Bring your own fork

April 24, 2006 - Monday

 The View From The Conception

Here’s a fun View From Here for a change. I went on a 2-day scuba trip over the weekend on the Conception Dive Boat and had a great time. I met up with a bunch of regulars from my local dive shop (Aqua Adventures Unlimited) in Santa Barbara for dinner on Friday night and we spent the night on the boat. Here’s the Conception’s bunkroom:

Channel Islands, CA
(Mine was bunk 4, the open one on the bottom left)

When we woke up in the morning, we were on our way out to the Channel Islands. We encountered a pod of either gray or humpback whales on the way and chased them around for awhile, and dolphins were all around us playing in our wake and bow waves while we did it. I managed to get a pretty cool shot of one of the dolphins:

Dolphin

Once we reached the islands we dove for two days around Anacapa and Santa Cruz islands. Here’s the view from the Conception on Day 2:

Channel Islands, CA

No scuba pictures this time — I was just trying to get back into the whole cold water diving thing, so I didn’t bring the camera housing. It’s just as well, too, because I really needed to pay attention to my buddy underwater. First because I was navigating for us and he had no idea where we were and kept swimming off in the wrong direction, secondly because he kept trying to kill me: He was spearfishing and almost stabbed me with the spear once, and later he almost slashed my throat with his dive knife while he was trying to dispatch a fish when a wave pushed him and he starting flailing around trying to keep his balance. I backed waaay the fuck off from him after that.

But we all survived and I got some good dives in and had a blast on my first liveaboard diving experience. They’re doing another one in June and I’m definitely signing up for it.


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April 6, 2006 - Thursday

 Vacay Upday

So you’re asking yourselves, Hey, Selves, I wonder how Chuck, Beth and Zoe’s fabulous CuraƧao vacation is going? And because you’re an intelligent, discriminating person with an appreciation for the finer things in life — evidenced by the fact that you read this blog — you checked here to see if I posted a vacation update. And what do you know? I did!

So how’s the vacation going? I’ll let Zoe tell you from 40 feet down on her first “real” scuba dive:

Zoe's 1st Scuba Dive

Gotta go… Another shore dive beckons…


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May 16, 2005 - Monday

 HBD2Me

Today is my scuba birthday: one year ago today I did my first open water dive, at the Casino Point dive park at Catalina Island. I remember that first dive as if it were yesterday.

My training up to that moment had consisted of two mornings of classroom study and two afternoons of skills training in a swimming pool. The classroom study taught us about the physics of diving and gas exchange and important tips like “Don’t hold your breath or your lungs will explode.” The pool sessions taught us what the equipment was and how to put it on and use it, along with important tips like “Don’t hold your breath or your lungs will explode.” I had breezed through all of it because I was highly motivated and have always been very comfortable in the water and also because I had maybe a little tiny baby crush on my instructor, Szilvia, and didn’t want her to think I was an idiot.

Here’s the thing they don’t tell you about scuba diving: the gear is heavy and it’s hard to move in it. And here’s the thing they don’t tell you about diving in California: it’s cold water diving so you need a wetsuit and the wetsuits are tight and hard to put on and it’s hard to move around in them. And then here’s the thing about putting on a wetsuit and a ton of scuba gear in an asphalt parking lot in the blazing sun in 80 degree weather and then trying to walk in it: it’s exhausting.

So by the time I was hanging at the surface on the descent line buoy with Szilvia, I was sweating like a pig and blowing like a whale and completely out of breath. But I didn’t want Szilvia to think I was an idiot, so when she said “Okay, let’s drop down” I nodded and dumped air from my BC and dropped down the line with her.

Ten feet down, I stopped. I wasn’t panicking, but it was close. I was breathing fine off my reg, but between the being out of breath and the wetsuit being tight around my chest and the basic nervousness of “holy shit, I’m breathing where I should be drowning,” I wasn’t getting enough air. I wanted to go up. Now.

