Thursday, July 20, 2017

The #1 search term leading people to my blog is currently "Big Booty Spandex."

 Well, glad to help... I guess.

I'm partway into week 8 here at work, and with something like 18 days to go, it's nowhere near time to be slacking off, which is good, because it's been seriously steady work-wise here on the HQ.

 Currently, the healthiest sector in the East Coast small-parcel maritime fuel trade seems to be bunker work, because we're just steady as hell. It's not insane, work-wise, but busier than average, which I've mentioned before, fairly recently. This is good, as small parcel clean oil movements are just not happening in volumes like we've seen in the past.

 There's a serious morale issue throughout the ports of NY/NJ fuel barge crew. My company is not immune there. Oh, we're doing fine compared to the poor bastards down in the Gulf of Mexico, where even master mariners are working as able seamen and thankful when there's even that for work. While you're not seeing massive savings at the pump anymore thanks to the suits in the futures markets who're really cashing in, efficiencies have led to companies being able to get oil out of the ground cheaper on land, which is competitive with offshore oil, even given the disparities of distribution costs. Jobs have shifted for now, and both shale oil and offshore oil have plenty of wells just waiting for the price index to rise enough to be worth kicking the drills in gear. In the meanwhile, while the low-hanging fruit is being brought to market, there's lots of hungry bellies.

 Morale is pretty low in the US maritime fuel transport sector, at least in many parts. It seems like medium-parcel movements are down, too, but not to the extent that I've seen in the small boats.

 Unfortunately, I lack the ability to read crystal balls, and I don't have enough chatty friends in the marketing sector for fuel transport to really put together a more complete, coherent synopsis for what's going on, but I can say that the coconut telegraph among friends and shipmates and acquaintances online, there's an awful lot of this time is different in terms of riding out the slowdown.
 Well, we'll see.

           In the meanwhile, things continue apace here on the HQ. One of the most positive signs we have is that repairs that I'm not capable of handling in situ have been getting seen to by our engineers and mechanics, brought via launch while we're working. In other words, it's important enough that we stay working that my company will dispatch a qualified repairman to wherever we are in order to keep us working and available to work rather than waiting until they've got a berth open at the shop to carry out any repairs. This is a long way of saying that the HQ is paying her freight, which has been a concern, and should be of concern to anyone currently working in the trades.

Monday, July 17, 2017

Shut up and get my friggin book

NYU librarian laments 'fatigue' from 'presence of white people'

A New York University librarian recently felt compelled to pen a blog post bemoaning the “racial fatigue” she experiences “in the presence of white people” following an academic conference.

  • April Hathcock said that she “hit her limit” after spending five days “being tone-policed and condescended to and ‘splained to” by "white men librarians" and "nice white ladies."

  • Race fatigue is a real physical, mental, and emotional condition that people of color experience after spending a considerable amount of time dealing with the micro- and macro-aggressions that inevitably occur when in the presence of white people,” Hathcock wrote. “The more white people, the longer the time period, the more intense the race fatigue.”
    While Hathcock noted that she is normally exhausted after such conferences for reasons unrelated to racial issues, she said that this time she “hit her limit” after spending five days “being tone-policed and condescended to and ‘splained to.”

    Hathcock offered a litany of complaints about her fellow conference attendees, including the “white men librarians” who “complain about being a ‘minority’ in this 88% white profession.”
    She also slammed the “nice white ladies” who told her to be “civil” and “professional” when she tried to “talk about the importance of acknowledging oppression and our profession’s role in it.”
    Hathcock concluded by acknowledging that even though there were positive aspects of the conference, such as meeting new friends of color, she was nonetheless exhausted by the entire ordeal.
    [RELATED: Librarians learn to create ‘safe spaces,’ fight ‘privilege’]
    “Luckily, the rest of my summer will be spent going on vacation with family,” she concluded. “And when I get back to it all, I’ll keep on fighting, bearing in mind the inspiring words Dr. Hayden imparted to us at the Spectrum celebration: ‘You gotta be in the room. You gotta be at the table. You gotta fight.’”


