Monday, April 30, 2018

Time Capsule - Lookin' good in uniform

As various extended family households begin to be "tidied up" there are boxes opened, trash and treasures revealed.  Time Capsule will be an occasional glimpse into these.  I'm not sure who might find them interesting but you could say that about most real time capsules dug up years later....


The artifact:

Its a memento book of my Cub Scout days.  From the photos it appears to be 1965 to 1967.  The cover is plywood with the lettering stenciled on and then scorched with a 'wood burning' tool.  You don't see those around any more.

I think this is actually my original art work.  The glued on bandanna is a nice touch. Lately I have been watching the Hornblower series, a naval epic from the Napoleonic era.  It amuses me how much this hat makes me look like a Royal Navy captain.

The photos are a mixture of black and white and color.  This picture apparently was taken at somebody else's house.  It is not our fireplace.

It looks as if my rank is "Wolf".  Back in the day the sequence was Wolf-Bear-Lion. It was sort of based on Kipling's Jungle Book I think.

I am smiling in all these pictures.  Having been reflecting of late on my early years and family it looks as if it was happier than I remember it.

Friday, April 27, 2018

Middle School Robotics Spring of 2018 - Chapter Three

We've been moving along at a decent pace with our middle school robot.  I always set these projects up with very ambitious goals, really pushing the limits of what a small group of absolute newbies might accomplish with a few hours of after school time.  It has been a good group, and if they've made mistakes, well, that's part of the learning process.

With about a month - that translates to roughly seven more build/programming sessions, we had this:

You might think that a picture of a boxy robot parked in a closet is about the most boring thing imaginable, but I'll let you in on a secret.....a secure storage closet is one of the crucial elements to any school based robot program.  Without it you can't assume that your tools and laptops will be where you left them.

In this picture we have dropped the FIRST control board onto the robot and have mostly finished the drive train.  It moves about at a pace appropriate for a crowded environment....slowly.
I've come to the conclusion recently that robots really do have a rudimentary personality.  Whimsical, difficult, reliable, these are all traits you might encounter.  But they are not so much like humans, maybe more like dogs.

And as with any dog it will wait patiently in its kennel but is never really happy until its humans turn up.  A couple of pics from a more recent build session.

Here I have been made happy by the addition of Delrin bearing blocks.  This helps keep the motor mounts from bending in when the robot gets a bit heavier than it should.  The students have been made happy by the addition of a rotating "Highway Department" light.  Hey, we need something for a Power On indicator so it may as well be showy.

The design goal of this robot is to cruise around the cafeteria and dispense cartons of chocolate milk.  Here a servo gate opens and closes to drop the carton lowest down in the stack.  We will be adding small solenoids that pop in and out to hold the other cartons in their place until the gate is closed again.  The whole assembly rotates on a pivot so as to go left, center or right.

Not a bad project, but it is about even money whether we get it fully operational by the end of class sessions.

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Time Capsule - Ghostly Cub Scout

As various extended family households begin to be "tidied up" there are boxes opened, trash and treasures revealed.  Time Capsule will be an occasional glimpse into these.  I'm not sure who might find them interesting but you could say that about most real time capsules dug up years later....

Sometimes what you can remember is only a hint, just a whiff of the past.  In this case I remember the smell of vinegar.

Regular visitors to Detritus of Empire have often endured some low quality photography.  But nothing quite this crude.  Tucked into the Cub Scout book were these two grainy, overexposed photos.  Irregular in size and slightly curled they don't look like conventional pictures.

I vaguely remember doing a photography project in Cub Scouts.  We had some kind of film that you could develop yourself.  

With no windows the downstairs bathroom was the darkest place in the house.  You took the exposed film, which was slippery and white, and swirled it around in a dish of stuff that smelled like and probably was, vinegar.  Ghostly images slowly appeared.

Both pictures seem to be in our basement.  I think this might be my older brother, or perhaps somebody in my Cub Scout Den.

A year or two before these photos were taken we had a serious fire in the house and this was one of the few rooms left untouched.

Monday, April 23, 2018

Walking into the Past

We met up with some old friends from Residency recently.  Three decades and change since we'd seen each other.  Lots to talk about.  We did a variety of things one of which was a walk at the University of Minnesota Arboretum on a day when unwelcome snow was melting fast.  

There was a sculpture garden section and I had to pose with this one.  It was just so very, very familiar.....

Oh, c'mon, you've seen this before.......

