Monday, September 30, 2019

The Good Place - A Fan Theorizes

I don't watch much television.  Baseball games.  The occasional Brit stuff with my better half.  So much of what flickers across the small screen these days is just predictable, repetitive stuff.  So when something unconventional comes along it catches my attention.  And when it continues to go in unexpected directions I actually make some effort to watch it.

The Good Place is one of the few examples in recent years.  It airs on network (!) TV.  NBC to be specific.  And the plot in very brief summary is this:

Four imperfect but non-evil humans wake up in The Afterlife.  Micheal ( played by Ted Danson ) is a sort of angel in charge of their corner of heaven.  But of course, it is really hell, something they only slowly figure out.  The show is actually about.....philosophy, perhaps the first show to centerpiece the thoughts of Kant, Hume and Sarte since Monty Python's Flying Circus.  It sounds dry but it is engaging and funny on a deeper plane than most generic entertainment.

Danson is great, he has a lifetime of comedic timing to work with and so far as I can tell is doing this minor gig just because he enjoys it.  The protagonist is Kristin Bell, and she does a fine job, but there are several secondary characters who steal every scene they are in.  "Janet" played by a newcomer D'arcy Caden, and "Shawn", the demonic antagonist.  He's played by Marc Evan Jackson whose role is written to work when overacted.  He "chews the scenery" with gusto.

I very rarely delve into pop culture but as The Good Place starts its final season I do want to go on record with a Fan's Guess as to how the series will end.  No doubt there are other collections of predictions out there but I have not looked them up.  Just my thoughts on the fly.

I think the entire contrivance of The Good Place, with its many twists and turns is actually to save the eternal soul of.......Micheal, the supposed demon played by Ted Danson.  The recurring theme of the show is that humans, when given the opportunity, can become better.  And so it is with Michael who starts out covertly tormenting the main cast members but eventually becomes their ally and even offers to sacrifice himself to save them.

Under this theory all the other characters are actually angels.  Whether they know it or not.

All that's left then is to figure out who is God.  I doubt it is the four "human" characters.  The entire show is written with the premise that they are, in two distinct couples, "soul mates".   It could of course be Janet, the engaging, witty Artificial Intelligence that also becomes ever more human.

But I think the final plot twist will link all the way back to the opening minutes of the show.  Michael, speaking to a newly arrived Eleanor, points to a goofy 1970's vintage photo and says it was a remarkable human named Doug Forcett.  He had taken a batch of hallucinogenic mushrooms and figured out the exact mechanisms by which the After Life worked.  We meet an adult version of him in a Season Three episode and he is painfully trying to do every possible thing to increase his After Life point total.  When he accidentally steps on a snail he decides that he has to walk barefoot 50 miles to donate money to the Canadian Mollusk Fund.

Other possibilities are of course in play, but with my fan theory, here's the face you want to see when you walk towards some distant glowing light in the Hereafter...

Friday, September 27, 2019

Middle School Robotics Underway

Some random photos and thoughts from early sessions of Machines Behaving Badly, the middle school combat robot class.

Assorted vintage power tools, and a strange figurine.  I release these more sophisticated components only to kids who show me plausible designs to use them.

I'm trying to teach them a few basic skills.  Like "never use a hand drill when you can use a drill press".  Hole saws for wheels and hubs are a particular case.  The torque involved in their use makes them dangerous with hand tools.  Nice to see safety glasses in use.

I am getting these kids at the end of a long day.  And they are middle schoolers.  And the school is extra chaotic as it is under construction.  So I try to keep the actual teaching aspects of the class manageable.  The ratio of talking to doing should not exceed 5%.  But that's enough.  Last week I showed a short video with the history of robotics in our district.  Starting with these little combat robots - one clip had detached Barbie heads flying around the arena - moving on up to advanced projects and then to the high school team.  This week it was basic tool safety.  I have a continuing message.  Keep working.  Don't goof off more than necessary.  Anger not the Robot Overlord nor his Minions and one day you too will be on the high school team building uber cool stuff.

Wednesday, September 25, 2019

A Brewery in Downsville Wisconsin?

A little history detective work today.

