Monday, October 30, 2017

Getting Testy....

I have a tendency - annoying to some - of often wondering how certain words came into existence, and how they relate to other similar sounding words. It usually comes up as a topic of conversation when I would have been better advised to be paying attention to something else.

This problem only gets worse "across languages".  Learning rudimentary Italian really opened the flood gates on this.

Consider the Italian for headache.  It is, should you ever need to know, "mal di testa".

Mal makes perfect sense.  Malaise, malware, malfeasance, mal de mer for sea sickness.  Mal is bad.

But testa.  Hmmmm.  Not an obvious connection there.  In Italian head is "capo".  So what's the deal?

In Latin "tessera" are small bits of stone or broken pottery.  They were used to make those spectacular mosaic floors.  The term for a broken bit of pottery apparently morphed to "testa" for pot.  It must at some intermediate point have designated one that was cracked or broken.  So "mal di testa" is a pain as if your head was a ceramic vessel that had been hit hard enough to crack it!

I suppose at one time or another most of us have been there, experienced that.

So the term appears to have nothing to do with "testes" for testicle, or with testify. The connection there was that in ancient Rome when you were called upon to tell the truth in court you had to, well, by grasping the appropriate area indicate that you were putting your manly reputation on the line.  What women were supposed to do in this circumstance is unclear.

In the late Roman world where this odd tesserae/testa mutation was happening there were by coincidence (or was it?) a type of vessel called a face pot.  I have excavated a few fragments over the years.  Intact they look like this:

These guys look pretty chipper, despite being in all probability burial urns for cremations.   

A potter up in northern England has been working to recreate ancient Roman vessels, even going to the trouble to build primitive Roman era kilns in which to fire them. One of my digging pals had the chance to help on this project.  Rather a nice assortment, some look happier than others...

Recently he posted an eerie picture of one of these being fired in the kiln:

Happy Halloween!

Friday, October 27, 2017

Forgotten Brewery Caves - Wisconsin's First!

To say which was the first brewery in Wisconsin you would first have to define brewery.  If you simply mean somebody making a bit of home brew, well, that will never be known for sure.  Was it a French fur trader morose in a land inimical to the Grape who tried his hand?  Or was it a British soldier at one of their outposts in Green Bay or Prarie du Chien, making a bit of ale with or without the knowledge of his sergeant?  We will never know.

But if you are looking for the first commercial brewery, the first one to actually make a product for sale to the public, you should go with John Phillips in Mineral Point.

An 1881 County history has the following to say about the establishment of the brewery...

"In 1835, the first manufacturing enterprise was begun in the place by John Phillips, who started a small brewery near Mineral Point mill, east of the end of High Street.  This establishment was continued for a good many years without a rival.  As to the merit of the beer manufactured or the method employed, tradition is silent, but probably it was brewed in common kettles, and was an indescribable tonic."

That seems a bit harsh.  Although I suppose the hard working lead miners out on the edge of the frontier may not have been very picky.

At this point in time by the way Mineral Point was not even in Wisconsin.  It was still part of Michigan Territory.

Phillips has an interesting story, which can be read in detail HERE.  Born in the Corwall region of England in 1800, he came to Mineral Point with several brothers in the mid 1830s.  A friendlier account of the brewery says that it produced a "very fine product".

The discovery of gold in California prompted many in the lead mining region to "Go West" including John Phillips.  He eventually ended up in Mariposa California running a hotel and tavern.  He died in California in 1862.

The Phillips brewery appears to have passed into the hands of a James Argall.  The location of the Argall brewery on an early map fits well with the description given for Phillip's establishment. 

Who actually dug the existing cave is unclear.  Phillips would have been primarily brewing ale, which did not demand the cold storage critical for lagers.  In fact, early 1870s ads for Argall's "Garden Brewery" say that Ales and Porters are constantly on hand, so perhaps the British product line was continued even into the era of lager popularity.  It would make sense given the large Cornish population of Mineral Point.  They did not all go to California after all.

The site today is behind a bunch of power transformers.  It should be OK to visit, no signs other than the obvious ones telling you not to touch electrical stuff.  The cave is in the steep hillside beyond Brewery Creek.  It is just south of where Doty Street (Hwy 39) crosses the creek.

It has a very nice doorway to let bats in but keep people out.  From the map above you get the sense that this cave came right off the back of the brewery building as it was set into the cliff face.

