Monday, August 13, 2018

open canoe nationals

Boofing rocks in the hot sun
I fought the course
and the course won

In retrospect it probably would have been better not to fight the course. This was the canoe National whitewater slalom races, held on a wild bit of BLM land just north of Buena Vista. As usual all my training plans went to heck, so came the day and I had not been in my solo boat on the river since 2011, whoops oh well.

We had warmed up with a 3 day wilderness trip on the Rio Chama in New Mexico. The takeout of this trip is near Ghost Ranch where Georgia O'Keeffe lived and worked for many years. Here's younger son and I at the bottom of Aragon Rapid.

This is not Aragorn of the Dunedain heir of Isuldur, nor the dragon Saphira and her boy Eragon, nor yet that Victorian land Erewhon though it is also found over the range. Aragon was a kingdom in Spain, presumably with the appropriate castles. Catherine of Aragon was Henry VIII's first wife, lasted eighteen years until her failure to produce a heir and the politics of the day started the beheadings and the Church of England. In Erewhon they did not allow machines, believing that Darwinian selection might produce a mechanical consciousness. Those Victorian novelists knew a thing or two. It's a long way from there to a campsite under the limber pines of New Mexico, loud with the voice of the rapid.

Over the range a small fire was burning, started by lightning some time before. We had paddled into camp watching the plume of smoke and wondering how close to camp it would be.. right over the hill in fact. We had good rains so chanced it and camped anyway. Several times in the night I woke up smelling smoke, had to go out and check if we needed to hide in the river. Luckily not.

After all that, drive six hours back to Denver, unpack, repack, and head out to Buena Vista.

There's a river out there somewhere beyond the cactus and I have the boats to do something about it. 

Looking downstream on the first evening, before the captains and the kings arrive.

Looking upstream from the middle of the course, racing day, as the boats and paddlers assemble in the top eddy.

The course designer created the most difficult slalom course I've ever paddled, way harder than the other two Nationals I attended. Eventually I figured out an approximate strategy for the first twelve gates but after that there was a sequence of downstream gates which beat me. Coming out of gate 12 was like going into a bad horror movie - terrible things keep happening faster than I can react to them for no good reason and they don't stop. My usual strategy for horror movies as a teenager was to close my eyes at the horrid bits, not useful in rapid whitewater.

The series of gates culminated in gate 16, dubbed "the suicide move", had to paddle straight at a rock in fast current and drop in behind it with a quick paddle stroke at the last split second. I did not manage this so usually just bounced off the rock and battled to stay upright.  Gate 16 is happening in the first pic above, though that is not me, but John from MT Canoes. They make light composite boats based on classic hulls from the plastic era. These are way lighter than plastic but I fear to paddle them as I'm a bit of a rock basher. My second canoe was fiberglass and more patch than boat by the time we'd finished battering it down the rivers. The plastic era ended when some GiantCorp bought out the manufacturers of Royalex and decided its profit margins were not sufficient to keep the CEOs in the style to which they wished to become accustomed. There is no replacement for Royalex - the composites are light but expensive and not nearly as durable, the polyethylene boats are tough but as heavy as the sins I can't forget. An old secondhand Royalex boat in decent condition is now more expensive that it was when new.

Another way around the rock to gate 16, worked for some but not for me.

The way it's supposed to look. This I think is Jerrod from Alabama. He'd been eager to leave AL until taking up whitewater, and realizing there were hundreds of runs available within an hour or two of home.

The first morning there was a yearling bear wandering around the camp. I got out of my car, thought "wow that's a BIG black Lab" and went to pat him, than noticed the rolling gait and realized it was a bear. He gave me a sad disillusioned look and walked off into the trees. Apparently he'd been eating garbage in town first. CPW came out and shot him with anesthetic darts, bundled off to an unknown fate. The second morning a mountain lion was reported up on the ridge above the campsites, eyeing the dogs.

This was probably the largest collection of canoes seen in the US since the last Nationals.

They littered the countryside, a terrain comprised of rocks, cactus, juniper, and a thirty foot steep drop from the plain to the river. This is fine if you have a light composite canoe, pick it up with one hand and walk off. We on the other hand had classic plastic weighing anything from 55lb to 76lb. Bucking those up and down from the river, then the quarter mile back to the top of the run, quite wore me out. I decided to start a new fitness program, CanoeFit ! Functional strength from lifting and carrying canoes up hills and over cactus and under scrubby juniper on rocky trails. You begin with the light short composite boats, and work your way up to Real Man boats, 18-20 foot Royalex weighing 80-110lbs. Like this one, from when we were young.

