Wednesday, July 31, 2019

The Treasure Cave

J.R.R. Tolkien said it best:

"The legend of Bilbo's gold excited both curiosity and hope; for legendary gold (mysteriously obtained, if not positively ill-gotten), is, as every one knows, any one's for the finding - unless the search is interrupted."

Today we will be visiting a "Treasure Cave", one of several such sites around the Midwest where legends of gold have been exciting curiosity and hope for generations.  I shan't be identifying the exact location because the owners don't want curious hobbits or humans tramping about and getting themselves into difficulties.  Honestly, if you had not taken the trouble to speak with the owners the chances of your finding the spot would be pretty much zero anyway.  When one of your landmarks is to look for a picnic table, and when half an hour's walk into the wilderness has not revealed it...well you'd probably give up.

And miss a magnificent view.

The stories associated with this place are varied.  All can't be true.  Probably none are.  Was the treasure Spanish doubloons, or French gold, or a payroll destined for American soldiers at a frontier post?  Were the thieves Indians or river pirates?  In most versions of the story a survivor of the attack hid on shore and saw treasure being hauled up a slope and stashed in a cave.  Maybe this one.

Whatever the beginnings of the story it took on a life of its own.  The secret was passed on from father to son on a death bed.  Or a rumor of it reached a far west mining camp.  Or it was divined during a seance.  Treasure hunters came.  They dug and dug, expanding a natural cave system into a warren of tunnels.

It is not an agreeable place.  The caves had a peculiar smell to them, perhaps there was a dead raccoon in there someplace.  And unlike the brewery caves I usually visit there was a tumbledown, irregular look to them.  I lack the imagination of the great Professor Tolkien, but it seemed to me the sort of place you might encounter Orcs.

Maybe all seekers of Treasure, or just of Treasure rumors, have nostalgia in their souls.  There is no reason that visitors to this place would favor candles over the far more reliable option of flashlights, but they seem to have done so.  Perhaps it is fitting that they use a technology that comes down to us from the days when river pirates hauled bags of Spanish doubloons up a cliff face.


Monday, July 29, 2019

Enjoy the Beauty of Nature - Or Not

In my town there is a new park down by the river.  It is nice.  A person could sit there and watch the water go by.  Sometimes there are also ducks.

Or you could ignore nature.

Here is a new park bench I recently saw.

So I guess you could go down there with your laptop and play Halo all day.  Or, to be entirely fair, sit there and write blog posts!

The insidious take over of the Virtual World continues apace.

Friday, July 26, 2019

Monument Rock

Down in the general vicinity of Viroqua Wisconsin I drove by an unexpected landmark.

It is called Monument Rock.  My photo hardly does it justice, it is, well as you'd certainly expect, monumental.

It is apparently a chunk of really old rock that just laughed off the glaciers that scoured the area during the last Ice Age.  It balances on an alarmingly skinny base.  Worthy of a moment of admiration although the stories of the Native American population revering it are likely nonsense.

I did get up a bit closer and was happy to see an absence of graffiti.  It looks a parlous climb but I figured local adventurous young people still clamber up it.  What they do up there, oh, best not to imagine.

But before we write off the current gen as scoundrels and scofflaws, I leave you with an image from a 1909 post card:

Graffiti top to bottom and a couple of ads for a patent medicine/health food!  It appears that generations past were also at times scofflaws and scoundrels.

The Lathe of Heaven goes CNC

I guess the weirdness started when I recently picked up and re-read a classic Ursula K. LeGuin novel, A Wizard of Earthsea.  Good stuff, a fair bit of which was - ahem - later borrowed by the author of the Harry Potter series.   Another favorite LeGuin book of mine is The Lathe of Heaven.  In it the premise is that a man is able to alter reality by the content of his dreams.  This is a thoughtful concept and handled well, but dreams seem such an inefficient way to alter reality.  Rather like the difference between making something on a simple lathe versus a 21st century CNC machine.

It appears I have stumbled upon a more efficient method.  The bedtime stories I make up for grandchildren have started coming true.

It was a week or so back. The grands were staying over on a night that had storms and high winds.  We peered out the window and watched the branches of trees flailing back and forth alarmingly.  In fact a big maple tree in the neighbor's yard had one huge branch shear right off and land on their car.  It made quite an impression.  On the grands that is, the car surprisingly just had a broken mirror and a series of dents on the top.

