Monday, July 30, 2012

River Secrets-The Shocking Truth

A recent Friday found me helping out with a DNR electroshocking survey of a local river.  The crew was made up of some college students, some Park Service personnel, the local DNR guys, and me.  Because you see my son is the area Fisheries Biologist, and if there isn't a Take your Geezer Dad to Work Day there darn well ought to be.

It is a fascinating process.  You have a pair of "barges" each with a generator and a holding tank.
The power goes to three "wands" that zip current into the water.  You advance upstream in formation, netting the befuddled fish as they float past.

It is a little like "Ghost Busters" technology, but perhaps with less dire consequences if you "cross the beams"

Here is yours truly in full Ghost Buster mode:

It is actually a little more complicated than I would have thought.  One boat runs an Alternating Current system, the other is Direct Current.  AC stuns the fish if they are close enough, but seems to annoy them into flight at more distant ranges.  DC on the other hand exerts a strange Siren Song to fish, they float along in lazy fashion following the electrical current.  You can reach the electrode under brush piles and actually draw the groggy fish out from underneath.  So when there were islands and such to deal with we used the AC boat to drive fish towards DC. 
It works, but I am always brainstorming ways to improve technology.  I think the whole AC/DC trick might work better if we added a sound system:

This could work.  The AC/DC lads seem like decent sorts, I could see them consenting to a remix of some of their Greatest Hits for a good cause.  But one of the DNR techs is a bit of a heavy metal fan, and I suppose he might have a difficult time-when "Waterway to Hell" came on-not turning the amps up to 11.  And after all, we are just trying to stun the fish.

You find a lot of interesting critters in a pristine river.

A Brook Lamprey.

A Central Mud Minnow, fairly close cousin of pike and muskies!

The oddly named Horny Head Chub.  Lord knows what kind of Google Search traffic that is going to bring to the blog.....

Two species of Sculpins.  I actually felt a little bad laying the electro hurt on these small, innocuous life forms.  But I can happily report that the survival rate at release time was 100%.

Really, the star attraction on this river is Brown Trout.

After being measured and recorded this one was in a big hurry to be released!

I am describing the electro shocking process in greater detail because I recognize that it is not something most people will ever have a chance to experience.  Wading upstream on a delightful summer day I observed that "This is so much fun it should be illegal."

Of course, if you are not working for the DNR it totally is!

Friday, July 27, 2012

Allegory in Bronze, plastic and cement.

When we were in Washington DC we took a tour of the Library of Congress.  Free and quite interesting.  Some of what follows was from our tour guide, make of it what you will.

Supposedly when a new building was needed for the Library it was handled in the fashion customary for Congressional projects.   Sweetheart bids to cronies, ballooning budgets, completion nowhere in sight.  It was supposed to be a simple project.  In fact the managment of the Library said they wanted something nice and simple, no ostentatious glitz.

Eventually the project got so far out of control that Congress called in Brigadier General Thomas Lincoln Casey, the head of the Army Corps of Engineers.  He had just finished off the Washington Monument, another botched project that had languished for too long.  And he brought it in on time and under budget.

General Casey agreed to finish the Library (acutally the Jefferson Building of same) on the condition that he would have absolute control.  Reluctantly Congress agreed.

Well, Casey had a bit of a wild side to him and went on to create an incredibly ornate building crawling with murals, statuary, architectural frippery of all sorts.  So, just the opposite of what was asked for.  But as promised, on time and under budget.

Out front there is a remarkable statue called "The Court of Neptune".  If you like your art work over the top and heavy on the allegory,  this is a real treat.
I'm sure it is better when they have the water running, but here we have King Neptune with snapping turtles, sea serpents, merfolk of various types.

Bull frog and naked guy.

Buxom water nymph being a little harsh with her horse.

More nautically oriented glitz.

I had these photos tucked away for future reference, when I recently encountered something that struck me as just a little reminiscent.  On a hot and dusty street in small town Wisconsin, another interesting and very busy tableaux:

American flags.  Santa Claus, plaster cats, chickens, mice and a swan.  A couple of cement angels were off camera on one side.  General Casey would have liked this.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Our Lady of Rugby

Religion and sport do not comfortably coexist.  After all, if prayers for Divine Intervention really worked then the most devout team would always win.  There would scarcely be time for anything but prayer, and this would make things a little tedious for paying spectators.

Oh, there have been a few minor cultural references to the practice...the movie Angels in the Outfield occurs to me, as of course does the "Touchdown Jesus" mural that overlooks the football stadium of Notre Dame University in South Bend Indiana.

