Saturday, December 26, 2009

Uncle Tom's New Toy

I gave my uncle Tom a "trainer kite" for Christmas, and the family went to the beach today to play with it. Everyone got to fly it except uncle Tom. The kite is an HQ Rush III 250, which is a fun size for flying on land. It has two-line control, but with an extra third line attached to the trailing edge so you can relaunch it when it lands face-down. The third line also attaches to a safety leash, so if you let go of the bar, the kite depowers and crumples to the ground. The wind picked up enough while we were flying the trainer that I decided to rig up my 12 m kite and actually go kiteboarding. The incoming tide was opposing the NW wind, which made it easy to stay upwind even though I wasn't particularly powered.

Boxing Day Kite Flying & Boarding at Edisto from James Douglass on Vimeo.

If you want to visit Edisto, check out the information on my dad's blog about how you can rent our beach house, the "Dragonfly".

Friday, December 25, 2009

Christmas Eve 5.5 and 4.7 Windsurfing

One nice thing about being on vacation in a damp, chilly place is that I can nerd out in front of the computer without feeling guilty. It's funny because my dad and I have our laptops set up on the same table so we can blog simultaneously. For our most recent windsurfing documentary project, he did organized the still pictures on his blog and I edited the video and posted it here. I was inspired to use music from Tchaikovski's Nutcracker by something I saw posted on Andy's Blog.

Christmas Eve Windsurfing in South Carolina from James Douglass on Vimeo.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Cold Santa Windsurfing in Virginia

Merry Christmas, everybody. I thought I'd pass along this cool video taken by Javier Garriz. It's the Windsurfing Enthusiasts of Tidewater doing their traditional "Santa Sail" at Fort Monroe in Hampton, Virginia. Looks like it was pretty chilly this year. The W.E.T. club is a great group that has managed to keep windsurfing strong in southeastern Virginia by organizing beginner clinics, races, and fun social events.

Santa Sail 2009 from Javier Garriz on Vimeo.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Tree Rings, Peer Review, and Fox News

Yesterday I watched a Fox News special on climate change called, "Global Warming... or a lot of hot air?". It was unsurprisingly biased to: 1) Raise doubt about the science and question the motivations of the majority of scientists who believe climate change is a serious problem, 2) Downplay the likely consequences of global warming, and 3) Up-play fears of big government control, increased taxation, and social and economic consequences that might be associated with reducing greenhouse gas emissions. I'm sure someone else on some other blog will do a better job of countering the program, but I'll do a quickie version here.

1. The Fox special didn't get much into the basic science of what global warming is; why there is concern about increasing greenhouse gas concentrations, etc., probably because the basic science is relatively simple and compelling, and Fox's mission was not to educate but to sow confusion and doubt. So, Fox mainly gave the grandstand to climate skeptics and spin-doctors from conservative lobby groups like the Cato Institute. These "experts" nit-picked at various real and imagined errors in the mainstream science of global warming. In particular, they quote-mined the emails stolen from the University of East Anglia's Climate Research Unit (CRU) in order to imply that the scientists there (and by extension, all global warming scientists) were conspiring to fake results and supress dissent. The quote from the CRU scientists that Fox kept repeating was "hide the decline", which was taken out of context but originally had to do with interpreting past climate from tree rings.

An old-growth Douglass Fir, the author's favorite tree species.

Since thermometer-based records of temperature are rare before about 100 years ago, scientists use "proxies" like tree rings and isotope ratios from ice cores to infer what the temperature was in the past. The tree ring method works pretty well, i.e. it correlates closely with the other temperature proxies and with real thermometer measurements, but only until the mid 20th century, at which point tree rings appear to show declining temperatures while all the other indicators show increasing temperatures. The reason the tree-ring vs. real-temperature correlation breaks down during this century is because increasing CO2 in the atmosphere is changing the pattern of tree growth. Trees have to open up pores on their leaves to take in CO2 for photosynthesis. When their pores are opened up they lose water, which slows their growth. But with the increased CO2 in the atmosphere they don't have to keep their pores open as long to get enough CO2, so they don't lose as much water and their growth is less affected by drought. That gives the same effect on their rings as if the temperature was decreasing. The scientist who wrote "hide the decline" was talking about how, in one particular graph from an old report, he had substituted the REAL temperature data for the tree ring data starting in 1960 where the tree ring data got screwy. That made a better representation of the real situation, but the graph wasn't properly labeled to show he had done that, which was sloppy work.

The same scientist who made the tree ring graph also had some math errors in some of his other data, which were pointed out by a global warming skeptic named Steve McIntyre. Even though McIntyre is idealogically motivated to attack the science of global warming, and often distorts the facts to that end, the problems he found in that particular scientist's data were real, and were later corrected. But after that, the CRU scientists were resentful against McIntyre, and resistant to sharing their data with him or other skeptics. They didn't want to have some skeptical papers included in one of the International Panel on Climate Change reports, and they talked about wishing they could change the definition of "peer-reviewed papers" so they could be excluded.

(Peer-review is the system for making sure that sloppy, flawed, unconvincing, overly-speculative or biased reports don't get published in official science journals. When a scientist writes a research paper and sends it to a journal, the journal editor randomly picks a small panel of "peers" to check it for quality. The peers are other scientists who are knowledgeable in the subject but unaffiliated with the writer. Sometimes mistakes get past the reviewers, or good studies get unfairly rejected, but usually it works pretty well.)

What the Fox News special didn't explain was that the CRU had no ability to actually change the peer-review system, and that the skeptical papers in question WERE accepted by reviewers and included in the IPCC report. In summary, the stolen emails showed some sloppiness and snobby behavior among the scientists, but real no conspiracy or fraud, which is more than one can say about the conservative spin doctor "think tanks" that are funded by multi-billion dollar industries to debunk global warming however they can.

Another thing that was silly about the Fox News report was how they kept referring to the results of Fox viewer polls, as if the misinformed opinions and suspicions of their conservative American audience were actually a better indication of reality than the worldwide consensus among climate scientists. One of the polls that I found particularly galling regarded the motivations of scientists. Apparently the majority of Fox viewers think scientists don't honestly believe global warming is a serious danger, but are drumming up fear and sensationalism to in a cynical effort to grab money and power for themselves. As a scientist myself, I can tell you that that is ridiculous. Scientists are definitely not out for money, at least not more than is necessary to continue studying the things that we think are interesting and important. And, while we would like it if politicians and voters would pay more attention to our scientific findings and make more rational, informed decisions, we're not out to sieze personal power.

2. The Fox special downplayed the likely consequences of global climate change. They mainly did it by not mentioning the consequences at all- consequences which include everything from loss of coral reefs, to spread of diseases, to crop failure, drought, and starvation. They even said, citing a very low-end estimate of sea level rise, that it would be "no big deal". That's a very naive and cavalier attitude to have, given that even natural ups and downs in weather and climate have had huge effects on human societies in the past, and man-made climate change is predicted to be a lot bigger and worse than those. Think of the 1930s dust bowl in the American plains, or the 19th century cities and towns on coastal islands that are now under water or eroded away. A bunch of things like that happening all over the world would definitely be "a big deal".

3. The key part of the Fox special's "don't give a hoot" message was casting aspersions on efforts to prevent climate change. They set up a false dichotomy, like, "if you want to prevent global warming you must also want to trash the economy, give up your indivdual rights and freedoms, neglect more pressing social concerns like third world health care and literacy, and basically go back to the stone ages". It's not like that, though. The whole "choose the environment or choose the economy thing is bogus" because you can't have a stable economy without a stable environment. The free "ecosystem services" that are provided by nature, like consistent rainfall, fish stocks, crop pollination by insects, waste-absorption by wetlands, erosion control by forests, etc., are a huge part of the economy that will be extremely costly, if not impossible, to replace if they get messed up by global warming and other types of environmental change.

We're a lot like the Easter Island society where the economy was based on cutting down trees for fuel and building material. Their whole economy and society collapsed when they ran out of trees and they pretty much all died off because they didn't have any alternative. The Fox special said that it would be impossible for our own society to meet all its energy needs with alternative sources other than fossil fuel, but they totally neglected to consider CONSERVATION. If we use energy less wastefully then it will be much easier for alternative energy to make up the difference.

