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WEEK 35 2005

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Saturday 3 September 2005

Saturday - not a lot to say, keeping busy.

Book #20 is Alone Across the Atlantic, by Francis Charles Chichester, the story of  sailing across the Atlantic Ocean in his boat Gypsy Moth III in 1960, and winning the first single-handed transatlantic race for a grand prize of a half-crown (reported in the American press as 5 shillings). The book actually says by Sir Francis Chichester, but he was only knighted years later, on  July 7, 1967 - after sailing solo around the world in Gypsy Moth IV. My book is a 1979 trade paperback, the original hardback was published in 1961.

From this perspective in time, the gear, the preparations, and the boats itself seem simple, almost primitive. It is a heavy full keel wooden sloop, with only an elementary first generation self-steering setup - a wind vane, with lines to the tiller that interferes with the main boom on many tacks. There is no roller jib or main - he spends a lot of time on the foredeck, handling lines and sheets in gale conditions. C has the boat for only a few weeks before setting out, not really enough time to become familiar with her. Navigation will be dead reckoning and, occasionally, celestial. There is no radar, and the radio works only intermittently.

But simple can be good as well. The race card reads "Leave the Melampus buoy to starboard, and thence by any route to the Ambrose lightvessel, New York." There is no handicapping - whoever arrives first, wins. The boats aren't huge identical high tech carbon fiber 'sleds', but rather each participants' quirky individual choice. There is no satellite forecast, no 'support teams' on call via video-conferencing, and the sailors are not professionals but enthusiastic amateurs.

It's a good read. It's an early writing effort, and not as polished as, say, his later Gypsy Moth Circle the World, but C comes through. He is a an excellent navigator, as befits someone who was an aircraft pilot in the years before World War II. His dead reckoning skills are good - though he almost gets into trouble with Sable Island, "Graveyard of  the Atlantic". He actually, before the race, calculates by hand a mathematical analysis of the 'best route' across the ocean, breaking the sea into square regions, calculating the boats performance for the predicted wind and tides for each, and adding them up to get a best time & route across. Which turns out to be the Great Circle route, with a possibility of 1600 miles of fog.

He's a loner, not suffering unduly from the solitude (though it is clear he loves his wife Sheila dearly), and drives himself hard. Changing sails is exhausting work,  yet he does it multiple times a day. He wants to win, and has set up in his mind one of his opponents as the man to beat - that 'black bearded pirate' Howell, who is taking the low powered steamer route. Again and again he muses how the 'pirate' is probably having better winds and tides than himself - thus encouraging himself to further effort (I should emphasize, this is a psychological gambit - in actuality Chichester likes and admires his fellow racers).

Chichester's minimalist emoting - he is definitely a britisher of his time and class - will probably put some people off. But if you can get past that you'll find a wonderful saga of man versus ocean.

Friday 2 September 2005

Friday - did a shortish walk, 5 miles or so. Used about a liter of water along the way. Hopefully Mike and I will hike Mt. Baden Powell this weekend. I'll bring more water this time.

Got the SUV back from my brother - I forgot to tell him NOT to use the sunroof, now it's stuck OPEN. I noticed it was sticking when I was last up at my Dad's in late July, but got it closed and then just forgot about it - didn't think about it, didn't get it fixed. Oh well.

I want to visit my Dad, but wasn't sure when I'd get the SUV back. I figured some time this weekend, so it would be best to leave after the long weekend, when gas prices might have recovered from price spiking. But, now that it's back, should I drive it with a sunroof that won't close, or take the Probe? The Probe gets half again the mileage, but it is getting a bit long in the tooth for these big drives.

rabbit and stream
A rabbit by the stream, on my walk the other day.

Thursday 1 September  2005

Thursday - today I rode out to the airport and back - a round trip of about 11.4 miles. I don't feel particularly sore or tired - I relaxed yesterday and didn't do my usual walk, and so was fairly energetic today. The mileage would be nothing for someone in better shape, on a good road bike - but on a heavy cheap trail bike, hey, it's what someone not is particularly good shape needs.

There's not a lot I can add to the talk about New Orleans and the mess down there. I recall seeing the aftermath of a hurricane back around the early 1970's - Camille? - the devastation was incredible. I did give a donation at the Feed The Children website - I like the idea of great big trucks full of stuff just showing up for the poor souls down there.

At the most popular blog on the planet, Instapundit, Professor Glenn Reynolds has a big list of charitable organizations. (The FEMA charitable donations site seems to be down right now, by the way, which might be a good sign of overzealous giving.)

Chuck Simmins is keeping a list of Katrina aid private donors and donations (over $100 million this evening). And Bloggers have a list at N.Z. Bears.

Wednesday 31 August 2005

Wednesday - book #19 was Word Freak: Heartbreak, Triumph, Genius, and Obsession in the World of Competitive SCRABBLE Players. The book is very entertaining - it is a chronicle of author Fatsis's progress from 'unrated' to 'expert' as he moves among the characters and stories that make up the world of tournament level SCRABBLE. The title of each chapter is, indeed, his ranking in the National Scrabble Association rating system.

