Sunday, December 26, 2010

Douglass Christmas 2010 - Blizzard Babies

Gee, I feel like I'm in an episode of "Little House on the Prairie". Snowed in, sister's baby is worryingly ill, supplies are running low, and I'm about to have to cross-country ski over to the doctor's house. At least the wireless internet is still working fine.


Here's my older niece yesterday with her favorite present.

And here are some other nature and people pictures from my folks' new place in Asheville, North Carolina. These were taken by my aunt Mary Garland and Uncle Tom, who are big-time nature enthusiasts.

Apparently it's a blizzard in Boston, too, with 50 knot gusts. I wonder if anyone is windsurfing?

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Olympic Sailing Classes; Sailboat, Windsurf, Kite?

They've had sailing in the Olympic Summer Games since 1896, but the number of divisions and the types of boats have changed a lot, as interestingly described in this Wikipedia article. Right now they race about 7 types of boats, which includes one type of windsurf. In this post I briefly describe all the current Olympic classes, then weigh in on the controversy of whether things should be rearranged to add kiteboarding as an additional class.

The longest enduring model of boat in the Olympics is the "Star", a 22' keelboat with a crew of two, which was designed in 1910 and has been in the games since 1932.

The second longest enduring Olympic sailing class is the "Finn", a 15' dinghy sailed by one person, which was designed in 1949 and has been in the games since 1952. Compared to other singlehanded dinghys, the Finn favors a bigger, heavier sailor, so the burly male sailors of the world insist that the Finn remain an Olympic class to give them a chance to compete at the top level.

The third oldest Olympic Class is is the "470", a high-performance 15' dingy sailed by two lightweight athletes. It was designed in 1963 and has been in the games since 1976. The 470 is really complicated, with a lot of sail area divided among three sails, and a "trapeze" so the sailors can hike out over the water to balance. It requires a bunch of weird physical techniques from the sailors, like pelvic thrusts and disco pointing, to reach maximum planing performance. Fabulous!

Since 2000 there has been an even more complicated and higher performance 2-person dinghy in the Olympics. It's called the "49er". These boats have a ridiculous amount of sail area and special wings that the sailors stand on to get leverage over all that power. 49ers are fast enough to be competitive with windsurfs and kiteboards.

There's two other kinds of dinghy in the Olympics, the Laser (for men), and the Laser Radial (with a slightly smaller sail, for women). The lasers are nice, cheap, simple boats with one sail that are very popular with recreational sailors. The laser is a singlehanded event in the Olympics, but it can hold two people if they're not too heavy.

There was a 20' catamaran called the "Tornado" in the Olympics from 1976 to 2008. They dropped it for 2012 but they're probably going to bring it back in 2016. It has a two person crew.

The newest Olympic boat is the Elliot 6m, a moderate-sized keelboat with a full array of sails and a crew of about 3. It was designed around 2000 and will sail its first Olympics in 2012 as a women-only event.

Last but not least is the windsurfing class, which has been in the Olympics since 1984. In '84 the board was a "Windglider", which was a flat-bottomed longboard similar to the original Windsurfer One-Design that popularized the sport in the 1970s. In '88 they used round-bottomed boards called Division II boards, which were fast in light winds but awkward to sail. They used round-bottomed boards again in '92, but with some upgrades to the board and sail. From '96 - '04 they used a modern, flat-bottomed longboard called the Mistral One Design. That was a good board, but people complained that you had to be a very specific weight to be competitive. They also complained that the narrow longboard wasn't representative of performance windsurf racing in the 2000s, which was mostly done in 100% planing conditions on wide shortboards. In 2008 they changed the Olympic windsurf board to the "RS:X", a cross between a longboard and a wide shortboard, which used a daggerboard in light winds but fully planed around the course without the daggerboard in stronger winds. (For more info on the different kinds of windsurf racing, and picture, check my older blog post here.)

The perennial crisis for Olympic sailing comes from the fact that hardly anybody cares about sailing except sailors, and sailors care SO MUCH about their own favorite types of sailing that they rarely see eye to eye regarding what types should be in the Olympics. That and there's a high cost and hassle per athlete in sailing because of the large and expensive equipment and the logistical support needed. With those challenges in mind, I think that the organizing principles for choosing Olympic sailing classes should be:

1) Representing the most popular, affordable, and portable type(s) of sailing with the minimum number of classes.
2) Providing an interesting spectacle for TV viewers, raising the worldwide profile and popularity of sailing sports.
3) Giving a fair chance for the most talented and dedicated athletes to rise to the top.

For #1, I think it's useful to start by supposing you can only have ONE kind of sailing in the Olympics, so you have to pick the most general. Then as you add additional classes you do so in the way that hits the broadest branches of the sport first and the finer divisions later if resources allow. If there could only be one kind of boat in the Olympics I would pick a simple, single-handed dinghy like the Laser, which has all the elements of a traditional sailboat, including a fixed mast, a centerboard / keel, and a movable rudder.


If there could only be two kinds of boat, I would pick Laser and kiteboard, because kiting is the most different kind of sailing from the Laser, yet it still meets the criteria of being popular, affordable and portable. As a bonus, kiting would be a good TV spectacle (#2 on my "organizing principles" list).


If there could be three kinds of boat, I think windsurfer would be the next to include. Windsurfing is not as distinct from traditional sailing as is kiting, but it's still pretty different, seeing as the sailor stands up and holds the sail and doesn't use a rudder. Windsurfing is also pretty good as a TV spectacle because of the speed and the focus on the athletic rider.


If there could be four kinds of boat, I would add a sporty, 2-person catamaran. Little catamarans are the cheapest and most popular kind of high-performance sailboat, their split hulls effectively differentiate them from the first four kinds of boat, and they look pretty dramatic on TV when they get up on one hull. The Tornado catamaran that they've been using lately seems like a good one.


If there could be five kinds of boat, I would add a moderate-sized keelboat with a crew of about 3, since a lot of the world's recreational sailboat racing is done on boats of similar nature, i.e. bigger than a dinghy. Having a "real" sailboat in the Olympics might also help evoke the nautical mystique and the seafaring and naval battles of yore. As for the particular boat model, I think the Star has had a good run, but it's an old design that's boring compared to modern keelboats of similar size like the Elliot 6m. So I'd vote for the latter or something like it.


Only if there could be six or more kinds of sailboat would I consider adding a high-performance dinghy (aka "skiff") like the 470 or the 49'er. If it came to a choice between the two, I would go for the 49'er, because if you're going to go high performance you might as well go all the way for the maximum TV spectacle, and also because the 49'er is supposedly more accommodating of different size and weight sailors.

I'm getting pretty long-winded here, but I can't skip #3: giving a fair chance to the athletes. Making the competition fair for more than one specific body weight has been a major point of contention. One solution might be splitting the classes into actual body weight divisions by rule instead of de-facto body weight divisions by class of boat. Then you could get rid of some of the cheesy classes of boat like the Finn that only exist for the heavier sailors. Having fewer classes of boat, but more competitors per nation per class of boat, would give the competitors more opportunities to train together and share equipment and stuff.

For windsurfing and kiteboarding, fairness could also be increased by relaxing the one-design restrictions to allow different sized sails or kites for different weight competitors. That seems to work pretty well in the Kona ONE windsurfing class. You could also go a step further by allowing windsurfing and kiting competitors to choose different equipment for different conditions under a "box-rule". A box-rule allows a diversity of gear, but sets certain limits on the amount of stuff each competitor can bring, what size it can be, whether or not it can be custom made or has to come "off the shelf", etc. For example, the box-rule for the formula windsurfing class says you can bring one board with a max width of 100 cm, three sails with a max size of 12.5 m^2, and three fins with a max length of 70 cm. Switching gear between races would require a shift in the way the competitions are held, but you would need a shift, anyway, if you were going to try to accommodate kiting. That is, instead of launching from a marina or boat ramp like the current Olympic classes, the kiters would have to stage their show from a beach, and the beach would suit the windsurfs better, too.

