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UT Austin Villa programs soccer-playing robots

IMG_0332UT Austin Villa’s robots recharge before playing a soccer match. Photo by Danielle Vabner.

 

By Danielle Vabner

Innovation is the name of the game for a group of programmers at the University of Texas at Austin. Located in the Computer Science Department, The Austin Villa Robot Soccer Team is faced with a seemingly impossible task: programming robots to move, speak, and play soccer.

The team is made up primarily of graduate and postgraduate students. Each member is tasked with a specific aspect of programming: Motion, Vision, Simulation, and Behaviors are just some of the categories that make up a robot’s ability to move and kick the ball.

Each year, their efforts culminate in a robot soccer tournament, in which they compete abroad against other teams. The team’s Nao Robots participate in the Standard Platform League, which has taken them to Singapore, Mexico City, Eindhoven, Holland, and most recently, China.

Sanmit Nervakar, a Computer Science PhD student, is in charge of Vision. His responsibilities include making sure the robots can recognize important objects based on their color. According to Nervakar, the team will soon swap out the currently bright orange ball for a more realistic color. This, he said, will present its own set of programming challenges.

“[The robots] can be really frustrating, but really rewarding when it works,” he said. “Having your code actually produce something physically, you connect with it more.”

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Jake Menashe, who works on Localization and Vision, said that the team is an extension of the Learning Agents Research Group. Menashe said that as a team of computer scientists who conduct research, they are able to use that to their advantage when programming the robots.

“We use robot soccer as a platform for exploring general problems for learning and robotics,” he said. “All of these areas of artificial intelligence play a role in making a robot, and soccer is just a nice platform for us to do that.”

According to Menashe, the goal is to make sure that the robots are fully autonomous, and can perform all basic functions on their own. This process, which involves in-depth coding and programming, does not happen overnight.

“We devote about half a year to working on them, generally,” Menashe said. “It’s a pretty big time commitment.”

This intensive time commitment means that the team members spend a lot of time with the robots. According to Nevarkar, once they are finished, each one is given a name.

These names are usually based off of well-known cheeses. Alison Brie, Mikey Mozzarella and Gouda Daniels are just a few names that the team has come up with. Through months and months of hard work, The Austin Villa Robot Soccer Team still manages to have a sense of humor.

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Do you have a gluten-free option?

By: Austin Hamby, Renee Moreno, Mark Roberson and Victoria Rodriguez

At Mr. Natural, they offer a variety of gluten-free foods and pastries.  Photo Credit: Victoria Rodriguez
At Mr. Natural, they offer a variety of gluten-free foods and pastries.
Photo Credit: Victoria Rodriguez

Gluten-Free: Not just a trendy food option

Gluten-free isn’t just for the cool kids. The latest dietary trend actually saves lives. For people living with Celiac disease, this diet is not simply a fad, but a necessity.

According to the National Foundation for Celiac Awareness, the body attacks itself every time a person with Celiac disease consumes gluten. “Celiac disease is a serious genetic autoimmune disease that damages the villi of the small intestine and interferes with absorption of nutrients from food.”

Gluten

Caitlin Barry, a native Austinite, was constantly sick as a child, so much so that her doctors thought she was faking it. At the age of 17, she was diagnosed with Celiac disease after seeing a new doctor. She was relieved to discover her ailment.

“First, I was actually really upset. I had my last glutenous meal that night. Then I was also very relieved that for years I was always sick, always missing school, always missing activities with my friends, and other doctors would tell me I was making it up… or I was depressed and needed to see a therapist so it was nice to know I was not crazy and there was something wrong with me,” Barry said.

According to the NFCA, one in 133 Americans has Celiac disease. The tricky thing with the disease, as in Barry’s case, is diagnosing it.

Gluten is found in wheat, barley and rye. If the disease is left untreated it can lead to other autoimmune diseases, osteoporosis, thyroid disease, and cancer.

Celiac Disease- By The Numbers

Barry has eaten gluten-free since her diagnosis, despite sometimes craving foods with wheat, like cookies or other baked goods. But sometimes it can be difficult finding gluten free options when she travels.

“On a road trip this summer…from California to Texas, especially in West Texas, there were no places to get any gluten-free options. When I go to a restaurant and I say I am gluten-free, if the waiter asks, ‘What is gluten free?’ I know it’s not safe to eat there,” Barry said. She resorted to stopping at supermarkets and buying things like cheese and salami in order to eat while traveling.

