This is brilliant: Sony LiveView

I hate my iPod — dumb device (the Nano) with a singular function — playing music. This Sony device, once given a camera, will completely realize the dream of a Dick Tracy wrist watch with incredible multi-functionality. It’s been said that the smart phone killed the wrist watch; that may be the case. I don’t wear a watch. But I also don’t want a portable music player that only does music and lives on its own island. I don’t want to use my EVO as a music player — far too bulky for the rower.  The fact this sony device can be paired with any Android phone is simple genius. I may need to get one.

A maritime reading list

A friend just asked for some maritime reading suggestions following my endorsement of Susan Casey’s The Wave.

Here, in no particular order, are some good ones from my bookshelf.

  • Nigger of the Narcissus, Conrad
  • Two Years Before the Mast, Dana
  • Moby Dick, Melville
  • Typee, Melville
  • Wanderer, Sterling Hayden
  • Voyage, Hayden
  • Looking for a Ship, John McPhee
  • Steaming to Bamboola, Chris Buckley
  • Sailing Alone Around the World, Slocum
  • Around the World Singlehanded, Harry Pidgeon
  • Voyaging Southwards from the Strait of Magellan, Rockwell Kent
  • N by E, Kent
  • The White Dawn, James Houston
  • The Captain, Jan de Hartog
  • The Strange Last Voyage of Donald Crowhurst, Tomalin and Hall
  • anything by Edgar Rowe Snow
  • The Long Way, Bernard Moitessier
  • The Caine Mutiny, Herman Wouk
  • Ice Brothers, Sloan Wilson
  • A Night to Remember, Walter Lord
  • In the Heart of the Sea, Nathaniel Philbrick
  • Down by the Docks, Rory Nugent
  • Perfect Storm, Sebastian Junger
  • Heavy Weather Sailing, Adlard Coles
  • The Venturesome Voyages of Captain Voss, Voss
  • A Fighting Chance, Ridgway and Blyth
  • Crunch and Des, Philip Wylie

I’ll add others as they come to mind. Suggestions appreciated.

The coming failure of digital periodicals

The best thing that can be said about the dead-tree era of publishing that sustained the world for a few centuries was the relative ease-of-use and standardization in operating the delivery mechanism — the book, newspaper, or magazine. Sentences began on the left, went to the right (in the West), eyes moved from to bottom, and when you finished the page you turned it. Need to remember a place? Dog ear the page or use a bookmark of some sort. Need to annotate? Scribble in the margins. Underline the text. Highlight the sentence.

The first digital versions of text tried to ape their paper antecedents. Zinio and other early e-mag technologies were basically smarter PDFs of pages, but they were proprietary, and it wasn’t until HTML provided a common framework and page description language that there was some semblance of standardization on how to read pixels.

Now that we are two years into the dedicated e-reader revolution — starting with the Amazon Kindle and now the notion of iPad apps, all hell is going to break loose on readers with very bad consequences. While others have bemoaned the end of the web as it moves off of standard platforms and onto proprietary ones, my beef is purely based on usability.  Today’s culprit is the vaunted New Yorker’s new iPad version, a “free” app that sticks a $4.99 gun in your ribs as soon as you decide you actually want to read something in it.

Jason Schwartzmann’s cute video instructions aside, the New Yorker is an utter failure as an online reading experience for several reasons.

  • Pages are turned by flicking up, not side to side.
  • The table of contents is impossible to find
  • The standard menu has no option to jack up the font size to make the thing elderly eyes compatible
  • It doesn’t remember your place automatically
  • It doesn’t appear to have any annotation capabilities
  • Getting out of the cute animation of how the cover was drawn was nigh impossible

New Yorker editor David Remnick needs to b-tch-slap his designers and start over. I will not buy an iPad version of the magazine again ($4.99 is a rip off what appears, thanks to the missing table of contents, to be a severely truncated version of the real thing). Whomever coded the thing and made their “enhancements” to the reading experience are the beginning of an ugly trend that is only going to get uglier as formats splinter and digital typographic designers decide to innovate the same way they managed to muck up web design over the years. Amazon enforces a modicum of standardization, so for now my allegiances will lie with the iPad’s Kindle app. But magazines and papers better settle on a defacto standard for tablet/reader publishing or we’re all screwed trying to find out where the table of contents is, the font adjuster and the virtual bookmark. I need to get smarter about these new tablet production tools.

