Sunday, April 21, 2019

40th birthday wavesailing session video

I turned 40 yesterday. Among the things I had to be grateful for was breeze and bumps suitable for a Gulf of Mexico wavesailing session. I launched from an unusual spot because I assumed my usual beach (Wiggins Pass State Park, parking lot #5) would be too crowded with Easter weekenders. The unusual spot was Dog Beach, on Lovers Key State Park. It gives access to the Gulf of Mexico through a tidal inlet called New Pass, which can be tricky to negotiate because of strong tidal currents and wind somewhat blocked by the mangrove trees. This was the first time I have made it through on a shortboard. Once out of the pass, there is a long stretch of sandbar making for interesting bump and jump / wavesailing conditions.

Here's the GPS track from the sesh.

Sunday, March 31, 2019

Boom mount windfoiling video

I'm having some more luck at windfoiling, with my best session so far being today with an 8.0 sail in light winds not exceeding about 10 knots. Check out the video.

Saturday, March 30, 2019

Coral Reefs and Hydrofoil Windsurfing- SO AWESOME

I was sitting at an open-air bar on a Friday night, March 22nd, 2019. I don't drink, but since I was dining alone at the only restaurant in the Florida Keys town of Layton, it was the place to sit. It felt cozy after a long day of snorkeling and a 10 km kayaking workout. The patron next to me was a sociable retiree, well in his cups. When he asked what I was doing in town I said I was a college professor from Florida Gulf Coast University, and I was leading a marine biology class field trip at the FL Keys Marine Laboratory down the block from the restaurant. The man paused for a minute then told me in a kind but serious way, "I hope you know, you're blessed."

I said I knew, because I do. It really is a great privilege to be able to do the things I love- not only in my free time, but also through my job. Likewise, it's a blessing to live in sunny Florida, to be married to stunning Rhonda Mason, to have loving, living parents and in-laws, to be "dad" to a cute dog, to have a shed full of water toys and friends to use them with, and to be fairly fit and healthy for a guy about to turn 40. This post will review two of my recent blessings: the Florida Keys Trip, and an early-birthday addition to the toy shed.

The Florida Keys trip happens every semester that I teach Marine Ecology. Though my own research has centered on seagrass and seaweed communities, not coral reefs, I've been learning as much as I can about Caribbean coral reef ecosystems since I first taught the class in 2012. My basic teaching goal is simple: to get the students to snorkel as much as possible and identify as many of the species they see as possible. They have already learned about the ecology of reefs through lectures and student reports in class, but learning to actually identify the species they see underwater makes it more "real." I don't want the students to see just a bunch of pretty colors- I want them to have some understanding of what each species is, what it does, and what its presence (or absence) indicates about the health of the environment. I want them to be aware of how special what they're seeing is so they can experience that same feeling of awesome wonder that I get when surrounded by this amazing ecosystem. Below is a facebook photo album of some of the pictures I took in the keys this year. The captions explain a little about what is going on in each. Feel free to ask me questions about anything else you see in the pictures, or what I think about problems facing reefs today, etc.

So, the other thing that is filling me with a heady sense of awesomeness is the new water toy: a windsurf-mounted hydrofoil. The "foil" is a Slingshot Hoverglide Fwind 2019. It's mounted in place of my fin on one of my windsurf boards- the Exocet Turbo Formula II. "Formula" boards are short and wide in order to plane across the water easily, and they have deep, sturdy fin boxes to hold the bases of large fins. So they adapt well to use with hydrofoils. A hydrofoil puts more strain on the finbox than even the largest conventional fins do, though, so the first thing I did after I decided to buy the hydrofoil was reinforce the top of the finbox with four extra layers of fiberglass. (They also make special, hydrofoil-ready boards, but I wanted to be frugal and try to use the board I already had.) In addition to reinforcing the finbox, I glued some foam blocks onto the nose, in anticipation of having hard crashes from altitude that would catapult my sail and body into the nose and damage it. It looks wacky, but it seems to be working so far. The other safety feature addition was a strong kite line tied from one of the footstraps of the board to the top of the hydrofoil's "mast" to hopefully catch it if it busted off because my finbox failed. Pics:

The maiden voyage of the hydrofoil was to be late in the afternoon on the Sunday after I returned from the Florida Keys. (I'd spent all day sanding the fiberglass, fussing with the nose pads, shopping for some longer stainless steel bolts to mount the foil, etc.) Unfortunately there was ZERO wind when I got to the beach, so all I managed to do was pose the board for a few glamour shots. Monday I teach until 6:20 so I couldn't get to the beach for another try. But Tuesday there was good wind, and I was free. The feeling I had before the first session was adrenaline-pumping fear. It was similar to the excited apprehension I felt leading up to my first kiteboarding session years ago, and I suppose before my first forays into high winds on my windsurfer even more years ago. Anyway, with the wind around 15 knots and the Gulf of Mexico looking pretty choppy, I made what I thought was a conservative rig choice: a 5.5 m2 sail. Normally I would use a 6.8 m2 sail in those winds, but Britt Viehman of North Beach Windsurfing in Tampa told me that with hydrofoils you should use a sail about 1.5 m2 smaller. My good pal Matt Kearney showed up at the beach to take pictures of the first outing. I also filmed it with a GoPro camera mounted to my helmet.

My first shock was how quickly and easily the board accelerated and popped up out of the water with the foil on it. My second shock was how sensitive the foil was to my weight distribution on the board, and how challenging it was to maintain a steady altitude and heading. I had the slingshot foil set up in the "C" configuration, which puts the front wing as far forward as it goes. This is supposed to make for early takeoffs and good jibing, but it can make it harder to keep the nose down and requires a front foot heavy stance quite different from what I was used to. I did a lot of "overfoiling," which is when the foil wings breach the water and suddenly lose lift, dropping you down instantly. Thankfully, the nose of my board was curved up enough that these crashes didn't usually cause me to fall off. I would just smack down, then bounce back up, then smack down again like a drunken porpoise. The relatively short foil mast that I was using (2 feet long; 61 cm), combined with the choppy water and my lack of skill, exacerbated the overfoiling problem. But I wasn't ready to run switch to the 90 cm mast that also shipped with the hydrofoil, because the idea of crashing down from a greater height was intimidating. Anyway, I finished my first foil session humbled, but encouraged by enough success to be VERY stoked.

Foil session #2 was the the next day, and it was quite windy with more of an offshore wind angle. That meant the waves weren't as high, which helped reduce my overfoiling. Two other things also reduced overfoiling were that I wasn't as overpowered (I used a 4.7 m2 sail), and I switched the foil to the "B" configuration which puts the wings a bit further towards the tail of the board and favors a stance with more weight on the back foot (more similar to the normal windsurfing stance). The more back-foot-favored stance allowed me to get in the footstraps more, including sometimes getting in the outboard back foostraps instead of just the inboard "chicken strap". My altitude control was OK, but I still felt frustrated with overfoiling too much in the chop, and decided it would be worth trying the 90 cm mast.

Foil session #3 doesn't count because the wind was so light that I mostly just slogged around, with only about 20 seconds getting up on the foil. It was my most relaxing foil session at least.

Foil session #4 (today) was my first time using it successfully with the 90 cm mast and an 8.0 m2 sail. The wind was only 5-10 knots, and more often at the lower end of that range. With a conventional fin on the formula board I would have needed my largest 11.0 m2 sail to have any hope of planing in those winds. But the foil showed amazing power to get the board up and cruising with just the 8.0 sail. Because of the room for error in altitude control afforded by the 90 cm mast and the flat water surface, I was able to get some wonderfully long runs without touching down. Silently whooshing over the sparkling blue sea, even slicing over boat wakes without the usual "smack smack" of the board contacting the waves, is SO AWESOME. Figuring out how to distribute my weight properly between my feet and the harness, and going upwind and downwind in varying wind strengths, is still quite challenging for me. I also haven't successfully foiled through any jibes. But I'm eager to get out there and work on that stuff.

Saturday, March 2, 2019

Tuesday, February 26, 2019

To Freak Out or Not to Freak Out

To freak out or not to freak out? That is the question. These are the answers.

Saturday, February 9, 2019

Notes on the Green New Deal (GND)

The “Green New Deal” is an ambitious economic and environmental conservation proposal currently gaining traction among congressional democrats in the United States. I recently read the text of the “Green New Deal” on the US Green Party’s web page.

The GND text is not super detailed, but I think it’s detailed enough to make a convincing case for the proposal. From my perspective as a marine scientist focused on how ecosystems work and how they respond to human impacts, the GND proposal makes much more sense than most political “deals” related to the environment. Below are my somewhat-disorganized notes on the GND. I have bolded certain quotes or concepts from the GND, and commented on them in non-bold text:

The GND contends that the fossil fuel economy is “decaying.” Personally I wouldn’t say that it is decaying, but I agree that it is unsustainable because:

1) We will eventually run out. Our fossil fuel reserves took hundreds of millions of years to form, but we’re burning them at a rate that will use them up in just a couple of centuries. So even if fossil fuels didn’t pollute at all, we would need to transition to other energy sources in the not-so-distant future.

