December 24, 2012


For a few days now, I've been trying to summon the strength to write a cheery Christmas post, but this just doesn't seem like a good year for cheery.

My wife did whip up one of her clever alternative Christmas trees, which I've blogged about before and before.

I think this Christmas Guy looks kind of cheery and jaunty in an alternative kind of way.

And we took our usual stroll through one of Sacramento's established neighborhoods, where the affluent owners dress their fine old homes in a style that reminds me of how Christmas used to look before it was digitally enhanced and brought to life by Disney animatronics. There was hardly an inflatable, dancing Santa or computer-controlled flashing light display anywhere.

I took some photos and set them to some cheery music as you can see in the video at the end of this post.

But I'm still not really cheery.

I think the 700-pound grinch in most of our living rooms this Christmas is the grim memory of some school kids who won't be celebrating Christmas ever again.

The talking heads on our televisions drone on about what must be fixed to prevent future tragedies. They hardly mention that the ultimate tragedy was a human mind that broke in a way no laws or politicians will ever be able to fix.

At Christmas, I'm reminded that, as humans, we need other people in our lives to survive. Not to feed us or buy us iPads, but just to care that we are alive.

Christmas is mostly about getting off our usual treadmills and stopping to connect with the people in our lives whom we may have neglected all the rest of the year.

Remember to tell the people you love that you love them. Even if they piss you off some of the time. It could turn out to be the most important thing you ever do.

Now, let's go out there and make the best of what has been a pretty scary Christmas.

Cheers, from O Dock.

(And please, to keep all of the extra high definition pixels in this video from escaping, click the little gear thingy once the video starts, switch to HD, and then click the 'full-screen' doodad.)

December 20, 2012

One Blogging Day Before Oblivion

Well bloggers, it's December 20th, 2012, and you know what that means.

Yup, just one more day before oblivion to tidy up affairs and post those last minute posts.

Of course, those of us with boats that can go out on the big, badass ocean with accommodation onboard for pooping aren't sweating it too much. We can just sail off into the sunset like we've always planned to do anyway.

And now's a good time to do that for another reason. You wouldn't want to leave on a Friday, would you?

But what about those of us with boats too small for an extended ocean passage? What are those poor unfortunates to do? I think I'd look for solace in some distilled products and maybe, at last, dust off that old bible that you've never opened.

You know what they say. There are no atheists in Fox News foxholes.

But what's that?

You can't find your bible? I was afraid of that. Well, as always here at O Dock, we step up at crucial moments of peril and provide the vital resources our readers need to make it through the day, and possibly through all eternity.

So, if you have only a small boat and can't find your bible anywhere, here is a small snippet of it that should work in a pinch, or even if you're footing off:

The Laser's Prayer

The Laser is my shepherd, I shall not want.

It maketh me to lie down in strange postures,
It saileth me through the still waters, it restoreth my soul,
It leadeth me in the paths of starboard tackers for the wind's sake.

Yea, though I roll downwind in the shadow of death,
I shall fear no evil, for thou art with me.
Thy vang and thy sheet they comfort me.

Thou preparest a regatta before me in the presence of mine enemies,
thou annointest my head with a trophy,
my cup runneth over.

Surely, soreness and mildew shall follow me all the days of my life,
and I shall dwell in the fleet of the Laser forever.

December 7, 2012

I Got A Bad Phone

Thanks to my readers for explaining that mystery object that came flying out of my kitchen drawer in the last post.

On the day I was born
The hipsters gathered 'round
And they gazed in wide wonder
At the geek they had found
The head hipster spoke up
Said "leave this one alone"
She could tell right away
That I had a bad phone

I had a bad phone
I had a bad phone

I broke a thousand screens
Before I met you
I'll break a thousand more, baby
Before I am through
Can't find no custom case
That's mine and mine alone
I'm here to tell ya honey
That I got a bad phone

I got a bad phone
I got a bad phone

AT&T made me beg
Verizon tried to steal
Their plans all made me blush
Rollover minutes were no deal
They say I gotta upgrade
Or else I'm all alone
Nothin' they can do, they said
That I got a bad phone

I got a bad phone
I got a bad phone

Photo Quiz

Regular readers of this blog will no doubt be relieved to learn that I narrowly escaped serious injury in a drawer cleaning incident at my home yesterday.

It was the drawer in our kitchen where we throw stuff when we can't figure out what else to do with it. Everyone has one of those drawers in their kitchen.

