Friday, March 29, 2013

Sen. Geraldine Thompson calls on students to act

ORLANDO Speaking with students at Valencia College on Friday, March 29, Florida State Senator Geraldine Thompson, D-Orlando, made clear her stance on several hot-button issues including a bill (SB 196) that would allow for a statewide domestic partnership registry. 

“I’m going to vote for that next Tuesday [April 2] and I’m going to vote for a statewide partnership registry,” said Thompson, when asked about the issue of civil unions currently being addressed by the U.S Supreme Court. “Because I believe in equality and treating people equally.”

Several news organizations in Florida including the Orlando Sentinel and Miami Herald reported that Thompson missed a vote for SB 196 on Tuesday, March 12 due to unexplained health issues. Her vote as part of the Senate Children, Families and Elder Affairs Committee is considered vital for this legislation to move forward and missing the vote forced the legislation's sponsor to postpone this bill for a second time.


(Click above to watch video)
(Produced by James Tutten)

Thompson worked for Valencia Community College for 24 years as the director of the Equal Opportunity Office and assistant to the college president. There she established the “College Reach Out Program” and help found Valencia’s “Bridges to Success” program, working to help disadvantaged and at-risk students to continue their goals in post-secondary education. 

One of the events that propelled Thompson to get involved in government affairs was when cuts in education threatened to end the “College Reach Out Program,” and she along with other supporters were able to fight this action. This program and its legacy of helping high school students with their transition to college was eventually cut by Florida legislature in recent years.

Since leaving the college seven years ago to pursue her own goals in the Florida legislature, Thompson has often come back to Valencia to speak with students involved with the ever-growing “Bridges to Success” program.

“The greatest thrill of it all is when I see a student that comes back and say ‘I finished my professional degree and I have a job, and it’s because of Bridges that I’m here,’” said John Stover, manager and founder of Bridges to Success.

Stover stated that in “Bridges” has helped over 2,600 students throughout its 27 years of existence and it considered one of the top mentoring and assistance programs in the nation because of its success and high graduation rates.

“I’m able to focus on my academics and without it [Bridges] I would be focusing on financial more than academics,” said Danielle Jordan, 20, who is a Sophomore at Valencia College.

Students involved in this program showed a high level of respect and admiration to Thompson throughout her discussion with them. They asked about several issues, including civil unions and college assistance programs that Thompson went into detail to explain. She is currently involved with seven committees (two of which she is vice-chair), addressing issues that directly influence the Central Florida area including transportation, economic development, commerce and tourism.

“Coming from me, as a young African-American female, seeing how far she has progressed in life and seeing the things she is doing shows me that I can do it as well and be successful,” said Jennifer Hamilton, 19, a member of the female mentoring group within “Bridges to Success” called R.E.G.A.L for Remarkable, Elegant, Gifted, Ambitious, Ladies.

By James Tutten

(Photo by Ty Wright / Valencia Voice)

Saturday, March 16, 2013

MegaCon 2013 contines to evolve in Orlando

     ORLANDO Twenty years after the inaugural Mega Convention or “MegaCon” was held in 1993, this wildly popular celebration of sci-fi, fantasy and pop culture continues to grow and boldly go anywhere its diverse fanbase ventures to take it.

     “This is my first time at MegaCon, we do DragonCon every year,“ said Ashley Bailey, dressed as Serena Tsukio from the Japanese manga and anime series Sailor Moon. “DragonCon is a little bit bigger I’d say, I like the fact that MegaCon has a lot more room and the people are really really friendly here.”

     Multi-genre fan conventions like MegaCon, DragonCon and Comic-Con are growing in popularity every year as the acceptance of what some have called “nerd culture” found in video games, science fiction, comic books, and other forms of entertainment, grow into part of mainstream popular culture.

     Comic book adaptations turned into movies like “Marvel’s The Avengers” and “The Dark Knight Rises” combined in 2012 to gross over $1.6 billion worldwide.

(Click above to watch video)
(Produced by James Tutten)

     Many of the characters featured in these films and comic series are now beloved by fans around the world, and people at conventions like MegaCon love to dress up as them and share the love with other like-minded lovers of fandom.

     If it’s on the pop culture radar, you will see it represented by someone and this widely diverse gathering.

     Yearly, the convention is peppered with celebrity guests from television shows and films. Comic book artists and authors often join the mix as well.

