Sunday, October 31, 2010

Serious Kite Accident in Nahant

Dang. While I was windsurfing on the East side of the Nahant causeway Saturday a kiteboarder got nearly killed on the West side of the causeway at "Dog Beach". Here is the ikitesurf forum thread that describes the accident...

On a related note, American kiteboarder Rob Douglas broke the world speed sailing record AGAIN, just a few days after the last record was set. His speed over 500 meters: 55.65 knots / 64 mph. Crazy. Then he broke his wrist and had to go home to America from Namibia where the record attempt was happening. Check out the ludicrous video.

This kind of thing reinforces my decision to only kite in lighter winds.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

The Best Personal Advice Ever

Life is not entirely straightforward.

For one thing, it's chock full of bewildering, unanswerable questions: Where does consciousness come from? Why are you YOU? What's up with this relentless, un-rewindable flow of time that leads to death? Is there any kind of meaning or design or fate or continuation of spirit beyond your several decades of eating sleeping breathing aging and if you're lucky reproducing? Etcetera.

For another thing, life tends to involve a lot of weary work and suffering, especially if you have lofty goals like pursuing an advanced degree or a competitive career, or if you're coping with unfortunate circumstances like you're a soldier in a particularly horrible war in the middle of winter and your boots have holes and lice are gnawing your testicles and your friends are getting blown to bits all around you and you don't know where your family is and your side is losing. Yikes!

In spite of those challenges, and excepting some extremely unlucky cases like that cold soldier, life can be pretty good. I feel like mine is good, at least. Besides luck, I reckon all it takes is a little effort and the right attitude. To that end, I want to share the bits of personal advice or insight that have made the biggest difference for me in really enjoying life.


#1- Try to have a positive attitude and be optimistic, even when things seem ridiculously bad. My mom gave me that piece of advice when I was in the 6th grade, I took it to heart, and almost immediately I noticed a huge improvement from dreadful anxiety to tolerable drudgery. The positive things I tried to focus on were pretty cheesy, like, "I'm going to have some delicious Apple Cinnamon Cheerios in the morning, then after school I'm going to look for salamanders in the woods and check out Ginger on Gilligan's Island." But that was a lot better than the negative things I had been dwelling on before, like, "I have to wake up in the pitch dark and walk to the bus stop in the cold rain past the mean dogs to be bounced around like a pinball and harassed by huge 8th graders in the crowded, putrid hallways of middle school." Yep, a positive attitude is totally key. Besides making you feel much better about your circumstances, I think it can actually improve the circumstances themselves, over time. :)

#2- Don't be shy, or afraid to take a chance. This is something my dad always told me when I was a kid, but it took a long time for me to get it.

#3- It's good to be introspective and to try to reason things out in your mind, but if you find yourself obsessing over an intractable problem or anxiety and you're not making progress or getting closure, just let it go and distract yourself with something else. You'll likely realize that the problem wasn't such a big deal after all, and you're gonna be fine. My dad told me that when I was in college and dealing with a stressful school, relationship, and personal crisis, and it really helped. I should also give some credit to my childhood best friend Erik Stoddard for giving me similar advice in a different form when we were about eight years old, "James, you worry too much." Ha ha. It's sort-of the same advice the Beatles give in their song, "Let it Be".

#4- You should work hardest on the things that you're best at and the things that you're worst at. I'm not sure who told me that, but I think it was one of my highschool teachers. Anyway, it was awesome advice. Working on the things that you're best at is cool because those are kind of what defines your character. Working on the things that you're worst at is also cool because it sort of breaks the chains that might hold you back in life. Erik Stoddard's childhood insight comes into this one again for me, because I will never forget how he said, "James, you have book smarts but not people smarts". Well, I worked on my book smarts and got a PhD, which is great, but what has really improved my life since highschool has been working on my people smarts. I'm still working.

#5 (Bonus)- Windsurfing.

