Friday, October 20, 2017

Middle School Robotics - Progress Report Mid October

Machines are starting to come together.  Of course the more ambitious and/or less realistic ones still have a ways to go and not much time left.  Others are just adding flourishes and practicing their driving.

A returning student with a four wheel drive machine.  The blinding white blur in the middle is a super bright LED.

I had figured that the opportunity to 3D print parts might lead to some really creative stuff.  Oh well, blue skulls are a little creative.  The red stuff is sparkle-glitter duct tape.  It should look cool with all the LEDs and lasers that will be around this year.

Sometimes you just have to keep it basic.  The class is popular enough that there is a waiting list in case somebody drops out.  Half way through the class this happened.  I asked the kid at the top of the list if he was still interested.  He was.  With very short time available he has made good strides.  This is made out of some kind of mirror finish plastic.

Another machine built with that mirror finish stuff.  And lots of nails.  Atop it all is a very bright little laser.  The student is actually named something else so I don't get to ask "Just what do you think you're doing, Dave...."

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Forgotten Brewery Caves - Cassville Wisconsin

This post is about the process of hunting down a brewery cave.  

You have to start somewhere.  Various lists have been compiled, mostly from tax records, that can tell you which towns large and small had breweries in the 19th century.  Old Breweries is an aptly named source and while a bit clunky to navigate does have good information.

Once you have a location that intrigues you a visit to your state historical society's web site will often yield more info.  In the case of Cassville Wisconsin it turned up this photo:

A nice early brewery set back into a bluff.  A little stream runs in front. I wonder what that shed by the bridge was for? A bit more research can roughly frame the dates.

Cassville Wisconsin is in an out of the way corner of the state, right on the Mississippi river down in the extreme southwest.  The brewery is known to have survived Prohibition, not going under until 1938.  The beginning of the enterprise is a little harder to nail down.  It should be early.  This is the Lead Mining region an area that boomed in the 1840s, dipped a bit in the 50's when many of the miners went off to the Gold Rush, then had a modest resurgence during the Civil War, when demand for lead obviously rose.  After 1865 this became a backwater and starting a new brewery would be unlikely.

The earliest reference I have found is in an 1881 county history. It relates that a William Schmitz came to Cassville in 1855.  He was in the hardware business for an unspecified length of time before building the brewery.  He sold it to a Hugo Grimm in 1880.

The earliest evidence on a map comes from an 1868 version found again in the online archives of the Wisconsin State Historical Society.

Sometimes, and this is the case here, you get a map with some perspective issues.  The brewery is near the corner of Bluff and Du Chien, on the "town side" of the creek that is not shown.  Ignore that big lake up above, the Cassville map is simply a little insert on the edge of a larger county map.

Sanborn maps are another valuable research tool.  They were put together by a fire insurance company and give great detail on 19th and early 20th century cities and towns.  Houses, barns, sheds, they are all shown in great detail.  Non flammable things like caves are hit and miss.  Usually a big manufacturing establishment such as a brewery would have its own detail drawing.  Such is the case with the Cassville brewery.  Oddly, the earlier versions don't show as much as the 1912 map.  Take a look:

My apologies, the screen cap came out quite blurry but does it show the buildings as seen in the roughly contemporary photo.  But what's that set of dotted lines going to the left and back into the hillside?  

This sounds rather odd.  "Fermenting Chips"?  It must be a typo for Caves. It makes perfect sense to have a 200 foot long cave going back into the rock face of the bluff.  And I'm guessing it had been there since the brewery was founded but just had not been included on the earlier Sanborn maps.  After all, they were mostly worried about flammable things and a tunnel going back into the hillside kinda isn't.

So, I was expecting to see brewery ruins and a sealed off tunnel entrance.  C'mon, lets have a look.

The little stream is called Furnace Branch.  There was once a smelting furnace nearby; you can see it on the 1868 map. The road is of course called Brewery Hollow Road.  The earlier brewery was on the right bank.  The later one sprawled out along the left bank.  A very new foundation can be seen in the foreground.

Of course there was, as expected, a modern cement cap laid into some older structures.  As I said, they tended to seal caves off in breweries that kept running long into the refrigeration era.

Down in one corner there was a little open niche.  Too small to have been made by and for foolish teenage vandals, I suspect that water erosion and/or critters made this hole.

Just big enough to reach in and snap a blind photo....

This is rather odd.  I had expected to be seeing the floor of the tunnel but instead the bottom of the modern slab is at about the roof level of what looks to be a mostly filled in tunnel.  But it clearly is the tunnel shown on the map and it has all the hall marks of a brewery cave.

