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Showing posts from June, 2021

FIELD NOTES: A ship on dry land, with its own golf course

A couple of miles east of the sprawling rail and shipyards that make up the port of Superior, Wisc., the sole relic of a brief but fascinating era in maritime history sits incongruously in the middle of a grassy field, flanked by a putt-putt golf course, playground and ice cream shop. To the casual observer, the whaleback steamer Meteor resembles a submarine more than the surface-faring freighter she was; her white superstructure mounted awkwardly atop her 380-foot long rounded black hull.   The late-19th century was a bustling and occasionally weird time in naval architecture. The centuries-long era of wooden sailing vessels was drawing to a close, and while it was clear that steam-powered steel ships were the future, it wasn’t entirely clear how the design of those ships would shake out. The most obvious answer was to convert existing wooden designs to  steel, and install boilers and engines. Steel, though, is an entirely different building material that offered both challenges and o

FIELD NOTES: In praise of the gofer

This past weekend, I was browsing through some posts on a Facebook page dedicated to Ohio’s Lake Erie Islands. I grew up on the nearby mainland and visited the islands frequently as a kid. While I find many aspects of “island life” fascinating, a particular post on Saturday drove home one specific challenge of that lifestyle that would be a non-starter for me. The poster asked whether anyone on Middle Bass Island had some polyurethane sealant they could sell to him. He was trying to finish a project and had run out. Sounds familiar. More often than I like to admit, I will begin a project, then discover midway through that I lack the nut, bolt, screw, wire, paint, or tool I need to finish the job. Fortunately, my local hardware store is just a few minutes away, so while I may grumble about having to get into the truck and drive all the way there and back, the whole trip is maybe a half-hour. I can’t imagine that trip being, as for the island resident, a half DAY. Or perhaps I can …  Nea

FIELD NOTES: Putting the fun back in fungible

As a writer, I have a more intimate relationship with words than, say, the average accountant or software engineer. Right now, I am having an intense dalliance with the word “fungible.” It’s a curious word that sounds a little like a mashup of ”fungi” and ”sponge,” which evokes a pretty disturbing mental image, or perhaps ”fun” and ”gullible,” which is closer to the truth. The dictionary definition of fungible is “able to replace or be replaced by another identical item; mutually interchangeable.” The word is currently enjoying its 15 minutes of fame as part of the phrase Non-Fungible Token, or NFT for short.  What’s an NFT? Well, no one actually knows, but people are apparently willing to pay outrageous sums of money to get them. The other day, I saw that an NFT for a short YouTube video originally posted in 2007 called “Charlie Bit My Finger” sold for $761,000. Now, you are probably saying, “wait a minute, if the video has been available to watch for free for more than a decade, what