2) Fossil fuels cause several very serious pollution problems, which are cumulative and will continue to worsen if we continue to burn fossil fuels. I agree with the text of the GND that Global Warming, in particular is a major threat to human civilization.

  • Toxic air pollution (smog) is created from all kinds of fossil fuel burning, but is especially bad from coal and small engines like cars. Smog contains NOx compounds that rain to earth and cause algae blooms, SO2 that causes acid rain, volatile organic carbon compounds that sicken people and animals, and particulate matter that causes respiratory diseases.
  • The carbon dioxide produced (CO2) reacts with ocean water to form carbonic acid (H2CO3), lowering the pH of the oceans and interfering with marine organisms’ body chemistry and their ability to create calcium carbonate shells and skeletons. This “ocean acidification” phenomenon is particularly deadly to coral reefs.
  • The carbon dioxide produced by fossil fuel burning is a greenhouse gas, which increases the “greenhouse effect” of the earth’s atmosphere by acting like a blanket preventing heat from radiating away into space. The CO2 concentration in the atmosphere has gone from 280 parts per billion in the 1850s to over 410 parts per billion now, and global average temperatures have already increased by about 1 degree Celsius over that same period. With further temperature rise we’ll see significant sea level rise and major “weirding” of weather and climate, in addition to higher average temperatures worldwide.

*Transition to 100% green renewable energy (no nukes or natural gas) by 2030.

  • 2030 is 11 years away. That is pretty soon, but I think we can do it if we combine energy conservation (using less energy overall) with redirecting all funds now directed to fossil fuels to development of green energy. The GND recognizes the importance of energy conservation to reduce demand. “Going to 100% clean energy by 2030 means reducing energy demand as much as possible.” That is something we can begin immediately. 
  •  I agree that natural gas (methane, CH4) mined from the earth is unsustainable. Burning it produces just as much CO2 as is produced by burning any other fossil fuel, and the fracking and other techniques we use to get it out of the ground are very polluting to groundwater resources. Also, the methane that gets loose is an even worse greenhouse gas than CO2.
  • I agree that nuclear power should not be included in the “green” energy category. Though nuclear power generation does not produce any greenhouse gases, the nuclear waste it generates is a very dangerous material for which there is no safe, affordable long-term disposal solution. Also, the risk of disastrous radiation releases like from Chernobyl and Fukushima is always present.

*The GND’s plan to transition to 100% clean energy by 2030 is the only program in any US presidential candidate’s platform that even attempts to meet the scientific goal agreed to in Paris. Yes, this is true. “Business as usual” is not getting it done. When we evaluate the merits of the GND we should remember that the alternative we’re comparing it with is our current state of doing almost nothing, or even putting out MORE pollution, all while the environment and climate system goes to heck.

*"It’s not just a question of what kind of world we want, but whether we will have a world at all." This is overly dramatic, but I don’t entirely disagree. There will still be a world even if we don’t change course on fossil fuels. I.e., there will still be a big rock orbiting the sun. It’s just that it will be a very unpleasant world, rife with environmental, economic, and humanitarian crises, and lacking the richness and relative stability of the natural ecosystems that we enjoy today.

*"Immediately halt investment in fossil fuels." This makes sense because:

  1. Fossil fuel companies are rich enough that they don’t need government help. 
  2. Instead of putting money into something that is unsustainable (unhealthy, won’t last) it’s better to channel investment into things that will last and improve our situation in America and on earth in general.

*Guarantee full employment / End unemployment for good. That would be a good thing, but seems like an exaggeration if not an impossibility. However, 20 million new, living wage jobs seems reasonable.

  • The extensive and diverse technology development and infrastructure upgrades involved in the GND will absolutely add a huge number and variety of jobs to the economy. 
  • The public jobs program seems legitimate, too. We have other “public jobs programs” like paying soldiers, teachers, police, etc. We might as well pay people to clean up the earth, too, because it benefits the workers and the rest of us enough to be worth the tax money. Even most conservatives would probably agree that the government paying someone to do a job that improves the community is better than the government paying the person welfare without any work involved. 
  • The replacement of the general unemployment office with “local employment offices” could help local municipalities put federal support to better use by creating jobs that will improve the local environment and other aspects of the local community. If I was out of work, I reckon I’d be happy to be able to get a temporary job in my area, even something like picking up trash out of the ditches or planting trees. Nothing will ever end all unemployment, but employing people in green energy enterprises is an excellent idea. The “renewable” nature of green energy means that green energy jobs are a renewable resource, as well.

