Five O'Clock Somewhere

Welcome to Five O'Clock Somewhere, where it doesn't matter what time zone you're in; it's five o'clock somewhere. We'll look at rural life, especially as it happens in Rio Arriba County, New Mexico, cats, sailing (particularly Etchells racing yachts), and bits of grammar and Victorian poetry.

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Location: Rio Arriba County, New Mexico, United States

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Poetry Corner: James Russell Lowell

Perhaps it would be good to define what, exactly, are "perfect days."

Things have been soggy of late, just about everywhere, it seems. The blogs that I follow, whether from California or New England or Europe or wherever, have been reporting major rainfall. And here in New Mexico, we've been getting a lot of rain as well.

Normally, in June, New Mexico is about as dry as it gets. The late spring snowfalls have ended, and the summer monsoons – yes, true monsoons, caused by the same sorts of wind patterns as cause the classic monsoons in India – have not yet begun. Generally, from April through June, we have almost no precipitation, and what water we have in our streams and rivers comes from snow-melt from the mountains. In a good year, with a heavy snowpack, this melt-water comes down through the month of May and, if we're really lucky, into the beginning of June.

This year, however, June has been unusually rainy. The past week, in particular, has seen heavy thunderstorms, especially in the northern part of the state, including Rio Arriba County. Friday, on our way up to Five O'Clock Somewhere, when we crossed Willow Creek, it was flowing full, at a level that is ordinarily seen only during the peak of spring runoff. Normally, in late June, the creek would be nearly dry.

Not that we're complaining. More rainfall means more water in the lake to sail upon, and more water to send downstream to the other lake to sail upon. In the case of Heron Lake, it also means that the marina gangway, which was becoming submerged as the lake level came up, needed to be relocated.

But all of this rainfall is at odds with the way most people think of June weather, as promoted by American poet James Russell Lowell, in the famous couplet, "What is so rare as a day in June? Then, if ever, come perfect days." Certainly, especially in parts of the world where rainfall is not seen as a valuable gift from Heaven, rainy days are not considered to be perfect.

Lowell was something of a character. He was a troublemaker at Harvard, but somehow managed to graduate anyway, publishing bits and pieces of satire along the way. He was a journalist, essayist, lawyer, diplomat, and political activist, especially in the cause of the abolition of slavery. He had a sharp wit, and he contributed many epigrams to popular culture, such as , "Blessed are they who have nothing to say and who cannot be persuaded to say it." (You can read more such wit at BrainyQuote.)

The lines about the day in June come from a massive work, The Vision of Sir Launfal, an epic poem set in Arthurian times, dealing with the quest for the Holy Grail. This is merely an excerpt from the prologue to one portion of the work.

What is so Rare as a Day in June?
James Russell Lowell

And what is so rare as a day in June?
Then, if ever, come perfect days;
Then Heaven tries earth if it be in tune,
And over it softly her warm ear lays;
Whether we look, or whether we listen,
We hear life murmur, or see it glisten;
Every clod feels a stir of might,
An instinct within it that reaches and towers,
And, groping blindly above it for light,
Climbs to a soul in grass and flowers;
The flush of life may well be seen
Thrilling back over hills and valleys;
The cowslip startles in meadows green,
The buttercup catches the sun in its chalice,
And there's never a leaf nor a blade too mean
To be some happy creature's palace;
The little bird sits at his door in the sun,
Atilt like a blossom among the leaves,
And lets his illumined being o'errun
With the deluge of summer it receives;
His mate feels the eggs beneath her wings,
And the heart in her dumb breast flutters and sings;
He sings to the wide world, and she to her nest,
In the nice ear of Nature which song is the best?

Now is the high-tide of the year,
And whatever of life hath ebbed away
Comes flooding back with a ripply cheer,
Into every bare inlet and creek and bay;
Now the heart is so full that a drop overfills it,
We are happy now because God wills it;
No matter how barren the past may have been,
'Tis enough for us now that the leaves are green;
We sit in the warm shade and feel right well
How the sap creeps up and the blossoms swell;
We may shut our eyes but we cannot help knowing
That skies are clear and grass is growing;
The breeze comes whispering in our ear,
That dandelions are blossoming near,
That maize has sprouted, that streams are flowing,
That the river is bluer than the sky,
That the robin is plastering his house hard by;
And if the breeze kept the good news back,
For our couriers we should not lack;
We could guess it all by yon heifer's lowing,
And hark! How clear bold chanticleer,
Warmed with the new wine of the year,
Tells all in his lusty crowing!

Joy comes, grief goes, we know not how;
Everything is happy now,
Everything is upward striving;
'Tis as easy now for the heart to be true
As for grass to be green or skies to be blue,
'Tis for the natural way of living:
Who knows whither the clouds have fled?
In the unscarred heaven they leave not wake,
And the eyes forget the tears they have shed,
The heart forgets its sorrow and ache;
The soul partakes the season's youth,
And the sulphurous rifts of passion and woe
Lie deep 'neath a silence pure and smooth,
Like burnt-out craters healed with snow.

Thanks to virtualology.com for the historical background, and to Pens and Paws for the words.

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Friday, June 26, 2009

This morning’s adventure

A pity it had to end

I was sailing. At first, I thought I was in one of the lakes where I often sail, but then I realized this was a bigger place; it was an ocean, albeit a very calm one, and instead of sailing in water that was surrounded by land, I was sailing on water that surrounded land, an island.

