Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Stories of Rome. Gibbon to Asimov to Lucas.

Some stories have such strong themes, such resonance to our lives, that they get told again and again in different forms.  Sometimes the re-telling strengthens the tale.  More commonly the story gets muddled over time especially in the hands of lesser bards.

Consider the Fall of Rome as told by three story tellers.

We start with Edward Gibbon.  This classically educated young Englishman took the then common "Grand Tour" and claims in his autobiography to have visited the ruins of the Forum in 1771 and there been struck with a desire to write the history of Rome, of its Decline and Fall.

His work of the same name is a classic, one that ties together all the untidy threads of surviving literary sources and attempts to relate them to the possibly analagous situation of the British Empire. Gibbon was an excellent writer, a keen wit, a confident of Samuel Johnson and at least acquainted with the King and most other notables of the day.

Isaac Asimov was born in Russia in late 1919 or early 1920.  He immigrated with his family to New York City when he was three years old.  Asimov was one of those rare polymaths, a man whose interests spanned science, history and literature.  In 1942 he wrote the first of the short stories that would become The Foundation Trilogy.  Asimov in his commentary on the Trilogy admits his debt to Gibbon, saying he had read Decline and Fall in its entirety twice. (I have managed about 3/4 of it once, the later stuff on Byzantium is difficult and depressing).

Asimov being a first rate writer is very adept at retelling the ancient stories, with what he admits as "a little cribbin' from Edward Gibbon".  The tragic, heroic story of Belasarius for instance is taken almost unedited and dropped into Foundation and Empire as the story of General "Bel Riose".  But Asimov added his own contribution, the literary conceit of Psycho History, an invisible hand that guides the events of mankind.  With a little help from immortal robots but that is another tale.

George Lucas is neither a polymath nor a Classically educated gentleman.  He is a guy from Southern California who attended junior college and later film school.  His impressive cinematic and editing accomplishments aside I consider him to be a hack story teller.  Star Wars is a agglomeration of themes including World War Two propaganda films, Kurosawa samurai movies and Lord knows what else.  A fair dollop of Gibbon made it in as well.  The first movie in the series features the collapse of "The Republic" and the assumption of personal rule by an Emperor. And later we get to see Coruscant, the home planet of the Empire and basically a straight crib from Asimov's Trantor, each being a world entirely covered with grand buildings and entirely dedicated to the administration of a great Empire.

Here in words and pictures are how the three men saw Rome, even if two of them called it something else!

Gibbon saw the Forum looking like this (roughly contemporary print from Piranesi)

In Gibbon's own words: the distance of twenty-five years I can neither forget nor express the strong emotions which agitated my mind as I first approached and entered the eternal City. After a sleepless night, I trod, with a lofty step the ruins of the Forum; each memorable spot where Romulus stood, or Tully spoke, or Caesar fell, was at once present to my eye; and several days of intoxication were lost or enjoyed before I could descend to a cool and minute investigation

As to what Rome looked like in its prime, various reconstructions exist.  If Gibbon was blessed with enough imagination to look back in time he might have imagined this:

Isaac Asimov never visited Rome.  He was famously afraid of air travel and very much a creature of New York City.  He described Trantor in its glory as:

The lustrous, indestructible, incorruptible metal that was the unbroken surface of the planet was

the foundation of the huge, metal structures that mazed the planet. They were structures
connected by causeways; laced by corridors; cubbyholed by offices; basemented by the huge
retail centers that covered square miles; penthoused by the glittering amusement world that
sparkled into life each night.

An artist's conception of Trantor:

Asimov was, as I said, not at all apologetic in his cribbing.  In the Foundation Trilogy it is even said that "All roads lead to Trantor, and that is where all stars end."

Of course Asimov's vision had Trantor eventually destroyed.  In Foundation and Empire there is a chapter called The Ruins of Trantor:

"It was only as they submerged into the welter of metal that the smooth beauty apparent from
the air dissolved into the broken, twisted near-wreckage that had been left in the wake of the

George Lucas has yet to show us a vision of Imperial destruction.  Since he has now signed the rights to Star Wars over to Disney he won't get the chance.  But we may one day see the ruins of Coruscant, Disney will keep making sequels for a very long time.  But for comparison with his more literate predecessors, here is the Lucas vision of Rome/Trantor/Coruscant:

Monuments and towers everywhere, an Eternal City.

