Tag Archives: weird

Sorting out Wesorts

None of the research blogging posts in my queue are quite ready yet, so it’s time for another update on the weird world of Wesorts. If you’re a Piscataway Indian reading that sentence, please don’t take offense – I’m talking about Wesort sailboats here, for the benefit of the six people in the world who’ve heard of them. And if you have absolutely no idea what any of this is about, hang on, because it’s going to get weirder.

First, a note about illustrating these posts. I wanted a picture of a Wesort to put here, but a search for “wesort” on Flickr returns a single hit that is a) fully copyrighted, b) related only to the Elmer Fudd interpretation of the term, and c) going to baffle the hell out of future digital archeologists.

And now, a Wesort history lesson from my dad, Tom Dove:

I can fill you in on the Wesort sailboat, having been present at its birth and development.

In the late 1950s, when the earth and I were both young, I was active in the sailing program at Indian Landing Boat Club in Millersville, Maryland, near the headwaters of the Severn river. We kids learned to sail in Penguins, a popular 11’6″ catboat which was well suited to our light, fluky winds. It was, and still is, a very good boat. The drawback to many of us was its cost, which ranged from about $150 for a battered, basic boat to over $500 for a new racing model. In 2011 terms, that range becomes about $1200 – $4000. That was a lot of money for a pre-teen to ask from parents. If you were a good woodworker, you could build one yourself, but it was a challenge with its compound curves and the performance would still not equal a professionally built boat.

Now I must tell you about two of my favorite lovable eccentrics: William H. Sands and “Willie”.

Bill Sands’ son, Bill Sands, was a childhood friend of mine, so I got to know the family pretty well. Bill Sands, Sr. was one of those fellows who worked hard to conceal his intelligence and education by affecting the style of a country bumpkin. While he was quite capable of holding forth on a detailed analysis of any of Shakespeare’s plays or analyz[ing] the vector forces on a mast, he loved to shuffle about the boat club and help kids learn to sail or to tinker in his workshop on some oddball project. One of these projects was the Wesort.

Bill Sands wanted to build the most economical junior training sailboat possible. He wanted it to be so simple that somebody with absolutely no knowledge of woodworking could build it out of standard size materials available at any lumber yard or could team up with a group of like-minded folks and turn out a dozen of them in one winter in assembly line fashion. The result was the Wesort, which could be built (less sails) for $50 – $100.

“Willie” was the caretaker of the Indian Landing Boat Club for as long as anybody could remember and nobody seemed to know how he got there. He lived in a little house on the premises and was paid a small salary in return for basic maintenance and tending the gate at the club. I believe that no more than a handful of members knew that he had a last name. He was absolutely gentle and universally loved.

Willie the caretaker was a small man who always smiled and hardly ever spoke. His ancestry was baffling. His features were neither Caucasian nor Negroid, but his coloration was somewhere between the two. I always thought he had a vaguely oriental look to his face. I knew him for a couple of decades and never heard him say anything more than, “Yeah,” which came out in an elongated form, something like “Yeaaaaah,” always with a smile and followed by a chuckle.

But Bill Sands knew Willie well and knew that he was a “We-sort”. That was a term a certain small, close-knit group in central Maryland used for itself to distinguish their kind from everybody else, whom they called the “They-sort.” They claimed to be descendants of the Piscataway Indians who had lived in the area for centuries and who greeted European settlers in the early 1600s.

And that is why Bill Sands named the boat the Wesort.

I’ll stop here and continue about the boat itself in another story.

I remember Willie quite well. He was always in the little gatehouse when we went in or out of the ILBC, which was just down the street from my grandmother’s house. The workings of the simple counterbalanced gate fascinated six-year-old me, as did this strange man who operated it and only seemed to know one word.

Dad, feel free to post the information about the boat in the comments, or email it to me and I’ll milk another blog post out of it.

Yet Another Robot Psychologist

Dutch clinical psychologists have announced the release of a computer program that allegedly does psychotherapy. I was amused to see them claim that the system, called MindMentor, is the first of its kind:

Two clinical psychologists associated with the Institute for Eclectic Psychology in Holland, Jaap Hollander and Jeffrey Wijnberg, have developed the first robot psychologist, named “MindMentor.” MindMentor is an online computer program that helps people solve problems and achieve goals. It has the unique quality, as compared with other on line psychological help systems, of requiring no live human intervention and being completely automated. Said Hollander in an interview with a Dutch radio program: “What made this whole endeavor exciting, was that we suddenly saw a possibility to create an unlimited amount of psychological help.”

Unlimited, but not free. If you visit the system (at MindMentor.com), you discover that this psychologist charges about ten bucks an hour. That’s cheap for a psychologist, but infinitely more expensive than his competition. If you’re an Emacs user, just type “M-x doctor” and enjoy a free session that lasts as long as you like. Maybe the Emacs version is more primitive, but it would be very interesting to see someone do a study to see what its “success” rate is, using the same definition as the Dutch researchers use for their system.

And, of course, I’d be remiss if I didn’t ask the obvious question: when androids dream, what is the significance of the electric sheep?

Article of Cheese

Continuing my occasional theme of poking fun at the Federal Register (see this post and this one), here’s another fascinating bit of insight into our weird republic:

Quarterly Update to Annual Listing of Foreign Government Subsidies on Articles of Cheese Subject to an In-Quota Rate of Duty

Section 702 of the Trade Agreements Act of 1979 (as amended) (“the Act”) requires the Department of Commerce (“the Department”) to determine, in consultation with the Secretary of Agriculture, whether any foreign government is providing a subsidy with respect to any article of cheese subject to an in-quota rate of duty, as defined in section 702(h) of the Act, and to publish an annual list and quarterly updates of the type and amount of those subsidies. We hereby provide the Department’s quarterly update of subsidies on articles of cheese that were imported during the period July 1, 2007 through September 30, 2007.

You can read the full text here, but even after doing that, I’m left wondering: exactly what is an “article of cheese”? I’m pretty sure this posting would count as an article about cheese, but I don’t receive any foreign subsidies, so hopefully The Act (as amended) won’t require The Department to list dovdox.com next year.