I wouldn't have been fooling around in that drawer to begin with, but we'd reached that rare intersection in time when several of our battery cycles coincided - something like a lunar transit of Saturn, only for batteries. Usually, you run out of AA batteries one month, and then you run out of AAA batteries a few months later, and then, maybe once a year or so, you need D-cells.

But miraculously, we ended up needing all three sizes at once - a sort of alkaline syzygy.

So, off we went to Costco to replenish - along with our toilet paper stocks and dwindling reserves of peanut butter - our supply of those indispensable little cylinders that power the constellation of beeping, buzzing, and blinking devices that make modern life possible.

Imagine the paralysis that would seize our nation if, suddenly, all the batteries in all of the remote controls in every living room in the land were to die at once. We are not a nation dependent upon fossil fuels so much as upon batteries.

I think I made it through the 1960s and most of the '70s on a grand total of about 14 AA batteries. When anyone today alludes to the loss of innocence in America, that is the first thing I think of.

We returned from Costco with 64 rolls of toilet paper, a four-gallon vat of peanut butter, and the 'small' packages of three different sizes of alkaline batteries, which means in Costcospeak, a minimum of 36 batteries in each size.

If you know anything about the ungainly packaging of Costco batteries and the dynamics of a drawer that has been collecting household flotsam for over twenty years, you probably have some inkling of the precarious situation I was about to face.

It was somewhere between wrestling the D-cells and the AA's into an already overflowing drawer that this, well, this thing, came hurtling out, thudded to the floor, and nearly took off my toe in the process. It was the size of a brick and weighed what a brick weighs. It must have been stuck in the back of the drawer for at least 15 years, and I had absolutely no idea what it was.

It was made of gray plastic, had some numbered buttons on it, and a sort of stick coming out of it. I think it was some kind of fashion accessory from the early 1990's because I've seen movies from that period that show urban hipsters carrying them. I can't imagine how stupid those same hipsters would feel walking around with something like that today - probably as stupid as they'll feel 20 years from now walking around with tattoos all over their arms and necks and, well, just all over. You know how cruel urban hipsters can be when they spot you still done up in something that's so last year.

I was going to let this relic from the past go, until I realized this is photo quiz month in the blogosphere, so I thought if I posted it here someone might be able to track this down on the Google and tell me what the heck it is.

I really only need to know what it is, but if you also know what direction I was facing when I took the picture, what cabinet we keep our popcorn in, what that smudge on the floor is, and what Tillerman had for lunch yesterday, feel free to write that in, too.

It's the seemingly irrelevant details that breathe life into any photo quiz.

And, oh - here's a bonus photo to help you out, with the thing next to a shoe to help establish scale.

As with any photo quiz, originality counts and there's extra credit for all responses written in verse.


August 11, 2012

Fish On Saturdays

If you follow Joe Rouse's blog, you know how much Joe likes fish.

He's always posting photos of some of the tastiest fish you could shake a fishing pole at.

So, I wasn't surprised yesterday when Joe posted this photo he took of a mural painted on the wall of a San Francisco seafood restaurant. That certainly is one very nice fish.

But being the perfectionist he is - and not liking anything to distract from the appreciation of his fish - Joe even fired up Photoshop to take out a distracting No Parking sign that was getting in the way.

In Joe's words:

"...Then I ran the photo through Photoshop and zapped a no parking sign into oblivion. God, I love technology!..."

But Joe can be so modest sometimes. His Photoshop skills are much greater than he lets on. Here's the original mural, and you can see that Joe has taken out more than just a No Parking sign. There is just nothing that will stand between this man and his devotion to fish.

June 13, 2012

A Tale Of Four Cameras

I don't know how he has managed it, but Tillerman has again bamboozled me into writing about something I thought I never would - the how-to's and the what-for's and the don't-even-think-about-it's of photography.

On balance, photography has treated me well. For 25 years she put a roof over my head, food on my table, and Kodachrome in my Nikons. I was a staff photographer for a now defunct wire service (it was for the most part still funct when I was there) and then a staffer for a succession of several daily newspapers. Eventually, photography led me to an even cushier job in the IT department of the last paper where I was a shooter, so she has indeed been a lady to me.

Like most ladies, though, she reveals her deepest secrets only reluctantly and to those who have wooed her with patience. There are simply no 'tips' that, if memorized, will turn your pictures into art.