Now I should not have to say this but will.  Don't mess with sites like this.  There is nothing to be learned by digging in.  Sure, the roof is probably pretty solid but this is exactly the kind of place where foolhardy visitors sometimes come to grief from bad air and other assorted hazards.  Be content with this safe photo.

Monday, October 16, 2017

Tree Shaped Tombstones - A Very Close Look

Sometimes I snap a picture of an otherwise mundane "Tree Shaped Tombstone" for a specific reason....only to then discover something else, something more interesting.

Here is the long range view.  Carl Wilke has a nice monument, the linked chain representing affiliation with the International Order of Odd Fellows Lodge.  I was fascinated by the horizontal fissure above the chain.  Let's zoom in close....

Notice the darker grey mortar in the crack?  It is evidence of a repair job.  Probably this tombstone broke along the join between the upper and lower segments.  The repair is rather slip shod, no doubt moss and moisture will do their insidious work as the years wear on.  But there is something Odder than the Odd Fellows going on here.......look at the texture of the weathered fact, let's look very closely at that.

Fossils!  The little snail shell in mid frame is the most obvious but there are also a variety of little coral like things.

It makes you think.  Here we have a monument created by a man and for the remembrance of one.  The details will erode and vanish, leaving the man unremembered while exposing in the process evidence of life that preceded him by millions of years!

Friday, October 13, 2017

Middle School Robotics - Perks of the Job

After a long career in medicine I had endured my fill of nonsense bureaucracy.  Meetings, guidelines, The Way Things Are Done.  So do I perhaps take a bit too much delight in thumbing my nose at this sort of thing?  Well. Maybe.

The Voyagers after school program where I run middle school classes provides the students with a snack.  A healthy snack.  Milk. Granola bars.  Ugh.

Years ago when my robotics students succeeded in talking me into starting a Dungeons and Dragons class I went to the school staff and said "Look, I'll do it on one condition. Serious gamers need Mountain Dew and Cheezits.  Make it happen."

It was in some sub rosa fashion, made to happen.  For one year the students and I wallowed in salty caffeinated glory while dispatching trolls and orcs.

The next year somebody musta blabbed to the Carb Police because the kids were back on granola rations.  

But I to this day get a special treat for every class I teach.  Granola? Oh, I think not.  

Do a volunteer job for 17 years and you can get away with a lot.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Manifestly Untrue

Although in this case Nut Free refers to the snacks the kids are issued.  More on this nonsense tomorrow......

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Zombie Pirates versus the NFL

I have not commented previously on the latest silly controversy, that involving the NFL.

For perhaps the benefit of my UK readers, a brief explanation.  This season a number of players have refused to stand for the playing of our National Anthem.  League rules actually require them to do so but some have decided not to, opting instead to kneel as some sort of protest.

Exactly what is being protested is not always clear, the initial incident involved a player upset with police shootings of black individuals.  Now it seems a more nebulous expression of broad spectrum disapproval.

Of course the players have First Amendment rights and this is clearly a form of peaceful protest.  It would be more impressive if they were actually facing some consequences for taking an unpopular stand. You know, fines, suspension, loss of endorsement contracts, that sort of thing.

But the team owners, and so far the advertisers, have either been verbally supportive or have by their silence been tacitly supportive.  This is just plain stupid on their part.

Football fans in general lean towards the conservative side of the political spectrum. Players giving offense is bad, but with the frequent scandals those guys generate - domestic abuse, substance abuse, assaults - fans have gotten a bit jaded.

But for the owners to condone this.....its gonna cost 'em.  Ticket sales, overpriced merchandise, bargaining leverage with advertisers....there's gonna be pain.  I don't credit athletes collectively with much in the way of smarts or an understanding of what goes on outside their coddled little bubble lives.  But owners are businessmen.  

Ah well, I'm not a football fan so they won't be out any of my money anyway.  But there is a fan revolt brewing.  When on a recent road trip through southern Wisconsin I saw this little tableau:

The signs say "We stand for the FLAG" and "No NFL here!"

In case the above photo is not clear enough, the skeletal football players are being hotly pursued by:

Pirate Zombie Skeletons with Velociraptors!

Ah, how silly you think.  And besides, its Wisconsin so picking on figures wearing Vikings and Bears jerseys is just good fun.  But the real evidence of a fan base revolt is stage left...

The skeleton player on the left, the one beating the hastiest retreat, is wearing a Green Bay Packers jersey.  And in Wisconsin they love their Packers.  But not as much as they love America.

