Friday, September 28, 2018

Middle School Robotics Begins - Fall of 2018

Yes its that time again.  For the 18th straight year I'm doing a robotics class in the after school program.

Eighteen years is a long time.  I suspect one day soon I'll have a "second generation" student.  

The program has also changed a bit.  They used to run four sessions a year, giving me only 6 work periods per group.  Barely enough to slap together something crude.  Then for many years we had three sessions a year, giving my students a nice comfy nine work sessions.

Now they are doing just two semester long sessions.  So I have to keep the kids occupied for 12 weeks.

That is actually too much time.  So we will start with the standard 3 pound combat robot project and have our tournament, as usual, in early November.  The last four weeks we will have them modify a pair of "Barbie Jeeps" and finish up with a Remote Control Barbie Jeep Grand Prix through the hallways.

Supplies, tools and materials for the 3 pound robots were assembled and it was off and building.

Seems like we always get the characters.  This kid's response to the obvious instruction was:  "I am a scientist.  I don't have to tie my shoelaces".

 Careful attention to detail....

And going crazy with a hole saw making wheels.

And....lying in wait out in the shed, two nice Barbie Jeeps.  You can always find these, just put a note in the district wide newsletter.  Kids are always outgrowing them and people are usually happy to give them away rather than bother with trashing or recycling them.

One is even an official Disney Princess model, for extra ironic fun!

After 18 years I have enough seniority to get away with a lot.  This year they asked me what title I wanted to have in the official course description.  I suggested Robot Overlord.

And they went for it.

Wednesday, September 26, 2018

Tree Shaped Tombstones - A few in Madison Wisconsin

Madison, capitol city of Wisconsin, has a couple of well kept up historic cemeteries.  They are off of Mineral Point Road it a visit interests you.  My usual Google Earth scouting showed plenty of opportunity for Tree Shaped Tombstones.  Even when you can't spot them the presence of other fancy styles of the 1890 to 1910 era is a good marker.

Over on the non Catholic Forest Hill Cemetery I found a couple of specimens.

Obviously an "official" Woodmen of the World example.  Nice logo.

Rather a Plain Jane, the names and dates are on the back.  But the odd thing was down at the base...

Occasionally you see these Perpetual Care plaques.  I guess if you put up a bit more money up front you are guaranteed maintenance forever.  They come in various styles, round, rectangular, etc.  I have never seen a football shaped one.  Early Wisconsin Badgers fan perhaps?

But you have to go across the street to the very Catholic Ressurection Cemetery to see the real prize of the day.

I'm not even sure what to call this.  It's a big ol' orb sitting on a cradle of branches and logs.  

Final resting place of assorted members of the Crossen family.

Some nice detail work, oak leaves and acorns.  A real acorn - life imitating art - has fallen in from the oak tree that hangs over head.

Monday, September 24, 2018

I get Micro Aggressed*

As I wander through the basement levels of the Halls of Academe, I run across many interesting things.  Recently I saw this sign:

The sign did say Welcome so I stopped and looked in.  Things were not actually up and running at that point but there were some staffers in the office getting ready.  Our eyes met....and I was on the receiving end of a glare that I think could be described as "skunk eye".  

I'm not sure why.  I mean, I know that old, lightly pigmented carriers of Y chromosomes are universally acknowledged as pretty much just radiating continuous microaggressions, but they don't know me from Adam.  Although I guess they could tell I wasn't Eve, so they may have simply made up their minds.

I continued my stroll down the hallway.  (Note, the picture was taken later).

Well, what have we here?  I always like bowls full of free stuff!  

Oh.  Condoms.  Sort of a Uni student trick or treat scenario.

Well anyway the little blue sleeping masks that say "Mind Recharging" on them were nice. 
* Although uncommon Aggressed appears to be a real word.  And if it is not, don't go challenging me on it.  That would make me feel uncomfortable.

Friday, September 21, 2018

A Literary Threat

I've met a lot of interesting folks in my archaeology based travels.  And I've made good friends.

Take my British pal Pete for instance.  We share an interest in all things Roman, and in sticky toffee pudding, a decent pint of ale, a good story....

Oh, once in a while I have caught him - for his own amusement - trying to lead me astray with local idiom and custom.  He is a bit of a rascal that way, and as he is currently traveling in the US I must take this opportunity to remind him that, yes, it is a common local custom to order Rocky Mountain Oysters with your breakfast eggs and toast.

Pete loves to travel.  He is always on the lookout for ancient runes or furry critters to photograph.  His constant travel companion is his Long Suffering Wife.  I think he gets her to come along with the promise that she can browse as many bookstores as she likes.  She likes a lot of them.

