Friday, March 30, 2012

Can't Miss Lottery Numbers

I suppose everyone has their Lottery Dream, a happy script they could write for their life if only they got the right numbers and won an unimaginable amount of money.*  Your odds of  doing so are improved, if only by a statistically insignificant percentage, by purchasing a ticket.

I have never actually done so myself.  Oh, back when I had employees I would on occasion find out that they had a pool going.  I would toss in a buck or two.  My reasoning was that if they all hit the big time it was quite likely that they would depart en masse, puffing on Cuban stogies they had lit with hundred dollar bills, perhaps stopping at the door just long enough to tell me what they really thought of working for me.

Better to be exiting in tandem, and with my own opinons to express.

But it never happened.  In fact it has become evident to me that most lottery ticket purchasers are, to be blunt, losers.  That's how the system works.

Clearly they are making some bad choices.  No, not the choice of wasting a buck on a ticket, the choice of the wrong numbers.

Some folks I am told are deep into numerology in the picking of their numbers.  I think they are missing an important little bit of arcana.

Hanging on the wall of the ER is a list of APCO 10 codes.  These are police radio codes.  Most people are familiar with "10-4" meaning, "Message Received", but there are many others.  Lets look at the APCO 10 codes and recent Power Ball winning numbers.

At the time I wrote this post the last winning Power Ball was 4 35 36 51 56 8

Now, we already know that 10-4 means "message received", so what does the entire message spell out in APCO 10 Code?

"Message Received.  Major Crime Alert.  Correct Time.  Request Tow Truck.  Intoxicated Pedestrian.  In Service."

Hmmm, not exactly promising.  Lets do another recent Winning sequence  5 35 57 58 59 12

It translates to: "Relay.  Major Crime Alert.  Hit and Run Accident.  Direct Traffic.  Escort.  Stand By."

Again, not propitious.  I would not have guessed it.  One more recent Power Ball winner: 

2 33 39 40 43 26

This becomes in APCO 10 Code:

"Signal Good.  Emergency All Units Stand By.  Respond with Siren and Flashers.  Do Not Use Siren and Flashers.  Information.  Detaining Suspect."

That seems a little more promising, if Delphically ambiguous in some respects.  We at least start out with a good signal and do get some Information along the way.

So I decided to make a Power Ball number series out of just the positive sounding APCO numbers.  It must be a winner.  Here you go, I guess several of us will be splitting the swag but I am nothing if not generous.

2  82  86  59  68  23

Which translates to:

"Signal Good.  Reserved Lodgings.  Operator on Duty.  Escort.  Dispatch Information.  Arrived at Scene."

To which I will add and sign off with:


"Assignment Complete"

*And I am given to understand that the current PowerBall amount is roughly Ten Gajillion bucks, so it must be time to post this.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

More Trees-Graves of the Lumber Jacks and Jills

One town I work in used to be a major logging center.  I figured for sure the cemetery there would have some interesting "tree tombstones"  And I was right.

I have seen a few other examples that used the trick of having bark peeled away to leave a flat spot for lettering.  But this was done with such realism.  It looked as if it would appeal to someone who really knew their trees.

In historic photos of the lumberjack era you see a lot of this-guys with enormous stacks of logs:

Well, I found a couple of very unusual grave markers that appear to be recreating this image as a memorial.  Behold:

And a more feminine version for the wife of a lumberjack:

Probably work of the same artist, note the nice little daisy type flowers at the bottom on each.

Off a ways in the cemetery I saw this rather spooky looking tree.  It just struck me as sinister, but I could not put my finger on why for a moment:

It is weathered and old, but that's common place in a cemetery. No,  the disquieting thing is that it appeared to be blank.  As it happens, there is an inscription, but facing a different direction than all the others in the row of markers:

This is the oldest tree tombstone I have found to date.  Unless it was a marker set up later, it dates to the late 1880s, before the founding of the Woodmen of the World.  I note that it is the wife of a physician, and that she died at age 19.  Seems vaguely scandalous but I am not sure why.  The tombstone is one of the earliest in this cemetery, and probably stood all by itself for a while.  Hence the backwards alignment in relation to later "neighbors" on either side.....

Monday, March 26, 2012

That time we got robbed.