Are bat gates used enough that somebody manufactures them?  It seems more likely that this was a custom job.  

Bits of rusty metal from the original door frame.  Probably from the 1830s or 40s.

The cave proper is fairly standard.  Perhaps I was expecting too much, what with the ready availability of many skilled miners.  

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

My pending career as a toy bootlegger.

As I have mentioned in previous posts, in retirement I have become a student again.  In a seriously great deal, Wisconsin says that once you hit 60 tuition at both the university system and the technical college system is free.  Just a "thank you" for paying taxes all those years.

So I study course catalogs and if something interests me I sign up.

This fall I am doing just one class, an intro to mechanical design.  

It is interesting.  One of our early projects was to retro engineer a lego.  Get out the calipers, do careful measuring, draft it up in Solidworks and toss it on the 3D printer.

In this view it is hard to tell the original from the "knock off"

But the close up tells the tale.  Note the rougher surface on the example that was 3D printed.  Note also please that they fit together perfectly.

Monday, October 23, 2017

The Scary World of Richard Scarry

Richard Scarry books were old standbys when I was reading to my young children.  Yes, they can be a bit cluttered but they are visually appealing and I think the author had a good sense of how the child-mind operated.  But a few peculiar, in fact, disturbing little things can be seen in the early editions.  Jokes?  Ideas that used to be palatable and are no longer?

Below is a page from the 1963 copyrighted Best Word Book Ever.  This is from the 1980 printing that we read when my kids were little.  Now I read it to the grand kid.  I try not to point out some parts...

The little piglet seems unconcerned by the bacon in the case and the ham on the wall.....and hey, where did mom go?
Note: The 1980 revision apparently was done to edit out a whole bunch of other stuff that was becoming problematic.  Harsh parental discipline, cliched gender roles, etc. So it is not as if the 1963 version was not gone over with a critical eye.....

Friday, October 20, 2017

Middle School Robotics - Progress Report Mid October

Machines are starting to come together.  Of course the more ambitious and/or less realistic ones still have a ways to go and not much time left.  Others are just adding flourishes and practicing their driving.

A returning student with a four wheel drive machine.  The blinding white blur in the middle is a super bright LED.

I had figured that the opportunity to 3D print parts might lead to some really creative stuff.  Oh well, blue skulls are a little creative.  The red stuff is sparkle-glitter duct tape.  It should look cool with all the LEDs and lasers that will be around this year.

Sometimes you just have to keep it basic.  The class is popular enough that there is a waiting list in case somebody drops out.  Half way through the class this happened.  I asked the kid at the top of the list if he was still interested.  He was.  With very short time available he has made good strides.  This is made out of some kind of mirror finish plastic.

Another machine built with that mirror finish stuff.  And lots of nails.  Atop it all is a very bright little laser.  The student is actually named something else so I don't get to ask "Just what do you think you're doing, Dave...."

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Forgotten Brewery Caves - Cassville Wisconsin

This post is about the process of hunting down a brewery cave.  

You have to start somewhere.  Various lists have been compiled, mostly from tax records, that can tell you which towns large and small had breweries in the 19th century.  Old Breweries is an aptly named source and while a bit clunky to navigate does have good information.

Once you have a location that intrigues you a visit to your state historical society's web site will often yield more info.  In the case of Cassville Wisconsin it turned up this photo:

A nice early brewery set back into a bluff.  A little stream runs in front. I wonder what that shed by the bridge was for? A bit more research can roughly frame the dates.

Cassville Wisconsin is in an out of the way corner of the state, right on the Mississippi river down in the extreme southwest.  The brewery is known to have survived Prohibition, not going under until 1938.  The beginning of the enterprise is a little harder to nail down.  It should be early.  This is the Lead Mining region an area that boomed in the 1840s, dipped a bit in the 50's when many of the miners went off to the Gold Rush, then had a modest resurgence during the Civil War, when demand for lead obviously rose.  After 1865 this became a backwater and starting a new brewery would be unlikely.

The earliest reference I have found is in an 1881 county history. It relates that a William Schmitz came to Cassville in 1855.  He was in the hardware business for an unspecified length of time before building the brewery.  He sold it to a Hugo Grimm in 1880.

The earliest evidence on a map comes from an 1868 version found again in the online archives of the Wisconsin State Historical Society.

