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Sunday, June 29, 2008

Where there is no shower

Funny thing, I often almost feel like not giving away the secret that many North Americans haven't discovered about getting clean where there is no shower. I mostly resist it 'cos nobody likes a smartipants. However, I have been asked by some younger sailing women so here goes.

When water is restricted, whether you're sailing, camping, or just in the office after a lunchtime run and there is no shower available it's a simple matter to have a refreshing washdown of the body with the old-fashioned simple tools:
  • a towel,
  • washcloth (I like the gant de toilette mitt-type),
  • soap,
  • bottle or jug of cleanish* cold or hot water (about 1 litre - 2 pints - will do) or water tap,
  • small container, empty bucket, jug or bowl (or washbasin),
  • if the floor is dirty, a plastic sheet (or bin bag) about the same size as your bath towel
Most washrooms in North America have a disabled cubicle, which is ideal for this performance because it has most elbow room, but any private space will do. The average aircraft or train loo is perfect.

In addition, you can do this in a more public place, like a campsite or a beach without removing all your clothes at the same time, although people might look at you funny.

Lay down the towel on top of the plastic sheet. Take off your clothes and step on the towel. Put half the water in the bucket. Wetting the washcloth and wringing it out in the bucket, wipe yourself all over rubbing vigorously. This gets most of the dirt off (although not the grease nor all the smell). You might have to get fancy to reach the middle of your back by holding your washcloth at both ends, or asking for the assistance of a friend.

Wet the washcloth again from the "dirty water" and lather the cloth up with a little soap. Rub the cloth over the smelly parts first, then over the rest of your body. Wring it out and wet it again with fresh water. Wipe the soap off yourself.

You are done! You are clean, almost dry, feel refreshed and once you have practiced a bit, you can do this with very little water, so that the 2 litres daily allowance that the BFH** captain has allotted will be enough to have a wash every day or so.

And because your bath towel is not that wet it just needs airing out. The washcloth is a lot easier to hang up to dry.

When you're sailing in the tropics, this technique is infinitely preferable to being in the hot humid bowels of the boat trying to juggle the shower and slowly melting in the steamy heat and humidity of the head compartment. You can do your first washdown and soaping with salt water (or take a swim).

Hair washing is a different exercise. If you have really short hair the above technique will be enough. Long hair needs about 2 pints (a litre) more water and a larger bowl or bucket to lean over. It is best done seated (or kneeling on your towel) leaning forward over the bowl. Pour about a pint (500 ml) of water over the back of your head so that it runs into the bowl. Scoop the water up and do it several times so that your hair is moist. Then rub some shampoo into your hair. Use only a very little shampoo - about a teaspoon or 5 ml - less than half of the recommended amount of normal stuff. (Some people swear by using shampoo*** for both body and hair washing as it saves backpack space - there are concentrated types in tube form).

You do not need to get a lather in your hair - if you do, you are using too much shampoo - the lather represents "unused" detergent that is foaming up and you will need to use extra water to wash it out. Just rub shampoo all over the hair and leave it on for a minute or so. Then start by wringing out your hair and pouring water from the bowl over your head repeatedly until the shampoo feels gone. Wring out your hair the best you can, then run a dry washcloth over it to get it as dry as possible. Comb it through and let it air dry.

Some women (and increasingly men) have a routine of using hair conditioner after shampoo. This is fine, but once again use less than half of what you normally use and rinse repeatedly using only a half litre of water. Or try using a tiny amount on a comb and combing it through your hair without washing it off. Or try going without once in a while.

* you can use river or lake water if you are camping, or non-potable water like that from plane or train washroom taps.
**Bastard from Hell: you know who you are, Bligh-woman!
*** Stolen joke alert! Best to use shampoo, the real stuff stinks.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Firefox 3: nice job guys!

A couple of days ago, at the insistence of the lovely Janice (her son Mike Shaver is a chief thingy at Mozilla) I downloaded Firefox 3. I don't normally do stuff like this on release day, but what the heck - if it broke something I have other machines to use. Actually nine of my add-ons stopped working, including the JavaScript debugger (aargh!) but today I see that the update for that was automagically installed, so I wasn't without it for long enough to matter.

In all, things went smoothly and it has a few nice features (although the upgrade went so well that I didn't notice them at first) including a silly Easter egg that I found amusing as a sci-fi fan: type "about:robots" in the address bar...Gort!

