Wednesday, January 30, 2019


My wife likes mushrooms.  Me, not so much.  For Christmas she got a couple of these DIY mushroom growing bricks.  You water them, wait a while and this is what happens.

I'm not 100% sure why I dislike mushrooms.  It's not the taste really, they are actually enjoyable if chopped up small enough to be unobtrusive.  Maybe it has something to do with how fast they grow, they seem like something that could metastasize, could grow wild and out of control before you noticed it.

And perhaps that is why a movie I watched long ago made such an impact on me.  When I was a young lad it was of course cartoons and sugary cereal every Saturday morning.  But after noon the programming switched over to Monster Movies.  Mostly these were black and white B grade offerings.  

One really put a scare in me.  It was called "Matango" in the original Japanese.  But for the matinee movie it was dubbed "Attack of the Mushroom People".  Pretty simple plot really.  Seven shipwrecked people are on an island where the only food is abundant weird looking mushrooms.  They eventually get hungry enough to eat them. They then became covered with loathsome fungus and turned into mushroom people.

Here's a short summary video of this 1963 classic:

Sure it is unlikely that having a colony of weird, rapidly growing mushrooms in my dining room is going to cause problems on this scale.  But, hey, take a look at what these guys had grown into 48 hours later...


Monday, January 28, 2019

FIRST Robotics 2019 - End of Week Three

The weeks grow fewer and more precious.

We started out the week with Problems.  Our intention was to build two identical frames, one for competition and one for practice.  But the "kit" this year had subtle differences from last year's frame.  Not enough to matter, right?  Uh...

Placing the "drift" wheel in the center of the machine where it works best showed us that we lacked a quarter inch of clearance.   Fortunately we were able to flip a few things around and reclaim the needed space. On a night when we had exactly four weeks to go we were able to test a robust and clever drive base.

By Saturday we had the drive base and the tripod connected. This makes it actually look like something.

You always have to keep an eye on weight.  We have a 125 pound maximum.  So it was time to pile on everything we knew we would have on the robot.....

 It looks as if it will be difficult to get into weight limit issues, but I have confidence we will manage it somehow.

We are pushing on towards building two machines.  One must be done three weeks from now.  This will be our competition machine.  It is coming together pretty well.

Here you can see it with its vacuum tipped manipulator arm extended.  It can also pivot at the "wrist".  I estimate it at 70% complete mechanically although the software team has further to go.  We are also building a near identical practice machine but that has been given second priority.

Sometimes it is the little things you notice during build season.  I often arrive early to help get things set up.  Down in the snack area I found this:

A digital micrometer being used to seal a bag of pretzels!

Sunday, January 27, 2019

Davros visits Davos?

I keep up on world news to a moderate degree and on political news only to the extent that my digestion is not set off.  Now and then they overlap.

Recently for instance there was the annual World Economic Forum held at the Swiss ski resort called Davos.  That name is somehow catchier than the official title so this meeting of what can really only be called global elites has come to be called "Davos" for short hand.  Evidently they are having an off year.  For reasons of political prudence or disinclination very few A list world leaders are attending the event.  Maybe they invite more second stringers to fill the tables.  

It is certainly not something I would ever be invited to attend.  Heck, back in my working days I was never comfortable even with the minor degree of posh that one occasionally encountered at medical meetings.

I have also been put off by - of all things - the word Davos.  It reminds me of something.

Way, way back when I was in med school and living in a run down student house we had an old black and white TV.  One of the very few shows we watched regularly was "Dr. Who", then in the classic Tom Baker rerun mode.  And one of the big villains was this guy:

Fans of the show, and this would place you among my British and/or Nerd friends, of course recognize him as Davros.  And he seems like the kind of guy you might find holding forth in a semi-secret conclave of world elites.

As to who you really do find at Davos this year?  No Donald Trump, Vladimir Putin or Theresa May.  Bill Gates turned up as of course did Al Gore.  And then there is George Soros.  One of the big names in the worlds of Progressive politics and Globalization. My friends of various political stripes hold divergent opinions of the man.  But in the interest of dispelling any notion of him being a secretive, behind the scenes villain I offer the following photo:

Davros visits Davos?

