Five O'Clock Somewhere

Welcome to Five O'Clock Somewhere, where it doesn't matter what time zone you're in; it's five o'clock somewhere. We'll look at rural life, especially as it happens in Rio Arriba County, New Mexico, cats, sailing (particularly Etchells racing yachts), and bits of grammar and Victorian poetry.

Saturday, January 31, 2009

Assault on apostrophes

It may be only a little piece 0f punctuation, but it means a lot

I have just heard of an alarming development in the world of those of us who care about grammar, punctuation, and the correct application of such concepts.

The city of Birmingham, England, has declared a ban on the use of possessive apostrophes on municipal street signs. Rather than try to use the punctuation mark correctly, the city council has decided just not to use it at all.

First, let's have a quick review of how apostrophes are to be used. They are used in contractions, when letters have been left out of a word or words, often when words have been run together. For example, the phrase do not can be contracted into don't, in which the missing o is replaced by an apostrophe.

The other major use of apostrophes is in forming possessives, and apparently it's that usage that has led the city fathers of Birmingham to give up. I will admit that some grammar textbooks make this construction unnecessarily complicated. For all practical purposes, there is only one rule that suffices when forming a possessive: Does the word being made into a possessive end in s? If it does not end in s, you add 's; if it does end in s, you just add '. That's all you need to know.

Some grammar handbooks will add more complications, such as whether it's the proper name of somebody and whether it's singular but the pronunciation doesn't change, or whether it's the name of somebody famous like Jesus or Moses, but that's all just making things more complicated than they need to be. If you just follow the rule of s vs. no s, you'll be all right. My suspicion is that the Birmingham town council has been confused by all of those way-too-complicated rules and just gave up.

Now, there are some important rules for when NOT to use apostrophes as well. Apostrophes should never, ever be used for plurals or for the -s form of verbs. It's two horses, not two horse's. And apostrophes aren't to be used for possessive pronouns, to avoid confusion with contractions. If it can be spelled out, it's a contraction and uses an apostrophe, but if it can't be spelled out, it's not a contraction and therefore doesn't use an apostrophe. You can't say "The kitten chased it is tail," so you know you have to use its without the apostrophe.

Back some years ago when I worked at the sports desk of a major newspaper, some of the reporters there had difficulty with such constructions as girls' basketball, so the decision was made to do away with the apostrophe. I could make a justification for that decision on the basis that the construction was not a possessive; it was a noun used as an adjective. Thus the apostrophe wasn't needed.

However, for consistency's sake, that meant that when covering the university basketball teams, we should also have used not the possessive, but the noun used as an adjective, women basketball and men basketball. That didn't fly. To this day, the newspaper uses possessives for university sports but nouns as adjectives for high school. I would argue that such a double standard short-changes high-school athletes, who deserve possessives just as much as college athletes do.

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Friday, January 30, 2009

Things of the past

Getting from point A to point B used to be prettier

I recently had a horrible computer crash, and the only way to recover from it was to wipe the whole thing clean to the exact configuration it had when it left the factory. I also suffered from a backup file that had somehow become corrupted, so I couldn't recover my data afterward. I was, however, able to recover the music and pictures that Gerald had stored on an external hard drive at the time I got the computer as a means of transferring them from the old computer, and the pictures that were in the camera that hadn't been erased. So I lost about a year's worth of pictures, other than those that got saved by being posted on my or Pat's blog.

Once I got my computer cleaned up and re-installed the most important software (in order, which might say something about my priorities: Norton Internet Security, iTunes, Mozilla Firefox, MS Office 2007, and H&R Block TaxCut), I discovered that the default setting on Vista has a cute little slideshow going in the sidebar, randomly showing pictures stored on the computer.

Looking at the slideshow, I see that I have a huge lot of photos showing modes of transportation. But not just any modes of transportation – my photos concentrate on sailboats, steam trains, and the Queen Mary. Airplanes show up only as dots in the sky over shots taken in and around Marina del Ray, and motor vehicles appear only incidentally, towing sailboats.

