Saturday, April 30, 2011

Gone Digging

As you might guess from the post title I am off for Vindolanda, to dig literally in the detritus of empire.  I have set the autotimer for this posting to 3:10 pm, when I should be wheels up and in the air headed east.

I will try for daily posts for the next two weeks, but travel, dodgy internet connections and so forth might be hinderances. 

I am going to find out what was six inches deeper when we took this picture in 2010!

Friday, April 29, 2011

We are NOT amused

It is an old saying.  “Speak of the Devil and he will appear”.  Like most superstitions it has enough validity to be worth heeding, so if I appear to be speaking obliquely about our recent computer difficulties it is for good reason.  I would not myself open up a blog post that directly referenced, er, computer cooties.  And since the creators of these execrable internet infestations appear to employ specialized search programs looking for particular phrases, well, just as people in the Harry Potter universe will not speak the name of “You Know Who”, neither will I come straight out and say that one of our home systems has recently started coughing, wheezing and in general displaying all the symptoms of influenza. 

It is a sad affliction of the modern age.  In times past, I am given to understand, this sort of electronic crab grass was generally to be found in sites offering to show you even more surface area of already scantily clad B-list celebutants.  Now, if my post facto sleuthing can be credited, it appears you are more likely to encounter unwelcome things popping up on websites related to knitting and gardening!

I suppose the enthusiastic but perhaps technologically naïve creators of such homey home pages are more easily duped by the shifty crooks who concoct this sort of nonsense.  Many of these are said to be citizens of Eastern European countries where both the laws and those who enforce them are slack.  Almost makes one nostalgic for the Cold War era where we could count on the Stasi to kick down some doors and haul the grifters blinking out into the sunlight as they entrain for a labor camp in Siberia.

Which got me to thinking.  What should be the appropriate punishment for those who so greatly inconvenience the internet users of the world? 

Let’s straight off dismiss the suggestions proffered by my Gentle Spouse.  She is a compassionate human being, an opponent of capital punishment and a real softy when minor indiscretions, perhaps on the part of small or large boys, require some expression of sternness. Even stomping of indoor spiders is subcontracted to your truely.

But regards her murderous intent towards these Bulgarian Pests, well it puts her venomous imprecations against garden bunnies to shame, and I will spare you her vitriol.

I would just give them a gentle noogie.

Of course you should remember that I am both an Anglophile and a traditionalist.  This would make me some species of Tory I suppose.

So I would advocate a revival of the old Royal Navy punishment of flogging ‘round the Fleet.

In this most dreaded of punishments a serious malefactor would be put in a boat which would be rowed up alongside of every anchored warship in the harbor.  He would get a certain number of lashes at each station, and since this punishment was generally meted out at a time when the teachable moment would reach the maximum audience this was inevitably a situation where you did not have to ask what would happen should this poor chap re-offend.

So if the corrupt security forces of some former Soviet republic actually lay hands on one of the creators of our recent difficulties I suggest he be hauled around to the front door of every computer user on earth to get a gentle noogie from each.  I figure we will have him worn down to a Slavic residue long before reaching our humble manse.

Follow up note.

Absent the above opportunity for just deserts I am left with the option of employing my own modest computer skills to tidy things up.  Should these fail I have to resort to seeking the wisdom of one who knows well the power of the Dark side but is never tempted to stray into it.  One who is strong in the Force but speaks in riddles constructed of odd syntax.

No, not this guy, but my local computer service guy does resemble him in many ways.

Reboot my system I shall.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

History of England Part Six

Henry VIII died in 1547.  He had three legitimate children, two girls and a boy.  Not much to show for all those marriages and fights with the Pope.

His son was sickly and only reigned a few years.  Historians have almost nothing to say about him so he seems to have been a real zero.

Next up is Mary, the daughter from marriage number one.  Perhaps nursing a bit of a grudge from her shabby treatment Mary ruled with a very heavy hand.  Henry had banned Catholicism and started the Church of England.  Mary reversed this and had quite a number of heretics burned at the stake.  Remembered as “Bloody Mary” you may have unknowingly toasted her a time or two, although the origins of the name as it applies to hootch are the subject of some debate.  She was unhappy in life, love and work and died after only five years of turbulent rule.

