Monday, April 24, 2017

Poor Spawning Decisions. Or, Pike in the Fike

On a recent bone chilling April morning I had a chance to go out with the Department of Natural Resources crew on one of the spring fish surveys.  There are actually a number of ways to do this but today we were working with what are called "Fike Nets".  They look like this:

This kind of survey is done in the spring for a reason.  Most of the high value game fish are spawning this time of year.  That puts them in predicatable places.  And makes them a bit stupid.  These nets are basically just big cages.  They are set up with some straight nets that lead into them.  Being preoccupied with biological urges the fish just blunder on into a simple trap that most of them would not go near any other time of year.  Mating behaviour.....stupid across all species I guess.

Here's the boat.

Soon we were emptying the Fike Nets into the onboard holding tank and busily at work measuring and counting.  

This cute little fella is an immature muskie.  This is the premier game fish in these waters so the crew was happy to meet up with him again.  I say again because when they scanned him it was discovered that he had a "chip" in him, placed last year when he was stocked from the hatchery.  Oh, they did not greet him by number but they were pleased to see he survived.

Other critters also end up in the nets.  Here is a rather self important little crayfish.

Next up, a Mud Minnow.  This is actually a very large specimen of this diminutive fish. Perhaps it would be a state record if taken on hook and line.  That is if you had the time to pursue such small fry.  And could persuade them to bite on a hook...

Ah but there were some much bigger fish as well.  Here I am holding a rather substantial Walleyed Pike.  

As I mentioned, all the fish got counted.  Most got measured.  But how do you deal with this situation?

The crew was disappointed to have no adult muskies tallied but when the last Fike Net came up there were two of them.  Big bruisers...but on this lake still not legal keepers.  These were a bit short of the fifty inch length required.  Still, the larger of these two was probably around forty pounds!

The scanner was deployed....and indicated that these fish had not been tagged.  That was soon attended to.

And it is off to the chilly depths.  Happy Spawning.  Be smart.  If possible.

Friday, April 21, 2017

Tree Shaped Tombstones - Galesville Wisconsin

The cemetery in Galesville is built into the side of a rather steep hill.  It seems an inconvenient set up for all sorts of reasons.

Be that as it may it did contain one rather interesting "Tree Shaped Tombstone", of a type I had not seen before.

From the front view it is a rather average looking specimen, perhaps a little on the stocky side.

It has this deep indentation on the front.  It really looks as if something was supposed to fit in there. Perhaps a little carved bird's nest?

The sentiments on the side are peacefull.

The really peculiar thing was this curvy branch.  It looks like a tea kettle spout.  

Years into my hunt for these monuments and I still am regularly finding new versions.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Forgotten Brewery Caves - Hillsboro Wisconsin

I am afraid that I'm serving up rather thin soup today.  This is not the kind of site that I would usually devote a post to but it did have one or two interesting features...

But whatever storage caves once existed are now hidden well.

Lets start with a couple of vintage pictures.

Slightly different dates, note the presence of a large building to the left on the upper, and presumably later photo.  But it is a nice building nestled into a hillside. Apparently there was a brickyard somewhere in the foreground of the second, earlier photo.  A detailed book on the Wisconsin brick industry notes that the brick yard was owned by Joseph Bezucha, and that the reddish brown bricks were made for local use only. You could buy 1,000 of them in 1899 for $6.00.  I think those are stacked bricks behind the little brick house.

Of course you did notice that the name on the brewery in the first picture?

Next lets take a look at the Sanborn Fire Insurance map of the place at about the same time as the photos above.  As breweries burned down regularly you tended to see them featured prominently on these maps, but non flammable things like caves are often not shown.

From this you get the sense that the large structure to the right is a whopping great ice house built into the hillside.  This would seem sufficient to keep beer cold even without deeper caves.  Ice probably came from a nearby mill pond.  Notice that the Ice House is shown with a covered loading dock just as is shown in the second photo. That really makes it seem likely that the beer was stored in the ice house.

Of course this does not exclude earlier cave systems.  This brewery was around for quite a while.  It was built in 1870 by a partnership of Ludwig and Landsinger.  As an odd little historic side note I found mention that in 1890 they purchased a vintage brew kettle from the early Aiple Brewery in Stillwater Minnesota.  Perhaps they were upgrading their business or rebuilding after a fire.  Surprisingly the Hillsboro Brewery reopened after Prohibition and hung on until 1943.  So much of what can be seen today are later remnants.

This is about the same orientation as the second historic photograph.  I didn't climb the bluff behind me.  The road is exactly as it was, I am standing at the "Y".

