Friday, January 29, 2016

FIRST Robotics - Progress Report Three

Going from wood to metal.

We had our FIRST robot in reasonably complete form by the time of an open house for our hosts Machine Tool Camp.  It hopped over obstacles and fired a ball more or less on target.  But after a while the pounding it took started to be too much and efficiency declined.  You can only ask so much from wood, plastic pipe and duct tape.

So the team tore it down.  It was remarkable how fast this process went.  Almost two weeks to build it up.  20 minutes to reduce it to parts.  An observer noted that it was like watching hyenas going after a carcass!

Time to redo in metal.  Fire up the plasma cutter!

As our remade robot started to increasingly resemble a tank we got to wondering just how much of an issue we would have with radio (wifi actually) reception under all that metal.  I asked several mavens and got various answers.  So I told the software team to try running the controls with the electronics inside a metal pipe.  Some useful data was obtained.

I have always liked to have a bit of wood in my robots.  Old School I guess.  And I think it also buffers vibrations to some extent.  I told the kids to paint it whatever color they liked.  A nausea inducing yellow?  Well, OK.  Here several sets of hands are crowding in to ratchet down bolts on the back frame element of the robot.

We found that the standard "kit" that rookie teams get from FIRST, while great in other ways, is not so hot regards frame building.  It took way too much time to fashion the back part of the frame.  After a team discussion we opted to go a different direction for the rest of it.  We had already decided on using EMT conduit for the sweep arm.  Heck, lets just get a heavier gauge version of it and complete both sides of the frame with one pipe bend each.  We obviously have some trimming and support elements to add on the front half of the robot, but you can see the basic shape of things and I personally think it is rather elegant.

Note the ball set in what will be the launching pad for same, also the new and better protected crawler motor mount.

FIRST updates have been weekly but if we stay on track it might be possible to have more worth showing after our long Saturday session.  

At the end of the work day we load up our cart and roll our tool cart into what must be the finest storage area any FIRST team on earth can claim.....our own walk in safe!  The building we work in used to be a shoe factory and presumably this is where the payroll was kept.  

The actual robot is getting too big to easily move in and out, so it rides up to the second floor in a freight elevator.  What? You mean all high school robotics teams don't have their own freight elevator?

Wednesday, January 27, 2016


Sometimes words just won't behave themselves.  I think I have something clever figured out about the origins of a particular word or phrase, then darn it all I have to go and find out that I was wrong.

Consider the words villain and vilify.  Now it would make sense for vilification to be the process by which you define somebody as a villain.  And being clever I had a whole rant worked out tracing the word back to villa, the Roman word for a small town or in certain senses for a country estate.

It is reasonable to assume that the owners of villas in the Roman era considered their laborers to be uncouth bumpkins.  And that was the meaning that carried through from Middle Latin villanus for farmhand, into Old French as vilain and across the channel to England where it reclaimed the extra l and became villain.

The sense of a villain being crooked or nefarious is a fairly modern development.  I assume that as we became a more urban culture it got easier to assign negative attributes to rural peasants.  Its not as if quality people really had to interact with them any more.....

But to vilify, that seems to be a different thing than saying nasty stuff about villains.  The meaning seems to fit, to vilify being to "lower in worth or value".  The sense of slandering and speaking evil of came along in the late 1500s.  But the root word here is not villa but vilis. a late Latin word meaning cheap or base.  The same word of course also giving us vile.

Or so various etymological sources I referenced claim.  But sometimes with spellings and meanings mutating back and forth I have to wonder if the scholars really know everything.

Chedworth Roman villa in the Cotwolds.  I hope to visit in the spring.

Monday, January 25, 2016

The Train to Ostia

You can't plan for every eventuality when you travel abroad, but I consider it an enjoyable obligation to prep for as many possibilities as I can manage.

I learn about the places I will visit.  I query Google earth for restaurants, bus stops and laundromats near our accommodations.  I try to pick up enough of the language to not be totally helpless.  And I talk with friends who have been to where I am going, with particular attention to any problems they have encountered.

Getting ready for Italy was a project.  Six months of on again off again listening to language tapes got me to where I mostly knew what was going on.  But you have to set your goals realistically.  And since I could not hope to attain fluency I concentrated on certain areas.  Buying stuff, asking for directions, please and thank you.