From time to time, I would come in to shore along the island, and at each port of call, there were a lot of flashing lights and loud music, and prominently displayed, a ladder of numbers, going from very small (something like $100) to a million dollars. Each time I made port, the next number up the ladder was lit up.

When I got to the $25,000 port, a man in an Elvis-type jumpsuit and carrying a microphone came up to me and said I'd qualified for the main round and asked me if I wanted to participate in it. Curious, I followed him up a hill that looked like it belonged in Tuscany, covered in vineyards, to a crumbling old tower.

When I went into the tower, I found myself on the set of a game show, similar to that of Who Wants to be a Millionaire?, but with more audience participation. The stage was set up as a big kitchen, and I was to cook things; with each successful dish prepared, I would move up the ladder toward a million dollars. Members of the audience were invited to come up on the stage with me as sous-chefs. Even though I had gotten to the $25,000 level sailing, for the cooking round, I was to start off back at the bottom of the ladder.

The dishes I prepared started out simple, gradually gaining in sophistication as the numbers on the ladder were lit up higher and higher. At some point relatively early on, it was revealed that everything I cooked was somehow being multiplied by a couple of hundred and served up in a soup kitchen for homeless people.

I had just finished preparing a fettucine alfredo, topped with tender slices of herb-crusted grilled chicken breast, and I was thinking, "Wow, I've got $50,000. Nice. I can pay some bills!" I was looking forward to the next challenge.

Then the alarm clock rang. Bummer.

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Monday, June 22, 2009

Light bulb project: results

And the winners are …

… everybody who contributed to the project.

We had a total of 40 jokes, in 19 comments or posts (counting both those left here and those left elsewhere), including my own two samples at the start of the project, and counting the lengthy dialogue inspired by one of the comments as one joke. Depending on how you count things, we may or may not be short of the record that Tillerman's lists project set. The comments/posts count falls short of the record of 30, but the total number of jokes far exceeds the record.

A total of 14 contributors have each earned a pint of their choice at either Socorro Springs Brewing Company or the High Country Saloon: Tillerman, Turinas, Andrew, O Docker, EscapeVelocity, M Squared, darusha, yarg, JP, tim Patterson, 3redbars, David Greenlee/Scuttlebutt, Gerald, and Pat. Thanks to all who participated.

Here are the contributions, in no particular order:

My examples:

How many Etchells sailors does it take to change a light bulb? It doesn't matter, because they're all busy bragging about their fraculators.

How many MacGregor sailors does it take to change a light bulb? Six: one to change the bulb and five to replace the wiring on the boat.

From Tillerman:

How many high school sailors does it take to change a light bulb?
Three. One to change the bulb, one to be a witness, and one to file the protest.

How many Finn sailors does it take to change a light bulb?
Four. One to hold the bulb and three to rotate the ladder.

How many Star sailors does it take to change a light bulb?
115. One to hold the bulb and 114 to rotate the house.

How many Force 5 sailors does it take to change a light bulb?
Irrelevant. There aren't any Force 5 sailors left. They all burned their boats and bought Lasers.

How many Sunfish sailors does it take to change a light bulb?
None. The class rules don't allow the light bulb to be changed.

How many Moth sailors does it take to change a light bulb?
Meaningless question. The light bulb was eliminated to save weight.

How many Laser sailors does it take to change a light bulb?
None. Laser sailors aren't afraid of the dark.

How many Practical Sailor Testers does it take to change a light bulb?
There's no way to find out without signing up to be a subscriber.

From tim Patterson:

How many Hobie Cat sailors does it to change a light bulb? Only two, one to hold the bulb and the other to steer the cat in circles.

From 3redbars:

How many Laser Master's sailors does it take to change a light bulb? Just one because they don't need any coaches or support boats to help them.

From JP:

How many luxury super yacht sailors does it take to change a light bulb? None! There are staff to do that for you.

How many America's Cup sailors does it take to change a light bulb? None! Everything is done by lawyers now.

From EscapeVelocity:

How many Catalina 22 sailors does it take to change a light bulb?
They don't, they prefer the old ones.

How many J22 sailors does it take to change a light bulb?
275 kg.

How many J24 sailors does it take to change a light bulb?
Three. Foredeck holds the bulb, pit turns the ladder, skipper yells at them for not doing it fast enough.

From M Squared:

How many Santana 20 sailors does it take to change a light bulb?
Two: one to hold the lava lamp bottle and one to change the light bulb.

From Andrew:

How many Optimist sailors does it take to change a liight bulb?
One, and her Dad
[who will end up doing it for her while she runs round the boat park with her friends]

From yarg:

How many ISAF rule writing sailors does it take to change a light bulb? 1001. 1000 to exchange emails for three years, and one to print them, pile them, and stand on the pile to reach the light bulb.

How many Laser sailors does it take to change a light bulb? Laser sailors don't use light bulbs, they light the room with a computer monitor while reading Tillerman's blog.

How many Laser sailmaker sailors does it take to change a light bulb? It only takes two, but it takes 30 years to do it.

How many US Sailing sailors does it take to change a light bulb? Seven. One to write the book on light bulbs, one to teach the course, one to collect the money, one to issue the certificate for successful course completion, one to maintain the website for certified light bulb changers, and one to change the light bulb.

(Tillerman responded:

Hey yarg. That last one has only six. You missed out the "one to present US Sailing Life Time Achievement Awards For Excellence in Light Bulb Changing to the other six.")

From darusha:

How many cruising sailors does it take to change a lightbulb?
Six. Only one to change the bulb, but 5 others to talk about the time they changed a lightbulb at the top of the mast while in the middle of a gale on the way to the Tuamotos.

