Wednesday, August 26, 2015

What Happens When You Flip the Light Switch

South Burlington, VT

Physics Forums, has a feature called Science Insights.  It publishes articles of interest to scientists and engineers or fans of the same. They just published an article of mine.  I'm proud of that.

The link is below.  I belive that it available to anyone to view.

What Happens When You Flip the Light Switch

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Laid Back at BTV

South Burlington, VT

Libby and I continue to expand our horizons.  Today we toured the Lamoille River using TJ.  It was very pretty.

Yesterday, I went over to the airport to drink my morning coffee.  I was surprized to see a hot air balloon floating nearby.   I listened to the control tower radio frequency.  

The controller was well aware of the baloon and he was warning the airplanes to look out for it.  But they didn't need much warning, the baloon was huge and highly visible.  

After a while the balloon actually drifted over the runway and it blocked a FEDEX jet that had just landed.   But no big deal.  The FEDEX pilot just said, "We'll wait for him to move away."

Soon after, the baloon actually landed on the apron of the airport.  I don't know if it was deliberate, or whether he had permission, but I could see that nobody got excited.

Imagine if that happened at JFK or MIA.  The press would have called it a terrorist attack, and DHS would have surrounded the baloon with men with machine guns.   Not in Burlington though.  This place is very laid back.  

Back in the 90s, I was also listening to the Burlington Airport Tower when a similar incident happened.   The balloon pictured below was drifting over the airport.  I heard the tower controller say, "Traffic is a Boeing 747 hovering over the field."  Now that is what I call laid back.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Chomp chomp chomp chomp, Another One Bites The Dust

South Burlington, VT

I think I mentioned before that a good form of local entertainment this summer is the demolition of 87 houses surrounding the Burlington International Airport.  Here is a picture from this morning.

It takes only 30 minutes to demolish a single storey house or 60 minutes for a two-storey one.  It takes the rest of the day to demolish the basement, to fill the empty hole with soil, and to smooth it in preparation for growing grass.  In a month, it will look like a lawn that has been there forever.  Only pictures, will record that a house ever stood on that spot.  No traces will remain for future archaeologists.

Look at the lime green bedroom wall.  I surmise that it was a child's bedroom.   Some boy or girl grew up there and would have a heavy emotional investment in the memories of those walls.   Fortunately, that boy or girl was not there to witness the demolition.  It would probably feel like a personal attack on their identity if they did witness it.

That machine with the claw looks like a monster munching the house.  Think of Godzilla.  It is almost irresistible to watch as a form of entertainment.  I see several people from the neighborhood out there every day.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Valcourian Balm for the Sould

South Burlington, VT

Soul Balm; is that a good phrase to describe Valcour Island?

We just returned from another three day stay there.  When we are on Valcour we feel totally at peace with the world.   The only thing that forces us to return to land is running out of food.

The past few days especially, there has been a heat wave.  But sitting 5 meters from the water it never gets too hot.   Besides, we can (and did) simply walk into the water frequently for a swim.  The water is perfect temperature for swimming (75F 24C).  It is also crystal clear, soft and silky.

The interior of Valcour is also interesting.   It is perfectly clear that Valcour was scrubbed clean down to baserock in the last glacial period about 12,000 years ago (?).   Since then, it has rebuilt only a thin layer of soil on top, 3-6 inches in most places.  That makes it hard for mighty trees to establish structurally adequate roots to hold them up.   Accordingly, every time a powerful wind comes along, some of the big trees fall pulling their root system over with them.

Note the slab of rock pulled up when this tree fell.

Almost every visit to Valcour in the past 40 years, I fantasize about energy.   I would love to have a house there, and to power it with the energy from dead wood, plus the thermal sink of lake waters all around.   Of course, that dream can never be fulfilled, but it is fun.

Cedars are especially tenatious in seeking soil for their roots.

The interior of Valcour is also totally shaded and almost always damp.   Fungi, and moss flourish.   In some places the verdant green moss beds are somehow suspended in air above the rocks.  When you walk on them it feels like a trampoline.   If they weren't damp, they would make marvelous natural bed mattresses.

We circumnavigated the island during a calm spell.

I'm sure it's not over,  We will return to Valcour again before the end of this summer season.

Monday, August 10, 2015

Local Knowledge Needed, Lake Huron North Channel

South Burlington, VT

We want to see Georgian Bay and the North Channel.   So many sources say that it is incredibly beautiful.    We would cruise and camp using our canoe, TJ.