Wisconsin had many small time breweries in the 19th century.  They peaked in the 1870s.  Before that the population was not big enough to support a lot of them.  And after that the big breweries started to consolidate the market due to advances such as mechanical refrigeration and efficient rail delivery of product to distant locations.  In fact the total number of breweries in the United States topped out in 1873 at 4131 a number that was not equaled until a much larger population and the felicitous development of craft microbreweries put us back over the top in 2015.

Some early Wisconsin breweries were run as sidelines by farmers, and existed solely to supply local needs.  They were small time operations and their exact number is unknown, as early records are sketchy and some of these farmer-brewers might not have been all that motivated to make themselves known to the tax man.   

One place that a small brewery is known to have operated is outside the little town of Downsville Wisconsin in Dunn County.

Our starting point is the remarkably erudite Wisconsin's Frontier Farm Breweries, by Wayne Kroll.  He identifies - presumably by tax records - a brewery owned by a John Scheibly located at "Downsville PO".  No date is given.

While researching another topic I found the second clue.  An ad that ran repeatedly in the Dunn County News offered the following:  

The undersigned offers for sale the Brewery Place, one half mile south of Downsville, comprising 40 acres of land, two dwelling houses and the brewery building.  Low price and easy terms.  Inquire of A.S. TIBBETTS.
                                                                             Downsville, Dunn Co., Wis
Oct 23, 1878

The next clue also came from the pages of the Dunn County News.  The edition of July 12th, 1879 recounts events of a terrible flood on July 2nd.

"Caspar Blatter and his wife Anna lived near the mouth of a small creek that comes into the Red Cedar about a quarter of a mile below that place (Downsville). "  They were.."swept away with their dwelling and drowned.  Nothing is left to mark the place where they lived, barn, out houses and even land all gone".

A bit further up the creek the residence of E.L. Livingstone was also destroyed with the family narrowly escaping.  It is also mentioned that "The brewery situated on the stream a short distance above Livingstone's was also taken away."

That really should be enough to pin down the location of the brewery with some accuracy.  Find a creek just down stream from Downsville.  See if you can find a spot half a mile south of the village that is on the creek.  Bonus points if you can identify the residence of Livingstone, Tibbetts or Blatter.  Here we go:

Not a great visual, this is a copy of a copy of an 1877 plat.  I've outlined in red the area that shows the creek and the property of A.S. Tibbetts.  The A. Tibbets just to the south was a relative.  The Blatter property at the mouth of the creek is not shown, nor is there any mention of a Livingstone....although there are several structures near the one marked Hotel that are candidates.  The brewery would likely be on the NW corner of the A.S. Tibbetts property, possibly but not certainly where the black dot is seen.

Here is a later map, undated but probably 1900 - 1905.  Notice that the channel of the river has shifted a bit.  And I think the creek is drawn more accurately.

A.S. Tibbetts is gone - he died in 1880 - and the property formerly labeled as his now seems to belong to an Emma Shafer.  The dotted line is now County Road C, just south of the junction with County Z.  The little cemetery on C is useful landmark.  It would seem logical that the brewery site would be on the creek just west of C, although whether it would be north or south of the creek is hard to say.  I'm guessing south.

A brewery in 1878 needed several things.  Grain.  Not a problem in rural Dunn County. Clean water.  Well, they sure ended up having plenty of that.  A hillside in which to excavate a lagering cave.  And road access.  Grain, kegs of beer, heavy stuff.  No, I'd say just off the west side of County Road C would be our spot.

Shall we take a look?

Oh, my.  Some very dramatic cliffs that you'd not expect viewing from the road.  A delightful hidden place with the creek running merrily through it.

OK, now I can see why they chose to build the brewery here.  Not the greatest stone for excavating a cave, but pretty good.  Better than what you'll find in the village of Downsville proper.

With reports of flood conditions sufficient to wipe out entire farmsteads I was not expecting to find brewery foundations.  But I did find these random hunks of cement.  Probably newer but honestly I don't see any structures anywhere near this stuff.  So where did it come from?

Putting all the clues together I'd say the picture below is the "Brewery Place" mentioned in the ad.  It has the necessary ingredients.  Flat land that could be reached via a road.  Proximity to the stone cliffs shown above.  A decent slope that could be used for the traditional "gravity feed" that brought grain down to a brewing floor.  And it looks like a place where somebody could imagine they were close enough to the water to be convenient but not close enough to be at risk.  Umm....