As an afterthought, Asimov is the most fun of the three.  Gibbon tends to be ponderous as befits a man devoting his life to a Great Study.  Lucas combines dime store plot lines with awe inspiring visuals.  But Uncle Isaac always makes you think.  One plot line in the Foundation Trilogy involves a quest, a hunt for truth that ranges from the ruins of once great Trantor to the farthest, most remote outpost of the Old Empire.  It is a journey I will be repeating in the weeks ahead, first visiting Rome "where all roads lead" then heading out to excavate at the Roman fort at Vindolanda, where just over the hill was the boundary between civilized men and the "woad stained" barbaric tribes!

I'm off, back in touch when jet lag and internet connections permit.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Thank Goodness for Post-Roman Features !

We are having some street work done shortly.  That understates it a bit.  The entire street in front of our house, and several adjacent streets are going to be torn up, dug down many feet, and the crumbly asphalt replaced with smooth cement that will last long enough for me to have a nice even ride when I wheel myself off to the Nursing Home many years hence.  It is by the way an impressive down hill grade so that should be fun.

This kind of demolition of course gives us a once in a generation opportunity to re-do any underground infrastructure.  Our house being over a century old you never quite know what you might find down there.  But it would not be a bit surprising if it went to Hades six months after you had the chance to fix it less expensively when everything was torn apart anyway.

So we had some "guys" from the utility company stop in.

Here they are, respectively operating and observing a device I call "SewerCam".  It is a fiber optic cable that can be fed into the drain pipe while you watch on the video screen.  Being naturally interested not only in the prospects of a big expense but also in the nature of things Underground I had to watch over their shoulders.

I guess what you do not want to see is something along the lines of ancient Roman technology.  Some houses had their sewer lines made of sections of ceramic pipe that simply snugged together, no tight seal.  These tend to crack, shift, get infiltrated by roots....all bad.

Happily our Manor has nice solid cast iron pipes.  No breaks, no roots.  Should be ok to leave them alone.  The next owners or maybe the owners after that can deal with any distant future issues.

SewerCam of course is just an industrial version of a colonoscope.  With a range of 100 feet it would be over engineered for any life form short of certain whale species.  But it makes a useful frame of reference.

All the houses on the street are having similar investigations.  I spoke with my neighbor later in the day:

"So, how did your test turn out?"

"Oh.....ceramic, not good.  I am so sorry to hear that.  Well, at least things were detected in time."

"We will be thinking of you on the day of the Big Operation....."

Monday, April 27, 2015

Short cuts to learning Italian - Our Legal Friends

I mentioned in a previous post that knowing a fair amount of "medical Latin" made learning Italian a little easier.  Latin and Italian are certainly not the same thing but the connections are close enough to be helpful.

My main professional experiences of course are in medicine, but as we go hither and thither in this world it would be surprising if we did not pick up a few bits and pieces of other "languages".  Legal Latin for instance.

I don't find the mental leaps to come quite as easily, but just for fun here are a few scraps of Legal Latin and ways one might craft them into modern Italian....

Fumis boni iuris.  Literally this means "smoke of a good right".  The legal meaning refers to having a sufficient basis to bring legal action.  It is used more in European courts and has the implication that your case is strong enough to prevail.  I rather like the notion of a puff of smoke as a benevolent signal.  It does not, alas, have anything to do with the election of a new Pope.  The smoke from the chimney at the Vatican happens when the Cardinals burn the secret ballots after each vote.  For failed votes they mix in smoke.  With success, just paper.  White smoke.

Ex turpi causa non oritur actio.  "From a dishonorable cause an action cannot arise".  It's good to know you can't be sued by people who break the law.  Also I like the word "turpi".  It reminds me of the quaint "moral turpitude" clauses you used to see in contracts.  What would pass for turpitude in the Year of Our Lord 2015 is difficult to imagine.  If you were wondering, turpentine comes from another source altogether.

In flagrante delicto.  I never consider it a good day unless I learn some small interesting fact.  This term literally means "in blazing offense".  It seems to be used in connection with various sexual hi-jinks but is not specific to that sub type of human misbehaviour.  I think the connection with same comes from the last word of the phrase.  Delicto sounds a lot like delicious.  But once again two words have nothing to do with each other.

