Friday, September 28, 2012

Student Robotics, here we go again.

If  memory serves me correctly I am now in my 13th year of having middle school kids build small, pugnacious combat robots.  I vaguely even recall a couple of years when I did the class twice.  With an average class size of 24 that makes a lot of shambling contraptions cobbled together with glue and plywood and styrofoam and unrealistic expectations.

I probably won't do updates as often this year as last.  Maybe in a couple of weeks I will feature a few of the more outre creations.

I guess my enthusiasm level is a bit lower this time around.

For one thing the class sessions are both Tuesday and Thursday after school hours.  This pushes more of my ER work onto the weekends.  That makes for more wear and tear on me.

And maybe I am just getting a little tired of the simple machines.  The advanced class is more fun, and I am not convinced that the basic class is a necessary foundation builder.

Also, it seems a little strange to look out across a bunch of eager 6th, 7th and 8th grade faces and realize that I have been doing this class longer than they have been doing anything.

In a way the robotics class is an anachronism, a hold over from an earlier era.  In part I got into teaching it because my Number 2 son was so mechanically gifted.  Maybe I was trying to find and nurture a few peers...  If so I have done a poor job I suppose, out of some 250 to 300 students over the years (many take the class more than once) I doubt I have found more than a couple who came close to his level of gearhead nerdism. (Perhaps only one really.  It was an intense young man who insisted against all logic that his design for an electromagnetic rail gun would launch a projectile at effective velocity.  I let him build it despite my conviction that the circuitry looked more like a faulty and inefficient toaster.  It did not work, but its bulky coils were heavy enough and intimidating enough that I recall he took second place by pushing other robots into hazards.  And of course honorable mention to the two students over the years who have asked, and been denied, permission to use plutonium in their designs.)

Once in a while my son comes over to help with the class when we get to crunch time.  The students are allowed to call me Mr. or Dr. as they see fit.  I tell them to call my son "Oh Great and Powerful TechnoGod, at whose Feet we are Unworthy to Grovel".  It is only a mild exaggeration.

So I was ready to make this year's class a grand finale.  But I don't think I can do it.  Of all the class offerings robotics always fills first.  I am told that when the office opened at 7:30 am on the day of registration that there was a line waiting.  The class filled in five minutes.  All others who wanted to take it were turned away.

At least for the 6th and 7th graders I should be able to say "next year".

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

True Tales of the V.A. Hospital

A couple of years ago when working the ER I had a depressed, suicidal veteran come in.  He was sincere and really needed inpatient help.  I got on the phone, and in about half an hour got him accepted into a V.A. hospital 150 miles away.  Within two hours I had him on his way, and with all his paperwork in perfect order.

I do not expect anyone to be impressed.

If you have never dealt with the generally glacial, hidebound bureaucracy of the Veterans know not your blessings.

And if you have, you have already decided that my tale is impossible.  Can't happen.  Ever.

To which I say:  Can.  Did.

Because sometimes-sadly not every day or predictably-The Force is strong in me, and all obstacles crumble.  The indifferent, perhaps malevolent Universe bows its head, tugs the forelock and stands aside.

Of course like all Jedi new in the ways of The Force there was a time when I had not yet learned to fully control my Powers.

I recall a day back in 1984.  I was in Residency, doing a Medicine elective at the local V.A. Hospital.  You were pretty much on your own there, the support staff did not do to much to be, you know, supportive.  Thus discharge arrangements that would often be handled by Social Services in another clinical milieu were handled by the residents.

In that long ago time there existed something called the Federal Wide Area Telecommunications System.  It was a free phone system that linked government systems together.  As it was, well, free we were expected to use it for long distance calls.

While trying to contact a nursing home in another part of the state I had this conversation:

Me: "Hello."

Grim voice: "White House."

Me: " this a bar or something?"

Grim voice: "No."

Monday, September 24, 2012

Oktoberfest-Ya Feeling Lucky, Punk?

Most of what goes on at Oktoberfest is the same one year to the next.  And this is good.  But now and again a new event is held.  This was the first ever Oktoberfest Giant Pumpkin Competition.  I suppose to be accurate you should say it was the first competition held at the Oktoberfest, but hardly the first one at this location.  It is a county fair grounds and big whopping veggies have been a standard attraction at such places from way back.

