Monday, September 18, 2017



Robo Thespian greeted us at the entrance to Robot Revolution Exhibition

    The Robot Revolution exhibit at the Chicago Museum of Science and Industry is back from a national tour and will be at the museum until February 4, 2018. and then the exhibit will be touring  across North America through 2020. 

    Robo Thespian, a human-size robot,  greeted us at the entrance to the exhibit and answered such pre-prepared questions as, How Smart are  robots? and Can we work together?  He said his goal is to work cooperatively with us to solve many of the world's problems.  Since his answers were preprogrammed, I was impressed with him but not as much as I am with Cortana on my own computer.

    Never-the-less there was much to be impressed with inside this special exhibition as considerable progress has been made in the development of robots such as three types of robots who will be life changing for medical patients.

    First was the exhibition on how invasive surgery is possible for the surgeon on a computer screen.   I took the two rods that controlled items on a screen and was asked to separate them into appropriate boxes.  I quickly learned that the two had to work cooperatively. I had already been exposed to this in more detail at the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota where it is already a part of their practice of surgery. The explanatory material said, "With a 3-D high definition vision system, special instruments and computer software, surgeons can operate with enhanced vision, precision and control."

    Second was the exoskeleton that can be used for people who work with heavy loads or probably more importantly with physically handicaps in helping them walk and move around.   A video alongside the powered exoskeleton device demonstrated a number of ways it could be used by the handicapped.  

    Social robots can be used for healing.  Some are capable of talking to patients who are lonely and for those with dementia who cannot communicate they can have soft animal robots whose heads, eyes and mouths move and who can be petted.  While it was not discussed here, I am aware of Japanese men buying female robots as lovers and sexual companions.

    Game playing was very attractive to the children present.  When I played a robot in the O-X game, he always let me move first and we always ended in a tie.   When  a robot dealer was working a casino table for blackjack,  he beat me two hands and then asked me to give my seat to a new player.

A game playing robot could be tied but not beaten.


After my two losses the Robot asked me to let someone else play.

    A robot with only a head demonstrated eight different emotions, including disgust, anger, and happiness showing the progress being made in making robots more human.
    I sat in the seat of a mockup of a driverless car that gave an excellent demonstration of the many things a car must be tuned into to safely navigate the streets.
     Drones appear to be much further along than cars and a continuous demonstration of a drone was going on with help of children from the audience.  Drones are being used for farming, fire control, police work, military tasks and a variety of other situations.
    Some robots were working to show how they could play sports like soccer, climb stairs and avoid hazards.   I was aware of the usefulness of robots in the military and had a grandson who while in Iraq used them as part of his work on bomb deactivation and discovery.
    The robot exhibition area is so active that visitors need to get a time card allowing entry for a limited number of people at a time.  When paying for my ticket on a computer I had to get a staff member to work the screen for me.  It only took her three tries to get the program to work.   Maybe some of us don't have the necessary skills for working with robots.
    This is a popular exhibition opening our minds to many ways that this technology is going to change our lives.




     The Jurassic World: The Exhibition, until January 2018, at the Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago, is an unusual traveling exhibit based on the movie Jurassic World.  The exhibit includes a blend of some realistic dinosaurs, some active entertainment, and some science fiction. Although my wife Carla and I basically enjoyed most of the exhibition, we were a few times confused about what was questionably science at this time by most scientists.    

      A special 17,000 square foot plastic-walled perma-tent has been erected on the museum's front lawn for the exhibition, which has been so popular that visitors need timed entree tickets.  Even with these limits we found the exhibition overcrowded making it difficult to hear the guide  giving a tour of the fictional  Isla Nublar on TV screens.

    Not knowing what to expect each new area was a surprise.  When we entered a jungle like environment , we soon encountered a Stegosaurus and a Brontosaurus, who moved their heads, their eyes followed us and they were close to us.

    Next we entered a room that gave us "scientific" background how these were genetically created by taking dinosaur DNA from mosquitoes who had bitten them and then become incased in amber. To reassure us of the reality of this "scientific" approach a full wall of brightly lit amber is on display. This mix of fictional science from the movie and real science presented elsewhere in the exhibition may be bit confusing to some visitiors.

    A case has three baby dinosaurs who have just broken out of their eggs and on the walls are displays explaining to visitors the "science" involved in their re-creation. 

    The exhibition took on more reality as we entered the next space.  A barrier stood before us and we were asked to wait a moment because a carnivorous velociraptor had been seen in the area. 

