Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Kovac Planetarium

Photos of Kovac Planetarium, Rhinelander
This photo of Kovac Planetarium is courtesy of TripAdvisor

I used to deliver to the Rhinelander Paper Mill, and many days Frank Kovac would sign for the packages. Mr. Kovac has built "the world's largest mechanical planetarium." (Wikipedia) It's located east of Rhinelander - in Monico, Wisconsin.

While checking the local media sources for news on the school referendum vote up north, I happened to find a new article on the planetarium.

And here's an older report from CBS Evening News.

I was fascinated with the night sky when I was younger. I still take a moment, once in awhile, to wonder at its beauty. I think the greatest part of this story is that Mr. Kovac followed through on his passion to have a place to see the night sky when natural conditions wouldn't permit it.

So maybe your kids, or their scout troop, (or you big kids) might like to check out Frank's Folly.

Saturday, December 01, 2012

Father Jim

just heard that Father Jim passed away.

overlooking Wild Goose Island on Saint Mary Lake

Father Jim was the pastor at St. Mary's in Rhinelander when I was a teenager. I was not a very social boy. However, the activities that the new St. Mary's youth group would be involved in - trips to the Rocky Boy Indian Reservation in Montana, Glacier National Park and Fr. Jim's cabin on the Flambeau River - motivated me to join.

Fr. Jim saying Mass
at Kintla Lake campground,
Glacier National Park 

Father Jim was consistent - a trait I appreciated. He was caring and inclusive. I could relate to his homilies. I remember being fascinated that a priest would talk about his understanding of The Moody Blues' music. In Philipsburg, Montana, he said Mass for us in a ghost town in the mountains. We carried the Blessed Sacrament up the trail. And using a huge boulder as an altar, we overlooked the valley, breaking bread as the sun sank low in the August haze.

I know he is at peace...

admiring the view with his crew.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Sensory Fail

Last week the idiot light came on in my truck.

Check Engine
"What is it? What's wrong?"
Check Engine
"Everything seems fine. What is malfunctioning?"
Check Engine

Thus, our definition... idiot light. It can tell you something is wrong. But not what it is.

I checked everything I could. The only possible physical problem (though not likely) was the air filter that could have used a changing. (Done now.)

I studied up on the internet. It didn't take long to figure out that the odds-on favorite was an oxygen sensor. So I learned myself on 'em.

My 2002 Toyota Tundra has a 4.7L V-8 engine. Apparently there are oxygen sensors "upstream" and "downstream" of the catalytic converters on each side. They measure the content of oxygen in the exhaust against the outside air, and have the engine adjust it's fuel/air mixture accordingly. (They also heat themselves to begin working correctly while the engine is heating up.)

I learned from other's problems and discussions on the internet that, besides dealers and mechanics, auto parts stores also have "code readers" that can tell you why your idiot light came on. And if it is indeed an oxygen sensor, you can borrow the tool you'll need to complete the job. (The O2 sensor is shaped like a spark plug with wires attached to the tip - the special tool is a slotted socket.)

I chose to go to the Advance Auto Parts store because they hosted a car wash put on by the youth group of my friend Darren's Masonic Lodge. The man there plugged the handheld computer into my truck, and it read a report that my truck had saved in it's memory: a past problem with the O2 sensor, a current problem with the O2 sensor, and a confirmation of that problem. The computer said it was bank 2, sensor 1: the passenger side, upstream sensor. For about $120 I could get the OEM part (not in stock.) Or for about $65, a universal sensor - I would have to splice some wires together. I got the universal sensor, air filter and a packet of anti-seize lubricant (turns out there was some included), and paid my deposit on the loaner toolkit.
I studied the process, made sure it was within my capability, and set to work. I had a bit of a challenge reaching the wire plug connector and detaching it carefully. Luckily, I found a picture on the internet that gave me a view of how the locking clip worked. Through various searches, I read about how other people had run into slight issues. I encountered a few - nothing significant - worked around them.

So after an hour or so of studying and shopping, and a couple/few hours of careful work, the idiot in my truck has stopped telling me to check the engine. (Though sometimes he still sings along to the radio ;)

Saturday, September 08, 2012

No God, No Master

In the summer of 2009, the kids and I attended the Scobey family reunion in Milwaukee. We stayed at the Radisson in Glendale, where, coincidentally, there happened to be a movie production office. My brother Dan and his wife Cori (motion picture aficionados) talked to some of the crew about the film, No God, No Master (IMDb).