     Now, ignoring the ridiculous race-baiting, I'm going to say this:  I don't really care for librarians. 

    I felt very much like a fish out of water on campus when I was a college student. I am and have been pretty single-minded in general, focusing on my goal, and tending to ignore most other things. Whatever rell-roundedness I have cultivated mentally was a gift from my parents, not from the professors. I tried my damndest to be a science savant. I avoided most of the gen-ed requirements that come with a STEM BS degree from a liberal arts college by taking a year to perform an international applied science study in both the UK and the US. I used those credits to avoid fake science classes (politics and social studies are to science what Taco Bell is to Spain, IMO). 

          The library on campus made me uncomfortable. I remember this annoying but pretty blond girl who was going on and on while I was in the stacks, talking about Neoluddites. I had no idea what a Luddite was, let alone a Neoluddite, but I could halve a slice off of a fetal cow's aorta under a dissecting microscope and clone the blood vessels' endothelial cellular tissue while wearing a beer hat. Still, that memory of the blond girl sticks. Made me realize just how ignorant I was relative to some of my peers who beat their meat to Descartes and shit.
    I was a hard worker. Had to be, to make up for being retarded
      But the library was torture, and with experience... well, it was worse.
             I'm old and getting older, and library computers were still DOS based for the most part. I could work the shit out of a card catalog. 
     My university library had mostly secondary sources- write ups, discussions, broad-based and policy-related materials, but not the primary material, the monographs, the academic journals that cost a small fortune to subscribe to. Journal of Comparative Physiology, or Biological Bulletin, or Trends in Neuroethology, stuff like that, which is what I mostly needed. 
             Early on, I had to go to the librarian. 

        A college or research librarian is a challenging position. They have their own college major, teaching information management. It tends to attract very smart people who end up learning a little about a lot of things. 
        Back in the day, you could get left alone at the card catalogue. But if you needed to use a computer to search for information, you were proper fucked. Librarian was going to haunt you like a house, and resent you for taking up all their time while you tried to find any way possible to make them leave you alone. 

          At the time, there was a private biology search engine that catalogued many esoteric abstracts, called BIOSIS. 
     BIOSIS costed $10/minute to access via FTP, and the librarian was the gatekeeper. I had reason on multiple occasions to need access so I could get a hold of articles that I didn't even know I needed. Being ignorant has a cure, after all. 

     At any rate, I got to really resent the librarian refusing me on multiple occasions, to the point where I had to get a note from my department head letting me in. The fact that I cleaned her genetics classroom and laboratory for $7 an hour helped there. It was this particular professor who enabled me to release a million of so fruit flies in my college's law school. Best prank I pulled there.  

    What galled me, before I started making contacts and getting access to the libraries at MIT, Harvard, Tufts, Woods Hole and URI, who had actual science libraries, was that I had to go through a gatekeeper. Every time I wanted to do an abstract search (this being in the days before google) I had to deal with the fucking Emerald City gatekeeper. 
    She had a better mustache, though

       One of the early lessons I picked up was not to tell the librarian exactly what I was looking for. I'd get sent on wild goose chases and 'applications for your data' which meant political bullshit, old books that were useless and microfilmed fucking magazines that were never quite right. Seriously. I studied pure research and  made myself into a biology Rain Man, so this was torture, and have to explain everything I was doing and thinking, and if I couldn't articulate my thoughts perfectly, I'd be refused access to the fucking database.  I just didn't know enough to be able to avoid needing help. It took a couple of years before I actually learned enough to know how to articulate my thoughts. I don't think I ever set foot in my university's library after my second year. I could hop on the train and go to a science library elsewhere, where the librarians were there to answer important questions like where the bathroom was and where I could get copy paper. 