And with the little extra brain capacity I could spare I decided to address an issue that several friends had mentioned to me:  Problems on trains and buses.

It is fairly easy to get pick pocketed on public transportation in Italy.  And more disturbingly, men sometimes behave in a very lewd manner to women they perceive as being tourists.  Or maybe all women, I guess it depends on what bus you are on. Maybe to men as well, that would really depend on "what bus you are on".

So I asked a Brit friend for advice.  Prim and proper as she is, my expectations were limited.  But she had lived in Rome and worked at their Embassy, so I figured she would have a few handy phrases.

Boy, did she ever.

This is a polite blog, so I won't unleash my entire arsenal, but for example:

"S______, non male. Quelle e mia moglio"  

I am saying here that this behaviour is not OK and that this is my wife.  The omitted word reminds me that I am due for a colonoscopy next year.

"F_____, andare a giocare con gli uomini."

The omitted word here is ironically an acronym we use for Federal Income tax with holdings.  The rest of the phrase expresses surprise that the individual is even interested in women.

Well, you get the idea.  I actually felt reasonably well prepared.  And as such I assumed that I would never have to deploy these linguistic weapons.

Oh, but on one occasion I was wondering if I might have to.....

We took the train out to visit Ostia on the outskirts of Rome.  Fares are ridiculously cheap in Italy and as physical conditions go the cars are OK.  And crowded, with a combination of locals and folks going further out the line to the beaches at Lido.

A guy sat down next to us.  He looked to be about 50 and I got a sort of East European vibe off of him.  Also some other odd vibes.  He was diligently doing something with his phone and seemed to be surreptitiously angling it to take pictures.  Well, I took a quick look with my peripheral vision and sure enough, he had just taken a picture of an Asian tourist gal across the aisle from us.

I could not tell if the picture was focused on her or on her suitcase but it struck me as creepy. And as he scrolled back and forth on his pictures I could see another similar image...a young couple standing together in a different and more crowded car, again with suitcases.

This guy was also sending and receiving lots of texts and doing some sort of Italian language version of Words with Friends.

I had by now decided that he was either a pervert with an Asian gal luggage fetish, and I must assume such people exist, or perhaps the ringleader of a band of pickpockets.

About half way through the trip he inexplicably got up and moved across the aisle, to the spot just vacated by the Asian tourist.  Now his eyes roved here and there.  And met mine.

I only intended to convey the message: "Don't go taking pictures of mia moglio, dude". But just maybe a few stray telepathic vibes from my auxiliary Italian vocabulary carried over.

When we got off at Ostia we were not set upon by Artful Dodgers, and a quick survey of our belongings - all well secured by the by - showed them to be present and accounted for.

Speaking with some locals afterwards they agreed that it was all rather peculiar.  One theory put forward was that because the trains are indeed often targeted by thieves and such, perhaps this was a plain clothes police officer.  Given the renowned efficiency of the Italian police force getting immediately spotted by a casual observer and spending most of your time goofing around with a phone would be about par for the course.  The Japanese luggage fetish was presumably just a hobby.

Friday, January 22, 2016

FIRST Robotics - Progress Report Two.

Evolution of a robot.

Two projects growing together.  On one side we have the software and electronics groups working on the competition level setup.  For test purposes the board is still set up with some simple motors.   Note the pneumatic cylinder and compressor on board.

Elsewhere the mechanical team has the competition frame, motors and gearboxes together.  The challenge this year includes crossing multiple obstacles.  One of the harder ones is a 4.5 inch solid bar. Our solution is a separate elevated "crawler wheel" up front that walks the front of the robot up the wall a couple of inches...then gun the motors and fly over Dukes of Hazzard style!

As a solution it is elegant in its extreme, almost dumb simplicity.  Of course much refinement needs to be done and the mounting for the wheel (or wheels?) will all be solid metal soon.

By the way there are no "secret weapons" in FIRST.  Teams are pretty much open about what they are working on and we in fact had a couple of adult coaches from established teams helping us out at times.

Alas, when we tried to put the mechanical and electronic elements together the usual thing happened...the software froze up again.  Frustratingly this cost us an entire build session.  A robot with non functional software is in effect, a giant paper weight.

