Wednesday, February 27, 2019

Forgotten Brewery Caves - Thiensville Wisconsin

Eastern Wisconsin had so many 19th century breweries that they don't always get much mention in local histories.  On the outskirts of a little community called Thiensville there is a picturesque brewery ruin.  It has been "enhanced" a bit by the owners...note the faux battlements on the upper right corner.  There is also a creative re-working of old foundations and new elements into a water feature down below.  I rather like the effect.

Sharp eyed Brewery Cave fans of course will have spotted the entrance in the picture above.  It is one of those that is actually built right underneath the brewery instead of the more typical location along one side.

The owner was OK with us taking a look but asked that we not go inside.  She's right, this is another of those caves that is starting to lose structural integrity.

Collapse along the left wall, a sealed off former doorway into something on the far end.  There also seemed to be a well right in the middle of things.

This is the ruin of the J. Harz Brewery, said to be in business between 1870 and 1880. The remaining structure has been altered a lot so I'm just guessing here, but I suspect the bricked off doorway visible here went to a second chamber of the cave and/or into the cellar of the brewery.  The structure above the cave proper may well have been an ice house.

Private property site.  Quite visible from the road. Let that suffice.

Monday, February 25, 2019

Time Capsule - Black Bag

I'm retired now but I suppose I can still say I am a second generation physician.  My dad practiced for 40 some years.  I did likewise for about 35.  

I remember that my father had an old black medical bag.  Probably it is still around somewhere.  It was an obsolete thing even then, mostly useful for house calls which have become a dimly remembered tradition.  The bag was full of odds and ends, it seemed to be a place where out dated pharmaceuticals and bandages just endured.

Here's today's "Time Capsule".

This was my "black doctor's bag".  I remember getting it early in med school and that it was a gift from a pharmaceutical company back when such gestures were more about appreciation than about trying to bribe you into prescribing their stuff.

It served a function.  When on clinical rounds you needed a place to stow things. We were expected to do painstaking physical exams that included checking all sensory functions.  I remember that this bag once held both a tuning fork and a tiny vial of a strong peppermint stuff, the latter for testing sense of smell.  The bag smelled like peppermint for years afterwards.

Perhaps the secondary function of the bag was to make young, inexperienced students look just a bit more official.

My research into this artifact started with a look at the underside.

The bag was a gift from the Upjohn Pharmaceutical company, and was actually a bit of homage to one of their long standing traditions.  Full details HERE  but in short, Upjohn sales reps carried alligator skin bags as their trademark beginning in the 1880s.  A similar bag, now made of cowhide, was given free to medical students.  What I have read suggests it was at graduation, but I am quite sure I had this during my second year clinical rotations.  

That would have been circa 1983, so I think I just caught the end of the free bag tradition.  Upjohn disappeared in 1995 by way of a merger. Probably the give aways stopped before that date, the practice of drug company freebies was already starting to be questioned when I was still in training.

And of course, even a newer doctor's bag can act as a magnet for old stuff.  Rummaging around in the pockets I came across this:

26 year old tablets of Cipro.  Now entirely inert and useless, they went into the trash.

Sunday, February 24, 2019

The Groundhog Winter

In the classic movie Groundhog Day Bill Murray wakes up again and again to the same day, one which features a blizzard that makes escape impossible.

We've been feeling a bit like that lately, with February recently having been declared the snowiest month "ever".  

Another day - or is it the same day? - waking up to more snow.

The arbor vitae tree in the front yard has finally given up hope and has just laid down to die.

By the way, the blue flag seen in the distance is a golf flag.  Our neighbor keeps a little putting green there.  Now it seems like a cruel taunt.

Will spring ever come?  Will we soon enjoy side yard cocktail hour on the picnic table?

The picnic table today.

Friday, February 22, 2019

Forgotten Brewery Caves - The Addison House

Most of the information on this site comes from an odd source....a geocaching page! The individual who posted it had the advantage of chatting with the property owner. When I stopped by they were not at home.

I think the information is a bit of a jumble so I won't comment at length.  But the property now known as The Addison House clearly was an early tavern/inn with its own brewery.  The cave looks consistent with others in the area that date from the mid 1850's to circa 1880.  The mention of three linked chambers was quite intriguing, enough so that I chanced a stroll up to the entrance and a peek inside...

This is the first chamber and sadly you can see that the ones that lay beyond have caved in.  Or have they been filled in?

It is axiomatic that you never find artifacts in brewery caves.  They were for clean storage, not for trash.  But the fill cascading down from this doorway contained a fair number of circa 1920 bottles.  I figure the back two rooms caved in - you'll note how close to the surface this cave is - and made a sink hole.  This was then filled in with material from somewhere that had a moderate amount of trash mixed in.