Now, modern transportation has its positive aspects. It's nice to be able to leave Prague and arrive in Albuquerque in a mere 24 hours (less if storms in Houston don't force the plane to go into a holding pattern until short on fuel, then sit on the ground in New Orleans for three hours, while the passengers watch Phantom of the Opera again and again).

Now, I actually like Phantom, but those older modes of transportation, while slower, have their own special romance. A train that takes all day to go 64 miles may seem tedious, but the scenery that the train passes through is utterly spectacular. A sailboat is definitely not the vessel to be on if you want to get from one side of the lake (say, where the fish are biting) to the other (say, where the fishing tournament weigh-in is to be held) in a hurry. But I can tell people I spent hours on the water having fun, without burning a single drop of fossil fuel. And the Queen Mary doesn't even go anywhere anymore. But it still exudes the grandeur of a past age when people took time to dress for dinner. Sunday brunch on board is an experience not to miss.

I realize that all of these modes of transportation have something in common: What's important is not the destination, but the journey.

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Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Ready to sail?

Wanted: appropriate attire, attitude

Recent events have reminded me of an incident I once observed when Pat and I were on vacation in San Diego.

This was in our early sailing days, when we had recently completed sailing lessons and bought our own boat, the MacGregor 26 Syzygy, within the past year or so. So we weren’t experts by any stretch of the imagination. But at least we did know a bit about sailing and what it involved.

We had been visiting Jer, who still lived in the San Diego area at the time, and we had left him at work (yeah, at one time, he had an actual job) to do some touristing. Since we don’t get a lot of seafood in the desert, and since a major focus of mine when traveling is to enjoy the best of whatever the local food is, we were dining at one of San Diego’s best waterfront restaurants. This one has a nice dining room for fine dining, but it also has a café that has an outdoor deck and reasonable prices, at least by southern California standards.

So Pat and Gerald and I were seated at a table on the deck. This restaurant also has docks around the deck, so customers can arrive by boat, tie up, and enjoy themselves.

A large sailboat – somewhere in the 46 to 50 foot range – approached. At the helm was an older gentleman. I would guess his age at about 60, steel-gray hair, about the right amount of weathering of the face. His crew was a girl who was probably in her early to mid 20s, blonde, curvy. My immediate thought was “trophy wife.” (My later thought was “auditioning to be trophy wife.”) He was wearing upper-class yachtie attire – blue blazer, white slacks, skipper’s cap. She was wearing upper-middle-class slut attire – I’m sure everything she had on had a designer label, but short-shorts, a halter-type bikini top, and pointy-toed spike-heeled sandals are not appropriate for wearing on the foredeck of a sailboat.

If you’ve seen the movie Bambi, remember the scene in which Bambi is spinning around out of control on the ice on top of a frozen pond. That’s about what this blonde looked like on the foredeck of that sailboat.

So the guy is bringing the boat in to dock, and the girl is on the foredeck. He tells her, “Take the port dock line and run it ashore.”

She says, “What?”

“That rope by your left foot,” the guy says. “Pick it up and run it ashore.”

She looks down at the line in question. “Huh?” she asks.

At this point, the boat is about to crash into the dock. But a couple of other diners, handsome college-athlete types, have sprung from their table and dash down to the dock to help with the docking. One of them grabs the bow line (and incidentally the blonde as well), while the other snags the shrouds to keep the boat straight in the slip. That takes a lot of strength with a 50-foot boat.

Reflecting back on the incident, I am astonished that the skipper of that boat would even have allowed that bimbo on the boat with those so totally inappropriate shoes. Whatever thinking he was doing, he was doing it with some other organ than his brain.

Admittedly, most sailing in San Diego isn’t going to require a lot of foul-weather gear or other accommodations to severe weather. But even in San Diego, sailors need to be prepared for what conditions arise. And here in New Mexico, winter sailing is an iffy thing, and anybody who wants to sail here in January should have plenty of layers of clothing, and definitely suitable shoes. It’s not a simple day in the park.