Defalcation.  If most of us have a general familiarity with the sort of things described as being "in flagrante" few have heard of this one.  Defalcation is the misappropriation of funds by one entrusted with them.  It literally means "cutting off with a sickle".  Interestingly the Latin for sickle, "falx" turns up in medicalese as well.  The falx cerebri is a sickle shaped structure that separates the two sides of the brain.  There, you have probably learned something new and will now have a good day also.

Uno flatu.  "In the same breath".  A term used to criticize a statement in which conflicting things are said at the same time.  Flatu, it seems, is Latin for any movement of air....hence "deflation" and "flatulence"!

"Non compos mentis" This means "not of sound mind".  Compos is an interesting word.  It actually seems to mean a mind at peace.  Latin: Compos  Italian: Compostezza  English: Composure.  

I suppose there can be a few small useful bits here.  In Italian No Smoking is Vietato Fumare.  I am generally discouraged by my Fellow Traveler from going too far with my modest linguistic skills, so I doubt I will be accusing shifty street merchants of Turpitudine, much as they would deserve it. Flagrant/Flagrante is such a marvelous word in any variant that I won't be able to resist on that one.

We will be doing a bike tour of the Appian Way.  Not expecting a flat tire but if it happens I will be well equipped with the knowledge that while "flat" is a Germanic word, inflation - or better still - Inflazione, is a word that earlier travelers on the same road would have understood.

For now I wish you "Compostezza alla tutti!"

Friday, April 24, 2015

Forgotten Brewery Caves - A Wisconsin Ghost Town

In states like Wisconsin, where the population tends to be fairly settled, there are few genuine ghost towns.  At least if you insist on it being a totally abandoned community.  But the brewery cave we feature today is certainly at least from a "near ghost".  There are still people living in this small community but it has lost its original name, its chief industry and its hopes for a bustling future.

Rockport Wisconsin was once called Clinton.  It got its start back in 1847 when Nathan and Thomas Van Horne dammed up Koshkonong Creek and built a water powered mill.  A town grew up around it and of course they had a brewery.

The brewery was built in 1865 by a fellow with the remarkably non-Teutonic name of Ole Jacobson. It is said that the cave associated with the brewery had three rooms, walls that were three feet thick and a roof that was four.  The cave was fashioned from stone cut in area quarries, the brewery building made from locally produced brick.

The brewery went under at an unspecified time and the building became a creamery.  Nothing now remains except the cave, which in the mid 20th century was used as a warming house for ice skaters on the mill pond. Most of the cave is now collapsed, apparently the result of a local farmer using dynamite to do soil testing nearby.

The cave is now preserved in CamRock County Park.  It is not difficult to find....

technically this is a sign indicating the difficulty level of the Beer Cave Trail!

There is a rather silly piece of plywood in front of the doorway, but that will not pose a challenge for any experienced cave spotter.  This is clearly on public land so I can for once say that a visit should not be a problem.  But do remember that part about how caves sometimes collapse...

Here is the view from the inside of the cave looking back towards the entrance.  The entry passage here is rather nicely built.  Next view is the inside of the remaining "room".

The odd wooden structures serve no obvious use.  They look as if someone had the idea of shoring up the roof, but that kind of construction is not going to do much.  The back of the cave, presumably the second and third rooms, has in fact caved in.  Dynamite will do that sometimes.  In the center of the above picture you can vaguely make out an object...

It is some kind of stove.  I am not quite sure what to make of this. My first impression was that it dated back to when the place was used to warm up ice skaters.  But the shape of it is rather modern, of the sort that people now call a "chiminea".  I should have taken a few more pictures to establish whether this was sitting atop the filled in dirt or was just the top part of an older, substantial stove partially buried in it.  It should not be necessary to state the obvious but that won't stop me....never build fires in caves.  You are asking for carbon monoxide poisoning. I did not see an obvious vent option in the roof above this old/?/new artifact.

Standing on the hill above you can clearly see a depression that was caused by one or more chambers of the cave collapsing.  It was a bright, sunny day, one that gives you pause to reflect.  Looking out across the Rockdale mill pond in 2015 you see this:

A few houses remain.  Rockdale's population on the most recent census was just over 200.  But the dam, the mill, even the pond....all gone.

