Friday, January 27, 2017

Shocked. I Tell You Shocked

Umatilla, FL

Yesterday, Libby complained that the RV lights and fan in the bathroom stopped working. Huh? That's strange. I checked it out and she was right (as usual). But an hour before I saw them working. Very strange.

I went to the breaker panel an verified that all breakers were reset.

The non-functioning part is a wall light switch with three switches, two for lights and one for the fan. I thumped the wall beside the switches. The lights flickered. OH NO VERY BAD! I thumped again, this time I not only saw a flicker, I heard an electrical arcing noise. VERY VERY VERY BAD! That is the kind of electrical problem that can lead to structure fires!!!

So, I shut off the breaker, and took things apart. I isolated it to one of the switches. It was not the kind of switch with screw terminals seen in housing. The wires disappeared into the inside. I opned it up. Horrors, instead of screw terminals, the wires were fastened with the type of connection used in vampire wire taps, sometimes seen in auto wiring as seen in this picture.

I've used connectors like that before in cars, to hook up low power things like tail lights.  But that was low risk 12V systems.  I also used them for the first 1 or 2 years on board Tarwathie, but I learned by experience that such connectors have very poor reliability.  I stopped using them on 12V systems many years ago.

I never dreamed that the safety codes would allow using that for 120V AC wiring.    But I must be wrong, because the manufacturer of my RV and the manufacturer of those light switches could not have gotten away with violating the law.

So it must be true that the National Electrical Code which assures us safe electrical practices allows huge differences between house and RV wiring of 120V circuits.  Oh my God.  I would have never guessed that.

I am tempted to replace all the outlets and switches in the whole RV to normal house standards.  The only thing that makes me hesitate is humility.  I'm an electrical engineer, not a licensed electrician.   If I set out as an amateur, I should expect unforeseen problems and mistakes.

Before doing anything hasty, I thought I would ask my blog readers for their opinions.   What do you say?

p.s. So what did I do in my bathroom?   I inspected the light switch carefully.  It was not faulty, so buying a new one would not help.  I stripped the insulation on the ends of the wires.  The conductors were not damaged, so there was no need to replace the wires.  So I reinstalled the wires in the original switch and the switch in the wall.  Sorry, but I forgot to take pictures, and I didn't think to take measurements to see if conventional house wires and an enclosure box would fit.

p.p.s.  I'm still trying to research more about the applicable safety codes.  My friend Jim Hardy is helping me.  Look for more on this subject in future posts.

UPDATE: Here are some pictures.   The switches are self-contained boxes, designed to fit in narrow spaces. In the bottom picture, you can see how the wires are connected with V-shaped clamps instead of screws.  Those clamps penetrate the insulation.  In the picture, I removed the insulation from the ends.

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Anticipation: The Approaching Front, Part 3

Umatilla, FL

Here are some scenes as the front approached and passed the other day.  Look carefully and you'll see that the worst storms missed us.  They  went just north and just south of us, but missed this spot.

Part 3 -- On Land

The experience on land is much less thrilling, but there is the added danger of tornadoes.  For some reason, tornadoes very seldom hit anchored boats.  I have no idea why.

Here in the RV park, there is established procedure.  When a tornado warning or a hurricane warning is issued, the management drives through the park with a wailing siren.  That is the signal for us to seek shelter immediately.  That is slightly old fashioned because now we all have smart phones, and all of the phones in this county went off at 6:03 PM with an emergency tone and a message on screen "SEEK SHELTER IMMEDIATELY".   That's pretty plain language, that you are not likely to ignore.

There are two shelter buildings in this park.  The "Rec Hall" can hold all the residents.  "The Lodge" building is only about 15% as big.  It is designated as the shelter for people with pets.  Both shelters are less than 2 minutes walk from our RV.

We had prepared, for the forecasted 90 mph winds, 1 inch hail, thunder and lightning and floods, by rolling up our awning, closing the windows, and pickking up any loose things in the yard that can blow away. (Just like preparing a boat).   We also made a "ditch kit" that mirrored our "abandon ship ditch kit" from the boat.  The kit had clothes, water, flashlights, medicines, keys, and papers; the stuff we woul need if our RV and car were destroyed.

But there was a big coincidence for this emergency.  There was a musical concert scheduled for the "Rec Hall" and 6:03 PM was exactly the time that people with tickets were leaving to get good seats.  That included us.  We had tickets, but we were debating skipping it.  The tornado warning made up our minds.

We were very lucky.  The Rec Hall was set up with seating for everyone with tickets.  We had snacks and sodas, and beer, and of course a show to watch.   At one point, a second tornado warning sounded.  It was interesting to experience being in a room with 400 phones sounding the emergency tones simultaneously.

Everyone else had to cram into the remaining shelter spaces.  That included the Florida Room and The Lodge, plus corridors, janitor closets, and rest rooms.  My guess is that 50% of the people watching the show occupied 75% of the shelter space, while the other 50% were cramed into the remaining 25%.  I heard that it was standing room only at The Lodge, and very smelly because there were nearly as many wet (and scared) dogs as there were people.  That sounded terrible.  Sorry, but I don't have picutures of that.