As for the giving up rights and freedoms, it doesn't have to be so, but some kinds of regulation are necessary to avoid "the tragedy of the commons". That's like, where lots of people are sharing a resource that will get ruined if it's overused, but since it benefits each individual user to use it as much as possible before the other guys do, they will end up overusing it anyway and all being screwed in the end... Unless they can come to an enforced agreement about sharing it equitably and using it moderately.

Regarding the argument that spending money to fight global warming won't make as much improvement to the world as spending money on, like, vaccinating and feeding orphans in Rwanda, that's true. But only in the short term. Because in the long term, if we don't do something about climate change, unsustainable population growth, etc., there will be a lot more people experiencing poverty and starvation and stuff. So we need to both address current sufferring AND prevent future sufferring.

Anyway, that's about all I have for now. Feel free to leave a comment if you agree or disagree or whatever. Thanks.

Post-Florida Cold Shock

Yesterday I drove up from Florida to spend the holidays at my folks' place in Edisto Beach, South Carolina. It's kind of chilly here in SC - not by real winter standards, but by wimpy Floridian standards, certainly. It's kind of breezy, too. I was worried I might have lost my cold weather watersports mojo during my time in Florida, but it came back this afternoon as soon as I suited up in the ol' 6 mm wetsuit.

I decided to kite, since the flukey NW wind didn't look like enough to windsurf with my 6.6 sail. Also, since my dad hadn't seen me kite yet I really wanted to show off for him. The launch was in the South Fork of the Edisto River on the western side of Edisto Island. There's a lot of tidal current there, and it wasn't helping today. I could stay upwind when the puffs rolled through, but during the lulls I would end up downwind and have to walk back along the beach.

My dad took some pictures, which you can see on his blog. He also took some video, which I edited and set to "Valley of the Dolls" by Mylo.

Kiteboarding South Carolina in December from James Douglass on Vimeo.

In other news, it's nice being home with the family. I had the good fortune to be present today when my cute, 21-month old niece did her first poopie in the toilet.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

The meaning of life is...


That's the size, in meters-squared, of the windsurfing sail I got to use today. I almost didn't get to go, since I was real busy at work, but there was a window at 4:30 and I went for it.

The conditions were grey, rainy skies and 20-25 knots from the east-northeast, which is straight onshore. Normally it's tough to launch in onshore conditions, but the jetty on the south side of Fort Pierce inlet has a lateral projection that blocks a lot of the wave action until you get out past it.

(Check out this iWindsurf graph from nearby Jensen Beach.)

Former Olympic windsurfer Mike Gebhardt was there, launching huge airs and carving up the outside waves on his kiteboard. Some of the other local kite hotshots were there, too, like Ray Leroy my instructor, Andy the German dude, and Crazy Doug Smith who was wearing a Santa hat. It's cool to have buddies to ride with, even if the sport they're doing is a little different.

Anyway, back to the 4.7. It was the perfect size, and I'm really stoked with how suited it is to being the "next size down" from my 5.5. Any bigger and it would be hard to tell which sail to use. Any smaller and it would still be underpowered when the 5.5 was overpowered. I also like the soft-but-stable feel of it, typical of the Ezzy brand, which is pretty cool for a 10-year old sail that someone gave away for free. An added bonus is that the "sweet spot" for placing the harness lines on the boom is exactly the same for the 4.7 as for the 5.5, so I don't have to adjust the lines.

Community Service

My dad recently drew my attention to this important news item...

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Practical Science Stuff To Know

A century or two ago an educated person could know a good chunk of everything there was to know in science. But now so much knowledge has accumulated that no one person can grasp it all. That's a bit worrisome, because we are totally dependent on science and technology to support the world's huge population, and to anticipate and cope with global issues like climate change. I don't advocate that anyone try to learn every detail of science (because it's impossible, like I said, and most of the details are boring, anyway) but I think it's important that everyone at least have a "Cliff's Notes" understanding of the key parts of science that affect their lives and futures. And also maybe some bits that are just really cool to know.

So, with the help of my peers, I put together this explication of the science fundamentals that are most helpful for making sense of the world. With a grasp of these basics, a person should be able to more critically evaluate the science they see in the media and politics. I tried to be comprehensive and to make it as clear and simple as possible, but if you think I could explain something better, or I missed a key point, let me know and I'll change it or add something else.

1. Our place in the Universe

The universe is big and old. It started with the big bang about 13.8 billion years ago, and it appears to be infinitely large.

The sun and planets formed about 4.6 billion years ago. A small planet called Theia crashed into the early earth, and debris from the crash coalesced to form the moon. (The picture below is an artist's rendition of what the collision might have looked like.)

The sun is much bigger than the earth, and the earth orbits around the sun at a distance of ~93 million miles. It takes one year for the earth to do a complete lap around the sun.

The earth spins on its own axis every 24 hours, causing day and night. From a perspective above the north pole the earth spins counterclockwise, which is why the sun and other celestial bodies appear to rise in the East and set in the West.

The earth is much bigger than the moon, and the moon orbits the earth at a distance of ~250 thousand miles. It takes 28 days for the moon to do complete lap around the earth, corresponding with the time it takes to go from one "full moon" to the next. The moon turns slowly as it orbits, such that the same side of the moon always faces the earth. Only a few astronauts have seen the side that faces away from us, which is misleadingly called the "dark" side.

Tides are mainly caused by the moon’s gravity, although the sun's gravity has a slight effect, too. There are TWO tide cycles per day, because at any one time there’s a high tide bulge on the side of the earth facing the moon AND on the exact opposite side.

The North Star is NOT the brightest star in the night sky, and it’s never directly overhead unless you’re standing on the North Pole. The best way to find it is by following an imaginary line up from the two stars on the business end of the big dipper’s spoon. The north star is part of the "little dipper" but you usually can't see the little dipper, which is faint, because of urban light pollution.

The earth is colder near the poles than near the equator, since the curvature of the earth means sunlight hits the poles at a less direct angle. The greater heating near the equator is also what drives atmospheric circulation (wind), which helps distribute the heat a bit more evenly.

Seasons are NOT caused by the earth moving closer or further from the sun. The real reason seasons happen is because the earth’s axis of rotation is tilted with respect to the plane of its orbit around the sun. So, depending on what point the earth is at in its annual orbit, either the northern or the southern hemisphere is more exposed to direct sunlight. The northern hemisphere is most angled towards the light in June (our summer), and the southern hemisphere is most angled towards the light in December (their summer).

About 5 billion years from now the sun will grow into a "red giant" star and will destroy the earth. Intelligent life may be able to escape in space ships and colonize a younger solar system. They should be able to repeat this nomadic routine for quite a while, but according to the “Big Freeze” hypothesis, the ever-expanding universe will eventually become too spread-out, burnt-out, and cold to have any stars or life. That may seem depressing, but it's kind of silly to worry about something so incredibly far in the future.

2. Basic Science

Energy comes in different forms, like movement, heat, light, electricity, magnetism, radiation, and chemical bonds. Energy can change between forms but it can't be created from nothing. It also can't be destroyed, but it can easily be "lost" if it changes into an unusable form, like when a fire finishes burning and the warmth diffuses away over a broad area.

When we change energy from one form to another some of the energy always escapes in unusable forms, so we can never recapture 100% of the energy we started with. That's why hybrid cars that recharge the battery when you use the brakes still need to be refueled from time to time. And it's why the thing about how they used humans for power in the Matrix movies would never really work.

Sometimes non-scientists talk loosely about different kinds of "energy" that don't really exist. For example, if someone tells you, "microwaving destroys the spiritual energy in broccoli", "the mystic energy of this crystal amplifies your chi", or "the magnetic energy in this headband will re-align your chakras and suppress the negative brainwaves that are making you depressed," it's almost certainly bullshit that has nothing to do with real science.