Sometimes, and this is the case here, you get a map with some perspective issues.  The brewery is near the corner of Bluff and Du Chien, on the "town side" of the creek that is not shown.  Ignore that big lake up above, the Cassville map is simply a little insert on the edge of a larger county map.

Sanborn maps are another valuable research tool.  They were put together by a fire insurance company and give great detail on 19th and early 20th century cities and towns.  Houses, barns, sheds, they are all shown in great detail.  Non flammable things like caves are hit and miss.  Usually a big manufacturing establishment such as a brewery would have its own detail drawing.  Such is the case with the Cassville brewery.  Oddly, the earlier versions don't show as much as the 1912 map.  Take a look:

My apologies, the screen cap came out quite blurry but does it show the buildings as seen in the roughly contemporary photo.  But what's that set of dotted lines going to the left and back into the hillside?  

This sounds rather odd.  "Fermenting Chips"?  It must be a typo for Caves. It makes perfect sense to have a 200 foot long cave going back into the rock face of the bluff.  And I'm guessing it had been there since the brewery was founded but just had not been included on the earlier Sanborn maps.  After all, they were mostly worried about flammable things and a tunnel going back into the hillside kinda isn't.

So, I was expecting to see brewery ruins and a sealed off tunnel entrance.  C'mon, lets have a look.

The little stream is called Furnace Branch.  There was once a smelting furnace nearby; you can see it on the 1868 map. The road is of course called Brewery Hollow Road.  The earlier brewery was on the right bank.  The later one sprawled out along the left bank.  A very new foundation can be seen in the foreground.

Of course there was, as expected, a modern cement cap laid into some older structures.  As I said, they tended to seal caves off in breweries that kept running long into the refrigeration era.

Down in one corner there was a little open niche.  Too small to have been made by and for foolish teenage vandals, I suspect that water erosion and/or critters made this hole.

Just big enough to reach in and snap a blind photo....

This is rather odd.  I had expected to be seeing the floor of the tunnel but instead the bottom of the modern slab is at about the roof level of what looks to be a mostly filled in tunnel.  But it clearly is the tunnel shown on the map and it has all the hall marks of a brewery cave.

Now I should not have to say this but will.  Don't mess with sites like this.  There is nothing to be learned by digging in.  Sure, the roof is probably pretty solid but this is exactly the kind of place where foolhardy visitors sometimes come to grief from bad air and other assorted hazards.  Be content with this safe photo.

Monday, October 16, 2017

Tree Shaped Tombstones - A Very Close Look

Sometimes I snap a picture of an otherwise mundane "Tree Shaped Tombstone" for a specific reason....only to then discover something else, something more interesting.

Here is the long range view.  Carl Wilke has a nice monument, the linked chain representing affiliation with the International Order of Odd Fellows Lodge.  I was fascinated by the horizontal fissure above the chain.  Let's zoom in close....

Notice the darker grey mortar in the crack?  It is evidence of a repair job.  Probably this tombstone broke along the join between the upper and lower segments.  The repair is rather slip shod, no doubt moss and moisture will do their insidious work as the years wear on.  But there is something Odder than the Odd Fellows going on here.......look at the texture of the weathered fact, let's look very closely at that.

Fossils!  The little snail shell in mid frame is the most obvious but there are also a variety of little coral like things.

It makes you think.  Here we have a monument created by a man and for the remembrance of one.  The details will erode and vanish, leaving the man unremembered while exposing in the process evidence of life that preceded him by millions of years!

Friday, October 13, 2017

Middle School Robotics - Perks of the Job

After a long career in medicine I had endured my fill of nonsense bureaucracy.  Meetings, guidelines, The Way Things Are Done.  So do I perhaps take a bit too much delight in thumbing my nose at this sort of thing?  Well. Maybe.

The Voyagers after school program where I run middle school classes provides the students with a snack.  A healthy snack.  Milk. Granola bars.  Ugh.

Years ago when my robotics students succeeded in talking me into starting a Dungeons and Dragons class I went to the school staff and said "Look, I'll do it on one condition. Serious gamers need Mountain Dew and Cheezits.  Make it happen."

It was in some sub rosa fashion, made to happen.  For one year the students and I wallowed in salty caffeinated glory while dispatching trolls and orcs.