I think some kind of blend between a box-rule and a one-design rule would give the best combination of fairness, coolness, and affordability for Olympic windsurfing and kiting. Like, multiple sizes of sails and kites would be allowed, but they would all be the same model, and there would just be one model of board. Being allowed to use a jumbo kite or sail in light wind would make 100% planing competition realistic in winds down to 7 or 8 knots. And the windsurfing class could finally get away from the continuous sail pumping, aka "air-rowing", that characterizes underpowered windsurf racing. Air rowing is an extremely athletic skill, and I have the greatest respect for those who are good at it, but it looks super lame and unappealing and windsurfers rarely do it except in Olympic style competition.

One problem with getting a tight box-rule for kiteboarding (which I believe is a prerequisite for fair Olympic competition) is that most kite raceboards have at least three fins, with an infinite variety of fin sizes, shapes, and tilt angles that need to be tweaked and changed all the time for different conditions.


A possible way around that would be to use a twin-tip kiteboard with a single center fin that could be adjusted on the fly for different conditions. This kind of board is a recent development, but it apparently performs on about the same level as the more fin-crazy directional raceboards.


Whew. I should stop there.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Cold Weather Limits Survey Results

Dang, is it ever cold here in Massachusetts. There is a lot of wind but I am definitely NOT thinking about windsurfing. Actually, that's a lie. I AM thinking about windsurfing, but only in a mournful, unrequited love kind of way. If it got up to 4.5 Celsius (40 Fahrenheit) I might don the drysuit and give it a go, but this below-freezing stuff is just not my style.

I reckon now would be a good time to post the final results of my "What's your minimum air temperature for windsurfing or kiteboarding?" survey. Here they are:


Looks the most common temperature cut-off is between 10 and 7 Celsius (50 and 45 Fahrenheit), but there is a significant minority of insane people who claim to ride in sub-freezing weather. Must be Canadians and Europeans.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Leaks - Good or Bad?

I had to stay home with a bad sore throat today, which was a bummer because I missed a bunch of marine biology student presentations at work, as well as big wind for a windsurfing lunch-break I had planned. It turned out to be ok, though, because I got to lay back on the futon and watch a cool Netflix movie that had been sitting on my breakfast table for a month. The movie was a documentary called "The Most Dangerous Man in America, Daniel Ellsberg and the Pentagon Papers". I didn't know exactly what it was about until I started watching, but I soon realized that even though it described a 40 year old event, it was apropos to the current fuss about WikiLeaks. Check out the trailer...

Did you catch what Nixon said?

"I think it's time in this country to quit making national heroes of those who steal secrets and publish them in the newspaper."

Ellsberg's outing of the "secrets" Nixon was talking about revealed how presidential lies had mislead the US into the awful Vietnam War. Along with the later Watergate Scandal, they contributed to Nixon's ouster and to the long-overdue US withdrawal from Vietnam. Who knows how much longer the war would have dragged on, and how many more millions of Vietnamese and thousands of US soldiers would have died if Ellsberg's leak hadn't exposed the false pretenses and un-winable nature of the Vietnam War. That was a case where the whistleblower was in the right, and the government was definitely in the wrong.

Now check out this quote:

"Some may mistakenly applaud those responsible [for the leak], so I want to set the record straight. There is nothing laudable about endangering innocent people, and there is nothing great about sabotaging the peaceful relations between nations on which our common security depends."

That was Hillary Clinton, responding to Julian Assange's recent "WikiLeak" release of a bunch of secret correspondence among US diplomats, which revealed, well, nothing new, really, unless you thought that world leaders WEREN'T a bunch of egotistical, conniving sleazoids.

(As an aside, it's interesting that this WikiLeak has garnered much more media attention and government condemnation than the Afghanistan and Iraq "War Log" WikiLeaks earlier this year. The war log leaks showed that the Iraq and Afghanistan operations are horrible, bloody, hopeless grinds, which are accomplishing little in the way of improving those countries, and even less in the way of making the world safer from terrorist attack. But folks don't seem to care about that news nearly as much as they care about the gossipy "she said WHAT about WHO?" world-leader trash talk in the latest release. Sigh.)

Anyway, I think the important question is, who is in the right this time around - the secret makers or the secret leakers? I won't say much about whether Julian Assange himself is a hero, a lout or a terrorist, except that I don't think he's a terrorist. He has some date rape allegations pending from this summer in Sweden, so he might be a lout. Then again, the alleged date rape incidents occurred right after Assange had made himself hated by the most powerful governments and spy-agencies on earth, so he could easily have been the target of a professional frame-up. So I think we need to reserve judgement on the personality of the man for now and focus on the rightness or wrongness of the leaks, starting with Clinton's main arguments against leaking the secrets:

Have the leaked secrets really put diplomats, spies, and other "innocent people" in mortal peril? I doubt it, because WikiLeaks and the news companies like the New York Times that have the secret files are careful about erasing the names of individuals who might be endangered before they release anything. As far as I know, no individual has been outed and done harm through any of these leaks, including the old Pentagon Papers.

Have the leaks really been harmful to the cause of world peace and social justice? I doubt that, too. You can't oppose war and injustice if the war and injustice are kept secret by the government.

Eh, that's about all I have to say now, but I'll definitely be watching this closely to see how it develops.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Quitting Kiteboarding

I learned how to kiteboard about a year and a half ago when I was living in Florida. Although I often had gear failures and frustrations, I mostly avoided injury, and I found kiteboarding to be easy, fun, and well-suited to Florida's prevalent, light seabreezes. Windsurfing remained my preferred sport for winds over 15 knots, but a 12 meter squared kite and a few kiteboards took care of most of my "light wind planing" needs. I figured I'd be a two-watersport guy for the rest of my life, but things changed.

One thing that changed was that I moved to Massachusetts, where the wind is gusty and the water is cold. I've kited a bit here, but it's sketchy. In these conditions I prefer the security of a board that floats and a sail that I know will stop pulling when I let go. It's also windier overall in Massachusetts than in Florida, and I don't seem to need anything more powerful than a 7 or 8 msq windsurf sail and a slalom board to get plenty of fully-powered sessions.

Another thing was realizing that I simply like windsurfing better than kiting. It's not that I don't like kiteboarding- I do. I think it's cool to be effortlessly powered in "tweener" wind strengths with a kite, and the soaring, Peter Pan jumps are a rush. But the basic riding sensation is more satisfying to me on a windsurf. I like the direct feedback from the board, the fin, and the sail, and I feel more like the whole assembly is an extension of myself. On a windsurf I can sail along not doing anything special, just appreciating the feeling of motion and forces in balance. I get a little of that kiting, too, but it's not as nice.

The final thing was my limited storage space, time, and financial resources. I started thinking about an extra $1500 in my pocket, a less cluttered van and board rack, and fewer "what to rig" decisions, and I decided to QUIT KITEBOARDING AND SELL MY GEAR. If I someday find myself idle rich and living in a warm, light-wind place like Florida or San Diego then I may take it up again. We'll see.

Anyway, here's a video from yesterday afternoon of what may have been my last kiteboarding session ever. Below the video I've listed the kite gear I have for sale.

Last Kite Sesh, 30 Nov 10 from James Douglass on Vimeo.

2008 Flysurfer Speed 2 (closed-cell foil kite) 12 msq. Perfectly tuned with bar and lines included. $750 SOLD
Two-line trainer kite, 4 msq, with bar and lines. $60 SOLD
Michael Gebhardt - designed directional freeride / raceboard. Unique and extremely badass. $500 SOLD
2006 Litewave Freeride 179 cm Twintip. Best beginner kiteboard ever, and very comfy ride in chop. $180 SOLD
2009 Litewave Spirit 137 cm Twintip. Do-it-all kiteboard for medium and stronger wind. Nice footpads. $250


Monday, November 29, 2010

1992, 7th grade, Rough Year

At my folks' house for Thanksgiving I was able to dig up the 7th grade school picture that I had originally intended to use in my "Ugliness, Fairness and Happiness" blog entry.


