Lancer Memories Project

These are the things I could remember from high school. It’s woefully incomplete from a combined lack and willful defiance of recordkeeping, but it’s probably best to write it down now before I forget it.

So, I’ll start with the chronologically earliest thing: cross country. That started in middle school out of a guilt for never attending the elementary running clubs and some careful encouragement, which turned into my primary structured use of time outside of school hours. I was out there for a couple of hours every day, every week working hard. Still, I remained the worst runner of my age who wasn’t chronically truant from training on the team. Genetics is apparently important to running, and I didn’t have it. I was always heavier than most of the team at 165lbs for the odd period of 2018 through now. I eventually ran a 26-minute 5K at the end of the 2019 season, which is “pretty good” according to Reddit. The relative lack of success didn’t matter because running was still a great way to diversify my time and get away from technology. I’ll be back to it very soon as the school year ends. Alongside a number of handy stretches that I am slowly disseminating to my family, I heard a great quote at the cross country club: “Every step you make is improvement.” I always keep that in mind during tough jogs, and it motivates me to improve.

Cross country, as it strongly held my attention back then, also leads me to the pandemic. When I heard school was out for an early spring break from my Algebra II Honors class in March 2019, my first thought was “Are they gonna make me run?” This was because the transition to Track and Field in spring for the first time had put me in a competitive environment I wasn’t suited for. I tried a bit too hard to keep up with the more group-oriented practices and was overexerted, hurting my feet. I was pretty glad to hear later in the week that we wouldn’t be required to run for safety reasons. I avoided becoming a complete slug during quarantine by going on walks daily with my family, which worked to connect us and avoid going crazy. For some reason, I also did all of my homework that required active participation, despite most of the school avoiding it. I guess I couldn’t bear to let my teachers down and not read Shakespeare aloud, or model stamps in 3d. I did shirk my responsibility to watch videos made by my excellent math teacher (sorry) because I couldn’t keep myself engaged. Since everyone did that, they retaught the pertinent subjects in Precalculus, thankfully. I also made an effort to get back into cross country through summer running, where I ran for a couple hours every day with the same team as before. This stopped when I was kicked off the team at the start of the 2020-2021 school year for being too slow. I never came back, only running on my own afterward. That’s what I was doing in summer running anyway since no one I knew participated. I like running solo or with one friend best since you can be more closely matched in terms of skill.

What didn’t take nearly as prominent of a role prior to the pandemic was robotics. I participated in the club because it seemed like a good match for computer programming, but it did not generate much interest. They let us actually use the robots for code one time in the entire season, and drive them zero times. I mostly sat back and hung out with my friend, avoiding the build team as they “worked”. We saw the Sonic movie, and that was cool. All the people on the team were nice. It turned out the lack of a robot wouldn’t really be a problem when all FRC meets were canceled because of the pandemic. That was $6,000 and a lot of faith in FIRST down the drain. As a result, the next year the team was moved to FTC, where the entry fee is only $300 and the robots are a lot smaller. That was a great fit for the coming season, where we met only in the team president’s garage on the weekends with a couple of toolkits and laptops. We built a surprisingly competent robot for a team of complete amateurs in robot building but never attended a competition for fear of COVID. The premise of the game is different every year, so the robot wouldn’t be applicable at all next year. The skills we learned would.

The first robot I worked on – a disc shooter

The next year was also pretty tough with our lack of experience, especially in shopping. Our previously purchased materials and methods weren’t really in sync with what did well on robots that year, so we performed poorly at meets. Also, we had somehow lost a member since COVID, bringing the total to two people. A conventional FTC team should be more at 10-15 students. The year was still good for learning, and it led to the much more successful 2022-2023 season. In POWERPLAY, I was the unilateral team president of a group of zero full members. I had 3 years of experience at that point and a lot more knowledge of where to look for the most relevant materials. I spent hours shopping and days programming. Most of the code ended up not being useful, which hurts more when you’re the only person writing it. Still, I spent an incredible amount of hours dedicated to the robot to produce a moderately consistent bot that was described as “the highest scorer in the league, when it worked” by the team that actually made it onto the next level of competition. I had to drive it because no one came to enough club days to learn how to drive robots, which did not cooperate well with my chronic lack of reflexes and coordination. The members who participated only at meets and I scored a Control Award for excellence in automation and control for all of that time spent on “tuning the splines”. Over winter break, I bought a 3d printer solely for the purpose of hand-designing and manufacturing odometry pods. For context, I have seen about six unique designs for odometry pods on the internet, ever. An odometry pod consists of a wheel that is held tightly to the ground by a tensioning mechanism (a rubber band) and an encoder capable of precisely reading the number of times that wheel has been rotated. They tell the robot exactly how far it has moved from a known origin at the start of the match so that it can find its way to the fixed elements of the field on its own. I went through quite a few revisions over a stressful few weeks at home and eventually made the wheels seen above. They had some consistency issues because unlucky scheduling conflicts prevented me from testing the pods on the actual wheels I would be using, but the judges were impressed nonetheless. Winning the Control Award was definitely the proudest moment of my life, even compared to the National Merit Scholarship. It was actual recognition for something I had worked on. ~4000 Control Awards are handed out every year, usually to teams of 10-15 kids fighting for victory in a group of 35 teams total. That’s a fourth of the number of NMS semifinalists, and in a field I consciously worked on rather than idle internet browsing (still great for vocab) and compulsory school education.

