Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Overpopulation - Killed by K

Ecologists often justify their research by suggesting that it will help save the environment. The justification always takes the same form:

Once we figure out how such and such part of nature works, then we can adjust our human activities to make sure it keeps working in the right way.

Sometimes this optimism is well-founded. For instance, when ecologists figured out that algae blooms in certain lakes were caused by a lack of big fish, they were able to get rid of the algae simply by enacting a "catch and release" policy for the big fish. Science at work!

Unfortunately, what usually happens is that ecologists identify an environmental problem and recommend a solution, but nobody actually does anything about it. Either the solution is perceived as too hard, or there's too much pressure to keep doing whatever it is that causes the problem.

That's how it is now with the shitty water quality in Chesapeake Bay and the Outer Banks. We know the water used to be clear, and now it's brown, because the land that was covered in water-filtering vegetation is now covered in farms and cities that slough off tons of dirt and crap into the Bay. The solutions that ecologists recommend are improving farming practices, upgrading sewage treatment plants, creating artificial wetlands, preserving green spaces, and reducing urban sprawl. That's all well and good, and IF we actually did those things we could reduce the amount of junk going into the Bay to about half of what it is now. Sadly, that would still be about three times as much scum as entered the Chesapeake in pre-colonial times. The upshot is that with 17,000,000 people going about their business in her watershed, the Bay is never going to be very clean, no matter how lightly we tread.


That brings me to the main point of this post. Saving the environment gets harder, to the point of impossibility, the more our human population grows. Even if we are very clever about reducing the impact each person has on the environment, there's always going to be SOME impact. When you times that impact by enough people, you get a wrecked planet (see formula below).

Total Impact = Per Capita Impact * Number of People

In other words, overpopulation of humans is a BIG deal; the biggest damn deal facing our planet, if you ask me. It may not be politically correct to talk about, but that doesn't change the fact that it's happening, and if we don't fix it, it will fix itself.

Overpopulation will fix itself? Isn't that good? Actually, no. It means human population will be suppressed by the same natural mechanisms that regulate populations of other animals; starvation, violence, and disease. As our numbers approach the invisible maximum known as "K", which is determined by limited resources, death and misery will increase and growth will grind to a bloody halt. Life near K will be hell on earth.


Of course, we can avoid nature's brutal enforcement of K if we preemptively STOP our population growth by reducing our birth rate to match our natural death rate. Reducing birth rate just means people having fewer kids, and / or delaying having kids until they're older. There is a kind, gentle, helpful, non-coercive way to make this happen: Put effective contraception in the hands of people who want it. I'm talking about free condoms and birth control pills on every street corner of the world.

We shouldn't wait until K is imminent to start managing our population, because the best life is one where there's still a surfeit of resources and wild, open spaces for each person to enjoy. Also, we don't know exactly where K is, so we should err on the side of caution. Some scientists and economists say that the global population has already passed K, but that the regulating effects (starvation, disease, violent competition, etc) are currently localized to poor regions like Sub-Saharan Africa. Another thing to be aware of is that the K threshold could move LOWER, dropping like a guillotine onto our necks; i.e. the maximum population that earth can support could decrease. This could happen in several ways: 1) If western habits that increase per capita resource use (i.e. eating a lot of meat) become widespread, then we will run short of resources even without more population growth. 2) If we run out of cheap fossil fuels (eventually we will) we won't be able to support industrial farming and our food production will go down, decreasing the number of people that can be fed. 3) If we mess up global ecosystems through climate change we could lose the agricultural areas and fisheries stocks that we now count on for food, again lessening the number of people that the planet can support. With sea level rise we may lose the habitable land itself!

In summary, it's high time we recognize that population growth is gasoline on the fires of environmental destruction and social disorder, and thus constitutes the number one threat to the quality of life on earth. We've got to address the issue TODAY, or face K tomorrow.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

MORE Windsurfing + Board for Sale


So if you are looking for used windsurfing gear in the US or Canada, try the free classifieds section of

Yeeeee haaaaw! This February must be setting a record for the best winter windsurfing ever in Virginia.

The launch at York River Seafood was perfect this afternoon, with 15 rising to 25 knots from the South and a great variety of swells and ramps.


I was there with Sam Lake and Heather Wiseman from VIMS. Sam kited with a 13m, getting big airs, until he got overpowered and retired. Heather did great windsurfing, planing with a 3.5 on my Kona, and Sam also rode the Kona / 3.5 combo for a while. I used a maxed-out 5.2 on the F2 Style 250 I just got from Karl Quist.


