Sunday, October 31, 2021


I'm not big into Halloween.  It feels as if a childhood celebration of sucrose has been coopted by adults.  But hey, to each their own.  Here's a picture of a creepy spiderweb I snapped on a damp morning while walking across a bridge.

Wednesday, October 27, 2021

Signs of the Times - Early Morning Edition

I'm pretty good about taking morning walks.  Its a good way to start out the day.  Well, several cups of coffee is actually the best way to start out a day.  Occasionally these two imperatives come into conflict.  Nothing a bit of route planning can't handle.

I always enjoy accidentally significant signage.  

Monday, October 25, 2021

Odd things on the Trails

You put out the trail cams looking for where the deer are, and you find all sorts of other weird stuff....

Some sort of bird.  As it is getting ready to hammer on the trail cam it should be some kind of woodpecker, but the curved beak is peculiar.  Tentative ID:  Hairy Woodpecker with considerable distortion of perspective on the beak.

These people appear to be out walking their pack of wolves.

I thought this was a smallish deer, but I'm told it is actually a bobcat's butt.

Possibly evidence of Aliens. 

And it just get weirder.

Friday, October 22, 2021

Enigma - Deep Cover

Our little band of middle school cryptographers/puzzle solvers has switched over to puzzle creation mode.  The students made up a list of staff they wanted to challenge, and I added a few more.  I mean, it just makes sense to have the School Resource Officer there to be a real detective, and one of the School Councilors there in case the grown ups need consoling!  I'm particularly looking forward to having the middle school building principal taking part and have moderate hopes that the District Superintendent will make an appearance.

So, Operational Security measures are in place and I can't show you exactly what the kids are concocting.  But I can say that when I asked if they should go easy on the staff the immediate response was "Nah".

We will of course be taking the parts of the Enigma class that worked the best and/or were the most fun.  One thing we'll be discussing is how many extra hints/bits of help would be appropriate.  I guess in a teaching situation, even with the roles delightfully reversed, if they ask you have to help them.  They rather liked the idea that the Staff would have to ask their permission for limited use of the internet to solve this.

Going from student to teacher is not an easy transition.  They are children after all.  Smart children.

Wednesday, October 20, 2021

Brilliant Fall Photo 2021

(There are just some time/space coordinates that make perfect images.  Water, leaves, angle of the light.  This is one.  And with a rambling story to boot).

Some years back we tried to get people around our up north lake interested in a project to improve fish habitat.  The "fish sticks" program involved dropping trees into the lake to form better shallow water habitat.  With an appreciable stretch of public land on one side of the lake this could be done to good effect, with individual property owners also setting down structure if they were so inclined.  It seemed a non controversial idea, everyone likes to catch fish, no?


When we raised the idea at a lake association meeting there was little support.  Some people like to water ski and thought the tree sections, though anchored to the shore, might break loose and be a hazard.  But most people just did not want anything to change.  For them The Lake is a constant, one endless warm summer afternoon.  Let's keep it things just as they are.  Always.

Well one does not want to be a bad neighbor, so the project was dropped.  I was thinking of it one bright fall morning when out for a walk.  And on my return, saw this:

A massive oak tree had fallen in full fall glory.  Turns out the trunk had been damaged years ago and that time, insects and changing water levels had weakened it further.  Splash!  Fifty feet of fish habitat.

Monday, October 18, 2021

Strange Fish Detective

As I go here and there in the world I have occasion to hang out with DNR folks including Game Wardens.  I've fished, socialized, tippled with them.  They are good folks who have a hard job and take it seriously.  And I'd like to help.  So when I encounter the scene of a Fish Crime I try to investigate to the best of my Member of the Public capacity.

The Crime Scene, a quiet river bank.

There are not that many fish that get this big in Wisconsin, here's a perspective view:

My fish ID abilities have been flawed in the past, but this sure appears to be a Lake Sturgeon.  It looks to have been filleted on the spot.  Animals will nibble up all the tasty meat, but are rarely this tidy:

Lets see how many ways this is illegal.

1. the sturgeon season runs until 30 September.  This photo was taken 10 October, so this may or may not have been caught in the legal time slot.

2. You are allowed to only catch and keep one of these a year, it has to be a minimum of 60 inches, and you have to buy a special sturgeon tag.  Said tag has to be attached to the carcass if you leave it behind.  Nope, not seeing it.  And doing a rough estimate from the picture with my foot, I don't think this is 60 inches long.  Gracious me, that's five feet although the shark like tail does stretch them a bit.

Who would revel in the capture of such a magnificent fish, then illegally fillet it up for dinner?  I don't think referring to such a person as a Rat Fink would be excessive.  Speaking of which....

I was not exactly looking for clues when I stepped up from the river bank and onto the street.  But when I kicked at an object there I was surprised at its heft.  Hmmm....that felt like lead, and it was just about the right size for the big bottom sinkers you use fishing for sturgeon and the like.  But what an odd bit of tackle:

Rat Fink was, oh heck I guess still is, an ugly cartoon character associated with cars of the Hot Rod variety.  He was somewhat popular when I was a lad back in the1960's.  I was surprised to find him still appearing in merch.

