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.

Friday, March 10, 2017

National Bohemian Cemetery - Fallen Timber

There were a lot of unusual things about the National Bohemian Cemetery in Chicago, and I again suggest a visit to any serious student of Tree Shaped Tombstones.  One thing that I found surprising in this well kept establishment was how many of my favorite monuments were "fallen", that is, lying flat on the ground.

Now granted I visited in late February and after a winter of freeze/thaw that makes the ground shift about I was not surprised to see one fallen tree.  But then I saw another, and another.

It was of course an opportunity to study the methods - seemingly rather flawed - by which these monuments were erected.

National Bohemian had an amazing number of the taller varients of Tree Shaped tombstones. Having more weight to balance I suspect they are more prone to tipping.  Note in the background an array of more conventional markers....all with sturdy, squat bases.  

Another tree goes down.

Here's the base of this one.  Flat, shallow looking slab of cement with lots of cracks.

Yet another tombstone down.  Again with the shoddy looking cracked foundation.  Note the central hole for, I think, a metal lifting tong.  Also the rough surface.  If it was for masonry this has all been leached away.  Perhaps it was left rough because nobody thought it would ever be visible.

Tree shaped tombstones were very disproportionately represented in the "tipped over" category that day.  But I don't suspect hooliganism.  This was a nicely kept up place and anyway, hooligans are rarely that selective.  But check out this "leaner" that will probably not stay standing for too many more seasons.

And other, better supported monuments are not immune to the actions of the elements.  Here a solid granite marker is listing aside as if recoiling in horror at the collapse of its neighbor.

Note to self.  When commisioning the over-the-top monument that will mark our final resting place (squirrels! monkeys! A little tree house!) don't skimp on the foundation.

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Tree Shaped Tombstones - The Bohemian National Cemetery Part Two

More photos from the fabulous Bohemian National Cemetery.

"Occupational" designs on Tree Shaped Tombstones are always nice.  Here is an easy one:

Mr. Ostrovsky clearly worked for the streetcar company.  Now a slightly tougher one:

Was Mr. Mesce a carpenter or a stone mason?  The form of these tools is just a bit unfamiliar. 

Ready for a really tough one?  Like me you looked at this magnificent specimen and thought: Railroad Employee.

Look closer.  See the odd stuff going on at the front of the locomotive?

The sad story of Matej Sidlo was found in a 2010 edition of the Friends of the Bohemian National Cemetery newsletter.  Matej (Matthew in Anglicized version) was driving a beer delivery wagon that was hit by a train.  Those are kegs flying!  I must confess to being a little surprised that his family would chose to preserve this tragic memory in the permanence of stone.

Here's one that is probably not an occupational design.

I have seen a few of these around....once in France of all places.  Sure, the guy could have been a wheelwright or a teamster but these wheels always have a break in the top.  I suspect it is intentional imagery.  "May the Circle Be Unbroken" sort of sentiments.

Below is an odd little detail that I can't explain.  You sometimes see monuments with this network of holes drilled out.  It does not appear to be mimicing anything in nature.  I wonder if these were designed with the thought that flowers could be stuck into them?

It is always a treat to find an entirely new format for Tree Shaped Tombstones.  At Bohemian National I encountered a number of monuments with branches crossing up top.  I don't remember seeing this anywhere else.

A monument for Edward and Anna Hanzelin.

Anna does not look happy in this picture.

High arching branches.

Here is a very fancy version.  It actually has two uprights and a cross branch. 

One of the nicer, and larger, doves I have run across.