Monday, October 9, 2017

Worm Hole Aliens

Fall in the air so on a recent weekend it was time to get the "Up North" place ready for winter.  The dock is now in, the firewood stacked neatly, a bit of needed painting attended to.

There was a little time left over for leisure pursuits.  So we harvested hazel nuts.

Usually it takes a bit to get me interested in this sort of Granola/Paleodiet/locovore type nonsense but it was a gloriously sunny day, and besides, I remembered finding hazel nuts in perfect preservation down in the 18 century old anaerobically preserved layers back in my archeology days.

Here's what they look like au naturale.

When you pull off those brownish clumps you get little clusters that look like this:

We ended up with three good sized grocery bags full of these.  The next task is to shuck out the smooth brown nuts and discard the husks.  It was a time consuming process.  Guess I know now what the pioneers did before any sort of modern entertainment technology.

As you sit there automatically husking these things a sort of trance state sets in.  And darn it all I  found myself staring at the pods and thinking....hey, these look familiar. Lemme just take a closer look....

Happily nothing jumped out and grabbed my face, but hazel nuts do have a sort of peculiar Sci Fi connection.  Because not infrequently you encounter:

Yep, a Worm Hole.

End result of three bags of pods was about 5 quarts of hazel nuts.  Once we crack 'em open and get the actual edible part out I figure we can boil it all down and make one jar of Nutella, stuff I don't actually much care for anyway....

Friday, October 6, 2017

Middle School Robotics - Progress report early October

This year I am trying to make the basic robotics class a little less....basic.  So among other things I am asking each student to design and 3D print one part for their little robot.  Here are a few examples.  

Most of the above items are hubs, little spacers that mate servos to wheels.  The green ones are for a turtle themed robot.  The little triangular "Doom" flag is an interesting choice.  This student decided to spend some time working on a little flag before actually building anything else!

I'm not sure how much fear the name "Sheep" will inspire in its foes but, hey, I let the kids build whatever they want.

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

A Season that Continued, A Season that Ended

Literary "salons" in general sound awful.  So pretentious.  But I would very much have liked to be around in the era when two of my favorite authors J.R.R. Tolkien and C. S. Lewis held forth at a very informal pub based gathering called "The Inklings". 

Pints of ale instead of short rations of an amusing little Cabernet.  Preliminary readings and critical discussion of the manuscripts for The Lord of the Rings and That Hideous Strength.  The company of writers who had all lead fascinating even heroic lives.  Sign me up.

So, quick now, what more modern literary figure would you offer a seat at some hypothetical Inklings group should you be privileged to attend one in the After Life?

My nominee:

Angelo Bartlett "Bart" Giamatti was not primarily a writer.  No, like Tolkien and Lewis he was a University professor, specifically in the field of English Renaissance Literature.  He'd fit right in with the Inklings.  But Bart Giamatti was much more.  He did not fight in the trenches of World War One as did Lewis and Tolkien.  But he was President of Harvard University, and quite remarkably.....The Commissioner of Major League Baseball.  

I am biased of course, but I consider baseball to be the most poetic of sports and in Bart Giamatti baseball found its perfect leader.

He will be remembered primarily for the life time ban he imposed on Pete Rose.  It almost seems quaint now.  Rose was a phenomenal player, one of the greatest ever.  But he bet on baseball games.  Giamatti considered the matter carefully....and banned him.  Exclusion from the Baseball Hall of Fame is an Excommunication from which no penance can restore the state of Grace.  

If something like this came up today I have no doubt that the player involved would hire fierce lawyers and a firm of unctuous consultants.  Veiled threats of legal action would alternate with sobbing excuses of "gambling addiction" or some other dodge to avoid responsibility and consequences.  Such is our modern world.  

But I will always remember Giamatti for something else.  Because he once wrote what I consider to be the most profound musing on the passing of time, and of our own mortality.

On a grey fall day when the Minnesota Twins have been eliminated from the playoffs consider the following:

“[Baseball] breaks your heart. It is designed to break your heart. The game begins in the spring, when everything else begins again, and it blossoms in the summer, filling the afternoons and evenings, and then as soon as the chill rains come, it stops and leaves you to face the fall all alone. You count on it, rely on it to buffer the passage of time, to keep the memory of sunshine and high skies alive, and then just when the days are all twilight, when you need it most, it stops.”

For loyal baseball fans there will of course be another Spring, another Season.  But for Bart Giamatti there would be no new season.  After just five months as Commissioner he died suddenly of a heart attack.  Too soon.  At age 51, far too soon.

