Sun Nov 17 16:32:03 EST 2013

Fun with Flags

Windeward Bound still carries a full set of signalling flags and while they do still see some use, we don't send often complicated messages with them because we have things like VHF radio. But when the tall ship festivals were on, we thought there might be other sailors out there who'd be able to read the flags. Since we didn't need to send serious messages with them, we wound up sending joke messages in the traditional manner: bible references.

Genesis 1:28

This first one was flown during the sailing day in Melbourne. GEN1.28: Genesis 1:28.

And God blessed them, and God said unto them, Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it: and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth.

Mainly leaning on the "be fruitful and multiply" bit, this was an obtuse way to say "let's have more of this sort of thing". Let's multiply the ships and their crews.

Psalms 55:22

PS5522: Psalms 55:22.

Cast thy burden upon the Lord, and he shall sustain thee: he shall never suffer the righteous to be moved.

We flew this after being forced to move to another wharf to take on fuel.

Luke 9:5

LUKE9.5: Luke 9:5.

And whosoever will not receive you, when ye go out of that city, shake off the very dust from your feet for a testimony against them.

Flown on the day we left Melbourne, after being well-received. We didn't get any remarks on the flags, so when we were down in Port Davey, we tried something less subtle:

Our Cargo is Livestock

SU5. Straight from the International Code of Signals, this one reads "our cargo is livestock". When we had a ship full of passengers.


This guy was seen as we sailed into Sydney Harbour for the International Fleet Review. He's not flying a bible reference or a hoist from the International Code of Signals. The hoist reads Golf-Delta-Alpha-Yankee, or GDAY. It made my day.

Posted by Jack Kelly | Permanent link | File under: windeward_bound

Fri Oct 25 15:23:35 EST 2013

Hobart to Melbourne to Hobart

At the end of September we voyaged to Melbourne to meet the incoming fleet that would carry on to Sydney for the International Fleet Review. Melbourne took the opportunity to have a tall ship festival in Williamstown, which was an excellent but intense few days.

We had a pretty uneventful trip up, with not much wind and a lot of motoring. An easy crossing of Bass Strait had us anchored at Refuge Cove in Wilson's Prom, waiting for a front to pass. I actually managed a decent sunrise photo, too:


After things settled a bit we motored past the heads and up into Port Phillip Bay, where the wind picked up and made the final few hours a bit lumpy.

Melbourne Skyline

We arrived after just about everyone else, so we came in to find a full wharf, and the organisers had put the Dutch ship Tecla in our spot. Can't get a park anywhere!

Tall Ships at the Wharf

We didn't do a lot of day sailing, but instead opened the ship to visitors for several days. We each had a few hours here and there to go exploring and have a look elsewhere:


This is the Bark Europa. She used to be a light ship (i.e., a floating lighthouse) and her thick steel hull means that she still regularly visits Antarctica.

Young Endeavour and Lord Nelson

In the foreground is Young Endeavour. She's run by the Royal Australian Navy for Australian youth, and she's the ship that gave me the tall ship bug. In front of her is STS Lord Nelson. She's built for disabled trainees, and the thought that's gone into her all over is remarkable. The wide decks have a raised strip in the middle so the blind can find the fore-and-aft line, and the hand rails have embossed markers pointing for'ad. The bowsprit is wheelchair-accessible and they can even hoist wheelchairs aloft.

Of course, it wouldn't be a tall ship event without pranks. I found a rare bread tree during my wander around Williamstown:

Bread Tree

And someone offered Europa for sale. And put a beard on her figurehead.

Europa for Sale Europa Bearded

Someone else put oranges on the bull's horns, but I didn't get a picture of that.

We did have one day of sailing, and that was a ripper. Grey skies and drizzle gave way to good winds and sunshine almost from the moment we left the wharf, and we took the opportunity to set as much sail as possible:

Sails Set

The plan was simple. Young Endeavour would sit at anchor...

Young Endeavour at Anchor

... and the rest of us would sail past her, saluting as we went. And look great while doing it.


That's Tecla, and the scuttlebutt said that she sailed over with 4 people on board. From the Netherlands. Our resident Dane claims that the Dutch have a mental disease, where if they see something that floats, they'll put masts and sails on it and take it around the world.


And that's Oosterschelde, the third Dutch tall ship. Both her and Europa were gorgeous inside, with varnished timber and such everywhere. Oosterschelde's saloon had one tap in the sink, and it dispensed Heineken.

Enterprize and Cannon

Meanwhile, Melbourne's own Enterprize was sailing around saluting everything that moved with her cannon.

Europa and Spectators

As you would expect, Europa looks beautiful under sail.

