Saturday, July 15, 2017

Move: to Madison, WI (Day 100)

Believe it or not, the logistics of moving to Madison are still not complete. Most of my stuff is still in Houston. Naturally, I miss people more than stuff, but it sure would be nice to have a couch.

Eventually, the logistics will be complete, and cultural adaptation will dominate. While Wisconsin is not completely foreign from Texas, it is different (enough) in terms of local cuisine, events, and so forth. As the locals like to bring up during our conversations, I still haven’t experienced winter. Readers of this blog can look forward to moment-by-moment commentary about snow.

One of the things that I’ve done to blend in is...buy grid-patterned shirts that are appropriate for the office. Male Houston office workers tend towards solid-colored shirts, polos, or shirts with otherwise simple patterns. Many folks in the Madison office have similar taste. However, there are enough men wearing a wide variety of plaid and grid-patterned shirts that it became clear that I was missing something. One web search later, with some price comparisons, two shirts arrived at the PO Box. Total cost was under $80; shipping was free.

Speaking of the PO Box, if you have one, then you should consider getting a street address for it. It’s free, and you get something that resembles a normal address. If you allow the Post Office to have your signature on file, then FedEx and UPS had ought to hand over your purchased items to the Post Office. Commentary on the web isn’t clear on the overall effectiveness of this, but since it costs no more to have those features after you pay for the PO Box, it is a free experiment (minus losses from items being...lost).

In other news, I’ve joined a gym to achieve the goal of safely lifting 100 lbs. That means lifting 100 lbs multiple times without too much straining or effort. Currently, I can lift 50 lbs safely. Why do this, especially so far from New Year’s? Two reasons:

1) Moving
2) Volunteering at District 1 EMS.

When I helped a co-worker move, it became clear that my upper body strength was inadequate for many tasks. After decades of similar embarrassment, it was time for change. Plus, when it comes time to move my own stuff, having any extra strength will obviously make the job easier.

As for District 1 EMS, they ask point-blank on the form if you can lift 100 lbs. While they will accept you if you can’t lift that much, it is the kind of question to which I would really like to say “yes.” This is really about safety.

Aside from work and chores, major ongoing tasks include: playing Sheepshead at Laurel Tavern, learning Mandarin, reading more about Wisconsin history, walking more segments of the Ice Age Trail, volunteering for the DNR or similar groups, and Monitoring an Aquatic Ecosystem Using a Raspberry Pi and Sensors from Atlas Scientific.

Time management is a good skill to have, along with budgeting, cooking, and writing in cursive.

In real estate news, the landlord offered to renew the lease for one year, raising the monthly rent by less than 2%. Meanwhile, Madison-area real estate went up by more than twice that amount. That sends a strong signal to keep renting.

But, let’s say that the landlord did not offer to renew the lease. What then?

Well, within a few miles of the office (biking distance), Zillow reports 12 one-bedroom apartments available for no more than $1,000 per month. In the same region, there are three one-bedroom condos available for the same price. There are no townhouses or single-family houses available in the area for that price.

For the equivalent price of a property, a visit to the New York Times Buy vs Rent Calculator is in order. With the $1,000 per month ceiling, and some assumptions about certain numbers, the Calculator showed the following purchase prices at at given condo fee. The condo fees below are taken from actual listings; they're not made up:

$104,000 for a place with a condo fee of $193/month
$108,000 at a condo fee of $164/month
$131,000 without a condo fee.

In other words, if there is a condo selling for $104,000, and has a monthly fee of $193/month, then that is equivalent to paying $1,000 per month in rent, at certain values of down payment, duration of residence, property taxes, etc.

At a max price of $104,000, there are four places for sale in the same region that has 15 places to rent at no more than $1,000 per month. Increasing the max price to $108,000, a total of five places are for sale. Increasing the max price to $131,000, and excluding all condos and townhouses and properties that face busy roads, that number is zero. Remember, there are a total of 15 places to rent for at or below $1,000 per month in this part of town. 

Yep. For the moment, I’m still better off renting. It makes little sense to leave a quiet neighborhood to pay more to live in a louder, more polluted neighborhood with a longer commute.


Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Compare: the Histories of Texas and Wisconsin (Intro)

This analysis uses Lone Star: a History of Texas and the Texans (updated edition), by T.R. Fehrenbach as the (troublesome) source for Texas history. For Wisconsin history, the analysis uses Wisconsin: a History (second edition), by Robert C. Nesbit (revised and updated by William F. Thompson). 

This analysis will not only compare the two states’ respective histories, but also effectively be reviews of the two sources.

