Friday, September 28, 2018

The Ice Queen

Around 20 years ago, we kicked around the idea of retiring really early (we'd have been in our 40s), and living aboard Cinderella in the Virgin Islands. To supplement our income, in this fantasy, I'd learn marine refrigeration and air conditioning. Surely there'd be lots of demand for that particular service in the tropics! And it would fit nicely with my science background. I had known the theory of the refrigeration cycle since thermodynamics in college, so it would be a matter of working through the practical applications. I imagined it being both fun and profitable. I even named the business in my mind. Refrigeration girl? Ice Queen!

Although our lives didn't end up going in that direction, I've still always been intrigued by the process of making cold. It has an element of magic in a way that making heat doesn't. Humans have known fire and been making heat, by burning something, for thousands of years; we've only been making cold for a little over a hundred.  (Yes, we've had ice blocks and ice houses for longer than that, but that isn't actually making cold, that's mining it like a resource during the winter and storing it for the summer.)

The practical knowledge would have been nice to have. In the last year or so we've had one problem or another with either our air conditioning system or the refrigerator, it seems every couple of months. Last year, after our marina was partially destroyed during Hurricane Irma, we lived at anchor for several weeks. Fortunately the weather was benign during that time. South of town where we anchored was a nice combination of airy and protected. It was peaceful, with dolphins and pelicans for entertainment. Making our own power with solar, we were better off than friends in town who were in some cases still without power. It would have been a nice relaxing time to catch up on our reading and do some creative cooking, except the fridge was broken. Logistics and other complications of our location made it impractical to get to the store more than once or twice a week for fresh food, so we learned to make do with the fridge-less life, a bit of a challenge for people who love to play with food. We managed a small ice box for protein sources like cheese, eggs, yogurt, fish, and tofu, and explored canned food, dried beans and rice and pasta, powdered milk, and sturdy vegetables like carrots and cabbage. I now have 14 different classes of recipes featuring canned tuna.

I expected to feel really, really frustrated by this, on top of the stress of the hurricane. But we discovered something interesting over time. Dan described living without a fridge as "liberating." He meant it in two ways. It was liberating in that the fridge is often the biggest power draw on the boat. We chose the model fridge we did because it was just about the quietest and most energy efficient style on the market at the time (pretty much still is, shout-out to our 12-V keel cooler) and sized our solar panels to be able to generally make enough power to run it as long as the days are mostly sunny. But it's a close thing, and we have to be very attentive to our other power uses (lights, stereo, computers) so we don't go over our power budget for the day. Suddenly, without the fridge, we had loads of excess power. We didn't have to budget it, or watch the battery monitor, or just even think about it. Liberating. You know what else was liberating? In meal planning, we always have in the back of our minds, a running list of which foods are getting ready to go spoil and must be used soonest. Sometimes that leads to odd combinations of flavors as we prioritize, and sometimes we're just a step away from a cookbook that a cruising acquaintance fantasized about writing that would be called, "Cooking with Rotten Fruits and Vegetables."  We were pretty much liberated from that as well. On Day 1 and 2 after grocery shopping we might have broccoli or spinach, but after that it pretty much didn't matter, as everything that remained was shelf stable and we could eat it whenever. It was surprising that we'd never really noticed that nagging little voice in the back of our minds, until it was gone.

After our third service call on the unit in just over a year, our awesome marine refrigeration tech Chris cut into his own profits by teaching me how to charge the unit myself. I know, the real solution is replacement, and we've got that on next year's schedule. Hey, the thing is 15 years old, even a land refrigerator doesn't have a much longer life span than that. So we're just trying to limp this unit along until our haulout next year. Knowledge, self-reliance, independence? Most liberating of all!

Not Quite Like on Star Trek (Sheriff's Course, Week 3)

"Phasers on stun." When Captain Kirk issued this command, you knew our intrepid heroes were about to go into a situation. But their wonderful technology would give them the edge; they could temporarily incapacitate any hostile aliens without breaking a sweat, and an hour or so later the aliens would wake up again with no worse impacts than a bit of confusion and a mild headache.  So when I learned that we were going to talk about tasers last week, can you blame me for thinking that they were going to be similar to these convenient sci-fi gadgets? I mean, the names even rhyme!

