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    Re: The Zen of Sextant Navigation
    From: Lu Abel
    Date: 2005 Oct 15, 11:39 -0700

    Hear, hear!   I was about to object to Robert's statement of
    "self-contained" when I read further into his post and saw his
    recognition that we are as dependent on government computers for
    celestial as we are for GPS.
    Let me take a stab at the zen of celestial.
    One of my other loves is for steam engines, particularly steam railroad
    As a graduate engineer (not the locomotive driver type, the designer
    type), I can recognize the horrible thermodynamic inefficiency of an
    old-fashioned locomotive as compared to today's diesels.   I can
    recognize the maintenance nightmare one of those old beasts presents vs
    a diesel.   But I still love 'em.
    Why?   I think it's because their works, their purpose, their function
    is exposed for all to see and admire.  The whole of a steam locomotive
    is functional -- as opposed to a diesel locomotive which is merely a
    frame for a diesel engine and generator buried deep inside under its
    sheet metal.   And when a steam locomotive works, it's a thing of beauty
    -- boiler, pistons, connecting rods, valve gear, exhaust stack and a
    myriad of other parts all working purposefully and in harmony together
    towards a single goal, moving the beast forward.
    I feel the same way about celestial navigation.  With GPS everything
    happens deep inside the invisible transistors of a microprocessor.  With
    celestial, there is the tangible, hands-on purposefulness of taking and
    reducing a sight.  Yeah, ultimately it requires a Nautical Almanac
    that's produced by government computers somewhere (or by a laptop on my
    boat), but if I'm willing to accept that deus-ex-machina, then the rest
    is pure hands-on joy.  I can feel the joy of using a precise yet
    practical optical instrument, my sextant, to bring the body down.  I can
    see and drive the movement of its data from hs to ha to Ho.  I can see
    and drive the movement from almanac data to LHA and dec and thence to Hc
    and Zn.  I can feel a connection to the celestial body as its data
    yields a LOP for me.  As with a steam locomotive, the purposefulness of
    the whole process is exposed for me to see and feel, something that
    doesn't occur with the infinitely more practical GPS.
    My two cents worth.
    Lu Abel
    Robert Eno wrote:
    > Mike
    > You raise some interesting points and ones which I have considered many
    > times in the past. Most, or all of us share the belief that what we are
    > maintaining is the purity of self-contained traditional navigation methods.
    > I think that their might be more to it than that: it is all about attitude
    > and work ethic. Deep down inside, at least for my part, I have this
    > deep-seated notion that the easy way is fraught with unseen hazards and
    > that
    > in the end, the easy way is not only slothful but will ultimately lead to
    > grief. The only true way is through hard work and self-reliance. Some folks
    > call it the "protestant work ethic" which doesn't include us "dogans" but
    > for lack of a better term I can accept that and put myself into this
    > category.  Be that at is may, I believe that this is part of the philosophy
    > that causes us to hang on to our sextants and old ways against the
    > unstoppable juggernaut of push-button technology and pop culture.
    > Getting away from the metaphysical and quasi-religious roots, the
    > ostensible
    > reason for learning and practicing celestial navigation is that it is
    > self-contained and places no reliance upon the unseen black magic of
    > electronic navigation and the evil harridan goddess GPS who is heading the
    > pack.
    > But is celestial navigation really all that self-contained?  I used to
    > believe this. But now I don't think so. Just as GPS depends upon a billion
    > dollar system of orbiting satellites and ground control stations, in
    > addition to batteries, celestial navigation is dependant upon a
    > multi-million dollar system of astronomers, observatories and printing
    > presses to provide us with the ephemeris data which is so vital to the
    > craft. Then there are chronometers, most of which are now electronic, which
    > in themselves, require a tremendous critical mass of infrastructure to
    > produce. Even if we hearken back to the age of mechanical watches, opening
    > up the case of one of these babies reveals a mechanical system that would
    > baffle even the most erudite and intelligent man on this list. I remember
    > posting a comment on this list some months ago asking the rhetorical
    > question about how many people can open up a GPS unit and be able to figure
    > out which circuit board or computer chip is faulty and effect repairs.
    > Certainly all of us can fix a sextant but can any of us fix a watch, which
    > is just as important as the sextant in this process (notwithstanding noon
    > sun shots).
    > So I would argue that there really isn't much of a difference between
    > celestial and electronic, save for the extent of dependency upon outside
    > sources to provide the resources required to make them function, and the
    > amount of effort required to achieve the desired result. Despite the fact
    > that I enjoy celestial navigation and find it extremely rewarding, I
    > sometimes wonder if I am fooling myself in my belief that I am somehow a
    > cut
    > above those philistines who take the easy way out and push buttons on their
    > GPS units.
    > Certainly there is simply no comparison between the beauty and feel of a
    > solid bronze sextant and a GPS receiver. The former is a thing of beauty
    > and
    > mechanical genius, steeped in history and connects the mariner with his
    > ancestors. The latter is just a utilitarian gadget designed to make
    > navigation easy for anyone who wishes to spend a few minutes learning the
    > button pushing sequence.
    > Despite the above arguments, I will continue to practice the venerable art
    > and science of celestial navigation. That deep seated protestant (in my
    > case
    > Catholic) work ethic that I spoke of earlier, is just too ingrained in
    > me to
    > take the easy way out; at least exclusively.
    > My two bits' worth of philosophy on a windy, cold Saturday afternoon.
    > Robert
    > ----- Original Message -----
    > From: "Mike Hannibal" 
    > To: 
    > Sent: Friday, October 14, 2005 6:46 PM
    > Subject: The Zen of Sextant Navigation
    >> This might be better suited to "alt.culture.sextant"
    >> or somesuch. If it's not really a topic for here I
    >> apologise.
    >> It seems to me that sextant navigation has an
    >> aesthetic component to it. That the use of the
    >> instrument, the feel and look of the instrument and
    >> the "directness" of sighting on an object and getting
    >> a position line are part of an aesthetic which
    >> provides some of the motivation for at least some of
    >> us to continue to do this.
    >> In photography the closest analogue I can identify is
    >> with people who use Leica rangefinder cameras. The
    >> look, feel and functionality of these cameras,
    >> together with the connection to history and the way
    >> they dictate picture taking are all part of the reason
    >> people use them. There's not much difference between
    >> the first Leica rangefinder in the 20s and a 2005
    >> model. Not to mention the mystique of these cameras.
    >> Any rational person would probably use something with
    >> lots of LEDs, LCDs and buttons and batteries. Quite a
    >> large number of people don't however and they feel
    >> very passionate about not using such instruments.
    >> The same applies to sextants and GPS units. It's a bit
    >> hard to feel much for a GPS unit but I'm sure many of
    >> us feel something for our sextants.
    >> Are sextant navigators also Leica rangefinder users?
    >> Is there an aesthetic that is part of our attachment
    >> to this art/craft/science? Are we luddites who insist
    >> on "Mechanical Perfection" as opposed to "electronic
    >> mysticism"? Or are we all just pragmatic navigators.
    >> I'd be interested in your responses. And you can no
    >> doubt see that I have too much time on my hands this
    >> morning.
    >> Now really to the boat this beautiful morning.
    >> Regards
    >> Mike
    >> ____________________________________________________
    >> Do you Yahoo!?
    >> Yahoo! Photos: Now with unlimited storage
    >> http://au.photos.yahoo.com

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