Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Book review: "Deadliest Sea" by Kalee Thompson

It was after 2 a.m. when the fishing trawler Alaska Ranger started taking on water.

"Mayday! Mayday! Mayday! This is the Alaska Ranger," First Mate David Silveira said in a call to the Coast Guard.

Less than three hours later, the Alaska Ranger would sink beneath the waves of the Bering Sea, north of the Aleutian Islands, leaving 47 people to fight for their lives. Some made it into lifeboats, but most were cast adrift individually, floating in the darkness in special "gumby" survival suits.

"Deadliest Sea" is an outstanding account of the sinking and the incredible rescue efforts involving two Coast Guard helicopters, a Coast Guard ship and another fishing vessel. In the end, 42 of the 47 people were saved.

Author Kalee Thompson pulls together a 360-degree look at the sinking and rescue, offering multiple perspectives from the fisherman and the Coast Guard crew and rescuers. She fills the book with so much good detail you can practically feel the spray of cold sea water splashing on you face.

In one way, you might say the story lacks suspense. The cover of the book describes it as "the greatest rescue in Coast Guard history," so you know that things are going to end up mostly OK.

Still, it's the way they do it that's fascinating. This is primarily a story about Coast Guard heroes. Thompson brings us inside the rescue operations to learn how training, discipline and determination helped the Coast Guard to rescue so many people in turbulent seas in the dark of night.

Thompson, for example, notes the precise terminology used inside a Coast Guard helicopter.

"From the safety checklists that the crew collectively runs through every time the swimmer leaves the cabin, to the 'conning' -- or positioning -- commands that keep the helo safely in place over the breaking swells, the crew are speaking a custom-made language built on succinct, declarative sentences. In the middle of the night, in the Bering Sea, for even one member of a four-man helicopter crew to be confused about what's happening is to put the entire crew in danger."

Thompson also delves into the commercial fishing industry, documenting its disturbing history of inattention to safety.

One thing that would have made the book better: A list of characters, to use as a reference, in the front or back. There's a lot of people in this book and sometimes it's hard to keep them straight.

If you like this sort of book, you will also like "Fatal Forecast," a gripping page-turner about New England fishermen fighting for their lives amid a severe storm.

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Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Demonizing car washers

California water-worriers have found a new bad guy. People who wash cars at home. They say it's more water-wise to use a commercial car wash.

They're wrong. The notion that home car washes use more water than commercial washes is a myth spread by the car wash industry.

The car wash industry says that home car washes use 100 gallons of water -- but that's based on someone keeping the hose running the whole time. No one does that anymore; people have shutoff nozzles.

A hose uses about 10 gallons per minute. You hose down your car at the
start of a wash for about one minute (less if it's a small car), and one more minute at the end. You use two gallons in the bucket. That's 22 gallons of water -- much less than even the most efficient commercial car wash.

And if you water your car on your lawn, all the water runoff is put to use, something a commerical wash can't offer.

Finally, by simply choosing not to drive to a car wash, you're keeping you carbon footprint to a minimum. 

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Monday, November 3, 2014

Worst sentence nominee: The New York Times' Gina Bellafante

In this week's battle to write the worst sentence, the early leader is Gina Bellafante of the New York Times, who put together a tangled 88-word head-spinner in her column of November 2.

Here's the lead paragraph of the story. The sentence to note is the second:

If you have been tallying up reasons to despair over living in New York of late, you may have added to the list the recent naming of Taylor Swift as the city's first Global Welcome Ambassador. The designation, made by the department of tourism, has been synchronized to the release of her new single, ''Welcome to New York,'' a song so bloodless and indistinct in its vision of the city that it presents to you, as the blogger David Colon put it, the New York you would get ''if you populated it entirely with humans raised in the Times Square Bubba Gump Shrimp Co., then let them out into the world with only a penthouse apartment, an Amex black card and leopard-print Prada luggage.''

Ugh. Just awful. Once you catch your breath, the only response to this sentence is, "Huh?"

The story is here.

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