Enjoy – Andrew Ferguson: The Final Frontier:


“Blah” is What I’m Looking Forward To

Charles Dickens’ begins A Tale of Two Cities with, “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…”

I think that line adequately reflects my current mood.

After today, I’ll have three more days of class (which is actually just one real day since I have no class tomorrow and Thursday I only have rock climbing). There is no new material to learn, which is great because my brain was full about five weeks ago. This is the final push to get through these last few days and then three days of finals next Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday.

But I want to be done now.

It’s basically been sixteen weeks of “go, go, go” and it’s worn me out mentally and, to a degree, physically. I’m looking very forward to May 7th after my last final when I can just go home, sit in my chair, and just be “blah”.


A Man’s House is His Castle: Summary

  • Mines

…continued from A Man’s House is His Castle: Arguments Against Fourth Amendment Limitations.

It is the recommendation of this author that rights established in the Fourth Amendment be interpreted broadly. While this author recognizes the need for National Security, this author also realizes the dangers of ceding one’s rights to government power.

It seems clear to this author that while the main intent of the Framers was to prevent government from performing abusive searches and seizure of a person’s home and belongs in the name of tax collection, the Framers also intended the Fourth Amendment to prevent all forms of search and seizure, reasonable or not, without a proper warrant.

The warrant system is one of the many checks and balances employed by this great nation to ensure that no one person or organization has all the power. To allow the Government to suspend or eliminate the parts of the Fourth Amendment at will is no different from reinstating general warrants or writs of assistance.

To allow the United States to realize a time of general warrants or writs of assistance would be catastrophic and could lead to civil unrest.

In 1763, during a debate over a cider tax and its enforcement requirements that would have allowed a liberal search provision, William Pitt remarked, “The poorest man may in his cottage bid defiance to all the forces of the Crown. It may be frail – its roof may shake – the wind may blow through it – the storm may enter – the rain may enter – but the King of England cannot enter; all his force dares not cross the threshold of the ruined tenement!”1

The King is not above the law.

The President is not above the law.

The Constitution shall protect us.


Special thanks to those who edited it:

  • Kim Russell
  • Corinne Johnson
  • Joyce Raveling
  • Mom

Download: A Man’s House is His Castle: A Discussion on the Fourth Amendment and National Security

  1. Cohen, William and Danelski, David J. Constitutional Law: Civil Liberty and Individual Rights. New York : Foundation Press, 2002. 1-58778-075-5. p. 775 

A Man’s House is His Castle: Arguments Against Fourth Amendment Limitations

  • Mines

…continued from A Man’s House is His Castle: Statement of Question and Arguments Favoring Fourth Amendment Limitations.

Arguments Against Fourth Amendment Limitations
The necessities for Fourth Amendment protection extend over half a millennia. History has shown repeatedly that when presented with the chance, government cannot and should not be trusted with voluntarily protecting the best interests of its people. Originally, the Fourth Amendment was designed to offer protection against the search of physical property in the name of collecting taxes. At the time, abusive use of writs of assistance helped propel a call to arms that ended with the birth of a new nation. America was formed because “[t]he history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations.”1

However, with the advent of the Internet and other forms of non-tangible communication, it seems as if history is doomed to repeat itself. While the Framers designed the Fourth Amendment with a particular set of circumstances in mind, it should not be construed that this was the sole objective of the Amendment.

Like all Amendments, the intent of the Fourth Amendment was to limit the Government in all its forms – executive, judiciary, legislative, and, by extension, militarily as well, from causing intrusion into the lives of the people.

In the battle between the right of the people and the power of the Government, the Court has often shown that it favors the right of the people.

The “clear and present danger” test used in Schenck and referenced as cause to expand government powers in the previous argument was later overturned in Brandenburg v. Ohio, 395 U.S. 444 (1969). In its opinion, the Court wrote, “Freedoms of speech and press do not permit a State to forbid advocacy of the use of force or of law violation except where such advocacy is directed to inciting or producing imminent lawless action and is likely to incite or produce such action.”2

This narrower limit on government power restored rights to the people and forced the Government to provide critical evidence to support its claims before it can suppress the rights of the Amendment.

In United States v. U.S. District Court, 407 U.S. 297 (1972), the Court ruled on the case involving a warrantless wiretap used for the purpose of “’gather[ing] intelligence information deemed necessary to protect the nation from attempts of domestic organizations to attack and subvert the existing structure of the Government.’”3 The United States argued that “wiretaps involving domestic security should be exempt from the warrant requirement of the Fourth Amendment because of the secrecy necessary for successful intelligence gathering, the importance of domestic security, and the complexity and continuous nature of intelligence gathering.”4 This case, which was argued in 1972, is similar in scope to what the United States Government is currently attempting to do in the name of National Security. In United States v. U.S. District Court, the Court held eight-to-zero (Justice Rehnquist did not take part in the consideration or decision of the case) that a warrant was needed for a wiretap, writing:

But we do not think a case has been made for the requested departure from Fourth Amendment standards. The circumstances described do not justify complete exemption of domestic security surveillance from prior judicial scrutiny. Official surveillance, whether its purpose be criminal investigation or ongoing intelligence gathering, risks infringement of constitutionally protected privacy of speech. Security surveillances are especially sensitive because of the inherent vagueness of the domestic security concept, the necessarily broad and continuing nature of intelligence gathering, and the temptation to utilize such surveillances to oversee political dissent. We recognize, as we have before, the constitutional basis of the President’s domestic security role, but we think it must be exercised in a manner compatible with the Fourth Amendment5.