This brought to the throne a certain Elizabeth, daughter of Ann Boleyn.  One of the most competent and beloved rulers of England she reigned from 1558 to 1603.

Elizabeth was not liked by the Catholic powers of Europe.  She was a woman.  She brought back the Church of England.  And in contrast to her father, who for reasons of state married almost anything in skirts, Elizabeth for reasons of state remained single.

The name of the new colony of Virginia reflects this presumptive status.

England was a relatively poor nation at the time, what with Spain in particular raking in the profits of the New World.  But she used what resources she had prudently, among other things covertly supporting rebels on land and privateers on sea to harass her enemies.

Eventually things came to a head over cousin Mary, and Spain decided to invade England and install a right thinking, Catholic ruler with the appropriate chromosomal makeup.

This Mary was Mary Queen of Scots. 

Henry VIII had a sister who was married off to the king of Scotland.  The grand daughter of this union, Mary, became Queen of Scotland at the age of one week.  She had an interesting life.  She was married for a while to the king of France.  When he died she came home to Scotland and married a man who was such a dud that she connived with a guy who arranged to have her house blown up with hubby in it.  After that she kept scheming away to the point that her son banned her and she had to flee Scotland and seek refuge with her cousin Elizabeth.

Mary Q of S was a staunch Catholic and continued to plot with Spanish agents to have Elizabeth deposed so she could take the English throne.  Eventually Liz had her beheaded.

As befits a queen, Mary showed up at her own execution dressed to the nines.  Legend has it that at her beheading two odd things happened.  The executioner by tradition is supposed to hold up the severed head and say “Thus perish all traitors!”.  Well, the poor guy, grabbed the stray noggin, lifted it up….and was only holding a wig!  Then a miniature dog that nobody had noticed ran out from under the voluminous red skirts of the deceased and started yapping.  While this is probably not the origins of micro canines as accessories for fashionistas it is certainly an early example.

Oh yes, the Spanish Armada.   Didn’t go well from the Spanish perspective.  The English were better sailors and had better guns.  They also had the wind in their favor.  Quite a few Spanish ships were sunk, the others driven off.  This not only ensured the continued reign of Good Queen Bess, it basically opened up access for England to the New World now that Spanish sea power could not keep them out.

The reign of Elizabeth was one of those golden eras for England.  They were a rising power busily establishing overseas colonies and trading posts that would be the foundation of future prosperity.  There was a minimum of dynastic discord.  And culturally you had Spenser and Shakespeare. 

When Elizabeth died in 1603 the crown went to pretty much the only living relative with a geneology that could be stretched to justify it….James, the son of Mary Queen of Scots.  So all that plotting on her part sort of worked out after all.

James was a bit of a sour puss, and was never popular.  Who could be after Elizabeth.  He is remembered largely for the King James bible which was commissioned during his reign.  Oh, and for being the target of the Gunpowder Plot where discontented folks supported by Spanish agents filled the cellar of Parliament with barrels of gunpowder and tried to blow up king and Commons all at once.

A guy named Guy Fawkes* was caught red handed and confessed under torture.  A general reaction to Catholic influence occurred and the Church went underground.

Guido doing something or other down in the basement

*His name might have actually been Guido Fawkes.  Or under torture he might have been making stuff up.  But Guido Fawkes Day would also have a nice ring to it…..

Monday, April 25, 2011

The Barbie Jeep Apocalypse

When my son and I started building combat robots he was a fifth grader and I an overworked and not particularly technically proficient dad.  It turned out to be a very worthwhile undertaking, I learned a little about building things and my more adaptable son became an accomplished welder and a professional machinist.

But that mostly came later.  Our robots, especially the early ones, were not technological marvels.  And observing the hideous fate that so quickly befell many of our machines proved to be a deterrent towards us going high tech.  And high budget.

