About Erik Dolson

Erik Dolson is a writer living in Oregon

First thing this mourning

By Erik Dolson

Who knows why it was today?  Because I wasn’t adequately sad, what with a firm, final goodbye from someone I loved but hurt badly enough they’d finally had enough? Because the sun was out? Because it was today, it just was?

This was always going to be one of the places where I’d leave some ashes. It was a crisp lovely day long ago when Leslee and Jim and I leaned up against the tall stone wall that retained heat from a sun that would not set.

We marveled how it just hung there barely moving as crowds flowed by and musicians played for change dropped into guitar cases, the sun perpetuating the afternoon like the singer held on to a refrain of a song we really liked.

On that day we were on the island looking at a boat I thought I might buy. I needed their opinion, we shared values and they had far more experience. After thoroughly going over the boat in a marina 45 minutes to the north, we came downtown to bask against the wall in this exquisite city, then find some Indian food.

I didn’t know on that afternoon, what, five years ago? Six? how little time was left. So much has happened since, and it’s hard to think that Jimmy died coming up on two years ago. Hell, I think I’ve been boating around the San Juan Islands for well over a year with the box Leslee sent with Jimmy in a baggie. Maybe that horrifies some, I think he’d smile, hell, he might have just given me those words.

The time wasn’t right, until today.

God, I miss him. Not like Leslee, of course, or his sons or his grandchildren. But he was my older brother, I trusted him to be him, and I loved him as if we’d spent our whole lives together and not just part of the last half, and even though I always knew he was smarter than me, more compassionate, had higher standards, had achieved more, showed higher honor.

It was hard at times knowing I wasn’t his best friend even though he was mine, that I may not have even been in his top five. He was that loved by those kinds of people. Of course he was. He had an impact, he was, it was frequently said, “larger than life.” Many wanted to bask in that glow.

He could tell stories that would make him laugh so hard he could barely speak, about things he’d done that most would want no one to know. Like the time he ate a bad taco or whatever from a street vendor in some South American or Central American town, then had to get on an airplane for a long flight back to the U.S. About how, when he got off the plane, men in hazmat suits came on board.

I helped him at times, I think, I hope, when he would worry about things. He didn’t know why he procrastinated when a legal brief was due, usually getting it done at the last minute. “Because your subconscious works on it the whole time, until you’re ready to transcribe the ‘story,’ ” I told him. That seemed to give him some relief from self recrimination.

He was a master at story. When writing a brief, he could put the facts into a story that was so persuasive, he had a reputation. He wrote simply but beautifully, better than me, and I was suposedly a “writer.” He’d clerked for one of the top legal minds in Oregon. He was qualified to present arguments to the U.S. Supreme Court. He wrote passages that were incorporated into U.S. law. He fended for the downtrodden, literally saved family farms, shook hands with Willie Nelson.

No, he wasn’t perfect but I loved him as much for his flaws as all that, for his occasional self-doubt, his deep need to know where Leslee was at all times and his dependence on her, his propensity to forget on occasion that he’d told a story before.

Like all of us, he had a warped mirror, at times. Others called him arrogant, not recognizing the difference between arrogance and brilliance and a willingness to express what he knew to be true.

Those attitudes didn’t bother me. I’ve been called arrogant as often as he was, and I have a whole lot less to show for it. It was confidence in some situations, managing not to show insecurities in others.

We’d hang out, sometimes talking deep shit because that was my personality refuge, until he tired of that then would change the subject or go do something else. In Panama once they’d broken the glass on a solar panel. I suggested we cover the shards with epoxy, and we filled the frame with a gelatinous goo that hardened into a glazing that worked well for a while. He thought that was pretty cool.

He loved his own kludges, too, like the time he rewired the automatic control of the water maker on their boat so it operated manually. That fix got them by for a long time, and took some ingenuity to figure out. I think he talked about that more than fighting off banks who wanted to take family farms in the 1980 recession that nobody remembers any more.

I think I’ll leave some ashes in Blind Bay, where he and Leslee watched me bring the boat he helped me buy and drop anchor for the first time, where he called my daughter the “crab whisperer” and made her proud that she could coax claw waving crabs to let go of the cage so they could be dropped back into the bay or into the pot for dinner.