It is always sad when you find a cave that is in the process of vanishing. And the caves for small breweries in areas that did not have good rock structure to excavate just were not built to last forever.

Here's a picture of the Addison House up above the cave site.

It appears to still be in service as a Bed and Breakfast.

Here's a 19th century map showing the Brewery and Saloon.  Notice that this was once a crossroads and a place of at least local consequence.  Now it is just a bend in the road with the intersection of Highways 175 and 33 eliminating the Western and Southern legs of the crossroads.

Wednesday, February 20, 2019

Bag and Tag 2019 - The Final Deadline

For the four years our FIRST Robotics team has been around there has always been a challenging deadline to Build Season.  Six weeks and two days from Kickoff comes "Bag and Tag", the moment at which your competition robot has to be sealed up and on a no touch it status until competition.

Next year Bag and Tag has been eliminated, you just keep building up to competition day.

There are points both ways.  This year when we lost most of Week Four due to weather, and then lost half of the team in Week Six due to a Music Department trip, the new rules would have really helped us out.  Oh well.

We had some of our recently returned musical travelers - very tired of course - back on hand but Bag and Tag was a subdued event this year.  We are planning on having an open house and a bit more celebration of the season in the near future.

One quirk of Bag and Tag is that you can keep up to 30 pounds of mechanisms out for improvement and add them back in at competition.  What to keep out is a dangerous decision.  You must get everything back on and working in a few hours to get practice matches the day before real competition begins.  We've been burned in the past by finding this process to be far more difficult than it was expected to be.

I don't know how this all ends up.  Will this ridiculously complicated robot astonish the competitive field in five weeks through its competence or through its Goldbergian excesses?

We won't know for a while but after a few days to catch our breath and let the rest of the team make it back to town we will configure our practice drive base into the full competition version and start driving and coding frantically.

The home stretch as it played out.

T-minus 48 hours:

We are now devoting as much or more attention to the "B-machine".  We have to bag the competition machine but have made a near identical clone with which we can continue software development and programming.  Of course the manipulator arm and control box need to be transplanted, but here we have Beta getting ready for action.

T-minus 24 hours:

Both robots are getting their loose wires swaddled in flexible cable covers to reduce the chances of being jostled and grabbed.

Another late innovation:  We want to be able to pick up balls on the fly.  Our robot has a cut out in the front where our vacuum manipulator rests.  Well, why not put a ball catcher in there?  At slow speeds you can corral the ball and bring the vacuum cup down while still moving!  Both A and B machines now have this on board.  Sometimes the one ounce, simple features do more for you than the complicated, heavy parts.

Zero Hour:  A busy night, lots of fussy little details to attend to.  I only took a few pictures and they were unremarkable.  Everyone was tired.  The robot went into its plastic cocoon to the music of Monty Python's "Always Look on the Bright Side of Life" played on somebody's phone.

I understand there is another blizzard coming in the morning.  With the team now taking a few much deserved days off I say, bring it on.  The weather can't do much more to us at this point....

Monday, February 18, 2019

FIRST Robotics 2019 - Down to the Wire in Week Six

So many things to get done, so little time left to do them.  We lost Tuesday practice to yet another blizzard.  Fortunately we got Monday and Thursday in, albeit with a reduced work force.  And a long session Friday to get ready for our weekend practice scrimmage.  A few pictures of the week before we move on to the robot's first real outing.

We seem to be big on making really solid parts.  Laser cut, welded, bolted down.  This is a mount for a delicate range finding device that we have not put on yet.

A couple of ambitious things have been evolving in these late days.  The suction cup for ball retrieval has to date been a simple and entirely functional plastic dog bowl from Wal Mart.  Well, one of the kids just had to precision machine a version out of solid aluminum.  I present, a dog bowl made to 1/1000th of an inch precision.  Why?  I ask the team that all the time..."why....just....why?"

We had a scrimmage on Saturday.  It was as always, very interesting.  Many other teams have struggled as we have with weather.  Judging by the numbers of no - shows as the pits opened, I'd say many have struggled harder than team 5826.

Of the teams that showed up - as opposed to staying home for a day of frantic building - we were among the better prepared.  Mechanically our machine appears rock solid.  We did have some software issues and have more than a few final tweaks still ahead, but the robot performed well.

In fact, there were so many robots unable to answer the bell that we got into the habit of bringing extra batteries along and often did back to back matches.  The guy in charge of the queue line got to know the kids well...they were always rolling the robot up and asking "Can we just jump back in?"

