Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Remembering Campaigns Past.....

Politics has never been an entirely safe topic to discuss among family and friends.  This was true even before people took their social relationships off into the Virtual world where it is much easier to have your meaning misconstrued, and where "Unfriending" is a public and irrevocable thing as compared to say, having a few days where you decided to not have a cup of coffee with somebody at work.

I've been around for more election cycles than most.  I will admit that this last one was an eye opener.  The results surprised everyone and I think that whether you like or dislike the outcome it is salutary to periodically re-evaluate your world view.  Some world views are being dismantled down to their very foundations and every brick and board being tested.  That is a good thing.

For the Record I did not vote for either Donald Trump or for Hillary Clinton.  You may express your opinion of my declining to support either of them but it was my decision to make. So I decided this year to write in my choices for President and Vice President.  I picked two individuals, one a Democrat and one a Republican.  Who? Again, my business, not yours but I picked two people who I consider to be among the few honest, capable, willing-to-put-country-ahead of party politicians who have appeared on the ballot for these positions in recent years.

This has caused me to go back and re-visit all the Presidential campaigns I can remember.  I made various choices in them which is only reasonable as I was a different person years ago than I am now.  And it was a different country.  Or of course from another perspective I and the country are not so very changed over time.  You judge.

my age: 7
my issues: plastic dinosaurs
my memories: I recall going with my mom when she went to volunteer at a campaign office for Barry Goldwater.  I remember it was downtown Minneapolis. It seemed like it was some kind of big garage or former auto dealership.  Signs were being made. For years there was a can of "Gold Water" soda on a shelf.  I think it was acquired that day.

my age: 11
my issues:  The Vietnam war was going on pretty actively at that time.  I do recall observing that all the bombing raids never seemed to actually hit anything important. This was a very turbulent election, probably crazier than 2016.  

my age: 15
my issues: I was in high school, so things that concerned me then are almost by definition all trivial in retrospect.  That was the year Richard Nixon beat George McGovern by a tally of 520 to 17.  A pretty bad Electoral College 'whupping' but a real nail biter compared to 1820 when James Monroe put it to John Quincy Adams, 231 to 1.  JQA came back four years later for the Win.

my age 19
my issues: I was in college.  I concerned myself mostly with inexpensive beer and interpersonal relationships that had no future potential.  This was the first year I could vote, and I cast it for Gerald Ford.  I felt then, and still do, that he was a fundamentally decent man. Jimmy Carter was one of those political peculiarities that come along once in a while.  He had bad luck with respect to the times and the circumstances he was handed.

my age 23
my issues: I was in medical school.  It was all rather overwhelming.  This was another time when neither major party candidate looked appealing.  Carter had an air of "malaise" about him. Reagan was a B movie actor.  Also he was old.  Well, I was young.  So the appeal of voting for a Third Party candidate was strong.  There was a guy named John Anderson running on a platform of not being either of the other two guys.  He had a full head brilliant white hair which on a fairly young guy looked striking.  This is the only Presidential campaign I have ever donated money to.  Anderson lost, and to boot seems to have sold my name and address to a bevy of fund raisers.  It was two more years before I moved out of the house I shared with my brother. The plaintive letters asking us to save the (Seals/Whales/Planet) were still going strong then.  The house has since been demolished.  In my imagination the fund raising appeals are still delivered to the north east corner of a modern day parking lot where they have just as much impact now as they did then.

my age 27
my issues:  Well by now I am married and in Residency.  I think I voted absentee for Ronald Reagan's second term.  I actually spent November of that year in a sleep deprived blur doing a high risk OB program in Houston Texas.  I suppose there were major issues that year but seem to recall it not being much of a contest.  The 525 - 13 Electoral College landslide buried Walter Mondale so deep under that I had forgotten that he was involved.

You'd think that my perspective on issues would have changed as I approached real world, working guy status.  But we were poor, newly wed and happy.  That was just fine.

my age 31
my issues: Maybe there were none.  I was now starting out in practice and a new father.  The country seemed to be running fairly well under the existing managment.  And Michael Dukkais seemed an unserious challenger.

my age 35
my issues: Having been around the health care system long enough to see that it was a jumbled, dysfunctional mess I decided to vote for Bill Clinton who said he was going to do somthing to fix it.  I had nothing against George H.W.Bush, but three terms of one party is almost always plenty.  Time for new ideas.

yes, 39. Where does the time go?
So much going on.  The Berlin Wall comes down. Scandal in the White House. Times are good economically.  My first "if this-then this" decision.  I felt Bill Clinton was the better choice for the country but I found his behaviour as a person to be repugnant.  So my decision was that if Wisconsin was looking to be a close call I would hold my nose and vote Clinton.  If it was not close, a vote for Bob Dole as a token of respect for a hero and patriot.