Back to the race.

Ota-san comes out from Japan every year to race and win. As shown he's always having a good time, too.

I am thinking much too hard. Whitewater slalom rewards a calm focus on moving smoothly through the river. Fighting the course means the course will always win. At first descent, crashing and splashing my way down, it made no sense at all. By the end it was clear it was beautifully integrated into the natural progression of rock and river, something like a work of art. Intellectually this was a delight, in the physical world I couldn't do it but at least it is wonderful to be able to try.

This gives a good sense of the infrastructure needed to hang all those gates. After one day there was already a fishing lure tangled and broken off on one of the overhead wires. I saved it when we took the gates down, mostly to spare anyone else from getting impaled by the treble barbed hooks.

Me and #2 son racing in the Citizen tandem class. We won this by virtue of being the only entrants in the class.. ha. We still did have to run at least some of the gates and stay upright, which was not a given on this course. #2 son asked, "so is this one of those medals for participation I keep hearing about ?"

Our thanks to the team of Oxenford/Carpenter in OC2 Rec, who had the fine idea of skipping the harder gates. Each missed gate is a 50 second penalty. We had done a class with Kent Ford before the race, flipped and swam out of the river. Kent was giving feedback to the other class participants, looked at us and said, "well, more time in the boat, really" which was uncontestable. I'd thought we would not race. Then Ms. Oxenford pointed out that it was possible to construct a Citizen version of the course by simply deciding to miss the risky difficult move from 7 to 8, and the peelout from 12. On our first run I also skipped 4 and 5 where we'd swum. Since we stayed up throughout that run, we included those on the second run and dropped our score by 100 seconds, which probably qualified us for Most Improved as well as National Champioeens in OC2 Citizen Rec.

We'd originally planned to be in the OC2 Youth/Senior class, before I realized #2 son had just turned 17 so was no longer a Youth. This turned out to be a good thing, as the Youth/Senior was unusually deep this year, packed with Whitterns and fierce young competitors from Spain. Here's one of them, paddling solo.

Esquif canoes donated one of their beautiful light boats as a door prize. Your fearless organizer Alan Whittern models one of the easier CanoeFit poses with it.

He worked himself to a wraith, putting this whole show on the river. Our profound thanks, Alan. I was also deeply impressed by the amount of work he got out of his daughters. Among many other tasks, they ran the radio communications between the score keepers (them), gate judges, and finish timer. When Alan got on the river for a solo run, the Disrespectful Daughter radio'd out, "old man Whittern is coming down the course now. Please have his cane ready for when he gets out of the boat". I'm sure they only do it because they love him..

#2 son, dear wife, and I all took turns as gate judges and finish timer. I really don't like judging but it's necessary for the racing. When #1 son was on swim team I'd sometimes volunteer as a stroke and turn judge, which requires disqualifying small children for stroke infractions. It was probably good for them to be disqualified in meets where it didn't matter, so they would not be disqualified in college team meets later in life. Still.

Eli takes that Equif boat or one just like it, through the gates. This looks a clear case of nominative determinism - a fine Old Testament name like that, suits the magnificent Old-Testament-patriarchal beard.

The slalom finished on the third day and the gates vanished from the river. All remaining competitors went off for the downriver racing, a four mile stretch below Buena Vista. I remained to fish a bit for the small wild brown trout. My first theory was they would have been disturbed by all the boat traffic, so would have developed good appetites and be easy to catch. The second theory was they would have been rested from fishermen, so would be easy to catch. Neither of these worked - it appears that frankly my dear they don't give a damn.  I caught a couple by grace of the fishing gods.

It was extremely strange to fish up through where the course had been. It felt like like losing your faith, all the structure and meaning we impose, gone from the world, and only bare rock and water left.

Of course the trout that live there find structure and meaning enough.

My thanks to the Oxenfords for hosting us, and to Ms. O for the pictures, which may also be found here. I have always depended on the kindness of strangers. Well, friends really, in this case.

