Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Another Season Comes To An End

Marathon, FL

We depart Marathon tomorrow.

It always makes me melancholy when we call the end of a season and we move on. That's especially true when we leave Lake Champlain and take our last views of the mountains. It is not until Tarwathie is out at sea that our heads turn away from what is behind us and we focus on what is ahead.  Heading north, that happens as we pass under the Seven Mile Bridge.  Heading south, that happens as we leave NY Harbor, and round Sandy Hook, NJ.
I guess that is evidence that we must be enjoying ourselves.

This has been a very strange year.  The winter weather was bizarre. Then, two weeks ago winter stopped and summer started without even a single spring-like day.   The good news is that the three times we had company, (Jen&Anna, Katelyn, and Steve&Barb) the weather was very cooperative.

We'll sail up Florida's West Coast to Charlotte Harbor, and leave Tarwathie there for the summer.  The boat yard appears to be reasonably secure from hurricane surges.

We will also have a crew member for this passage.  Our friend Lynn will join us to gain some offshore experience.   That will make it pleasant because Lynn is a sweetheart and we like her company.

After that, we'll work our way north (while tent camping) to North Carolina.  We'll spend time with Dave and Cathy.   In mid May, our granddaughter Sara will be married in Green Lakes State Park in NY (about 3 miles from where Libby grew up).  Then on to Vermont, where Libby can indulge her greatest passion; working in Jen's garden.

Saturday, March 26, 2016

A New Unit of Distance, MPO

Marathon, FL

I've invented a new unit of distance measure MPO, or miles-per-oarlock.  You see, we have worn out two pairs of bronze oarlocks.  The holes become oval shaped, giving the oars lots of free play each stroke.

We use two pairs in the dinghy, one for rowing alone, the other for rowing with two people in the boat.   Both sets are about equally worn.

So, exactly how to convert MPO to miles or km?  I have no idea.

Last year, I saw a man at a nautical flea market with a big bin of bronze oarlocks.   Since the ones I see online appear to be overpriced and of dubious quality, I'll wait until next years flea market to buy new ones.

I meant to get our outboard motor running in order to offer it for sale, but I never got around to that this year.   We bought the motor because Jen was coming to visit several years back.  I think it has been 2-3 years since it last started.

Rowing and walking are about the only exercise we get here in Marathon, so there is a good reason to not have a motor.

Ditto for our Honda generator.  with solar panels we don't need it, but to sell it I'll have to put some work into getting it started.

Follow up question:  I have lots of smart blog readers.  

Just 5 months ago I sanded the oars to bare wood, then coated them with epoxy resin, then gave them several coats of varnish.  Now already, they are showing black spots and bare spots.  I've never had any luck with varnish on oars.   Libby won't allow me to paint them white.

How to make a clear coating for wooden oars that stands up to the rough handling they get?

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Thinking Critically About The Serial The Podcast

Marathon, FL

My sister Nancy told me about a cool podcast Serial.  Nancy and her daughter Alex, enjoyed it during their morning commute. The first season was about the murder of Hae Min Lee, and the accused Adnan Syed.   Nancy said that each week they were jerked in opposite directions; surely guilty this episode, surely not guilty the next episode.

The second season of Serial, is about an even more controversial case; that of Bowe Bergdahl.

I just finished the 12 episodes of season 1.  My reaction was not like Nancy's.  During those podcasts, I kept thinking about how unfair it was to hear some of the facts and voices presented.  The case involved high school kids that in today's world delight in telling their peers sensational stories.  Texts, tweets, and short phone calls are their preferred media. Truth is not a priority in those stories.

I kept thinking about the American rules of evidence, and how prejudicial it would have been to let a jury hear that stuff.  But isn't that what the Serial audience is expected to do; act like a jury?  That's what Nancy and Alex did.  But a jury severely bombarded with inappropriate evidence.   Of course, and audience is not restricted to the legal restrictions of a jury, but an audience can come to wrong conclusions about persons still living.

Serial put lots of time and money into this project.  More than a year, and probably well North of one or two million dollars.   Listeners who might want to fact check what they heard on Serial, don't have the ability to match that effort.

