Sunday, April 30, 2017

Off the Map, Again

As always when I travel to the Hinterlands a perhaps unnecessary apology.  Sometimes modern technology falters in remote places with thick stone walls.

Updates as possible, hopefully daily.

This post timed to coincide with the first round at the annual Jet Lag Drinks Hour.


Friday, April 28, 2017

Take Off

I suppose I am not qualified to comment on anybody else's life.  But I suspect that many people have set routines.  Work is 9 - 5 Monday through Friday.  Weekends are yardwork, Friday night fish fry, watching sporting events of one sort or another. 


I can't remember ever living that way.  

At least for the last decade life has had more of an up and down, sawtooth pattern to it.  The sharp pointy parts could be a stretch of concentrated ER shifts or another round of (extended) family crisis.  The intervals between were brief respites, always with another serrated edge approaching fast.

After a while you get used to it.  It becomes a calculus of balancing naps, caffeine, griping conversations with one's Spouse (we have a policy of alternating gripes) and trying to keep in mind the many positives in our worlds.

The last couple of weeks feel like the first time I have actually been Retired.  Prior to that it was Pseudo Retirment.  I stood down from the ER but went straight into the maelstrom of coaching FIRST Robotics.  Then back to clinic work for the summer. Then a stint as a Tech School student.  Back to FIRST Robotics.  

It was all stress, but a good kind of stress on the whole.  Just four more challenging things to get done.  Three.  Two.  One. Robotics is over.  My schedule......wide open.

In a few days I am off to England for the annual archeology trip. After that a bit of add on travel fun.  Responsibilities?  Stress? People expecting me to do this or that difficult thing at a specific time?  Nah.  I will be spending some quality time with ancient citizens who could not have even imagined my existence, undemanding folks whose day to day concerns ended 1800 years ago.

And after that?  Oh, I suppose I will continue to go through the cafeteria line of life repeatedly.  Hmmm...that looks like something that will be fun but stressful and probably beyond my current or projected abilities.  "Gimme a big helping of that. Oh, another couple of scoops if you please".

But until then, off to green fields.

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Looking back at .500, A FIRST season on display.

All the matches from our two FIRST Robotics tournaments are now at least in theory available on line.  I say in theory because some of them appear to wink on and off and others may or may not have functional sound.  

It's hard for me to watch these.  Having been so wrapped up in the FIRST Robotics build and competition season I can see too many small things, things that cost us points or a victory.

I have already mentioned our running fight against a legion of mechanical and software gremlins.  They say baseball is a game of inches.  Well, robotics is a game of millimeters.  When you see our robot fail to deliver a gear in autonomous mode it is not missing by a mile, it is missing by a fraction of a degree in its angle of approach. Worn carpet, faulty placement of the robot in set up, heck, maybe evil spirits all come into play. 

The team did heroic trouble shooting and driving improvisation to do as well as they did.  And we learned more by an average tournament season than we would have in either a cake walk or a total system collapse.

Machines are not perfect.  Neither are humans.  You zig when you should have zagged, you reach too quickly or too slowly to drop a game piece into the scoring slot. Even the battered up game field sometimes cost us.  We lost one match when the gear receiver partly broke but play was continued.  A few matches later we were out there again.  This time it fell off entirely and had to be replaced.  We went on to win that match.

Of course with a few elite exceptions all the other teams are in a similar situation. Everyone wins, or loses, matches based on the razor thin balance of glitches made by the machines and humans on your alliance weighed against those of the other side. Being naturally focused in on our own robot we likely don't see those other events very clearly.

All the matches for team 5826 can be found HERE.  Knowing all too well which sensors, which motors, which software parameters were on the fritz at various times I cringe watching some of them.  But in almost all there were some things that were done well, very well in fact.  I consider the best match of the season to be one that we actually lost narrowly but carried our alliance almost all the way to the Victor's laurels.  But in terms of available video that shows Team 5826 running well, I suggest the one below. We are in red colors.  Look for our numbers...