From the original Star Trek series I give you "The Guardian of Tomorrow", an alien device able to transport you through time and space.  It did not seem to be powered up when I walked through it.

I actually did a bit of internet searching, trying to figure out what happened to the original prop.  Since Trek was cancelled unceremoniously and with scant possibility of revival it is reasonable to assume this was just scrapped.  But nobody seems to know for sure.  

The the sculpture is called, rather prosaically, "Stone Arch" It was supposedly built in 1995 but with an artifact able to bend space and time such information is meaningless.

Friday, April 20, 2018

Time Capsule - So Long Royalty Checks....

As various extended family households begin to be "tidied up" there are boxes opened, trash and treasures revealed.  Time Capsule will be an occasional glimpse into these.  I'm not sure who might find them interesting but you could say that about most real time capsules dug up years later....


The trove of mementos that make up this "Time Capsule" series came to me courtesy of my brother.  When he showed me this he said I had written some pretty good poetry for a kid.

Reading this I did have doubts. Oh,  sure I was a precocious little imp but "taper"- meaning a candle - was not a common word even back in the early 1960s.  And the theme of most of these entries was rather oriented towards bugs.  I seem to remember being more into dinosaurs, just as my grandson is two generations down the line.

With a bit of searching I was able to track down the source of these little ditties.  It seems I was only being asked to copy from a book of poems by a woman named Aileen Fisher.  As the pages are titled Spelling and Writing I would guess the criteria were different for each exercise.

I don't know if I was also graded on quality of bug drawings but I have to say this is pretty good work.

Ms. Fisher was a much beloved author of poems and stories for children.  In the 1930's she moved out west to live in a log cabin with her fellow author Olive Rabe.  Back then nobody made a fuss about this sort of thing.  Now I fear school children - who properly remain primarily interested in bugs and dinosaurs - would be expected to celebrate it.

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

A Three Season Walk

It snowed for three straight days over the weekend.  Today it is warm and melty.  Tomorrow it might snow again.  Pretty odd weather for the second half of April.

But walks must go on under all conditions.  Today's was just a bit weird.  

I am carrying my camera more of late, getting both my legs and my photographer's eye ready for travels ahead.

Near as I can tell this is where an oak leaf fell on top of the foot of snow.  With the bright sun and the color difference, it warmed up and melted its way right down to the sidewalk underneath.

 A better view with some depth to the image.

It's not just this Winter/Spring that has been odd.  Last year's Fall/Winter was too.  I never finished raking the front yard because the big maple tree out front never dropped half its leaves.  We still had nice fall colors long after snow covered the ground.

Some of them are up there still.  Probably they will coexist with new spring buds for a short while.

Monday, April 16, 2018

Time Capsule - Farmers and Mechanics

As various extended family households begin to be "tidied up" there are boxes opened, trash and treasures revealed.  Time Capsule will be an occasional glimpse into these.  I'm not sure who might find them interesting but you could say that about most real time capsules dug up years later....

The artifact:

What I remember:

This was a very organized system to encourage thrift among grade school children.  Every week, I think on Friday, the Farmers and Mechanics bank deposits were collected. The main office of the bank was in down town Minneapolis.  Years later my regular bus transfer spot was right there and I stood at the feet of the extremely buff looking mascots who were on the front of the building.  I vaguely recall cashing out the account when I was in high school.  I have no recollection of what I did with it.  It might have been enough for a couple of dates with an early girl friend.

His brother the Mechanic was equally macho

What I don't remember.

Something about the dates here seems wrong.  In June of 1969 I figure I had just finished 7th grade.  I don't remember there being a School Deposit Program in the chaos that was Jordan Junior High.  Perhaps this was an old, left over deposit card?  That would explain the long gap since the last deposit in January of 1968.  That would have still been in 6th grade at Lowell Elementary School.  

I had also not remembered that there was a punch card.  I suppose an early computer must have been involved.  

I wonder what my sources of revenue were back then.  I guess I got some birthday money once in a while.  I remember my brother and I prowling back alleys looking for returnable pop bottles.  But the latter funds were immediately reinvested in junk food.

I suppose also in the category of things I don't remember, or perhaps never knew, when did the emblem of the bank morph from the rather Bolshie looking Heroes of Labor into the little girl with the big dog as seen on the record folder and deposit card?

Friday, April 13, 2018

Middle School Robotics Spring of 2018 - Chapter Two

If the goal of the middle school robotics classes is to give up and coming recruits a taste of the high school FIRST robotics program we are off to a most excellent start. By which I mean all sorts of things have gone awry and there are obstacles to over come.