Bed time story that night was about a mamma squirrel putting her baby squirrel to bed.  Of course there were squirrel snacks involved and squirrel bedtime stories about acorns.  Finally the baby squirrel insisted on being rocked in his nest but just then the wind blew up and gave him a wild, crazy ride.  I did at the last minute say that the part of the tree that the squirrel nest was in did not fall down.  

The next morning in our own yard there was a disorderly pile of sticks and leaves.  A fallen squirrel nest.  Tipping it over I found.....a newborn baby squirrel.

Grey squirrels generally have litters of 2 - 4 and this was the only kit to be seen.  According to the Internet mother squirrels will come and retrieve fallen young, and the best thing to do is just put them in a bit of nesting near the base of the nearest tree.  This we did and a few hours later the baby squirrel was gone.

Props to mamma squirrel by the way.  They tend to be scatterbrained parents, having random batches of children several times a year and by assorted fathers.  They put them up in ramshackle nests that always look ready to fall apart.  From what I've heard them say I bet they scold all the time.  But they sure are devoted.

Of course bedtime stories the following night had a much happier tone to them.  I'm considering a sub plot where grandpa wins the lottery.

Wednesday, July 24, 2019

No Math....No Ice Cream

So we are running an informal "Robot Camp" on Tuesdays this summer.  It is the high school FIRST team members and coaches and about 15 middle school "recruits".  Lots is getting done, the future looks promising.

Of course in the summer and at that age attention spans have limits so a snack break at some point is needed.  This week I decided they had to earn it.  

I let them have carte blanch on how they solved this problem.  One of the CAD trainees took it on.  He did a 3D model of the inside of the ice cream scoop, calculating the volume it would hold*.  This plus a simple calculation of how much ice cream was in the bucket - maybe math involved but I allow creative cheating such as reading the product info - and he worked out how much ice cream per capita.

This granted him the status of Snack Captain.  Here he and another CAD student issue the rations of chocolate ice cream.

* The world being an odd place I suppose somebody, somewhere, some time has already "modeled" a scoop of ice cream.  But maybe not....this could be a first for a FIRST student.

Monday, July 22, 2019

Ultimate Wisconsin - Food and Drink

When I was in England last May we of course had many discussions over food and drink.  One topic was the cultural differences between the UK and my somewhat provincial corner of the US.  I'm talking about Wisconsin.

Wisconsin mixes a lot of elements.  Immigrant culture, especially German.  Rural life, especially as it pertains to Holstein cows.  And maybe the long winters just make everyone a bit quirky.

For instance.  In England they have Bloody Mary's.  They are a straightforward combination of tomato juice, vodka, a few seasonings.  In Wisconsin the Bloody Mary is an art form.  They come embellished with celery, peppers, cheese squares, olives and pickles.  And you get a small "chaser" glass of beer on the side.

Recently I ran across something that may be Ultimate Wisconsin.  In a meat market in Hayward there was this:

Bloody Mary flavored bratwursts.

We passed on them, there were so many fun variants for sale and the Philly Cheese steak brats just sounded so darn tasty.  But if you really wanted a serious Bloody Mary, well, some of them come with skewered bratwursts, cheeseburgers, shrimp, entire chicken?  Behold a wondrous and slightly disturbing phalynx of Wisconsin Bloody Marys...

 I found some even more ridiculous examples HERE.  Hope you are both hungry and thirsty.   

Friday, July 19, 2019

Family Reunion - Fun and Games

More Family Reunion activities.  We always have a Treasure Hunt for the younger set.  As they get older and smarter the game gets harder.  This year there were cryptic clues that led to parts of a treasure map.  You can make one of these quite easily by just taking a cheap, standard jigsaw puzzle and spray painting it white.  Then draw on in Sharpie the relevant landmarks.  Of course the parts that actually show you useful things are with the last couple of clues.  There might have been cups of water that rained down when one clue was retrieved by turning on a ceiling fan...

Three generation Trivia.  We had a good sized Canadian contingent so the topic was approximately Canadian-American culture.  Tim Horton restaurants, NHL teams, obscure lines from the lesser known verses of National Anthems.

In case you ever need to know this, Canada produces 80% of the world's maple syrup.
And about the same percentage of comedians and Science Fiction shows.

Later in the week, when all the kids were pretty wound up anyway, we had a game of Kubb.  This is a sort of Scandinavian lawn game where you knock over wooden blocks by throwing special sticks at them.  The inflatable roosters marked the starting line. The candy on top of each target block was my own addition.  "Sugar Kubb" if you can stand a bit of a pun.  Knock it over and you get the sugar.  Just the thing to settle the kiddos down a bit.

