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.