Frisbee on the roof, halyard at the mast top

The main halyard has needed replacing all season — the braided cover frayed and parted halfway up the line and was sliding and bunching up like a snake skin. I’d stand on deck and stare upwards, 52 feet up the aluminum pole and wonder how in hell I was going to re-reeve a new line without going up the mast. The smart thing would have been to temporarily splice a new one to the bitter end of the old one and haul it up through the mast-head sheave … but no, procrastination and a temporary fix tided me over until Tuesday afternoon.

I went for a solo sail in the afternoon, unreefed, full sail, charging out of the channel into the teeth of a boisterous 20 knot southwesterly. Just as I was about to kill the diesel and winch open the jib my phone rang.  A buddy sitting in the parking lot at Loop Beach had seen me steam by and was calling to express his admiration that some idiot would try to singlehand a 33-foot sloop by himself into a smoking Nantucket Sound afternoon. Ha-ha, I said, unconcerned about the single-handed part. Solo sailing isn’t hard. It comes down to using one’s foot to steady the wheel and being very efficient in one’s movements to the main and jibsheets.  It’s actually harder to hold down a small boat in a breeze with one’s weight than it is a 15,000 pound keel boat. One person or two doesn’t make a lot of difference.

I hung up the phone, sheeted everything down nice and tight, turned off the engine, and hung on for dear life as the wind indicator showed 25 knot gusts and started to push the boat around in the chop. Down below, in the cabin, crashes could be heard as the hull heeled and ditty bags, cups, 12 packs of soda, fog horns, boathooks, and other detritus started to fly around.

I enjoyed a very vigorous close-hauled reach out to Bell Eight, on the edge of Horseshoe Shoal where the wind farm is planned. Tacked around, and broad reached back like a comet to Cotuit, making the channel despite an extreme full-moon low tide, and sailing gracefully all the way into the bay without resorting to the engine. Handling the mooring alone is a challenge — my missing left big toe nail is a testament to running forward to snag the pennant and stubbing my toe on a big-ass jib car —  but I manage to get the splice onto the bow clear and run the skiff back to the transom without too much chaos.

The main sail was luffing like a thunderstorm so I got it down quickly, uncleating the main halyard, complete with the frayed off cover, and letting it slump to the deck. Silence. Big exhalation of relief. Safe and sound. I ducked down below to find the sail stops and the shit-stick (my homemade comorant deterrent device) and when I came back on deck I notice an awful lot of 3/16th’s wire cable on the cabin top. Hmm. That’s strange.

The wind had caught the halyard and blown it out into a big belly, sucking the rope part of the steel-rope halyard to the top of the mast. I looked up, mouth open like a gaping idiot. Total amateur move losing a halyard to the top of the mast. I should, of course, have cleated the bitter end to prevent such idiocy from occurring. In the old days the rule was you lose it, you climb and get it. That made perfect sense when I was 16 and my father was making up the rules. At my age there’s no consideration of such aerial ascents.

Pissed, I tugged the remaining halyard and let the whole affair fall to the deck. Now the boat has no main halyard, rendering it esseentially into a big motorboat unless I can find a replacement, buy a bosun’s chair, and con my skinny son into riding the chair aloft while I haul him up with the jib winches.  Taking it to a boat yard will yield a $1,000 bill. The other option — the safer one at least — is not to do anything, declare the sailing season over, and wait until the boat is hauled on October 15 and then make the replacement when the mast is unstepped and laying across a set of sawhorses. Decisions, decisions. This is a nice time of year to sail, would be a shame to throw in the towel now, but do I really want to go through the contortions?

Update: the ever helpful Uncle Fester sent along this video which made me want to vomit.

Hiding in Plain Sight: The Rise of Amazon Web Services – tecosystems

Stephen O’Grady nails down and confirms what Esteban Panzeri and I saw in the winter of 2009 when we were in discussions with Amazon Web Services to built a cloud application for a hardware project in a former life. Amazon is  much, much more than a store these days, and up on the hill above Seattle, in the old Veteran’s Hospital, looms a revolution in cloud computing that is going to cause a train wreck among traditional enterprise software companies.

