Saturday, December 29, 2007

Sweet Music, Evil Hair, and Giant Boobs

Anyone with enough internet savvy and free time to be reading my blog probably already knows about Pandora Radio. But just in case you don't, lemme tell ya: It's COOL!

Pandora is not like earlier forms of internet radio where you had to listen to whatever the station was broadcasting at the time. The way it works is that you tell Pandora a song or artist that you like, and she creates a station that plays similar music, including bands that you might not know about. It's a good way to discover new music that you'll like. You can't control when a specific song is played, because that would violate licensing stuff, but Pandora does put the station's "founding" song or artist into the playlist every so often. You can create as many stations as you have moods, and they'll be saved in your account so you can tune in any time from any computer.

I don't know how they chose the name "Pandora". Maybe it's after the Mythological Pandora... [Quoting from the Encyclopedia Mythica]:

In Greek mythology, Pandora was the first woman on earth. Zeus ordered Hephaestus, the god of craftsmanship, to create her and he did, using water and earth. The gods endowed her with many talents; Aphrodite gave her beauty, Apollo music, Hermes persuasion, and so forth. Hence her name: Pandora, "all-gifted". When Prometheus stole fire from heaven, Zeus took vengeance by presenting Pandora to Epimetheus, Prometheus' brother. With her, Pandora had a jar which she was not to open under any circumstance. Impelled by her natural curiosity, Pandora opened the jar, and all evil contained escaped and spread over the earth. She hastened to close the lid, but the whole contents of the jar had escaped, except for one thing which lay at the bottom, and that was Hope.

(Apparently one of the first evils to escape from the box was really bad 1980s hair, which instantly afflicted Pandora.)

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Of course it could be that Pandora Radio's creators just picked Pandora as an exotic and sexy sounding name. They wouldn't have been the first to do so. In the 1990s, "Pandora Peaks" was the stage name of an adult entertainer famous for having breasts the size and shape of soccer balls.

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Heh heh. This should up my hit count.

Friday, December 28, 2007

National Park Good, Condos Bad

For all its squiggly rivers and bays, and its miles and miles of shoreline, Hampton Roads has few places for the public to access the water. The waterfront all seems to be usurped by the military, industry, and wealthy homeowners. Where parks do exist, they are often regulated by strict covenants forbidding pretty much everything that involves getting out of your car. For instance, the Colonial Parkway has beautiful "park and look" beaches on the York and James Rivers, but officious rangers will bust your butt if you try to canoe or windsurf there.

Yet there IS hope! Right now we have an opportunity to get a fantastic waterfront park established right in the middle of Hampton Roads, at Fort Monroe.



Of course every unscrupulous developer from here to Timbuktu is slavering over the site, and unless those of us who want a park act fast, the greedy sobs will suck it all up for themselves. See the attached letter from the Fort Monroe National Park Foundation and send them some $$ if you can spare it.

Thanks.

This is a special appeal from the Fort Monroe National Park Foundation, a nonprofit educational foundation formed by leaders of the separate and earlier established Citizens for a Fort Monroe National Park (CFMNP.org). The foundation has commissioned -- and, with an initial stake contributed by foundation board members, has begun paying for -- a Hampton Roads regional waterfront parkland study by the Trust for Public Land. These respected national experts are already at work. The study will be vital for Fort Monroe's future, but it costs $15,000. We are asking for your IMMEDIATE HELP in raising the balance. Not one cent of your contribution would go to overhead or staff; we cover overhead, and we have no paid staff. Please help us by mailing a check as indicated at the bottom of this message.

Almost a half-century ago, our nation made a National Historic Landmark out of Fort Monroe, a peninsula nearly ten times the size of the moated fortress that it surrounds. We believe this entire Old Point Comfort peninsula, with four centuries in the public domain and going back to the origins of our nation, is precious in two fundamentally intertwined ways: historically and as a unique and scenic waterfront site lying exactly at the confluence of the Chesapeake Bay and Hampton Roads harbor in the geographic center of the region, featuring over three hundred acres of green space.

Others, however, perceive most of the open space of this National Historic Landmark as precious merely in a narrow, short-term financial sense. Virginia's 18-member Fort Monroe Authority (officially the Fort Monroe Federal Area Development Authority, often called the "FMFADA") has the power to sell off parts of Fort Monroe piecemeal, privatizing land that has been publicly owned for 400 years.