I liked the F2 ... which means I'm (reluctantly, because I'd keep it if I had room) going to sell my beloved yellow "banana board", a Pro-Tech ATC 253. I know there are already some waveboards for sale locally, but mine beats them all and is a steal at $250 with one fin or $300 with 4 fins. For those interested, I put more info about the board below-


Model: Pro-Tech ATC 253
Production Year: 2001
Design Intent: Wave, bump & jump, blasting
Size: 253 cm long by about 55 cm wide
Volume: Reportedly 77 liters, but floats and planes like 85 liters, IMHO
Fin Box: US Box (still standard for wave boards)
Special Features: ATC stands for "All terrain cut-away-tail", meaning that the tail has small cut-outs on the side that recess to a wave-board rocker for sharp turns, while the central part of the tail retains a flatter rocker for speed and early planing. The cut-outs must work because the board planes significantly earlier than a conventional waveboard. The tail design also makes it easy to change the behavior of the board to more wave-like with a wave fin or more slalom-like with an upright fin.
Condition: Very good. I've kept it bagged, so with the exception of a couple small chips in the paint, it looks new.
Fins: I have collected a bunch of fins with the board-
-10.25" Finworks Wave Blade; Fast slalom / wave fin best for 4.5 - 5.5 sails
-9.5" Angulo; Very powerful but turny wave fin best for 5.0 - 6.0 sails
-23 cm Twister Carbon K; Very turny, controllable fin for smallest sails up to 5.2
-23 cm Orca Weed-Wave; Easy-riding, spinout resistant weed fin for all sail sizes
Windsurfing Magazine Review: link
Blog posts in which the board and fins appear: boardology, finology, second-wind, sunday-windy-sunday, super-tuesday


Monday, February 25, 2008

Windsurfing is Educational

In addition to providing a physical and mental challenge that can help one grow as a person, windsurfing can serve as a metaphor for other aspects of life. Witness this animated banner ad for Chinook mast-base extensions and universal joints. (May not be visible in FireFox.)


Sunday, February 24, 2008

Blue Crab Bowl; Not All High School Kids Are Dumb

Yesterday I spent all day volunteering with other VIMS Graduate Students at the 2008 "Blue Crab Bowl" in Norfolk. The BCB is a gameshow-style marine science competition among high school teams from around Virginia. It's associated with the National Ocean Sciences Bowl, and the winning team from Virginia gets invited to the prestigious national competition.


My job at the bowl was to keep score on an overhead projector as the students answered questions. It was a good review of basic oceanography for me. And it was funny to watch the high schoolers, who ranged from clueless to wunderkind geniuses, wrack their brains. The most polished teams were, of course, composed of privileged students from private academies like Bishop Sullivan Catholic High School and special magnet programs like the Virginia Governors' School. But there were some public school teams at the top, as well, like Yorktown's Grafton High School, which had an excellent coach and an impressively bright team captain.

In the close battles between well-matched teams, the result were often determined by wild luck and / or technical rulings. This was the case in the grand finale between Grafton and Bishop Sullivan. After nailing the final question, Grafton needed only to answer the 6-point bonus question correctly to win by a 4 point margin. The question was, "Which area of the ocean is known for an unusually high frequency of large rogue waves?" It was multiple choice between 4 possible answers, W through Z. Grafton's captain Heather Stevens answered correctly, "Z- The Agulhas Current", but the answer was unacceptable because you have to say either the letter of the answer only; "Z", or the complete answer verbatim; "Z- The Agulhas Current off of South Africa". Damn! Everyone in the audience let out a collective "OHHH" when Stevens misspoke, giving the first place, and a trip to the nationals in Alaska, to Bishop Sullivan. If I was in Stevens' position I probably would have cried, but she seemed to have a good sense of humor about it. I guess there's always next year.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Super Tuesday

The wind conditions were really good on Tuesday afternoon at Carmines Island. Twenty-something knots pushed my 5.2 sail and 77 liter board to the edge (below), and gave Sam Lake a chance to try his new 9 meter kite.


Unfortunately, things didn't go so well for Sam. As soon as he got his kite aloft he started floating up into the air and I had to grab the back of his harness to hold him down. Eventually he got things under control and managed to ride a couple hundred yards on the water, only to discover a small rip in his kite. He patched it, but by then had decided it was too windy to ride. As always, Sam was a good sport and a team-player about it, and took the opportunity to wade out into the shallow water and do some photography. I think the differences in lighting effects between the two pictures are pretty cool.


Sam, next time I hope you get a good ride and I can get some pictures of you.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Top 18 Windsurfing Questions Answered

**Note1: For the most basic introductory information about what windsurfing is, check this post first.**
**Note2: For a windsurfing guide specificially for POOR PEOPLE, check here**
**Note3- If you are looking for my automatic windsurfing equipment calculator spreadsheet, it can be accessed online at this link.**


This post is intended for beginner or intermediate windsurfers who have lots of questions about the sport and the equipment. These 18 questions pop up perennially on windsurfing bulletin boards. By answering them here, I hope to save myself and other helpful-advice-givers some time in the future. If you have additional FAQs or you'd like to add to my answers, leave a comment. Also, there is some additional and overlapping information under the "information" tab on the windance website, and in this powerpoint presentation.

Question #1- I'm just starting. Should I take a lesson?

Answer- Yes. While it is POSSIBLE, to teach yourself or to learn from a friend, a lesson from an experienced instructor will be fun and will save you loads of time and frustration. In other words, your first purchase as a new windsurfer should be a lesson. If lessons are not offered in your area, consider a windsurf vacation in a place with warm, shallow water, such as the Outer Banks of North Carolina or the Caribbean Island of Bonaire.