Pretty much everything is made of atoms; sturdy little particles that are hard to divide into anything smaller. There are about 117 unique kinds of atom, each constituting a unique "element", like gold, helium, sulfur, or oxygen.

Nuclear reactions are when you disrupt the core of an atom, turning it into a different element and releasing insane amounts of energy. Atoms that are easily disrupted comprise the "radioactive" elements like Uranium and Plutonium.

Molecules are stuck-together combinations of multiple atoms from the same or different types of elements. Water is a simple molecule made of just three atoms: 2 Hydrogens (H) stuck to one Oxygen (O), hence the name "H20".

Molecules can have properties that are totally different from those of the individual atoms they contain. For example, H and O are both gasses at room temperature, but H20 is a liquid.

Molecules can also be very complicated, like a DNA molecule, which has thousands of atoms in a fancy arrangement. (The D, the N, and the A don't stand for individual atoms- The molecule naming system is different for big molecules.)

The best atom for forming complex molecules is carbon, because it can connect to multiple other atoms in lots of different ways. The special molecules found in living things contain a lot of carbon atoms.

Air is about 78% Nitrogen molecules (N2) and 20% Oxygen molecules (O2), with some other molecules like Carbon Dioxide (CO2) and ozone (O3) in relatively small amounts. Oxygen is the part we absorb when we breathe, and Nitrogen is just filler, basically.

The ozone layer is a part of the upper atmosphere that blocks a lot of the invisible ultraviolet (UV) light from the sun. If that UV reached the earth it would cause cancer, sunburn, mutations, and other bad stuff. Some man-made chemicals called chloro-fluoro-carbons (CFCs), which were used in refridgerators, styrofoam, hairspray, and other things, were found to be destroying the ozone. We banned the chemicals, but there is still a hole in the ozone layer over Antarctica, where circulating winds concentrated the CFCs. The ozone problem and global warming are separate issues that should not be confused as the same thing.

Sound can travel through solid, liquid, or gas, but it can’t travel through the vacuum of space, because there are no molecules in a vacuum to pass along the vibrations of sound. So all the thundering spaceships, explosions, and laser "beuu beuu!"s that you hear in Star Wars would actually be utter silence if it was real.

3. Nature and life on Earth

Evolution by natural selection is not just a theory. Everything about it has been convincingly proven over 150 years of research, and it has earned its place as the basis of all modern biology and medicine. Scientists continue to discover new details about evolution, but there is no controversy within the scientific community that evolution is real. There's a good explanation of how evolution works here.

It is possible to believe in evolution and still believe in God, providing you are willing to take some parts of the Bible metaphorically. Unfortunately, religious fundamentalists see evolution as a threat to their beliefs and are promoting a fake theory called "Intelligent Design" (ID) to interfere with the teaching of evolution. Unlike evolution, ID is not supported by the evidence and has no chance of leading to useful discoveries in biology and medicine. It's totally necessary to include evolution in school biology curricula, and it's totally riduculous and counterproductive to include ID.

Life probably formed from naturally-occurring, carbon-based molecules soon after the earth was cool enough for oceans. We don't know how common it is for life to arise from non-living chemicals, but obviously it happened on at least one planet in the universe, because here we are.

The first life was probably a chain of molecules that could assemble a copy of itself by linking loose molecules in the environment into an identical chain, and then that chain would make a copy of itself, and so on. That would be similar to how the genetic material in all life today (DNA and RNA) copies itself. It's like one strand of a zipper being a template for forming the corresponding strand from loose zipper bits.

Not long after scientists learned that DNA worked like a zipper with matching halves, they invented a way to make unlimited copies of DNA in a test tube. It's called "PCR", which stands for Polymerase Chain Reaction. PCR is what they do when they need to amplify traces of DNA from a crime scene so that they have enough copies to analyze.

Every cell in your body has all the DNA information needed to make an exact clone of you, except for your sperm cells (if you're a guy) or your unfertilized egg cells (if you're a girl). Sperm and eggs cells only have half the DNA needed to make a person, so they need to combine to be viable. It's the same way with everything that has sex, even plants. Pollen is plant sperm.

There’s fossil evidence of bacteria from about 3.5 billion years ago, which fits with DNA-based estimates of when all life traced back to one primitive species. So the common ancestor of everything (trees, jellyfish, people, etc.) was a primitive bacteria.

Every known species on earth has a two-part scientific name in the form Genus species. The first part is more general (i.e. it can be the same for more than one species), hence "Genus", and the second part is more specific, hence species. Genus is always capitalized, species is never capitalized, and both parts are always italicized. People are Homo sapiens, which means "Human, modern" in Latin. We are the only living species in the genus Homo, but some of the extinct relatives and predecessors that we know from fossils are also in Homo. For example, Homo erectus, which means "Human, erect" in Latin. Huh huh huh...

The big steps in early evolution were about 3 billion years ago when life gained the ability to get energy from the sun (photosynthesis), about 2 billion years ago when complex cells like amoebas evolved from simple cells like bacteria, about 1 billion years ago when the first multi-celled organisms evolved, about 500 million years ago when fancy invertebrates started to flourish, about 365 million years ago when the first fish crawled onto the land, about 65 million years ago when the dinosaurs died out, about 7 million years ago when the ancestors of humans split off from the rest of the apes, and about 200 thousand years ago when anatomically modern humans arose.

A gene is a section of DNA that has the code to make a particular protein molecule. Protein molecules are the molecules that actually do stuff inside cells. They're like the gears and levers of a machine.

Genes are mostly the same from one person to another. However, different individuals have slightly different versions of the same genes, which means their proteins are slightly different, which can affect things like how tall they grow, what color their eyes are, whether they are susceptible to certain genetic disorders, etc. One of the nice things about sex is that when you shuffle your genes with your partner's genes, your offspring have a chance to get the best versions of the genes from each parent. Of course, they have an equal chance of getting the worst versions of the genes from each parent. So if you don't like the way your first kid turned out, have some more until you hit that perfect mix of genes. Just kidding.

The sun is by far the most abundant source of energy on earth, but plants are the only organisms that can harness its energy, through a process called "photosynthesis". If you're not a plant you can't do photosynthesis, so you have to get your energy by eating plants, or by eating animals that ate plants somewhere down the line.

The special, green molecule that plants use to catch the sun's energy is called chlorophyll. With the energy caught by chlorophyll, plants merge carbon dioxide and water into big molecules called carbohydrates. Carbohydrates store the sun's energy until the plant needs it later.

Besides the fact that plants are ultimately our only source of food, they are also important because they take up carbon dioxide (a harmful greenhouse gas) and give off oxygen (the gas we need to breathe). Humans and other animals give off carbon dioxide when we breathe out, which gives back to the plants and completes the cycle.

When a living thing dies and rots, the complex molecules in its body are broken back down into carbon dioxide (CO2) and other small molecules. But when a living thing dies and is buried in a way that it can't completely rot, the complex molecules in its body can eventually turn into fossil fuel; oil, gas, or coal. When you dig up fossil fuel and burn it, you are releasing the energy that the ancient life gathered from the sun, all those years ago, and releasing CO2 in the process.

The bad things about burning fossil fuel are: 1) We're using it MUCH faster than it forms, so we're going to run out in a couple hundred years, tops. 2) It doesn't just release the energy from the fossil plants and animals- it also releases the material of their bodies into the atmosphere in the form of carbon dioxide (CO2) and other pollutants. That excess CO2 changes the properties of the atmosphere and the oceans, making the planet retain more heat (global warming) and the ocean become more acidic (ocean acidification).

Another thing that puts excess CO2 into the air is cutting down and burning forests, because the trees store lot of carbon in their bodies that gets let out as CO2 when they burn or rot.

There are a lot of things that affect climate and weather besides the excess CO2 humans are putting into the atmosphere, and historically there have been a lot of ups and downs in global temperatures, like the ice ages. Scientists are studying ALL the natural things that affect climate and weather, everything from solar cycles and ocean currents to continental drift and volcanic dust in the atmosphere, and they keep finding that the temperature changes seen in the last 150 years can't be explained by those things alone. However, when they account for the warming effect of the excess CO2 that humans have put in the atmosphere, the recent temperature changes make total sense. So, humans aren't the ONLY thing that's affecting the climate, but we ARE affecting the climate, and if we keep putting out CO2, global warming is going to increase to the point that it's impossible to deny. Of course, by then it will be too late to avoid the negative consequences.