From Gerald:

How many college FJ sailors does it take to change a lightbulb?
To be honest, know one really knows. When it went out, someone just dragged the keg out into the beach and the party went on anyway.

From Pat:

How many Arizona State college sailors does it take to change a light bulb?
None. There's not enough money in the ASU budget to buy new bulbs, so the team will have to keep patching the old ones or try to charter a bulb from another team.

How many high-performance dinghy sailors does it take to change a light bulb?
Forty-three. One to change to bulb and the other forty-two to turn the house upside down into its "normally capsized position" and turn it around.

How many certified club race officers does it take to change a light bulb?
Only one, but he or she will spend a lot of time trying to make the electric line perpendicular to the current.

How many International Judges or Umpires does it take to change a light bulb?
Two -- and the second one will penalize the first one for using any illegal kinetics in violation of Rule 42 whilst the bulb is being changed.
Note: The light bulb is not allowed to exit the receptacle with any more speed than when it went into the receptacle, else additional Penalty Turns will have to be assessed.

How many Race Chairmen does it take to change a light bulb?
Hard to say; it depends entirely upon the handicap system, the bulb's measurements, and whether the bulb will be used primarily in windward-leeward, off-wind, or random-leg courses.

How many sailing instructors does it take to change a light bulb?
Four: One to suddenly throw the bulb overboard, one to keep the bulb in sight, one to execute a crew overboard Figure 8 or Quick Stop recovery approach, and one to recover and change the bulb.

How many regatta organizers does it take to change a light bulb?
Twenty-four. Five to find commercial sponsors for changing the light bulb, six to erect the tent for the light bulb changing ceremony, three to make welcoming speeches for the light bulb, two to write press releases, two more to pass out and collect tickets for the light bulb changing ceremony, one to make videos of the changing, one to take still pictures, one to write liability release forms for the bulb to sign, one to obtain Lighting insurance, one to police the light bulb parking area and one to change the bulb.

How many Women Match Racing Sailors does it take to change a light bulb?
You disgusting male chauvinist pig! Why don't you guys do just a little of the housework so we can concentrate on winning races?!

How many Commodores does it take to change a light bulb?
None. That's the job of the Vice Commodore for Facilities or the House Captain.

How many oil tanker sailors does it take to change a light bulb?
None; the bulbs on tankers are very heavy and not light at all, so it takes a well-equipped shipyard to change them.

How many Parrot Heads does it take to change a light bulb?
None needed; they can find the blender, margarita glasses, and large shaker of salt in the dark.

How many Mommy Boat Coaches does it take to change a light bulb?
Seven: One to sign the entry forms, one to scan the Lighting Instructions and Notice of Lighting for loopholes, one to rig the light bulb, one to tow the light bulb to the area to be lit, one to change the light bulb, one to sneak in some last-minute coaching, and one stationed up-current to relay information about current surges and voltage spikes.

How many Zen Laser Masters does it take to change a light bulb?
Only one, but the bulb really has to want to change.

One joke inspired a chain of responses; I counted the original joke, but not the responses, in my tally of jokes. This is a dialogue between O Docker and Tillerman:

O Docker: How many America's Cup sailors does it take to change a light bulb?***

***The correct answer cannot be determined at this time pending a decision of the New York state appelate courts.

O Docker: This just in on the America's Cup light bulb controversy. The answer will now hinge on how the appellate court interprets crucial language involving exactly what constitutes a light bulb. Attorneys for the challenger are arguing that an electrical appliance designed to emit light is not actually a 'light bulb' unless it has been used at least once in the past as a source of light. Thus, a new bulb cannot actually be considered a 'light bulb'. The decision is not expected to be handed down until sometime in October. What's the deadline for this writing project?

Tillerman: Latest legal filing on the America's Cup light bulb controversy just in...

The phrase "light bulb" in the challenge from the Rio Grande Sailing Club is inherently confusing and open to several interpretations. "Lightbulb" is a noun, free of adjective, and is primarily a technical term to describe an electrical device used for providing illumination.

However the Secretary of RGSC chose to issue a challenge to be performed with a "light bulb". In this context it is clear that light is an adjective and bulb is a noun, and that the adjective modifies the noun.

A "bulb" is defined in botany as "a short, modified, underground stem surrounded by usually fleshy modified leaves that contain stored food for the shoot within."

And "light" is defined both as "pale, whitish, or not deep or dark in color" and also as "of little weight; not heavy".

By choosing such vague language, unfortunately RGSC has not made it clear whether the challenge is to be performed with onion bulbs (former definition) or snowdrop bulbs (latter definition), or whether indeed the challenger may choose to compete with an onion bulb against the defender's snowdrop bulb.

In a subsequent filing I will acquaint the court with similar difficulties and ambiguities in the meaning of the word "screw"...

O Docker: And now this on the America's Cup. In a surprise move, the sailors may not be installing a light bulb at all. They're now being asked to fire off a six-foot-long Roman candle, which most agree is far more spectacular to watch than any kind of light bulb. This has raised an uproar between those who would love to see Roman candles lighting up the night sky and traditionalists who claim generations of Cup sailors have changed light bulbs and the Cup just wouldn't be the Cup, and whatever.

The only problem is that now no one knows just where the Roman candles would be fired off and many are so disgruntled by all of this they're starting to use the word 'screw' in contexts not intended by the drafters of the original challenge.