The Twenty First Century
The issues that concern me have become more weighty.  In recent years I have had to ponder the nature of work and retirement, of being a parent and a grand parent.  More things bother me now than in the past,  perhaps that comes with age.  More things delight me than in the past, perhaps that comes with experience.

It is always more recent history that becomes more contentious.  My decisions have become less predictable even to myself.  I have donated to two more campaigns at the local level.  Both were to friends who were running as Democrats.  In each instance - one won, one did not - it looked to me as if politics did not do good things to them.  I found myself sometimes voting different ways when the same individual stood for election in two different cycles.  I have voted for one of the recent political dynasties and against another.  

I wonder if we will ever see a "normal" election again.  Candidates can't realistically influence people by newspapers or television any more.  Most of the money spent in any given cycle serves only to enrich consultants and to clog land fills.  Large segments of the population simply won't, or perhaps can't, get their minds around anything other than party line allegience. 

It is sobering to realize that you have more four year increments behind you than ahead of you. But for what it is worth, and I'm not sure how much that is, the strangest times probably lie ahead. 

Monday, November 28, 2016

After the Feast

A photo from after Thanksgiving dinner.  

The human of  course has every reason to lie back -hand atop belly- and take life easy.  The canine of course knows full well that he is not supposed to be on the furniture.  But standards get relaxed a bit on holidays, albeit not as relaxed as either of the two family members seen above.

The dog's name is Bruce.  He is the "older brother" to a toddling Next Generation.  Said youngster's first word was "BRuuuuuuuuuuuu..". This gets Bruce some permanent tolerance points. Interestingly, just as Eskimos have many words for snow, Toddler has devoted about half of his identifiable vocabulary to this very important feature of his life.  In addition to "Bruuu" there is a five or six syllable version of the word "Doggie".  He also knows "P.U." but that could apply specifically to the dog or generally to assorted other family members including himself.

Friday, November 25, 2016

The Boring Project

Sometimes in machining you need to make a large hole in a piece of metal.  Maybe larger than the drill bits you have around or can fit into your equipment.  Also, you might need this hole to be accurate to 0.001 inch.  Why I am not sure.

OK, time to deploy a milling attachment called a Boring Head.

It spins around and around shaving off a few thousandths of an inch of metal at a time.  Every few minutes you have to stop and adjust it again.  

This gets rather tedious.  And actually the term "boring" dates from the late 1700s, and is felt to be a figurative extention of "moving slowly and persistently, as a boring tool does".

I can certainly see how a machinist doing this task regularly would have been very happy when CNC milling came along and automated things.

Monday, November 21, 2016

Forgotten Brewery Caves - Under the Science Museum

Welcome to St. Paul, capitol of the fine state of Minnesota.  As you can see it is right on the Mississippi River.  Note also that the entire city is perched on some impressive sandstone cliffs.  The combination of cliffs, early settlement and a heavily German citizenry made it a major center for brewing. 

 I have stopped by St. Paul a few time already to look at Forgotten Brewery Caves, for instance:  HERE and HERE.

Today a peek at a well hidden cave site.

The Science Museum of Minnesota is built right into the side of the bluff.  If you go into their parking ramp and peek over the side you will see far below, the characteristic archway of a brewery cave.

But there is no need to admire it from afar, just go down to the lowest level of the ramp.

And a little closer up.

This appears to be the cave used by The City Brewery, which was started by a Dominic Troyer in 1855.  In 1860 Troyer decided to return to Europe and sold the brewery to a partnership of Funk and Schwitzer.  Through a few more ownership shuffles it eventually became the Frederick Emmert Brewery, and at a peak production of 6,000 barrels a year circa 1880 it was a major player.  After his death in 1889 Emmert's sons ran the brewery until the turn of the century after which it was sold to the rival Hamm's Brewery who used it for storage.

A pilgrimage to this cave site is clearly no problem.  I suggest a visit to the Science Museum too, its very well done.  St. Paul of course has many brewery caves.  You can read about some of them in other corners of the Internet but I am not going to publicize any of the more famous ones.  

The problem is that brewing beer in St. Paul was such a great success that the breweries excavated some whopping great caves, especially in the 1870s when their original pioneer locations became too cramped.  Some of these caves are decidedly unsafe and there have over the years been a string of fatal accidents associated with them. 