Getting good at photography is like learning to sail a racing dinghy well. Get the basics down by reading or taking classes, study what the people you admire are doing, and then get your butt out there and practice, practice, practice. Compare your work with that of the pros as critically as you can or find a coach who will do that with ruthless objectivity. Getting good doesn't sound easy or like much fun at all, does it?

As in sailing, the best are in a league of their own. Have you ever watched the pros sail? They don't seem to be as focused on adjusting the sheet or outhaul or the tiller as you and I are. That all seems to happen automatically for them. They're ahead of every wave and windshift and instinctively move in the right way almost before required. The mechanics are so second nature to them, that they're free to focus on the big picture.

Photography is somewhat like that. No matter what equipment you have, don't wait until the Big Day to start learning how to use it. Carry it with you whenever you can and take pictures of everything. Familiarize yourself with all of the important controls so you don't have to fiddle with them when those Kodak moments happen.

Experiment. Discover what works and what doesn't. Take pictures on sunny days and dark ones. Take pictures with the sun behind you and in front of you. Take pictures inside with no flash and outside with flash. Find out what the 'macro' feature is and how to use it. Take pictures at night with no flash, even if you think it's too dark (digital cameras are much better at this than film cameras were). Take pictures in the rain, in the snow, in the fog, and in the nude (just checking to see if you're still paying attention).

And then, take more pictures. Unlike in the days of film, taking a lot of pictures with digital cameras costs you nothing and - still astounding to those of us who learned with film - you get to see the results instantly, while you can still correct many of your mistakes.

As others have stated in their responses to Tillerman's latest blogging challenge, which camera you choose has little to do with how good your pictures will be at first. Today's digital cameras are that good. If you can't make good pictures with a simple point and shoot camera, a $5000 SLR probably won't improve your work much.

The more elaborate (and more expensive) cameras can certainly do things that the simple ones can't, but don't worry about that too much if you're just learning. Start simple and, as you improve, you'll learn the limitations of a simple camera and what features you'll want in your next one. If you choose well, though, you won't have to throw away the simple camera when you get a better one. In some situations, the small, simple camera is a better choice than the big, expensive one.

I guess these generalities still aren't much help to the beginner overwhelmed by the vast variety of cameras available today, so I've dredged through my closet to try to make some sense of all the hardware that's out there.

Here's an overview of the four most common types of camera on the market today and what they're all about.

In the beginning, there were basically two types of digital camera - the tiny little point and shoot on the right in the photo and the big, bad SLR on the left. If all you could afford was the little, wimpy, itty-bitty camera, you made do with crappy pictures. If you were a serious, macho photo dude who wanted to impress his friends and who also maybe wanted better pictures, you sprang for the heavy iron on the left.

But things began to change and then changed some more and then kept changing. The technology of the sensor chips and their supporting electronics vastly improved in all cameras - even in the wimpy, itty-bitty ones. (The sensor chip is the digital equivalent of film - it's the small array of millions of tiny photo cells that records the light coming through the lens and converts it into an electronic image.) Today, some of those tiny (and inexpensive) point and shoot cameras make remarkably good pictures.

But other things started changing, too. A lot of those dudes who bought the big, macho SLR's and all of the big fancy lenses that go with them started having lower back problems from hauling around all of that weight. And their friends stopped inviting them to parties because they looked like such geeks with all of that stuff hung around their necks.

And some of the people who bought the little itty-bitty cameras started learning more about photography and wanted better lenses and more control over how their cameras took pictures.

So, the camera companies got smart, smelled some new potential markets, and started designing cameras that were somewhere between the itty-bitty cameras and the great big macho SLR's.

The first to come along was the 'premium' point and shoot like the smaller Lumix camera in the photo. These cameras have slightly larger sensor chips (than the smallest point and shoots), better quality and 'faster' lenses (that can take pictures in dimmer light), and more sophisticated controls.

A more recent innovation is exemplified by the larger Lumix camera pictured here. These 'mirrorless' cameras have sensors much closer in size to the ones in the big, bad SLR, but the elimination of the 'reflex' viewing system (the 'R' in SLR) and a  sensor that's still smaller than the SLR's means these cameras (and their lenses) can be made about half the size of the SLR and provide image quality very nearly as good, while retaining the chief advantage of the SLR - interchangeable lenses.