A carnivorous velociraptor attacked walls of his cage.

    And sure enough a moment later he came roaring around the corner full of noise and what looked like rage.  He bit at the barrier and hit his head against it trying to break it down.  We were all impressed but the kids in the group found him especially enchanting.  

    However, mostly we were also being exposed to real science and could touch screens to learn more about the movie it was based on and others to give us real scientific information as it was known when the film was made.

     That is, these dinosaurs were covered in scales and had a certain coloring.   The recent information we have on the subject suggests that rather than scales they may have been covered in feathers like their descendants the birds.

     Our biggest thrill was yet to come.  We entered a fair-sized room that had a fence and a truck like the one used in the movie.  We heard a roar and then saw the head of a T-Rex soon followed by his body.  He also was in a bad mood and upon seeing the truck tried to tip it over.  His head and mouth were so large he could have picked me up in it.

A modified T-Rex was the scariest thing in the exhibition.

(Picture courtesy of Field Museum)

    Later in the Field Museum in the Stanley Field Hall I found that he was same size as the T-Rex Sue, 40 feet long.  Sue who has 90% of the original dinosaur resides on the first floor and is a major attraction.

    In the upper level in Dinosaur Hall the Field Museum has a permanent, expanded collection  including every major group, and the worlds they lived in. 

    The Jurassic World  exhibition opened last year in Franklin Institute in Philadelphia and has been  at the Melbourne Museum, in Australia.

The exhibition is a drop back into the world's very distant past.



Fort Osage, Missouri existed from 1808 to 1828 and has been rebuilt as it existed during that period.

    At Fort Osage, a rebuilt National Historic landmark near Sibley, Missouri, we especially enjoyed listening to  two re-enactors whose knowledge of the history of the site made it seem to come alive,

    Captain William Clark had picked this spot for a fort when the Lewis and Clark expedition had passed it in 1803.  He came back in 1808 to build it as an outpost in the new Louisiana Purchase.

     One of its most important functions was to establish trade with the powerful Osage tribe who readily joined the Americans for two reasons:  they wanted the trade items we made available to them and they needed our help in protecting their areas against other tribes such as the Ioway and the Cherokee.

A re-enactor at the trading post explains the fur trading business to us.

    One  re-enactor at the trading post had a great supply of different animal skins that he allowed us to feel the different tectures.  Carla even got to try the fox skin as a neck piece, a common fashion statement during our 1930s.   He showed us the trade goods most sought by the Osage: metal pots and pans, iron axes, beads, small bells, and for the men rifles and ammunition.  The building was three and half stories,  just outside the fort's gate.  

    The Osage may have been friends, but the army did not want more than one or two in at a time inside the fort because of some experiences elsewhere where an Indian tribe had overpowered the soldiers by coming in under false pretensions or even dressed as women.

    Fur trading companies, unhappy with the U.S. government taking over the business, protested that the result was more “factories” were being closed--so the fort was shut down in 1828.  The Osage also preferred the traders coming to them since it gave their enemies less opportunity to attack them.

    In the fort proper a re-enactor was easy to spot; the guy in old fashioned clothes sitting comfortably on a bench watching the visitors.  He was in front of the captains' quarters and told us how the captains lived in contrast to the soldiers who were there.   Eighty of them slept two to a bed, but when the team was reduced to forty, each got his own bunk.

Two men to a bunk made sleeping conditions tight.

    This site was not a popular assignment for soldiers.  It was isolated, there was little to do other than practice loading a rifle three times a minute, and food was so bad some of them got scurvy.  Other soldiers took to growing their own gardens in order to have a better range of food.

     Constant problems involved who was in charge of the fort: Captain Eli Clemson or George Sibley, the manager of the trade with the Indians.

    The re-enactor pointed out that the post in the middle of the square was a punishment post.  The rule breaker was strapped to it and whipped. That no or few women were available also contributed to the hardship.

    Following our inspection of the buildings and their facilities we went to the relatively new Education Center.  Special funds had been allotted by the state and it is now used by many schools in the area as a study center, but not only of the fort but of the history of the area with emphasis on the history of the Native Americans who had inhabited the area.

   An18-minute film showed re-enactors in large numbers as if the fort was still in operation.  We noted a fair number of civilians and learned that this was a sanctuary for early settlers and explorers.

    The displays in the main area start with a history of the Hopewell, goes on to more information about the Osage including an Osage hut and an Osage couple in natural surroundings.