       There was one exception. The librarian for the Rare Book Room at the University of Stirling, in Scotland. He was cool as hell. He let me borrow a pair of cotton gloves and sit in the sealed glass reading room set aside for their rare books, and fetched me 200- year old anatomical drawings  and secretaries notes from Royal Society meetings and shit for what I was doing- all with that veddy British sarcasm for the long-haired sort-of-dumb-but-polite-enough-for-yeoman-class-American. Weird experience, uncomfortable, but the little dude was a serious asset, especially where I wasn't allowed in the stacks, not being a Don there. 

     With the advent of online search engines, I have never again spoken to a librarian, and I suspect that as an adult who doesn't look like a roadie anymore, it probably would be fine.  My kid likes the help librarians provide, though, thus far. Maybe he's got a better way with people.  He has the ability to get lost in the stacks, too, getting waylaid by esoterica and finding new things to be interested in. I just hope some fucking librarian doesn't kill that for him too. 

    Saturday, July 15, 2017

    pay now, or pay later (while also paying now)

    I haven't been writing much lately. I just haven't been motivated.

     When my #2 man approached me and asked if I was willing to cover for him for a few weeks while he worked on a project at home, I agreed readily- it's been an expensive year; I think I bought our family dentist a new BMW, in fact. Working a couple extra weeks has been a boon in that regard.

            Well, I've been here for about 45 days so far, and I'm pretty well adjusted to not working more than 28 at a time. I'm pretty beat. The money I'm making has been a blesing- the price I pay is not.

     At some level, once you have food clothing and shelter, no matter how much money you have, any extra just doesn't go as far as you might expect. I spent the last few years working way too much, and while it's been shocking at tax time, in no way do I look back and see where it made a big difference in my life. Some things, yes, certainly. But I felt happier, healthier and more well-rounded when I didn't work overtime.

     Well, so it goes. Live and learn, and I'm crying all the way to the bank, so there's not much use in getting soggy and hard-to-light over it. Plenty of people would give their left nut to have to worry about being offered too much overtime just now.

     My employers have pared down the payroll, and laid some vessels up to gather dust and save money while the oil trade is so anemic this year. I'm working more and harder here than we've ever done before, meanwhile. Bunkering is busy. Not insanely busy, but busy, and there's not quite enough of us to cover all the work. Without the extra bunker barges and tugs, we're hopping, constantly late, and feeling the pinch of not quite enough time to get everything done that we want to do.We're way behind on painting for the summer. Generally we're done by labor day for the year. We haven't even really started. No time. You gotta have time to paint and time to let paint dry, after all. We're feeling the pinch, and the bunker suppliers are too. We made the worst bunker soup you've ever seen this past week. We loaded 3 grades of heavy fuel oil in miniscule amounts, like ridiculously small amounts, at 3 different terminals. After blending all these things, not to mention the tugboat moving us in and out of 3 different terminals the same day, we cut the oil with diesel, to thin it. Then we gravitated it to some empty tanks on board, and loaded a 4th shot of oil on top of it. We then gave it to some ships, along with some diesel oil, too. Under normal circumstances, it'd take abot 2 hours to load the heavy oil and about an hour to load the diesel. What with the shifting docks, and being passed from tug to tug like syphilis in a whorehouse, it took 24 hours. I hope it was worth it. No skin off my ass, after all, but I can't imagine somene made a lot of money on all that work. Above my pay grade, I guess.

     This afternoon is  a good example of not enough time- we finished a job and were at the dock to wait 12 hours for the next one. It being our first chance to get ashore in a week, we quickly went to the local grocery and loaded up on grub. After unpacking and making dinner, I changed the oil on one of our generators that needed service. By the time we had eaten and had the gen on standby, it was getting dark and I still had to do my weekly inspection for the EPA and pull oil samples. No time to paint. Maybe tomorrow. I'm lucky enough that we had the time to get the gen serviced. Some of my friends are waking up in their off-watch sleep time to get it done. So it goes, and if it gets intolerable, no one is pointing a gun at me and making me stay. I can always go if it comes down to it. I'm still content enough to stay. For now.

