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19 Mar 2012
Robot Competition Season
In the last two weeks, our family has been delighted to participate in two exciting state-level robot competitions!
March 3rd & 4th was the FIRST Tech Challange State competition. Ethan and the Tuxedo Pandas got their first look at this competition, and were delighted to finish 14th out out 24 in their division, plus be picked early for an alliance run-off team. Team 4924 is made of 5 Seventh graders, and 1 Eighth grader, competing against High-School teams from acrosss the state.
Here's a 14-minute video of our ALL DAY experience. Well, more like all year, since team 4924 is officially 1 year old today!

Then, last weekend, Eric participated with Team 401 in the FIRST Robotics Challenge Virginia regional competition, finishing 17th among 59 entries, and had the 4th highest hybrid-period score. This 2:15 minute clip briefly shows some of the field-level action. Team 401 is the tall robot you see in the clip still-frame below.

So what's next? Well, there's always something! Eric is going to the North Carolina FRC tournament in a few weeks, and Ethan's team is preparing for the Roanoke Robot Parade.
Roanoke Robot Parade: May 12th, 2012
Family , General , STEM
posted by  henry at  13:40 | permalink | trackbacks [166]

25 Jan 2012
New River Mobile goes live with Valley Business Front
Last night, the Apple iTunes store informed us that our latest app, the Valley Business Front for iPad,was approved and ready for sale! While this isn't our first app, it is the first one we have published under our new Mobile App Development Division at ACI: New River Mobile.

Valley Business Front is an outstanding local business magazine featuring beutiful photos and well-written articles. Tom Field, Dan Smith, Nick Vaassen and the rest of the VB Front team do an amazing job each month, putting together relevant articles and promoting the great things happening in business in and around Roanoke and the New River Valley .

Now, readers with an iPad can download the latest release, take it with them wherever they go (even on a plane with no Internet signal), and bookmark favorites across multiple issues. Facebook, twitter and email integration is in there as well. We enjoyed putting this together, because we built an app that we will enjoy using ourselves!
ACI , General , Startups
posted by  henry at  14:32 | permalink | trackbacks [6610]

12 Jan 2012
Small, Efficient Teams are best
ACI got it's first big opportunity in 1998, when we were asked to develop a web-based solution for US Army budget management. We put together a team of three developers of moderate experience. In six months, we were able to field a solution that had hung up a 15-person team for over 2 years.
The reason for our success? We believe we did a better job of working closely with the customer, and communicating in the team.
Today I read a similar blog post, reinforcing the smaller is better concept with a few studies.
Regardless of the metrics and extrapolations, the general rule holds water:
How can small teams be so dramatically more efficient than large teams?

Communication and coordination overhead rises dramatically with team size. In the worst possible case where everyone on the project needs to communicate and coordinate with everyone else, the cost of this effort rises as the square of the number of people in the team. Thatís such a powerful effect, in fact, that a large team couldnít possibly hope to achieve the goal of everyone coordinating their effort. But a small team could.

QSM found another explanation for the huge cost differential between small and large teams. The defect rate for the large teams was five times greater than for the small teams. Defects consume time in discovery, documentation, and repair. That effort is obviously necessary, but doesnít contribute directly to creating the desired software, and therefore inflates cost without any benefit to the schedule.

Other smaller-is-better axioms from our experience at ACI :

  • The average size of a custom software development firm is 5 to 11 full time employees (ACI is currently 15)

  • The corporate dynamic changes when a company goes from 20 to 35+; enter middle management and more layers.

  • Bigger size = more communication needs = more meetings.

  • Software developers HATE meetings.

  • Small firms typically need employees to wear more hats. This diversity gives smart developers higher job satisfaction.

  • Looking at the public company annual reports, the traditional "economies of scale" don't apply to custom software development.

ACI , General , Startups
posted by  henry at  12:55 | permalink | trackbacks [263]

2 Jan 2012
Exiting Iraq
A great article about a great American: SGT Jeremy Mixon.
Positive stories like this don't draw the headlines nearly as much as the negative ones. One reason? There are a LOT more positive stories than the negative ones.
I've often said that the news isn't interested in how many schools we built, wells we've dug, or new businesses started in Iraq (yes, the US Army helped numerous small businesses get underway). But to stabilize a nation, that's what it takes. Plus the firepower to keep civilians safe while they plug into the global economy.
Great job, Virginia National Guard!
Army Deployment , General
posted by  henry at  12:03 | permalink | trackbacks [7216]

31 Dec 2011
Geocaching and Robotics Merit Badges
Remember when Boy Scouts were pictured holding signal flags atop a tower?

Although this image does predate my days in scouting, it was the common icon for Boy Scouts in the early 80's.

This Christmas Holiday, however, we got to participate in more modern scouting activities: teaching the newly approved Robotics Merit Badge (April 2011), and the Geocaching Merit Badge (approved in 2010).
Lisa, Eric and Ethan helped me put together a great program for 17 boys, competing in a short autonomous robot maze and object-dropoff competition. They flipped for it!

We also enjoyed introducing 10 boys to the sport of Geocaching. We logged their first cache, and launched three different trackables.

To see our trackables, visit:

Where could we do all this great stuff, plus 14 other merit badges? At the Claytor Lake Aquatic Base Winter Camp. Beautiful location, very good food (Really!), and an outstanding staff.

My prediction? Someday, the autonomous robot competition will rank alongside the Pinewood Derby!
Family , General , STEM
posted by  henry at  17:13 | permalink | trackbacks [72]

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