So I was a little surprised to learn that in a small village in southwestern France there is a rustic chapel known as Notre-Dame-du-Rugby; Our Lady of Rugby.

For the past 45 years the little shrine overlooking Larivierre-Saint-Savin has been a pilgrimage for rugby players from France and the wider European community.  It was the project of a local priest who rededicated the abandoned chapel after three players from the area were killed in an automobile crash.

It has some swell stained glass windows:
 This one is named "Above the Scrum".
The Virgin at the Line Out.

A detail of Our Lady holding Jesus....who of course is holding a rugby ball!

Monday, July 23, 2012

Because the Robot Apocalypse Requires Planning

As I have discussed at some length, I teach a middle school robotics class every year.  As this is on a volunteer basis the main reward is my own amusement, so I try and do something a little different each year.

The basic class will be in the fall as usual, and because it is chaos on an industrial scale there is less room for innovation.  Two dozen 1 to 3 pound machines will tear each other to shreds in the name of technology education.

But I also do an Advanced Robotics class with a smaller group.  Each year I pick a different project, and atypically I have actually been thinking on this matter many months ahead.

The projects so far:
1. 30 pound combat robot, back when there was a tournament for these things not so far away.
2. Video controlled Rover bot that delivered a lunch tray to the Assistant Principle
3. RC controlled full sized Barby Jeeps running a Grand Prix race in the hallways.  Lights, sirens, water and confetti projectors.
4. Assorted remotely activated April Fools pranks, including the infamous "Kid banging to get out of a locker".
5. And of course this year's rather ambitious semi-humanoid robot that wandered the cafeteria dispensing M & Ms and squirting water at people.

So, what to do next.

The parameters are a minimal budget.  Maybe a hundred bucks or so.  Most of the tools and components are already on hand.  No more than 24 volts DC current, maybe 30 amps.  That's the max my speed controllers will handle.  Fun.  Educational.  Not overtly dangerous.  No video cameras visiting inappropriate locations. 

Beyond that I have been surprised that the Administration has been supportive of all manner of nonsense.

Here are a few things I have considered, and if you are browsing around and read this please feel free to vote and/or to suggest other projects.

1. Pyramid explorer.  I have been interested in the use of remote cameras carried into spaces too narrow for archeologists to physically enter.  I figure something with tank treads could be built to haul the video camera from my Aqua Vu fish cam around.  Maybe into those spaces above the false ceilings in the school?  Or perhaps I could find a convenient nearby sewer.  I really like to take on a project that has never been done before, and I am pretty sure that a middle school sewer exploration vehicle would qualify.

2. I wonder if you could get a weather balloon full of helium and launch some kind of instrument package.  Aerial photos every 1000 feet perhaps?  Actually, I have no doubt this could be launched, it is the recovery that would be an issue.  And are there laws about dropping things from really high up?  There probably should be.

3. Robot dragster.  At 24 volts we could get some serious RPMs out of a couple of Ford Taurus fan motors I happen to have sitting around.  We could gear them down an bit and likely get a vehicle that could do 20 to 25 mph.  Radio controlled of course.  I know where to get an open track and a radar gun.....but I should think controlling it at those speeds would be nigh on impossible.

4. Underwater ROV.  I was stuck in a hotel room a while back, my plans having been messed up by British train schedules.  So I ended up-for lack of anything else-watching Titanic for the first time.  I really like those camera equipped underwater remote operated vehicles.  Yes, I can see this working out.  PVC pipe structure, Aqua Vu for camera, pond pumps for water jets, maybe a system to adjust bouyancy by pumping air in and out of a resevoir.  This could totally work, but it would involve getting delicate electronics as well as myself too darned close to the middle school pool.  I suspect there is not a middle schooler on earth able to entirely resist the urge to push me in after a successful test....


Friday, July 20, 2012

Signs of England-2012

This one is especially apt in light of the current LIBOR scandal. 

Looks like someone underlined DEATH.  I thought the N shaped lightning was enough warning
No comment.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

A Geocache on Hadrian's Wall

My second week digging at Vindolanda we had some Canadian students on site.  One of them was into geocaching.  This involves hiding little trinkets and posting the exact GPS coordinates.  Other enthusiasts will find the cache, take the trinket as a prize and replace it with something else.

She brought little Lego Roman soldiers, one of whom I posed in my Trench of Disappointments (note the modern bottle neck in the lower part of the photo).
The card was waterproof, and had a little made up story about his life on the Roman frontier.

I understand that this guy was stashed up on the Wall and then "found" within 24 hours, but that somehow his shield had been lost.  Guess he had never heard the ancient admonition:

"Come home bearing your shield or on it."