To see the Court vote unanimously on such the issue should only reaffirm the need to be ever vigilant in protecting the freedoms the Fourth Amendment offers.

Recently, the United States Justice Department rescinded its belief that “the Fourth Amendment had no application to domestic military operations.”6 In response to the Yoo memo, Justice Department spokesman Brian Roehrkasse said, “We disagree with the proposition that the Fourth Amendment has no application to domestic military operations. Whether a particular search or seizure is reasonable under the Fourth Amendment requires consideration of the particular context and circumstances of the search7.”

Continued tomorrow with the Summary

  1. United States Declaration of Independence. 

  2. Brandenburg v. Ohio. 395 U.S. 444, Washington, D.C. : Supreme Court of the United States, 1969. 

  3. United States v. U.S. District Court. 407 U.S. 297, Washington, D.C. : Supreme Court of the United States, 1972. 

  4. Cohen, William and Danelski, David J. Constitutional Law: Civil Liberty and Individual Rights. New York : Foundation Press, 2002. 1-58778-075-5. p. 805 

  5. United States v. U.S. District Court. 407 U.S. 297, Washington, D.C. : Supreme Court of the United States, 1972. 

  6. Yoo, C. John. Memorandum for William J. Haynes II, General Counsel of the Department of Defense. Department of Justice, United States. 2003. Memorandum. p. 8 

  7. Hess, Pamela and Jordan, Lara Jakes. Memo Linked to Warrantless Surveillance. [Online] April 2,
    2008. [Cited: April 14, 2008.] 

A Man’s House is His Castle: Statement of Question and Arguments Favoring Fourth Amendment Limitations

  • Mines

…continued from A Man’s House is His Castle: Interpretation of the Fourth Amendment.

Statement of Question
Thus, the stage is set. In light of recent global developments, specifically the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, and the ensuing “global war on terrorism,” should the right of unreasonable searches and seizures be limited to protect national security?

Arguments Favoring Fourth Amendment Limitations
Like most issues that deal with constitutional law, there is a battle between the rights of the people and power of the Government. Under very rare and certain circumstances, there is compelling state interest to limit the scope of constitutional protection.
This limitation of constitutional protection is easiest seen in the First Amendment and free speech. In the decision for Schenck v. United States, 249 U.S. 47 (1919), Justice Holmes wrote in the opinion of the Court:

The most stringent protection of free speech would not protect a man in falsely shouting fire in a theatre and causing a panic.

The question in every case is whether the words used are used in such circumstances and are of such a nature as to create a clear and present danger that they will bring about the substantive evils that the United States Congress has a right to prevent. It is a question of proximity and degree. When a nation is at war, many things that might be said in time of peace are such a hindrance to its effort that their utterance will not be endured so long as men fight, and that no Court could regard them as protected by any constitutional right1.

Justice Holmes made it clear that even within a right as simple as freedom of speech, there is a line that the people cannot cross and still expect constitutional protection. Justice Holmes also noted that the line is subject to move during a time of war.

The Schenck decision sets a precedent that can easily be applied to the Fourth Amendment. While not engaged in a traditional war that consists of nation-on-nation fighting, the United States is engaged in a war with persons, both domestic and foreign, who are attempting to cause undue harm to America and its inhabitants. It would be a dereliction of duty for the United States not to perform its due diligence in attempting to thwart such attacks in the interest of National Security.

In United States v. Verdugo-Urquidez, 494 U.S. 259 (1990), the Court held six-to-three that “[t]he Fourth Amendment does not apply to the search and seizure by United States agents of property owned by a nonresident alien and located in a foreign country.”2 This decision, in part, laid the groundwork for a memo written by John C. Yoo, Deputy Assistant Attorney General of the U.S. Department of Justice.

On March 14, 2003, Yoo wrote a memorandum for Wiliam J. Haynes II, General Counsel of the Department of Defense. Yoo wrote, “Indeed, drawing in part on the reasoning of Verdugo-Urquidez, as well as the Supreme Court’s treatment of the destruction of property for the purposes of military necessity, our Office recently concluded that the Fourth Amendment had no application to domestic military operations.3(Emphasis added)

As such, there appeared to be a compelling state interest to limit the scope of the Fourth Amendment to protect the people of America. By limiting the Fourth Amendment and restoring writs of assistance, the Government is in a better position to more effectively prevent terrorism on home soil. For example, being able to more thoroughly conduct taps of telephones lines could lead to the arrest of suspects trying to cause harm.

Continued tomorrow with Arguments Against Fourth Amendment Limitations

  1. Schenck v. United States. 249 U.S. 47, 39 S.Ct. 247, 63 L.Ed. 470, Washington, D.C. : Supreme Court of the United States, 1919. 

  2. United States v. Verdugo-Urquidez. 494 U.S. 259, Washington, D.C. : Supreme Court of the United States, 1990. 

  3. Yoo, C. John. Memorandum for William J. Haynes II, General Counsel of the Department of Defense. Department of Justice, United States. 2003. Memorandum. p. 8