April 30, 2010

More Ado About Nothing


I thought I'd seen everything there was to see about nothing.

Or about pages containing nothing.

A few months ago, Tillerman caused quite a stir in the sail blogging community by posting a completely blank blog post.

No Lasers, no pix of his grandkids, no defiant tea bagger protestors with pathetically misspelled signs.

Just a blank screen with This Post Has Intentionally Been Left Blank.

The post got a huge number of comments and prompted a whole series of follow-up posts about minimalism and Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, (who, himself, enjoyed quite a nice ride by making a big deal about nothing, or nearly nothing). There was an associated Tillerman writing project, and there may have been a book deal, too, for all I know.

I thought I'd seen the last of nothing until I was Googling the other day, trying to find some stuff I needed for work, when I stumbled across a whole world of previously undiscovered nothingness.

There are people in this world, it turns out, who have taken the page intentionally left blank to heights Tillerman could not have dreamt of.

I have more than a passing interest in this because the page intentionally left blank was born in the world of publishing, which, for better or worse, has been my reluctant home for.... well, for a lot of years.

When books, magazines, or newspapers are printed, it's usually done on large sheets of paper that contain many individual pages. Each sheet is called a 'signature' and will contain 4, 8, or 16 pages - or more, but always a multiple of one of those numbers. The whole business gets folded and cut up as it's bound into a book or folded into a newspaper. So, if a book runs to only, say, 15 pages, there will inevitably be one page that ends up being blank. In practice, some content is usually placed on the blank page, mainly to keep bloggers from writing posts about pages intentionally left blank.

But there are some publishers who do not read blogs, and they find it easier to just insert the words this page intentionally left blank. They've got to put something there, or people would feel some vital content was missing. It's just like Californians feel that every square inch of a subdivision must be paved over, for fear of being deprived of something.

Before the internets came along, no one cared about any of this except technical droids who had to actually set up the printing presses to publish books, magazines, and newspapers. But the wonderful thing about the internet and personal computers is that they have made our lives much more efficient and have freed up our time so that we have a lot more of it to waste than ever before.

Tillerman may have done a mere blog post left intentionally blank, but did you know that there is an entire ongoing research project and permanent website dedicated to the blank page?

On this remarkable website you can read about the history and cultural significance of the intentionally blank page. If you like, you can exchange ideas and theories with the TPILB team who run the website (yes, they have their own acronym).

The website is actually ground zero for blank pages on the internet. There are detailed instructions for how to create a blank web page and visitors are encouraged to join the growing community of blankness. Imagine what a thrilling event their team picnic must be, with everyone showing up wearing team logo blank tee shirts.

If that's not bizarre enough, the ultimate bestowing of aura and significance has been visited upon the intentionally blank page. Wikipedia has created and diligently maintains a page devoid of all content, which it labels 'Blank Page'. Like the famous monolith in Stanley Kubricks's film 2001: A Space Odyssey, its blankness is chilling.

Wikipedia has also seen fit to create a page that explains in detail exactly what a blank page is, for those with limited imagination, I guess.

There is also a remarkably useful page for translating into 28 different languages the phrase This page intentionally left blank.

When archaeologists of the 25th century unearth the mouldering hard drives that were home to these web pages who knows what mystical or religious significance they will attach to this obsession with blankness? What will they think of us for having so revered nothing?

I, too, have been trying for days now to find some meaning in all of this.

But I got nothing.


April 28, 2010

A Glimpse Into The Future


Tillerman's latest writing project asks us to predict what sailing will be like in the future.

I am notoriously poor at predicting the future, as a simple look at my 401k balance will quickly prove. I predicted great things for Betamax and the Videodisc. I told everyone that Barry Manilow couldn't possibly have more than one hit song.

As visionary Adam Turinas points out in a well thought-out look into his crystal ball, sailing will no doubt change dramatically in the next 20 years for bigtime racer dudes who can afford the latest tech, or whose sponsors can, at least.

But for those of us of more modest means, I think sailing will be pretty much the same old same old, especially when it comes to that nemesis of practically every keelboat sailor - The Engine.