He had a lot more to offer the world, more poetry, more leadership.  But I take comfort in the strong suspicion that he has been "called up to the Big Club" and that in some place where the seasons never change, and where the Yankees are elsewhere atoning for their evil, Bart Giamatti holds forth over endless pints in the august company of Tolkien and Lewis and Twain and Suetonius.

Monday, October 2, 2017

Remembering Halsey Hall

Obviously events in baseball have jogged a few old memories, which sends one directly to the great repository of memories, You Tube.

When I was a youngster the radio voice of the Minnesota Twins was the inimitable Halsey Hall.  His was a deep, mirthful voice.  He became the Twins announcer fairly late in life, after a long career of newspaper journalism and of being the play by play announcer for the minor league Minneapolis Millers as well as for the University of Minnesota Golden Gophers.*

Rain delays were a delight when Halsey was at the microphone.  He had a lifetime of fascinating and usually humorous anecdotes on all matters sporting.  Most of these stories probably were at the time enhanced by alcohol.  When one of Halsey's younger co-workers was detailed to carry the baggage on road trips he asked Halsey what the heavy bag was.

"My Library", was the response.

It was considered odd that the library made a distinct clinking noise when it was set down.

Here is a vintage clip that seems to be an out take for a commercial Halsey made for Hamm's Beer.  Ray Scott was another local sports broadcaster......

The start of the tape is no doubt came out of a musty archive somewhere. 

Two thoughts:

1. Halsey knew his way around both sides of a bar.  He intentionally poured that glass to overflow just to bedevil Mr. Scott!

2. I considered Mr. Hall to be a most worthy fellow.  One of my kids got the middle name Halsey!
*If you wonder how ferocious a team name "Gophers" is, well, I wonder that also.

Friday, September 29, 2017

The Greatest World Series Game Ever Played?

Well, it's actually happened.  The Minnesota Twins, the consensus pick last spring for the team least likely to succeed, are heading for the post season playoffs. How unlikely is it that the Twins have done this?  Back in March ESPN convened a panel of "experts" to predict who would win the various divisions of baseball, and who would prevail in the "wild card" race, that system by which the two other teams with the best records also get a long shot chance to go on.

Of the 35 purported baseball sages, exactly zero picked the Twins to win their division or to qualify by the wild card route.

From here my team has a difficult path to follow.  A one game "no tomorrow" contest between the two Wild Card teams....and the Twins have never played well against the vile New York Yankees.  And should they somehow manage to win they then get to face the Cleveland Indians who have been on an epic tear the last two months of the season.  

So while the Twins' career in post season play is perhaps going to be short, it is worth remembering that no team, no team ever, has made the playoffs a year after a 100 plus loss season.  Their turn around has been magical.

Will the Twinkies actually get all the way to the World Series?  Long odds....but remember that at the beginning of the season they were given only a 5% chance of accomplishing what they have already, implausibly, done.

The last time the Twins went to the World Series was in 1991.  26 years ago.  And I was there for what some regard as the greatest World Series game ever.

The Twins limped home from Atlanta down 3 games to 2 in the best of seven series. There was again, no tomorrow.  You lose, you're done.

With due respect to the team effort, it was one man, one irrepressible, pudgy man who carried the day.  Kirby Puckett.

Here are two video clips that sum it up.  I cannot to this day watch them without strong emotions.  It is a better view than we had from the second deck out in left field, but we saw this happen in front of us in exhilarating, deafeningly loud real time.

In the third inning with a runner on first base Puckett somehow climbs the outfield wall to pull in a line drive that would certainly have given Atlanta the lead.  The runner on first was so sure this was going out of the park or perhaps ricocheting off the wall for a double that he was already past second when he had to put on the brakes and beat a hasty and undignified retreat.  Puckett darn near threw him out in what could have been the greatest double play in World Series history.  Note how the Atlanta runner is cursing his base coach for sending him!

The game remained tied at the end of nine innings.  And so it was left to Puckett to deliver the winning run.....and in dramatic style.

I am of course remembering it from the perspective of a fan who was there.  This was in the old Metrodome, a hideous carbuncle of a stadium built for football.  Its only saving grace was that the acoustics were superb.  The entire game you were immersed in the tense hum of the crowd.  And when Puckett saved the game in the third inning and then won it in the eleventh the roar actually was deafening.  My ears were ringing for hours afterwards.  They ring to this day but of course power tools and age probably account for that.