This would be an excellent time to mention again that just because brewery caves are fascinating is not a reason to go into them.  Some are deadly.  Outside one of the bigger cave complexes in St. Paul you see this somber sign:

Good advice.  It should be so obvious.  But although the city keeps sealing the entrances to the caves, foolish young people keep finding new ways in.  In 2004 three more teens died in the same caves, again from carbon monoxide poisoing.

Friday, November 18, 2016

Tree Shaped Tombstones - Jewish Versions!

In general Americans tend to get along much better in life than in death.  Hence the tradition of separate cemeteries for Protestant and Catholic folks.  I'm not sure what people are worried about, do they think that the Archangel Gabriel when blowing the Final Trumpet would get mixed up and bar the Pearly Gates based on who you had been "nonliving" next door to?

One hopes Heaven is run more efficiently than that.

In any case Jewish folks certainly had their own cemeteries wherever a community of sufficient size existed.  Outside of Sheboygan was this nice little spot, the Hebrew Cemetery.  And I was delighted to find Jewish variations on Tree Shaped Tombstones.

Above we have the Classic Style but with some nice personalized touches.

As this is a somewhat newer cemetery that was one of the few early markers, but across the way we find this little "grove" of newer style tree markers.  Here we see them from the back.

This one tells a story....

These later style markers always have an insert at eye level.  This is a bronze plaque from the Jewish War Veterans Association.  The local post is named after Lieutenant Marsak.

Other markers go for something more basic.  

The structure of these markers does not really lend itself to another long standing Jewish tradition, that of placing stones atop the monument.  But that was very much being upheld elsewhere in the cemetery.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

By Grabthar's Hammer!

I have not seen it used but in one of the class rooms at Tech there is this gigantic machine.

It is a Tinius Olsen machine that seems to be for testing the properties of materials under pressure.  Near as I can figure you put things into that big vise on the left and scrunch it down. Presumably the Big Needle then moves on the Big Dial.

And if that does not give you some useful data, well, see on the table top that thing that looks like a war hammer?

I think you just pick this massive lead block sledge up and start pounding.

Monday, November 14, 2016

Machines Behaving Badly - 2016 Edition

And so another Machines Behaving Badly tournament is in the books.  It was a good one.  It may have been our best one ever.  It started on time, flowed smoothly, ended on time and saw a wide array of 3 pound student built robots get clobbered in interesting and entertaining ways. The key to it going well was lots of help, not only on tournament day but in the build session classes that led up to it.  Many, many thanks to the FIRST robotics high schoolers, in addition to the regular "Minion" tournament a few recent draftees...

A few robots before combat started:

An ambitious drum spinner fashioned out of an old paint can.

Two saw spinning robots.  These are usually more menacing in appearance than effective but "Saw Shark" actually did win quite a few matches.

"Dead End" was a simple but well protected wedge robot.  The decorative touch of a roadway paint job and Dead End sign was very nice.

This creepy little thing has been around for years.  We use it as a bracket filler so that nobody ever has to take a bye when we have uneven numbers of competitors.  Everyone wants to destroy this dead eyed horror.  They never manage to do so.

Robots in action

In one corner of the arena is a multiple fire "drop hazard".  Things fall from above.  A Teletubby figurine went first.  The pitchfork came down next missing the target and skewering little Tinky Winky.  If you look closely the robot in mid picture has a plush duck on it.  The duck is full of five pounds of lead.  Note the shredded styrofoam everywhere.  That saw actually worked.

Here we have a whole bunch of robots. As the competitors get eliminated we have kids keep them active.  Its fun to toss in 8 or so all at once for a chaotic melee.

Aftermath.  The "Chains of Doom" really put the dents and scuffs into this all metal robot. But the armor held.

Many thanks to the competitors, families and especially to my helpers.  Some are young, some are old, none are really "grown up".

Friday, November 11, 2016

My Dad's New Neighbors

It had been a while since I had gone to see my dad.  His funeral was in January.  This was my first visit since then.

It was an odd experience.  I have often stood in places and felt the weight of history, perhaps even the faint shadows of famous people who have stood in the same place.  But standing at my father's grave I did not get much of a sense of presence at all.

I had always imagined that he would be buried near the farm where he grew up.  Increasingly in his final years he spoke of it often.  But it did not turn out that way.  Arrangements were made hastily and his final resting place is far from anywhere he would call home.  So far he does not even have a grave marker.

On a day where it was not easy to find much to smile about I did rather enjoy a couple of my dad's new neighbors.

On the next little hill over we find this Tree Shaped Tombstone.  At first glance it appears to be a standard version.  

But I always take a closer look, and I am glad that I did because I found something that I had been trying to find for years...