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Monday, January 19, 2009

Antipodean musings

If you dig a hole straight down, where DO you come out?

I was looking at my visitor stats, and I noticed I had a visitor from a very long way away, in this case, Pakistan, more than 7,000 miles away. That got me to thinking, where is the point that is the farthest possible distance from Five O’Clock Somewhere?

That would be the antipode, the point on the Earth exactly opposite. I remember being told as a child that if I dug a hole straight down, I would come out in China – but that’s not true. If you are in North America, a hole straight down will not come out in China, because China is in the northern hemisphere, and a hole dug in the northern hemisphere is going to come out in the southern.

Antipodes are important for cruising sailors. They define when a sailor has truly circumnavigated the Earth – in order to count, the sailor has to pass through at least one pair of points that are directly opposite each other. Otherwise, the sailor could simply sail a short loop around Antarctica (admittedly not easy, but still a much shorter distance).

Calculating the latitude of the antipode is easy – if one is in the northern hemisphere, the latitude is the same, but south instead of north. Since Five O’Clock Somewhere is at about 37 degrees north latitude (actually a few minutes less, but we’re not going for precision at the moment), its antipode will be about 37 degrees south.

The longitude is a little trickier to calculate. Five O’Clock Somewhere is west of the Prime Meridian, and the antipode will be the same amount west of the International Date Line. So I can take 107 degrees west (again, a rough approximation), subtract it from 180 degrees east, and I end up with 73 degrees east.

So what is at 37 degrees south, 73 degrees east? Well, not much. It’s in the Indian Ocean, east of Madagascar and a little bit south. It’s kinda-sorta close to the island of Diego Garcia.

So my best bet for a true antipodean visitor is somebody stationed at Diego Garcia. Of course, these guys are dedicated to their jobs of protecting the United States’ interests in a very volatile part of the world – they support air operations in the Middle East. But when they have time off, I invite them to join the party at Five O’Clock Somewhere.

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Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Sailing update and telecommunications ups and downs

No, I’m not dead, and I haven’t deserted the blogosphere either.

With the beginning of a new term this week, I’ve been busy with getting my classes going, syllabi distributed, class homepages established, and of course the extra paperwork that happens both at the beginning and at the end of the term. The paperwork, which is now mostly paperless, has been complicated this term by the department’s website being relocated to a new server – the old server was becoming increasingly unreliable, but the new system on the new server doesn’t support some of the features of the old website.

Yes, Pat and Gerald and I did go sailing with Zorro this past weekend. It wasn’t quite a replay of the previous weekend, in that the winds were lighter. Still, we got in some really good sailing. Friday we got to the lake about a half-hour before Zorro did, so we had enough time to get the boat rigged and turned around in the slip just in time for Zorro to arrive, hop aboard, and set sail. Again, we sailed up into the northern portion of the lake, although with less wind we didn’t get as far as the previous weekend before we turned around to come back in the golden glow of the sinking sun. The sun set as we were coming around Long Point, with the stunning range of colors, gold to red to purple, glowing on the mountains east of the lake, enriching the multicolored hues of the desert. Then as daylight faded, we had the brilliant glow of the full moon by which to finish our sail.

Dino was at the lake, although he wasn’t sailing. He and one of his workers were making repairs to a couple of his rental properties, and he was also looking at additional houses to buy. I had work to do in Albuquerque to prepare for the school term, so we left Gerald with Dino and returned home.

Saturday, I got much, but not all, of the work done that I needed to do – there were some things that I couldn’t do online, so those would have to wait until Monday when I got into the office. Meanwhile, Gerald was learning something about the landlord business, helping Dino. One of his tenants had died, and the tenant’s daughter had taken away the water heater but nothing else, leaving a house full of really nasty garbage, as well as some torn-up pipes where the water heater had been. They had to call in a hazardous-waste disposal company from El Paso to deal with the garbage, since nobody in Sierra County could handle the job, and they also had to install a new water heater.