I think these mirrorless cameras are the future of digital photography for those who don't need all of the features that professional photographers do - and most of us don't, including this former pro. Since I got that Lumix mirrorless camera, my Nikon SLR sits at home on Saturday nights and hardly gets out at all anymore, sniff.

But the real surprise for me was the quality of image produced by the next smaller camera in the photo - the little Lumix LX-5. That is currently the camera I carry around the most, mainly because it's small enough to carry around.

You may notice that it has a funny little doohickey stuck on top. That's an electronic viewfinder that lets me use the camera at eye level, just like an old fashioned film camera (or a digital SLR). I'm too old school to adjust to holding a camera at arm's length. I find an eyelevel finder much easier to use, especially outside in bright sun, and bracing a camera against your head while shooting (as God intended) makes it possible to hold the camera much steadier in low light. This is an example of some of the sophisticated features being built into this class of 'premium' point and shoot cameras which aren't really 'point and shoot' anymore unless you insist on using them that way.

You may also notice that none of the cameras in this photo is a very recent model. All have been replaced by either improved models or bettered by cameras from competing camera companies. This is because I never run out and buy the latest trendy camera. I'm much too chea..., uh, sensible to do that.

Since digital camera models are phased out and upgraded on average about every 29 minutes, the best bargains are to be had by waiting for a model to be 'improved' and by then buying the hopelessly outdated previous model that was brand new just last month.

The bottom line, then, is that if you want the most versatile camera that will do everything you might possibly need in the future but will be too bulky for you to actually carry around, get the SLR. If you want something with nearly all the same features and image quality but half the size and bulk, get one of the new mirrorless cameras. If you want a camera you're more likely to always have with you, get a simple point and shoot or one of the 'premium' point and shoots. If you get serious about photography, you'll probably end up with several types anyhow, so it's hard to go wrong no matter what type you start with.

The most important point is to stop reading blogs, get off your butt, and get out there and start taking pictures.

May 6, 2012


Today I did something I don't think I've ever done before.

I yelled at some people in a public place.

People I don't even know.

I think I was more shocked than the people I yelled at. It made me start to wonder if I'm turning into that angry old man who sends soup back at a deli. Is this how that begins? Just how do we transition to being difficult and crotchety?

Is it a gradual process? Or do we just wake up one day crotchety?

This is not at all like me. Or at least it hasn't been. I don't think I was crotchety yesterday.

I usually speak in a voice so quiet that people have a hard time hearing me. And I'm not the sort to chat up strangers easily, except as situations require. I make idle conversation in elevators, as the law requires, but other than that, I pretty much leave strangers alone.

I think today's yelling began at the crossing of the river.

I live near the river that was responsible for bringing hordes of people from all over the world to California about 160 years ago. Gold was discovered in the river, not too far from here, and the rest is fairly well-documented history.

A small village grew up on my side of the river, not too long after they found gold. And things have changed surprisingly slowly hereabouts since then. There are more people and houses now, but the place still has a casual and rural feel to it. There are small, meandering one-lane streets that lead to no place in particular. Most of those streets have no sidewalks. And there are chickens.

The chickens are the subject for another post, but the curious part is that the chickens are independent, belong to no one, answer to no one, go wherever they please, and yell at whomever they want to. Maybe I've become like our chickens.

Well, to get to where I ended up yelling in public at people I don't even know, I had to cross the river. And crossing that river is like travelling forward in time 150 years.

The other side of the river is much lower in elevation, prone to flooding, and over time had become a swampy, unsavory  morass of garbage dumps and junkyards. Until about 35 years ago, when urban planners, right-minded citizens, and greedy land grabbers decided it would be in their best interests if they cleaned the place up.

Which they did in a spectacular way.

They created one of the cleanest places you would ever want to see. It is now a model of model communities. Where garbage dumps and junkyards had been, arose a planned community where every last blade of grass is professionally managed and manicured. The people who live there now are well-manicured, too. Their dogs are manicured. Their houses are manicured. Their lawns and bushes and trees and gardens are manicured. You may not park a car on any of their manicured streets between the hours of twelve and six in the morning just so unmanicured vehicles will not start accumulating there.

It is all a bit surreal in an eerie and slightly frightening Tim Burton kind of way.

But it makes a great destination if you walk or jog for exercise, as all of those manicured streets are conducive to peacefully walking or jogging. And inevitably, there is a well-manicured shopping center there with a well-manicured Starbucks where all of the well-manicured people congregate. I say congregate because there are no churches there and I think the Starbucks serves as the church of the well-manicured people. At least, that's where they all go on Sunday mornings.

