This blog reports events and interesting tidbits from Rensselaer, Indiana and the surrounding area.

Monday, February 28, 2011

Regional Science Olympiad 2011

On Saturday SJC hosted the regional Science Olympiad. (I would not have known about the event if one of my former colleagues had not mentioned it a couple weeks ago.) I stopped by to take some pictures. Below you see the competition for Storm the Castle. One of my sons enjoyed this event when he was in high school. It allowed him to make a trebuchet. This year the contest was one of accuracy, not distance. The goal was to hurl the projectile into the box.
The competition used space in the Hansen Recreation center as well as rooms in the Science Hall and Core Building. Below you can see budding chemists engaged in some activity in a third-floor lab that was remodeled a few years ago.
I wondered what they were doing with the Tinker Toys. It was a competition called Write It, Do It. The competition has a tinker-toy model that the students are supposed to duplicate. To make it challenging, one student must write a description of the model, using no pictures. The other student takes this description and from it must assemble the tinker toys as best he or she can based only on the written description from the other student.
Below two students are getting ready for a competition called Sound of Music. It does not seem that the results of this one counted for the overall results. I think the students had to construct their own instruments.
The most impressive exhibition I saw was in the helicopter competition. The helicopters were powered by rubber bands. This little machine, with propellers at both ends, slowly rose to the top of the Rec Center and then slowly descended back to the floor. The lighting was very poor in the Rec Center, and this is the best picture I would get.
The hands-on events can be fun to watch. Many of the events are answer-questions-on-paper events. For a number of years before the science students took over the Olympiad, I was in charge of the astronomy event. I never came up with any way to make it more than a test, but then it was not a high priority thing for me, so I did not put a lot of time or creativity into it. I did come up with some clever questions, though. (In my younger years I was an enthusiastic amateur astronomer. Does anyone want to buy a six-inch reflecting telescope that has not been used for at least ten years?)

The results of the competition can be found here. In the middle school competition, Rensselaer came in fourth. Fortunately for them, the top four advance to the state competition. Either the high school did not have a team this year or they competed elsewhere. (See comments.)

Lake Central High School had three teams, one varsity and two that were exhibition teams. Looking at the score sheet, it was interesting to see that in some events the B or C team beat the A team.

Each school had its own home room and some of the them were well stocked with food. This was St. Mary's Catholic Community School, (which I thought was a rather strange name).
Ben Franklin Middle School from Valpo not only was well-stocked with food, but won the middle school division. They are a perennial middle school power. (I did not realize that SJC still had chalk boards. I never saw any during the last years I was there.)
But none of the schools could compete with the food that was set out for the SJC student volunteers who worked the event.
The little olive-carrot penguins that Mary Chesak made attracted everyone's interest. She said that they were quite easy to make.
For more pictures, some of which may be from past years, go here and here.

It was a busy weekend. The Carnegie Players had a play (I did not attend), and there was Rock the Ritz food raiser at the Ritz (I did not attend that either, but heard that there was a good attendance and that the people had a good time). Sunday SJC had a choir concert, which also had a good attendance.

When I got home from the concert on Sunday, I was shocked to see some really large hail in the yard. I had not noticed any hail at SJC, so I do not think they got any. The largest hailstones were marble sized.
Comments are welcome.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Some followup on past posts

The house north of the powerhouse has been completely demolished. The house next to it no longer has a "for-sale" sign. The city is thinking of buying it and using the lot as well.
Remodeling continues at Strack and van Til. Every time I go to the store, it is a bit different. The front entrance way, shown here getting new floor tiles, is now almost finished. I wonder if the light fixtures in the entrance will eventually replace the current light fixtures.
With a bit of the platform finished and operational, it appears that the workers are getting ready to build much, much more platform at the Amtrak station. I guess they have to if it is to be 550 feet long. The present section is only about 170 feet. (That is a very rough estimate.)
I took the picture below almost two months ago. The old Chrysler lot is now being used by Ed White. The building, however, is not being used for offices. The signs on the door tell people to go across the street to the Ed White building.