Saturday night we returned to the lake. Sister Rosebia and Skater had arrived, as well as Dino’s brother, his wife, and their two small children, so it was a full house.

Sunday morning, Pat and I went out sailing with Zorro again. The winds this time were light, so we didn’t try to go to the far end of the lake. By mid-afternoon, the winds had died, so we drifted back to the dock, retrieved Gerald from Dino’s house, and went to lunch while waiting to see whether the wind would come back. It did, a little bit. However, Gerald and I both had to get back to Albuquerque, so we helped Zorro set sail. As we were leaving the marina, we could see him, sitting in the water about a hundred yards out, completely becalmed. Oh, well. At least it was nice and sunny, and warm.

So for those of you out in the blogosphere who are keeping count, so far this year, Pat and Zorro have had five sailing days, while I have had four and Gerald has had three.

Meanwhile, the electronically connected world has been giving us its own problems. We get Internet services from a small, locally based company – it’s slow, but it’s cheap. About three months ago, this local company merged with two other companies to become a subsidiary of one of them. The new company is still small, however, compared to the big telecommunications company that dominates this part of the U.S.

The problem is that the big company and the small company have been having disagreements. The small company leases services and equipment from the big company and then provides the same services to customers that the big company provides, but it charges a considerably lower price. The big company says that’s unfair competition, and it also says the small company is behind on paying its bills. So on New Year’s Eve, without any warning to the customers, the big company cut off services to all of the small company’s customers, including several hospitals, small-town 911 operations, and similar critical services. The state Public Regulation Commission had an emergency meeting on New Year’s Day and ordered the big company to restore services, but the big company said that couldn’t be done all right away. Pat and I were lucky in that we got our services back immediately, but many other customers have had to wait more than a week.

Meanwhile, we’ve been getting sales pitches from the big company offering to “let” us switch to that company’s services, as it is “more reliable” than our existing service provider. Let’s see … the big company caused the little company’s services to go out, and now it cites the little company’s unreliability as a reason to switch. Anybody see something suspicious here?

State regulators are now saying that both companies are to blame, but the big company is much more at fault. The little company should have given its customers some warning of the problems it was having with the big company – for that matter, it occurs to me, the little company should have told our company something about the problems at the time of the merger. Meanwhile, the big company appears to have been engaging in unfair and possibly fraudulent billing, as well as anti-competitive practices and violating a previous court order forbidding it to cut off services to the little companies that lease and re-sell services from them.

At least on the cell phone front, things are looking much better. My old cell phone was dying, and I discovered that I was eligible for a free upgrade; meanwhile, we finally got Pat his own phone. Even though my new phone is as no-frills as cell phones get nowadays, it still has some nifty features that I’m having fun with, like using Bluetooth to transfer things from my computer’s iTunes library to use as ringtones. Pat’s new phone has even more fun features, although it may take him some time to learn to use them – he’s still at a rather primitive stage of cell phone knowledge.

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Sunday, January 04, 2009

Two great days on the water

Sailing in January – what a rush!

Our plan for New Year’s Day had been to start the year sailing with Zorro. Because of a communication problem, Pat ended up sailing for him for the last couple of hours of daylight, but Gerald and I missed the boat. As consolation, we did get to watch a very exciting football game, Nebraska vs. Clemson in the Gator Bowl and the accompanying party at Cornhusker and Bassmaster’s house, with lots of great food and interesting people, especially some of the ones Bassmaster hangs out with. Nebraska won, but it was a very close game. Still, I would have enjoyed going sailing; Bassmaster was recording the game, so we could have watched it later.

We returned to Albuquerque that evening so we could take care of some financial matters, then headed to the lake again yesterday. We got there mid-afternoon, and we met Zorro, Ribbons, a friend of Ribbons’ whom he’s training as crew, and a woman who has recently moved to T or C from Florida, where she sailed extensively – we’ll call her Tampa Bay.