Now this is the Soren Larsen, which was built in the late 1940's and still has her original engine.

Soren Larsen and Spectators

After the sail, we all had to furl our sails and that was a perfect time to take a camera aloft:

Ships from Aloft

And after a few days in Melbourne, we all took off for the next part of the big adventure:

Departing Ships

We all made our way out towards Hobart. With strong easterlies forecast for the majority of the trip, everyone decided to go down the west coast of Tasmania.

Fleet Astern

Our trip across Bass Strait was quite a bit lumpier than last time, as you can see from how the harness stood off the bulkhead in the main accommodation area:

Flying Harnesses

Making the west coast trip meant that we were all able to spend some time in beautiful Port Davey, a magnificent part of south-western Tasmania that I've written about before. We didn't get a chance to go ashore and explore like we usually do, but some of the other ship did get to put feet to solid ground. It was great to be able to share that place with everyone else.

Europa in Port Davey Oosterschelde and Young Endeavour in Port Davey Soren Larsen in Port Davey Tecla in Port Davey

On the way back, I had time to do more ropework, finishing up yet another bottle:

Another Ropeworked Bottle

I'm running low on string and people keep giving me bottles. If I'm not careful, I'll get stuck in the cycle of "I have heaps of string, I should get bottles and ropework them" <-> "I have heaps of bottles, I should get string and ropework them".

On the way back up the channel, Soren Larsen had to take on a pilot to finish her journey into Hobart.

Soren Larsen takes on a Pilot

And we made it to Hobart! That's all for now.

Posted by Jack Kelly | Permanent link | File under: windeward_bound

Wed Oct 9 13:25:22 EST 2013

Trivia Quiz

I'm thinking of an environment that:

  • Is written in a horrible mashup of several languages.
  • Tests for "features, not platforms" as best practice (this one's actually a good idea)
  • The few people that truly understand it think it's actually okay.
  • Everyone else thinks it a rotten stinking heap that became entrenched because it was in the right place at the right (wrong?) time.
  • Works around a plethora of vendor incompatibilities in basic functionality that's meant to be part of a so-called "standard".

Am I thinking about web development or the GNU Autotools?

Posted by Jack Kelly | Permanent link | File under: coding

Sun Aug 25 12:01:47 EST 2013

The Slipway

During the end of July and the start of August, we took the ship over to the slipway. We're required to have an out-of-water survey every two years, and in any case the ship should look her best for the tall ship events in September.

In Cradle

We all were issued with high-vis jackets and steel-capped volleys to wear on site. Everyone promptly personalised their jackets:

[:>] Jacket

Then we brought the coffee machine into the deckhouse while we waited for the scaffolders to make our access tower. It saw a lot of use during the project - lots of early mornings and late nights. That access tower felt a little longer each time you climbed it.

Access Tower

Scaffolding is awesome. I'd never looked at it closely before, but it's a really modular system. Each piece has wedges built into it, that are hammered down to fix them together. No nuts and bolts or anything fiddly like that. A scaffolding crew of 3-5 people put the tower up in a couple of hours and did rest of the scaffolding in a day.

Safety gear is weird. There's a paradox that comes with high-vis gear: you become visible on a worksite and invisible to the public at large. I have never been more conspicuously looked-away-from than when I was wearing that jacket. Hard hats are funny, too. We had to wear them whenever we were working underneath the hull. So you put the helmet on and because you're not used to having a bigger head, you hit it on everything where you'd normally have no trouble.

Once we could get down, we worked. The strainers, where seawater enters pumping system through the hull, were pulled apart and the sea boogers removed:

Closed Strainer Sea Boogers

Behind two of those strainers was the sea suction manifold, which is where the seawater is distributed to the fire pump, cooling systems, deck wash and so on. You obviously can't pull it apart when you're in the water so we took that to pieces, cleaned the pipe out with a water-blaster, repainted everything, and made it look spiffy:

Old Intake Manifold New Intake Manifold

The rudder had to come out and its paint stripped with a pneumatic needle-gun, before being repainted and reinstalled. While it was gone, the propeller shaft was disconnected and extracted, to check for wear on the bearings.

Rudder Ready to Lift Pulled Propshaft Rudder Reinstalled

Once all that was back together, we had to repaint the hull above and below the waterline. Below the waterline is a copper-rich antifoul that slows marine growth on the hull.

Painted Topside Finished Bow Finished Stern

And finally we were ready to get back in the water. The scaffolding came down faster than it went up, as the scaffolding crew just knocks the wedges out and throws the pieces on the concrete. It made a tremendous amount of noise but it's the quickest way to do it.