But recent experience on Lake Champlain makes us cautious.   Even though most of the day was calm, the wind picked up while we were out on open water.  Experienced boaters know that unexpected shit happens. (pardon my French)

TJ, when loaded down with two people plus all our camping gear, is not seaworthy in anything but mild conditions.  If Lake Champlain is a challenge, then Lake Huron is more so.   We need some charts and/or paddling guides and/or cruising guides and/or personal advice.   The thing to avoid is the need to cross long open stretches of water to get to the next camping destination.

If you can help, please respond.

Saturday, August 08, 2015

Trees Versus Rocks on Valcour

South Burlington, VT

We had another two days out on Valcour Island, via transportation on TJ.   Two things were notable.

  1. We learned the absolute limit of rough water with TJ loaded by camping gear.   The wind came up as we were crossing the open part of the lake.  Waves picked up to 1-2 feet, and some of the waves began shipping water onboard.   We got there OK, but I had to bail as fast as I could.   TJ is nothing at all like Tarwathie senior when it comes to rough water.  On Tarwathie, we would have considered those conditions very mild.
  2. The last weekend of Canadian vacations seems to be teen weekend.  We've seen that before, but always when on Tarwathie.  Last Friday we wound up camped in the tent but surrounded by teen parties.   They kept running back and forth, right through our site.  It wasn't fun.
I've blogged many times in the past about the wonderful trees and rocks on Valcour Island.  They have not lost their charm.  This time I took some close ups of the tree roots trying to pentrate and widen the cracks in the rocks.  Sometimes they fail, but often they succeed (with the help of annual freezing).   The rocks break into blocks.  If only we had some time lapse pictures covering centuries.  Anyhow, some of the variations are seen in following picture collage.

Tuesday, August 04, 2015

Hand In The Cookie Jar

South Burlington, VT

Today, I'll take a brief departure from the normal theme of the cruising life.   There is an extremely interesting current events story that you won't know much about unless you dig deep into certain news topics as I do.  It makes a fascinating story.

The topic is the recent hacking of the US Governments OPM (Office of Personnel Management) databases.  They acknowledge that the data of more than 21 people was stolen.  Including identification info and financial info, but also the results of security clearance background investigations.  That means any dirt that exists on those people, plus their circle of relatives, friends and associates.

This breach is extremely serious, not so much because potential credit card fraud, but more in terms of national security.  Anyone in possession of this info can track those 21 million people around the world using face recognition software.  They can make fake identification (including fingerprints which were in the stolen data, retinal scan data has not been mentioned so far).  They can blackmail or intimidate the victims and threaten their relatives and friends back in the old country.  That makes enemy espionage more effective in the future and American espionage more difficult.  The hackers are free to share or to sell that information to anyone. I'll stick my neck out to say that this breach is perhaps the most stunning intelligence victory in history. (meaning victory for the bad guys and loss for our side).   The USA can not recover completely from this breach unless it fires all of the 21 million and recruits 21 million replacements.

Apparently, the US Government has unilaterally defined three levels of seriousness of such incidents.

  1. Intelligence gatherings.  The US says everyone does this, including us, so no sanctions or retaliations result when someone is caught.  The OPM hack comes under this definition.  James Clapper was quoted as saying that if he could hack the Chinese equivalent of OPM, he would do so.  In other words, it is not an offense at all and there is zero cost for bad guys who attempt it. 
  2. Economic espionage.  The US considers this criminal behavior.  People caught are prosecuted as criminals.  The US brought criminal indictments against Chinese military hackers last year, but hasn't done anything more.  The US claims that it does not do economic espionage, but numerous leaked documents show that we have and we do.
  3. Infrastructure attacks.  An attack on the power grid or on our financial infrastructure is considered an act of war.   The US military can then retaliate in kind or not in kind.  For example, they could retaliate on a banking hack by sinking an enemy warship.   But Iran, attacked the US banks a couple of years ago.  That was clearly an act of war under this definition, yet no military retaliation has occurred.  This was another red line crossed without any significant response by the USA.
It is important to point out that this has nothing to do with the Snowden leaks.  I have no doubt that enemy governments were well aware of US offensive cyber attacks without Snowden's help.  It it the public, not the bad guys, who became informed by Snowden.  Also worth noting, is that there is no international support for the USA's unilateral three-level definitions.

So here is the point that the US government seems to have missed.  The USA has the most to lose in exchanges of cyber intrusions.  China probably has nothing equivalent to the OPM data base but the USA does.  So it matters not if our offensive skills are better than theirs.  In a continuing exchange of tit-for-tat cyber espionage sallies, the USA stands to lose much more than we can gain.