When the Rio Grande Sailing Club holds a regatta, we usually have at least two fleets. We have the racing fleet, for boats whose designers had racing in mind: Etchells, J/24s, J/22s and the like. Then we have the cruising fleet for boats that were not designed with racing in mind, such as the Freedom 21, the Hunter 34, and the MacGregor 26. Depending upon turnout and availability of a support boat, we may also have a dinghy fleet, which consists primarily of MC Scows but also may include the occasional Capri 14 or the like. Here are the winning jokes for each fleet; each winner will get not just one but two pints upon arrival in New Mexico:

For the racing fleet, from David Greenlee/Scuttlebutt:

How many America's Cup owners does it take to change a light bulb? One. He holds the bulb and the world revolves around him.

For the cruising fleet, JP:

How many iPhone owning sailors does it take to change a light bulb? None! You just download the torchlight app dude!!!

For the dinghy fleet, Andrew:

How many Laser sailors does it take to change a lightbulb?
If Part Three does not specifically allow a change or
addition - IT IS ILLEGAL!

Finally, the grand prize goes to Turinas, whose joke sums up wonderfully what this whole blogging thing is all about. He can choose to upgrade his pint to a pitcher, or he may take a dinner entrée plus a pint:

How many sailing bloggers does it take to change a lightbulb?
250
1 to change the light bulb and 249 to write supportive comments, share lightbulb changing experiences, recollections of the time Tillerman invented the first lightbulb holder made of duct tape, Joe to post a girl in a bikini holding a fish with a light bulb in its mouth (not that I'm complaining, Puffy to post why windsurfers are better lightbulb changers, Bonnie to write a great story of kayakers changing lightbulbs in Brooklyn, Christian to paint a lovely water color, Tugster to share photos of lightbulbs on tugs, etc

Again, thanks to all who participated. It's been fun.

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Saturday, June 20, 2009

Poetry corner: Paul Simon

I got a Nikon camera …

This post is dedicated to two blogsters who both have recently acquired fancy new digital SLR cameras and who are now learning how to get the most out of them: Gerald, who spent the Christmas gift from his grandparents, and then some, on a really cool camera and who has been taking cool pix since then; and Captain JP, who is taking his digital SLR on an adventure from which I hope to see lots of other cool pix (or sure shots or whatever – I don't know what brand his camera is).

The technology may have changed, so now the pictures are recorded as digital bits on a memory chip as opposed to being the result of a chemical reaction of light-sensitive substances on film, but there's still resonance with the song "Kodachrome," the song by Paul Simon that he recorded with Art Garfunkel many years ago.

Kodachrome
Paul Simon

When I think back
On all the crap I learned in high school
It's a wonder
I can think at all
And though my lack of edu---cation
Hasn't hurt me none
I can read the writing on the wall

Kodachrome
They give us those nice bright colors
They give us the greens of summers
Makes you think all the world's a sunny day, Oh yeah
I got a Nikon camera
I love to take a photograph
So mama don't take my Kodachrome away

If you took all the girls I knew
When I was single
And brought them all together for one night
I know they'd never match
my sweet imagination
everything looks WORSE in black and white

Kodachrome
They give us those nice bright colors
They give us the greens of summers
Makes you think all the world's a sunny day, Oh yeah
I got a Nikon camera
I love to take a photograph
So mama don't take my Kodachrome away

Mama don't take my Kodachrome away
Mama don't take my Kodachrome away
Mama don't take my Kodachrome away

Mama don't take my Kodachrome
Mama don't take my Kodachrome
Mama don't take my Kodachrome away

Mama don't take my Kodachrome
Leave your boy so far from home
Mama don't take my Kodachrome away
Mama don't take my Kodachrome

Mama don't take my Kodachrome away

Thanks to SING365.com for the lyrics. Interesting note … when I first arrived at the site, because I have a slow dial-up connection, the advertising wasn't visible. By the time I got to the point of pasting the lyrics into this post, the advertising had showed up for … yeah … Nikon cameras.

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Friday, June 19, 2009

Animal rights?

Really, how far is too far?

So our President is now famous for swatting a fly.

This may be disappointing to those conservatives who wish to question his competence to be commander in chief, on the basis that he's going to be reluctant to use force as a means of influencing rogue governments. They can no longer use the saying, "He wouldn't hurt a fly" as an implication that he's averse to getting into a fight.

And of course, the comedians are having a lot of fun; late-night television is full of jokes and spoofs of the incident.

Meanwhile, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals has weighed in: the President's act was one of unconscionable cruelty. Not only did he execute that innocent fly, he did it on international television, making a mockery of the creature's death. Worse, afterward, the camera zoomed in on the lifeless body, preventing it from having even the least modicum of dignity. And then the comedians swept in, making a mockery of the loss of this valuable living creature.

Now, I do value much of the work that PETA and other organizations do to protect animals from cruelty and wanton exploitation. Subjecting an animal to pain, and even death, simply for human entertainment, such as dog-fighting and bullfights, is barbaric. Bludgeoning baby seals to death, so those humans who are wealthy enough can purchase coats made from their extra-soft fur, is unconscionable. Raising calves in cramped, dark, dirty conditions so that their meat will be paler and more tender is unthinkable. I respect people who have chosen not to eat meat on moral grounds; they have decided that even humane methods of raising and slaughtering animals are cruelty that they do not wish to support, and I am glad that they take that stand. They raise consciousness even among those of us who do still eat meat.

But a fly?

