Boat pulling day

I’m pulling the big boat today, taking a personal day to get it done, and blogging in between the early morning mast-pulling and the actual haul-out later this afternoon.  I got over to the town dock by 8:30 this morning, shrouds all slack and ready to be detached from the chain-plates; mast wedges, tabernacle boot, boom and all the lines detached and coiled last Saturday. The harbor has really emptied out in the past week, as if a light switch was thrown after Columbus Day when the launch service stops running and the boat yards and mooring servicers swing into action putting things to bed.

The timing couldn’t be better as the cormorants have found the boat and started to turn it into their personal guano depository. The splatter effects are as bad as past years, but the power washer will be working overtime this weekend before I wrap everything up, run some antifreeze through the engine, change the oil and put her to sleep for the winter. I’ll leave the motorboat in until the middle of next month, but thanks to the new dinghy rules that force me to get my tender off the beach by the middle of November, that will get yanked in a month as well.

 

I hate taking days off from work to get this done, but when Peck’s calls, one answers. Now I can stop freaking out watching Matthew and Nicole and the freak storm waiting in the wings and sleep solidly not worrying about my poor boat getting pooped on in the harbor.

 

Marguerite and the Isle of Demons

In 1999 I bought some screenwriting software and messed around with the format and structure of writing a scvript. I actually wrote a full screenplay based on the story of Hugh Glass, the frontiersman who was mauled by a bear and left to die in the wilderness in the 1800s. Yes, I felt a twinge of woulda-coulda-shoulda when The Revenant told that tale 15 years later and won an Oscar, but being a procrastinator, I thought I’d share another amazing story from history which I’ll predict someone will actually make into a flick one day.

On my current literary bender of devouring Samuel Eliot Morison’s works, I have been reading his magnum opus, The European Discoverers of America. In his accounts of the French voyages of discovery of Canada he dropped in the tale — perhaps apocryphally — of Marguerite de la Rocque and her romantic ordeal on the Ile de Demons in the Gulf of St. Lawrence in 1542.

First a little back story. The French, envious of Spanish wealth from Columbus’ discovery of the New World, and aware the English were exploring the coasts of Newfoundland, financed the voyages of Jacques Cartier who over the course of three voyages, discovered the Gulf of St. Lawrence and explored it deep to the west as far as the modern city of Quebec in the search of the elusive northwest passage to the Indies. Cartier returned to Versailles with captured Iroquois natives and tales of gold to be found in the mythical  “Kingdom of Saguenay.” While his samples of ore were merely Fools Gold, or iron pyrite, and his Iroquois novelties all too willing to bullshit the court on his behalf, Cartier’s tall tales of Canada’s bounty inspired a mad rush among the French aristocracy to fit out their own ships and sail west to stake their claims in the New World.

One of those fortune-seekers was Jean-Francois Roberval, a French nobleman and favorite of the King of France, who set sail for Canada in 1542 with a crew that included a young woman, Marguerite de la Roque, and her lady’s maid, Damienne. It’s unclear what exactly the relationship was between Roberval and Marguerite. Some historians speculate they were uncle and niece. Others speculate they were brother and sister. But it appears they had a shared interest in a great deal of land in Perigord and Languedoc and she was “co-seigeurness” of Pairpont with him. Whatever the relationship, it was personal and perhaps even financial and tied to some big land holdings which were the basis of noble wealth in those days.

Why a young woman would get on a ship with her maid and sail to a savage shore is remarkable to speculate about, but according to Morison, Cartier did a masterful job in whipping up Canada-fever among the aristocracy and for a woman to embark on such a voyage is probably tantamount to being the first female astronaut to walk on the moon.

During the trans-Atlantic voyage Marguerite fell in love with a young man — not a member of the common crew, but some dashing adventurer who doubtlessly was high-borne and also keen on finding adventure and freedom from the tired restrictions of 15th century France. The two lovers were caught in flagrente delicto by the Calvinist Captain Roberval, who was enraged by her promiscuity, doubtlessly ashamed to have it openly known on the very close confines of a small ship in the middle of the Atlantic that his chaste “ward” had sinned under his very nose in some dark sail locker.

Roberval vowed to put Marguerite ashore at the first opportunity along with her maid Damienne, who in the words of Morison, played the classic role  all good lady’s maids are expected to play as she tried to conceal her mistresses’ amorous indiscretions. Eventually land was sighted, a desolate island at the northern tip of Newfoundland at the entrance to the Gulf of St. Lawrence. This island, the “Ile de Demons” is a bit mythical and appears and disappears on antique charts, but according to modern locations may be Quirpon Island near the site of L’Anse aux Meadows, where archaeologists found evidence of the first Viking settlements dating back to 1,000 CE.