Szilvia gave me the “Okay?” sign and I shook my head “Hell no!” and thumbed “Up.” Szilvia was having none of it. She’s been through this hundreds of times before and knew exactly what was going on. She shook her head “No” and held her hand out “Stop” and then motioned to “Breathe in / breathe out, breathe in / breathe out.” So I hung there on the line with her for a minute or two and just breathed and forced myself to calm down and soon I was good to go. I gave her the “Okay” sign and we continued our descent and went on to have a great dive.

That’s a memory I’m always going to carry with me. I feel kind of silly now, looking back on it with the perspective a year of diving has given me, but I’m also a little proud of myself for not losing it and shooting to the surface. I faced down a primal fear there and conquered it. That’s a good feeling. Also, I didn’t look like an idiot in front of Szilvia. Well, maybe a little bit, but not a complete idiot. At least not then.

Diving now, the initial descent is my favorite part of the dive. I love floating there on the surface until me and my buddy agree to drop down, and then dumping air and slowing dropping beneath the surface. I love the sudden crash of noise as my ears fill with water and I equalize and then my hearing acclimates to the underwater world and I hear all the clicks and grunts of the sea life and the inhale/exhale of the divers around me. And I especially love watching the surface rise away from me, like cloud cover lifting away above a descending airplane. That initial drop down just never gets old.

It’s been a few months now since I’ve been in the water. I was hoping to celebrate my scuba birthday by going diving this weekend, but diving isn’t cheap and not having a (decent) job doesn’t lend itself to frequent diving trips, so I’m staying on dry land for now. But I’m working on a deal that should help get me back in the water on my current budget, so I’ll get to celebrate soon enough. Plus, I have some job prospects on the horizon that would let me buy new gear, even, if they pan out. So I will be diving again soon. Just, sigh, not today.

I’ll light a candle today and blow out a bubble later.


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May 7, 2005 - Saturday

 Reading is Fundamental

I’ve decided Access is going to be the way to go with my scuba shop inventory project. Unfortunately, I don’t know Access all that well. So today I toddled off to my local small-store-crushing megabookstore and grabbed a Teach Yourself Microsoft Access book so I can, um, teach myself Microsoft Access. And then, because I’m a big ol’ geek, I also grabbed PHP in Easy Steps.

Noble (but not Barnes &) purchases, both of them, full of good intent and a desire for higher learning and self-betterment and all that crap. Hoo-raw, good for me. But the question is: will I actually read them?

Little-known Chuck Fact that drives Beth to distraction: I don’t read directions. I not only don’t read them, I refuse to read them. It’s a point of pride for me that I can figure out how stuff works on my own and I don’t need no damned directions to help me do it.

So when we bring home a new widget or need to assemble a whatsit on Christmas Eve for Zoe to open Christmas morning or have something or other that requires some kind of putting together, the first thing out of the box and into the trash when we open it is the directions. And then I spend the next several hours forcing parts to fit together in ways they probably weren’t meant to and muttering “fuckingpieceofshit” and occasionally throwing wrenches across the living room and generally being a pain in the ass until I’ve completed the task. Sort of.

But if she’s being fair, Beth has to admit that I do usually end up successfully assembling these things on my own. And if I’m being fair, I guess I have to admit that I often end up with a small pile of “extra” parts that I couldn’t figure out how to use. And if I’m practicing rigorous honesty, I guess I also have to admit that sometimes I just can’t figure the stuff out at all and that, yes, sometimes I do have to cheat and read the directions. But I only read the part I’m having trouble with. I also never inhaled.

Aaaaanyway, I now have an Access book to help me figure out how to do my scuba shop project, and a PHP book for fun later so I can figure out to do … something. And I might even read them. Maybe.

Reading is fundamental, it’s true. And I put the ‘fundament’ in fundamental.