Question #2- I’m a beginner windsurfer looking for my first board. What kind of board should I get?

Answer- A BIG one with plenty of volume for flotation and a retractable daggerboard for going upwind and downwind easily. (The daggerboard is like the keel of a sailboat; it provides stability and helps maintain a heading against the wind, but it creates drag on the center of the board and therefore must be retracted in stronger winds to access the high-speed mode of windsurfing known as "planing".) Refer to the “board size” tab on the windsurfing equipment calculator to find the volume that is appropriate for your weight. Besides ample volume and a daggerboard, a padded deck is a nice feature for a board that you will be clambering around on a lot.

Question #3- What’s the difference between a shortboard and a longboard? Can I learn on a shortboard?

Answer- There is a lot of overlap in length, so the best way to tell the two types of boards apart is the presence of a daggerboard: Longboards have daggerboards and shortboards do not. Although some shortboards are big enough to float a beginner, they are not appropriate for learning or for sailing in light winds because they lack the stability and directional control conferred by a daggerboard. A beginner on a shortboard will tend to drift downwind and not be able to get back where he or she started from. Special beginner boards, like the Starboard START, are very short and wide, but are nevertheless "longboards" because they have a daggerboard to enhance their light wind performance.

Question #4- What are the pros and cons of narrow longboards versus wide beginner boards?

Answer- Any board with enough volume will keep you afloat, but the way the board's volume is distributed (short and wide versus long and narrow) significantly affects its sailing performance. A short, 100 cm wide board will be more stable and easier to learn on than a long, 70 cm wide board. However, the long, narrow one will cut through the water faster when sailing in light winds. This is known as "displacement mode" sailing. When the wind is stronger, boards transition from displacement mode to "planing mode" where they start skimming on top of the water. The short, wide board will transition to planing at a slightly lower wind speed, but the long board will transition more smoothly and will be easier to control in high wind. Another advantage of a long, narrow windsurf board is that it can be used as a stand-up paddle board when there is no wind at all.

Note: In consistently windy areas like the Columbia River Gorge, some people advocate transitioning to a big shortboard instead of to a longboard after learning on a wide beginner board. The traditional (1) versus the high-wind-area (2) routes of progression and board acquisition are illustrated in the figure below.


Question #5- What are the advantages of big versus small boards? If I get a big board, will it hold me back?

Answer- A big board will not hold you back. All the intermediate level windsurfing skills (harness, footstraps, planing, beach start, water start) will be learned faster on a big board than a small board. And most big boards nowadays have good performance in a wide range of winds, including light winds, which small boards suck in. The main reason small boards are popular with skilled windsurfers is that, when it IS windy enough to use them, they are fast, maneuverable, and “light” feeling. Also, in very strong winds and rough waters, small boards stay in control better than large boards.

Question #6- I’m a beginner windsurfer looking for my first sail. What kind of sail should I get, and in what size?

Answer- You should get a sail between 2 and 7 meters squared, depending on your size and the wind speed you are likely to sail in most often. Check the windsurfing equipment calculator to see what’s right for you (pink line on chart). As you get better, you can start using sails closer in size to those recommended for experienced sailors (blue line on chart). Your first sail should have a minimum of 3 and a maximum of 6 battens, and should have no camber inducers or “cams” on any of the battens. Also, avoid sails and masts made before the year 2000 and sails advertised for racing.

Question #7- What kind of wetsuit and accessories do I need?

Answer- If the water is colder than 75 degrees Fahrenheit you will need a wetsuit of some sort. For 70-80 degrees water temperature you can use a short-sleeve wetsuit, but for less than 70 degrees water temperature I recommend a full length wetsuit. For 60-70 degrees water, about 3 mm thickness is sufficient. For 50-60 degrees water 5 mm thickness is better, and you may wish to add booties, gloves, and a hood, depending on the air temperature. Below 50 degrees you will want a very thick wetsuit or drysuit, and booties, gloves and hood are essential. A life vest is good to have for windsurfing, especially if you aren’t wearing a thick, floaty wetsuit. Kayaking life vests are the best because they leave the midriff bare for your harness. Integrated vest-harnesses are also available.

Question #8- What size sail, board, and fin do I need to “plane” in X amount of wind? Or, given a sail of size X, how much wind do I need to plane?

Answer- Check the windsurfing equipment calculator for the recommended sail size, and then check the calculator for the recommended fin size for that sail. Next, you need to see if your board is appropriate for that size of sail and fin. The fin and sail size ranges for a particular board are usually printed on the board or listed on the board manufacturer’s website. If not, you can go by the following rules of thumb: 1) A longboard can use almost any size sail. 2) As far as shortboards go, 50-60 cm wide ones suit 3-6 meter squared sails, 60-70 cm wide = 5-8 m^2, 70-80 cm = 6-9 m^2, 80-90 cm = 7-10 m^2, and 90-100 cm = 8-12.5 m^2. 3) The maximum fin length that a board can accommodate is about the width of the board under the back footstrap(s), and the minimum length is about 2/3 of that.

Question #9- What kind of harness should I get?

Answer- A waist harness is the simplest and best for most people. However, if you have back problems or you want to do serious racing, you may prefer a seat harness.