*Make wars for oil obsolete. I mostly agree with this. While “wars for oil” may be an oversimplification of our expensive conflicts in the Middle East and elsewhere, few would deny that our enormous military expenditures and dubious alliances with authoritarian regimes in the region have been “justified” by our desire to secure our supply of oil.

*Revive the economy. This is an interesting contention, because by some measures like GDP, employment rate, and stock market growth rate, the US economy is doing great and doesn’t need any reviving. However, these most common measures of economic health fail to capture the economic struggles and threats to well-being that everyday civilians experience. What good is it to be employed if you’re working three jobs just to pay the rent on your tiny apartment, you’re lonely, sleep deprived and deeply depressed, you’re being exposed to toxic air and water pollution, and you can’t afford to go to the doctor? By measures that integrate economics and human well-being, such as the “genuine progress indicator (GPI), the US has actually been declining since the 1970s. Even without a numerical indicator like this, older liberals and conservatives agree that things aren’t as good as they used to be. We DO need a revival.

*Fight the corporate takeover of our democracy. Another thing that both liberals and conservatives tend to agree on is that our political system is being seriously corrupted by soulless corporate entities, leading to laws that benefit those big businesses and hurt everyday people. Legislation is written by and for moneyed interests, with disregard for the general public. The subsidies, tax-breaks, and lax environmental laws enjoyed by fossil fuel polluting industries are the direct result of their decades of corrupting our democracy. In Florida, even environmental ballot measures clearly supported by the majority of the voters are ignored by the corrupt politicians. We must identify and rectify this corruption.

*"The transition to 100% clean energy will foster democratic control of our energy system, rather than maximizing profits for energy corporations, banks and hedge funds." I don’t know if I would agree with the implication that clean energy is inherently more democratic and less “big money” than dirty energy is. I think it’s up to us to make sure that clean energy development doesn’t happen by the same corrupt monopoly route that dirty energy development did.

*"The Green New Deal not only saves us from climate catastrophe. It also pays for itself through health savings alone." I don’t know if the numbers support that the GND would be totally paid for by the health savings alone, but I agree that the health saving from environmental protection would be SIGNIFICANT. I remember being on a biology class fieldtrip to an autopsy, where we examined the lungs of a smoker, and the lungs of non-smoker who had lived in Tacoma, Washington near pollution-belching paper mills. The smoker’s lungs were worse, of course, but there were lumps of black pollution goo in the non-smoker’s lungs, as well. The links between pollution and human health are numerous. Toxic effects of harmful algae blooms and photochemical smog, both of which related to fossil fuel burning as well as other factors, worsen many illnesses.

*"Right now, our federal subsidy programs benefit large agribusiness corporations and the oil, mining, nuclear, coal and timber giants at the expense of small farmers, small business, and our children’s environment. We spend billions of dollars every year moving our economy in the wrong direction, turning our planet uninhabitable while imposing the greatest harm on communities of color and the poor. The Green New Deal will instead redirect that money to the real job creators who make our communities more healthy, sustainable and secure at the same time."

  • Shifting taxpayer subsidies from polluting industry to green industry is one of the compelling, common-sense things about the GND, which makes it both affordable and logical. Instead of putting taxpayer money into polluting industries, we’ll put it into sustainable ventures.

*The creation of a “Commission for Economic Democracy” and other GND proposals intended to foster local, public involvement (for example, small businesses, small farmers, and local energy cooperatives) instead of distant, corporate and big-government control. I think this is generally a good thing. By getting more people aware of and involved in green projects specific to their area, they are more likely to have a personal sense of investment in the ventures, and more likely to be better stewards of their environment and economy.

*The creation of a Renewable Energy Administration to “provide technical support, financing, and coordination to more than 900 municipal cooperatives.” Though this work might also be done through existing agencies like the DOE or EPA, I like the general idea of having a federal-level organization to help guide and fund the smaller local groups that are carrying out the green energy changeover.