But not a lead fishing sinker, a hood ornament.  Yep, that's him.  Guilty perhaps of bad taste but not fish poaching.

Friday, October 15, 2021

A prophetic bit of political history

Things drift in and our of our awareness and possession all the time.  Lots end up in the recycling.  A few end up in a junk drawer but in nine cases out of ten that is just delaying things.  Only a tiny fraction have any potential to be significant in the future.  To believe otherwise is the Path to Hoarderville.

Odd exceptions do exist.  Otherwise they'd not be exceptional.  Consider a playing card, presumably once part of a deck that came from an Atlantic City casino that was owned by a colorful boor....

Wednesday, October 13, 2021

Enigma Five - Funny Papers

 Last week we went high tech.  This week....retro.  Spy stuff involving dead tree newspapers.

Here again is our old pal Alexandria Ottendorf.  She spends her day doing things that look non sneaky.  She reads the paper, she plays cards.  Hmmmm, but she must be up to something.



Unsurprisingly the kids love invisible ink.  They are always looking for it in most unlikely places.  So to indulge them we had an invisible ink workshop.  We tested "invisible ink pens" which use an unspecified phosphorescent material, classic lemon juice, and in a nod to our location in America's Dairyland, milk.  Various surface textures and colors also were part of the testing.  They rated each test case for stealth (can you see evidence of writing) and for clarity of each substance.  Some of course need a bit of heat to show up.

This part of the session went well.  No smoke alarms activated and some thoughtful discussion.  In fact this led to a
 side discussion.  Or, since teaching them interesting things is the main point, a core discussion.  Chemistry.  Organic versus inorganic.  What is a phosphor?  Where does the name phosphorus come from?  Would you expect lime juice to work as well as lemon?  How about whole or skim milk as compared to the 2% used in testing?

Then it was on to the main project.

You'd think that crosswords have little to do with espionage but wrong would you be.  In 1944 a British crossword puzzle editor found himself under arrest.  He had published a puzzle with various code words associated with the upcoming D-Day invasion.  Overlord, Mulberry, etc.  It was those darned kids....

It seems he was also a headmaster, and in time honored tradition asked his students to help with his work.  They concocted the clues with the dangerous answers.....from various loose lipped gossip they picked up hanging around US and UK bivouacs where troops were training for the big day! 

Bit of an object lesson there for me, as our Staff Challenge is looking very promising and I'll be having these darned kids help me concoct it!

The crossword part of the session was not as successful.  They don't know much yet and while they could work through things sans Chromebooks it took far too long to get the final word combination, which when the box was opened, was a flat out announcement that there was a special surprise inside this week.

Overall an off session.  Some kids were on, others were not.  Odd how a kid can be laser focused one week and goofing around the next.  Oh well, if I'm not pushing them a bit past their limits I'm not doing my job.  

Next two sessions will be prep for Staff Challenge.  I understand we have among others the building principle on board and the District Superintendent as a maybe.......

Monday, October 11, 2021

What the Robots have been Up To

I don't do robotics posts every week, but that does not mean there are not things going on.  This is our fall "pre-season" where we try things and people out.  It's all just putting together complicated things whether it is a working group of students or a prototype mechanism.  

The team is growing, in fact growing faster than I can really keep up.  We are a bit like the French Foreign Legion.  Recruits come to us.  We don't ask too many questions, just start training them.  Somewhat more realistically this means that current team members are inviting their friends to come aboard.    

A few random images....

The hand-eye-brain-intuition aspects of driving can only be learned by lots of practice.  Every session, even though it is perhaps six months from competition and three months before we are told what we'll be practice.  We use a variety of test bases and try to make it realistic.  In this case, push that rolling object up that ramp that you can't see, using only camera control.

Our biggest shortcoming in seasons to date has been object handling mechanisms.  So one of my personal priorities has been to get a dedicated sub team of prototypers going.  Here we have a pneumatic rotary actuator that was donated to us.  The plan was to make a simple device that could deploy a mechanism in and out of the frame perimeter, perhaps a ball intake with belts and such.  They got that done nicely.  Only to discover that the actuator had way more power than anticipated (59 foot pounds at 60 psi).  After using it once or twice as an impromptu catapult (another reasonable thing to create) it taught us something important.  The 3D printed adapter, even though it was made of carbon fiber material, was not strong enough and stripped out right away.  If we use this it will require a fancy metal adapter....

Prototyping has also been working on intake gizmos.  This wood built prototype uses special directional wheels to pull the ball to the center and then in.  The impact driver has a socket they can use to drive the hex shaft, but by end of session they were close to slapping a chain drive onto it.

Software has been huddled down of late.  The problems of figuring out the complex omni directional swerve drive are significant.  They'll get it pretty soon.

The media/pr sub team has cooked up some early T shirt designs, and is working on assorted other things.  Visitors coming in, team going on outreach visits.  Even some discussion of a musical ensemble.  Mostly to provide music for team video productions, but I did task them with learning taps for when we have the traditional ceremony to dismantle the last competition robot.  Played with tuba, two trombones and perhaps a ukulele it should be interesting.  Oh, and one of them breezed through a grant application that usually takes me several attempts and a few cuss words.