Friday, February 25, 2011

More Snow

We woke this morning to three or four inches of new snow, which was better than the five to six that the weatherman said we would get. The snow is heavy and wet, and the strong wind plastered it on north-facing surfaces.
The picture above shows the west side of Brookside Creek between Jackson Street and Bunkum Road (which may still be Lincoln Avenue--I do not know why a little stretch of it in the city has to have a different name). In January a work crew cleared the underbrush from this area, so now you can walk through it. It had been so overgrown that it was pretty much impassible. I do not even have a guess as to why the area was cleared. There is a fence that separates it from the park.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Art Show Feb 2011

The high school art exhibit is showing in the Core Building Lobby at SJC. I am not sure what I can add from the last year's show--like that one, some of the work is good, some not so good.

I have been working with typefaces for the past few months, so this one caught my eye.
 I have also done a few fonts of pointing fingers, so I recognize the source of this pictures, though I do not what it was supposed to be showing.
I think I have an early case of spring fever. I am having a hard time getting motivated to do much, even to do the several things that are higher on my list of priorities than posting here. Expect short posts until I stumble on something that I find interesting, or until I get over this bit of early spring fever.

(I saw a herd of tractors heading south on College a day or two ago, but did not get a picture. It was part of FFA week at the high school. I missed it last year and missed it again this year. Maybe next year I will actually get a picture.)

Monday, February 21, 2011

Signs of spring

Yesterday I heard sandhill cranes overhead. This morning there were buzzards circling the neighborhood.

Winter remains in Minnesota. Parts of the state got another foot of snow yesterday.

Update: This afternoon the light rain was freezing on the branches of the trees. Maybe we will have a white Tuesday.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Old pictures of St. Augustine's Church

Last week I found Steinke Funeral Home's Facebook page and noticed that they had a slideshow of pictures of the construction of St. Augustine's Church back in 1939.

They are here.

(I could not resist doing such an easy Sunday post.)

Update: They also have a lot of pictures from the old Rensselaer High School and about 200 old Rensselaer pictures. Some of them did not scan too well, but it is a very interesting collection.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Seeing nature along the side of the road

I have never seen one in the wild, and I did not know that Jasper County had them, but apparently there are mink that live around us. I noticed this one along the side of CR 400S near the railroad crossing. It would be a lot more fun to see one alive.
Or is my animal identification in error?

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Platform Update

In the past week there have been major changes in the appearance of the Amtrak platform that is under construction at the end of Beam Place. Below is what the site looked like about a week ago. I did not know it at the time, but the area covered with the orange and black plastic was about to become a ramp up the the platform.
Early this week there was a concrete pour putting in that ramp up to the platform.
Yesterday when I stopped by they were getting ready for more concrete. This area may be for parking--just a guess.
I was not prepared for how different the site looked today. The Amshak had been moved to from its temporary position close to the Cullen Street crossing and light poles were up. There was also a little metal structure at the west end of the platform.
The Rensselaer sign had been up the previous day.
It looks like this portion of the platform will be ready for use next week. However, I do not think they are close to finished here. There is a long stretch of disturbed soil extending from the end of the platform to where the Amshak had been, and the abrupt end of the platform cannot be the way it will be left.
The concrete slab that held the Amshak for about two months had been broken up. (Notice the mud. A lot of snow melted today. I hope you enjoyed the spring-like weather today as much as I did.)
There were still lots of unused construction materials, including lots of rebar waiting to be used.

Update: As of Saturday (and probably sometime on Friday) the platform is open. The little metal building at the end has a sign that says "Wheel chair lift." Perhaps some kind of lift will be stored there. The platform has temporary wooden guard rails (you can see them in some of the pictures above), and the shelter building is closed, with cross beams inside that look like they are supporting the structure. Perhaps it was damaged in the move.

And for another example of your stimulus dollars at work, see here.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011


I finished the tomatoes from my garden today. I never thought I would still have garden fresh tomatoes long after the sweet potatoes, squash, and rutabagas were gone.
They tasted just as good as they look, but then some of the tomatoes from the store do not have much taste this time of the year either.

With the warmer weather the roads are mostly clear of snow and ice and I can ride a bike again.
As I was out getting some exercise today, I saw an opossum near Sealy Spring. I rarely see these guys except as road kill. They are mostly nocturnal, but apparently they do come out during the daytime in winter warm ups.
You probably know that they are marsupials. Did you know that they are immune to rattlesnake poison and prey on rattlesnakes (and copperheads and water moccasins)?