     This year's largest draw was a gathering of the original cast members from “Star Trek: The Next Generation.” Actors from the show met with fans on designated days to sign photos and take pictures.

     Hundreds of convention goers paid extra to sit in on a special group panel on Saturday night, as the actors answered audience questions and discussed the series.

     There were also several other group panels throughout the convention, including indie filmmakers, photography, anime art and voice acting.

     On top of all the events and the huge showroom filled with items for purchase, one of the largest draws for MegaCon is the people watching. Some costumes are incredibly detailed and take months of work and hundreds of dollars to create. The more extravagant costumes were often swarmed by an endless stream of flashing lights and excited fans.

     “I didn't think I’d get the response I did with my costume, and I’ve just had people taking pictures of me every five minutes. I felt like a celebrity,” said Danielle Miller, who attend her first MegaCon dressed as Wonder Woman.

     Online advanced tickets for MegaCon were sold-out a week before the convention started on Friday, March 15. Tickets were still sold by the thousands at the event and organizers stated that this convention continues to grow in attendance around at a rate of 15 percent every year.

     More information can be found on the MegaCon official website at

By James Tutten

(Published: March 20 issue of "Valencia Voice" on page 8.)

(All photos by James Tutten)

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

UCF students reflect, rejoice on Pope Francis

     ORLANDO — Students from the University of Central Florida and other local colleges joined in spirit with Catholics around the world to celebrate the selection of their new leader Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio of Argentina — Pope Francis.

     “It is extremely exciting, it’s unexpected,“ said Tony Marco, lay campus minister for Catholic Campus Ministries at UCF. “We knew the conclave was going on, but with the pope being elected so quickly it’s definitely a blessing.”

     Marco and others got the word that white smoke had appeared hours before the meeting. When the new pope was chosen, they quickly sent out messages to as many people as possible to get them to come out to celebrate.

     The pope is the leader of the Catholic church and typically this is not a change over that happens very often.

     The event that was held by this group called “Knight Fire” is scheduled for every Wednesday and is focused on prayer, fellowship and study of the faith. Those in attendance sang a few songs and then engaged in small group activities, with this week’s itinerary focused on rooting out sin in honor of Lent and in reflection of Easter, March 31.

     A special element was added to this service with an unexpected display of a Monstrance. Inside this was a Eucharist, which Catholics believe is the true presence of Jesus as a blessed sacrament and worthy of worship. This was a piece of bread that was blessed at their mass service, placed inside a golden cross and presented as a source for Catholics in attendance to perform their devotion.

     “It’s the most relaxing and most peaceful feeling to be in the same room as Jesus Christ,” said Sarah Rodriguez, who was also celebrating the new pope as well as her birthday today. “It’s a way for me to clear my mind, and that’s why I try to make it to adoration as often as I can.”
The occasion marks the first time that a pope has been chosen from the Americas.

By James Tutten

(Published: March 20, 2013 issue of "Valencia Voice" on page 2.)

(All photos by James Tutten)

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Shinedown, Three Days Grace, and P.O.D on tour