Zorro divvied up crew: Pat, Ribbons, and the friend on Ribbons’ boat; Zorro, Gerald, Tampa Bay and I on Zorro’s boat. Then we set sail.

The wind was stiff, but the temperature was nice, about 60 degrees, and the sun was shining from a clear sky. With that much wind, an Etchells can really fly, and that’s what we did, roaring up and down the lake. Tampa Bay is a natural; while she hasn’t sailed on an Etchells before, she has sailed a lot of other racing boats. She should be a good addition to the Black Magic crew when the RGSC racing resumes.

As the sun went down, we put away the boats. Ribbons and his friend had to return to Albuquerque, but we made plans to sail again with Zorro today. We went out to dinner, watched a football game (another squeaker; the Chargers barely beat the Colts) and some sailing videos on television, and discussed sailing. Gerald is on the Arizona State sailing team, but the program is very small and gets almost no money. The sailors sail on old, patched-up boats, they do not have a coach, and the average skill level is low – when they go to major regattas in California, the high-powered programs give them a thorough shellacking. Zorro had a great idea, to invite the ASU sailing team to Elephant Butte over Spring Break and offer them a sailing clinic with himself, Dumbledore, and others of our better racers coaching the team. An intensive workshop with Zorro in charge would help the program immensely. Of course, some of Zorro’s motivation might come from seeing photos of a couple of Gerald’s teammates in bikinis, but still …

Early this morning was sunny and calm, but later on clouds moved in and wind came up. We set sail about eleven in moderate conditions and sailed for a couple of hours, getting fairly good boat speed. Then the wind went light and switchy – a common prelude to a change in which the wind gets squirrely for between 20 minutes and an hour, then comes in strong (sometimes too strong) from the south. True to the pattern, the wind began to do exactly that. The question was whether the wind would continue to build, or would level off at a good speed for sailing. We decided to break for a late lunch and see what the wind did.

When we finished lunch, the wind was still good. We took off. This time, we ventured north, around Long Point (which is now an island, but not circumnavigable by anything with a keel). North of Long Point is a body of water that, with the lake level higher than it has been in years, is huge. We got the spinnaker up and soon we were flying along.

The northern part of the lake has some spectacular scenery, such as Kettle Top Butte, Little Kettle Top, Red Cliff, and several coves, places where in the past the sailing club has held raft-ups and, many years ago, Zorro used to take his son in their old MacGregor 26, to camp out and have shore excursions, aka “pirate raids.”

Then there are other landmarks, the history of which Zorro hadn’t known – for example, there is a point called Three Sisters, and a cove called Cat House Cove, both of which, according to legend, had brothels in the 1920s and ’30s. Zorro lamented that he was born in the wrong era.

The wind increased, and Zorro’s GPS showed the boat speed up to nearly 7 knots. Then the wind switched, and suddenly we were headed upwind, so we hauled down the spinnaker. The wind speed picked up and so did the boat speed. The waves were getting higher; in this larger pool of water, with the wind from the north, we were getting waves that resembled those of the ocean.

We went a half mile or so past the South Monticello boat ramp, and we could have gone further, but the sun had gone behind clouds and would be setting in an hour, so we had to get back to the marina before it got dark. By this time, we were also getting cold – the temperature to start with had been ten degrees colder than yesterday, and it was falling rapidly. Under spinnaker, we clocked a speed of 8.2 knots, and we were going about the same speed as the waves, surfing. Sailors of dinghies may be used to that kind of maneuver, but it doesn’t happen often in a displacement-hulled boat with a 2300-pound lead keel.

Before entering the narrow part of the lake leading to the race course area, we took the spinnaker down, so we wouldn’t have to wrestle with it while jibing. Even without the spinnaker, we logged speeds above 7 downwind, and then we turned toward the marina on a screaming reach, where we got up to 8.1 even with Long Point blocking some of the wind. We got to the marina and put the boat away as darkness was falling. We had probably traveled about 10 miles, in just over two hours. We were cold, wet, tired, and exhilarated. It was a grand day to sail.

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