Spoiler alert: real life is messier than even beloved nostalgic television shows. Real-life tasers are far more limiting than Star Trek's weapons. In real life, a taser shoots two tiny darts that trail hair-thin copper (?) wire to carry a 5-second electric jolt. And after that 5 seconds, it's over and they're up again, no hour-long down time to clean up. Range is limited to around 20 feet and those wires make a physical connection in order to work, so you're basically "tethered" to the person. There's lots of limitations (can't aim for the chest because if the person has a pacemaker the jolt could disrupt it, for example) and many opportunities for a miss. The two darts come out together and one goes straight and one curves downward so there is a good separation between the two to allow the electric jolt to be more effective, but that also increases the likelihood for one dart to miss the body, for example. This happened in the demonstration shot our instructor did for us, shooting at a life-size standup cardboard target with a photo of guy with his fists up, set expression on his face. So these things certainly aren't the panacea that are on TV. They can't just walk into a situation and assume they can safely zap their way back out of it.

Which led to a whole conversation about levels of resistance, 6 of them ranging from grumbling but compliant, through passively resisting, to physically aggressive; and appropriate escalating levels of response. You can know on an intuitive level about escalating and de-escalating, what seems appropriate and what would make the front page of the Washington Post, but this was the first time I had it articulated and quantified quite so clearly. I was listening, and paying attention, and taking notes, and the lecture made sense. However, I kept looking over at the target. Had he been just an ambiguous silhouette, or if he had the face of a certain political figure I am known to detest, it would have been different. It would have been easy to "shoot" him. But this guy? He was ordinary. He could have been someone I knew, could have been a neighbor or fellow boat-owner. I certainly made me pause for that extra microsecond. Stuff just got real.

Friday, September 7, 2018

The History Books Are Written By the Winners

Life can be more interesting if you're open to whatever comes along, spontaneous, go-with-the-flow. And I admit to having had more than my fair share of wonderful adventures that just dropped into my lap at various times in my life, just because I was in the right place at the right time and willing to take opportunities as they arose. Other times, though, it has helped us to have a bit of structure, a bit of a goal, else "leisure" can degenerate into "sloth." This was what seemed in danger of happening for us while we waited out hurricane season in a well-appointed marina in a quiet suburban area. There's only so many trashy novels you can read while hanging out at the pool. Our brains needed some stimulation.

I've written before about how viewing travel as a quest makes for a great way to frame and focus your experiences and serves as an interesting blog post writing prompt. The quests in my example ranged from profound ("searching for God") to profane ("searching for the best margarita in town.") So we started focusing our time in Jacksonville as a quest as well. We called it "M&M's" -- museums and microbreweries -- and planned to visit one of each, each week or two.

We've made more progress on the microbreweries than the museums, initially; having started with Hyperion Brewery during our first week. Our first museum was the "Museum of Southern History" in easy walking distance of the marina, which could as appropriately have been called "Museum of Civil War Artifacts and Stories from the Confederate Point of View."  There were weapons, uniforms, flags, incredibly detailed dioramas of significant battles, and a huge library.

Incredibly detailed and well-researched battle diorama; this is one small part of one of them. Another great image is on the museum's web page.

There were some examples of spin that left me pretty uncomfortable. At one point our conversation with the docent evolved to me asking, "If not for the war, do you think the Confederate states would have come around to freeing their enslaved people anyway?" And I was assured they would have, within fifty years or so anyway, for economic reasons if not moral ones.  "Because slavery made no economic sense after the industrial revolution" ... the failure to mention as inconsequential, fifty additional years of human misery based solely on skin colour, just got to me. But I also learned some pretty cool stuff and great context. The numbers were staggering. About 900,000 soldiers served the South, and 25% of the men who were eligible to serve during the war died. My hairstylist friend, a lifelong Jacksonville resident and student of history, went even further and told me -- while she was giving me a cute short haircut -- that she doubted there was a family in the South that hadn't been affected, lost someone to the war. The docent talked also about the time after the war, the tremendous cultural cost to integrate three to four million suddenly-freed African-American people, illiterate and not quite able to function in the larger society. Certainly not our finest hour as a nation, and certainly, there are subtleties to the story of that era. I'm glad I went, I have more to learn ... but I'm still uneasy.

Admiral Raphael Semmes, whose career is portrayed in this case, was an extremely successful commerce raider. He had a reputation for treating both his crews and his captives very well. Interestingly, he was also a brigadier general in the Confederate Army. Army and Navy at the same time? Interesting. 

The museum also had an extensive library. The row of ivory-backed books above Dan's shoulder contain a roster of every person who served the Confederate cause.

Several columns of Lunsfords. Also Lundsfords, Luncefords, Lumsfords, and Luntsfords. Only four Lindners. I'm not sure what, if anything, this means. In the Northeast, our two last names are about equally common. In the south, maybe not so much. (For the record, Lunsford is English and  Lindner is Austrian. Dan's family has been in the U.S. for 5 generations at least; Jaye's for 3.)