The current news cycle is, once again, full of a tragic story.  A young person of one ethnic background was shot and killed by a young person of a different ethnic background.  I am content to let an actual investigation look at actual facts, but of course we have to endure a great deal of chattering nonsense in the interim.  Even President Obama has weighed in with his concerns on the racial aspects of the case, although the late revelation that the shooter was “white-Hispanic” makes things a little murkier.  By this reckoning Mr. Obama himself is “white-Black” one supposes.

But skin color is really not the point.  A young person is dead and a hand gun -legally carried in this instance-was involved.

We got together the other night with my brother and sister-in-law.  A few pints were emptied at the local pub during the course of trivia night, and we recalled an incident years ago that will be with me forever.

I was in the Big City having come to town to get together with fellow archeologically inclined hobbyists.  After our meeting we repaired to a local tavern in a working class part of town.  I was there; my brother was there, as were three or four of our friends.

My wife walked in the front door of the place carrying a car seat which held our one month old first born son.  She set the snoozing tyke on the table for general admiration at exactly the moment that two masked gunmen came in the back door.

The pointed a pistol and a sawed off shotgun at us and told us to get on the ground and toss out our wallets.  They also cursed a lot and threw one old timer to the floor when he was slow to move from his accustomed bar stool.

The whole affair was over in a couple of minutes.  My wallet was left behind, as I was broke!  My brother’s was found in the alley out back, empty.

But things could have gone much differently.  A couple of my friends were men both proud and stubborn, and I could tell they were weighing the alternatives to meekly sitting down when ordered to.  And these robbers were genuinely desperate criminals.  Drug addicts looking to score, they were on a spree of similar robberies.  Eventually, a few months later, they hit a bar where a birthday party was being held.  Someone thought it was just another bit of fun and challenged the guys.  They shot him dead on the spot.  The robbers were subsequently caught and went to prison for life.

So, if at the time there had been a concealed carry law in place how would this all have unfolded?

Would the realization that they might face armed citizens have persuaded these dopers to find some safer means of larceny?  Or would they have just been more methodical about it, holding a gun to somebody’s head while all the victims were patted down and relieved of valuables and firearms?  At least one of my buddies is the sort of guy who might well have carried a gun were it then legal.  Would he have opened fire?  And would the robbers have fired back at him, or run out the door, or just blazed away randomly?

I really don’t know the answers.

Having your wife and baby threatened with firearms does not exactly make you fond of guns. 

I have no problem with hunting weapons, and let any internet based neo-Visigoths be advised that the venison in my freezer did not come from a deer that succumbed to natural causes.

But my state, Wisconsin, recently enacted a concealed carry firearms law.  And what struck me as common sense pre-license training requirements did not make it into the final version.

Too bad. 

Interestingly my rather progressive sister-in-law and I are largely in accord on this issue.  If you are going to allow citizens to carry concealed weapons, fine, it seems to be in keeping with the Constitution.  But for goodness sakes, it only seems reasonable that we insist on these folks having a clue about what to do with these firearms.

We make people take a written and road test for getting a drivers license, as a poorly handled automobile is a danger to the general public.  And we will under certain circumstances take that license away or refuse to issue one in the first place.

Would it be so awful if those proposing to carry a concealed handgun were required to:

-pass a multiple choice test with various scenarios….Reasonable to shoot.  Debatable Situation, hold your fire.  Illegal to Shoot, don’t do it.

-pass the same eye test that you need to drive a car.  Sure, in a tense and poorly lit situation lots of things can look like a gun.  Let’s make sure you can at least pick one out with decent lighting.

-and pondering an exchange of fire in that neighborhood tavern some 25 years ago, I think sending prospective carriers of concealed weapons off to the firing range makes sense.  If you can’t hit the broad side of a barn under ideal circumstances, I am sorry but you will not be an asset in a crisis.

You may question my Conservative credentials based on the above sentiments, but hey, it was my wife and child being threatened, not yours.  Things could have gone better.  Things could have gone much worse.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Middle School Robotics Project-Chapter Five

We have one session left, and I hope to use that mostly for test driving.  All components have been built, successfully tested, and in one or two instances broken.  This is all good, as we have just enough time to fix things, and it is our failures that teach us the most.

Main work today was on the arms.  One dispenses M & Ms, the other deploys a water squirter.  I thought long and hard about how best to do these mechanically, but in the end the engineering issues seem to have solved themselves.

