Saturday, October 31, 2020

Boo! Also, Squeak!

My various underground meanderings and collaboration with the DNR have given me an appreciation of bats.  And so, as a Friend to Bats, my domestic duties are a little different when one of the fuzzy little fliegermice is detected in the house.  

This is a Big Brown Bat and was hissing at my better half when she went up into the attic.  It is pretty cold up there and he was sluggish, so she was able to pop a trashcan over him and call me.  After consultation with the Bat Experts I was advised to take him outside and put him on or near a tree.  He might do OK.  It would for him certainly be better odds than the Old Ways which involved a tennis racquet.

Here he is at the bottom of the trash can just prior to release.  He's groggy and torpid.  Probably, and I think we can all relate, wondering what the heck is going on in 2020.  Happy Halloween.

Friday, October 30, 2020

A Picture from (the end of?) the Road

Sometimes on a road trip you run across the most peculiar things.  

Have a happy and safe Halloween.  May all of our roads run for a great many more miles, or in the case of my UK pals, kilometers.

Wednesday, October 28, 2020

The Caves of Maribel

Road trip opportunities have obviously been limited in 2020, but recently I was looking for an excuse to go visit one of my sons who lives on the eastern half of the state.  Bringing a big batch of cookies and other foodstuffs from his mom was almost enough justification....

But looking about for destinations I ran across a fun one.  Maribel Caves State Park.  Outdoors, easy to socially distance, and as upcoming posts will show, there was a lot of other interesting stuff in the area.  

Time to dive underground...

Several of the bigger caves were not open for tours, Covid and all, but there were a half dozen or so smaller caves you can crawl into.  

When we set out from the parking lot I was chatting away - it had been a while since we'd seen each other - and I forgot the handy little "cave light" that I always keep in the car.  So photo quality was variable as we used flash camera and phone light settings.  

Later I fetched the light which did make for better photos...although that annoying "white dot" problem that I've seen in brewery caves cropped up in this one.  It seems to be a combination of dust, flash setting and humidity.  If I'd remembered to carefully clean the lens of my indestructible travel camera I might have done a bit better.

Among other things my son had recently been online with a Dungeons and Dragons game that one of his friends runs.  So we rated each cave for how likely it was that orcs or other nasty creatures from the Tolkien world might be lurking in them.  As it happens we were better off without the brighter light.  Because when we re-explored one cave (Cooper Cave if you are planning a visit) we noticed that the brighter light revealed large numbers of very creepy spiders....and they were none too happy about it!

Shelob in Cheeseland....


Monday, October 26, 2020

Robot Moving Day

The FIRST robotics team is starting its 6th season.  From crazy, improv beginnings it is growing into a more sophisticated - yet still fun loving - organization.  But we've outgrown our childhood home.

From the start we've been meeting and building at one of our sponsors.  They've been great and have helped us a lot.  And to some extent, we've helped them.  They hire our best, be they students or in one case a coach.  They are making some of the best CNC equipment on the planet and now need the space that was for five years an outstanding robot building facility.

So time to move.  Not just that, we need to toss out lots of old stuff, organize everything and pack it into containers so that somebody can actually find things.  For a while now that has been one of my few useful abilities.....I can eventually figure out where anything is hiding.  Sometimes I did have to meditate for a day or two.

Here's some of the "stuff" we had to deal with:

Oh and there's more.  So very much more.

I went in on Friday afternoon for a few hours of solitary work.  Every bin and tub was opened up and things moved into more or less logical piles.  Pneumatics over here.  A big pile of wheels over there.  Scrap metal.  Scrap wood.  Scraps of miscellaneous stuff.  Most was straightforward albeit a foreshadowing of much work yet to come.  But I did hit one lode of highly nostalgic stuff.  Artifacts from early seasons.  Most of them were polycarb panels that protected mechanisms on the robots.  That's where we put sponsor signs and the like.

Here's a remnant of our very first, very crude, very successful season one machine.

All the pioneers of robotics signed their names to it.  I stay in loose contact with many of them.  Then there are the odd little artifacts of obscure import.  What the heck was this all about?