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By Johann Ruysch († 1533), scanned by Kimon Berlin, user:Gribeco – scanned from Thomas Suárez, Shedding the Veil, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=1301911

Now for the good stuff, paraphrasing Morison’s account, here goes:

Roberval the Calvinist prude, total tyrant of the ship (as all good captain’s are expected to be tyrants), anchors off the rocky shore of the Ile de Demons and puts Marguerite and Damienne ashore with a musket, some provisions, and his utter and complete scorn. Picture the scene of somber shame and terror as the two women are put into the boat and rowed ashore in the ship’s pinnace to a forbidding shore dense with pines and dark shadows.jean-franc3a7ois_de_la_roque_de_roberval Roberval doubtlessly pronounces some stern sentence on them from the poop deck as the women are banished to their fate, invoking his Huguenot God and making pious imprecations against fornicators and peccant girls of loose morals.

Some historians speculate Roberval was motivated by more than prudishness and a wounded ego when he sent Marguerite ashore, loyal lady’s maid by her side. Indeed he may have benefited from marooning the young noblewoman because he could have returned to France as the sole Lord of the lands he once shared title with the doomed girl. Whatever the motivation, Roberval was wiping his hands of her and with a curt command to weigh anchor and sail away, the two women were left alone on the wet shore looking out for the last time at their only connection to civilization and life.

Aha, but the young swain, hitherto concealed, his identity protected by his lover Marguerite, leaps on deck, muskets, ammunition, and food in a sack, and with a flourishing bow, gracefully swan dives off the taffrail into the cold, testicle-shrinking waters of the sea and swims ashore to share his fate in the arms of his abandoned lover.

Roberval flicks his teeth with some gallic display of disgusted indifference and with a fey motion with the back of his hand, commands the ship’s bosun to weigh anchor and leave the scandalous trio to their fate.

And then the ship is gone.

Let’s let Morison tell the rest of the story:

“Marguerite fared well enough for a time. Until winter set in, the lovers lived an idyllic life. The gentleman built a cabin for his mistress and her maid, chopped wood, caught fish, and shot wild fowl; but before winter ended, he died. Marguerite, unable to dig a grave in the frozen ground, guarded his body in the cabin until spring, to protect it from wild animals.

“In the ninth month of exile a child was born to her and promptly died. Another winter passed, and Damienne died, leaving Marguerite alone. The intrepid demoiselle gathered enough food to keep alive and defended herself not only against bears (she killed three, one “white as an egg”). but against spirits of another world. Demoniac voices shrieked about her cabin, howled the louder when she fired a gun, but were still when she read passages from a New Testament which she brought ashore.”

In  the early spring of 1544 the smoke from Marguerite’s fire was spotted by some passing French fisherman. They landed, found her emaciated and “in rags” according to Morison, and brought her back home to France where she became a celebrity sensation and the personal pet of the Queen of Navarre who made Marguerite a cause celebre and post child for piety. Roberval? Not a %&$* was given and met his maker during some Huguenot purge.

Maybe it’s me, but I’d see that movie.

Dylan’s Nobel Prize

My writing mentor, the late John Hersey, told me in 1979 that writers who chase prizes are completely missing the point. This wisdom after a short story I submitted to a college fiction contest was returned with a handwritten suggestion that I seek psychiatric help. I told Hersey I needed beer & weed money, but injured pride aside, can  we discuss the very cool decision by the judges in Stockholm to give Bob Dylan the Nobel Prize in Literature?

Yes, he’s a poet who happens to strum a guitar and blow a harp, but I’m delighted the august judges of literature’s greatest award have broadened their horizons from their recent decades of filling in the map of the world by giving the prize to obscure scriveners from former Soviet republics (no first world patriarchal privilege implied but I don’t read Uzbek).  Yes, I root for the home team  in these things and haven’t been really pumped up by the news in a long time. I would have given it to Don DeLillo, and not since Orman Pahluk  received it have I really felt it was as well deserved as Dylan’s

 

 

Simian marketing

What is the deal with companies named after apes? I mean monkeys are cute in theory (and can rip your face off in practice) but what idiot actually decides that it would be good idea to inject some prehensile levity into their products by adding “Orangutan” to it? I can see them holding in the bong hit, exhaling and proclaiming in stoner-speak: “Duuuude, let’s call it BononoBaby!”