I once saw a television documentary that was a countdown of the deadliest creatures on the planet. Guess who the winner was? No, it wasn't sharks or poisonous snakes or spiders. It was flies. Through history, the genus, which includes mosquitoes (Spanish for "little flies"), has been responsible for more deaths than any other. Malaria, sleeping sickness, dengue fever, West Nile virus, Ebola, E coli, rotavirus, the list of diseases carried by flies goes on and on. Fleas may have carried the bubonic plague that devastated Europe in the 14th century, but even with that, the flies have them beat.

I hope Obama grabbed the hand sanitizer after swatting that fly.

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Saturday, June 13, 2009

Rollin’ on (or near) the River

You don't always have to be on the water to enjoy the water

For those of us who live in the desert, water, any water, is special. It is in short supply, and so it is highly valued.

In a city, a river can also be special. It makes for a ribbon of nature that can transcend both urbanization and blight. Two of the blogs that I frequent, Captain JP's log and Beer and Trucks, have recently made posts about bicycling upon trails that run alongside rivers through urban areas, one along the Thames through London and its environs, and one along the Arkansas through Little Rock and North Little Rock. Albuquerque also has its own Paseo del Bosque Bike Trail alongside the Rio Grande.

I haven't been able to ride a bicycle since I suffered a medical malpractice incident that I'd rather not dwell on right now. But I can and do walk – lately, not as much as I should. Provided everybody is reasonably civilized, trails can be shared by walkers, runners, bicyclists, and equestrians.

JP reports on a bicycle trip he made, Putney to Kingston and back by bike, through a bunch of places whose names will be familiar to fans of the Andrew Lloyd Weber musical Cats, as places terrorized by Growltiger, the pirate cat. He has pictures to prove that, even in a heavily urbanized area, a river creates an environment that feels distant from the city.

Andrew doesn't provide any pretty pictures, but he does give us a map of the bicycle trail system, which is still very much under construction. I'm not sure whether it's coincidence that the Bill Clinton Presidential Center is in the same place as Heifer International. I haven't been to Little Rock since the construction of the bicycle trails began, but I do remember that there were parks along the river that provided welcome green space, and I imagine that the bicycle trails expand upon that concept.

Meanwhile, here in Albuquerque, we are increasingly aware of how precious our bosque is. For those who are unfamiliar with the term, a bosque is a wooded area alongside a river in an arid region – the southwestern equivalent of an oasis. It is a sanctuary for much diverse wildlife. It draws its sustenance from the river, and therefore, it depends on the river to remain healthy. Through the early 20th century, the river flooded every spring, providing sustenance to the bosque, much as the Nile did in ancient Egypt; subsequent flood control made the land along the river safer to build houses on or to plant farms, but gradually the bosque was dying. Recently, we've discovered how to manage the river with controlled flooding, rather than flood control, and the bosque is coming back.

I know there are other cities with rivers flowing through them, such as San Antonio. I have chosen to feature these three as examples of where the river provides an antidote to the city. If you have other such cities to recommend, go ahead and tell us in the comments, and provide links if you have them.

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Monday, June 08, 2009

Technology has been unkind to me

From the simple to the massive, various systems have been coming down with bugs …

Since Thursday, I've been hit by several failures of technology.

Thursday night, the bulb in the halogen torchere in the living room burned out. No problem, I thought, we always keep a spare in the tool drawer in the kitchen. Nope. Apparently the last time that bulb was changed, whoever changed it didn't put a new spare bulb on the shopping list. OK, I thought, I'll turn on the hanging lamp in the other corner. It's not as bright as the torchere, but it's bright enough to read by. It's plugged into a wall outlet that's controlled by a light switch near the door. I flipped the switch, and nothing happened. Well, all right, I reasoned, the living room is open to the dining room; I can turn on the dining room light. Three of the five light bulbs came on, and as I watched, one of them flickered out. OK, I'll just put new bulbs in, I thought. I went back to the tool drawer and found that there were no candelabra bulbs either. So when I'm in the living room, I'm pretty much in the dark. (Of course, there are some who would argue that I'm in the dark most of the time.) Yeah, I'll get to the store eventually and get some light bulbs, but I've had other things occupying my time.

Also Thursday, my ISP was having problems; I could get online, but I couldn't access email. This was a problem, as I had set the email system at the community college where I teach to forward email coming from the student information system. That meant that if my students sent me a message, I couldn't get it. When the ISP continued to have problems into Friday, I reset my account on the student email system so as not to forward to my ISP anymore. The student system was scheduled to be out for maintenance all weekend, but if my ISP was flaking out on me, I didn't really have any other choice.

Then there has been a problem in the blogosphere. It's not earth-shaking, it's just that there's a feature on one of my favorite blogs that isn't working. The cessation of its function coincided both with the blog author's making some changes to improve the feature and with my receiving an upgrade of Java. Since nobody else who visits that blog has reported a problem, I'm more inclined to blame the Java upgrade than the blog owner's revision, although it may just be plain bad luck that the revision and the Java upgrade happen not to agree with each other.

This morning, I was lying in bed, annoyed at how noisy the neighbors' bug-zapper was. Yes, the number of mosquitoes has skyrocketed in Albuquerque lately, but this was ridiculous – popping so often, and so loudly, it was almost as if it was in the house instead of next door. Then I realized it WAS in the house. I jumped out of bed and ran to the computer room, where I found the monitor of the desktop computer was doing a very good impression of a bug zapper, making big popping noises each accompanied by a flash on the screen. Pressing the power button caused no change in this behavior; I had to turn off the power at the power strip.