If you visit be safe and respectful.  The area is very popular with mountain bikers so keep a sharp eye out as you walk these paths.  The cave site can be reached either by going down the hill from Shelter Area Three of the park, or by simply walking upstream from the little bridge in Rockport using the trail shown above.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Forgotten Brewery Caves - Beer and Circuses in Ann Arbor Michigan

A longish post today, and one probably of interest only to serious brewery cave buffs.  But it was an interesting visit, and one that gave me a lot to puzzle over.

First things first.  I love it when old brewery caves get put to modern uses, and it is especially fun when they are used for something a bit similar to their original mission.

Nick Easton acquired the site that would become The Cavern Club when he ran an antique store.  His sales area was up above, the caves underneath were just used for storage.  As Ann Arbor is a college town the idea of using the venue as a night spot was soon suggested to him, and it has been a success. In fact, after opening the Cavern Club in the former beer ageing caves he went on to open several other venues in the structure above and in the building next door.  I would prefer to sip my beer down in the arched stone vaults, but if your tastes run towards dancing and quaffing in other themes you can do so in spots with a circus theme, a New York City theme or a "Millenium" vibe.  To each their own.

Nick was kind enough to give me a personal tour one afternoon.  For a night club impresario this is the equivalent of getting up at the crack of dawn, so thanks again, Nick!

I must say the building was not what I expected, and my puzzlement began on first sight.

I will admit that Michigan is not my usual area of exploration, but there is a lot wrong with the concept of this being a brewery building from the 1850s.  It was not near a visible water source.  It was not built into a cliff or hillside.  It was made of  light red brick, of the sort usually seen with structures from 1890 to 1910.  The windows looked wrong.  Notice how they are set at varying positions within the squared off brick faces?  Behind the brewery were railroad tracks.  They were actually built up higher than the level of the brewery.  No doubt the railroad got to Ann Arbor fairly early, but not as early as this brewery was established.  All very odd, and I will explain after we have a look around the inside.

You have to like a bar that has a stuffed lion jumping through neon flames!  But that is upstairs in the Circus section.  Our interest lies underground, down in the Cavern Club.

There are a series of intersecting tunnels.  Their alignment to the building above was peculiar.  Brick and stone foundations appeared to alternate.  I think the upper photo is the "main line" and the bricked arch - which has a twin just to the right of this image - a subsidiary passage.  Lets look at some construction details:

Here we have the classic short stone wall with brick arch above.  As we have seen in earlier explorations this is what you had to do when you did not have a nice cliff face of workable stone. The technique involved extensive excavation, constructing the side walls first, then fitting the brickwork over an earthen, or in theory, wooden, form.  In general this is something you would do adjacent to your brewery building, not right underneath.  These vaults are strong, but why take that kind of chance?

I hunted up and down the tunnels and found evidence of only one vent shaft.  Again, peculiar.  And the shape is not the classic "port hole".  As this appears to be near the sidewalk in front of the club Nick was of the opinion that it was a coal chute.  Maybe, but the construction looks original so my vote is for an atypical vent system. to piece this together?  I retired to the Ann Arbor public library where I was able to quickly consult some historic photos and the excellent book Ann Arbor Beer by Dave Bardallis.  Lets revisit the location of The Cavern Club.  First in 2015:

This is as nearly as I could - safely - duplicate the angle of an 1882 photo:

You should notice several things in the black and white image.  The building is wooden.  There is a decided downward slope as you go from front to back, now reversed as you go uphill to a railroad grade.  And it has a sign that reads Central Roller Mills.  The story appears to be roughly this:

A brewery has been on this site since at least 1853.  This makes sense as the street in front of the brewery was the early city limits of Ann Arbor.  You avoided a lot of trouble with ordinances by setting up shop just over the line. What you can't see here, but the trees suggest, is that behind this structure ran Allen Creek.

The earliest Ann Arbor city directory lists Gottlieb and Christian Hauser as the proprietors of "The City Brewery" at this address, although as mentioned there are clues to the presence of brewing on the site some years earlier.  Early accounts give us a few useful details, it is mentioned that the lagering caves had a ground level entrance, this certainly being from the much lower rear of the complex.  And it is noted that cooling was in part by water "from the creek" running through the caves.  I did not get a very good image of it, but under much later cement there was some sort of deeper channel with running water under the cave floor.  As it was running towards Allen Creek this would have been from a spring somewhere uphill.  This answers the issue of water supply nicely, and would explain why they could get by with less than usual venting mechanisms.

