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.

clink.


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. 

Repeat.

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.

Monday, April 17, 2017

FIRST Tournament - Terminus

Friday update.

Odd that it felt OK to lose our first match.  We were rather overmatched against some "uber" teams and made it close with our better tricks - rope climbing and autonomous mode being done crisply and cleanly.


Of course we continue to struggle with an array of mechanical issues.  There is actually a certain probability that just the right collision with a solid object might tear loose our battery box dragging the electronics along with it.  And at exactly the allowed upper weight we have few options to reinforce.  


In the entire Minneapolis event we ran ten matches.  Two practice and eight qualification matches. Between yesterday and today we have already run eleven with at least three more tomorrow.  Our official record at the end of Friday is 4 -3.  Not bad at all for a team that has been a half step ahead of a pack of mechanical gremlins.


Saturday


I tossed and turned, sleeping poorly.  Surely the odd quarter inch shift in the position of our battery box meant that something was amiss.  And why had our earlier reinforcment of the attachment points failed?


First thing in the morning I had the pit crew tip the robot up and found that the battery box, holding a 14 pound battery mind you, was being held on precariously by a solitary bolt.


With that fixed we felt that we were finally a full step ahead of the gremlins.  Pit crew gave the drive team the OK to open up the throttle. We went on to win... and to lose some additional matches.  We ended the event 5 - 5 but with the robot stronger than it had been all competition season.


So what went wrong with the losses?  Ah, its hard to say.  There were a number of small tweaks we should have made earlier but had to deal with potential catastrophes instead.  Our alliance partners made some bad calls.  No doubt they feel the way about a few of our driver's decisions. But I can't say the final outcome was unfair, we were an average team this season.  But considering the extremely high caliber of FIRST teams in general, and the enhanced level of competence that all robots show late in the competition season, being average in this instance is not at all a bad thing.


We aimed very high this year.  We attempted things that no sensible second year team should. They did not all work out.  But most of them did.  I am proud of the team. FIRST teams and their robots are really not expected to run 24 matches over the course of 10 days but they did it.  And by the end they were doing it with zero input from the now redundant adult coaches.


We made a big step up in sophistication this year.  We expect another one next year. Having said that all team members have been instructed to rest and not to think about robots for at least a week.




Ah, actually most teams are not doing Sawzall surgery on their robot the third day of a tournament...



The short guy in the red suit is an unofficial mascot.     

Friday, April 14, 2017

FIRST Robotics. Tournament Redux

Ah, the wonders of doing two grueling, multi-day student robotics tournaments in back to back weeks.  

In some ways it is actually easier.  We just left all the kit on the dollies ready to be repacked.  Other than a session for workshop cleanup we have not had to do anything to get the team ready either.



Our robot got a quick inspection and approval this time. Instead of having it take three hours and putting out inspection sticker on as we rolled into the first match we got the thumbs up in one hour and had time to get ready.

Oh, we also found a moderate structural flaw in the bottom of the robot.  And a crucial component deep in one gearbox had worked loose.  But we have had to put out so many brush fires that these were simple matters to fix.



Practice matches went fairly well.  The only annoyance is that the custom ropes that we make to best fit our climbing device were in a couple of situations done poorly. The best climber in the world can't jump an extra half inch to grab the rope!

But the robot is driving crisply and our drive team, a new bunch this week, has the measure of things.  So much better than a week ago.  

So a rope making session tonight.  And tomorrow a new day dawns.  

Hoping it is bug free and enjoyable.


Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Forgotten Brewery Caves - Another Ghost Town Example

Ah, sometimes I really struggle with whether to do a "no locations" post.  I have three criteria for doing so.  The first is Safety but that does not apply today.  The second is Trespassing.  That is borderline here but I think in this case would earn a pass. And the third criteria?  Be patient.

The history of this place, without being overly specific, is as follows.

A railroad was going to go through the area and spread prosperity up and down the line. This was the early 1850s when Wisconsin was a new state and there were new fortunes to be made.  At the spot where a bridge would have to cross a substantial river a town of hustlers and speculators sprang up.  The population quickly sprang up to 2,000.  Land values were bid up to ridiculous levels.

Of course even a Speculative Town needed hotels, stores, newspapers...and a brewery.

All was going quite well until one of the principal backers of the project decided to move the rail line a few miles away.  There was no shortage of suspicion that he owned cheaply acquired land at the new location.  It was likely well founded.

The promising town went bust.  People left, perhaps on to fuel the next real estate bubble. Some of the houses were hauled away on sled runners over the winter months and installed in the now prospering location of the railroad.  