But don't get too noisy.  Baby sleeping notice.  The hastily done message actually says "You Wake, you Take".  The onion is a nice touch.

Thursday, July 18, 2019

Family Reunion - Frog Races

Down the shore a ways is a bit of weedy, muddy shoreline that we call "Frog City".  The amphibian citizens of same are numerous and easy to capture.  Here the unofficial "Mayor" of Frog City confers with a constituent.

Having rounded up a considerable batch of frogs we naturally had a frog race.  This is more difficult that you would imagine.  You really can't put numbers on them and they mostly all look like the same frog.  With this problem figured out we put them into brackets and set them up to jump.

"Ready, set.....Jump!".  Uh...any time now guys.  Who figured that frogs would just sit there when released into a patch of lawn marked off by a circle...

The reluctant frog situation was solved when the resident dog wandered right through the arena.  This got them hopping forthwith, and calling the dog to run through the middle of things became SOP for the remainder of the races.   Not surprisingly the three year old who was most into all matters froggy ended up winning.

No turtle races this year.  The only one we caught was this miniature snapping turtle. He enjoyed our company sufficiently that he was caught and released several times.

Wednesday, July 17, 2019

Family Reunion 2019. Chaos and mosquitoes.

Every couple of years we host a family reunion up at the lake.  It's a lot of fun, although it requires a fair amount of work to pull it off successfully.  Magnificent weather helps a great deal.  Here's the lake ready for company.

Still Life with inner tubes and frog hunter.

There is always that in between demographic.  Certainly not kids anymore but so far not locked into the parent-serious grown up status.  Here one of the Fun Uncles gets a much deserved comeuppance.

In this snazzy but disorienting 21st century families are often smaller and more diverse in geography and other ways.  So it takes a bit of effort to round up an approximation of the big, raucous extended families of some half remembered or totally imagined bygone era.  Here we are all having pizza and beverages while small children dash about and grandparents relax and sip.  For some reason it reminds me of a Fellini movie but with beer instead of wine.

Everyone is safely back to their respective homes now.  Thanks for coming!

Monday, July 15, 2019

Summer Robotics 2019

The mixed middle school - high school robotics sessions are at the half way mark.  Lots of progress.  

We've set the lego component aside for a week or so to concentrate on other areas.  

The goal was to have a frame - built by the middle school students - and a control system built by same, get together.  Here's the frame in the home stretch.

And with the control board mounted.  I should point out to the uninitiated that this is a fair degree of complexity.  I've seen a few challenged high school teams accomplish not much more than this in a full six week build season.  Of course we did cut a few corners.  Notice the duct taped on bumpers!  

Across the work space others have been working on programming tricks.  We already had what we call "Puppy Mode", where the robot's light tracking system will follow a person holding a reflective target.  It was just another step forward into "Dog and Tennis Ball" mode.  The sensors are set to recognize the shape and color of an orange beach ball.  Carry it, toss it, roll it across the room.  The robot follows it like a loyal but none too bright Labrador.  Sorry for the low quality picture but you can just see the tracking cross hairs on the display screen...

For the remaining sessions we will continue to program on both the existing high school robot and the newly born middle school one.  The CAD team has been designing and cutting custom parts.  Simple things like a battery holder but still....these are just kids.

Really smart kids.

Friday, July 12, 2019

Forgotten Brewery Caves - Ooops!

There is a tendency to think of brewery caves as being very solid structures.  Indeed, the ones carved out of solid rock tend to be effectively indestructible.  Even the lesser examples made from brick vault construction tend to hold up pretty well.  Many of them from the 1870's and earlier are still hanging in there.

But now and then in the course of my research I run across stories of brewery caves that collapsed soon after construction.  Ooops.

Example the first:

This story is from Manitowoc Wisconsin and if memory serves is from 1869.  Since the brewery was only built in 1865 that means the cellars started to collapse after only three years.  It makes you wonder about the quality of construction.  But remarkably enough, the brewery building is still standing!  Maybe it was a different contractor.

Example the second:

The Melms brewery was on Virginia Street in downtown Milwaukee.  It was one of the biggest of the breweries of the post Civil War era but fell on hard times when its founder died young, supposedly after accidentally sitting on a needle and developing an infection.  In its salad days the brewery looked like this:

The same general location today:

The railroad tracks are gone but the general elevation of the land and the composition of stone below and brick above looks right.  The configuration of windows is a bit off though, so this may have been another building in the brewery complex.  

Presumably there are some vaults down under those parking lots but given the bad luck with vault construction on this site it seems unlikely that they'd survive.

