Mike Margolis drove down to San Diego with his family earlier this month to cheer on his oldest son, 18-year-old James Wu, who was participating in an unusual event: an international robo-sub competition.

The event challenged 28 college and high school teams from around the globe to program a robotic submarine – built from scratch – to move through a series of underwater tasks in 30 minutes. The tasks included motoring through a gate to touch a buoy of a certain color, spotting a needle and circumnavigating it as well as shooting a torpedo through a target.

Wu, an engineering major at Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y., was one of only two freshmen on his team of about 15 students.

Margolis, 60, a partner at Century City law firm Blank Rome, said he was extremely proud of his son for making the team, and even more proud when Cornell made it to the championship round. After a full day of competition, Cornell walked away the winner – No. 1 in the world – for the third year in a row.

“A lot of kids work hard, they do their studies and so forth. But you don’t always see a real passion ignited,” Margolis said. “To see James work with joy all through the night because he’s got his teeth into a problem and just really wants to solve it – it’s really exciting.”

Before Battle

Timing is everything, especially when traveling to Israel.

Ruben Gonzalez, senior vice president of public policy for the Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce, went on a weeklong trip to Israel in late May with a small group of Latino civic leaders from the Western United States. It was his first trip to Israel.

The group toured all the usual sites: Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, and the Sea of Galilee in the north. But they also went to the Golan Heights overlooking Syria and its brutal civil war.

“We saw rockets being fired in a valley just a couple miles away,” he said.

The group also traveled to Ramallah in the West Bank, where they met with Palestinian leaders. But the most memorable part of the trip for Gonzalez, 38, was a stopover in Sderot, on the border with Gaza. Just a few weeks later, tensions over Gaza flared into war between Israel and Hamas.

“That was a surreal stop even when we were there and not just because of what happened a month after we left,” he said. “We saw a whole storeroom full of burned-out rocket shells that the local authorities had collected.”

His trip happened to be the same week Pope Francis toured the Holy Land.

“We figured we would be OK, since no one was going to try any attacks while the pope was there,” Gonzalez said.

Staff reporters Bethany Firnhaber and Howard Fine contributed to this column. Page 3 is compiled by editor Charles Crumpley. He can be reached at ccrumpley@labusinessjournal.com