So, Pete, should you ever consider crossing me up with Northumbrian slang again, here's a bit of a deterrent.

The University library has an ongoing old book sale.  I think it runs forever.  There are new offerings every day.  Have a look at a few quick snaps of Tuesday's lot.

Trifle with me again and I'll start sending the Long Suffering Mrs. Pete daily updates!

By the way, I limit myself to one selection a day.  Oh, they are dirt cheap but we are trying to have stuff entering and exiting the house be in equilibrium.  Browse the photos and see if you can figure out today's choice.  Answer at the bottom.

Well, despite competition from "Calvin and the Libertines of Geneva", and a strong urge to purchase the two volume set of "The Pagan Tribes of Borneo", I settled on "Arctic Harpooner".  Winter's coming after all.

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Random Glimpses of University Life - Part One

I have my school routine pretty well tuned by now.  I have my regular parking place a mile from campus, so I get my exercise walks.  I have my other commitments scheduled into convenient time slots.  So I often have time to stroll around.

This was part of a big row of tables being set up for a campus Activities Fair on a bright sunny day.  I had the highest of hopes that this would turn out to be a band of non specific nutters but alas, when I went back at noon I found out that it was only an improv troupe.  I did have a brief chat with them, presenting as my bona fides that I have worked as a robot carny and know how to properly excavate live hand grenades.  They seemed puzzled.
You hear sometimes about campus newspapers being stolen or defaced on the basis of their political message.  So it intrigued me to see these two publications in peaceful side by side coexistence.  On the right, literally, a conservative paper.  Not very well done, it is a national publication with a bit of local garnish.  On the left an apolitical but slightly twee Artsy journal.  I of course picked up a copy of each to peruse.  I found that in the Artsy mag there was an article about how their Artsy, re purposed TV / newsstand box had been tossed into a dumpster. But that seems to have been not political censorship but an understandable, and in my eyes justifiable, bit of art criticism.

The great thing about Universities is that they are the mother lode of obscure information.  Honestly, people have written books that may never have actually been read by anybody outside the author's immediate family.  The library has an ongoing old book sale where you can pick up obsolete items cheap.  I did not feel a need to learn more about the Bulgarian Agitation of 1876, but did get an odd volume that seems to be a travel guide and political commentary on Portugal.  In case I ever end up there.

Monday, September 17, 2018

Brewery Cave Revisits

I had a chance recently to show a visitor around a couple of brewery caves.  It was a fun opportunity to revisit sites in another community several years after my last time through.

There are of course always new things to see.

Here is a vent hole for a cave.  Oddly it has been outfitted with a much newer cement pad and manhole cover.  Somebody has lifted the manhole cover off entirely.  I don't see the reason for this, it is too narrow to crawl down.

I have to admit I walked right past this the first two times I went looking for it.  It really looks like somebody's back yard barbecue pit.

You see this sort of thing too often.  Is it really Satanic graffiti or is it an ironic parody?

Also in the category of creepy....look closely.  No, get a little closer still.....

Great big spiders clutching egg sacs full of millions of little spiders.  It's like Charlotte's Web goes to The Mines of Moria.

Friday, September 14, 2018

The Popsicle held in the Clenched Fist

An interesting juxtaposition of campus thought.  On top, socialist imagery encouraging students and workers to Rise Again.  The AFT referred to is the American Federation of Teachers.  Regular followers of Wisconsin politics will remember some criticism of the Teachers Union for its rather emphatic left leaning politics.

The lower poster is from a fraternity, Alpha Phi Omega.  They are trying a different approach to getting students interested.  Yard games, popcorn, popsicles and candy!

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Tree Shaped Tombstones - Doctors and Wives

In small town America, especially in times past, the local doctor was held in respect bordering on reverence.  Less so nowadays.  In a peaceful cemetery outside of tiny Lowell Wisconsin I found two "Tree Shaped Tombstones" of local docs.  And as always, things to ponder.

Here's a fairly typical example.  Nicely carved and holding up well.  Dr. Benson died in 1889.  His wife Mary in 1896.

A couple of rows over we find this one.  It's not as nice a monument either in initial design or in its current condition.

Of course I started having questions right away.  Why did Delia D. Weed have a different last name than her husband, Doctor Miller?  Early Sufferagette?  I can't see it being a remarried name, she died before her husband.  Oh, and the line "Born in N.Y. City" seems a bit...pretentious.  Did she flaunt her urbane origins?

Dr. Miller's info is in much deteriorated condition.  Peculiar, as he died nine years after his wife.  

Trying to figure out the mechanics and business of these distinctive tombstones has proven to be a daunting challenge.  But in this same cemetery I found another clue....