My sense of direction is fairly good, so with respect to the 1882 photo I would say that the caves were mostly near the right of the main brewery building with a passage running across the front.  There are wagons loaded with kegs near the dock in the foreground.  Beer must have been taken out of those fairly narrow looking doors for distribution. There was a structure inside the Cavern Club that was felt to be an early elevator, presumably the beer was hauled up this way rather than being taken out of some lower, back entrance to the caves.

The City Brewery went bankrupt in the Panic of 1873.  The property was taken over by the Ann Arbor Central Mills around 1882.  Presumably they had the grain storage space already and adding the machinery to grind feed and flour would not have been difficult.  Some portion of the property, the caves one presumes, continued on as a beer distributorship for Milwaukee and Detroit products at least into the later 1880s.

As time went by Progress, or at least Change had its way with things.  Allen Creek was diverted and covered over.  The railroad built a line directly behind the structure no doubt adding many feet of fill and covering the original entrances to the caves.  The wooden structure went away, either from dilapidation or as a result of the more kinetic demise so common to the combination of  boilers and grain dust.*  A red brick building was erected circa 1900 apparently using some of the original 1850s foundations. Later still it was a farm implement dealership in the 1930s at which time the floors were reinforced with cement to hold up under the extra weight.

All in all an enjoyable visit and a nice little detective story.  If you are in Ann Arbor and in need of a beer in congenial surroundings you might want to stop by.  I know I will next time through, having put most of the pieces together - I think - I now want to scrutinize the stonework more closely.  I bet I could find traces of the earlier "outside" entryways.  And that drain under the floor?  It would be interesting to check and see if cool water is still flowing down there.  It would please me to see that unchanged when so much all around has been altered.

The Cave Club and its allied venues can be found at 210 S. First Street, Ann Arbor, Michigan.
*addendum. There is an alternate theory, one that has the wooden building still in situ but with a veneer of newer brick over it.  There are points both ways.  For instance the window placement is quite similar.  But this would at a minimum require the upper peaked part of the wooden building and the portions to the right side to have been removed.  I will say that on the second floor there appeared to be no wood remaining but it is a very complex structure and I might at the point I made a close inspection, have stepped through into what certainly appears to be a modern building next door.

Personally I would be delighted to find all or part of the original building still intact.

Monday, April 20, 2015

Lots of Candles in Ann Arbor Michigan

We both have older parents to visit, and recently it was our chance to head over to Michigan to see my father in law.  He was turning 92.  We don't get to see the old gent as often as we would like and a large-numeral birthday seemed an excellent opportunity.

Life as a nonagenarian has some limitations so we went out for meals, sat around and chatted, and helped out where we could.  His apartment needed a bit of cleaning up.  The natural tendency of guys to be casual in their housekeeping having been paired with poor eyesight.

I got a few stories of the old days from him.  I asked him why so many of their family photos feature floods, fires, car crashes and other sorts of mishaps.  He said life in small town Indiana was pretty boring and what else was there to take pictures of.  He declined to tell me stories of my wife as a kid.  I am not sure if it was chivalry or memory that factored in there.

I got him out for a beer.

We had a birthday cake, candles unlit.  His apartment has a mirrored wall that makes for a rather unusual photo.

His days contain many naps.  Lots of old cowboy movies on a really big TV screen.  Meals on wheels shows up daily.  He peers as a big computer screen with font set at the maximum size.  And there are his pals the squirrels.

He feeds a small community of squirrels.  Every day at appointed times he tosses out cracked corn and peanuts.  If he is off schedule a bit the chubby tree rats come right up to his glass sliding door and press their little rodent noses up to it, admonishing his lateness.  Would you like to know how close you can put your smart phone to the fuzzy mug of an insolent begger-pest?

Pretty damn close.

Happy birthday Old Timer!

Friday, April 17, 2015

Best Brewery Cave Ever? Part Two

Welcome back.  Having had a tantalizing look at the outside of my favorite (to date) brewery cave it is time to head on in.  The nautical part of our journey was fairly short.  About 20 feet into the cave the floor was higher, presumably by design. This allowed seepage and ice melt to drain off.

The floor was damp but a nice solid base layer of rock made footing easy.  This was a well constructed cave, one that did not have the common problem of debris from the walls and ceiling piling up on the floors.