When I learned from Pooj Preena that Dropbox was using AWS to host its excellent cloud storage service; and after reading J.D. Lasica’s seminal white paper on identity in the age of cloud computing, I began to grok the implications of Amazon’s servers-in-the-skies. But add on that some higher level services in the stack and things start to get very very very interesting. Here’s O’Grady’s piece:

“Maybe it’s the lingering perception that they’re just a retailer, but the lack of a healthy fear of Amazon is still curious. Even as players large and small acknowledge the dominance of AWS within the public cloud computing market, the lack of an immune response to its continued expansion defies simple explanation.

If Amazon restricted itself to basic public cloud computing services, that would be one thing. Most of the large systems players have turned their attention to the burgeoning market for quote unquote private cloud services. Whether these same cloud players appreciate the fact that a large portion of their interest in the private cloud is a function of the public cloud economic realities established by Amazon is unclear, but unimportant. Amazon is singularly responsible for the framing that is the public cloud today, a framing which generally relegates those with traditional enterprise margins in mind to private cloud settings.”

via Hiding in Plain Sight: The Rise of Amazon Web Services – tecosystems.

Ruminations on jelly

The hunter-gather lifestyle can be a bitch, but that’s the point isn’t it? To don the 19th century hair shirt and try to abide with what one can oneself catch, harvest, gather and transform into something edible? Readers of Michael Pollan’s excellent The Omnivore’s Dilemma will understand the sheer labor involved in preparing food from scratch. Pollan goes so far as to try to make his own salt (a dismal failure) from San Francisco Bay, but I can identify with the satisfaction of pulling something out of the kitchen based on one’s own labors in the garden or on the working end of a clam rake or fishing rod.

Growing up with a grandmother who survived the Great Depression on Cape Cod gave me some interesting insights into how things were done in the days before foodies ruled the kitchen, when salt and pepper was about it when it came to spices, and canning — the act of putting away food in supposedly sterile containers — was a fact of life. The woman made her own ice cream, her own jellies. She lived out of an ancient edition of the Fannie Farmer cookbook and a metal box of index cards bearing printed recipes for some of the world’s most inedible substances, including a particularly foul lime jello mold with a core of horseradish flavored tuna fish. My old man wouldn’t eat fish, and claimed they boiled and canned bluefish to insure protein during the long barren Cape Cod winters. He would eat clams, preferring to find them with his bare feet, but fish was strictly off the list.

Grandmother made jelly every September or October. The prized substance was beach plum jelly, from fruits harvested on Sampson’s Island from among the poison ivy and wood ticks; then later: harvesting bushels of Concord grapes from the ancient arbor in front of the house and turning them into jelly. I remember helping her pick the grapes, wash the grapes, stem them, slip off the skins, seed them, boil them, strain them through cheesecloth …. all for a glass of purple grape juice that tasted precisely like Welch’s Grape Juice. She made jelly, pouring the stuff into little glasses and sealing it off with a blob of molten wax. She made jam, complete with seeds and raisins, which was inedible as far as I was concerned.

A few years ago, long after she passed away, I tried to make jelly with the kids, misunderstood the chemistry of jellies, and wound up with quart jars of vulcanized purple rubber that had the consistency of a Super Ball, refused to spread, and tore the hell out of any bread unlucky to  be selected to receive it.

So what in the world inspired me to do it this year? Who knows. The story is a sad one. Let’s just say I have boiled, canned, sterilized, and watched for three days as my purple grape juice sat liquid in the jars, refusing to gel. So I open up every one of the jars, dump it all back into a pot, toss in handfuls, quarts, pounds of granulated white sugar, boil it, boil it some more, re-ladle it into the jars, resterilize, let them cool, and six hour later declare defeat yet again.

Having just finished the THIRD attempt to make the crap gel I am here to say that a) given the ratio of grape juice to sugar – 4 cups of juice to seven teeth-rotting cups of sugar and b) the addition of the mystery ingredient pectin and c) the realization that the finished product is no different from a jar of Welchs or Smuckers that homemade grape jelly is the single stupidest thing I have done in the kitchen and probably the unhealthiest to boot.