The next year somebody musta blabbed to the Carb Police because the kids were back on granola rations.  

But I to this day get a special treat for every class I teach.  Granola? Oh, I think not.  

Do a volunteer job for 17 years and you can get away with a lot.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Manifestly Untrue

Although in this case Nut Free refers to the snacks the kids are issued.  More on this nonsense tomorrow......

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Zombie Pirates versus the NFL

I have not commented previously on the latest silly controversy, that involving the NFL.

For perhaps the benefit of my UK readers, a brief explanation.  This season a number of players have refused to stand for the playing of our National Anthem.  League rules actually require them to do so but some have decided not to, opting instead to kneel as some sort of protest.

Exactly what is being protested is not always clear, the initial incident involved a player upset with police shootings of black individuals.  Now it seems a more nebulous expression of broad spectrum disapproval.

Of course the players have First Amendment rights and this is clearly a form of peaceful protest.  It would be more impressive if they were actually facing some consequences for taking an unpopular stand. You know, fines, suspension, loss of endorsement contracts, that sort of thing.

But the team owners, and so far the advertisers, have either been verbally supportive or have by their silence been tacitly supportive.  This is just plain stupid on their part.

Football fans in general lean towards the conservative side of the political spectrum. Players giving offense is bad, but with the frequent scandals those guys generate - domestic abuse, substance abuse, assaults - fans have gotten a bit jaded.

But for the owners to condone this.....its gonna cost 'em.  Ticket sales, overpriced merchandise, bargaining leverage with advertisers....there's gonna be pain.  I don't credit athletes collectively with much in the way of smarts or an understanding of what goes on outside their coddled little bubble lives.  But owners are businessmen.  

Ah well, I'm not a football fan so they won't be out any of my money anyway.  But there is a fan revolt brewing.  When on a recent road trip through southern Wisconsin I saw this little tableau:

The signs say "We stand for the FLAG" and "No NFL here!"

In case the above photo is not clear enough, the skeletal football players are being hotly pursued by:

Pirate Zombie Skeletons with Velociraptors!

Ah, how silly you think.  And besides, its Wisconsin so picking on figures wearing Vikings and Bears jerseys is just good fun.  But the real evidence of a fan base revolt is stage left...

The skeleton player on the left, the one beating the hastiest retreat, is wearing a Green Bay Packers jersey.  And in Wisconsin they love their Packers.  But not as much as they love America.

Monday, October 9, 2017

Worm Hole Aliens

Fall in the air so on a recent weekend it was time to get the "Up North" place ready for winter.  The dock is now in, the firewood stacked neatly, a bit of needed painting attended to.

There was a little time left over for leisure pursuits.  So we harvested hazel nuts.

Usually it takes a bit to get me interested in this sort of Granola/Paleodiet/locovore type nonsense but it was a gloriously sunny day, and besides, I remembered finding hazel nuts in perfect preservation down in the 18 century old anaerobically preserved layers back in my archeology days.

Here's what they look like au naturale.

When you pull off those brownish clumps you get little clusters that look like this:

We ended up with three good sized grocery bags full of these.  The next task is to shuck out the smooth brown nuts and discard the husks.  It was a time consuming process.  Guess I know now what the pioneers did before any sort of modern entertainment technology.

As you sit there automatically husking these things a sort of trance state sets in.  And darn it all I  found myself staring at the pods and thinking....hey, these look familiar. Lemme just take a closer look....

Happily nothing jumped out and grabbed my face, but hazel nuts do have a sort of peculiar Sci Fi connection.  Because not infrequently you encounter:

Yep, a Worm Hole.

End result of three bags of pods was about 5 quarts of hazel nuts.  Once we crack 'em open and get the actual edible part out I figure we can boil it all down and make one jar of Nutella, stuff I don't actually much care for anyway....

Friday, October 6, 2017

Middle School Robotics - Progress report early October

This year I am trying to make the basic robotics class a little less....basic.  So among other things I am asking each student to design and 3D print one part for their little robot.  Here are a few examples.  

Most of the above items are hubs, little spacers that mate servos to wheels.  The green ones are for a turtle themed robot.  The little triangular "Doom" flag is an interesting choice.  This student decided to spend some time working on a little flag before actually building anything else!

I'm not sure how much fear the name "Sheep" will inspire in its foes but, hey, I let the kids build whatever they want.