Eventually of course the software decided to behave, and we put the frame and the real electronics together.  Next step was adding a second crawler wheel, which enhances climbing abilities nicely.


It occurred to us that the crawlers might also pick up the ball and deposit it on board.  After various tests it turns out to be true but only with a sweep arm that pushes the ball onto the wheels.

Next step is a pneumatic kicker to fire the ball into a goal.  Initial tests are promising.  One week and 5 days into the build season.  So far......I think OK?

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Tree Shaped Tombstones - Strange Birds

Even on road trips sometimes you have to hurry a bit.  On a swing down to Prairie du Chien to look for old brewery caves I found myself in and out of cell phone communication with somebody who wanted me to be working on the other side of the state at 8am the next morning. Sigh.

But I pulled up out of the signal blocking river valley and came upon a very lonely looking cemetery. When you come across a site like this - on a road you may not travel again - it behooves you to stop and look around.

There was only one "tree shaped tombstone" but what an odd one....

It is a fairly early one, from before the era when these became more standardized.  Note the three tiered square base on which a rather, well, stumpy stump sits.  The day was getting on a bit, this usually gives you great light from one side and crap from the other direction.  This view at least shows nice detail and that great yellow "tombstone lichen" that adds to the visual appeal of these markers.

We have one bird up on top.  As is often the case the head has fallen off.  But the bird has other issues stylistically, note the crudely slapped on wings?  And the blunted tip of the wing seems to be intentional rather than to damage and weathering.  Down below we find a second bird.  Sorry about the lighting on this one.

Here the ridiculously long neck is probably intentional as the bird wraps around from one face of the monument to another.  These were supposed to be doves but honestly this looks like a duck to me. And who knows, maybe that was the intent.  It is about 50% bigger than the up top bird.

And it is not just the bird that wraps around, the inscription does so as well.  Peculiar, I can't say I have ever seen that done.

Monday, January 18, 2016

Iowa 2015 - A few Tree Shaped Tombstones

Winter is here in earnest so it is the "off season" for road trips.  But looking through my pictures I did come across a couple of odd Tree Shaped Tombstones from our Iowa baseball journey back in August.

I was actually a little disappointed that there were not more examples to be seen down there.  In general I find these monuments in rural areas, perhaps with more of them in areas where fraternal lodges were more prevalent.  Iowa should be prime hunting ground.  I will with difficulty not joke to excess about how folks in that square, flat state may not actually know what trees look like!

But lets have a look at a couple of odd ones.

I must admit that my usual visual scan of the cemetery in Postville Iowa did not detect this one at first. The shape is weird for one thing.  It almost looks like an ear of corn.  Note the stone pattern of the base.  This is seen on earlier monuments, mostly from the 1870s.  The main body of the monument clearly has bark pattern and cut off branches.  But it oddly is semi rectangular instead of round.  I think this carver was just not familiar with the style. Or maybe he was just not very good.

The name and date are illegible.  This soft white stone does not hold up well to the elements.

On the other hand....

Check out this beauty from Cedar Rapids.  The top view shows the dimensions of the Novak family plot with the subsidiary tombstones front and center.  I did not get a shot of them but I assume the back markers are just that, markers for the back of the plot.  You would have to be in Bad Graces indeed to be buried facing away from the rest of your tribe!

A closer view.  These Tree-Cabin hybrids are rare and when you find them they are always top quality work.  This makes three we have found in Iowa, so this sub type at least seems to be more common down there than elsewhere.

Friday, January 15, 2016

FIRST Robotics - Progress Report One

The long awaited "Big Reveal" for the 2016 FIRST robotics challenge was last Saturday.  Here is the video:

Wow.  Even by the high standards of the FIRST program this is a lot for a bunch of high school students to pull off in six short weeks.

But our rookie team is digging in and working on it.

We work in a really great space provided by a local business.  They roll this industrial robot out with a forklift to serve as our "Welcome" sign!

Our first session had a lot of unpacking and inventory to handle.  A couple of sessions later we were still identifying random important things left in the bottom of boxes...