Each arm is driven by a linear actuator.  This one came from a fancy quad wheelchair.  It is designed to run at 24 volts, so at the 12 volts we are using it is a little leisurely.  Here it is being secured with hose clamps.

Here is the linkage between arm and actuator.  It is simply a bit of nylon strap that is stapled onto the top of the arm.  This duplicates how tendons and muscles work mechanically in the human body, and it pulls the arm up into an extended stance without a hitch.  I was worried about how the arm would be lowered back down.  But I just had the kids file off a bit to make the arm fit loosely on the axle....
And here is the M & M dispensing arm in about the angle needed to dump candy on a cafeteria table.  When the actuator runs back out a combination of gravity and just a bit of natural stiffness from the black hose (which runs down from the candy dispenser) suffices for nice fluid movement downward.

The other arm contains a water squirter.  We have a faster actuator there, a smaller one from a satellite dish controller.  Here is some rather lousy film of it in action.  I have a bad habit of not holding the camera in the correct orientation for this...
So everything works.  The arms, the dispenser, the water gun, drive unit.  We have several remaining challenges for our last session.

The swivel device is less robust than we thought.  There were a couple of lag bolts not put in far enough, allowing some rocking.  This is not good, as a little more loosening could cause the whole top half to pitch forward.  A kludge solution should take about half an hour.

And we need to figure out to set the controls to most ergonomically control the golem.  It will take two students each with their own radio controller.  One will operate the bottom half, drive and swivel.  The other gets the top half with left and right arms, the squirt cannon and the M & M dispenser.  I wonder which assignment will be more in demand?

A view of the near finished product, only the M & M dispenser is out of view.  We have it up as high as possible to get more gravity feed.

Friday, March 23, 2012


One year of blogging.

There are few things more annoying than folks who proclaim with no subtlety that it is their birthday.  What?  You want some recognition for another 365 days of respiration? 

But a milestone is a milestone, and more importantly an excuse for an easy blog post.

Since the internet is where everything happens almost instantly I suspect that one year here counts for more than one human year.  Or even a dog year.  Certainly at the one year birthday parties I have seen in our kitchen the main attraction is not philosophical musing but smearing cupcake frosting on all available body and furniture surfaces.

But here goes.

Thanks to everyone who drops in.  In the past year Detritus of Empire has evolved from a minuscule blog frequented by fans of Roman archeology and of dogs in silly costumes.  Why, it is now a tiny blog favored by the above folks plus everyone who gets misled by search engines and is expecting something scholarly.

In particular I must issue several thousand apologies to people who went looking for information on the English Civil War and instead ended up with this nonsense.

On the other hand I am rather proud of my number one all time post Three guys versus the Asian Carp.  As the Carp Wars intensify I like to think this will become a classic along the lines of All Quiet on the Western Front.

Roman archeology was the starting point for this blog.  It was in a sense an evolution from the daily email postings I used to send home from my annual digs at Vindolanda.  Only a little more than a month to wait for another series of same, as I am scheduled for two weeks of trowel time in May.  Hopefully that is, as past trips have had various logistical challenges including an erupting Icelandic volcano, and with aging parents one can never really predict when plans will need to be tossed out. 

It is heating up to a torrid political season here in the States.  I have noted that political posts are seldom popular, it must be supply and demand, there is just no shortage of people out there with opinions and keyboards.  It does appear that I will be in Washington DC in a few weeks, and it is hard to imagine not seeing something remarkable there. 

It is fun however to have the occasional near monopoly on a topic.  If you google up middle school combat robotics or amputee baseball you will find my ramblings occupying a lofty spot in the search results.

Special thanks to Next Door Laura who got so sick and tired of me sitting around unoccupied in sloppy late winter weather that she encouraged me to emulate her own blogging efforts. 

Spring beckons and it looks like a good time to get out and see a bit more of the world in all its resplendent oddness.  Expect more news of digging, and of the state of America, and of adolescents hammering together the first components of Skynet in my robotics classes, and....oh, and more dogs whenever possible.

Three times a week then, more or less.  Unless I am on the road.  That tends to result in varying rates of posting depending on how much fun I am having and how far from the modern world I wander.


Wednesday, March 21, 2012

God and Dog

Luna Schlosser: Miles, do you know that "God" spelled backwards is "dog"?