Monday, November 22, 2010

Updated Windsurf Calculator Online

Note: the Kiteboard Calculator can be found here.

When I realized I could embed an Excel file on my blog I decided to do it with the latest version of my Automatic Windsurfing Equipment Calculator. Heh heh heh. Some changes from the old version of the calculator are: 1) Fixed the lbs / kgs typo, 2) Added a decimal place to the wind strengths table, 3) Simplified the fin size calculator, 4) Added several more categories of board to the board size calculator. Let me know what you think.

Calculator embedded below, or download the file here.

Conductivity to Salinity Conversion for Excel

At work the other day I was trying to make sense of a bunch of water quality sensor data from the Indian River Lagoon in Florida. The sensor had measured electrical conductivity as a proxy for salinity (saltier water conducts electricity better because the salt ions ferry the charges), but no conversion had been made from conductivity to actual salinity.

It turns out that converting from conductivity to salinity is tricky, because the mathematical relationship depends in a complicated way on both temperature and pressure. (Although you don't have to worry about the pressure part if you're dealing with surface waters at 1 atm pressure.) In my Google search for answers I found a website that will do the conversion for you if you enter a particular conductivity and temperature into a box. But that's not much use if you have hundreds or thousands of concurrent temperature and conductivity recordings that you need to convert in a spreadsheet. So I dug deeper and found a 1983 UNESCO paper that had the actual formulas needed for the conversion. I put the formulas into a Microsoft Excel worksheet and fed them the Indian River Lagoon sensor data. It worked! Interestingly, it seems that the part of the Indian River Lagoon where the readings were taken gets a bit saltier than the ocean in Florida's winter dry season, but is only about 2/3 as salty as the ocean in the summer wet season.

Anyway, I made the Excel file that does the conversion available for download below, along with an example using the sensor data from the IRL. If you're a scientist and you notice some error in my calculations, let me know ASAP so I can fix it. Thanks.

2021 UPDATE: Readers' comments directed my attention to a 1986 paper (Hill et al., The Extension of the Practical Salinity Scale 1978 to Low Salinities) that allows the calculator to work in the range from 0 to 2 psu. I incorporated those corrections into the spreadsheet, which should now be reliable in those salinity ranges. I hope this will be helpful for those working in very diluted seawater environments like oligohaline estuaries.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Onshore Offshore Sideshore Frontside Backside

I had fun windsurfing at the Nahant Causeway on Wednesday afternoon. The wind was "side-offshore" from the Southwest, and it picked up throughout the session up to the point that I was overpowered on my 4.7 meter squared sail. The waves were waist to chest high and nicely set up for long "frontside rides". Here's the video. The song is by the band "Air".

SW Wavesailing Nahant 17 Nov 10 from James Douglass on Vimeo.

Also, since I'm always blogging about "onshore, offshore, sideshore, frontside, backside" etc., I figured I ought to put in some pictures that illustrate what those terms actually mean in the context of riding waves with a windsurf. I defined the terms earlier in my "windsurfing slang" post, but I think the pictures will help.

First up there are the wind angles, which are defined relative to the line of the shore. Onshore wind blows from the ocean directly towards the beach, in roughly the same direction that the waves are moving. Offshore wind blows from the shore to the sea, in the opposite direction of the incoming waves. (Waves often originate from hundreds of miles away where the wind is blowing in a different direction. That's why there can still be waves when the wind at the beach is blowing offshore.) Sideshore winds are blowing parallel to the shore, from the right or the left. Side-onshore and side-offshore winds are diagonal to the shore.

You can ride waves on a windsurf in any wind direction, but you have to ride the waves in different ways, depending. In onshore wind, the wind and the waves are moving in the same direction- towards the shore. So you have to ride downwind with your back to the wave. This is "backside" wave riding. It's generally considered the least desirable kind of wave riding, because the wave's movement subtracts from the apparent wind speed, the waves are often disorganized and bumpy with wind-driven chop, and after you're done riding the wave you have to work your way upwind through a bunch of waves to get back where you started. Onshore wave riding is still awesome, though.

Offshore wind can be cool for waveriding, because you can ride with your body facing the wave, banking off of it like a nascar driver on a raised track as it pushes you upwind towards the shore. It's also a fairly easy downwind trip to get back where you started and catch another wave, like riding an escalator up and taking a waterslide down. This is "frontside" wave riding. It can be a bit hard to initially catch the waves, though, because you have to ride upwind to do so. It's also impossible to get ahead of a wave in straight offshore wind, so once you're on it you either have to ride it to the end or sneak out over the back of it before it breaks. Also, offshore wind tends to be gusty and light near the shore, and it has an element of danger, because if you break down you might get blown out to sea. For these reasons, folks usually prefer side-offshore wind over pure offshore wind.

Sideshore wind is probably the best of both worlds, because it allows you do both frontside and backside wave riding. Backside waveriding in sideshore wind helps you get upwind at a steeper angle than you can normally sail because you're getting a boost from the wave. And frontside waveriding in sideshore wind has a dynamic feel where you alternate between riding powered by the wind and riding powered by the wave. You can even mix frontside riding and backside riding on the same wave in sideshore conditions. What a lot of people do is ride the wave backside at first to grind upwind, then when wave the wave gets closer to shore and starts to steepen up and break, they swoop downwind do some frontside turns on it. Super cool.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

The Basic Evolutionary Explanation for Why We Age

Evolution by natural selection favors traits that enhance an organism's chances of surviving and reproducing. So you'd think evolution would lead to organisms that could stay strong, healthy, and fertile forever.

Obviously, though, that's not the case. Almost all species of animal, including humans, have a limited lifespan and lose their fitness and fertility as they age. Why?

There are a couple of theories. The main one, which is still the most accepted, was first articulated in the 1950s by a scarily intense-looking British MD named Peter Medawar (below). Dude, you're freaking me out with that cold stare!


Anyway, Medawar's theory has to do with the fact that nature is harsh, and most wild animals die from things like predators, accidents, or disease well before they reach their maximum lifespan. That means that old individuals are rare in animal populations, even when age itself is not what's killing them. You can see that illustrated in the graph below, which I made for a hypothetical animal species in which individuals have a 50% chance of getting killed in any given year. Remember that this demographic pattern arises even without aging. I haven't said anything yet about why aging occurs, but I'm getting to it.


Since the chances of surviving a long time in a dangerous environment are slim, there's strong evolutionary pressure for animals to kick ass and reproduce when they're young, whereas there's little pressure for them to maintain their health and fertility beyond the age when they're likely to be dead anyway. It's easy for genetic mutations that cause deterioration with age to accumulate in a population where most of the individuals breed and die before they're old enough for the deterioration to start. For example, natural selection would quickly get rid of a mutant gene that caused arthritis early in life, because those that had the gene would be less likely to reproduce. But natural selection wouldn't easily get rid of a gene that caused arthritis late in life, because most individuals with the gene would have already reproduced and died before the arthritis could interfere. Genes that cause age-related ailments may spread even easier if they have beneficial effects when the organisms that have them are young. E.g., evolution would favor a gene that increased early reproduction, even if the same gene lead to sterility in older individuals.

One of the predictions of Medawar's theory is that species that lead dangerous lives in nature will also tend to age early, while species that have few predators or risks will have evolved to stay healthy and fertile longer. That's why mice, which are very vulnerable to predation in the wild, only live a couple years in captivity, while the Aldabra Giant Tortoise, which has no natural enemies, may have an unlimited lifespan.

And what a life it is!

Humans are a funny case because modern civilization has drastically reduced our chances of getting killed by predators, diseases and accidents, but evolution hasn't had enough time to push back our aging process accordingly. Given enough generations of modernity, we could potentially evolve to stay healthy and fertile longer, but there are a lot of other things going on with human population and society that make our future evolution hard to predict.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Cold Weather Limits, Drysuit, Stuff for Sale

November scene from Canoe Beach, Nahant, Massachusetts

Y'all probably noticed the poll about cold weather windsurfing and kiting that I put in the left hand sidebar. (Encountering my cold weather limits here in MA got me curious about other folks' temperature thresholds.) The survey results are spread out, but most people, including me, seem to call it quits somewhere between 45 and 50 degrees F. In my experience, that's the temperature zone where it becomes critical to have all your extremities covered and your core well-insulated. Any "chink in the armor" will be painfully obvious, and you may be a bit uncomfortable even when totally swaddled. Personally I'm amazed how I can be totally cozy in 55 degrees, even with no gloves and my hood pulled back, while in 45 degrees I can barely handle it with all my gear on.