But in the city of Austin, those with Celiac disease have several gluten-free eateries to choose from. One such place is Mr. Natural in East Austin, a vegetarian restaurant that provides many gluten-free baked good options, a rarity for non-gluten eaters.

Jesus Mendoza, the manager and baker at Mr. Natural, pioneered the Austin gluten-free baked goods market.

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Mr. Natural: A Gluten-Free Option

According to Mendoza, he has been creating new recipes for baked goods for about 10 years giving them a leg up on other gluten-free businesses.

“I remember coming up with a simple waffle recipe. It took 12 tries. You have to throw them (recipes) away most of the time. I remember one time … I put way too much baking powder and my mouth tasted like aluminum for like two hours … it’s part of making recipes,” Mendoza said.

Mr. Natural features an array of gluten-free baked goods. The top-shelf of the bakery is gluten-free and ranges from muffins to its famous chocolate donuts.

The emerging diet is not only restricted to those with Celiac disease. Many cut gluten out for dietary reasons. But some disagree over the health benefits of a gluten-free lifestyle, outside of those affected with Celiac disease.

In a WebMD article, Dr. Peter Green, director of the Celiac Disease Center at Columbia University, stated a gluten-free diet could lack essential nutrients.

“For people with Celiac disease, a gluten-free diet is essential. But for others, unless people are very careful, a gluten-free diet can lack vitamins, minerals and fiber,” Green said.

Anna Fry, a private chef that often deals with gluten-free dieters, said that eating gluten-free has a positive impact when done correctly.

“My opinion is when people eliminate refined grain (including wheat) from their diet… they just feel better, and I think they attribute that to going gluten-free because they all of the sudden start paying attention to what they put in their bodies,” Fry said.

“I think if something makes you feel physically better … then that is fantastic. Do I think a lot of people unnecessarily adopt a gluten-free diet? Yes.”

Sustainable Food Center and the Future

Michelle Sanchez Alexa Harrington Claire Rodgers

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West Campus Construction Impedes Usual Bus Routes

Taylor Wiseman, Celina Fontenot, Katherine Recatto, Lucy Chen

The idea of construction disrupting the daily flow of life is nothing new to the residents of west campus. Large drills breaking through concrete at 6 a.m. can be heard two blocks over. Detour signs found on two-way streets effectively change them into one-way streets forcing buses and cars to alter their routes.

The drive to build newer and larger apartment buildings has created a problem for students and drivers in the college neighborhood.

Sneha Patel, a resident at Chelsea Condos, an apartment complex next to a hub of construction, said that she doesn’t use the west campus bus system to get to school.

“In theory, riding the bus would be a faster way to get to class,” Patel said, “But now with all the detours, I actually get there later than I would if I just walked.”

The average time to walk from Chelsea Condos to her class on Dean Keaton St. is 10 minutes. It takes about 25 minutes by bus.

The Old Bus Route
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The New Bus Route
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Juan Gonzales, a construction worker for JeDunn Construction, said that the small space in which he’s expected to work in has been a challenge.

“Trying to move a large cement truck into the construction area is difficult because there are many cars and people also on the streets,” Gonzales said, “People only care about themselves.”

Nastassja Hutchinson, a west campus bus driver, said the changing of the bus routes has extended the time it takes to drive to campus.

“Turning onto 24th St. is particularly difficult because there are no lights,” she said, “I have to wait until there are no cars and pedestrians in order to turn and that might take a while.”

This was the first time Hutchinson experienced a change in the bus route, and she said some students have not been happy about the increased route times.

“Sometimes students get mad at me for not getting them to class on time,” she said, “But at the end of the day, there’s not much I can do about it.”

Construction that impedes the usual west campus bus route is not expected to finish until next July.

Keep Austin Beautiful Celebrates 30 years

By: Will Bruner, Nicole Rusli, and Shelby Hodges

For 30 years, Keep Austin Beautiful (KAB) has been a resource for local organizations and communities to engage the public about the environment. In commemoration and celebration of their 30th Anniversary, KAB is hosting 30 projects in 30 days during the month of October. These projects will include events of environmental education for youth, beautification of different natural locations in Austin, litter pick-up and gardening sustainable food.

Ashley De Jong leads the Volunteer Board of Directors for KAB. Her job is to oversee the strategic direction of KAB and ensure the organization is accountable by using funds wisely.

“I know we have completed over 50 projects already! We wanted to celebrate our 30 years by engaging the community, that’s what we have always done. Our partners are always surprised how easy we make it to get a few people together and dramatically change the environment,” said De Jong.