Saturday morning it was time to dig in for real.  A small Covid-era subteam got together..

And got the job done.  Here's an end of day view.  Nothing left but some scrap wood and shelving that has yet to be dispatched.

It went pretty well, although the unload destination did not work out today so a trailer full of robot stuff is parked in my garage.  Adios Robot Home, we'll miss you.

Sunday, October 25, 2020

RIP Jerry Jeff Walker

He captured the spirit of the mid 1970's so well.  After a long battle with cancer he came to the end of a life lived, so far as I can tell, entirely on his own terms.

I saw him play three times, most recently about six years ago.  My favorite song of his is about life, about growing old....and about death.  From "Desperados Waiting for a Train".

"One day I looked up, he's pushin' 80.  Got brown tobacco stains all down his chin.  To me he's one of the heroes of this why's he all dressed up like them old men?" "Drinkin' beer and playin' Moon and Forty Two?'

"Like a Desperado waitin' for a train.  Like a Desperado waitin' for a train...."

"Day before he died I went to see him.  Well I was grown, and he was almost gone.  We closed our eyes and we dreamed us up a kitchen....played another verse to that old song"

"Yeh Jack, that sonnofabitch is comin'....."

Jerry Jeff, dead at 78 (pushin' 80 as promised).  One of the heroes of this country.

Friday, October 23, 2020

CCC Shelter Lake Owen

We were "up north" for the best of the fall colors and took a little side trip.  There were a couple of geocaches to locate, and we rewarded our efforts with a trip to the Delta Diner.

Along the way we stopped in at an old park shelter on the north side of Lake Owen, east of Drummond Wisconsin.

I knew about this one, as it came up in my readings about local Civilian Conservation Corps projects.  It's not clear which CCC camp built this, there being several in the area.  The date of construction was 1938.

Originally it had changing rooms for men and women and presumably enclosed sides.  It looks a bit different in 2020.

Inside is a nice stone fireplace.  CCC work always is big on using local stone.

Unfortunately not even stone lasts forever, and some bits have fallen off.

It is a nice park with few signs of civilization.  There are bathrooms, thankfully not of 1938 vintage, a hand pump for water, and a beach.  A bit more CCC stone work makes up the wall on one side of this.  

There is a fee to visit the park, but I think if you just parked and took a look at a nicely surviving CCC structure you would be justified in not dropping money in the honor system box.

Wednesday, October 21, 2020

Pictures from the Trail

Deer hunting season is not far off.  For those of you outside of the Cheesehead Empire this is a major holiday.  Schools shut down in some places.  Factories and businesses barely pretend to be open, perhaps just doing scheduled maintenance.  And the effort people go to in the quest of a brag worthy mighty antlered buck can get ridiculous.  It is not unusual for hunters to place multiple trail cameras out in their preferred spots, and to carefully correlate the location and time of appearance of individual critters.

We are just looking for a bit of family time and venison, so our efforts are casual, nay, they are slapdash.  I put the camera out here and there and get images of this and that.  For instance:

I set this cover a wide vista.  But I made a crucial mistake.  The little branch in front of the camera had a few jaunty fall leaves on it.  They blew in the wind,  giving me 300 images of blurry leaves and nothing else.  Live and learn.

OK, that's more like it.  Our tentative tree stand spots have various designations.  Tree Plantation.  Parker's side.  This is from Deer Highway.

The question of what will actually turn up on camera is interesting and with the cheap models we use there is no sensitivity setting.  So only occasionally do you capture a smaller denizen of the forest such as this jaunty squirrel.

Some "targets" are of course so big they can't be missed - photographically of course.  It seems from the images that there is enough delay of the shutter that we get lots of pictures of the rear end of animals.  So many "deer butt" pictures as my grandson calls them.  And this black bear that strolled past, well, his butt looks big from any angle.

Monday, October 19, 2020

Bites of Orange

Halloween, in a sort of watered down Covid era form, is soon upon us.  There will be a lot less trick or treating.  How ironic really, for the one holiday where wearing a mask is standard.  

But that does not stop people from decorating.  