Friday, January 25, 2019

Interesting things on the store shelves. And assorted Varmints

I admit it, I'm not much of a shopper.  When I need something I go to the store, buy it and get out.  Unless of course I am being modern and buying it online, then I skip the first step.

So it is rare that I am just looking around to see what is being sold.  And when I do I am easily bemused.

Here's an interesting but probably non-useful item.  It is a live trap for catching and presumably releasing assorted wildlife that might be loitering about your property.  This is old school technology with a new twist, a time release door.

My thought was that if you had a skunk in there you could release it without getting in range of a nasty spray.  But that theory has a couple of problems.  One, you are just releasing the darn critter back where it came from.  And two, you have to get pretty close to turn that dial and schedule its parole.  Too close I figure.

So I guess it is to be dialed in after you take the cage somewhere else and release the varmint?  It bills itself as being less stressful for both you and the animal.  But bouncing around in the trunk of your car (added bad idea with skunks) is probably more of a stress inducing experience than having you come up open the door.

Besides, the creatures listed here don't care.  Opossums sleep through anything stressful.  Raccoons and groundhogs are both supremely confident and are unlikely to have their composure rattled by anything humans do.

OK, now lets ponder the ramifications of a DIY paternity test.

Now, the guy in this picture looks pretty happy but I think we may assume that the circumstances under which the paternity of that equally happy baby are indeterminate are always difficult.

You need a "swab" to send this to the lab.  Oh, nothing too outlandish, inner cheek (and lets specify, oral cavity please) will do it.  But a fair number of "candidates" are going to impolitely refuse.  And then what?  Do people get 'em drunk, swab 'em and forge their signature? I think the key might be that there is also a rather more expensive "grandparent" version of this test where you can show a hopefully more responsive older generation that cute, cute baby and get their assistance.  Heck, for that cutie they'd probably pay for it as well!

Wednesday, January 23, 2019

Art Gallery for the Dreary Winter Months

Yep, its winter.  More time cooped up indoors.  I have an "office" off in one corner of the house.  This and the basement workshop are mine to decorate as I choose, so I put up a few reminders of warmer and/or more cheerful times...

Here's one corner.

On the left are some small prints done by one of my fellow Dig Hill 80 excavators. At the time I did not know that Kathryn had this talent.  Here are a few examples before framing.  

Some of these are rather Brit-centric, like the Menin Gate.  Poppies also are more resonant "over there".  I rather like the buttons, ammo and water bottles having dug examples in various states of preservation.  If you want copies or other graphics stuff, I'm happy to give her an endorsement:

 Kathryn Duncan Illustration

The black and white photo to the right of the chair is something special. It was taken by another friend of mine, now departed.  Angello Spinelli was a POW who audaciously continued to take pictures while in the Stalags for two years.  This is a copy of one of his originals which are at the National POW Museum in Andersonville.  It shows the combined ball teams for a Stalag Baseball All Star game!

Up on an adjacent bookshelf are some  items that challenge our understanding of "What is Art?".  Still life with Fez collection?  Cross Species Dressing Bill the Squirrel?

Today Bill is styling some new Christmas acquisitions.  I hope his "Walter White" phase is brief.

Monday, January 21, 2019

FIRST Robotics 2019 - End of Week Two

This is my fourth time through the cycle of FIRST build season.  It will also be the last time, at least under the old rules.  Next season FIRST is eliminating the compressed six week build season that culminates in "Bag and Tag".  You'll be allowed to keep tinkering right up to competition.  Since we have - to date - always finished just a bit ahead of schedule I figure we'll just have to go to early weeks competitions to keep our customary work pace going.

Lots of small and medium projects coming together.  Week three will be where we integrate them.

We have the mounting tripod for our lift arm and the gearbox that will be the "shoulder".  Here they are connected and temporarily sitting on our robot transport cart.  It moves but seems to have a bit of mal-alignment that is limiting function.

We are working on the "wrist" that can angle a suction cup studded "hand" up and down.

The drive train is still a work in progress.  We have had a successful test of the side drifting "H-drive" but need to make it far more robust.  The center wheel takes some hits especially when we have to run up a ramp at the end of the match.  We are planning on mounting it on a spring system or perhaps a pneumatic cylinder that engages and disengages it.

We have a vacuum system. It seems to grab and hold the ball fairly well.