Maybe I’ll make a small boat of folded paper with a candle for a sail and send some ashes off. Maybe I’ll send some down in a crab pot to lure the beasties in. I think he’d think that was fun.

This is the second time I’ve taken ashes to special places. The first time was for my other older brother from a separate mother, Jeff, another brilliant man but one so haunted by the demons we shared that … well, never mind. Some of his ashes were spread in a large Montana Lake, left there as the first snow of the season settled in and roads were about to be closed, so that Jeff could join creeks feeding Flathead Lake and eventually the Columbia River and out to the Pacific Ocean.

Which is where Jimmy’s ashes will wash, the next rain, off the huge stones that make up the wall where the sun sets only with reluctance. Off the bow of my boat, too, where I spread some so that Jimmy could continue to guide me, from a place ahead of the mast.

I’m getting old, but I often think of myself as Jimmy’s little brother. I refuse, as Clint Eastwood says, “to let the old man in.” The day will come when I can’t drive fast cars and sail this boat and maybe I’m already incapable of falling in love. I had to face that again, yesterday, when I read the word, “goodbye.”

Maybe today was the day I spread a bit of ashes because it was a way of not saying goodbye. I put ashes in a place important that I’d shared with him, with them, so that every day for however long I spend here, when I walk past that wall for whatever reason, I will be able to say, “Hi, Jimmy.”

Even if no one hears me.

For Gear Heads.

By Erik Dolson

When I bought the 25 year old boat, I was completely ignorant of electrical systems and the boat had three battery monitors: One in the charger /inverter (charges the main or “house batteries when connected to “shore” power, or takes direct current from the batteries and turns it into alternating current for appliances), one in the master switch panel, and a small round monitor labeled “Balmar” that only retired Balmar Inc. techs remembered and for which Balmar has no information anywhere. I asume it was sourced from another OEM.

None of the three ever agreed with either of the other two as to voltage or current. And, I wasn’t sure if the little round guage wasn’t actually connected to the battery that was used to start the engine, given that unlabeled wires run everywhere.

Let’s not get into the two huge alternators that hung off the main engine and were driven by two too small V-belts impossible to adjust, and a dumb regulator. Boy, did they eat belts. Even a Blalmar smart regulator didn’t cure that (a serpentine belt, did, with one larger alternator. Sometimes you have to KISS a problem away).

Oh, the generator regulator was installed such that the “dripless” shaft seal could toss salt water right at it. Talk about random issues! Burnt wires! The generator exhaust was plumbed into a cockpit drain, which allowed engine noise and diesel smoke unimpeded access to the cockpit during evenings at anchor. The tachometer didn”t need to be replaced despite the insistence of a tech who aparently didn’t grasp open circuit vs volatage under load, and the main engine would not start for a while in Alaska until, again, contacts were sanded and tightened.

So, if three guages don’t tell the same story, get a 4th! Bought a Balmar Smart Guage and wired it myself to one battery of the house bank so that I would absolutley know where and how. This battery monitor agreed with the voltage of the round Balmar guage which also gives amps draw. They were consistetly .2 volts higher than the old panel monitor, which also seems to report amps randomly between 2 and 200, which I put down to age/shunt issues, and a refrigeration system that does not go through the main panel at all but is wired up somewhere in the engine room. I’ll find the connections eventually.

But as long as things were working and somewhat consistent, I wasn’t worried. I was ignorant, almost as good!

That left the charger / inverter, which agreed in volts with the two Balmar guages when it was not charging, but was way off when it was. It also was not fully charging the batteries from shore power, I realized later, though my main engine and generator did, once new regulators were installed. The charger / inverter started to behave once a loose ground was tightened up during the process of sanding engine room electrical bus bar connections.

Then came solar, and the panels, and solar controllers, and a battery sensor that doesn’t broadcast beyond it’s own low profile shadow, and hence even more discovery.

It’s amazing to me how frustrating this can be, but at the same time, how much I love this stuff! I really mean that. What an education!

Like discovering after almost threeee yeeears and uncountable episodes of wiping up diesel while chasing the perfect flame that my Dickenson Diesel Heater doesn’t just want good draft, it really prefers positive cabin pressure! What a hoot!