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

A Season that Continued, A Season that Ended

Literary "salons" in general sound awful.  So pretentious.  But I would very much have liked to be around in the era when two of my favorite authors J.R.R. Tolkien and C. S. Lewis held forth at a very informal pub based gathering called "The Inklings". 

Pints of ale instead of short rations of an amusing little Cabernet.  Preliminary readings and critical discussion of the manuscripts for The Lord of the Rings and That Hideous Strength.  The company of writers who had all lead fascinating even heroic lives.  Sign me up.

So, quick now, what more modern literary figure would you offer a seat at some hypothetical Inklings group should you be privileged to attend one in the After Life?

My nominee:

Angelo Bartlett "Bart" Giamatti was not primarily a writer.  No, like Tolkien and Lewis he was a University professor, specifically in the field of English Renaissance Literature.  He'd fit right in with the Inklings.  But Bart Giamatti was much more.  He did not fight in the trenches of World War One as did Lewis and Tolkien.  But he was President of Harvard University, and quite remarkably.....The Commissioner of Major League Baseball.  

I am biased of course, but I consider baseball to be the most poetic of sports and in Bart Giamatti baseball found its perfect leader.

He will be remembered primarily for the life time ban he imposed on Pete Rose.  It almost seems quaint now.  Rose was a phenomenal player, one of the greatest ever.  But he bet on baseball games.  Giamatti considered the matter carefully....and banned him.  Exclusion from the Baseball Hall of Fame is an Excommunication from which no penance can restore the state of Grace.  

If something like this came up today I have no doubt that the player involved would hire fierce lawyers and a firm of unctuous consultants.  Veiled threats of legal action would alternate with sobbing excuses of "gambling addiction" or some other dodge to avoid responsibility and consequences.  Such is our modern world.  

But I will always remember Giamatti for something else.  Because he once wrote what I consider to be the most profound musing on the passing of time, and of our own mortality.

On a grey fall day when the Minnesota Twins have been eliminated from the playoffs consider the following:

“[Baseball] breaks your heart. It is designed to break your heart. The game begins in the spring, when everything else begins again, and it blossoms in the summer, filling the afternoons and evenings, and then as soon as the chill rains come, it stops and leaves you to face the fall all alone. You count on it, rely on it to buffer the passage of time, to keep the memory of sunshine and high skies alive, and then just when the days are all twilight, when you need it most, it stops.”

For loyal baseball fans there will of course be another Spring, another Season.  But for Bart Giamatti there would be no new season.  After just five months as Commissioner he died suddenly of a heart attack.  Too soon.  At age 51, far too soon.

He had a lot more to offer the world, more poetry, more leadership.  But I take comfort in the strong suspicion that he has been "called up to the Big Club" and that in some place where the seasons never change, and where the Yankees are elsewhere atoning for their evil, Bart Giamatti holds forth over endless pints in the august company of Tolkien and Lewis and Twain and Suetonius.

Monday, October 2, 2017

Remembering Halsey Hall

Obviously events in baseball have jogged a few old memories, which sends one directly to the great repository of memories, You Tube.

When I was a youngster the radio voice of the Minnesota Twins was the inimitable Halsey Hall.  His was a deep, mirthful voice.  He became the Twins announcer fairly late in life, after a long career of newspaper journalism and of being the play by play announcer for the minor league Minneapolis Millers as well as for the University of Minnesota Golden Gophers.*

Rain delays were a delight when Halsey was at the microphone.  He had a lifetime of fascinating and usually humorous anecdotes on all matters sporting.  Most of these stories probably were at the time enhanced by alcohol.  When one of Halsey's younger co-workers was detailed to carry the baggage on road trips he asked Halsey what the heavy bag was.

"My Library", was the response.

It was considered odd that the library made a distinct clinking noise when it was set down.

Here is a vintage clip that seems to be an out take for a commercial Halsey made for Hamm's Beer.  Ray Scott was another local sports broadcaster......

The start of the tape is no doubt came out of a musty archive somewhere. 

Two thoughts:

1. Halsey knew his way around both sides of a bar.  He intentionally poured that glass to overflow just to bedevil Mr. Scott!

2. I considered Mr. Hall to be a most worthy fellow.  One of my kids got the middle name Halsey!
*If you wonder how ferocious a team name "Gophers" is, well, I wonder that also.