Friday, October 20, 2017

Middle School Robotics - Progress Report Mid October

Machines are starting to come together.  Of course the more ambitious and/or less realistic ones still have a ways to go and not much time left.  Others are just adding flourishes and practicing their driving.

A returning student with a four wheel drive machine.  The blinding white blur in the middle is a super bright LED.

I had figured that the opportunity to 3D print parts might lead to some really creative stuff.  Oh well, blue skulls are a little creative.  The red stuff is sparkle-glitter duct tape.  It should look cool with all the LEDs and lasers that will be around this year.

Sometimes you just have to keep it basic.  The class is popular enough that there is a waiting list in case somebody drops out.  Half way through the class this happened.  I asked the kid at the top of the list if he was still interested.  He was.  With very short time available he has made good strides.  This is made out of some kind of mirror finish plastic.

Another machine built with that mirror finish stuff.  And lots of nails.  Atop it all is a very bright little laser.  The student is actually named something else so I don't get to ask "Just what do you think you're doing, Dave...."

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Forgotten Brewery Caves - Cassville Wisconsin

This post is about the process of hunting down a brewery cave.  

You have to start somewhere.  Various lists have been compiled, mostly from tax records, that can tell you which towns large and small had breweries in the 19th century.  Old Breweries is an aptly named source and while a bit clunky to navigate does have good information.

Once you have a location that intrigues you a visit to your state historical society's web site will often yield more info.  In the case of Cassville Wisconsin it turned up this photo:

A nice early brewery set back into a bluff.  A little stream runs in front. I wonder what that shed by the bridge was for? A bit more research can roughly frame the dates.

Cassville Wisconsin is in an out of the way corner of the state, right on the Mississippi river down in the extreme southwest.  The brewery is known to have survived Prohibition, not going under until 1938.  The beginning of the enterprise is a little harder to nail down.  It should be early.  This is the Lead Mining region an area that boomed in the 1840s, dipped a bit in the 50's when many of the miners went off to the Gold Rush, then had a modest resurgence during the Civil War, when demand for lead obviously rose.  After 1865 this became a backwater and starting a new brewery would be unlikely.

The earliest reference I have found is in an 1881 county history. It relates that a William Schmitz came to Cassville in 1855.  He was in the hardware business for an unspecified length of time before building the brewery.  He sold it to a Hugo Grimm in 1880.

The earliest evidence on a map comes from an 1868 version found again in the online archives of the Wisconsin State Historical Society.

Sometimes, and this is the case here, you get a map with some perspective issues.  The brewery is near the corner of Bluff and Du Chien, on the "town side" of the creek that is not shown.  Ignore that big lake up above, the Cassville map is simply a little insert on the edge of a larger county map.

Sanborn maps are another valuable research tool.  They were put together by a fire insurance company and give great detail on 19th and early 20th century cities and towns.  Houses, barns, sheds, they are all shown in great detail.  Non flammable things like caves are hit and miss.  Usually a big manufacturing establishment such as a brewery would have its own detail drawing.  Such is the case with the Cassville brewery.  Oddly, the earlier versions don't show as much as the 1912 map.  Take a look:

My apologies, the screen cap came out quite blurry but does it show the buildings as seen in the roughly contemporary photo.  But what's that set of dotted lines going to the left and back into the hillside?  

This sounds rather odd.  "Fermenting Chips"?  It must be a typo for Caves. It makes perfect sense to have a 200 foot long cave going back into the rock face of the bluff.  And I'm guessing it had been there since the brewery was founded but just had not been included on the earlier Sanborn maps.  After all, they were mostly worried about flammable things and a tunnel going back into the hillside kinda isn't.

So, I was expecting to see brewery ruins and a sealed off tunnel entrance.  C'mon, lets have a look.

The little stream is called Furnace Branch.  There was once a smelting furnace nearby; you can see it on the 1868 map. The road is of course called Brewery Hollow Road.  The earlier brewery was on the right bank.  The later one sprawled out along the left bank.  A very new foundation can be seen in the foreground.

Of course there was, as expected, a modern cement cap laid into some older structures.  As I said, they tended to seal caves off in breweries that kept running long into the refrigeration era.

Down in one corner there was a little open niche.  Too small to have been made by and for foolish teenage vandals, I suspect that water erosion and/or critters made this hole.

Just big enough to reach in and snap a blind photo....

This is rather odd.  I had expected to be seeing the floor of the tunnel but instead the bottom of the modern slab is at about the roof level of what looks to be a mostly filled in tunnel.  But it clearly is the tunnel shown on the map and it has all the hall marks of a brewery cave.

Now I should not have to say this but will.  Don't mess with sites like this.  There is nothing to be learned by digging in.  Sure, the roof is probably pretty solid but this is exactly the kind of place where foolhardy visitors sometimes come to grief from bad air and other assorted hazards.  Be content with this safe photo.

Monday, October 16, 2017

Tree Shaped Tombstones - A Very Close Look

Sometimes I snap a picture of an otherwise mundane "Tree Shaped Tombstone" for a specific reason....only to then discover something else, something more interesting.

Here is the long range view.  Carl Wilke has a nice monument, the linked chain representing affiliation with the International Order of Odd Fellows Lodge.  I was fascinated by the horizontal fissure above the chain.  Let's zoom in close....

