Monday, March 27, 2017

Because it's not just about being a Nerd

FIRST Robotics has a lot of slogans.  One is that it is about "More than just Robots".  And that is true.

By extension the organization has worked very hard to broaden the scope of the program so that it is not entirely populated by programmers and their kindred spirits.  That is to say, Nerds.

Tournament time approaches.  The other day my wife and I were trying hard to use a small store credit at a place that technically is an "Architectural Salvage" business but practically speaking is a huge 19th century barn full of random old stuff.  It was tough going.  We already have enough brass doorknobs and don't have any convenient place to install a stained glass window much less a bunch of decorations from a decommissioned church.

Finally my wife peered into a cardboard box and found something she thought would be nice presents for the FIRST team members.

Pocket protector/pen holders.  More or less the traditional badge of office for Nerds.  I like that these are from a wide assortment of companies.  Here we have the makers of paint, auto parts, assorted tools....and of Hostess Twinkies.

I know, FIRST is not just about Nerds.

But it is partly about them.

Friday, March 24, 2017

Wisconsin - Still Number One.

Wisconsin is not a proud and haughty state.  Oh, we root for our sports teams and all, but in general we don't do much bragging here in America's Dairy Land.

But a few years ago we Badgers suffered a crushing blow, a crisis that shook us to the very core of what defines us.

California took over as the number one producer of both milk and cheese.

I think there may have been an over reaction to this.  I mean, how else can you explain this sign seen at a highway rest stop?

Ah, the wonders of Sphagnum moss.  Some fresh faced intern at the DOT or Commerce department probably took this assignment seriously, and regards this marker as his or her crowning achievement.  Wisconsin.  Number one in Sphagnum production.  No other states are even trying.  In yo' face California.

Never mind that Sphagnum does not seem to have been used for surgical dressings since World War I, or that the United States imports 80% of its Sphagnum needs from - gulp - Canada.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

When Being Chubby is in Vogue....

I am surprised to find that our local grocery store continues to sell coloring books up near the checkout lines....still on the racks that held real publications until a couple of months ago.  It makes for some odd juxtapositions...

I guess I have seen things on the cover of The National Enquirer that look less realistic than Hello Kitty.

But Vogue and Glamour magazines have always featured impossibly gaunt, usually unhappy looking models.  This Happy Piggy would be a real departure for them.  She is probably happy because she gets to eat more than half a sprig of celery every other Tuesday.

Monday, March 20, 2017

Men in Black at the Old Guy Coffee Place

People handle retirement in different ways.  We should all try to be sympathetic because going from a full time, high pressure, high responsibility role straight to nothing is a jarring life change.  

As somebody who has retired fairly young from just such a job I feel as if I should offer a bit of advice to a guy I know who is going through this and might be having a bit of difficulty adapting.

He is spending too much time on Facebook.  Social media should be used for cat videos and travel photos.  Most people care more about your pets than your pet causes. 

And he calls.  Every few days.  On the Land Line of all things!  Whatta geezer! He never even waits for me to answer its just:

"Hello, this is Barack Obama".

For a decade - two terms plus your initial campaign - you have of necessity been neglecting your family.  You have had to face criticism every time you play a round of golf when something is on fire somewhere in the world...which damn it is always.  When you were center stage people even begrudged you the occasional vacation, pointing to a running tally of how much it cost taxpayers to shuttle Air Force One and the limos and the entourage.

Now, when you can do whatever you choose with nobody much caring you shouldn't still be Political.

I say this as friendly advice.  On the issues we have areas where we agree and disagree.  I have voted for you and against you.  I understand that there are causes you care about but perhaps even there you should ask if your personal involvement so soon after leaving office helps or hurts things.

American politics has unwritten traditions.  One is that First Family Children are off the radar screen.  So I have no way of knowing how a life of celebrity and often absent parents has impacted your daughters.  I wish for the best for them.  You have remaining a precious but very narrow window of time left to be "dad".  Take them white water rafting, or build a Habitat Home with them. Or anything else in the Real World that the still lingering Security detail deems suitable.  They, the kids not the Agents, will soon be gone.

It is another tradition that former Presidents restrain their opinions on the actions of their successors for at least a year.  It's a good tradition, one that your predecessor has honored not for one year but essentially for eight.  It probably does more for your legacy than anything else.  

Ah, here I go again.  A Retired Guy running on at length.  It's best done over several cups of coffee at one of the designated Old Guy Coffee places.  Gimme a real call some time, not the robo variety.  

I obviously have time in my schedule.  We'll get together.  The serious looking guys wearing sunglasses can buy their own coffee but you'll be my guest.

Friday, March 17, 2017

Brick Yard Dog

As is obvious from a casual visit to Detritus of Empire I am interested in Industrial Archeology. Old brewery ruins, mysterious foundations in the woods, that sort of thing.  But there is one category that I have been trying hard to avoid.  Brick Yards.

Oh, bricks are interesting enough.  Actually they are a nice bit of local history.  And I do, literally, stumble across them in my hunt for other stuff.  But for we retired folk there is a danger.  It is too easy for a mild interest to become a thing you collect.  Pretty soon you own a pick up truck to drive to Brick Swaps and have your entire back yard covered in a lumpy brick patio.

But Brick Yards are interesting darn it.  Clay pits.  Kilns.  Acres of drying racks.  So I sometimes take a peek.  Just out of curiosity you know. Not going to pick up any bricks or anything.