That's why an expert regional analysis is needed as to whether Virginia can afford to lose to development this precious open space, with its spectacular water views and two-mile promenade on the Chesapeake Bay. Public access to waterfront land is an important issue for the 1.6 million residents of Hampton Roads, and that issue intertwines in a fundamental way with the issue of preserving the National Historic Landmark for all Americans.

Yet no one has actually looked at how Fort Monroe figures in the issue of waterfront park space in Hampton Roads. So we commissioned a formal study by the Trust for Public Land (http://www.tpl.org/) -- a "national, nonprofit, land conservation organization that conserves land for people to enjoy as parks, community gardens, historic sites, rural lands, and other natural places, ensuring livable communities for generations to come."

The completed study will be delivered to both Virginia Secretary of Natural Resources Preston Bryant, who chairs Virginia's Fort Monroe Authority, and Governor Tim Kaine, who has the power to act on whatever the authority recommends concerning Fort Monroe's future.

All of the foundation's board members have spent substantial personal sums supporting efforts to educate the public regarding Fort Monroe's great value and potential. Despite that effort, we still need help from friends of Fort Monroe. The foundation has approval from the Commonwealth of Virginia to solicit funds, is operating in conformance with Section 501(c)3 of the Internal Revenue Code, and expects approval by the IRS as to tax-exempt status with respect to donations.

Please make checks payable to "Fort Monroe National Park Foundation" and send to:
Treasurer
Fort Monroe National Park Foundation
P.O. Box 097
Fort Monroe
VA 23651

Your assistance in securing this parkland study will help ensure an appropriate future for the national treasure that we all cherish. Ensuring that future is a once-in-400-years opportunity.

Please send any comments by reply e-mail, or enclose them with your check -- and please feel free to forward this message to any individuals or organizations that might be interested to know about this opportunity to help.

Thank you very much.

FORT MONROE NATIONAL PARK FOUNDATION
Henry O. Malone, President, and Louis L. Guy, Jr., Treasurer

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Poisonous Plants and Family Fun

Christmas is an interesting time. Young adults returning home are re-integrated into their families, and reminded, more often than not, just how crazy their families are. Fortunately, my family is crazy in a loving and entertaining way. I snapped this photo around the lunch table the other day.

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My mom's parents (foreground) are in their 90s, but still absolutely sharp. That can be a problem, though, because we can't hide any dirt or interior decorating imperfections from Grandma, who has a college degree in home economics (really!). My mom (clutching coffee mug) is a hyperactive dynamo, who insures that our days are full of activity and confusion. I.e. right now everyone is running around getting things ready for a dinner party, to which Mom has invited everyone she knows on the island (it should be fun). Uncle Tom and Aunt Mary Garland (back of table) do their best to adapt their quiet, organized natures to our hectic ways. My dad, in the green shirt at the end of the table, bears the brunt of the family stress and converts it into humorous grumpiness and industry. His sleeves are constantly rolled up because he is suffering from Toxicodentron striatum poisoning acquired by touching the potent poison ivy relative three weeks ago in Venezuela. He says even the softest shirt now feels like burlap on a raw wound. My sister (not pictured) is perfectly at home in the chaos, able to talk at 1000 words per minute to three people at once. Her husband Joonas (dark hair) deals with our family by living nocturnally and sleeping all afternoon. I haven't seen him yet today.

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My own strategy is to be very passive, and to escape frequently for windsurfing, beach walks, or computer work. Yesterday I got a great session in with a 6.9 sail and 114 liter board. It was a lot more relaxing than Friday's intimidating, washing-machine conditions, and I was able to practice riding both upwind and downwind on a wave while on the same tack.

Despite our often-divergent agendas, our family managed to unify last night for dinner in Charleston, and to watch "The Golden Compass". The movie was really good. A lot better than I thought it would be.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Christmas Dispatch from Edisto Island

Ahh, the holidays are here and the Douglass family is back together again at the Edisto beach house in South Carolina. The big news this year is that my sister Anna and her husband Joonas are going to have a baby. Little "Ayla Ojanen" is due in March. Judging by the kicking that she is doing, Ayla will be feisty like her mom.

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I've got my own selfish agenda going here this year, too, with ambitions to windsurf a lot and finish up some scientific papers. Today a big Northeaster blew in, churning steep brown waves and pushing a river-like sideshore current. I was pretty scared but knew I had to at least TRY it.

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So I donned my geeky orange helmet and ran out through the shorebreak to catch a ride on my 5.2 and 77 liter board.

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It was sailable, but they were the kind of conditions where I couldn't relax enough to really enjoy myself.

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The big waves were psyching me out.

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So I called it quits after just two runs.