Question #10- I’m having trouble using the harness- what’s wrong?

Answer- It’s a problem with conditions, equipment, tuning, or technique. :) Conditions are the easiest to rule out; if the wind is too light to lean back against the pull of the sail, it’s probably too light to use the harness. Next is equipment; make sure if you’re using a waist harness you have relatively short lines, and if you’re using a seat harness you have longer lines. Tuning is harder to address; the best way is to have a better windsurfer than yourself ride your gear and set the boom height and harness lines where they belong. If no one else is around, just experiment on your own. Technique is a big issue, too. I won’t go into too much detail, but just make you can sail comfortably with your harness hook CLOSE to the harness lines before you try to hook in. If you have to make sudden, drastic changes to your sail or body position to reach the harness lines, then you will probably crash after you hook in.

Questions #11- How do I get planing?

Answer- First make sure that there is enough wind for your sail size (but not too much wind) by asking other windsurfers or referring to the windsurfing equipment calculator. If you're on a longboard make sure the daggerboard is completely up, because you can't plane with the daggerboard down. Then accelerate by sheeting in and transferring your body weight to the power of the sail. As you accelerate, keep steady mast base pressure" so you can move your feet back and out towards the footstraps without sinking or tilting the back of the board. Turning downwind slightly and riding a little wave can help you get going, as can pumping the sail to generate power and lurch the board over the initial threshold.

Question #12- Every time I try to get in the footstraps I crash or the board rounds upwind. How do I fix that?

Answer- Again, this could have to do with conditions, equipment, tuning, or technique. The most obvious indicator that conditions are unsuitable for footstraps is that there isn’t enough wind to plane. If you’re not planing, or close to planing, before you go for the straps, then you won’t be able to stay in the straps. Remember that sail, board, and fin size all contribute to your ability to plane. A slightly bigger fin than normal may help with planing and footstraps use at first. Another equipment consideration is where you put the footstraps. If your board has multiple positions for mounting the straps, the ones furthest forward and closest to the centerline of the board are usually the easiest for learning. When you’re starting to plane and ready to get into the straps, remember to keep steady mast base pressure" and to maintain your speed, heading, and sheeting-in as best you can. Don’t look down at the straps, because that will screw you up; keep looking forward and sailing normally. Then, with your back foot on the centerline of the board to keep it properly trimmed, lift your front foot up and tuck it into the front footstrap. Push laterally, not down, with your front foot to avoid sinking the windward rail. Build up some more speed with just your front foot in, then you can slip your back foot in the back strap. You did it! Now try to learn how to “feel” the resistance of the fin in the water when planing, and experiment with changing the lateral pressure on your front and back feet to steer upwind and downwind without leaning the sail.

Question #13- I’m about to get my first shortboard. Which one should I get?

Answer- The windsurfing equipment calculator recommends a volume for a first shortboard based on the lowest volume that most first-time shortboarders can uphaul without falling off. Beyond that, pick a "freeride" board whose sail range suits the sail sizes that correspond with the wind conditions common in your area.

Question #14- My sail is hard to handle and I keep getting catapulted. What should I do?

Answer- Is your sail too big for the conditions? Check the equipment calculator. If your sail is not too big for the wind, then it’s probably rigged poorly, it’s old, or both. If your sail is from before the year 2000 then you should seriously consider an upgrade. If it’s a relatively modern sail, then check the rigging instructions to make sure you’re adding the right amount of downhaul and outhaul. Not fully downhauling a sail is the most common beginner rigging mistake. If there are other windsurfers around, ask them to help. It’s also possible that your sail has the right amount of tension, but that your harness lines are too far forward or backward, or spread too far apart (they should be almost touching on modern sails). Close-together harness lines will allow the sail to adjust its sheeting angle automatically in gusts, providing that the lines are placed correctly on the boom. Of course, technique plays a role, too. If you are standing too far forward on the board, and are not fully sheeting in with your body leaned out and back over the water, then you are vulnerable to catapulting. Also, once you can get your feet back in the footstraps you will experience far fewer catapults. If catapults are happening when you're first getting on a plane, try putting your front foot, or even both feet, in the straps before you hook in.

Question #15- What’s the point of the different sizes and shapes of fin?

Answer- The size of a fin is related to the sail size and the width of the board. Big sails exert a lot of sideways pulling force, which must be counteracted by a correspondingly big fin in order to drive the board forward without side-slipping. The sideways resistance of the fin is called “lift” but it’s actually more like torque, because it tends to turn the board over onto its leeward rail. That lifting, twisting force is partly what allows you to plant your feet in the footstraps on the edge of a wide board without sinking the windward rail, and it’s why wider-tailed boards require longer fins. The shape of a fin affects how fast, controllable and maneuverable it is. The most efficient (fastest) design is straight, narrow and upright, so most racing fins are like that. The problem with upright fins is that they sometimes generate too much lift and are hard to control and turn. Curved and slanted fins are easier to turn and control in high winds. The extreme of curviness is found in wave fins. Weed fins are a special case- they must be slanted at about 45 degrees in order to shed weeds.