Was the 1991 Series the Best Ever?  Given the media infatuation with Big Market Coastal teams you won't find many experts who pick it.  But as I said at the top of the page, those experts are often wrong.

It was the defining moment for Kirby Puckett.  He was a player beloved by the fans, a man who came up out of the housing projects of Chicago to play Major League baseball at its most sublime.  One of my sons who watched games with me as a baby had as his first word "Kerrbeee".  

When you link a video you get a freeze frame image.  Let's keep that image.  Kirby Puckett pumping his fist, uniform stretched taut over his rather nonathletic frame. I always thought he looked like a sausage.

The bad times are still in the future.  Four years later he was hit by a pitch, fracturing his jaw.  The next spring he developed glaucoma in the eye on that side, losing the sight in it and of course ending his career too young at age 36.  In retirement his weight got out of control, his health declined and he died of a stroke in 2006. Assorted allegations of personal indiscretions dogged his later years.

I know that our heroes are collectively and individually, mere mortals with all the flaws attendant to same.  Let that temper our adulation of them.  But never let it rob us of our enjoyment for those rare, magical moments......

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Middle School Robotics - Has it really been 17 years?

16?  Or is it 17?  It bothers me that I can't remember how long I have been running the robotics classes in the middle school after school program.  It was when my now fully adult, engineer son was a student there but was he in 6th grade or 7th when we started doing this?

By that point we had already been building combat robots for a Minneapolis based competition as our "father-son" projects and it seemed natural to go to the folks running the program and offer to do a class for them.  "Let's have distracted 11 year olds build large Robotic Death Machines!"

To their considerable credit they asked very few questions.  After leading with a polite variation of "Are you insane?" they inquired as to whether we could scale down the size, danger and expense levels.  We could indeed.

So for lo these many years we have been building 1 and 3 pound combat robots and having them fight to chaotic dismemberment in the interests of fun and technology education.  

We've had several different combat arenas, culminating in what I think is the Ultimate Version seen below.

A few times we ran the class twice in a school year, before eventually morphing the spring version into an advanced robotics class. That in turn evolved into the high school FIRST robotics team.  In a highly useful bit of circular development the high school students - many of them my alumni - now come to help with the middle schoolers.  It's a great farm system for The Show.

Both sections, Tuesday and Thursday, are encouraging.  Some creative thinkers.  And of course one or two who are extremely pesky, being blessed or cursed with too much smarts and too much imagination for the work-a-day world.  These are the high school FIRST team members of the future.

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Star Trek Discovery. A Review and a Performance Review

I have been a fan of Star Trek since the beginning.  I watched the first episode of the Original Series when it premiered and have been at least a moderate fan of even the recent, lesser incarnations of the franchise.  Admittedly it takes a bit for me to get enthused about the frenetic J.J. Abrams reboot movies.

So, here we are in the fall of 2017 with a brand spankin' new Star Trek series.  And for the moment most people will only see, and thereby judge it by, the first episode.

Star Trek Discovery is a creation of a network (CBS) that is trying desperately to remain relevant by becoming something else (Netflix. Also the Huffington Post I think). After the first episode fans hungry for more will have to sign up for their premium streaming service at six bucks a month.

One would think that this being their big chance the bright minds at CBS would have done what it took to create a - ahem - stellar pilot episode.  Alas, not.

The plot was generic.  A Federation communications satellite goes off line.  The Not Enterprise goes out to investigate. Klingons are found lurking.  The very twitchy first officer puts on a space suit to investigate.  She gets a really bad sunburn, kills a Klingon warrior about twice her size and then decides to start a war.  She assaults her captain and takes over command of the ship. Nobody stands up to her because her immediate subordinate is written to be the ultimate timid Beta Male.  And nobody else has any personality at all.  They sit at their stations peering up like browbeaten inhabitants of Dilbert's Cubicleville.

I assume that the First Officer character got the following Performance Review:

"Commander Burnham demonstrates complete dominance over the officers and crew under her command.  Her interactions with other members of the command hierarchy range from visible contempt to active violence.  She assaulted and incapacitated her captain at a critical moment in order to give the command to fire upon a vessel that had shown no hostile intent.  While we do find fault in her failure to actually kill her captain the overall performance of this officer is considered exemplary."

"She is recommended for immediate promotion."

Klingon High Command

The rest of the cast are as I mentioned non entities other than the captain.  She is played by an Asian woman whose depiction of a star ship captain as a serene monk is interesting....but whoever did sound work on this show made her lines mushy, very difficult to understand.  How I miss Patrick Stewart's rich English accent!