A slightly closer view.  The white wall in the hillside is clearly from the brewery, but it is newish looking cement from some kind of rehab/rebuild.  It did not warrant closer photography being smooth, new and effectively hiding whatever was once there.  But to the left of it, right about where there is a telephone pole I did see something intriguing...

This is trying oh so very hard to be a flat stone face in exactly the spot for a brewery cave.  I scuffed about with the toe of my boot looking for the top of an archway.  If there is one it is further down.  Oh and I should not have to say this but will.  Nobody should ever mess around with any digging tools more formidable than a boot toe in the immediate proximity of what looks like a power line!  There were some traces of asphalt below this stone niche so it may have been nothing more than a spillway for some kind of water run off.  If I had a building built into a hillside I think I would want the water coming off the hill to be routed around it instead of through it.

But surely I will at least find a brick to take home as a souvenir?  I walked along the creek which ran between Mr. Bezucha's brewery and brickyard.  I saw a few busted up generics, of the same attractive shade as the many old buildings on Main Street.  I did find one with a stamp on it, obscured under old mortar.

As I strolled back to my car I unsurprisingly was asked by a local "What're ya doing with a brick?".  In small town America even harmless looking old coots will be recognized as being "not from around these parts".  My explanation was met with a grin.

Alas on returning home I find the word Excelsior stamped on the cleaned up brick. Not from Hillsboro it came from a hundred miles away, ironically from the site I visited in my Brickyard Dog post of a little while back.

No brewery cave, no local brick souvenir.  Some days are like that.

Monday, April 17, 2017

FIRST Tournament - Terminus

Friday update.

Odd that it felt OK to lose our first match.  We were rather overmatched against some "uber" teams and made it close with our better tricks - rope climbing and autonomous mode being done crisply and cleanly.

Of course we continue to struggle with an array of mechanical issues.  There is actually a certain probability that just the right collision with a solid object might tear loose our battery box dragging the electronics along with it.  And at exactly the allowed upper weight we have few options to reinforce.  

In the entire Minneapolis event we ran ten matches.  Two practice and eight qualification matches. Between yesterday and today we have already run eleven with at least three more tomorrow.  Our official record at the end of Friday is 4 -3.  Not bad at all for a team that has been a half step ahead of a pack of mechanical gremlins.


I tossed and turned, sleeping poorly.  Surely the odd quarter inch shift in the position of our battery box meant that something was amiss.  And why had our earlier reinforcment of the attachment points failed?

First thing in the morning I had the pit crew tip the robot up and found that the battery box, holding a 14 pound battery mind you, was being held on precariously by a solitary bolt.

With that fixed we felt that we were finally a full step ahead of the gremlins.  Pit crew gave the drive team the OK to open up the throttle. We went on to win... and to lose some additional matches.  We ended the event 5 - 5 but with the robot stronger than it had been all competition season.

So what went wrong with the losses?  Ah, its hard to say.  There were a number of small tweaks we should have made earlier but had to deal with potential catastrophes instead.  Our alliance partners made some bad calls.  No doubt they feel the way about a few of our driver's decisions. But I can't say the final outcome was unfair, we were an average team this season.  But considering the extremely high caliber of FIRST teams in general, and the enhanced level of competence that all robots show late in the competition season, being average in this instance is not at all a bad thing.

We aimed very high this year.  We attempted things that no sensible second year team should. They did not all work out.  But most of them did.  I am proud of the team. FIRST teams and their robots are really not expected to run 24 matches over the course of 10 days but they did it.  And by the end they were doing it with zero input from the now redundant adult coaches.

We made a big step up in sophistication this year.  We expect another one next year. Having said that all team members have been instructed to rest and not to think about robots for at least a week.

Ah, actually most teams are not doing Sawzall surgery on their robot the third day of a tournament...

The short guy in the red suit is an unofficial mascot.     

Friday, April 14, 2017

FIRST Robotics. Tournament Redux

Ah, the wonders of doing two grueling, multi-day student robotics tournaments in back to back weeks.  

In some ways it is actually easier.  We just left all the kit on the dollies ready to be repacked.  Other than a session for workshop cleanup we have not had to do anything to get the team ready either.

Our robot got a quick inspection and approval this time. Instead of having it take three hours and putting out inspection sticker on as we rolled into the first match we got the thumbs up in one hour and had time to get ready.

Oh, we also found a moderate structural flaw in the bottom of the robot.  And a crucial component deep in one gearbox had worked loose.  But we have had to put out so many brush fires that these were simple matters to fix.

Practice matches went fairly well.  The only annoyance is that the custom ropes that we make to best fit our climbing device were in a couple of situations done poorly. The best climber in the world can't jump an extra half inch to grab the rope!

But the robot is driving crisply and our drive team, a new bunch this week, has the measure of things.  So much better than a week ago.  

