Saturday, April 30, 2016

Distant Pastures, Worries Left Behind

Off to places new and to places familiar.  Posting dependent on the vagaries of modern technology and ancient stone walls.

Friday, April 29, 2016

Robotic Bon Voyage

I have become accomplished at bending and tweaking my schedule so that I can "almost" be in two places at once.  But there are limits.  My upcoming archeology jaunt to Vindolanda is always in early to mid May.  And of late the timing of my Advanced Robotics class has shifted so that they overlap.

I have some ideas on how to resolve this in the future, but for 2016 my solution was to get the students off to a good start and then turn the show over to some of my kids from the high school FIRST robotics group.  Its good to have Minions after all.

Progress on the last day of my nominal supervision:

We had the basic drive system running a week earlier.  It is touchy, hope the kids can drive without crashing.

Arms are tricky.  The best system mimics nature, with the linear actuator providing pull akin to a muscle, and the yellow towing strap being like a tendon.  This is a "shoulder joint".

Here is an "elbow joint".  This was a bit fussy, the actuator has to be perfectly lined up.  And like a real elbow you should not hyper extend it.  The metal part of the joint comes from a power wheel chair that was donated for our use almost 15 years ago.  I keep reusing the parts again and again.

My goal for my last session with them was to have the robot wave good bye to me under radio control.  We did not quite manage it but the joints do all work, they just need to be attached to their electronics.  Running it straight off the batteries I did get a feeble salute:


My high school helpers will have three weeks to get the younger kids to finish off some power connections and a candy dispenser.  They might pull it off, they might not.  Sometimes kids learn more with less adult input, and can get as smart by seeing what does not work as by seeing what does.

I left the robot assembled but not fully powered, lurking in its storage closet.  I hope it provides a few unexpected surprises for people who come across it unawares.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

An Uncomfortable Artifact

Look, we can all agree that history contains a lot of bad stuff.  Wars, Crimes, Catastrophes, and Stupid Ideas.  The further back in time they lie the less they make us angry or sad.  Odd, that time seems to be more of a factor than how awful the fact is question really is.  We might briefly acknowledge a civil war or famine in Roman times.  We get hopping mad about some ignorant thing a politician said yesterday.

So I present today's artifact with trepidation.  How old does an Uncomfortable Artifact have to be before we just shake our heads and say, "well, times were different then."?

This came out of a box at a local thrift sale:

Wait, wait....this is the year 2016.  I must insert a warning to Delicate Flowers who would feel micro-aggressed or something.  If you are easily offended:

And with your peripheral vision click off of this page.

There.  With that out of the way....

What the Hell is this?

Inappropriate on so many levels.  We no longer think it acceptable to show semi-clad children.  What was once a silly "Copper Tone" ad would now be regarded as deeply creepy stuff.  It is still OK to poke fun at rural people - note the standard sight gag of outhouse and mail order catalog. (Sorry, oh my British friends, if you don't get this one I won't explain it).  But regarding black children as slow talkin' pickaninnies is entirely uncouth.  (Oddly I am told that Black individuals are among the collectors of this sort of artifact).

But once you get past the initial dissonance between current and past culture norms, this simple post card has a very odd feature.  Specifically, why does the newspaper say "Sinking of the Maine" in obviously scrawled on lettering?

To answer that one I need to back up a little.

In the bottom right corner you can see the copyright on this is from Curt Teich and Co.  This Chicago firm was America's largest producer of postcards in the Golden Age of same.  Teich was a German immigrant trained in printing, who came to America in 1895.  He worked his way up from "printer's devil" to foreman before moving to Chicago and starting his own firm in 1898....the same year as the battleship Maine was sunk in Havana's harbor.

In 1905 Teich took a memorable cross country journey by train, stopping in a wide variety of small towns and snapping photos.  His timing was superb.  Postage on cards had been reduced to one cent a few years earlier.  Automobile travel was just starting to take off.  Teich had the technical skills of the German printers who had to date dominated the business.  He also had the idea that businesses in small towns would want to order high quality advertising post cards at low prices - one dollar per thousand cards.  His 2500 mile trip resulted in orders amounting to $767,000 as measured in inflation adjusted dollars.

