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Thursday, December 13 , 2018, 8:29 pm | Fair 53º


Bill Macfadyen: Dos Pueblos High School Robotics Call Has Students Kicking It Into High Gear

NoozWeek’s Top 5 raises the threat level with Russia, follows a fire and a fatal crash with a suspected DUI driver, and R.I.P. Debby Davison

Dos Pueblos High School students aim to engineer an upset in a real-world competition over their future.
Dos Pueblos High School students aim to engineer an upset in a real-world competition over their future. (Giana Magnoli / Noozhawk photo)

This may have been the most volatile week in the history of Noozhawk’s Top 5. Like the inevitable “Upset Weekend” in college football, your top stories were boomeranging all over the standings.

At various points over the last seven days, nine stories spent significant time at No. 1, only to be overtaken by rapidly climbing upstarts. In the last 24 hours, the Top 5 changed an incredible 11 times, with Nos. 1 and 2 tripling and doubling readership, respectively.

I don’t write about the Top 10, but that has been a revolving door in the same period. The field of Republican presidential candidates hasn’t even had that many ups and downs. (BTW, ¡Jeb!, welcome to Santa Barbara. Click here to learn how Noozhawk can help you spend some of that money you’re collecting from locals.)

Among the 100,856 people who read​ Noozhawk this past week, these were your top stories — when I wrote this.

1. Students Protest End of D’Penguineers Robotics Team at Dos Pueblos Engineering Academy

The Dos Pueblos Engineering Academy is known far and wide for its powerhouse Team 1717 robotics program.

Each spring, the team just seems to reload as a new crop of seniors eagerly awaits the start of the annual FIRST Robotics Competition. What follows is an exhausting sprint to the finish — a sprint that, for Dos Pueblos High School, more often than not ends up in the FIRST world championships in St. Louis.

That’s about to change, and the reaction has not been the universal acclaim the academy’s leadership has grown accustomed to.

With the abruptness of a mechanical failure, academy officials notified the Class of 2016 in late June that Team 1717 would be eliminated — effective immediately. Taking its place as the academy’s senior capstone project will be the new mechatronics program, which was introduced this last school year.

According to a letter that academy officials mailed to students and parents, mechatronics provides a better, unifying and inclusive educational experience, and with objectives designed by teachers, not a third-party organization’s competition.

The letter said more students are able to participate in the full engineering process of mechatronics, including design, prototype development, programming, manufacturing and quality control. With FIRST, on the other hand, only a handful of students works on the competition robot.

Team 1717 students and mentors protested the decision during the public comment period before the July 7 Santa Barbara Unified School District board meeting. Our Giana Magnoli was there.

Kally Zheng, who will be a senior in the fall, said many of her classmates chose to attend Dos Pueblos High solely because of the robotics program.

Because of Team 1717’s intense time commitment senior year, she said, most DPEA students front-load their classes to take online, summer and night courses during high school.

“We arrange our education, our minds and our lives, one by one, because of robotics,” Zheng said.

In their letter, DPEA officials acknowledged the upheaval.

“We recognize that the retirement of FIRST Robotics Team 1717 is a loss, and that for some of you it is a significant loss of a dream that you have looked forward to fulfilling for years,” the letter said. “This was not discounted at any point. In fact, it was weighed heavily throughout the decision­-making process and still weighs heavily on all of the DPEA staff.

“Learning objectives and outcomes simply must be prioritized over other considerations by an educational institution, and retaining the FIRST Robotics program as a capstone project cannot be justified when the mechatronics project offers students a substantially more enriching educational experience.”​

Public speakers asked SBUSD trustees to reverse or at least delay the decision, to allow current students to finish out the robotics curriculum used in the FIRST competition.

Although the request sounds reasonable, I’m not seeing it happen. The trustees don’t often involve themselves in course decisions made at a school level, nor does the district, for that matter.

Giana was not able to reach DPEA director Amir Abo-Shaeer for a comment. You can leave yours below.

2. U.S. Fighter Jets Intercept Russian Bombers Off Central California Coast

U.S. border security is a joke, but we nonetheless scrambled fighter jets to shoo away Russian bombers apparently probing our air defenses on the Fourth of July. National security still means something to our military.

According to Preston Schlachter, spokesman for the North American Aerospace Defense Command, two Russian Tu-95 bombers were intercepted by U.S. fighter jets near the Aleutian Islands in outer Alaska.

Not long after, other Russian bombers were challenged somewhere off California’s Central Coast. 

“In both cases the aircraft were well away from U.S. sovereign airspace,” said Schlachter, who wouldn’t provide specifics on the location.

Of course, the Central Coast is home to target-rich Vandenberg Air Force Base, and it wouldn’t be the first time Santa Barbara County was shelled by a foreign power.