What I'm talking about is critical thinking.  That is a quality that unfortunately is becoming rarer in today's USA.   The producers of Serial were very intelligent.  They posed the correct critical thinking questions.  "Speculation is unproductive."  "This evidence might be prejudicial."  But then they spoiled it by telling their own conclusions, thus contaminating the audience.  In the final episode, where I expected them to say, "Now make up your own minds." they instead presented the conclusion of Sarah, the on-air personality.

People very much want to be told what to think.  Independent critical thinking is uncomfortable for them.  As evidence of that, let me point to religion.  The majority of the public are religious to some extent.  "Think critically," and "Have faith," are about as opposite as two things can be.  The one thing that you are not supposed to do in church (of any religion I ever heard of) is to think critically about what you hear.

I was about to Google "journalistic ethics" to find ways of criticising Serial.  But then I realized that every Hollywood movie or TV show based on history comes with a viewpoint.  It contaminates the audience into believing whatever that viewpoint is.  How could you not do so when telling a story?   The only way to avoid it entirely, is to dryly recite only the facts.

What is a fact? It is something that is verifiable.  It may be perfectly reasonable to believe that a killer who beheaded his victim intended to kill him, but that can never be a verifiable fact.

But if story tellers confined themselves to verifiable facts, then they commit an even bigger sin -- they become boring and the public doesn't listen to the story.

Here's a suggestion.  Serial should do a third season retrospectively looking at Serial.   What are the ethics and limitations of reporting?  Can a story be told while being totally objective? If not, then how should presenters think about that?  How should the audience think about that? How should they listen to political speeches or sermons?  How are audiences manipulated psychologically?  Why?  What are the alternatives?  In other words, Serial itself would make an excellent case study in an exploration of the interlocking subjects of critical thinking, persuasion, journalism, and justice.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Old Too Soon and ...

Marathon, FL

Not to toot my own horn. There once was a time when I was at the cutting edge of software technology.   Not as a user but as a developer and an architect.

But software is a young man's game.  As I got older, I became less and less cutting edge.  By the time I retired, I was just a hands-off project manager.   But even when on board Tarwathie, I always had development tools on my computers, so that I could write my own stuff as needed.

Recently, I was rudely surprised by two milestones.  I realized that I have no more development tools on my computer, and worse that I didn't even notice that for more than 5 years.

Today, I got a notice from Google about this very blog.  I should at the very least be the master of that -- Right?  Well, I have no idea what they are talking about, or how to verify that I meet my legal responsibilities according to the notice.
European Union laws require you to give European Union visitors information about cookies used on your blog. In many cases, these laws also require you to obtain consent. 
As a courtesy, we have added a notice on your blog to explain Google's use of certain Blogger and Google cookies, including use of Google Analytics and AdSense cookies. 
You are responsible for confirming this notice actually works for your blog, and that it displays. If you employ other cookies, for example by adding third party features, this notice may not work for you. Learn more about this notice and your responsibilities.
I hate to admit it, but I'm afraid that I'm a technological has been. :-(

Friday, March 18, 2016

Still Learning Lessons

Marathon, FL

I was going over documents and papers we carry on board.  I found this picture which is a reminder of our recent 11th anniversary on board.  The picture is from our first night on board Tarwathie. Aw. Sweet.

But I also learned a lesson.  After 11 years on board we are still learning lessons about living on board a boat.  Look carefully at the document snippet, from Libby's will.

I asked Libby, "Why do we have so many documents that aren't signed.  What's the use of that?"   Then, I realized that too many of them were unsigned.  Upon closer inspection, I see blue smudges next to the signatures.  Yes, that's right moisture had erased the signatures while the documents sat in storage.

  • We should have used a permanent ink pen to sign.  We signed them in the lawyer's office, he should have the right pen.  I have no explanation about the wrong pen.
  • We should store such documents in a safe deposit box with a controlled environment.  But without a home base that has its risks too.  I bet that after 11 years we would have a high probability of forgetting which institution the box was rented from, and almost zero chance of locating the key.  It would work well only if the box was in a bank that we visited frequently.
  • The real solution is what we do with many other things; we leave stuff with Jen and let her take care of it.  That's what we'll do with these wills and proxies and stuff.