Prior to its premier this program was getting a lot of attention, much of it negative, for the degree to which it went down the Social Justice Warrior track.  Don't get me wrong, Star Trek has always been more about the problems of our times than it has been about any kind of plausible future.  And when it is done well it makes for thought provoking and entertaining stuff.  But in the unfortunate footsteps of the Ghostbusters reboot, when you make the "Message" about as subtle as smacking the viewer in the face with a halibut it is off putting.  Let's review, shall we?

Strong female characters, and ethnic females to boot, who are in charge of things and able to slay huge Klingons.

First male character introduced is an alien whose people are genetically programmed to subservience and fear.

Upcoming male character - per trailer during the show - is the fellow who played the sneering, evil, bigoted Lucius Malfoy in the Harry Potter Universe.

Klingons who are just going about some obscure religious practices. At the end of Episode One they were about to be fired upon by an irrational, hostile Star Fleet Officer who had just usurped the legitimate authority of Captain Al Gore.  (alright, the captains name was actually Giorgiou but its almost an acronym.)  Have a little War on Terrorism vibe going on here?

And so forth.  

Hey, there's a market for all points of view and for all forms of entertainment.  But will this level of technical mediocrity and indolent, hackneyed script writing launch CBS into the financial promised land of profitable media?

Hmmmm.....if so it will be without my contribution.

Monday, September 25, 2017

Rome on the Potomac - Alternate Histories.....

Recently I gave a presentation for the local "Learning in Retirement" program.  It was on Hadrian's Wall, both the walking trail aspect and the archeology.  It was quite fun. But I did have to prepare for questions of all sorts, and the matter of Imperial Politics might easily have come up.

Now, the Founding Fathers of America were very well read chaps, all too aware of the strengths and weaknesses of Empire. In some areas they copied from Rome rather directly.  Our Senate for example.  In other cases they took an exact opposite approach. Civilian control of the military for instance.

But over the course of Roman history so many different methods of government were tried, especially with respect to the transfer of power.  What if Jefferson, Franklin and their colleagues had all gone on an epic bender at The City Tavern and in a drunken state decided to emulate some of Rome's other political experiments?

Dispatches from an Alternate Rome on the Potomac.... 

1. The Tetrarchy

In the late Empire things had gotten so complicated.  The Empire was huge and the problems they faced - military, economic, cultural - seemed insurmountable. The solution?  Divide the Empire into Eastern and Western halves.  Put an Emperor in charge of each.  Have each Emperor name a junior partner, called a Caesar, who would by years of experience be ready to step up to the big chair in his turn.  In theory the more senior of the two Emperors would have some veto power, or at least influence, over the selection of Caesars in East and West.  How did it work out?  Oh, about as you'd expect.  But let me spell it out for you in Imperial Purple.

Dateline Richmondia  As the Southern Empire mourns the death of Emperor Robertus Byrd a struggle for succession is brewing. The new Emperor Jefferson Davis III is being challenged by Lindonius Johnson who claims legitimacy on the basis of his being the unrecognized son of Robertus by a woman from the Texan Province.  The Imperial Palace has issued a categorical denial of these claims saying that "Just because a matron from the trailer park starts calling herself Lady Byrd does not mean she ever knew the man".  Johnson is said to be rallying troops to his cause over the border in the Northern Province of Transmontana.  Emperor Lincoln IV has not issued a statement.

2. To the Highest Bidder.  In 193 AD the Emperor Pertinax had an "unfortunate accident" at the hands of his Praetorian Guard.  This followed only 86 days after his predecessor had a similar mishap.  In a moment of inspiration the Praetorians decided to sell the position - such as it was - to the highest bidder.  Didius Julianus "won" with a bid of 25,000 sesterces per Praetorian.  His reign lasted 66 days until he also met with misfortune.

Dateline Domus Albia, District of Columbia  The White House chief of communications, Mendacem Lupus, today announced a "Marvelous new Opportunity".  In the wake of the Empress Kardashian's unfortunate hair dryer mishap the post of Emperor/Empress will be available to the highest bidder.  "Go to our online partner for details on how to bid", said Mr. Lupus.  This reporter upon reading the fine print does note that the previous 90 day guarantee has been reduced to 60 days.  

3. Dynasties.  Sometimes the real world trumps any attempt at satire.  If you want a modern day version of the perils of hereditary rule you can find them aplenty.  The decline of the Kennedy family from their lofty status recalls the late Imperial practice of raising assorted lesser sons, grandsons and nephews to The Purple.  And for an example from the earlier Empire where unprincipled, dangerous thugs rose to power I suggest a study of North Korea.  Now, on the matter of dynasties and trumps....

