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Friday, December 31, 2010

2010: Year in Review

2010 draws to a close.

I can't actually reflect on all of 2010, because this blog is, believe it or not, only 11 weeks old. My first post here was on the 16th of October. The bigger "believe it or not" is that when I woke up on the 16th of October starting a new blog was the farthest thing from my mind. It was a Saturday, and it happened that it was the Fall 2010 meeting for the Zenith Maritime Academy instructors in the Pacific Northwest region. It happens that one of the other instructors is my friend and co-conspirator Captain Richard Rodrigeuz, who in addition to imparting his wisdom at his school up in Friday Harbor and rescuing damsels in distress (well, okay, some of the boats he rescues happen to have damsels on them) writes Bitter End, probably the best maritime blog in the Pacific Northwest. At some point during the day Richard said something like "you should write a maritime blog, too"; and, well, here we are.

The intention was to create a maritime blog which was a bit more focused on navigation and weather than many of them, specifically focusing on celestial navigation because that's sort of my field of expertise. On the banner I stated that Strait of Magellan would be "A small blog for marine navigation, astronomy, space exploration, meteorology, boating and matters pertaining to maritime education and the maritime industry". My first post dealt specifically with the use of lunar distances to obtain UTC for navigation, which I thought would tie-in the topics of navigation and astronomy nicely and set the tone for the blog. In the weeks since then, the posts have been split between roughly 60% "nautical stuff" and 40% "space stuff", which was just about my intention. Ironically, I posted about Lunars again last night. I sense a theme.

I'm a bit surprised at which of the posts are being read, and who's reading them.
With the exception of one obvious outlier (which I will address presently) the overwhelmingly largest number of "hits" for any story posted here was for "Iron Lisa and the Arsenic Prokaryotes", about the work Dr. Felisa Wolfe-Simon and her team at Mono Lake, CA with arsenic-based halobacteria. A lot of the traffic for that came from people searching directly for stories about her, and the fact that I used the nickname she's best known by steered lots of her fans to my blog. I think it's pretty cool that in this day an exobiologist has groupies. And, by the way, she can play the hell out of an oboe. Again, many kudos to Dr Wolfe-Simon and her team.

The second most popular post was a small discussion of meteorologist Edward Lorenz and the Butterfly Effect, and a very brief introduction to chaos physics. The third most popular post, which I had hoped would be the single most popular, was 100-Year Starship, which discussed the recent re-ignition of Project Orion at NASA. Given all of the recent (and misguided, I think) grumbling about the cancellation of Constellation, I thought that addressing some of the very cool things the 2010 and 2011 programs are actually focusing on would be beneficial. Apparently a lot of you agreed. I'm probably going to do another post discussing Constellation specifically, in the fairly near future.

The list goes on like that, with a lot of people also following my ten-part (or thereabouts) series on outmigration and solar system colonization. Eight of the top-ten stories of the whole blog were science stories. But with the exception of the Iron Lisa fan-club, very little of my traffic came from other science blogs.

The vast majority came from other maritime blogs, most notably Nautical Log, and Bitter End, which started this whole thing in the first place. I had assumed that I would get maritime people interested in the maritime posts and space-science people interested in the space-science posts. Instead, for the most part, I've had a really large number of maritime people interested in the space-science posts. Which is somewhat ironic, because presenting science to sailors has always kind of been my gig. My classroom students of course all know that, but it's also true on the water. For several years I worked on an ocean-going tug, and I used to pepper the magazine rack in the crew's mess (which generally was filled with things like Guns and Ammo, Field and Steam, and Road and Track) with things like Sky and Telescope (because it had an "and" in the middle, too), Astronomy and Scientific American. One midnight watch I came down to the crew's mess and found one of the tankermen reading Physics World or something. He looked up at me and said "this article on Higgs-Bosons is real interesting", and went back to reading. I knew then my work on that boat was done.

So, here we continue.

I mentioned earlier the "outlier", and I want to address it now. One post, from the 1st of November, garnered more "hits" than the next seven busiest posts combined. It shouldn't have; it was a fairly mundane post about a cruise ship making the decision to come under a bridge at a full bell, with less than 9" of clearance. The title of the post was simply meant to convey the idea that if "pray real hard" is part of your navigation plan, you're cutting your tolerances too close. But the title of the post was "Navigation vs Theology", which was only meant to be mildly humorous. But apparently religion is a lot more interesting to more people than either boating or science, so I got lots and lots of hits on that particular post. I just checked, and even today, almost two months later, I have more hits for that post than any other today. So I guess if I really wanted a lot more traffic, I could just post about religion on a regular basis, but I'm not going to. I will however make a single post on the subject of religion and science, which will hopefully answer some of the questions I get on the subject. I'll post that one tomorrow, for New Year's day. It'll be grand. And then I'm probably not going to post anything on religion again.

At least as interesting to me as what posts people are reading is, who's reading them. Being a maritime blog based in Seattle, and seeing that many of these posts are focused on weather and other maritime issues for the Strait of Juan de Fuca and te Salish Sea as a whole, I assumed that the majority of the readership would come from the US and Canada. The US does lead, but just barely. Canada is a far distant third. But the number two country for readership, just a hair's breadth away from the US, is Japan. I have to assume that my Japanese readers are mostly interested in the astronomy and space-science posts, because I can't imagine that reading weather analyses from 8000 miles away could be very interesting!

Finally, I'd like to extend my gratitude to Richard Rodriguez for inspiring this mess, Captain John Baird of the esteemed Cody Steamship and Navigation Company for his endless trove of marginal maritime advice, all of the Zenith Maritime instructors, students and alumni, Dr David Burch at Starpath School of Navigation for being my mentor and inspiration for all of these many years, Scott, Greg, Laura and Amanda at Windworks for making the classes happen (because I sure as hell couldn't do them as well on my own!), and the crews and staff of Victoria Clipper, for everything. And mostly I'd like to thank my beautiful family, who put up with my blogging and general geekiness in spite of it all.

Many thousand thanks, tapadh leibh and domo arigato.

Here's to 2011!


  1. Indeed second that Bravo Zulu from RR#1. What I find most fasinating is your astronomy posts. I have learned a great deeal and have had to do quite a bit of research. Hard to believe you RR #2 are only 11 weeks old!! Best wishes for the coming year 2011 and keep posting please.
    Good Watch.

  2. Captain Reeder -

    Job well done - all the best in 2011.


    John Baird