As Adam suggests, sailors have long hoped for a simple replacement for those fiendishly complicated and maintenance demanding engines that live in the belly of most modern keelboats. An electric motor that ran at the push of a button, that didn't need high pressure pumps, low pressure pumps, freshwater pumps, raw water pumps, fuel injectors, heat exchangers, and an invocation in Latin just to start would be a great innovation to be sure.

But the Achilles heel that has always kept boat manufacturers from putting electric motors in sailboats has been the old enginnering dilemma of what to do about 'encabulation'.

This little understood engineering principle is why most hybrid cars today still require a gasoline engine and don't run with electric motors alone. In a boat, the need for a gas engine would completely negate any advantages of an electric motor.

A solution seems at last to be on the horizon. Researchers at Rockwell International have finally made real progress towards controlling encabulation so, in the future, sailors could finally be free of the tyranny of the diesel engine.

Ah, but is the future as rosy as the technologists promise? Here's a Rockwell promotional video explaining in simple, layman's terms how their 'Retro Encabulator' works. While they may have the engineering gremlins on the run, why do I think there's a warning here about placing too much trust in new technology?


April 22, 2010

A Modest Proposal


I must say I was a bit surprised by the feisty tone in some of the comments on my last post. I guess, as a group, sailors and paddlers and swimmers and surfers are not ready to forgive jet skiers for former transgressions against humanity.

Apparently, some of us still feel jet skiers are a hopeless lot, with little chance of changing or redeeming themselves. So, if we can't convert them to righteous ways of sail, wave, or paddle power, how are we to rid ourselves of this pestilence?

I have been working on such a plan for some time now, and this may be an opportune moment to reveal it. My plan requires that sailors take no drastic action. The jet skiers would solve the problem for us entirely on their own. Their macho nature and competitive spirit would just help things along.

The plan begins with a sports event that has always puzzled me - the Olympic Biathlon, a combination of cross-country skiing and - of all things - riflery. Biathletes race around a course on skis, carrying a rifle, and stop several times at a shooting range where they aim at fixed targets. They're assessed time penalties in the race for targets they miss. And did you know that, while it's not an Olympic event, there's also a corresponding summer Biathlon that combines running with riflery? Both of these events seem kind of goofy to me and, well, out of touch with modern trends in sports.

What does this have to do with jet skiing? Well, I propose the Olympic Biathlon be moved to the summer Olympics and also be substantially updated. I would combine riflery with jet skiing instead of snow skiing. Competitors would negotiate a course on jet skis, much like a sailing race course, and would carry rifles that they would aim at targets at designated places along the course, just as in the current Biathlon.

But, hold on here, there's a twist that I think would turn this into an event that sailors, paddlers, swimmers, and surfers would cheer for.

Since it's hard to set up fixed targets for riflery on a watery jet ski course, I propose the participants aim not at conventional targets, but at each other, instead.

That's right, in this event the athletes would be literally gunning for their opponents. They would thus have an opportunity to advance their score through skillful marksmanship, but also by, well, eliminating the competition.

Think of it - at a high level of competition like the Olympics, by the medal round the only ones left standing might well be the medalists themselves.

I think the new element of mortal fear would put an exciting edge on the competition. And, considering all of the preliminary qualifying rounds at the local and regional level that would be required to reach the Olympics, this could effectively control the world's jet skier population and tremendously reduce the sport's global carbon footprint. A classic win-win.

On top of that, this competition would have a certain Darwinian sense of natural balance that's sure to find favor with ecologists and naturalists around the globe.

So what about it, sailors and lovers of peace and quiet on the water, isn't it time we updated an archaic sporting event and brought the Olympic Biathlon into the 21st century?


April 13, 2010

A Sailor's Best Friend?


How long can you look at the jet skier in the photo without thinking evil thoughts?

If you’re a typical sailor, I’d guess about two seconds. Nothing seems to make a sailor’s blood boil quicker than an approaching jet ski.

Would you think I’m nuts for suggesting that sailors should try to befriend jet skiers and other power boaters? Or even that it’s crucial that we do so?

Tillerman recently posted on Flat Wakes and Blessed Quiet - the prospect of a future without jet skis and powerboats as fuel costs rise.