But still, having beer close to hand and the sounds from two nearby polka bands warming up added some extra charm.

And we are talking some big, big pumpkins.

There are a lot of fork lifts involved in this kind of competition!

Notice how this fellow has modified his car to resemble a pumpkin.  His entry was one of the few that had a name.....Envy.

Large pumpkins.  Small person.

This event was fairly relaxed, but Giant Pumpkins are a serious business.  People travel from coast to coast to enter competitions, and the prize money can be serious.  Even also rans have inherent value, often sold to stores or Halloween venues.  Not surprisingly there are lots of little tricks from serious competitors.  Here a water filled jug supplies that last little bit of water, or perhaps just prevents a few ounces of water loss.  Kind of like a pumpkin on life support.

Did I mention serious competitors?  Looks a little like Pumpkin gang colors, but theirs is a good natured fanaticism.   More on The Great Pumpkin Commonwealth.  There is also a World Pumpkin Confederation.  I do not know if the two groups co-exist peacefully.

It is never a good day unless you learn something.  When I got up on this chilly Saturday morning to come and work at Oktoberfest I did not even suspect the existence of "long gourds", much less that they were grown competitively.  Looks to be about 8 feet.

Punks get measured in all dimensions before the weigh in.  This allows an estimated weight.  At the moment of truth they are then declared to be some percentage "light" or "heavy".  Naturally all have been inspected, it would not do at all to have the unscrupulous of the world claiming a new record (as of this moment 1,818 pounds) by injecting lead or some such.  These paler looking pumpkins are all Dill's Atlantic Giants, a strain of plant whose genome has been so ruthlessly hijacked towards relentless obesity that all other traits are eclipsed.

Giant Pumpkineers tend to wear orange.  Here is a happy bunch.  Note the scale reading in the upper left.  944 pounds is pretty darned good, although there were several over the half ton mark.

The pumpkin cultists were recruiting, plugging their seminars and offering a free package of Atlantic Giant seeds.  But my prior attempts at growing these freaks of nature was not all that successful, and I find it implausible that I would be able to mange the roughly 600 gallons of water per week that the vegetable brutes demand.

Oh, the winner.....

A three-quarter ton vegetable.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Oktoberfest-Marching to the Beer

Our local Oktoberfest is informal fun.  It opens at noon on Friday when folks congregate at the brewery.

A brass band plays a few oomp-pahs, the Fest Meister and Meisterin for the year are introduced.  Then everyone marches off to the Fairgrounds up the hill.

You don't have to be part of an organized group to march in the parade.  You in fact do not need to be organized at all.

There was a guy right under the yellow bicycle route sign trying to collect beer glasses from people before they walked out onto a public street.  I am pretty sure he missed most of them.

As to the actual Fest, well it has all the usual attractions.  Polka music, beer, and naturally the official food of Wisconsin:

I am working on the Grounds Committee this year, so much of my time on site was lifting stuff and driving around in a golf cart.  But I did enjoy a few beers, and took in this rather unusual show.

The human Glockenspiel.  Four guys, with musical accompaniment from an accordion, going through various quirky mechanically inspired actions.  Chopping wood, sawing, drinking beer.  Of course done with considerable comedic license.

Chubby Caucasians dancing, clapping and slapping (mostly themselves).

They have a reputation of being hard drinking guys, who spend their time between shows slugging down beers.  But I think that is a sham.  It looks like they are just chugging water in the show, and they have some pretty good moves.  Better than a bunch of drunken chubby Caucasians could likely manage.

Addendum.  There was something appealing and oddly familiar about the Glockenspiel act.  Let's see.  Non speaking performers in identical outfits.  Performing to musical cues.  Acting in concert except for one fellow who is always just a little bit off, providing the comedic foil.  Ah yes.  I figured it out while sweeping up their confetti Sunday morning.

This is Pink Man Group.

Friday, September 21, 2012

An apocryphal story from the V.A. Hospital.

