Friday, April 27, 2018

Fake News Déjà vu

[This is project #2 of The Entertaining Speaker.  My objectives are: 1) Draw entertaining material from experiences other then your personal experience.  Adjust the material to suit yourself and the audience.   5-7 minutes.   This is my last speech for the Advanced Communicator Bronze rank.  Silver and Gold  remain for future years.]

Fake news and misinformation. We are taught that this is a modern problem brought on by the Internet. Actually in the Civil War era, it was worse. And at the heart of that fake news was a name familiar to you from my previous speech --- Thomas Alva Edison.

It was the age of the telegraph. No longer did it take weeks or months for news to spread around the country, it could happen in a single day. To make it all work, the country needed lots of telegraphers. People to send and copy (or receive) Morse Code dot dot dot dash dash dash. Between ages 15 and 17, young Thomas Edison worked as a journeyman telegrapher. That means he took lots of short time jobs in cities across the country.

He got a job at the Western Union office in New York City. On Edison’s first day, his co-workers set up a prank. They told him to copy an incoming news story. On the other end of the was the world champion telegrapher, able to send Morse code faster than any mortal being could copy. He started slow and gradually started sending faster and faster. But not matter how fast he sent, Edison copied with no problem. Eventually, the champion began slurring his words and running them together. Edison had no difficulty correcting all the error on the fly. Finally, Edison caught on to the joke. He interrupted and sent a message back. It said, “Say, young man, change off and send with your other foot.”

Here’s how news actually spread in those days. A politician in Washington would give a speech. Often his language was poor, or he would be drunk while speaking. In the gallery, one or more shorthand takers wrote down what he said. (Young people in this audience may need to look up what that word shorthand means.) But they didn’t write it word-for-word. They translated clumsy language into eloquent oratory. They took their notes to the telegraph office. But the telegrapher added his own improvements as he sent it. That got the message out to maybe 4 receiving stations. Each of those stations copied the message down (including the recipient’s embellishments) and resent it (including the sender’s improvements) to 4 other stations. So it went, 4, 16, 64, 256 stations until it reached every corner of the country. From the stations, the paper copy went to the newspaper, where the reporters wrote a story using their own words to describe what the politician said. Therefore, every town in the country got their own unique version of the news of the day. Doesn’t that remind you of the child’s game where a story is whispered to the first child, who then whispers it to the second child and so on? So now you know how each town in the country got different versions of the news of the day.

At age 17, Edison was still so shy that if a 17 year old girl entered the room he would fall over furniture and became speechless. But he was at the apex of his telegrapher career. I’m going to tell you about his demise as a telegrapher.

He took a job at a Washington newspaper. After 3AM when the paper was put to bed, the reporters gave Edison access to their notes of the day. Only a tiny percent of those notes actually created news stories, but Edison read all of them. He knew what every congressman, every Senator, said in every meeting all day long. He considered himself to be the best informed person in the whole country about the goings on of the government. One night, he was copying a story about an important vote that day in Congress when the telegraph wire broke. No problem thought Edison, so he fabricated the rest of the story. He said who voted aye, who voted nay and what the leaders said to the press after the vote. He was confident that his account would be a believable enough to fool the whole country. ---- Well, in the morning he came to regret that, because the important vote had been postponed.

Ladies and gentlemen. In modern times, we love to complain about our favorite villain, Vladimir Putin. Little did you know that Putin follows in the footsteps of my personal hero. Thomas Alva Edison.

Thursday, April 26, 2018


I discovered something very important about my Hobie 16 yesterday.  The mast was full of water.!

A mast full of water is much heavier than an empty one and that extra weight was as much as 28 feet above the water.   Could that have been what made me capsize so easily?   The answer is, "Certainly yes, provided that the water was there before capsizing."

The bad news, is that I can't be certain if the water was in there when I bought the Hobie, or if it came in while the boat was capsized. 