The format of this analysis will be as follows. A topic will be stated, followed by three entries: Both, Texas, and Wisconsin. The “Both” entry will summarize what both books say about their respective states, if what they say is essentially the same. The “Texas” and “Wisconsin” entries will cover information that is unique to each state. Exceptions will be noted.

As topics are posted, each of the below entries will be a hyperlink to that blog post.

Topics:

The Ice Age
The Land
The First Settlers
The Spanish
The French
The Missions
The Fur Trade
The British
The Consequences of the American Revolution
The Americans
The Southerners
The Yankees
The Consequences of the French Revolution
The Settlements after 1830
What happened in 1836
Statehood
What happened by 1848
Civil War
Post-Civil War Agriculture
Reconstruction
Industrialization
The Meaning of Government
The Rise of Economics
The End of the Frontier
La Follete
The Social Organism
The 20th Century
Globalization
Relatively Current Trends

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Walk: the Ice Age Trail

Upon moving to Wisconsin, I sought out history books to help explain the cultural background of the state; to understand where people were coming from. As it happens, the history of Wisconsin begins with the Ice Age. At least, the Ice Age is mentioned in Chapter 1 in each of two history books.

The first is Wisconsin: The Story of the Badger State, by Norman K. Risjord. The second is Wisconsin: A History, by Robert C. Nesbit (2nd edition, revised and updated by William F. Thompson).

Risjord describes the Ice Age dramatically: “The story of modern Wisconsin begins with the ice, a moving mountain of ice that scoured the countryside and rearranged the hills and valleys. It is called the Wisconsin glacier because of the profound impact it had on the Badger State, and it was the last of four glaciers that had overrrun North America in the last million years” (1).

Nesbit / Thompson puts it more soberly: “As the glaciers retreated northward for the last time around 7000 B.C., the character of the land and ecology changed. The land warped upward, relieved of the tremendous weight of the glaciers, changing lake levels, contours, and drainage patterns. As the climate warmed, spruce forests were replaced by pines” (10).

The Wisconsin Geological and Natural History Survey Ice Age geology web page has a wonderful image that shows the extent of the last glaciation (the Laurentide Ice Sheet) that occurred over Wisconsin:


They state: “The Laurentide Ice Sheet and the large volume of meltwater flowing from it greatly altered the landscape of Wisconsin. As a result, the landscape of the area glaciated during the last part of the Wisconsin Glaciation is notably different than that of areas glaciated earlier in the Ice Age (where erosion has destroyed most earlier glacial landforms) and areas that were never glaciated. For example, the outermost limit of the last glacier is marked by a conspicuous ridge of glacially deposited debris. The many lakes and wetlands and the irregular landscape that characterize so many areas of eastern and northern Wisconsin are also a direct result of the last glacier.”

It turns out that I’ve been walking segments of the Ice Age Trail in my hikes around Devil’s Lake State Park. The IAT roughly traces the extent of the last glaciation. Curious to experience more of natural Wisconsin, I looked up a nearby trail segment of the IAT. The nearest one appeared to the Table Bluff Segment, near Cross Plains.

It was a hike that I took this morning, when the weather was partly cloudy, breezy, and temperatures were in the 70s. Getting there took about as half as long as the drive to Devil’s Lake. Also, parking is free, but there is no ranger station nor any facilities of any kind, except for signposts, and the occasional bench. While hiking boots weren’t strictly necessary, sturdy shoes are a must.

Unlike Devil’s Lake State Park's rocky trails leading towards cliffs, the Table Bluff Segment trail is through a mixture of open prairie and woods. The trail itself is kind of hard to photograph. 

 The trailhead
 

 Looking back at the parking lot

Into the woods

Onto the prairie

At the other end of the trail


Even photographing the signs is awkward, due to the tall grass

 
 See? I told you it was 2.5 miles!

While there are no scenic vistas of water, there is a charm to the rolling prairie and occasional grouping of trees. There is only the sound of birds, insects, and the wind through the trees, until you get within a few hundred feet of U.S. Highway 14. It brought back the pleasant memories of traipsing through a similar landscape, looking for baby deer.

The Table Segment is 2.5 miles one-way, so I walked five miles in about two hours. There is no loop; you reach the end (or any stopping point), and turn around. The trail is only one “lane” wide. If you are by yourself, then step aside to let all larger parties through.

Overall, a good experience. Reading about Wisconsin history and geography, and experiencing its ecology and geography is fun.

Sunday, May 28, 2017

Move: To Madison, WI (Day 50)

This blog entry is two days late due to ongoing moving obligations.