But that was not a Roman thing so much, it was what Spartan mothers told their sons.  It means, "If you throw away your equipment in battle, don't bother coming home alive."

I'm guessing Spartans did not hand out too many Participation Ribbons.....

Monday, July 16, 2012

In memory of Joe

At least to date, I have not driven when I visit the UK.  It's that left side of the road thing.  I'm even just a little frightened being a pedestrian.  The streets are twisty, the side walks narrow and all experience aside I still sometimes look the wrong way when stepping off the curb.

On a dreary, rain soaked day in Carlisle I found evidence of a tragedy;

Roadside memorials seem less common in the UK, but are very similar to what you see in the States.  Maybe it is just better to take note, to take care, and to direct a few generic prayers for the soul of the departed and the safety of your own loved ones.  Because if you get too close, if you think too hard, it will hurt.

Does the devil indicate a wild side to the victim?  The site of the memorial seems like the kind of place a man could come to grief on a tipsy stroll home from his local.  Or was this just a favorite plush toy from his child?
Note the fresh flowers....somebody is changing them regularly.

His name was Joe.  He has a sister Tracie.  She believes in God.

More flowers.  The site is on a narrow road next to a bridge and embankment.  What happened here?

Be careful.  Treasure those you love.  There are no guarantees in this world.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Mrs. T. and I declare Victory

Ah, it can be tough to be a parent.  So much guilt to deal with.  I used to see those bumper stickers on cars that said:


It always seemed so boastful.  And made me feel parentally inadequate.  More flash cards, more discipline, more harassment....maybe we could have gotten the GPAs up another smidgen or two.

And yet in the end all works out just fine.

I have already mentioned my oldest son.  He went the traditional route.  College to Grad School to Career.  It has worked out for him, but I always had the sense that we were approaching the end of an era.  There are so dreadfully many folks with advanced degrees working at Starbucks these days.  Yes, I have always held that if there is still a single job available you can say "there will always be a spot for the best".  But in some fields there might not even be that one entry level job.

My second son is the one I have never really worried about.  Correction, he has given me more worry than the other two combined, but I have never worried about him supporting himself.  He has after all been working continuously since he started his own lawn service at age 9.  He is, and I am being realistic not  boastful here, a mechanical genius.  He can make anything out of metal, and in a pinch I think he could probably mine the ore, smelt it into alloy and then make anything out of it.  If he becomes bored with what he is doing he can always just pick up a new skill and a new job.  Heck, if he felt like it he could hop in his truck tomorrow and drive out to the new boom towns in North Dakota.  He can weld, machine, fix and operate any kind of motor.  No doubt he would prosper handsomely.

And if society ever collapses into a Mad Max post apocalypse, well, he would RULE that world. 

Which gave us two down and one to go.

The youngest graduated high school recently with no clear plan.  He considered a variety of options but in the end just decided he would get a job and work for a while.

Given the current debate about just what a college degree is good for he is exactly in step with the times.  With a finite amount set aside for his future education and enlightenment it is not a good plan to simply meander about through various majors and assorted schools.  Figure things out.  Set a plan.  March.  Don't waver. 

And until then it is always preferable to have a job that makes you appreciate that there are better things out there, and also to work somewhere that creates in balance more joy than sorrow in the world.

I understand why people who need to put food on the table work as telemarketers and so forth, but as an exercise in good karma one would rather not.

So, off to the working world for my Russian speaking, juggler-unicycle rider. 

He is working at a brewery.*

I asked him what he would be doing.

"Mopping a lot of floors."

Seems about right.

I am seriously considering making a custom bumper sticker.  Same color scheme as those HONOR STUDENT ones, now fading on the cars of our peers.  This one will say:


* Archy the Cockroach would approve:

"but if i had my life
 to live over again
 i would give dignity
 the regal razz
 and hire myself out
 to work in a brewery"

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

"Have fun storming the castle!"

Perhaps because it is made of reddish stone-visually similar to modern brick- Carlisle Castle does not at first glance look all that old.  But it is an ancient place with construction on the site of a previous Roman fort beginning in 1093.

I had a chance to visit it this spring.  In fact my brother and his wife did tour it and said it was very interesting.  But I was in a funny mood that day.  I walked up to the front gate, peered inside and decided that, heck, my ancestors were not the sort of folks who would ever be invited in the front door of the place.  No, they would be the folks wandering around back looking for a sneaky way in.

Nope, that looks a bit too snug.

Slightly more promising....

Yes, that might work.

