Wednesday, March 31, 2021


I've been wanting a dog for some time now.  Oh sure I know the drawbacks and it won't happen right away, but it will happen.  And it might be a pug.

Pugs are silly looking.  That's important in a dog, as part of its job is to help us not take the world too seriously.  I mean,  look at that face and try not to smile!

I've always assumed that the name Pug had something to do with pugilist, the latter being a name going back to Ancient Rome and being a synonym for boxer.  Pugs of both sorts tend to have those flattened noses after all.  Indeed that is one theory you'll read, along with a related one that claims the name comes from "pugnus" meaning fist...because their faces sort of look like one.  But it apparently is not so.  Pugnacious, meaning ready to fight, comes from the same root word.  It hardly applies to pugs which are generally regarded as sweet tempered.

Pug, or Puggy is a very old term of endearment, one that has the connotation of a loved one who is small, elfin and a bit mischievous.  The word is first recorded circa 1560 and is probably a variant on "puck".  Puck of course is an Elvin character in A Midsummer's Night Dream (circa 1595).  Puckish has persisted as a word meaning full of mischief.

The other literary use of Puck is more modern.  In the delightful play turned movie Harvey the titular (to most) invisible six foot tall rabbit is in fact a Pooka this being another variant on the word descriptive of a decidedly mischief filled creature.  Variations on this word are quite old indeed, emerging from Celtic obscurity circa 1300.

But it appears the Puck/Pug designation for a fun filled, somewhat unserious being did not jump straight from mythology to dogs.  It was applied to monkeys from the 1660's onward and did not get connected to this ancient breed of dogs from China until the mid 1700's.  

Well as I said at the start I'll get a dog one of these days.  Perhaps until then I can go the "Harvey" route.  If I simply pretend to have a small white dog I can accurately describe it as a Pug/Puck/Pooka even if others can't see it!

Monday, March 29, 2021

Springtime and Robots

Even as the weather turns nice we are continuing our once a week robotics sessions.  There is just so much to do.

We've never built anything with chain drive mechanisms.  Well it's time to learn.  So a stock of chain, tools and gizmos has been laid in.  Here, learn this stuff.  Try not to break anything expensive.

I tossed in a few artifacts from the workshop.  Nearly twenty years ago I bought a retired Battlebot named Amish Rebellion.  I've been using its parts for various things ever since.  There were even some sprockets of the proper size for our chain.  We can't use previously made components in our final product, but for experiments and prototypes, sure.

Build table.  Working on chain drive and finishing up electrical connectors.

Our new build space has some significant advantages.  I can stand in one place and see all the subteams at work.  I turn around and here is the CAD team working on something interesting....

Software has large screen view now, which should make teaching a bit easier.  We are losing more kids off of this subteam than any other.  Fortunately we have a good group of prospects on our radar, and we look heavy on the programming side there.  Help is on the way.

Solid work in a long campaign.  We won't be back to competition for almost another full year.  And almost half of these kids won't see it, what with graduations and moving out of the area.  And still they turn up to work.  Even as spring blooms outside.

Friday, March 26, 2021

Beyond our Ken

I like interesting words and phrases.  So often we use them without knowing their origins.  Appropriately one such is "Beyond our ken", meaning, outside of our knowledge.

It is from middle English kennen meaning "to know", previously in Old English it was cennan.  But it must go back farther, to a time when shaggy folks on both sides of the North Sea spoke similar languages.  In German kennen also means to know.  

Like not a few oddities of the English language, the work was preserved up in Scotland in its original meaning.  But the specific phrase "beyond our ken" was not recorded until 1834 in of all places, Gettysburg Pennsylvania, and in of all contexts, an article describing an early balloon flight.

You'd think the name Kenneth would therefor indicate wisdom or knowledge.  And wrongly would you so think.  Although of Gaelic origins the name Kenneth derives from unrelated sources and means "handsome".  

So the most famous Ken of all seems aptly named.  Attractive, none too bright....

Wednesday, March 24, 2021

Hunting Over the Hill

The DNR sent me this nice First Deer Certificate!!

I recently did my virtual program on becoming a first time deer hunter in retirement.  Here's a link to the video.  It did cut off the introduction, but you can hop in and follow my ramblings fairly well without it.