The most significant moving-related accomplishments in the past month have been the following:

1) Getting a Wisconsin driver’s license
2) Registering to vote in Dane County
3) Acquiring auto and rental insurance
4) Getting Wisconsin license plates for the car

Of the four, number 1 was the most convoluted, 2 was the easiest, 3 took up the most amount of time, and 4 was surprisingly easy. What made number 1 relatively complex was the required documentation. Essentially, if you’re moving to Wisconsin, and you need a driver’s license (in 2017), then you need to have at least the following:

1) Driver’s license from current (old) state
2) Birth certificate OR passport
3) Proof of local residency (lease contract, name and address page from your house title paperwork, etc.)

In situations (other than border crossings) requiring either the birth certificate or the passport, I usually bring both, as well as the Social Security card. It never hurts to bring all of them, and it sometimes helps. After you fill out the form(s) and get your picture taken, the clerk will scan the relevant proof-of-citizenship and -residency documents into the computer system. The clerk will then void your current (old) license, and issue a paper copy of your new permanent one. The permanent one will arrive in the mail in about a week.

With the new permanent driver’s license (the one that came in the mail) in hand, one is able to register online to vote. It only takes a few minutes.

Getting quotes for auto and renter’s insurance is always time-consuming. If you haven’t been through that process, what you do is look up a bunch of local insurance agents and brokers. Start making phone calls. You will answer many questions, having to tell the agent/broker/clerk that you don’t know the answer to at least some of the questions. You’ll write down the combinations of deductibles, coverage amounts, multi-policy discounts, and so forth. You’ll mull over the options. You’ll wait to hear back from agents that never call back. You’ll wonder if having one insurance company cover both the apartment and the car is worth paying an extra $20 or so per year. The alternative might be going with the cheapest auto and renter insurance quotes, but at respectively different companies. I cannot tell you what to do in this situation. Everyone will have different experiences, and likely go with different companies or plans.

What is remarkable is that most quotes for car insurance in Madison are less than half of what I paid in Houston.

Getting the license plates requires proof of residency (your driver’s license) and the title or registration paperwork for your car. The clerk didn’t ask for proof of insurance. Since my car still has a lien on it, all I had was the registration renewal paper that you get in the mail in Texas. The paper has the car’s VIN, weight, my name, and my old address, among other information. You fill out a short form, and hand that form and the registration renewal paper to the clerk. You never see your old state’s registration paper again. The clerk returns with the Wisconsin equivalent of the registration paper, and your new license plates. You pay a total amount of fees well over $100, and walk out with your new plates. I managed to receive one of the remaining six-digit Wisconsin plates. My car is now registered in America’s Dairyland. Yeehaw.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Volunteer: for your state's DNR

Whichever state you live in, there is likely a Department of Natural Resources that could use your assistance in helping scientists and technicians monitor and understand the environment. If you would like to be (or are) a “citizen scientist,” and like the great outdoors, then definitely look up opportunities. I have already walked around Devil’s Lake State Park, and was looking for way to get more involved with the Wisconsin State Park system or the Wisconsin DNR in general.

On one rainy Saturday, I volunteered for the Wisconsin DNR in their effort to monitor Chronic Wasting Disease in deer. The name of their project is The Southwest Wisconsin CWD, Deer and Predator Study. You sign up online or by calling them. Contact details are in the link.

There are two shifts: morning and evening. I volunteered for both, deciding that if I was going to drive 45 minutes or so from the apartment to Dodgeville, I should stay for the whole day. One of the goals of this move is to do things I’ve not done before, with only a minimum of preparation. This is the second new thing; the first is playing Sheepshead.

Volunteering for the CWD, Deer, and Predatory Study is hands-on ecological work. It looks something you might have seen on 3-2-1 Contact. With hiking boots, rain jacket, black nitrile gloves, and not-a-paid-employee-of-DNR orange vest, one walks with the crew in lines, either straight ahead or in a large spiral. Trees, slippery rocks, creeks, and nettle bushes make this tricky. This goes for an hour or so. If you’re lucky, you’ll find a fawn.

Most of the time, the fawn will lay still even as the DNR staffer lays their hands on it. The first step is to blindfold the fawn. For reasons that I don’t understand, blindfolding deer calms them down a great deal. After they calm down, you and the staffer determine its weight, sex, age, put a GPS collar on its neck, and attach ID tags on its ears.