Nutrients like nitrogen and phosphorus are essential for all life, because they are needed to make molecules like protein and DNA. But too much nutrients are bad for the environment because they stimulate noxious algae, weeds, and germs, which smother out the more desirable forms of life. Man-made fertilizer and sewage are the main sources of excessive nutrients getting into the environment.

No matter where you are on land you are in a "watershed"; an area of land that drains into a particular body of water. An example would be the watershed for the Mississippi River, which covers a huge portion of the central US. Any rain that falls there will eventually run down to the Mississippi, carrying with it whatever dirt or pollution it sweeps off the land.

What the land is like in a watershed determines whether or not the water it leads to is clean or murky. Generally, the more human development there is in a watershed, the more polluted the water is, and the more forests and wetlands there are, the less polluted the water is. However, if the development in a watershed is organized in the right ways, minimizing the area of pavement, rooftops, and chemically-treated lawns, and leaving as much lush vegetation as possible in the buffer zones around streams and shorelines, the pollution can be somewhat reduced.

Watersheds with lots of vegetation also help catch rain and percolate it slowly into the groundwater, reducing the effects of floods and droughts and insuring a steady water supply for drinking. In some places, rivers no longer flow year-round because so much of the forests in the watershed have been cut down.

Both on land and in the water, large predators have been reduced to a tiny fraction of their former abundance by hunting, fishing, and loss of habitat. I.e. there are only a few percent of the lions, tigers, bears, sharks, groupers, tuna, and swordfish that there used to be. Because the predators were connected to everything else through the food chain, their absence has caused huge ripple effects known as "trophic cascades". The trophic cascades have messed up all of earth's natural ecosystems. It's especially bad in the oceans, where trophic cascades caused by overfishing are causing coral reefs to die, clear waters to become murky, jellyfish to take over, and other problems. A lot of things that we thought were just caused by pollution turned out to also trace back to trophic cascades from the loss of predators.

Over a generation or two, people sort-of get used to how messed up the planet is and forget how much better the environment was in the past. I.e. you may notice that the spot you snorkel doesn't have as many fish and live corals as it did when you were a kid, but you are unaware that when your grandpa was a kid, it was even better, and before Columbus came to the Caribbean it was even better than that, with thousands of sea turtles and manta rays and whale sharks and monk seals swimming all over the place! That sad phenomenon of not knowing what you're missing when it comes to the environment is called "shifting baselines".

Besides loss of habitat, pollution, and climate change, a big threat to nature is from "invasive species". Invasive species, also known as "exotic" or "alien" species, are species that humans bring into an area that didn't previously have them, then the invaders get loose and multiply, messing up the ecosystem and making native species go extinct. One of the reasons the invaders sometimes take over is because they don't have any natural enemies in their new habitat. Of course, when people introduce their natural enemies, sometimes the natural enemies become even worse invaders than the originals.

To have a multi-cellular organism like a plant or animal, the individual cells in that organism have to cooperate and refrain from reproducing themselves more than is necessary for the good of the whole organism. Usually the cells are cool with that, because they all have the same exact DNA and they know that by doing their individual jobs they are helping the whole organism survive and reproduce to pass on that DNA. But sometimes cells mutate and decide to "Go Rogue" like Sarah Palin. That's what causes cancer; when some of your cells decide to selfishly reproduce themselves (making tumors and stuff) instead of cooperating nicely with the rest of your body.

Animal populations grow faster and faster until something stops them from growing any more, like running out of food and space or getting killed off by plagues or predators. The human population was kept low that way for thousands of years, until science and technology gave us ways to make more food, kill our predators, and reduce the spread of diseases. Since then our population has grown riduculously fast (see graph), but we are now reaching the limit where even with our science and technology the earth is not going to be able to support many more people. So we have a choice of acting like stupid animals and letting our population be controlled by starvation, disease, and fighting, or we can act like wisely and slow our reproduction and consumption down before we run out of resources.

Ok, that's it for now. I'm just going to go ahead and post this, and I'll spruce it up with some pictures and additional entries and stuff later.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

More Bad Luck - Van Broken Into


My phone, wallet, GoPro helmet camera and some other things were stolen from my unlocked minivan today while I was parked on the side of A1A just south of the St. Lucie Powerplant. When the cops came they said that there had been a string of smash-and-grabs in that area, all within a few hours, and that they were doing their best to find the perpetrators. They spent quite a while asking me questions for the report and taking fingerprints from my van, which made me feel better. It might have actually been a good thing that the door was unlocked, since the other victims' had their windows broken out. Apparently the police suspect two African American guys driving a white Crown Victoria, which is ironic since the Crown Vic was probably an old cop car bought at a police auction.

Anyway, until further notice I have no cell phone. If I used to have your number I don't have it anymore, so email it to me if you want me to have it again.

Kiteboarding Reassessment

I don't know about this kiteboarding stuff. Since I started learning in May of this year I have had more weird gear failures and awkward, on-the-water incapacitations than I ever experienced in 20 years as a windsurfer. I would say if you're reasonably happy with windsurfing, you'd be best off to ignore any "grass is greener" kind of feelings about getting into kiting. It seems to involve a lot more hassle and danger and isn't necessarily funner than windsurfing. Perhaps a good compromise would be to windsurf like usual, but to hang a ropeswing from a tree in your backyard so you can get the swooping through the air feeling of kiting.

What inspired this reassessment? Well, when I was kiting yesterday I mis-timed a jump, which created slackness in the kite lines. The kite took the opportunity to "Hindenburg" out of the sky, then turn itself inside out, such that it wouldn't relaunch off the water. Of course it happened when I was at my furthest point from shore, about a quarter mile out. I hand-over-handed up the lines to retrieve the downed kite, then attempted to do a wind-powered self-rescue by pulling the kite's wingips together and using it as a U-shaped sail. When I folded it into a U, the main bladder valve blew out and all the air hissed away. Doh! There was still air in the struts, though, so I rolled the kite up into a sausage-shaped package, tucked it under one arm, and started side-stroking for shore. It was slow going with the drag of the kite, my feet tangling in the lines, and the board bumping along beside me, but I made it before the sun set and did not get eaten by a shark or stung by a portuguese man-o-war jellyfish. My friend was watching from the beach, ready to call the coast guard, but no one else was out kiting that could have helped with the rescue.

Anyway, here's a video from a kite session I had this weekend, where, unusually, nothing went wrong. (I didn't have my camera on for the grand self-rescue yesterday).

More Kiteboarding in Fort Pierce, FL from James Douglass on Vimeo.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Dr. Masters vs. the Manufactured Doubt Industry

Industries that harm people and the environment are threatened when science reveals their harmful effects, because it puts public and political pressure on them to change, potentially endangering profits. Sadly, the laws that govern corporations require them to do whatever it takes to maximize short-term profits, but make no provisions for protecting people and the environment or refraining from misleading the public. So rather than changing in response to scientific findings, industry will hire creepy PR firms and lobbyists to dispute and suppress the science. The creeps take advantage of the fact that science is complicated to cast doubt on the good science, inject their own phony science, and create a false sense of uncertainty about whether their industrial activity is actually bad.

It's scary how successful the lobbyists have been. For example, even as the scientific evidence connecting humans to global warming has gotten stronger and stronger, more and more people are skeptical or confused about climate change because of misleading PR campaigns by the "Manufactured Doubt" industry.

One of the bloggers who I most admire, weather scientist Dr. Jeff Masters, just did an excellent job of calling out the Manufactured Doubt scam. I was going to put in some snippets of his post here, but it's so good you should really just read the whole thing. Please check out Dr. Masters' Post and spread it around to all your friends.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Strings Attached

Kiteboarding is pretty fun, and once you get the basic feel it's almost stupidly easy compared to windsurfing. But using a large, complex kite to power a small, sinky board is much less reliable than using a modest sized sail to power a floaty windsurf board. One little thing goes wrong, and all of a sudden your high-tech, wing-shaped kite turns into a useless tangle of tent fabric and string, dead in the water. That's what happened to me at the end of an otherwise delightful kiteboarding session on Friday.