Its a squirrel.  He's got an acorn.  Now with due respect to serious students of tombstones I think this is not an allegorical message of any sort.  It is pure whimsy and I sure appreciate it.

Now, if you want something really whimsical you could follow the squirrel's line of sight for a couple of hundred yards and you would encounter this:

It sure looks like a giant walnut to me.  Other than the name on the other side - and its a very commonplace one - no clues as to why this person chose to be remembered for all time in this eccentric fashion.

I know it does not matter that my father is "far from home" and surrounded by strangers.  In life dad was a quiet, retiring fellow who did not make friends quickly.  I don't actually think the shades of the departed loiter around the tombstones after midnight.  But hey, I could be wrong. And if so it seems as if a couple of dad's new neighbors are gifted with a sense of humor.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Tree Shaped Tombstones - New Lisbon, Wisconsin

A nice example from New Lisbon Wisconsin.  Liking that owl on top.

With a common name such as this - H. King - it is hard to say a lot with certainty.

But lets assume that he liked to hunt and fish.  I think the curved structure below the rifle and oar might be a deer antler.

I like birds on these monuments, owls in particular.  But this one looks more like a bull dog to me.
Sorry 'bout the blurry smudge on this and several other photos from this jaunt.  I apparently have somehow put a scratch on the lens and to my displeasure will be needing a new camera. Puts a look on my face somewhat similar to the pooch-owl.

Monday, November 7, 2016

Fish Wrapper Blues

I am showing my age here but I still have a smidgen of nostalgia for authentic, dead tree, delivered to your front door newspapers.  

There are many reasons why newspapers are in decline.  The electronic world provides faster news.  We don't as a general rule live in compact communities where delivery of the paper is practical.  To some extent we have gotten out of the habit of reading at all.

Oh, there are some places where they remain viable.  Its a treat to go to London and see several papers being sold and read widely on the streets.  It must have once been so in all major and most minor cities.  

We formerly got two papers.  One from a larger city an hours drive away, another from just down the street.  Each was enjoyable in its own way.  The Big Paper had a fun Bulletin Board feature that we read and sometimes wrote for.  I could follow my favorite baseball team in detail.  There were columnists whose writing style and even personality you got to know and appreciate.  The Small Town paper of course was mostly to see who had died, gotten arrested or on a happier note, hit a home run in last night's Little League game.

We let the Local go first.  Our children were grown up and no longer playing Little League (although I suspect they still could in the Dominican Republic!).  In a small community you generally hear quickly about the deaths.  We did not know many of the arrestees.

We stuck it out with the Big Paper for a long time.  They would up the price a little here, shave a few pages off the product there, but the ritual was the same.  Wake up.  Coffee. Get the paper off the front porch.  You generally would glean at least a little information from it. And in recent years we started doing the crosswords with the diligence of near oldsters with a mystical belief in mental excercise as a delaying tactic for senility.

Eventually they couldn't find a local delivery person and the paper stopped.  They ambled back into the picture a while later but with an offer that was ridiculously expensive based on past experience, but probably realistic given the economics of the business.  We declined.

Not long ago we heard from both The Local and The Big City Paper.  Similar offers so I guess this is some kind of Newspaper Industry trend.  "How would you like to get our paper, for approximately nothing?".  One offered a month's worth for a dollar.  Another a year's worth of the Sunday only for a price that worked out to fifty cents per week.  

Both offers came by circuitous routes.  Phone calls from obvious third party telemarketer types. But when we called up the newspapers we were told the offers were legit.  And it was something we actually appreciated especially at the bargain price.  We said yes to both.

The Local Paper turned up on our doorstep for about eight days and then stopped coming.  The Big City paper continues to arrive every Sunday.  But we have started to get notices that we are behind on a surprisingly hefty bill to them.  Having already paid up for a year of Bargain Papers I politely tell them that they are mistaken, but no doubt they will stop our paper soon. It seems to be a pattern.

So at some point the mighty Newspaper Industry has not only declined into a wan shadow of its former glories, but it has also been infiltrated by petty grifters.  Maybe these unaccountable but loosely affiliated telemarketer types are equivalent to soot smeared Newsboys of a long past era. I am pretty sure they would jack up the price of The Daily for a prosperous looking customer, and I would not at all put it past them to occasionally short the clientele of the Sports Section.

Saturday, November 5, 2016

Perfection in an Imperfect World

I rarely venture into political discussions here.  I have my opinions, others have theirs and the Internet hardly seems a place where thoughtful discourse happens.  Like many I am far from pleased with the options we have before us next week.