The Concho Community Garden is one of the many projects represented over the course of 30 days. Lily Nguyen, Director of the garden and volunteer coordinator for Keep Austin Beautiful, believes that sustainable agriculture is important to improving the environment in Austin.

“Conventional agriculture, it impacts pretty much every single part of our natural environment in a bad way…through the use of pesticides, synthetic fertilizers that cause eutrophication in the oceans,and it has less nutrients. It is not as conscious or sustainable as organic produce, which is returning as much as you take from the earth. It’s giving it life, it’s giving it nutrients and doing it with a respect for the environment that conventional agriculture never thinks about,”said Nguyen.

On Nov. 18, Keep Austin Beautiful will end their 30 year Anniversary by awarding businesses and organizations for their activism at an event called the Beautiful Bash. De jong will be one of the hosts for the event.

“Keep Austin Beautiful has been the resource people come to when they want to do something good for the community. We will always be that resource, but we’ll also be more pro-active initiating projects and engaging the public about what our city needs and where. We’ll do whatever we need to do to make Austin the most beautiful city in the world,” said De Jong.

The Hashtag #mybeautifulatx was used to promote the 30 projects in 30 days initiative.

Hurricane Patricia Spits on Texas

By: Haley Cavazos, Kyle Cavazos, Danny Goodwin and Danielle Haberly

Hurricane Patricia drenched the dry lands of Texas this past weekend, spurring flooding and large amounts of rainfall across the state.

The city of Austin alone received over eight inches of rain, according to the National Weather Service; a small amount for the strongest hurricane ever recorded.

“It was the strongest storm ever recorded in the Western Hemisphere,” said climate and weather expert Dr. Kris Wilson.

According to Dr. Wilson, it rained in Austin for over 31 hours.

Although Hurricane Patricia broke records, the damage was nothing compared to the likes of past hurricanes, including the Central Texas Memorial Day floods, which resulted in extensive damages and deaths.

“When it got here, we didn’t even have any severe storms, we had very little lightning,” said Dr. Wilson.
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Many prepared for the worst this past week, including the employees of Whole Earth Provisions on Lamar, who recently reopened after a five-month closure following the Memorial Day floods.

Tyler Frazier, a manager of the Lamar location, described the preparation process leading into the rainfall.

“A lot of people were pretty concerned about the rain,” Frazier said. “We made this special flood door for the front and sandbagged every other door. We were definitely preparing for the worst.”

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Ultimately, the store came out unscathed.

“Nothing happened and we opened at our regular time,” Frazier said.

The regular Texas humidity made for more manageable showers, which also fell at a calmer rate instead of torrential downpours . Closed roads on Saturday reopened following the weekend.

With the massive size of Patricia, there was some speculation that Texas might experience one of the wettest records in history.

“That’s very difficult to tell this far in advance,” said University of Texas Senior Climate Lecturer Troy Kimmel. “The current patterns, as suggested by the people at the Climate Prediction Center, is it’ll be a wetter than normal winter.”

This past weekend’s deluge alleviated some of the lack of water in Austin, but not enough to make a major dent in Texas’ usual dry spell.

“There really is no guarantee we’ll see the drought go away across Texas,” said Kimmel. “We’re just hoping that the above average rainfall pattern can take the edge off the drought and get us some important soil moisture that we need around here.”

While we only saw a mild storm in Austin, Hurricane Patricia’s path isn’t over quite yet.

“I see another three to five inches of rain maybe again by Friday into Saturday,” said Kimmel. “It’ll all be runoff, and that’ll contribute to the potential of flooding.”

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Campus carry approval sparks UT community debate

By Danielle Lopez, Danielle Haberly, Danielle Vabner, Haley Cavazos

On Thursday afternoon, as classes let out and students made their way through campus, chants of “UT Gun Free” echoed through the West Mall.

More than a 100 students, faculty and parents had gathered in protest against the Texas Senate’s approval of campus carry, which will allow licensed holders to have a concealed weapon on campus. Originally organized by Gun –Free UT as a solely anti-campus carry protest, the rally featured appearances from all sides of the issue.

The bill, which passed in May, will make Texas the eighth state to allow people to carry a concealed handgun on campus and in buildings. The legislation is scheduled to go into effect on Aug. 1, 2016 which also marks the 50th anniversary of the UT tower sniper shooting.