I was here at the invitation of a local history buff who got in touch after reading some of my Detritus of Empire postings on this topic.  I promised him a heroic "intrepid explorer" picture. Heroic enough, Rich?  The cave is T-shaped and goes back about 100 feet from front door to the furthest corner.

Most brewery caves had one or more vent holes.  I have seen a few with metal or ceramic pipes fitted in them.  This vent was remarkable in that it was larger than usual, and because somebody went to the significant effort to line the entire shaft with well cut and placed stone blocks.

Here is an odd feature.  There were a couple of places where random holes were drilled into the side walls.  They go in for 18 inches or so.  I wonder if they were considering where to start side passages?

As I mentioned this cave has a nice slope to the floor which makes for clean drainage.  And it lacks the common drainage gutters than can be either in the middle of the floor or along the walls.  There was this odd curved trough, but I don't know if it was man made or natural.  Because in the back of the cave there was something wonderful...

Water was seeping from a wall and making "Flowstone".  These deposits of calcite come from dissolved minerals and are pretty much formed by the same mechanism as stalactites.

Here's a closer look...

And on the way out we noticed a couple of bats.  Per my previous posts I try to avoid visiting caves with bats during their hibernation season.  These guys were a surprise.  So we gently tiptoed out and left them to slumber.  Near as I can tell though, they have been spared the dreaded White Nose Disease that is tragically hitting bat populations so hard.

Sorry to keep this cave location a secret.  It is on private property and I was there as a guest. This is a totally unspoiled cave.  Not a speck of trash, no graffiti.  I think we were the first to set foot in it in many years.  It would be a shame to see it damaged.

Also our bat pals need more "space" these days.

And although this cave holds no danger to the Prudent I hate to image what trouble kids with beer could get into.  There is water, a vent shaft that looks fun to climb in, steep cliff faces above.....yikes.

Just be happy that a few places like this still exist far off the beaten track.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Best Brewery Cave Ever? Part One

Today's historic brewery is "somewhere in the Midwest".  Sorry about a no-locations post but the reasons will become clear in a bit.

Although there is some reason to suspect an earlier date, local histories say this brewery was started in 1871.  Initially a two story 40 x 24 structure it had several subsequent additions in the early 1870s. A photo of about that vintage looks like this:

Before I give the later history of the brewery, a picture of the same site, and from about the same angle today:

Clearly the site has changed a little!

The brewery enjoyed a fair amount of local success and seems to have been in the 500 barrel per year class.  (Breweries with a capacity larger than that payed taxes at a higher rate....was a bit of fudging in capacity estimates common?).  It went through a series of owners in its later years and was destroyed by a fire in 1908.

In the first picture you can see a bridge in the foreground.  It crosses a picturesque little creek. A later owner diverted the creek and excavated the front half of the brewery ruins.  This created a charming trout pond...and makes the cave accessible only by canoe!  Note the water pipe on the right.

A few more exterior views:

Probably the cave entrance corresponds to the wider open door in the historic photo. You wanted to be able to trundle kegs of beer in and out without too much bother.

Note the pinkish tinge to the stone foundation walls.  This is not the natural rock color.  It is a tint that limestone acquires when it gets heated up, and likely an effect of the 1908 fire.  We could tell that we were near the boiler section of the brewery because as our canoe nosed into the partially flooded cave I picked up this:

Laclede was a St. Louis company that specialized in fire bricks, a type used in boilers, kilns etc. They got started in 1844 and were consolidated into a larger firm in 1907.

As we nose our way into the cave, the passing trout waving us in with their tails, I can tell you are eager to see what lies within.  Come back next posting, I promise it will be worth the wait....

Monday, April 13, 2015


My dad and I recently.

He's 35 years older than I am but appears to have fewer wrinkles and about as much grey as I do.

I had just told him some very good news.  He was quite happy.  It was in fact the fourth or fifth time I had told it to him but with his short term memory issues he was equally surprised and happy every time.  And the news was such that I was equally happy to tell it that often.

Friday, April 10, 2015

Precious Moments through the Years

My wife and I have been married for quite a while now, we in fact have an anniversary this month. Not one of those that ends in a five or a zero and has a gift type sanctioned by Society.  But a significant bunch of years.

Recently she inquired about getting a new wedding ring.

I had noticed that she had not always been wearing hers, so I made a few necessary inquiries.  Was she in fact indicating that she needed one to get married to somebody else?  If so the correct response would be something along the lines of "Not my circus, not my monkeys".