The last year has seen the passing of the final American (Frank Buckles 1901-2011) and British (Florence Green 1901-2012) veterans of World War I. 

Old soldiers, it has famously been said, never die they just fade away.  Or in the case of our recent troubled history get shouldered aside by another cadre of returning veterans with memories more recent and compelling.

Back in the late 1970s when I was starting my clinical rotations there was a story circulating at the Minneapolis Veterans Administration Hospital.  Supposedly one wintery night a really old fellow turned up at the door and said they had to admit him.  There wasn't much specific wrong with him, he was just very, very old.  Various alternatives were offered to him, but he said "Nope, you have to admit me.  I am a veteran of the Spanish American War."

Well that was at the time one of the "no questions asked" indications for admission so the old soldier was admitted.

He got rested up, probably some needed nutrition, and had a few minor issues tuned up.

But the paperwork was proving difficult.  You see, nobody could find any record of him in the V.A. system.  A lot of military records were lost in a fire at one point, and it was actually not all that unusual for the paperwork to slip up in the sprawling V.A. system.   But still, some diligent folks were put to work on finding this man's service record and came up blank.

Until some brighter than average functionary thought to ask him which side he fought on!  (He got to stay nonetheless).

As A.E. Houseman once wrote: "I tell the tale as I heard told", but it may represent not an actual event but an archetype.  I have for instance been told by another physicican that the exact same story was in circulation in a V.A. Hospital in Chicago some years earlier.

And maybe it is just one of those stories that pops up spontaneously.  I have another physician acquaintance who tells a similar story of an old timer who liked to hang out at the members only VFW club and enjoy a drink or two.  Almost unique among his peers he was reticent about telling stories of his military service.  As well he might have been, seeing as how he had been drafted into the Latvian Legion, a unit of the German S.S. on the Eastern Front!  As he was a nice fellow, and as he had only been fighting against Communists anyway, he was allowed to continue his membership.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Apocalypse.....not Now

I have been distracted of late, busy with work, play and other matters.  So I completely missed a very important annual milestone....the postponement of the Apocalypse.

This happens every year, usually in September.  But darn it all, it just snuck by me, coming as it did three or four weeks early.

Oh, what am I babbling about?

My all time favorite short story is called The Last Pennant Before Armageddon, by W.P. Kinsella.  In it the hapless manager of the Chicago Cubs-in the middle of an exciting pennant race-begins having prophetic dreams, in which he eventually hears God Himself proclaim:

"I want to assure you that I hold the Chicago Cubs in highest esteem.  I have listened to your entreaties and considered the matter carefully from all angles.  I am aware of how long it has been since the Cubs have won a pennant.  I think you should know that when the Cubs next win the National League Championship, it will be the last pennant before Armageddon...."

Kinsella is a fine writer, he in fact wrote the book that became the movie Field of Dreams.  But this story goes beyond pure fiction, and makes a fair degree of sense.  The Cub's record of futility seems implausibly beyond mere human agency...the last National League Pennant they took home was in 1945, which is also the last time the world was without nuclear weapons (the United States having just expended their entire supply at Hiroshima and Nagasaki).

Oh, we have come close to testing this theory.  More than once.  2003 was probably the most perilous moment, when Chicago stood five outs away from redemption-and the rest of us from extinction.  Thank goodness a fan named Steve Bartman rose up, like a prophet of old, and batted away a foul ball that would otherwise have been caught.  Thanks, Steve, the world owes you more than the abuse you got for that.

For many years now the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists has published a Doomsday Clock that has its hands dangerously close to midnight.  They move it forward and back depending on the folly of mankind, so it never gets too far from The End.  A sobering concept, but perhaps one that needs to be updated.  I propose a Doomsday Watch that begins every year on baseball's Opening Day.  At that point clever statisticians are able to calculate the odds of the Cubbies making the playoffs.   Here is the chart for you can see we begin with a frightening 31% chance that the Cubs will make it into the post season.  (True, this is not exactly winning the League Championship, but dangerously close!).  But by 50 days into the season we reach 0% odds of the End Times, although by some highly implausible statistical quirks we seem to have only been entirely off the hook around August 18th.