This is the whole video, which starts with the good part. The bad part at the end has a swear word. If you don't want to hear it, turn off the sound when Elvis Costello stops singing.

Awesome / Awful Kiteboarding Session from James Douglass on Vimeo.

This is a shorter video of just the bad part.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Kite Size Calculator / Weight Translator

**Note: This is old now. I have an updated version of the calculator, which incorporates wind ranges and board sizes and a graphical chart, at this link.**

**Note #2: My famous WINDSURFING CALCULATOR is available at this link.**

Most kite manufacturers make wind range recommendations for their kites based on a "typical" kiter who weighs about 170 lbs (77 kg). I made this table so people of different weights can translate those recommendations for themselves, or figure out proportional kite sizes relative to what their lighter or heavier friends are using. E.g., if 110 lb Tina is perfectly powered on her 8 msq kite, then 230 lb Lars should use his 16 msq kite.

I also included approximate wind speeds in the right hand columns that you can match to your weight and kite size. BUT the particular relationship between kite size and wind speed depends on the style of the kite, the quality and direction of the wind, the type of board, length of lines, etc. So take the wind speed versus kite size recommendations with a grain of salt, and be careful.

4.7 Onshore Wind Session

The wind here in Florida has been relentless for a week, every day around 20 mph. Yesterday was probably the windiest yet, with 20 - 30 mph. I used a 4.7 msq Ezzy wave sail that I got last year from a guy who had switched to kiting. The waves weren't huge where I launched near Fort Pierce's South Jetty, but I still had some trouble getting out due to the onshore wind direction. Once out, however, it was great. There were some nice waves on the North side of Fort Pierce Inlet, and some very challenging voodoo swells in the inlet itself, where the incoming waves met the outgoing tide.

4.7 Windsurfing in Fort Pierce, FL from James Douglass on Vimeo.

Today is even windier, but I really really really need to catch up on work since I'm leaving for a conference in California tomorrow.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Ocean Sailing with Workin' Dave

"Working" Dave Zaijcek is a stoked windsurfer from Stuart, Florida, who maintains a windsurfing blog called "Treasure Coast Windsurfers" and a local windsurfing forum called "Treasure Coast Windsurfing". Dave usually sails the flat water of the Indian River Lagoon, launching with a good group of mellow, mostly older windsurfers at the Stuart Causeway. But Saturday he got motivated to try the ocean, and braved some challenging conditions with me at the Fort Pierce South Jetty. We experimented with swapping different fins, sails, and boards and figured out that Dave's new Mistral Syncro 92 l board didn't work well with his 6.0 cambered race sail, but worked great with my 5.5 and 6.6 wave sails. So I think Dave is going to get a 5.8 wave sail and come to sail with me more often. Woo hoo! It's always cool to have other windsurfers on the water instead of being the only one among the kiters.

Unbeknownst to me, Dave took some cool pictures when I was sailing in the outflow of Fort Pierce inlet, where nice waves and swells form. I'm reposting some here. The full set is on Dave's blog.

Also, I've been trying something new on the water...

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Clew Mount Camera Glory

I was inspired by the awesome videos on Andy McKinney's "Lost in Hatteras" blog to try mounting my GoPro camera on the clew end of my boom instead of just wearing it on my head. I did it exactly like Andy showed, and it seemed to work. Conviently, yesterday evening provided 15-20 knots of breeze and some nice lighting for testing it out. I used a 5.5 msq Aerotech Charge and 106 liter Exocet Cross.

Clew-Mount Camera Windsurfing in Florida from James Douglass on Vimeo.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Another Round of Wind

Now that the "season" has started, Florida has become a darn good place for windsurfing again. Tuesday had about 20 knots sideshore at the Fort Pierce South Jetty, perfect for a 5.5 msq sail and my 83 liter waveboard. As usual, I was the only windsurfer amongst a bunch of kiters. I really don't feel the need to kite in strong winds like this, because I think windsurfing on small gear is plenty fun and challenging. I need to learn some new moves, though, to spice up the GoPro videos, if nothing else.

Windsurfing Ft. Pierce, FL on 3 Nov 2009 from James Douglass on Vimeo.

Doug the kiter gloats about his great session while Tim and Marc fuss with Tim's 8 meter kite.

A Kona longboard atop my minivan marks me as the only windsurfer at the jetty.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Furry in the puffs- understanding windsurfing slang

The other day someone requested that I do a post on windsurfing lingo. So, here it is. For the sake of brevity I'm leaving out most of the gear terminology and focusing more on words describing windsurfing conditions, action, and enthusiasm. If you're a non-windsurfer or a beginner, maybe this will help you figure out what people are talking about on the beach.

It - The wind and water conditions. "How is it?" "It's windy!"

Launch - Noun; a beach from which you can windsurf. Verb; to put your windsurf in the water.

Walk of Shame - When you are unable to return the to spot on the beach you launched from, and you have to walk back carrying your gear.

Skunked- When you go to the beach to try to windsurf but are thwarted for some reason, usually because there's not enough wind.

Skunk-proof- When you are insured against getting skunked by having equipment that works well in light wind or no wind conditions. E.g., "I always bring my longboard and a paddle so I'm totally skunk-proof."

Yard Sale - A dramatic crash that ends with you and your gear scattered in disarray.

Downwind - The direction the wind is flowing towards. "Larry drifted downwind and had to do the walk of shame."

Upwind - The direction the wind is coming from. "I had to tack and point to get upwind away from the pier."

Point / Pinch - Windsurfing as close to upwind as possible. "Dave beat me to the upwind buoy because he was able to point higher."

Tack - 1: When you change directions by turning the board upwind and switching sides. 2: Your direction of travel; to the right side with your right foot forward is called starboard tack and to the left side with your left foot forward is called port tack.

Carve - When you tilt the board to do a sharp turn. "Sally carved so hard she threw spray, like, 10 feet in the air."

Jibe / Gybe - Carving a turn in the downwind direction while switching sides of the board to change tacks. "I'm having a hard time planing through my jibes."

Planing / On a plane - The high-speed mode of windsurfing where your board is skimming on top of the water, rather than merely floating in it. "I'll never forget my first time planing."

Onshore - Wind that is blowing straight at the beach. "It was hard to get out past the waves because of the onshore wind."

Sideshore - Wind that is blowing parallel to the beach, which is what windsurfers usually prefer.

Offshore - Wind that is blowing from the beach towards the open water. "Ed got blown out to sea when the wind turned from sideshore to offshore."

Light - Not particularly windy. "It's light."

Teaser breeze - Wind that looks decent, but proves disappointing. "It was a teaser day."

Cranking / Honking / Howling / Raging - Wind blowing hard.

Blasting / Trucking / Booking - Windsurfing fast.

Ripping / Jamming - Windsurfing with skill and aggressive style.

Dialed / Dialed In - In tune with the wind and water conditions and windsurfing well. "Glenn is always totally dialed."

Gust - A short-term increase in wind speed affecting a small area.

Gusty - Wind characterized by frequent and severe gusts.

Puff - Another word for gust; sometimes a bigger or longer lasting gust. "It's really getting furry in the puffs!"

Furry - Ragged water texture with some blowing spray, associated with very high wind.

Liquid smoke - Beyond furry, when there's lots of blowing spray.

Nukin' - Extreme high wind. "Look at the liquid smoke, it's nukin'!"

Epic - Exceptionally good or strong / scary conditions. "Remember that epic Nor'easter we caught at Buckroe Beach last year?"

Powered / Juiced / Lit - When there's lots of wind in your sail and you're enjoying it. "How was it on your six-five?" "I was f'ing LIT!"

Overpowered - When there's too much wind in your sail, and you're struggling to stay in control.

Flattened / Spanked / Nuked - When you're overpowered to the point that you actually can't sail.

