Cincinnati – June 2017 – Observatory

The Cincinnati Observatory is located on the aptly named Mount Lookout. As one of the oldest observatories in the country, they feature two fantastic telescopes. A visit to the Observatory is highly recommended.

The main building has a 1904 Alvan Clark & Sons 16″ refractor telescope. The docent who took us up to the telescope allowed us to open the large metal roof with amazing ease with the rope and gears. Once open we spun the telescope over so we could look into the lens.

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The second building houses what is thought to be the oldest continually used telescope in the world, a 1945 wooden and metal Merz and Mahler 11″ refractor scope. While not as functional as new ones, you will not find a more beautiful telescope!

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Marion, Ohio – April 2017 – National Robotics Challenge

With the good times we had at the robotics competition in Cleveland, we decided to go to Marion, Ohio for the National Robotics Challenge. This event bills themselves as different from the other robotics events due to the fact that there is no kit, rather they encourage the contestants to find materials and equipment best suited for the problem at hand. This results in a lower cost.

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In addition this event is open to anyone from 6th grade through graduate school, although we only saw middle school and high school contestants.

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It was obvious from the start the concept of freelance approach, as they appeared like erector sets with servos, motors and wheels. This is not a slam on the approach, in fact it is a testament to ingenuity.

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It did seem to lead to very uneven competition though. We watched the finals for ‘Sumo Robotics’, Robot Hockey and very small robots in battle in a glass case. It was clear that one would be far superior to the rest.

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The only downside to the event was the venue, and more specifically the placement of the rings for competition. They were up against the one side of stands, with a railing that made it difficult to see, and with judges and some contestants standing it was virtually impossible to get a decent view of the action. The judges should recognize this and take into consideration the paying spectators.

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Dayton – April 2017 – Proto Build Bar

A find on the Roadside America website was the World’s Largest Claw Game. Located in Dayton, Ohio it was a must stop on our day in town. It turned out to be in somewhere very cool itself.

The Proto Build Bar is acknowledged by the folks in the coffee shop, as well as on their website as the World’s first ‘Buildbar’. It is a place that they claim is part 3D printing lab, part electronic maker space, and part cafe, and their advertising is spot on.

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Upon entering we were welcomed by Betty, who showed us around and explained the concept.

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There are many touches recognizing the genius of Nikola Tesla

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And true to Roadside America they do indeed have the World’s Largest Claw Game. And to top it off I had an excellent turkey and swiss panini.

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Cleveland – April 2017 – Robotics Competition

The first day of April, 2017 offered up a Robotics Competition at Cleveland State University’s Wolstein Center. The competition featured high school age groups from throughout Ohio as well as a few surrounding states.

The Wolstein Center is a 13,000 seat basketball arena, and for the competition the floor was divided in half, one side was the competition area and the other was the pits. The emcee hosting kept the crowd engaged throughout.

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The crowd of roughly 2000 people were extremely enthusiastic, cheering on their teams as the robots competed.

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The competition was intense.

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The teams throughout the pits were very happy to talk about their robots, and how they function.

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Columbus – December 2015 – COSI and a Tour of Unique Downtown buildings

The last vacation of the day brought us downtown to see a few places that are always closed on weekends, plus visit one that is usually too crowded with kids on weekends.

The Ohio Supreme Court building on Front Street was built in the 1930s in a classic Art Deco style, and the interior still is a very nice example of this period. The early-1930s-era building, which features an art deco main concourse and a lavishly painted and decorated courtroom, we repurposed in 2004 for the Supreme Court.

Once you pass through security you are greeted with marble floors, ornate grill work on the heating vents, and soaring concourses that bring you to the elevators with their raised reliefs. The main courtroom off of this concourse is stunning in it’s ornateness. The ceiling has a number of murals in what appear to gold flaked frames, complimented by the Frank Lloyd Wright looking lights. Even the water fountains are stunning, formed out of granite with ‘OHIO’ carved above.

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The stairwells have additional murals out of tile. Once on the lower level you are greeted by a ceiling that has more tile artwork. The lower level also houses a small museum detailing government in Ohio, and how the legal branch works within.

We took the elevator to the 11th floor law library, primarily for the views out of the windows of downtown, the riverfront and COSI, but were pleasantly surprised to see this floor, while not as ornate as the lobby, was still impressive with the wooden ceilings and tasteful carpets. Also present for the season was a 10′ ‘Christmas tree’ made out of law books. After admiring the views out the windows we headed on with the solid belief that this building is truly a hidden treasure of Columbus.

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A block away is the Vern Riffe State Office Tower, a 503′ tower built in 1988. We were able to go to one of the upper floors that had public areas, but the windows we could get to were small, and with the overcast day provided little in photography opportunities, so we returned to the lobby where there is a small art gallery. The eclectic exhibit contained pieces made out of material such as networking cable and other non tradition items.