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

first fish

Here we are forty miles from the nearest navigable water, out at the edge of the Great American Desert, with a canoe in case of emergencies. We weren't the only ones confused - well away from Cheyenne in the bare green country, there sat a bald eagle perched on the telegraph pole. All the pronghorn were loafing contentedly in the fields, surrounded by forage. Usually they are either not visible at all, or wandering around looking for grazing. There will be lots of twins this wet spring. The pronghorn are like bears, fertilize the eggs in the winter then re-absorb them in case of a lean hard spring, or carry multiples to term in a good year.

And live alone in the bee-loud glade.
And I shall have some peace there

The wild plums are first to riot in flowers. The other fruit trees up here are just beginning. Fortunately the wild plum can pollinate the tame ones that will bear fruit. There were mostly honey bees but numbers of other small black wild bees busy at the harvest.

All the serious tractoring had been done last week, twenty some acres of barley and five of the health-giving legume sainfoin, for the blooms and for the deer. It's possible next year we may invest in some WY deer licenses, if they like it well enough. We just cleaned out the tractor and the barley seed bags, then toured the trees to see how they were getting along. The sandhill cranes are nesting again. They don't care for us on the farm and lift out to the neighboring cattle grazing, watching carefully in case we try to pull something.

Last week up on the hill there was a mixed flock of mallards and pheasants. This is unprecedented. Mallards belong on water and pheasants in the fields. Ken drove by and reported they all had the furtive slightly frantic teenagers-hiding-a-joint look, definitely up to something.

Storms gathered around the pond but never quite got there. I was all armoured up in full waders, rainjacket and hat, then quickly grew hot. Fish rising all over. Ken caught a few swiftly then opted for a nap. It took me a while to get rigged then the usual Adams #18 was not performing for me. This year so far has produced a long streak of fishless outings. I started to believe yet again I'd become obsolete.

Ken is napping on a rock somewhere over there. At one point there were three turkey buzzards wheeling in a spiral above him. Before I could get the pic, he twitched, and they spun off on long glides to look for something deader.

First fish of the year and most welcome. Caught a smattering of similar 10-12" holdovers, fat and happy, but never quite figured out what they wanted. On days like this it seems the fish are taking pity on my fumblings, or perhaps the fishing gods that live past all imploring grant a moment of unaccountable grace.

This was all very well and entirely satisfactory, but there was a possibility of truly enormous trout cruising the wall of an immense irrigation reservoir out on the plains. We went to check.

Wind, big skies, and several hundred coots. Occasionally a couple of Lesser Scaup would whistle overhead coming down the wind like a low-level strafing run. I ducked reflexively every time.

This is more like ocean fishing than anything else, hopefully plunking the fly into a giant mostly featureless puddle with the fish scattered through it like plums in a Christmas pudding. In the spring it's possible to cheat by fishing along the wall, where the trout cruise looking for spawning spots. This seems a little unfair but I have big-fish lust pounding in the brain, here in the spring after the long and unfished winter.

Ken observed, "sometimes they will roll along here", one rolled on cue, he cast to it and promptly landed a solid 22" rainbow. So far so good. In the dusky green water as the light came and went, dim submarine shapes passed quickly by on the edge of the dropoff. A big white streamer did nothing for me. Chironomids or egg patterns fished below a strike indicator (bobber) will often work but you might as well drown a worm under a bobber as flyfish that way. Next up, a substantial black nymph with an orange abdomen and some legs to wiggle at the passersby, five casts across 180 degrees to cover the water, changing up retrieves for each repeat of the cast pattern. Repeat until the zen kicks in, or a fish takes. A large solid presence made itself felt on a slow short strip retrieve.

The bow of that net is 15". Today I learned a 25" fish will fit into it in a pinch, though it do stick out a bit. That's the biggest trout I've caught in a decade or more and one of the fattest. Returned with thanks, to grow even more.

Some time later a slow hand-twist retrieve persuaded this handsome lad of 22" or so.

Ken was prowling the wall and saw three fish disporting themselves on a small flat just north of me. He guided my casts as I couldn't see them through the flat glare of late afternoon cloud light. 'Too far out' 'still too far out' 'Geez you bum did you forget how to cast over the winter ?' but finally got close enough and this deep coloured spawning male slammed the fly.

The night in Medicine Bow at the Virginian Hotel, as in the fall trip. Next morning out to the lake as on that trip too, a lake that wasn't there in the early 2000s. Somehow Game&Fish worked out a deal with the irrigation district to get water in the lake, much to our delight. The fish had grown an inch or two over the winter though the brook trout had vanished tracelessly. Again I fuddled and futzed my way through the day, picking up a fish here and there, never quite figuring it out. Chironomids below a bobber would have worked. The day was glorious.