A fun program to prepare, I had venison stew for lunch just before presenting this.

Monday, March 22, 2021

Detritus of Empire - Ten Years

Ten years.  (As of tomorrow, 23 March)

I started writing regularly during a lull in career activity.  I'd just gone freelance and chose to do less travel in the winter.  My wife encouraged me to find something, anything really to keep me occupied.  Turn over a decade and some things don't change.  As we shuffle towards the end of the Pandemic lockdown I am fully retired.  And still writing.

As in most things, you get better with practice.  Maybe in content and scope, although the universe of people interested in my obscure topics is limited.  But certainly in efficiency.  I'm better at photography for instance.  And my typing abilities have remained excellent.  Being the only guy taking that typing class in High School has paid dividends ever since.

Ah, but subject matter has become a bit light of late.  The days when I was off on oddball adventures are not behind me, but with Covid and the enjoyable diversion of grand kids I'm staying home more often.  

Since the beginning I've kept to a three posts a week pace, with rare breaks and frequent add on posts.  I hope to continue this but realistically can't promise.

Because life goes on.  In due course it will go on without us.  As to things that might actually be increased topics for the days, (and who knows?) perhaps decade, ahead there are a few.  My obsessive hunt for peculiar fish species.    Unusual geocaches found and placed.  To the extent that my self imposed privacy rules permit, the new horizon of 21st century T-ball games and such.  Local history stories.  Even robotics seems poised for a post Covid come back.  Oh, and there is some tasty stuff on CCC camps in the works.  And I am plotting and scheming a return to archaeology trips.

So what's the point of all this?  Why bother to write obsessively and in the archaic long form of a daily blog?

Several possible answers to that one.

- It keeps you sharp.  As one ages the importance of keeping thought processes nice and crisp rises considerably.  Composing and organizing what are in effect 500 word essays on a regular basis is salutary.  Oddly it also makes my public speaking style more fluid.  Blogging, as opposed to other forms of writing, is closer to actual spoken communication.  If you remember what that is.

- You meet interesting people along the way.  Some of the most fun ones are folks who initially weighed in to disagree with you...but on further discussion, people with whom you find considerable common ground.  We could use more of this in our disconsolate times.

- It keeps me busy.  Generally out of mischief and largely out from underfoot.

See you around.


Friday, March 19, 2021

Surplus Snackies

I like shopping at Surplus Stores.  The organization of merchandise is always more interesting.  One of my regular stops is affiliated with a Big Box store chain.  The prices are only a little better but the selection is good and stock changes often.  Here's what I saw on a recent visit.

Oooh, snacks.  That's always good, although you need to check expiration dates.  Specifically what we have on offer is:

Crunch Mania.  And its an actual brand name product from Kellogg, not some generic pellets.  But what's this right around the corner?

Mouse X and Rat X.  Now I figured at first that these were straight out poisons, and that putting them around the corner from the munchies was a bad idea.  But on a close up view I discovered that the active ingredients are basically corn meal and a whoppin' dose of sodium chloride.  So....evidently the plan is to have the mice develop high blood pressure and have strokes?  Next to the X-products were some concoctions with a bit more kick to 'em.

The big bag on the right is Complete Insect Killer, which promises the total eradication of crawly things when applied to your yard.

I suppose I should not act shocked, or be snarky with respect to the similar ingredients especially between Mouse X and Crunch Mania.  This is in effect a hardware store.  They trust their customers to know what they are doing and what they are buying.  I guess it is comforting on some level that Nannyism does not extend to Surplus Stores.

Wednesday, March 17, 2021

'Round the Horn

One of the great things about baseball is the "non linearity" of it.  Like seasons - of the year or of your life - there are cycles.  This picture shows a circuit coming complete.

Baseball on a delightfully warm day in March.  This is the field my son played on starting at age 9.  There are a lot of great memories there.  And some other ones too, I was after all the coach of the team.  But mostly it was great.  Today for the first time it was three generations of us out there.  Myself, my son, my grandson.

He has considerable talent, especially as a left handed hitter.  He'd routinely smack it over my head as I played somewhere around first base.  The footprints you see are, in the most straightforward sense, from him sprinting around the bases when he got ahold of a pitch and sent it to the outfield grass.