To try to extend my limit down to ~40 degrees, and extend my season by a month or so on either end, I picked up a used drysuit. It's a "bag" style suit that you wear clothes underneath. I haven't had a chance to use it yet because the week of cold wind we were having suddenly gave way to calm, sunny 60 degree weather. But I did go ahead and shave my wrists and ankles so the gaskets will seal better. Apparently if you have a hard crash a bit of water will squeeze through the gaskets, so you don't want to wear any nice clothes underneath it.



To make room for the new drysuit I'm selling an older semi-dry wetsuit that I never use anymore, cheap (see sidebar). It's 6 mm thick and very warm, but it wouldn't win any prizes for flexibility. Anyway, the price is right if somebody wants it. I'm also selling a couple fins, one for just 5 bucks, and a nice 4.25 msq sail.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Another Song by My Sweetheart

Dating a musician is pretty cool because, in addition to the usual stuff you share when you're getting to know each other, you can learn interesting things about your lover from her song lyrics. You might even learn more than you want to know. But I guard against that by assuming that any depressing or angry song was inspired by a lesser guy from the past, while any song that is happy, romantic, or naughty is about me. Nevermind that most of the romantic songs were written before I knew her- I'm sure she was dreaming of the study windsurfing marine biologist she hoped to meet one day.

I like this particular song, "Eve Ocean", because it draws metaphorical relationships between the wild ocean and female emotions, because it sounds good, and because there might be a bad word in part of it but you have to guess what the word is. The only downside to the song is that to listen to it you have to watch this video of me windsurfing at Revere Beach.

Revere Beach Windsurfing 11-10-10 from James Douglass on Vimeo.

You can watch windsurfing-free videos of Emily and her band here and here, and you can download some of her mp3s here.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Unremarkable but of Sound Karma

I didn't windsurf over the weekend or yesterday. It was so cold, rainy, rough, and dark that I just couldn't convince myself to put on the wet wetsuit. SIGH. I got a lot of work and reading done but it felt strange and sad to hear the wind screaming and not to answer. I had known my watersports season wouldn't last all year here in Boston, but I wasn't prepared for it to end right then.

So today when the mercury creeped over 10C for the first time in a while, I creeped down to the Nahant Causeway to sail. The conditions were mellow compared to the previous days' gales; a flukey 15 knots from the North with waist to chest high swells from the East. I only planed in the gusts with my 5.5 sail, and only managed a few so-so wave rides, but it felt good. Yeah, I'll hang up the boom for the winter. But not quiiiiiiiiite yet.

The song in the video is by The The.

N Nahant 11-09-10 from James Douglass on Vimeo.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Nahant Windsurfing; Pre- and Post-Frontal

View of Boston Skyline from Nahant, MA, 5 November 2010

One of the fun things about being a windsurfer is trying to figure out the weather patterns of a new area, how they change through the seasons, and how they interact with shoreline geography to determine the best spots to ride at different times. I had all that figured out when I lived in Virginia and Florida, but I'm still working on it for Massachusetts. A cool thing about Mass is that it gets big, rotating storms that start with onshore wind and rough waves, then shift to sideshore or offshore wind and nicely-groomed swells as the storm moves out to sea. That was exactly the scenario that played out last Thursday and Friday in Nahant.

Thursday had blasting 30 mph winds, fog, and sideways rain from the Northeast. I went windsurfing from the causeway after work and was overpowered on 4.2. The wind and the relentless, incoming waves were very challenging and I got tired out quickly, partly because I had stupidly wrecked myself the night before by going to the gym for the first time in two years. Anyway, it soon it felt like I was stuck in molasses and I was almost too tired to walk or swim after my gear when I crashed. My old wetsuit felt like it was squeezing the life out of my sore muscles, and my hood and helmet strap felt like they were choking me. During some washings I felt water gushing in my nose and flowing out my mouth. Yikes! Next time it's like that I'll take the wiser local windsurfers' advice and launch up by the Lynn / Swampscott line where it's more sideshore and protected.

Friday the wind was a mellower 10-20 mph from the Southwest, but the big swells were still coming in from the Northeast. I used a 5.5 sail and my floaty 106 liter board and got some fantastic "frontside" wave rides with blue skies and in the company of a bunch of surfers and paddleboarders. I tell you what- the feeling of rushing "down the line" on a frontside wave ride on a windsurfer is the most awesome thrill I have ever gotten in any sport. So much power, so focused. The pictures below are from Friday. It was a "minus" tide so the beach was even broader than usual. It looks like the waves are small, but if you compare them to the little black speck down by the water (a surfer) you can see that they're actually big.



In other news, it's getting COLD here, and I don't know how much longer my watersports season will last. I may be able to get a few more days if the repair I just did on this hole in the back of my wetsuit holds.


Also, the forecast for the next couple days is ridiculous. HUGE waves and NUCLEAR wind. Given my scary experiences on Thursday I'm going to play it safe and may sail a flatwater spot or just stay home if it's too hardcore.

Surf forecast for the upcoming week from magicseaweed>

Friday, November 5, 2010

They Still Kill and Eat Dolphins in Japan

Here's something that I think hippie liberals and tea partying patriots can BOTH raise a stink about: The fact that DOLPHINS, the cute clever kind like Flipper, are being brutally killed en masse in Japan, for food. Yuck! They're not even covered by the flimsy International Whaling Commission regulations that supposedly limit the killing of larger whales.

It's ridiculous for a number of reasons:

1. Dolphin meat far, far exceeds the legal limit of poisonous Mercury.
2. Hardly anybody even likes dolphin meat- it's 1/3 the price per pound of the cheapest grade of tuna, and they can only get rid of it by deceptively packaging it as other kinds of whale, or sneaking into poor kids' school lunches.
3. It probably wouldn't even be economical to kill dolphins, except that the fishermen cull a few of the cutest ones from each batch they round up to sell for $150,000 to places like SeaWorld and "swim with the dolphins" resorts. (So don't give your money to any of those places!)
4. Dolphins are probably the most intelligent and self-aware non-human animals on earth. They are aware of everything that's going on around them as all their friends and babies are rounded up into a cove for the slaughter. They leap and squeak in desperate efforts to communicate (perhaps trying to reason with us?) as they are agonizingly killed one by one by haphazard skewering.
5. Dolphins are relatively long-lived and slow reproducing animals that could easily be driven to extinction by the hunting. There used to be more than one town in Japan that hunted dolphins, but now all but the one town of Taiji has run out of dolphins to kill. They kill 20,000 each September in Taiji. Ugh.

I got on this dolphin-protecting tear just now after watching "The Cove", a documentary about the little town in Japan where all the dolphins are being killed. So that you can do something besides just get depressed about it, there's a page here with suggested things you can do to help. I embedded the trailer below.

The fact that this movie has come out and exposed what's going on, and Japan's only response has been to soup up their propaganda, makes me think that the Japanese government SUCKS. Seriously, I'm having major second thoughts about my plan to buy Subaru when my student loans are paid off.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Quick Way to Find Out Where to Vote

It's Nov 2nd, y'all. Time to vote.

You can just type your address into this link and it will tell you where you're registered to vote:

Also, remember to vote for progressive liberals and not corporate-funded shysters or scary bozos from the Tea Party.

I really think this is a make-or-break time for the USA, since it's our first big election since the "FEC vs. Citizens United" supreme court decision. That horrible decision allowed ultra-rich corporations to make unlimited campaign donations, likely opening the floodgates to corruption and revving up the money-is-power-power-is-money feedback cycle that threatens the fairness of our society and the rights of not-ultra-rich people.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Serious Kite Accident in Nahant

Dang. While I was windsurfing on the East side of the Nahant causeway Saturday a kiteboarder got nearly killed on the West side of the causeway at "Dog Beach". Here is the ikitesurf forum thread that describes the accident...