Although it goes well we have naturally had some setbacks.  Having our electronics all roughed in and ready to test we discovered that our software needed to be updated.  Hey, where is that memory stick?  At the bottom of a box of course.  I like the hand gesturing here...."well, it should be ready....soon".

We split the team up onto various table tops.  Mechanical work at the far tables, wiring  to the left. The software guys hide in the back of the room.

Heck, I believe in letting the kids learn the hard way.  Any mistakes that don't involve smoke or hemoglobin are good.  The mechanical group got pretty far into setting up the drive frame before discovering that they had omitted a crucial gear deep in the mechanism.  Good learning.

First year teams are advised to go easy.  Just get something up and running.  Don't mess with much programming.  Don't bother with pneumatics.  I beg to differ.  We tossed out the provided pneumatic components and told one of the team to have at it.  Frankly it looks quite workable to me.  Mountain Dew powered technical learning.  The best kind.

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Archaeology at the Drive In Theater

If you knock around assorted Roman sites for a while you find recurring themes. The Roman Empire was in many cases literally the foundation upon which Western Civilization was built.  So seeing what was left over after the Fall - the Detritus of Empire - fascinates me.

In many instances Roman structures were repurposed to a latter and lesser age.  Theaters and amphitheaters were reinforced and became fortresses. Streets and public buildings became out door markets where rustics bartered their wares.

Oddly in the modern age this sort of thing still happens.

Drive in theaters were a distinctive feature of American life in the post WWII era.  They combined automobile culture, suburban expansion and a classic era in cinema.  You loaded up the car, perhaps with a few extra kids hiding in the trunk, and settled in at dusk for a long night of watching movies and the opposite sex.

Almost all the drive in theaters are gone now.  The land they were on got too valuable.  The seasonal nature of the business in many climes was difficult.  (Probably) movies got worse.  Certainly they became more available elsewhere....first in mall multiplexes then on your VCR and now on Netflix.

One recent morning I went to a flea market in Florida.  It was on the site of a classic drive in.  The Northside was built in 1949, enjoyed the boom then limped along for decades.  Here it is today...

The asphalt roadways snake back and forth.  These were the parking stalls in its earlier life, now it is where the flea market vendors park their pickup trucks and set up their tables.  There are various levels of fading paint from the row and stall markers from both eras.  And of course beyond we have the screen.

But first lets check out the snack bar.  This looks to be 1970s to me but perhaps turquoise was a popular color on the Florida Gulf before and after that ill styled decade.  Nice round curves to the building and of course up top we have the projection booths.  The apertures for the projectors are still in place in those narrow vertical windows.

The big screen.  It has certainly seen better days.  That fringe of stuff on the top and on the right side is foliage growing right out of it.  Curious of course, I had to have a peek behind.

It was more substantial than I had predicted.  That is a cinderblock support building behind it, and on the sides you can see some big steel pipes.  In my part of the world drive in screens were simple affairs made from wood.  This puzzled me for a moment but then I remembered, oh yes, hurricanes.

It had such a familiar look to it, one that recalled Roman theaters I had seen in southern France.  Of course there are only so many ways to build a theater but note the similarities between the Northside screen and the equivalent structure (called a Scaenae by the way) at Orange in France.

And as to reuse of a place for a low end market it brought to mind one of my first years excavating at the Vindolanda site in northern England.  The granaries were the most substantial buildings in the place and the main fort road went right in front of them.  During the time when the fort was in Roman operation the buildings and road would have been swept clean and been a place for orderly and official business.  But in the Dark Ages things went to pot. The granary became a feasting hall for some local chieftain.  And the street out front became a market where low value coins of a vanished Empire seem to have remained in use a while, until at last they had such minimal value that nobody would bother to pick them up when they fell onto the mud and filth covered roadway.

My better half advised me that taking pictures of the flea market wares was bad manners unless I was buying.  But when I look at the peculiar array of items present - and you know some of them drop to the ground every market day - archaeologists of the far future are going to be very, very confused about this site!

Monday, January 11, 2016

The long farewell

My father was a good man.  He was honest and hard working.  No, that understates it. I cannot imagine him ever doing a dishonest thing.  And even by the standards of The Greatest Generation he put in long, long hours.

For Good People this wicked world can be a perilous place.  Dad was occasionally taken advantage of by insurance companies, by investment advisers, even by some of his patients if they had a particularly convincing if not especially true sob story.

