November 30, 2010

Penny For Your Thoughts?


I think there's something to this penny on the train track thing that came up in my last post. And I'm asking for your help to sort this out.

Baydog mentioned he had placed pennies on a train track just to see them squish, in his youth, and I realized I'd done the same thing, not five miles away, on another branch of the same Philadelphia commuter railroad. And we both did this at the same age. Then, Pandabonium came forward, too. Coincidence? I think not.

In fact, after some Googling, it turns out this apparently strange practice is far more widespread than I suspected.

Here's a blog where 22 respondents admitted to 'penny squishing'. Most are male, some of whom are no longer adolescent - at least in most other respects. The women who confessed were usually dragged along by men - or so they claim. We always get blamed for things like this.

So what is it about squishing pennies that we, as a species, find so irresistible? Why are we drawn to this as moths to a flame? I think there's something very primal going on here. I'm surprised some sociologist hasn't already turned penny squishing into a doctoral thesis.

I've never seen a Schnauzer or Cocker Spaniel in the least bit curious about crushing milkbones or bits of kibble on a railroad track. Granted, rolling around on your back in the grass may seem just as inexplicable to humans, but I would never presume to be capable of understanding anything canine, having not been born into that culture.

It does seem clear, though, that there has been a marked and irreversible decline in the squishing of pennies in recent years. I wonder if diminishing penny squishing didn't coincide with the introduction of poppable bubble wrap in America? Popping bubble wrap in a controlled, clinical environment has been used to successfully wean hard core penny squishers away from their more dangerous and debilitating habit.

In the interest of science, I'm asking my readers to come forward and discuss any incidents of this potentially embarrassing activity that may be lurking in your past. You are, for the most part, amongst an understanding and sympathetic group of nurturing individuals, so there's really no reason not to be frank.

But if you really don't want to be frank, you can be Steve or Phil or Wendy, or whatever anonymous identity you prefer. Your privacy will be respected.

And remember that most psychologists consider isolated squishing events in adolescence to be perfectly normal and not a sign that you will necessarily become a habitual penny squisher in later life.

If you've never squished pennies on a railroad track, perhaps you have an explanation for why those of us who have are the way we are. Or maybe, you have uglier secrets that you'd like to get off your chest? Well, not too ugly - this is a family blog, after all.

I'm thanking you in advance for participating in my little experiment in reality blogging.


November 25, 2010

Happy Thanksgiving!



November 23, 2010

A Brief History Of Poop


In the comments page of my last post, the discussion turned to poop.

Well, to the word 'poop', that is.

An explanation was offered for just where poop comes from. And, as it turns out, poop has a long, established, and honorable history aboard sailing vessels.

The word 'poop', that is.

Contrary to what many believe, the poop deck of old sailing ships had nothing to do with pooping. One may have gotten pooped on the poop deck, but one did not poop on the poop deck.

And you may not be surprised to learn that we get poop from the French.

The word 'poop', that is.

I don't know why it is, but when the English are at a loss for the perfect word to use for something, more often than not they look to the French for inspiration.

And so it was with poop.

Well, poupe, actually, which is the French word for the stern of a ship, as one of my readers en provence was kind enough to point out.

Apparently, the English and the French have been giving each other poop for years. So, when the English were adding officers' cabins at the stern of their ships and needed a name for the deck above those cabins, they looked to the French and the first thing they thought of was poop.

The poop deck was born.

In time, taking waves from astern on the poop deck came to be known as 'getting pooped'. And, if you happened to be the English officer standing on the poop deck while getting thoroughly pooped, the first words you would probably have uttered would have been, "Oh, poop!"

In more time, swabbies became so used to hearing "Poop!" emanating from the officers on the poop deck, that any information percolating down from on high in the naval service came to be known as 'poop'.

If this information was circulated in written form, it was said to be contained in a 'poop sheet'

So the poop we originally got from the French and that was passed down to us from English naval officers is the sheet we have to deal with today.

I could go on.

But I'm pooped.


November 18, 2010

Somewhere West Of Laramie


Why do modern cruising sailboats look the way they do?

