Wednesday, May 30, 2007

On the Water

After much thought and calculation, I finally caved in on Saturday and bought a new boat down in Woodbridge at Backyard Boats. Specifically, a sailing trimaran kayak, a red Hobie Adventure Island. My first boat was a Hobie 16, Inferno, and I miss her a great deal. This new boat, Betty, may be even better. I can use her as a normal kayak, as a nifty pedal kayak using the Mirage Drive, as a sailboat, or switch between all three on the water. I had her home by noon on Saturday, and was sailing at 3:00. I made it out again on Sunday. It was light to moderate air both days, and she still clips along pretty well. I made it from Gravelly Point to Georgetown and back on Sunday, and that was in the really fluky breeze north of the bridges.

I'm already extremely pleased with her. Like most multihulls, she doesn't point especially high, but better than I expected. She motors on reaches, and does reasonably well downwind. And I can't say enough about the flexibility of the design. With the paddle and pedal options, she makes for a forgiving platform for novice sailors - you can power through your mistakes. But the sail is big enough for the displacement that she performs to satisfy those with more experience. You can even use the pedals to improve her sailing - accelerating faster out of tacks so you don't lose as much going to windward, or increasing speed to shift the apparent wind to turn a downwind run into a reach.

The details are well thought out and executed, for the most part. The roller furling on the mast is quick and easy. Swinging the amas (sidehulls) in and out on the water is also quite easy. Assembly and derigging ashore takes only a few minutes, and requires no tools. And there is an insane amount of storage space in hull.

There are a few small nitpicks. The rudder control is often awkward to use, especially at higher speeds; it is mounted flush, and would be much easier to handle if you could get your hand all the way around it. A boom would improve downwind performance, but would also create a headknocker hazard. Perhaps barber-haulers on the amas would help keep main tack down when running with the wind. And the main hull (vaka) is essentially a normal kayak hull with crossbars (akas) mounted on top. Maybe it will plane at higher speeds, but planing hull might improve performance.

Regardless, for me this is a great pickup. This is my third sailboat, following Inferno (a catamaran) and Pegasus (a monohull Luger 16). In order to top Betty, I'd have to get a sailing hydrofoil for my next boat.

[Images courtesy Hobie and Google Earth]

Thursday, May 24, 2007

My Team is Not Good at Winning

The Reds lost again last night. To the Nationals. The Nats have been widely derided as the worst team in the league this season. The Reds now have the same record. And it wasn't just a loss, it was a beat-down, 12-7.

Being a sports fan makes more sense when your team is winning. It's just logical: "I support and cheer for this team, because they are winners. Objectively, they are one of the best in the league." But the ridiculousness of fandom is more apparent when your team is losing. I'm not connected to the team in any concrete way, they play their home games hundreds of miles away, and they kind of suck this year. But every loss still stings, and each victory remains sweet. Reds Reds Reds!

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Rose Colored Glasses Half Full

An optimist looks at a half glass of water and says "the glass is half full." The pessimist looks at it and says "the glass is half empty." And an engineer looks at it and says "The glass is twice as big as it needs to be."

I read two interesting articles recently that I think inform one another. The first was in The Armed Forces Journal. You may have heard about this piece, by LTCOL Paul Yingling, USA. He tears into the senior Army leadership for moral failures and dereliction of duty. The general consensus is this is what soldiers have been saying in the messroom for a few years now, but this is the first time any active-duty officers have published anything quite like it. Slate published a very thoughtful review of it, pointing out how well-reasoned it is. LTCOL Yingling is clearly quite sharp, he makes an excellent argument.

The second article I read, also in Slate, extends the indictment. Yingling indicts generals and other leaders of wishful thinking. John Gravois writes that our culture, in general, is suffering from the same affliction. He specifically discusses a book called The Secret. Would you like to know the secret? The authors (i.e. a group of crackpots, charlatans, and kooks) say positive thoughts attract positive things, and the universe will respond to your thoughts if you just think right. Oprah promoted it, then one of her viewers decided to follow her advice... and stop chemotherapy and wish away cancer. Ms. Winfrey had the good sense to talk her out of it. I'm as big a fan of positive thinking as anyone, but as a way to deal with whatever comes along. This just seems childish.

Taken together, I think these two articles paint pictures, one specific and one general, about the dangers of optimism. I'm sure everyone likes to think of themselves as pragmatic; I'm sure I do. But now I'd be interested to read Never Saw It Coming to see how my outlook compares to most folks', viz-a-viz optimism and pessimism. And that raises the question: can you choose to be a pragmatist, an optimist? Can you train yourself into a new fundamental outlook on the world?

The optimist proclaims that we live in the best of all possible worlds; and the pessimist fears this is true. - James Branch Cabell

Monday, May 14, 2007


It's two in the morning on Sunday. I'm halfway into the trunk of my car, hacking at the liner with a utility knife. In my teeth I've got a star head screwdriver.

Early Saturday morning, I went over to Steph & Aaron's for brunch with them and Heather. This was followed with about 5 hours of helping to assemble wedding invitations. My job was tying the knots for the ribbons. One hundred thirty two square knots. That is easy money, even if I was getting paid in bacon and banana bread.

Aaron and I made ourselves scarce before various bachelorette activities began. We went to Union Station to pick up his brother David, who accompanied his wife Alex to town to celebrate with Steph. Unfortunately, the lines got crossed and we waited for forty minutes in a torrential downpour while David rode the Metro to his hotel in L'Enfant Plaza. After some driving adventures, not to mention almost having a truck back into us, we picked up David and went to see Spider-man 3. Driving over the Potomac in the storm, it was coming down so hard I couldn't see the lights in Virginia. I was convinced the power was out, since all I could see were a few streetlights along the interstate. Luckily, that was not the case.