Still, as many readers suggested, it might be easier for the Russians to take panga boats here. Or they could just drive right across the border from Mexico. America ain’t Ukraine, and we even have a liberal return policy.

Namaste, indeed. (Urban Hikers photo)
Namaste, indeed. (Urban Hikers photo)

3. Overnight Fire Causes $150,000 in Damage at Downtown Santa Barbara Stores

A fire that started in a storage area off an alley behind two downtown Santa Barbara stores caused an estimated $150,000 in damage early on the Fourth of July.

Santa Barbara firefighters were dispatched around 1 a.m. to the 900 block of State Street, where they found heavy smoke and embers billowing up from the roof of a building that is home to Namaste, a clothing store at 922 State, and Rooms & Gardens, a home furnishings store at 924 State.

Battalion Chief Mike De Ponce said flames had extended into second-floor offices, but crews mounted an aggressive defense and brought it under control.

The cause of the fire is under investigation. No injuries were reported.

4. Former KEYT Anchor Debby Davison Dies of Cancer

Debby Davison, an anchor — and a rock — at KEYT News for nearly two decades, died of breast cancer the evening of July 7 after a years-long battle.

Debby Davison was a warrior to the end.
Debby Davison was a warrior to the end.

Already a veteran TV journalist when she arrived at KEYT in 1990, Davison had been on the job for just two weeks when the Painted Cave Fire ignited. Her on-air professionalism and unflappability during the deadly and devastating wildfire turned her into one of Channel 3’s most popular and enduring stars.

She retired from news in 2006, but never turned off her motor. She emceed countless charity fundraisers, and was a mainstay with the Santa Barbara Council on Alcoholism & Drug Abuse and its Summit for Danny, as well as with CALM (Child Abuse Listening & Mediation), the Dream Foundation and Unity Shoppe.

Davison was gracious, vivacious and genuine, and she could count legions of locals as her friends. I was privileged to be one of them, and I’m grateful for the advice, encouragement and perspective she provided — before and after — Noozhawk was launched. She was one of the earliest members of our Hawks Club, and it actually may have been her idea.

Prayers and condolences to Davison’s family — husband Dennis Phelps and sons Eric, and his wife, Stacy, and Scott — and to her former colleagues at KEYT.


Another horrific example of alleged driving under the influence. (Santa Barbara County Fire Department photo)
Another horrific example of alleged driving under the influence. (Santa Barbara County Fire Department photo)

5. Lompoc Woman Killed, 8-Year-Old Girl Severely Injured in Highway 1 Crash

A 22-year-old woman was killed, an 8-year-old girl was critically injured and two other people were hurt in a massive wreck on Highway 1 south of Lompoc early on July 3.

The driver who allegedly caused the chain of collisions was hospitalized with major injuries. Oh, and he was arrested on suspicion of felony DUI and vehicular manslaughter. Surprised?

According to authorities, Manuel Santos of Lompoc was driving a 2005 Toyota Corolla north on Highway 1 about 1:20 a.m. when the sedan drifted off the right side of the roadway, struck a drainage culvert and then a boulder, became airborne and slammed into a power pole.​ The car then spun back into traffic, where a 1997 Toyota Avalon crashed into it.

A 22-year-old Lompoc woman riding in the front seat of Santos’ car died of blunt-force injuries, the California Highway Patrol said. Her name was withheld pending family notification.

The CHP said the 8-year-old, who was not wearing a seat belt, suffered life-threatening injuries when she was ejected from the car. She was transported by American Medical Response ambulance to Santa Barbara Cottage Hospital, but details on her identity and condition were not released.

Santos, 29, was allegedly driving under the influence and was to be booked into Santa Barbara County Jail after his release from the hospital.

The other driver, Matthew Woodman, 23, of Lompoc, and his passenger, Mia Rodierda-Wallo, 20, of Lompoc, somehow escaped with just moderate injuries. Still, they were rushed by ambulance to Marian Regional Medical Center in Santa Maria for treatment.

                                                                 •        •        •

Bill Macfadyen’s Story of the Week, from my peripatetic tour of the World Wide Web: Secrets From the CEO Who Achieves Inbox Zero Every Day. I’ll let you know if I ever make it.

                                                                 •        •        •

It’s never taken much for my old friend, Tim Stack, to have me ROFL-ing. Especially when he plays his trademark “News Guy.” (I can’t be the only one who remembers Johnny Bago.)

This is an oldie and a goodie, but aren’t we all just livin’ for the free gas?


(X 96.3 FM​ video)

                                                                  •        •        •

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— Bill Macfadyen is Noozhawk’s founder and publisher. Contact him at [email protected], follow him on Twitter: @noozhawk, or click here to read previous columns. The opinions expressed are his own.

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