As much as that may seem like a godsend to most sailors, a future with no powerboats may not be the blissful paradise we imagine.

Sure, a world without powerboats seems like a great idea - no infernal noise, no smelly exhaust fumes, and for once you could keep on some boatspeed as you coax your way home in two knots of breeze. (Why do those idiots always seek us out, power by close, and then smile and wave at us as they knock the wind out of our sails?)

But what happens when they have to sell the Bayliner for lack of liquid assets to keep it in liquid assets?

What happens when there are no longer any lines at the launch ramp?

Will those dudes go out and buy Lasers? Or Lighnings? Or windsurf boards? Or Beneteaus and Catalinas?

Maybe a few will, but most won't, I think, left to their own devices. I think they'll be gone from the waterways, and along with them will go a major constituency with an interest in maintaining access to the water. The city councils and county boards of supervisors, and state legislatures will be quick to notice.

And so will the developers hungry to get their grubby hands on waterfront property - taxable waterfront property, in the eyes of local government.

State and local politicos are under more pressure today than ever before to cut costs and wring money out of their taxbase. State parks are already closing across the country for lack of funds. If a public launch ramp or marina that used to generate revenue no longer does, its days could well be numbered.

So, as sailors, don’t we have a vested interest in keeping those stinkpotters interested in boating? Maybe instead of wishing them ‘good riddance’, now is the time to be doing everything we can to show them the joys of sailing.

Many years ago, when environmentalists were just beginning their struggles to find political support for their causes, help came from a most unlikely group – hunters and fishermen – the dudes who were out to bag the animals ecologists were trying to protect.

But it turned out that most hunters and fishermen were more than willing to observe quotas that would preserve the critters they were after. And they also saw the necessity to protect the habitat that those animals called home. The environmentalists, in turn, needed the political clout that only numbers can muster to take on the timber companies, industrial polluters, and commercial interests with whom they had to do battle. So both animal hunters and animal protectors were able to cooperate to preserve something they both valued.

Frogma has just posted on a major open hearing in New York where the public was invited to present to city planners ideas for how waterway access could best be shared. What stands out in her summary is just how many groups and interests want in - swimmers, recreation groups, boaters of every description, commercial watermen, and all sorts of business people - even people who say, "No water access for anyone until you fix our potholes!"

I think it's a bit naive to think that if the powerboats go away, we sailors will be left to enjoy the water in peace. We'll need all the help we can get to hold onto the access we now have.

This may be the perfect day to ask a jet skier to go sailing.


April 10, 2010




April 8, 2010

The Creature From O Dock


The internets never fail to amaze.

Something goes floating by our boat, I post a photo of it, and from the far reaches of cyberspace - well, OK, from New Jersey - comes Phylum, Order, Genus, and Species.

At first, I thought the watery visitor in my last post might look like this if plucked from the depths:

But no common Jacko was this lantern. Maybe 'Jacque' would be closer. Thanks to Baydog, whose expertise is in things culinary, I now know that the beast was a 'musquée de provence':

I should have known. Only the French could have designed a pumpkin this, uh, unique. To my eyes, it is the Citroen 2CV of the vegetable world. Apparently, the deep lobes are its distinguishing feature and the 10-lobe symmetry is common, too. What one was doing in the Berkeley marina at this time of year, I have no idea. April is the cruellest month, mixing memory and desire, stirring old pumpkins with spring rain.

And I thought Baydog was busting my chops when he sent along a photo of this jellyfish, too, having never seen such a creature before, but apparently these 'Blue Buttons' are common to Florida and other gulf states.

 I guess it's possible that both the musquée de provence and the blue button are disguises assumed by wily sea monsters to fool us. You can never be too careful around sea monsters.


April 3, 2010

Sea Creature


O Dock is no stranger to sea creatures.

We're fairly close to the marina entrance, which opens directly onto the main part of San Francisco Bay. It's common to see all kinds of birds and marine life wandering about here. Despite it being a busy marina, fish are plentiful and they attract the birds that prefer a seafood diet, like this guy, whom I mentioned in a previous post:

The docks also seem to nurture a healthy crop of mussels which are the preferred menu item for our local seagulls. None of the gulls have yet learned that mussels open nicely on their own if sauteed in a little garlic and olive oil. But they have discovered that, if dropped from a height of about 15 feet onto a hard surface, the shells will shatter, allowing the tasty mollusks to be munched.