The robot near-completion driving itself to score 10 points. Notice the very fast rising speed, and the extremely flawed claw design.

That’s the Control Award.

Stand-out experiences:
What was the most significant moment of high school was when they informed me I was a 2023 National Merit Scholarship Semifinalist. They called me to the counseling office with no explanation near the end of the day, where I sat with a seemingly random assortment of 5 other students I knew. They made us wait for a while, for some reason. Then, we proceeded into a meeting room to hear the news, which had to be kept a secret for a couple of weeks. It was neat, even if the number of colleges that reward students for it has decreased in recent years.

My initial plans for college were very simple: go to the University of Kansas for a Bachelor of Computer Science. That’s how it stayed for a year before I finally went on a tour of KU. They start with an hour of fluff about sports and “diversity” (which should probably be left out altogether – 85% white). Then, they move on to a tour of the quite vertical campus, in which they do not feed you. That turned out okay because they had a store where you could buy bags of stale pastries for a dollar. I, who have stolen food from wild animals before, bought all of the bags. Then, they scheduled a tour with a dedicated academic advisor. He was completely school-specific and conspicuously never mentioned basketball once. Every school has a list of accolades they supposedly have earned in a field of schools that all have very similar sounding achievements. For example, UTD has somehow been put on a list of the “Top 10 Party Schools In America”, despite being known as a fairly weak party school to students. KU had a list to show where they were in the top 30, on Wikipedia no less. It did not inspire much confidence that I couldn’t find it on the first page of Google results for all the words in its name.
I’m sure the experience would have been much the same if I actually attended any other college tours, as long as they provided individualized interviews. I didn’t tour any other colleges because I forgot to schedule them at the two other college cities I visited to see my family. Besides, finances are much more important. Even though I got into ASU, UIUC, KU, and UTD, I picked UTD because they were the only ones with National Merit Scholar benefits. Zero student loan debt is really quite appealing compared to any other option. UIUC came in at an untenable $250,000 due to their #8 ranking in Computer Engineering. They also did not have an honors college. ASU, unfortunately, had their NMS program canceled by the state legislature a couple of years before my application, which I wish I knew before writing multiple essays for its honors program. I still got in, but it wasn’t worth the price. Finally, KU unsurprisingly accepted me for both admissions and the honors college for a couple of essays. What was shocking was their meager NMS benefits at $4,000 total. Somehow, an in-state college costs tens of thousands more than options in another state. I still would have picked it if not for the existence of UTD. I really wasn’t willing to study in Oklahoma or Alabama, even if they offered reasonable tuition and free dinner parties for my family. Carnegie Mellon never made it past the Common App phase since their endless essay requirements did not seem like a reasonable way to find out if I had been the unlikely recipient of additional funds.
That brings us to the University of Texas at Dallas, which offers National Merit Scholars free entry into the honors program (a slight disappointment since I now have tons of decent essays for honors applications laying around). They realize the promise of my counselors by offering an unparalleled $236,000 in scholarships, bringing their pricing more in line with schools in Europe.

I got a new cat in 2022. Her name is Cholula.

The robot we competed with in 2023.

I still love my other cats, but Mimir isn’t the smartest.

Nicholas Karr – Reflection

Over the course of my virtues project, Order was the most difficult for me to engage in. It cascades over time as the schedule from one day affects the schedule of the next. The key to improving on order is to continue consciously practicing. I picked this near the top because I knew I always had trouble with it. It shapes the way the other virtues behave. For example, it controls what order various industrious projects happen in. Even though it was the most important, it wasn’t the only virtue.

I embarked on this project to improve on five different virtues in total. They were prioritized based on which I thought would make me feel the best and be the most productive. They were also ranked on their general importance to my life. I would like to do a lot of good in my life, and all of my most important virtues reflect that. To me, resolution is the one that best represents the long term challenges required to achieve a good life.