Regards the brewery cave at this location it was never entirely forgotten, but was one of those places that lots of people had heard of but nobody I spoke with had actually seen.  The trail as I followed it had numerous clues.

As the original pioneers of the 1850's grew old a number of them went back to the now abandoned town.  Several newspaper articles reminisce about bygone times...and mention that one of the few remaining traces of the town was "the beer vault".  

I even ran across a hand drawn map, circa 1920, that showed the location of the cave. Although as it turns out the road shown on the map has since been rerouted, making it a false clue.

As memory of the town grew dim the surrounding area became a tourist mecca. Assorted scenic rock formations around the area actually got named.  One reference I found called the brewery cave "The Robber's Den".  

Finally I ran across an account of somebody in 1972 who visited the cave in a "heavily wooded ravine", so I knew it was still there somewhere.

Early spring 2017.  An odd looking approach trench.  But not really heavily wooded.



The archway is well preserved for being mid 1850's vintage and having no maintenance since before the Civil War.



A smallish cave, just this single room.  Nicely free of trash and graffiti.



A look back out shows the construction of the cave.  It was clearly a natural niche that was expanded.  The opening was then walled up with a combination of brick and rough stone.  Part of the front wall/roof has fallen in but the rest of the cave is quite solid.



I am always on the lookout for interesting construction variants.  Here I spotted something new, a square vent hole.  So I took a flash photo of it.  It was only later when I got it home for a closer look that I noticed what looks rather like a hibernating bat up there!



So that is my third criteria for a "No Locations" post.  Hibernating bats should be left in peace.  I will have the DNR take a look during their next bat survey of the area.  

Of course if you are a serious student of Wisconsin history you can probably guess the site.  If so please contact me before seeking it out.  I will give you the latest bat status report.

Monday, April 10, 2017

Re-learning Italian

Travels ahead, so it is time to brush up my minimal Italian language skills. 

Last time around I simply put on tapes that I listened to while driving back and forth to work.  It was somewhat helpful but I never really attained a comfort level. 


This time around, being retired and all, it was time for a different tack. I looked at various programs including the gold standard Rosetta Stone. The latter btw comes under a lot of criticism and does seem rather expensive.


I settled on a program called Rocket Italian


The company that puts it out is based in New Zealand and is most definitely not the same outfit I see advertising Rocket Loans and Mortgages, although oddly the parent company of that bunch has its HQ at "One Campus Martius Building", named after a historic Rome neighborhood.


Rocket Italian is actually rather fun, featuring a geeky Italian American man and his sultry voiced female counterpart, a native Roman.  I keep expecting him to ask her out.


I like that there are various asides explaining not just how Italian conversation goes but to some extent why things are said the way that they are.  And after a while I start to add bits of my own back ground.


Ever wonder why Germany has a reputation for constant energy and progress, albeit often in unfortunate directions; while Italy stereotypically is a languid place where the talk is rapid fire but actual activity is glacial?


In German you ask how somebody is by saying "Wie gehts?", literally, "How goes it?".


It Italian you would say "Come stai?".  Which means...."How are you standing?".


As to how my standing will actually be in Italy the problem is in some ways beyond the teaching skills of the upbeat Alessandro e Maria.  The hard reality is that things I can hear and puzzle out with headphones on and the ability to replay them are going to be another matter entirely in cacophony of Rome.  With my 60 year old hearing. And the staccato speech pattern of everyday use.


I have already learned several variations of "I don't speak much Italian...more slowly please".






Saturday, April 8, 2017

FIRST Robotics Tournament Time - Man (and Woman) versus Machine

We continued to have an array of problems as we went into the second day of qualification rounds.  Hardware issues.  Software issues.  And worst of all the issues the "Dark Halflings", problems that fall into that shadowy area where hardware and software intersect.

We were bug hunting until we got kicked out of the pits Friday night.  Only to return and have the first match of the day Saturday.

So, with a machine and drivers that should have been in the top, oh, 20% of the field we started 4 - 0.  And then went 0 - 4. Sigh.  Middle of the pack.

Well this has an upside.  By not playing in the final rounds we had a couple of hours of pit time to prep for our next event which is in just a few short days.  We went looking for more issues.  And we found some.

We should start out the LaCrosse Wisconsin event strong.  Instead of spending 4 hours getting the robot running and inspected we should manage it in one, then start practice driving again.  Or so goes the theory.



FIRST Robotics tournaments have a "game" format.  This year's is very busy. The robot dangling from a rope in the middle of this shot is ours.  The rope climb is the "grand finale" and we did that part well.