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May 6, 2005 - Friday

 Two Heads Are Better Than One

I need some help from you readers. My local scuba shop wants to set up an inventory control system for their rental equipment and they’ve asked me to help. I know what I want but I can’t find it out there. Maybe you can point me in the right direction?

What we’re going to do is barcode all the equipment so we can scan it to check it in and out. I need two things to make that happen:

  1. Some kind of database with tables made up of the equipment being rented and the customers renting it, and then need a front end on it where we can plug in who’s renting what and when they return it. We don’t need prices or invoices, just in/out.
  2. I was thinking Access might be the way to go but I don’t know it well enough to set up the tables or design the interface.

  3. A way to get the barcodes on the equipment. This is scuba gear, remember, so it’s going to get beat up a lot, not to mention being underwater for extended periods of time. We need something durable that won’t get in the way. I’ve seen something like a cross between a zipper pull and a zip tie that looked close to what we need but I can’t find it anywhere.

So there you go, that’s what I need your help with. If you can point me to a cheap Windows-based software solution and a durable inventory tag, I’ll sure appreciate it. Maybe I’ll take you diving with me as thanks.

Can you help? Puh-leaze?


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February 17, 2005 - Thursday

 Ahhh….

Well, it looks like deadpan’s move went pretty smoothly. Everything looks like it’s working and nobody got hurt. I don’t think I cursed once during the process. I didn’t even throw anything. Amazing.

I ended up going with Total Choice Hosting, as suggested by my close personal virtual friend Susan Dennis. I ended up paying less for more there and now there’s a lot more space for deadpan to spread out in — 850 mb rather than the 150 mb we were squeezing into (and out of) before.

So to celebrate all the elbow room I now find myself with, I’m posting a video I wanted to post but couldn’t because I was running out of space. My dive-buddy Bill shot it during a dive we did back in December at Catalina Island’s Casino Point dive park. We’re near the glass bottom boat, if you followed the Casino Point link and looked at the dive park map. I’m the diver you’ll see in the video, and the school of fish was even thicker than it looks. Click on the pic below to check it out. (11 mb)


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December 14, 2004 - Tuesday

 In Hot & Cold Water

I couldn’t let last week’s disastrous scuba outing keep me out of the water for too long, so I was back on the ferry again Sunday morning for another trip to Catalina Island. This time the seas were smoother and the diving conditions friendlier and we managed to stay dry on the boat and get wet at the dive park — as it should be. I set a personal depth record on my two dives — 93 and 92 feet, and more importantly: I got wet and had fun.

One of my dive buddies took his camera down with him and got some great footage of us swimming through a school of fish so thick you could hardly see through them, but I don’t know how to post it here and don’t think I’d want to give up the 26 mb of storage space if I did. So instead I’ll post a still shot of me on the same dive. Sharper-eyed viewers among you might notice that I’m tilted to the right even after you account for the tilted angle from which the picture was taken. I’ll be blaming the new hooded vest Beth gave me, which I’m modeling in the picture. The vest adds some buoyancy so I had to carry another 3lbs, and you try to divide 3lbs to distribute the weight evenly. Go ahead, I dare you. In the meantime, I’ll just list slightly to one side — about 3 lbs worth.

There was an added complication to last week’s dive that I never got around to mentioning, so I guess I’ll mention it now that it’s been cleared up. Last Sunday morning, as I was making coffee at 5:45 am in preparation to try to go diving, I heard a scary noise coming from the water heater on the kitchen side of the house. It sounded just like water gushing from under the water heater that supplies the washing machine and dishwater and guest bathroom. I investigated and determined that it was water gushing from under the water heater, and I did the only responsible thing I could do: I turned the water to the water heater off, woke Beth up with the words “Honey, we have a problem”, and then I left to go diving.

One of the guys in my dive club is a fireman, and if you know anything about firemen you know that they are all about doing construction-type jobs on the side — building decks, laying brick, doing plumbing repairs, building fences… Did I mention plumbing work? So I called Mark and asked him to come take a look at it for me. His diagnosis: you need a new water heater.