At the moment we are working with two drive bases of equal dimensions.  One is the test bed for the H drive.  The other still has conventional wheels and will mount the manipulator arm and vacuum.  Eventually we will build enough spares of all systems to have two complete robots.  One for the bag and one for practice.

Software has been working with this drive base to develop a semi auto mode.  Get the robot close to target and the sensors will take over.  Promising early results.

And so it goes.  Some of the work to date has been exemplary.  Some has been shoddy and needed to be scrapped and redone.  With all critical systems sort of working we think we are OK for this point in the build season.   Better to find out your limits early.

Friday, January 18, 2019

Salty Wishes for Good Health

From my days as an ER doc I know all the ways that patients try to convince themselves that there is really not a problem.  Its a natural tendency of course.  But you have to be realistic.  So recently when I switched roles and was on the receiving end of ER care I was able to keep a reasonable perspective.

Yes, your hand needs 8 stitches (don't ask) but lets just check that blood pressure...

They were nice about it and opined that maybe it was elevated due to stress, but frankly its been a bit up for a while and I don't actually find the need for stitches to be all that stressful.  It's just one of those things.

So a few changes are needed.  More exercise, lose some weight, etc.  Fine.  But its the other life style changes that are annoyances.  I like salt.  This of course gets me thinking immediately about....etymology.

If the goal is to prevent heart attacks and strokes it is for the moment* considered OK to have, oh lets say, one alcoholic beverage a day.  But not ok to be a Souse.

Souse is a fascinating word.  It comes to us from Old French and means "pickled or steeped in vinegar".  The extension of this to being pickled by alcohol is a recent and somewhat jokey development.  Old French of course derives much from Latin and probably Souse got its origins in Sal, the Latin for salt.

I'm pretty typical in liking salt.  It has been popular throughout human history and so the word turns up in many times and places.  Greek: Hals.  German: Salz.  And of course Sal and its derivatives.  Salary, based on the notion that sometimes Romans were paid in salt. Oddly some words that should be related are not.  Salacious is rather akin to "salty" but of a completely different etymology.  And sadly for the plight of those on a low sodium diet, Salubrius - meaning healthy - has nothing to do with salt, being a derivation of Salus the Roman goddess of health.**

Drat.  Although I doubt my wife has enough faith in my etymological musings to have bought that line anyway.... 
* The official line on the healthy effects of modest alcohol intake go back and forth periodically.  If it happens to be out of fashion at the moment I think I'll just continue my current proclivities until Science catches up with me.

** Something I did not know.  To "salute" someone is actually to wish them good health. I suspect many beleaguered recruits wished their drill sergeants otherwise.

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Soda Bottles of Yankton D.T. (and S.D.)

In my recent posts on breweries of Yankton D.T. (Dakota Territory for those who are coming in late) I was reminded of the recurring if ill advised efforts to impose a "Dry" status on that frisky section of the Great Frontier.  It was somewhat similar to the situation in next door Iowa, and had the same results.  Ultimate failure but a short term boon to a few niche industries.  Soda bottlers for one.

The first soda bottler of Yankton, indeed, in the entire Territory, was a certain F. Schnauber.  Fred, or Fritz to his pals, arrived early.  His bottling works was begun in 1869, but a year earlier he was running ads for his "Fruit and Candy Store...and First Class Oyster Saloon". 
Sometimes being a Pioneer does not make for lasting fame.  Despite being a very prominent citizen - and he was the usual trifecta of Judge, Legislator and Grand Master of the local Odd Fellows Lodge - there is not that much accessible info on Fritz. 

He put up soda water in a variety of bottles including this really nice cobalt blue 1870's specimen.  The embossed letters have been highlighted for better visibility.  Note that it has the letters D.T. for Dakota Territory, the predecessor to modern day North and South Dakota.  This and similar bottles are highly valued by collectors.  

As a side business, or maybe his main revenue stream, Schnauber also had an ice house.  These were very necessary in the days before refrigerators.

Some later examples of Schnauber's bottles list "& Sons", but the business did not go to any of them, but to a fellow named Peter Binder. 