Question #16- What’s the difference between the many different “types” of board, i.e. beginner, longboard, freeride, slalom, speed, formula, freestyle, and wave?

Answer- Beginner boards are technically longboards because they have a daggerboard for light wind performance, but they are short and wide for easy balancing and turning. Longboards are big and long (duh) and have the best performance of any board in light winds, as well as pretty good performance in medium and strong winds. All the other categories of boards are shortboards with no daggerboard, and are not suitable for true light wind conditions. Freeride boards are simple, easy-to-use shortboards with a good blend of speed and maneuverability. They range widely in size, with bigger ones intended for light winds and smaller ones for strong winds. Slalom boards are fast, lightweight boards for back-and-forth races. Speed boards are like mini versions of slalom boards. They only work when it’s really windy and the water is flat, but they are exceptionally fast in those conditions. Formula boards are used for races that involve going upwind and downwind at the maximum angles possible. They are extremely wide and use extra large fins and sails. This allows them to plane in lighter winds than any other board type, but makes them tricky to ride in strong winds. Freestyle boards are compact, maneuverable shortboards that plane early for their size and are good for spins and tricks in flat water. Wave boards are small, highly maneuverable boards that work well for rough water and waves but require strong winds to plane.

Question #17- What are SUP and longboard-wave boards?

Answer- SUP is short for “Stand-up paddleboard”; a big surfboard that you can stand on and row with a long-handled paddle. A longboard-wave board is a SUP board that also has a the ability to be used with a sail for windsurfing. Some longboard-wave boards have a lot of "rocker" at the tail, which helps them them turn on a wave but limits their top speed and planing ability for windsurfing. Also, most longboard-waveboards and SUP boards don't have daggerboards, so it's questionable whether they are true longboards in the windsurfing sense. I go more in depth on the various types of SUP / windsurfer combinations here.

Question #18- How do sail types correspond with board types?

Answer- Sail types have names similar to board types (question 16) and are designed to work best with their corresponding types of boards. However, some types of sail can be used on multiple types of board with no ill effects. For instance, longboards and freeride boards work ok with any kind of sail. The only combos that really aren't so good are race sails on freestyle or wave boards, and freestyle or wave sails on slalom, speed, or formula boards.

Do Video Games Affect You?


Apparently so.

You can see some other kids' ridiculous science fair projects at this link. Honestly, I don't know whether to laugh or cry.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Hiaasen's Evolution Sarcasm

Miami Herald columnist and novelist Carl Hiaasen, author of "Striptease" and "Skinny Dip" is probably my favorite writer. My admiration is not just for his salicious titles, but also for his righteous environmentalism and fire-breathing cultural critiques. Hiaasen accomplishes it all with an over-the-top comic style, perhaps the only way to fully capture the stranger-than-fiction reality of dysfunctional South Florida. Nevermind that his books are all basically the same story; A quirky, rugged hero from the outskirts of polite society conspires with a spicy, independent dame to thwart an evil plan by a consortium of unscrupulous developers and violent rednecks; they're still great.

I was excited today to see that my hero had weighed in an issue dear to my heart; the teaching of evolution in public schools:

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Crazy Loves Company

J. Paul Richardson, my co-worker buddy at the Virginia Institute of Marine Science, is now officially a windsurfer. He bought his first board last weekend; a colorful Bic Samba from the early 90s. We took it on its maiden voyage yesterday, as described in Paul's Blog.


Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Sunday Windy Sunday

Ironically, it was windier at home when I returned from last Saturday's Outer Banks trip than it was when I was actually in the Outer Banks. In fact, it was the most wind Virginia had seen all winter. Yet, confident that my extra small sail could handle the conditions, I put on my clammy wetsuit in the bath tub and drove up the road to windsurf at Carmines Island. When I got there it looked like about 30 knots from the West.

I called Sam Lake, who had been considering joining me for the session, and said it was probably too much for his kiteboarding gear. He agreed, informing me that the news was reporting 40 - 50 mph gusts. Yikes! Fortunately windsurfing stuff is relatively safe in high winds; strong gusts tend to simply knock windsurfers down into the water, whereas they tend to pick kiters up and hurl them into oblivion. So I covered up with lots of protective gear...


...and put together my smallest high-wind kit.


The sail is just 3.5 meters squared, so it takes about 30 knots for it to work properly. Once on the water I realized there was all that and more. But after I tightened up the sail to the max, I had a great session.


The serious gusts were still too much to handle, though, and when they came through I would get knocked off the board and have to hunker down in the water while fat droplets of spray lifted off the waves and whooshed through the air. Yee haw! When the "nuclear" gusts started coming at shorter intervals, I retreated to shore and packed up for the day. After getting warm and dry at home (fortunately just before the power went out) I drove down to the boat launch at Gloucester Point and snapped some pictures of the insane winds rushing beneath the Coleman Bridge (below).



Bullshit Firing of W&M President Gene Nichol

The College of William and Mary's Board of Visitors just revoked college president Gene Nichol's contract, prompting him to resign. Nichol's term as president was characterized by his standing up for poor students, racial and religious minorities, and first-amendment rights. Of course this provoked irrational, frothing conniptions from our state's powerful conservatives, culminating in the BOV's recent decision. I'm sure the self-righteous schmucks that ousted Nichol are grinning from ear to ear now, content in the knowledge that Virginia's oldest public university is backsliding once more into a culturally stagnant era of being rich, white, and homogeneously religious.