Note that the 1877 map is indeed less accurate than the later one.  I'd put this on the former A.S. Tibbetts property but on the south fork of the creek that is not shown on the earlier plat.  Looking at those cliffs I can confidently say this was not a new channel for the stream, rather a cartographer's error.

No trace of the brewery or its cave, although a revisit when all the leaves are down might show a bit more.

Monday, September 23, 2019

Persistence of Memory

The other night I was reading books with my grandson.  Atypically he picked a dinosaur book.  Dinosaurs were very big a few months ago but since spring came it has been all frogs, toads, bugs, etc.

But still.....

I pointed to a picture in the book and said "What's that one called?".

He paused a moment and said: "I don't always remember".

I was stunned.  This was Iguanadon one of his all time favorite dinosaurs.  But more to the point he had actually just said that he would not remember everything.  The frog hunts, the hide and seek, the puppet shows with Possum, favorite stories, visiting Humphrey the Camel, making big splashes with rocks off the dock.....would it all be forgotten?

I'm guilty of the occasional bit of hyperbole but I'm being totally serious when I said that this hit me hard.  I got a little teary eyed considering the ramifications.

He's three years old.  I know that very little from that age ever persists.  I can recall a few snippets, helped by the fact that we moved to a new house when I was four.  There was the nice lady named Kay who lived in the upstairs apartment.  She gave me treats.  There was that chubby kid who got stuck in the chimney of the backyard barbecue.  Thankfully it was not in operation.

But somebody will remember, right?  Maybe his parents but like all young working parents they are busy.  And many of the best memories come from sleep overs and grass hopper hunts and other times when it was just the two of us.

But I'll remember, right?  Well....I'll try.  In my family we tend to live pretty long and mostly keep our wits about us.  But there are limits.  As my father passed 90 he began to lose memories quickly.  And in reverse order.  The more recent events went first, then his working years, and finally at the end he lived in the world of his boyhood on the farm back in the 1920's.  And he was happy there.

If this happens to me it will be a lousy trick.  These recent memories are among the very best.  If I lose those first then what follows would be a long stretch of mixed stuff.  The worries about work and teen aged curfews and saving for the future.  Then further back, to my own childhood which was marred by a family tragedy that changed things forever.  I suppose eventually I'd get back to days of fishing and frog hunting with my own grandpa.  He was a good guy and I'd probably be happy living there again for a short while.

The grand son started preschool this fall.  Going off to school was the shadow looming over the very end of the last Winnie the Pooh story.  

"Pooh, promise you won't forget about me, ever. Not even when I'm a hundred." Pooh thought for a little. "How old shall I be then?" "Ninety-nine." Pooh nodded. "I promise," he said. Still with his eyes on the world Christopher Robin put out a hand and felt Pooh's paw. "Pooh," said Christopher Robin earnestly, "if I--if I'm not quite--" he stopped and tried again-- "Pooh, whatever happens, you will understand, won't you?" "Understand what?" "Oh, nothing." He laughed and jumped to his feet. "Come on!" "Where?" said Pooh. "Anywhere." said Christopher Robin.

Friday, September 20, 2019

Minnesota Twins - Special Pennant Edition

Recently I bought a vintage Minnesota Twins pennant at a flea market.  Oh, I paid more than I should have and it is not in perfect shape, but I do like a bit of detective work.  And besides, it brought back memories.  Here it is.

Perhaps you recall our old friends "Minnie and Paul" from a few weeks back.  Here they are rendered in a very crude style.  Almost like cubist art.  Their legs are particularly weird looking.

If you take a quick glance at ebay you will see lots, and I do mean lots, of pennants for sale.  They come in a bewildering variety of styles and almost all claim to be "60's vintage".  So what can we figure out from this one?  Well, first of all that wide font on the TWINS name screams 1970's.  Close your eyes for a moment.....can you still hear that faint sound of disco?  And then there's this:

MLB, the logo of Major League Baseball.  It was created in 1969.  Among other things it was a copyright that indicated the creators of something had purchased a license for their work.  This wiped out many small time operations and in a sense was the end of a classic era of sports memorabilia.  But a few companies soldiered on, and some of the savvy ones that figured the new system out early actually prospered.  Here is a small but revealing clue.