Binder came to town in a rather interesting fashion.  In 1873 General George Custer and the 7th Cavalry stopped in Yankton on their way west to permanent quarters at Fort Abraham Lincoln. Peter Binder was one of the horse handlers although it may have been in a civilian capacity.  As his grand daughter recalls it, Binder got drunk and missed the departure of the 7th to what would ultimately prove to be an ill starred future.  History also records a severe blizzard and much illness associated with the April '73 stop over so there could have been other factors involved.

In any event Binder stayed and became an employee of Fred Schnauber.  In 1903 he bought the business.  He and his sons continued in the related ventures of ice, soda pop and ice cream until 1966.  

Not a bad run for the combined venture.  Almost a century. Once many years ago when I visited Yankton I found an F.Schnauber Yankton Dak bottle sticking out of the side of an embankment.  I traded it to a very appreciative collector of Territorial items.

Another Yankton bottler got started just a bit later and did not stick around for very long. From an 1878 edition of the Yankton Press and Dakotan:

According to an 1881 history that admittedly is a bit loose with dates, William Heselton was born in Skowhegan Maine in 1850.  He "went west" in 1876 spending a couple of years in California before coming to Yankton.  He seems to have only been there from 1878 to 1880 before moving to Parker D.T. where he ran a saloon.  Bottles from his "Yankton Bottling Works" are very rare and the available photos are few and grainy.

Yankton had the advantage of being an early settled city in Dakota Territory and was even the Capitol until the status was "stolen" in 1883.  But then it became something of a backwater.  Steamboat travel on the Missouri River had been superseded by the arrival of railroads and the many fiscal benefits of being a government center dried up.  So there was a search for new ventures among which, in 1890, was America's largest  cement factory on the edge of town.  This too did not last for all that long, but long enough for the town to acquire a new nick name, one that appeared on the bottles of another company.

The Cement City Bottling Works was started by a man named M.ONeill.  It is known to have been in business as early as 1898.  By 1903 it was being operated by an A.P. Johnson.

I've had a fair mosey about early maps of Yankton and did come across one other "possible" soda bottler. The earliest detailed Sanborn map is from 1886.  It shows a structure at the foot of Walnut Street that is titled Adler and Ohlman's Steam Bottling Works.  The notation indicates it is "closed during winter months" and does show a large ice house.

Adler and Ohlman was an early wholesale liquor dealer in Yankton.  "Steam Bottling Works" is an ambiguous term just indicating steam power for the machinery.  Schnauber called his establishment - which clearly only bottled pop - something very similar.

I suspect Adler and Ohlman were bottling beer.  The 1891 map again shows an ice house but the adjacent structure is simply labeled "beer".  This location along the levee and railroad tracks was a popular spot for several breweries from elsewhere to have their "agencies", basically refrigerated warehouse space where kegs would be stored and bottled beer put up. In fact ads of about this time period indicate that Adler and Ohlman were agents and bottlers for the Joseph Schlitz brewery of Milwaukee.

But given the chronic uncertainty of Prohibition in Dakota, and the less distinct cut off between alcoholic and non alcoholic drinkables, it is somewhat plausible that Adler and Ohlman bottled soda as well.

Several of the images shown here came from an on line compilation of soda bottles.  Hutchbook is an impressive compendium of soda bottles from the 1880 to 1915 time span and is worth a look to those interested in such things.

Monday, January 14, 2019

FIRST Robotics 2019 - End of Week One

Although I have frequent moments of doubt I am pleased with how the team has tackled the challenge of Week One.  I also have no idea if what they are working on will be a magnificent success or a spectacular failure.

But it's all good.  There are reputed to be some teams out there where the adult coaches dictate the design process, and have active hands on in the building phase. With team 5826 on the other hand, I wander from one working group to another, trying to make sure that they are staying on task.  And they have come up with some very audacious ideas, the sort of thing that I would actually not advise them to take on with the compressed build season of six weeks.

But it is their team, their robot.  They are learning, and how/if it works will teach them more. 

Current thinking is that they will build an entirely new drive train, one that sacrifices pushing power for maneuverability.  And we'll focus almost completely on working the higher altitude targets.  The mechanism for grabbing the flat discs and the round kickballs will be a great big vacuum cleaner.

I'm not sure why they went this route.  One of our clever kids brought a shop vac to our first build session.  At that point it was going to be either used in the robot, used to clean the shop, or put into our team benefit auction.  But once they started playing with it.....