Thus said the ditzy Dianne Keaton character in the 1973 Woody Allen spoof "Sleeper".  It is a superficial observation that has been made over and over.

In fact it's just a linguistic coincidence.  "God" derives from an Old German word, "guthan".  Dog on the other hand is a fairly recent word whose origins have been described as "one of the great mysteries of English etymology".

But beneath the coincidence is something to ponder.  In our collective awareness matters Divine and Canine have surprisingly little overlap.  You would certainly think that the obedience, devotion and unswerving faith that dogs display to their masters would have some echo in the various faiths that Man uses to relate to his Master.  But mostly....not.

I'm not talking about depictions of gods, although even there you find very few dogs...
Anubis, technically a jackal, not a dog.  Egyptian god of mummification.  Now, as to what a real dog would do with something that smelled that ripe....

No, I am wondering why we see so few depictions of dogs as side kicks of ancient gods, perhaps being analogs of how humans relate to the divine. 

In the Christian tradition we have the Good Shepard and His flock.  Most of us do not find sheep to be particularly noble creatures, they are for one thing dumber than a box of rocks. 

Or I guess you could go with old Mithras and the bull...
But that does not seem like a real healthy relationship. 

Perhaps human vanity does not allow the concept of our being dog-like in relationship to God.  Dogs are not exactly known for fidelity in their relationships, and there is that whole sniffing each other thing to get past...

But I am happy to report that on a recent trip to the excellent Gallo-roman-museum in Lyon I found out about a rather nice roman god who did in fact have a dog as his associate/follower/side kick.  Meet Sucellus:

In addition to a dog at his side, the attributes of Sucellus are a cup in his hand and a rather unusual object on a stick, variously described as a keg of beer or as a hammer.  My kinda deity, malt beverage, ridiculously oversized tool and a faithful hound!  Perhaps not surprisingly Sucellus was held to be the patron god of agriculture, forests and alcoholic beverages.

Sucellus is felt to be the Gallic version of Silvanus the patron deity of forests, fields and shephards.  In the case of Silvanus the accompanying hound was probably to help keep wolves away from flocks.
Silvanus carries a cyprus tree instead of a beer keg.  Don't ask.  And as to what the dog is thinking about, don't ask that either.

But getting back to Sucellus for a moment.  In Roman times gods would often be arranged in domestic pairs.  Most of the goddess spouses seem a little less exciting than the single goddesses like Venus.  Here is Sucellus' better half, Nantosuelta
She is holding her traditional attribute, a model house, or perhaps a beehive. 

And here's the happy couple:

In this joint appearance there are subtle differences.  Although Sucellus still has his beer mug in hand, he is clearly holding a hammer instead of a beer keg on a stick.  Must be about to get to that "Honey-Do" list.  Nan is wearing a crown, and has told Sully in no uncertain terms that the smelly dog is staying outside, thank you very much....

Monday, March 19, 2012

"The Faith of Fifty Million People"*

Baseball fans, I mean serious fans, are not the easiest folks to fool.  We are trained to look for the subtle things, the things that make baseball the most cerebral of athletic pursuits.  We watch the catcher set up for a pitch....does his shifting slightly indicate that it will be a fastball high and tight?  Or is that just messin' with the batter who will be caught flat footed by the big, slow curveball over the outside corner?  No, we are always on the lookout for trickery, we fans of a sport that actually allows a low level of cheating so long as you do not get caught.

(seriously...if a baserunner misses a base you will not hear a peep out of the umpires unless the fielders make a point out of it, ask for the ball and stomp on the base in question.  Then and only then will the umpire call the runner out!).

So those of us who were paying attention were not fooled for an instant when "my team" the Minnesota Twins tried to slip something by us.  Specifically:

"Beginning March 9, the Twins will apply demand-based pricing to all seating sections of Target Field for the 2012 season. Demand-based pricing, which prices tickets according to fan demand, is a practice that is becoming standard across sports and entertainment industries."

Now this is an interesting concept, things being driven by fan demand.  So does this mean if a significant majority of fans vocally demand that an underperforming pitcher be send down to the low minors, that the slacker will be on the bus forthwith?  Well, no.  Read on:

 "In 2012, expanding our demand-based pricing will allow the Twins to adjust all ticket prices (except in the Our Family Section) upward or downward on a daily basis based on real-time market conditions such as team performance, pitching matchups and the weather."