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

The Trials of the Trowelsworthys

Just a few days until the annual Spring peregrinations begin.  The preparations don't actually take very long.  I would hardly be a suitable heir to the Trowelsworthy title if I didn't keep at ready a packed bag near the door at all times.  It contains inconspicuous garb for all weathers and an assortment of currency, much of it almost as good as officially printed notes. 

Something about traveling just naturally draws me into one of my several alternative identities, and when heading off the England it is always Badger Trowelsworthy who boards the trans Atlantic flight.  Yes, the passport says something else, but Lord Trowelsworthy is quite comfortable with traveling incognito.

It is entirely possible that some of my archeology pals who know me only as "Badger" don't actually know the moniker that the tedious and pesky real world insists on considering to be True.

But while it is a comfortable persona, it does come with a few wrinkles.  I for instance actually start to think like a slightly disreputable minor aristocrat.  I in fact, worry about Trowelsworthy Hall, the illusionary Manse that has been the traditional home of the Trowelsworthys for centuries.

There have been repeated attempts by junior members of a vagrant branch of the family to lay hands upon the property in my absence.  Oh, Otteria and Biff are cunning and persistent - admirable qualities to be sure - but I have stayed a step ahead of them so far.

For one thing the exact location of the Manor House remains ambiguous.  Many locations have been suggested.  A medieval rabbit hutch in Dorset.  A building supply store in Alberta.  A dentist's office made of shipping containers in Valdez Alaska.  One of these might be correct.  But I would not bet on it.

So the malicious cousins have turned to that most subtle of weapons, the courts.

It has been a close run thing, but recently my Solicitor has prevailed.  It took some doing but she was successful in persuading the Bench that a deed that at first glance appears to be made from letters cut out of modern publications is in fact the authentic document signed by Queen Elizabeth (The First) in her own hand.

It was a fine bit of legal effort, accompanied of course by the distribution of considerable largess in the proper places. But it is done, and I now am confident that this will deter The Young Graspers for long enough that I may enjoy my holiday abroad without undue concerns.

Regards the Alberta Canada location for Trowelsworthy Hall, take note of THIS   Police say they are considering the fire "suspicious".  Gee....ya think?  Otteria and Biff's doing I don't doubt in the least.

Monday, April 24, 2017

Poor Spawning Decisions. Or, Pike in the Fike

On a recent bone chilling April morning I had a chance to go out with the Department of Natural Resources crew on one of the spring fish surveys.  There are actually a number of ways to do this but today we were working with what are called "Fike Nets".  They look like this:

This kind of survey is done in the spring for a reason.  Most of the high value game fish are spawning this time of year.  That puts them in predicatable places.  And makes them a bit stupid.  These nets are basically just big cages.  They are set up with some straight nets that lead into them.  Being preoccupied with biological urges the fish just blunder on into a simple trap that most of them would not go near any other time of year.  Mating behaviour.....stupid across all species I guess.

Here's the boat.

Soon we were emptying the Fike Nets into the onboard holding tank and busily at work measuring and counting.  

This cute little fella is an immature muskie.  This is the premier game fish in these waters so the crew was happy to meet up with him again.  I say again because when they scanned him it was discovered that he had a "chip" in him, placed last year when he was stocked from the hatchery.  Oh, they did not greet him by number but they were pleased to see he survived.

Other critters also end up in the nets.  Here is a rather self important little crayfish.

Next up, a Mud Minnow.  This is actually a very large specimen of this diminutive fish. Perhaps it would be a state record if taken on hook and line.  That is if you had the time to pursue such small fry.  And could persuade them to bite on a hook...

Ah but there were some much bigger fish as well.  Here I am holding a rather substantial Walleyed Pike.  

As I mentioned, all the fish got counted.  Most got measured.  But how do you deal with this situation?

The crew was disappointed to have no adult muskies tallied but when the last Fike Net came up there were two of them.  Big bruisers...but on this lake still not legal keepers.  These were a bit short of the fifty inch length required.  Still, the larger of these two was probably around forty pounds!

The scanner was deployed....and indicated that these fish had not been tagged.  That was soon attended to.

And it is off to the chilly depths.  Happy Spawning.  Be smart.  If possible.