This is the logo of ASCO Inc, a company in Winona Minnesota that specialized in making felt pennants.  A blog called Pennant Fever had a very nice write up on them. In short they were one of the companies that figured out the importance of licensing early and enjoyed considerable success.  In true American can do spirit they were founded by a high school coach and started out in his garage.  Actually, no, the first products were made in his kitchen.  Only with growth of the company did they move out to the garage!

It's worth a read.  But if you are in a hurry, I'll just say that this logo was in use from 1970 to 1979.

This was an interesting time both for the Minnesota Twins and for Your Humble Correspondent. 

The Twins won their division in 1970 but then entered the doldrums.  It would be 17 years until they reached the playoffs again.  The most beloved, iconic player in the team's history, Harmon Killebrew, was traded away after the '74 season.  The owner, Calvin Griffith, was felt at the time to be heartlessly cheap but in reality he was barely hanging on financially.  Free agency and the disproportionate flow of money to big market teams was pushing him to the brink.  It was a time of at best .500 baseball and of much reduced expectations.

I spent the decade still in Minneapolis, moving along in four year hops.  70 - 74 High School.  74 - 78 College.  78 - 82 Med School.  In the mid to late 70's I went to Twins games on occasion.  They played in the somewhat run down Metropolitan Stadium.  I went with my brother, or less often with my high school girl friend.  Drawing inspiration from Calvin Griffith we were too cheap to pay for parking and had a secret free spot a little ways off.  It was next to a commercial development that had gone bankrupt and there was nobody there to post no-parking signs. 

Back then a Major League ballgame was still a cheap evening.  Bleacher seats, maybe a hot dog.  We'd wait until later for a beer usually ending up at Culla's Tavern on the West Bank.

The move to a new stadium - the much reviled Metrodome - came in 1982.  In the mid 70's when this pennant was likely made and sold there was a tired feel to the old ballpark.  Metropolitan stadium was eventually demolished and on its site a gigantic mall was built.  There is a marker for home plate near a first floor amusement park.  520 feet away and on the second level there is a lone seat attached to a wall.  Harmon Killebrew once hit a home run to that spot.

While far more expensive the new Target field is an enjoyable place to watch a ball game.  As it is near my old neighborhood I'm sure I could still find free parking if I worked at it but it would necessitate a walk through now dodgy parts of town and so should not be undertaken for night games.

(posted on a day when the Twins are on the brink of the A.L. Central title.  The Magic Number of combined Twins wins and Cleveland losses stands at 7 with ten games left in the regular season.  Playoff baseball here we come!)

Wednesday, September 18, 2019

Refreshing Waters from....Muddy Creek? A local mystery.

Today's journey into local history features a company that at first glance makes no sense.  For that matter it makes no sense at second or third glance either.  Our starting point is a newspaper ad.  It is from the 1870's but I am pretty sure I have run across examples from the '60's as well.

Mineral water was big business in the 19th century.  People drank it for its supposed health giving qualities.  Some towns such as Saratoga Springs in New York, and even Waukesha here in Wisconsin made their reputation - and no small amount of money - based on this trade.

But Fall City Wisconsin is a tiny hamlet through which runs a body of water called Muddy Creek.  The idea that somebody would make persistent efforts to tout water from this community is peculiar. 

It may have reflected a measure of desperation.  Fall City was an early community, and in fact was just up the creek from Rumsey's Landing, one of the first settlements in the county.  But it never grew.   Here's a plat map from the mid 1870's.

You can see that the biggest land owner was N.B. Rumsey.  He also owned the mill. Various snippets of news in the local paper give us at least an outline of the mineral water business.

Rumsey ran it out of the mill, seen here as it still stands across the creek and next to the ruins of the dam.

Various mentions in the local paper give glimpses into the business side of Falls City Mineral Water.

- In November of 1877 visitors stopping at the mill asked where the springs were.  They were told they were just down stream but that the water was for sale at the mill.
- Various mentions of product delivery indicate that it was available by the barrel or in one gallon jugs.
- In December of 1877 a probably contrived article mentions that the son of a Mr. Donley who had been "sick for a long time" was rapidly recovering after drinking the waters.  It states that "The Falls City Springs will yet be famous".
- In March of 1878 it is noted that: "There has been a baseball club formed here calling themselves the Mineral Springs Club, Capt. E.D. Wolf.  They played the Prairie Clippers last Saturday and to use their expression got "scooped".  Brace up boys, take a little more mineral water and try them again."