    Other displays focused on objects from other tribes, plants and animals of western Missouri, information about the Lewis and Clark expedition and the history of the area.

    We were impressed with this as an excellent addition to the learning experiences available to visitors as well as the  students in the area.

The Osage were a tall, powerful people who used the fort as a protection against their enemies.

Sunday, August 13, 2017


    My first psychiatric hospital experience was as an intern at Nebraska Psychiatric Institute in 1954.  This was before drugs were used to control psychiatric  symptoms of mental illnesses and a variety of what are now labeled primitive methods of treatment were in use. 

    So recently at the Glore Psychiatric Museum in St Joseph, MO., I took a step back in time to those days and beyond to the truly dark ages of mental health treatment .

    The museum is on four floors of what once was the Lunatic Asylum #2 that housed 3000 patients.  In 1954 we relied on treatment methods that were of little help, but gave us some feeling  that some patients were improving. 

    Electric shock was being used for a variety of conditions such as depression, schizophrenia, homosexuality, and hysteria. When I watched a patient I was counseling on the table in convulsions my visual field narrowed and I almost passed out. 

Electric Shock was used for most every mental illness

    It has been found that the electric shock does work on some problems including certain kinds of depression, but it has been dropped for most other mental health conditions.  Since 1973 homosexuality has no longer been considered a mental illness.

    Also familiar to me from my time at Nebraska was the patient (manikin) in a tub of ice water that was used as a calming technique. 

Ice baths were also used for treatment of mental illness

    One section of the museum is given over to lobotomies that were still being used in the 1950s. Dr. Egas Moniz won a Noble Prize in 1949 for developing the procedure.  Later as a VA psychologist I worked with victims of this method of treatment that separated by surgery the frontal lobes--one's judgment center --from the rest of the brain.  The cases I worked with had lost the ability to be rehabilitated for life outside the hospital.

    From those 1950s methods the museum went back even further to more  primitive ways of dealing with the mentally ill: steel crates to hold violent patients, isolation in chains to calm them, wheels like the ones rats run on to teach them to be still. 

    Even further back it was dangerous to be mentally ill because you could be declared a witch or a cohort of the devil and be burned at the stake.  A manikin stands ready for execution, strapped to a pole with the firewood stacked at her feet.

Some mentally ill people were burned at the stake as witches

    The basement of the museum took us into another dimension of running a mental hospital: food.   The hospital had had gardens and animal barns to provide some of the tremendous amount of food consumer by 3000 patients.  The cooking area had tubs in which hundreds of pounds of potatoes could be cooked at one time. 

    Patients not only grew much of the food and helped with the cooking but other money making projects helped keep hem active.  Daily walks were also a part of the treatment.

    In the 1950s there were complaints about patients being required to work and complaints about this policy that was cutting into local businesses--so that treatment was dropped.  When I worked in a VA hospital after this kind of work was forbidden, I found some patients who had grounds' privileges were sneaking off into the woods to cultivate patches of vegetables.

    Cutting out patient labor made hospitals more expensive and with the widespread use of drugs for treatment, it was felt many of the patients could be discharged. 

    This had a number of consequences, one being an increase of crime and the sending of many mentally ill to prison.  It is shown at this hospital by the section that is now a Missouri prison with 250 prisoners. 

    My own experience with prisoners is that many of them should be receiving mental health treatment. My observations were agreed to by prisoners I have worked with who resent the mentally ill among them because they are so unpredictable.

    The Glore Museum is an eye-opening experience.   Visitors also have the opportunity to see three other small museums connected to the Glore which I will write about next week.



     At the  Cosmosphere International Space Museum in Hutchison, Kansas, my wife Carla and I continued to be amazed that a town of only 42,000 people had been able to develop one of the top world's space  museums, a major destination for education about space exploration. 

     The museum started small when a local woman, Patricia Brooks Carey, bought a used star projector and opened a small planetarium in 1962.   In 1966 Dr. Robert H. Goddard's lab was added, Goddard being one of the first scientists to test rockets beginning in 1926. 

     By now the museum has the largest combined collection of U.S. and Russian space artifacts in the world.  It was easy to lose ourselves in the 105,000 square-feet of rockets, space capsules, astronaut suits and stories of creative and far-seeing personalities. 

      One of the planetarium's consultants was serving on a committee at the Smithsonian that was trying to find homes for thousands of space artifacts that had been released at the end of the Apollo program.  Adding artifacts from this collection led to the opening of the Kansas Cosmosphere and Discovery Center in 1980.  The museum continued to seek out and add artifacts and in 1997 a new venue was opened three times the size of the previous one.