A day of solid pay off for a season of hard work.  More hard work of course still ahead.

Friday, February 15, 2019

Forgotten Brewery Caves - Saxonia House

Today's "Forgotten Brewery Cave" is from Fredonia Wisconsin.  This is in the south east part of the state where small breweries abounded.

It is in a hill side behind the Saxonia House, a surviving 1850's building that was Inn, residence and brewery.  Since this is an area with no natural rock formations it is of the "tunnel and vault" variety.  It takes up a fair part of this low lying hill.

It is a substantial structure.  Here is the ante chamber, two storage rooms lie beyond.

Prior to going in I walked over the top.  There I noticed some interesting vent holes that I'd soon be seeing from the other side.  These vaulted structures were more likely to have small square or rectangle vents along the sides of the vault, although as it happens, Saxonia has the more common round, mid ceiling vents as well.  Interestingly these were made not from metal or pottery as would be usual, but from carefully hollowed out logs!

The cave is fairly standard stuff in most respects.  In the back there is what looks like an archway with this area of cave in/dig out.  There does not appear to be an additional chamber beyond, the soil dug out here - apparently by an animal - is clean sand.  I have run into blank archways a few times before.  Maybe they were for planned additions.  On a few occasions I have seen evidence that the were a niche for machinery.

Here is the Saxonia House in a vintage photo.  The brewery is the extension on the right.  It seems to have collapsed about 25 years ago.

The rest of the structure is hanging in there.  Under the caked on layers of more recent work it is a "Fachwerk" or half timbered structure very typical of buildings in Germany.

The site is being slowly renovated by a local volunteer group.  More information on the history of the Saxonia House, and a contact email can be found HERE.

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Forgotten Brewery Caves - Bat Survey

I have mentioned in past postings the plight of North America's bat populations as they are reeling from the impact of White Nose Syndrome, a fungal infection thought to have been carried over from Europe.  The disease has spread quickly and for certain species has reduced numbers by 99%.  

From time to time I have been able to point the Department of Natural Resources towards brewery caves that harbor bats, and interestingly they appear to have environmental conditions under which White Nose Syndrome has been less of a catastrophe.  This makes them of considerable interest, just what combination of temperature, humidity and unknown factors makes them relative havens?

On a recent brisk Wednesday I got to go on a bat survey.  We suited up in elaborate disposable coveralls, donned helmets and headlamps and explored brewery caves.

Because the needs of bats for winter time sleep is acute, and because too many visitors may help to spread the disease, no location here.  Besides it is on private property.

A typical sort of cave for a small brewery in a part of the state without solid rock structure.  It was an excavated tunnel in which straight rock foundations were built, then wooden forms for an arch were placed.  The brickwork was laid then the forms removed.  These caves are close to the surface and as we found in several locations, prone to deterioration over time.  But this one was in first rate condition.

Invariably they were built with more than one chamber.  Here we are looking from the outer to the inner room.  There would have also been an antechamber covering the entrance for additional insulation and security.

Many of my pictures this day were sub par.  It was my first attempt at photography by headlamp and I was reluctant to use a lot of flash.  Bats are grumpy when awakened. But you can see several of our snoozing pals hanging from the ceiling here.

My job was mostly recording data and helping pin down locations for a few obscure sites.  But I did have a chance to look about several caves I'd not been in before and this one had a small, interesting side tunnel.  It had a slight incline to it and I suspect it was used to slide blocks of ice, or perhaps to roll small kegs, down from above.

Bats are funny critters.  Their lives are so different from ours being as they are an endless cycle of promiscuous mating, bug eating and hibernation at a level such that their hearts beat four times a minute and they breathe every ten minutes or so.

No wonder they are a bit cranky when disturbed. 

Tuesday, February 12, 2019

What's in a (robot) Name?

What do you call a robot that is effectively a large, mobile vacuum cleaner that can reach six feet up in the air?  I put the question out at the table where the team snacks during work sessions...

The middle suggestion is strong on clever, dubious on taste but is ruled out because you don't go teasing billionaires with legions of lawyers.  The other two...

I was frankly surprised that when you google the movie line "Release the Kraken" you get a scene from Clash of the Titans that shows a critter that actually does not have much in the way of suction cups.  

Kraken of course is a mythical Scandinavian critter based on observations of giant squid.  Something more like this:

Noo Noo sparked a faint memory even before the reference to Teletubbies was made clear.  It is the semi sentient vacuum cleaner that adds a faint hint of darkness to the sun drenched superficially idyllic Hell that the 'Tubs rule over.  

Other than adult input on matters of taste and legal peril this decision like all others of gravity, will be left to the team to make.