4. The Adoptive Presidency.  A play on the Adoptive Emperors.  These were the extremely competent rulers from Nerva to Marcus Aurelius, who ruled the Roman empire so well in the 2nd Century AD.  They are sometimes called "The Five Good Emperors", a term coined by no less than Niccolo Machiavelli.  And his credentials on knowing the good and bad of leadership can hardly be questioned.

One thing that contributed to this impressive run was that it was not dynastic.  In each succession - right up until old Marcus so foolishly trusted his son Commodus - the ruling Emperor found some extremely competent and worthy non relative....and adopted him as his designated heir and successor.

Of course this was in part making a virtue of necessity.  This run of emperors had a shortage of living male heirs.  Infant mortality, a tendency towards daughters, Hadrian's - ahem - excessive interest in Greek boys.  But all this aside the adoptive system worked well and Gibbon pronounced this "...the period of history in the world during which the condition of the human race was most happy and prosperous..."  So could it work today?

Dateline The White House.  July 4th 2017 

"Happy Birthday America!  Glad we ditched that loser George III."

#Dynasties Stink!

"Hilary would have been no better!"

#Dynasties Stink!

"And don't get me going on Chelsea.  Or even worse, Michelle!!!!!!!"

#Dynasties Stink!

"Truth is my own kids are no prizes.  Trust me, I know 'em!"

#Dynasties Stink!

"You could do better pulling names out of a hat.  In fact, I did that. After I retire I will be succeeded by this guy from Wisconsin.  Tom, I think is his name.  You could do worse!  With elections you usually do!"

#Dynasties Stink!

Friday, September 22, 2017

My Official Apology to the Minnesota Twins

About six weeks ago I posted a short bit entitled "Minnesota Twins Report: A Season Ending Too Soon".  I felt I had the right of it.

They had just come off a horrible West Coast road trip.  The other teams in their division had gotten red hot.  There are actually graphs that plot the odds of making the post season.  In early August that percentage stood at 4%.  Meaning, sure, its theoretically possible but damned unlikely.

But baseball is a sport where the unlikely is always possible.  And sometimes happens.

The Twins went on a tear, winning 20 games in the month of August and staying strong into September.  Nothing slowed them down.  Their All Star closer traded away?  No problem, other guys stepped up.  Their massive slugger Miguel Sano going on the disabled list, perhaps done for the season?  No problem, other guys stepped up. In fact in one Sano-less game they did something never before seen in major league baseball. They hit a home run in each of the first seven innings of the game on the way to a lopsided pounding of a hapless opponent.

Over the weekend we went over for a family trip to the Twins game.  This is something that has not happened in years.  It was also the first game ever for the Youngest Generation.   

True, he is here more interested in hearing for the 12th time today a spirited reading of "The Big Red Barn".  But he clapped at all the right times and stuck it out for the full nine innings.

For a while there I was not sure that I would.  The Twins pitcher got off to a rocky start, giving up five runs in the first two innings.  One by the shameful route of walking a run in.  The chances of the Twins winning this game were low.  

So of course they went on to score 13 unanswered runs.  I mean...they scored 13 before the Toronto Blue Jays even got another hit.  In baseball there are things that are very unlikely...but I wonder if in fact there is anything that is actually impossible?

As a true fan I of course realize that my team no more expects me to apologize to them than I on so many fitting occasions expected to get an apology from them.

The odds at this time favor their making the post season.  Those who figure such things say it is about 70% likely at the moment (9/18).  But there are still a couple of weeks to play and in baseball, well, the unlikely is not the impossible and the likely never certain. 

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Selfie with Side Kick

Young children are always fascinated with things bigger than themselves.  Do they instinctively know that they are small but going to get bigger?  I think they do.

For many kids it is dinosaurs.

For some it is The Big Yellow School Bus.

When we saw one parked nearby it was necessary to visit it several times.  Peek in the windows.  Read the words on the side.  And to take a picture in the odd fish eye mirror that the driver uses to keep a safe eye on his or her young charges.

Monday, September 18, 2017

I get a "message" from The Striped Don...

It's been a while since I heard from Don Astrisce. Oh, I'd seen his boys around.  Lolling about on corners.  Sometimes brazenly making off with loot in broad daylight.  But I am an honest man, a property owner who stands up for what is his.  I thought that the Don and I had an understanding.

I was wrong.