Apparently, the ideal hard surface for cracking a mussel shell is the deck of a Catalina 30, judging from the number of shattered shells we find whenever we come down to our boat.

Seals and sea lions sometimes wander right into the marina and up to our dock. One sea lion in particular has gained quite a reputation for following the local fishing boats in and loudly demanding his share of the day's catch.

So, I'm not unaccustomed to seeing a wide variety of marine life in the waters around O Dock. But this week I found myself staring down at something I'd never seen here before and it came right into our slip.

Can you identify this mysterious creature from the deep? The 10-lobed symmetry may provide a clue.


April 1, 2010

A Few Thoughts On The Ocean State


For a photographer, sometimes I have crummy timing.

While April 1st is a traditional day for Tom foolery, yesterday may not have been the best day to be poking fun at Rhode Island's weather. They have had entirely too much weather there lately.

As I mentioned in a previous post, I'm taking this week off from work and have been mostly hibernating - on the boat for a few days and back at home. I've been out of touch with my usual sources of news - blissfully so, for the most part. When you work for a newspaper, sometimes it's not a real vacation unless you unplug from the news, too.

So, when I wrote yesterday's post the night before I knew only vaguely that there was 'some flooding' in New England and had no idea just how badly Rhode Island had been affected. I didn't get caught up until long after I posted and wrote a few comments.

I've learned from some secret sources that everyone's favorite Rhode Island Laser sailor is probably dry and OK. But it still wasn't my most brilliant idea to be ragging on the Ocean State yesterday. The only bright note may be that there's a lot more opportunity for boating there this week than usual.

In my years as a news photographer, I had more than ample opportunity to slog through flood waters and see the misery they can bring on their victims. The emotional devastation lingers long after the waters recede.

I hope no one took offense at what was in my post, but if so, I apologize for that.


I'm Moving To Rhode Island


Am I strange?

My last post was about sleeping below on my boat instead of sailing. Only someone who is strange would post something like that. What's wrong with me?

I used to go sailing every chance I got. Now I just mope about on my boat inventing excuses to not go sailing. It must be this cushy cruising boat I've got and this mild California weather. I'm getting soft.

First, my boat is too comfortable. I have a galley with hot and cold running water, a gas cooktop, a microwave oven, a toaster, a coffee grinder, and a fridge. We always keep the wine locker stocked with several bottles of our favorite vintages. I have comfortable berths to sleep in, and a comfortable head to, well, our boat has a comfortable head.

Second, the weather here is too comfortable. The average daily high temperature in January is 58 degrees; in August, a blistering 69 degrees. From May through October, it never rains. It's too easy to just loll about on the boat, secure in the knowledge that the weather will always be good for sailing.

So where was I? Who am I?

Oh right, I was analyzing why I never go sailing anymore. Whenever I feel there is a problem, I always analyze the situation and then come up with a plan to solve the problem. If it's a problem with more than two variables, I'll usually put the data in a spreadsheet. Sometimes, I'll run the numbers and put the results in graphical form. If it's a more esoteric problem, I may even create Venn diagrams. But this is a fairly simple problem. If my boat is too comfortable and the weather too nice to encourage me to sail more, I should just change those things.

First, the weather. If I were in constant fear of the weather changing for the worse, I'd seize a good sailing day and force myself out the door and onto the boat. I need to move somewhere where the weather is generally too cold in the winter and too hot and humid in the summer, but somewhere where there's plenty of open water to sail on. I'm thinking Rhode Island.

Then, I need a simple, barebones boat without all of those cushy frills. I need a boat that is tricky to sail, that will give me a good physical workout, and, hopefully, one with an uncomfortable cockpit. No pain, no gain. There are several that fill the bill, but a Laser would be perfect. There are always plenty of them on the market because many sailors are wusses like I've been and just want to be comfortable when they sail.

So, that's it. Here is my bullet-pointed action plan for getting back into an active sailing regimen:

- Move to Rhode Island

- Buy a Laser

Am I strange?