On a related note, American kiteboarder Rob Douglas broke the world speed sailing record AGAIN, just a few days after the last record was set. His speed over 500 meters: 55.65 knots / 64 mph. Crazy. Then he broke his wrist and had to go home to America from Namibia where the record attempt was happening. Check out the ludicrous video.

This kind of thing reinforces my decision to only kite in lighter winds.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

The Best Personal Advice Ever

Life is not entirely straightforward.

For one thing, it's chock full of bewildering, unanswerable questions: Where does consciousness come from? Why are you YOU? What's up with this relentless, un-rewindable flow of time that leads to death? Is there any kind of meaning or design or fate or continuation of spirit beyond your several decades of eating sleeping breathing aging and if you're lucky reproducing? Etcetera.

For another thing, life tends to involve a lot of weary work and suffering, especially if you have lofty goals like pursuing an advanced degree or a competitive career, or if you're coping with unfortunate circumstances like you're a soldier in a particularly horrible war in the middle of winter and your boots have holes and lice are gnawing your testicles and your friends are getting blown to bits all around you and you don't know where your family is and your side is losing. Yikes!

In spite of those challenges, and excepting some extremely unlucky cases like that cold soldier, life can be pretty good. I feel like mine is good, at least. Besides luck, I reckon all it takes is a little effort and the right attitude. To that end, I want to share the bits of personal advice or insight that have made the biggest difference for me in really enjoying life.


#1- Try to have a positive attitude and be optimistic, even when things seem ridiculously bad. My mom gave me that piece of advice when I was in the 6th grade, I took it to heart, and almost immediately I noticed a huge improvement from dreadful anxiety to tolerable drudgery. The positive things I tried to focus on were pretty cheesy, like, "I'm going to have some delicious Apple Cinnamon Cheerios in the morning, then after school I'm going to look for salamanders in the woods and check out Ginger on Gilligan's Island." But that was a lot better than the negative things I had been dwelling on before, like, "I have to wake up in the pitch dark and walk to the bus stop in the cold rain past the mean dogs to be bounced around like a pinball and harassed by huge 8th graders in the crowded, putrid hallways of middle school." Yep, a positive attitude is totally key. Besides making you feel much better about your circumstances, I think it can actually improve the circumstances themselves, over time. :)

#2- Don't be shy, or afraid to take a chance. This is something my dad always told me when I was a kid, but it took a long time for me to get it.

#3- It's good to be introspective and to try to reason things out in your mind, but if you find yourself obsessing over an intractable problem or anxiety and you're not making progress or getting closure, just let it go and distract yourself with something else. You'll likely realize that the problem wasn't such a big deal after all, and you're gonna be fine. My dad told me that when I was in college and dealing with a stressful school, relationship, and personal crisis, and it really helped. I should also give some credit to my childhood best friend Erik Stoddard for giving me similar advice in a different form when we were about eight years old, "James, you worry too much." Ha ha. It's sort-of the same advice the Beatles give in their song, "Let it Be".

#4- You should work hardest on the things that you're best at and the things that you're worst at. I'm not sure who told me that, but I think it was one of my highschool teachers. Anyway, it was awesome advice. Working on the things that you're best at is cool because those are kind of what defines your character. Working on the things that you're worst at is also cool because it sort of breaks the chains that might hold you back in life. Erik Stoddard's childhood insight comes into this one again for me, because I will never forget how he said, "James, you have book smarts but not people smarts". Well, I worked on my book smarts and got a PhD, which is great, but what has really improved my life since highschool has been working on my people smarts. I'm still working.

#5 (Bonus)- Windsurfing.

Flat Nahant 10-30-10 from James Douglass on Vimeo.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Kiteboarder Breaks Speed Record... by a lot

At various points in the past decade, each of three very different types of watercraft; windsurf, kiteboard, and specialized sailboat, has held the world record for wind-propelled speed on liquid water. So it has been an interesting decade, if you're into that sort of thing. Here's a rundown of the record-breaking from This is average speed measured over a 500 meter stretch. A knot is 1.15 mph:

Year, Type of Watercraft, Skipper Name, Venue, Speed
1993, Yellow Pages (wing-sail sailboat), Simon McKeon, Sandy Point, Australia, 46.52 kts
2004, Windsurfer, Finian Maynard, Stes. Marie Speed Ditch, France, 46.82 kts
2005, Windsurfer, Finian Maynard, Stes. Marie Speed Ditch, France, 48.70 kts
2008, Windsurfer, Antoine Albeau, Stes. Marie Speed Ditch, France, 49.09 kts
2008, Kite-board, Robert Douglas, Luderitz Speed Ditch, Namibia, 49.84 kts
2008, Kite-board, Sebastien Cattelan, Luderitz Speed Ditch, Namibia, 50.26 kts
2008, Kite-board, Alexandre Caizergues, Luderitz Speed Ditch, Namibia, 50.57 kts
2009, Hydroptere (hydrofoil trimaran), Alain Thebault, Hyeres Bay, France 51.36 kts

and just the other day...

2010, Kite-board, Alexandre Caizergues, Luderitz Speed Ditch, Namibia, 54.10 kts (62.3 mph!)

Wow. I think it's unlikely now that windsurfers will ever recapture the record, since Antoine Albeau's amazing 49.09 knot run in perfect conditions in 2008 is a full 5 knots slower than Caizergues' new kiteboard record. Oh, well. I think it's just easier to get extreme speeds on a kiteboard because of the physics of it. The kite is higher in the air where the wind is unobstructed, the board and fin can be smaller, and the kiteboard can run at a deeper downwind angle. Of course, "easy" is relative. All these record attempts look extremely difficult and dangerous to me, and I wonder how long it will be before someone gets killed smacking into a sandbar or something. Yikes.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Another High-Wind Session in Nahant

Woot! Saturday windsurfing in Nahant was even better than Friday, with blue skies, fairly sideshore wind, and about ten other windsurfers out there enjoying it. It was my buddy Eric's windiest and waviest windsurfing experience so far. He did well on a 4.7 World Sail and 110 liter RRD fsw while I was on a 4.25 Naish Nalu and my 83 liter Starboard Evo. I gave Eric some tuning tips for the high wind and waves, including: 1) Moving his footstraps inboard and using a single, centered rear strap for better turning and control. 2) Moving the mast base from the front to the middle of the mast track. 3) Threading his downhaul line using the proper method so he could fully downhaul his sail. And 4) Lending him a small 23 cm weed-wave fin to settle the board and increase control. It must have worked because Eric looked really dialed out there. At one point in the video you can see him pass me like I'm standing skill. Dang! The dude can't jibe too well yet but he is FAST.

The song in this video is "Aneurysm" by Nirvana.

Epic Nahant 10-16-10 from James Douglass on Vimeo.

PS- Here's a diagram of the tuning changes I recommended for Eric to get the most from his Freestyle-Wave (fsw) board. Some fsw boards come with outboard footstrap options like in this picture. The outboard foostrap positions let you use a longer fin and freeride sails with a lower foot for back and forth blasting, but they destroy the playful maneuverability you get when you use inboard foostraps and a stubbier fin.


Saturday, October 16, 2010

Cold as Heck, Windy as Hell

It's still summery in Florida. Here in Massachusetts, not so much. At least it's windy. Like, REALLY windy...

Friday October 15th wind readings from iWindsurf

I was able to get out on my 4.25 sail for the first time in many months. That was great, but it was tough readjusting to the twitchiness of a small sail while at the same time negotiating some challenging side-offshore wave conditions at the Nahant causeway. After a washing machine treatment by the waves I got dialed in enough to enjoy a few fast, down-the-line rides, although I wasn't exactly slashing the waves up like the pros in Cabo Verde. I took some GoPro helmet camera video and set it a song by Alice in Chains (see below).