Teich and Company had a great run, finally closing in 1978.  Their company archives have been preserved and contain some 400,000 postcards from about 10,000 geographic locations.  While sitting down to write this I thumbed through a few cards we have sitting around our cabin.  The usual sort of things you find "Up North", images showing stringers full of fish, rustic bumpkins and outhouses, main streets.  There was no shortage of Teich views.

With that background what can we make of the above?

Well, with a portfolio that diverse Teich had a few genres we now consider in poor taste.  The racial sensitivities of an earlier age allowed for more "humor" at the expense of others.  There are dating guides to Teich products but they are not inclusive and shed little light on the designation C-245. But by tracking down various similar cards with post marks I can say that this series "Chocolate Drops Comics" dates to the 1940's.

But what on earth is "Sinking of the Maine" doing on that newspaper.  It does not quite sound like a double meaning.  It is a reference that would be considered outdated to a nation freshly outraged by "Remember Pearl Harbor".  Post cards from the early 1900s referencing the Maine are uncommon and none of them look anything like this so I think we can rule out a simple reprint of old stock.

I did find an occasional reference to similar cards with a 1940 post mark on them.  If this is actually the issue date of the series then lets chalk it up to odd coincidence.  But if this is after Pearl Harbor then perhaps there is another meaning here.

Curt Teich had several sons one of whom was an Army Lieutenant stationed in the Phillipines at the time of simultaneous surprise attacks there and at Pearl Harbor.  Lawrence Teich was taken prisoner and died on the Bataan Death March.

Is this scrawled on headline an oblique reference to the events of December 7th, 1941? I suppose it is unlikely.  But Curt Teich and Company did go on to become a major supplier of maps for the US Military.  They made 50% of all maps used by the US Army and 100% of the maps showing invasion beaches.  Curt Teich was said to have been devastated by the loss of his son.  Perhaps the reference to the more recent sneak attack was being gently alluded to in the discordant mention of an earlier one.

Monday, April 25, 2016

The Anaerobes

The tendency for archaeologists to form garage bands of varying levels of proficiency has been the subject of sporadic scholarly interest.  Some maintain that the constant, repetitive action of scraping a trowel is similar ergonomically to playing many stringed instruments.  More plausibly the impoverished life style common to diggers and musicians is simply a natural synergy.

Whichever theory you prefer the history of a band generally known as "The Anaerobes" is an interesting case study.

With the presence among its founding members of a certain "L.A. Scott"- who was an actual entertainment industry lawyer - one would imagine that the band would be on the fast track to stardom.

But problematically the members of the band could not even agree on a name.  Late nights at the pub were occupied not by practice but by pointless debate as to whether the group should be called "Willy and the Wellies" or "Welly and the Willies".

All struggling musicians are admonished with similar advice; "Don't Quit the Day Job".  And in fact this proved good counsel.  It was only when the group was fully engaged in excavating deep, villainous, organically preserved layers that there appeared both a name "The Anaerobes" and a lead singer who peered quizzically over from an adjacent but far less uncouth trench.

Sunny Delgato was certainly the most talented member of the group and the second most enigmatic. In this regard she lags slightly behind lead guitar "Pierre" who hails from an unspecified water logged European country.

Soon the band began to enjoy a modicum of popularity.  And even if it was mostly of the delusional sort it was for all of that, no less enjoyable.  A series of albums was forthcoming.

Happy times indeed, best captured by this photo of band and roadies.  The raised hand in the back is not a random fan but instead a passing groundskeeper on his lawnmower.

Of course there are a number of classic signs that a band is running out of creative energy, or perhaps falling apart from internal strife.  The appearance of a "Greatest Hits" album is usually the last you ever hear of a musical group.

And so it was with considerable surprise and delight that fans of the group - the entirety of which would fit around a single table at the Twice Brewed Inn - recently received a notification in the form of an ancient wax stylus tablet:

The Anaerobes Reunion Tour, Northern England.  May 2016.

