Remember the Fish

That’s probably not what we’re supposed to memorialize on Memorial Day, but I bet there’s a lot of veterans out there who fish, so I think it qualifies. Besides, it had been 3 years since we caught anything with the old man. So behold! Fish!

Bluegills are the swarming mice of inland water, but a fish is a fish. And that first one was very nice. Redbreast Sunfish, looks like.

It will be remembered!


Finger of God

There was a scene in The Ten Commandments that freaked me out as a kid. And I still think it’s delightfully creepy. It’s that last plague when the fog slowly infiltrates through the streets of Goshen and kills all first-borns, beginning with that spectral hand in the sky.

I think the creep factor was so perfectly visceral because for the first time in a series of unpleasant events, it gave a glimpse of God’s physical being, rather than just symbolic terror. My primitive human mind responds quicker to tugs on my evolutionary coding: monsters are amalgams of all the scary parts of animals that used to eat us. That’s what a dragon is. And the dragon exists in some form across all cultures. We fear things that appear to posses the ability to destroy our physical forms. And, I would say, rightfully so.

Anyway, as I was fogging for mosquitos, the lack of wind and barometric pressure created a similar experience. It was a cool picture.

It didn’t kill me, as I’m not a first-born. But I sure hope it killed more than the first-born mosquito from each clutch!


Modern Car Feedback and Reckless Driving

The standard human driver is just…bad. There’s unintentional bad (not a day goes by that the local news doesn’t report that some old fuck drove into a building!) There’s negligent bad (always cellphone-related.) And of course there’s always been asshole bad (the college kids are starting to show up for the summer.)

I fully admit, too, that my driving edges into the unsafe, but only when I’m driving my wife’s vehicle. It’s easy to drive, but I think it’s too easy, and this presents a problem. In it, I speed much more and give less thought to smooth velocity changes. It’s not intentional.

So recently, as I was driving my 2003 Honda Accord home, stopped at a stop sign, then turned left towards an oncoming and very new-looking KIA Pinchoff or whatever, whose driver communicated their objection to my maneuver with a long series of horn blasts, I had a moment of self-reflection and pondered the state of modern driving.

This isn’t you

Well, first I yelled “Fuck you!” and flashed the birdie, as is the only proper response. Then I admit that I felt a little sheepish…at first. I’ll take blame for an honest mistake, but then I considered that the KIA had been moving so fast that it wasn’t there when I first checked. In the time between when I looked in that direction (for a second time after looking to the right), and then shifted my gaze back towards my front, it had cleared the bend in the road and closed the 50 yard distance to the intersection I had since creeped into – a feat not possible at 25mph, which is why speed limits exist. (They’re not just there to be annoying. It’s a calculated velocity which, when followed, is the fastest one should be driving in order to avoid losing control of the vehicle or hitting someone else on the road who wouldn’t have been able to react in time. Going faster increases the risk. Of course we all push the boundaries, but a residential street that winds around probably isn’t the best place to play Dominic Toretto. (Also not when you bought a lame-ass KIA Pinchoff).)

Anyway, between this encounter and my own self-reflection on my different driving styles between the two vehicles I drive, I’ve come to a conclusion: Modern vehicles encourage bad driving by making driving too easy and seemingly less dangerous. And it comes down to vehicular feedback. Modern vehicles overly disconnect the driver from the act of driving. Here’s some examples:

