Sunday, November 29, 2015

The Urge to Panic

Marathon, FL

When driving a car, or flying a plane, or when commanding Tarwathie, I like to think that I'm not prone to panic.  Even when things are dire, it is best to keep one's head calm.  I wish I could do the same with my Internet connection.

In case you don't already know, I'm heavily addicted to the Internet. I can't even count the number of times every day that I contact the net, or the number of hours I spend online.

A few weeks ago, while en-route from Green Cove Springs to Cape Canaveral, my phone quit working.  When on the boat, my phone provides the WiFi signal to all our other devices.  I felt the bile of panic swiftly rising in my throat.  What would I do?   Well, I was able to repress the panic because we were going to the PCYC which has WiFi, after that we were going to Vero Beach were there are multiple places for me to access WiFi.

I also got Dave to mail my my backup phone, which I gave to him to use as his backup.  Yes, I'm an indian giver.   I also purchased an extra phone battery and a simple $7 device that charges Samsung phone batteries outside of the phone.  We were back in business.

When approaching Marathon by sea last week, I turned on my phone.  It had a good signal.  I tried to turn on the WiFi using the FoxFi phone app that I've been using for years.  It didn't work.  "Oh No."   I suspected that the problem might be local to Marathon Verizon, because the thing had just worked OK in FMB.  But I also worried that something had expired or that Verizon changed the rules.

That same day, I phoned Verizon to complain.  They weren't any help.  But they did offer to sell my Verizon's WiFi hotspot feature for an additional $30 month.  To have signed up right then and there, would have been a panicked response.  With great difficulty, I resisted that.  I though that Verizon might introduce "malfunctions" like this from time to time, specifically to panic people like me to sign up for expensive options.

I did manage to get FoxFi to connect to my laptop via a USB tether.  That worked fine.  But the iPads were out of luck.  I said, I won't panic until I get to test the WiFi in Miami or Key West.  I still suspect a local problem.

Now, a week later, things are much brighter.  I figured out how to make FoxFi work with Bluetooth as well as WiFi, and as well as by USB tether.  Also, I just rechecked FoxFi with WiFi using Verizon-Marathon; IT WORKED!  The local problem had cleared itself.

If I had panicked and signed up for the $30/month service from Verizon, I probably would have never investigated the free FoxFi solution better and would have never know that it works OK in several modes.   That would have cost us $360 per year.

Saturday, November 28, 2015

Flip Flopping on Florida Anchoring Rights

Marathon, FL

Long-time readers know that I've written several times about the never ending battle between boaters and  homeowners who want to restrict anchoring.   It happens in Vermont and every other state, but it is most intense here in Florida.   Heretofore, us boaters have been united in our opposition to restrictions on our rights; and we have been mostly successful.   But now, I see reason for us to flip flop on the issue.

The reason came from a news story.  I read that entrepreneurs in the Fort Lauderdale/Miami region have started buying old boats which they anchor and then rent out as "apartment yachts."   Considering the sky high rents for regular apartments, that could be very attractive to tenants and very profitable to landlords.

At first, the story sounded amusing.  But then I remembered the years after 2004/2005 when Florida was hit by several hurricanes.   There were thousands of boats damaged by the hurricanes that the insurance companies were anxious to declare as total losses so they could get them off their books.  Many of them could still float, and were cosmetically fine below decks.  They could be bought as salvage for mere pennies on the dollar.

Now, imagine the next big hurricane to hit Florida creating a new batch of salvaged boats.   The entrepreneurs can buy up all of them, and rent them out as apartment yachts.  We boaters will find that all of our favorite anchorages are full with these boats, leaving no room at all for cruisers or transients.   If that happens, I expect that boaters will lead the charge on anchoring laws.  If we are smart, we'll flop now, ahead of the fact.

One proposal above all others seems to address the problem while imposing minimum intrusion on cruiser's rights.  That is restricting the time any boat can anchor in one spot to one week.  I'm going to start backing that proposal right away. I urge you to consider doing the same.

p.s. Two questions about apartment yachts.

  1. Where will they land their dinghies?   The landlords could provide launch/water taxi service to their tenants, perhaps for an added fee.
  2. Does a landlord become a waterlord when he rents an apartment yacht? :-)

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Picture of the Year

Marathon, FL

Rush rush rush over to APOD to see the most stunning photograph of the year.   Click here.

Out of respect for the photographer, Daniele Boffelli, I did not copy the photo here.

Monday, November 23, 2015

Bernie Sanders and Social Democrats

Marathon, Florida

Presidential candidate, and fellow Vermont resident, Bernie Sanders gave a big speech last week about what socialism means. I think that Libby and I should share our experiences as Americans living in the socialist paradise Sweden under a Social Democratic regime in the 70s and 80s..

Yes, the taxes were high. On my $42,000 salary, I had to pay 60% total income tax, and 83% marginal tax. On the money left over after taxes, we had to pay 26% sales tax on all purchases. Ouch.

But there were financial benefits too. We had a mortgage on our house from the Swedish State that had a negative interest rate. That's right, after the first month, instead of a payment notice, they sent me a check. That blew my mind. 