I remember going with dad on a trip to the used car lot. Oh, Dad loved cars.  He never bought new and was a sucker for anything with chrome and a comfy seat.

He saw one that he liked.  It had a price on the window.  I told him to offer a number that was about 20% less than that.  At age 18 I was already wiser in the ways of the world.

"Really?" he said, with genuine incredulity.

In his final years Alzheimers robbed him of a lot of memories.  All the difficult patients, all the hard decisions.  He forgot the one time he got sued, this being for a problem in which he had no real fault, but happened to be peripherally involved with a case.  

When I was in college dad had me come over to the hospital and spend time with a couple of his colleagues.  One of them referred to him as "one of the last True Gentlemen in Medicine".  It was said with respect of course, but with a sort of wonder and wistfulness as well.  I am sure that the younger, sharper physicians considered dad to be an anomaly, a horse and buggy doctor lingering on into the era of CAT scans and open heart surgery.  Being a physician myself I know we are not perfect.  So probably there were a few smiles and mild jokes at his expense.  If he recognized any of them then those memories also went away early.

My dad was a draft horse, so like the gentle hard working farm animals he recalled with great fondness in his final years.  He plowed straight ahead.  He was content to do so day after day.  He was happy with the human equivalent of a bag of oats and maybe an apple once in a while.  (On Sundays he might for instance smoke a cigar.)

After a certain point you have to regard each visit as possibly your last.  My older brother and I tried hard to visit often.  Oddly, our visits tended to have different themes.

My brother is more like my dad.  He would of course never pay full price at the used car lot but I don't think he would disagree with the observation that he does not have the intensity and determination that is my own personal Virtue and Vice.  But my dad would open up to him, talking about serious matters.  Troubles he had earlier in life.  Things he wishes he had done differently. 

When I tried to bring up this sort of stuff dad would just wave it off, showing no interest at all. With me he wanted to talk about family, about the next generations.

I always started our visits by coming into the room, letting him focus on me for a bit, then when he started to smile telling him he had to come up with my name before I sat down.  This may seem a bit mean but he was so happy when he came up with names. It was like finding a treasure.  And comparing my brother's visits to mine I usually had him talking longer, more on topic and with more smiles and laughter.

He would think hard when I asked him the names of my sons and my daughter in law.  Usually he got a few of them but with no particular pattern as to which.  He had a chance to meet his first great grandchild but never did manage to get that name.  But when I showed him a picture on my phone he would smile and say "that's your grandson!"

At one of our last visits he thanked me for carrying on the family line.

Then one day he wouldn't open his eyes, as if it was too much effort.  He had not been eating or drinking and his voice was weak and hoarse.  I think he squinted just enough to see me.  I know he heard me.  But he could not say my name.  Whether he no longer knew it or just did not have the energy for a single clear word does not really matter.

We had a conference that day.  It was clear to even the less realistic family members that the end was near. It was time to call upon hospice, those kindly angels of the health care system who inhabit that ambiguous place between this world and the next.

Sometimes you just sit a while, realizing that the being there matters more to you than to the person whose bed side you are at.  I left him a picture of his great grandson in case he woke up and had a moment of clarity.

He did not fear death.  Very good men rarely do.  But I thought that if he woke up in an unfamiliar place he might be happy to see the picture.  One small, smiling bald guy looking over at another, older bald guy.  It would be my last image of Dad.  One that reminded me of those old cartoon depictions of New Years Eve where a saucy, smiling baby and a tired old man exchange a salute.

He made it to New Years and to his 94th birthday.  They were on the same day you see.  A few days later the Long Farewell was over.

Friday, January 8, 2016

The impermanence of Beach Art

On a day where I was musing on the impermanence of things a stroll on the beach.  Tides come and go, wind blows the sand about.  Shore birds pick at things and perhaps the occasional vandal-tyke gives a big ol' stomp.

Sand sculpture on a somber day.

Mermaids are a common theme.  The one above just needs to run a comb through her sea weed hair and re-do her face a bit.  The one below has a nice shell afro intact but is crumbling in the hot Florida weather.

A alligator whose head has eroded away.  I think that must have been just where the high tide and its lapping waves stopped.