Some views of Week One:

We are using a new vision tracking system this year.  It is creepy in part due to the glowing green "eyes".  

Also in the creepy category, here's a video of it following team members around as they go here and there with a reflective target.  Notice that the black "Orcabot" fin has been put back on.

Because I took the crew up to Minneapolis for the official Kick Off I missed the early design decisions.  The various things we are supposed to pick up can in principle all be handled with vacuum cups, much as industry moves irregularly shaped objects about. Here's the math that purports to show how much pressure will be necessary.

Last year's robot was dubbed "Mr. Clamps".  I shudder to imagine the final name of this thing but so long as the fin is on - here joined by the "drift wheels" - it is still Orcabot, or in this instance Orcabot 2.

As of Sunday night the experimental "H-Drive" was still not working well on the carpet we will have to compete on.  But on the positive side, our crews have built the tall "Rocket" that we have to put things into, and the tripod that supports our swing mast has been fabricated.

And here is version 2.0 of the vacuum grabber, along with the ball and disc it will have to latch onto.  

What a week.  And next week it all happens again.

Friday, January 11, 2019

Forgotten Brewery Caves - Yankton Dakota Territory - Part Two

Sometimes I have enough clues to assemble a brief "Brewery Caves" article from a place too distant for me to do a boots on the ground investigation.  In putting this out into the wilds of the Internet I would yet again remind all that trespassing is bad, and taking risks in exploring is very, very bad. That out of the way it would be marvelous if additional information were to appear.

First a map.  This is again from Yankton, once territorial capital of Dakota, now a sleepy river town on the banks of the Missouri river.

This is an 1883 Sanborn map and atypically it shows the underground storage cellar extending back from the brewery.  

The location is simply given as 3/4 of a mile NW of Post Office.  At this time in history it was just assumed that this would be a sure fire landmark!

Note that the dotted lines extending back into a presumed hill are running west.  Yankton sits generally on very flat ground.  The exceptions are the bluffs due west of town and also this site, which would have to be on the west side of Marne Creek. At the time when John Foerster set up shop it was actually called Rhine Creek.  (A bit of unpopularity of Germany in WW I caused the name change!).

The dates on this enterprise are a little sketchy.  John seems to have run the brewery from circa 1870 to 1882.  His wife Eliza became proprietor then as John had died in a "buggy accident". Mrs. Foerster ran it until 1890 at which point it became vacant for a while.  The imprudent solons of the new state of South Dakota took it upon themselves to enact Prohibition as one of their first official duties, and both of Yankton's breweries are shown as "closed" on 1891 Sanborn maps. In 1899 the Eureka Brewing Company reoccupied the buildings but only until 1904. The beer cellars seem to have been kept up, and even improved upon per this 1898 image. 

Alas, I cannot hold out hope for a discovery of the interesting cellars shown on these  maps.  The location of the Foerster Brewery is on Locust Street and West 9th Street.  It is now the site of Lincoln Elementary School and I'm sure that the nice hillside behind it has been made entirely immune to the exploring efforts of any inquisitive grade schoolers!

As a minor footnote I'd point out that the area previously designated as barley storage is labeled on the later map as BEER BOTTLING.  Indeed, the Eureka Brewing Company put their wares up in bottles, and embossed ones at that.

Eureka was and is a very small community about 300 miles north of Yankton.  The unusual business arrangement here seems to have been a way that Eureka - a major grain growing community - could market some of their produce directly to the idled brewery which one imagines was purchased or leased very reasonably given the uncertainty of South Dakota Prohibition efforts.

Here's Part One of the Yankton Brewery Story

Wednesday, January 9, 2019

Forgotten Brewery Caves - Yankton Dakota Territory - Part One

Sometimes I have enough clues to assemble a "Brewery Caves" article from a place too distant for me to do a boots on the ground investigation.  In putting this out into the wilds of the Internet I would yet again remind all that trespassing is bad, and taking risks in exploring is very, very bad. That having been said it would be marvelous if additional information on these breweries were to appear.
I lived in South Dakota for three years.  The people there were all very nice, albeit with a bit of an eccentric streak.  That certainly would apply to Charles Rossteuscher, the pioneer brewer of what was then the wild and untamed Dakota Territory.