This is a pure put-and-take fishery with no natural reproduction. The way to dusty death for these fish is me, pelicans, or old age. Today I decided it might as well be me and kept a handsome brace.

One fillet I fried up for myself on Monday night while the family was out at their Swallow Hill music classes - fry the skin side first in a little butter to brown it up, then flip and add some white wine, more butter, and lemon juice, simmer briefly. Delicious. The other three fillets got smoked in my Abu Roken box, one taken to a party with more lemon, the last two baked into a quiche for Mother's Day, since I'm just that kind of beta male. Perhaps actually catching the fish out there in the wailing Wyoming wilderness makes up for baking the quiche ?

Saturday, February 24, 2018

voting machines and elections

Computer scientists have been running around with their hair on fire about the US voting machines ever since they were first deployed. The charitable interpretation is that the voting machine companies have a touchingly naive faith in 'computers',

A just machine to make big decisions
Programmed by fellows with compassion and vision
We'll be clean when their work is done
Donald Fagen

But the companies clearly don't understand the first thing about security, chains of custody, or auditability.

From computer science Professor Alex Halderman testifying to the Senate intelligence committee - with footnotes, citations, eight-by-ten colour glossy photographs with circles And arrows and a paragraph on the back of each one,
Ten years ago, I was part of the first academic team to conduct a comprehensive
security analysis of a DRE voting machine. We examined what was at that time the
most widely used touch-screen DRE in the country, and spent several months probing
it for vulnerabilities. What we found was disturbing: we could reprogram the machine to
invisibly cause any candidate to win. We also created malicious software—vote-stealing
code—that could spread from machine-to-machine like a computer virus, and silently
change the election outcome.

Vulnerabilities like these are endemic throughout our election system. Cybersecurity
experts have studied a wide range of U.S. voting machines—including both DREs and
optical scanners—and in every single case, they’ve found severe vulnerabilities that
would allow attackers to sabotage machines and to alter votes. That’s why there is
overwhelming consensus in the cybersecurity and election integrity research
communities that our elections are at risk.
Princeton computer science professor Andrew Appel who can hack an election in seven minutes without breaking a sweat,
If this century has shifted our trust from away from our neighbors toward machines, it might be time to switch back again. Eight countries in Europe that once flirted with digital voting have seen six go back to paper; Britain counted its Brexit votes by hand. Even if the vote were never hacked—and it is an exceedingly implausible event—the remotest possibility is an albatross on democracy and a boon for mischief-makers, and not just the cyber attackers. Trump’s most recent jujitsu—pointing out that by virtue of the fact that the election is hackable, it could be rigged against him—illustrates this risk. Technology has amplified not only the threat of hacking, but the threat of a hack.

The Princeton alums can warn us—but they can’t protect us. “We are in a collision-course between the technology we use in election administration and the growing reality of politically motivated, statelevel cyberattacks,” Halderman tells me, arm propped on his red office chair, sunlight pouring through his westward window. “We sit around all day and write research papers. But these people are full-time exploiters. They’re the professionals. We’re the amateurs.”
recent article from the NYT covers much the same ground, though not as well.

There are Senate and House bills to fix this, with the remedies that are obvious,
- Replacing insecure paperless voting systems with new equipment that will generate a voter-verifiable paper ballot;
- Implementing post-election audits of paper ballots

However in this administration I think it unlikely either of these will pass.

Now, get your tin foil hat on. Responsible journalism would have covered these stories, but since we don't have that, they sound like conspiracy theories. The evidence is to my mind quite persuasive.