     ORLANDO — A triple threat of hard rock music was blasted out at the Amway Center on Saturday, March 9, as P.O.D, Three Days Grace, and Shinedown brought the noise to an enthusiastic crowd of alternative rock music fans.
     Combined, the three acts featured at this concert have sold around 20 million albums worldwide, and if you turned on a modern rock radio station in the last 10 years you have heard many of the now classic songs performed by these groups.
     “Rock and roll is not just a genre of music, not at all, rock and roll is a way of life,” said Brent Smith, lead singer and songwriter from Shinedown, on-stage at the Amway Center during his performance.
     Kick-starting the evening was the spiritually inspired “nu metal” band P.O.D. Lead singer Sonny Sandoval was right in the zone along with his fellow band members and started the evening concert with a strong positive, energy that enveloped the audience.
     Known for their unique brand of righteous rock with a powerful message, P.O.D is also the most veteran of all three groups that performed. They have sold over 13 million albums and have been an established group for over 21 years.
     This show also featured Canadian rock band Three Days Grace, with newly selected lead singer Matt Walst, who replaced founding member Adam Gontier. Gontier separated from the band in January of this year over health concerns and creative differences.
     Despite the general upset from fans over this change, Walst held his own with Three Days Grace and is settling into his new musical role. Their popular and well-written songs like “Chalk Outline” and “Never Too Late” are strictly simplistic and drive home a clear message of refined rock music. Overall the group had a revitalized energy and positive attitude on-stage.
     “I’ve seen Three Days Grace before when they were touring with Evanescence, and this time around the group’s energy was just amazing,” said Vikki Delzingaro, a long time fan of the group.
     Shinedown, which formed in Jacksonville, Fla. back in 2001, finished off the evening with an action packed performance of energetic anthem rock. With the breakneck action seen from songs like “Devour” and “Diamond Eyes,” the band left everything on-stage and fans screaming for more.
     With all of the bands from this evening rocking out the main stage it was a surprise to fans as several members of Shinedown, except for drummer Berry Kerch, appeared in the center of the Arena on a raised stages in the middle of the pit.
     “When they came on-stage in the middle of the audience at the beginning when it was least expected, that was incredible,” said Amanda Zabic, a Shinedown fan.
     Songs like “Sound Of Madness,” a slower paced tune than most modern rock songs, encourage a call to arms against injustice, with lines like “When you gonna wake up and fight!?”
     Going back to the center riser near the end of the concert, lead singer Brent Smith and guitarist Zach Myers played around with several acoustic song riffs in search for what they called the ultimate song to end the evening, which led them to perform their popular cover of the song “Simple Man” by fellow Jacksonville rockers Lynyrd Skynyrd.
     The powerful anti-bullying anthem “Bully” ended up as the final song performed by Shinedown. To inspire a personal connection and to highlight the message of the song, the group integrated a video from a true story about a girl named Amanda Todd.
     Todd shared a video on YouTube about the mistakes in her life that lead to her being bullied, blackmailed and assaulted. She was eventually pushed over the edge and committed suicide on Oct. 12, 2012.
     This great concert featured some of the best rock groups from around North America with Shinedown representing Florida, P.O.D representing California and Three Days Grace representing Canada. All of these groups have excellent music and millions of fans that will surely keep them in heavy rotation for years to come.

By James Tutten

(All photos by James Tutten)

Three Days Grace new lead singer Matt Walst who recently replaced Adam Gontier on tour.

P.O.D vocalist Sonny Sandoval rocks out at the Amway Center on Saturday, March 9.

Saturday, March 9, 2013

FIRST Robotics 2013 fly high with 'Ultimate Ascent'

     ORLANDO What does mechanical obstacle climbing and Frisbee disc launching have in common? Why, nothing else but the annual FIRST Robotics competition of course.

     Celebrating 15 consecutive years in Orlando, the FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) Robotics program held its Orlando regional competition at the UCF Arena from March 7 through March 9 as 3,000 mechanical wizards battled through the most difficult game FIRST has ever devised.

     As the skill of the competitors increases and the technological achievements continue to excel, so increases the challenge raised by organizers to those willing to compete in this advanced level of modern engineering competition.


                                                  (Click above to watch video)

     “This climbing stuff is difficult,” said Todd Lovelace, a volunteer member for Team Resistance who has over 17 years of experience with FIRST. “Some of the teams make it look easy, but you’ll notice there are not many successful climbers out there.”

     This “ULTIMATE ASCENT” challenge is centered on team-built, remote-controlled robots that average around a maximum weight of 150 pounds expected to climb up multiple levels of a metal bar pyramid. In addition to showing off their skills in vertical accent, the robots’ primary objective is to score points by shooting flying discs into raised goals of varying heights and sizes on their team’s side of the competition field.

     Some of the robots miss the goals and have to make minor adjustments to hit their targets, while others load up, go to predetermined locations and fire a flurry of discs in rapid succession with the utmost precision.

     Andrew Geltz is a Valencia College student who has also worked for the last two years with “Mekheads” team #1604. This year Geltz is acting as the lead programer and providing additional electrical assistance for his group.

     “It doesn't take long when it’s done, but then you have to troubleshoot things and it’s a lot of stressful work,” said Geltz.

     One standout addition to this year’s Orlando regional for FIRST was a group of experienced robotics enthusiasts who established a new broadcast group to cover the competition called “The RoboShow.”

     James Austin is a former Valencia Voice editor and a long standing participant in FIRST Robotics, who combined his skills in journalism and robotics to make on-air coverage of the competition a reality.