Survival Sailing / Victory at Sea - When conditions are so challenging that you don't bother trying to do any cool moves or anything; just being able to avoid disaster is a good accomplishment.

Tailwalking - When you're going fast in strong wind and the nose of the board flies up in the air unexpectedly.

Spin-out - When you're going fast and the fin loses its grip in the water, causing the board to skid sideways. "I was blasting along great until I caught some seaweed on my fin and spun-out."

Shift - A change in wind direction.

Shifty - Wind that is changing direction a lot.

Header - A wind shift that forces you to veer away from your destination.

Lift - A wind shift that helps you reach your destination.

Lull - A short-term decrease in wind speed.

Hole - A serious lull affecting a certain area. "I was leading the race until I got stuck in a hole and everyone passed me."

Holey - Wind characterized by frequent and severe holes.

Patchy / Spotty - Wind with a mix of gusts and lulls.

Gassed - When someone passes you on the upwind side, temporarily blocking your wind and slowing you down. "I know John is a fast sailor, but it's annoying the way he keeps gassing me."

Marginal - Barely windy enough to do the desired kind of windsurfing. "It was marginal for my six-six, I had to pump to get planing."

Six-six, five-seven, four-oh, etc. - Sail sizes; 6.6, 5.7, and 4.0 meters squared, respectively. Sails go from 12.5 down to about 3.0. Smaller sails imply stronger wind. "How is it?" "Awesome, I started on five-five and I'm about to re-rig to four-seven!"

Pump - Flapping the sail to generate power, usually done to help initiate planing.

Slogging / Shlogging / Schlogging - The slow and awkward windsurfing you do when it's not windy enough to plane with the board and sail you're using. "It started out good, but then the wind died and I had to shlog back to the beach."

Session / Sesh - An outing on the water. "It was a good session, I was planing most of the time."

Rig - Noun; a windsurf sail. Verb; to assemble a windsurf sail. "What [size of sail] are you rigging?"

Re-rig - What you have to do if the sail you put together the first time proves inappropriate for the wind conditions. "I was underpowered on my six-oh, so I had to re-rig to seven-five."

What was he on? - What size and type of board and sail was he using?

T.O.W. - Time on the water invested in the practice of windsurfing. "Fred doesn't get much T.O.W. since he's such a wind snob."

Wind snob - Someone who only windsurfs when it's really windy. "I'm usually the only guy out on light wind days, because everyone else around here is a wind snob."

Smooth / Glassy - An undisturbed water surface, usually associated with very light wind, but sometimes found between rolling waves or in the lee of a sandbar or jetty.

Butter - Smooth water that is fun to carve though. "Between the swells it was total butter."

Chop / Choppy - Small or medium-sized, non-breaking waves like you'd find on a small lake or bay on a breezy day.

Chop-Hop - A small jump initiated in flat or choppy water.

Psycho-chop / Voodoo-chop - Steep, large, disorganized chop that is challenging to sail through. "I got catapulted going too fast through the voodoo-chop by the bridge."

Catapult / Slam / Over-the-handlebars - A crash where you get thrown forward into the water. "I accidentally hooked in before I was ready and I got catapulted."

Hooked in - When you have the hook on your harness belt resting in the harness loop on the boom, supporting your weight from the sail. "It's hard to stay hooked in when the wind is gusty like this."

Swell - Medium or large-sized, non-breaking waves that form when the wind blows over a long, uninterrupted area. "When the wind is steady from the North it builds up nice swells that you can carve on."

Wave - What a swell becomes when it hits shallow water and starts to get steep and break.

Shore Break / Shore Pound - Waves breaking right on the beach, which suck because they are impossible to ride and because they make launching difficult. "I got denied by the shore pound."

Denied - When you are trying to get out past the breaking waves but can't make it because the waves smack you down. "I got denied twice before I finally made it to the outside."

The Outside - Away from shore, beyond where most of the waves are breaking. "The swells were really big on the outside."

The Inside - Close to shore, within the area that the waves are breaking. "I stayed on the wave too long and got caught on the inside."

The Impact Zone - The specific area where the waves are breaking hardest. "It was a great session until I went down in the impact zone and broke a mast."

Closing Out - When a wave is breaking along it's entire length, making it difficult to avoid or escape the breaking part or the whitewater.

Whitewater - The white mess of foamy, roiling water after a wave has broken. "I was trying to get out, but I kept getting pushed back by the whitewater."

Mushy / Crumbling - When the waves are breaking gradually, as opposed to rearing up and curling over abruptly. "The waves were kind of mushy, but I still got some good rides."

Mast Munchers / Crunchers - Big waves that are breaking hard.

Head high / Logo high / Mast high - Descriptions of the height of breaking waves. Logo high is over your head, but not quite as tall as the sail.

Ramp - A steep chop, swell, or wave in a position where you can do a big jump off of it.

Baf / Back-and-forth / Flatwater blasting - The typical kind of windsurfing where you're just going back and forth perpendicular to the wind, enjoying yourself but boring your spectators.

Bump & Jump / B&J - Like baf, but with some jumps thrown in. Usually takes place at venues with some chop and swells, but is not true wavesailing.

Wavesailing / Waveriding - When you're sailing in and around breaking waves, specifically positioning yourself to ride waves as they break.

Backside [waveriding] - When you're on a wave with your back to the wave, which is typical for onshore winds.

Frontside [waveriding] - When you're on a wave with your body facing the wave and the sail between you and the wave. It's the most fun type of wavesailing, but it requires well-organized waves and sideshore or offshore winds.

Going down the line - Traveling sideways along a breaking wave, staying on the part that hasn't quite broken yet. "Dude, I did, like three frontside turns going down the line!"

Teabagger - Kiteboarder.

Stoke - Enthusiasm, happiness, and excitement. It comes from the word "stoked", describing a fire that is burning hot because it's getting blown on.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Boeing Sucks... paraphrase my Dad's latest blog post, "No Boeing in South Carolina Please". I trust my dad's opinion on this since he worked as an engineer for the corporate giant for several years when he first moved to Seattle. Also, he makes a clear and eloquent argument in the post; an argument that could apply to any situation where a state or local government is over-eager to whore itself out to a soulless big business.

Way down upon the Suwannee River

A week ago I wasn't sure whether or not I liked bluegrass music. I'm still not sure, to tell the truth, but I do know I had a good time over the weekend at the Magnolia Music Festival in Live Oak, Florida.

It took place at a huge campground in the woods around the Suwannee River, and it was well-attended by hippie-flavored rednecks, hippie-flavored yuppies, and hippie-flavored hippies. In addition to the music, there was lots of neat art and culture on display and for sale.

One of the headlining bands was a group called "Donna the Buffalo". At first I thought people were saying "Dawn of the Buffalo". This tapestry thing reminded me of that.

Besides the music and art and socializing, I got my nature and watersports fix at the actual Suwannee River, where there was an awesome sandy beach on one side and a cliff with a rope swing on the other side. It was high enough to be scary, but not high enough for me not to do it.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Yep, still windy in Fort Pierce

This weekend I went to a bluegrass music festival in Live Oak, Florida, near the border with Georgia. (I'll write about that later when I sort the pictures.) Apparently it wasn't windy while I was gone, but the breeze welcomed me back and I got nice after-work kiteboarding and windsurfing sessions on Monday and today. Today I went to the State Park on the North side of Fort Pierce Inlet, where the waves were interesting. (See end of the second video.)

Monday's kiteboarding -

Today's windsurfing -

Here's some stills from today -

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

More of the same, but good

I don't mean for my blog to be PURELY a watersports video dumping ground, but since the wind keeps blowing hard and I'm busy at work when I'm not on the water, I haven't had time to delve into any interesting social commentary or any of the other stuff I sometimes write about. Oh, well.