Next spring the Doomsday Sports ticker resets.

So, good news.  The world is not going to end. 

Bad news.  You will have to continue to meet the obligations of day to day life.  Keep paying that mortgage.  Quiz those kids on multiplication tables. If you were planning on just letting the diet go to hell, forget it, you will still be putting on a swimsuit next summer.  I mean, even the Cubs have never found a way to be statistically eliminated before the 4th of July.

Odd side note.  The story I refer to appears in a collection of Mr. Kinsella's work entitled The Thrill of the Grass.  It contains another story called The Baseball Spur.  This story was based on Mr. Kinsella hearing about a baseball field next to a freight yard in Superior, Wisconsin.  Almost certainly the same spot I mentioned in my last post about the caboose out in the woods.  Spooky, I had either never read, or had completely forgotten this off hand comment in the intro to the short story....

Monday, September 17, 2012

Off the Tracks

Once long ago one of my sons played in a baseball tournament in Superior Wisconsin.  The fields were right next to a rail yard.  There were lots of battered old cabooses on sidings there.  We learned that they were for sale.  I was just a little tempted, although it is one of those things you would take on as a project and instantly start regretting.

Fast forward 13 years, or for my son, half a lifetime.

Between work shifts I sleep, idle about, look for ways to get some exercise.  I had heard that there was a caboose parked overlooking a small lake near our cabin.  It was a goodly hiking distance, but I can't deny that my legs need the work.  So off I went. 

From blacktop road to dirt road to overgrown game trail I set off in what I thought was the right direction.  I did not see the No Trespassing signs so common in these parts, but I must admit that when you start going cross country you might miss a few.

Soon I hit what looked like logging roads.  They had been in use not too long ago, but there were no recent tire marks.  The woods were silent.

About a mile in I found it.

It must have taken considerable effort to haul it in there over narrow dirt roads.  Lots of tree branches must have been cut away first to allow this rather tall caboose to make it through.  The cement pad looks older, perhaps there was a hunting shack here earlier.

There is something a little odd about a rail car without rails.  It seems like it is ready to roll down into the lake.

A modern electrical service box, and peeking through the trees an outhouse with the classic half moon window.

I still find the concept of owning a caboose intriguing.  Although I really have nowhere to put one.  There should be plenty available, modern trains run without them.  So I did a little looking about the Internet.  Of course you can find them for sale.  Most seem to be "fixer uppers" with fading paint, and are located in some remote storage depot.  The usual price looks to be $25,000.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Renegade Words

Words.  They are just so unruly.  You expect them to behave in a nice orderly fashion.  But in English, or especially in moving from one language to another, they slouch and morph and take on the appearance of some of their shifty friends.  You just imagine Mnemosyne-Greek Goddess of memory and inventress of language-shaking her head in frustration.  

Take for instance the word renegade.

Officially it comes from the Medieval Latin word renegate, which means to deny.  Specifically it was to deny one's faith, leading to the Spanish word renegado, a term used for a Christian who converted to Islam. 

But there is a similar word, runagate to consider.  It is said to be an alliteration of renagate mixing along the way with the concept of being a runaway.  In Old English a road, or a gate crossing a road, were both referred to with the term gate.  And running a gate would imply some form of trespass.

There is a poem by Robert Haydon called Runagate, Runagate that remembers the era of runaway slaves and the Underground Railroad. 

I also wonder if there is not some accidental connection with the abbreviated and rather modern term renege, which means to go back on a deal.  I suppose it comes both from renegate and from a condensing down of the term re-negotiate, with its overtones of extortion.  Negotiate, by the way, comes to us not from mere Medieval Latin, but from the Old Days of the Roman Republic.  In toga times a negotiatore was a businessman, usually someone who would loan money or trade in commodities.  The business dealings that then and now arise from such activities are of course negotiations.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Barbaric Words

I like to make my medical notes interesting enough to be worthwhile to the reader.  Or maybe I just want to make the creation of such notes interesting to myself after three decades or so.  I go for readability.

So the other day when doing a pre-operative physical I commented that the patient had been very reluctant to undergo a much needed procedure because she “suspected the medical system of avarice.”