Here's Nichol's statement to the college and community - read it, it's good. Pay special attention to the section in bold:

Dear Members of the William & Mary Community:

I was informed by the Rector on Sunday, after our Charter Day celebrations, that my contract will not be renewed in July. Appropriately, serving the College in the wake of such a decision is beyond my imagining. Accordingly, I have advised the Rector, and announce today, effective immediately, my resignation as president of the College of William & Mary. I return to the faculty of the school of law to resume teaching and writing.

I have made four decisions, or sets of decisions, during my tenure that have stirred ample controversy.

First, as is widely known, I altered the way a Christian cross was displayed in a public facility, on a public university campus, in a chapel used regularly for secular College events -- both voluntary and mandatory -- in order to help Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, and other religious minorities feel more meaningfully included as members of our broad community. The decision was likely required by any effective notion of separation of church and state. And it was certainly motivated by the desire to extend the College’s welcome more generously to all. We are charged, as state actors, to respect and accommodate all religions, and to endorse none. The decision did no more.

Second, I have refused, now on two occasions, to ban from the campus a program funded by our student-fee-based, and student-governed, speaker series. To stop the production because I found it offensive, or unappealing, would have violated both the First Amendment and the traditions of openness and inquiry that sustain great universities. It would have been a knowing, intentional denial of the constitutional rights of our students. It is perhaps worth recalling that my very first act as president of the College was to swear on oath not to do so.

Third, in my early months here, recognizing that we likely had fewer poor, or Pell eligible, students than any public university in America, and that our record was getting worse, I introduced an aggressive Gateway scholarship program for Virginians demonstrating the strongest financial need. Under its terms, resident students from families earning $40,000 a year or less have 100% of their need met, without loans. Gateway has increased our Pell eligible students by 20% in the past two years.

Fourth, from the outset of my presidency, I have made it clear that if the College is to reach its aspirations of leadership, it is essential that it become a more diverse, less homogeneous institution. In the past two and half years we have proceeded, with surprising success, to assure that is so. Our last two entering classes have been, by good measure, the most diverse in the College’s history. We have, in the past two and a half years, more than doubled our number of faculty members of color. And we have more effectively integrated the administrative leadership of William & Mary. It is no longer the case, as it was when I arrived, that we could host a leadership retreat inviting the 35 senior administrators of the College and see, around the table, no persons of color.

As the result of these decisions, the last sixteen months have been challenging ones for me and my family. A committed, relentless, frequently untruthful and vicious campaign -- on the internet and in the press -- has been waged against me, my wife and my daughters. It has been joined, occasionally, by members of the Virginia House of Delegates -- including last week’s steps by the Privileges and Elections Committee to effectively threaten Board appointees if I were not fired over decisions concerning the Wren Cross and the Sex Workers’ Art Show. That campaign has now been rendered successful. And those same voices will no doubt claim victory today.

It is fair to say that, over the course of the past year, I have, more than once, considered either resigning my post or abandoning the positions I have taken on these matters -- which I believe crucial to the College’s future. But as I did so, I thought of other persons as well.

I thought of those students, staff, faculty, and alumni, not of the religious majority, who have told me of the power of even small steps, like the decision over display of the Wren Cross, to recognize that they, too, are full members of this inspiring community.

I have thought of those students, faculty, and staff who, in the past three years, have joined us with explicit hopes and assurances that the College could become more effectively opened to those of different races, backgrounds, and economic circumstances -- and I have thought of my own unwillingness to voluntarily abandon their efforts, and their prospects, in mid-stream.

I have thought of faculty and staff members here who have, for decades, believed that the College has, unlike many of its competitors, failed to place the challenge of becoming an effectively diverse institution center stage -- and who, as a result, have been strongly encouraged by the progress of the last two years.

I have thought of the students who define and personify the College’s belief in community, in service, in openness, in idealism -- those who make William & Mary a unique repository of the American promise. And I have believed it unworthy, regardless of burden, to break our bonds of partnership.

And I have thought, perhaps most acutely, of my wife and three remarkable daughters. I’ve believed it vital to understand, with them, that though defeat may at times come, it is crucial not to surrender to the loud and the vitriolic and the angry -- just because they are loud and vitriolic and angry. Recalling the old Methodist hymn that commands us “not to be afraid to defend the weak because of the anger of the strong,” nor “afraid to defend the poor because of the anger of the rich.” So I have sought not to yield. The Board’s decision, of course, changes that.

To my faculty colleagues, who have here created a distinctive culture of engaged, student-centered teaching and research, I will remember your strong and steadfast support until the end of my days.

To those staff members and alumni of this accomplished and heartening community, who have struggled to make the William & Mary of the future worthy of its distinctive past, I regret that I will no longer be part of that uplifting cause. But I have little doubt where the course of history lies.