Why are so many of them getting so big and fat and, well, starting to resemble Winnebagos more than boats?

A few posts back, here on O Dock, the story of Ned Jordan and the Jordan Motor Car Company came up (OK, I brought it up). Jordan was one of those unique American characters whose lives give birth to legends and to blog posts. He lived in an age before massive federal regulation and before all-powerful armies of lawyers strode the earth, when it was actually possible for someone to start his own car company.

But not only did he start his own car company and build cars, he wrote the advertising campaigns for those cars. And it's those ads for which he's remembered, more than for any car he ever built.

What was so special about the ads and what might that have to do with how sailboats look today?

Well, before Mr. Jordan, most car ads focused on the cars themselves. You know - stuff like engines, cylinders, brakes, and upholstery - really boring stuff. Jordan's cars were no better than those of his competitors - in fact, he bought a lot of the important parts from those competitors and reassembled them to make his own cars. So, he needed something to distinguish his ordinary cars from his competitors' ordinary cars.

To do that, he ended up writing what may have been the first car ad that was total BS. He went way beyond merely exaggerating the capabilities of his cars. He elevated total BS nearly to the level of high art. It was a watershed moment in the history of advertising.

In the ad, Jordan nearly ignored his mediocre product - the Jordan Playboy (great name, huh?). Instead, and here's the nub, he focused on the mind of the customer and what owning a Jordan car could mean to that customer. The ad implied that merely possessing a Jordan Playboy would transform whoever owned one into a lusty adventurer - a smart and worldly dude familiar with life's sweeter pleasures. Just like that.

Here's the ad. Click on it and zoom in to read the copy. Man, could this guy lay it on.

Saddle and quirt.

Laughter and lilt and light.

Revel and romp and race.

What the heck did any of that have to do with bearings, brakes, and balljoints?

In 1923, this ad caused something of a sensation - what we would today call 'buzz'. People were suddenly talking about the Jordan Playboy, which was, remember, a pretty ordinary car. One result of that ad was that marketing people began thinking that the look of a product and the 'aura' created for it by a crafty ad campaign could be more important than the product's real properties.

The shape of a car's fenders and grill could do more to sell it than the quality of its engine, gearbox, or suspension. If it looked like a car a 'playboy' might drive - if it made the owner think they'd somehow become a 'playboy' just by buying one - then who cared about how fast it went or how well it stopped? Styling and advertising would soon become more important than engineering in the American car industry. It would eventually lead to ridiculous looking cars like this:

Ah, but it didn't stop with cars, of course. The idea that looks and 'image' were more important than substance would seep into almost every type of consumer product, from pencil sharpeners to vacuum cleaners.

And yes, those ideas would eventually find their way to the usually conservative world of sailboat design. Here's just one modern example:

This is Catalina's current 38-footer. This boat might actually sail OK and be comfortable down below, but I don't think sailing ability was the most important thing in its design. Or the second most important thing.

This is a boat designed to look impressive. It looks even bigger than it actually is. It has a huge freeboard that creates lots of space below but that can't be too helpful when you're trying to go to weather. The cockpit is big enough to host a wedding. It's more a lounge - a place to be seen - than a space designed for controlling a sailboat under way. Belowdecks, Antony might feel comfortable feeding grapes to Cleopatra in the galley, aft cabin, or main saloon.

The Catalina 387 is what Ned Jordan might have called 'high, wide, and handsome'.

Compare it to the 38-footer that Catalina was making 25 years ago - a boat designed by the respected yacht design firm of Sparkman and Stephens, and a boat that will sail the pants off today's Catalina 387.

Now, I'm using Catalina only as an example, mainly because I have an older Catalina and don't want to be accused of dissing someone else's brand of boat. A lot of the more popular lines seem to be following this trend today towards plumper, overdone floating pleasure palaces.

If, like me, you're scratching your head and wondering why so many new boats look the way they do today, consider that this may be the result of something set in motion a long time ago, somewhere west of Laramie.


November 12, 2010

Seven Steps To Heaven - Or Is It Nine, Or...?


