Tuesday, September 1, 2015

The broken technology icon

Here it is, a little icon, a crossed wrench and screwdriver that means something, I don't know what exactly.  I think it might mean that by clicking it, I can mess with the technology enclosed in the box that it's in the lower right hand corner of.
But I think of it as the broken technology icon.  And for some reason, it reminds me of the hammer and sickle icon that the Soviets used on their flag.  In their case, it meant that their state was one of industrial workers and farmers.  In this case, the wrench and screwdriver supposedly stand for tools you use to take apart machinery and potentially put it back together again.  OK, enough already with the semiotics.

Clean up after yourself google

There is a widespread belief that technology creates energy.  It enables the delivery of energy but it does not produce it.  You can't use technology to create energy.  Energy exists of its own accord.  Technology helps with the delivery.  That's all. Obviously there is a lot of technology involved in the delivery of energy, and the two, energy and technology are so closely intermeshed that it seems hard to tell which came first, an instance of the chicken or egg first question.
Broken widgets.  I think they used to have different pictures in them.  Now they all say let's fight hunger together.  They should say instead, If you break it, you should fix it.  But that's my point.  Technology needs a constant input of energy to keep working.  In this case, I think I will just get rid of the broken widgets, once I get enough spare energy to do it.  Clean up after yourself Google.  That's what I would say if Google was my kids.
Anyway, I don't care about this argument.  The only reason I brought it up is that some of the google widgets I put on the sidebar of this blog have stopped working.  Google informed me that they would by way of an email.  And sure enough, they have stopped working.  But now, I have to expend energy to fix the technology.  so that's my point.  Technology eats up energy.

Monday, August 31, 2015

Leaf Blowers and Entropy

The other day, the gardeners were in our neighbor's back yard and blowing away at the leaves.  As they usually do, they try to corral the leaves in one corner of the yard where they can then scoop them up and haul them off somewhere.  Unfortunately, when they blow them up against the fence that separates them from our yard, a good deal of the leaves and other debris ends up in our yard.  So yes, I am one of those people that thinks that leaf blowers are a bad idea.
But that is not my main point here.  My point is to talk about a definition of entropy that sees it as a degree of disorder.  In this view, entropy is created when the world becomes more disordered.  The gardener with the leaf blower lowers the entropy in his client's back yard but increases the overall entropy of the neighborhood by expending energy to create more order in a specific place at the cost of the larger environment.
This is how living organisms operate as well.  They hold entropy at bay internally by increasing overall entropy in their environment.  And it is only by holding entropy at bay by sucking energy out of their environment that living organisms can stay alive.
Still, it would be good if gardeners could work out a better way to remove leaves than by leafblowing and still put food on their table.

California Drought and Flood

This is yet another California drought post, this one featuring a book by two women who know what they are talking about, that is, the climate of California since the last ice age.
The idea behind studying the earth's past climate is that we might be able to see patterns that could help us predict climate in the future.  Unfortunately, climate is capricious and the best that climate studies can do is to give us a smorgasbord of options.  Our options for California are periods of benign climate interspersed with droughts and floods.  California has been in a benign, wetter than usual period for about 150 years.  That period may now be ending.  The entire culture and economy of present day California has been built on top of the expectation that the past 150 years are what's normal for the climate of California.  Sure there isn't enough water in southern California to support large scale agriculture and cities, but with dams and aqueducts, water has been brought from elsewhere to make life in southern California possible.  Northern California fares a little better than the south but cities in Central California, like those that rim San Francisco bay have to import their water from out of the area.
The truth of the situation is that California does not have enough water to support a population of 39 million people indefinitely.  It has enough water if the climate is sufficiently wet.  But it isn't always.  There have been droughts that have lasted for 500 years, from AD 900 to AD 1400 for instance, much longer than California has existed as a state. The present culture of California could not exist in such a climate. Indian cultures have existed in all these varying climates but they were never as dense as the present population.  They were also not as settled and had a better sense of climate variability than the people who built the present day California.
For example, the Central Valley of California where some large part of the produce sold in the US is grown floods periodically.  The Indians tended not to build permanent settlements there.  They moved there when floods were not imminent and moved to higher ground when storms were likely.  The current culture on the other hand has built cities and farms in this flood plain that gets flooded in excess of ten feet every hundred years or so. The last great flood happened in 1862.  A flood of this magnitude happening today would destroy a good deal of housing and farms and also displace 6 million people.  It would also very likely drown much of the infrastructure that brings water to Los Angeles, San Francisco and other coastal cities.
So perhaps drought is not even the worst threat to California.  Drought is a threat to agriculture in California but then agriculture in California was never a good idea unless one is comfortable with the idea that it might only be a temporary arrangement.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Across Atlantic Ice or people came to America by boat