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Bridge Culture

Marathon, FL

I have taken advantage of the car to do something I didn't do in years past.  I take daily walks on the old Seven Mile Bridge.  It is a delightful place to walk, with grand views of sky and sea, fresh breezes, and isolation from traffic.  Without the car however, I would have to walk 6 miles to get to the start of my 2 mile walk.

It took a while for me to notice, but the bridge has its own culture.  First I noticed a wreath like the kinds people leave roadside as memorials.  I figured someone died there.  Then I began to notice plaques, and I thought they too were memorials.  Then I noticed that there were far too many plaques and began reading them.

Some of the plaques may be memorials to the deceased's favorite place.  Some (see below) memorialize nothing more than a fun weekend.

Then I began noticing padlocks everywhere.  I rembered the news item about the bridge in Paris with so many locks.  At last it penetrated my thick skull, "Aha!  Bridge Culture."

Boat traffic is also part of the culture and entertainment.  Next, a motorboat solidly aground on a sandbar.  It had been there for more than 48 hours when I took the picture.  Unless the owner has towing insurance, it will cost him close to $1000 to tow it off.  Damage to the propeller, shaft and motor could be thousands more.

In the next fuzzy picture, I saw more sailboats anchored outside the harbor entrance than ever before.  Then I realized, that these were Boot Key Harbor people leaving for the season.  They left the harbor the night before to get an early start.  But they didn't acutally depart until about 10 AM; tsk tsk.

Friday, March 11, 2016

Oh My Freakin Head

Marathon, FL

I was bad today. No, I was double bad today.  No, I was triple bad today.  No, I was QUADRUPLE BAD.  Oh my Freakin head.

It all started when I parked the car like a jerk.  As I was walking away, I noticed that the car was at an angle crossing the line and taking two spots.  I went back to move it.

But I needed something from my backpack, so I opened the trunk to use it as a table.  The instant I closed the trunk I cried "OH NO," my keys were in the trunk.

The Toyota dealer gave us only one key when we bought the car.  They said ",$275 for a second key."  I was pissed, so I declined.  But I wasn't entirely stupid.  I bought a key and a Hide-A-Key magnetic box online.  But the new key was dumb, not smart.  I had it cut so that it could open the door, but it would not start the car because it lacked a chip.  I put it in the Hide-a-Key box under the car for use in case of emergency.

I should have been covered, right?   Wrong.  When I looked under the car, no Hide-a-Key box could be found.

The marina has a jimmy tool, but they lent it to the sheriff (cops lock themselves out even more than civilians).   I waited 6 hours for the sheriff to bring it back, but he never did.

I watched some YouTube videos about opening Toyota doors. Then I went back to Tarwathie for tools, and tried to unlock it myself.  I scratched some door paint, but I failed to open it.

Libby called Toyota for advice.  They said call a locksmith.  The nearest locksmith is on Taverneir Key, 50 miles away.

Instead I called the local tow truck.  He came, and he opened the door in 3 seconds (I timed it), for $60.  That computes to $72,000 per hour, but I wasn't mad.  I was relieved, and I tipped the driver.

Finally, I could move the car that I had parked like a jerk.  As I did so, I ran over my tool box -- a tool box that has been with me since 1974, and that I considered an heirloom.

Oh my Freakin head.

Edit: I corrected the $/hour.

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Can This Be Called Science?

I'm at a loss for words. Not only did this put my mind on tilt, it sent my spell checker into meltdown. Surely this must be an elaborate hoax

From "Glaciers, gender and science: A feminist glaciology framework for global environmental change research," a paper by researchers at the University of Oregon, underwritten by the U.S. National Science Foundation, in the journal Progress in Human Geography, Jan, 10:

Tuesday, March 08, 2016

Year 11

Marathon, FL

I feel like a broken record because I've written versions of this post so many times.

Today is the 11th anniversary of our cruising life on board Tarwathie.  The original blog post from that day is here.