  • Libby and I were unfamiliar with the "normal" weight of a Hobie mast.  
  • I did look the mast over and I did apply some sealants before sailing to keep water out.  That applies specially to the mast head where I had replaced the sheaves.  There's a water barrier there, and I put sealant on it.
  • When the mast was up, there was no sign of water dripping out from the internals.
So I guess, I'll never know for sure.    In any event, I drained all the water out, and I took extra care to inspect and re-seal every screw or rivet hole where water could get in. 

Before sailing next time, I propose to put the mast in the lake to float by itself.  If it sinks, or if I hear water sloshing inside, I'll know there's a leak.

Friday, April 13, 2018

A Bloggable Misadventure

Umatilla, FL

Back in the days when I was writing blog posts almost daily, Libby and I invented an adjective.   We observed something from real life and we said, "that's bloggable."  Today I did that.

It was a splendid day in central Florida.  Sunny, temperature in the 70s, a nice breeze 10-20.  I wanted to go sailing.  I didn't find anyone to sail with me immediately, so I went alone.   Remember that I'm still very green a a Hobie 16 captain.

Well, I sailed to the far side of the lake.  I was sailing to windward so the sheets were hauled in tight. The boat was moving so fast that I decided to come about rather than gybe.  I blew it.  I was struggling with the tiller extension (that's a major pain on a Hobie cat.).  While I was fiddling with that, the boat inadvertently came about on its own.  That caught me on the wrong side (the leeward side of the boat.)  The wind pushed me broadside to the wind, and the leeward pontoon went under water.  It all happened too fast for me to react.  The next thing I knew, the cat was capsized and I was in the water.

Fortunately, I had a good life jacket on.  I also avoided getting underneath the boat.  So it was simple for me to climb up on the trampoline of the upside down boat.  On the far side of the lake, Libby was watching.  She saw me go over, and she was plenty scared until she saw my orange life vest appear above the water.  That calmed her considerably.

What then?  Well, I am unprepared to right a capsized Hobie 16 myself.  I need to watch videos and to practice it with assistance from a nearby boat for backup.   So I just stood there.   The boat was very stable.  The water was clear and clean and warm, so I could have waited indefinitely.   Another factor, is that tourist season is over and there are very few other boats in the water on that lake.

The wind was blowing me toward the nearest shore.  That would have been fine, except that the masthead got stuck on the bottom while I was still 300 yards from shore.   The boat stopped moving.  What next?

A man on shore saw me and asked if I needed help.  I had him call Libby and tell her to find a boat to come rescue me.  5 minutes later I saw a boat from the RV park leave.  It had to be my rescue.

But rescue would be very difficult with the mast in the mud.   I jumped in the water, swam to the bow and I managed to decouple the fore stay.  Good.  The mast floated up to the surface.  I could float to shallower water.  I then used the paddle and the wind, and soon I made it nearly to shore.  I got stuck in reeds only about 100 feet from shore.

When the rescue boat came, it held Russ from OMS and Libby.  But that boat had only a tiny electric trolling motor.   Much too weak to help me flip the hull, and also too weak to tow me anywhere.

So, I left the cat behind, jumped into the rescue boat, and accepted a ride back to the RV park.  There, we got the car and the trailer, and drove around the lake. We brought with us, some remnants from Tarwathie that I was very glad I saved.  Namely; two 110 foot spare halyards.

My plan was to swim out to the Hobie, and tie a line to her.  While there, I tried holding the capsize line while standing all the way aft on one pontoon to try and right it.  It did no good.  So I swam back to shore with the other end of the line. Then we could pull her in to the beach.  As we were doing that, a neighbor named Randy came to assist.  He was a great help.

The plan succeeded.  We pulled the boat over to the beach.  There, I was able to completely uncouple the mast and boom from the boat.  Then we tried to flip the hull upright using the capsize line.  No way even with the full strength of two men.

We backed the trailer down to the shore.  Then we used the trailer's winch line attached to the capsize line.  That worked, and we got the hull flipped upright.  The hard work was done.