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We moved on to the former Lazarus Department Store building, now the home of a number of entities including the Ohio State University Urban Arts Center. They too had an eclectic collection, including a bunch of sculptures of monkey heads hanging  in rope baskets from the ceiling.

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Our next stop was COSI, the Center of Science and Industry, located in the former Central High School building on the west bank of the Scioto River. As with most places like this they are usually filled with kids, but we chose a weekday that school was out of session for the holidays so it was very quiet.

The first display was showing the use of electricity in every day life. Next door was – a Lego display – keeping with our winter tradition. COSI’s display had famous landmarks of the world; San Francisco Cable Car, a Zeppelin, Space Shuttle, a 747, the Queen Mary ship, the Leaning Tower of Pisa, Big Ben, and more.

On the upper level we found a very nice display on the human body with many interactive exhibits including a display of the formation of a baby. The lower level had Main Street USA, an exhibit that COSI has had for almost 50 years, with the fake store fronts, a pay phone (!), and numerous neon signs. A collection of giant butterflies made out of various materials, including old license plates, lined the hallway outside.

Finally there was a display of industry in Ohio illustrating the aviation contributions Columbus has made.

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As we left COSI I walked over to a building I have long admired, the former Toledo and Central Ohio Railway station. The building was built with a Japanese inspiration (complete with pagoda) with an Art Nouveau twist. When it was built it was next door to a hotel, the Macklin, that had been built in the same style. Unfortunately the Macklin was torn down in the 1950s.

Not long after it was built the railroad was raised and the street level lowered so an underpass could be built, which exists to this day, essentially blocking the view of the building from the west. As we were checking the building out from the outside someone opened the door and asked if he could help us. When I explained we loved the building and was just taking some photos, he invited us in.

It turns out after the building was abandoned and damaged by fire the (ironically) firefighters union obtain ownership, and with the assistance of a grant, restore the building. The interior is interesting, but overwhelmed by the exterior to the extent it makes the interior seem somewhat bland. Having had a very full December day we headed home.

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Green Bank, WV – July 2015 – Listening to Outer Space

Monday morning, as we were headed to our next destination we found ourselves at the birthplace and childhood home of Pearl S Buck. This small house is a picturesque valley with the fog rising in the background was memorable.

Further along we had a noteworthy drive along the Highlands Scenic Highway, a National Forest Scenic Byway, is the highest major roadway in West Virginia and extends 43 miles with rises from an elevation of 2,300 feet to over 4,500 feet.

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Four scenic overlooks located along the Parkway portion of the Highway provide spectacular views of the Allegheny Highlands. It was a beautiful drive, interrupted only by a brief stop in a high country bog for a hike across the boardwalk.

Our destination that morning was the town of Green Bank, and the National Radio Astronomy Observatory. NRAO is the operator of the world’s largest fully steerable radio telescope, the Robert C. Byrd (of course) Green Bank Telescope, The observatory contains several other telescopes, among them the 140-foot telescope that utilizes an equatorial mount uncommon for radio telescopes, three 85-foot telescopes forming the Green Bank Interferometer and others.

Green Bank is in the United States National Radio Quiet Zone, which is coordinated by NRAO for protection of the Green Bank. The zone consists of a 13,000-square-mile piece of land where fixed transmitters must coordinate their emissions before a license is granted. The land was set aside by the FCC in 1958.

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After visiting the onsite museum, we went on a tour of the telescopes. Because of the sensitivity of the telescopes to radio signals, and all digital cameras put off RF, they were prohibited. You were however allowed to talk film cameras, but of course, nobody has those. The Byrd telescope is amazing in its complexity and size. To think something the size of a football field can pivot like it does is a great engineering feat.

Our tour consisted of a man and his college age daughter, as well as about 20 elderly people who were members of a RV club. These people asked some of the dumbest questions imaginable. For example, when the docent explained they had leased out time on one of the telescopes to someone from Russia, someone asked ‘is it because them Russians are too dumb to make their own’. The tour, which should’ve taken 45 minutes, took an hour and a half

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After our tour was completed we started for home, with a stop in Helvetia, a very small town back in the mountains that was settled by Swiss in the late 1800s. Since some of my ancestors settled there when arriving from Switzerland, I always like to pay a visit when I am anywhere remotely close.

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Today there are a few business and other buildings that retain the Swiss feel, primarily for the tourist trade. Since this trip was on a weekday, the local general store/post office was open. The two ladies working there were great to talk to, and they had a display of the Fastnacht masks. Fastnacht is the one day they let loose, drink beer, hide behind the mask, be someone else, and forget about the consequences; party and dance until late into the night, before the Lent observances begin.

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Lunch at the Hutte Restaurant provided some more good Swiss/German food, and set us up for our long drive home.