So all of last week, we’ve been living without that water heater while we waited for Mark to have time to come put the new one in. Fortunately we have a second water heater that supplies the master bathroom where everyone showers, but the washing machine and dishwater on the other end of the house were out of commission. So for the last week we’ve been doing dishes old-school: boiling water on the stove and filling the sink with it. It’ll do in a pinch, but I’m happy to have hot water come out of the faucet again. You can keep your pioneer days scrubbery to yourself, thankyewverymuch.

Mark left a few hours ago and we are up to our elbows in hot water and suds now and couldn’t be happier. And best of all, Beth can stop being the Dish Nazi and insisting Zoe and I eat off paper plates and use plastic knives and forks.

And as an added bonus, I think this proves that scuba diving isn’t the expensive hobby Beth claims it is, but rather that it makes good financial sense to do it: it’s how I met Mark, who saved us a ton of money we would have spent on a plumber. I think it’s clear that the more I go diving, the more money we’ll save. I’m not doing it for me, it’s for the family.


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December 6, 2004 - Monday

 A Three Hour Tour

I went to Catalina Island to go scuba diving yesterday. Notice that I said I went to go diving, not that I actually dove. Because I didn’t dive. But I did have an adventure.

We’ve been having some strange weather here in the Los Angeles area lately, unusual conditions that puzzle the locals and cause them to drive dangerously — odd cottony formations in the sky, scary booming noises coming from all around, a curious liquid substance falling from somewhere far above. I’ve done some research on the internets and this phenomenon sounds a lot like rain. Being a Southern Californian I’ve never seen this “rain,” but that does seem to describe what we’re seeing so I’ll go with it.

So yeah, it’s raining around here. But my local dive shop had a great deal going on a dive trip to Catalina yesterday, and I figured since I was going to be wet from being underwater anyway I could live with being a little wet above water too. So I paid my money and packed my gear — including my new hooded vest courtesy of Beth for my birthday — into my new gear bag courtesy of my mom for my birthday — and I drove down to Long Beach to board the Catalina Express ferry to the Island.

The ferry is usually packed to the gills with close to 400 passengers, but yesterday morning there were only about 40 people, 16 of whom were my group. We were all feeling very superior and snarking about how L.A. people can’t drive in the rain and are afraid they’re going to melt and how rough and tough we were for ignoring the rain and doing our thing anyway. Two hours later it looked like we were the fools for showing up, not the others for staying home.

Leaving the harbor we were joking about how rough the crossing was going to be. The crew had warned us to expect a few bumps because of the storms, so we were prepared for some rocking and rolling. The crew gave us the standard briefing about where the life preservers were and how to wear them — and they added a bit of information I hadn’t heard them give before: sickbags were available if anyone felt they needed one. That quieted a few folks down.

The boat started rolling and bouncing, and someone mentioned that “well, that’s not too bad” and someone else pointed out that “we haven’t cleared the breakwater yet.” Nervous laughter. Once we cleared the breakwater the rolling and bouncing got worse, but it still wasn’t too bad. But as it got rougher and rougher, to where you couldn’t walk around without holding on to something, it got quieter and quieter. And some people started turning green.

The ferry usually cruises at about 30 – 35 knots. I don’t think we were going that fast, but we were still moving pretty good. At those speeds you don’t feel each individual wave, you get more of the swell movement — it’s a slow up-and-down rocking/surging as the boat rides from the crest to the valley to the crest of the swells. If the timing is right it’s just like going up and over hills in your car. If the timing’s wrong it’s like digging the nose of the car into the top of the hill you’re climbing … and fortunately the bow can punch through the “ground.”

The ride got more and more wild and we had more and more waves crashing over the bow. But we were nice and dry inside the cabin and it was pretty impressive to see the waves splashing against the front windows. Then the captain started cutting power every once in a while, and we quickly noticed the pattern when he did: cut power, smash into a really big wave, watch an impressive wall of water break over the bow and against the windows, feel the ship drop like a rock into the trough and thud into the water at the bottom, throttle up and repeat. The green people starting puking. Some of the jokers shut up and started turning green themselves. One of the crew started puking.

