About Erik Dolson

Erik Dolson is a writer living in Oregon

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…

2:50 a.m.

by Erik Dolson

Told myself when I stepped foot on the boat last night that I was NOT (all caps, plus italics) going to work on the fireplace. There’s a list of projects from finger tip to elbow and the damn fireplace was NOT (all caps, plus italics) on it.

Sleep comes and goes. I could identify a half dozen reasons on any one night why I’m lying there awake at 2:50 in the morning after falling asleep some time after 12:10 (the last time I looked). We’re not going there. Suffice it to say that I turned on the propane and heated water for coffee.

“Wouldn’t you like a nice warm fire?” the fireplace said, wearing a smirk. Read more…

World’s best university…

… is in China.

By Erik Dolson

This is according to an article in The Economist: “In 2013-16 it produced more of the top 1% most highly cited papers in maths and computing, and more of the 10% most highly cited papers in stem, than any other university in the world … ” according to the article, which can be read here. Read more…

Democrats are screwed

By Erik Dolson

Donald Trump won the midterm elections yesterday. Democrat victory in the House of Representatives gives Trump exactly what he needs for the next two years to win the presidency in the year 2020.

Trump said as much when he congratulated Nancy Pelosi, presumed to be the new Speaker of the House. Trump said that Pelosi deserved the Speakership, and added that he might give her a few Republican votes on key issues in the future.

Trump thus sets himself up as a dealmaker, ready and willing to cooperate with the other side. Trump actually believes Read more…

Bandit

by Erik Dolson

Lars was leaning on the rail at the top of the ramp, gazing out at the water below. Bandit, a small and alert Australian Shepherd lay at his feet watching another dog approach from the parking lot above, a larger dog at the end of a leash held by a woman carrying groceries.

“You look like you’re trying to decide something,” said a man dressed all in black who came from the direction of town, a backpack on his shoulders. The man with the pack bent down and rubbed Bandit’s ears.

“Hi, Bandit,” he said. The dog stood at mention of his name by this man he had seemingly met before, but didn’t take his eyes off the other dog that was sniffing rocks where dogs peed on their way to and from boats packed side by side in their berths.

“Wondering if I should go to Alaska,” said Lars, his face rudy and unshaven, his hair thick, reddish and gray, the beard long and sparse. “Get me some kings.”

“It’s been a bad year for king salmon,” said the man dressed in black. “Even the Orca can’t find them.” The huge mammals that were totem for the western edge of Canada and the Pacific Northwest were starving. Nobody knew where the king salmon had gone, whether the absence was caused by dams, over fishing, global warming, foreign fleets depleting the resource far out at sea. Many theories, few answers. The story of a female that had carried her dead calf for 17 days made world wide news.

“Yeah, it’s been a bad one. The prices for a permit are down to half what they were just a couple of years ago. Lot of men have given up. Maybe I can get one cheap,” said Lars.

He moved his feet without standing or shifting his considerable weight from the rail. His right foot came forward to carry more of the load, his left foot went back to take some off. He switched hands, too. His hands were huge, reddish too and scarred, but looking as if they could grab and tie without effort the three-inch hawsers that held ferries in place at the landing.

“It’s a little late in the season,” said the man with the backpack.

“Well, yeah, not now. But later. I need to eat some kings. Get healthy.”

“You’re not healthy?”

“Was until six months ago. Felt great. Bought that boat,” Lars pointed by raising his chin toward a small troller tied to a dock where the bull rail was painted yellow, signifying that was not a place to tie up.

The dog with woman with groceries was about even with where the two men stood. Not making a sound, Bandit darted out toward the other dog but stopped after about two feet, well before the end of his own tether. The larger dog, startled, spun, barking with fear and aggression. He lunged, nearly pulling his owner down, but she retained both dog and grocery bag.

The woman, who had not seen Bandit’s feint, yanked hard at her dog’s leash, scolded him harshly and hauled him down the dock. Bandit, mission complete, had already turned to lie again at Lars’s feet before they’d taken five steps.

The man with the backpack laughed loudly. “Bandit, you set him up! You were just yankin’ that dog around!” he said to the Australian Shepherd, who looked for all the world like he was pleased as could be with his prank.

“So what happened six months ago?” the man asked Lars.

“Doctors said I had two strokes. And cancer. They tell me there’s not much they can do.”

“Aw, Lars. I’m sorry.”

“I just need to eat some kings, not all the garbage they sell in packages up at the store.”

The two men looked out over the harbor as a green and white ferry came in the harbor entrance, three decks high, the bottom lined with cars and motor homes and trucks. Bandit was looking the other way, as if for another victim.

“You have family?” asked the man with a pack.

“Not really,” said Lars.

“No kids?”

“Got a son. Lives in New York. He prefers city life.”

“Have you told him?”