Friday, April 22, 2016

Archaeology of Kitsch

After seeing the Wonders of the Ancient world standing next to roller coasters and fast food joints I was regarding the hyper kitsch of Wisconsin Dells in a somewhat different light.  One place that looked to have had better days caught my eye for a closer look.

The CASTLE OF ERROR as we shall call it stood right next to a brightly colored T shirt shop and across from a slightly more frightening place that promised you could FEED LIVE ALLIGATORS and see such sights as a two headed turtle and a 400 pound albino python.  Maybe the jump and shriek spook house attraction just couldn't compete.

But how long had it been out of business?  And what kind of place was it?

First of all it was not a very convincing Spooky Castle.  Here you can see an easy escape route for those clear headed enough to just scoot under the faux wood door.  The yellow patch is where the foam insulation that seems to have been the chief building material has peeled off.

The CASTLE shared an alley with the Go Kart track next door so it was fairly easy to peek inside the ominous, brooding stronghold...

Huh.  Looks more like a hamburger shack.

And that guess was not far off.  Probably practical considerations prevented the proprietors from covering the front step with slime and ooze, so you can look down at the entrance and still see:

A quick Google search showed this to be an Italian deli.  Its menu seemed pretty basic.  They bragged about having a flight simulator you could "fly" in while waiting for your order to be up.  The underlying structure still looks wrong for a deli, so perhaps Bomberinos was not the first occupant.  As to the most recent owners, one of them still seems to be keeping the spooky faith just inside the front door:

I'd like to think he found my spectral image good company.

Of course Archaeology always comes down to dating.  Bomberino's goes back far enough that I saw one of their menus on ebay. It seems to have been a small chain that closed its last store in 2003.  And taking a look on Google Earth I see that the sign of the CASTLE had already begun to fall off in the spring of 2014.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Kitsch Overload in Wisconsin Dells

I enjoy silly things like road side attractions.  Big goofy statues, kitschy souvenir shops, that sort of thing.  I am usually ready for more.  But a recent trip to Wisconsin Dells was a bit of an overdose. Gaudy, over-sized, out of place stuff everywhere. After a half hour I had seen enough.

Hey, is that the Colosseum out there beyond the water slides and the Go Kart track?

Why, yes it is.  Or at least an old looking facade over a modern hotel.

I will spare you the worst of it, it was not a particularly good day for photos anyway.  But this sure caught my eye....

A fleet of moose themed delivery vehicles.  But the name Moose Jaw, the concept of pizza, and this view of the world....seemed a bit discordant.

Monday, April 18, 2016

Tree Shaped Tombstones - a soldier remembered.

Lake Delton Wisconsin. Just known as Delton back when this monument went up.

There is a lot going on with this one.  Ropes, some sort of angled measuring device (?), ferns and four different names.  John and Hannah were presumably the parents of the main fellow memorialized here, a chap by the name of Charles W. Barnes.  Alas, it seems likely that Johnie Barnes was his son.

The upper part of the monument has an unusual and hard to photograph inscription that wraps almost all the way around it.  It says "OUR SOLDIER BROTHER".  It also gives the birth and death dates for Charles, 1835-1894.

Behind this tree shaped monument are individual tombstones for Charles and his parents.  They look older, so the 1901 date on the severed branch must indicate when this family monument was put up. Perhaps by Charles' literal brothers?  Or by his fellow soldiers?   Because Mr. Barnes was indeed a soldier.

Confusingly there appear to be two men of this name who served in Wisconsin regiments during the Civil War.  This one enlisted on February 4th 1862.  After serving two years with the 17th Wisconsin is noted to have been in Company G of the 14th Wisconsin for most of 1864, mustering out at the end of that year.  He may have been from New Buffalo Michigan.

The 17th Wisconsin regiment fought in most of the hardest battles in the Western theater.  The men of the regiment finished their term of service in January of 1864, returning home for either civilian life or a "veteran's furlough".  Barnes chose to re-enlist in a different regiment for some reason.