The Triumph of Will (and Lorenzo and Luis and…)

I love WIRED magazine. I don’e2’80’99t understand half the articles in it, they might as well be written in KiSwahili, but when they’re not about the latest development in Microwhizz software or the revolutionary twist in the Frimastan that allows bites to chew at an unprecedented 5000 chomps per second, they almost always have a fascinating take on them.

The April issue, for example. There’e2’80’99s the inevitable article about the new movie Sin City, a graphic novel come to the screen. (I’e2’80’99ve seen it, and it’e2’80’99s as full of violence, adolescent macho posturing, and melodramatic angst as you might expect.) There are several articles (and a LOT of ads) concerning Neat Things to Buy, a nice piece on China, one on hybrid cars, and so on.

Then there’e2’80’99s the one called La Vida Robot. It’e2’80’99s about the sort of robot-building contest a lot of high schools have, letting the geeks have a field day assembling a machine that does some designated task. In this case, the task was to build a robot that could do an underwater survey, and it was sponsored by NASA and the Office of Naval Research.

Most of the schools that entered the contest’e2’80’94indeed, most of the schools that have any kind of robotics engineering program at all’e2’80’94stand in pretty fancy places, and their students come from homes with fancy incomes. But the story is about a high school in Phoenix that is pretty much the opposite of fancy. It’e2’80’99s also mostly Hispanic.

Four kids make up this high school’e2’80’99s robotics team: Lorenzo Santillan, Christian Arcega, Oscar Vazquez, and Luis Aranda. They are all illegal immigrants out of Mexico. They live in the most basic of shelters, and may not have electricity, much less a home computer. They’e2’80’99ve had to learn English along with all the other skills of their school life. And Phoenix being very far from any coast, I imagine they’e2’80’99d never seen the ocean until they went to Santa Barbara for the robotics contest’e2’80’94they tested their robot in the public pool.

And these kids took on MIT. And they won. Read the article, I promise your eyes won’e2’80’99t be dry at the end of it.

The four brilliant underwater engineers from West Phoenix are now trying to figure out how they can afford to go to college.

Some housekeeping.
For the reader who asked about an old woman diarist, she’s probably thinking of May Sarton. Enjoy.
And yes, Nevada Barr is certainly a real person, and that is indeed her name. She is one of the first of her generation to be given weird names by proto-hippie parents.
As to the male nominees question, we’ve talked recently about the topic, and will return to it, I promise.
Finally, yes, I will be doing a tour for Locked Rooms: Phoenix, Houston, Seattle, San Diego, LA, and a lot in the Bay Area. We’ll post details on the site later this month, and include the schedule in the newsletter.

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  1. Anonymous on May 5, 2005 at 10:40 am

    I sure hope I can make it out to the Bay this summer if you are gonna tour…Fact is I didn’t start reading your Russell books untill March of last year, of course I fell in love with them, only to find out you had been in Monterey (where I was stationed at the time) like a week before I had ever heard of you! Well this time I plan on getting out there!

  2. sinda on May 5, 2005 at 2:39 pm

    You were right, my eyes were not dry. I forwarded it to everyone I know – and will donate when I get home to my personal computer tonight.

    Thanks for telling us about them.

  3. Linda on May 5, 2005 at 6:51 pm

    Laurie, thanks so much for answering my question about Nevada Barr!

    warm good wishes,
    linda in delaware

  4. Caroline on May 6, 2005 at 2:35 pm

    I found this link on Will Shetterly’s blog, It’s All One Thing. If you’re not familiar with him, he’s a fantasy & SF author/editor and all around nice guy. Here’s the link “”
    Shades of a Letter of Mary, eh?
    When I was at Penn studying cultural anthropology, when we cultural specialists were feeling snotty, we referred to the archaeology majors as garbage-pickers, heh. They’ve got the last laugh, I think.

  5. 2maple on May 6, 2005 at 2:58 pm

    Great story’e2’80’a6thanks for pointing it out…reminiscent of ‘e2’80’9cOctober Sky’e2’80’9d’e2’80’a6you gotta love ‘e2’80’98em!

    The real heartbreaker here is that they are stuck in the cash economy world. Even if they finish college, unless something changes, the caliber of company these kids should be working for already have their hands tied on hiring them ‘e2’80’a6proof of citizenship. I can tell you from experience, we have had to jump through major hoops just to hire talented kids with ‘e2’80’9cgreen cards’e2’80’9d, let alone those without; And more to the point, a lot of these companies would help pay for education expenses too’e2’80’a6I know we do.

    There’e2’80’99s nothing I hate more than wasted potential…but an education is never wasted if they can make it happen.

  6. Kaylene on May 7, 2005 at 2:02 am

    WIRED magazine is great. Though, I tend to read New Scientist and Scientific American more…. Oh well.

    I just finished re-reading “The Game” (again) and just as I was finishing it, my film analysis class watched a film from India about children on the streets in Bombay. We have to analyze the films after watching them, including the point, technical aspects, and cultural aspects that are addressed. Needless to say, I had a lot to write about after getting through “The Game.” So you’re books help with homework, Laurie! They’re educational! Sort of.

  7. AJ on May 7, 2005 at 3:51 am

    Thank you for directing us to the WIRED article. What an amazing story, and what terrific kids. I made my (little bitty) donation yesterday, and also emailed a note to Allan Cameron, who very graciously emailed me back this morning with a thank you and some updates about the boys and the robotics club. The club is still going strong, taking second place recently at a national competition where the focus is not just on building robots, but also on promoting awareness of and respect for people and careers in math and the sciences in the teams’ communities. And the four boys in the article have a healthy start on their college funds with the support they’ve received so far, although they’re still in need of course.

    Finally, he pointed me to more information about the DREAM Act (co-sponsored by one of my senators from Illinois, Dick Durbin–yay!–and Orrin Hatch, of all people.) So hopefully everyone who read this article will not only pass along any cash they can spare, but will take a moment to drop a line to their senators and representatives. This bill has bipartisan support, just not enough of it yet, I guess.

    Thanks again for the connection. Your books make me smarter, your blog makes me smile, and your ability to bring more attention to these kids makes me proud,

  8. Anonymous on May 7, 2005 at 4:45 am

    You’re going to be in San Diego? Arrgh! I’m going to be there too, but only til the 17th of July. I will have just missed you. Oh, well. If you’re ever on the East coast, pretty please come to Raleigh? there is a wonderful indy bookstore which would be perfect. Quailridge Books.

    Okay, shameless plug over, I must say I am eagerly awaiting the release of LOCK. I want to find out what happens to Russell and if my speculations even came close.


  9. […] years ago (good heavens!) I posted about a story in Wired magazine concerning four Phoenix high school students who won a national […]

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