No, it appears that my Provisional status, my Probationary Period if you will was over some years back and we are in it for the "Death do we part" version.

But decades of hard work, scrubbing cold floors with a brush made from nettles that she had to harvest by hand in mid winter (I am exaggerating a little here) has made the fit of the old ring less than perfect.  Re-sizing the ring was not entirely satisfactory in result.  Re-sizing ourselves to previous dimensions while a worthy goal may not be practical.

So, ring shopping.

I am not exactly sure how to handle this one.  Traditionally the guy is supposed to be involved on some level.  I guess that does not really have to be so.  But it seems just a little weird for a woman embarking on one of the few activities in which a man is traditionally a necessary component to just show up solo. There are various of her female friends who could give good counsel and who have excellent taste.  But in these modern times I can just imagine a clerk looking at the two of them, making some quick internal calculations, then assuming that the ladies want a matched set of bands. Just a little awkward maybe.

So most likely we will go the route of finding a craftsperson in the area who can make a custom band. The specs on this will probably get some token input from yours truly.  It should perhaps not clash too much with the band that I continue to wear.  (each and every day, thank you very much. In my eyes it shines as brightly as the Love I felt on the day we were married.  Said affections have never acquired a spot of tarnish nor a smidgen of wear and tear through the many years which of course fall away and seem like only yesterday on the occasion of our happy anniversary).

I am in fact expected to offer opinions, perhaps as in the case of other clothing/home improvements/accessories to serve as a baseline for the "meh, not so much" average.

But I'm going to surprise her, I will.  I have a great idea.  A classic Ring design, and one that shows my eternal devotion that borders upon slavish.  Yes, yes.......

My Precious!

Happy Anniversary dear.  It's like in a couple of weeks, right?

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Happy National Robotics Week

What?  You did not know it was Robotics Week?  I think you can be forgiven.  It is the 21st century after all, isn't every week robotics week?

My friends over at Servo City asked if I would do a guest spot on their blog.  Old news for faithful readers of Detritus but if you want to see me chew the scenery a bit while discussing student robotics projects, here ya go...

Robotics Part One

Robotics, Bigger and Weirder

Note that in one of the video clips I am referred to by a name you may not have heard me use.  Yes, it is what it says on my birth certificate but whether that identity is more "me" than Tacitus2, Dagmar Suarez or Badger Trowelsworthy is a very uncertain matter.

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Spring Cleaning

As I seem to be the Internet's leading authority on a few obscure topics I have felt it necessary to provide an email link from this blog.  And indeed I do get messages from people with questions.

But I get a lot more automated "spam".  And so I have come to regard my "dagmarsuarez" email as being primarily a spam trap, checking it every week or so for the occasional living, breathing correspondent.

Most of the spam is what you would expect, and is likely the same junk you get regularly.  But some of it is odd stuff, and it makes me wonder if the spambots are gaining sentience and starting to learn...

Here is a recent sampling.

"We know your company is a professional manufacturer for the wooden houses".

"Dear Sir/Madam, We'd like to purchase 150,000 of wood pallets.."

"Dear Sir, we need some wooden boats for entertainments".

These are from various Chinese senders.  Guess they know I have a few acres of pine trees up North.

"Don't let middleman draw your profit from the growing hair market (human hair weaving)"

Does this take off on my status as Tacitus MD?  Or simply a guess that at least 50% of internet users are male?

And my Spam Hall of (recent) Shamelessness

Third Place but honorable mention for honesty, an email consisting of a single word (with the usual don't touch it link):      "ransaction".

Second Place: from "E-Z PassManager.  DAGMAR pay for driving on toll road.  Invoice #-----"
I really liked this one because it came from an address that contained the word mummia and a suffix indicating it was an Italian web site.  Mummia was a tarlike resin that was used to preserve mummies! And I have thus far never been to Italy, although I understand that semi-predatory use of speeding cams is fairly common there.

First Place, well, it is just so odd:  "There are 258 students in our company.  Now we need to find a professional and sophisticated wax museum immediatly for a three month training program..."

Well Mr. Zhang shaog, if that is your real name, perhaps it was not the brightest business model to begin a training school for wax museum workers.  Did you first wonder a little about the world wide demand for such an arcane specialty?  Best wishes, Dagmar Suarez.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Family Gathering - Spring 2015

We got together for Easter.  As we are a collection with varying beliefs it was not a church going affair this year.  But a fine time.