     “It’s been weird for me to watch the news coverage and see them miss so much of the stuff that I love about it,” said Austin. “We have the talents here, so why not just do it ourselves?”

     It addition to covering the side stories and first two days of the competition, the group from “The RoboShow” also did a live streaming broadcast during the final day to give extra insight and information between rounds to those watching on the internet.

     Teams were eventually eliminated as the competition drew to a close. At the end, only six teams aligned as two groups of three remained to fight for the first place finish, earning them placement for the FIRST national finals at the end of April.

     The six final teams included “Shark Attack” #744 from Fort Lauderdale, Fla., “The Brazilian Trail Blazers” #1772 from Gravatal, Brazil and team “Krunch” #79 from Tarpon Springs, Fla. representing the red alliance.

     The teams representing the blue alliance were “Neutrons” #125 from Boston, Ma., “ROBOTZ Garage” #4451 from Fountain Inn, SC., and “The Pink Team” #233 from Cocoa Beach, Fla.

     The first round went strongly to the blue alliance led by the veteran “Pink” team and the impressive climbing skills of the rookie team “ROBOTZ Garage.” A come from behind push from the red alliance led to a narrow victory for them in the second round leading to a third and final elimination match to determine the winner.

     Discs were flying and battle worn robots clashed in defensive maneuvers during the final round of the Florida region, which led to the final point tallies combined with additional penalties identified by the judges.

     The final score of 103 to 82 confirmed that the red alliance had won, which led to a joyous celebration from members from The Brazilian Trail Blazers,” who cheered, hugged and wildly celebrated their victory in the middle of the competitive field.

     Though games like this are often measured by winners and losers, all of those that are involved with FIRST Robotics stand to be rewarded by the millions of dollars in scholarships offered, and the future employment opportunities in technology industries fostered by this organization.

By James Tutten

(All photos and video by James Tutten)

Team member from The Brazilian Trail Blazers” celebrate their victory at Florida Regional.

Friday, March 1, 2013

SpaceX continues to support ISS with resupply

CAPE CANAVERAL SpaceX continued to prove their rocket launch system on its second official and third total mission to resupply the International Space Station despite having another potentially damaging technical issue en-route.

The Falcon 9 rocket performed a textbook launch from Space Launch Complex 40 at the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida on Friday, March 1. But once in orbit the Dragon capsule experienced an issue with three of its four thruster pods, as the onboard system prevented them from firing properly.

This could have cause a failure of the mission because it would have prevented Dragon from reaching the proper speed and altitude required for it to reach the ISS.

SpaceX engineers monitored the situation, giving the spacecraft support and eventually purging the blocked valves allowing the vehicle to get all of its thrusters firing.

Though originally scheduled to dock with the ISS less than 24 hours after launch this thruster issue postponed the docking with the ISS by an additional 24 hours.

“Spaceflight will never be risk-free, but it’s a critical achievement that we once again have a U.S capability to transport science to and from the International Space Station,” said William Gertenmaier, NASA’s associate administrator for the Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate in Washington, in a statement released by the administration.

Despite this technical issue this mission is business as usual for SpaceX. Along with delivering general supplies, the craft will also contribute to materials research in areas including combustion, life science and the refined use and production of solar sails and semiconductor chips.

These experiments are currently ongoing aboard the ISS with results scheduled to return to Earth when Dragon finishes its mission later this month.

The Dragon spacecraft is currently scheduled to return to Earth by splashing down in the Pacific Ocean on March 25. Until then, members of the Expedition 34 crew are working on a number of scientific research projects and filling Dragon with other materials destined to return to Earth.

Along with the 50 launches currently planned by SpaceX is the next resupply mission or CRS-3 in late fall of this year. This mission with be the first CRS mission to utilize the upgraded Falcon 9 rocket that is designed to greatly improve the launch weight capacity for future missions.

If everything stays according to plan and the issues stay small to nonexistent, SpaceX is still poised to launch a manned mission to the ISS in the future, helping to break NASA’s reliance on the Russian space program in the post-shuttle era.

By James Tutten

(Published: March 13, 2013 issue of "Valencia Voice" on page 1 and 3.)

(Above photo by James Tutten)

Dragon is captured by the International Space Station on Sunday, March 3. Credit: NASA

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