In another 15 minutes, we had the mast and sails and all loose equipment back on board the boat.  Randy had a truck with 4 wheel drive, so he pulled the trailer and boat up to the road.  We then hitched the trailer to my car. thanked Randy, and drove back to the OMS RV park.

I think the only lost casualties were a clevis pin, and a little teflon bushing that sits under the mast.  Nothing broken, nobody injured.  So in that respect I was very lucky.

But beyond all doubt, that was a bloggable event.   Thank you Libby. Thank you Russ.  Thank you Randy.   Thank you my lucky stars.

Pictures?  Sorry, we were too busy to photo journal this event.  But here's a couple.

Here is my launch point in Olde Mill Stream RV Park.  The capsized cat is on the far shore.

The blue thing is the capsized hull.

Speech #16: Young Al

Umatilla, FL

[This speech is project 5 from The Entertaining Speaker, "Speaking After Dinner".  The goals are: 1) Prepare an entertaining after dinner speech on a specific theme.  2) Deliver the speech using all your skills.  They remind you that after dinner, the audience will not want to be intellectually challenged.   Time 8-10 minutes.  My actual time as 10:26, just 4 seconds short of being dinged for speaking too long.  Especially enjoyable was that we had two teen girls in the audience as guests, and both girls loved the topic.  Just like with Harry Potter books, young people like young hero models.]

Well, that was quite a meal. You all just sit back and enjoy your coffee and cognac while I stand here and ramble on a bit.

I’m going to talk about my hero, Thomas Alva Edison. You know Edison, the guy who invented the light bulb, right? He did a lot of other things that might surprise you, including email, phones, Hollywood, and the electric car.

But forget all that. I want to talk about young Al (that was his boyhood nickname) growing up in Port Huron Michigan between the ages of 10 and 15.

Al’s first interest was not electricity but chemistry. One day, he convinced another boy to swallow a large quantity of Seidlitz Powder. Today, we call that stuff Alka Seltzer. Al told the boy that the gas would allow him to float up in the air and fly like a bird. While the doctor did what he could for the boy’s pain, Al’s mother fetched the switch that she kept behind the Seth Thomas clock.

In the basement, Al stored his chemicals and built himself a laboratory. He put the same label on all the bottles --- poison, so that nobody would be tempted to mess with them. While other boys played sports, Al worked in his laboratory and did research at the public library. He bought every chemical available from the local drug store, and then began ordering chemicals by mail order. For that he needed money.

Al’s father had a 10-acre truck garden. So young Al began picking the vegetables and selling them in the town. He didn’t do the actual work himself. Instead, he hired other boys to do it for him. He made so much money doing that that he contributed $600 per year to the family. In today’s money that would be $17K.

Then he got another idea. The railroad ran between Port Huron and Detroit. Al convinced his parents to allow him to sell newspapers on the train. The train left Port Huron in the earl morning, and it didn’t return until 9:30 at night. That gave Al a lot of time to kill in Detroit. One thing he did was buy top quality produce in Detroit and sell it in Port Huron, thus boosting the profits of his vegetable business.

The train had three kinds of cars, smoking cars for men, baggage cars, and the ladies cars for everyone else. The baggage car was divided into three sections, one for baggage, one for mail, and one for a smoking room that nobody used. Al got permission to move his laboratory and chemicals to the smoking room of the baggage car. He even convinced Mr. Pullman, who was working on his revolutionary Pullman car to do the carpentry for his laboratory. Then, during the long daily layover in Detroit, Al could work in his mobile laboratory.

One day, someone abandoned a printing press on the train. Al kept it for himself, and he used it to create his own newspaper. At every RR stop on the route, he collected gossip and news to publish. Then he wrote, edited, printed and sold the newspapers all by himself. He also used the railroad’s telegraph to send notice of his newspaper headlines to towns further down the track to increase his sales.