A snow day.  In April!  This threw the build schedule off entirely.  My solution?  Invite the Tuesday builders group to attend the Thursday programmers group and vice versa. We have kids interested in both who are "cross training" in this fashion.

A couple more issues cropped up.  While we have kids trained in on a metal cutting saw I had not realized that the geometry of the set up does not allow us to cut longer sections of metal.  Like, uh, the lengths you need to actually build a robot.  So it was improv time with some work a little less precise than I would have preferred.  On a similar note the available stock of prefab 80/20 was used up more quickly than I had expected.  (But not more quickly than I should have expected).  So the upper works of the robot will have to be made of lighter materials.  This is probably good in any case. I'll have to buy some stuff....but a lesson for me this time, there is a budget for complicated projects, it is not necessary to build entirely from scraps and left overs.

So it is starting to look like a robot.

Our high school programmer who is helping with this is making slow headway.  Neither he nor I had expected this much difficulty getting the wireless control system up and running.  I have a student or two working alongside him on the notion that understanding why things don't work is a superb basis for eventually understanding why they do.  I asked one of the middle schoolers so employed "so, does this stuff make any sense to you?"  His answer was "sort of" which already puts him ahead of me on the software front.

Assuming that hardware and software continue to work in parallel we have eight sessions left.  That should be enough to get something running.

Meanwhile kids are learning some new tools.  The "Chop Saw" seems a particular hit although it is an imprecise cutting method that I should not be teaching them.  Soldering, tapping holes, making and working with a jig...all somewhat reasonable stuff.

I've even tried out a few new construction methods that should factor in next year on the high school build.  

Any session with some progress and no bandaids in a good one.

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Augie and Mickey - Ex POWs at odds....

I gave a talk last week, on a topic I had researched twenty years ago and had not revisited since.  I am rather implausibly the worlds leading authority on baseball as played by World War Two POWs.  I literally did "write the book" on it.

It was well attended and an interesting stroll down memory lane.  So many stories.  

The 2018 baseball season is off and running so I think I'll just toss in the occasional odd baseball story.  Today lets meet Mickey Grasso and Augie Donatelli.

Newton Michael Grasso was a minor league catcher who signed on to wear Uncle Sam's uniform after Pearl Harbor.  He was in the first batch of American POWs to enter the Stalag system, being captured in early 1943 during German counter attacks in North Africa.

Mickey spent most of his captivity at Stalag IIIb, a fairly tolerable prison camp where he was able to play ball in both the '43 and '44 "seasons".  

Post war he resumed his baseball career.  He had a brief call up with the New York Giants at the end of 1946, then went back to the minor leagues until he caught on with the Washington Senators in 1950.

He had a decent career, and was the only former POW to play in the World Series when he got into one game as a defensive replacement for the Cleveland Indians in 1954.

Perhaps because of his time in an authoritarian system, Grasso hated umpires and held a Pacific Coast League record for being ejected from games 23 times in one season!

Of course Mickey Grasso was not the only guy in baseball to be a former POW, or to have some strong opinions.  Meet Augie Donatelli.

Augie broke his ankle when his B-17 was shot down over Berlin, so his early ball at Stalag Luft IV was as an umpire.  He took a liking to it and post war went to school on the GI Bill.  To Bill McGowan's Umpiring School no less.

Augie also did his time in the minors, working his way up to the National League where he was respected as one of the best arbiters of his day.  He made it to the World Series several times as an umpire.  Never forgetting his early years digging coal a mile underground, he was one of the driving forces behind the founding of the Major League Umpires Union.

Perhaps because of his time in an authoritarian system Augie Donatelli also had a pugnacious streak.  But what he hated was unruly players and managers.  Official records are not kept but he likely set a National League record for ejections.  He once tossed two batters in a row!

All of this is lead up to a question that has been bothering me quite a bit.  Was there ever a time when Mickey Grasso played in a game where Augie Donatelli was an umpire?   It should have happened.  Not only was baseball a smaller world then than it is now, darn it all it is just something that the universe really should have arranged for us.

In private life both were said to be fine and generous men.  But after Augie called "Play Ball" I figure anything could have happened.  I have given the matter some  thought and done a bit of research.