The Melms name has been carried on in the form of the new Melms Brewing Company in a suburb of Milwaukee.  It was started by a descendant of old C.T. Melms and is of course worth a visit when in the area. 

Wednesday, July 10, 2019

In Search of The Giant Breakfast Stottie

Four years ago on a search for the obscure we happened upon an establishment called The Last Cafe in England.  And it was just that, being a short distance from the official boundary with Scotland.   A small establishment, it seemed to cater largely to passing groups of motorcyclists and rally car enthusiasts.  

We were just looking for a cup of tea but one member of our party was intrigued by a menu item called "Breakfast Stottie".

One of the British members of our party informed us that it was a traditional dish in Newcastle, environs of same, and up into Scotland.  A Stottie is a very large, loaf like dinner roll.  You can fill it with all manner of foodstuffs.  The contents of an entire Full English Breakfast filled it quite full indeed....

An adventurous Dutch member of our party could not pass up the challenge.....

As best I can calculate this was about 1600 calories of food.  But it was consumed to the last crumb, to the dismay of the house dog who was hungrily watching.  One suspects most guests don't finish theirs.  I know the husky soldier two tables over tried and fell short.

Stotties are called that based on an Old English word Stott meaning to bounce or jump.  Supposedly bakers determined the proper consistency of the loaf by dropping it on the floor.  If it was sufficiently rubbery to rebound a bit, well, you had a proper stottie.

Here's the proprietor of the establishment four years ago.  In conversation on our way out he mentioned that this was the standard Breakfast Stottie.  On request he could make it in a larger version.  He does not look the sort to kid about such matters.

Last May we had occasion to stop in again.  The place seemed to be under new management and we were told that it had been a while since the Breakfast Stottie had been on the bill of fare.  And alas, even in England there has been a trend in recent years towards healthier, better quality food.  My contacts in the Newcastle area were unable to find a single eatery still serving the Breakfast Stottie in its proper form.

Oh, something similar with about half the ingredients and caloric wallop can still be purchased.  Shamefully and misleadingly this is called The Ultimate Breakfast Sandwich.

But the true Giant Breakfast Stottie is either extinct, or at a minimum has become a sort of culinary Bigfoot, still some vague area out beyond The Last Cafe.

Monday, July 8, 2019

The Brew from Scratch Project. 2.0

Last year my plan to home brew a batch of beer entirely from scratch came to grief. Deer ate the entire barley crop.  An unexpected fence replacement cut the hop production back by 90%.  Note:  Hops being effectively a weed, it is hard to stop its growth.  But I'm going to give it another try.  Infrequent updates ahead.

25 May, 2019.  Hops vines headed up the nice new back fence.  These are Cascade hops if you are keeping score.

Last year I put in a patch of barley at my son's acreage outside of town.  The deer moved in immediately.  This time, for a small expense, I just took an extra plot at our local community garden.  It has a fence.  "Full Pint" seemed a good variant to plant.  I hope a pound of seed will be enough.  

July 3rd.

Hops doing very well.

The barley is less encouraging.  It has been a cool, wet season and I probably should have used more seed.  But it is growing.  The red tape on the string is to remind the crew that mows between plots that this is not plain ol' grass but a crop.  When I grew barley many years ago there was some unfortunate confusion...

Oh,  there's some weeds and such in there as well.  I pull out the most egregious ones. But when trying to make an Old Time batch of beer you have to factor in that most farm house breweries used barley that probably had all sorts of other stuff in it.  Adds to the ambiance I hope.

Next update in the fall.

Thursday, July 4, 2019

4th of July Parade 2019 - A House Undivided

A small town parade on a humid day.  The timing was perfect, rain just before and just afterwards.  The usual array of floats, fire trucks, marching groups of Girl Scouts.  Politicians?  None.  Any candy being passed out, and there was a bunch, was entirely altruistic.  A few images of the event.

Directly across from us were a middle aged white guy and a middle aged black guy.  Some sort of in laws I figure.  They chatted in a companionable fashion then together stood up when the colors came past at the start of the parade.  They both doffed their caps but the black guy was a little quicker on the draw.

I don't think that is Diet Pepsi in the can.

A bare chested Z-Z Top interpretation of Uncle Sam.

I'm not sure what the fuss was about tanks in the Washington DC parade.  Here we had a tracked fire fighting vehicle that looked much the same....and it had a very enthusiastic elderly woman spraying the hot, humid crowd with water!

May you enjoy the 4th along with your neighbors and family.