Notice the darker grey mortar in the crack?  It is evidence of a repair job.  Probably this tombstone broke along the join between the upper and lower segments.  The repair is rather slip shod, no doubt moss and moisture will do their insidious work as the years wear on.  But there is something Odder than the Odd Fellows going on here.......look at the texture of the weathered fact, let's look very closely at that.

Fossils!  The little snail shell in mid frame is the most obvious but there are also a variety of little coral like things.

It makes you think.  Here we have a monument created by a man and for the remembrance of one.  The details will erode and vanish, leaving the man unremembered while exposing in the process evidence of life that preceded him by millions of years!

Friday, October 13, 2017

Middle School Robotics - Perks of the Job

After a long career in medicine I had endured my fill of nonsense bureaucracy.  Meetings, guidelines, The Way Things Are Done.  So do I perhaps take a bit too much delight in thumbing my nose at this sort of thing?  Well. Maybe.

The Voyagers after school program where I run middle school classes provides the students with a snack.  A healthy snack.  Milk. Granola bars.  Ugh.

Years ago when my robotics students succeeded in talking me into starting a Dungeons and Dragons class I went to the school staff and said "Look, I'll do it on one condition. Serious gamers need Mountain Dew and Cheezits.  Make it happen."

It was in some sub rosa fashion, made to happen.  For one year the students and I wallowed in salty caffeinated glory while dispatching trolls and orcs.

The next year somebody musta blabbed to the Carb Police because the kids were back on granola rations.  

But I to this day get a special treat for every class I teach.  Granola? Oh, I think not.  

Do a volunteer job for 17 years and you can get away with a lot.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Manifestly Untrue

Although in this case Nut Free refers to the snacks the kids are issued.  More on this nonsense tomorrow......

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Zombie Pirates versus the NFL

I have not commented previously on the latest silly controversy, that involving the NFL.

For perhaps the benefit of my UK readers, a brief explanation.  This season a number of players have refused to stand for the playing of our National Anthem.  League rules actually require them to do so but some have decided not to, opting instead to kneel as some sort of protest.

Exactly what is being protested is not always clear, the initial incident involved a player upset with police shootings of black individuals.  Now it seems a more nebulous expression of broad spectrum disapproval.

Of course the players have First Amendment rights and this is clearly a form of peaceful protest.  It would be more impressive if they were actually facing some consequences for taking an unpopular stand. You know, fines, suspension, loss of endorsement contracts, that sort of thing.

But the team owners, and so far the advertisers, have either been verbally supportive or have by their silence been tacitly supportive.  This is just plain stupid on their part.

Football fans in general lean towards the conservative side of the political spectrum. Players giving offense is bad, but with the frequent scandals those guys generate - domestic abuse, substance abuse, assaults - fans have gotten a bit jaded.

But for the owners to condone this.....its gonna cost 'em.  Ticket sales, overpriced merchandise, bargaining leverage with advertisers....there's gonna be pain.  I don't credit athletes collectively with much in the way of smarts or an understanding of what goes on outside their coddled little bubble lives.  But owners are businessmen.  

Ah well, I'm not a football fan so they won't be out any of my money anyway.  But there is a fan revolt brewing.  When on a recent road trip through southern Wisconsin I saw this little tableau:

The signs say "We stand for the FLAG" and "No NFL here!"

In case the above photo is not clear enough, the skeletal football players are being hotly pursued by:

Pirate Zombie Skeletons with Velociraptors!

Ah, how silly you think.  And besides, its Wisconsin so picking on figures wearing Vikings and Bears jerseys is just good fun.  But the real evidence of a fan base revolt is stage left...

The skeleton player on the left, the one beating the hastiest retreat, is wearing a Green Bay Packers jersey.  And in Wisconsin they love their Packers.  But not as much as they love America.

Monday, October 9, 2017

Worm Hole Aliens

Fall in the air so on a recent weekend it was time to get the "Up North" place ready for winter.  The dock is now in, the firewood stacked neatly, a bit of needed painting attended to.

There was a little time left over for leisure pursuits.  So we harvested hazel nuts.

Usually it takes a bit to get me interested in this sort of Granola/Paleodiet/locovore type nonsense but it was a gloriously sunny day, and besides, I remembered finding hazel nuts in perfect preservation down in the 18 century old anaerobically preserved layers back in my archeology days.

Here's what they look like au naturale.

When you pull off those brownish clumps you get little clusters that look like this:

We ended up with three good sized grocery bags full of these.  The next task is to shuck out the smooth brown nuts and discard the husks.  It was a time consuming process.  Guess I know now what the pioneers did before any sort of modern entertainment technology.

As you sit there automatically husking these things a sort of trance state sets in.  And darn it all I  found myself staring at the pods and thinking....hey, these look familiar. Lemme just take a closer look....

Happily nothing jumped out and grabbed my face, but hazel nuts do have a sort of peculiar Sci Fi connection.  Because not infrequently you encounter:

Yep, a Worm Hole.

End result of three bags of pods was about 5 quarts of hazel nuts.  Once we crack 'em open and get the actual edible part out I figure we can boil it all down and make one jar of Nutella, stuff I don't actually much care for anyway....