One rocket is Mercury-Redstone Launch Vehicle the other Titan II rocket used in the Gemini Program

     Here is a quick overview.  As we approached the building, we saw two rockets standing at the corners. One was a Mercury-Redstone Launch Vehicle and the other a Titan II rocket used in the Gemini program.  The Titan was placed in the original rocket pit that had been used at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

     In the lobby was a Lockheed Blackbird overhead, the world's fastest spy plane at 2,200 miles-per-hour at 85,000 feet.  It had a black titanium surface that reached 600 degrees Fahrenheit--this one had flown many missions.

     The Germans had done much to develop rocketry in their V-1 and V-2 missile rockets which led the way to space exploration. A display told the story of how Wernher von Braun helped develop the two rockets and at the end of war how he took his team of scientists to the U.S. army rather be captured by the Russians.

A space shuttle stands in the lobby

     Despite the U.S. having von Braun, the Russians were ahead of us in the space race. A  section is devoted  to the Soviet Vostok Capsule--the U.S. was given a few capsules. The first man to use it to go into space was the Russian Yuri Gagarin.           

     Although the Apollo White Room doesn't look like much when you are standing in it you are standing in the actual room from which the astronauts entered their spacecraft on their way to the moon.

     The Apollo 13 had become famous after the narrow escape from death of its astronauts on a failed mission. The original Apollo 13 has been reconditioned after a massive search for its 80,000 components that had been spread across the world   The capsule itself had been taken back from a museum in Paris, France, after much political maneuvering. 

      We took in the three presentations that were available.  At the Digital Dome theater was "Dream Big: engineering our world," a 3D movie that told how engineers are making a better world including creating more space for humans by building earthquake-proof high rise buildings. We watched the Night Sky Live at the planetarium,

    We were  especially delighted at the live presentation in the Dr. Goddard's Lab by a young scientist who demonstrated  with energy, various forms of propulsion  used in rockets.  We were also impressed with the sophisticated questions asked by two ten-year -old girls sitting behind us. They were obviously very interested in science.

    We have visited the National Air and Space Museum, Washington, D.C., Kennedy Space Center, Florida, and the  U.S Space and Rocket Center, Huntsville, Alabama.  We found them all outstanding, but this nearby museum in a small town was a match in terms of the artifacts available for examination.

Moon landing suits

The actual Apollo 13



    The Mid-America All-Indian Center in Wichita, Ks., focuses on the history and culture of the Nature Americans who originally populated this area.

    Our  visit started with an excellent film about the career of Francis Blackbear Bosin, a Native American artist who developed a painting style specifically to help Native Americans keep ties with their traditional tribal cultures. 

    Born in an Indian community he was sent off early to a school that was specifically developed to remove Indian children from their own culture and help them become members of American culture.  Another display emphasizes how wide spread the attempts were to put Indian children in boarding schools and convert them to our way of life while destroying theirs.

     Blackbear resisted and escaped from the program and spent the rest of his life dedicated to restoring Indian spiritually through his art work.

Blackbear Bosin mural "From Whence All Life"

    The center piece of the main display hall is “From Whence All Life,”  a lengthy mural Blackbear made for the Credit Bank of Wichita and is now on permanent loan to the museum.  In the mural Blackbear is attempting to show the philosophy of life common to this area before the white man came along and not only upset Indian traditions, but tried to eradicate them.

    A variety of pots are on display with a list of 19 terms used to describe them.  For example, a wedding vase has a double mouth and Micaceous vase is made with glittery mineral mica.

A double mouthed wedding vase

Seventy Native American Flags hand in a large gallery

    Seventy Native American flags hang in the large gallery.  The comments on each flag shown in the brochure  allows the visitor to get a brief history of each of the tribes.   The brochure says, "The Mid-America All-Indian Center is proud and honored to fly the colors of these nations.  The collection is a tribute to all Native People, and is constantly growing.  To add your nations flag to the collection please contact the Museum Staff."

    Fifteen of the flags are tribes that are now in Oklahoma.  The Ponca tribe of Oklahoma has a different flag than the Ponca Tribe of Nebraska. The brochure while explaining the meaning of the symbols on the flags points out that the Ponca Tribe was forcefully moved to Oklahoma, but due to harsh conditions part of the tribe returned to Nebraska. 