No, we specialized in campy stuff, kind of robotic performance art.  And if on occasion we could win a match by smiting a high tech opponant with a hardened Christmas fruit cake (true story), so much the better.

My personal favorites were the Barby Jeep series. 

Here is a picture of Tank Commander Barby.

This was a 12 volt kiddy car placed under remote control, upvolted to 24 volts, converted to four wheel drive, and equipped with a My Size Barbie as a driver.  Oh, and we armed her to the teeth.  On the front is a circular saw blade driven by a starter motor.  The pink object that looks like a cannon is, well, a cannon.

There were of course specific rules against that kind of weaponry.  We evaded these by declaring this an "exhibition robot", then cajoling another team into building a similar opponant machine driven by a "Ken".  Ken in this case was just another My Size Barby with shorn hair, a lumberjack shirt and drawn on stubble.

The message on the barrel reads "Always outnumbered, never outgunned".

The Barbie cannon fired potatoes, or for greater impact, yams.  The kinetic energy was supplied by, oh, I will leave it to your imagination but suffice it to say that the propellant had to be contained in paper cartrages that we made from torn up rules sheets.

Tank Commander Barby was a very successful machine, especially when the event's safety czar forgot that he gave us permission to build this monstrosity.  When the cannon went off it made a very loud bang and vaporized spuds covered the arena panel right in front of this excitable fellow. Alas, we missed Ken by inches.  I should mention that this weapon was a 52mm gun....most tanks at the start of World War Two still carried 37mm weapons.

Of course we could not stop there.  Meet Borg Queen Barby.  Twin Barby guns that can be elevated and depressed.  Having been told that potatoes were too messy we cut down a tree and fashioned projectiles by machining wood cylinders on our lathe.

Yes, I admit, this is kind of creepy

BQ Barby's outfit was made of three rolls of electrical tape

This video (Resistance was Futile) clip shows the Borg Queen in action.  We invited a more serious robot to mix it up with our machine and another Jeep based unit that fired a stream of golf balls as its weapon.  The demise of our Barby did not make it onto the tape, but it was our tradition to intentionally drive these machines directly into a spinning 60 pound arena hazard that reduced them to small colorful bits.  We could then just pick the armored control box (see previous robo goat post) out of the debris field and sweep the rest into the dumpster.

Craven Disclamatory Note.

Tank Commander Barby and Borg Queen Barby bear no relationship whatsover to the beloved and iconic doll named Barbie.  If any patent attorneys for a prominent toy company read this let them rest assured that I am second to none in my esteem for their product, which is rightly regarded as a positive role model for all Americans of both organic and plastic persuasion.  If you really have to go after somebody just google up Barbie parody, and I warn you, it ain't gonna be pretty....

Friday, April 22, 2011


Elwood P. Dowd: Harvey and I sit in the bars... have a drink or two... play the juke box. And soon the faces of all the other people they turn toward mine and they smile. And they're saying, "We don't know your name, mister, but you're a very nice fella." Harvey and I warm ourselves in all these golden moments. We've entered as strangers - soon we have friends. And they come over... and they sit with us... and they drink with us... and they talk to us. They tell about the big terrible things they've done and the big wonderful things they'll do. Their hopes, and their regrets, and their loves, and their hates. All very large, because nobody ever brings anything small into a bar. And then I introduce them to Harvey... and he's bigger and grander than anything they offer me. And when they leave, they leave impressed. The same people seldom come back; but that's envy, my dear. There's a little bit of envy in the best of us.

A neighborhood Harvey...three sheets to the wind
 As you can see from the above photo, if Harvey is not kept firmly tethered after a trip to....

What?  Why, he's right there.  Can't you see him?

Well that's a little disturbing.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

History of England Part five

So far the history of England has been largely about kings.  Realistically, the doings of the king were better recorded than any other aspect of life.  And in times past he really was calling many of the shots.

So, what about Parliament?  There was a tradition going all the way back to Saxon days of having an advisory body of older, presumably wiser men to assist the king.  Of course, they were pretty much all upper level nobility with the occasional bishop tossed in.