Today looked lighter than Monday and Tuesday, so I went out on a 106 liter board instead of the 83 I had used previously. Once I was out the wind came up a lot, but I added outhaul to my 5.5 sail and the 106 stayed fairly well behaved. I filmed an awesome jam session with my kiter friend Doug in the big waves and swells around the Fort Pierce Inlet. There was great, golden sunlight illuminating the green waves and whitewater, with an awesome purple-grey squall cloud and a rainbow in the background. At one point I was charging at a breaking wave and pinched upwind to avoid the whitewater, which accidentally initiated a super cool back-loop type thing where I got totally upside down and the board went nose first into the water. I didn't sail away from it, but it was fun, so I'm curious to maybe try some more. Especially since when I got to the beach I realized my camera batteries were dead and I hadn't filmed ANY of that cool stuff. Doh!

So all I have to show is some grey skies video from Tuesday. I organized it into four chapters / themes: 1) carving, 2) wave-assisted jibes, 3) kiters jumping, and 4) me jumping. Hope you enjoy.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Unequivocal Windy Season Opener

After work today at the Fort Pierce South Jetty I saw a bunch of kiteboarders I hadn't seen since April, and one other windsurfer. I guess that means the windy season has begun. The breeze was NE and STRONG, but kind of up and down. The kiters were mostly on 8s and 9s. My 5.5 sail and 83 liter Starboard Evo worked pretty well, except I kept catching weeds on my fin. I need to find a good US Box weedfin for sails 5.5 and smaller.

Anyway, here's the video. It's kinda long, but I tried to actually pick good songs this time, and put a little more into the editing. There's some surprises in it, too. Hope you like it.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Every good session deserves a bad techno song

I had a good time this weekend using my smaller windsurfing boards in the W / NW winds from a cold front.

Saturday was sort-of the "warm up", with just a dying-light flat water session with 6.6 / 106 liter board. I was proud of my one completed duck jibe until I watched it on this video and realized it was the weirdest, wrongest duck jibe ever. Oh, well. My friend Marc was messing with his new kite and got a 10 second ride. Woo hoo!

Sunday was the glory day, with fun ocean sailing at the Fort Pierce Jetty. The wind was about 30 degrees offshore, and very gusty and shifty, which made it challenging. Yet, when a gust coincided with a jumpable or rideable wave, it was perfect. There were some clean swells coming through occasionally, and because of the wind angle, it was easy to do "front side" turns on the wave. That's where instead of just sliding down the face of the wave, you turn downwind and ride partway back up the face before redirecting and skootching down again. You can feel the "Gs" when you do it, and it's really fun. I started out on my smallest board, the Evo 83, but I switched to the bigger Exocet Cross 106 to better deal with the flukey conditions. The sail I'm using in the video is a 5.5 Aerotech Charge. Later in the afternoon I switched to the blue 6.6 sail and got some even funner wave rides, but the video of that didn't turn out because my batteries were dead.

There were several kiters rigged at the beach, but only one of them went out, and only for a little while before ending up way downwind, because the shifty conditions were bad for kiting.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

AC off, WIND on

The stagnant heat of Florida's long-lingering summer has been banished at last by the first cool front of the year. A gentle breeze rustles the blinds, filling my room with fresh scents from outdoors. 74 degrees of perfection.

The weather came yesterday with a West wind that was still hot, but strong and long enough to signal a change from the usual. It was also strong and long enough for me to rig a 5.5 sail and to baptize the 83 liter "Evo" waveboard that has been sitting on my rack since I bought it in May. (Remember this post?)

I played it safe and used the board in the lagoon, where the wind was onshore, rather than in the ocean where it would have been offshore. I think that was a good call, since it was plenty gusty in the lagoon, from about 10 - 25 mph, and would have been even gustier in the ocean.

The Evo shlogged well for its 83 liters, and when puffs rolled through it would pop up on a plane with no complaints. The main improvement I noticed over my previous small board, an 87 liter F2 Maui Project Style, was that the Evo had better turning and jibing characteristics. The carves were smooth and easy to initiate, and the board seemed to carry speed and stay planing even during my sloppy jibes. I can't wait to try it on the ocean side, maybe tomorrow. The wind is supposed to be NW shifting to North, which will be somewhat less offshore. I'll need a wetsuit, though. The high is only going to be 72!

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Tuesday Stream of Consciousness

Consummate heat under a bright, empty sky. Light wind from the west, shifting south.

The work day inches along; frustration, progress, coffee, frustration, progress, peanut butter and jelly, check the weather.

12 mph southeast at the St. Lucie Powerplant, a good sign. Marshmallow clouds piling up inland. 14 mph at the powerplant. Text Marc- "seabreeze is on!"

Receive text from new neighbor- "house painting party after work" - whoops, deleted. :P

A few more things to get done, now roll out in the red minivan, east up Seaway Drive... Who's that jogging? The cute blond teachers who hang out at the Tiki Bar! I wave, one waves back - yes!

Kiteboard Ray's Jeep is parked by the beach- it must be good! Looks breezy but Ray can't stay upwind on his 12. Indecision about what to rig; kite or formula? In the meantime, rig longboard beginner stuff for friend Jen.

Ray still complaining about wind so I go for formula. Some guilt for leaving Jen while I rig my own gear, but she's tough, I rationalize.

Beach start and WOW it's great! Two tacks and I'm out past the jetty. Formula flying on the fin, hydrodynamic harmony, hiked out with full power. Late day sun golden through boiling clouds, my pink sail looks BOSS. Upwind, downwind, then take a breather to help Jen and Marc.

Props to Jen for gutsing it in the choppy water. Props to Marc for getting upright on his kiteboard, briefly. My work is done here- back out for formula round two.

Zip, zap, back and forth, semi-planing jibes. The sun dips lower, squall clouds loom, that's that. Exit the shorebreak, schlep the board, schlep the sail, mind the fire ants in the grass. Fat raindrops pop on the sailcloth, melt salt and sand from my skin. The water is fresh and tropically warm. No rush now- can't get any wetter. It's dark when the last item is stowed and I'm smiling invisibly.


Thursday, October 1, 2009

Florida in 2060 a.d. - Suckfest!

The other day I got hold of this scary report by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC). It estimates how the land use and population of Florida will change by the year 2060. Right now we're at about 18 million people- crowded as it is. But by 2060 the population is supposed to DOUBLE to 36 million people! That's a whole 'nuther Miami, a whole 'nuther Orlando, a whole 'nuther Tampa, St. Petersburg, Palm Beach, Jacksonville, Daytona, Melbourne, Panama City, Key West, etc, etc. Holy crap!!

Picture of the former everglades from

That's going to be a huge strain on the natural ecosystems that support both human and animal life in the state. Where is our drinking and irrigation water going to come from? Where are we going to put our poop, pollution, and garbage? Will there be anything left of our already-dying coral reefs? Where are the endangered species like panthers, bears, burrowing owls, and gopher tortoises going to live?

The map below shows how almost all the wild, undeveloped lands in the state will be developed by 2060. Pretty much every patch of nature that isn't already designated as a reserve will be converted to human use if trends continue. Dang. We really need to stop population growth and development before it comes to this.

The full report has lots of pretty pictures and juicy info, going into other problems the state will have, like sea level rise and stuff. You should look through the pdf here. It's not too sciency at all.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Wind Thresholds and Kitestration

On the rare days that the weather is suitable for kiteboarding, I always seem to have an equipment problem. Most recently it was a busted pump. I had to pump like, 1000 times to inflate my main kite bladder instead of the usual 40. At the end I was tired and sweaty and the kite still wasn't fully hard. I thought it would be alright, but after just two minutes of riding, it folded in the middle of a power stroke and dropped from the sky like a scorched moth. It nearly self-destructed in the shorebreak before I could swim to it and drag the whole sandy, algae-entangled mess out of harm's way. Shit shit shit shit shit.

Windsurfing has been better to me. I managed to procure a loaner formula boom last week so I can rig my 9.8 again. (Thanks, you-know-who.) Friday I had a good sunset session in onshore winds, and today another good one in offshore winds. Neither sesh would have possible on kite gear, because of the lightness, flukiness, and / or direction of the wind.