Pumpkins are part of the d├ęcor, and as October moved along you saw more and more of them turning up on porches.  Evidently I was not the only one to notice....

On a morning walk I came across this specimen.  It was off its porch and out on the sidewalk.  The location is "down by the creek" where various wild life can be found.  

So what got it?   I zoomed in for a closer look.

No shortage of critters who like pumpkin.  Squirrels, raccoons and others look like possible suspects.  But realistically only one suspect has teeth big enough to leave these gouges, and strong enough to take a couple of nips out of the stem for good measure.

Deer.  Bane of jack-o-lanterns.

Friday, October 16, 2020

Sole Survivor

For a while there I was off fishing a couple of times a week as part of my "Strange Fish Challenge". On one occasion I bought a dozen minnows with the plan to get out early in the morning to fish before local layabouts got to a popular site.

I put the minnows, in a minnow bucket of course, into the backyard pond for the night.  Naturally the top came off, the minnows escaped and I had to round them up.

A few had died.  Fish generally don't do well with changes in temperature, water quality etc.  The survivors I recaptured, put back in the bucket and basically never caught anything with them.  I don't remember if I let some go or not, it was a discouraging day.

Fast forward to October.  I'm getting the pond ready for winter.  The pump comes out.  I get as many leaves and such out as I can, so that the water is not nasty next Spring.  I usually bail the pond out to the bottom, but this year there seems to be a frog living and hibernating there so I contented myself with simply bailing a few buckets out and replacing with clean water from the rain barrel.

But wait a minute, what's that flopping in the grass?  It turns out that one minnow had survived, nay, had thrived in the pond for several months!  Crummy water quality, marauding raccoons, my mucking about with a net clearing out leaves and such....and he's still there! 

This fellow deserved to live, so I tossed him back into the pond until the next day when I could launch a suitable rescue operation.

I carefully emptied the pond to the point where I could net him.  A quick photo op...

My fish consultant ID'd this as a Blunt Nosed Minnow (Pimephales notatus).  They are pretty common state wide and favor streams and small rivers.  

So into a ready container and off to a nearby small stream.  Here Survivor Minnow is contemplating his new home.  I wish him well.

Wednesday, October 14, 2020

Upcoming Programs - The Virtual World

I have been missing the opportunity to give talks on various history and technology topics.  But, times being what they are....

I've agreed to do a couple for the school district's adult community education program.  Well, that's not entirely correct.  I'm doing one and turning the other over to the video production unit of the high school FIRST Robotics team.  

My program is a virtual visit to the excavations at the Roman site of Vindolanda.  Days in the trenches, evenings in the pub.  About half serious.

The other program is going to be a history of robotics in our community.  Twenty years of silly and serious beginning with the ancient combat robot times and going up to the present day when the FIRST team builds things that I can marvel at even without understanding how they do it.  

My program is "in the can" as they say.  The high schoolers will probably go right down to deadline and come up with something way better.

Here's a link to the class brochure with sign up information.  If you need a break from the badly written and implausible script that is the year 2020, check it out.


Their facebook page

Virtual presentations are different than the live versions.  Less fun in many ways but you do have a chance to tweak and tune them for the maximum level of polish.  These are in some ways easier than the real thing and in some ways can't judge your audience when you can't see them, so changing course, spending more time on interesting parts, speeding up for the boring stuff...not possible.

Monday, October 12, 2020

Careful Aim...

I can't recall shooting a deer rifle in my 63 years and change.  Just BB guns and .22s as a Boy Scout.  A shotgun a few times.  Maybe that muzzle loading contraption my father in law had me fire once qualifies.

But if you are going deer hunting it seems a useful thing to learn.

Here's my results at 100 yards range.

Not bad, especially as two of the errant shots (marked with pencil) were by my son who sighted in on this target before me.

As the deer we will be dealing with seem, on the basis of evidence to date, to be clueless enough to approach much, much closer, I figure this is sufficient.  Although if they insist on casually strolling up to 10 yard range they'll just be a huge brown blur that fills the entire scope view and that might actually make things rather challenging.....