Call me perverse, but I like watching the well-manicured people in their well-manicured biking and jogging clothes with their manicured dogs and manicured children trying to impress one another in whatever well-manicured ways they can think of.

It's become a regular stop on my exercise route and I love going there with my wife for a cup of tea (has anyone noticed that Starbucks coffee isn't very good?) just to watch the show of manicured people in full display.

Well, I found myself in line with a throng of well-manicured people, waiting to order my cup of organically grown, artisanally brewed, and moderately overpriced tea, when the cashier called out for the next person in line to approach the altar - uh, I mean the register.

And it was at that moment that I came literally face to face with a cold, hard fact about the well-manicured people that I had until then found somewhat harmless and amusing.

The well-manicured people live in their own little world. They seem to recognize only themselves. Their own well-being is all that seems to matter to them. There may be other people on the planet, but the wants and needs and rights of those people do not seem to matter at all to the well-manicured people.

A knot of six or eight well-manicured people completely filled the space between me and the order taker (at a Starbucks, there may be half a dozen scurrying figures behind the counter, but only one is the designated order taker). The order taker called for the next in line, but none of the six or eight well-manicured responded. The order taker raised her voice and tried again. Again, no response.

None of these six or eight well-manicured people was actually in line to place an order. This was just a convenient place for them to gather to chat or text or browse the internet on their iPads or to model the latest in trendy designer jogging wear.

I finally realized that I was the next in line and so I said to three or four of the well-manicured people closest to me, "Are you in line?" I sort of already knew the answer to that, but this was my way of subtly suggesting that they unblock the way for those of us who were actually in line.

From the slack-jawed well-manicured people there was like, blankness, totally.

So I uncharacteristically raised my voice a notch and tried again. "Are You In Line?"

The well-manicured were like so not responding.

So it happened.

Not used to raising my voice, I may have overdone it.

"ARE     YOU     IN     LINE    ?????????"

echoed loudly through the already buzzing Starbucks.

A sudden rapt silence filled the Starbucks.

In the line that was not a line but a gathering of the well-manicured, conversations, texting, and iPadding stopped cold. Slackened jaws tightened. Eyes shot in my direction.

It was as if I had dropped my pants in public.

It was as if I'd shouted, "Fire!" in an eight-screen Dolby surround-sound Multiplex.

It was as if I had yelled, "There is no Jesus" at a Republican fund-raising event.

To add to the drama of the moment, I also had to physically push my way through the throng to get up to the register, as most of the slack-jawed, well-manicured people still weren't catching on that there were unmanicured people waiting in line, waiting to be in the space that they had filled up.

Somehow, I managed to place my order for a Grande mug of organic, herbal tea and a slice of banana walnut bread, as the usual buzz returned to the Starbucks.

But something had changed in me. I felt like I had become the angry old man who sends soup back at a deli. The world had become populated with the self-obsessed and the slack-jawed and the clueless, and I was the outsider.

Is it me? Has anyone else noticed that the self-obsessed and the slack-jawed and the clueless seem to be everywhere?

Or am I just getting old and crotchety?

March 11, 2012

First 10 Rules To Blog By In 2012


Andrew Campbell, a famous US sailor who is probably best known for having been born in New Jersey, has just published the first ten of his 50 rules to sail by in 2012.

I don't know how he does it. If hard pressed, I could come up with maybe three rules, at best, to sail by in 2012, and two of those would have something to do with wine. But that's probably why everyone knows who Andrew Campbell is and no one knows who I am.

But looking over his list, I realize those rules apply just as well to blogging, and, lord knows, I need some rules to get my blogging back on the path to righteousness. I have been so sorely neglecting this blog.

So, here are Andrew's first ten rules and how they can help anyone's blog:

1. Have a plan. Very important to have a strategy for every blog post. So true. So often, I will start a blog post and have no idea where I'm going with it. The Professor Harold Hill 'think system' just doesn't work with blog posts. If you don't know what your point is, how do you expect your readers to know?

2. Be flexible. He's talking about being flexible in how you use your plan, not about doing yoga. Sure, sure, a plan is necessary, but don't get locked into it. Halfway through the post, you may think of a great pun, or some silly alliteration that's really much more entertaining than what you were planning on blogging about. You may have to change the direction of the whole post. Go with the flow.