    Sunday, July 9, 2017

    Stop the world, I want to get off

    I had to take a couple of days off of work to deal with some family issues. Got back today.

           I rented a 2017 F150 Lariat 4x4 to get up north for a few days. Last minute tickets on a train or plane were insane, and rental cars anywhere in NY or Boston were starting at about $160 a day, it being tourist season and me having no lead time to work with.

     Luckily, no one at NY's airports wants to drive a full sized pickup truck around Manhattan. I got the truck for less than half of what they were asking for a frigging compact car.

         I prefer Ram trucks. They just drive so nice. Pretty reliable, too. Ford finally made a pickup that rides just as sweet as Rams do, and holy shit that truck had some ass. Between that and a super smooth transmission, I may just convert.
         I'm like a car Calvinist. I don't like frippery in my trucks. First time I drove that truck after dark, all the lights and screens and shit was off-putting. I like a truck that I can clean out with a garden hose and a jug of pine-sol. They don't make those anymore. My last truck, a Ram I sold a while back, had a lot of bells and whistles too, 99% of which I didn't want, need or use... and that's OK.

     My rental truck had leather seats and they were heated and cooled. A cooled black leather seat on a warm day is great when you're someone who doesn't like the heat that much. No sweaty back.

     The fancy foofoo community I live in right now doesn't allow pickup trucks, not even the fancy ones. So I won't be buying a pickup until I move. But it was great to drive a full-sized truck again. I felt normal.

     Boston, even the nice coastal suburban communities of Boston, is awful drab and dirty. Dealing with Florida Man and his shenanigans suddenly seems like less of a price to pay.

     Well, either way, I'm back at work, and I got the stuff I needed done.

    Thursday, July 6, 2017

    sailors are gross

    It might surprise you to learn that most professional mariners are clean and tidy people at work, unusually so. 

    One thing that remains universal, though, is that it's never difficult to find a sailor who is unhygienic.

            I've worked with several sailors who are dirty, dirty people. Officers, too. I can think of several officers in my current employer's stable who smell like feet and onions every time I encounter them.
        I know of at least two that had to be called on the carpet because they were foul, loathesome dirty motherfuckers- not because they were bad people, but because they were just dirty and had disgusting personal hygiene.
            Funny, though, I've never had to deal with that with an unlicensed sailor... wait, I lie. We did have that once on a ship I was on, but the cook's helper, a pleasant African guy with a booming voice and endless optimism for everything, threatened to put a padlock in a sock and beat the man in question at mealtimes if he showed up in the galley with B.O.

          Sometimes the direct method is best.

                There's more to being a pleasant shipmate than wearing deodorant, of course, although that is a great start. I have, in the past dragged a mattress out of the house on my barge and thrown it on deck, or in the case of working on a ship, thrown it over the side, because some filthy son of a whore slept on it without putting linens down.

     Pillows are different. I hand them to the person and tell them to carry them to the trash ashore and replace them. No fuss.

          When we inherited the HQ 5 years ago, we inherited the bestest, most wonderous mattresses I've ever slept on. I don't know how that happened, but the HQ got some Posturpedic mattresses that are like sleeping on the tits of an angel. Better than the $1500 mattress I have on my own bed at home. Just, you know, a lot smaller. Obviously when we have guests or fill-in crew, we visually inspect their bedmaking skills before letting them lie down. Discreetly, but 100% of the time. I have, on several occasions, and with a fake but present smile, wordlessly handed a full set of linens to a visitor and stood in the doorway and chatted until the person in question got the idea and made up their bunk properly. Whatever, I sleep better at work than I do at home, at least when  I go to bed sober at home but we're guarding those mattresses like Smaug the Dragon watched over his treasure in The Hobbit.

     Dick move? Maybe. No fuckin' way in hell my employer would ever replace our mattresses with something of equal value. No, if we lose them, we're getting the Dreaded Prison Mattress.