Friday, October 9, 2020

Woolly Bear 2020

Every fall I try to publish a photo or video of a representative Woolly Bear, those cute multicolored caterpillars that allegedly forecast what the winter ahead will be like.  Forget the width of bands and the date of first appearance, this guy has captured the spirit of 2020 perfectly.

Belly up and sluggish on the sidewalk.  I picked him up - he hardly noticed - and tossed him out into the grass.

More optimistic than the 'bear, I remain, 

Your Humble Nature Correspondent.

Wednesday, October 7, 2020

Oh Pioneer! 2020 Edition.

My ancestors back five generations were pioneers out on the Minnesota frontier.  They arrived before the Civil War, actually before Minnesota was even a state.  Stories from that era are few and likely embellished but it is reasonable to assume that they were very self reliant folk.  The nearest town that would amount to anything was 25 miles away.

The other day I was up north and feeling a bit the Pioneer myself as I stacked firewood.  It involved hauling a cart around, tossing split wood here and there.....rather noisy work.  But these gals did not seem concerned in the least.

I hit zoom on the camera and walked closer.

The smaller and presumably younger one had by this point seen enough and literally high tailed it.  The other one just stood there.  I walked closer.  Closer still.  I had to reduce the zoom on the camera back to normal range.  

This is the point at which the doe decided to saunter off elsewhere.  Actual final range:  six paces.

I have not had a chance yet to sight in the deer rifle.  I'm not sure I'll actually have to.

Monday, October 5, 2020

Docks Out

The cycle of life at the lake place has its own land marks.  Of course the main seasons are long, lazy, endless summer.....and harsh white winter that you enjoy as best you can.  The transition points between these two modes are Dock In and Dock Out.

In the spring you wait for ice to go out, for the approach of fishing opener and for a day with decent sunshine.  It can be chilly work if you get impatient and make the move too soon.  But it is satisfying.  The dock is in.  You can get the boat out.  Small bluegills will show up soon to amuse the grand children.  This year we had a trio of amphibians called "the Dock Frogs" that lived under the rubber mat on the approach to the dock.  The junior zoologist would go down several times a day to flip the mat over.  Maybe he'd catch 'em, maybe he'd just say hello.

Dock Out is another exercise in timing.  You want to squeeze every last precious moment out of summer.  And the lake as seen from the dock is a thing of beauty in the fall.  But eventually you have to admit that yes, this is a nice day but there are no guarantees of more.  Time to don the waders, round up some cross generational muscle and bring the dock in.  

A few scenes from Dock Out day, October 2nd, 2020.

The view of our shoreline, fall colors just past peak.

The firepit has long since gone cold.  

We left the rubber mat in place.  I don't know if the Dock Frogs are snoozing directly under it but if so it's best to not disturb them.

A last look.  For some photos I'll tweak the exposure and contrast a bit to give them better visibility on a computer screen.  But this series needed nothing.  The sky was a paler blue, as befits the coming cold.  The clouds reflect on the water as if anticipating snow and ice.  If you look closely in this last one you'll see a single falling leaf just touching the water's surface.  I'm not a great photographer and use whatever equipment is at hand.  But sometimes the beauty of your subject makes you look good.

Friday, October 2, 2020


With less travel, archaeology, robotics and general fun to be had in 2020 I have been posting more on little projects.  Geocaches are one of them.  I like making sneaky camouflaged containers.  Sometimes I have specific requirements. 

For this cache I needed something that would hold a slightly larger set of maps and photos.  It needed to be very waterproof as it would be in a location that sees plenty of moisture especially in the spring.  Oh, and the area is full of trash and weeds.  

Here ya go.

It started out life as some kind of square metal can, possibly a tea container.  I sprayed it black and dun, then applied adhesive and wound black landscaping fabric around it.  More adhesive, then a coating of dirt scraped up off my driveway.  The top is a screw on and needed a little "roof" to make sure water does not pool on the slightly indented shoulders of the can.  To conceal the outline of the roof and of the container generally, I stapled a bunch of dead ferns to it.  By the time they crumble and drop off I figure something else will be growing on it.

Of course I only post pictures of these containers after they have been in place a while.  I don't want to make it too easy after all!