So a rope making session tonight.  And tomorrow a new day dawns.  

Hoping it is bug free and enjoyable.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Forgotten Brewery Caves - Another Ghost Town Example

Ah, sometimes I really struggle with whether to do a "no locations" post.  I have three criteria for doing so.  The first is Safety but that does not apply today.  The second is Trespassing.  That is borderline here but I think in this case would earn a pass. And the third criteria?  Be patient.

The history of this place, without being overly specific, is as follows.

A railroad was going to go through the area and spread prosperity up and down the line. This was the early 1850s when Wisconsin was a new state and there were new fortunes to be made.  At the spot where a bridge would have to cross a substantial river a town of hustlers and speculators sprang up.  The population quickly sprang up to 2,000.  Land values were bid up to ridiculous levels.

Of course even a Speculative Town needed hotels, stores, newspapers...and a brewery.

All was going quite well until one of the principal backers of the project decided to move the rail line a few miles away.  There was no shortage of suspicion that he owned cheaply acquired land at the new location.  It was likely well founded.

The promising town went bust.  People left, perhaps on to fuel the next real estate bubble. Some of the houses were hauled away on sled runners over the winter months and installed in the now prospering location of the railroad.  

Regards the brewery cave at this location it was never entirely forgotten, but was one of those places that lots of people had heard of but nobody I spoke with had actually seen.  The trail as I followed it had numerous clues.

As the original pioneers of the 1850's grew old a number of them went back to the now abandoned town.  Several newspaper articles reminisce about bygone times...and mention that one of the few remaining traces of the town was "the beer vault".  

I even ran across a hand drawn map, circa 1920, that showed the location of the cave. Although as it turns out the road shown on the map has since been rerouted, making it a false clue.

As memory of the town grew dim the surrounding area became a tourist mecca. Assorted scenic rock formations around the area actually got named.  One reference I found called the brewery cave "The Robber's Den".  

Finally I ran across an account of somebody in 1972 who visited the cave in a "heavily wooded ravine", so I knew it was still there somewhere.

Early spring 2017.  An odd looking approach trench.  But not really heavily wooded.

The archway is well preserved for being mid 1850's vintage and having no maintenance since before the Civil War.

A smallish cave, just this single room.  Nicely free of trash and graffiti.

A look back out shows the construction of the cave.  It was clearly a natural niche that was expanded.  The opening was then walled up with a combination of brick and rough stone.  Part of the front wall/roof has fallen in but the rest of the cave is quite solid.

I am always on the lookout for interesting construction variants.  Here I spotted something new, a square vent hole.  So I took a flash photo of it.  It was only later when I got it home for a closer look that I noticed what looks rather like a hibernating bat up there!

So that is my third criteria for a "No Locations" post.  Hibernating bats should be left in peace.  I will have the DNR take a look during their next bat survey of the area.  

Of course if you are a serious student of Wisconsin history you can probably guess the site.  If so please contact me before seeking it out.  I will give you the latest bat status report.

Monday, April 10, 2017

Re-learning Italian

Travels ahead, so it is time to brush up my minimal Italian language skills. 

Last time around I simply put on tapes that I listened to while driving back and forth to work.  It was somewhat helpful but I never really attained a comfort level. 

This time around, being retired and all, it was time for a different tack. I looked at various programs including the gold standard Rosetta Stone. The latter btw comes under a lot of criticism and does seem rather expensive.

I settled on a program called Rocket Italian

The company that puts it out is based in New Zealand and is most definitely not the same outfit I see advertising Rocket Loans and Mortgages, although oddly the parent company of that bunch has its HQ at "One Campus Martius Building", named after a historic Rome neighborhood.

Rocket Italian is actually rather fun, featuring a geeky Italian American man and his sultry voiced female counterpart, a native Roman.  I keep expecting him to ask her out.

I like that there are various asides explaining not just how Italian conversation goes but to some extent why things are said the way that they are.  And after a while I start to add bits of my own back ground.

Ever wonder why Germany has a reputation for constant energy and progress, albeit often in unfortunate directions; while Italy stereotypically is a languid place where the talk is rapid fire but actual activity is glacial?

In German you ask how somebody is by saying "Wie gehts?", literally, "How goes it?".

It Italian you would say "Come stai?".  Which means...."How are you standing?".

As to how my standing will actually be in Italy the problem is in some ways beyond the teaching skills of the upbeat Alessandro e Maria.  The hard reality is that things I can hear and puzzle out with headphones on and the ability to replay them are going to be another matter entirely in cacophony of Rome.  With my 60 year old hearing. And the staccato speech pattern of everyday use.

I have already learned several variations of "I don't speak much Italian...more slowly please".