Late this evening I got an email from a student who didn't pay attention to the multiple announcements I had made in class about the student information system being down for the weekend, who needed to know the homework assignments for tomorrow. OK, so that one's not really my problem, just the student's, but it was annoying. It would have been good of the IT people to have made the major system upgrade between terms.

So today I was working on grading papers, and then creating what I call Reality Checks. These are mini-report cards, about the size of a check, that give each student a snapshot of his or her standing in the class – whether the student is doing well, keeping up with the work, needing to work a little harder, or needing to work a lot harder. While I create all of my class documents on the laptop computer, the desktop computer is what's attached to the printer. Usually, that means I copy the files onto a thumb drive and take it over to the desktop to print the files. With the desktop's monitor doing its bug-zapper impression, I needed to clear space for the laptop on the desktop's desk, unplug the monitor from the power strip, turn on the power strip, plug the printer into the laptop, and wait until the printer and laptop decided they would be willing to talk to each other.

About halfway through printing the Reality Checks, the printer stopped printing and refused to do any more. It had decided that one of its toner cartridges was empty, and it simply would not print until the cartridge was replaced. That is one of this printer's more frustrating "features" – there is absolutely no detectable degradation in print quality, and I expect even when the print quality does decline, it would still be OK for a couple hundred more pages, especially if the toner cartridge gets shaken up once in a while. Sure, the print quality might not be good for important stuff, but it would certainly be OK for rough drafts. It's a huge waste to have to replace a toner cartridge when it's probably still usable. What's even more frustrating is that if one of the color toner cartridges needs replacing, the printer will still refuse to print even if it is told to print in black and white and not even use color. And the printer is clever, oh, so clever – it isn't fooled when the toner cartridge is taken out, shaken, and replaced. Oh, no, it's not going to fall for that trick.

Meanwhile, I'm wishing the desktop computer's monitor really were a bug zapper. I'm getting eaten alive by mosquitoes. They love O-negative.

Going back to the beginning, here's a group writing project that shouldn't take too much time and energy – create a light bulb joke with the format "How many ____ sailors does it take to change a light bulb? ____, (because) ____."

For example, "How many Etchells sailors does it take to change a light bulb? It doesn't matter, because they're all busy bragging about their fraculators."

"How many MacGregor sailors does it take to change a light bulb? Six: one to change the bulb and five to replace the wiring on the boat."

Post your answers here and/or on your own blogs with a link here. Come on, I'm expecting some good ones about Lasers and Force 5's.

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Sunday, June 07, 2009

Old soldiers never die

… but at least in Texas and New Mexico, we seem to take care of them well

For the past two weeks, Pat and I (especially Pat) have been dealing with the needs of an old soldier whose health has been failing. It's been hard, especially for Pat. He's had to make some health-care decisions for the old soldier, and, once the old soldier's health condition improved to the point that he didn't need to be in the hospital, he was still not in good enough shape to go home, so Pat has been working with the hospital social worker to find a suitable nursing facility.

Pat and Gerald have traveled to the south end of Texas to help with coordinating care for the old soldier. They have more than one mess to deal with; they're working on sorting out about 100 pounds of paperwork that they have found all over the house, stuffed under furniture and in various other random places. In addition, it's been a while since anybody took out the trash.

The old soldier has insurance coverage that will pay for nursing-home care for a while, and he's now on a waiting list to get into a veterans' home, where he will get care for the rest of his life, if he needs it (although Pat hopes he will get better and be able to return to his own home—I have my doubts about that).

I was catching up on back newspapers, and there was an article about selecting nursing homes. It had a link to Medicare's website, in which nursing homes are rated on a scale of one to five stars, based on quality of care. The home where the old soldier is currently residing gets only so-so ratings, but the veterans' home gets really good ratings; there's a good reason for that waiting list.

And then I checked out the veterans' home in T or C, near the lake. I figured that if we could bring the old soldier there, it would be easy for Pat to visit him, and it would also give us more reason to come to the lake, so we would go there even if the weather prediction wasn't for good sailing weather, and if it did happen to be good for sailing, we could go sailing.

It turns out that the veterans' home in T or C is one of the very best nursing facilities in the country. On a scale of one to five, it scored a five on all of the criteria used to make the evaluation. I'm sure there's a waiting list to get in, but those old soldiers who do get in are going to get the best of care.

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Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Rhetoric Moment: Logical fallacies

Making sure your argument holds water

Whenever you write, whatever you write, it's important to know about logical fallacies, arguments that, at first glance, appear sensible – but that don't stand up to closer scrutiny. For that matter, even if you never write anything, knowing how to spot fallacies can help you with the rest of your life.

There are two good reasons to know about logical fallacies. First, you can make your writing stronger by avoiding them; an essay (or blog post) full of fallacies will not be as credible as one in which the reasoning is solid. Second, if you can spot logical fallacies in other material you see, you can develop critical thinking that will allow you to make good decisions. Advertising and politics are full of logical fallacies, and you don't want to fall for them.