I think my dad came over to watch a game or two when my son was not much bigger than this.  So in a sense we have at least the ghosts of four generations here.

My dad was a good physician and, given the difficulties of his times, a good father.  He could neither play nor coach baseball.  Growing up on a farm there was no time for such foolishness.

I may have been a slightly better physician and dad.  No disrespect intended, I simply am a more determined individual, and one of the things I was good at was dividing my energy into work and family categories...and throwing all I had into them.  I was a lousy ball player and only a fair coach.  I have a bad throwing arm, but am a darn good judge of talent.  So I lack some abilities but I always get the most out of my teams.

My son is probably a better dad than I was.  He was/is also a much superior ballplayer.  Focus, coordination and an early growth spurt will do that.  I've not seen him coach, but based on his years as a camp counselor I project him to be outstanding.  And remember, I am a good judge of talent.

And the Kid?  As a ballplayer he is way better at this age than any prior generation. If he keeps up the interest he will be outstanding.  Little League isn't ready for him.  I suppose there's no point in speculating further, but I also think he has the makings of being an excellent human in all respects.  You raise 'em right, or more plausibly you give it your best shot, and that's what you hope for.

Monday, March 15, 2021

A First for Detritus of Empire....

A recipe.  I usually have no use for "food blogging" on any level.  But I am a practical man, and having gone to considerable efforts last year to take up deer hunting it behooves me to become a proficient venison chef.  And as it is usually for my own consumption no end of experimentation is tolerated.

I guess with food posts it is customary to show the end result first and work backwards.  OK.

This is my basic crock pot recipe.  All amounts are approximate and every time I make it I try something just a little bit different.  You'll be needing:

Venison.  1.5 pounds seems about right.  Potatoes.  About the same amount.  Any kind works but the red ones seem to cook faster.  One can of creamed corn.  Really.  About a half pound of bacon.  An onion or two.  Carrots if you have some.  And some late cook add ins we'll get to.       

First you cube up the venison.  This was a haunch, not even the primo cut.  But as you can see it is high quality lean meat.  And the Cheezits?  Well if you brown the meat first it is just a bit nicer.  I toss it around in a mixture of flour and crushed Cheezits then brown it in olive oil.  I'm not sure the Cheezits add much, but they do give me something to snack on during prep.

Creamed corn, chopped up onions, chopped up bacon.  And the potatoes.  In this batch I forgot to cut them up small.  Larger chunks add to the cook time.

In the crock pot and ready to cook.  The little brown cube on top is not venison, its a bullion cube.  Sometimes I add these, sometimes not.  It does factor in to other additions and seasonings.

It seems to work best to put the crock pot on high for about half an hour then turn it down to low for about 4 hours.  At that point additional ingredients can be added without them turning into cooked down mush.  Here I am dumping in pickled peppers.  One time I poured in some of the associated brine as well.  That got pretty salty.

It's also a good time to toss in some frozen peas.  Final cook time is when the potatoes are nice and soft.  Five hours plus, so if I start this at lunch I'm enjoying it for dinner.  And for quite a few meals that follow later.

As to seasonings, the initial source recipe called for a bit of sugar, some seasoned salt and a bunch of Worcestershire sauce.  I've done enough mods to the recipe that I'm not sure they are all needed, but taste a small bit of meat at the end of the cook.  I usually decide at that point to add a bit of salt and a liberal baptism of Worcestershire.  If I'm enjoying reheated leftovers for a few days I'll sometimes spice them up with various hot sauces.



Friday, March 12, 2021

Grounded in, and by, Reality

After quite a few years off I've recently started home brewing again.  Back when my annual trip to the UK hung in the balance I cooked up a batch of English Ale to get me thinking of green fields and clever archaeology.  Alas, the practical obstacles to overseas travel remain too daunting, causing me to name my ale accordingly.

Yes, I remain grounded in reality, or more accurately grounded by it.  Well being stuck at home has a few minor consolations.

Jet lag drinks hour will have to be virtual again this year.  I'm ready.

And as better consolation than a nice pint in the evening, I will get to spend more quality time with the grands.  Reality is not quite so bitter after all.