Monday, September 10, 2018

New Purpose in Life

Fall brings a change of seasons, and even in retirement a certain change in attitude.  Some residual, long buried instinct that summer vacation is over reasserts itself and I decide that Things Need to Be Accomplished.

The middle school robotics program starts up in a couple of weeks.  This year I have the kids for a few extra weeks, so after the three pound robot combat portion of the class is done I've rounded up a couple of Barbie Jeeps.  It's always fun to trick them up, put them under RC control and have a hallway race.....

I'm also back in college.  A strange place to find myself at this stage in life.  Expect periodic dispatches from the Halls of Academe.

But that's not enough.  So I have declared a new goal for this fall.

I'm gonna win a bunch of stuff.

One of the big home improvement chains just opened a branch not far off my commute to school.  And every week they are having a drawing, giving away all manner of swell guy oriented stuff.  I'm going to stop in each and every week and toss a bunch of entry forms in the box. I'll keep y'all posted on what I am expecting to win.  And what I actually do end up with. Hey, its not entirely implausible.  Earlier this year I put a single entry into the box at our local grocery store and won a grill.  True, it advertises a brand of Lite Beer that I consider a puny and insipid imitation of real beer, but free is free.

The Gigantic Guy Store on the day of their Grand Opening.

It was a bit hokey but they had a store wide scavenger hunt.  By tracking down certain items and finding stickers there you could fill out this "bingo" style card.  We each did one.  Score: two free car washes. 

I looked high and low for a box where you could enter the drawing for the Big Stuff.  Among other things there was a pallet full of power tools.  But atypically, there was no box.  There was an ipad on a pole.

I suppose it makes sense to do things this way.  The entries are logged in automatically, no doubt passing along address and email info straight to their marketing department.  And the tedious process of trying to decipher bad handwriting is eliminated.

But I think this may work to my advantage.  The sort of folks who actually have time and interest in store openings and prize drawings tend to be retirees.

And I'm more computer savvy than most such!

Glorious Winnings Updates - if applicable - in the weeks to come.

Friday, September 7, 2018

My First Day of School - Snowflakes and Grey Hair

I just keep on doing odd things.  Like going back to University at age 61.  Well in any case I promised my wife I would take a first day of school picture as she is out of town and unable to do so.

But to find the ideal setting....

I am interested in how the college experience has changed since the last time I was a Freshman.  Which, if you are counting, was 44 years ago.  You hear accounts of how higher education has become a sheltering womb, gently enfolding the delicate young and shielding them from harsh realities.  There are said to be coloring books and bean bag chairs and puppets and service animals involved.

But that's all nonsense, isn't it?


Welcome to "The Rest Nest", a cozy little support nook on one of the upper floors of the library building.  Here's my First Day of School pic, a "selfie" in which I try to express appropriate sentiments!

On the first day of school this place was not open for business.  Probably it has extended hours in advance of finals.

Of course I had arrived significantly early for class so I had plenty of time to wander and wonder.  More musings from The Halls of Academe in the days ahead.  Down in the basement of one building was this artifact from an earlier and more robust era:

It was next door to the Veteran's Service Center.  I did not have the honor of serving so I did not feel as if I should wander into what appeared from the doorway to be a very comfortable lounge.  Leather chairs, no beanbags. Several were occupied by confident looking, slightly older students.  They were not using crayons.

Wednesday, September 5, 2018

The Political Current of Our Times

Like the political season, the robotics season has variation in intensity but more or less goes on year round.  For robotics this is good.  For politics probably not.

Oh well.  Every once in a while these two worlds overlap slightly.   This sign has been up for a year now along side a house where the preferences clearly run to the progressive side of the spectrum.

I wonder how many passers by get the reference.  Did you?

Electronics schematics have various symbols.  Switches, transistors, capacitors and so forth.  Above you see the symbol for a Resistor.

Saturday, September 1, 2018

The Bitter fruits of World War One

On this day in 1939 the Second World War began.  Or as some see it, the First World War resumed after a 21 year hiatus.

There is no question that the bitterness of 1914 - 1918 festered on.  In fact the arbitrary redrawing of maps back then created friction points in the Balkans and the Middle East that have created strife for a century.  And counting.

Twenty one years was not a long reprieve.  In fact it is sobering to ponder just how quickly bitter weeds can grow in war torn soil, tainted by poisons and by the profane  spilling of young blood.

Here's a photo from my last day digging at Hill 80.  When it was taken the bare dirt had only been exposed for a few weeks.  Already vigorous thorny things were thriving.

They find such easy purchase and are so difficult to uproot.