Ah, so that's how it will be.  In a nutshell this means you willl be shaken down for an even more outrageous sum of money if you want to see the Twins play the New York Yankees on a marvelous summer evening when both teams are actually in contention for a playoff berth. 

So many questions, so few answers. 

If, and I pray it not be so, the Twins are as bad or worse in 2012 as they were in the misbegotten 2011 season, how far "downward" would it be fair to adjust ticket prices?

Once you accept the premise that prices are mutable based on the above factors, where do you draw the line?  Parking will be at more of a premium for popular games, shall we reprogram the meters in downtown Minneapolis?  It is hard to imagine the prices of brats, beer and such ever being higher than the current "ballpark prices" but why not?  If it is what the traffic will bear, I see no reason that prices might not vary during a game.  Hey, the sun came out, according to my i phone app update beer just went up by a nickle.  Ooops, that was a stupid error, all memorobilia of the players involved is on half price clearence for the next inning......

And what pray tell is the ethical justification for putting the National Pastime further out of reach for a larger percentage of the Nation everytime the sun shines and a good team is in town?  Well...

"The Twins will utilize Digonex's Sports and Entertainment Analytical Ticketing System (SEATSTM), a robust and proven dynamic pricing system that optimizes prices based upon a number of factors, to provide greater value to fans, maximize ticket sales, and mitigate the impact of ticket scalpers."

Ah, we shall mitigate the impact of ticket scalpers.  That would be those unscruplous folks who having access to a large number of tickets, run up the price of same based on whether it is a nice day, and whether it is the New York Yankees in town, and whether the home team is in the hunt for a playoff berth.

Such scoundrels deserve a sound thrashing.
*The title of this post is straight from the Great Gatsby.  In that novel there is passing reference to a character who is a very thinly disguised version of Arnold Rothstein the gambler behind the 1919 Black Sox scandal in which the World Series was rigged.

 "It never occurred to me that one man could start to play with the faith of fifty million people--with the singlemindedness of a burglar blowing a safe."

Oh I suppose tampering with ticket prices is only mundane theft, but recall that even in these times where baseball is no longer the defining sport for America, we are still talking about way more than fifty million fans.

Friday, March 16, 2012

A Precious Moment in the ER

In the ER we are from time to time called upon to remove rings.  Usually it is a finger that has been injured and is swelling, and the need to get the ring off is clear but not something that has to be done under time pressure.

The other day I had a patient come in who had injured a finger three days ago.  This patient soul had been waiting three days, hoping it would get better.  All the usual tricks with string, ice water, oil had been tried.  The finger was swollen, red, even a bit dusky blue when partially flexed.  The ring would have to be cut off.

This was an uncommon ring.  It was wider and thicker than usual.  It was made of very shiny metal that was clearly not silver or gold.  I was told it was a "mood ring" on which patterns appeared based on temperature.

We have a standard "old school" ring cutter that looks like this:

The nurse had put a new cutting disc in it in anticipation of this being a formidable task.

I slipped the guard under the ring, engaged the cutting disc and started to turn it by hand.  After a few minutes of muscular exertion I took a look.  The surface of the ring was barely scratched. 

As it happens the ER was not too busy at that time so I had an opportunity to rethink and regroup.  This ring was not going to be damaged by that ring cutter in any reasonable time frame.  My strength would give out first.

Sometimes you do what you have to do.  I decided to resort to an "unauthorized tool".  I obtained-no need to go into the details-a rotary Dremel cutting tool.  I slid a thin metal guard under the ring, put safety glasses on those in range and started cutting.  And cutting, and cutting.  Even this rather capable power tool was laboring.  The ring started heating up, requiring frequent dips in an ice bath.

Although I was making progress, this is where I started wondering just what I was dealing with.  Hmmm, lets take stock.  An unusual ring.  One that can't be damaged by conventional means.  One in which cryptic patterns appear when it is heated.

Damn. It's Tolkien's One Ring!
I must report several things.  The supposed temperature sensitive "mood patterns" were actually floral and did not seem to change that much when the ring got too hot for comfort.  Probably they are designed to change with minor variations around body temperature not a number of degrees closer to Mount Doom.  Also the patient was at all times fully visible and did not seem sinister in the least.

Oh, and I did after 15 minutes of cutting and cooling, get the ring cut off.