“What?”

“About the cancer.”

“Nah. He wouldn’t want to come back here. He was raised here, but he likes the city. He works in a restaurant, I don’t know. Wants to be a writer. He’s living with some woman whose uncle or something is into the publishing.”

“You don’t think he’d want to know?”

“I don’t know,” said Lars, dismissing that conversation. Minutes of silence followed.

“You know, before they told me about all this, the cancer and all, I felt great. Now they keep saying that I can’t do this and I can’t do that and I feel awful all the time, barely make it up the ramp some days. If they wouldn’t just say the same thing over and over again, I could get well maybe, and if I had something decent to eat.”

“Is there a food share in town? Something from the government or the churches?” the man asked.

“Oh yeah, there is, for those folks who need it. I’m not so good at asking for a hand out.”

“Maybe you need it just for a while, to get you by.”

“I don’t need much,” said Lars. “Not like I’m starving.” At that he leaned back a bit and nodded at his sizable belly pushing out beneath a faded and not too clean sweater. On top of that he wore a black quilted vest that would supply some warmth without binding the arms of a working man. He wore sweatpants, a concession to the difficulty he was having bending and moving around. On his feet, worn out work boots of high quality that he’d had as long as he could remember and would probably last forever.

“I don’t have any bills. I just need some good food. If I could get some kings, I think I’d get better. I lived on a farm once, on a creek not far from here. Kings would come up that creek and I could almost pick’em up with my hands. I didn’t take more than I needed, either.”

Lars seemed to be making his case to the God of Salmon that since he hadn’t taken more than his share, perhaps a little could be returned now in his time of need.

“How old are you,” asked the man dressed in black with a backpack and silver hair who wasn’t wearing a coat despite the chill air, and it looked like he’d just finished a run.

“Sixty-five,” said Lars, looking the man in the eye as if waiting for him to say that Lars looked pretty good for a man that age. He didn’t.

“You aren’t leaving for Alaska in November,” said the man.

“Nah. Well I could, head up the inside.” Inside is behind islands that guard the North American continent from the often violent northern Pacific sending storms that build all the way from Asia. Starting at Vancouver Island, one can get deep into Alaska with only a couple of stretches exposed to the open ocean.

One can wait for benign winds and water to cross those. But the bays and passages and channels are still lethal if things go wrong. Survival longer than five minutes is unlikely in the cold water.

“You could,” said the man, again bending down to rub Bandit behind the ears. The dog put his nose to the man’s nose and held it there, as if they were sharing whispers. The black of Bandit’s long healthy coat was the same black as the man’s sleeve; it was impossible to tell where one ended and the other began.

“You know, there might be a way,” said the man, standing.

“Way for what?” asked Lars, settled back on the rail as if he were merging with the wood.

“What do you need? Full tank of fuel, provisions for six months?”

“Not even six,” said Lars. “I’d catch kings to eat, crab and bottom fish, too if I couldn’t catch kings. I wouldn’t fish every day if I didn’t need to, but could if I did.”

“Yeah. If you needed to,” said the man. “We could set that up, you could leave in a few days. Write up what you need, I’ll bring it to the boat. We’ll fill your tanks with fuel, water. You can take off as soon as you want.”

Lars didn’t say anything, but he looked at the man who now had the backpack in his right hand, and who looked back and held Lars’ gaze.

“Why?” Lars asked.

“There’s a catch.”

“There always is.”

“You leave Bandit with me.”

Lars looked down at the dog at his feet. The dog looked back at him, into him, aware of his man’s deep distress though not a word had been said.

“Why that? You could get your own dog for a lot less.”

“Yes I could, Lars. But it’s not about just having a dog, or any dog.”

“What is it then?” His voice was quicker and louder than it had been at any point in the conversation, motivated either by opportunity or fear it was impossible to say.

“It’s because I don’t think you’ll make it, Lars. I think you’ll die out there somewhere, at night on the rocks in a storm, in your bed at anchor in some cove, slipping on some slick, bird shit covered dock in a nothing town on some forgotten shore. I don’t know. But I don’t think you’ll make it, and I don’t want Bandit to die that way too, or trapped while your body rots and soaks into your blankets.”

“You’re a cold bastard.”

“Yes, I am. It’s what I do.”

“What is that, exactly?”

“We must all move forward, Lars, but it’s easy to get stuck. I unstick people, help them make decisions or decide for them if they can’t.”

“You work for the state?” Lars asked, which caused the man to explode with laughter. He laughed so hard he couldn’t speak for a long time.

“I’m going to share that one with friends,” was all he said when finished.

Lars then gathered himself and stood, pushed himself up with his hands and arms, until his back was straight for the first time. At full height he stood easily a head and a half above the man with a backpack who was dressed in black. Lars looked every inch the son of the norsemen from whom he descended, a Viking, in rags but proud, blue eyes alive.