Voting machines in the 2016 election gave results that are not easily reconciled with polls and exit polls.
We use our data to explore the claim that counties with electronic voting exhibited different voting patterns than their paper peers. What we find is definitely troubling: in some of the swing states, and specifically in states that were projected to vote Democratic at the top of the ticket, those with electronic voting had a decrease in the percent of the total vote going for the Clinton-Kaine campaign, and an increase for the Trump-Pence campaign. We try to determine if this is spurious by checking for patterns in other places with electronic voting, as well as during the 2012 election. We only find this correlation for swing states during the 2016 election.
Craig Wright, a baseball statistician, found the election peculiar and came to a similar conclusion
Exit polls are no longer just polls of voters exiting polling places. Edison Research, which conducts the exit polling for the major news outlets, also polls voters by phone prior to election day, looking for feedback from the rising group of early voters to be added proportionally to their polling place data. 
The CNN exit polls — which were done by Edison Research — covered 28 states that accounted for 411 of the Electoral votes. Their exit polls correctly predicted the winner in the recorded vote in 24 of the 28 states. All four misses were swing states, and in all four cases the exit polls had indicated that [D] had won, but then the official vote count went to [R]. The four states were Florida, Pennsylvania, North Carolina, and Wisconsin, a group that accounts for 74 Electoral votes. While the official vote count gave [R] a whopping 90 Electoral votes in the swing states, if the exit polls were translated into Electoral votes, that would have completely turned that result around with 93 Electoral votes of the swing states going to [D].
Among the seventeen states using voting machines with no audit trail so an effective paper audit cannot be done, only two are swing states. Unfortunately, they were the two swing states with the most Electoral votes, Florida and Pennsylvania.
This has a precedent, too - the Presidential Election of 2000 was the first time in 112 years that the result of the popular vote and the Electoral vote disagreed. The difference here was the votes in Florida were not counted, which was oddly enough a primary motivation for the voting machine debacle and its consequences.

In 2004 something very strange happened in Ohio,
Connell ran the private IT firm GovTech that created the controversial system that transferred Ohio's vote count late on election night 2004 to a partisan Republican server site in Chattanooga, Tennessee owned by SmarTech. That is when the vote shift happened, not predicted by the exit polls, that led to Bush's unexpected victory.
The Georgia special election last year was most likely hacked as well - but we can't know since the machine was wiped clean.
Georgia’s election system was sitting insecure on the internet for months and was easily accessible by hackers. The problem was discovered ahead of time and the state was taken to court in an effort to prevent them from using the unprotected system for the special election between Karen Handel and Jon Ossoff.  But the election was held anyway.
A computer server crucial to a lawsuit against Georgia election officials was quietly wiped clean by its custodians just after the suit was filed, The Associated Press has learned.

Trump can make allegations but I have not seen anywhere any evidence for his allegations. There is evidence for my conspiracy theories. Ha.
When there is no audit trail the only available check is the exit polls. There's no proof but the evidence is highly suggestive.

More generally, the elections are no longer representative of the people who vote.
Exit polls in the same election that produced this massive GOP triumph had this finding: 55% of the very same voters had an unfavorable opinion of the Republican party compared to 49% for the Democratic Party.   Conversely, 47% viewed the Democrats favorably vs. 40% for the Republicans.

In general through the last century, the party that has controlled the House also got the most votes. In the 2012 election, something unusual happened: Democrats won 50.59 percent of the two-party vote – but just 46% of the seats in the House of Representatives. The Republican candidate for President got 47% of the vote and his party controls at least 55% of the seats. The Democratic candidate got 48% of the vote, and yet the Democrats won 44.6% of the House seats.
The state of elections is well summarized in this letter to the London Review of Books,
Half of the American voting population doesn’t vote at all – namely, the poorer half. Some countries hold elections on weekends or ad hoc holidays; US elections are on a Tuesday, following a 19th-century farm schedule. Americans with no job security working multiple jobs with no breaks often have no time to vote. If Americans have been convicted of felonies, they are in many states disenfranchised for the rest of their lives.

Most of those who are entitled to vote in the US and who have the leisure to do so will take part in a primitive winner-takes-all system of electoral districts that the Republican Party has systematically manipulated. They will vote on electronic voting machines with minimal electronic security, purchased by Republican state governments from Republican-donor equipment suppliers, machines that routinely return Republican candidates to office even when polls show a wide lead for the other party – this may inform the Democrats’ ‘loss of nine hundred seats in state legislatures’.

This was the state of the system which nevertheless, as Bromwich says, ‘voted for Obama twice’. But then things got worse. In 2013, Chief Justice John Roberts effectively terminated the Voting Rights Act of 1965 that had made it easier for black people to vote. Many states introduced racist voter-ID requirements that had been blocked for fifty years, and even in states that did not pass new laws, election officials were emboldened to invent purported requirements and refuse minority voters their rights.

Benjamin Letzler
Oberursel, Germany