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.