That said, I have fingers crossed that three times is the charm and the crap will finally gel so I can press it onto unsuspecting guests, fingers  crossed that they don’t develop some botulism from my imperfect canning skills.

Thank god for factory farming is all I want to say.

Update: the crap jelled. Wife declares it is no better than Welchs, perhaps worse.

The Wave

I downloaded Susan Casey’s The Wave onto the iPad yesterday after reading a review in the NYT Sunday Book Review. Definitely a decent book and interestingly, a great multimedia experience if read on an iPad (more on that later).

Casey wrote an account of the great white sharks around California’s Farallon Islands, The Devil’s Teeth, but The Wave is a better book, for me at least, in that sharks are lurid enough of a tired topic that I wasn’t particularly enthralled by an account of them (more of the scientists who spend weeks at a time on the forbidding lumps of rock due west of the Golden Gate). The Wave, for the most part, is a good tale of big wave surfing, an act requiring huge skill, massive cojones, and someone to tow the surfer onto the wave with a jetski. It chases, grail-like, the quest for the 100-foot wave, the monster that hasn’t been ridden, butthe  far more interesting yet scant part of the book is about the effects of oceanic rogue waves on shipping. Apparently a ship or two is lost every week in general — primarily tired bulk carriers that are pressed into service too long by greedy owners and driven in conditions by delay-conscious captains when sane seamanship says its time to heave to.

I would have preferred far more on the type of maritime disaster tales related by Adlard Coles in his classic Heavy Weather Sailing than descriptions of the machismo surfer culture that doubtlessly will make the book more popular to the masses. To her credit, Casey does spend a great deal of time along South Africa’s Wild Coast, describing the terrible toll the monster waves there make on shipping. And her description of the 1,700 foot  mega-tsunami of 1958 in Alaska’s Lituya Bay is enough of a superlative to make all other waves mere pond ripples.

The fun part of reading the book on the iPad was the ability to switch over to YouTube and find the actual video clips of specific surfers surviving specific waves Casey writes about in Tahiti, Maui or Half Moon Bay. The true wonder of the world that I did not know about before reading it, was the description of Cortes Bank, 100 miles west of San Diego where the Pacific abruptly shelves up from thousands of feet to a submerged seamount a scant six feet under the surface. That people cruise out there with the intention of surfing in the great void simply astounds me, and as a terrified sailor, the notion of cruising along and seeing a 120-foot comber breaking in the middle of the empty sea would cause me to void into my underwear.

Good book, read it with YouTube nearby, put up with the constant Laird Hamilton surfing stories, suffer through the scientists opining drearily about the end of the world, global warming, and the coming days of chaos, and you will be entertained.


More Post-Season Fun in Cotuit

Technically, the leaves have to turn and a frost has to arrive and the temperatures need to go back into the 70s before one can declare oneself in a true Indian Summer. This weekend has certainly had its glorious effects, starting with three things.

Chowder races: the Cotuit Skiff fleet that stays in the water races through September in a series of weekend pickup races. Afterwards the skippers and their crews enjoyed chowder prepared by my old Latin teacher, Tom Burgess and his wife Pieter.

[flickrvideo]http://www.flickr.com/photos/churbuck/5004743460/[/flickrvideo]

[flickrvideo]http://www.flickr.com/photos/churbuck/5004751994/[/flickrvideo]

Yesterday I harvested ten pounds of Concord grapes from the arbor in the alcove, washed them, skinned them, and boiled them into a huge mess of purple pulp which I then strained through an old threadbare pillow case. This morning I turned the juice into jelly and “canned” more jars of the stuff than I know what to do with. Many neighbors will be receiving gifts shortly and the house smells grapey.

Last night, under clear skies, came the plaintive wail of the Eastern Screech-Owl that lives in the woods behind the boat garage. I’ve heard it most of the summer, but last night it was very close and very eerie. I don’t think I’ll ever catch a sight of the nocturnal bird, and it may explain why the chipmunk population is off this summer.