Perhaps the most dramatic aspect is attaching the ID tags. Punching a hole in an ear seems painful. But, the staffer is careful to avoid the major blood vessels. The fawn appears to not notice. In the two fawns that I held in position, the animal seemed calm. It was as if it were asleep. I focused on its breathing and pulse. Knowing nothing about deer physiology or psychology, the breathing and heart rate seemed steady.

Most of the time, you’re riding around the Wisconsin countryside in a van or truck with wildlife technologists and biologists. The hills, prairie, and farms seem exotic to this guy from Texas. Even in the rain. Walking for hours in such terrain (along with the aforementioned slippery rocks and creeks) provides a great workout. Especially for whichever muscles control the lifting of your leg, and positioning of your foot. I apparently spent a lot of time trying to figure out which rock was the least slippery.

If you are a former Boy Scout, this activity might bring back memories of hiking on ambiguous trails through an endless countryside.

The staff at the DNR is great. They are funny, and passionate about the work they do. Hiking with them, and riding around in trucks and vans, was an honor and a privilege. I look forward to volunteering with the DNR again.

Saturday, May 13, 2017

Go: to the (Mini) Maker Faire

 
Forward! To Mini Maker Faire!


What? I can’t see or hear you.

As member of Sector 67, I volunteered at the Madison Mini Maker Faire. It was a lot fun to help the group set up their stuff, and help several dozen people make simple fidget spinners. I even managed to park for free, relatively close to Monona Center.

To get free parking, find a spot near the event area really early.

If you have never been to a (Mini) Maker Faire, it is a nerdy gathering of do-it-yourself technologists. It is the electronic or mechanical (or both) extension of crafting, taking to elaborate and sometimes expensive extremes. If you volunteer as part of an organization, you usually get in for free. However, even in relatively small cities like Madison, parking at the event is almost never for free.

After about three hours of standing outside, helping families make their spinners, I ate lunch at Merchant Madison on Pinckney Street. For $10, you get a Mexican Pozole. It tasted good, especially after adding jalapenos, onions, cabbage, and tortilla strips.

It’s recommended.

Overall, a great day. While my Fedora was effective in shading most of my head from the sun, it was not so effective on my neck. The solution is a hat that has a flap on the back to shade the neck. Also, work gloves. Not only would this have made more comfortable the handling of the hot metal of the fresh, in-progress spinners, it would have shaded my hands from the sun.

Meanwhile, inside Monona Center, members of Sector 67 sold stuff.

Despite the hot sun, and the hot metal, we still had fun.

Our fearless leader, riding his Penny Farthing bicycle.


Sunday, May 7, 2017

Visit: Devil's Lake State Park, in Wisconsin

As time goes by in the new town, the novelty of the move wears off. The necessary changes become further apart in time. Blog posts such as today's are intended to keep family and friends knowledgeable of events not otherwise specific to moving. Now, without further delay:

About an hour northwest of Madison is Devil’s Lake State Park. To get there, get on Beltline headed towards Middleton, and stay on it. The freeway ends, but U.S. Highway 12 continues towards Sauk City. You drive through pristine farm land and hills. After crossing the bridge over the Wisconsin River, you drive through Sauk City, and past it. The Highway widens and narrows as U.S. Highways do.

About four miles north a significant S-curve on Highway 12, turn right on Ski Hi Road to get to the Visitor Center South Shore. The road will end at a T-intersection. Turn right to continue to the South Shore. Turn left to go to the North Shore.

Headed towards the South Shore, you’ll drive on a narrow, twisty road, then pass a boat dock, and eventually towards the Visitor Center. You’ll have to pay for admission, and the price depends on whether you have Wisconsin plates, and whether you want a one-day pass, or an annual. A one-day pass for this Texan’s vehicle cost $11.

After parking, you can walk towards the lake, and around the pavilions. Eventually, you’ll see maps or signs for various trails. Ideally, you’ve seen the map beforehand.

I walked three trails: the Grottos, the CCC, and the Potholes Trails. Walking those trails, I unintentionally managed to avoid six major geological attractions as indicated on the map. Despite that error, the views were wonderful.

Click on any to enlarge:

If you can make out the hat near the center, it gives the picture a sense of scale






No hiking shoes were necessary, but may have come in handy on slippery rocks. I wore a broad-rimmed hat, and a long-sleeve shirt. If the temperature was above 60 degrees, I would have considered wearing a short-sleeve shirt and sunblock, or hiking earlier in the morning, or later in the afternoon.

The crowds were civil, even polite. Lots of incidental campers. One group was rappelling off one of the rock faces. Temps were in the 50s, and the sky was clear. A perfect day for a hike.