Foolish fuel funsters

Tesla pickup, art from Gear Junkie

by Erik Dolson

Well, that happened a lot sooner than I thought it would. Pickup drivers blocking access to charging stations for electric vehicles.

Fighting the future is natural, I suppose, and no one wants to be a dinosaur (did they really become diesel fuel belching from those truck exhausts?) either.

Now, I’m not going to suggest this ill-considered “protest” is the result of efforts by Marathon Oil or Koch Industries or the American Petroleum Institute to delay the electrification of transportation. That would be baseless and irresponsible. Maybe they used Facebook.

Industries in America are certainly capable of such chicanery, as the sugar industry blamed fat for obesity, cigarette makers had “scientists” deny the link between smoking and cancer, and Facebook paid PR firms to say they just want to bring people together while working on anti-semitic smears against George Soros.

Morals don’t scale nearly as heavy as profit when it comes time to weigh the gold.

But pickup owners blocking charging stations? Hey, guys? (Call it sexist, but I just don’t see women doing something this juvenile). I have a hobby that burns more fuel per mile than the thirstiest of your rigs, and I have a big diesel to get me there and back. I love my truck just like you love yours, though if the new Tesla pickup can pull an 11,000 pound trailer, I might want to look into that torque monster.

But I’m willing to let the electrics have their share of the road. Unless that damn Prius doing 54 miles an hour won’t get out of the fast lane. That’s not his share of the road, that’s mine.

But even if it was the Russians who started this (they are pretty good at sowing this type of discord), one does have to wonder what you truck owners intend. What exactly are you thinking, here? What’s your goal? What’s the outcome?

Yelling obscenities at people driving an electric vehicle, and preventing them from getting their fuel? I don’t get it. Are you defending a lifestyle? Depriving them of choice so you can gaurantee yours? Just having fun with a little harmless bigotry? Defending America? These are Teslas, men, probably with as much U.S. sourced content as your Dodge Ram, Ford F250 or Chevy 3500.

Do you really think that tractor trailers pulling tankers are less susceptible to disruption than power lines? Do you really think when the tipping point comes and there are more electrics on the road than diesels, and you continue this stupid, childish behavior, you won’t pay a price? Do you really think that in depriving others of freedom of movement, you won’t sacrifice yours?

Or are you just being manipulated by those who profit on oil into doing something that isn’t really in your own interest?

The best of intentions

by Erik Dolson

Now THAT was a success. Planning the tides, the currents, time of departure, time of arrival … I’ll tell you, I have talent. A special talent, in fact …

Somehow, I got it all exactly wrong.

Not a little bit wrong, not off on the shoulder wrong, but current dead on the bow wrong, full flood, maximum flow.

I’d planned to do 9 knots in my calculations the night before. At first I told myself it was the wind. Not really supposed to be any wind, according to two different forecasts I consulted, but there it was, about 10 degrees off the bow of the boat and blowing 18 mph. So I wasn’t making 9 knots, I was making 7.2.

But, I told myself, when I turn to the west the wind will be just off the starboard stern, and I’ll make it up then!

Sure enough, I turned the corner by Roche Harbor and the wind, now going more my direction, was much less fierce. So the speed of the boat picked up to … huh? Now the speed was down to 6.8 knots, over the ground, as current sped against me through the narrow gap.

Okay, okay, we still have the longest leg, down Haro Strait. That should go much, much better. It’s a long run, wind from the port side rear quarter, I bet I’ll do … ah c’mon! 7.3 knots!?!

This time I looked again at the currents on my iPad, at the same program I looked at last night. They must have changed it while I slept! Because it clearly showed exactly what I was seeing on the water. Flood at 10:30 a.m. Maximum flow at this time. Against my direction of travel.

So instead of 3 1/2 hours to Victoria, it took over four. No big deal, nothing to do when I arrived, anyway. I was there at 12:30ish, only because of having made my 8 a.m. sunrise departure which, honestly, was a bit of a miracle by itself though it would have been a faster trip if I’d overslept an hour or two.