3. Prior Proper Planning Prevents a Piss Poor Performance. No, this isn't a repeat of rule #1. This one is all about preparing your blogging environment for some serious work. Make sure you have a plate of nachos or your favorite bag of pretzels or doritos handy. There's nothing worse than having to break off in the middle of a brilliant paragraph to make a run for the kitchen. You can never recover that lost train of thought. And - obvious but still worth repeating - never forget ample quantities of your favorite beverage. Dehydration has dashed many a hope of a successful post. I prefer a fruity Grenache to keep my ideas fresh, but everyone has his favorite.

4. History can be dangerous. And its corollary - "a little local knowledge is a dangerous thing". Spot on, Andrew! How many times do we think, "I've been here before, I'll just crank out the post using that pattern that's always worked in the past." Your readers are smart and can always tell when you're dredging up old material. Remember rule #2 - be flexible and ready to write something new.

5. Having the forecast is nice. Knowing how to interpret the forecast is important. Absolutely! You must stay abreast of current events and be sensitive to how today's news might temper reaction to your post. This would be a bad week, for example, to boast that you're going to advertise on the Rush Limbaugh show to attract more readers.

6. Have a goal for your blog post. This is probably why Andrew Campbell is a superstar and I am not. When I sit down to blog, I get all distracted by actually enjoying writing and taking pleasure in the wordplay of the moment instead of trying to develop any significant ideas or discuss important matters of the day that people care about. If I had a practical goal when I started the post, it is soon forgotten.

7. Enjoy Sailing. Damn you Andrew Campbell. You train like a maniac and yet you still remember that the real point of this whole game is to enjoy it? Well, the same applies to blogging just as well. How often do we feel obligated to post just because it's been too long since we last posted? Screw it - get away from the damned computer, go outside, and talk to real people. You'll probably get some better ideas to blog about.

8. Put the bow down. Andrew writes about how important it is to keep the bow down and the boat going fast in a keelboat like the Star. This confused the hell out of me at first. Why would a crack sailor like Andrew Campbell be playing the violin in the middle of a Star regatta? Maybe just to stay loose? At any rate, I agree. If you're sailing, stay focused on the sailing. If you're blogging, stay focused on the blogging.

9. Wide and Tight, Slow if necessary. He's talking about mark roundings, of course, despite what some of my more perverse readers may think. Again, this is so pertinent to good blogging. The most important thing is to say as precisely as you can what your point is, even slowing the pace if necessary to hit the target. If you make your key points accurately, you'll find it much easier to wrap up your post at the end.

10. Andrew doesn't sum up this rule in a single pithy phrase. He talks about a key factor for racing two weeks in Miami, especially for folks coming from the cold north. His advice is "to keep covered up and recover well each day." How true! Blogging is not about having one great post and then sagging, but about being able to recover from a grueling all-night writing session and bounce back fresh for the next one. In my case, this means not overdoing the Grenache, but the important thing is being able to go the distance.

Well, I know I've got my work cut out for me, but what do you think? Which of these rules is the most important? Which one do you really need to work on in 2012 to improve your blog?


March 2, 2012

Chanson For Friday

Today, a musical tribute to intrepid blogger Joe Rouse - a Francophile and champion of all things Gallic, from Brigitte Bardot to Courvoisier to around the world multihull speed demons Bruno and Loick Peyron.

Our song for Friday is one of the most patriotic of all French songs, Chevaliers de la Table Ronde, which celebrates knights of courage who gather wherever French is spoken and there are round tables.

The French so venerate these gallant warriors that they have carried this song down through many generations, its words praising those solid values, hallowed traditions, and never-to-be-compromised principles that are the rock upon which all French culture rests.

Joe, may your appellation d'origine forever be contrôlée.

This famous song has been recorded by many French singers over the years, including this more spirited  rendition. Wait, is one of those guys Joe?


February 17, 2012

Obligatory Boat Show Post

One of the rules about writing a sailing blog is that you are required to write at least one post about going to a boat show.

I know, it may not be easy to find, but, buried somewhere in that page of fine print with the button at the bottom that says 'I agree' (that you must click before you can start up a sailing blog) is a confusing paragraph of lawyerspeak that says you must write a post about going to a boat show.

I've never actually found that paragraph, but it must be there.  How else could you explain why practically every sailing blog - even some very good ones - eventually runs a post about going to a boat show.

