Monday, October 20, 2014

Choose your words wisely US/UK version

Here in the US you can buy beer in large glass bottles called "growlers".  The term goes back to the 19th century when it was common for working men to bring home a pail of beer at the end of the day. These containers apparently had a tight fitting lid and the sound of carbon dioxide escaping as they were carried reminded someone of a growling noise.

The phrase "rushing the growler" meant sitting down for a couple of beers.

In that context this sign at the local wine and spirits shop makes perfect sense.

However in the UK I would not advise walking into a place and saying that you wanted your growler filled.  And I fear that mentioning Wet Hops would not help clarify matters.

Really, you should just trust me on this one.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Surprising my Dad

Visits with Dad have gotten both harder and easier.  Harder in that his health and memory are failing and the domestic situation is not ideal.  Easier in that I can reuse the same "material" again and again. I let him know what my family is up to, reminding him along the way how many grandchildren he has and what their names are.  Then there are a few "go to" topics that hold his faltering attention even on a hard day.  Life on the farm when he was growing up.  Cars.  And best of phone.

I only got a "smart phone" a short while ago.  Stubborn I guess, or perhaps my increasing mobility finally made it essential.

My dad finds it endlessly fascinating.  This little rectangle of plastic that can do so many things!

Instant photos!

Using the voice search function the entire accumulated knowledge of mankind there for the asking. Since it is internet based you also get the accumulated ignorance, but it still makes an impressive trick.  "Show me Packard automobiles".  There they are.  With his somewhat frail voice you get some interesting misreads.  "Minneapolis, Minnesota", where he used to live, somehow became "Minneapolis...sore" and a listing of chiropractors!

But the most astonishing trick for him is taking a short movie and playing it back for him.  I do this every visit now, you never know which one will be the final entry.  Here is a recent cinematic tour de force...

How amazing it all is for a 92 year old whose fascination with cars in part is due to his having started out with draft horses.  And really, since I understand the magic a little better than he does, it is every bit as amazing to me.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

2nd Report - Robotics 2014

Busy times.  Even with some very welcome parents showing up to help it is hard to ride herd on a dozen middle schoolers with tools.  But things are taking shape.

Here is a classic four wheel drive robot.  Note the thumbtack wheels for extra traction.  You make one of these by splicing two servos together and tuning them.  This is usually the first time any of them have soldered wires.  Naturally you want the two tuned wheels on the same side...

A bit of confused thinking here.  It started out being a four wheel design.  But somewhere after doing the splicing job the design changed to two wheel.  It does not work to have the "twinned" servos on opposite sides.  The robot will just go forward and reverse, no turning.  The kid was a bit crestfallen. I asked him "Did you learn anything?"  He said yes.  No problems, there are four more build sessions.

Most kids opt for scrap plywood for bodies.  This machine is make of nice clean polycarbonate that the builder brought from home.  It is going to be called "GhostBot".

One of the biggest needs for running a program like this is one you might not expect.  Storage space. I have a cart for my tools and a closet to park it in.  There is even a shelf for the kids' works in progress.

I scavenge cardboard boxes, mostly from the copy room.  Each kid is asked to write his name on the box with marker so it can be easily located.  This kid decided to take a sharp object and carve his name!

Stylish disregard for rules.  That's my kind of robotics student.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Forgotten Brewery Caves - News from Here and There

If you ponder the number of breweries in America between 1850 and 1880, there were a lot of them. Something like 4,000 circa 1870.  A few went on to become the "Prohibition Survivors".  Many were either small town operations or even over grown home breweries.  They all needed some means of keeping lager beer cold which involved a combination of underground storage and ice harvesting.

This makes for a lot of brewery caves out there.  I suspect most of them are in the northern half of the country, and of course places with hills and bluffs would be ideal for them.  Considering that some breweries had more than one cave I feel confident in saying that there were at various points in time thousands of brewery caves in existence.  So, where are they now?