There is a new on-line Jasper County newspaper that seems to be about a week old. Right now it does not seem to have much original content and I do not like the layout. We will see how it develops. Maybe it will become really good and then I can quit blogging because there will be nothing for me to write about. Another on-line newspaper started a few weeks ago on Facebook covering the news from Lake Village. The Morocco Times on Facebook has been around for at least a year, but it also has a print presence. Will the social media give the old print media a run for its money?

Speaking of Facebook, I see Little Indiana has passed the 1000 "like" mark. Fair Oaks Farms is approaching 5000. Rensselaer Adventures only has 226. Maybe if I had better content there, I would have more "likes."

Update: Fountain Stone Theater just hit 5000 friends, probably the most of any Rensselaer entity.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011


The Prairie Arts Council and the Cooperative School Services are again showing a exhibit at the Fendig Gallery called Limelight on Special Creations. It features pictures and creations from students in special education classes from Benton Central, Rensselaer, KV, South Newton, and Van Elementary. The show runs until March 4.

I admired the detail in this picture.
There were a couple of fish pictures. They look like prints created using an actual fish and then colored.
There was a lot of color in this bit of abstract expressionism.
This portrait had the biggest ribbon.

I did not post on the elementary school exhibit at SJC that has ended because I did not see anything that caught my fancy. The high school exhibit, which will run from Feb 21 until March 4, is being hung and already there are a number of interesting items there, so some future post will probably review it. A middle school show will run from March 21 until April 8.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Snow piles

Not only have we have had a lot of snow this winter but the snow has remained because there have been so few days during which the temperature got above freezing. The result is mountains of snow piled around parking lots all around town. The warmup forecast for this week should result in major reduction in these piles by this time next week.

Below you can see some of the piles at the west end of Walnut Street.
The 5/3 parking lot was similar to a lot of other parking lots with its piles of snow.
The pile between Charlie Roberts and PNC bank probably received snow from both sides.
The CVS pile was the most impressive in the downtown area.
Brookside Park had huge piles of snow, but these piles were enhanced by snow brought in from the downtown.
The pile was almost as high as the new JC Cruiser Park Shelter.
Maybe next week there will be people sitting in this bench by the playground equipment in Brookside Park.
Chad's Weather Blog says we are getting false spring this week, not real spring. There will be more snow and cold before real spring arrives. At this point I am be happy for any kind of spring. How about you?

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Hospital chapel

There is a tiny chapel at the Jasper County Hospital. It is on the first floor, near the elevator that is down the hall a bit from the admittance desk. It is considerably smaller than the chapel at the Care Center, but that makes sense. Most patients would not be able to get to it.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Under construction

I have (unfortunately) been visiting the hospital quite a bit this week. and during my visits I have seen big changes on the first floor. If you enter the hospital via the old main entrance and then go straight back, you are in the area where surgery is currently done. The new addition, which the hospital website says will be open in May, will have a new surgery area, so the current surgery area will be renovated for other uses. At midweek the first-floor hall was blocked off much further to the east than it had been. On Tuesday none of this plastic was here. There is an elevator door on the left side of the picture that is blocked off. The elevator is still in service but one has to enter it through its north door. (It is one of those elevators that can open at either end.)
Looking the other way (to the west), the old surgery waiting room that you can see below is now behind the warning tape. Where the hall ends with plastic there were doors that marked the start of the construction zone. Supplies were being delivered through those doors. Now they must enter somewhere else.
I hope they have an open house when they open the new addition. It is a mess now, but it will probably be very nice when it is finished.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Dam. They're back.

The Jasper County Community Services Building on Bomber Drive (or is it still Leopold there?) had impressive icicles and an ice dam yesterday.
We can be grateful that when we got the big snow, we also got a lot of wind that blew the snow off roofs, or else ice dams like this one would be causing water to back up under shingles and leaking into attics.

We had our coldest night of the winter yesterday, with temperatures well below zero.  But a south wind is bringing us warmer weather. We should be above freezing early next week, and the streets will be full of water and slush. Maybe that is why some robins have come back. I had heard early this week that there were some flocks in the area and I saw a group of cold looking robins near the Jasper County Hospital Thursday afternoon.
What do they eat when there is so much snow on the ground?

