Suckers are born every decade but I’m out of here

I wanted to keep this to myself –if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all — but here is my contribution to the pile of B.S. spreading today on the occasion of Facebook going public.

Facebook is over, about to topple over under the weight of a spectacular overvaluation, mass indifference to financial fundamentals, and most importantly my sense of the growing indifference of the generation it was supposed to serve — college students.  Facebook was famously founded as a digital replacement to the printed freshman directories of the Ivy League but has become obese with the inane status updates and vacation bragging of those same students’ parents. My generation. The one’s who pored over the original class directories in the 1970s and “posted updates” on whiteboards glued to our dorm room doors.

Wall Street is selling scale today when the trigger is pulled on Facebook at 11 AM EST — that’s hyperbole for “lots of traffic” — and while your local investment club may be all atwitter with the prospect of buying some shares, and it’s fun to count the herd of new Facebook gazillionaires now shopping for new Colnagos and bespoke skinny jeans — the smart money has been cashing out for a long time in the private market and will continue cashing out quickly at the top.  This is not Microsoft in 1984 nor Amazon in 1996. This is not a long term bet on a significant new way of doing business or even communicating. This is an investment in the 2012 edition of CompuServe and MySpace: yet another walled garden ripe to get creatively destroyed by the next big technical thing lurking over that hill known as the future.

Future performance of Facebook’s stock depends on the company delivering profitable revenue and like Google, Facebook gets all of its money from advertising. Google builds semi-useful stuff and search is everything. Facebook advertising does not work. I managed Facebook campaigns for a Fortune Global 100 company and have first hand experience that … Facebook …. Advertising …. Does….. Not ….. Work.

General Motors figured this out, and picking the week of the IPO to announce Facebook ads aren’t working was simply perfect. Of course the counter argument from the social media douche bags is that “Facebook is all about authentic relationships and transparent conversations between brands and customers.” Consider the source, given that the SMDB’s make their bones selling their Facebook Unique Customer Karma and Emerging Digital services (you can figure out the forced acronym) to breathless CMOs who want audience, damn it, and the bigger the better.  And consider that the public relations/digital agency world is always first on any shiny object bandwagon (can you say SecondLife) and their current solemn obsession is reporting “Social ROI” as the rest of the faddish get obsessed with big data and analytics. (If you want to watch some fun navel gazing, play pissed-off CEO and ask a Digital PR person “How much is a Facebook Fan worth?”)

Companies, aka “brands,” obsess and fret about how many fans and likes they have; spend money on third-party tools like BuddyMedia to manage their presence, and set aside a slice of their digital advertising budget to buy good old display ads to run alongside the torrent of notifications and shared links that make up Facebook’s river of content. As I read elsewhere this morning, quoting Seth Godin (whom I never quote), “The Internet wasn’t invented for advertisers.”

Neither was Facebook.

Yet, in lieu of subscriptions or some twist on Warren Buffett’s theory of a toll booth on the only bridge over the river, where is Facebook’s money going to come from to sustain a valuation in the thin, thin air of $100+ billion ? If you know, then buy some stock. Me, I’m deactivating my Facebook account in honor of the TimeWarner-AOL/Prodigy/CompuServe/Groupon/ of 2012.

Two weeks ago I began dinging every over-sharer on my timeline or wall or whatever the Zuckerborg called it this month. Goodbye pictures of glasses of beer, notifications that Ed was at LAX, weird R-rated bikini videos from people in Turkey and India I have never met and will never meet. Goodbye SocialCam. Goodbye Tweets. Goodbye to All That. Now …..

Goodbye Facebook and hello to less noise in my life.


Cape Cod Mooring Waiting Lists

One can wait years … and years for a mooring permit on Cape Cod. Since the boom years of the 1980s the towns have had to institute mooring permits to keep the harbors from being choked with wall-to-wall Fiberglas.  Gone are the good old days when one would load up the mushroom and chain, drive it to the beach, row it out into the bay and drop it over the side. Now the things need to be inspected, serviced by a licensed mooring agent, and renewed each and every year.

I take my mooring permits more seriously than my income taxes.

The Cape Cod Times compiled a database of the waiting lists in case you are ever curious as to who is waiting for what and where.

I’m looking into a new mooring technology called the “Helical Screw” (sounds like something Watson & Crick would do after one too many after a late night in the lab). Actually,it’s called a Helix Mooring. Basically a big mud screw.

Fish Sounds at Town Dock

WBUR’s blog had an item that popped up in my Google news alert for Cotuit.  A marine biologist hangs out on the Town Dock and records fish having sex.