Obviously it is not a perfect world.  Far from it.  

But that does not mean it does not contain elements of perfection.  My grandson is walking and talking.  This year at Thanksgiving the Kids Table is where the fun will reside.  I leave photos of The Next Generation in the hands of his parents, but I can show you a couple of other examples of perfection.

A part I was supposed to machine to 3.50 inches.  Two extra "in your face" decimal points thank you very much.

And the maple tree that stands in front of Trowelsworthy Hall.  Perfect not only in its magnificence but in the fact that it always hangs onto its leaves longer than any other tree on the block.  It was a beautiful day, a perfect day.  But I looked up and said, "nah, not going to do any raking today.  Go and enjoy".

May you  find your own personal small Perfections in this Imperfect world.

Friday, November 4, 2016

Solid Work on the Beach

I have had fun learning Solidworks, the high powered 3D modeling program that enables you to virtually create almost anything.  I have dabbled a bit in using it for 3D printed parts and hope to graduate to having our FIRST team do more pre-build prototyping with it.

Its fun to play with.  Sure, there are suggested ways to do most things.  But there are quite a few "alternate routes" to follow as well.  Even when my assignments are done I enjoy tinkering with it.  

Quite a while ago I discovered that you could make the parts you were working on have different colors and textures.  You could make them out of pure gold.  Or mahogany.  You could polish them, make them checkerboard patterned.  When I had a difficult part done I would find someplace on it to add embossed letters.  I go back and forth between GIZMONICS INSTITUTE and ACME INCORPORATED.  I have even found a way to put a smiling badger on the corner of the 2D blueprints that are generated from the 3D part drawing.

But recently I found a marvelous, obscure little function that lets me get rid of the bland, light grey back ground and put my work....on a beach.  Or on a factory bench.  I think one of the rocky desert background scenes is a location often used in filming for the original Star Trek. Soon I expect to I figure out a way to import new and varied background scenes.  

What scenes, real or imagined should I then choose as backgrounds?

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

80/20 Plus a Bumper Crop of Good Ideas

In the "pre-season" before FIRST Robotics really gets going we do get the team together once in a while.  On a recent Saturday we had several things going on.  One was a chance to play with a batch of 80/20 parts. For those not in the technical mindset this stuff is preformed aluminum in an assortment of clever sizes and shapes.  You can make many things with them, and it is easy to bolt things together, take them apart, modify them.  This has very obvious appeal for FIRST where you have a crazy short time period to build something quite elaborate. And many teams actually build two identical machines.  One for competition the other to practice with.

Its fun stuff to play with and I think will make our build season run smoother.  I will insist on having a bit of steel and plywood in the build anyway.  Traditions must be upheld.

We got other things done too.  We are going to actually keep detailed notes this year. And we have more in the way of manuals and such.  So a ridiculously over engineered book shelf got made.  

Of course we drove last year's robot around a bit.  We do need to start training up the next generation of drivers.  But several of the day's most interesting revelations centered around...bumpers.

Bumpers.  All FIRST teams despise them.  But the competition rules require robots to have protective bumpers with very specific construction. Plywood, foam pool noodles and heavy vinyl fabric must be put together just so, and then attached to the frame of the robot in a fashion that allows very rapid change out between two different sets of bumpers.  It is a real pain.

Last year our bumpers were difficult to swap out.  You had to get a socket wrench into some very tight quarters and when you did there was always the risk of bumping delicate wire connections.  So eventually we found some little plastic do-dads that fit over the hex head of bolts.  This allows a team member with nimble fingers to reach in and tighten the bolt by hand.

But these little plastic parts cost 50 cents each and are hard to find.  Hey, lets just make some...

Fire up the solidworks software and ten minutes later we have a design.  Here the kids are setting up to print a small army of them but I said we only needed a few.

The new version and the old.  They work equally well.  Our first 3D printed widget.  The first I suspect, of many.

The bumper question came up because we have been doing a variety of outreach visits these days, sometimes with the robot, sometimes without.  It really is best to have at least the front bumpers on.  This one is looking saggy and beat up, we never did get the letters perfect and had to keep slapping more layers of packing tape on to keep them in place.

We are in the process of bringing on some new members.  One of our freshman new recruits listened to our tales of woe regarding making bumpers and said; "What's the big deal?".  Turns out she knows how to do upholstering sewing.  Someone who can make really nice looking bumpers....a cheap and cheerful method of attaching them.  I felt as if the Heavens opened up and a ray of sunshine came down from above.  A few faint notes of song from Angelic Choirs on High whispered to me for a brief rapturous moment....