The relationship between Rumsey and the business in the ad above is explained.  G. Tabor Thompson was a druggist, in an era where drug stores sold darn near everything.  He was the distributor in Eau Claire and every week Rumsey would drive a wagon load over.  A January 1878 delivery was for ten jugs and one keg.  The only other outlet I see mentioned was Fletcher and Sons which I believe was a grocery business in Menomonie.

In the end a small scale business in an out of the way hamlet had a tough path ahead of it.  By 1880 the mentions in the paper fade away and Norman B. Rumsey himself passed one year later.  

Falls City is still there but there is not much to see.  The mill remains but like much of the rest of the town has emphatic no trespassing signs around it.  An old school house, a few small residences.  If you walk along the course of the creek below the mill you find few traces of the past.  But here's some old barrel hoops.....could they be from the mineral water barrels?

And although I don't see any definite source of the springs there is an area below the mill where water bubbles up from deeper down.  In the interests of diligent research I did try it out.  It just tasted like plain old water.

Monday, September 16, 2019

A Late Life Career Change Ahead?

I'm happy with how school is going.  The tech school is a fun place and I'm learning a lot.

Of course not everyone settles in quickly and easily.  Some students, especially the young and indecisive ones, tend to switch majors every now and again.  Not me, I'm content to just.......hey.....what's that?

I had not realized that the Culinary Arts program had a "Mixology" area!  I suppose I should have suspected such a thing was possible, one of my good British friends actually went to Gin School to learn how to blend an ideal batch of that stuff.  I figure she can come here and be a visiting Professor!

But on further reflection it might be too much like my prior career as a doctor.  I imagine bartenders have a very similar job description.  You listen to people's problems, you offer sympathy, you prescribe something that will make it a little better.

Friday, September 13, 2019

FIRST Robotics - The 2020 Game. Or at least some clues to it.

Every year FIRST robotics gives out a teaser video.  It comes out in the fall and I suppose is designed to fire up a bit of enthusiasm for teams as they come together in the first weeks of school.  It purports to give various clues as to what the actual game will require teams to do.  Some years the clues seem, in retrospect, to be helpful.  Other years they are non-helpful.  Sometimes it almost looks as if the teaser video is designed to mislead!

There is also a theme every year, and in recent years a major sponsor has been associated with the theme for that year.  Last year it was Boeing Corporation for the game "Deep Space".  This year it is Disney Corp. for the game "Infinite Recharge".  The teaser video launched last night so here, have a look.

And now my predictions for the actual game.  Some years I get close, others not so much.  Perhaps with more years of experience I am actually becoming less accurate. Subconsciously I'm sure we all project a bit of what we'd like to see the game be!

Well, we have doors.  Doors that need to be opened with keys.  At the end several space ships all have to dock at a station that is elevated.  This suggests the end game will once again involve getting your robot above floor level.  There is a recurring theme of blue lights and flames.  Whatever score indicator is out on the field recording points as you score them....gonna be blue.  It will indicate power.  After all the game is called Infinite Recharge.  At the end there is some ominous shadow coming over the field.  Not a clue.

It is an odd trailer.  The graphics have deliberately been made crude and pastel colored.  And of course there is Disneystuff in there.  The do own Star Wars after all. So, the BB8 robot.  Even R2D2.  I suspect going over it frame by frame I'd find a set of Mickey Mouse ears in there somewhere....Disney animators being famous for "hidden Mickey's"!

Wednesday, September 11, 2019

A False Brewery Cave - Minneapolis

My interest in brewery caves started out as casual, almost accidental.  It was just something I found interesting and as there were a few easily accessible ones in my area I started to study them.  Somehow I've become a, perhaps the, leading internet authority on the subject.  Yet another odd life achievement.  

Oh well, as such it is my duty to correct misinformation that is in circulation so today let's take a look at this photo:

This is "out there" and is claimed to be the beer storage cave of the Mueller and Heinrich brewery.  It is not.  Oh, that's the brewery.  Here, compare this images to the view above:

It's obviously the same place.  So why am I 100% certain that the cave shown above is not the Mueller and Heinrich storage cave?  Well.