Over at Proper Course, Tillerman spends a lot of time blogging about how anal the International Laser Class Association can seem to those of us who are not at one with the karma of Lasering - to those of us who just don't get the whole Laser Gestalt.

I always assume he exagerates just a bit for comedic effect. After all, there are about a billion Laser sailors in the US alone, according to the last census, and most of them seem like perfectly affable and reasonable people.

Certainly, they must insist that their class association behave in a responsible and sober way.

But I was recently wandering around on the ILCA website (please, don't ask why) and discovered this shocking little bit of evidence that all may not be as under control in the world of Lasering as Laserists would have us believe.

Click and zoom in to have any chance of deciphering this

This diagram is the Official ILCA visual representation of the Application for Entry process that you must understand and negotiate if you want to 'attend' ILCA European or World Championships. By 'attend' I think they mean these are all the steps you have to go through to actually compete in a World Championship. I sure hope you don't have to do all of this if you just want to show up and watch. Some of us just like to watch.

You can tell from the diagram that this is an organization in crisis.

First of all, there are all of the colors. A good workflow diagram shouldn't need colors. You should be able to just draw a bunch of boxes and arrows and done. I think they started out that way and, when they were finished, took a step back and examined what they had done.

"Uh-oh. We're in trouble. There are just too freaking many boxes and arrows for anyone to make head or tail out of this. Maybe adding color coding will help make some sense out of this mess."

It was probably at that point that the workflow chart got assigned to the Color Code Assessment and Evaluation Committee (the CCAEC). After a few weeks of evaluating and assessing, the committee decided (by a 7-4 vote, with two abstentions) to adopt a four-color simplification scheme for the visual representation of the Application for Entry process.

I'm not sure how they arrived at four colors. I think two colors would have worked better. You know, one color could have stood for 'good' and the other for 'you're screwed'. A simple red and green scheme could have helped guide you down the right path for entering a Laser World Championship. Keep landing in the green boxes and you're OK.

Probably the losing side of the 7-4 vote (with two abstentions) thought two colors would have been plenty. I'll bet that one of the committee members was assigned to write up a minority opinion on the value of a two-color system. But the majority of CCAEC members held out for more complexity.

Complexity clarifies, right?

So, in this workflow chart, I'm not sure what color you should be aiming for. I'm pretty sure green is still good and red means 'you're screwed', but what does the yellow mean? If you start out on yellow, what does the transition to green mean? And I don't want to even think about purple.

Another sign that the ILCA is plainly admitting that this is a hopelessly complex, unfathomable process is that they had to abandon straight lines before they were even half-way through.

The mark of any good workflow chart is nice, unambiguous straight lines leading from one step to the next. Having to draw curving (or worse yet - 'S'-shaped lines) is a tacit admission that you forgot to plan ahead. It means you kept adding extra steps as you went along that you'd completely forgotten about when you started. Curving lines on a flow chart are like detours on a road map.

The result is a flowchart that leaves me - admittedly a Laser outsider - completely baffled. I thought just staying on a Laser without falling off was hard enough, but I think sailing a Laser is probably the easy part.

Anyone who manages to successfully enter a Laser World Championship should get some kind of trophy just for that.


November 11, 2010

More Naval Gazing


Whew! I am tuckered out from trying to solve all of the photo puzzles that everyone has been posting lately.

JP has been posting mystery paintings. Frogma has been posting mystery boats. And Tillerman has been posting mystery photos of guys in canoes.

It's time for someone else to work the Google and burn the midnight oil.

Here is a very strange painting.

Baydog has been feeling down lately and posted this eerie thing today. Can you identify the artist? The style is typical of his work (the artist's, not Baydog's), but the subject is probably the most bizarre thing that artist ever painted. Here's a hint. It's a self portrait.

OK, if you're an art history major that part may be easy, but if you're an art history major, you're probably working double shifts at MacDonalds and won't have any time to read sailing blogs.

Ah, but here's the harder part - and the part that ties this painting to sailing (sort of). What the heck does that painting have to do with the lighthouse in this photo?

If you're Baydog, you can't answer the first part unless you know the second part, too.

Now let's not always see the same hands.


November 3, 2010

Out To Lunch