I pulled into customs exactly as I wanted, it all felt good as I backed into the wind, tossed a line over the new cleat on the dock, realized I was still going aftward because I’d not shifted into neutral, jumped to put the shifter into forward to stop the backward momentum, regathered the line and again threw it over the cleat on the dock … then tried to hold the boat for a second before realizing it wasn’t the current that was pulling me forward but the slowly chugging Yanmar I again had not taken out of gear … banged my head on the corner of the new house getting to the gear shift …

Okay, stop. Just stop. This is not that hard. Be deliberate, my mentor once said.

Stop the boat. Throw and secure spring line. Position boat against the line. Tie the stern line, then the bow. Now you can call customs. Whew!

Leaving customs, I left all the fenders down and lines ready to deploy at the marina two minutes away. When I saw the slip I’d been assigned, in the easiest possible location, I spun Foxy about in the harbor full of boats with holiday crowds at the wall, backed smartly up alongside the dock, stopped the boat and had her tied securely in about a minute.

Oh, yeah, done this before, not a big deal. (Sshhh.)

Farther but faster, of course less travelled

by Erik Dolson

This evening I plotted two courses from Friday Harbor to Victoria, B.C. I’ll take the longer one tomorrow, the last day of 2018, and maybe get there sooner.

The route around the southern tip of San Juan Island is 26.2 miles. The route around the north end of the island is 30 miles. All things being equal, the southern route would be about a half hour faster.

But unless I’ve misread tide and current tables, I’d be going against the flow most of the way on the southern route.  If I head north, currents should give me a boost first toward Roche Harbor, and by the time I get to Haro Strait, they should carry me south. Go with the flow.

If that’s correct, the longer route should take about 3 hours 26 minutes from just outside Friday Harbor to just outside the breakwater at Victoria. The shorter route would take 3 hours 48 minutes, or so.

A quarter hour is meaningless, of course. It’s a sailboat. It motors along at about 8 knots under power, which actually isn’t bad for a sailboat. But I was born impatient, and my other hobby rips along at 160 miles an hour. There the competition is against other drivers, and there’s competition with myself, the scramble for tenths if not hundredths of a second, the roar, the thrust, hanging on to the edge of traction.

This is a different focus: repairing dorades so they don’t gulp water, placing mooring lines where they’ll be accessible when close to the dock, tying down solar panels so they don’t flap like wings in a bit of chop and wind; making sure the jib can be deployed if the engine fails, or the anchor if drifting close to shore. Look, think, be deliberate, step carefully. Prepare, execute.

Taking the longer but faster route is really more about the challenge of seeing if I’ve plotted the course correctly, read the current tables, done my homework. If not, I’ll pay the penalty of a slow slog. I’ve done slogs against the currents in Juan de Fuca, and it really stretches out the distance.

Plus, I’ve made the southern passage a number of times, never taken the northern route and would like to see something new. It might be a good idea to become familiar with a back-up transit, too, in case Juan de Fuca is particularly nasty some day when I need to be someplace.

But that’s just a rationalization. I’ve been doing that a lot, lately. Explaining myself to myself. Let’s just put the new passage down to a mild case of adventuring, of seeking the heightened senses of not knowing exactly what’s around the next bend.

You’ve been selected for … !

by Erik Dolson

Marriott Hotels has selected me for a special, low cost vacation. Windham Hotels wants me to view a resort property and tell all my friends (both of you)  how great it was. Credit Card Services is giving me a low, 6 percent interest rate on my Visa and Mastercard balances. To top it off, someone is going to give me better health insurance at NO ADDITIONAL COST!

All that by noon today. By bedtime, especially around the dinner hour,  I imagine I’ll have received another four or five spam calls. Up until now I would listen to the pitch, ask questions, hoping the caller would put me on a list that says that calling my phone number was a giant waste of time, and after all, time is money.

Then I was on the phone with James, a gentleman who sounded like he was in India.

“You just want to take my time!” he yelled after I asked him for the fourth time to tell me which credit card he was talking about. He cut the connection before I could say that his call and others I’d received today cost ME time, and aggravation. Good thing I am on an unlimited plan.