Almost two weeks after Christmas and we still have a shell Santa and his sleigh. This was placed high above the tide line.

A sea turtle that looks like a soccer ball.  I hope it does not confuse the real sea turtle hatchlings that sometimes trek across this very beach.

Thursday, January 7, 2016

Nothing Personal....its just Business Mike.

Hey, remember this guy from the Godfather?

Virgil Sollozzo, alias "The Turk".  He had a rather abrupt end to his nice dinner with Michael Corleone.

So I was rather startled to be walking in downtown Fort Meyers Florida and saw this:

Is it the final resting place of The Turk?

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

A walk on the beach

Eh, winter in Wisconsin gets kind of long.  So when we got a chance for a few days of low cost warmth in Florida we jumped at it.

Coastal Florida is an odd place....I am a youngster in these parts!

Sanibel Island to be specific.  The main activity here is walking the beach looking for shells.  I have enough shells but still follow the habit of getting up early for a walk.

A bunch of seabirds, very sure of themselves, in that odd light that you get just before the sun comes up over the waves.

You see some very nice sand sculptures here.  I don't think this is the work of any of the retirees who are the main population of the place.  But you do see a fair number of idle, bored grandkids about. This ensemble has a macabre look to it.

Not picking up shells I needed a different destination.  There is a lighthouse at one end of the island. It made for a nice stroll.

History is a bit on the new side here in Florida.  Oh, there were a few pirates about but nobody has every found any treasure here.  A light house for Sanibel Island was proposed way back in the early 19th century but there did not seem to be a pressing need for it given the minimal population of the area. Oh, and the Civil War kind of got in the way.  Finally they got around to it in the 1880s....only to have the ship carrying the steel components sink off shore!  Pluckily they salvaged the parts and assembled it anyway.

Monday, January 4, 2016

CCC Camp Gegoka

CCC camps were scattered widely across America in the 1930s.  I try to visit sites when they are convenient but many are in remote places far from my usual haunts.  But sometimes you can "visit" them from afar.

My brother recently gave me a copy of the newsletter from CCC Company 701.  Their camp was near Finland Minnesota and was called Camp Gegoka.  The name appears to have Ojibwa origins. In common with many camps of the time their newsletter was thoughtfully composed and this one has survived well despite being printed on paper with high acidity.

The contents of course are the usual stuff of camp life.  Sports teams, fishing reports, classes.  There were ads for businesses in Ely Minnesota.  Included in same were three taverns, a brewery, a liquor store, a clothier, a laundry, a movie theater, two cafes and a newspaper/tobacconist shop.

Some matters of greater import were brought up.  An essay on Memorial Day extols the virtues of raising "...the rights of the weakest and humblest to a higher place in society."

There were some fun cartoons.

This second one is a bit political.  In 1933 the public is cheering for Organized Crime, who have run up a pretty impressive score over the "US" team.  In the 1936 image "crime" is breaking a sweat because the ball - labeled Easy Money- is clearly something they can't handle.  And the score has been reversed.  It is not often you see monetary policy as the subject matter of cartoons these days.

Minnesota CCC camps have some excellent photographic records.  When perusing these I of course encountered the typical images of rustic barracks and of lined up recruits and staff.  On close scrutiny of one of these I noticed a detail I had not encountered before:

Yep, up in the back row we clearly have African American CCC men at Camp Gegoka.

The history of the CCC with respect to racial equality is mixed.  At its inception a provision was entered into law (by a black Republican congressman from Illinois!) that there would be no racial discrimination in the ranks.  Supposedly 10% of the CCC was to be made up of African Americans although in reality this was not always the case.

With most recruitment being local it came to pass that in the South there were all black CCC companies.  In the North were the ethnic mix was much different, the companies were least at first.

The CCC is remembered with such fondness today that it is often forgotten that at the time the presence of a bunch of young men in a barracks type environment was regarded with suspicion and alarm by many rural communities.  This was true generally and perhaps the black CCC recruits felt it more acutely.  A few echos of this suspicion even carry through on the pages of the Pioneer News where an ad for the Mary L Eat House specifies "CCC Boys Invited".  Maybe with Depression era unemployment on the Iron range approaching 70% the wisdom of welcoming any customer with money in his pocket overcame local suspicions.