Under the Norman system this continued, and acquired the name Parliament, derived from the French word for “talking”.  (Parlez vous?).  In the earlier Norman years Parliament was called to meet infrequently.  Usually a really strong king did not need or want their advice.  But, when a monarch lacked a degree of popular support, or needed cash for yet another campaign in France, he would call for a Parliament.

At first this was a rubber stamp situation, but slowly the members of Parliament started nibbling away at royal power. 

Initially the members were all nobility as before.  But the gradual growth of commerce created a mercantile middle class, and soon they started getting a bit of representation.

Parliament later split into two divisions.  Observing that it was mostly the nobility that ended up on the chopping block when things got bad; the non-noble left the actual advising of the king to the earls and barons.  The commoners confined themselves to voting yea or nay on money the king wanted, and over time got to put more and more conditions on same.  Students of American politics will observe some parallels to the current stature of the House of Representatives and the Presidency.

On to the Tudor era, with some ugly marital spats.

The first Tudor king, Henry VII was a serious kind of guy.  He was also a very astute businessman.  He kept the foreign military adventures to a minimum.  He had a couple of likely sons, the eldest of which, Arthur, he set up in a diplomatically favorable marriage to Catherine of Aragon.

But Arthur died before his father, so next in line was the guy who most people envision as the archetype of an English king, Henry VIII.

What to say about Henry 8…well, he was a bigger than life figure.  He could out ride, out eat, out drink and out wench anybody in the kingdom.  In short, he was a Texan at exactly the same time Texas was being discovered by the Spanish.

He was capable of much cruelty, and executed many on real or imagined charges.  But he was also a very capable ruler.

Henry picked a major fight with Rome by confiscating the property of English monasteries and cracking down on various financial abuses by the Church.  This made the Church very unwilling to help out when he, say, wanted a marriage annulled. The issue was whether his marriage to his brother’s widow was legitimate.  The Church said, you betcha.   Not deterred in the least, the king just put the question to various of the new Universities that were springing up in these Renaissance times.  The scholars being smart guys, no doubt accepted some incentives and graded him the way he had hoped.

So, a quick run down of the marriages of Henry VIII with a cumulative GBA (Guy Behavior Average).

#1.  Catherine of Aragon.  This was a diplomatic marriage and lasted for 15 years.  The biggest gripe Hank had was that she did not bear him a son.  Seems sort of petty of him, but recall that the kingdom had just emerged from a generation of dynastic warfare and an unchallenged succession was a matter of national interest.  Still, he treated Catherine and their daughter rather shabbily, sending them to exile when he started making goo-goo eyes at wife number two.  Grade:  D

#2  Ann Boleyn.  A saucy wench and not without blame in the breakup of marriage #1.  Did bear the future Queen Elizabeth, but after a later miscarriage the king wanted little more to do with her and had her arrested on charges of infidelity, plotting to poison him, and probably jay walking.  Found guilty and beheaded at the Tower of London.  Sorry dude, Grade F.

#3 Jane Seymour.  Only married for 18 months, she died after childbirth.  Since, I suppose, we have to regard this as being his fault, he gets points off.  Their son was to become king, but was always frail and sickly.  Grade B.

#4  Anne of Cleves.  Another diplomatic marriage.  Henry was rather disappointed when they actually met, he figured the court painters would have been more honest.  He referred to her in private as “The Mare of Flanders”.  But had the arrangement quickly annulled and set her up in a nice castle somewhere.  Grade D

#5  Catherine Howard.  Henry, Henry, what were you thinking.  This gal was cute but actually was unfaithful to you.  Another quick trip to the block for her.  And another F.

#6.  Catherine Parr.  History recalls that Henry and this Catherine got on well as she nursed him through his final years.  He did gripe a lot about the leg ulcers that finally killed him, so points off for whining.  Grade B.

So, lets tally it up.  Two Bs, Two Ds and Two Fs.  Why this works out to a GBA of……F.