And, finally, to the life-changing and soul-inspiring students of the College, the largest surprise of my professional life, those who have created in me a surpassing faith not only in an institution, but in a generation, I have not words to touch my affections. My belief in your promise has been the central and defining focus of my presidency. The too-quick ending of our work together is among the most profound and wrenching disappointments in my life. Your support, particularly of the past few weeks and days, will remain the strongest balm I’ve known. I am confident of the triumphs and contributions the future holds for women and men of such power and commitment.

I add only that, on Sunday, the Board of Visitors offered both my wife and me substantial economic incentives if we would agree “not to characterize [the non-renewal decision] as based on ideological grounds” or make any other statement about my departure without their approval. Some members may have intended this as a gesture of generosity to ease my transition. But the stipulation of censorship made it seem like something else entirely. We, of course, rejected the offer. It would have required that I make statements I believe to be untrue and that I believe most would find non-credible. I’ve said before that the values of the College are not for sale. Neither are ours.

Mine, to be sure, has not been a perfect presidency. I have sometimes moved too swiftly, and perhaps paid insufficient attention to the processes and practices of a strong and complex university. A wiser leader would likely have done otherwise. But I have believed, and attempted to explain, from even before my arrival on the campus, that an emboldened future for the College of William & Mary requires wider horizons, more fully opened doors, a broader membership, and a more engaging clash of perspectives than the sometimes narrowed gauges of the past have allowed. I step down today believing it still.

I have also hoped that this noble College might one day claim not only Thomas Jefferson’s pedigree, but his political philosophy as well. It was Jefferson who argued for a “wall of separation between church and state” -- putting all religious sects “on an equal footing.” He expressly rejected the claim that speech should be suppressed because “it might influence others to do evil,” insisting instead that “we have nothing to fear from the demoralizing reasonings of some if others are left free to demonstrate their errors.” And he averred powerfully that “worth and genius” should “be sought from every condition” of society.

The College of William & Mary is a singular place of invention, rigor, commitment, character, and heart. I have been proud that even in a short term we have engaged a marvelous new Chancellor, successfully concluded a hugely-promising capital campaign, secured surprising support for a cutting-edge school of education and other essential physical facilities, seen the most vibrant applicant pools in our history, fostered path-breaking achievements in undergraduate research, more potently internationalized our programs and opportunities, led the nation in an explosion of civic engagement, invigorated the fruitful marriage of athletics and academics, lifted the salaries of our lowest-paid employees, and even hosted a queen. None of this compares, though, to the magic and the inspiration of the people -- young and older -- who Glenn and I have come to know here. You will remain always and forever at the center of our hearts.

Go Tribe. And hark upon the gale.

Gene Nichol

Monday, February 11, 2008

College Windsurf Clubs; Presidential Summit?

It just sort-of happened. Sam Lake, the new president of the VIMS Sail and Paddle Club, asked me, the old president, to come along with him on an epic day-trip to the Outer Banks. Of course I couldn't refuse, given the warmish weather and excellent wind forecast, so on Friday afternoon I stuffed my waveboard and small sails into the back of Sam's pickup truck and set my alarm clock for 6 am. I also got in touch with Farrah Hall, early president of the St. Mary's College of Maryland windsurfing club and current Olympic windsurfing contender, and invited her to come down with us. She said [paraphrasing], "Great, and while we're down there we can see my pal Stewie (Stuart Proctor), recent St. Mary's graduate and windsurf club president, who is now working for Ocean Air Watersports in Avon."

So we caravanned down early Saturday morning and met up with Stuart at Ocean Air. Stewie is a cool cat. He has a gnarly little apartment in the attic of the shop, with a righteous porch overlooking the Pamlico Sound. (Picture). Since the wind was slow in coming we hung out on his deck, admiring the view and "talking shop" about about running college / grad school windsurf clubs.


Later we made our way to Canadian Hole / Ego Beach for some February windsurfing that felt more like May windsurfing. I rode a 5.8 all day, and switched off between my small and medium sized boards.


Stewie gave me some useful stance tips that helped out in drag-races with Farrah. Sam, the only one of us kiting, was looking hot, and pulled off some aerial moves he'd never tried before.


Late in the day the three of us windsurfers walked over the dunes to the Ego Beach oceanside for some less-than-ideal but still fun wavesailing in side-off winds. I managed to really ride one wave "like you're supposed to" and it felt awesome. That made up for the several times I got washed shlogging out through the impact zone.

All in all it was a fabulous, amazing day. Thank goodness Sam was driving on the way back because I was zonked out... and I would be needing the rest for the massive wind coming to VA on Sunday.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

pwn - The best internet slang word?

In general I think that internet and text message slang is obnoxious. But sometimes it generates a cute or useful wordlet. My new favorite is "pwn", defined here and illustrated in the picture below.



Tuesday, February 5, 2008

York River Windsurfing and Kiting Launches

I live just outside the most identity-challenged metropolitan conglomerate in the universe. Hampton, Newport News, Norfolk, Virginia Beach, Portsmouth, Chesapeake, and Suffolk, Virginia form a ridiculous mess called "The Seven Cities", also known as "The 757", aka "Tidewater", aka "Hampton Roads". Sigh... I'm just going to call it Tidewater, because that's what the Windsurfing Enthusiasts of Tidewater (WET) do.