*"closed-loop cycles that eliminate waste and pollution, as well as organic agriculture, permaculture, and sustainable forestry." These are big things that my colleagues in the Marine and Ecological Sciences department at FGCU discuss a lot. They make a ton of logical sense. For example, instead of synthesizing nitrate and phosphate fertilizers in factories, then blasting them into the environment where they build up and cause algae blooms and other harmful pollution, we should be extracting the nitrate and phosphate from the polluted environment and reusing it as fertilizer. We do this to a small extent now by using nutrient-filled wastewater to fertilize some farms and golf courses, but the problem is that we still use synthetic fertilizers on those lands, too, so the buildup of nutrient pollution continues to increase.

*Paying for the GND. Obviously the GND would be incredibly expensive at $700 bn to $1 tn / year. However, a lot of that would be from shifting spending rather than from new taxes. E.g., ceasing our subsidies of polluting industries would free up billions of dollars, cleaner air and water would improve human health and reduce healthcare costs, and ending “wars for oil” would save enormous sums.

  • Carbon tax. Because the effects of carbon dioxide pollution are a burden on all people, it makes sense that there be a carbon tax such that the people who are producing the most carbon dioxide pollution be contributing the most to dealing with that shared burden. The combination of ending fossil fuel subsidies and levying a carbon tax will lead to more “true” pricing on fossil fuel products, reflecting the costs of all the pollution they create, and market capitalism will do its thing and adjust. However, I am glad that the GND recognizes that there must be measures to ensure that the carbon tax burden doesn’t fall unfairly on poor and middle class people. Otherwise we’ll have problems like with the “yellow vest” protest in France that were in response to a fuel tax that disproportionately hurt working class people. The carbon tax should not be a “regressive” tax.
  • Progressive tax rates. At face value it seems unfair to “punish” rich people by taxing them at a higher rate than middle class and poor people. But before we shed tears for those poor, poor billionaires, let’s consider the dynamics of how personal wealth is actually accrued. Wealth comes from saving your earnings, then investing those savings. When you’re poor or middle class, most of your earnings go to paying your essential bills for housing, food, healthcare, transportation, etc. You have little or nothing left for savings or investment, so it’s hard to grow your wealth. However, when you’re starting out rich (your rich parents paid for your expensive education, bought you your first car and home, and used their connections to set you up with a cushy white-collar job), your income is much bigger than your essential bills, so you have much more leftover for savings and investment. Therefore it’s inherently easier for the already-rich to get richer than it is for the poor and middle class to get richer. Without any counterbalance to that “rich get richer” effect, it only takes a few decades for society to polarize into the super-rich who can do whatever they want, and the poor people trapped in poverty. Sure we can point to the occasional "rags to riches" story to try to say that this is still the land of opportunity and it's just a matter of how hard you work, but I think that's mostly a bullshit myth. The reality is much more "rags to rags" and "riches to riches." So while progressive tax rates and taxes on large inheritances are not “fair,” per se, they are a essential to prevent the permanent division of society into a born-wealthy upper class and a stuck-in-poverty lower class. They also generate the necessary revenue for programs that benefit all, like public education, and infrastructure development programs like the GND.
  • Other times of high tax rates on the rich were prosperous times in the US, like the 1950s through the 1970s when our economy boomed, we advanced in the space race, stayed on top in the cold war, cleaned up the environment through the Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act, Magnusson-Stevens Fisheries Act, etc. 

Monday, January 21, 2019

Naples Wavesailing Video

I used to post a lot of windsurfing videos but have been doing it less often lately. Here is why:

1. I don't windsurf as much anymore now that I live in SW Florida where it's not windy very often.
2. When it is windy, I'm often "downwinding" on a paddle-powered craft like my SUP or surfski kayak.
3. I've gotten out of the habit of taking my GoPro and filming videos because it seems to take a long time to edit them afterwards and I'm always busy with other stuff like work.
4. All my Vimeo videos disappeared because my account got nuked for having unlicensed music in some of the videos. Perhaps I'll repost some of the best ones without music by uploading them to youtube. Putting music to the videos was the fun part for me, but I guess it's no fun for the artists to have people using their songs without paying, and it's not nice to break the law, etc.
5. The mac laptop I've used for video editing since 2009 has been slow since it forced me to update its operating system, and the mac video editing software no longer works. Now I'm editing videos on the PC with Windows Movie Maker which I'm not so familiar with and doesn't seem as friendly.

Anyway, here is a short edit of a delightful, rare, strong wind windsurfing session at Wiggins Pass State Park in Naples, FL. I was using a 4.7 Hotsails Fire and 83 liter starboard Evo. The setup worked pretty well in the onshore conditions, though I wish I had added more downhaul earlier, and I think I might want to update the fin since the one I have is maybe too grunty and not maneuverable enough to make good on the maneuverability of the board.