The recording of a haddock in the mood sounds like Harley revving up in front of the Kettle-Ho after last call.

I’d love to run into this guy some night amongst the usual gang of menhaden snaggers and bluefish live liners.

“Rodney Rountree, a marine biologist based at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, studies the noises fish make. He said the sounds are key to understanding fish behavior and could even help us protect many species from overfishing.

“Rountree does a lot of his research by tuning in to fish around Cotuit Town Dock on Cape Cod. He leans over the edge of the dock to drop a set of underwater microphones down to the seafloor. These hydrophones channel fish chatter directly into his laptop.”

via How Fish Noises Can Help Manage Species | WBUR.

Movie of the week: Malina

It’s been a while since I’ve stood up and walked out of a movie, but last night I simply had to.

The New York Museum of Modern Art film society has generally been a can’t-miss-proposition for feeding my art film habits, but last night’s showing of Werner Schroeter‘s Malina was a big disappointment.

I’m a fan of German cinema, but Schroeter, who passed away in 2010, was a new auteur for me and one I looked forward to exploring. Malina, however, was not the best introduction.

The film stars French actress Isabel Huppert. It consists of an interminable number of non sequitur scenes about the nature of madness with Huppert, a writer-academic, smoking cigarettes and behaving irritably at a typewriter and in a bed with one of two men. One of those men, Malina, lurks around the edges and in the hallways of a big Vienna apartment. The other, Ivan, cuddles with her in bed and issues proclamations about hands, fire, and letters. This user review on IMDB says it best:

“Malina is incredibly complex drama on the nature of insanity and to watch it, especially in the beginning, is quite a labour. A woman believes that she is a writer and all her men are fruits of her ill consciousness or personages of her unwritten book or alter egos of her split imagination. And episode after episode her consciousness keeps deteriorating more and more but the end breaks everything once again so all that was happening comes up in absolutely different light and changes its meaning. Malina is an anagram of ‘animal’ and it isn’t accidental but symbolic to the entire surrealistic content of the film. Malina is unique and utterly fabulous movie having many layers of narration and visualization.”

I made it two-thirds of the way, but lack of dinner had me squirming, and when about a dozen other film goers got up and strolled out, I too made my way to the door. This is from me, the guy who can sit through six hours of Satantango.

I can’t call it the worst movie ever, but if I wanted to torment someone, Malina would make the list. I composed a review in my mind during some of the weirder disconnected scenes and marvelled that a medium that gave the world Porky’s 3: Revenge can also give us Schroeter.


Yo ho ho and a bottle of ….iPad

I once “taught” myself celestial navigation. I borrowed a sextant, studied the excellent and concise six-page how-to penned by the late William F. Buckley in his account of a trans-Atlantic passage, Airborne, and took it all aboard an aging 60-foot plywood catamaran I was silly enough to agree to skipper from Falmouth to Florida in the fall of 1980. What most navigators spend years learning I tried to master over the course of a weekend and on Loop Beach in Cotuit.

The crew on that voyage were all recruited from a classified ad in the Boston Globe and had no idea what was going on at any time, a situation which meant I had to pretty much steer and sail and navigate by myself bewcause the boat insisted on sailing WAY too fast for any one to be trusted on the wheel.

Somewhere south of Long Island, around the shipping lanes into New York City, I broke out the sextant, braced myself in the rigging, and took a noon shot to establish our position. This was 1980, way before Global Positioning Satellites. Oher than LORAN (which the evil catamaran lacked) or the notoriously flaky radio directional finder, there was no other way to accurately fix one’s position other than measuring the angle between the sun and the horizon the way Columbus and the Portugese did in the 14th century.

I took my shots — feeling all Melville and shit — gathered my numbers, and went down below to the nav station to work out the math. I got my cartesian solution, looked at the chart, and discovered my first attempt at navigation placed us somewhere in the vicinity of Troy, New York, about twenty miles north of Albany. Since the entire crew was watching — everyone more than a little terrified since we were way out of the sight of land and careening off of the top of immense winter Atlantic waves in a plywood boat creaking and groaning like a gut-shot moose — I realized that putting the point of the pencil down on Troy, New York was a very bad morale move. So I reached for my big plastic right triangle and pretend-extended the line southeast about 400 miles to a fictitious spot I figured was roughly in line with where we might be. With great conviction I made a little X, wrote down the data and time, and declared this was the spot.

An hour later I saw an outbound tanker on the horizon. I told the crew I was going to get a position check over the radio as that was standard maritime practice. I hailed the unknown boat by saying something relatively retarded as “Tanker heading east, Tanker heading east. This is the sailing vessel SinkaLot looking for a position check.”