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Here’s a couple offenders. Something inside of me groans whenever any of these pop up on NPR advertising or my inbox:

SurveyMonkey: the classic, from the early days of ape-branding and now de rigeur when you need to create a poorly designed survey on your own.

MailChimp: great, spam AND chimps.

I’m too lazy to hunt down other examples. I know Wired.com had a webmaster publication in the 90s called “Webmonkey” but other than that I’ll bet I can find some marketing automation spam tool with Gorilla in it.

 

Columbus Day

Samuel Eliot Morison has long been one of my favorite historians, coming into my life in the summer of 1978 when I worked as an intern at Houghton-Mifflin in Boston and walked to work every day up and down the Commonwealth Avenue mall through the Public Gardens and across Boston Common to the publishing house’s offices on Beacon Hill. The mall had a new statue of Morison between Exeter and Fairfield Streets — a bronze of him sitting on a seaside boulder in oilskins, binoculars around his neck, gazing out to an imaginary sea. Over the years I’ve read most of his work (with more to go), driven out of my studies in American maritime history in college, but also because of his remarkably fluent voice and style. Morison taught history at Harvard his entire life, was a rear Admiral in the U.S. Navy and wrote the official history of the navy in World War II, but he is best known for his writings on Christopher Columbus, which under the title of “Admiral of the Ocean Sea” won him the first for two Pulitzer prizes for history .

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That book, which I strongly recommend reading, was an account of Morison’s meticulous primary research into Columbus’ life, his four voyages of discovery to the New World in the last decade of the 1400s, and a dispelling of the “flat earth” myth which had flourished in the minds of school children such as myself thanks to the fictional liberties taken by Washington Irving. Morison is an excellent historian, relying on first hand observation and primary research in the archives of Spain, Portugal and Italy, but also unique in that he was every inch a sailor himself, and took the time to re-sail Columbus’ meanderings from Spain through the Caribbean  to understand the challenges of navigating into the unknown with only the crudest rudiments of navigation  and understanding.

Columbus, in Morison’s estimation, was a pious, complicated man driven by dreams of wealth and fame, but also a deep piety and love of God. The Genoese sailor never let go of his dreams of sailing west to the Indies, convinced of his theories due to misconceptions and errors which did not include any superstitions about sailing off the edge of the map.

This holiday began as an official holiday in 1906, but has been out of favor and rarely observed except in places where there is a strong Italian-American community like New York, New Haven and Boston. It, like Thanksgiving, has been revised by contemporary critics to an opportunity to discredit the noble of myths of discovery with the brutal realities of indigenous genocide. Doubtlessly, (and Morison was aware of that brutal truth when he wrote Admiral of the Ocean Seas) Columbus’s discovering of Hispaniola and the establishment of the Spanish capital of the New World there, led to one of the most massive examples of genocide in world history, setting the foundations of misery for that island that persists today in the struggles in Haiti.

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Although Columbus himself doesn’t emerge as a cold, rapacious villain in Morison’s account — nothing close to the subsequent horrors of Cortez and Pizaro (who accompanied Columbus on subsequent voyages following the first of 1492) — he does stand as one of the great sailors in history because of his voyage home in the doughty Nina to deliver the news to King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella of his discoveries.

Columbus was an excellent sailor, with years of experience under the tutelage of the voyaging Prince Henry of Portugal in that sea-faring nation’s explorations of the west coast of Africa. His first voyage, consisting of the fabled fleet of the Nina, Pinta, and Santa Maria, was undertaken in proven ships which he modified to take advantage of the prevailing trade winds he expected to encounter in his crossing of the Atlantic. He lost not a single man during the voyage — but did lose the Santa Maria on Christmas Eve, 1492 on a reef off the northern arm of present day Haiti near a tragic settlement he would call “Navidad.” Leaving a contingent of sailors and caballeros at Navidad after constructing a block house from the salvaged wreckage of the Santa Maria, Columbus sailed home for Spain in the Nina.

As he approached Europe that February he encountered a brutal storm, a perfect storm, which Morison is able to recreate in amazing detail from Columbus’ own ships logs and the insights of modern meteorologists. Columbus survived a storm on a furious scale which would have destroyed a modern fleet, limping ashore in Portugal under a wisp of a remaining sail against all odds. Not only his skill — and religious promises by him and the pious crew to go on pilgrimages of thanks should God spare them — but the almost magical luck of the Nina stand out as the heroes of Morison’s account. I had never been aware of that aspect of the Columbus story until reading Morison, and now would now place his voyage home in the tiny Nina in the pantheon of epic feats of seamanship that  include Bligh’s voyage in an open boat across 4,000 miles of the south Pacific ocean and Slocum’s first solo circumnavigation in the Spray.