But all the storms missed us.  After 40 minutes, the non-show people were allowed to go home.  The rest of us were entertained by talented doo-whah singers.

Rec Hall before the show

The Show
The experience was very very different than on a boat.

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Anticipation: The Approaching Front, Part 2

Umatilla, FL

Part 2 - At anchor

Above shows yesterday's scenario.  A front was approaching from The Gulf.  Suppose we had been at anchor in the ICW.  That is a situation that we faced many times in the past 12 years.   In many ways, it is worse than an approaching storm at sea.

First, there is the dread and anticipation caused by the weather reports.  Note that I blame the reports more than the weather.   Modern weather reports in the USA are designed to be scary and sensational.  They talk about the worst possible outcomes every time.  Further, they cover very large areas, and we are frequently visitors who don't even know the names of the counties.   Again and again, I swore that I would never listen to the weather forecasts again, but of course I do.  Damned if you do and damned if you don't.

The advent of smart phones made things much better.  On my phone I can see if a particular storm is headed for me, or if it will miss me.  That the the only information I need.

To prepare, we take down all the sails,  check the anchor (almost aways only one anchor), and pick up any loose items on deck that could blow away.  In rare circumstances, we take down all canvas and stow it below, and bring the dinghy on deck and tie it down securely.   Then we just wait it out.   If it is daylight, I like to watch outside from the companionway, sheltered by the dodger, to see what happens.

The good part is that the intense winds of most thunderstorms lasts only a few minutes.  On large bodies of water, that is too brief to create really big waves.   So the reality of the storm almost never matches our imaginations as we await its arrival.  Still, the arrival can be quite thrilling.  The initial gust is the strongest and more than once it heeled Tarwathie over 60 degrees, even though we had no sails up.  To inexperienced sailors, that would feel like the boat was going to sink.

I must confess, the worst thunderstorm we experienced while at anchor, we slept through.  That's right, our anchor dragged and we didn't notice.  We were anchored in the Pasquotank River, just 1/2 mile north of the Elizabeth City Bridge.  Severe storms were forecast, but late, so we went to bed.  I probably woke when the storm arrived, but went right back to sleep.   In the morning, I discovered that we had dragged, and that the anchor chain was wrapped around some submerged pilings.  That is what saved us from being washed up  on shore.  It took a lot of work to get the chain unwrapped, but after that we were on our way.

It was not my proudest moment.  We are fond of bragging that we can detect even slight anomalies in the motion of the boat in bad weather and wake instantly.   That was certainly true in many cases, but in this case I (we) slept through it.

EDIT: Two days ago, I read an article about false memories.  Of how our brain tricks us.  Before posting this, I searched for the original blog post about that incident.  It was very different from what I just wrote.  I remembered only waking the next morning, not what we did that night.  Read the contemporary version here in the post entitled Nocturnal Misadventures  to see how false my memory was.

Monday, January 23, 2017

Anticipation: The Approaching Front, Part 1

Umatilla, Florida

Almost invariently, the first question that people ask when they learn that you are a boating cruiser is, "What do you do when storms come?"

Part 1 -- At Sea
Bad weather can not always be avoided at sea.  You only get to choose your date of departure, and before arrival at your distant port, weather can change to anything.

It is true that modern technology, namely, radar, SSB radio and satellite data delivery, gives modern sailors more warning of impending bad weather.  But in a sailboat, your ability to use that knowledge to avoid the bad spots is limited.   No, the real answer to the question about storms is that you ride them out.  The sailor reduced sail, according to a pre-decided sail plan.  Then if conditions are really, bad he goes below to wait it out.

Before going below, the skipper either puts out a sea anchor, or a drogue parachute, or he "heaves-to".   Which tactic depends on the boat.  On a W32, "heaving to" is the usual choice.  I'm not an expert on heavy weather tactics so if you want to know more, you can find better information elsewhere.

Down below can be extremely uncomfortable and miserable, but it is safe.  It is instructive to learn that the W32 Satori in "The Perfect Storm" was found undamaged after being abandoned.  All people and belongings on board would have fared well if they stayed aboard.

Libby and I were conservative blue water sailors, (you can translate that to "chicken").  All of our passeges were 4 days or less (2 days most common).  If the weather sounded uncertain, we didn't go.  Only once did we get stuck in very bad conditions in the Gulf Stream east of Frying Pan shoals, with a strong north wind, and that was because of my carelessness in not checking the weather and the charts before departure.

Friday, January 20, 2017

My Nominee for Pulitzer Prize

Umatilla, FL

I read something in The Guardian this week that really blew me away.  It was so powerul, so well argued, and so germane to our modern times, to the Trump and Brexit phenomona, yet the stubject was mathematical statistics or maybe about politics.  Huh?  That sounds far fetched.

So will you read an article just because I recommend it?  Here it is.

How statistics lost their power – and why we should fear what comes next

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

EU Leaders Read This Blog

Umatilla, FL

This item appeared in the news yesterday.
I interpret that as evidence that the EU leaders must have been influenced by a post from this blog a year ago.   But the EU only adressed the money issue, not the social issues that I raised.