The anonymous mariner on the bridge of that tanker responded and had a little fun with me.

“Where do you think you are Cap?” he asked over the VHF.

“Uh, about fifty miles south by southeast of Montauk Point Cap.” I replied.

“What’s your last fix Cap?” he asked. I thought I was the one asking the questions. But no, this Mass Maritime grad was going to have his amusement with the yachtsman in the silly sailboat.

All was well a day later when we sighted the beaches of Delaware and were able to grope our way into Chesapeake Bay. Two weeks later and I abandoned ship in Brunswick, Georgia, thoroughly cured of any desire to sail big cruising catamarans in the Atlantic in the late fall. I also sold my first magazine article because of that trip, receiving a massive $100 from Multihulls magazine for my trouble.

As I get ready to launch my sloop tomorrow, I’ve been elbow deep in everything from marine diesel water pump impellers to six coats of Epifanes varnish. The boat is 27 years old and has no navigational instruments to speak of. For the past two seasons I’ve owned the boat I’ve used the Navionics Android app on my smartphone to get the occasional fix on my position, using the phone’s GPS to zero in on whatever spot I happen to be sailing through on Nantucket Sound. But what I want is a big fancy chart plotter mounted on the binnacle. A nice electronic chart to steer my tall ship by.

Those things cost at least $1,000 and would be comparable to installing a $2000 stereo in a $50 car. In the grand scheme of things to throw money at aboard that hole in the water known as a boat, a fancy GPS chart plotter is low on the list. So, I have embarked on a mission to ruin my two-year old iPad in the service of DIY modern navigation.

Other than Navionics, who publishes excellent digital versions of the official NOAA charts for my Android (and the iPad) I am very fond of the iNavX app and have been busy plotting all sorts of waypoints and courses around my home waters …. from my armchair. The iPad has a faux GPS and internal compass, but to really enable it as a navigational aid I need to drop $100 on a little GPS dongle that plugs into the charging port. There’s the BadElf device, which looks perfect once I figure out whether or not my antique iPad is indeed a “66-channel, SBAS/WAAS, 10Hz” model.

Assuming that the GPS dongle will make the iPad plot my position, the next issue is how to protect it from the elements. I won’t ever submerge the tablet (unless I sink), but it will get splashed and rained on and saltwater is cancerous when it comes to anything electronic. I was conned out of my money by a clueless clerk at Radio Shack who sold me an Otterbox case — which I discovered won’t work with the original iPad and has since been bequeathed to my son who sports an iPad II. It looks like I’ll have to go with a plastic bag sort of solution (some online yachting and marine electronics forums say a big Zip-Loc is up to the task).

Once water-protected I have to mount the iPad to the stainless steel guard rail on the binnacle — the stanchion that supports the boat’s wheel, engine control and compass. That should be simple enough, as long as I stay away from the binnacle’s manufacturer — Edson of New Bedford — who is hideously overpriced and does its level best to uphold the nautical adage of ripping up twenties while taking a shower.

I’ve used RAM mounts in the past on the motorboat, so will probably go in that direction despite their proclivity to corrode and peel psoriasis-like over time.

I’m banking that this set up will get me fully chart-plotter capable for under $200. The advantages will be the relatively long battery life of the iPad versus the two-hour lifespan on my HTC Evo phone. The screen is big, but, as any beach reader knows, iPads are useless in sunlight. That means seeking out a glare screen — some matte finish film that will give me a hope of seeing the screen in bright light. I am concerned, on the flip side, of night brightness, as other sailors who have kludged together an iPad nav solution say the lack of a brightness control means they trash their night vision. The map software from iNavX does have a “red light” mode for night use, so I think I’ll be okay, indeed, given that 95% of my sailing is done within the sight of land, the only real need for the plotter other than amusement is for night sailing and in fog (no, I do not own a radar).

The entire effect of smartphones and iPads on the electronics industry is well understood by anyone who owns one. They manage to consolidate lots of dedicated devices into one handy package and in doing so completely kill the market for stuff like digital pocket cameras, music players, and dashboard navigation systems. These multifunction swiss army knives eat into any application they touch, hence I am amused when I read the discussion forums on the marine electronics sites and listen to the proud owners of $10,000 NMEA capable Raytheon or Datamarine navigation systems diss the iPad as a failed solution no one should consider.

