* This year seemed to be "less hectic" in the pits and competition areas, but I think this was partially due to the way they had to spread out the events because of the tornado damage. I hope FIRST reps took note of how less easy crowds were able to move around and areas like the LEGO booth just didn't clog up like last year.
* Ralph Hempel gave a really nice demo that I caught bits and pieces of for his pbLua programming language. Time permitting, I think it's time for me to start investigating this option.
* FLL competition - okay, IMO, way too many perfect scores means it's time to increase the complexity. If I were designing the FLL competition, I'd add many more optional missions (such as the wave turbine) that give a mixture of points for doing different things. I'd add one "Mission Impossible" task on the board that takes a LOT of time but gives a LOT of points and is EXTREMELY difficult to accomplish. This would force those experienced teams to seriously consider attempting a high scoring event with an equally large chance to fail. Another discussion I had with some folks there was to possibly consider adding more trophies/awards for all-rookie teams. And finally, add a mission that exists on the other side's mat (maybe in either the rear right or rear left corners) that would involve a team's robot manipulating something outside their own area of operation.
* FTC - I can't really comment on the VEX changeover since I haven't had much to do with this specific competition, but talking with some of the test teams as well as many of the observers of the practice competitions using the new kit, I'd have to say that I heard a LOT more positive and supportive comments than negative. What negative comments I did hear were more related to the quirkiness of the new product, but as I understand beta hardware, that's supposed to be the case. Here's hoping the developers learned plenty during the event, with enough information for them to go back and finish polishing this new robot kit for next year. (ON a personal note - I love the look and feel of those aluminum parts and I REALLY want a kit of my own!)
* LEGO Booth - LEGO's booth this year had much more space, additional tables, and some very nice and new interactive elements such as the remote control helicopter and the blimp with the wireless video camera. You could tell by the kids' (and adults!) expressions that they had a fun time. LEGO reps were floating around all the time to answer questions and it was nice to watch the kids get pictures and autographs from Kjeld, owner of The LEGO Group. Plenty of giveaways, too - including the small NXT and RCX brick collectibles. Hold on to those RCX mini-bricks - only 1000 were made if I heard correctly.
* No Starch - Fay Rhodes, Chris Smith, Jonathan Daudelin, and I were fortunate to finally meet the Chief Editor of No Starch Press, Bill Pollock, who you can thank for the Idea Book, Zoo Book, and the Inventor's Guide. And that's just a start! No Starch has some other books on the way this year and their library is really growing.
* Growth - I don't have exact numbers, but based on talks given by Dean Kamen and a few others, it appears that FIRST and all the various competitions have no end in sight when it comes to growth. Dean Kamen and his FIRST staff are hard at work trying to find corporate, state, and country support, both financially and by people-skills, to keep the organization growing. There was also a nice delegation from Russia to oversee the events because apparently they are looking at growing FIRST over there, too.
* New NXT Products - yes, new products are coming. Can I talk about them? Some. HiTechnic has some announcements coming shortly so watch their website. There were also some "classified" products that were demo'd but a very powerful Non-Disclosure Agreement is blocking my keyboard (does the NDA prevent me from saying I'm under an NDA??? Hope not.)
* Junior MCP - yes, the rumors are true that LEGO was accepting applications at World Fest for a Junior MCP - I don't have a whole lot more to tell you and I don't know if the application period was only for WF or if they will open it up on their website (I'll look into it). The nice thing is that LEGO is seriously considering expanding the MCP to include its primary audience. That cannot be a bad thing.
* Ambassador AlphaRex - LEGO has two AlphaRex robots with small LEGO suitcases packed. I've got one of them (and he'll be starting his trip in Atlanta, GA) and I believe the other is going to Japan. These are going to be shipped across states, countries and continents (similar to the Olympic flag) in celebration of LEGO MINDSTORMS 10 year anniversary. More info to come.
* Weather - we had a great 3 days of weather. Nice temps outside, no rain, and plenty of outdoor activities for all. Being outside, though, was a little shock for many visitors because of all the storm damage from March 15th tornadoes in Atlanta. Even for an Atlanta-resident, it was hard to believe just how much damage occurred - most of the buildings within walking distance of the World Congress Center had visible damage on the outsides, most with wood over windows. (See Dave Parker's earlier post and photos for some examples of building damage.)
This was my 3rd World Festival and they keep getting better... I can't wait until next year.