All this got me thinking about the wind requirements for windsurfing versus kiteboarding, and inspired me to make the graph below. It shows the approximate wind needed for longboard windsurfing, formula windsurfing, bump & jump windsurfing, and kiteboarding. (Windsurfing on a big freeride board would be something intermediate between the curve for formula windsurfing and B&J windsurfing.)

Anyway, all the types of wind-riding are pretty cool in 15+ knots, but their rideability and planing thresholds are different below that. Here's why I drew the curves like I did, based on how each toy's handling changes as the wind increases:

Longboard Windsurfing-
0: Can't move.
1-4: Move slowly in any direction with the daggerboard down.
5-8: Move well in any direction with the daggerboard down, but have to force board to rail.
9-12: Board begins to rail itself and go upwind great. Railing straps can be used if the wind is steady. May be able to surf swells with the daggerboard up.
12-15: Powerful upwind with the daggerboard down, and can plane off the wind with the daggerboard up.
15+: Full-power planing with decent angles possible without the daggerboard. Have to be skilled with railing straps to sail with the daggerboard down.

Formula Windsurfing-
0: Can't move.
1-4: Slow slogging, limited upwind ability.
5-7: Stable slogging and ok upwind. No planing; at least not without constant, aerobic pumping.
~8: Concerted pumping will initiate planing, but hard to go upwind or downwind on plane.
~10: Less pumping required, ok angles while planing.
~12: Little or no pumping required to plane; high upwind and deep downwind angles possible.
~15: Intensely powered-up with awesome speed and angles and fully-planing jibes. Beyond this it gets kinda scary for most people.

Bump & Jump Windsurfing (manouverable board just big enough to float the rider)-
0-3: Can't move
4-8: Slow, precarious slogging with little or no upwind ability.
8-13: Stable slogging and ok upwind. No planing unless riding a wave.
~14: Can pump onto a plane, but not much power for jumps or manouvers.
15+: Few pumps required to plane. Good power for jumps, jibes, etc.

0-6: Can't launch or fly kite.
~8: Can launch kite, but hard to keep it in the air.
~9: Can fly kite and body-drag ok, but not enough power to get up on board, and can't relaunch kite from water.
~10-11: Can ride board, but only by constantly working the kite. Can't stay upwind and tough to relaunch.
~12: Can ride and stay upwind, but have to work the kite a lot.
13+: Can "park" the kite and ride steadily most of the time. Can jump and stuff.

The thing is, with kiting, even though you have the lowest planing threshold besides formula windsurfing, you're basically dead in the water below that threshold. And the threshold is actually higher than it seems from the chart, since you have to account for lulls in the wind. Like, even if the wind is averaging 12 knots, if there are lulls to 8 knots, you're in trouble. I think that's why most of the kiters around Fort Pierce only go out when the average is around 15, and why, since the wind rarely reaches 15 between May and September here, the kiters disappear for the summer.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Weekend of Windsurfing and Kiteboarding

It's blowing about 10 knots and your formula windsurfing boom is broken. 48 hours of weekend yawns before you, and you have important work to procrastinate on. You:

a) Rig the biggest sail you can on your smaller boom, and ride a longboard
b) Put that sail on a shortboard and try bobbing for waves
c) Kiteboard
d) All of the above

If you answered "d", then you and I have very similar approaches to weekend management. This weekend's activities are documented in the two videos below, both shot with my gopro helmet hero wide camera and edited with windows movie maker. I finally learned how to add music... so you might take this moment to make sure you know where your "mute" button is.


Shortboard and Kiteboard

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Fibersnap Booms (Rant)

Doh! Just as the summer doldrums were giving way to decent, 10-knot, after-work seabreezes, I broke my big Fiberspar boom. This makes it impossible to rig my big 9.8 msq sail. The max I can rig now is 6.6 msq, which means my planing threshold has gone up from ~9 knots to ~14 knots, which is not-unless-there's-a-hurricane wind this time of year in Florida.

This is the second boom I've broken since my re-entry into big-sail "formula" windsurfing earlier this summer. The first was no surprise, since it was an aluminum boom. The one yesterday was a carbon boom, but it was still no surprise, because I broke the same headpiece on another Fiberspar when I first got into formula in Virginia. Replacing it was a huge headache, which hastened my 2-year forumla hiatus.

I think the Fiberspar headpieces, which are the same for small booms as for big booms, just aren't strong enough for the stress of handling jumbo 9.0 - 12.5 msq sails. Some people, after they buy a formula boom, painstakingly reinforce the headpiece with several layers of expensive carbon fiber cloth. Aaaghhhhh... it gives me a headache just thinking about it. Why don't they make them strong enough in the first place? They're definitely expensive enough.

The only thing that makes me feel a little better is that I got this boom relatively cheap, used, for $200, and it served me for a dozen or so sweet-ass sessions on my formula board and 9.8 sail. Ironically, a new headpiece would cost me about the same as the boom did. An entirely new boom would be $700 - $1000, though. Insane. I'll figure out something, but might have to put aside my formula dreams for another couple paychecks.

In related news, my stylish minivan now has non-bald tires, fresh brakes, and four hubcaps. The speedometer and A/C still only work when they feel like it.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

The Reef Tank

I recently did an interview for a post on "The Reef Tank", a conservation-oriented website for recreational aquarists and marine-life enthusiasts.

In the interview I discuss some of my favorite topics: marine conservation, windsurfing, and myself. If any of those topics interest you, you can read the post here.

PS- If you live near Florida's Treasure Coast area, you should check out the real-life reef tank at the Smithsonian Marine Ecosystems Exhibit on S. Hutchinson Island. It's kinda small for an aquarium, but there's lots of hands-on stuff for the kiddies, and lots of scientifically-accurate exhibits and information on local underwater habitats for the grownies.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

I Support Obama on Healthcare Stuff

Here's why:

*The people who benefit most from the current system are lawyers, lobbyists, and pharmaceutical and insurance companies.

*Their benefit comes at our loss, because they get richer the more expensive and less efficient health care becomes.

*They HATE Obama's plan.

So, if Obama's plan is hated by lawyers, lobbyists, and pharmaceutical and insurance companies, it's probably GOOD for the rest us. I.e. it should do what Obama says it will do: make health care cheaper and more efficient.

That's the end of my main point. Now I'm going to digress a little bit to illustrate the expensive inefficiency of the current system.

Exhibit A. This humongous, shiny box contains mostly empty space. Along with the empty space it contains three, identical, small boxes. Each small box contains mostly empty space, plus a manual, plus two aluminum sheets of pills. Each aluminum sheet of pills contains mostly aluminum sheet, plus seven tiny pills. All 42 pills in the humongous, shiny box would easily onto one of the aluminum sheets, or in one tiny pillbox.

The only reason I can think of for the absurd over-packaging is to disguise the even-absurder price that you pay for just over a month's worth of pills.

(In case anyone is curious about my personal medical history, I take this stuff on Dr.'s orders to treat my eosinophilic esophagitis. Eosinophilic esophagitis is a weird combo of allergies and heartburn that makes your throat get small so you choke on food. I didn't know I had it until a couple years ago when it got bad and I started choking embarrassingly at every meal. They gave me an operation where they put a balloon down my throat and blew it up to stretch it back to normal diameter, then they prescribed an allergy inhaler plus heartburn pills to keep my throat from shrinking again. I stopped using the allergy inhaler because it was like, over $100 a month and not covered by insurance- I guess choking and dying is not considered a serious health risk. I still take the heartburn medicine, though. Seems to work because I haven't choked in the last couple years.)

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Photobucket Holding Me for Ransom

**UPDATE- Did the upgrade thing. $$$igh...**

**Begin original post**

Sorry my pictures are gone. Here's why...

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You have exceeded the 10 GB monthly bandwidth limit on your free
Photobucket account. As such, your image and video links have been
temporarily disabled. Your images and videos have not been deleted but
will be reactivated on the 18th of the month, when your bandwidth
usage resets to zero.

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With a Photobucket Pro account you get unmetered
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Yeah, thanks for NUTHIN you sneaky sleazeballs! Oh, well. I guess I'll pay my dues to the corporate overlords so that y'all can continue to peep my pics.