Robotics Teams Win Big At Tournament

Posted on June 19, 2013 by  
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Northern California Regional Botball TournamentFour teams of students from Los Altos competed against 15 Bay Area teams at the Northern California Regional Botball Tournament April 27, racking up a number of victories.

The competition, held at Independence High School in San Jose, finished with three of the Los Altos teams placing first, second and third overall; first, second and third in seeding; first and second in double elimination; and first and second in documentation. One team won the Overall Judges’ Choice Award, and another earned the Outstanding Sub-System Award.

Several teams will advance to the International Botball tournament to defend their 2012 International Championship.

The Botball Educational Robotics Program engages middle- and high-school-aged students in a team-oriented robotics competition. Botball robots are autonomous and rely on computer programming to start, stop and maneuver on the game board. The teams build robots from a predefined set of parts and use a Linux-based robot controller developed by the KISS Institute for Practical Robotics. Students program their robots using the C language.

After eight weeks of planning and development, teams take their robots to the regional tournament to compete against others in the current season’s game challenge. Each season presents a unique challenge.

The tournament consists of a seeding round, in which each team runs its robots alone on the game board, and a double-elimination round, in which two teams run on the game board at the same time, competing against each other. Teams are judged on their documentation and presentation of the process and lessons learned.

Los Altos Robotics“The Botball tournament days are my favorite days of the year,” said Michael Schuh, competition announcer and local Botball team organizer. “I love seeing how intensely the students compete with their very creative and impressive robot designs. They are clearly having lots of fun and are fully engaged. It is heartening to spend time with such bright and talented youth.”

While most Botball teams are school-based, the Los Altos team is a community effort that includes students from Los Altos, Mountain View, Cupertino, Sunnyvale, Santa Clara and San Jose. Team members’ parents coach the teams.

The Los Altos teams prioritize learning how to build and program capable robots and working together as a team over winning.

According to Schuh, Botball is a great opportunity for students, team leaders, mentors and parents to network and interact with others who share an interest in educational robotics.

NASA is the major sponsor of Botball, giving potential scientists and engineers the opportunity to collaborate on fun and creative projects.

For more information, call Schuh at 965-8037 or visit or


Los Altos Gymnasts Awarded For Grades

Posted on June 12, 2013 by  
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LAHS GymnastsThe Los Altos High gymnastics team last month won a Central Coast Section Spring Season Scholastic Championship Team Award for posting the highest grade-point average in its sport.

Boasting a collective GPA of 3.556, the Eagles edged runner-up St. Francis High (3.5144) for top honors.

Los Altos gymnastics coach Shannon Thoke said her gymnasts – especially the upperclassmen – had good reason to maintain good grades.

“We have a lot of seniors, and they tried to keep their GPAs up to get into great colleges,” Thoke said.

None of the seniors plan to continue their gymnastics careers in college, but Thoke said the sport helped get them there.

“I think that they have the ability to focus on their academics while still having the same focus on their gymnastics career. Especially those girls who were seniors, it was good for their resume,” she said, “Not only was it good for their athletic career, but it also helped their academics as well.”

Erin Woolley, a graduating senior headed to UC Davis in the fall, agrees with that notion.

“For me, at least, I find it hard to concentrate for too long; gymnastics is a nice way to get away from that, and then go back to studying,” Woolley said. “You have a responsibility to do schoolwork, but you can’t miss practice. It definitely conflicts, but it is doable.”

Woolley was one of several team members who took Advanced Placement (AP) courses, which often require extra homework.

“(We) would bring homework to meets and work on it when (we’d) have extra time,” she said. “(It’s) not something you would see in the past, but definitely good because no one wants to go home and work on homework after a meet.”

Woolley’s two senior teammates are headed to college as well. Monica Hsu will join Woolley at Davis and Kelli Yamaguma will attend Cal State Fullerton.

Other members of the team who contributed to winning the scholastic award include junior Emma Orner, sophomore Tori Heyman and freshmen Katie Dillon, Aleksis Kanerva and Megan Schmiesing.

Several local squads contended for the awards, instituted by the CCS Board of Managers in 1985 to recognize teams for their work in the classroom.

Two other Los Altos teams finished among the top five in their respective spring sports: boys tennis (third, 3.5878 GPA) and badminton (fourth, 3.33).

Three additional St. Francis teams contended: boys lacrosse (third, 3.2968), girls lacrosse team (fourth, 3.545) and softball (fifth, 3.5529).

Winners received a team certificate and individual certificates of commendation.


Chef Targets Los Altos’ Finer Side

Posted on June 4, 2013 by  
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Chef Morgan SongSeared and pureed, poached and braised – the tasting menu at Los Altos’ newest restaurant reads like an encyclopedia of culinary technique.

Beginning in late June, 30 diners will have the opportunity to take a 10- to 14-course tour of the eating world each evening at Ambience, opening at 140 State St.

Chef Morgan Song’s draft menu offers a guide to the tartare, the coulis, even the jello of ginger. But there’s no molecular gastronomy to be found in the lengthy draft, which stops shy of modernism’s edible foams and spheres. Song nonetheless rings all the bells of a serious modern menu, with bone marrow, black garlic, quail eggs, Songyi mushrooms, fava beans and green horseradish.

A dozen courses require three to four hours to appreciate, Song said, so patrons will have the restaurant to themselves for each evening’s $125 repast – no swapping tables as waves of customers come and go. In addition to the $85 wine-pairing option on the preview menu, Song said the sommelier would offer extra choices from the restaurant’s reserve wines.

A veteran of Rodin in San Francisco and Ambience in Sacramento, Song’s attention to detail and presentation has won him accolades, and his signature use of wild game has carried through to this new menu.

His style, a French-influenced cuisine he describes as “new American,” targets the extreme end of the fine-dining spectrum. Song said that in 1986, when he implemented a five-course tasting menu at Rodin, customers didn’t seem as drawn to the novelty. But today, the prix-fixe menu has become a familiar part of the Bay Area landscape.

“I love to show all the different flavors and presentations. It’s not just eating, it’s for the experience – the total experience,” he said.

Although Song has a background in Asian cuisine as well as French and American, he said hints of that might appear only in one sashimi element. His tasting menu includes the unusual feature of a dual option for nearly every small-portioned course, meaning that a twosome could, working together, taste upward of 20 dishes in an evening.

Ambience will seat only 14 tables each night, in a space on State Street that previously housed a revolving series of Chinese restaurants. As of late last week, the gutted interior of the dining room promised a total revamp, with wooden floors and custom-designed furniture yet to come.

“It’s going to be in a modern style, with some unique paintings,” Song said.

He is new to Los Altos but said he found the State Street location after taking a friend’s recommendation to visit the downtown area. He’s been cooking in the region for the past quarter-century and comes most recently from his Sacramento-area restaurant, which he closed last winter to make the move to the Peninsula.

Sample menu items

• Poached day boat scallops, tomato coulis, fried tarragon

• American Kobe beef tartare, quail egg yolk, D’Anjou pear, pine nuts, black truffle oil

• Venison tenderloin, Burgundy apricot nappage, golden Yukon potatoes, thyme marjoram butter