Wednesday, May 4, 2016

The Orange Adder

(Another day of adventure abroad but a break from the Travelogue to address current events)

I have tried to explain the Donald Trump phenomena to my friends in the UK.  But alas, my notion that he might be the physical manifestation of Bill the Cat was a bit obscure even for my fellow countrymen and women to follow.  To explain The Donald to Brits I needed a frame of reference they might recognize.

I am a fan of the Blackadder series of pseudo historical comedies.  In them a scheming, amoral social climber named Blackadder turns up in various historical eras, always accompanied by his malodorous dimwitted side kick, Baldrick.

Eventually Baldrick - who really puts both the idiot and savant into the project - accidentally invents a Time Machine which Blackadder utilizes to go back and tamper with history on a grand scale. The closing scenes of "Blackadder Back and Forth" show our anti-hero as King of England, and the servile Baldrick as his witless Prime Minister.  With Parliament dissolved Blackadder has finally attained Supremacy.

The ending song is rather catchy.  Check it out.

So, is there any chance that Donald Trump has pulled off a similar trick?  That somewhere in the penthouse of one of the Trump casinos there is a functioning Time Machine that allows him to go back and tinker with a more rational history?

My version of the above song would be "Orangeadder".

Let joy fill every Native Heart,
For now America's gonna make it.
A POTUS who is "Hugely" Smart
And current wife who looks good naked.

Orangeadder, Orangeadder,
He wears a baseball cap,
Orangeadder, Orangeadder,
He cannot shut his yap.

Who knows what he'll decide to do?
His Will shall trumpet 'cross our Nation.
Congress, such a worthless crew, 
They may as well stay on vacation.

His hair so oddly hued,
I fear we'll all be screwed...

No, I can't vote for the guy under any circumstances.  But in moments of despairing honesty I have to admit that the very collapse of our political system that has gotten us here makes me regard the prospect of  Baldrick as Vice President as actually being a minor upgrade from Joe Biden.

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Walking in the Cotswolds Part Two

We have been lucky with the weather on this jaunt, blue skies today.  We did not have a long walk today just from Bourton on the Water to the oddly named hamlet of Guiting Power. And it was rather a contrast.

Bourton bills itself as "The Venice of the Cotswolds".  It does have a lovely little river going through its village green, spanned by a series of little bridges.  But it is a Tourist Town.  Too many ice cream shops and kitchy museums.  The many visitors seemed to universally be having no fun at all.  Perhaps they expected something else.  We hoofed it out of there.

Leaving town we passed an encampment of gypsies getting ready for an annual Horse Fair in the area.  Scrawny dogs tied up to a vintage "gypsy wagon".  Parked next to it a new SUV.

Finally we got out of town.  And the Cotswolds really are quite lovely in spring.

At one point I spotted a little ruin along the path.  It looks just a little like the brewery caves I run across back in the States but there was no clue as to its purpose beyond proximity to some rail road tracks.

Sheep are out and about but less numerous than "up North".

Eventually we approached Guiting Power.  It is a quiet hamlet.  We were advised that there would not be much to do there but the place has two pubs, our B and B has a comfy bed and our various aches and pains promise to be refreshed in due course.

Monday, May 2, 2016

Walking in the Cotswolds Part One

I usually do extensive research before visiting a new place.  But for walking the Cotswolds I figured I would just go see what was there.  I expected picturesque.  A bit upscale.  Lots of stone cottages.  Pictures from our first day.

There's a lot of sheep here.

The Ordnance Survey map had this marked as "Hangman's Stone" without further elaboration.  Very little else is known.  Neolithic.  Maybe associated with a now lost barrow.

We saw this sign walking through a farm.  The chidren were quite bright and active.  The dog did seem dim, but not quite Dead Slow.

Oh, we do keep running across Roman stuff.  Chedworth Villa.  Rather nice place.

Sunday, May 1, 2016

My Little Bit of Londinium?

When traveling I never know for sure when or even if my electronics are going to work, so posting is "as possible".  But I do hope in a few days to start regular reports from the excavations up at Vindolanda.