Monday, February 11, 2019

FIRST Robotics 2019 - End of Week Five

Week five.  Most years this is the tough one.  The deadline for completion looms near but everyone has been working hard for a month and frankly is starting to get a little tired of the robot, the coaches and each other!

So we usually dial it back a bit saving some energy for the home stretch.  This year, alas, in Week six we are losing about half the team to a Music Department trip to New Orleans.   

The week as it happened.

Monday.  No practice, school cancelled.  There is usually no doubt about this call but on this occasion it may not have been warranted.  The day started out 40 degrees and big puddles.  It was projected to freeze up during the day and make the world a big skating rink.  It was not all that bad, work done.

Tuesday.  Practice on but it snowed like the dickens and we had kids needing to leave early.  Also a critical system might not be legal under the rules of the game.  Desultory experimentation with alternatives.

Wednesday.  No practice, work space unavailable.

Thursday.  No practice, school cancelled with the approach of another wave of snow.

Friday/Saturday/Sunday.  In FIRST robotics there is an odd and interesting tradition called Ri3D, which stands for Robot in Three Days.  The way this works is a bunch of former FIRST students now in college or the working world, take a look at the challenge when it is announced and then spend 72 hours of kamikaze building to come up with a workable if basic machine.  I think they do this for the fun of it but also to give real teams some ideas to think about.

We are not quite down to the necessity of a Ri3D build but we expanded our build hours over the weekend.  In fact, I just put out start times, work goes on as long as it is productive...

Friday.  Good crew on hand.  Now you might imagine that the point of last minute building is to build, not to take apart.  The display of wire and tubing spaghetti is especially bad here.

But a significant engineering issue we had to solve was counterbalancing that long arm with too much weight on the end.  The solution was a pneumatic cylinder pulling 60 pounds backwards.  It made a pretzel out of the first attempt at a linkage.  Here is the gearbox/arm/cylinder assembly back together having been redone in a beefier fashion.

By the way, nobody else in FIRST robotics builds these ridiculous, top heavy, industrial strength robots. I ask the kids sometimes, I plead with them actually, "why can't you just build a normal robot?"  They say that wouldn't be enough fun.

Saturday.  Scheduled to be a work til the work is done day.  But a productive crew got the necessary things done before 5.

It is still unclear if our vacuum system will be allowed under the current and somewhat nebulous rules.  So several kids have been working hard on alternatives.  This foam "bee hive" can just be slammed into the middle of the disc.  It holds pretty well.

As in every previous season, we have a functional robot one week before we need it.  Actual drive practice is happening.  So far things are pretty crude, but improving.

A FIRST robot is not really done until the bumpers are done.  Here's a nice set finished and installed earlier than in any previous season.  

Sunday  Fatigue had set in pretty hard by this point.  We ended up with 15 hours of work spread out over the weekend.  But progress continued.

Here's the robot in competition ready configuration.  The mess of wires and tubes needs some additional attention but at least now everything is labeled.

And here is sort of a "stretch project".  Modular control box for electronics.  Designed, laser cut, welded and assembled by students.  It is called The Black Box.

As always the final touches come from a kid lingering on just a bit longer to finish things up.  Currently, pun intended, we can tell when the robot has latched onto the ball by listening to a change in the pitch of the whining vacuum motor.  That won't work in the arena.  So our main programmer figured out that the motor's current draw changes when a secure seal is established.  The robot can tell us that.  The way he figured to do so was by making the gameboy controller that the arm operator is using just start vibrating!

More snow ahead.  

Friday, February 8, 2019

Stalags and Stalagmites

Being interested in both POW history and caves you'd think the possibility of an etymological connection between "Stalag" and "stalagmite" would have occurred to me long ago.   But it  was only recently that the resemblance caught my eye.

But it seems to be an unusual case of linguistic coincidence.

"Stalag" of course is of German origin.  It is a contraction of the word "Stammlager".  This in turn is, in most typical Teutonic fashion, a word welded together from two smaller bits.  "Stamm", which has several meanings including permanent, and "Lager" meaning a storage place, or in another sense, a camp.  So "permanent camp" might be about right. In the WWII German system there were also temporary camps called "Dulag".  This is a much shortened version of "Durchgangslager".  Durchgang means approximately "just passing through".

We are of course more familiar with Lager in the sense of storage, lager beer requiring a long ageing period, often in caves.  

But despite the frequent appearance of German words in scientific realms, stalagmite and stalactite are not directly related to the above.*  They are said to derive from Modern Latin circa 1650 with origins in the Greek "stalagmos, a drop, drip or that which drops".