Many are still in deep hiding.  Some have been obliterated by "progress"  But every once in a while I run across a tidbit of news that gives us a fleeting clue about a cave...all too often just before it gets filled in/sealed off forever.

Dateline Cedar Rapids Iowa, fall of 2014.

Up to 14 beer caves?

The article mentions an extensive study that had been commissioned when this cave complex was found under a highway.  Note the big steel beams supporting same.  I think the concept of 14 caves is misleading.  14 rooms connected into a couple of cave systems makes more sense.  Note that this report appeared in the local news media in Iowa.  So I am not putting new temptation in front of anybody who has a computer.  But these are certainly not safe caves to try and enter.  And they have already been mostly filled in.

Bed, Breakfast and Brewery Cave

Taylors Falls Minnesota is a very pretty town and the Bed and Breakfast linked above looks cute.  A fellow cave enthusiast stayed there once and gave me this image.  The archway leads into a remnant of a cave system.  There is a Jacuzzi set up back there which seems pretty relaxing.  There are of course a few rumors about later uses of the building that you might want to explore before getting too comfortable....

The Caves of Faribault

This is about the closest any historic brewery cave comes to being used as intended.  Cheese, not beer but still the same concept.  I guess one entrance is visible but the caves proper are off limits.  Bleu cheese needs a very specific micro environment and you are not going to help it.  This is a shame, the photos suggest it is a very impressive cave system.

Here is a story that really pleased me.  A cave from the first brewery in Nebraska, later re-purposed as a coffee house for folk music!

Fun stories from caves that I will most likely never have the opportunity to visit.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Sill-yness....Written in Lead

In some ways I am a very sentimental fellow.  For instance, I love the Hadrian's Wall country of Northumberland.  I love the solitary beauty.  I love excavating at Vindolanda.  I love the home away from home conviviality of the Twice Brewed Inn.  I have been going "up North" each spring for seven straight years now, and it delights me each time I show up and find it unchanged.

Which brings me to the bad news of the day.

For a while now there has been an ill conceived plan to plop an 11 million pound visitor center/inn/cafe/bar smack in the middle of peaceful little Twice Brewed.  Consultants have consulted. Architects have drawn.  PR flacks have, well, I suppose flacked.  Local opinions have been ignored. Here is what it will look like:

It resembles a glass aircraft carrier run aground 50 miles from the sea.  Although designed to exploit the popularity of Hadrian's wall walking this artists conception does not even show the Wall.  It also does not show the Twice Brewed Inn which should be in the left hand side of the view.

Who knows, it might succeed and be a good thing.  But most hair brained schemes launched without local support end up thrashing around just long enough to destroy the existing business community before going "tits up" as my UK pals would say.  I foresee a glittering relic ten years from now.

Well the darned thing has gotten planning approval now so if they can weasel up the money it will happen.  The road to Vindolanda will be blocked for long stretches of time.  It will siphon off money from my favorite pub.  It will be an offense to look at, a twinkling shard of glass sticking out of a grievous wound.

But what to do....

I have an idea.  Back in Roman times if you felt you had been wronged economically you usually wrote up a "curse tablet".  These were thin sheets of lead, etched with your message then left in a sacred place or tossed into a body of water.  Of the 500 some known from the Empire as a whole, about half have been found in Britain.

Usually they had to do with pilfered goods.  The format was along the lines of:

So and so beseeches the gods that the thief of my goods (and if you wanna go nasty, you name them) be cursed.  Often the curse is spelled out in detail. One of my favorites asks that the thief not be able to urinate or move their bowels until the property is returned! (Somewhat off topic, there is a notion that Tolkien came up with the idea of a cursed ring from his work translating a curse tablet!)

Lacking other options perhaps we can't do any better than cooking up a nice modern day Curse Tablet.  How about:

Oremus igitur, ut Genium, ut malediceret Septentrionalibus peccato. Ut suo sumptu esse naturalia. May rara avis nidum suum in fronte machina. Ut rutrum a prima moventur super terram, ut possit revelare Monument Accedant, non turbarentur.