Has anything changed?  Well, we still feel that retiring to the cruising life was one of the smartest things we ever did.  We are very happy with our life style.  As a matter of fact, if we had a menu of choices in front of us, we would choose what we have.

However, we must acknowledge that we now own a car, and that this coming summer, like last summer, we will leave Tarwathie on the hard in Florida and drive north.   I have been reluctant to say it out loud, but the truth is that we are shifting from full-time cruisers to part-time cruisers.

Sunday, March 06, 2016

Getting Your Bottom Scraped

 Marathon, FL

Non-boaters might be startled to hear someone say, "You better go get your bottom scraped"   Boaters, hear that often and they know very well which bottom that refers to.

In all the years, we sailed on Sacandaga Lake, and Lake Champlain, and on the Baltic Sea, we never had to worry about bottom scraping.  But when we moved on Tarwathie, and started cruising in salt water, especially in the sub-tropics, it became a reality very fast.

Below is a picture the first time we hauled Tarwathie out of the water in 2005, after owning her only three months.   With so many barnacles on the prop, I was only able to make 1 knot speed against the tide at full throttle.   That was a very quick education.

Still not impressed?  Below is a picture of another boat after one year in Marathon without cleaning the bottom.

Historical stories make it sound that the reason that ancient ships were routinely careened was shipworms.  Shipworms were certainly a problem for wooden hulls, but they are far from the only problem.   Then, as now, an unclean boat bottom will wreck your ability to move through the water swiftly.

Nor was careening the only solution,  Copper cladding was the ancient equivalent to today's copper-based bottom paint.

Model of copper clad ship.

Wednesday, March 02, 2016

Three Shades of Green

Marathon, FL

E.L. James became a highly successful author for writing Fifty Shades of Grey.   Let's see what I can to with "Three Shades of Green"

Newcomers to all fields are called newbies, or rookies, or greenhorns, or just plain green.  In terms of boating, we were all once green, unless we were born on board.   Recently, we have had some experience with two vessels with greens of the first kind.

1st order Green -- In Labelle, we encountered a sweet young (very young) couple who just decided on a whim to buy a sailboat and to live life as cruisers.  How green were they?  When they came in to the public docks in Labelle, they had no lines to tie up the boat with.  The girl even said that they were unaware that boats used ropes to tie up to docks.

Last week in Boot Key Harbor, some shouting and commotion was heard at 3AM.  It seems that there was a sailboat cruising up and down the rows in the mooring field, looking for an unused mooring (there are none).  Worse,  they ran out of fuel while doing so and their engine stopped.   Still worse, they had no anchor on board.  Still worse, the winds were too light to sail and the boat was helplessly adrift on the otherwise weak tidal currents bumping into other boats at 3AM.  That's pretty green.  Luckily, the winds and currents were light enough that all the bumping didn't cause great harm.

2nd order Green --  The other extreme are the fresh cruisers who rush to empty their bank accounts of any money that can be used to buy any product that claims to make their cruising life safer or more comfortable.

For example, I watched a 2nd order couple in City Marina earlier this season.  First, they opened boxes containing new pairs of his/her iMac Pros, new iPads, and new iPhones.   Then they used these to get online.  He went to, and started clicking BUY on everything he saw.  She went to and started clicking on every BUY button she could find.  I confess to being so bemused that I spied over their shoulders.  I also swear that between the two of them, the spent $100,000 in just 90 minutes.

Another 2nd order couple rides in their dinghy wearing fancy life jackets, and with VHF radios, personal locator EPIRBs, and flashing strobe lights strapped around their waists.  After two days, they decided that their dinghy was just too slow for moving around the harbor, so they bought an enormous family size jet ski to ride to the dinghy dock (forgetting the strict speed limits we have in the harbor).

Boating magazines love 2nd order boaters.  They write articles telling everyone how much fun it is to spend money buying the products and services that the magazine's advertisers have to offer.  They hate articles by people like Libby and me who espouse a  simple, frugal life style.

3rd order Green -- This category includes ourselves and almost everyone else who tries to steer a middle path between these two extremes.