Big Wind Nahant 10-15-10 from James Douglass on Vimeo.

Today looks to offer similar conditions, but with side-offshore winds from the NW instead of the SW. We'll see how it goes.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Nahant Slalom Session, Intertidal Rock Stars

Well, after a month or so living in Massachusetts I finally got around to documenting a cold-water windsurfing session with my GoPro helmet camera. It was a propitious date, 10-10-10, with beautiful, blue sky, mild fall temperatures, and a puffy west wind averaging 15 mph. I figured a slalom session was in order since the breeze was offshore and there was no swell at my favored launch, the east side of the Nahant causeway. My slalom board was on the rack in my living room so I got to practice a new technique for loading and unloading gear; out the back window into the parking lot to avoid the hallways, doors, and stairs of my usual exit path. It worked pretty well.

At the beach I couldn't decide between rigging a 6.8 or an 8.0, but I went for 6.8 and it was fine. A nice windsurfer dude named Eric stopped by while I was setting up and I encouraged him to rig even though he had only brought a 5.7 and a freestyle wave board. He went for it and managed to plane a good chunk of the time, so that was cool.

Since it was a weekend day there were a lot of people out strolling the beach, flying kites, etc. At one point during the session I noticed a runaway, long-tailed rainbow kite with the spool skipping along behind it in the water. I happened to be on a good heading to intercept it so I bore off the wind and crossed the line just in front of the spool to snag it with my fin. It was windy enough that the drag from the kite didn't stop me from planing all the way back to the beach with the kite in tow. There I transferred it to some folks walking on the beach, who transferred it to the dude who lost it, who was a really friendly guy who thanked me after the session and told me the story about how the kite was a treasured gift from his sister in Hawaii and he was mortified to have lost it / delighted to have it recovered. Woo hoo!

Here's the video from the session, set to "I Feel Free" by Cream.

Nahant Windsurfing 10-10-10 from James Douglass on Vimeo.

In other news, I've been spending a lot of time doing marine biology fieldwork up in Maine. It's generally wet, chilly, and blustery up there with big waves smashing into the seaweed-covered rocks where my colleagues and I are scrambling frantically to take our samples before the tide returns. Part of what makes it fun, though, is that I get to use cool gear, like a metal detector to find the bolts in the rock marking our experimental plots, and heavy duty rubber rainclothes like the Alaskan crab fishermen wear in "The Deadliest Catch". This studly picture of me was taken Friday evening at Quoddy Head State Park, after we had finally surveyed the last plot at the site. Yeah!


The pictures in the slideshow below are borrowed from PhD candidate Genevieve Bernatchez who was there as a TA for a group of undergraduate and master's students doing the "Three Seas Program"; a year of challenging marine biology courses and real research projects in Massachussets, Washington State, and Panama. The three seas program is offered through Northeastern University but is open to any student who has the grades and motivation to get in and whose parents are willing and able to spend a buttload of money to pay for it.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Beetles in Baby Formula

Via my sister on facebook-

"I've been receiving unwanted free samples of formula since [second daughter] Yaiza was born. Now I just received a letter from the Similac company saying the formula they sent me may contain beetles and or their larva[e]. Isn't that great?"

Yikes! I found the news article about it here.

Pretty disgusting, although probably not that unusual for things like this to happen in overgrown, over-industrialized, corner-cutting, corporate, food-and-drug-processing plants.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

How to do the Clew Mount Boom Mount GoPro Thing


Enough people have been emailing me asking how I mount the GoPro camera on the clew of my windsurfing boom that think I should post a formal explanation / tutorial. I copied the technique from Andy McKinney of Lost In Hatteras fame, and the picture I am posting here is his, too.

The Andy McKinney boom mount

Basically, you take the helmet vent strap that comes with the GoPro helmet hero camera, and lash it tightly to the underside of the clew of your boom. That means the camera will be upside down when you clip it on, but you can flip the video when you process it in iMovie or whatever other program you use to edit the video. (No one wants to see a long, boring, unedited video, anyway.)

Tying a safety leash onto the camera and / or having a big, colorful float on the camera is also a good idea in case the clip breaks or the strap comes loose. Also, depending on the geometry of the clew, sometimes the camera will be most stable with the base of the vent strap not directly under the clew, but about 45 degrees across the back of the clew, stabilized agains the ridges where the pulleys are in the clew. It takes some trial and error to find the perfect angle for the camera to get the board in the shot and not cut off your head, but you'll figure it out. Happy filming!

PS- Here's links to some of the posts where I use this boom mount:

Note: in this last one I actually did the camera on top of the clew, with a few extra hinge joints to get it up at the correct angle, but that was less stable and only worked because the water was super flat.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Ugliness, Fairness, and Happiness

It’s no secret that life is unfair. Some people are born rich, beautiful, and intelligent into loving families and pleasant communities, while other people are born poor, dumb, and ugly into wretched familial and societal circumstances. Most of us arrive somewhere in between those two extremes.

So what should we do to deal with life in this unfair world? One obvious approach is to try to reduce the unfairness. For example, by improving governments and communities we might be able to grant more equal opportunities and eliminate the egregious hoarding of money and power. While making the world more fair is definitely a worthy goal, it has some problems, including: 1) it’s hard, 2) it could take a long time, and 3) even if / when we succeed in creating a perfectly equitable, global society there will still be “unfair” differences among people in terms of the looks and intelligence they are born with.

Now wait a second- are differences in looks and intelligence really part of fairness? I think they are because I think it’s significantly easier to find personal, social, and romantic fulfillment if you happen to be smart and good-looking, and it’s harder if you lack those advantages. Looks and intelligence don’t strictly determine the level of happiness and success you will achieve in life, but they definitely “load the dice” in your favor.

I know there are people who say things like “ignorance is bliss” and “beauty is a curse”, and I’ll grant that there is occasionally some truth to that, like when scholars get depressed and overwhelmed with all they know but can’t control, or when beautiful women find themselves objectified by men and resented by other women. But I think it’s much more often true that intelligence is bliss and ugliness is a curse. (Another thing that people often trump up to downplay the unfairness of life is the idea that if you are less gifted in one area, like looks, you must be more gifted in another area, like intelligence, athletic talent, or sense of humor. That is simply not true, since there are many people who are beautiful, smart, funny, AND athletic, and many who have just one or two or none of those gifts. Gifts are doled out in a random, unfair manner; not a carefully balanced, compensatory manner.)

I consider myself well qualified to weigh in on this subject because in my own life I’ve miraculously experienced both ends of the dumb / smart spectrum AND both ends of the ugly / handsome spectrum.

As an elementary school kid I didn’t think I was very smart and I had a paralyzing math phobia, which, combined with shyness and general immaturity, caused me to have to repeat the fourth grade when I transferred schools. That was not bliss at all; it was humiliating. Of course, later I became a good student, graduated Summa Cum Laude from a prestigious university, and went on to get my PhD. So I can say with authority that the smart end of the spectrum is a happier place to be.

With the ugly / handsome spectrum it went like this: I was a kid of average cuteness but took a major ugly turn at puberty with horrendous acne, poor style and hygiene, and orthodontics.

The author, circa 1992

It was an awful time where I had zero social confidence and felt tortured whenever I looked in the mirror or had to talk to someone. Fortunately, it was only about a year and half before I figured out that Benzoyl Peroxide cream and showering every day could get my disfiguring, pizza-like zits mostly under control. Though it was several more years before my self-image caught up with my clear complexion, by the time I was an adult I realized that I had become fairly handsome. I wasn’t Leonardo DiCaprio handsome, but I was at least handsome enough not to be at any disadvantage in dating and socializing. I realize the key thing isn’t how good-looking you are per se; it’s how confident and happy you are with your looks. But obviously the better looking you are the easier it is to be confident and happy with your looks, which is where the unfairness factor comes in.