They may not be advised to contemplate the solution, but the reality is they will, so I predict the market for dedicated marine electronics is going to rapidly erode over the next few years as Apple and the Android tablet makers address the daylight-screen issue and waterproof-ruggedness. I have my eye on the Panasonic Toughbook Android tablet, but the alleged price on the soon-to-be-introduced  device looks like more than $1000 which makes that a failure.

Once I figure out the iPad issue the next step is to install a WIFI station on the boat and look into integrating the depth, apparent wind, and knotmeters into the iPad display. I’m also fascinated by the AIS technology, which basically is a transponder system that overlays information about AIS equipped vessels onto the iNavX charts. Think of it as radar without the radar, giving me everything from vessel name and size, to distance, speed and bearing.

Oh, and I am still determined to get better at classic sextant based navigation as there is no doubt in my mind that when I need the electronics the most, they are sure to fail. And, when escaping the zombie apocalypse, one has to assume the GPS system will eventually fail and those with the knowledge of the ancients will survive.


Eels face poaching threat

Eels face poaching threat |

There haven’t been many eels around in a long time. The Asian market for baby eels — or elvers — is probably to blame, what with prices up around $2,000 a pound and plenty of poachers willing to risk the law to cash in on the action.

Eels face poaching threat |

Cotuit was infested with eels in the 60sthrough the 70s. A kid couldn’t fish off the Town Dock without hooking into one. My grandmother was a big fan but I never developed a taste until I experienced broiled eel in sushi form — unagi/unago — and have even tried to duplicate the recipe after my cousin landed a whopper a few years back in his crab pot.

My grandmother had an interesting way of skinning the things. A nail pounded through the head into the side of the boat shed, a quick slit around the neck with a sharp paring knife, and then a quick “un-socking” with two pairs of pliers gripping the slimy edges of the neck cut. This all while the eel went beserk and tied itself into figure-eight knots and spun around the nail like a pinwheel.

The joys of a Cape Cod childhood. The woman meant business when it came to food, even if she was allergic to hardshell bivalves.

Anyway, those mature eels — anguilla anguillaor the European Eel, aren’t what the poachers are chasing. They are looking for the small fry heading  up the coastal streams from the ocean. Eels are “catadromous” fish: they spend their lives in fresh water (there is (or was) a mysterious albino eel in Thoreau’s Walden Pond that evidently crawled over land to get there) and return to the sea — specifically the Sargasso Sea south of Bermuda — to spawn. The elvers, or glass eels, make their way back from the floating rafts of seaweed in the Sargasso and take residence in the ponds of New England.

They make excellent striped bass bait when they are about a foot in length. Bluefish destroy them. They are an utter mess to try to hook and can literally tie themselves in a knot when provoked.

Now the eel is critically endangered, and with scarcity comes the cruel law of economics which means they are even more valuable to those who eat them, hence the extraordinary poaching price of $2,000 a pound. Hydroelectric dams and their turbines do a terrible number on them as well.

The Cape Cod Times today reported on the arrests of two poachers:

The price spike stems from a surge in demand from aquaculturists in Asian countries who purchase the wild juvenile elvers, raise them until they reach a half-pound then sell them in the sushi market, explained Mitchell Feigenbaum, principal of Delaware Valley Fish Co. of Portland, Maine. A significant drop in recent years in the number of wild Asian glass eels, combined with a European ban on exporting their own wild stock, meant the U.S. elvers suddenly commanded high prices. Feigenbaum said the price increase really isn’t that large when you consider the profit farmers make selling the adult eels on the high-end sushi market. A good farmer, he said, could turn $2,000 worth of glass eels into $20,000 in sales.


A dozen years ago, the price for glass eels was $25 a pound. In recent years, it climbed to $325 and last year reached $900. Now at more than $2,000, the tiny translucent eels, less than 6 inches long, newly arrived in the Cape’s rivers and streams from the Sargasso Sea this spring, were particularly inviting to poachers.

Harwich police Sgt. Brackett had no way of knowing, but the 2 pounds of elvers swimming in those unpretentious buckets could have fetched $4,000 to $5,000 when sold in Maine, one of only two states where it is legal to harvest and sell them. With prices that high, competition for prime spots on Maine’s waterways has been fierce and the yields are nowhere near what fishermen get in Massachusetts, where the elver fishery is banned and the competition virtually nonexistent.

“I hear stories of someone coming in (to dealers) with 50 pounds of eels and I think, they must have been to Massachusetts,” said Gail Wippelhauser, a Maine Department of Marine Resources scientist specializing in eels. “There’s noplace in Maine where you can get that many eels in one night.”

If you see anyone creeping around a run at night, drop a dime to the police please.


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