I am reposting that content here.  Please take note of the final paragraph that I marked in bold in the context of the 2016 election.

Back in engineering school at Clarkson in 1963, I was required to take a course that considered engineering ethics. They put the question to the class, "Automation will take people's jobs away. Is that OK?" Well, clever little snots that we were, we rejected the question, saying that automation would create more jobs than it destroyed. As it turns out, we were mostly right for many decades, but recent trends are decidedly the other way, and the future is ominous. Automation will make having a job a privilege, not a duty.

From my view, the earliest and most visible job category eliminated was that of office workers. We called them secretaries, but at the engineering consulting firm I worked at they worked mostly on the production of printed documents. Those jobs and millions of others like them are gone because of a single software application -- Microsoft Word.

The Internet has done a marvelous job of putting sellers of all kinds of products and services in touch with would-be buyers. is among the most notable of these. This development has eliminated or threatened the jobs of countless people who used to earn their living as middlemen. Travel agents are a good example. Today in the USA, threatens the job of each and every Amazon competitor in retail sales.

A recent article said that fast food restaurants will soon have a tablet at each table where you can place your order and make payment. Automation in the kitchen will replace other workers. The rush hour staff at your local Macdonalds might be decreased from 15 people to 5.

An item from today's news talks about robots that have learned how to cook by watching YouTube videos.

IBM's Watson has already proved itself as a better medical diagnostician than any human. The work of paralegals, and then even lawyers, are a natural extension for Watson.
In the 1970s, I once wrote that the killer app for software was a program to replace programmers. Just tell it what you want, and it writes the software for you. That was science fiction then. Today, it is on the threshold of becoming reality.

In short, I think that in coming decades, more than 50% of all jobs in developed countries are in danger of being eliminated. I'm not the only one saying so.
The problem is that most industries formed since 2000—electronic auctions, Internet news publishers, social-networking sites, and video- and audio-streaming services, all of which appeared in official industry classifications for the first time in 2010—employ far fewer people than earlier computer-based industries. Whereas in 2013 IBM and Dell employed 431,212 and 108,800 workers, respectively, Facebook employed only 8,348 as of last September. --Carl Benedikt Frey, writing in Scientific American
A front page article in the New York Times, recently said that since 2007, more than 6 million Americans have disappeared from the job market. The way the USA counts unemployment statistics, those people do not appear as unemployed, In this manner, even though the unemployment rate has nearly recovered to 2007 levels, those 6 million people are redefined from unemployed, to invisible and permanently unemployed.

I did a little research of my own using Wolfram Alpha, and plotted the data in the curve below. The vertical axis is the percentage participation in the job market for the USA. We see it first rise as women went from being housewives to being employed. Since 2000, we see a big decline. That decline is my subject. I expect it to accelerate.

I think that this trend is inevitable. No government nor groups of governments can stop it or substantially slow it down. Compare it to the industrial revolution. In the near future, having a job will be a privilege that most people will never enjoy. Job losses in the 2008 recession will never be recovered. That was but a harbinger of things to come. But we are not poor, not starving. Products, goods and services are produced and delivered to all citizens at accelerating rates, but produced with fewer employees. That is what I believe.
So, what is my point? I believe that a substantial fraction (perhaps even the majority) of the first world's population will be permanently unemployed and unemployable. When that fraction becomes big enough, we can no longer look down our noses at such people and call them loafers or parasites. As a civil society, we must abandon the work ethic as the basis of social status. We must learn to treat people with dignity, and respect regardless of past, present, or future employment status.

Wow, what a daunting challenge. Speaking as a person who has always derived his very identity from his job, I can not imagine a more difficult about face.

I feel pretty alone in making this statement. Politicians and the media want to talk about income inequality because of political advantage, but they will not talk about the inequalities between employed and the permanently unemployed. Nor are they willing to even acknowledge that we have such a big class of permanently unemployed people that we need to do something other than promising to find them jobs.

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Catching Up

Umatilla, FL

It has been a while since we posted.   We have been busy, but the past two weeks we were with people who didn't want us to share what we were doing on social media.  Sigh, modern life becomes bizarre at times.
  • Today, Libby and I spent 4 hours doing something we've never done before -- construction.   We volunteered for Habitat For Humanity which is building a Veterans Village near here.

    I pounded nails all morning.  That gave me a blister, but no sore muscles.  Libby did measurements, but she also tried her hand at nailing.  That gave her a come-uppance on upper body strength.  Libby has always though that her upper body strength was adequate.  After pounding on one nail for 10 minutes and achieving less than 0.5 inches penetration, she had to reassess.
    • Friday, we went on a hike in Ocala National Forest with a group from the RV park.  It was very nice.
    • Thursday we had a nice visit from Pat & Walt, and the four of us had lunch over with Darrick and Sharon.  It seems that all six of us have very similar circumstances.   We have all acquired an alternate residence, and we all reluctantly face the prospects of using our boats much less than in the pass.  Basically,   we all face the same dillema.  What did we talk about?  We discussed going to The Abacos (Bahamas)   in April.