Anyway, back to the main issue: what to do to find happiness for yourself (and impart happiness to others) in spite of the irresolvable unfairness of life. Here are some of my ideas, organized as general coping strategies, then strategies that are specific to more- or less-blessed people:

Things everybody can do:

1. Recognize that a lot of things about yourself, including your looks and a large part of your intelligence, are the result of random fate that you had nothing to do with. So you shouldn’t be either too proud or too ashamed of how smart and good looking you are (or are not). For example, Susan Boyle needn’t bear any responsibility for the fact that she’s not as pretty as Taylor Swift, because it was just random fate that Boyle came out homely while Swift came out hot.
2. Look internally, and don’t judge yourself too much by comparison with others or by unrealistic standards. Your job is to be a version of yourself that you can respect; not to claim the highest rank among the multitudes in some arbitrary category of worth, like salary, grade-point average, website hits, or rating. Remember that there are many dimensions of personality and character that define you, and even if you’re not great in all the ways you wish you could be great, at least no one else is quite like you.
3. Be nice. Looks and brains matter, but how you treat other people almost always matters more, especially in the long run. Also, there’s the bonus effect of niceness on people’s perceptions of your looks. If you’re nice you start looking better to people who know you, and the reverse is true if you’re mean. Being nice won’t make you seem any smarter, but if you’re nice, people will be less judgmental about your level of smarts.
4. Be selective about what you choose to remember and think about. Because even people who have a lot going for them can get bummed out if they dwell on their few flaws. And even people who don’t have many advantages can usually find some qualities to be proud of- if nothing else, the ability to cope with a tough life is a good one.

Things more-blessed people can do:

1. Enjoy and make the most of your gifts- there’s no need to feel guilty. But don’t start thinking that you have more intrinsic merit than other people just because you’ve had more luck.
2. Try to be understanding of those less blessed, and appreciative of the extra struggles they may have to endure.
3. Be careful not to lean too heavily on your looks and / or brains as the basis of your self worth. Because there’s always someone that can come along and out-do or out-dazzle you. Plus, Paul Newman notwithstanding, most people, by the time they’re geezers, look more like geezers than whatever they looked like as young people, and trying to maintain your hotness too long is a degrading, losing battle, as evidenced by the plastic surgery and fashion disasters of many aging celebrities.

Things less-blessed people can do:

1. Give yourself a pat on the back for all the extra struggling you’ve had to do in life. It has been a rough road for you, and it’s ok to indulge in some self-pity from time to time, Roy Orbison style. But try not to spend TOO much time in self-pity, since your suffering will be more productive in terms of character building if you can greet it with a little optimism, or at least a little ironic humor.
2. Shore up your weaknesses, where possible. For example, if you’re not naturally good looking you can offset that a bit by maintaining good health and hygiene, and if you’re not naturally smart you can compensate to some extent by spending extra time reading and studying. Just realize your limits and don’t overdo it by trying to be what your genetics simply won’t allow you to be. Like, if you’re the one big-boned girl in a clique of petite girls, don’t awkwardly try to stuff yourself into the same size and style clothes as the rest. And if you’re a little guy with a jockey’s build, don’t ruin your health with steroids and squander all your time in the gym just so you can look and feel a little bigger.
3. Find nice people to hang out with who feel your pain and appreciate your good qualities. Shared hardships can bring people together in really strong friendships and romances.
4. Your looks and brains, or your lack thereof, might affect your day-to-day life and some of the opportunities you’ll have with other people. But they don’t affect your intrinsic worth or your position in the great, big mysterious universe. The moon and stars, and the bees and flowers and the wind don’t care in the slightest how you look or what college you went to, and neither does your dog or your goldfish.

There. I hope that was interesting and / or helpful. Feel free to add any other little thoughts or sayings you might have come up with or collected that you think are useful or helpful for making the best of things in spite of unfairness.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Mary Lee Douglass, my Grandmama

My Grandmama Douglass died today in Summerville, SC. She was a really wonderfully lady and I have a lot of good memories of her from my early childhood on up to the last time I visited her in the rest home this summer. My dad, of course, has even more memories, and he has written some of them on his blog here:

I will be going down to South Carolina on Friday to meet up with the rest of my family for the funeral.

PS- My Grandpa Enge passed away earlier this summer, too, in Sauk City, Wisconsin. He was also a really wonderful person and I'm going to see about finding something about his life to post for those interested.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Murphy's Mercy

According to "Murphy's Law", anything that CAN go wrong WILL go wrong, typically at the worst possible time.

As a serial owner of used American cars with 150,000+ miles, I am well acquainted with Murphy. For a couple months now I have been paranoid that he was about to break my el-cheapo minivan and strand me somewhere inconvenient. The Murphmeister certainly had plenty of opportunities to cause mischief. He could have struck at 10 pm on a Thursday while I was traveling a dark and twisty Maine road miles from anywhere, with no cell phone coverage. He might have attacked during morning rush hour as I headed to Northeastern University through one of Boston's endlessly long and narrow tunnels. And I'm truly amazed that he left me alone as I went back and forth between Lynn, Nahant, Salem, and Boston this weekend during my wonderful long-distance sweetheart's visit from Florida. Yes, merciful Murphy warned me he was coming with a low battery light Sunday afternoon, but he kept the van running all the way until Sunday evening, just five minutes after I dropped my darling off at the Logan Airport departure gate. He even chose to stall the van for me next to an open parking place by a subway stop, where I could wait for a tow truck in leisurely comfort.

Actually it wasn't all that leisurely since AAA and the first tow company they called screwed things up and they had to call a different tow company after I'd already been waiting two hours underdressed in the damp wind, causing a latent cold I'd been denying all weekend to bloom full force, but whatever. At least I got my weekend. And as of now I have a new alternator that works like a charm. So HA. :)


Thursday, September 23, 2010

New Biscuits and Gravy Song

Hey! It's not windsurfing but I think it's pretty cool. Check out this video by my friend's band. WARNING: Nunchucks.

Eees My Neighbor

I have a bad neighbor in the apartment directly above my mine. Like, a real bad neighbor. Like, a crashing around and yelling drunken death threats at 6 am (not to me, fortunately) bad neighbor. I transcribed some of what I could hear this morning...

"Aaah! Oooh! F*ck you Robert! I don't give a f*ck! I'll f*cking kill you right now! I WILL kill you! Don't think I won't. I'm ready to kill you. I know you chickenshit. Shut the F*CK up! F*CK you motherf*ucker! I swear to god!"

I called the cops and they said they would come over and that I could let them in the door. I was like, "My buzzer is broken, isn't there some way you can get in without me actually having to go out and let you in, and be outed as a snitch." And they were like, "No we'll just call you on your cell phone when we get there and you can let us in, but just make it look like you were getting up to check your mail or something." For better or worse, the cops never actually showed up and I went back to sleep for a while.

I was pretty upset when I woke up, though, so I went to police station in downtown Lynn and tried to make a report. On the way out the door of my apartment I happened to see the bad dude walking up the stairs of my building. I know it was the psycho threat-maker because he was muttering murderous things to himself like, "Let's do it, it's on now" in the exact same accent as his yelling. At the police station the cop behind the bulletproof glass of the front desk was nice enough, but he said there was really nothing I could do unless the bad dude made a threat against me. Is that true? I don't know because I'm not a lawyer or anything. Another thing the cop said was that I could talk to my property manager to see about getting the guy evicted, so I called my property manager, who in some way I don't quite understand is a different person than who I pay rent to.

The property manager said there were problem tenants in two units on the second floor, one of which is directly above mine. He said they were in the process of evicting one of the sets of problem tenants, but they were having trouble evicting the ones directly above me, which is where he said the nasty dude I saw on the stairs lives. The dude is an illegal from Cape Verde who they tried to deport but couldn't because Cape Verde wouldn't take him back. (Can't say I blame Cape Verde!) The property manager is also having a hard time evicting him because his girlfriend owns the unit. He said they got some kind of no contact order or something on the dude, but it backfired because he got a lawyer or something, and their current strategy is just to fine his girlfriend when he causes disturbances, until the fines pile up and they can get a lien on the unit to evict the pair. Sheesh. That might take a while, but the more I whine the more they can fine. I just need to whine sneakily so the nutcase won't retaliate against me.