  • My car uses older hydraulic-assisted power steering. It requires more effort to turn the wheel than the Ascent, and so feels like a heavier machine in comparison. This nudges me to treat it as bigger, more dangerous, and unwieldy when it’s objectively less so compared to the Ascent. The Ascent uses drive-by-wire electric motors to transfer user input to the steering system, and takes very little effort. Consequently, I’m tricked into believing the Ascent is lighter and more sporty than it really is, and it doesn’t transfer the feel of the road conditions to my hands, and so my steering becomes more aggressive. (It also necessitates a much smaller steering wheel, so in further mockery of Mr. Pinchoff above, you can’t possible feel saturated with testosterone when also maneuvering your Pinchoff with a bagel.)
  • My car uses an antilock breaking system. When I lose traction, this kicks in and provides me tactile and audible feedback, which is somewhat unnerving especially when at high speed. This prompts me to drive slower and more cautiously in adverse weather conditions. The Ascent uses all-wheel-drive electronic breaking stabilization. If I lose traction, this system automatically adjusts breaking and torque for each wheel. There’s very little chance of spinning out. In fact, I don’t know if I ever really have lost traction when driving it. And so, the complete lack of feedback gives me no prompt to drive more cautiously. (I think the dashboard makes a small ding, maybe?)
  • My car uses a classic automatic transmission. When I tax the engine, the shift points and their timing in my acceleration give me a clear indication of how much torque, and therefore how much tire grip, I’m experiencing. The Ascent uses a constant variable transmission which lacks definitive gears, so apart from the tachometer, I don’t feel the engine strain. Ergo, I’ll less inclined to let off the gas with the Ascent since I don’t know that I might be compromising the engine and vehicle control.

In short, my Accord gives me a very visceral driving experience, and through this greater connectedness, I have a greater respect for its power and, more importantly, a heightened fear of what might go wrong if I get too aggressive.

The Ascent gives me very little of this feedback. Much of the time, I only really feel the size and weight of the vehicle when trying to stop it from a high speed.

THIS is you

My conclusion is that maybe people aren’t intentionally driving worse, but instead it just seems that way because they’ve lost a material connection to the danger associated with piloting a motor vehicle, as a result of vehicle design seeking to enhance comfort and ease of use. Modern vehicles disconnect us from the potential consequences of driving.

But ultimately, no amount of safety feature enhancements will prevent all forms of the ultimate tactile driving experience: when your driving brings you to a sudden and complete standstill–violently. If there’s any PSA I’ll preach here at the end of my post, it’s just to remember that however disconnected you become from your driving experience, your body is still traveling at velocities that far exceed anything that evolution ever designed you for.

…And Toretto isn’t actually real. You can’t drive down the side of a dam, out-racing its collapse and ensuing tidal wave. Especially not in a KIA Pinchoff. (Also you’re a douche.)


Hipidy Hopidy

The Reinheitsgebot of 1516 represents what only a most civilized society could mandate. It is a perfunctory requisite, in its raw essence, but it permits our modern world to exist, for who would haven given it a second thought were the market not now saturated with fruit-infused abominations? Law and order, dammit! Advanced political discourse cannot take place on massive social policies without something to drink. If you disagree, you’re un-American.

Okay, maybe that’s not fair to our Islamic community. I’ll forgive you for your other culinary contributions.

I speak of course of beer! Even though I usually prefer bourbon (something infinitely more American). Which, now that I think about it, beer isn’t really American at all. It’s a cultural inheritance from northern continental Europe – and from second-class immigrants at that. If OG blue-blooded Americans are WASPs, then British carryovers would define American beverage culture. And I think the British were more into hard apple cider at the time than beer. And we like that too. And we made it better by creating applejack, which is not the same as Calvados, even without the “appellation d’origine contrôlée”. Calvados is sweet sissy apple syrup. Applejack is for real Americans! Pioneering Americans. The fuck you Americans! Raaah!

Okay, so bourbon and applejack are the most American of intoxicants. But we like beer too. And to show my appreciation, I have planted hops! Also, to out-do my father-in-law, because he started growing them first and I couldn’t allow him to be successful at gardening something I hadn’t yet tried.

They’re one of those plants that’s oddly difficult to find through traditional distributers, e.g. Burpee’s, but very easy to find through any gardener with an internet connection. A couple weeks later I had some rhizome cuttings that very quickly took to my sunny fence corner.

They’re not very big yet, but growing quickly. And while I have no plans for home-brewing, I’ll appreciate the coolness factor. And doing a better job than Liz’s dad. And for my ancestors.