The list of places I can document Grasso playing is:

1941 New Jersey Senators.  minor league
1945? Trenton NJ. minor league
1946 New York Giants. National League
1946/47 Jersey City. minor league
1948/49 Seattle. Pacific Coast (minor) League
1950/51/52/53 Washington Senators. American League
1954 Cleveland Indians. American League

After being released by the Indians he kicked around for another four years in assorted low minor league towns....Indianapolis, Miami, Chattanooga.

The list of leagues where Augie Donatelli umpired is:

1946 Pioneer League.  This was a low minor league out west.  Idaho, Utah, etc
1947 "Sally" League  (South Atlantic Class A).
1948/49  International League AAA level.  This was an East Coast league.
1950 to 1974 National League.

So the opportunities for Grasso and Donatelli to be in the same place were quite limited.  While they both came up through the minors in the late 1940s they were always in different leagues.  Then when they made it to the Big Leagues in the same year, 1950, one was in the American and one in the National League.  Mickey was  never a good enough player, or Augie an ump with enough seniority, to appear in an All Star Game that early.  And inter league play had not been invented then.

Of course it still could have happened, this meeting behind the plate of two former Prisoners of War.  But it would have had to be in some spring training game of the early '50s, perhaps at Tinker Field in Orlando, long the spring home of the Senators.

The best I could find in my march through the records was this: a game in 1953 where Grasso was catching and the umpire's name was Rommel!

Oddly Mickey did not get thrown out of that game but his manager did.  Maybe Rommel heard wrong.

Monday, April 9, 2018

On Candidates and Candor

In the times we live in politics and political campaigns go on without interruption.  It is quite tedious and there is a general sense that our politicians have less candor than in times past.  This is True and I have the proof.

They all start out as candidates.  The word Candidate comes from the Latin "candidum" meaning white, pure, sincere.  It is a word that has not made it through into modern English in any strength but in medicalese you do find "Candida albicans"* the yeast that causes nasty infections of the nether regions; not an entirely inappropriate metaphor for politics.

The connection between Candidate and Candidum goes back to ancient Rome.  In that time and place if you were running for office you wore a special toga, one that was dazzling white.  You were then "candidatus", wearing the white robe.  Was this in fact an assertion that you were better, purer, more enlightened?  Or just a way to stand out in a crowd?

The sense of being bright or shining naturally gives us other descendent words.  Candle for instance.

The sense of an office seeker being candid or speaking with candor derives from the original "candidatus" but should be regarded as an obsolete concept in the current environment.

* As albicans also means white this is one of many medical terms that makes little sense once you stop to think about it.

Friday, April 6, 2018

Dispatches from the Comic Universe

Time for one of my infrequent forays into commentary on popular culture.  All such commentary naturally makes one immediately a great deal less popular...

The last couple of months have been the necessary dreary time 'twixt winter and spring.  And so we've done what modern folk do, watched stuff on Netflix.  Not binge watching I'll have you know, we have a two episode per sitting limit lest sitting become a bit too comfortable.

Of late we've been indulging in "Agents of Shield".  This is an honest to goodness network show (ABC) that has been on for six seasons and counting.  For us it made it past the Netflix threshold.  By which I mean, the pilot and first few episodes of almost anything are interesting.  They are designed and budgeted to be so.  But how quickly does the show slouch into lower production values and into standard, hackneyed plot patterns?

Agents of Shield holds up fairly well.  It is part of what is nerve-gratingly called "The Marvel Comic Universe".  I am dismayed by the degree to which comic book culture pervades modern society, but credit where it is due, comic books with their long story arcs and with their writers being considerably smarter than their audience, actually do know how to tell a story.

So we get characters that do surprising things.  Minor plot points that go in unexpected directions.  A few elements to the story that actually, shockingly, make you think.  We are now into season three.

But it has some odd elements, things I blame not on the writers or actors but on the Executive Producer, a certain Joss Whedon.

For instance.  The protagonist of the story is Agent Coulson.  He is a fun character, played well by Clark Gregg.  Coulson/Greg, and he plays it so well they are one and the same, is a pudgy guy in his mid 50's who is out there applying karate kicks and judo moves to bad guys half his age.  Yes, I know he supposedly has some weird Alien DNA thing going on, but honestly, isn't he just a mirror for the presumed target audience....pudgy middle aged guys who used to read comic books?

Also, lets compare Gregg and Whedon:

Pudgy, mid 50's, receding hairlines.....

Well fine.  You should not be too critical of a "comic book show" and if Mr. Whedon wants to indulge in fantasies of being able to defeat multiple trained killers in hand to hand combat, so be it.  But there are some other aspects to this Fantasy World that bother me.