It is getting harder all the time to write anything satirical.  Life no longer being content to imitate art seems so often to mock and lampoon it.  So when I looked about the Internet it took me a single mouse click to discover that you actually can get a replica of the One Ring in a more or less indestructible metal.

This is from  It is billed as being a Tungsten Carbide 'The One' Laser-etched Elvish Script ring.  It claims they are four times harder than titanium.  Their otherwise interesting Fact Sheet for Tungsten Rings offers nary a hint on how to remove them in the ER.

Today only, $43.99.  A bargain price for Evil Lordship of Middle Earth.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Archeology Spring Training

I have been posting a bit about baseball of late, this being the season when teams are in training camp trying to loosen up the muscles and tune up the skills. 

Same for me, as I anticipate my annual trip to Vindolanda to dig for detritus of the Roman Empire. 

I am strong of back and resolute of purpose, so have never really had any problems lifting things-wheelbarrows, spades, pints-so for me Archeology Spring Training is mostly getting the legs in shape for a no-car trip.  Oh, and training in the eyes.

Long walks are the best for both.  Up and down hills, spouse in tow when possible.  It is a marvelous time of year when the snow and slush melts, punctuated by those dispiriting late winter blizzards.

But I keep my eyes constantly scanning the ground, looking for.....well, for anything out of the ordinary.  Because you just can't always be sure what it is you are supposed to be finding at a place like Vindolanda.  Anything can and does pop up if you keep troweling long enough.

But a few basics to tune the scanners on to:

Bronze.  It has a distinctive patina when it ages.  It will even stain the earth around a bronze artifact which is an excellent warning to scrape slowly and carefully.  The magic color looks like this:
Oh, and if you ever find a bronze inscription of this size and clarity in a Roman site you can probably go visit it at the British Museum whenever you are in London.

Mostly what you will encounter is small stuff, camouflaged among various rocks and pebbles.  Here is some good practice:
Of course you spotted the coin right away.  It was after all a bright sunny day, unlike many at the dig site.

This rather looks like a late Roman Emperor, perhaps wearing some kind of a turban.  But alas, only a common Lincoln penny with some odd corrosion from the nasty road salt we use in these parts.  It is still worth a penny however, which you can't say about some of the crumbling bits of "ghost coin" that you find near the surface in a typical Roman site.

Here is another problem found on archaeological sites.  Multiple layers of road surfacing.  In this case partially obliterating an inscription.  I can make out BOB and perhaps SAY.  Sometimes you can only figure out so much.

A common misconception of neophyte diggers is that it is all about finding stuff.  Of course the artifacts are important, but it is more important to figure out what the artifacts are telling us.  Here for instance is an array of artifacts that suggest a lower class  household with children of both genders, at least one of whom is an infant and at least one other of whom is in school.
What? Too much of a stretch?  Lets look closer:
Wooden block complete with smallish tooth marks.  Along side of which is a wrapper from a snack food of the sort commonly put into school lunches.  We also have:
A juice box, typical artifact of grade school snacking.  This particular example says it is Gluten Free and Lactose Free, so we might infer some real or perceived health issues.
A plastic sabre toothed tiger.

A pink bandaid next to a maple seed indicative of local flora.

A cigarette butt, perhaps evidence of a smoking adult in the household, but a common enough artifact that "scatter" from the nearby sidewalk can't be excluded.

All this may seem a little silly, but let me assure you, toss a coin and a plastic sabre tooth on the ground alongside each other and come back in a few centuries.  Guess which one will in all probability still be identifiable!

For more on this important but frankly sobering topic visit The Flotsam Diaries a blog on ubiquitous plastic as chronicled by one of my fellow Vindolanda diggers.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Durham, an Etymological Journey with a Cow on either end.

It was Alexander Pope who wrote:

"Hope springs eternal in the human breast"

He was not directly referring to spring as a season, but being an extremely clever fellow no doubt realized the double meaning, as the annual fading of winter and resurgence of green growing things is linked tightly to a sense of optimism.

With the first delicate signs of spring appearing here in frozen Wisconsin my thoughts turn to a couple of my annual diversions.  And I am delighted to find an etymological link between them.  And wandering through the tale is a cow.  Or at least a misplaced apocryphal bovine of some sort.

For years now I have been traveling to northern England to work on an archaeological dig at Vindolanda.  Sometimes I tack on a side trip, and this year I am planning on a day in the picturesque university town of Durham.