I've been using Firefox for a long time (the first on my block to use it). It has really set the standard for browsers, has lot of great features that I just expect to work now. And the addons! Well, you can get anything you want...

Because I do web development I still use a number of other browsers for testing; IE, Safari, Opera on as many platforms as I can find. I do have Netscape Navigator 9, but that's strictly a nostalgia trip now. (Remember Mozaic, folks?)

IE* - well aren't you the tedious one to program for? Talk about working with the undead. Die you b*astard! However we have to test on it...people like my 78-year old mother use it because it was pre-installed. But then again, she thinks Yahoo has a search engine.

Safari (for Windows) - very pretty (all those brightly coloured glassy bead-like buttons and bars), adherent to standards, occasionally slow and buggy (the latest release I downloaded 3.1.1 fixed a bunch of broken stuff, including crashing within 20 seconds of login to Facebook, lol). Frustrating when it takes over and ignores input when one is typing into the browser bar. Hey who's in charge here? Very different look and feel. And very pushy of Apple products and services. No, I don't want to download iTunes, cheeky! The Help looks likes it's using WinHelp or some such, it's ugly and doesn't appear to be integrated in the browser.

Opera - nice crisp feel, very easy to use, some pretty features...the speed dial thing is interesting. I like the thumbnail views of the pages opened in the tabs. It has a nice kiosk mode that we found useful to lock students into their training. They did have a browser for the Nokia hand-held N770, but for some reason (probably Nokia's fault) they had to completely reimplement when they went to the N800. So some stuff that had been working was a bit buggy.

There are some other nice browsers on Linux but in my world we only test on Windows and Mac right now.


* no, I'm not including a link to this d*g, rough!

Friday, June 13, 2008

Better protection makes happy workers

The task: grinding out the rotted balsa core under the cockpit of a glass fibre boat. This is the underside of the top of the flotation chamber and is a small cavity about 1x1 metre (3x3 feet) and about half a metre (20 inches) deep. A hole had been cut big enough to get head and shoulders in from the top. Flotation foam removed. Power tools and lights required...


One of the absolute joys of a boater's life is getting all togged up to do boat work. Painting, grinding, cutting, any kind of power tools require dressing up with ear defenders, goggles, breathing mask. These things are hell to wear for a day's work, especially when it hot (hah...it's merely 31 Celsius today - about 88 F). The goggles steam up, everything gets slippery with sweat and it's really horrible. Vision is really very bad, meaning that the work is slower and quality is lower. The time that I can comfortably work in this before a break is about an hour, but it's an ordeal, and I'd feel persecuted if I had to wear this for more than 3 sessions in a day. Total cost of this gear is about $60-100 depending on the quality of the respirator. You always want a really good respirator...

Now we have bought a Triton one-piece system. It is wonderful. It combines eye, breathing, and hearing protection with a hardhat and a hood. Fresh filtered air is pumped in to the top of the head from a fan in the rechargeable battery pack strapped to the waist. It keeps the user fairly cool. Hearing protection is integral attached to the sides of the hat. Very effective and comfortable. They flip up if not needed. The face plate is polycarbonate and gives great visibility. It too flips up if required. It does not steam up even when you get sweaty.The breathing protection doesn't squeeze the face or touch it at all.
Another benefit is that particles of grinding dust or crap do not end up in the hair or stuck to the skin. And the hat will save your head from bumping, always a good thing. It is a little larger than the other outfit, but a lot easier to keep on (straps don't get tangled etc.)
The hood and air tube can be removed if working on something noisy but not dust generating (vacuuming?)
It does cost a lot more, about $220, but I could work in this for 3-4 hours at a time, for a couple of sessions per day. I feel safer and more comfortable and less reluctant to start work.

Buy your good woman good safety gear and you'll get more work out of her!

Monday, June 9, 2008

This sporting life

From the writing of Tim Davis comes this quote:
Sport is a pantomime of war, and even during peacetime, we beg its stresses back into our lives. Buying mortgages in the padded cell of Western consumer culture has turned us all into what I call horrorists. Terrorists enact violence on the lives of others; horrorists fill their own lives with ritualized violence: slasher films, roller coasters, video games, 24-hour news, sport.
I threw away my television 15 years ago...too much of everything except thinking: sport pretending to be significant; advertising copy purporting to be news; lies; mind control; insanity; compelling, crappy dramas; bad acting; worse acting; and horror.