The timing was hardly an accident.  The hoods know, oh yes, they know, when my wife is out of town and the watchful eyes are fewer.  They know as well that anything that happens on my exclusive watch reflects badly on me.  Costs me respect where it matters.

So pretty much the first thing she saw when she got home was that Don Astrice had sent a couple of his goons to mess up our fully enclosed back porch.  Plants dug up. Stuff tipped over.  Casual yet directed mayhem.

Oh, it was a message all right.  Just to make sure I understood it a single acorn was left out for me.  "We go where we want to.  We do what we please."

Needless to say I do not take kindly to this sort of thuggery.  I immediately went to the corner of the garage that they usually use to chew their way in.  Sure enough, daylight showing.  I went over to get the chicken wire and tools to seal this off.  And one of the little striped thugs streaked past me.  I don't know which one it was.  "Chip", "Dale" or "Alvin".  

Friday, September 15, 2017

Grandpa's Radio

When I was a young lad I spent a lot of time with my Grandpa.  He was a good guy. He'd been a department store manager and a grocer earlier in life.  By the time I was hanging out at their home for lazy summer weeks on end he was a Lutheran Brotherhood insurance agent.

His hours were flexible, it appears that his main task was just having pleasant conversations with people. There was plenty of time to spend with his little side kick.

Grandpa taught me how to fish, a skill I passed on to my own boys. He was never very strict in the matter of ice cream and other treats, a policy that I have also embraced now that I too am a grandfather.

He was a great fan of the Minnesota Twins.  We'd listen to games on a radio that was already an antique.  The static would snarl and crackle when thunderstorms were brewing somewhere over the long horizon that stretched out into the flat infinity of North Dakota.

Now I have the radio.  And a side kick.  Here we are tuning in the Twins game as I get ready to do a bit of painting and he gets ready for a nap.

- Necessary pronouncements.  

 It's Diet Pepsi, not beer.  We do have Grand Parenting Policies.

The game was very hard to hear.  Lots of static on a day with no thunderstorms. Probably old radio tubes don't last as long as old memories.

I did not finish the painting job that day.  We also have Grand Parenting Priorities.

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Orvieto Underground

Orvieto.  It's a place I had wanted to visit on our last Italian trip.  It's up in Tuscany.  It has lots of underground things to see.

Well we included it in our trip this spring.  And I give it mixed reviews.

It is a spectacular location, an old town perched atop a big rock that rises up out of the Tuscan plains.  It looks to be, and was, nearly impossible to capture other than by prolonged siege.

But when we were there it was indeed besieged.  With tourists.

Look Marvin!  It's a CATHEDRAL!
I try to avoid being a "travel snob".  I know that absent visitors and their money many important parts of our cultural heritage would vanish. But still, seeing fancy shops selling high end crap to people strolling around speaking English loudly grated more than a little.

But the Underground stuff was cool.

There is an official tour in which you visit several complexes of caves that have been connected.  That's kind of key here...this is not a network of caves so much as a whole bunch of separate caves.  Chronologically it is a jumble.  This particular chamber was Etruscan - pre Roman - but was later expanded and in continuous use until the 19th century.  Center of the picture is an olive oil press.  Donkeys walked in circles all day to power it.

Here a later chamber has a very early Etruscan well going down into it.  That is illuminated, not daylight.  

And it goes down a very long way.  Drinking water was key to surviving a siege. When the Romans besieged the city it took them two years to capture it. They destroyed everything and nobody lived there again until the Middle Ages.

Another columbarium.  This one is not of the burial type but was for keeping pigeons. These were a pretty good protein supply for upper class households.  Every day they flew out and ate the crops of the local peasantry, then flew back home ready for the dinner table.

We also checked out a little place called "Pozzo della Cava", the Well of the Cave. This is a privately run establishment attached to a little wine shop.  A gnomish older fellow smiled and waved us through, no guide needed.

I actually found this place to be quite interesting.  It had assorted uses including as a medieval pottery.  Of course it has its own really deep Etruscan era well.  

On our way out the friendly little gnome waved my wife over.  He smiled, took her by both hands and backed up a step or two.  This put them onto a glass pane in the floor that looked down a long, long ways.  Grinning he hopped up and down a few times. He clearly did this with every visitor, or at least every female one.  A man enjoying his work.......

Overall I would give Orvieto a pass.  It has things of interest.  The Underground tour as above, a nice walk around the magnificent city walls, some Etruscan tombs. But the tourist hordes spoiled it for me.  Italy is full of marvels that can be enjoyed with less of this nonsense.

And so concludes the chronicle of Italy in Spring of 2017.  A revealing trip if stressful at points.