    In the hall of flags is a series of large pictures of Indian tribes doing their special dances, such as the men's Chicken Dance, as a symbol of their Indian identity.   There is also a set of instructions for those who want to attend a dance, such as "6. Dance as long and as hard as you can,  When not dancing be quiet and respect the Arena."

    In one area the Indian Mascot Controversy is discussed.  They want no usage of terms like: The Indians, The Braves, or Redskins since they feel these are racial slurs.  Since 1963 no new mascots for sports teams with references to Native American have been created and the NCAA has a policy to have colleges remove these mascots that still exist. 

    After reading the materials I could understand why Redskins was on the negative list, but I still was not sure what they are unhappy about with other names, since it seemed to me in my ignorance that it should be a point of pride that we recognize them as powerful symbols. 

    Outside the museum overlooking the river stands a 44 foot statue on a 30 foot stone base Keeper of the Plains created by Blackbear Bosin.  The Keeper's hands are raised in supplication to the rising sun.  At the base are a collection of Indian symbols, weapons and tools. 

    A small Outdoor Learning Center stands between the statue and the Indian Center.  It contains a tipi, a travois and native edible and medicinal plants.

     I noticed several dozen children were being led through a hands-on exploration of the center.  Museums like this one do a good job of teaching  children and adults much about the creativity shown by various cultures.    

A 30 foot stone base Keeper of the Plains created by Blackbear Bosin

Thursday, July 6, 2017

Missouri Town 1855, Living History


     When touring Missouri Town 1855 near Blue Springs, I enjoyed learning what everyday life was like in western Missouri then.  

     The first stop was the kitchen at the large Squire's House where  five ladies in dresses that reached their shoes were preparing a meal with emphasis on the bread.    A fire in the fireplace was ablaze to provide the hot coals that would be placed under and on top of the Dutch Oven.  Since heat varies they needed to become experts at judging when the bread was fully baked.   One of the rewards of volunteering as re-enactors is that they get to eat what they prepare.   

     Down the hill I found the smallest lawyer's office I have ever seen, and a bit latter the smallest schoolhouse that might comfortably seat 12 children.  Attendance would have been sporadic for some children because they were needed at home for work and in some cases did not have the eight dollars required for yearly tuition.

A really small school house, seats 12 max

     What I was experiencing was authentic surviving buildings from the seven county area of western Missouri as they existed in 1855. The year 1855 was chosen because it was the last year before the Kansas border fighting began to disrupt the area with pro-slavery and anti-slavery forces in open conflict.

      Spread over 30 acres are 26 pre-Civil-War buildings, restored and furnished as they would have been at that time,  providing an interesting step back into the past with re-enactors available to help you understand what you are seeing--the structures, furniture, equipment, crops in the fields and gardens and the livestock breeds .

     The day I visited only two other places were staffed with re-enactors.  At the blacksmith shop three men worked with the aid of a large bellows that provided the heat for two projects.  On one side a master blacksmith was helping an apprentice make a pair of tongs.  On the other another blacksmith was shaping a circular iron object that would go on sale in the gift shop.

An apprentice practices his skills under the eye of a master blacksmith

     The other re-enactors were two women in the sheep section.  The sheep had recently been sheared, an exciting occasion for the school children that day.   Three of the ewes had four lambs, one of which was immature and needed to be regularly fed with a bottle since she couldn't nurse.

     Cow and horse breeds of the 1800s were present and the barns and outbuildings looked in good shape, and in keeping with the times were in need of paint.  The largest house was the Greek Revival Colonel's House that would have been owned by a affluent Southern planter.

Children can get up close to a variety of farm animals

    At the end of my tour a seven-minute introductory movie gave me a sense of what it would have been like at the time since in the movie the town was filled with re-enactors showing us how the buildings were used.   The church had mystified me the way it was split  into two sections: when I saw that women were seated on one side and men on the other, I knew why.

     In the movie the tavern filled with customers with drinks and food seemed much larger and the two rooms upstairs made more sense when I recognized the one with multiple small beds was for males and the one with the large bed for women..   Men were much more likely to be traveling and in need for a place to sleep.

     The tavern was probably the busiest place in the village since it was the stop for travelers,  those in need of gossip and a good drink.  In addition the village mail was delivered here.

     Started in 1963 with a few buildings it took 20 years for the major work on reconstruction to be done by a volunteers from a multitude of places coordinated by Jackson County Parks and Rec.

     A living history museum such as this one holds a special charm, not only because the visitors find so much to enjoy but because the re-reactors so obviously enjoy playing their roles and sharing what they know with their audience.  

This family had a better than average income; see the piano?