So tomorrow, this Columbus Day of 2016, a day of mourning for many, a holiday barely honored anymore at the last long weekend of the Fall, “National Indigenous Peoples Day” on some campuses, I chose to remember the scene on the poop deck of the Nina somewhere north of the Azores in February 1493, fighting for its life, with the Admiral of the Ocean Seas standing resolute before his terrified crew begging their God Almighty to deliver them onto dry land after a voyage of discovery Morison declares every bit as significant as man’s landing on the moon.

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Chistopher Columbus, Wooster Square, New Haven, CT

 

 

Native v. Web Apps

Dries Buytaert has posted a disquisition into the friction of native apps and the promise of frameworks such as Ember to further extend the limits of HTML and web site models to better ape the power of native mobile apps in the sense of those available for the Android and iPhone platforms. Native apps fracture the user experience and are pernicious enough in some circumstances to inspire the wonderfully grumpy Tumblr: I Don’t Want Your Fucking App.  Dries sees great potential for web apps to match the better functionalality and hardware integration of a native app — think of going to Starbucks.com to pay for your next skinny crappachino vs. loading their app and waving a bar code in front of the scanner — as the capability to use Javascript front ends puts the client — the browser — in more control of the functions of a website. This could, if adopted, be as transformative to the future of the web as the advances from over ten years ago when LAMP  (the four open source horsemen of  Linux, Apache, MySQL and PhP) and Rails turned Gmail into an Outlook killer.

I’m all for it. The revolution of responsive design did away with the two-front battle of maintaining desktop and mobile versions of websites — no more “M.dot” versions are needed if one follows the expandable precepts of responsive which permits a site to conform to the form factor of whatever device. Why do I care?

Somewhere there exists a list of life’s stressful events — new job, moving, divorce, death of a loved one — and I propose the addition of “moving to a new cell phone” as one of the more soul-crushing, tantrum inducing experiences with the hash tag of #firstworldproblems. My faithful HTC M9 was flaking out due to a weary USB port — charging or not charging depending on the barometer and how badly I depended on it not shutting down when I needed it the most. So, in the spirit of my friend who, bullshit over a lemon of an outboard motor, gave up on the warranty and efforts of the dealer to fix it and just went out and bought a new one, prompting his son to say, “You showed them Dad!” — I bought a new, unlocked phone from HTC and just went through the tedium of moving my life from one over-priced rectangle to another.

Sure, there are transfer tools — and yes, eventually all my old apps and content moved from the retired phone to the new one, but…..And this is a big but that has nothing to do with apps versus web, but one tied to the blinding realization that while the apps and content transfer over — the log in credentials do no. So for hours I have been resetting passwords, transferring payment details, and cursing the total idiocy of passwords, capchas and two-factor authentication.

Anyway, Dries’ post is worth a read. From his post:

“Native applications versus web applications

“Using a native application — for the first time — is usually a high-friction, low-performance experience because you need to download, install, and open the application (Android’s streamed apps notwithstanding). Once installed, native applications offer unique access to smartphone capabilities such as hardware APIs (e.g. microphone, GPS, fingerprint sensors, camera), events such as push notifications, and gestures such as swipes and pinch-and-zoom. Unfortunately, most of these don’t have corresponding APIs for web applications.

“A web application, on the other hand, is a low-friction experience upon opening it for the first time. While native applications can require a large amount of time to download initially, web applications usually don’t have to be installed and launched. Nevertheless, web applications do incur the constraint of low performance when there is significant code weight or dozens of assets that have to be downloaded from the server. As such, one of the unique challenges facing web applications today is how to emulate a native user experience without the drawbacks that come with a closed, opaque, and proprietary ecosystem.”

Something happened: the Perils of Self-Hosted Blogs

I was at a funeral on Labor Day here in the village and a few loyal readers of this blog asked me what knocked me offline for so many months.  I think the suspicion was I was suffering from writer’s block, but  the true explanation was a heavy hacking of my  server by some spammers who injected the domain with about 30,000 spam sites linking back to purveyors of porn, affiliate programs, diet plans, and content farms.