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Dairy Adventures Part 4

After seeing the visitor's center, the movie, and the birthing barn at the Fair Oaks Dairy Adventure, it was time for the bus tour. We caught the last tour of the day. There were not a lot other people on the bus with us. In fact, there were no other people on the bus with us.
The bus drives to a farm that is just a bit north of the Dairy Adventure. One of the first attractions is a group of four tanks which contain manure that is being digested by bacteria, turning it into compost and methane gas. When Mike Rowe visited the farms to film a segment for Dirty Jobs, he got to work on a tank like one of these.
Then the tour shows you how cow food is prepared. An important ingredient is silage, which I remember from my youth as being made in silos. Silage is created from chopped corn plants that are allowed to ferment in the absence of oxygen. At the Fair Oaks Dairies it is fermented in large piles or hills covered with plastic which is held down with old tires. What looks like the sand of a hill is actually cow food.
The commentary then explains how the silage is mixed with various other ingredients to produce a super nutritional diet for the cows.

By the way, there are ten dairy farms in the complex, but they are not owned by a single corporation or partnership. The ownerships arrangements are complex and I do not understand them.

Then it is time for a visit to the dry cows. These are cows waiting to have calves and are not producing milk. As the cows get closer to delivery, they move up the barn until they eventually get to the birthing area. One of Mike Rowe's episodes from the Fair Oaks farms had him helping artificially inseminate cows. They weaknesses of each cow were noted and an appropriate bull was chosen to sire her calf in an attempt to improve the herd.

Cows are able to tolerate the cold quite well. When it gets too cold and windy, a plastic barrier can be put up to cut wind and keep some of the heat in the barns. The more common problem is summer heat. Cows tolerate the cold quite well, but not the heat. To keep them comfortable on hot summer days, they are sprayed with water and fans cool them.
After the calves are born, they spend very little time with their mothers but are rather quickly sent to their own area. The males get sold (and eventually appear in the meat counter of the grocery store or in your favorite fast-food burger). The females are sent off to a bovine boarding school to grow up and eventually come back to the Fair Oaks farms to produce milk.
The calves are fed milk for a short time, but as soon as possible they are switched over to a non-milk diet. Mama has to go to work--her career comes before calf care.
The bus then drove through a barn of cows that were producing milk, which looked pretty much like the other cow barn.

Then it was time to see the milking operation. As we left the bus to go up the stairs, I could not help noticing that the bus with its mirrors looked a lot like a giant beetle.
People and cows are kept separate not to protect the people, but to protect the cows. The operators of the farm want to make sure that people from distant places do not accidentally introduce disease organisms that are new to this area. I thought this rather strange in a way because during the many years since animals were domesticated, a lot of diseases passed from our domesticated animals to humans. That was one of the reasons that when the Europeans arrived in the Americas, they had lots of diseases to introduce to the inhabitants of the Americans whereas the inhabitants of the Americas had very few to give back in return because, except for the llama and guinea pig, they had not domesticated any mammals. The story of this encounter and similar encounters in Asia, Africa, and Oceania is told in one of the best books I have read in the past decade, Jared Diamond's Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies.

From the visitor's galley you see the cow merry-go-round. The cows enter, get hooked up with a milking machine, and ride around the circuit. Most of them are ready to get off after one trip, but a few will be allowed a second circuit. The cows like it and they quickly learn the routine. They are milked three times a day and the carousal is busy around the clock. (I wonder what happens if they have a mechanical breakdown. Maybe next time I will remember to ask.)
There are several people who have to prepare the cows and attach the hoses. The cows have a collar with a transponder so they can be identified. Their milk production is measured and each cow has a computer record of her productivity. (That takes Taylorism to a whole new level.) A little video plays above the viewing window explaining exactly what is going on.
The milk is piped to a filter and then is cooled from cow body temperature, which is a bit over 100 degrees, to the low thirties. It is shipped out in insulated tankers to Indianapolis or points south or wherever the market says it should go. Each day about forty tankers with a quarter million gallons of milk leave the ten dairies of the complex. It is an impressive operation.

That ends our February Dairy Adventure. Remember, there is another free day on the 14th--Valentine's Day. If you live nearby and have never been there, take advantage of the free day. Everyone should see the Dairy Adventure.

Update: Fair Oaks Farms has just updated their website with a new design.