I also got to rent a slip for my boat at the city marina for only $1.50 per year! 

One day a check (called barnbigraget) arrived in the mail on day with a notice, “Buy some new school clothes for your children.” Libby was deeply offended by that, so she sent the check back. Our Swedish friends were horrified. They said, “You can't send the check back.” 

In a nutshell, the essence of socialism is to tax heavily, but then to return most of the money in the form of benefits that the government thinks you should have.

But to enjoy those benefits, you must conform. Food and obesity was unfavored so food costs were very high. Outdoor exercise was favored and subsidized. Boating outdoor activity was favored and subsidized, motorcycle outdoor activity is not favored and penalized. Government committees in Stockholm decide what to subsidize and penalize.

Yes they did have universal free health care, but it had flaws. It was biased against immigrants. If you felt sick and called the number to request a doctor's appointment, you talked with an agent with a script that somehow always seemed to end with “Take two aspirin. You don't need a doctor.” Native Swedes, masters of the language and the culture, would cut off the script reader at the start. They would say, “Shut up. Cut the crap and make the appointment,” and it worked. Immigrants struggling with the language had a very hard time doing that. You were also not entitled to second opinions. If you doctor said that you are not ill, it could be nearly impossible to obtain permission to consult a second doctor, and private doctors were almost nonexistent.  People desperate for second opinions flew to England at their own expense.

To us, the dominance of group welfare over individual welfare was sometimes jarring. For example, there is a Swedish word, lagom, that means “good enough but not too good.” Swedes aspire to lagom whereas Americans aspire to excellence (lagom rejects excellence). We were shocked to learn that the schools deliberately neglected the smartest kids so that they could not excel over the average. We were also shocked to hear on the news one day that one of the hospitals was closing for the vacation month because they couldn't find volunteers to work over the vacation period. Patients were told “If you are still alive in August, you are welcome back.” I am not making that up. The Swedes valued their family vacation collective rights more than the rights of the small number of sick patients. The balance between collective versus individual rights is very different in a social democratic system.

But here's the real crux. Libby first put her finger on it. One day at home, she and I were discussing socialism. Libby said, “The most objectionable part is the loss of freedom. Government committees in Stockholm decide how I must run my life, and I resent that.” The next day at work, I mentioned Libby's statement to my friends. They all said, “We have no problem with that. We have total confidence that those people in Stockholm would make exactly the same decisions we would if we sat on the committee.” “Aha,” I thought, “That's the secret; a homogeneous society where everyone thinks alike.” In America where we are very (very very) diverse in our views, values and aspirations. That would never work.

Since we left Sweden, much has changed for the worse. They realized that too high tax rates were counterproductive, so they cut the total and marginal taxes to roughly the same as here in the USA. Also, a wave of immigrants (Sweden is very generous in taking refugees.), have introduced a major heterogeneous element to the society; about 15% of the population. That strained the whole system to the breaking point. 

From what we learned listening to Radio Sweden news every weekday, the excellent schools have become crap, the excellent training for immigrants is trashed. The health care system has degraded so much that native Swedes are reportedly stampeding to buy private health care to avoid depending on the free system. In an infamous incident, it was revealed that Stockholm with 800,000 people sometimes has only two ambulances on duty. A man having a heart attack called 911, and was refused ambulance transport by the script readers.  They told him with only two ambulances, they were forced to prioritize and that he should walk to the hospital or take a taxi.  He died the next day. I interpret all that as evidence in support of the premise that socialism works only for extremely homogeneous societies where there is near unanimity in every issue, and nearly uniform spectrum of needs and values, as little as 15% dissimilar people crashed the whole system.

Europeans criticize the American health care system because money is so essential to access to the care.  But Radio Sweden reported that in today's Sweden having a doctor or hospital administrator friend was the key to access.  In the USA we call that kissing the ass of the powerful.  That is the socialist free health care system today.

So, in light of the above, I think that Bernie Sanders' proposals could never succeed in America. Instead of being homogeneous, Americans seem to be divided nearly 50-50 into increasingly polarized liberal-conservative world views. America is about as heterogeneous as is possible.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Marathon Yet Again

Marathon, FL

Well, the overnight sail was nice, and it feels like home returning to Marathon.  For the next 6 months, we may take some side trips, but this will be our base.

We are expecting a visit from Jen and her friend Anna in December.

The only problem with the trip was the excessivly dense fields of lobster traps.   In the dark, you can't see them or avoid them.  When it was my turn to go below and sleep, I could hear them thumping on the hull.   Three times (or was it four?) we snagged a pot and our speed dropped from 4.5 knots to 2.  Each time we were able to fix it by backing up at full speed for 100 meters.  

Once, Libby heard our propeller cutting up a foam buoy. I'm glad it didn't wrap around the shaft, but I worry that it may have scraped off our fresh new Never Wet.

By the way, if we did not succeed in getting rid of the pots by backing up, the only alternative is to dive in the water with a sharp knife in my teeth.  At least the water is warm down here.  But I wouldn't do that at night.

I guess, we will have to restrict our sailing in Florida Bay to daylight hours.