Other folks at the clinic appreciated the touch-which was clinically relevant in this case-and declared it The Word for the Day.

It got me thinking…..

I had assumed that “avarice” derived from Avar, that being a designation for a bunch of ill behaved Central Asian nomads who charged about stealing things in the early Middle Ages.

They had after all stomped about in Central Europe not long after other barbarian assemblages that have come down to us over time.
Like the Vandals, whose similar behavior has somewhat unfairly given us the term “vandalism” for mindless breakage.  As it turns out the Vandals settled down into their own kingdoms without too much pillage and rapine of the decadent Roman Empire.

Consider also the Goths, both Ostra and Visa types in their East and West franchises.  True, they give us Goth in the sense of sullen, pierced and tattooed marginalized youth.  But they also give us Gothic architecture which is civilized if a bit overdone.

Another somewhat later bunch of barbarians come off the best of all.  The Franks were not much better or worse than the Goths and Vandals, but in our parlance to “speak frankly” is to be a teller of the truth.  The term probably originates in the Old German word “frankon” which was a type of spear.  The Franks once established as the ruling class by liberal use of the frankon then considered themselves “free men”, so that to speak frankly and to speak freely mean the same thing…nobody is going to argue with you.

Alas for my theory about the Avars.

The Avar language is of obscure origins, with the word “awar” , meaning "opponent" or "obstacle" perhaps being the source of their tribal name.  They first turn up in historical records circa 463 AD in the writings of Priscus, a Byzantine historian.  He wrote in Greek, so any connection to the Latin word “avarus” for greedy, is just an etymological coincidence.
Other barbarian tribes of Late Antiquity and the Middle Ages have mostly done OK by themselves.  Both the Huns and the Bulgars have countries recalling their names.  The Bulgars probably get a breakfast cereal too.  The Burgundians get some great wine.  The Tartars have to settle for raw steak.

Monday, September 10, 2012

The Legacy of C.C. Sniteman

A picture from our road trip:
This is the C.C. Sniteman Pharmacy in the quiet little town of Neillsville, Wisconsin.  The business has been there a while:

I wanted to stop by and pay my respects, because I knew a bit about Sniteman.  He was one of those 19th century pharmacists that made his own patent medicines, and they have survived in remarkable abundance.  A few years back you would find these in many antique shops:
And inside the box:

Sniteman's Xray Liniment.  An early 20th century patent medicine mostly for horses and cows, but the label mentions that it would be good for people as well.  Like many medicines of the era it had the name blown into the glass bottle:

Way back in 1990 I made a few inquiries about Sniteman with the historical society in his town.  I received a delightful letter back from a Mrs Ruth Ebert.

She mentions perusing old newspapers and even venturing into the unheated basement of their museum ferreting out information for me. 

As it turns out Sniteman got off a train in Neillsville in 1879, checked into a room at the O'Neill Hotel and stayed there for 30 years.  He was initially a partner with two other pharmacists later buying them out to be sole proprietor of an establishment variously known as "The Deutche Apothek" or the "Mammoth Silver Front Store".  As noted above, he built a new store in 1885 that still stands tall and proud on the main street of Neillsville.

Sniteman was one of those unusual businessmen who really did put his community first.  He "invested in every enterprise that ever was instigated in Neillsville-sometimes losing every penny of it."

He lived to be 91 years old, dying with the riches of community esteem but few of the earthly kind.  My correspondent in fact knew him, poignantly observing that "When we were younger we thought him to be a strange little old man-his wife likewise.  As kids we saw everything to be funny."

When I made my inquiries I was of the impression that the large volume of Sniteman material turning up indicated that there had been an auction held.  Not so.  "There never was an auction there-a housecleaning yes-and that was the late owner LeRoy John.  He threw everything out-tore out all that beautiful mahogany shelving and glass cases-it landed in the City landfill."

So just how a large number of near mint Sniteman patent medicine bottles survived is still a mystery.  Did somebody rummage through the dumpsters after LeRoy cleaned house?  Or was Sniteman such a pack rat that there were still hoards of stuff that went unnoticed?