I have been to exactly two boat shows in my life - one about 30 years ago and the other about five years ago - and I can say with some confidence that I will never go to another. And I would certainly never write a blog post about the experience were it not for this legal requirement to do so. So now is as good a time as any to fulfill my contractual commitment to Blogger about writing a boat show post. What finally convinced me was Tillerman's recent boat show post - written reluctantly, I'm sure, and under pressure from his legal staff.

This actually started as a comment on that post - one of those long, irrelevant comments I often bother him with, but it became too long a comment even for me, so I decided to sink two boats with one faulty stuffing box and just make it a post here.

It seems not to matter too much what boat show you go to. Judging from the two I've been to - 3000 miles and 25 years apart - and from all of the obligatory write-ups in blog posts I've read about going to boat shows, they are all exactly the same.

Their main reason for being is to get people who would not otherwise do so to buy stuff. But not the stuff you would think.

At first, you might imagine, with all of those 90-foot, zillion dollar yachts lined up that it's those zillion dollar yachts they're trying to get you to buy.

Oh, come on.

Do you really think that anyone who buys a 90-foot, zillion dollar yacht buys it at a boat show? Do you think they pay the same twelve bucks for a ticket that you and I do (and ten bucks to park) and then stand in line to get in and then take their shoes off to squeeze through narrow spaces belowdecks and rub elbows with a lot of other sweaty boat show goers before plunking down their zillion bucks? Think about that for a minute.

Of course not.

Those glitzy boats are mainly there to make the rest of us start drooling and to put us into a buying state of mind. There's an almost Pavlovian connection between seeing row upon row of shiny new yachts and wanting to buy marine gear - of any kind. Boat shows do not exist to sell gazillion dollar yachts. They're there to sell stuff like the SolLight LightShip Solar-Powered LED Suction Cup Mounted Light.

I should explain that I am the proud owner of a SolLight LightShip Solar-Powered LED Suction Cup Mounted Light, which I acquired at that last boat show I went to. Like everyone else, I lined up innocently enough in the parking lot waiting to get in without the faintest notion in my head that I needed a SolLight LightShip Solar-Powered LED Suction Cup Mounted Light. Before I entered that boat show, I didn't know that SolLight LightShip Solar-Powered LED Suction Cup Mounted Lights even existed. Nor did I think that my boat was especially lacking in below-deck lighting fixtures.

But I was seduced by the siren song of the marketing team hired by the boat show - Barnum, Scylla, and Charybdis.

I think what happens to us at boat shows is that after wandering from one luxury yacht to another, we start comparing them in our heads to that mildew-laced leaky old tub that's waiting back at the dock for us, with the brightwork that needs sanding, the steering gear that has developed a bit too much play, the rig that will need some professional attention this season, and the mystery electrical problem that defies all attempts at repair.

And we start to think there must be something here that we can afford that will make that poor excuse for a boat in some small way closer to these magnificent and pristine creations all around us at the boat show. Something that will restore our boat's former glory. Or maybe we just fear our boat will know we have been unfaithful to her, partying here at the boat show with all of these saucy young sloops and cute ketches.

Whatever it is, after a few hours of wandering from one exhibit booth to another, we happen upon those long rows of vendors with stuff priced in a more affordable range. Compared to the glitzy yachts, this stuff is practically free. And those prices are made even more attractive by the ruse of the Boat Show Special.

For instance, do you realize that the full retail price of a SolLight LightShip Solar-Powered LED Suction Cup Mounted Light is $19.95? But, for boat show goers only, and only for the duration of the boat show, a SolLight LightShip Solar-Powered LED Suction Cup Mounted Light can be had for only $14.95? How is that possible? How can I not take advantage of such a remarkable and never-to-be-repeated savings?

And - and here is the truly evil part of the boat show marketing rubric - if I save five dollars on the cost of a SolLight LightShip Solar-Powered LED Suction Cup Mounted Light, am I not, in effect, reducing the cost of the entrance fee to the boat show by a like amount? And if I were to buy two SolLight LightShip Solar-Powered LED Suction Cup Mounted Lights, it would be the same as getting into the boat show for free!

Of course that raises another troubling question about boat shows. If this is a commercial wonderland constructed solely to help marine companies sell stuff, why should I have to pay to get in at all? I don't have to pay an admission fee when I go to the supermarket for groceries. When I go to Home Depot for light bulbs, there's no cover charge at the door.