Scaffolding Nearly Gone

Then we were free to be wound back in. The winch was started and our cradle slowly slid down the railway. It's a funny feeling: when you first get wound out of the water, you start to feel really tall as the water gets taken away. Then when you go back you feel like you're sinking slowly.


Once the ship was halfway in the water, we carefully opened the seawater valves and bled the air out of the pipework, checking for leaks as we went. Once we had water everywhere, we were able to bring the ship's generator and engine online and motor back to our home berth for some much needed rest.

Posted by Jack Kelly | Permanent link | File under: windeward_bound

Sat Jun 22 19:06:20 EST 2013


In our regular berth, we can usually pick up the wireless from a nearby cafe. As the tide goes out, the connection becomes increasingly spotty and it becomes necessary to raise the antenna to maintain a stable connection:


Posted by Jack Kelly | Permanent link | File under: windeward_bound

Thu Jun 20 09:24:12 EST 2013

The Dark Tower Series

I haven't posted about a book for a while, because I wanted to address this series in a single entry. I've recently made it through Stephen King's magnum opus, the Dark Tower series.

The series starts off well-enough: Roland's character is an interesting combination of western gunslinger and Arthurian knight. King does a good job of creating a world that is unlike our own but clearly linked to it in some fundamental way: Why is "Hey Jude" being played everywhere? Why do people invoke the name of the "Jesus-man" in such a different world? Is Roland's world running parallel to or after ours? (It's made clear later, but I don't want to spoil things.)

As the story moves through the later books, it feels like King has invented that many destiny-mechanisms that it seems like the protagonists have no agency. Whenever anything happens, it seems to be caused by "Ka" or that "all things follow the beam" or that "coincidence is breaking down" as the worlds come apart.

During the fifth and sixth books things start to become meta. The Dark Tower stories reference or link to King's other works throughout, but when the protagonists find King's books and meet Stephen himself things get really interesting.

Unfortunately, the final book isn't much of a payoff. Major questions, like "why is so much of the world built from old stories?" or "what is the meaning of all the Arthurian references?" are left unanswered. Protagonists and antagonists are ticked off like a shopping list and the setup for a grand confrontation fizzles out. Eventually, the story reduces to Roland and the Tower and a terribly unsatisfying ending.

In summary, some interesting ideas, some really interesting segments but the charaters were too often dragged along by destiny and too much wrapped up too quickly.

Posted by Jack Kelly | Permanent link | File under: readings

Wed May 1 12:52:39 EST 2013

Stephen Brown

I mentioned the Stephen Brown briefly in an earlier post, but since my time at the AMC is nearly up, I thought I'd better take a couple more pictures.

Stephen Brown

The former collier was sold to the AMC for $1, and has since been filled with various bits of machinery. (That little ship tied up alongside her is Skipjack, the vessel they use to teach Coxswains. Some of the Master 5 practicals used her, too.) We've done several practicals on board including damage control, cargo lashing, maintenance, and engine work. Last week I was in the group that got to play with these:

Petter Engine Hold

These are two-cylinder, four-stroke, hand-started, air-cooled Petter diesel engines that came out of old lighthouses. We had to pull one cylinder apart, check the clearances on the piston rings, tension the bolts correctly, measure the bumping clearances, check the clearances between the valves and rocker arms, check and adjust the injector crack-off pressure and spill-time the injector pumps. Once we put everything back together, we had to make sure the engine still ran. For someone who hasn't spent a lot of time playing with machinery, it was a really excellent day.

V16 GM Diesel

This one's an air-started, V16 GM two-stroke diesel engine. We spent a good chunk of yesterday tracing the plumbing for air, jacket water, sea water, lube oil and fuel oil. Then we took turns starting it up and shutting it back down. Again, it was good to see something a bit larger than the engine on Windy back in Hobart.

Like I said, my time up here is nearly over. I've got an exam tomorrow and the final oral assessment next Tuesday. After that, it's back to the ship to put my new skills to use.

Posted by Jack Kelly | Permanent link | File under: windeward_bound

Wed Apr 17 18:04:05 EST 2013

Use an OpenPandora as a Boot Device

I recently bought myself an OpenPandora. It's a surprisingly well-made device, given that it's a massive volunteer effort, and unlike pretty much every other arm-based handheld or tablet on the market, it's not locked down for no good reason. Having a full GNU/Linux system lets it do some really interesting things - it can expose one of its two SD cards as a USB mass storage device. The obvious thing to do is to put SYSLINUX on it and use it to boot other systems. Here's how I prepared an old 4GB SDHC card. Pretty much all the commands require root, so go and run `sudo -i' now.

