Sunday, June 29, 2008

Clever or Kludge?

Solar Panel Frame
Solar Panel Frame
Originally uploaded by toastfloats.
My husband was never meant to be a doctor. He probably should have been a carpenter or a mechanic. Lately, I’ve come to believe he perhaps should have been a code monkey simply for his impressive ability to throw together a kludge. A kludge is “an ill-assorted collection of parts assembled to fulfill a particular purpose.” In the computer world I come from, a kludge is what you do when doing it right takes too long or involves rewriting fast sections of code. Apocryphally, a perusal of the Windows source code returned 100s of references to a hack or a kludge.

Dr C is either the King of Kluge or the most impressive improvisational cruising sailor on the high seas. His source of motivation for all these oddities which fill our boat is tax evasion -- in particular, Dr C is even more offended by the Marine Tax than I am. This is saying a great deal since I find the marine industry’s propensity to triple the price of even such prosaic items as deck brushes not simply offensive but actually the only instance in which I’ve seen the word usury appropriately applied. Dr C, however, takes his marine tax evasion one step farther than I. While I just buy the cheaper version at Home Depot ten times, Dr C actually invents entirely new contraptions to replace the marine solution.

This is how it happens. We determine that we need something Important... let’s say for example, a frame to hold the solar panels. We do some research, visit some folks who make or sell such things, and get a price. Then Dr C invents an alternative.

The only realistic place to put the panels was on or above the davits in the back for which we were quoted $1,000 to $3,000. Dr C didn’t like these answers. So he sat at the nav table with a glass of wine, a pencil, a scrap of paper, and a faraway look for several nights. Then he went to the hardware store. More sitting, more wine, more hardware. Pieces of PVC and bags marked True Value and Ace sprung up everywhere. Then one morning he emerged from his cabin and started putting all the miscellaneous pieces together. Forty bucks and a lot of elbow grease later, we have a solar panel frame mounted securely between the davits, our panels pumping out electricity with enthusiastically green abandon. Dr C assures me all the bits are UV resistant and anticipates the contraption will last at least two years after which he’ll build a new one. If and when it fails, there are safety straps all over everywhere to make sure we don’t lose anything important.

Now is this utterly brilliant or just a hack?

Boom Extender
Boom Extender
Originally uploaded by toastfloats.

It’s hard to say. Some of his creations undoubtedly enhance the market value of the boat. The beautiful shelves in the cabins, the way the salon table now drops to form an extra bed, and the new panels custom fit to accommodate the SSB and Pactor modem are clear improvements. Others DrCisms, like the solar panels and the helm locker, definitely exude a look of “loving hands made at home.” On the other hand, even his hacks work really well. Even the most annoying of the lot, the boom extender, is functional and replaces an otherwise very expensive piece of gear.

Time will tell. I’ll be fascinated to watch people walk past the solar panel frame in marinas or drive past in a dinghy to boggle. Either they will laugh and point and snicker, or they’ll be asking Dr C aboard for dinner to pick his brains on how he built it. Or both. You better believe Google runs on quite a few impromptu kludges. It’s amazing how frequently genius and madness coincide.

1 comment:

Nosualcy said...

I, for one, would be one to ask Dr C aboard to pick his brains on how he built it. I love these ways of evading the marine tax. I make lots of trips to Lowes for the same reason.