One good thing that the property manager said was that the bad guy is nearly blind and usually stumbling drunk (perhaps accounting for some of the banging around I hear) so I should be able to easily escape if he comes after me.

It's really too bad because the apartment is right on the edge of a pretty nice neighborhood, the other neighbors are nice enough, I have it set up and decorated the way I want, and I just signed a one year lease with a chunky security deposit. But if I do notice any of the bad guy's ire directed at me personally I'll be out of the there in a flash.

This situation makes me think of a song I like by the band "Massive Attack"...

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Another Epic Windsurf Session in Nahant

Wow, I don't know if this evening and and yesterday's windsurfing conditions in Nahant, MA were at all typical or just freakishly perfect because of distant Hurricane Igor, but boy were they good. Yesterday the wind was side-off from the NW so I was doing starboard tack down-the-line wave rides, and today it was side-off from the SW so I was doing port tack down-the-line wave rides. Great practice! The size, spacing, and length of the waves made it really easy to get long rides and get creative with the turns without worrying about getting crunched. Pure bliss. And today I was the only wind-powered thing on the East side of the causeway so I had the whole paradise to myself, not counting the surfers. Used 6.8 and 106 liter board again.

This is an actual embedded google map that you can grab and scroll; not just a jpg like in my last post.

View Larger Map

Tomorrow is supposed to be really windy but not to have such big waves. I need to do some fieldwork during the late afternoon low tide but if I have time before work or during lunch hour I'll try to grab a quickie sesh. STOKE!

This video isn't mine, but it shows kind of what windsurfing offshore wind conditions is like in Nahant. The conditions I was out in were less windy but with bigger waves breaking further out.

Monday, September 20, 2010

My ASS of a day, made good by EPIC Wavesailing!

Boy, what a day. It started with mandatory HR training at the Northeastern University main campus in Boston, only 14 miles from my apartment in Lynn but almost an hour drive in morning traffic with $3.50 in tolls. Since the trip in is so long I tried to get a bunch of other bureaucratic stuff done on campus while I was there, like convincing the Information Services center to correct my last name from Douglas with one s to DouglASS with two ss, which I thought I had already done after two hours back and forth on the phone last week. They said it would still take them three days to fix it, so I had to get my Campus ID card made with the name still annoyingly misspelled. So much work for a stupidly simple little thing. Sigh.

But that's just chapter one. My plan for on-the-way-home was to stop at the Registry of Motor Vehicles in the sketchy town of Revere to get my license and registration for Massachusetts. (Revere makes Lynn look like Martha's Vineyard.) For that I needed to print out a special insurance form that I had to call and order emailed to me from Progressive, which took a long time because like all big evil money-sucking corporations they stick you in endless horrible multiple choice phone menus before letting you speak to anyone real. Anyway, I got that emailed, but the only computers with printers that I could access at the University were print stations in the library with 5 minute time limits. Since the computers were slow and stupid Microsoft Hotmail was crashing and giving me overloaded server messages I could never get the pdf loaded before the @#$% computer would automatically log me off. GRRR. I called Progressive again and had them email my stuff to my Northeastern address, which worked, so then I printed the crap and hit the road, after paying an outrageous $15.00 for just half a day of parking in the campus garage. Sheesh.

At the RMV (I don't know why Massachusetts can't just call it a DMV like every other state) I waited in the pre-line for 15 minutes to talk to a grouchy old man who almost sent me home to get my passport but then caved when he realized if I got my registration first I could use the registration as the third excessive form of identification needed to get my license. Anyway, the good hearted grouch gave me a number, A180, on a little tag that said "Estimated wait time, 42 minutes". 42 minutes isn't that long when you're doing something fun, but it seemed like forever on the uncomfortable bench at the DMV in a crowd of other antsy people. Finally A180 was called and got the deed done, although I was a bit disappointed that they don't actually give you a real laminated driver's license card at the RMV; just a lame paper temporary license and then they send you the card like a month later in the mail. Boo!

To access the shopping center in Revere that holds the RMV you have to pass through this intersection from HELL, which is a combination of a two-lane roundabout (they call them "rotaries" up here) with a two-lane intersection. WTF!? I can't imagine the fear that must go through the 16 year olds' hearts when they have to face that on their drivers' exams.

A minor highlight on my way in to work, finally, was stopping at the bank to deposit my old apartment security deposit from Florida and finding that I had lots of money in my account because my electronic paycheck from the University had come. Knowing I have money always reduces my stress level. :)

At work I wanted to do something sciencey and productive like what they pay me for, but I ended up in a long back-and-forth email / phone conversation with Information Services again trying to get administrator privileges for the computer in my office. Part of the mix-up there was that the Information Services guy emailed the administrator privileges application form to j.douglas instead of j.douglass ; my email is the only electronic record of myself at Northeastern where my full ASS is correcly included. That never got completely resolved because at 5pm I had had enough and busted loose to WINDSURF!!!!!!!!!!!

The wind was 10 - 20 knots NNW, which is side-offshore at the Nahant causeway, and beautiful big clean swells from Hurricane Igor were rolling in and breaking gradually over the long, smoothly sloping sandy bottom. I rigged a 6.8 Aerotech Phantom and rode my trusty 106 liter Exocet Cross with my new 32 cm MUFin no-spin fin. It was a great combo for blasting out over the lines of whitewater, getting some jumps on the steepening waves (which were very widely spaced so you could hit them full speed; I ended up doing one very high, unintentional partial-rotation back loop off a big one - ow), and carving some glorious front-side down-the-line turns on the way in. A fair number of surfers were out, so I definitely had to watch where I was going and sometimes veer wide or pass up a wave they were on. But there were a few waves that I had completely to myself and rode ecstatically all the way in to knee deep water. Woo hoo! It was definitely the longest I've ever been "front side" on a wave. There were some kiters out, but I don't know why there weren't any other windsurfers. If you live in the area, come on out to Nahant!

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Lynn, Lynn, City of Sin

Last night around 10 pm and again at 2 am I heard all kinds of crashing around and horrible violent yelling upstairs in my apartment. I don't know what the heck was going on. The first time I called the cops but the second time I just let it go.

When I picked my place here in Lynn, Massachusetts, I thought the fact that it was only three blocks from the ocean and the historic downtown would mean it was in a nice neighborhood. Unfortunately it seems the cutesy seaside neighborhoods of Lynn are a just thin veneer around the crowded, old, dirty, urban center, and I'm about two blocks over the line, which is demarcated by one of those skeezy liquor stores where the clerk has to buzz you in the door. Oh, well. The price is right, at least.


Reading about my town on wikipedia I found this charming poem, which originated in Lynn's early industrial era and has continued to ring true through the years, apparently...

Lynn, Lynn, city of sin
You never come out the way you went in.
Ask for water they give you a gin
the girls say no but always give in

As a nicer contrast, I also offer this old poem by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, in which the poet reflects on the sound of churchbells in Lynn as he hears them from the beautiful semi-island of Nahant, current location of the Northeastern University Marine Science Center where I work...



O curfew of the setting sun! O Bells of Lynn!
O requiem of the dying day! O Bells of Lynn!

From the dark belfries of yon cloud-cathedral wafted,
Your sounds aerial seem to float, O Bells of Lynn!

Borne on the evening wind across the crimson twilight,
O'er land and sea they rise and fall, O Bells of Lynn!

The fisherman in his boat, far out beyond the headland,
Listens, and leisurely rows ashore, O Bells of Lynn!

Over the shining sands the wandering cattle homeward
Follow each other at your call, O Bells of Lynn!

The distant lighthouse hears, and with his flaming signal
Answers you, passing the watchword on, O Bells of Lynn!

And down the darkening coast run the tumultuous surges,
And clap their hands, and shout to you, O Bells of Lynn!

Till from the shuddering sea, with your wild incantations,
Ye summon up the spectral moon, O Bells of Lynn!

And startled at the sight like the weird woman of Endor,
Ye cry aloud, and then are still, O Bells of Lynn!