The card was automounting at /media/sd, so the first thing to do is unmount (but not eject) it so we can mess with partition tables and such:

# umount /media/sd

It's currently partitioned with a single partition that fills the entire card. Great. Let's make it bootable. Those following along should double-check they're targeting the right /dev nodes:

# fdisk /dev/mmcblk0
Command (m for help): a
Partition number (1-4): 1

Command (m for help): w
The partition table has been altered!

Calling ioctl() to re-read partition table.

WARNING: Re-reading the partition table failed with error 16: Device or resource busy.
The kernel still uses the old table. The new table will be used at
the next reboot or after you run partprobe(8) or kpartx(8)
Syncing disks.

Well, force the re-read then:

# partprobe

Now I want to relabel it "bootcard" instead of "sd". You may need to install dosfstools:

# dosfslabel /dev/mmcblk0p1 bootcard

Then I remounted the card, grabbed version 4.06 of SYSLINUX (the latest version, 5.01, doesn't have working keyboard input on my machine) and installed it to the block device, along with its MBR code. Note that these commands are being run from different directories of the syslinux distribution. Note that if you don't make the "boot" directory first, you get a stupidly cryptic "/dev/mmcblk0p1: No such file or directory" error:

# mkdir /media/bootcard/boot
syslinux-4.06/linux# ./syslinux -i -d /boot /dev/mmcblk0p1
syslinux-4.06/mbr# dd conv=notrunc bs=440 count=1 if=mbr.bin of=/dev/mmcblk0
# echo "say Hello from SYSLINUX">/media/bootcard/boot/syslinux.cfg

And that was that. With the Pandora connected to my laptop in SD-Mass-Storage mode, SYSLINUX loads. Choosing boot images and setting up fancy menus are left as an exercise for the reader.

EDIT: I have prepared a background image that looks nice with the SYSLINUX vesamenu, based off the logo on the OpenPandora Wiki:

OpenPandora SYSLINUX wallpaper

This extract from my syslinux.cfg sets up the wallpaper and a pleasing colour scheme to match:

UI vesamenu.c32
MENU TITLE Pandora BootCard
MENU COLOR border 34;40 #00000000 #000000000 std
MENU COLOR title 1;36;40 #ff00b0fe #00000000 std
MENU COLOR tabmsg 1;33;40 #90ffff00 #00000000 std
MENU COLOR sel 33;40 #ffba7e00 #00000000 std
MENU COLOR hotsel 1;33;40 #ffffff00 #00000000 std
MENU COLOR unsel 34;40 #ff00425f #00000000 std
MENU COLOR hotkey 36;40 #ff0092c8 #00000000 std

Posted by Jack Kelly | Permanent link | File under: openpandora

Thu Apr 11 16:52:11 EST 2013

Religion for Atheists

Despite the lack of recent posts under this tag, I have still been reading. It's just that it's all either been for my courses or unremarkable. I just finished reading Alain de Botton's Religion for Atheists. Despite being fascinated by ritual and structure, I found it thoroughly disappointing. (Aside: if you want to read a rant, it seems the book was torn to shreds some time ago.)

Probably the most boring question you can ask about religion is whether or not the whole thing is “true.”

That is the book's opening sentence and premise, and it is phrased very poorly. Whether or not Aesop's Fables actually happened has no relevance to their use as a tool for moral instruction. The truth value of a religious proposition is very relevant for someone deciding how to live their life, but much less important when looking at the social effects of its rituals and traditions. To an atheist reader (clearly the target audience; it says so in the title), it sounds suspiciously like de Botton is quite comfortable with taking sophistry as a substitute for reason. Which, sadly, is exactly what he does.

de Botton has been taken to task for glossing over religion's failings and evils, and for portraying secular society as a soulless husk that needs a dose of religious-style perspective, ritual and tradition. I cannot fault him for the former; to demand that he covers the good and ill of religion is like demanding that anti-vaccination gets equal coverage in the press. But the latter? If creating this grey fantasy world wasn't necessary to sell his book, people would ask why he has glued his eyes closed.

He complains that secular society lacks a body of art that reinforces virtue and prepares us to handle the worst parts of living. I am sorry for de Botton. Sorry that in his world Bill Watterson never drew Calvin and Hobbes, Captain Picard never made a speech and Fred Rogers never sat down as neighbour to generations of children. Sorry that in his world nobody saw the Earth rise or the Pale Blue Dot and struggle to come to terms with their place in the universe. He asserts that the fixed schedule of saints' days gives opportunity to contemplate each saint's works or virtues. Perhaps. But in the context of the book, it implicitly claims that secular societies should have such a calendar defined by either a government, a corporation or his made-up atheist church. All are poor options and all are unnecessary. During their syndicated runs, both Star Trek and Calvin and Hobbes were scheduled repetitions of ideas to make you think. Every year people gather online to discuss and remember Fred Rogers.