Way back in the early history of Detritus of Empire (over five years ago!) one of my first entries was on Mudlarking the Thames. Because I am flying over London at about the time this automatically posts I thought a brief update was in order.

When I took my then 12 year old son to London we went mudlarking and picked up some interesting "bits and bobs".  They were later put into a couple of small display boxes that I kept in my office back in the days before I became a rootless freebooter.

Clay pipes, industrial slag, pottery shards, a plastic pirate and the neck of an 18th century wine bottle.

But notice the small greenish square in the lower box.  I was of the opinion that it was a tessera, that is one small component of a Roman mosaic floor. But is it really?

As I was getting my archaeology eyes tuned in before going over seas I decided to take it down for a look see.

Here it is from three different angles.  The dark object with the holes that is adjacent is probably the strainer from a broken tea pot.

What you can tell from this is that somebody went to moderate effort to make it square.  But not an obsessive amount of effort, it has its flaws and imperfections.  The edges are rounded which would normally be a point against it being part of a mosaic floor.  But recall that this had been sloshing around in Thames mud with the tide washing back and forth over it for a long time.  The final image is from the top down and shows the speckles of mica(?) in it.  This confirms that it is stone, not ceramic.

I suppose to play fair it should be mentioned that just a few feet from where I picked this up a couple of luckier mudlarkers hoisted up an entire section of mosaic floor, about one foot square and with the tesserae nicely embedded in a red clay subflooring.  This certainly indicates that some part of ancient Londinium was coming to light on that day and on that stretch of bank (just down stream from Execution Dock), but my bit did not come from the exact same source; their mosaic slab was all white tiles.

So, a quick look for any similar size and shape of Roman tesserae from nearby yielded:

These specimens found a mile or so upstream at Blackfriars.

Less glittery but the color is similar.  Not having been in the river for an unknown length of time they still have their nice sharp edges.  I not only think I have a Roman tessera I think mine is nicer than these.
Note:  Digging at Vindolanda I hand over all finds to the supervising archaeologists.  On the Thames foreshore everything is jumbled up and out of context.  You are allowed to keep things you pick up but of course the Museum of London would like to know if you find anything brilliant.

Saturday, April 30, 2016

Distant Pastures, Worries Left Behind

Off to places new and to places familiar.  Posting dependent on the vagaries of modern technology and ancient stone walls.

Friday, April 29, 2016

Robotic Bon Voyage

I have become accomplished at bending and tweaking my schedule so that I can "almost" be in two places at once.  But there are limits.  My upcoming archeology jaunt to Vindolanda is always in early to mid May.  And of late the timing of my Advanced Robotics class has shifted so that they overlap.

I have some ideas on how to resolve this in the future, but for 2016 my solution was to get the students off to a good start and then turn the show over to some of my kids from the high school FIRST robotics group.  Its good to have Minions after all.

Progress on the last day of my nominal supervision:

We had the basic drive system running a week earlier.  It is touchy, hope the kids can drive without crashing.

Arms are tricky.  The best system mimics nature, with the linear actuator providing pull akin to a muscle, and the yellow towing strap being like a tendon.  This is a "shoulder joint".

Here is an "elbow joint".  This was a bit fussy, the actuator has to be perfectly lined up.  And like a real elbow you should not hyper extend it.  The metal part of the joint comes from a power wheel chair that was donated for our use almost 15 years ago.  I keep reusing the parts again and again.

My goal for my last session with them was to have the robot wave good bye to me under radio control.  We did not quite manage it but the joints do all work, they just need to be attached to their electronics.  Running it straight off the batteries I did get a feeble salute:


My high school helpers will have three weeks to get the younger kids to finish off some power connections and a candy dispenser.  They might pull it off, they might not.  Sometimes kids learn more with less adult input, and can get as smart by seeing what does not work as by seeing what does.

I left the robot assembled but not fully powered, lurking in its storage closet.  I hope it provides a few unexpected surprises for people who come across it unawares.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

An Uncomfortable Artifact

Look, we can all agree that history contains a lot of bad stuff.  Wars, Crimes, Catastrophes, and Stupid Ideas.  The further back in time they lie the less they make us angry or sad.  Odd, that time seems to be more of a factor than how awful the fact is question really is.  We might briefly acknowledge a civil war or famine in Roman times.  We get hopping mad about some ignorant thing a politician said yesterday.