Flat Nahant 10-30-10 from James Douglass on Vimeo.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Kiteboarder Breaks Speed Record... by a lot

At various points in the past decade, each of three very different types of watercraft; windsurf, kiteboard, and specialized sailboat, has held the world record for wind-propelled speed on liquid water. So it has been an interesting decade, if you're into that sort of thing. Here's a rundown of the record-breaking from This is average speed measured over a 500 meter stretch. A knot is 1.15 mph:

Year, Type of Watercraft, Skipper Name, Venue, Speed
1993, Yellow Pages (wing-sail sailboat), Simon McKeon, Sandy Point, Australia, 46.52 kts
2004, Windsurfer, Finian Maynard, Stes. Marie Speed Ditch, France, 46.82 kts
2005, Windsurfer, Finian Maynard, Stes. Marie Speed Ditch, France, 48.70 kts
2008, Windsurfer, Antoine Albeau, Stes. Marie Speed Ditch, France, 49.09 kts
2008, Kite-board, Robert Douglas, Luderitz Speed Ditch, Namibia, 49.84 kts
2008, Kite-board, Sebastien Cattelan, Luderitz Speed Ditch, Namibia, 50.26 kts
2008, Kite-board, Alexandre Caizergues, Luderitz Speed Ditch, Namibia, 50.57 kts
2009, Hydroptere (hydrofoil trimaran), Alain Thebault, Hyeres Bay, France 51.36 kts

and just the other day...

2010, Kite-board, Alexandre Caizergues, Luderitz Speed Ditch, Namibia, 54.10 kts (62.3 mph!)

Wow. I think it's unlikely now that windsurfers will ever recapture the record, since Antoine Albeau's amazing 49.09 knot run in perfect conditions in 2008 is a full 5 knots slower than Caizergues' new kiteboard record. Oh, well. I think it's just easier to get extreme speeds on a kiteboard because of the physics of it. The kite is higher in the air where the wind is unobstructed, the board and fin can be smaller, and the kiteboard can run at a deeper downwind angle. Of course, "easy" is relative. All these record attempts look extremely difficult and dangerous to me, and I wonder how long it will be before someone gets killed smacking into a sandbar or something. Yikes.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Another High-Wind Session in Nahant

Woot! Saturday windsurfing in Nahant was even better than Friday, with blue skies, fairly sideshore wind, and about ten other windsurfers out there enjoying it. It was my buddy Eric's windiest and waviest windsurfing experience so far. He did well on a 4.7 World Sail and 110 liter RRD fsw while I was on a 4.25 Naish Nalu and my 83 liter Starboard Evo. I gave Eric some tuning tips for the high wind and waves, including: 1) Moving his footstraps inboard and using a single, centered rear strap for better turning and control. 2) Moving the mast base from the front to the middle of the mast track. 3) Threading his downhaul line using the proper method so he could fully downhaul his sail. And 4) Lending him a small 23 cm weed-wave fin to settle the board and increase control. It must have worked because Eric looked really dialed out there. At one point in the video you can see him pass me like I'm standing skill. Dang! The dude can't jibe too well yet but he is FAST.

The song in this video is "Aneurysm" by Nirvana.

Epic Nahant 10-16-10 from James Douglass on Vimeo.

PS- Here's a diagram of the tuning changes I recommended for Eric to get the most from his Freestyle-Wave (fsw) board. Some fsw boards come with outboard footstrap options like in this picture. The outboard foostrap positions let you use a longer fin and freeride sails with a lower foot for back and forth blasting, but they destroy the playful maneuverability you get when you use inboard foostraps and a stubbier fin.


Saturday, October 16, 2010

Cold as Heck, Windy as Hell

It's still summery in Florida. Here in Massachusetts, not so much. At least it's windy. Like, REALLY windy...

Friday October 15th wind readings from iWindsurf

I was able to get out on my 4.25 sail for the first time in many months. That was great, but it was tough readjusting to the twitchiness of a small sail while at the same time negotiating some challenging side-offshore wave conditions at the Nahant causeway. After a washing machine treatment by the waves I got dialed in enough to enjoy a few fast, down-the-line rides, although I wasn't exactly slashing the waves up like the pros in Cabo Verde. I took some GoPro helmet camera video and set it a song by Alice in Chains (see below).