But then, never in a thousand years will I find at the supermarket or Home Depot anything half so wonderful as a SolLight LightShip Solar-Powered LED Suction Cup Mounted Light.


January 13, 2012

Of Shoes - And Ships - And Sailing Wags


© The artist formerly known as O Docker, 2012

This will be another of my long-winded and rambling posts, So, if you're in a hurry, you may want to skip it altogether and head straight over to Facebook.

A few days ago, Tillerman posted about an invitation extended to a few young bloggers by shoe giant Puma to visit the current stop on the Volvo around the world yacht race. The current stop is in exotic Abu Dhabi.

What may seem strange at first is that the bloggers are not sailing bloggers. They're urban hipsters, fashionista, photographers, and, oh, did I mention that they're all pretty young? Puma, if you hadn't noticed, has spent a few bucks sponsoring one of the modest little sailing ships that's entered in the Volvo race. But Puma's products, like the bloggers, also have very little to do with sailing. They make shoes which used to be functional and boring things for joggers. But their latest offering are, well, how shall I describe them? I've given you my best shot at a deconstructionist interpretation at the top of this post.

"What's this," typed the Tiverton typist, "I've been tenaciously typing about sailing for years now in one of the best-read sailing blogs on the planet" (he didn't actually say those words, but they were there for the reading if you read between the lines) "and no one has offered me any free trip to Abu Abu Dhabi Dhabi." "No one has given me behind the scenes entrée to this great sailing spectacle."

He was mildly miffed. He waxed a bit ironic, hurled a few brickbats at the upstart bloggers (whoever they were), was called for his curmudgeonliness, and has been back-pedalling with apologies and compensatory posts ever since.

Worse, these post-pubescent, pimply-faced poseurs with their instagrams and their cinemagraphs had the cheek to have more readers than Tillerman. How dare they?

Hmmm, did someone say big numbers of readers? And right in the sweet spot of the hottest demographic for a shoe company? You could hear the knees of the Puma marketing dudes quivering and knocking.

"Send the kids off to the races! Put them at the helm! Let them drive!"

And the knock-kneed shoe Nazis had news for Tillerman, too:  "No sloop for you!"

So, what are the lessons here?

I, like Tillerman, am of an age that needs lessons from life's comeuppances. Ours is a cosmos of cause and effect. Excrement doesn't end up on our cheek for no reason. It comes from somewhere. Somewhere, there must be a chimpanzee with a shit-eating grin on his face.

I think the chimpanzee in our little parable is father time. He is marching on. He is having some fun with graying old codgers like Tillerman and me.

We look at the work of the young bloggers and scratch our bald heads. Where are the carefully stated ideas? The logical arguments? The premise? The expostulation? The restatement? The conclusion? Where are the twenty-seven eight-by-ten color glossy pictures with circles and arrows and a paragraph on the back of each one?

I think, little by little, things like expostulation and carefully-developed arguments, and all the rest are getting moved up to the attic of time. They are taking their place alongside the victrola. the hula hoop, the typewriter, and the iPhone 3.

Folks in their twenties don't talk the way I do. Or think the way I do. Or laugh at what I do. They have their own language and use it as well as I do mine. They are in more of a hurry than I am. They use fewer words. They talk like they text.

I feel like I am gradually getting nudged towards the attic, too. I'm not quite ready to go yet, but no one seems to care much if I do. And I think things will get on perfectly OK when I'm no longer here.

Another thing I've noticed lately that seems somehow related to all of this is less activity amongst the sailing blogs I follow. Fewer posts. Fewer comments. Maybe fewer blogs. To some extent, I think people are spending more time on Twitbook and less time blogging.

But the Puma Ten may be proof that blogging is alive and well, but just speaking a different language. The paragraph may be morphing into the cinemagraph. Not better. Not worse. But evolving, as things always do.

I was hoping all of this would come together a bit more cohesively at the end of this post. But I still can't quite pull it all together. There is my generation's obsession with neat little arguments that lead logically to clear conclusions, again.

If I were one of the Puma Ten, I don't think I would care much about that. I got my thoughts out there. It's your job to make sense of them.

So, maybe I'll throw this in your lap. What do you think? Is blogging dead? Has its golden age passed or is it about to begin? Is Twitbook better? Where are you spending most of your time online, lately?

Are you still awake?

Am I still breathing?

I wonder if the Puma Ten will know where the title of this post comes from.