Officially the name Durham comes from the Old English "dun", meaning hill, tacked onto the Norse "holme", meaning island.  Although I can't help but notice that "ham" is the Saxon word for village and seems also to fit.

But there is a neat little legend that gives an alternative version.

St. Cuthbert (634-687) was one of the most beloved early Churchmen of the north.  Apparently his final resting place was threatened by marauding Vikings, so the monks of his monastery put his body into a bier and wandered around with it for quite some time.  In 995 AD this mausoleum on wheels was at the bottom of a hill and would not, could not be moved despite all efforts.  Heck, even three days of prayer and fasting did not do the trick.  (Helpful hint, fasting for three days makes you progressively less able to push a wagon up a hill).

Eventually St. Cuthbert appeared to a monk in a vision, something that actually is likely after three days off rations.  Cuthbert instructed the monk to take his remains to "dun holm".

The bier could now be moved, but none of the monks knew where "dun holm" was.  Fortunately they ran across a milkmaid who was searching for her lost dun cow.  In this context dun meant a shade of brown.  Helpfully this etymologically confused lass said it was last sighted near "dun holm" and pointed the monks in the general direction.  Arriving at the site of modern day Durham they built the first elements of Durham cathedral on the spot.

From Durham cathedral
Actually this tale contains elements of a more pervasive folk story, that of the "Dun Cow".  Sometimes benevolent, sometimes a ferocious monster, sometimes both!  A nice summary can be found courtesy of Dr. Beachcoming HERE.

There is still a Dun Cow Lane in Durham, said to be the path followed by the lost cow.

It has been a few years now, but for a decade or so early spring was also when I got fired up to coach Little League baseball.  This is no easy task, and so to steel myself for it I would have an annual viewing of Bull Durham, one of the best baseball movies ever made.  It has great stuff about being manager of a bunch of screwball underachievers, but is a delight on many other levels.  It is about love and baseball, and has an interesting sub text about what it means to grow old.

I recommend it.

In any case, the movie draws its title from the name of the minor league team, the Durham Bulls.  They get their name from their town, Durham, North Carolina.  And the link between Durham UK and Durham NC?

Durham North Carolina developed around a railroad stop called Durham's Station.  The land for the station was donated by a certain Bartlett Snipes Leonides Durham. 

He was an interesting chap.  His surname came from an ancestor John Durham from, logically enough, Durham UK.  Bartlett Snipes Leonides Durham went to a well respected medical school, but seems to have become a land speculator instead of a physician.  He built a fancy house he called Pandora's Box.  He died young and never married, although it is of note that his estate was taken to court by a woman named Sue Ann Clemens who filed a "Bastardy Suit" on behalf of her son Romulus!

In any case Durham's Station became Durham and grew quickly after the Civil War.  The product responsible for growth and prosperity in Durham was tobacco, a fine version of which grew locally.

One partnership selling the stuff was the "Bull Durham Tobacco Company".  Their logo included a bull;
Supposedly the Bull became the company mascot in a roundabout way.  There was a contemporary product called Colman's Mustard that also had a bull's head logo.  The Bull Durham folks thought it came from Durham UK.  In fact, although Durham had been a center for mustard milling for centuries the Colman firm was actually from Norwich.

So that is the wandering tale of my two springtime interests.  As told by a lost cow at the beginning and a misplaced bull at the end.  With a great movie and a Bastardy Suit in the middle.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Memorable ER Quote Two

Radiology Tech: "So, you want regular c-spine films or a CAT scan?"

Me: "Well..the scan would give a little more detail, but it costs a lot more.."

Radiology Tech: "You're the only one who cares."

He wasn't really kidding either.  The patient did not care, it was the too common scenario of alcohol and a very vague history.  The hospital sort of cares, they keep reminding me about the costs, but actually once the capital expense of buying the scanner is made, it really does not expend more of their resources to do one or the other.

So I do care, but find several facets of myself in debate.

Professional Self: "Sure the odds of the scan showing something more significant are 1/1000, but we often pursue long shots.  And we do have to prevent harm where we can."

Academic Professional Self: "Well, OK this time, but easy on the scans for kids, remember that lifetime radiation exposure."

Frugal Self: "It does cost four times as much.  On paper anyway."