My first information on Rossteuscher has him in Manitowoc Wisconsin in the early 1850s.  He was in partnership with William Rahr in one of the three breweries existing in that tiny but very thirsty village.  Rahr fired him, as their partnership agreement contained a clause saying the agreement was void if either "violated the laws of the land".  

It seems that Rossteuscher had been involved in a brawl in 1854 that resulted in the death of a certain Jacques Kurzwaelli.  The particulars are a bit obscure, but the indictment drawn up against Rossteuscher was written in very florid prose.  He was described as:

 "...not having the fear of God before his eyes, but being moved and seduced by the instigation of the devil..."

The report went on at some length about the knife used (value one dollar), the wound inflicted, and the opinion of the grand jury that the actions were carried out 

 "..feloniously, willfully, and of his malice aforethought...".

Interestingly the district attorney who drew up the papers also was among those signing for his release on bond, and perhaps it is no surprise that Rossteuscher was promptly acquitted and that the cost of the entire proceedings was $20.79.

Rahr fired him anyway.  Not long afterwards the Rahr brewery burned to the ground under suspicious circumstances and Rossteuscher left town for good.  The Manitowoc newspaper described him thusly: 

"He was always considered a man of mystery by all who knew him, and his emnity greatly feared.  He was a man of good education but inclined to get into all kinds of mischief.  During the early days it was the style with the men to wear military or "Spanish" cloaks, as they were called, and his was of a scarlet hue augmenting greatly his mysterious air and bearing."

His movements for the latter 1850s are unclear but Charles Rossteuscher ended up in Yankton, the rustic capitol of the new Dakota Territory, circa 1860.  He is mentioned as running the first butcher shop in town.  He also served as a private in the local Dakota militia that was mustered in during the troubled time of the Dakota Uprising.

In 1866 he returned to the brewing business bringing equipment to town by steamboat and setting up shop in a wooden building at 2nd and Walnut.

Given his previous difficulties with the law it is a bit surprising that he also held a variety of civic offices including Justice of the Peace, Judge and Mayor!  He also ran the local German language newspaper and on this matter the friendly rival pages of the Daily Press and Dakotian made comment in 1880:

"First butcher and brewer, Charles F. Rossteuscher, who has since degenerated into an editor though he still sticks to the brewery to keep up his reputation."

The City Brewery had a long successful run despite state wide Prohibition in the 90's and and then getting a two year head start on the National dry spell beginning in 1917.

Of course this is supposed to be a "Brewery Caves" post.  The above Sanborn map from the early 1880s shows a "Cellar" on the main property.  This was constructed in 1876 and was said to have "elaborate beer vaults".  This along with plentiful Missouri River ice was probably sufficient.  But in the earlier years of the enterprise there may have been cave storage.

This 1953 article  while primarily about the local Native American citizens does make mention of a cave that was thought to be used by "The City Brewery" in its early years.  The clues are inexact and I can find no more recent information, but it is apparently just west of town and in the river bluffs.  The road that led to it is now partly gone but likely corresponds to Sister Grove Road.  I suspect the cave is at the foot of the bluffs somewhere below the Sacred Heart hospital/monastery complex.

Here's Part Two of the Yankton Brewery Story

Monday, January 7, 2019

FIRST Robotics 2019 - Up and Running

And so it begins.

We had a nice contingent go over to Minneapolis for the Kickoff, an event that is a sort of weird mix of Reveal, Pep Rally and Nerd Fest.  You get to know your own team over time but seeing an entire auditorium full of talented kids from all over is always inspiring.


Going back to my predictions of Friday, I did not get much right this year.  But...

At first glance this looks like a game we can play.  We've had some success with an elevator system that delivered boxes last year, this would just be other things to deliver.  But first looks can deceive.  As quite frankly can second and third looks.

Our goal is to finalize designs and lay in all necessary parts this week.  Until that point there are assorted tasks that can be done independent of final design considerations.

Well, this one was frankly kind of weird.  We have a set of what are called "Omni Wheels" that can be used to drift drive.  There was an unexpected bit of interest in hooking up three of them and making a strange drive base.  It drifts...also spins out of control.  Hopefully we'll settle on a less glitchy drive option shortly...