Friday, September 7, 2012

Cave of the Mad Poetess-Part 2

The cave in which Maude Phillips and her bohemian tribe lived in 1917/18 is described in some detail in a contemporary newspaper account. 

We shall have to imagine a flag pole with Old Glory out front, but the fallen tree makes a nice remembrance.

The furnishings are all gone.  That little pile of twigs in the center is a fire pit from recent visitors, but probably occupies the same spot and serves the same purpose as a "boiler" that Maude put there to create smoke and repel mosquitoes.  Note the dark notch along the left wall.  The newspaper article describes this as being packed with books.  I was a little surprised to see no real trace of any gate system.  It is a bad idea to leave kegs of beer unsecured.  It is a really bad idea to leave dynamite accessable!

Artistic types still seem to find solace and inspiration at this spot.  Here are some interesting gargoyle faces.  Maude would have liked 'em.

If you go way to the back you can find traces of the cave's earlier use.  Remember E.R. Hantzsch, the guy who ran beer down a pipe to store it here?  Well, here is where the pipe used to run.

Various bricks and such suggest that there was some sort of man hole at one point.  But I also see the small pipe sized opening in the top still there after 142 years!

The fill pipe of course was at the back of the cave.  It seems to have been cut into a small extension of the natural cave, so there was a ledge and a little space that I could not see up into.  But, I could lift my camera  and take a flash photo.  Ever get that weird sense that there just has to be something hidden somewhere?  Well, sure enough:

A stashed key!  I wonder what it opens?

The cave is in a tranquil spot.  A heron fishes in the water below.  No city noise rises above the rippling sounds of a small rapids.  While scampering up and down the river bank I saw nobody other than a woman who seemed to be picking up broken bits of tile and brick.  I am pretty sure she is one of the local artistic community.  Whether she is the re-incarnated spirit of Maude Phillips is less certain.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

The Cave of the Mad Poetess

I'm going to be a little vague on the location of this "forgotten brewery cave".  It is in Eau Claire, Wisconsin, but in a location that is just a bit challenging to get to.   More on this in a bit.

This cave was created, or more likely expanded, by a certain E.R. Hantzsch.  A native of Germany, Hantzch turned up in Eau Claire in 1858.  He built a saloon "At the Sign of the Two Barrels" in that town full of thirsty lumberjacks.

Business was good, and he began to diversify.  By 1870 he was advertising as a manufacturer of XXX Cream Ale and of Pop Beer.  Of course a cave was needed to age the beer, so one was excavated into a hillside.  The entrance to the cave being then and now inconvenient, there was a pipe running down from above that allowed him to fill kegs from the back of a wagon.  Personally I think this is a rather foolish way to do things.  Unless you sanitized a rather long section of pipe you were running the risk of bacterial contamination and "skunk beer".

Maybe that's what happened, as Hantzsch went out of business and moved away. 

The next use of the cave was by a hardware company that stored dynamite in it!  It would have been quite the detonation had it gone off.  Still later it was used as a changing room for swimmers when the section of river below was dammed up creating a pool.

But the most unusual use of the cave came in the winter of 1917-1918.

A certain Mrs. Maude Phillips-also known by her a pen name of Violet Leigh-was a colorful resident of Eau Claire at that time.  She was a poet, a non conformist, and a suffragette.  She was married to a music teacher named Wilbur, a long suffering sort who seems to have tolerated her frequent affairs, public letter writing feuds and occasional stays in the State Asylum in Mendota.  Through a variety of circumstances which you can read about here, the family was evicted in the summer of 1917. 

A newspaper account of their lodgings appeared in August of that year describes the improvements Maude had made.  A flagpole out front with "Old Glory".  Carpeting, chairs, beds, an oil stove and a curtain dividing the space into two rooms.  In prominent place was a table heaped with books, a dictionary occupying a prime spot.  Presumably she continued to write as she lived "homeless" with Wilbur, their children and her mother.

But when winter set in the local authorities began to worry about the extended Phillips family, and at a sanity hearing she was a little too frank for the attitudes of that time.  She glibly spoke about having affairs with several prominent citizens and indicated that "It is a woman's birthright to love.  If she cannot love her husband, she must love some other man".