I choose to withhold commentary on Spider-man 3, save to say the trilogy seems to follow the pattern of the original Star Wars. Good start, great middle, ending... not so much.

As we left the movie, Alex called David and a not entirely clear sequence of events began. We were going to take him back to L'Enfant anyway, so would we mind picking her up in DuPont Circle? Of course not. But it would be rude to pick just her up - it's only fair to give all the women a ride. So, shortly thereafter I'm driving down 16th Street, then past the White House, with 8 people sandwiched into my car. I'm sure I will catch hell for this from my folks when they read this [Happy Mother's Day, Mom!].

So people are talking and laughing, and I'm paying VERY close attention to my driving, as you should do when you are being stupid. Because I am so attentive (and a great planner), I am the only person in the car privy to very important piece of information. The computer indicates the car has about 10 miles before she runs out of gas. We are running on fumes.

But we get to L'Enfant Plaza without trouble, and offload 3 people there. So, everything is fine. A quick trip to the King Street Metro station, then I drop off the remainder and head for the closest gas station that is open at 0100 in the morning. Stop the car, hop out, swipe the credit card, select my fuel... hmmm, that's odd.

The flap over the gas cap is locked. I try the power locks, to no avail. I check the fuse, no change. I break out the owner's manual, and luckily it has instructions for this exact situation. But the instructions call for a utility knife, which I don't have in the car...

So we return to our intro. I make it home (4 miles left in the tank) and begin the work. I do what the manual says... and it still won't open. Out of exhaustion, frustration, and my traditionally poor judgement, I simply pry the flap open with a screwdriver. No real damage - it won't lock again, but that is no great concern to me. It is spring loaded, so it stays closed, and that is enough.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Battlestar Apollo

A NASA... ad? I'm biased, since I've said before I think going back to the Moon and on to Mars is a great idea. But this commercial is a little intense. I think the Gizmodo poster is right - this is like a cross between A Man on the Moon and Battlestar Galactica.

[via Gizmodo]

Tuesday, May 08, 2007


There is a great story in baseball right now that isn't getting a lot of coverage. Josh Hamilton is a new outfielder for my Cincinnati Reds. He was originally drafted by the Tampa Bay Devil Rays, in the first round. He was projected as a future superstar, what is called a "Five Tools" player:

  1. Hitting for Average
  2. Hitting for Power
  3. Speed and Baserunning
  4. Throwing
  5. Fielding
Unfortunately, there was a setback. He was in a car accident, hurt his back, and essentially got hooked on painkillers, which lead to other drugs. Hamilton played in the minors, and was caught for violations of the drug policy. Specifically, cocaine. He was kicked out of baseball, suspended indefinitely. He was out of baseball for 3 years, working construction. During this time, he cleaned up and got straight.

Then, the suspension was lifted last year. He played a little at the AA level in the Rays system before the suspension, and came back at Single-A, though he was injured at one point. He was acquired by the Cubs in the Rule V Draft, where teams can poach unprotected players from other organizations for very little cost. He was then traded by the Cubs to the Reds for cash. Coming out of spring training, he earned a spot on the roster with the big club as a 4th outfielder. He's gotten a number of pinch hit opportunities, and has started 22 games.

Here's the thing - even with only 293 professional games, and only 50 over Single-A, the kid can flat out rake. OPS is a good shorthand statistic for how valuable a hitter is - on-base percentage + slugging percentage. It is approximately the average number of bases the hitter gains per at-bat. Hamilton is currently 10th in the Majors, trailing only guys like Barry Bonds and Alex Rodriguez at 1.023. Through hits, walks, hit-by-pitch, etc, he's averaging more than a single per at-bat. It is a great tragedy that someone this good was walking around NOT playing baseball for 3 years.

It's a great story - in his first major league at-bat, I happened to catch the game. He got a 22 second standing ovation. The tv did not cut away to a commercial, like they normally would have. It was fantastic. He has made terrible mistakes, and now that he has his life back on track, I think everyone should be rooting for Josh Hamilton.

(thanks to Chris for corrections and background)


After jumping through some hoops, I finally got a security badge to access the company offices downstairs in the DC building I'm working in most days. Those offices include a company gym. I don't particularly care about the gym, but now I can get to the showers. This was the last bridge to cross before ditching my car and Metro and commuting to work by bicycle.

I ride through Del Ray, linking up with the GW Parkway trail near milepost 13 at National Airport. I ride up the bridge across the Potomac, linking up to Maine Avenue near the Jefferson Memorial. Then I can pick up M Street and ride straight to the office, or dodge around the traffic by hitting some of the side streets.

Now, I like my car. And I've written before about how I enjoy riding Metro. But this new arrangement is an improvement in almost every way.

  • I save money, since I don't have to pay a red cent for anything.
  • I save time - it actually takes less time to ride in than it does to walk to the bus stop, wait for the bus, ride the bus to the Metro, wait for the train, transfer to another train, and get to work.
  • It also saves time since now instead of commuting home, then taking a bike ride for exercise, I just ride home and knock two birds with one stone.
I use some of the extra time to tour around a little bit. Yesterday, I rode up to the National Mall on my way home. This morning, I detoured slightly to the south to ride past the new National's stadium under construction. And while it has been quite cool these first two mornings, Washington is a beautiful city at sunrise. The view as I cross the 14th Street Bridge of the monuments, the Capitol, and the Cathedral is a great way to start my day.

But mostly, I just use the extra time to relax a little more at home. It's great, more time for everything. And I do feel pretty good about myself - getting exercise, doing what I can to alleviate traffic and pollution, seeing more of my city. The only problem is if I get really into this, I'll convince myself I need another bike, just for commuting.