A couple times a year since then, I'd google it to see how the production was coming along. Seems they've finally premiered it. (trailer) But they're still looking for a distributor.

And then I followed the director's (Terry Green) IMDb listing to find another compelling film. Heavens Fall.

And one more IMDb note. My friend Dickson has an IMDb listing, from the movie Mindwarp (1992) (trailer) partially filmed in Sugar Camp, Wisconsin.

Wednesday, July 04, 2012

East India Company

“The end of democracy and the defeat of the American Revolution will occur when government falls into the hands of lending institutions and moneyed incorporations.”
Thomas Jefferson

Long before July 4, 1776, the American colonists were exercising their independence from corporate rule.

As kids in classrooms, we learned about the Revolutionary War and the tyranny of King George, but that history gives the role of the corporation short shrift. We fail — to this day — to teach our children that global corporations were a big part of British imperial expansion. Corporations like the British East India Company were larger than governments and shaped policy that impacted British subjects, at home and in the American colonies.

In 1773, the East India Company was granted a monopoly on the importation of tea to the colonies. On December 16, the colonists staged the first major anti-corporate uprising in the country — the Boston Tea Party. Just two and a half years later, we declared independence. Fast-forward 238 years to Occupy Wall Street, where modern patriots are staging a massive protest against corporate rule.

Why is this history lesson important to us?

It defines who we are as a nation. We have a rich history of standing up and fighting for our rights as human beings, no matter the personal cost. The signers of the Declaration of Independence pledged their lives, their fortunes and their sacred honor for American independence. Will we, as a nation, follow them or will we let large corporations rule the day?

Move To Amend is firmly on the side of American patriots, living and dead. We pledge to continue our fight to end corporate rule by amending the Constitution to abolish corporate personhood and money as speech. For the sake of the patriots who came before us, and those to come, we cannot and must not fail. 

-from a letter from Move to Amend

Saturday, May 05, 2012


So I'm a little skeptical when I hear about astronomical events in the mainstream news (you've probably gotten that "Mars as big as the moon" email a few times.) Perigee-Syzygy of the Earth-Moon-Sun system happens tonight. If it's not cloudy, enjoy it for what it is - the appearance of a larger and brighter than average full moon. But those statistics you might have seen or heard in the news (14% larger, 30% brighter) are sales gimmicks. Faulty statistics, percentages calculated not against averages, but minimums. It's nice that we're reminded to enjoy our natural world occasionally, but take a grain of salt with every portion of hype they feed you. And remember to keep looking up!

Sunday, January 08, 2012

Ante up

When I started college in 1988, there was no popular internet as we know it. I had a raw computer programming class at UW-Eau Claire - PASCAL, I think. When I left UW-Platteville in the mid-90's (no, I'm not a doctor - just not a great student), I had email, and was using a web browser (Mosaic). So the internet, this instant access to immense amounts of information, is only 15 - 20 years old.

The internet is growing beyond the reach of the historic powers of the world - our governments, the patricians and super-rich and their economic machines - corporations. We are seeing governments of many forms push back against this popular uprising (the censorship of the internet in the communist state of China over the past few years, the attempts of the Congress of the democratic republic of The United States of America to pass a law restricting the rights of individuals to share ideas, the theocracy of Iran moving towards blocking their citizens access to the information of the internet and replacing it with a censored national intranet) - not merely a groundswell of opinion - but really, a rising of classes of people. Upper, middle and lower classes will always exist - they're relative. But when people learn and organize their abilities, they improve their lives. The balance that exists in the social and economic structure of the world is upset. And if the lower classes are rising, the upper class is falling.

But we're not noticing much change in our lives down here. Nope - it's gradual from this perspective - we are the vast majority of the world's population, making a gradual gain. The super-rich are noticing the erosion of their economic position and the power that comes from that vantage point.

We are human, animals striving to be god-like . We can be weak or strong. We are selfish and altruistic. We are individuals and also a part of a society. As the world population increases, as our technological advancement continues, as our borders fade and our differences wear away - we realize we are one people - and if we work together, we can build a better world.

This free communication of ideas is what drives our world forward. It's difficult enough to understand someone from another culture, speaking a different language. We should not allow this facilitator of understanding to be taken from us.

If we let the powered interests of the world conserve the status quo, we will not continue to grow. Our society will stagnate. It is natural and good to grow and change. But if you've got it good, well maybe you just want to stay with the hand you've got. Good luck. It's time to show your cards and pass the deck.. we're gonna play some more.