Some of my other virtues were more successful than order. I managed to be more industrious than usual. It left me feeling more productive, though it wasn’t always in the order I would have liked. I also put a lot of work towards resolution through some long-term projects. That is where a lot of my industry went to.

I also faced troubles with tranquility. It was much worse than usual because I was sick for about half of the total time spent on the project. I won’t have a hard time returning to my previous levels, and may even improve over Thanksgiving break. Flexibility is even difficult to grade because I don’t feel as if I had any opportunities to truly use it.

Overall, the project offered a great chance to reflect on my actions through analysis and consciously focus on improving them. Thinking about working on individual virtues helped me to safely traverse my weeks in a successful manner. Though I may be an incorrigible person when it comes to order, I still believe I can and will have to improve.

Click to see my comments.

Nicholas Karr – Day 10

Industry: 3
Order: 3
Flexibility: 3
Resolution: 4
Tranquility: 1

Today was a difficult day for my virtues. I’m done with feeling sick, but the work still stacked up. My tranquility rating is low because I spent a lot of time worrying about a science test. In the end, I did fine on it so it wasn’t really a valuable concern. It’s very difficult to strike a balance between being legitimately concerned and too anxious. I have a better score for both industry and order because I studied for it about as well as possible. Resolution is high because I spent a while after school working on a long-term project. It will continue throughout Thanksgiving break. That will also be a great chance to refine my tranquility and go on a nice road trip. Finally, my flexibility is a 3 because I successfully adapted to the test I was taking.

Nicholas Karr – Day 9

Industry: 3/5
Order: 1/5
Flexibility: 3/5
Resolution: 3/5
Tranquility: 1/5

I didn’t do very well today. It will probably still be enough for me to succeed, but I’m not entirely happy with how it went. I spent a lot of time at clubs because I was already committed to them, but I also had a lot of homework due that isn’t all currently done. My score in industry stems from that work at clubs, but order is rated very lowly because it wasn’t all directed at school work. At this point, I feel confident in assuming how my virtues will continue in the near future. There will be a lot of industry tomorrow as I prepare for a test. Then, after it is complete and the pressure wears off, I will go to a club and have fun, then sleep a lot. My performance towards resolution so far has been pretty good because I’ve pursued a couple long-standing projects a fair bit. Thanksgiving should be a great chance to continue with that. I’m also not sick anymore.

Nicholas Karr – Day 8

Industry: 4/5
Order: 2/5
Flexibility: 4/5
Resolution: 1/5
Tranquility: 1/5

I had another pretty rough day. My tranquility is very low because I spent a lot of time panicking. However, industry is fairly high because I did a decent amount of work when I was actually conscious. My unusually high flexibility rating comes from a successful rearrangement of my schedule. I had to stay home from a class with an ear infection without complaining too much. Order was also a low point for me because my past ordering led to me having to complete a lot of math homework. It was hard to remember because we do math units out of order and the homework due dates happen at odd times. I didn’t manage to do anything related to resolution at all today. Currently, my main roadblock to improving my virtues is that I’m still sick. Hopefully, I can have a strong finish to the rest of the week over the next two days when most of the work happens.

Nicholas Karr – Day 7

Industry: 4/5
Order: 4/5
Flexibility: 3/5
Resolution: 1/5
Tranquility: 1/5

I would say that I did about as well as I conceivably could today. I used almost all of my limited free time to do schoolwork. It was highly restricted because the robotics team meetings last until 5:00pm. That meant I didn’t really have any time to do schoolwork until 9:30pm because my schedule was very full. I gave myself a high rating in both industry and order because I got a fair bit of total work done. My flexibility ranking is lower than it could be because I acted too harshly to some other students who threatened me with razor blades a few times as a joke. Meanwhile, my very low tranquility score was inspired by how I freaked out over losing hearing in one of my ears for a few hours. It’s mostly okay now, for reference. It should be a lot easier to maintain an acceptable level of tranquility tomorrow alongside order because I won’t be going to robotics. I sure will need it though because there’s a lot of math homework due on Wednesday. It will be a real test of my order virtue to finish all of it in a reasonable timeframe. After that, the week appears to lighten a bit.

Nicholas Karr – Day 6

Industry: 5/5
Order: 1/5
Flexibility: 4/5
Resolution: 5/5
Tranquility: 1/5

Today I did pretty well in a couple of the virtues. I certainly spent a lot of time working dedicatedly on industry, though it was not in a particularly ordered fashion. I’m up a bit late on that regard. This week should allow me to become more ordered because I’ll be more focused on school. I also continue to forget that cleanliness is not actually one of my virtues. If it was, going for a run today would count for it and flexibility. Running is difficult, but it’s good family time. My day was for the most part wasted today, but I had to go through it to find that out.