What the USA lacks is leadership with the political courage and the wisdom to properly define USA national interests in the modern cyber world, to devise policies to foster those interests, to enunciate our policies to the public and to the enemy, and then to implement those policies effectively and to have the backbone to invoke them when appropriate.

In the coming 2016 elections, I'll be on the lookout for those qualities in prospective leaders from any party. I urge you to do likewise.

Sunday, August 02, 2015

Wings. Wings. My kingdom for some wings.

South Burlington, VT

This morning as I sipped my morning coffee at the Burlington Airport, two spectacular lenticular clouds formed over Mount Mansfield as I watched. (pic below)   It made my heart ache because that is the visible signal for the most glorious of all soaring conditions.  I want to be up there flying right now.

Some background.  Vertical wind shear refers to the case when winds blow faster as you go higher.   When that happens, and when the wind blows over a mountain, it creates a "mountain wave." The lenticular (i.e. lens shaped) clouds mark the crest of this wave.
The good part is that downwind from the mountain, about 5 miles away, an invisible secondary wave will form.   Gliders in that wave are lifted up as if in a rapid elevator.   The higher they go, the faster the wind.  That continues until airspeed matches wind speed and the glider becomes stationary with respect to the ground.  I achieved that once in the 90s.  It was on the east side of Mount Mansfield, about 14,000 feet up.   I could see all of Vermont, and much of New Hampshire and New York.  I could see across the Adirondacks and Lake Ontario to Toronto.  It made a life-long impression on me that I'll never lose.

In the Sierra Nevada Mountains, the waves are enormous.  Soaring pilots there hope to someday achieve a new word record altitude for a glider at 75,000 feet.

That is why today's sight makes me salivate and wish that I was up there.  But I had to give up flying long ago because it was far too expensive a hobby.

If you have trouble imagining the mountain wave, the diagram below explains it.

I prefer the water analogy such as that bear is looking at. The same thing happens when swift water flows over rocks, but the scale is different.

Saturday, August 01, 2015

Can You Sail The Whole ICW?

South Burlington, VT

The other day, I exchanged messages with yet another brand new cruiser, Amy.  Amy and Erik bought a W28.  They plan their first cruise from Maryland, to Charleston, SC, and they look forward to it with enthusiam as they should.  Remarkably, Amy put her finger on a key issue even before departing.  She said, "Also, while we know our schedule is not a schedule, as sailing goes, we'd like to sail and not just motor down the ICW the whole way. After all its about the journey. "

The Westsail 28

Many experienced cruisers, such as Libby and I, are inclined to say that the opportunities to sail on the ICW are very limited, and that you wind up motoring most of the time.    But that is not entirely true. Amy's view is equally valid.  It depends on the weight you put on the journey versus the destination.   Amy and Erik may never make it to Charleston before running out of time, but to them the destination is not the point.

I've written over and over again on this blog how the four months of the year when we are actually journeying are our happiest times.  I've also written over and over how much we love our favorite destinations.   It's a built-in conflict for cruisers.   Both have appeal, and each couple comes down differently on journey versus destination.  

For example, Jeff and Wendy on Calypso lean much more on the journey side than Libby and I.   They take 3-4 times longer than we do to get someplace, but they have fun at every moment along the way.   They are also better than we are at finding nice little out of the way anchorages.

I think, Libby and I tilted more to the destinaiton side our first year when the weather turned so cold in the late fall, making us miserable.  Ever since then, we vow "Florida by November 1 or Bust!"  Regardless of the motivation, that ladies and gentlemen is a deadline.

Many novice cruisers are like we were our first year; they have limited experience with tides and currents.   If you want to sail on the ICW, you need, at a minimum.

  1. Either, open waters (Such as Pamlico Bay in NC) where you can sail in any direction dictated by the boat and the wind.
  2. Or, winds in a favorable direction if you must sail down a narrowly constrained channel.  Remember that you must stay in the channel and stay out of the way of other boats.
  3. And, winds of sufficient magnitude to let you may way against adverse currents.  I never met a sailor so patient that he sails ICW channels on hours where his speed it negative. Plus 1 knot maybe, but minus one knot and the skipper drops the anchor.
  4. Or, the patience to be under way only when wind and currents are both favorable.   You may find those conditions only 4-5 hours every fourth day, so there's an awful lot of waiting.  The skill to learn is to find fun places to wait.
So, destination or journey?  Sail or motor?  The only right answer is, "do whatever is the most fun for you."