Saturday, September 21, 2013

Small Craft and Warnings

When I was in junior high school in Greenwich, Connecticut, I had classmates who thought it was fun to take a sunfish (the small boat, not the animal) out during small craft warnings. I thought then - and still think now - that they were idiots. I was accidentally caught out on the water in a sunfish during a storm once. It was one of the scariest experiences of my life, and we were well inside Greenwich Harbor when it started. The storm blew in out of nowhere; the sky suddenly turned almost pitch black, the rain was falling so hard that it felt like hailstones when it hit my skin, and the winds were high enough to blow sunfish hulls off their racks on the shore. The storm didn't last long, but I'd guess the winds were somewhere in the 65-75 mph range. It's a tribute to my father's sailing ability that he got us (the poor guy had all three of his daughters with him) and the boat on the beach in one piece.

Technically, there is no such thing as a small craft warning. The scale goes: small craft advisory (varies by location; in California, winds 21-33 knots), gale warning (winds 34-47 knots), storm warning (winds 48+ knots) and hurricane warning (winds 74+ mph). Except for hurricanes the speeds are given in knots (nautical miles per hour) rather than miles per hour, probably because anything less than a hurricane doesn't require people on land to take major action such as evacuation. Or to know what "knots" means.

There is also no legal definition of a "small craft." The practical definition given by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is "any vessel that may be adversely affected by Small Craft Advisory criteria."

The America's Cup should have ended today, and that was worst case planning. It allowed for seventeen races, as the first team to reach nine points wins. It had reserve days built in to allow for bad weather. It just didn't allow for enough bad weather, because there are up to six races still to go. There have been three races abandoned (stopped after they started) because the winds were too strong, and one because the winds were too light and the leader didn't reach the finish within 40 minutes after the start. In all four cases, the leader was New Zealand. I have lost track of the number of races that have been postponed (stopped before they started) due to too much wind. Today there were no races sailed at all. The top allowable wind speed is approximately 23 knots, adjusted by a factor for the current speed and direction.

Bravo, Oracle! You've invented the 72-foot small craft.

Monday, September 9, 2013

Actions Speak Loudly

It is frequently said that actions speak more loudly than words. I am finding this to be particularly true in the matter of the cheating by Oracle in the America's Cup World Series. Much of what is said has been untrue, nonsensical, disgusting, or repetitive (or all of the above). While I have been wondering all summer what my late father, a WWII veteran of the US Navy and enthusiastic sailor, would have thought of the AC-72 catamarans being sailed in the current races, I don't have to wonder what he would have thought about the cheating. My father had a strong sense of honor.

There are a couple of basic facts that nobody is denying:
  1. Of the 24 sailors on Oracle Team USA, only two are actually from the USA. Eight are from New Zealand, seven from Australia, and the rest come from the Netherlands, Antigua, Canada, France, and Italy.
  2. A number (allegedly a very small number) of the members of Oracle Team USA illegally modified the AC-45 catamarans they sailed in the America's Cup World Series.

So, leaving aside exactly who did what, and who knew what when, what do these facts say? The first one says that Larry Ellison, CEO of Oracle (or whoever chose the sailors for the team) did not think that Americans were good enough to defend the America's Cup. The second one says that some members of this carefully selected team did not think they were good enough to win without cheating.

Given the fact that of the races sailed to date Oracle has lost three (by 36, 52, and 28 seconds), while New Zealand has lost only one (by 5 seconds), the latter "statement" may be true.

Bob Fisher, who is writing a series of books about the America's Cup: An Absorbing Interest; Sailing on the Edge; and An Absorbing Contest, plans to call the next book The Poisoned Chalice. He is certainly not going to lack material for it.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

How to become an Author - Disney City Girl Style

I recently stumbled across a new online game: Disney City Girl. It begins with your character deciding to move to New York City. Once you get there your friend Jenna finds you an apartment and takes you shopping for furniture and new clothes, leaving you broke. (Apparently your character is lacking in common sense.) Then your friend Olivia shows up to "get you started in your dream career!" You have only three choices: Fashion Designer, Chef, and Author. I don't care much about clothes, and I hate to cook, so I chose Author, and things got truly surreal.

My new job is assistant to "the most famous author in NYC." Given my two decades as assistant to a best-selling author, this is something I actually have experience with. So I meet my boss Frieda, who instructs me to be there on time so that she can focus on her "undisturbed writing." So far, so good. At least she doesn't have preteen children for me to keep track of. She assigns me some tasks and tells me not to bother her until they're done. She then goes off to write.

The first task to is retweet. For some reason this involves buying a coffee maker and drinking coffee. (I loathe coffee.) And, although I have a perfectly good computer in my apartment, I have to go to a cafe/coffee shop/whatever to do the tweets. The place is obviously not near me, because I have to take the train.

I need to improve my writing level. One way to do this is to write a short story. It takes about three seconds - I only wish it could be done so quickly in real life!

Then comes the second task as a writer: "Like the boss's status." The dress code for this is professional, so I have to change clothing. Then it's another train ride to the coffee shop.

Now my boss has decided that I have potential, but I have to buy a bookshelf for my apartment and read a grammar book three times. And for my next assignment I have to get two friends to recommend me (and I'm pretty sure that Jenna and Olivia don't count).

And then there's the "Needs" bar. The game has decided that I need a balanced life: Rest, hygiene, health (I have to eat, even if the only things available are noodle cup and leftovers), fun (the bookshelf has romance novels, but not mysteries, fantasy, SF, etc.), and friendship. When one of them drops into the red, I have to take care of that before I can do anything else.

Not only is this not a realistic view of writing; I very much doubt it's a realistic view of any young woman with a career living in NYC. (I know of one girl who got a dog because she didn't have time for a boyfriend.)

It's not that I'm opposed to a balanced life. I think it's great to have time to hang out with friends and to read for pleasure, and I'm very much in favor of sleeping, eating, and bathing on a regular basis. It's just that I know a lot of authors, including myself, who place a higher priority on our careers.

If a set of page proofs lands in my inbox, they are done immediately. If I'm writing a short story for an anthology, there's a due date that goes with it, and I have to get it in by that date. If I want to succeed as a writer, I need to write.

I have seen writers tell their children that they're busy--and the children are in the same house, if not the same room. Writers on deadline don't go out to visit their girlfriends. A writer immersed in a project will (temporarily) neglect her family, her friends, and her life.

Being a writer means that you don't have to get dressed and take the train to go to work. You can roll out of bed, turn on the computer, and grab a Diet Coke and a granola bar while it's going through the start-up process. If the writing is going well, you may still be in your pajamas at 4 pm. Your editor doesn't know and couldn't care less. Even if you are one of the writers who spends large amounts of time on Twitter and Facebook, nobody can see what you're wearing, what your hair looks like, or if your makeup is flawless. Dressing up is for public appearances, not for everyday work.

Housework is another thing that tends to fall by the wayside. I'm reasonably good at keeping up with the dishes; washing dishes is a nice mindless task when you're trying to figure out what needs to happen next in your story. Making beds, laundry, dusting, and vacuuming are harder to keep up with.

Writers who don't live alone need an understanding family. Marion Zimmer Bradley had that in her first marriage - if her husband came home to a spotless house, he'd say sympathetically, "Bad day on the book, dear?" He would be right, too. Only major creative frustration makes scrubbing the kitchen floor something a writer wants to do today.

As a game, Disney City Girl may be amusing, but as a portrayal of life in New York or of the way to succeed in a career, it's ludicrous. If you want to see something funny that's a more accurate portrayal of what a writer's life is really like, I highly recommend the first scene of the movie Romancing the Stone.