Responsible Citizen Self: "So, do you want to take a 1/1000 chance of missing something bad, losing a big malpractice case and converting a large chunk of societal resources into their life time bar tab?"

It is a hard world for purists.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Middle School Robotics Project-Chapter Four

Short post this time, I was too busy keeping three separate working teams on track for there to be much in the way of decent photos.  I thought I had a couple of short vid clips but I guess you have to actually hold the button down on the camera.  Next time.
Still fussing with the drive section.  There is always a loose connector somewhere.  But it is at least drivable now so it makes putting the unit away a bit easier.
Upper segment.  This will be the axle that the arms pivot off of.

In the lower of the two "swivel sections" a detail on the pulley drive.  On top of the pulley is just another hub/gear combo that came off of the Barby jeep gearbox assembly.  A good snug fit but it can be removed if necessary for access.

A better view of the swivel mechanism.  Rather a nice bit of work, I do not expect breakage here.  And it pivots at a leisurely pace, not likely to smack anyone with the arms.

Imagine arms attached to the upper axle.  That would give you a rough approximation of the final shape.  Note the slight pivot between sections 2 and 3.  Still lots of lights and gadgets to add.  Looks like we have one slightly off kilter wheel on the left front, but it runs fine.  I can't supervise everything and that one got cranked on securely but off line.  I figure a slight wobble in the system will just make it look more humanoid.

Two additional bags of M & Ms were purchased.  No more testing done on the dispenser.  But we ate half a bag anyway.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

National Amps. A Roll of Honor

It's more common in football and basketball-two sports that use collegiate sports as a farm system-but sometimes you see a team roster and the alma maters of the players.  For the National Amps check out the "schools" these guys attended:


It is not always easy to search out information on people, even in the day of the internet.  This is especially true with common names.  But for the benefit of posterity here are a few pictures and details about the National Amps players:
Dick Adelchi.  Left Fielder.

Bob Anderson.  Shortstop and Team Captain.

Gale Beccue, 5th Ranger Battalion.  Veteran of D-Day.  Lost his leg after stepping on a mine in February of 1945.  Holding his glove is his son.

Julius "Julie" Feig.  At one time he was Chief of the Prosthetic and Sensory Aids division of the New York Region Veterans Administration.  Several scientific articles on phantom limb pain and the psychological effects of amputation credit his assistance.  Was once an "Eastern District Basketball star".

Fiorello "Bill" Marino.  1924-1997.  A one armed pitcher he was likely the only man since the 1870s to play baseball bare handed.

Jack Miller.  Later employed as a sales rep for a prosthetics company.

Morris Novgrad.  Wounded in World War I. (Arm amputee)  Went on to become an attorney of some repute.  Chairman of the Baseball Committee.

Jack Palminteri.

Norman Shubinsky.  A good example of history being unfair.  With the tenacious survival of official records I can read about his lawsuit for unfair termination by the Naval Applied Science Laboratory in 1969, but of his honorable military service and his later civilian employment by the above agency and previously by the Brooklyn Naval Shipyard.....nothing.

Tom Trovato.

Matt Valuri.  In July 1945 he won a $50 war bond in a bicycle race for amputees while recuperating at Walter Reed Hospital in Washington D.C.

James Whiteside.

They are mostly gone now, but I had an opportunity a few years ago to chat with several of the National Amps players.  By extremely unlikely chance I first stumbled upon this story and only later realized that one of the above gentlemen was the father of a friend of mine. 

These men were very matter of fact when discussing their military service, their injuries and their later lives.  The whole concept of amputee baseball teams, slightly odd though it seems to our later generation, was no big deal to them.

The random mayhem of a battle field sometimes means that this fellow will lose a limb and the man next to him come through without a scratch.  The courage and stoicism displayed by the Amps really was no big deal.  It typified the entirety of our Father's Generation.

But in giving proper respect where it is due, lets not overlook the heroism of the current generation.  In a prior post I mentioned a revival of amputee baseball (or at least softball) among the wounded veterans of our recent conflicts.   Here is the 2012 Wounded Warrior Amputee softball team:
And their  website .

They are wearing Washington Nationals uniforms here, as that major league team has been instrumental in their organization.  As in the days of Bert Shepard, the proximity to Walter Reed is no doubt a factor.

They will be on tour this summer and I for one am planning on catching a game.  The saying goes "Heroes are hard to find".