Wednesday, March 10, 2021

And the Award for Best Actor Goes To..............

With the warmer weather I've been out for serious spring time walkies.  We're talking 5, 6, 7 miles in a day.  Sometimes its because I'm enjoying being warm, other times because I'm seeing interesting things.

Last week was the annual Golden Globes Awards show.  Rather a down market version of the Oscars, and in a Covid impacted year they really must have had slim pickings.  It's been decades since I paid any attention to this sort of nonsense.

Besides, they always hand the hardware to the wrong people.  Out on my extended stroll for instance I came upon....

"Ladies and Gentlemen, the Award for Best Actor goes to.............D. Possum!"

I suppose playing dead is a stereotypical role for opossums, but this guy is really going for it.  Such devotion to the craft.  I suppose I should acknowledge my own bias as a judge.  I simply think better of most animals including stinky marsupials than I do of most actors and celebrities.

Monday, March 8, 2021

Dinner in the Woods

If you are ever lost in an unfamiliar environment it is reasonable to figure out what the local fauna are eating.  With some exceptions it will often sustain human life as well.  On a recent early spring tromp through the woods I was not exactly lost, but the going was slower than I expected and I was getting tired and hungry.  So I took a break to look at this:

Chewed up wood is a curiosity.  In this case it was due to the efforts of pileated woodpeckers hammering away at the dead tree looking for cold, sluggish grubs.  

Well OK.  It it is that or starvation I'll eat grubs.  But notice what the woodpeckers would not deign to touch:

That's a big ol' plate fungus and the birds were having none of it.  Sort of confirms my general rules about not eating mushrooms.  Thanks, no, I'll have seconds on the grubs.

Friday, March 5, 2021

Rather a Wrong Number

Today a story that I think happened.  I suppose I should know, I was there after all.

It was 1983.  I was starting my second year of residency.  I and another fellow were doing a medicine rotation at the local VA hospital.  They have a new one now but at the time it was exactly what you think of when you conjure up an image of a VA.  Old.  Red brick construction.  Inefficient.

Being free labor for them Joe and I were given all sorts of jobs normally done by others.  We ran stress tests for instance.  Oh, and all post discharge planning and arrangements were our responsibility.

We had a patient who needed to be discharged to a nursing home in another part of the state.  And of course it fell to us to make the necessary calls.  

Now the VA at this time was using something called the Federal W.A.T.S. system.  The acronym stood for wide area telephone system and it was a way to make long distance calls without long distance charges.  Or helpful operators.  It was, well did I mention the inefficient part?

So I dialed the number of the nursing home.  The phone was answered on the second ring with the words "White House".  Now, I was not born yesterday so my first thought was that there might be a "White House Bar" in - as I recall it - Spenser South Dakota.  So I asked "Um, you mean the actual White House?"  

There was a pause before an entirely humorless voice assured me that I had indeed called THE White House.  And it wasn't the gift shop either.

That conversation was over quickly.

So, what actually happened?  Given the clunky nature of the VA specifically and the Federal Government generally I believed at the time that indeed, I had inadvertently called 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.  But if instead I was being punked then I belatedly salute the unknown Master who pulled it off.  No imitating Ronald Reagan, no emotion other than palpable annoyance.  Perfect timing.

No, I still believe that I accidently called The White House.  Lordy I hope the phone that rang on that end was not red.

Wednesday, March 3, 2021

Strange Fish II - Common Shiner

The weather outside will no longer kill you on contact so I've started the 2021 geocache season.  There's old ones to check up on after a long damp winter.  And as today, new ones to hide.  Welcome to the second installment of the Strange Fish geocache series.  This one honors the Common Shiner.

Here's one I caught last year at the spot I'm placing the Strange Fish geocache.  Alas, the orange background is distracting...

Here's a nicer image:

The red fins are pretty.  Note the large silvery scales.  They are surprisingly delicate.  To pay homage to the Common Shiner, here's my geocache container.  Of course it contains a waterproof log book and small pencil.

It has a section of fence wire threaded through it.  This helps secure the cache in it's hiding place. And should eliminate any chance of someone claiming they did not make the "catch" because the line broke!