You can tell that I have learned a few things from Henry the VIII, scholars will grade things the way the boss wants ‘em graded.  And I have also not forgotten that this short history of England is being written for two women, one of whom I have a personal interest in not antagonizing!

Monday, April 18, 2011

Protest Dogs

I like me some politics once in a while, but find it a difficult thing to manage in an on line format.  It is too easy to annoy people when most of the subtle courtesies of a dialog get lost, and so often people take offense where none was intended.

But still, we have had quite the political circus here in Wisconsin in recent months.  And for reasons of-oh, heck, its just how my mind works-I decided to look at protest dogs.

Dogs you say?  Do they even have political views?  They can certainly express a sense of outrage, just try and take a bone away from one sometime.  And in a society where regrettably less than half of humanoids bother to vote I figure we need to give some credit to all who turn out.

Besides, dogs are naturals at some protest activities.  Need to occupy a state capital?  Just a large scale version of sleeping on the good sofa.  And for eye pleasing visuals that grab attention, well, they work for me.

Several of these images are from the incomparable Althouse blog.   Protest Dogs

I should mention that you can purchase Dog Protest outfits commercially.  Cafe Press, an outfit that can seemingly print up small numbers of very specialized things has quite a line of them.  Here is a Dog Shirt in defense of marriage.

'Cause ya know, dogs are all about monogamous relationships...

But a lot of the better quality Dog Protest outfits have appeared recently on the streets of Madison.  Madison has become the epicenter of outrage over recent austerity measures enacted by Governor Walker and the legislature.  Some recent examples:

Scooter being a nick name for Scott Walker. 

Is this a play on paper cuts?  Dogs seem well protected from that menace...

Only a so-so sign but extra points for Corgi Cute.  Now, don't start lookin' at that tree...

 Of course, Protest Dogs come in all ideological types.  Here is a Tea Party Dog.
A most excellent pun.  Being treaded on is a real issue for micro-dogs.

Protest Dogs are not strictly an American phenomena either. There is a famous dog who shows up an any Greek protest of note.  He must actually be able to tolerate tear gas.  Here is more on him with some action photos and a link to his Facebook page!    Riot Dog

This rambunctious canine has a cult following, and has even inspired art work.

But I have my doubts.  At the end of the day dogs enjoy a comfy rug to sleep on and would be appalled if societal chaos caused any breakdown in the regular delivery of Purina Dog Chow

Friday, April 15, 2011

Robotic April Fools

I teach two middle school level robotics classes in an after school program.  I do a mass chaos large class in the winter and a smaller advanced robotics class in the spring.  Every spring I pick a new project based on whatever whims come my way around New Years.

Observing that the last scheduled class day this year was 31 March gave me the idea for....robotic April Fools jokes.

With permission of the administration we made all sorts of odd things happen.  A three ring binder slowly moved around, stopped, and played a Jimmy Buffet tune.  Strobe lights flashed and an April Fools sign was reeled up and down from the ceiling.  A lunch room trash can was supposed to travel about independently but threw a wheel at the last minute.

The most successful prank was a life sized figure of a Green Bay Packer player that had graced the cafeteria all year.  But prior to this day he had never started sneaking up on people and spraying them with water at ankle level.

But the most succesful gadget was the "robotic 6th grader trapped in a locker".  From down the hallway a distance the kids could, by remote control, trigger a furious banging that actually attracted several groups of concerned kids and teachers. 

All good fun.  My views on privacy matters preclude my showing pictures of the proceedings, but I must relate one side note that pleased me.

I kid came up to me, looked at the shirt I was wearing and said; "".

This is only the second time that anyone has caught the reference.

A word of explanation.  This shirt previously bore the logo of an organization for whom I had once worked.  I had a few issues with the ethics of the outfit but really liked the shirt.  It was just so darn comfortable.  Finally I decided I would just cover over their logo with that of a somewhat more respectable company, the evil corporation from the movie Aliens    Weyland-Yutani

I have come to terms long ago with my own nerd-dom.  But it cheers me to think that nerds can come in all sizes and shapes, young and old, male and female.  