So I present today's artifact with trepidation.  How old does an Uncomfortable Artifact have to be before we just shake our heads and say, "well, times were different then."?

This came out of a box at a local thrift sale:

Wait, wait....this is the year 2016.  I must insert a warning to Delicate Flowers who would feel micro-aggressed or something.  If you are easily offended:

And with your peripheral vision click off of this page.

There.  With that out of the way....

What the Hell is this?

Inappropriate on so many levels.  We no longer think it acceptable to show semi-clad children.  What was once a silly "Copper Tone" ad would now be regarded as deeply creepy stuff.  It is still OK to poke fun at rural people - note the standard sight gag of outhouse and mail order catalog. (Sorry, oh my British friends, if you don't get this one I won't explain it).  But regarding black children as slow talkin' pickaninnies is entirely uncouth.  (Oddly I am told that Black individuals are among the collectors of this sort of artifact).

But once you get past the initial dissonance between current and past culture norms, this simple post card has a very odd feature.  Specifically, why does the newspaper say "Sinking of the Maine" in obviously scrawled on lettering?

To answer that one I need to back up a little.

In the bottom right corner you can see the copyright on this is from Curt Teich and Co.  This Chicago firm was America's largest producer of postcards in the Golden Age of same.  Teich was a German immigrant trained in printing, who came to America in 1895.  He worked his way up from "printer's devil" to foreman before moving to Chicago and starting his own firm in 1898....the same year as the battleship Maine was sunk in Havana's harbor.

In 1905 Teich took a memorable cross country journey by train, stopping in a wide variety of small towns and snapping photos.  His timing was superb.  Postage on cards had been reduced to one cent a few years earlier.  Automobile travel was just starting to take off.  Teich had the technical skills of the German printers who had to date dominated the business.  He also had the idea that businesses in small towns would want to order high quality advertising post cards at low prices - one dollar per thousand cards.  His 2500 mile trip resulted in orders amounting to $767,000 as measured in inflation adjusted dollars.

Teich and Company had a great run, finally closing in 1978.  Their company archives have been preserved and contain some 400,000 postcards from about 10,000 geographic locations.  While sitting down to write this I thumbed through a few cards we have sitting around our cabin.  The usual sort of things you find "Up North", images showing stringers full of fish, rustic bumpkins and outhouses, main streets.  There was no shortage of Teich views.

With that background what can we make of the above?

Well, with a portfolio that diverse Teich had a few genres we now consider in poor taste.  The racial sensitivities of an earlier age allowed for more "humor" at the expense of others.  There are dating guides to Teich products but they are not inclusive and shed little light on the designation C-245. But by tracking down various similar cards with post marks I can say that this series "Chocolate Drops Comics" dates to the 1940's.

But what on earth is "Sinking of the Maine" doing on that newspaper.  It does not quite sound like a double meaning.  It is a reference that would be considered outdated to a nation freshly outraged by "Remember Pearl Harbor".  Post cards from the early 1900s referencing the Maine are uncommon and none of them look anything like this so I think we can rule out a simple reprint of old stock.

I did find an occasional reference to similar cards with a 1940 post mark on them.  If this is actually the issue date of the series then lets chalk it up to odd coincidence.  But if this is after Pearl Harbor then perhaps there is another meaning here.

Curt Teich had several sons one of whom was an Army Lieutenant stationed in the Phillipines at the time of simultaneous surprise attacks there and at Pearl Harbor.  Lawrence Teich was taken prisoner and died on the Bataan Death March.

Is this scrawled on headline an oblique reference to the events of December 7th, 1941? I suppose it is unlikely.  But Curt Teich and Company did go on to become a major supplier of maps for the US Military.  They made 50% of all maps used by the US Army and 100% of the maps showing invasion beaches.  Curt Teich was said to have been devastated by the loss of his son.  Perhaps the reference to the more recent sneak attack was being gently alluded to in the discordant mention of an earlier one.