Now, I’ve always wondered if I were prone to seasickness. I’ve been on boats many times, but never in really trying conditions, never in anything that would definitely make you seasick. I’ve always felt fine but I’ve always wondered if it was just because the conditions were agreeable. I think that now I know for sure, because I have definitely been tested. And I’m happy to say that I felt fine. Thank God, too, because the people who were puking looked miserable. You know how you always hear about people turning green? They really do.

So the seas are really rough, people are puking all over the place, we’re pitching and rolling, out the window you can see sea/sky/sea/sky, the captain is cutting power more and more frequently as huge waves are smashing over the bow and we’re slamming into the troughs, one of the crew told me that it was worse than he’d ever seen it and that if we weren’t already halfway there we’d probably turn back … and then it got interesting.

People going over to Catalina carry a lot of crap with them — scuba gear, camping equipment, fishing tackle, assorted stuff. There are storage bins on the bow deck to put all the crap in, and covers that dog down over them to keep them dry. There’s a row of storage bins right against the front cabin windows that open just like the hood of a car, with the lid leaning back against the wall with the windows in it.

So we’re crashing along, smashing through the wind and rain and waves — and one of these car hood-type lids flips up. This all happened so quickly that nobody really saw it and we had to piece it together afterware, but when this lid flipped up it slammed back against the wall right over one of the windows. The lid was a little wider than the window itself, so the edges of the lid hit the framing around the window and so the window didn’t break. Until seconds after the lid flipped up and we crashed through a monster wave.

This sent a wall of water crashing over the deck and against the storage bin lid, which had no hope of standing up against the force of the water. It bent like a U and crashed through the window, shattering it. And the rest of that wave came pouring into the cabin. It was like something out of a movie, The Perfect Storm, to be exact. And it was exactly like that.

The captain slowed waaay the hell down after that, which actually made things even rougher since that let us feel each individual wave. But going slower kept the waves crashing over the bow from coming far enough up to come into the cabin, which I think you can understand is something you’d want to prevent on a boat. We were never in any danger, but I suppose we could have been if the seas had gotten worse. Mostly we took it in stride and those of us who weren’t puking thought it was pretty cool. But still: damn!

The trip over to Catalina ended up taking us nearly 3 hours, and once we got there the conditions were so bad that diving really wasn’t possible. So we got back on the ferry (after they boarded up the window) and headed back to the mainland. The ride back was quite a bit calmer, and those of us who’d just been through it snickered at the new passengers oohing and aahing over conditions that were barely half of what we’d just experienced.

So I went diving but didn’t get to dive. But I still had a great time. And most importantly: I didn’t get seasick.


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September 8, 2004 - Wednesday

 The One Where The Surfer Crapped His Wetsuit

We closed out Zoe’s summer vacation with a trip to the beach today. We went to Leo Carillo Beach, where the plan was that Zoe and Beth would spend the day soaking up the sun on the beach while I split off for an hour or so to meet a scuba-buddy for a quick one-tank dive. So much for plans…

We got to the beach okay and got everything set up, and then I went off to meet scuba-buddy Scott and go shore diving. What should have been about an hour’s activity for me turned into something like 2.5 hours, with Beth and Zoe stranded until I came back with the car and starting to wonder if I was coming back.

The problem was that we staked out our beach spot at a different cove than the one Scott and I were diving from. So I took the car and went off to meet Scott. Then when I found him, I couldn’t park near the beach we were diving from because a film crew had taken over the closest parking lot. So I spent probably 20 minutes finding a spot, then probably another 20 getting geared up in the parking lot — wetsuit, 20 lb. weight belt, BCD with another 8 lbs. in it, 40 lb. air tank, fins, mask, etc — and then walking about 100 yards in 85 degree heat with all this gear just to get to the water’s edge. There, I collapsed for about five minutes to catch my breath, and Scott and I finally started diving.