Common Shiner.  The name just sounds like an Average Joe kind of fish, and that's about right.  They are plentiful in small creeks, and generally a less assertive species than the Creek Chubs they often have as next door neighbors.  They are usually four or five inches long.  An 8 inch long shiner would be exceptional.  By the way, they have an interesting arrangement going on with the Chubs.  Shiners usually don't make their own nesting beds, but lay their eggs in the nest of other species such as Chubs.  But then they are good neighbors and help guard the combined nursery from predators!

In making a quick study of all things Shinery I discovered that there was a folk group called The Common Shiners that was around for a few years.  Naturally they live on in You Tube.  For your morning entertainment:  The Common Shiners.  (Nice sound, and I like any music recorded in part from a tree, but the serious Man Bun look of their main guy is a little weird for my tastes!)

Monday, March 1, 2021

Vindolanda 2021? Excavating in a Plague Year.

For fourteen years my schedule has had an anchor point in the spring.  I went on an archaeology trip overseas.  Usually it was to the Roman site at Vindolanda, up in the north of England.  It was always good times, often good weather and sometimes good archaeology.  It is the sort of thing that sustains you through cold winter months, dreaming of the moment when you first walk through the door of a friendly hostelry, set down the travel bag and stroll over to the bar where old friends are waiting with a pint.

I skipped one year for the remarkable Hill 80 excavation, and of course nobody was going anywhere in April/May of 2020.  So I approached this year's expedition with more than the usual excitement.  I was like a thirsty man in need of a pint.  And a bag of crisps.  Then perhaps a second pint.

The last few months the venture has balanced on a knife's edge.  Covid has proven to be more persistent, more insidious than expected.  Our political leadership both here and in the UK has proven less competent, less insightful than expected.  I could still make it to my appointed excavation period in late April, but at what cost?

Infection rates both here and there are dropping rapidly, and I suspect I could even
manage a dose or two of vaccine (or "jabs" as my UK pals call them) before embarking.  But it would make no difference.  The rules are still, five days of self quarantine then a negative test before you are allowed out into the sunshine, or perhaps the grey drizzle, of England.  Well OK, I can do five days.  It is impossible by the way to not approach this from the perspective of a crook evaluating whether he can "do the time".  But it's not that easy.  The day of your arrival does not count.  You can only test after day five and then you are still in the Greybar Hotel until a negative result emerges from the clanky inefficiency of the UK health system.  It could easily be 8 days.  The implications of a false positive or indeterminate test result do not bear consideration even with a pint in hand.

Oh, its not the money.  Last year's cancelled trip left me with a big credit with the airline, and I actually want to support local businesses both here and there.  Also, to be honest, as a retired person with a frugal lifestyle Covid has not been much of a financial challenge.  Our feckless leadership has, in bipartisan fashion, continued to send out stimulus checks even to those of us who have no particular need of them.  I donated the first one to the local family support center.  If there is another coming along I'll donate it to the robotics program.  In a move that would appall the Current Administration I spent the one in between to buy myself a deer rifle at the local gun store.  Probably that's not the local business support they had in mind.

But it's that extra week sitting in dismal solitude.  I might read War and Peace.  I would probably take on a dedicated program of work on the CAD program I am supposed to know well.  I have ideas for a blog post series that would essentially be an absurdist novella featuring the lost adventures of Badger Trowelsworthy.  But the madness would probably start to show.

And also on the cost side of the ledger, I'd likely miss my grandson's first T-ball game ever.  I'd start my digging season cranky and out of shape.  It sounds as if we'd not even be allowed to gather at the pub for the traditional Jet Lag Drinks Hour or any subsequent evenings of celebration or consolation.  The exchange rate - and I'm not talking dollars to pounds - is unfavorable in 2021.

I brewed a batch of English ale a few weeks back.  I'm getting ready to open one and try it out.  I had hoped to put on a nice label that looked like this:

But sadly, this might be more appropriate to the circumstances.

So it appears that instead of setting out for adventures far afield in six weeks I'll just be sitting at home, sorrowfully raising a glass of Reality Extra Bitter Ale in the general direction of Hadrian's Wall, while trying to find minor diversions closer to home in an attempt to stave off the madness of a second year of Covid restrictions.