         The Dreaded Prison Mattress is part of the reason why tugboaters and tankermen go out with shoulder injuries. Imagine a sheet of plywood lined with a double layer of cardboard. That's the prison mattress. I've worked for at least two companies who swear by them. They swear by them because they are $54 each, and they're fireproof.  They even say 'FIREPROOF' in a repeated printed pattern on the gray covering of the mattress.
        Now, no one actually cares that the mattresses are fireproof. They care that the mattresses are $54 each. Having had to hear "yes, but they're fireproof!" on many occasions, like that's a selling point, I've never bothered to order anything other than the prison mattresses after the first time I heard that old chestnut get dragged out. The bosses kinda have a point. Too many guys will just sleep on them, sweating and drooling and peeling and farting away blissfully, no linens in sight, to invest in nice mattresses all willy-nilly.
           I do know a few men who have called in favors and gotten nice mattresses special ordered. It shouldn't be that difficult to get a hold of them... but maybe, come to think on it, it should. Some of the dirty ass people I've worked with here would sleep on a dead chicken, if you threw it in their bunk.
        As I alluded to before, the Dreaded Prison Mattress exacerbates shoulder problems. I know this firsthand, having strained a shoulder on several occasions at sea. Basically it doesn't heal until you don't sleep on a Dreaded Prison Mattress for a week or so. Until that happens, you've got a big useless chicken wing on one side.
       I recently spent 2 weeks on a Dreaded Prison Mattress. My shoulders really, really sucked. I hadn't injured them, thankfully, but after a couple of days, I lost a good 1/3 of my strength, and they were sore, not in the healthy way a tired muscle gets sore, but in a 'oh, fuck me, it hurts to raise my arm up to pick my nose' sort of sore.
          I got back on the HQ and into my bed and two sleeps later, my shoulders were fine. My partner out here felt it too. I can't actually blame shipowners, either, in wasting money on mattresses when an unusual percentage of men who should know better just filth them all to hell and gone.
          Why do some men live on board a boat like they're camping out? Eschewing daily showers, manners, the niceties and basic courtesy, not to mention public health? It's an answer I can't give, not really. I know, without a doubt, that many of these assholes would beat their wives wholesale if they came back to anything but fresh linens at home... which they have to be nagged at in order to use them at all at work.

         A few years ago, we landed rough against the side of a ship, denting it slightly. The captain in question had the nickname Edward Throttlehands for his docking style, which consisted of pinning the throttle wide open and just using the gearshift to control the tug's motion. I called him Special Ed or Pigpen, myself, at the time. Dude had a mullet and wore daisy duke shorts with no shoes, pretty much year round looking like an extra from the set of  "Deliverance."
        As it happens, we had sat for 48 hours prior to this at anchor in a spot where the seagull population was explosive.  The deck edges of the HQ were caked in about 3/8 of an inch of dried birdshit. It was awful.
        Well, after we were all fast, Throttlehands came up on deck to check out the ding we put in the ship, which was thankfully very minor. I noticed that he had no shoes on, and tracked right through the guano.
     Later that night, on sailing, I asked the deckhand if the house on the tug had a lot of white footprints. He told me it looked like one of those "Family Circus" panels where Billy's track runs around town. The tug in question has black tiles inside the house, lol.  I then asked if inside the house had a weird, dusty smell tonight. It did. I had to let the guy know that he was inhaling seagull powdered BM of course, and I did so tactfully, by which I mean pointing and laughing like a donkey.
      That deckhand didn't seem to cry much after Throttlehands moved on. 

               The last fill-in we had here on the HQ was another one who didn't like wearing shoes inside the house. I had to order him to put his shoes on in the galley. I took his picture while he was lounging in the rack with the bunkroom door open, startling him. I sent the picture of him and his disgusting filthy little bird claw feet to the guy whose bed he was sleeping in, and explained why I was doing it to the man in question. A little slut-shaming works. Dude wore shoes the rest of his time aboard.