Big Wind Nahant 10-15-10 from James Douglass on Vimeo.

Today looks to offer similar conditions, but with side-offshore winds from the NW instead of the SW. We'll see how it goes.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Nahant Slalom Session, Intertidal Rock Stars

Well, after a month or so living in Massachusetts I finally got around to documenting a cold-water windsurfing session with my GoPro helmet camera. It was a propitious date, 10-10-10, with beautiful, blue sky, mild fall temperatures, and a puffy west wind averaging 15 mph. I figured a slalom session was in order since the breeze was offshore and there was no swell at my favored launch, the east side of the Nahant causeway. My slalom board was on the rack in my living room so I got to practice a new technique for loading and unloading gear; out the back window into the parking lot to avoid the hallways, doors, and stairs of my usual exit path. It worked pretty well.

At the beach I couldn't decide between rigging a 6.8 or an 8.0, but I went for 6.8 and it was fine. A nice windsurfer dude named Eric stopped by while I was setting up and I encouraged him to rig even though he had only brought a 5.7 and a freestyle wave board. He went for it and managed to plane a good chunk of the time, so that was cool.

Since it was a weekend day there were a lot of people out strolling the beach, flying kites, etc. At one point during the session I noticed a runaway, long-tailed rainbow kite with the spool skipping along behind it in the water. I happened to be on a good heading to intercept it so I bore off the wind and crossed the line just in front of the spool to snag it with my fin. It was windy enough that the drag from the kite didn't stop me from planing all the way back to the beach with the kite in tow. There I transferred it to some folks walking on the beach, who transferred it to the dude who lost it, who was a really friendly guy who thanked me after the session and told me the story about how the kite was a treasured gift from his sister in Hawaii and he was mortified to have lost it / delighted to have it recovered. Woo hoo!

Here's the video from the session, set to "I Feel Free" by Cream.

Nahant Windsurfing 10-10-10 from James Douglass on Vimeo.

In other news, I've been spending a lot of time doing marine biology fieldwork up in Maine. It's generally wet, chilly, and blustery up there with big waves smashing into the seaweed-covered rocks where my colleagues and I are scrambling frantically to take our samples before the tide returns. Part of what makes it fun, though, is that I get to use cool gear, like a metal detector to find the bolts in the rock marking our experimental plots, and heavy duty rubber rainclothes like the Alaskan crab fishermen wear in "The Deadliest Catch". This studly picture of me was taken Friday evening at Quoddy Head State Park, after we had finally surveyed the last plot at the site. Yeah!


The pictures in the slideshow below are borrowed from PhD candidate Genevieve Bernatchez who was there as a TA for a group of undergraduate and master's students doing the "Three Seas Program"; a year of challenging marine biology courses and real research projects in Massachussets, Washington State, and Panama. The three seas program is offered through Northeastern University but is open to any student who has the grades and motivation to get in and whose parents are willing and able to spend a buttload of money to pay for it.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Beetles in Baby Formula

Via my sister on facebook-

"I've been receiving unwanted free samples of formula since [second daughter] Yaiza was born. Now I just received a letter from the Similac company saying the formula they sent me may contain beetles and or their larva[e]. Isn't that great?"

Yikes! I found the news article about it here.

Pretty disgusting, although probably not that unusual for things like this to happen in overgrown, over-industrialized, corner-cutting, corporate, food-and-drug-processing plants.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

How to do the Clew Mount Boom Mount GoPro Thing


Enough people have been emailing me asking how I mount the GoPro camera on the clew of my windsurfing boom that think I should post a formal explanation / tutorial. I copied the technique from Andy McKinney of Lost In Hatteras fame, and the picture I am posting here is his, too.