FIRST robotics posts will be weekly - probably Robot Mondays - with extras as appropriate.  Most likely the unrealistic optimism and pessimism that I roller coaster through during the build and competition seasons will be on  full display.  With the season less than 48 hours old I've already cycled several times!

Friday, January 4, 2019

FIRST Robotics 2019 - Countdown to Launch

Tomorrow the hectic FIRST robotics season begins in earnest.  It always starts with a flourish, FIRST keeps the details of each year's "game" top secret until a big reveal video at Kickoff.  

Various hints of course are given.  This year's game is called "Deep Space" and it features Boeing as a big time sponsor.  So probably it won't be Rain Forests or Submarines.

There is also a "teaser" video.  In past years these have contained useful clues along with a lot of static.  This year it is so generic that I'm not sure it helps at all.  Here's a link to it on YouTube if you are interested:

Hmmm.  Not much to go on.

We have had a few pre-season meetings and I've tossed out some quick design challenges to the team based on what I figure we might be asked to build.  Others have engaged in the more extensive and arcane discussions that FIRST always generates...and always ends up with the never to be realized prediction of a "Water Game" played in some kind of swimming pool.  This will happen....never.

So, my 2019 predictions.  On Monday I'll give my predictions the grades they will have earned.  I'll probably be using a red font to do so.

1. I figure we will have to open and close doors.  The central theme is a space station. Airlocks are important.  And it is a fun concept to work on when dreaming up robot components. Not really.  But there are hatch covers to place.  Sort of like doors.

2. Many years it is necessary for your robot to pick something up and launch it.  I'm not that excited about this one, our sole attempt at a launcher a few years ago was not very impressive.  (Although we learned things, which was the point of building it).
Again, partial credit.  We have to pick up big soft "playground style" balls.  But it looks more like placing them than launching.  Happy to be wrong on that.

3. Some kind of bumpy terrain.  Craters, hills, whatever.  Likely not too extreme as it is necessary to keep the game something that rookie teams can play on some level. Of course as rookies we came up with a robust solution for rough terrain.  This was an accident as we effectively built a steel tank for the one year in which durability was the absolute key... No, unless you count a sort of Olympics Awards Podium that can be climbed at the end.  

4. Dramatic end game.  This is a safe bet.  The game developers have done a good job in recent years creating a clock ticking, eye catching, sometimes match deciding final element.  I'll go out on a limb here and say there will be a suspended object at least 15 feet above the playing field that we have to "reach" in one fashion or another. Nope. Just wrong.

Wednesday, January 2, 2019

New Year - 2019

Another year turned over.  

From my perspective - and really I can't write from any other - it has been a year of apogee.  I've accomplished a lot.  But sometimes I feel that the energy required to go any higher has become impractical.  

With age comes Gravitas, that hard to define air of seriousness, of maturity.  But with age also comes gravity, the inexorable force that pulls at us all.

When you are young it is almost imperceptible.  In fact it is a useful thing that helps us tell what is up and what is down.  But after age 60 we are never in doubt about that. Down is where we are heading.  Maybe soon, probably later.

So I've been feeling inclined towards more outrageous adventures, on the theory that if not now, then....when?

But then there is that inexorable pull.  Stop off in Iceland for a few days?  Meh, seems like a lot of work and the flight connections are not ideal.  When you start to pass up opportunities on the basis of not wanting to loiter a few hours in airports it is a concerning development.

Well if a mundane routine is problematic it at least is conducive to steady writing.  Detritus of Empire tipped the scales at 172 posts in 2018.  This is down a few from recent times but considering the general demise of old school blogging I consider this decidedly non shoddy.  It's coming up soon to 8 years of writing thrice a week.

Looking ahead.

Back to England for a digging trip to Vindolanda.  I think the year off will prove refreshing.  Outside chance of another interesting archaeology trip developing but it is too soon to speak of it.  More robotics stuff, but reading those posts there is a certain sameness to them so perhaps less of these.  I am very stingy with family pictures and stories as these are shared property, not mine alone.  But I am now a grandfather for two imps one of them - Lord help us - a girl.  My entire Naughty Grandpa shtick so well suited to rascally boys has been rendered obsolete.  I fear the worst.  Tea parties with stuffed animals.