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.

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Move: to Madison, WI (Day 20)

After 20 days, you’ve settled into a routine. Ideally, you have a very good idea of how to do your job. Also, you may have paid (off) the credit card bill(s) from your move.

But, your furniture is still at your old place, or in storage, and you’re still in the sublet. On the other hand, after 20 days, you may not miss your stuff. For now.

Indeed, the only thing (not person) that I miss is my garden, and compost bin.


O 'Yukon Gold' potato cultivar, you will be missed

While having a container garden on a balcony is feasible, composting in an apartment setting is not. In Houston, I had to keep a bale of hay in the garage, so that there was some anti-smell components to add to the compost when the need arose. With a balcony, a composting system (bin plus hay plus room to maneuver) may take anywhere from one-third to two-thirds of your balcony or patio.

As the Wired guide suggests, you’ll be buying dirt every season. The economics of apartment gardening lean heavily towards that of a money-sinking hobby, versus a money-saving task.

In more prosaic news, yesterday I checked the PO box, and there was mail! It’s taken more than two weeks, but Houston mail is making its way to Madison. Mail is also starting to arrive in the sublet mail box. Mostly fliers, but some sublet-specific stuff.

In other relocation news, I’ve visited several neighborhoods, and compared them to the neighborhood where the sublet is. While some neighborhoods have more people outside, walking their dogs, etc., they’re further from the office than the sublet is. Some neighborhoods have no highway or airplane noise whatsoever, but they’re much, much further from the office. Some neighborhoods have high-quality housing, but the neighborhood itself is monolithic and dull. One gets the feeling that it may be a ghetto in about ten or 20 years. Some neighborhoods have a decent-sized grocery store (something bigger than an Aldi) within five minutes' walking distance. But, you clearly hear the major road that is adjacent to the grocery store.

Overall, no neighborhood stands out as being really better in more than one way than the one I’m currently living. The sublet is close to work, and in a reasonably active, but quiet neighborhood. The build quality of the sublet is pretty good as far as apartments go. There are worse houses out there. But, the neighborhood is kind of pricey, and far from major grocery stores.

Right now, I’m unwilling to pay more than the mortgage payment equivalent-of-rent to live further away from the office. Only one neighborhood seems worth it, and it is the one within five minutes of a grocery store. It also has some the cheapest real estate in the area. I have yet to see the inside of house that is for sale there, so build quality is not yet fully known.

In other words, I may just stay in the sublet. Yeah, that means missing out on not owning real estate in Madison. But, I already own real estate in Houston. That house is being rented out. Selling the house there, to buy a house up here, is not an obvious good decision. At least, on a five-year planning scale.

In community events news, I’ve gone to a total of three library events: the John Scalzi reading, a performance by Forward Theater, and a discussion lead by Dan Egan on his new book. Forward Theater was salaciously funny. Egan’s talk gave some ideas that could be useful for my ecology hobby. However, it has become clear that I should go to community events that take place somewhere other than a library. This is not to avoid burn-out, but to avoid becoming accidentally complacent or dependent on library events.

But, the Middleton Library has indoor agriculture (sort-of), too!
 

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Move: To Madison, WI (Day 10)

Settled into the sublet today. After 10 days of AirBnB, it’s nice to have one’s own kitchen and bathroom. It’s not-so-nice to sleep on the floor. We’ll see how my back feels, and determine from there whether an air mattress is necessary.

If you’ve never moved into your own apartment or house before, be prepared to buy at least the following things:

Shower curtain + rings
Soap
Toilet paper
Bathmat
Floor lamps + light bulbs

The sublet doesn’t have ceiling-mounted lights, making floor lamps a necessity.

Since this sublet has coin-operated laundry, I need to stop by a bank or credit union, and exchange bills for quarters. May also buy a sturdier laundry basket.

If you’ve lived your entire life near I-10, note that places north may not have central air conditioning. Especially where the winters are more brutal than the summers. In the case of the sublet, there is a wall-mounted unit in the living room, but not in the bedroom. Fortunately, summer nights in Madison seem to have lows in the 60s. Compare that to lows as high as 78 or 79 degrees in Houston. How humid Madison feels compared to Houston remains thus far not-yet-experienced.

On Friday, I went on a tour of Sector 67. Sector 67 is one the local maker-spaces in Madison. If you’re in town, you should definitely check them out. The size of their facility, and the amount and variety of their machinery, would compete very well in the Houston area.

This is just the lobby. 
Click to see a larger version of the photo.

On Saturday, I attended a show by the Monkey Business Institute, at the east Madison location of the Glass Nickel Pizza company. MBI is an improv-comedy troupe, which may or may not be your cup of tea. MBI offers three levels of shows. I saw the Adult show, versus All-Ages or one of Imprompt2, the Merge, and so forth (they rotate which will be the third offering).

I laughed, sometimes hard, which is all you need to know about how funny they are.

Parking was free at both Sector 67 and Glass Nickel Pizza.

On Sunday, Aldi and Target reminded would-be shoppers that it was Easter, and that people looking for food or general merchandise had better go to Pick ‘n Save and Wal-Mart, respectively. Good thing those last two were open; I might have had to find a church at which to confess the sin of trying to buy food and a shower curtain on Easter.

As for other community events, there are at least two places in Madison offering Krav Maga lessons:

Urban Krav Maga Madison
FightPrime Training Center

There are also two local community theaters:

Madison Theatre Guild
Verona Area Community Theatre

Now, for real estate analysis and empirical research:

Before buying a house, it may be a good idea to drive to the neighborhood where the house is located, and answer the following questions:

1) Do you feel safe parking your car here, and walking away?

2) Do you feel safe walking around the neighborhood?

3) What do you hear or see that you like or don’t like?

Remember that you’re not buying just a house, but also a neighborhood.

I’ve walked around two neighborhoods so far, and found that each has their pros and cons. The first is closer to work than the second. The first also has a townhouse that the realtor showed me, and the townhouse looked very nice.

However, the first neighborhood felt sterile. If you’ve read Jane Jacobs, then you will know what I mean when I write that this neighborhood may suffer the suburban version of the “great blight of dullness.” This, despite the neighborhood having a diversity in residential building types: single-family houses, townhouses, and apartments. However, the buildings have not aged enough to show whether they will age well or not. This is despite the fact that the townhouse that the realtor showed me was built in the 1980s. It appears to be the newest building in the immediate vicinity.

The second neighborhood is more established, with more people outside. The housing is either single-family or duplexes, and there is an elementary school within the neighborhood. It’s not all residential. The only problem that I experienced right in the neighborhood was traffic noise. A nearby US Highway is indeed very close. You could see and hear cars and trucks whizzing by. Once I heard a motorcycle engine rev, I knew this neighborhood wasn’t going to work out. Were it not for the noise, this second neighborhood would be worth the commute.

Overall, neither neighborhood is significantly better than the one in which the sublet is located. As I type, the window is open, and all I can hear is the drone of a distant air conditioner, if that is what it is. As far as noise goes, it’s steady and subtle. Only one airplane has passed over this neighborhood, since I opened the windows this afternoon.