In their book Across Atlantic Ice, the authors posit the theory that people of the Clovis culture came to America along the edge of the ice sheet that went from the northern coast of Spain to the northern Atlantic coast of America.  The idea is that they traveled by boat, skinboat supposedly along the ice edge and ate sea mammals that they killed along the way.
You can read the book if you are interested in the details.  The main reason the authors posited their theory of migration by sea was that the mainstream theory which had people walking to America lacked any evidence to back it up.  Had the Clovis people walked to America, there should be some trace of their presence in the form of spear points found in Alaska or Siberia, but there wasn't.  Instead, the authors claim that the Clovis trail of artifacts leads back to the coast of Spain.
Critics of this theory say that there is no evidence of the boats that the Clovis people supposedly used to make their crossing.  Of course there wouldn't be after all this time because the organic materials that made up the boats would long have disappeared.
But the main thing that interests me about this dispute is the inability of modern people to imagine the ability of earlier humans to build boats.  It is also something that the authors accuse their critics of. In any case, there are other migrations that were made thousands of years ago, like the migration to Australia that left no evidence of boats although they could not have been made in any other way given that even at lowest sea levels there was water between their starting point and their destination.
Michael Collins, the author of the foreword to the book calls this inability to imagine that ancient people were as imaginative as contemporary humans paleoracism. I don't know that I would call that shortage of imagination racism, but it springs out of the same place that racism does, out of the inability to give others full credit for human abilities.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Tumarayulit - Kayaks able to repair themselves

In Paitarkiutenka, My Legacy to You, Frank Andrews tells of kayaks able to repair themselves. On page 311 he says, "And some kayaks were endowed with supernatural attributes in the past.  At present, kayaks no longer have these qualities."
Apparently, some builders were able to build these kinds of kayaks. Andrews reports that it is said that the kayaks got this protection from destruction from the predecessors of the builders.
He tells of one instance where a builder's young son was angry at his father and attacked his father's kayak with an ax but was not able to hurt it even though it was only covered in painted canvas.

Friday, June 5, 2015

How Long Will It Last?

I bought a Nikon SLR (Single Lens Reflex) camera in 1970 and used it continuously and extensively for about 30 years without a problem.  Around 2000, or whenever it was that digital cameras became commonplace, I bought a digital camera which lasted for a few years until the power circuitry died.  After that, I got a waterproof digital camera, a relatively simple one that still takes pictures but something happened to the lens so that when I zoom in on something, the image gets progressively more out of focus from left to right.  But it still takes pictures.  I have heard a fellow kayaker say that he gets a new waterproof camera every two years or so.  Somewhere in there, my wife got a Lumix digital camera.  That acquired dust spots on the sensor so that every picture has dark splotches in it.  I got a Lumix as well, a later model that also got dust spots.  I paid sixty five dollars to a camera repair shop to get rid of the dust.  He did, and a year later, the dust was back.
Panasonic Lumix camera with dust on the sensor producing spots on the image. 

Though I may sound like I'm complaining, I mostly am trying to understand this phenomenon. Apparently electronics have roughly a two year life span or are manufactured to produce satisfactory results for no more than two years.  One might accuse manufacturers of planned obsolescence but that accusation is probably not justified.  The obsolescence of electronic should probably be blamed on the fact that electronic capability has been increasing at such a rate that people want new electronics every two years and they want it cheaply.  As a consequence, manufacturers will not make something that lasts longer than two years because they perceive that after two years nobody will want it any more anyway, so why bother.
Regardless of whether the manufacturers are scoundrels or not, they are de facto producing shoddy goods which for me as a consumer puts me in a position where I tend to want the cheapest possible camera since I know that it will only last for two years.  Manufacturers are in effect pushing lower and lower end product quality on society by putting tool users in a position where they will go for the lowest quality tool that will do the job and in turn produce the lowest quality possible end product with the lowest quality tool.

Why I stay away from High Tech

The title is maybe just a little extreme.  I don't stay away from high tech entirely.  I have a telephone and a computer and I drive a car.  But when it comes to me creating my own technology, like kayaks, tents and paddles, I prefer low tech.
My main reason for preferring low tech is that it has a short supply chain.  That is, tools and materials needed to produce low tech goods are generally available in the immediate environment and do not require complex layered technologies to support them.
I generally prefer hand tools to power tools because they are not dependent on electricity or batteries.

When I make things for other people, like paddles for instance, I use power tools because they cut down the amount of time it takes to make them so that I can price them competitively.
On the other hand, when I make paddles for myself and have no urgency about completing them, I can use salvaged wood and do the carving with an ax and a draw knife, no sanding needed.
I have a sufficient supply of hand tools to last me the rest of my life, but should I need some new tool, I know enough blacksmiths to have them make it for me.
I sharpen my own planes and chisels and can make new bodies and handles for them as needed.
Saws are a little more difficult to maintain.  I do not have the tools to keep them sharp.  Perhaps I should.
So what is it that makes me want a short supply chain?  It is pessimism about the stability of supply chains I guess.  High tech goods follow fashion and don't have a very long life span.  As soon as you learn how to use a new high tech tool or material, it is replaced by a newer version and you have to learn all over, wasting time and assuring a consistently low grade product.  But never mind.  The high tech tool or product does not have to last.  It will be superseded by a new version making the thing you made obsolete before it breaks down.  No one should care that the thing you made them will only last three years as long as you bring out a new version every two years.
But I like things to work reliably for as long as possible and high tech is short lived.  Nor is high tech gear expected to work right.  I remember a tech rep doing something to a mass spectrometer in a lab that I was working on in school.  The professor whose spectrometer it was grumbled about reliability and the tech retorted,  "What do you expect?  We're pushing the state of the art here."
I guess I would prefer something to work at the cost of not pushing the state of the art.