Nicholas Karr – Day 5

Industry: 5
Order: 1
Flexibility: 4
Resolution: 4
Tranquility: 1

I’m still a bit unwell today. I did not have motivation to do very much difficult work. However, I did work diligently on a hobby of mine for the entire day that entailed setting up old software. It was a very different and interesting sort of work. As I completed it, that gives me a good amount of resolution. I am still rating myself poorly on order because I was unable to do any school work. That will be important tomorrow when the deadlines are closer. I was not very tranquil at all because I spent 13 hours excitedly focusing on one topic continuously. Finally, my rating in flexibility comes from having to drive my parents around without complaining. It is usually difficult for me to do so because we always drive places to retrieve free puzzles and shirts. Overall, I am optimistic for the coming day and glad to have done well in this one.

Nicholas Karr – Day 4

Industry: 4/5
Order: 3/5
Flexibility: 3/5
Resolution: 4/5
Tranquility: 1/5

Today was a day of surprising improvement for me. I’m a bit under the weather, so I behaved differently. This was beneficial for industry because I learned well in my normal classes and completed some tedious chemistry work. That might also count as a victory in order because I managed to complete my goal of finishing that homework. On the other hand, tranquility went awfully since my head hurt. I was not thinking very peacefully. It’ll improve in a day or so though. I assigned myself a good score in resolution because there was a chance I never would have completed that chemistry homework. Overall, I’m glad with how it went and look forward to the weekend where I may pursue more industry and time with my family.

Nicholas Karr – Day 3

Today was a debatable day for me. I participated in a fair amount of industry, but it was over some of the easier things I had allocated. So it was successful in industry, but not in order. My harder tasks that aren’t immediately due such as taking notes are still due. I have big plans for the weekend to work on both because that’s the best time to do so and I don’t have anything else allocated other than seeing nature and exercising. I’m also planning to work on resolution a bit during the weekend. There’s a computer project I’d like to continue working on while I have some extra time. Back to today, I did well at flexibility. I played a game I had never been exposed to before because someone else asked me to. Hopefully, the game clubs continue to bring me new experiences.

Nicholas Karr – Day 2

Today was a mixed day for me in terms of Franklin’s virtues and by all other measurements. I suffered from some of my previous choices in order and a miscalculation of how long it would take me to complete test reviews, so I stayed up very late. It was still a good use of industry, however. That virtue was also involved in the entire school day, which required a lot of it. I excelled at a difficult test, completed cybersecurity challenges, and constructed robotic field pieces. I hope to continue that trend of industry over the next weeks. I also did well with flexibility because I had to cooperate with others during a game club. Order was still the most impactful virtue to me today and I still need to improve on it.

One of the assembly stages in a carousel

Nicholas Karr – Day 1

Today, I did fairly well in a few of the virtues. Order is still a weak point, as I didn’t sequence my time well and still have a lot of work to do. I did make a couple todo lists. On the other hand, flexibility went well. I had to give an unexpected presentation and did it well. I thankfully didn’t encounter any serious scenarios involving tranquility, but I did use it during my lunch period. A few yellowjackets were chasing me. I previously would have been much more panicked about it, but I’ve gradually changed. I also did fairly well at industry. Robotics was the hardest place to maintain that because it required a lot of persistence to set up a slow computer. There is still a lot of industry to achieve before I go to bed in math homework.

The laptop in question. It’s a struggle to maintain my tranquility with something so slow.

Nicholas Karr – Introduction

Welcome to a blog where I will aim to achieve moral perfection and publish accounts of my progress. I created this blog because I want to become a better person. I have known of Ben Franklin for most of my life and had always kept a rough account of his inventions. This is my first time hearing about his virtues. They gain credibility due to Franklin’s credibility.

There are five different virtues that I hope to improve on. The most important is industry. Since it relies on rigid time management, it will be the most difficult. It also relates to another one of my choices: order. I plan to work on the effective ordering of time aspect of those two by practicing it by doing work early. I will also attempt to become more organized as part of order. The next virtue is flexibility. Changing can be difficult to me, but I can do things such as changing an aspect of my daily routine. Another useful virtue is resolution. I have a tendency to give up on projects halfway through them and never return. The best way to ameliorate this is to see a project through to its completion. Tranquility will be one of the most difficult things for me to focus on as it doesn’t come up that often and it leads me to think irrationally. It could be improved in the same way as flexibility.

As part of this blog, I hope to improve gradually in each of the virtues. I predict that I will be able to improve in at least 3 of the categories. Tranquility may never come up. I hope to put a focus on industry as it factors in to some of the other virtues. Thus, I begin the challenge and will write another passage tomorrow.