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Tomorrow the wind is supposed to be a little lighter, the weather a little warmer, and angle a little more favorable for the sheltered launch down towards the inlet. So maybe it will be a dance with the ocean instead of a beating by it.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Beautiful Board for Sale

**UPDATE 12/29 - SOLD IT If you came here looking for used windsurfing gear in the US or Canada, try the free classifieds section of iwindsurf.com **

I'm selling a 1995 Mistral Edge slalom board for $95. It's ultra fast and it's in good condition, but it's sort-of redundant with my other boards and I don't have room to keep it.

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It's 268 x 54.5 cm and has 92 liters volume. It should work with sails from about 4.0 - 6.6 and wave, freeride, or slalom fins from 22 - 32 cm. I'm including a 28 cm freeride fin (powerbox). The footstraps are nice, adjustable DaKine straps.

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It comes with a mast base and extension for the adjustable mast track, but also fits standard mast bases.

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The bottom is flat with a low rocker and just a slight vee in the tail for the ultimate speed and efficiency. The narrow shape and tail help it crank tight jibes.

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Contact me if you want it. I'll update this post when it's sold.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Statistics Hell

Happy Holidays from Statistics Hell. I've been here for about a week now, being passed around from one demon to another. My first tormenter was the late Carlo Emilio Bonferroni (pictured).

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He laughed hysterically as I struggled to perform numerous, detailed, statistical tests, knowing that the more tests I did, the more his devious "Bonferroni adjustment" would steal from their precious significance.

Next to savage my soul was Sas, the statistical software monster. She lured me in with promises of her power, but after extracting from me a great penance, she spurned my questions and threw me into the fires of frustration.

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I slapped and rolled, but the flames engulfing my body only burned higher. "All is lost!" I screamed in desparate agony. But then I felt a soothing hand touch my shoulder and the flames flickered out. I turned around and looked into the eyes of a bearded, benevolent savior. It was George Gilchrist from the William and Mary Biology Department. "Your advisor told me you were hurting. I'm here to help you. Send me your data and I'll solve EVERYTHING." Overcome with relief, I put all my faith in Gilchrist.

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I waited in Statistics Purgatory until word came from Gilchrist, "I've done it. I've found the solution..." I felt myself rising towards a beautiful light, and heard the beginnings of harp music. Then Gilchrist's visage darkened as he added, "But to solve your problem you must use R!" With that he cast the great, leaden R around my neck and sent me tumbling once more into the depths. "MWAH HA HA" cackled my false savior as I fell, "It will take you all of eternity to learn R, for it is Satan's own statistics software!"

So here I am and here I'll stay, in Statistics Hell, forever.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

75 Degrees of Freedom

It seems like every year around Christmas or New Years, Virginia gets some FREAK warm weather. Case in point: today it was 75 degrees and windy.

Paul Richardson, Sam Lake, and I knew it was coming yesterday and made plans to "adjust" our work schedules. We met at Carmine Island at 9 am this morning to catch the WSW breeze. It was gusty as usual, but held around 15 knots for an hour or so. Paul rode my Kona with a 5.8 m sail and got some fast runs and good learning experiences. I used a 6.6 m sail on a 92 liter Mistral Edge (pictures), then switched boards to a 114 liter Fanatic Skate when the wind lightened up. Sam flew a 12 m kite and got some big jumps.

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We all got our daily requirements of vitamin D and adrenaline. Then the wind died around 11 am so we packed up and went back to work. :)

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Blasphemous Bears

America was appalled when Sudanese extremists called for the death of a teacher who had allowed a teddy bear to be named “Mohammed”. We rightly noted that their murderous intentions were a horrific overreaction to what was, at most, a trivial gaffe.

If there was a general lesson to be learned from that ridiculous episode it was, “You shouldn’t freak out over any little thing that you can construe as an insult to your religion.” But obviously many Americans missed that broader lesson, because now WE are freaking out over silly bears; the ones in the new fantasy movie, “The Golden Compass”.



It’s not the bears, per se, that have people boycotting the film. It’s the fact that the movie is based on a book by an atheist author, and the plot pits the good guys against a big, bad religion.

Ok. First of all, who cares if the author is an atheist? Watching something written by an atheist won’t make you an atheist if you don't want to be an atheist. Second of all, the movie doesn’t imply that religion itself is bad, just that oppressive, corrupt, state-sponsored religion is bad. Do the people who are making a big show of being offended by the film actually think that oppressive, corrupt, state-sponsored religion is GOOD? I doubt it. So if you ask me, they should lay off the movie, and get to work making sure their own religions don’t become oppressive, corrupt, and state-sponsored.