This is probably a low grade translation from Google, but that's ok, most of the Curse Tablets were written in rather dodgy Latin.  My sentiments in English:

We ask the Genius of the northern lands to curse the Sill.  May its funding be constipated.  May rare birds nest in front of their machinery.  May the first shovel of earth they move reveal a Scheduled Monument that cannot be disturbed.

It should not be difficult to whip up an inscribed version on a thin sheet of lead.  Then one simply has to fold it up and nail it to a wall in a sacred place.  And I know right where it belongs....

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Woolly Bear Report - 2014

If you live outside the range of Woolly Bear caterpillars you may not know of their oracular powers when it comes to predicting the severity of the upcoming winter.  Through extensive - ahem - scientific study it has been noted that the larger percentage of dark coloration, the worse the winter will be.

Last year the little vermin lied through their mandibles, promising a mild one.  Well, I believe in second chances.  Here, make your call:


They are usually observed trekking across the road.  I guess this guy is about average for dark/light ratio.  So a "normal" winter.


Monday, October 6, 2014

Ozymandius Plays Through

Having an interest in history will influence how you see things.  Recently I visited a site that was a place of lonesome beauty.  I was the only observer on a day when autumn was at its magnificent best. But I could sense the presence of those who had been there in the past, small wandering bands armed with clubs and engaged in their peculiar rituals.

It was an abandoned golf course that was reverting to a natural state with surprising speed.

There are a lot of these out there I guess.  In the 1990s and for a few years thereafter golf courses were being build with giddy abandon.  Maybe it was the mirage of endless prosperity that would transform us all into idle gentry.  Maybe it was simply a part of the Ponzi scheme that the American real estate market had become before it came crashing down circa 2008.  But for whatever reason the numbers of golf courses closing has exceeded new ones opening for 8 straight years.

Exact numbers are a bit slippery, but as best I can tell, in the 15 years leading up to 2004 the numbers of courses increased by a exuberant 40%, topping out at around 16,000 (all such numbers are 18 hole courses...a 9 hole course counts as half!).  Since then there have been at least 500 closures, most of them small private courses.  Like this one:

Gently rolling savanna, the grass now waist high.

The "greens", now inaptly named.  For non golfers this is the area right around the hole.  As the most artificial part of the course it resists nature the longest.  Under the dense, dead grass there are presumably layers of packed clay.  I think this looks sinister.  It has the sort of stark, unnatural symmetry that I have seen on World War One battlefields where shell holes still persist a century after their sudden violent birth.

Or to continue the African veldt theme, perhaps they look like dead water holes, a place where thirsty beasts nuzzle the baked ground in faint hope.

Of the hand of man, there is little to be seen in most places.  The club house is long gone.  Like many courses there was an attempt to sell "luxury" housing adjacent to the place.  I encountered the last such building up on beams being prepared for moving elsewhere.

The property is apparently being allowed to revert to nature.  But before it was a golf course it had been a farm property.  Near the remains of an old barn I did find a few relics, arranged in ordered ranks that whimsically made me think of dwindling legions trying to march away from a distant province lapsing into barbarism.

Chariots and foot soldiers.

I don't know what archaeologists of the far future would make of this.  There are a few puzzlers here. In one area a patch of verdant green persisted. Between its closure and its abandonment it was owned by a mega corporation that has a lot of real estate holdings in the area.  They have other, active golf courses and may have kept this for awhile as a test plot.  I think this is a place where they were trying out some new grass type.

Now you should know that there are certain things archaeologists are very keen on.  For one thing they are always seeming to look for evidence of prostitution*.  But their real go-to explanation for ambiguous features would probably be applied here.  "Enclosure, unclear ritual purpose."

And I am quite certain that they would look at the next artifact and leap enthusiastically to an interpretation:

"Votive object, frequently found in springs.  Probably placed as ritual offerings".

And I guess they would not be far off.
*I was advised by an archaeologist that this is a reflection of the mediocre dating prospects of graduate students.  But since he actually was happily married to a fine spouse he may well have been kidding me.