A robotics tournament is one of the few places you can actually wear that vintage tuxedo your wife bought you and then won't let you wear hardly anywhere.  Note safety glasses, team pin and pocket protector.

Because we are heading to another event the robot has to go back into the sealed storage bag until we get to the next venue on Thursday. Hmmmm, the robot is supposed to only weigh 120 pounds.  It seems like we might be a little over.



Friday, April 7, 2017

FIRST Robotics - Tournament Day Two

I would love to report that all of our mechanical difficulties went away.  That the matches we played were bereft of errors by machines or humans.  It would be delightful to say that everything went perfectly.

Alas.*

We continue to have control system issues and the robot at times has driven like a cement truck with a flat tire.  We have yet to get our autonomous programs to the actual scoring useful points stage.  We have had more parts of the robot dismantled and reassembled.  

But it is a fine learning experience.



* Our record currently is 4-1 putting us in 10th place in a field of 60.  Having demonstrated that we are not That Lucky I will now plainly say that these kids are That Good.

FIRST Robotics - An error cascade on Day One

Well that was interesting.  

We have a somewhat complicated machine this year so there are plenty of things that can go wrong.  But hey, Universe, was it really necessary for all of them to do so?

A short circuit in one of the sensors sends the robot crashing at full speed into a wall. (Upside, the basic robot frame survived the impact unaffected.)

When we fixed this we discovered that one of the other sensors was now not working right.  And one of our gearboxes was a little loose.  And the software was impudently recognizing certain commands and ignoring others.

For a brief while we had what was in effect a non functioning robot.

But the team, a couple of individuals in particular, dug in and worked.  Wires, fixed. Limit switch, replaced.  Gearbox, tightened up.  And a convocation of software nerds was called to figure out the glitches.

The bad news is that we had three matches today and were only able to run in two of them.  And not run very well when it came down to it.

The good news is that these were only practice matches, they don't count.  And we have had more success than expected with the rope climber, so there's that.

About 45 minutes before the pits closed for the night it appeared that we had all systems restored.  Will they hold?

Digging in and working.



Our first match.  Note our robot 5826 on the right.  It sure looks to me as if it is marshaling its strength for a mad kamikaze run against the tower....


A sight you would actually rather never see at tournament time, the inside of a gearbox.  But you do what must be done.  The pit crew has done more work in this one pre competition day than they had to do all of last year...



Wednesday, April 5, 2017

FIRST Robotics - Tournament Time

The long march to competition concludes.  After months of preparation, a crazy six week build season and another six weeks of software tinkering and practice we are off to compete at the Minnesota North Star tournament.

Thursday is for tuning up systems and practice matches.  Friday all day and Saturday am are qualification rounds.  By Saturday afternoon 24 teams out of the initial 60 play on in elimination rounds.  Everyone else packs up, although in our case it is just a temporary pack up, we are doing another tournament in LaCrosse just one week later.

It is possible to watch our matches in real time at: 

The Blue Alliance

We are team 5826.  The bigger the number the newer the team so as you can see we are one of the least experienced teams there.  This is actually about the same as last year but of course then we beat out roughly 50 veteran teams and ended up as one of the eight "Alliance Captains" in the final rounds.

Will we do this well again?  The year long debate as to whether last year's team was That Good or That Lucky should be answered in the days ahead.


Monday, April 3, 2017

April, and somewhat Bare Shelves

A new month.  Looking back at posting for March it might appear as if I was using a lot of filler.  You know, just the odd little things that interest me in daily life as opposed to actual researched stuff and creative writing.

I always try to keep a stockpile of at least three weeks worth of material on hand. You never know when Life's complexities will crop up.  As I now sit at the keyboard I basically have in complete form a couple of Brewery Cave posts, a mediocre one on Tree Shaped Tombstones, and a residue of half baked stuff that I just tossed into drafts to keep me from forgetting that I had the start of an idea at one point.



But you don't blog continuously for six years without a sense of timing.

This week is the last hectic push to get ready for our initial FIRST robotics event. I have no idea how we will do, there is this great gulf between Theory and Practice. But I do know that one week later we power up to do it a second time.  Doing two intense, energy draining events in consecutive weeks is an act of crazy people.  With Crazy People any damn thing can happen.  I'll be posting apace.

After that I will presumably have two weeks of discretionary time.  There are a couple of Spring Road Trips that I have in mind.

And then.  And then.  Back to England for the annual two weeks of archeology at the Roman fort site of Vindolanda.  Followed by "un ritorno in Italia".  Yes, even though the touristy fountain you were supposed to toss a coin into was in dry dock on our last visit, it is back to Rome.  And beyond.

Which will take me up to the beginning of summer.