Drink your sissy Zimas and Smirnoff Ices. And Calvados.


Rogue Wave

It’s somewhat surprising to me that scientific acceptance of the rogue wave phenomenon only dates back to the mid 1990s. So humanity has colonized every continent and established international shipping lanes for trade and travel, but as a species we never believed stories of big goddamn random waves until recently?

Here there be monsters. I suppose the low survivability of such events kept them in myth, with the occasional eyewitness rendered incoherent from PTSD. But still, the 1990s?

So why was I thinking about rogue waves? I dunno. It was one of those internet rabbit hole kind of days. Because apparently I needed to scare myself away from ever getting on a ship, aside from the more obvious reasoning: trapping myself in the ocean with a bunch of people. No thanks.

But it also triggered a vivid memory. As a kid, I took an interest in natural disasters. Extreme climatology became an independent subject of study for me, perhaps from living in Tornado Alley. What caused these terrifyingly lethal events? And, how does one avoid them? By the end of elementary school, I was well-versed on tornado and tsunami formation, and how to recognize their impending appearance. I had books on the subjects. In 4th grade. Yes.

And on one summer evening I was experimenting with wave formation in the collapsible swimming pool (I had a lonely childhood). It was one of those rubber-bottomed things with semi-rigid sides. Only 2-3 feet deep, though it always slumped slightly and never filled to capacity quite right. But I could push the sides and turn it into a wave pool and simulate the sinking of various objects based on this wave action. Single waves impacted the opposite side and sloshed around the circular perimeter. Rhythmic wave creation caused predictable patterns: sine waves and standing waves. Inconsistent wave creation led to chaotic results. And as I was a kid, a narrative always accompanied my experiments. A fleet of warships encountered a typhoon! An enemy bomber squad appeared overhead! All hands to stations! Abandon ship! And I would dramatically belly-flop into the center.

In this particular experiment, I generated waves in one location, then a few feet away, then back to the first spot, and I noticed a pattern. Waves generated some number of degrees apart converged across the pool. I continued the experiment by generating waves in different locations as I evenly circumnavigated the pool. My thought was that this would create some sort of water displacement in the middle of the pool that would replicate sudden tsunami formation.

Nothing exceptional occurred, and I lost interest. But before I left, and as the water appeared to settle into a waveless pool once again, a single wave rose unexpectedly towards one side of the pool, traversed the diameter, and crashed onto the opposite wall, splashing over the side. Then a second wave appeared in the same spot, and just as before, followed the prior wave’s same path. The waves were of significant height in comparison to the otherwise placid pool of water, and their sudden appearance, in complete contrast to the present equilibrium and without further input on my part, startled me. Actually, the event rather disturbed me, as it lacked any reasonable explanation.

Excited and needing some form of validation, I ran inside to explain the event to my dad, claiming that I had inadvertently created a tsunami in the pool. Of course, without much context to go on, he gave me a generic acknowledgment and that was the end of that. And many times thereafter, when the pool was set up again, I attempted but failed to recreate it. And I always wondered what had happened that day.

Through some form of random and predictable events, I had created a rogue wave situation (hence the name). But as constructive interference is easily explained in basic physics, it didn’t account for why I was able to create what I had by rotating around a circular body of water. Ultimately, I’ve come to accept the Draupner wave event as the explanation – a rouge wave whose empirical documentation led to fluid dynamic studies that ultimately recreated the event. The explanation: nonlinear convergent wave trains in crossing sea conditions (tested at varying angles of intersect). Or more simply: bursts of waves at different angles making big waves when they meet.

The pool had seemingly been still, but my last waves, or perhaps waves reflected from the pool sides, had intersected at just such an angle after I had stopped generating new waves. And the result was those two waves, significantly greater in amplitude than anything that should have been remaining in the settling water, formed from that improbable intersection. It was an odd experience to see the pool come to life on its own, and very difficult to explain sufficiently so that someone else might visualize.

It’s no wonder that sailors were a superstitious lot. No one believed my story either.