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.  

Friday, February 6, 2015

The Herons are Back

yes, the herons are back.  There they are out back of the shop on the other side of the fence that divides the federal land from that under the control of the city of Alameda.  A few years back, there were maybe five herons that used to hang out back of the shop.  This year there were twelve that I counted plus a few more hanging out in a Monterey Cypress just off to the right of this pictures edge.
And here we are zoomed in just a bit more on the great blues.  Off to the sides are Canadian geese also hanging out and choosing nesting sites.  I imagine it must be mating season.  Not sure, but the male herons might be the ones with the fancy Mohawks and the females the ones with the more slicked back look.
What a difference a fence makes.  On our side of the fence, nothing is going on bird-wise.  On the west side of the fence, birds are doing their bird thing.  Not that they spend much time thinking about the fence, but they do seem to realize that humans don't go on their side of the fence and so they go about their bird business which is eating and apparently this time of year, reproducing.  Hope it works out for them.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Owens Lake

A few weeks ago we left Death Valley by heading West at Panamint Springs to get over to Highway 395 which runs up Owens Valley.  The name Owens Valley probably does not mean anything to most people and probably shouldn't unless they live there or unless they've read Mark Reisner's Cadillac Desert or watched the movie Chinatown.
Owens Lake as viewed from Hwy 190

Owen's valley drains the runoff from the Eastern slope of the Sierra Nevada and the Inyo and White mountains and several other mountain ranges to the east of the valley.  These waters are drained from the valley by the Owens River which at one time formed Owens Lake pictured above.  
It is hard to tell from the picture, but Owens Lake is mostly empty of water.  Water coming down the Owens River from the north is collected in a reservoir a little ways north of the former Lake Owens and from thence diverted into a pipeline through which it is pumped some 200 miles to Los Angeles.  
You can see the valley downstream from the lake below.
The view facing west toward the Sierra Nevada, with the now empty river bed of the Owens river just ahead, LA off to the south on the left and Bishop off to the north on the right.  Note also the minimal amount of snow on the mountains.

If you click on the picture, you can read the green roadsign at the left.  Los Angeles 187 miles to the south, Bishop 80 miles to the north.  At this point, there is no more Owens river.  The Owens river has been diverted into the Los Angeles aqueduct.  Evident in the photo above are cottonwoods, a sign that there is still some water available to sustain these water loving trees in an otherwise desert landscape.  
So here we were driving south on 395 going parallel to the river bed of the former river and I mused out loud that maybe it's OK for LA to suck all the water out of the Owens River since does it really matter whether the river is sucked dry by farmers and ranchers living in Owens Valley or by the LA water utility?  Either way,  the local ecology is unbalanced for the benefit of people and at a cost to everyone else both plant and animal who lived off the water of the Owens River before European immigrants diverted it for human consumption.
My wife came down on the side of local consumption of water and I probably have to agree with her. But still, the reality is that LA by applying money and the laws of private property was able to get possession of this natural resource and export it for the greater benefit of the LA real estate industry. But things may change in the future.

Friday, January 9, 2015

Mojave Desert Petroglyphs



The Mojave Desert has been inhabited by people for some time.  Like most places on earth, the Mojave desert has undergone climate change even before the advent of car exhaust.  But for the last few thousand years before the coming of Europeans, the Mojave has been a desert and has been inhabited by people looking something like those in the picture above.  The need for clothing was minimal and in the absence of clothing to decorate one's body, one could paint directly on one's skin.
Adorning of the body was a normal human urge.
The adorning of one's environment was also a natural human urge.  There is evidence of this throughout the world and the Mojave is no exception.  
Here is another example of this urge, this collection of petroglyphs being somewhere in New Mexico. 
Theories of what these petroglyphs signify abound but there is no clear agreement.  I personally think that the urge to mark one's environment is universal and needs no explanation, but others think differently.
The natives who have lived on this land since before the arrival of the Europeans do not agree with my theory. Author Kenneth Lengner interviewed various members of the Timbisha Shoshone who live in what is now called Death Valley and they told him that petroglyphs were not created by humans but rather by supernatural beings that they call rock babies.  In their view, since the petroglyphs are not created by humans, human urges cannot be said to be the cause of these petroglyphs.  So various anthropological explanations for the origins of the petroglyphs have no merit in their view.

Death Valley Car Wash

Death Valley is one of the driest places in the US.  But it does rain every once in a while and when it does, look out.  Thunderstorms apparently come to the valley every 20 years or so.  The last really big rain was in 2004.  Being such a dry place, Death Valley has little vegetation to hold back the runoff when it does rain.  Given that Death Valley has mountain ranges on both sides of it, any rain in the mountains runs down canyons and rushes out into the valley carrying with it gravel, mud and in many cases, stones of good size.  Since the invention of automobiles, rain also carries automobiles down into the valley along with rocks and other debris.
We encountered one such automobile on one of our hikes up toward Trail Canyon in the Panamint Mountains.



At first I thought that what looked like a dune buggy had caught on fire and then at some later time gotten pummeled by energetic youths.

But then we found more debris a little farther up the wash, and it started to look more like the dune buggy had gotten caught in a flash flood and rolled down the hill for several miles and bent up and pulverized in the process,

leaving behind parts like this.
On later inquiry, we found out that there had been a big flood in 2004 which had washed a bunch of cars downhill at the Furnace Creek Inn whose parking lot is inconveniently located on the bed of a wash
Picture of a van that was caught in the flood at Furnace Creek Inn.
And another car caught in the flood.
And another.

And another at some unknown location.
A guy working at the Borax Museum at Furnace Creek told us that a friend of his lost his car in the flood at the Inn and that the car had never been found, apparently buried under a load of gravel..
In any case, rain is a rare event in Death Valley, but should you ever be there when it does rain, look out and don't be caught in what is a dry creek bed most of the time except when it rains at which time it becomes a wet creek bed transporting tons and tons of rocks and mud downhill toward the valley floor.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Treasure Island Art Walk - San Francisco Post Militaristic Minimalism

In the wake of Soviet collapse,the US closed a number of military bases including Treasure Island in SF bay.  The following pictures are mostly of graffiti eradication efforts at Treasure Island, that is the painting out of graffiti on the sides of buildings in assorted mismatched colors.  The net effect  tends to look like a rather ambitious minimalist public arts project. My opinion is that this graffiti eradication effort has created a more interesting body of work than the stuff that tends to get funded by official public arts projects.