At first he is deemed a 'good living room player' and suffers ignominious defeat at the hands of the 'blue haired ladies'. Slowly, getting advice from various expert players he travels about with, he improves. There is Edley the zen master, GI Joel and his pills, Marlon the revolutionary, and many others. It takes work though, more work that he has put into anything in his life, he say's, including college. He becomes...obsessive.

He talks about the history, about the other obsessive individuals who designed the board and tiles, figured the optimum score for each letter, and slowly made it a popular game that has endured now for decades. The companies that have owned it seem almost indifferent, from Selchow & Richter to Coleco to Hasbro, owning the trademark but doing only the minimum necessary to push the game.

The 'experts' on the other hand, live for the game. These are strange individuals who have learned all the two letter words, all the three letter words, all the 'bingo' words, all the words with Q and X in them, all the words legal in British and oversea's play but not legal in the USA (and vice versa), who have studied when to 'block' and when not too, and all the other strategy - and who, even in the rarefied atmosphere of the 2000+ rankings, still have to contend with the random chance of drawing letters.

Tuesday 30 August 2005

Tuesday - the 50 Book Challenge. Essentially a livejournal community, each member of which (1770 members!) is attempting to read 50 books this year. (And why not 52 books?) But, for me, it's too late this year. I could probably do it, but I haven't been keeping track of everything I read. Just using the books mentioned on the blog this year I have 19 books in 35 weeks.

Since I finished Word Freak that is.

I could root around in my library and see what I read and haven't put away, and that might bring the total up a bit. But I'm lazy. And anyway, quality is better than quantity, right? Or, I could easily push the total up with 250 page SF paperbacks, a book every night or two, but that's cheating.

In the pipeline right now -  just to name a few - another biography of James Cook, a Chichester book, a  Benjamin Franklin biography, a book on aeroelasticity, a book on math proofs, another two books about sailing, and some fiction by one Alexander McCall Smith that looks humorous. And a book on celestial navigation.

Re: celestial navigation. I've thought of buying a sextant. A cheap plastic Davis Model 15. After all, you never know when the batteries in the GPS might die. The idea of navigation by sextant has always intrigued me, noon sights, star sights, lunars and all that. I'll wait and read the book first, however, and that will probably quench my thirst - I find I often enjoy the theory more than the tedious practice. And there was that "build your own from a CD" article a while back.

This link is old, but I like the redirection message.

This link is dead, but I enjoy a good 404 error message as well.

Monday 29 August 2005

Monday - it was 102F outside, but the outlet from the swamp cooler was 73F, for a 25F delta, about as good as I've ever seen for this type of air conditioning.  Once in a while the central A/C kicks on, so the swamp cooler is not quite keeping up - the house overall internal temperature was hovering around 77F.

The efficiency of the swamp cooler depends in large part on the outside air's humidity. Here is a little table with some observed values from the last couple of weeks:

Outside Air Temperature
Outside Air Humidity
A/C Exhaust Temperature
Temperature Delta

I have noticed before that outside humidity above 20% dramatically lowers the efficiency of these types of air conditioners. At 40% you have left what amounts to only a large fan.

Jerry Pournelle liked the new HBO series, Rome - "The characterization of Caesar is in my judgment the best I have seen since Claude Rains in Caesar and Cleopatra."

Ann Althouse, however, disliked it - "Violence and nudity don't really stimulate my interest in a story, though I was mildly intrigued by the perfect bikini wax jobs the women had."

Me? I'm too cheap to spring for HBO.

A couple of weeks ago I quoted someone's description of Secretary Rumfeld's general response to media questions:

What are you, children? Do you really not understand what I just said?

So I was entertained at this snippet of a recent press conference as quoted at a Belmont Club post:

Media: These discoveries in the past couple of months -- What do you think it indicates?

Rumsfeld: What I just said.


Sunday 28 August 2005

Sunday - went to the County Fair here in Lancaster. The new fairgrounds are nice - they lack the large trees of the old fairgrounds, but the buildings are large and nicely air conditioned. And we were luck - despite a spate of 100+ days it was perhaps only in the 90's by mid afternoon, and cooled off nicely in the evening.

My friends brought their children, and a guest for each - the teenage girl had her girlfriend along, the preteen boy his best bud. After being tormented for an hour or so with family togetherness activities the young 'uns were tagged (with cell phones) and loosed into the wild.

We visited the crafts hall - both kids won blue ribbon's in art and cooking. We browsed the various rock and gem displays, the diorama's and antique collections, watched the amazing frisbee catching dogs, admired the kindness and élan of the goat judge, and talked with the antique engine owner/builders, held the baby chicks, had corn dogs and  generally had a altogether enjoyable afternoon and evening.

Picture of the Week
The Sun, high altitude contrails, and shadows

Photo Notes: This is a shot of jet contrails, which are casting shadows on a lower level cloud deck - note the 'scissor shadow' on the left. If you look more closely you will also see faint shadows just to the left of the contrails from an thin upper level cloud deck as well.

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