First of all look at the second photo.  If you are at all a student of brewery caves you will notice that the darker building on the right has big doors, kegs stacked outside and is built right into the stone face.  That's where the storage caves really are.  As an interesting side note you can see a sort of wooden slide coming into the picture from the left.  This is probably not for kegs but to move blocks of ice into the storage caves.  And where would that ice come from?  (note also that slide on the right side of the photo.  Another ice slide?  I would not expect a toboggan run there!)

Ah.  What is hinted at but not clearly shown in the first picture is that the Mississippi River runs in front of the brewery.  So the cave that is wrongly identified as the beer storage site is on the wrong side of the river!  Sure, there were some breweries that had off site storage but only when it made some sort of logistical sense.  Emphatically not in a situation where a very nice cliff face was available and when hauling it to the other side of the river would involve a trip of several miles and hauling it up and down a steep slope.  Twice.

So how did this mis-identification happen?  Before getting to that a couple of notes on the photos.

It can be said with high confidence that the second photo was taken between 1890 and 1893.  The sign partially visible says MINNEAPOLIS BREWING COMPANY.  This was the mega company formed by the merger of all the major breweries in town in 1889.  And it is known that the plant was only used for production - as suggested by the smoke and steam - for about three years.

The first photo is a little harder to judge.  All that can be said with certainty is that it is before 1903 when the structures were all razed.  If I had to guess I'd put it earlier but it is difficult to know how to interpret the taller trees when you can't even see the Mississippi in the foreground!

The Mueller and Heinrich brewery was established in the 1860s and presumably expanded a natural cave at that time.  Mention in early accounts describes "The Famous East Side Cave" on the site.  I think the confusion around the photo at the top of this post in part results from this description.  The brewery was on the west side of the river.  But from the perspective of people living in Minneapolis this was on the east side of town.

An 1877 newspaper article indicates that the cave system extended for a total length of nearly half a mile.  In 1881 mention is made of an expansion of their cave system with a new section being excavated:  18 feet tall, 22 feet wide and 150 feet deep.

Although the Mueller and Heinrich caves still exist they are mostly filled in with sand and are not suitable for a visit.  Among other reasons to stay out, they are considered bat habitat and have a locked gate across them.

The cave on the east bank of the river that looks across towards the former brewery site seems to have vanished in the last century.  It may be covered by rock slides or have been modified and extended as a steam tunnel to help heat the University of Minnesota buildings on the top of the bluff.  Several are in approximately the right location to provide the perspective of the vintage pre-1903 photo.  These all have locked, barred gates and signs stating the obvious, that steam and high voltage electricity are bad things to mess with.

Monday, September 9, 2019

Resistance - 2019

No, not a post about the politics of 2019.  Oh, well maybe just a little.

One of the first things we covered in my Electronics course at the tech school was Resistors.  Basically these are little do-dads that reduce the amount of current going into sensitive electronic components.  So that they do not quickly become crispy former electronic components.  They come in a crazy variety of sizes.  There are several ways to determine how much "resistance" a unit like this has.

You can read the colored bands, which correspond to a coding system.

I actually already knew the color codes.  The system dates way back to the 1920's and is virtually the only thing I remember from Junior High.  We took various tech courses back then (metal work, printing, drafting were a few of the others ) and I vividly remember the instructor giving us the mnemonic that burned this bit of non useful information into my brain.  Fifty years later I could recite it.

Could, but totally won't.  It was inappropriate then and really, really inappropriate in the modern age.  It involves somebody named Violet and on this matter no more shall I say.

Or, you could read the resistance with a multimeter.  Here's a really swell one we use at school.  I think they cost $250.  The reading here is O.L. which means either overload or open circuit.  The resistance of an air gap between the two points or contact leads is really high.  See, that's why they tell you it is safer to not touch things with electricity in them.

Or I could use the antique version I got for five bucks at the surplus store.

You can measure the resistance of all sorts of things.  Here's the resistance of the (negligible) current running from one hand straight across to the other.  
Thats on the 10K setting, so about 30,000 ohms of resistance.  
Just for my own curiosity I also measured the electrical resistance between my ears and through a block of wood about the same size.   Make of it what you will but in order of resisting the passage of electricity - and I suspect information - I appear to come off slightly better than the block of wood.

