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    Re: Chauvenet's practical navigation experience
    From: Frank Reed
    Date: 2010 Mar 16, 08:07 -0700

    Note: the original message I am replying to was in the irradiation thread, but since it is primarily about Chauvenet, I am replying here.

    Henry Halboth wrote on Saturday:
    "You induce me to humbly, abjectly and sincerely apologize to the members of this List for daring to use the name Chauvenet in a posting, even if only intended as a comparative jest – certainly, to me, at least, NASA’s observers did not seem any more qualified than Chauvenet, a nuance apparently lost on you."

    Henry, you've got enough sarcasm stuffed into that sentence that it may very well explode. But you're quite correct-- your "nuance" WAS lost on me since you did not mention NASA in your post. Now I can see that you were making a comparison with a much earlier post. As you should know by now, HH, we have nothing to go by in each other's posts except the text that we write. I tried using my telepathic powers to read your mind and decipher what you intended, but then I remembered... I don't have telepathic powers. Rats! All I had to go on were the words in your post, and you didn't mention NASA in your post. I just assumed you were talking about NavList members. That *we* were re-inventing the wheel when Chauvenet had already provided us with the last word on the subject. That's how I read it. I do apologize for not seeing the connection to the earlier posts about NASA. But as I said, those are "apples and oranges".

    And you wrote:
    "I said nothing about trusting his numbers any more than I trust NASA's numbers"

    No, that's true. You didn't mention NASA at all. What you did say was that it seemed that we were re-inventing the wheel. People usually say that when they mean that it is unnecessary to do the work in question because it has already been done. It's a sort of a "case closed --you're wasting your time --they already figured this out a long time ago" comment. I must have misunderstood you.

    Henry, you wrote:
    "by rough estimate, I have taken some 87,600 sights at sea in my time and do not"

    And I gotta tell you, that is truly an awe-inspiring number! I have invited you... and George has invited you... and maybe some other have too... to discuss your sea experiences. Tell us about YOUR navigational experiences. That would be a delight.

    Henry, you wrote:
    "The mere mention Chauvenet's name, regardless of the context, appears to drive you into such a predictable frenzy" [etc.]

    I'm sorry, Henry, but that is nothing but horseshit. I went through the message archive for the six years that I have been on NavList and I find about a hundred posts in which I mention or discuss Chauvenet in one way or another. I find five in which I pointed out that Chauvenet was a land-bound mathematician without navigational experience and in nearly every case I carefully point out that he was also a brilliant mathematician. Calling my posts "frenzy" is a very cheap shot and factually incorrect. A couple of those five posts were simply replies to people, usually George, as it happens, telling me that I was wrong for saying Chauvenet had no navigational experience. It is no offense to Chauvenet to state that he was NOT a navigator. I would trust with minimal reflection nearly anything in a book by Chauvenet on the subjects of spherical trigonometry and mathematics generally. But I would still check his work. That's the beauty of mathematics --you can verify any demonstration. But I would not trust him on matters of practicality, claims of errors in practice, or the relative merits in practice of various different navigational methods, because those were not his strengths.

    You continued:
    "Your tirades against Bro. Chauvenet are so familiar and repetitious as to lead to the suspicion that they are prerecorded or "canned" as boiler plate for immediate recovery and dispatch upon mention of his name."

    Once again, Henry, this is horseshit. I have never posted any "tirades" against Chauvenet. So I have a challenge for you, Henry: either apologize for these comments, OR point us all to a NavList post which fits your description of my posts as "frenzy" or "tirades" against Chauvenet.

    Get it, Henry?? PUT UP OR SHUT UP.

    You wrote:
    "It would be difficult to deny the contributions made to the Art/Science of Navigation by the numerous astronomers and mathematicians of yesteryear who, with but few exceptions, had little or no time at sea in responsible positions; seafarers owe a lot to these gentlemen, and yes some ladies too, who provided much of the theory, math and instruction which they were challenged to make use of in the practical navigation of their vessels. Even the honored Bowditch most probably did not have a fourth of my sea time – does that place him in a lesser position than me? I really don’t think so."

    Of course, the mathematicians and nautical astronomers of, ahem, "yesteryear" were absolutely essential to the success of scientific navigation. That's the whole nature of the beast. But that doesn't mean that they were always right. There is a difference between "intelligence" and "wisdom". A nautical astronomer can be astoundingly intelligent while at the same time making choices and recommendations that are unwise. Take for example, the numerous nautical astronomers and mathematicians in the late 19th century publishing what they called "new" methods of clearing lunars decades after such solutions were necessary (I say "new" because frequently they didn't realize that they were re-treads see, for example, Merrifield's "new" method). They were largely wasting their time. Chauvenet himself fell into this trip. His method of clearing lunars was a trivial improvement. He could just as easily have added some modest improvements to pre-existing tables, in Bowditch e.g., to achieve the same effect. Meanwhile, as he was expending all that time and energy assembling his own lunar method, navigational practice was running in entirely different directions. Imagine how different American navigational history would have been if Chauvenet had focused his mind on celestial lines of position (he has only a few brief pages on the topic in his great "Manual of Spherical and Practical Astronomy").


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