Thursday, June 4, 2015

Unangax^ (Aleut) Kayak Terms, Part 0

A few decades back, Knut Bergsland, wrote an article called Aleut Kayak Terms which was published in Contributions to Kayak Studies in 1992. The article contains a wealth of information but in a format that is difficult to extract information from.  The article has a few illustrations that tie Unangax^ names directly to kayak parts and parts of hunting implements, but for the most part, illustrations are lacking and we have to wade through Bergsland's difficult syntax to figure out what's what.
Sample page of  Bergsland's prose.  Click on image for readable size illustration.

So for some time, I have been wanting to draw some pictures of the things that Bergsland was supplying names for so that someone wanting to know what the Unangan called their kayak parts and activities related to kayaking would have an illustrated guide, myself being the primary audience.
As it turned out, the project was always in progress and never made much headway, primarily because I didn't  give it the time it needed and because I didn't think there was enough of an audience besides myself to justify the effort.  After all,  the information was there in Bergsland's article, even if difficult to extract.
Sample of kayak drawings I made to anchor Unangax^ kayak terms to. What would be helpful would be English names for the kayak parts and the transliterations that Bergsland gave where the Unangax^ names were descriptive, for instance, deckbeam for kicking your feet against.  

But the other day I was for some reason inspired again to work on this project and thought that if I approached it piecemeal and posted my illustrations with Unangax^ names attached as I completed them, they would be available even if I never finished the thing as a whole.
Some Background
Unangam Tunuu, the Aleut language, had several dialects so that there might be different names for the same kayak part depending on the dialect.  Also, names varied over time and from village to village even within the same dialect.  Bergsland records these variations to the extent that they made it into print.
Bergsland distinguishes between several dialects, which he calls Eastern Aleut (EA), Atkan Aleut (AA) and Attuan Aleut (AU).  Within the article itself, he uses only the abbreviations.  Where Unangax^ kayak terms are similar to Yupik, Bergsland also lists them, primarily as he explains that this indicates antiquity, given that Eskimo an Aleut languages diverged quite some time ago.
Stay tuned.  More of this sort of stuff may be forthcoming.

Friday, April 24, 2015

The Twelve Foot Yurt

The ten foot yurt has had a few outings in the past few years.  It worked well but I thought it could use a little more floor space in conditions where we wanted to use part of it as a kitchen. So I set to work on the design of a twelve foot version.
A twelve foot diameter, vs. a ten foot diameter would give this yurt 44 percent more floor space.  I decided to keep wall height the same so that I could re-use the existing wall lattice, needing only to add another 6 foot section of wall to bring the circumference up to 37 feet from 31 feet.  
I tried to figure out ways to re-use the existing roof parts, but that was not possible.  Still, re-using the existing wall parts and door cut down considerably on the total amount of work.
So on to some pictures.
Here's the sewing studio for the roof. I tried sewing the roof on the floor of the living room at first, but the large hunk of canvas kept colliding with various furniture.  Having the large flat area of our driveway to rassle the canvas was a big plus. The other thing I learned from the ten foot yurt was to soak the canvas in water and let it dry to shrink it before cutting and sewing it.  Shrinkage was mostly along the length of the canvas with very little across the width so trying to get a good fit without pre-shrinking the canvas would have been a challenge.
 This photo is of the trial assembly of the yurt in back of the shop. Looks good enough.
 What you are looking at here is the extension of the wall canvas joined to the existing wall canvas from the ten foot yurt.
 I also decided to add a skirt to the interior of the yurt to minimize the amount of sand blowing into the yurt in windy weather.
 And this is the tono or roof ring.  I made the roof poles a little over long so minor changes in length wouldn't have them pulling out of their sockets.
 Here's the twelve foot yurt pitched in front of the original 16 foot yurt.  Note the difference in roof pitch.  I wanted to experiment with a lower pitch on the twelve footer to keep interior volume down for easier heating.  The new pitch was 30 degrees vs. about 39 degrees for the 16 footer.  A lower roof also makes for easier setup of the roof.
 I also decided to make a door frame for the door cover, an upgrade from a simple flap that hung over the door but was a nuisance to go in and out of.  The assembly of the parts is tongue and groove for reasonable stability combined with ease of disassembly.
 Once I was done, I dragged all the yurt parts outside to weigh them.  Total weight about 198 pounds.  Not suitable for backpacking but OK for car camping.
And here, the yurt deployed in the Mojave National preserve.  We wanted an open roof for star viewing at night but rigged a table cloth for shade during the day.