Friday, April 21, 2017

Tree Shaped Tombstones - Galesville Wisconsin

The cemetery in Galesville is built into the side of a rather steep hill.  It seems an inconvenient set up for all sorts of reasons.

Be that as it may it did contain one rather interesting "Tree Shaped Tombstone", of a type I had not seen before.

From the front view it is a rather average looking specimen, perhaps a little on the stocky side.

It has this deep indentation on the front.  It really looks as if something was supposed to fit in there. Perhaps a little carved bird's nest?

The sentiments on the side are peacefull.

The really peculiar thing was this curvy branch.  It looks like a tea kettle spout.  

Years into my hunt for these monuments and I still am regularly finding new versions.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Forgotten Brewery Caves - Hillsboro Wisconsin

I am afraid that I'm serving up rather thin soup today.  This is not the kind of site that I would usually devote a post to but it did have one or two interesting features...

But whatever storage caves once existed are now hidden well.

Lets start with a couple of vintage pictures.

Slightly different dates, note the presence of a large building to the left on the upper, and presumably later photo.  But it is a nice building nestled into a hillside. Apparently there was a brickyard somewhere in the foreground of the second, earlier photo.  A detailed book on the Wisconsin brick industry notes that the brick yard was owned by Joseph Bezucha, and that the reddish brown bricks were made for local use only. You could buy 1,000 of them in 1899 for $6.00.  I think those are stacked bricks behind the little brick house.

Of course you did notice that the name on the brewery in the first picture?

Next lets take a look at the Sanborn Fire Insurance map of the place at about the same time as the photos above.  As breweries burned down regularly you tended to see them featured prominently on these maps, but non flammable things like caves are often not shown.

From this you get the sense that the large structure to the right is a whopping great ice house built into the hillside.  This would seem sufficient to keep beer cold even without deeper caves.  Ice probably came from a nearby mill pond.  Notice that the Ice House is shown with a covered loading dock just as is shown in the second photo. That really makes it seem likely that the beer was stored in the ice house.

Of course this does not exclude earlier cave systems.  This brewery was around for quite a while.  It was built in 1870 by a partnership of Ludwig and Landsinger.  As an odd little historic side note I found mention that in 1890 they purchased a vintage brew kettle from the early Aiple Brewery in Stillwater Minnesota.  Perhaps they were upgrading their business or rebuilding after a fire.  Surprisingly the Hillsboro Brewery reopened after Prohibition and hung on until 1943.  So much of what can be seen today are later remnants.

This is about the same orientation as the second historic photograph.  I didn't climb the bluff behind me.  The road is exactly as it was, I am standing at the "Y".

A slightly closer view.  The white wall in the hillside is clearly from the brewery, but it is newish looking cement from some kind of rehab/rebuild.  It did not warrant closer photography being smooth, new and effectively hiding whatever was once there.  But to the left of it, right about where there is a telephone pole I did see something intriguing...

This is trying oh so very hard to be a flat stone face in exactly the spot for a brewery cave.  I scuffed about with the toe of my boot looking for the top of an archway.  If there is one it is further down.  Oh and I should not have to say this but will.  Nobody should ever mess around with any digging tools more formidable than a boot toe in the immediate proximity of what looks like a power line!  There were some traces of asphalt below this stone niche so it may have been nothing more than a spillway for some kind of water run off.  If I had a building built into a hillside I think I would want the water coming off the hill to be routed around it instead of through it.

But surely I will at least find a brick to take home as a souvenir?  I walked along the creek which ran between Mr. Bezucha's brewery and brickyard.  I saw a few busted up generics, of the same attractive shade as the many old buildings on Main Street.  I did find one with a stamp on it, obscured under old mortar.

As I strolled back to my car I unsurprisingly was asked by a local "What're ya doing with a brick?".  In small town America even harmless looking old coots will be recognized as being "not from around these parts".  My explanation was met with a grin.

Alas on returning home I find the word Excelsior stamped on the cleaned up brick. Not from Hillsboro it came from a hundred miles away, ironically from the site I visited in my Brickyard Dog post of a little while back.

No brewery cave, no local brick souvenir.  Some days are like that.