But elsewhere all black CCC companies were sometimes moved to areas where local complaints were not an issue; federal lands for instance.

Finally in 1936, soon after this newsletter came out, integration of CCC companies officially ended. So much perhaps for the "rights of the weakest and humblest".  But being based on a military model from a then still segregated US Army perhaps this is not surprising.

The site of Camp Gegoka is on the western side of Lake McDougal.  The land was purchased by the Federal Government from its original owners, the St. Croix Lumber Company.  With the onset of the Second World War the "CCC boys" put on different uniforms and marched off, still of course in their segregated formations.

The property apparently was purchased by a group of (First War) veterans who tried to keep it up as a holiday retreat.  They, as well as a later group of investors from St. Louis, were unable to make a go of it and the property lay idle.

Idle that is until 1959 which was the beginning of a new era.  It is now a place called Camp Buckskin and has been serving children with autism, attention deficit disorder and related conditions for 55 years and counting.

It seems a fitting tribute to the spirit of the place.  With the exception of a somewhat vintage looking water tower I am unable in the images I have found to see anything that looks old enough to be from the CCC era.

Friday, January 1, 2016

Nuts and Bolts

My brother and his wife attend a lot of estate sales.  For my UK pals I should explain that these are not sales held at Stately Houses.  No, these are more along the lines of what you would call "Jumble Sales" held after the residents of the usually modest abodes have died or gone off to a care center. Everything gets hauled out and sold off.

In any house with a male presence you can expect to see containers of nuts, bolts, nails and screws. They will be numerous. They will be in the garage or basement. They will be carefully sorted by size. There will be more of them than any reasonable person could have needed.  They have effectively zero value and my brother says he has picked up enough of these that I can have as many as I want. All that hardware was carefully selected for specific projects.  Now it is scrap metal.

So why do Old Guys sort out nuts and bolts?

I thought on that point the other day, as I was doing that very thing.

Here's a batch of quarter inch bolts...plink....plink...plink.  If you went back a generation or two it might be fair to say that most men did work with their hands.  Not all were blacksmiths or assembly line workers.  But even if you ran a store, or farmed, or worked for the local utility company, you had solid metal in your hands in your daily labors.  They may have continued to sort and organize out of simple force of habit.

Here's a strata of larger three eighths stuff....plonk...thud...plonk.  They were men of substance our fathers and grandfathers.  They would have regarded smart phones as clever toys and the information age as largely irrelevant folly.  It has been and will continue to be agonizing to see these strong men with strong hands fade and fail.  Perhaps to some extent they felt it coming.  The vision not quite sharp enough to tell fine thread from coarse.  The faint speckles of paint on those washers recalled a project from many years ago, but which one was it?  Maybe they decided to organize things in the workshop to make it easier for themselves.

What was I doing with these huge half inch nuts and bolts? This was over engineering even back in the day when I was making ambitious stuff.  They make a distinctive noise...clank...clank...clank.Usually you find Old Guy Hoards in coffee cans or mayonnaise jars.  I have most of my stuff sorted out into a series of wood and metal boxes that were once drawers in a long vanished workshop bench. It was there when we bought the house thirty years ago, and it was not new then.  When one of my sons started to show eldritch mechanical skills at a young age we needed a place for him to work. I tore out the bench and built one suited to his height.  The drawers I kept, they were still useful. Perhaps some old guys, another morning of post retirement stretching idly before them, thought about how it would be handy if their son or grandson ever needed some parts.  No sense making them fumble around looking for stuff.

And so comes another year.  The generation above me wavers and fades.  My wife and I dig in and hold our ground doggedly.  Our children are ascendant, reaching to take up the tools of the modern age and build with them.

And the generation that follows......moon faced and happy, a grinning audience for our grand parental antics.  Too small for a work bench of course.

The workshop is cleaned up and everything is sorted out nicely.  2016 will be a different year. It will be a jumbled mixture I suspect.  Work, play, family obligations.  I hope for good health and the time to sort it all out.  Plink, plonk, clank....everything into its designated container.  The next generations will find that I have put things into good order and if I am fortunate, will consider my efforts to be worth more than scrap metal prices.