Grrr…

Monday, December 10, 2007

Sunday, December 9, 2007

Admirals Whip the Baby Penguins

I went to an ice hockey game last night for the first time. The minor league Norfolk Admirals beat the Scranton Penguins (aka the Baby Penguins) at the Scope Arena. It was COOL!

I have to say I never really "got" hockey before. I mean, I couldn't understand how such a weird, specialized, arena-dependent sport that so few people ever actually play (especially in the South) could be so popular professionally.

But now I get it. You don't have to have ever played ice hockey to appreciate the awesome SPECTACLE of it. The speed, the grace, the nonstop action and outbursts of violence (see video). It's like nascar, boxing and ballet all rolled into one. Plus they pump awesome rock music through the arena whenever there's a down moment, and the crowds are really rowdy and energetic.



This particular game was good, too. The Admirals and the Penguins pushed and pulled and really tested both their defense and offenses. Their scores stayed within one point until the last few seconds of the game. The Admirals were up 4-3 but the Penguins were charging hard in an all-out effort to score a goal and force a shoot-out finish. Their goalie joined the crowd down at the offensive end with just a second or so to go, but then Norfolk got the puck and shot a wild one at the empty goal from way down at the opposite end of the ice. It went in! With just one one-hundredth of a second on the clock Norfolk had iced their victory cake and really humilated the Penguins. Heh heh.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Global Warming: Dubya's View

Global warming is no joke, but Will Ferrell's Dubya impression is hillarious.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Downwinder

Yesterday was the first "downwinder" that I ever did on purpose. Sam Lake and I started out at Carmine Island, a secret, semi-private beach access about 3 miles up the York River from VIMS and the Coleman Bridge.

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The wind seemed really strong so I rigged a 5.2 m sail and put it on my 77 liter board. But it started to lighten up a bit by the time I got out, and I was struggling to stay planing. So I went back to shore and put a 6.9 on my 114 liter board, thinking "better to overdo it than underdo it". Going big did the trick, so Sam and I left Carmine Island and started our journey. He got some big jumps in the smooth, shallow water on the North side of the river. I couldn't go all the way over there because my fin would touch the bottom so I stayed more out toward the channel. The wind continued to drop from the time we launched, going from an average of about 18 knots to 12 knots or less. I started planing only intermittently, and Sam pulled way ahead. But then when the wind got REALLY light and gusty, his kite dropped out of the sky, and I shlogged past him while he was walking the last couple hundred meters to VIMS beach. Windsurfing wins again! :)

Monday, December 3, 2007

Seeing Red

I knew it was coming. All the forecasts agreed; it would blow like hell on Monday, December 3rd. A powerful cold front was crunching down from Canada, sure to spin screaming West winds across the East coast. The iwindsurf forcast was saturated with red, meaning 20+ knot winds covering the entire region. Yes!

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I didn't mind working on Sunday, knowing I'd play hookey when the wind came. This morning it came. The bare branches outside my office window gyrated wildly, while the air vents on the roof howled and moaned, challenging my best efforts at concentration. Somehow I got a few things done, and stayed through the noon-time biological sciences seminar (I hate to miss free cookies and drinks). I met briefly with my advisor to discuss some statistics stuff, then ducked out to hit the beach. Perfect timing; the tide in the York River channel had just turned against the wind, jacking up whopper swells. I tried to figure out whether the wind was super strong or ridiculously strong, which would determine whether I used my tiny 4.2 sail or my miniscule 3.5 sail.

4.2 was the call, and it worked out great. I felt just like I was in the Columbia River Gorge; another spot where wind going against the current creates beefy swells (see vintage video).



No other windsurfers were on the York River today, but I saw some kiteboarders on the beach at Yorktown and blasted over to check 'em out. It was my friend Paul Dovel and some of his buddies. Paul had given up for the day after getting "lofted" dangerously near a rock bulkhead by the gusty winds. Another guy went out for a while with a very small kite and alternated between sinking and getting teabagged by gusts. Kiters around here seem to have a lot more bad days than good days, which reinforces my decision to stick with windsurfing for now.

Tomorrow the wind is supposed to be a moderate yellow-orange. I wasn't going to sail, but Sam, another kiter friend, called me with plans to do a "downwinder" to VIMS beach from an upwind spot. I've never done a downwinder before. It's more of a kiteboarding thing than a windsurfing thing because it's harder for kiteboarders to stay upwind. But anyway, I'm excited to see how it goes and you know I'll write about it.