It helps to start on an avenue called Brick Yard Road.  Now, I must admit I initially misread this sign.  I thought it said Brick Yard Dog.

Here's part of the reason why.  On this road you have the local Humane Society and animal shelter as well as a Dog Park where the critters can run free.  Oh, also the Brick Yard Disc Golf Course which this sign actually directs you to.

Bricks popping out of the ground everywhere.  Guess this must be the place.

I am new at this brand of hunting, so I will be tentative in my conclusions.  But this hollowed out area "might" be the clay pit from which many millions of bricks were made.  Or it could be natural. Just as with brewery caves there are logical places where a business would situate things.  Bricks and their raw materials are just about the definition of heavy, so you really do not want to haul things up hill.

A pleasant hour was spent wandering about.  I am pleased to report that I did not walk away with a single brick.  But the temptations, oh they were there.  It is not fair to put free building materials and a shelter with cute adoptable pups on the same road.  

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Detritus of a Robotics Season

Early on we kept the work space clean and tidy.  Even in mid season we were OK, mostly because we had scheduled tours for interested visitors.  But as we hit weeks five and six standards slipped.  I did go in early many days and try to sort the worst of the clutter and to toss out trash.

Debris and stray hardware from the 2017 FIRST build campaign.

This is actually an important artifact.  It is from last season.  It was a critical part that was predicted to fail.  Our ability to anticipate this and be ready with a fix exemplified our build philosophy: Simple, Strong, Done Ahead of Deadline, Be Ready.  

I keep it hanging on a peg in our work space as a reminder.

Building two robots has increased our costs this year.  I justify it on some level as a Capital Investment.  These aluminum brackets for 80/20 are not cheap, and we ended up buying a bunch.  But they will be scavenged off this year's machines and reused for All Time.

I thought it would be helpful to have a drill template for 80/20.  Something you could clamp on and have pre-set holes for drilling mounting points.  It has not been used much.  But with its carnival colors it has also not been lost yet.  Red and Blue are official FIRST colors.

Found on a work bench.  The signature, indeed, the very meaning is unclear.

Sweeping up on the last build session before the robot went into pre-tournament storage:

Bits of wire, cut off cable ties.  Metal shavings.  Plain old low tech dirt.

Monday, March 13, 2017

The Biggest Cubs Fans On* Earth

Because it is my all time favorite short story I have mentioned on more than one occasion a work by W.P. Kinsella called "The Last Pennant Before Armageddon".  In it the manager of an implausibly contending Chicago Cubs teams begins having strange dreams....

"The five people gathered around God were, Al Tiller discovered, representative of baseball fans, how many he wasn't able to determine, but certainly a large contingent, all apparently deceased.  Lobbying, Tiller supposed, was the word for what they were doing.  Each one, in turn, pleaded politely with God to see that the Chicago Cubs won the pennant."

In the story God informs the fans, and Al Tiller, that if the Cubs win the National League pennant the world will come to an end.  I believed this on some level - generations of failure have to have some cosmic cause - until last year.  2016, a year when a great many implausible things happened, had the hapless Cubs not only win their first National League pennant since the fiery dawn of the nuclear age, then went on to win the World Series to boot.  And we all seem to still be here.

Imagine my surprise then when strolling through the Bohemian National Cemetery and encountered this:

It is a small scale replica of The Friendly Confines of Wrigley Field, where the most devoted, fanatically devoted Cubs fans can have their ashes interred.  An impressive example of After Life imitating Art.

Above you see seats somehow spirited out of the ball park.  There is a home plate.  The style of brick is authentic.  400 feet is in fact the distance to straight center field.  Of course visiting in early spring the famous Ivy was not leafed out to complete the illusion.

I did not see faint spectral figures sitting in the seats, but in full sunlight one would hardly expect to.  If you lingered on until just before cemetery closing time I think definite Presences would be perceived.

Here is the Roll of Honor.  The most Loyal among the loyalist fans on earth.

The little memorial offering above hints at the origins of this marvelous folly.  

The mausoleum - or to be pedantic, columbarium - is the realized vision of a man named Dennis Mascari.  Obviously a serious Cubs fan he had come away from a visit to his father's grave with more than the expected amount of sadness.  So what would be a fitting theme to lift the spirits of surviving family?

In 2009 "Beyond the Vines" opened.  It gave Cubs fans the opportunity to have their ashes placed into an urn with the Cubs logo on it and then put into a niche in this replica of the Cubs home park.  The project of course has gotten plenty of attention, as all mad ventures seem to. So far it is somewhat "under booked", just 20 or so occupants of the 288 niches.

But even that is fitting.  During the long, long years without a pennant the Cubs often played to sparse crowds.  The fact that until fairly recently they only played day games probably contributed a bit.  On a sunny afternoon when lesser fans were at work you could tune in and see the True Believers sitting alone or in small groups out in the bleachers.

Dennis Mascari tragically died young.  Here is his memorial marker.  Notice that it says "Please tap here after they win"?  He didn't mean after they win a game, he meant after they win it all.

So of course I gave it a quick tap.

I know he heard me.

* Whether these fans are On Earth or not is a semantic question.  They are departed and are presumably in some form of South Side Valhalla.  But since their urns are in an above ground location I say "On Earth" can still apply.