But if you really want to storm a castle "old school" you need to look for something like this:

This is a garderobe, basically an outhouse built into the battlements.  As it is presumably long out of commission we can chance a closer peek.

Yes, a hardy band of intruders shinnying up the garderobe has been the downfall of many a castle back in the day, with Chateau Gaillard being an notable example.  True, the strategem is not without an element of risk, but hey, even the worst case scenario beats boiling oil.

Next time I promise to be a more conventional visitor and come in via the front gate. It really is a cool castle.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Thirlwall Castle

Regards castles we all have our preferences.  Me, I like 'em old and ruined.  But still accessable, so you can clamber around a bit.  Thirlwall castle, near Greenhead, fit the bill and was only a brief stroll from the B & B I stayed at for a few days.
The name Thirlwall-through various linguistic meanderings-means "gate in the wall".  The wall of course being Hadrian's Wall.  Guess where the stones to build the castle came from.  In fact, there is essentially nothing left of the Wall in this area due to extensive stone robbing.

Thirlwall was built in the 12th century, with the usual frequent additions. 

The history of the place is sketchy.  Evidently a John Thirlwall was the local baron.  He went to fight in the First Crusade and did rather well for himself, returning with various treasures including a reputed table of solid gold.  When he went off to fight in the less successful Second Crusade* the castle was left lightly defended.  Raiders from north of the Wall came down and sacked the place.  One family retainer was a dwarf.  Determined that the plunderers would not get the gold table he chucked it down a well.  Then realizing that he would surely be tortured until he 'fessed up he tossed himself in for good measure.

The dwarf, evidently now invested with some magical powers, is said to still be guarding the table deep underground.

Inside the keep.  The lady in the red jacket was a fellow B & B guest.  We got to talking over breakfast about places she had traveled too.  The list was so long I just gave up and asked her where she had not been yet.  She thought a while.  "Easter Island."

A staircase inside the wall of the castle.  Note the 19th century building next door.  No doubt built from stones robbed from the castle and previously robbed from Hadrian's Wall.  I wonder where they will end up next?
A castle window from the attacker's view.

Same window from the defender's perspective.

I actually had to make a second trip to Thirlwall castle the next morning.  The young son of my hosts had lost a toy-a small stuffed turtle-earlier in the day, perhaps at the castle.  I looked high and low for it and found no trace.  I seriously considered the notion that the magic dwarf had nicked it, but I understand that the turtle was found a few days later behind dad's computer, having fallen off a shelf.

To visit Thirlwall.  Well, if you are walking Hadrian's wall path this is a very nice stretch and the path takes you right past it.  If you are in Greenhead you need to walk along a rather dreary path north from town between the railroad tracks and the river Tipalt, which is running in a boring straight ditch.  It's about a mile from town.

*Yes, I am aware that there was a 50 year gap between the start of these two Crusades, but "I tell the tale as I heard told" by a local.  Besides, if you have a problem with that then the whole Magic Dwarf thing isn't going to work for you either!

Friday, July 6, 2012

Memorable ER Quote Five

It's 3AM and a tipsy young lady has turned up having sustained a very unusual injury that was inflicted on her with her own purse.  Apparently:

"Well, I just turned around for a minute and there was my Man dancing with this Skanky Woman...."

Of the much longer explanation this was the only portion that made some sense.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Stars, Stripes and Cheese, July 4th 2012

Images and thoughts from a small town 4th of July parade.

Just about every volunteer Fire Department in the area had a unit in the parade.  This engine had a cute kid tossing candy.
This spectator came equipped with a "Swag Bag", and seems to be having a productive haul.
As I have had occasion to mention once before, a local plumbing outfit has the interesting custom of decorating a concrete septic tank when an area team goes to a state tournament.  Here the "State Bound" basketball squad goes down main street in style.
Instead of candy, the local grocery store is handing out cheese samples.  Hey, its Wisconsin.  Note the foam cheese heads.  Also.....
I can't think of any commentary that will not attract some most unwelcome Google Search results.

The Lions Club was thinking clearly, and had a little garden tractor pulling a recycling wagon near the end of the parade.

Now this one is perplexing.  A loosely organized dance squad with a 70's Disco theme.  One of the shirts was emblazoned "Wiggle, Wiggle" which was an apt description.  But look at those guys trailing behind...

Yes, those guys..

Maybe this helps explain an enigmatic sign I had seen outside a fireworks tent the week before:
So lets salute Freedom in all its many forms.  The Freedom to stand straight, remove your hat and applaud when the color guard marches past.  The Freedom to eat candy and high caloric cheese if you want to.  And the Freedom to put on silly outfits and wiggle or slouch as your inclinations guide you!