    Saturday, July 1, 2017

    Outside: "That's pretty." (Inside: What the hell am I looking at?)

    The former lobsterman in me still has a very soft spot for north Atlantic style North American lobster boats. I just love the design of them- they're near-perfect for what they are and what they do, which is a rare thing for boats, which are generally a series of compromises between what people think they want and what is likely to get them home in one piece given the nature of the boat and the ocean.

     A lobsterman with a new boat is rightfully more proud than a hen with a new egg. Even the most taciturn and dour men often unsmilingly but unbegrudgingly offer tours of their new boat when a new boat is to be had. Generally speaking, it's something that only happens a couple of times in a lifetime, and given the ruinous cost and effort involved, it's right to be proud.

     Today's lobstermen have a whole dinner menu of engines to choose from, and most often in New England, new boats are coming out with a whole hell of a lot of engine. In the Canadian maritimes, it's still common enough to see a new boat (and their boats are often larger, far beamier and massively built squat things) with a simple engine, small by todays' standards, perhaps 1/4 of the horsepower of a smaller, lighter Maine-built boat.

          Marine diesels often enough were distinguished mostly by their color. Cat yellow, Detroit green, Cummins off-white, Lehman red, sometimes. It's damn near a ritual to sit, stare down at the engine a few minutes, and comment on the placement, height relative to the deck, belt and pulleys, and of course, to take a minute and discuss the reduction gear. This is a time for quiet reflection, and while comments are often made, they are not required.

     Modern lobsterboats have all sorts of exotic diesel engines now, names that are unfamiliar and summon images of American Iron, orNorwegian fjords, maybe clouds of Asian engineers fussing over mass-produced perfection, or questions asked internally, like "who the hell makes that again? Mitsubishi or something? Why the hell don't they just use their regular name?"
      This is also the point when I realize how confusing new engines look compared to the old ones.

     2 weeks ago, aboard that awful floating torture chamber we were running while the HQ was in the shipyard, I was dealing with an overheating detroit diesel- a turbo'd 871, an engine that hasn't changed much since it was introduced in 1938. I knew what I was looking at. Overheating? Check the fluids, check the thermostat. Holy dogshit, it's running at 230 degrees, kick it out of gear and let it run at idle, cool off a bit. 10 minutes later, it's sitting pretty at 170 and can be shut down for service.
    Engine, (1). Just add earmuffs. And oil. And some more oil. You'll die before the engine will.

     Compare and contrast this with the modern smaller, lighter engines we have in the pumps on board the HQ, vintage 2013. Same horsepower, but nowhere near the same torque, so there's no ass to speak of under a heavy load. More wires than a goddamned cable factory. Great, if we were running a ceiling fan and not trying to pump black oil with the viscosity of molasses. Overheating? Check the computer, check the sensors, check the thermostat, if you can frigging find it. The radiator hose gets routed back and forth like a plastic tube in a goddamn hamster cage. What's that smell? Dammit, did we melt the insulation off a wire again?  As for accessories and such, oh lord. There are... protuberances. What the hell am I looking at? Are those the injectors or sensors? Why the hell is the starter mounted right above the dipstick? Every time I check the oil, I worry about snapping off the goddamn dipstick as I try to get it into the hole while bending the shit out of it to get around the starter, the heater element plug, assorted wires running to...things... and a half-dozen other navigation hazards.

    A modern engine about to be put into a lobsterboat. Note the black bonnet over the top of the engine. WHAT ARE THEY TRYING TO HIDE?

     Well, it's quieter, anyhow. Those Detroits are a touch noisy, and they fling oil about like an angry monkey armed with a thanksgiving dinner in his guts.  Our pump engines on the HQ do leak oil, like any diesel. After 5 years, there's a few drops come out over the course of the 350 hours between oil changes. Of course, they don't like to start when it's cold, even with a block heater running, and they cough and burp and fart for the first 5 minutes when they do start in the winter.

     Maybe I'm just getting to be an old fart.