Well, maybe not that last part.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Digging Life

When on my archeology expedition I am staying in a rather rural part of England called Northumbria.  The famous wall built by the Emperor Hadrian is just up the hill from the dig site.  Indeed, Vindolanda was one of the forts supporting the wall, although it preceeded its construction.

I stay at a place called the Twice Brewed Inn.
That's it, pretty much standing all by itself in the countryside. But it actually does a pretty good trade mostly people doing the Hadrians Wall walking path.  The smaller white objects are typical Northumbrian citizens.

My morning commute to the dig site is a half hour walk through fields full of these guys.  I always talk to them.  They seem like good listeners.

Part of Hadrians Wall just up the hill from the "Twicey".  It used to be much higher and did a better job keeping the Scots out.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Digging Roman Vindolanda

I have been a bit light on archeology posts of late, but that will change next month.  I am gearing up for my annual digging trip to northern England, at the site of the Roman fort of Vindolanda.

This will be my fourth campaign.  The first time I went I just stumbled across their website while looking at other Roman information.  Seeing that they accepted volunteers I signed on for a hitch in April.  I was able to obtain this slot as late as early January.

When excavator slots for the 2011 season opened up on November 1st they were basically all snapped up in a few hours.

It is that cool an experience.

You are supervised by the archeology team, but really no experience is needed.  You are handed a trowel.  And assigned a square to work.  5th century Roman Britain starts a few inches under your feet, and there are in some places another 20 feet of unexplored levels deeper down going back to the 1st century.  
part of a wine flagon circa 240 ad

In the upper layers the things that survive are predictable.  Coins, bits of armor and weaponry, jewelry, and lots and lots of broken pottery.  But deeper down lie the real treasures.  The soil conditions at Vindolanda are unusually anaerobic, so some organic material comes out looking like it was thrown away yesterday.  A still green leaf, shoes, dog droppings.  And best of all the famed Vindolanda writing tablets.

These are thin pieces of wood with writing on them.  Imagine them as the post it notes or emails of ancient times.  Inventories, duty rosters, price lists, complaints, and in one famous instance a birthday party invitation.  These are a record of ancient life not available anywhere else.

So far I have not been in the deeper layers where these might turn up, but a few fragments did come out of a pit near where I dug last spring.

Of course, it is not a simple treasure hunt, the foundation that runs the site is actually doing some cutting edge archeological research.  Visit either or both of the Vindolanda links on this blog.  Wedigvindolanda is the volunteer excavator site. is the official site, with news on recent finds such as the 3rd century murder victim that turned up last summer!

Friday, April 8, 2011

Dressed up Dogs

Why do people dress their dogs in ridiculous outfits?  Because they can.

Why do I put such images into my blog.  Ah, same reason, more or less.

Today, Star Wars dogs…

A Dog dressed as an Ewok.  Or in theory, vice versa.

A Darth Vader dog.  Pugs and Darth actually make very similar noises when breathing.

Yo-Dog.  He seems rather pleased with himself, which always makes for a superior dog outfit picture.

Ah, but to go beyond good into the realm of greatness requires an element of mad genius.  It requires the kind of creative spirit that cannot be forced but has to arise spontaneously (although enough malt liquor and dateless Saturday nights can help the process along).  

Without further comment I present the following, please go to the website and watch the video as well.  You deserve it.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Life as a Robot Carny

I mentioned last post that I have been playing around with robotics for a number of years.  It got started on a trip to England where my middle son and I were enthralled by the British Robot Wars show.  

This started an interesting involvement with robotic combat here in the states.  One of the more fun events I was involved with was doing robotic demonstrations at first the Minnesota, and later the South Carolina State Fairs.  

I still have one of the robots shown in the video, Newton's Claw, hiding in my garage in case anybody needs mid sized appliances vaporized.

Watch for the part where the kid is driving the teeny RC car trying to flee the killer robots in pursuit.  If he survived two minutes he got to keep the car.  If not, he got the pieces.