At the outbreak of the Civil War, people became more interested in news. Al’s sales increased. When word of the battle of Shiloh came in, young Al ran to the offices of the Detroit Free Press. He said, “I don’t have any money now, but if you give me 1000 copies of the paper at one cent each, I’ll pay you tomorrow.” They said yes. Al put the papers on the train and telegraphed the headline down the route in advance. At the first stop, where he normally sold 5 papers, he sold 20 copies at two cents each. At the second stop, there was a big crowd of 50 people, so Al raised the price to five cents. By the time the train got to Port Huron, the whole town was at the train station waiting for the news. From the doorway of the train Al shouted, “I’m almost out of copies, the price is 25 cents per copy.” So, he sold his last 700 copies for 25 cents each.

Al also made friends on the railroad. He was careful to give free papers and magazines to all railroad employees he came in contact with. He especially liked riding in the steam engine. The engineer taught him how to drive the train, and the fireman taught him how to stoke the boiler. After that, the engineer and the fireman realized that they could get drunk and sleep the whole trip while Al did all the work. Al loved that.

Al was instructed that if he let the water in the boiler drum get too low, it could explode. He certainly didn’t want that, so he meticulously kept the drum full of water. One day in the station, he put too much water in. The water went up into the boiler tubes which were red hot. The water cleaned off the years of soot layered in those pipes and then boiled. That caused a geyser of hot black mud to shoot out of the stack of the steam engine. It came down on the heads of the fine gentlemen with their top hats, and the fine ladies with their parasols who were waiting in the station. Young Al pointed at the engineer, and said, “I’m just a kid. I didn’t do anything.”

One day, the train hit a patch of rough track. It rocked from side to side. A bottle of phosphorous fell off the shelf in Al’s laboratory and started a fire. Al tried to put out the fire and failed. The conductor came rushing in and put out the fire. That quick-tempered Scotchman was so enraged, that he threw Al and all his chemicals off the train. He also boxed young Al in the ears so severely that for the rest of his life Thomas Edison was nearly deaf.

But Edison accepted deafness in good spirits. Later in life, he said, “When Alexander Graham Bell invented the telephone, it was a piece of junk. It was only capable of working within one city block. So, the first thing he did was to hire me to make a practical telephone. Because of my deafness, I had to make it loud enough for me to hear it.” Later, when I invented the phonograph there were many similar devices around that I couldn’t understand because their sound quality was so poor. I worked for a whole year, 20 hours per day including Sundays to get the word “specie” perfectly recorded and reproduced on the phonograph. When this was done, I knew that all other sounds could also be done, which proved to be the fact.”

Ladies and gentlemen. When you go home tonight after this splendid banquet, look into the eyes of your young children or grandchildren. Might you see a spark of young Al in those eyes?

Monday, April 09, 2018


Umatilla, FL

I had to invent a new word to describe what I've been doing yesterday and today.

Our Hobie 16 is all rigged and functional.  Naturally, we (mostly I) am anxious to sail it.  It's fun and there are lots of new things for me to learn. 

The question is when?  The past 2 days have seen unsettled weather.  Weak cold fronts are passing accompanied by scattered showers.  Today's showers are just short of being thunderstorms.   The average wind speed has been about 10 knots; perfect for sailing.  But the actual wind speed is more like 3 knots punctuated by periods of 20 knots.   Couple that with the fact that we now live very close to the lakeshore.

So, here I sit wanting to sail.  No wind.  A few minutes later, I look out and I see all the flags flying in a fresh breeze.   Off I rush to the lake.  But by the time I get there and get the sails ready, the wind stops, and there is another black cloud potential thunderstorm heading my way.

When we lived many miles away from the boat and the water, we didn't have this on-again off-again foolishness.  On days like today we would either stay home, or go out on the lake and wait out the calms and the storms onboard the boat.  That's why I need a new word for my impatience -- Lakesideitis.

We'll post some good pictures and videos when we get them.  For now, here's a video of me shot by someone else yesterday.

By the way.  Youtube has lots and lots of Hobie 16 videos to learn from.  There's much more to it than I imagined.