I'll talk about reading Amps some other day.  Advance hint...don't do this with the ampmeter!

Friday, September 6, 2019

Middle School Robotics - Fall of 2019

Some people play golf in retirement.  I play with robots.  Or more to the point, I supervise kids playing with robots.

This fall will be the 19th year of doing a low tech combat robot class called "Machines Behaving Badly".  It has led to greater things but I still keep it running as a sort of low level farm club for more advanced robotics.  It's hard to quit....the class always fills and generates a waiting list.  I am told we set a record this year....24 spots filled in under one minute.  With a wait list of 14.

Time to lay in supplies and organize the tool kit.

This year I've also been involved in starting up a "real" robotics class in the same after school program.  VEX IQ does all sorts of interesting things with mechanical engineering and programming.  It is also a competition based program although there are far fewer robots being turned into fragments at their events.  It also went to full and wait list status very quickly.

And finally there will be a mini course in November/December.  This is after the Machines Behaving Badly tournament.  I'm calling it FIRST Boot Camp.  It's basically a few sessions to get kids new to the team up to speed.  As we will be promoting several middle school students to "The Show" it seemed a helpful transition.

I had a realization the other day.  I've been doing student robotics programs in our community for almost 20 years.  Before I went freelance and did ER work I was a family physician here for 23.  At some point I will have done the former longer than the latter.  Already I am better known for being "Robot Overlord" than for looking in throats and doing physicals.  Probably I've done more long term good at the robot stuff but someone's whose throat got better maybe appreciated that more in the short term. 

A few pictures of the robotics stuff as it is being accumulated prior to the start of sessions.  This process always entails a complete shop clean up.  Even then it is difficult to find everything that is needed.

Here's most of the supplies.  There are a few bigger things, slabs of plywood, polycarb plastic and styrofoam, that are out in the garage.  I'm also thinking I'll bring a table top drill press this year.

From last year's Robot Cemetery an assortment of Zombies arise from the dead.  I use them to demonstrate a few basic design concepts then they are torn down for parts.  Wood, tape, foam, sheet metal.  As I said, low tech.

In the off season I am usually on the lookout for useful parts.  Garage sales often have vintage cordless tools for cheap.  These are much better than newer models because they are well constructed, run on lower voltage ( either 6 or 7.2 volts ) and did I mention cheap?

Oh the one on lower right is the gearbox and motor from a small version Barbie Jeep. These are not easy to find and a real prize when you score some.  All these components are a challenge to fit into a Machines Behaving Badly machine because of their relative weight and often awkward geometry.  But I'm expecting a good bunch of roboteers for this year's robot apocalypse.  Stay tuned, updates now and then until early November.  I'm intending to retire Machines Behaving Badly after the 20th season, so this second to the last time around it should be time to ramp up the energy.

Wednesday, September 4, 2019

Tree Shaped Tombstones - The Grave of Rambo?

Seen in a small cemetery behind a Lutheran church in rural western Wisconsin.

But on closer inspection the name on this "wrap around" inscription is actually GRAMBO.  This is an atypical "tree" made of a soft white stone that is not aging well.  The square configuration is often seen in later monuments, note the 1919 date of death.

It's really an odd looking thing, notice the alligator skin bark and the profusion of chopped off limbs.

Monday, September 2, 2019

The End of Summer 2019

The thermometer may agree or disagree but generally speaking Labor Day is at least culturally the end of summer.  Schools start up again, leaves begin to turn.  A few pictures from the last weeks of summer 2019.

Kid entertainment part one.  A boy and his jar of frogs.

Kid entertainment part two, last trip to the petting zoo but first one for the younger grandchild.  Life imitating art as this actual kid seems to be getting into the spirit of things.

Adult entertainment part one, a northwoods tavern with plenty of taxidermy.  I especially liked Diogenes the Bear.

Adult entertainment part two.  This is a sort of mid range Wisconsin Bloody Mary.  Not one of those over the top ones you see touted on the know, the ones with three mini cheeseburgers on skewers.  This one was designed to actually be consumed.  Ingredients:  Lemon and lime slices, pickled okra, asparagus and Brussels Sprout, cube of pepper cheese, pickle, beef stick, olive, celery stem.  The mini stein for the chaser was a nice touch.

Farewell Summer.  A busy Fall awaits.