James and those on the other end of spam calls are just trying to eke out a living wherever their call center is located: India, The Philipines, South Carolina. I doubt it’s a high paying gig, but since I can’t get to his boss, or the boss’s boss, I’d hoped there was a feedback loop somewhere and they’d stop letting me waste their time as they wasted mine. It was about all I could do.

But James caused me to think again about “time is money.” So is electricity. And bandwidth. Battery usage. I wondered if there is anyplace in the system where AT&T and Verizon might be making money off spam. Because, after all, they make money off nearly every other use of bandwidth (at one time those were “our” airwaves. Another story).

Given that AT&T and Verizon are happy to store our information and share it with the U.S. government if asked (as a run around the law prohibiting the government itself from doing so), it’s not unreasonable that they know who is flooding the world with and profiting from the spam.

Could it be that AT&T and Verizon sell me service and then sell me to others? Why don’t I get a cut of that deal? Does spam take up bandwidth that AT&T and Verizon have said is in such short suppply? Could they stop spam, and if so, why don’t they? It’s not unreasonable to think they’re making a profit from the calls somehow. Someone is, or the calls would not exist.

Yes, there are other telecoms and they are not innocent. But sometimes you just want to aim at the head of a snake.

Spam calls are not just an annoyance. We should not have to go to lengths to block, screen, or otherwise avoid these intrusions into our lives. At one time, with landlines and later for unlisted cell phones, unasked for intrusions were illegal. They could be again. Perhaps it’s time for a person of authority to take an interest.

Free speech, you say? Nothing is free in a market economy. Spammers have just shifted the cost onto  me. They call my phone again and again and again, running down my battery and stealing my attention. I’d like it to stop. Time is money, and I don’t have enough of either one.

Oil men put Santa in chains

By Erik Dolson

Merry Christmas.

It’s that time to turn away from the scourge of Trump and look for kinder, gentler souls. Recent news gives us many candidates, but we’ve heard enough about foreigners with names like Putin or Erdoğan or Assad.

Fortunately, we can focus much closer to home on Gary R. Heminger, Chairman and CEO of Marathon Oil, and the Koch brothers, David and Charles,

These oligarchs are or soon will be responsible for killing thousands of innocent people around the world, many right here in the U.S. These three, especially, are attempting to get Americans to burn an additional 300,000 to 400,000 barrels of oil per day. Read more…

Humor

By Erik Dolson

Humor is how we communicate our intelligence.

Humor depends on something being out of context, that does not fit into “its” pattern.

Only a Brain that knows the pattern can tell when something does not fit.

Explaining a joke is not funny. Explaining “why”  fits the something into another pattern. Those of similar brains who see similar patterns just “get it.”

Pieces out of context are not always funny. Chaos can be terrifying. Clowns.

Do animals laugh?

Of course, when someone does something out of context that they see as funny.

Will machines ever laugh?

Of course, but we’ll never know why it happens.

We won’t get the joke.

Machines explaining it to us won’t be very funny.

Patterns

By Erik Dolson

There are patterns in the Universe.

The Brain is a pattern-recognition organ.

Universe rewarded genes that produced Brain.

Because Universe has patterns, Universe has Brain. A universe with no patterns, no physics, no gravity, no stars, of Entropy and alone, could have no Brain. A universe without brains could have no patterns. If Brain, then patterns. If patterns, then Brain.

But our Universe has physics. Intelligence is inevitable.

We are not the apex. We are not the only brains.

Humanity occupies a point so small as to be nearly invisible, an instant of infinitesimal flicker in an expanse so eternal and infinite we can not fully comprehend.

Universe does not care. Others are rewarded.

Because there are patterns.

There will always be Brain. Intelligence is inevitable.

Lost in Spaaaaaace

By Erik Dolson

Tesla Roadster prototype (CC BY-SA 4.0)

NASA Chief Jim Bridenstine said that Elon Musk smoking pot on a podcast was “not appropriate,” that it “did not inspire confidence,” and may have prompted a safety review of both Musk’s SpaceX and Boeings United Launch Alliance.

The companies are vying to ferry astronauts into space.

Here’s an alternate point of view, just for discussion. Maybe the NASA chief has it backwards.

Read more…