Shoes by the door.  We are now 2.5 generations.

Not counting these guys who seem to get along well.  Chino had on a dapper sweater vest.  No bunny ears but his natural ones come close.

Happy Spring.

Monday, April 6, 2015

The Space Babes Full Employment Program

I don't watch much television.  But I do have a few weaknesses to confess.  I am a big fan of Star Trek and will watch reruns of almost any episode from the various Trek incarnations.

And over the years I have also found a few shows with ensemble casts that I come to enjoy sufficiently to plop down on the sofa once a week.

There is an interesting connection here, several of the current/recent shows I watch have frequent guest appearances by Star Trek alumni.

Consider Castle.  A recent episode had no fewer than three former Trek actresses in roles large or small.  We had:

In a real acting tour de force Captain Yates from Star Trek DS9 has become Captain Gates

Keiko Obrien from Star Trek TNG and DS9, cast now as the scheming Mimi Tan

Ensign Sato from Star Trek Enterprise.  Now appearing as Inspector Zhang
Of course these actresses all have real names and real lives off screen, but something about Sci Fi characters seems to fix them in the minds of the viewers as "being" their Star Trek characters. Leonard Nimoy was somewhat resentful of this phenomena and actually wrote a bio once titled "I am not Spock".

Three former Trek cast members in one episode is a bit much for Castle, even if Captain Yates/Gates is a semi regular.  But over the years Castle has provided a paycheck to quite a few such alumni. Here, somebody has tracked this although his list of 25 needs to be updated now.

But Castle is nowhere near as prolific a Trek Alumni Employment Program as another show I favored for a while. Boston Legal had as its star none other than William Shatner, aka Captain Kirk, or as I prefer to call him Prociuttius Maximus.

Someone compiled a list claiming that no fewer than 78 Trek alumni appeared on Boston Legal in one fashion or another.  I read somewhere that David Kelley, the creator of Boston Legal is a serious fan and was always willing to sneak another Trek connection in.

Sometimes the former members of Star Fleet came and went on the set of Boston Legal so rapidly that they passed each other unseen.  When Scott Bakula had a cameo as an opposing counsel he had no scenes with William Shatner.  In fact, the two men never met.

Now that does not seem right.  Since Bakula as Captain Jonathan Archer commanded the USS Enterprise first (2151-2161) one would think that protocol would demand that Shatner/Kirk (commander from 2265-more or less 2293) would have made a courtesy call on his senior officer!

This slight will not be forgotten, Midshipman Kirk!

So how to explain the Trek alumni concentration on certain shows?  I guess producers and casting directors are allowed to be fan boys and girls.  Does this make them nerds?  Yes. Yes it does.  And am I a nerd for noticing?  Yes.  Yes I am.

Friday, April 3, 2015

Tree Shaped Tombstones - A Sad Tale and a Revelation

A while back while on a road trip my brother and I made a quick visit to the cemetery in Augusta Wisconsin.  We had to, when you see those large and elaborate tree shaped tombstones a stop is mandatory.  But being in a hurry we missed something, a smaller monument that I spotted on a later trip.  I will warn you, this one is extra sad, but it is also one with features that I consider to date unique in my studies of the topic.

A closer look is called for here.

I had never seen one of these that actually gave the cause of death.  Maybe the fact that a four year old child drowned was so much more shocking to 19th century sensibilities.  They were after all quite accustomed to infant mortality from disease.

You run across these carved straw hats once in a while.  I have referred to them as "Mary's Hats" as the first one I saw was from a young girl by that name.  But here we have the same hat on the grave of young Kyle.  I will change my designation.  We tend to forget that up to a certain age little boys were dressed up in some outfits we would consider something short of rough and tough. Little Lord Fauntleroy and all that short pants nonsense.

Not just his hat, we also get Kyle's little shoes.  Sad, but not the saddest part of this doleful monument.

There is symbolism in tree shaped tombstones.  The smaller ones usually go with a shorter life, the gigantic ones are symbolic of a healthy, extended family.  Most have the additional symbol of a cut off limb, representing a life cut short.  The writing here is fading, barely visible now.  In another generation or two it will just be some vague scratches.  But you would still know what it meant.