“No.”

“Really?”

“No. I raised him. We’re together now, and will be until we can’t be.” Lars bent down and gently put his huge hand, it looked like it could wrap all the way around, on Bandit’s head. The dog stood immediately, knowing they were off together to wherever their journey might lead.

“What’s next, Lars?” asked the man.

“We’re going to get something to eat. Then I think I’ll call my son.”

Lars slowly made his way down the ramp, toward the small troller tied where it shouldn’t be at the dock. He was headed home. The man in black carrying a backpack smiled as Bandit frequently paused, waiting for Lars to take each difficult step.

Single handing

By Erik Dolson

Ferry servicer between Anacortes and Sidney B.C. was shutting down until late the first week in November. The boat needed to be in Friday Harbor around the beginning of the month. Weather looked good for a passage down the Strait of Juan de Fuca from Victoria. Time to go.

Engine checklist completed, I cranked over the engine. Oil pressure good. Temperature good. RPM smooth and good. Light gray smoke coming from the exhaust with the water.

Foxy’s a little over 13 feet wide. The slot between boats looked to be about 15 feet. I was pretty sure we could make it, but threading backwards required a little help, less than I was given, in fact.

“Don’t push! Don’t push!” I called out to the young man who thought he had to clear a boat by two feet when we only needed one. He leaped to the stern where the prop on my outboard hanging at the transom was about to dig a long groove in the side of his own boat. Damage averted.

In the harbor, I reminded myself of Roy’s advice: “Be deliberate.” I walked slowly to pull up and stow the fenders. I carefully wrapped mooring lines around the life lines. I walked slowly back, watching where I put each foot. I should have put Foxy in neutral, I realized. A stumble and fall overboard would have likely the same result here as out in the strait, unless I fell right in front of one of the little yellow water taxis buzzing about the harbor. The water is that cold.

Thoughts began to settle out in the straight, as did turmoil of last months. The unanswerable question: “How can you say you love me, and leave at the same time?” remained unanswered. I had no answer. But the volume receded even as I knew I had turned it up to ten, not Irish.

Oil pressure good. Engine temperature good. RPM good.

Life is not simple, for anyone. Sometimes I think there’s a dynamic balance between our capacity to organize versus the chaos we create just by living. Whether it’s the drunk  who struggles with the ATM machine, or me sitting silently in a patch of afternoon sun, or Irish, who referenced that “sinking feeling when you realize your life is a mess.”

The dinghy is secure. Hot coffee is in the pot up at the helm. Life jacket is at hand if I have to go forward. Fire Extinguisher. Tool kit. Oil pressure good. Engine temperature good. RPM good.

I gave her best care I could, so I thought. Physically. Spiritually. Financially. I knew it wasn’t enough, because I knew me. Of course I could see that in her eyes, too, though what I saw was pain because  I was unable to immerse myself in what we had, unwilling to change my priorities, to find a compromise that I didn’t believe in.

I told her I was toxic. She denied it but that made it worse because it said that I made this awful choice and could have chosen differently if I truly loved her.

There were no boats nearby. Large islands drifted slowly by. Tides were with me again, now twice in a row on a transit between the U.S. and Canada. The GPS showed nine knots, then over ten for a while as I rode the flood in from the Pacific Ocean.

I’ve not had Foxy out in the Pacific yet, and won’t consider myself a sailor until I do, with twenty foot waves or forty foot or even higher, hatches battened down, strapped by harness to jack lines, green water washing over the deck. Books and pans on the floor, maybe even having to heave to, sail opposite rudder, just to ride out the storm. That could well actually kill Irish, destroy her Parkinson’s weakened body, as if the boat and I had not come close enough already. May nausea of that shame mark me forever.

Recently I read that some choose to just tie everything down and go below during fierce storms, let them blow over, let the sea have her way, bob like a stick of wood if far enough out that a continent won’t get in the way. That’s something I should learn to do.

Flunking the test on fog, I untied from the mooring ball, everything looking good. I squirted across the channel to the dock where I wanted to tie up for a few weeks while some work is done. I heard no bellow from ferries in the fog, and kept a sharp eye out. Uneventful. Did good, I thought.

Ten minutes later I heard a ferry cross the track I’d just made. I heard it’s horn. I heard it’s engine. I damn near heard people talking on deck, but I couldn’t see its three story hulk 150 feet away, no further from me than it would have been had I been in its path without a radar reflector and the AIS for broadcasting my position sitting uninstalled on the desk below.

Hard to know what you don’t know.

But on the solo trip up the strait, I hadn’t had that experience yet. Then a long wake stretched out behind the boat, in a moment undisturbed by wind or wave, future or past. Oil pressure good. Engine temperature good. RPM good.