WET's guru Glenn Woodell has made an amazing, online guide to Tidewater's windsurfing spots. It doesn't cover far enough North to include the York River, though, which is what I'm trying to remedy with this blog post. Below is a picture of the York River with the good launch sites highlighted. Below THAT is a description of each site and when it's good to sail there.


Sites 1-3: Yorktown Beach, Gloucester Point Beach, and VIMS Beach are all located around a narrow constriction of the river where the Coleman Bridge goes across. The tidal currents are amplified there, so it's safest to sail it when the wind and current are running in opposite directions. Tide tables for Gloucester Point are available here and realtime wind and tide charts are here. An incoming tide runs from East to West.

Site 1: Historic Yorktown, Virginia, where British General Cornwalis surrendered at the end of the American Revolution, now has a nice park, shopping area, and swimming beach. It's good for windsurfing when the wind is from the E or NE, and the tide is going out. To get direction to the launch, put "Water St and Read St Yorktown, VA 23690" into Google Maps. There's a parking lot next to the beach at the intersection of those streets. In summertime, you will have to duck a swim rope, or walk east towards the fishing pier to find an unroped spot to launch from.

Site 2: There's also a park on the opposite side of the River at Gloucester Point that you can launch from. It works best in E winds, but its ok in anything from NE through SW as long as the tide is right. There aren't any nice stores or historic things at the launch, but in the summer there is a snack bar open, and you can fish any time from the fishing pier without a license because Walmart buys the license for the whole pier. By the way- don't sail too close to the pier because you might get snagged in someone's fishing lines and have an awkward / expensive / painful confrontation. To find the spot, put "1208 Greate Rd, Gloucester Point, VA 23062" into Google maps. You will have to drive a little further down Greate Road to get to the beach.

Site 3: VIMS Beach is just underneath the bridge from Gloucester Point Beach, but you need to know somebody from VIMS to get in the gate. The launch there is really nice in a NW wind and incoming tide, but also works in anything from S to NW. I do lessons there because it's shallow and current-free for a long ways out, as long as you don't go South into the river channel.

Site 4: Carmine Island is a pseudo-public water access site a couple miles upriver of the bridge on the Gloucester side. It works great in W and NW winds, and ok in S and SW winds. Tide direction isn't much of a factor at Carmine because the river is wider and the current is slower there. The water is very shallow for about 100 meters out, so it's great for beginners. For directions, put "Carmines Island Rd, Hayes, VA 23072" into Google Maps, and go all the way to end of the gravel part of Carmine Island Road, where the cul-de-sac and parking is. Watch out for dog turds when you're rigging.

Site 5: If the wind is from the SW, S, or SE then it's probably best to launch from York River Seafood, another pseudo-public water access site. To get there, put "Cooks Landing and York River Seafood Ln, Hayes, VA 23072" into Google Maps. Following the signs for "Crowne Point Marina" will get you most of the way there. Then you go all the way to the end of Cooks Landing Road, park, and step over the "no trespassing" signs into the big grassy rigging area. If it's a good day there will probably be experienced kiters there. Be friendly and careful.

Site 6: To get the most juice possible out of a summertime thermal breeze, you have to go to the main stem of the Chesapeake Bay where the SE wind comes in unobstructed all the way from the ocean. Bay Tree Beach is closest main stem spot to Gloucester Point. BTB is also the windiest and best spot in a N or NE breeze. A major caveat, though, is that there is NO public access. You have to either trespass sneakily, or make fast friends with one of the waterfront homeowners. Another major caveat is that the mosquitoes are atrocious if the wind is lighter than 15 knots or you're standing in the lee of a large object. To get to directions you need to invoke the number of the beast; enter "666 Bay Tree Beach Rd, Seaford, VA 23696" into Google Maps. You may lose your soul, but it's worth it for this sweet launch.

Monday, February 4, 2008

Sex Workers' Art Show at W&M

There was a nervous and confused mood in the air tonight as we walked past police cars, news vans, and religious protesters into the William and Mary UC Building to watch the "Sex Worker's Art Show".

The performers and organizers of the event (which is based out of my uber-liberal hometown of Olympia, Washington) obviously felt the tension. They said that nowhere but Williamsburg had they faced such scrutiny, and controversy. That was suprising, coming from a group that surely meets a lot of skepticism everywhere.

The show itself was VERY provocative. Definitely not the type of thing you see every day. At least not around here; maybe in bohemian artists' colonies. But it wasn't porn, despite some shocking partial-nudity and some outrageous burlesque dancing by voluptuous stage veterans.


It was mainly dramatic storytelling and poetry by strippers, prostitutes, and porn stars, relating their (both good and bad) personal experiences.

There was so much going on, and so many different perspectives were presented, that it was a bit hard for me to extract the overall message or to form a firm opinion of what I had just seen. I think that the goal of the show was not to simply glorify the sex industry, but to "expose" it's many, varied aspects and shake up people's thoughts and conversations about sex, gender, exploitation, art, etc. It shook me up alright.