He makes some interesting points about religious observances adding additional structure to people's lives, using traditions like the Jewish Bar Mitzvah as an example. It is true that there are few thought-provoking secular rituals in modern society. Birthdays might count, but they're merely a celebration of life. University graduation ceremonies carry the weight of ancient traditions, but even they have been watered down. I remember one of the staff joking that he was "academically naked" at my graduation because he took the lectern without his hat. The only profound rituals that I can personally recall are those that commemorate war, like the ANZAC Day Dawn Service and Remembrance Day. As fascinated as I am by ritual, I cannot see how any new ones would see wide acceptance. The religious have their own perfectly serviceable set, and the non-religious seem to be doing fine without them.

A couple of his ideas are have merit. Secular retreats, possibly modeled after monastic traditions, would be a very interesting experiment. It is not surprising that people want to escape the constant background noise and intrusions of modern life. Mindfulness meditation is often discussed and recommended online in a form stripped of its religious baggage. I'd be very interested in a restaurant that features enforced random seating, forcing people who'd never ordinarily meet to talk to each other. In the menu you'd find discussion prompts alongside the list of dishes, helping you to break the ice as you break bread. Unfortunately, he turns his pen to morality and starts heading downwards again.

Most of his discussions of morality suggest a paternalistic system, an adult-sized "sticker chart" where some superior force tracks and measures one's faults and virtues. But who should do that? Certainly not a god, because that contradicts the premise of the book. Not another human, because the privacy implications are too horrible to contemplate. The only adult who can monitor an one's own conduct like that is the person themselves. Actual charts are a fairly extreme measure (although Ben Franklin claimed that the exercise left him "a better and a happier man"), but reflecting on one's past conduct needs only a little time.

Continuing his plan to infantilise adults, de Botton draws parallels between children talking to their plush toys and believers praying to their god, to various saints, or to Mary in particular. The conclusion he draws is that everyone should be able to cry "mummy" to the universe. No. The answer for a secular world is for humans to be strong for each other, and to have counselling and other mental health services in place. Not an altar with a saint's jawbone or a picture of madonna and child. Besides, we should be doing the opposite of infantilising adults: we should be raising the bar for children, especially adolescents, and giving them the means to earn self-respect and the respect of society. Why are programs like sail training and Outward Bound effective? Because students are forced to physically, mentally and emotionally master unfamiliar environments instead of merely trickling through the school system, despite the best efforts of under-resourced teachers.

And then there are points where he goes from the absurd to the insidious. In a discussion about branding, he suggests with a completely straight face that a corporation could productively extend its brand to political parties or schools. He completely forgets that the established corporations that could do this sort of brand expansion exist to make money. Not to raise good citizens. Not to impart a moral education. To make money. If corporations had that level of direct influence over education and government, we'd end up in a Brave New World before very long.

He forgets that a sound argument is sound regardless of how it is delivered, and claims that the university lecture would be considerably improved if it was given in the style of the Pentecostal and Baptist preachers of the southern US. If you step in front of a crowd and claim that down is up, having the crowd call back "amen, teacher" doesn't make you any less wrong.

In summary, the book contains a kernel of an interesting idea, buried under a slag heap of false logic, written by an intellectually dishonest author. It claims to draw on the world's great religions, but mostly concerns itself with Catholicism and makes token reference to other schools of Christianity, Buddhism and Judaism. Islam is conspicuously absent, at a time when tension between it and the west recommends it as a prime candidate for study. Sikhism is similarly missing, and both have many more adherents than Judaism. If de Botton wants to gaze longingly at the rituals, art and architecture of Catholicism, he should stop writing books and pass through the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults.

Posted by Jack Kelly | Permanent link | File under: rants, readings

Thu Mar 28 11:30:09 EST 2013

Traditional Sailorly Arts

While I've been studying at the AMC, I've had a little bit of free time to work on some of my own things. This bottle was one of them.

The Bottle

The top section is needle hitching with a waxed whipping twine. Then a section of some hitching running the other way (I don't have all the books here and I forget the exact name). Then a turk's head, a few tripled carrick bends and another turk's head.

I'm a little disappointed that the lower turk's head crowded out the carrick bends, but that's okay. Something to keep in mind for next time.

Posted by Jack Kelly | Permanent link | File under: ropework