The new legislation has been a controversial subject of discussion among many members of the UT community. Thursday’s rally was just one of many protests, forums and debates.

In an interview with CNN, UT Chancellor Bill McRaven said he can’t change the law now, but plans to implement it the best he can. He said some parts of campus will remain gun-free but that won’t prevent staff from being on edge.

“I like guns but I just don’t think having them on campus is the right place,” McRaven said. “Now, are the faculty going to be concerned about raising controversial issues for fear of somehow alienating or making mad someone with a weapon?”

Gun-Free UT, founded by radio-television-film professor Ellen Spiro, is an organization of more than 300 faculty members who oppose concealed campus carry. In early October, economics professor emeritus announced he will withdraw from his position at UT come next fall.

According to UT, officials estimate fewer than one percent of students have licenses to carry. Although there is no way to determine exactly how many students have concealed handgun licenses, the estimation is made based off of other UT demographic data.

Spiro said this law the supposed one percent would come out to about 500 students on campus with weapons. She said professors who are teaching lecture classes of 450 students don’t know if they’re going to have somebody come to campus from the other states because Texas has reciprocity laws.

“Anyone with a concealed weapon can be on campus from any state,” Spiro said. “It’s scary. There’s a lot of fear. We’re all afraid but those of us who are speaking out are doing it in spite of the fear.”

French and Italian assistant professor Paula Bonifazio, who is part of Gun-Free UT, said she was against SB-11 before its approval and now wants her voice heard.

“I’m afraid of guns so I don’t want them in my classroom,” Bonifazio said. “It’s clear it’s not just a faculty movement, its not just something of a niche — it has a very wide response from staff from students.”

Government sophomore Allison Peregory, chairman of the Young Conservatives of Texas, created Texas Students for Concealed Carry on Campus. She said in an interview with CNN concealed carry on UT campus is not a radical new concept — for the past 20 years, UT has allowed concealed handguns on school grounds just not inside buildings.

“I don’t think UT will suddenly become the ‘Wild West’ with open carry and guns flying,” Peregory said. “Knowing that you can make that decision [to carry a weapon] and you can make that for your own personal liberty and self defense is an empowering decision.”

Nursing senior Malcolm Mundy, who is pro-campus carry, said it’s important to be well-armed and ready in a precarious situation.

“Essentially, if you have a well-armed population, nothing will take on a bad guy better than a good gun,” Mundy said.

Anthropology senior Colin Healy said people need to listen to both sides of the story. Although he leans toward anti-campus carry sentiments, he said campus’ success in dealing with the new legislation depends on the population’s ability to listen more to each other.

“Just do your own research,” Healy said. “Don’t just believe what everyone is telling you. We have this idea that we need to have guns because the constitution said so. Well, the constitution was also used to disenfranchise people and oppress people for years so it’s not a perfect document.”

Austin refugee organizations aid in international relocation transition

By Alex Cannon, Kyle Cavazos, Estefanía de León, & Danny Goodwin

A young Syrian boy washed ashore, a news reporter kicking fleeing immigrants; while mainstream media was flooded with these powerful images for a period of time, the Middle Eastern crisis has abruptly faded from most news outlets.

However, while the situation may go underreported, the crisis remains far from over.

“What they’re having to deal with now, they’ve always had this problem, regardless of if there’s a crisis or not,” said Sam Karnes, president of the Liberal Arts Refugee Alliance (LARA) at the University of Texas at Austin.

 

Refugees seeking asylum in the United States go from living in a state where leaving the house means risking your life to American communities where safety is an assumed guarantee. Karnes hopes to assist refugees in the Austin area by connecting with them on a personal level.

Allocations for Refugees entering the U.S. FY16

“A lot of the time they come here and they don’t know anyone, and they’re stuck in their apartments, they don’t have cars and stuff, so we look to kind of provide a filling for that gap and just show them that Austin as a community is welcoming of them,” Karnes said. “We enjoy them, we appreciate the aspect of their culture that they bring to this community, and we want them to feel at home here.”

LARA works with a few Austin based nonprofit organizations such as the Refugee Services of Texas and Caritas, as well as the Center for Survivors of Torture. These resources help connect volunteers like those of LARA with incoming refugees, both those new and those familiar to Austin.

“Usually they’ve been here like one or two months, or they’ve been here a year, but occasionally we come across someone that’s been here just for a few weeks,” Karnes said.Refugee Program Arrivals by Country-2

According to Karnes, the entire process of a refugee moving from their home of origin to the United States can take up to “five or six years.” This process includes seeking referral for movement, clearing multiple security processes, receiving clearance from several DHS associated departments and, finally, preparing for the actual move.