That did not go over well in court, she was judged insane and committed again to the state institution in Mendota.  The family later relocated to Madison where Maude continued to occasionally publish poetry in the local newspapers until her death in 1930.  She seems to have stayed out of further legal trouble...perhaps even then the mores of "Mad City" were a bit more flexible!

The cave where Maude lived and wrote is still extant.  It seems to be one of those places that "does not want to be found"; it took me several hours to pin it down despite having been there once 18 years ago.  After clambering up and down some treacherous river bank slopes I finally ran across a debris field of old Mason jars, bricks and broken china.  Peering up I spotted the entrance to the cave.  Of course, once you have finally found an elusive site it becomes easy.  I had been looking for the road by which E.R. Hantzsch transported his beer.  But the road in the interval had become this:

A gentle path through a riverbank wood, a few foundations covered by brush on either side.  Really a rather obvious path once you know where to look.  But on my initial reconnaissance trip I did not see it.  Why?  Because it runs through the back yard of the new County Social Services building.  Maybe they are keeping a close eye to make sure Maude and her tribe do not sneak back in.  For a later story of a cave inhabitant much in need of Social Services see my post on Mrs. Julius Anklum!

Photos of the Cave of the Mad Poetess tomorrow!

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Unclear on the Archeological Context

I was out for a walk the other day.  As I have mentioned in the past, my "archeology eyes" work full time, so when there is something even slightly out of the ordinary on the ground I notice it. 

To my surprise, sitting by the curb in our rather modern street I saw this:

This is an artifact that will be instantly recognizable to approximately 0.001% of the population.  But I am among that group.  This, you see, is a small part of one of these:

Warner's Safe Cure was a 19th century patent medicine.  The proprietor of same was a certain Hulbert Harrington Warner, who made his first fortune selling fireproof safes.  He carried the distinctive trade mark over into his second career, and made a very successful brand of a variety of "Safe Cures".  It is quite a tale, and to my surprise there is actually an entire blog devoted to the man and his products.  If you're interested, here ya go.

But I am less interested in collecting this sort of thing than I was in times past.  Also this is far from a rare artifact, millions of bottles were manufactured between roughly 1880 and 1910.  No, I am simply curious as to how this shard ended up where it did.

It was just sitting there.  No nearby construction site, no recent work on the roadway or boulevards.  I wondered if the recycling truck had dropped it. I mean there is no reason to doubt that a homeowner finding this would toss it in the recycling tub....but it was all by itself, and what are the odds that a bit of circa 1890 glass-which must be a minuscule to non existent component of local recycling-would be the only thing to fall off the truck?

Perhaps a kid found it on a nearby hillside, this sort of thing does turn up there.  I guess he could have carried it around a while, walked a few blocks and set it down. 

It points out the bigger challenge of archeology.  Things are not always where they should be.  Floods, later construction, movement by critters and cold weather (these last two are delightfully called bioturbation and cryoturbation!), it just makes it difficult to be sure about dating things.  Finding it where I did would seem approximatly as probable as getting a denarius back in change at the Vindolanda cafeteria!

I think we can exclude local time-space distortion, but I will keep my eyes open for mysterious glowing lights from now on.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Igor the Giant Mouse

A while back I posted on our local Giant Mouse, Murray.  Or as I prefer to call him Big Dee K6.  I had initially been of the impression that he was named Ivan, apparently based on my recollection of another Giant Mouse I had run across in prior travels.

Well, I found him on our recent road trip.  Not Ivan, but Igor.  Close enough that I am pretty sure this is the guy I was remembering. 

Igor is stationed outside of Carr Valley Cheese House on the south side of Fennimore, Wisconsin.  He has been there since 1971.  He is named for Russian composer Igor Stravinsky, for the simple reason that Stravinsky died on the very day Igor the Mouse was delivered.

Igor the Mouse actually has a rather rat like tail, and remarkably large eyes.  But he is yet another product of the prolific FAST Industries of Sparta, Wisconsin.

A road trip moment with my pal Igor.