And as a retired person who has constructed his schedule around robotics and travel I look at my calendar for June/July/August and notice that it is as of this writing, blank.

Things may change after that.  Travels are always good for ideas but I am pretty sure that the basic play list will stay the same until mid summer. Robots, caves, ancient walls, tombstones and the odd things I see here and there.   

So we shall see you here and there.

Friday, March 31, 2017

No Need to get Huffy

A bright early Spring day found me with half an hour to kill while waiting for an errand to be completed.  Of course it was a perfect excuse for a walk.  After a long Wisconsin winter the sun was finally starting to take its duties of planetary heat supply seriously.

It was a little early for green growing things but its actually rather interesting to see the world with a degree of clarity that is lost when grass and weeds start their frenetic growth in a few weeks.

Down a dead end street I found myself in a little cul de sac.  No houses, no buildings. It seemed like the sort of infrastructure "left overs" that you get when a new highway transects an older road.

An isolated spot.  Hmmmm, what's this?



A can, presumably empty, of spray cleaner for electronics.  Note that the unused little red thing on it is the straw that is used to direct the spray to the right place.  A dead end road does seem like an unusual place to go to clean your computer, but I guess, "whatever".

Boy, that keyboard must have had some serious gunk on it!



But of course that is not what was happening here.



I had happened upon detritus left over from a sad little party.  At some point recently there had been a furtive gaggle of probably young folks sniffing this aerosol product for the high that comes from a combination of the chemicals and simple hypoxia.  The "bitterant" - a word I had never seen before - must not have had much effect.  Perhaps some people even like the stuff after the fashion of craft beer drinkers who favor triple hopped IPAs with names like "Bitter 'n Angry".

Abuse of anything, be it beer, pharmaceuticals or what have you, is always bad.  But our hypothetical craft beer drinker is probably going to do better than the Huffers. The convivial atmosphere of one's favorite pub is more wholesome than a trash strewn roadside. And while alcohol naturally can cause problems both short and long term, it will not in the course of prudent use just straight up and kill you as is the case with young people and inhalant abuse.

Back in my ER days we'd see inhalant abusers once in a while.  Usually there were extenuating circumstances.  You can for instance get some kind of a high from lots of different chemicals.  The electronics cleaner shown here is the Dom Perignon of huffing, but in a pinch there are less refined options.  Model glue for instance.  Even gasoline which can get interesting as pretty much all of these ill starred young people also smoke cigarettes.

And then there was that case a few years back where a guy was arrested at the local supermarket.  He had been seen by store employees going to a back aisle and opening up cans of "Kool Whip", an aerosol powered substance vaguely resembling whipped cream.  He naturally claimed that it was all a mistake, and that, "no officer, I was not inhaling from the cans".  

The fact that he had Kool Whip adherent to his hair, beard and mustache required an explanation that he just wasn't able to manage on short notice.....

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

The Tree and the Book

A variation of the basic Tree Shaped Tombstone is something I have come to call the "Tree and the Book".  It combines literal and allegorical images in an interesting fashion.  We have The Tree of Life, and a literal stump.  We have a book that could be telling the story of a life or of a family....and we have a literal Bible.  It is the sort of monument that encourages you to stop a moment and look it over.

The effect is something like a podium.  I can imagine somebody standing here giving an address to a scattered and quite undemonstrative audience.

First lets start with what I consider to be the classic style.  Waist high, book open for all to read. Interesting that the book is always turned to a middle page.  Family stories go on after individuals are gone.  And of course aesthetically the image is pleasingly symmetrical that way.


If a family opts for the taller, showier version then of course it makes no sense to put the Book on top.  In this case the volume is generally displayed  in a vertical configuration.  I am not sure if the inscriptions  shown in this type were better to start with or as seems more likely, if a more horizontal orientation subjects the stone to more natural wear.  Pounding rain, freezing and thawing ice, bird droppings...



This is what I was talking about.  Notice how the lower portion in particular is fading away from view.



Depending on the quality of stone and the local environmental conditions, even Books oriented more upright can show advanced degradation.




Most of the time the Book is open.  But not always.  Does this signify a Life closed? A family in which the last descendant passed away?  It just seems in some sense more allegorical.  With a literal Bible you would want people to be able to receive the Message.



Here is an Odd Fellow.  Figuratively.  The Book is made of a different type of stone.  Nicer in a way, but not weathering well.



And with a closer look we see that we have an Odd Fellow.....literally.  In place of the usual names and dates,  or the less common Scriptural reference, we get insignia of two different Fraternal Organizations.  The measuring calipers of The Masons and the linked chain of The Odd Fellows.