Refugee Services of Texas and Caritas offer migration services to international refugees moving to Austin and help facilitate the arduous process.

 

“We feel like housing is kind of the foundation to lasting self-sufficiency and stability so it’s hard to get a job or address medical or mental health issues when you don’t have a safe place to sleep at night,” said Lindsey Dickson, Caritas’ communication manager. “We’ve got a food services programs that includes a community kitchen where we serve lunch and then a food pantry for our clients where they can get weekly groceries during the time that they are trying to get on their feet.”Refugee Program Arrivals by Status-2

Although these resources help adjust refugees with their abrupt culture change, admission to the United States doesn’t guarantee them long term stay. Many seek the path to full U.S. citizenship in order to solidify the new life they’re taking on.

Sarah Stranahan, Director of Operations at the Multicultural Refugee Coalition, knows how difficult and challenging this process can be, as well as the necessity to gain citizenship.

“In here, we call it Pathways to Self Sufficiency, and right now what we have is this citizenship class, tutoring them and drilling them so they can pass the citizenship test hopefully,” Stranahan said.

 

 

No matter how many funds and efforts these service organizations put toward these programs, the success comes from the willingness and openness of the refugees taking on this monumental move.

“Every refugee’s outlook on life is incredible because they work so hard to get to the country,” Karnes said. “At that point, they’re just excited to be in a country that isn’t threatening their safety on a daily basis.”

 

Refugee Admission to U.S

Galindo the Great

The Magical Life of Ramon Galindo
By: Erika Sauceda

How-to magic DVDs are stacked on shelves while a motley collection of card decks sit beside them. His walls are adorned with the many awards he’s received and even a picture of his favorite magician. Trophies are lined up on a desk and video equipment is set-up right across the room. After a lifetime of magic, Ramon Galindo has the experience and stories to show for it.

Born in northern Mexico in 1921, Galindo’s family brought him to the United States a year later. He grew up in central Austin with his parents and siblings. His family owned a tortilla shop and his father also worked as a gardener, making a dime per hour. It was with that dime though, an hour’s worth of work, that his father purchased a magic trick, the most memorable from Galindo’s childhood.

“He had a glass. My dad would do that trick with the little mouse. He’d make it come up the glass then down the glass,” Galindo explained. “‘That’s witchcraft!’ my mother said. ‘You’re going to have to sleep outside.’ And my father was laughing and laughing. She was fuming,” he said while laughing.

As Galindo grew older, World War II had started. When the US officially entered the war in 1941, he and his younger brother enlisted together. Attempting to join the Army Air Corps, he was turned away because he was not an American citizen, while his brother was able to become a pilot. Still wanting to contribute to the war effort, Galindo was able to join an anti-aircraft battalion. He recalled the thought of looking up at the sky wondering if his brother was flying over him, while he was on the ground shooting down enemy planes.

When the war was over and the brothers returned home, Ramon opened a tailoring business. His clientele included cheerleaders from the University of Texas at Austin, former Texas governor John Connally and though only a congressman at the time, even Lyndon B. Johnson.

After retiring from tailoring, he continued to practice magic. His show has been seen all over the world in countries such as Mexico, Argentina, Spain and China. “Anywhere you can get a good crowd,” Galindo responded when asked about his favorite country to perform. “When you get the cheers from the crowd, it gives you a lot of energy.”

Though he started out as a juggler, Ramon Galindo has used every year of his life to perfect his craft. From doing local shows to touring across the globe, he believes his journey is far from over. “I’m not quite finished yet.”

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Austin Non-Profit Program Brings Art to Public Spaces

By Julia Farrell, Celina Fontenot, and Alexa Harrington

Creative Action works to bring joy to Austin children by teaching through the arts. Their mission, which has remained the same for the past two decades, is to spark and support the academic, social, and emotional development of young people.

The program, which has now reached more than 20,000 children in the greater Austin area, all began with four determined graduate students in UT’s Drama and Theatre Department. Their passion for teaching children through the arts spread quickly, and by 2001, their project received official nonprofit status.

Just last year, Creative Action opened their first permanent home located in East Austin. The multi-function facility provides programs for all ages, from Pre-K to high school seniors. A team of professional teaching artists inspires youth to discover their own voice, use their imagination, and most of all, to grow in self-confidence.

Click here for the full story.