Here are some of the logical fallacies that you want to watch out for:

  • Hasty generalization. This is jumping to a conclusion when you don't have sufficient evidence to support it. For example, if I ride a city bus once, and the driver is rude to me, I can't logically come to the conclusion that all of the bus drivers in Albuquerque need to improve their manners. It may be that just that one driver is impolite, or it could even be that this driver was just having a bad day.
  • Slippery slope. This is a subspecies of hasty generalization that uses the reasoning that once a given course of action is started, there is no choice but to continue. Politicians often use this fallacy: "If we legalize medical marijuana, then we will have to legalize it for all purposes, and then we will have to legalize hashish, and then cocaine, and then we will end up as a nation of hopeless drug addicts."
  • Either/or fallacy (false dichotomy). This is the assumption that there are only two choices, with no room for compromise or gray area between the options, as in "Either you stay in school, graduate, and become rich, or you drop out and are doomed to poverty for the rest of your life." There are other possibilities: Some people don't get a college degree but go into business, find they're good at it, and make millions. Others major in something relatively useless, like English, graduate, and end up teaching in a community college, where they definitely do not get rich!
  • False analogy. This is comparing two things that do not logically compare to each other, as in, "If we can put a man on the Moon, why can't we cure the common cold?" Space technology has very little to do with biomedical science.
  • Bandwagon. This is one of my favorites. It's the argument that because everybody is doing something, it must be right. Parents will be familiar with this one: "But, Mom, all of my friends got new Camaros for their sixteenth birthdays!" The standard response, of course, is, "If all of your friends jumped off a cliff, would you do so too?" The bandwagon fallacy is also represented by a couple of bumper stickers that I have seen. One says, "Eat more lamb; 40,000 coyotes can't be wrong." The other, which I have seen primarily on pickup trucks in Texas, follows the same reasoning: "Eat (excrement); sixty billion flies can't be wrong." (I happen to agree with the coyotes and not the flies.)
  • Non sequitur (does not follow). This fallacy is drawing a conclusion that cannot readily be derived from the information at hand: "Janet would be a great kindergarten teacher because she loves kids." Loving kids doesn't necessarily lead to a person being a good kindergarten teacher; Jeffrey Dahmer loved kids, but he certainly wouldn't have made a good kindergarten teacher – the school officials might start wondering why the class was shrinking.
  • Begging the question. This fallacy works by ignoring the real question at hand and assuming it has already been answered. For example, the wife says to the husband, "Honey, we need to talk about whether it's time to get a new pickup truck," and the husband responds, "All right, should we get the Ford or the Chevy?"
  • Ad hominem (to the person). This is another way of sidestepping the real issue by talking about who the opponent is rather than addressing the points the opponent is making: "Bill Clinton supports the North American Free Trade Agreement, but he cheats on his wife."
  • Guilt by association. This is a subspecies of ad hominem fallacy that argues that because a person is a member of a particular group, we can expect that person to act in a certain way: "The army is a strictly regimented institution; therefore, General Nimrod can't possibly understand the needs of free-spirited civilians." An uglier form of guilt by association is discrimination, when someone with brown or black skin, especially from a high-crime neighborhood, is automatically assumed to be a criminal.
  • Post hoc (false cause). The Latin phrase post hoc, ergo propter hoc translates as "after this, therefore because of this." It's the assumption that because event B happened after event A, event A must have caused event B: "I washed my pickup truck this morning, and this afternoon it rained." Politicians use this one a lot, and so do advertisers: "I switched to Super-Fresh toothpaste, and now the girls are crazy about me." Well, maybe it was the toothpaste, or maybe the guy just bought a cool new pickup truck and the girls all want to go for a ride.
  • Circular reasoning. This is the argument that A is true because of B, and B is true because of A. Since the truth of each argument depends on the other, there is no outside evidence to prove the case: "We know that God exists because the Bible says so, and we know the Bible is true because it is the word of God."
  • Arguing from strength. This is another way of ignoring the real issue or the merits of the argument. Its reasoning is, "I'm bigger and stronger than you are; therefore, I'm right." In Albuquerque, this argument is often expressed at traffic intersections by the drivers of jumbo SUVs: "I don't care what color the light is; I'm bigger than you are, and I'm going through, so get out of my way!"
  • Appeal to pity. Yet another way of ignoring the actual question at hand, the appeal to pity tries to tug at the audience's heartstrings instead of looking at the facts: "Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, surely you cannot find my client guilty of murdering his mother and father; the poor boy is an orphan!" Conversely, some prosecuting attorneys will argue about how horrible the crime was, instead of looking at evidence that would prove or disprove that the defendant actually committed it.
  • Appeal to authority. This is calling in an "expert" witness who isn't really an expert. Advertising is full of this type of fallacy. A recent example is the television commercial in which a scantily-clad Paris Hilton washes a car while promoting cheeseburgers. Given her figure, I imagine Paris Hilton is not exactly familiar with cheeseburgers. She's just in the commercial because she's famous and attractive, not because she knows anything about the product.
  • Arguing from ignorance. This is the argument that, since we haven't seen anything to disprove it, something must be true: "We don't have any evidence that the governor and his buddies took kickbacks; therefore, they must not have taken any." Maybe they did, and maybe they didn't; if we don't have any evidence either way, we need to investigate further.

You may notice that there is overlap between some of these fallacies; that's the way rhetoric is sometimes. You may also sometimes run into an argument that contains more than one fallacy. It can be exciting to look at something and say, "Aha! False cause!" or, "Hey, that's a non sequitur." But even more important than being able to put a name to a particular fallacy is just to recognize it for what it is and see that it doesn't logically add up. Beware the politicians and advertisers, and keep your own arguments free of these fallacies that don't hold water.

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Monday, June 01, 2009

The Race to the Elephant

A good weekend, despite some miscues


Saturday, the Rio Grande Sailing Club's Anniversary Cup Regatta took on a new format. Thanks to sponsorship from the company that operates the marinas on Elephant Butte Lake, the race also became the Race to the Elephant, designed to showcase the marinas by starting near Rock Canyon Marina, rounding a mark near Marina del Sur, and finishing at the Damsite Marina, with a circumnavigation of the landform that gives the lake its name as part of the grand finale.