Joss Whedon is famous for portraying "strong female characters".  This means he likes to have 95 pound svelte women in black leather cat suits be able to beat up legions of bad guys.  In the process of this they often get battered about severely, shot, thrown violently into brick walls, etc.  In the real world these "strong" women would have broken bones most episodes and likely significant brain and spinal cord injuries on a regular basis.  Indeed, a quick look around in real life shows that the two main female characters have had respectively, a major knee injury (ACL) and a stress fracture (forearm).  That of course is with stunt doubles doing most of the "strong" stuff.  The injury rate among them must be horrendous, but seems to be unreported.

Whedon claims to be a "feminist" and justifies his peculiar violent femme fetish in this fashion.  With recent allegations about sexual predation in Hollywood Joss has been the target of many accusations.  As the bulk of them come from his ex-wife I can't comment on their veracity.  But presumably this is a private failing, a betrayal of his family.  "Chicks dig feminist dudes" seems a feeble defense but not an unrealistic one. And the entertainment industry has long been rife with this sort of stuff.  How much of it is a consensual transaction between those wanting opportunities and those able to grant them...for a price?

But what really bothers me about Whedon is his hypocrisy regarding guns.  He is - no surprises here - a staunch advocate of gun control.  Whose creative work shows people using guns often, promiscuously, and unrealistically.

Its the usual nonsense.  "Bad Guys" are usually wearing black, storm trooper uniforms complete with dark glasses so you can really depersonalize them.  The body armor they are wearing is useless, a single pistol shot fired by one of the Shield Agents - probably while leaping through the air - sends the "Hydra Agent" to the floor in a neat crumpled, out of picture frame fall.  Nobody bleeds.  Nobody weeps for their mother. Nobody is wounded and left paralyzed or with grievous disability.

Yes, directors of all political stripe have played this ghoulish scam for a long time. In recent years, given the reliable Progressive bent of most moguls, it has been offered up by the likes of Whedon, Spielberg, Lucas....

If you wanted a real view of what happens when you shoot somebody I suggest that the somewhat Conservative Clint Eastwood* has the most accurate vision in his superb 1992 Best Picture winner  "Unforgiven".

As the man says...

*Mr. Eastwood has gone on the record as being in favor of some gun control measures.  

Wednesday, April 4, 2018

A Real Estate Listing from Beyond Time and Space

A house in our neighborhood.  It doesn't seem to be for sale but when it goes on the market that TARDIS in the back yard is going to make the real estate listing interesting.

Date Built:  uncertain.
Square Footage:  infinite.
View:  Anywhere you want.
Previous owners:  Either one or thirteen depending on how you view the reincarnations of Doctor Who!

Monday, April 2, 2018

Middle School Robotics, Spring of 2018. Chapter One.

I've done an advanced robotics class at the middle school on and off for many years.  It has always been logistically difficult because it conflicted with my May archeology jaunts.  This year I have simply rearranged the latter.

The advanced robotics class has gotten a bit easier now because I can draw upon spare parts and experienced high school team members from the FIRST team.  In fact I am pretty up front about this is our FIRST robotics minor league farm club.

So far we have piles of parts and kids learning new skills....tapping holes for bolts, working with 80/20 fasteners, dreaming up mechanisms.

The class also proved fairly adept at brainstorming and doing some basic calculations. Their idea is to drive around the cafeteria dispensing cartons of chocolate milk.  They walked an appropriate pace with a timer running and figured out how many feet per second was reasonable.  This evolved into calculations for wheel diameter and RPMs for our drive motors.   Then it is just raid the parts boxes.

The milk dispenser will rotate with this AxMan surplus motor and this Lazy Suzan device.  They have a workable looking mechanism figured out and started.

With the milk carton of course....real world testing.

Maybe we get this beast constructed in the available sessions, maybe not.  But the main goal in any event is learning safe construction technique and learning the right way to do things.

The list of things that are never the Right Answer:  Hot Glue.  Duct Tape.  Vague, poorly described mechanisms....
The mechanical build team meets on Tuesdays.  Software and control on Thursdays. I am encouraging members of each to "cross over" and drop in on the other side's work. It really helps to have builders who know controls and software people who can think of things in actual material ways.  At our recent software session we fired up the software and test frame from the High School team.  Or tried to.  Among the first things you learn in this business is that the software always needs updating and that any little thing will turn your robot into an immobile paperweight.

After a bit things did get partially running.

As long as some progress is made it is a good session.