We were down for 59 minutes with a max depth of 32 feet. We saw lots of cool stuff: guitarfish, cabezon, scorpionfish, lemon nudibranch, treefish, garibaldi, and thousands of purple sea urchins. There were so many of these sea urchins and we were getting pushed around so much by the surge that I was afraid I was going to come home wearing a couple dozen of them. I did get stabbed in the knee by one at one point, but fortunately none of the spines broke off. That would have been an all-night type ouchie.

My favorite part of the dive was at the end of it. We headed straight out from shore on the way out, and followed the reverse course to come back when we hit the halfway point on our air. When we got back to kinda sorta where we started, we didn’t know exactly where we were, so we decided to surface and take a peek around. Well, we surfaced in the surf zone, right next to a surfer who was sitting on his board and waiting for the next set to come in. We scared the holy crap out of him, I thought he was going to jump straight up in the air and run to shore Jesus-style. We got our bearings, gave him a wave, and dropped back down to 20 feet again. It was kind of cool knowing there were people surfing right over us as we kicked our way back along the bottom.

Back on the beach, Scott and I said our goodbyes and I hiked the 100 yards back to the car and called Beth to let her know that A) I hadn’t drowned yet, and B) I was on my way back to get her and Zoe. That led to my least favorite part of the dive: the silent treatment I got on the drive home. I don’t blame her for being upset, I’m just saying it wasn’t fun.

But… I got to go diving, so that’s a good thing. But next time we make a “family” outing to the beach, I’m leaving the scuba gear at home.


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August 16, 2004 - Monday

 Fun With Sea Lions

Friday was Scuba Day for me. I’ve done all my diving up ’til now at Catalina, so I decided to try something new this time out. I drove up to Ventura and went to Anacapa Island on the Spectre dive boat. I liked the Spectre but I’m not sure about Anacapa.

Dive #1 was at a site called Underwater Island. It’s basically a reef that comes within 15′ of the surface and drops down 65′ to the ocean floor. It’s surrounded by sand (almost like an island, hence the name), so the reef itself is really all there is to see. You just swim around it … and around it … and around it. You’re basically just doing laps until you’re low on air, which is what my buddy and I did. I did manage to find a nice dive knife on the bottom — the exact knife I’ve been thinking of buying, in fact — but the girl from my boat who lost it reclaimed it before I was even out of the water.

Dive #2 was at a sea lion breeding area, so we got to dive with the seal lions, which was pretty cool. Visually, it was pretty boring — just sand and a small reef — but fortunately the sea lions were there to liven things up. They’re very playful and oh my god are they fast underwater. They’re like torpedos that turn on a dime, and that dime is often just two or three inches in front of your nose. They love to come streaking straight at you and veer off at the last possible second, or they sneak around behind you and dive-bomb you and swim loops around you. Really, really fun to have them do that. I kept having trouble moving during the dive; I’d be kicking to swim over and look at something and it kept feeling like my fin was hung up in some kep or something, but I was never entangled when I looked back. Some of the people on the boat told me later it was a juvenile sea lion playing with me — he kept sneaking up behind me and biting my fin as I was swimming, hitching a ride from me.

Dive #3 was in a protected area on the front side of the island, where hunting and fishing is prohibited. The reef was in much better shape here, with a lot more coral and wildlife in and around it. We saw a good-size bat ray and a big daddy lobster. There was a lot of coral and sea fans and it reminded me of the reefs I snorkeled in the Bahamas — except that those weren’t in 60 degree freezing cold water.

All in all, it was a pretty good day. I’m going to try another dive boat out of Ventura Harbor — probably the Peace, and I want to dive Anacapa again to see if I like any other dive sites there better. Right now, with my limited experience, the advantage goes to Catalina.


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