I was sailing with Zorro, Twinkle Toes, Penzance and Space Invader on Twinkle Toes' boat, the Hunter 34 Windependent, the same boat upon which we had that peak experience in last year's Anniversary Cup. Gerald, recovering from injuries sustained in a bicycle accident the previous week and eager to play with his new camera, originally was going to go on the committee boat and take pictures, but at the last minute he was persuaded to join Yoda, Esther, and Cherokee on the J/24 Hot Flash, as Cherokee had a seriously injured shoulder that limited her abilities to trim the jib. Gerald joked that with his injured elbow and her shoulder, the two of them added up to one full crew member. That left Pat single-handing Black Magic, but as conditions were light, I figured he could probably handle the boat all right. He'd actually done fairly well two weeks before in the single-handed Joshua Slocum Regatta, aside from being OCS without realizing it at the start, so what would have been a third-place finish didn't count.

At first, winds were nearly non-existent, so we waited for nearly two hours to get some wind with which to run the race. Just before the deadline at which the committee would have called off the racing to try again Sunday, we got some wind – not much wind, but enough to have a race.

We had three fleets, racers, cruisers, and dinghies, with two starts five minutes apart – one for the racers, and one combined start for the cruisers and dinghies (there were only two dinghies registered for the race, and only one ended up starting; if someone from, say, Rhode Island had showed up with a Laser, he would have stood a very good chance of taking home a really nice trophy).

The racers took off with Pat on Black Magic in the lead; for most of the first leg of the race, he and Mother and Dumbledore on the J/24 Kachina would swap leads several times.

Windependent is not exactly a good boat for light air. But we had a very lightweight drifter for a headsail, sort of a cross between a genoa and a spinnaker. It turned out to be a very good sail for us. We totally nailed the start, and we were off. Soon we found ourselves catching up to the racing fleet, while most of the cruising fleet was indistinct in the distance behind us.

Then the wind came up. As the drifter was only good for wind speeds up to 7 knots, we took it down and unrolled the heavy headsail. For about 40 minutes, we had winds in the 10-12 knot range, Windependent's sweet spot. At one point, even with a start five minutes behind, we were ahead of nearly all of the racing fleet; only Black Magic and Kachina remained ahead of us – and those two boats were gradually pulling away from everybody else.

Then the wind faded. We rolled up the heavy headsail and set up the drifter again. But even with that sail, we couldn't go fast. For a while, we did keep up with most of the racing fleet, but a couple of the boats in the cruising fleet were catching up. Meanwhile, Kachina and Black Magic were vanishing over the horizon.

Unfortunately, disaster struck. Because the roller-furling heavy headsail was mounted on the forestay, we had been sailing with the drifter flying from the spinnaker halyard. It was working well for us, until the shackle on the spinnaker halyard broke. The official race photography boat was right next to us at the time, and thanks to serendipity, the photographer snapped a photo just as that shackle gave way. I ended up on the rail of the boat, hauling the sail onboard while Twinkle Toes and Space Invader got the other headsail working again.

Without the drifter, we were toast. The US 25 Viento Bueno and the MacGregor 26C Mac Goddess were right on our heels. Worse, with a retractable keel, Mac Goddess could take shortcuts through shallows. We had some exciting tactical encounters with those two boats as we did the loop around the Elephant, and we were the first cruising boat over the finish line, ahead of a couple of the racing boats even, but on corrected time, Viento Bueno was first, Mac Goddess was second, and we were third in the cruising fleet.

Still, it was an exciting race and a rewarding experience. The day turned out even better for Pat – after the first mark, he had lost ground to Kachina, finishing about 10 minutes behind her, but nearly a half-hour ahead of the next boat to finish. In the overall, corrected standings for all fleets together, Kachina was first, Black Magic second, and Viento Bueno third.

That night, there was a gala dinner and awards banquet. It was expensive (at least by New Mexico standards) at $25 a head, but the food was absolutely fabulous, at least for carnivores. The centerpiece of the meal was a massive, tasty, tender slab of beef – something on the order of 16 ounces of rib-eye. The Damsite has a new chef, and he really showed off his talents. (He had done some awesome dinner-plate-sized sweet rolls for the skippers' meeting breakfast that morning, as well.)

Sunday, it was time to return the boats from the Damsite (where race participants got free overnight slips) to where they live – we had to get Black Magic to the mast-up storage lot at Marina del Sur, while Cornhusker needed to get her boat, the Freedom 21 Free and Clear IV, which she has just bought, to Rock Canyon Marina. Gerald sailed with Cornhusker, while Pat and I took Pyrat on board Black Magic as crew. He's interested in buying an Etchells for himself, but first, he'd like to be crew for us for a few months to learn how the boat works. This works well for us, as our current loyal crew, Penzance, has just bought himself his own Etchells, and we were looking for a replacement.

Winds were much better Sunday than Saturday. They started light and switchy, and then they filled in to somewhere in the 10-15 knot range. Pyrat had a ball – he's been sailing all of his life, especially dinghies, and he was delighted with Black Magic and how she handles. He's super on mainsail trim, and he's going to be a great crew member for the fall racing series. Meanwhile, I hope we can sail together on a regular basis over the summer as well; we're leaving Black Magic at Elephant Butte this summer instead of taking our usual migration to Heron.

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