My old Internet Service Provider (who I won’t blame because it’s not their job to provide me with a hardened, secure site) had to disable the entire domain because I was on a shared server with other customers  and they were seeing their sites slow down as the evil spam douche bags filled up all available space on Churbuck.com with their crap sites. I’d call the ISP, get tech support on the phone, ask them to turn it back on long enough for me to save 15 years worth of writing and migrate the entire database to WordPress.com

Even as I cleared out the bad sites, patched the code, applied security measures, and did my best to defend the old blog, I could see the jerks injecting site after site even as I was logged in. Passwords were changed, everything short of hiring an expert was considered, but in the end I had to say goodbye to the platform that kept me happy for the past 18 years.

I self-hosted way back in the 1990s because I wanted to be more hands on with web content management and server operations when I was running Forbes.com and Reel-Time, my old saltwater flyfishing site. Knowing the rudiments of HTML and web management were important skills for my career back then, and the experience helped me satisfy the nerd manque in me. Self-hosting was never easy, especially in the early days of WordPress when the ability to automatically update the codebase wasn’t possible and I had to download patches and new versions myself, and update the blog myself. I initially was on Blogger — the blog platform acquired by Google. But Om Malik persuaded me to jump onto WordPress in 2001 and I was a fan from the very start. I got nailed by an xmlrpc hack in 2005 and lost the site for a while to some hacker, and many a time I shot myself in the foot with some rogue plug-in that required my friend Mark Cahill to swoop in and save the day.

The lesson I learned from this most recent series of hacks and frustrations is that security is a very real issue for any site owner, so much so that I can’t believe a layman such as myself can survive for very long without a managed hosting provider to provide a layer of security and oversight that a casual blogger just can’t bring to bear. The scuzzier elements of the Internet — the spammers and link farmers and affiliate marketing scum who prey on other sites to build link juice to their own money making schemes, the ransom artists, the script kiddies who prowl around looking for old unpatched sites and then infect them like some toenail fungus…. eventually they’re the ones that are going to crush the notion of the Open Web as independent creators like myself get fed up with swatting down their efforts to hijack our content and traffic so they can make a few pennies off their new get-rich-scheme.

The real shift is also in ISPs. The days of dumb rack hosting — where you get nothing more than “ping, power, and a plug” are done. Where I work, Acquia, the value to the customer comes from running their sites on a hardened platform that is monitored, managed, and patched by experts who can diagnose problems and fix them.  When I lost Forbes.com in the fall of 1999, the hosting provider was useless when it came to diagnosing the problems that were causing the site to flatline under an extraordinary spike in traffic. All their Network Operations Center personnel could do was confirm the server was powered on and connecting to the Internet. It took four days of a dead site and a lot of anxiety before someone was able to identify the problem came from too much stress on our ad servers.

When a seriously critical site — like a newspaper during a big news event — goes dark, it’s not just the site owner who suffers from the outage, it’s the audience who need the site to be available who also suffer. Failure on a web site is not just an inconvenience to a hobbyist blogger like myself, for big e-commerce operations, government agencies, news outlets — an outage can be disastrous.

But what about the casual user? Does the need for a simple platform even matter anymore when most people are content with a Facebook page, Instagram account, or a WordPress.com blog? I don’t need (nor care) to deal with SSH certificates, and make sure the version of Php I’m running is up to date. It’s simply too far down in the fabled stack for a casual user to need to worry about. But if not knowing those things means some Ukrainian hacker can shut me down, then I’m either going to throw in the towel and join the loathed world of Facebook, or find a middle-ground solution. Hence I’m back in  the saddle and blogging and not dicking around with FTP clients and cpanel anymore.

The solution was to leave my old service provider, move the domain name to Google so I could keep my churbuck.com email address, and then map the blog to WordPress.com — the service provided by WordPress’ corporate parent Automattic. Now I have two-factor authentication, protection from a security service called “Vault Press,” and a managed provider which will guarantee the latest versions are always in place and any security patches applied without me needing to take action.

Why am I not blogging with Drupal on the Acquia platform? That’s next. One step at a time. When one has 6000+ blog posts extending back to 2001, the first priority is to save that body of work and  only then consider something as dramatic as a new blog system. Stay tuned, this transition needed me to have a couple weeks off to get accomplished. A Drupal build will probably have to wait until the Christmas holidays.

I have worked with Drupal before, beginning back in 2005 when I was at IDG and needed to build a site for an advertiser at CIO.com. That was Drupal 5 — now Drupal is on a fresh new version, Drupal 8 — and I want to learn the latest.