The Andy McKinney boom mount

Basically, you take the helmet vent strap that comes with the GoPro helmet hero camera, and lash it tightly to the underside of the clew of your boom. That means the camera will be upside down when you clip it on, but you can flip the video when you process it in iMovie or whatever other program you use to edit the video. (No one wants to see a long, boring, unedited video, anyway.)

Tying a safety leash onto the camera and / or having a big, colorful float on the camera is also a good idea in case the clip breaks or the strap comes loose. Also, depending on the geometry of the clew, sometimes the camera will be most stable with the base of the vent strap not directly under the clew, but about 45 degrees across the back of the clew, stabilized agains the ridges where the pulleys are in the clew. It takes some trial and error to find the perfect angle for the camera to get the board in the shot and not cut off your head, but you'll figure it out. Happy filming!

PS- Here's links to some of the posts where I use this boom mount:

Note: in this last one I actually did the camera on top of the clew, with a few extra hinge joints to get it up at the correct angle, but that was less stable and only worked because the water was super flat.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Ugliness, Fairness, and Happiness

It’s no secret that life is unfair. Some people are born rich, beautiful, and intelligent into loving families and pleasant communities, while other people are born poor, dumb, and ugly into wretched familial and societal circumstances. Most of us arrive somewhere in between those two extremes.

So what should we do to deal with life in this unfair world? One obvious approach is to try to reduce the unfairness. For example, by improving governments and communities we might be able to grant more equal opportunities and eliminate the egregious hoarding of money and power. While making the world more fair is definitely a worthy goal, it has some problems, including: 1) it’s hard, 2) it could take a long time, and 3) even if / when we succeed in creating a perfectly equitable, global society there will still be “unfair” differences among people in terms of the looks and intelligence they are born with.

Now wait a second- are differences in looks and intelligence really part of fairness? I think they are because I think it’s significantly easier to find personal, social, and romantic fulfillment if you happen to be smart and good-looking, and it’s harder if you lack those advantages. Looks and intelligence don’t strictly determine the level of happiness and success you will achieve in life, but they definitely “load the dice” in your favor.

I know there are people who say things like “ignorance is bliss” and “beauty is a curse”, and I’ll grant that there is occasionally some truth to that, like when scholars get depressed and overwhelmed with all they know but can’t control, or when beautiful women find themselves objectified by men and resented by other women. But I think it’s much more often true that intelligence is bliss and ugliness is a curse. (Another thing that people often trump up to downplay the unfairness of life is the idea that if you are less gifted in one area, like looks, you must be more gifted in another area, like intelligence, athletic talent, or sense of humor. That is simply not true, since there are many people who are beautiful, smart, funny, AND athletic, and many who have just one or two or none of those gifts. Gifts are doled out in a random, unfair manner; not a carefully balanced, compensatory manner.)

I consider myself well qualified to weigh in on this subject because in my own life I’ve miraculously experienced both ends of the dumb / smart spectrum AND both ends of the ugly / handsome spectrum.

As an elementary school kid I didn’t think I was very smart and I had a paralyzing math phobia, which, combined with shyness and general immaturity, caused me to have to repeat the fourth grade when I transferred schools. That was not bliss at all; it was humiliating. Of course, later I became a good student, graduated Summa Cum Laude from a prestigious university, and went on to get my PhD. So I can say with authority that the smart end of the spectrum is a happier place to be.

With the ugly / handsome spectrum it went like this: I was a kid of average cuteness but took a major ugly turn at puberty with horrendous acne, poor style and hygiene, and orthodontics.

The author, circa 1992

It was an awful time where I had zero social confidence and felt tortured whenever I looked in the mirror or had to talk to someone. Fortunately, it was only about a year and half before I figured out that Benzoyl Peroxide cream and showering every day could get my disfiguring, pizza-like zits mostly under control. Though it was several more years before my self-image caught up with my clear complexion, by the time I was an adult I realized that I had become fairly handsome. I wasn’t Leonardo DiCaprio handsome, but I was at least handsome enough not to be at any disadvantage in dating and socializing. I realize the key thing isn’t how good-looking you are per se; it’s how confident and happy you are with your looks. But obviously the better looking you are the easier it is to be confident and happy with your looks, which is where the unfairness factor comes in.