One major horror is the feeling after watching a movie/show that your anchor has come adrift - you have taken in a different way of thinking about something, and it's wrong or corrupt. A siren call, a temptation. It's like getting a worm in the ear. It's too much for the immune system to take. I don't watch TV and I am selective about films because I don't trust myself.

I stopped taking part in competitive sports about the same time. I was sailing a dinghy across a lake when a slightly larger sailing boat was approaching on a collision course. Technically he was the give-way boat, however a woman's enraged voice shouted: "Fuck off we're racing!" Although they didn't recognize me, these were people I worked with. I thought about the times that I had been in a sporting event and played really hard to win. "Not pretty," was my conclusion.

There are plenty of other things to do with my time. Some of them give me hope I can be a better person.
Does it matter whether you hate your . . . self?
At least Love your eyes that can see, your mind that can
Hear the music...
Robinson Jeffers

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Sufficiently advanced technology 2


I am impressed with the advances in relatively cheap cameras, the software to use and manipulate images and the ease with which a total noob like me can make pictures that are really quite pleasing.

I asked someone recently, "What is left for the professional photographer to do?"

The story goes like this: when I was young (about 100 years ago) most families owned cameras and would take "snaps". There was then the process of taking the sealed film container to the "chemist's" for processing and printing (for some reason, many pharmacists seemed to do photographic processing, probably to do with inhaling dangerous chemicals.) Then one waited, singing: "Someday my prints will come!"* The pictures were good quality although expensive. There were also camera shops where you could get more expensive processing and better film, if you were interested. When colour film and processing came along, the price increase was so large that many people resisted the change for a surprisingly long time.

There were many professional photographers. From the guys who would stand around at seaside resorts taking quick shots of passing holidaymakers, to the wedding album specialists, all the way to the professional photographic artists. There must have been many, many corner store-type processing labs and darkrooms. Mostly this was because the equipment was expensive and the training to use it properly was not that easy. If you were a serious enthusiast (like my forgettable first husband), you could buy the tanks, solutions, washing lines, enlargers etc. and do a reasonable job, but it took a long time to get good at it and it was tedious. Not for people like me who are into instant gratification.

When I was a teenager there came the mail-order photo "lab" - you sent your film away, and in 2-3 weeks colour prints came back and, they gave you a free replacement film! This impressed so many people so much that they didn't notice that the processing quality was low, the printing was poor and the results pretty awful. What mattered was that it was cheap, half the price of the alternative. 35 years later the pictures have turned a funny orangey colour, when 60 year-old black and white shots are unchanged. The processing and printing was largely automatic and centralized - the equipment was hugely expensive.

The corner store labs died. Some photographic stores went upscale, most closed down. When automatic processing machines became cheaper, some stores bought them and continued working, however the hyper-march├ęs (big box stores) now built photo labs in their premises. There was still residual send-away processing from small shops in small towns, but the war of technology had reached the clipper-ship of film: I take my film to a person who inserts it in a machine and a few minutes later out come the prints. My prints will come a lot faster these days...ahem.*

The professional photographers were now the wedding and portrait guys, news photographers, and the artists. Considerable training was still required to guarantee results - you had to capture the shot right there and know that it would work.

Then came digital cameras. Film has largely died. Most people have moved to using lightweight, forgiving and cheap cameras, putting the pictures on a computer and printing them only if really needed. The machines are doing the work now. It takes next to no knowledge or training to understand how to use one, especially in the context where many people have some computer access. And you see the results immediately. If it doesn't work, you do it again. A gifted amateur can do a very decent job of taking wedding photos or portraits. A professional will do better, but not so much that one is actually needed. The barrier to entry in this field is much lower. I suspect that most of this kind of photographer had better have a second source of income.

News photographers are probably the next to feel the pinch. When the camera-phone becomes ubiquitous, the price paid for that unique shot is going to be lower, especially when the shot can be cleaned up using software. Completely apart from the threat that comes from decline of print media.

Most artists have probably always struggled. The technology may lower the bar to the actual making of images and software manipulation does make it a lot easier to implement a vision, but the vision is still unique. We will get many more gifted photographic artists as a result. Competition will make it harder for anyone to become a full-time artist, but the ones that make it will probably be better.

Update - Some interesting photographic artists (no particular order):
* Stolen joke alert!

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