Lots more going to happen in the next month.  

Friday, October 8, 2021

The Visitor in the Watering Can

On an unseasonably warm October day an unexpected visitor. 

Our part of the world is actually pretty light on amphibians, and this little guy, or gal, had rather unusual markings.  Time to start an amphibians caught list to compete with my grandson?

Well no.  This is just a Grey Tree Frog.  Bigger than most, the survival rate past mini toad stage is pretty low.  And they can alter their colors quite impressively for a northern species.  I've seen them golden brown, lime green, and of course, grey.  The yellow highlights are pretty cool.

Just what you'd expect from a species whose scientific name is Hyla versicolor meaning "variable color".

Wednesday, October 6, 2021

Enigma Four - Cache as Cache Can.

Last week when the Enigma class figured out that they needed to acquire a specific book from the library - which is adjacent to where we meet - it was a mad, disorganized dash and a surprising degree of milling about before they found it.  So, I guess that's an area we have to work on.

This week was a geocache hunt.

This was actually difficult to set up.  GPS readings are problematic inside a barn like school with a ceiling full of metal and cables.  And the extent to which I can wander about engaged in dubious looking activity is limited!

But I'm pretty good at work arounds, so clues were deployed in outdoor settings.....with only a vague sense of how long they would need to solve the entire puzzle.

The starting question, the answer to which opens the lock was:

_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _  ________



It turns out that a couple of the kids had a passing familiarity with geocaching.  Even to the extent of knowing the lingo a bit.  When you approach the coordinates of a geocache you are supposed to look for a "beacon", some feature that tells you that you have arrived.  One kid swerved off on our trek to investigate a utility pole that had a label from Beacon Engineering on it.

Regards swerving off track I tried it a few times, purposely wandering in the direction opposite where the GPS device was leading the kids.  After the first time they stopped falling for it.

One cache was called BARK BARK.  I was hoping they'd fall for a dog reference.  Instead they noticed this almost immediately.

I did stump them for a while with a clue hidden inside a pine cone.  But eventually they had the complete set of scrabble tiles and were ready to work the five letter combination that gets 'em snacks.  Note the flip side of BARK BARK.

While we were walking in from outside I asked them for theories on how to get the code.  Several thought of anagrams, which was the correct answer.  One team nailed the five letter word just by playing with the tiles, the other team used an anagram generator to get the harder eight letter word, which was actually irrelevant.

In our peregrinations we ran into one of the assistant principals who was enchanted by the idea.  She will for sure be in the "staff challenge" version that I'll have the kids cook up.

I'm not liking the staff's chances.

Monday, October 4, 2021

Puppy Hank Again

Oddly the term "good boy" is applicable even to dogs who sometimes are less than perfectly behaved.  This is "Puppy Hank" an associate member of our extended family.  I go let him out when his owner is at work.

Hank likes to do dog things.  Jump, chew, sniff, roll in bad stuff, the usual  He is a great favorite of my grand daughter, always has been.  He characteristically has one ear that usually flops down and one that stands up.  This is within even my limited cartooning skills so Hank shows up often in our art projects. 

I guess it is a fair question to dogs think?  Well I'd say yes.  Hankster has such an intent, alert demeanor that it is impossible to imagine him as just a dull lump.  But what does he think about?

Rolling in bad stuff.  Eating dirt.  Shredding toys.  I suppose if you chose to simply be uninvolved with the problems of the world those are fairly reasonable priorities in life.

Hank is named after Hank the Cowdog, titular character in a favorite book series when our lads were young.  Perhaps a little un PC in these delicate times, but as the books are written from a dog's eye perspective some allowances might be made.

Friday, October 1, 2021

Salty Dog

Out for a walk on a magnificent fall day.  I had some business over at the High School, and on my stroll home the Marching Band was enthusiastically practicing.  That always puts a bit of spring in the step so I swung past the bleachers for a closer look and listen.  And saw this:

I thought "my gracious that's an enormous barbeque grill".  I did not recall concessions being that big a deal at the football games.  The main interest of the adult fans is watching their kids out on the field.  The main interest of the student fans is watching each other.  This area under the bleachers has probably seen enough high drama over the years to fill a shelf of YA novels.  


Something this big should be on a more substantial and permanent frame.  And what's this?

I should have gotten a close up, this is a warning sticker advising you to not get too close to a "Turning Spinner".  Guess somebody really likes to lay on the salt, which to be fair is a long term hazard.  Ah, here's the other end of the machine:

Amused as I am by the prospect of a gigantic grill with arcane warning stickers I have concluded that what SaltDogg really does is distribute salt on the frozen sidewalks and driveways that will be upon us soon enough.  The thing that puzzled me at first was the lightweight supporting frame.  You won't be pulling that around through snow and over rough ice flows.  It must mount on a pickup truck, and as the need for salt is seasonal even here in Wisconsin, SaltDogg sits around with not much to do for about 8 months of the year.

I hope.  If it turns out to be a long, nasty winter I think Dogg will be happier about it than I will.