Anyway, back to the main issue: what to do to find happiness for yourself (and impart happiness to others) in spite of the irresolvable unfairness of life. Here are some of my ideas, organized as general coping strategies, then strategies that are specific to more- or less-blessed people:

Things everybody can do:

1. Recognize that a lot of things about yourself, including your looks and a large part of your intelligence, are the result of random fate that you had nothing to do with. So you shouldn’t be either too proud or too ashamed of how smart and good looking you are (or are not). For example, Susan Boyle needn’t bear any responsibility for the fact that she’s not as pretty as Taylor Swift, because it was just random fate that Boyle came out homely while Swift came out hot.
2. Look internally, and don’t judge yourself too much by comparison with others or by unrealistic standards. Your job is to be a version of yourself that you can respect; not to claim the highest rank among the multitudes in some arbitrary category of worth, like salary, grade-point average, website hits, or rating. Remember that there are many dimensions of personality and character that define you, and even if you’re not great in all the ways you wish you could be great, at least no one else is quite like you.
3. Be nice. Looks and brains matter, but how you treat other people almost always matters more, especially in the long run. Also, there’s the bonus effect of niceness on people’s perceptions of your looks. If you’re nice you start looking better to people who know you, and the reverse is true if you’re mean. Being nice won’t make you seem any smarter, but if you’re nice, people will be less judgmental about your level of smarts.
4. Be selective about what you choose to remember and think about. Because even people who have a lot going for them can get bummed out if they dwell on their few flaws. And even people who don’t have many advantages can usually find some qualities to be proud of- if nothing else, the ability to cope with a tough life is a good one.

Things more-blessed people can do:

1. Enjoy and make the most of your gifts- there’s no need to feel guilty. But don’t start thinking that you have more intrinsic merit than other people just because you’ve had more luck.
2. Try to be understanding of those less blessed, and appreciative of the extra struggles they may have to endure.
3. Be careful not to lean too heavily on your looks and / or brains as the basis of your self worth. Because there’s always someone that can come along and out-do or out-dazzle you. Plus, Paul Newman notwithstanding, most people, by the time they’re geezers, look more like geezers than whatever they looked like as young people, and trying to maintain your hotness too long is a degrading, losing battle, as evidenced by the plastic surgery and fashion disasters of many aging celebrities.

Things less-blessed people can do:

1. Give yourself a pat on the back for all the extra struggling you’ve had to do in life. It has been a rough road for you, and it’s ok to indulge in some self-pity from time to time, Roy Orbison style. But try not to spend TOO much time in self-pity, since your suffering will be more productive in terms of character building if you can greet it with a little optimism, or at least a little ironic humor.
2. Shore up your weaknesses, where possible. For example, if you’re not naturally good looking you can offset that a bit by maintaining good health and hygiene, and if you’re not naturally smart you can compensate to some extent by spending extra time reading and studying. Just realize your limits and don’t overdo it by trying to be what your genetics simply won’t allow you to be. Like, if you’re the one big-boned girl in a clique of petite girls, don’t awkwardly try to stuff yourself into the same size and style clothes as the rest. And if you’re a little guy with a jockey’s build, don’t ruin your health with steroids and squander all your time in the gym just so you can look and feel a little bigger.
3. Find nice people to hang out with who feel your pain and appreciate your good qualities. Shared hardships can bring people together in really strong friendships and romances.
4. Your looks and brains, or your lack thereof, might affect your day-to-day life and some of the opportunities you’ll have with other people. But they don’t affect your intrinsic worth or your position in the great, big mysterious universe. The moon and stars, and the bees and flowers and the wind don’t care in the slightest how you look or what college you went to, and neither does your dog or your goldfish.

There. I hope that was interesting and / or helpful. Feel free to add any other little thoughts or sayings you might have come up with or collected that you think are useful or helpful for making the best of things in spite of unfairness.