In case you are curious, this was a lot of hard work.  It was hot.  The bugs were huge.  There were constant issues keeping robots running and the arena fought us on every occasion.  But the biggest problem we ran into was finding enough microwaves, dishwashers and fax machines to keep smashing!

On the other hand, there were some really nice church ladies on the setup day who gave us all free box lunches and lemonade.  A Ministry to the Carnys I guess.

I have always thought that when you can put Robot Carny on your resume you might as well just print up a lifetime supply of them, as you have clearly reached an Olympian height you are unlikely to exceed.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Robo Goat

“…they found me.  I don’t know how but they found me.  Run for it Marty!”
                                                                           --Doc Brown in Back to the Future

Every now and then my phone rings and somebody I have never met asks me for help on a robotics project.  How they track me down is not always clear, but I was involved in building combat robots for a number of years and still teach a middle school class on the subject.

A call from a couple of years back was typical.

“Hi, we need a robotic goat for the high school production of Jacob and the Amazing Technicolor Dream Coat.  Opening night is in 72 hours.

Well, one does try to be helpful when possible, although the memory of Donny Osmond being in town for a road production of this show and singing a stomach churningly awful version of the National Anthem at a Twins game had to be suppressed.

Assets:  they had a nice goat head.  And I had the contents of my workshop.

Liabilities:  three days is not much time, and it must be dummy proof.

One of these wire skeleton reindeer ornaments is a good start.

The basic electronics I pulled from a previous project.  It is two Victor speed controllers, a radio receiver and battery.  The metal box did not fit inside the goat so I just used the wooden base.  Collision protection was deemed optional.

Put a couple of furniture casters under the rear hooves of the goat.  The drive motors and gearboxes were from the ever versatile Barbie Jeep, and the 12 volt battery fit between the front feet.  I figured this would make for decent stability given that the wheel base (old lawnmower wheels) was so narrow.

Plop on the goat head and add some burlap from our costume closet and you have an entirely serviceable robot goat.

Time to completion: 48 hours.  Cost of project.  Zip.

I got a free ticket for my trouble.  The rest of the cast was pretty good, but it seemed to me that the goat stole the show.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Opening Day 2011

It’s Opening Day for Major League Baseball, or at least for “my” team the Minnesota Twins.

Baseball has lots of traditions, and I have one of my own that is specific to this time of year.  

Once each spring I sit down and watch a favorite baseball movie.

In times past I was coaching Little League, so Field of Dreams was the go to choice.  Most of the on field action was a low key scrimmage that duplicates the early going for my youngsters, and the final scene with a father and son playing catch was iconic.

But in later years I have favored Bull Durham.  It’s a somewhat racier flick, and I am told a fairly accurate depiction of life in the minors.  And I love the ending.  Instead of the usual Hollywood treacle we have the main character Crash Davis getting cut from the team, finishing his career in obscurity and then turning up on Annie's front porch in cold driving rain to talk about growing old.

A projected sequel never got made, so I am free to imagine Crash managing in the minors, and enjoying a highly entertaining life with Annie.

This year for the first time in 25 years I will actually be getting the Twins games on cable.  We had been resisting getting anything interesting on cable for so long, operating on the shop worn theory that kids will glue themselves to the television and get lousy algebra grades if given anything appealing to watch.

Of course our remaining nest dweller has done a technological end run on us and spends way too much time engaged with internet based entertainment.

Regards those kids, I should mention that in the naming process my wife got veto authority on first names, but I got to pick the middle names.  Here’s what I proposed:

For the first son, Harmon, after Harmon Killebrew Hall of Famer and all around nice guy.

Harmon in his playing days.  Currently fighting a cancer diagnosis.

For the third son, Halsey, after Halsey Hall,  Old School sports writer, raconteur extraordinaire and long time Twins broadcaster.

Mr. Hall, inspiration for our son's writing and radio careers?

I had the second son penciled in as Griffith, after Calvin Griffith the infamously cheapskate Twins owner, but was persuaded that this would not be an asset in life for him.  But he has ended up being quite frugal anyway, so all’s well that ends well.
Calvin Griffith.  Looks like he just found a penny on the ground.