Odd that both etymological paths end up in enclosed places where time is measured in a tedious, slow, drip...drip...drip...
* OK, I did find one source that said "stalagmos" came from an earlier Greek word, "stalassien" meaning to trickle.  And that this word meandered around the ancient world long enough to bring forth the German root word "stallen".  This word with a general sense of things staying in one place (see stalls in a barn) may have wandered in a side door.

Wednesday, February 6, 2019

And they found them in the Spring.....

It was so damned cold last week that in addition to the usual cabin fever activities - and what did people do before Netflix? - I actually took on an annoying entirely optional household task I had been avoiding for years.

An upstairs closet had last been painted sometime in the Eisenhower administration.  Note the tell tale turquoise hue.  Time to pull out every garment, box and bit of miscellany and repaint it.  In the process I discovered that the pole holding up a bunch of hangers was in fact nothing more than the handle of a presumably 1950's broom.

It looks a little better, and at the same time also worse, with all the stuff out of it.

I'm saying 1950's but honestly there was some wiring in there that might go back even farther.  With an old house like ours you don't dare start yanking stuff out, it might still be live!

Now the odd thing about all this is that the project was started when it was 30 degrees below zero (F).  With oil based paint a bit of ventilation is desirable but I was not about to open windows and let in the Arctic blast.  I admit to feeling more than a bit loopy while applying the primer coat.

The project was finished a couple of days later when it was 70 degrees warmer.  But with more snow on the way. 

No wonder people used to go insane when cooped up in ice bound, pre-Netflix cabins; their neighbors arriving in the Spring to find them gibbering madly, huddled in the corner of an upstairs closet.

But in our case such a nicely painted one.

Monday, February 4, 2019

FIRST Robotics 2019 - End of Week Four

Here's how we started the critical Week Four, the time in which it is make or break for any ambitious add ons to your project.

Yep, snow.  After which it got bitterly cold.  This last part was made at least perceptually worse by the fact that in preparation for UK travels in a few months I have my weather app set to Celsius.  You think 28 below zero feels bad?  Try for a moment thinking of it as 33 below.  We don't meet when school is cancelled due to weather, so we lost work sessions on Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and our possible back up day, Wednesday.  This is extremely unhelpful.

This was worse than usual, but something like this happens every year.  It is just part of why the teams from sunny California always seem to over perform.  Maybe all that financial and coaching support from Silicon Valley has a little to do with it as well.  Some solace can perhaps be taken in the widespread nature of the Polar Vortex.  Most of the teams we will be competing against in the region are in the same situation.  And at least those who operate under similar constraints are all lamenting as much as we are.

All Hands on Deck for weekend sessions.

Although we have everything sort of working we have some inefficient mechanisms that are drawing a huge amount of power and tripping our reset breakers.  This has never happened before

With two weeks until its debut on a practice field, here's the critter.  The vacuum grabbers have to be worked on a bit, the coordination of the main arm is twitchy and needs a counter balance, we hope we have enough battery life and that somebody can figure out how to drive the darned thing.

Here's the machine Sunday night.  Both the machine and drivers have a long ways to go but, noisy little dickens that it is, it does get the job done!

If you are curious about such things, and reading all the way to the bottom suggests you are, the main vacuum grabber is fashioned out of a dog dish!  On a separate drive frame we have demonstrated viability of a step climbing device that is not on this version yet.  But when they are put together it will be a very complex machine.  By way of comparison:

2016 competition machine
Drive systems 2.
Sensors: 2, encoders each side.
Manipulators: 2, one of which seldom worked.
Pneumatic systems: 1, but I'm counting it as the manipulator here.
Camera one.
Things that could go wrong: 7.

2017 competition machine
Drive systems 2.
Sensors: 2, encoders on each side of drive.
Camera 1, but add one point for it being able to reverse and look backwards.
Manipulators: 3, although to be fair two were simple gates that worked in tandem.
Things that can go wrong: 9.
2018 competition machine.  
Drive systems: 2
Sensors: 3, encoders on each side of the drive plus one on elevator.
Camera: one
Pneumatic system: two.
Manipulators: 2, moved elevator up and down, clamps opened and closed.            
Total things that could go wrong adds up to 10.

2019 competition machine (projected)
Drive systems: 3
Sensors:  6. Encoder each side drive, wrist and shoulder. Lidar and vision tracker.
Pneumatic systems: 3, fore and aft lift cylinders and counter force to lever arm.
Camera: one, maybe two.
Manipulators: 4, "Wrist and shoulder". Two different vacuum pumps.

Total things that can go wrong:  17!

No wonder this is being such a tough build, it is about twice as complex as any prior machine.