Rebreather Evaluation – Part 4: The Megalodon

The Megalodon is made by Inner Space Systems, and is the brainchild of ISC owner and CEO Leon Scamahorn. I first got a chance to see the Megalodon on the Nautilus Explorer after a friend had bought one, and I was very impressed. It is a very serious looking unit and has a distinctively hand-made, one-off feel to it.

Unlike the other units I evaluated, the Meg is completely modular. There there are some standard configurations, but in the end, nearly everything is an optional addon to the basic envelope. It is built on the foundation of the outer housing, which is essentially an aluminum cylinder containing the standard axial scrubber, oxygen cells and electronics package. Two nice displays are attached to the head, as well as an optional HUD. Since the outer housing is constructed of aluminum, it is very rigid, giving you a number of options when it comes to attaching your oxygen and diluent bottles. The one I like best is the Tiger Gear setup, whitch provides a very elegant and tough mount.

The hoses, ADV and front-mounted counterlungs are all extremely well made, and the design on the unit gives it a very low profile. Leon spent 12 years with the Army Special Forces and it’s clear that he has built the unit with his military background in mind. The first thought that comes to mind when you see the Megalodon is that it is both incredibly rugged, and user friendly. The displays are large and easy to read, and apparently they tested the resiliency of the unit by dropping it from five feet onto a concrete floor. When a component broke, it was made stronger. When they were all done, the Meg was fine, but the concrete floor was broken. Did I mention that this unit is built to be tough?

The ISC website has a really nice breakdown of the Meg.

The list of things I like about the Megalodon is fairly long and detailed, but I’ll try to sum it up as best as I can:

  • Solid construction
  • High quality materials – Alluminum, ballistic nylon, acetal, etc.
  • Water traps EVERYWHERE
  • Corrosion resistant
  • Easily readable handsets
  • Low porfile
  • No housing / shell nonsense
  • Batteries sealed off from the breathing loop
  • Modular design – Mount any cylinders, use any backplate / wing.
  • Ability to use any scrubber you like – Megalodon, CisLunar, Extendair, and an SMI Prism.

There aren’t really many things I don’t like about the meg, but there are a few points I think might make it a little better.

  • I wish it had a radial scrubber. While you can use the CisLunar or SMI Prism scrubbers, you have to purchase these seperately if you can find them.
  • While the electronics package is great, it is only a loop controller. I wish the unit had the ability to do integrated deco calculations. This feature is coming in the next version of the software, but I would imagine that it will be a costly upgrade.
  • I would like to see a slightly more readable HUD. It is only one LED that blinks codes for each sensor. This is fine once you get used to it, but the SMI Prism has a slightly better HUD in my opinion.

That’s about it. Like I said, these aren’t really complaints, but more of a wish list. The Meg is, after all, the unit I decided to get for myself.

The following are the additional options that I decided to get on my Meg:

  • ADV (Automatic Diluent valve)
  • HUD
  • Mixed Gas Bypass – A must for TRIMIX, it provides the option to plumb in off-board gases
  • Faber 20cf Steel bottles
  • Stainless Steel back plate with continuous loop harness
  • Drive Rite Aircel TREK wing

As I believe it will result in a system that runs with much less moisture, I have every intention of trying to find a CisLunar radial scrubber at some point. This is by far, the most advanced scrubber design ever seen in the world of rebreathers. For the time being, however, the standard ISC Axial scrubber should be just fine.

Rebreather Evaluation – Part 3: The PRISM Topaz >
Rebreather Evaluation – Part 5: My Decision >

Where Ships Go to Die

Ever wonder what happens to those huge ocean-going ships when they outlive their usefulness and are decommissioned? It turns out they are usually sailed to a place called Alang India where they are dismantled and sold by the pound for scrap metal.

Now, one might think that, once they reach Inida, they would be placed in dry dock and methodically taken apart and recycled. Not so in Alang. When is ship is ready for the Indian shipbreakers, it is taken out to sea by a small crew, brought up to a full steam and run head-long into a beach with mile after mile of ghostly old ships in varying stages of disassembly.

Once these ships are smashed into the beach, dozens of extremely low paid Indian workers descend upon them like ants. Working with bare hands, torches and crow bars they begin to tear the ship apart mere minuets after it is run ashore. Steel plates rain down into the murky water, and are hauled away to nearby foundries where they are melted down and turned primarily into re-bar for construction projects.

As the ships are striped and their weight reduced, chains are attached and they are hauled further up onto the beach. Eventually only a skeleton of the once great ships remain, and then, nothing at all.

The truly sad part about this shipbreaking business is that the workers are not only paid near-slave wages, they are exposed to nearly every industrial toxin known to mankind. The lives are typically extremely short and filled with constant injury and pain. Luckily, however, With the Indian government’s recent announcement to cut the duty for steel imports to 15%, ship demolition in the country is facing uncertain future. For the first time in several years, we are finally seeing a small drop in the number of ships being demolished in Alang.

Cheney Shoots Friend In Face

Ok, so we all know that Dick Cheney shot his friend in the face when they were out killing animals last weekend. Some of the radical right-wing media is trying to play it off as “no big deal”, but I bet Harry Whittington, the guy who took the shotgun blast to the head and throat might have a slightly different story. Especially given that his gunshot injuries ultimately led to a heart attack.

Now I wasn’t even going to write about this one because it’s being pretty well covered by everyone else, but it turns out that people are coming to SpiralBound looking to read about it…

What can I say? This one kinda writes itself… Cheney’s an idiot who’s far too incompetent to handle much of anything, let alone a firearm. I wonder what does the NRA has to say about this? I can only imagine that Cheney has not taken any firearm safety classes, and if I were them, I’d be pretty quick about pointing out his lack of qualifications to be handling a gun.

Some people are suggesting that Cheney mistook Harry Whittington for Scooter Libby or a member of Al Qaeda. It’s pretty clear though that most people are finding it tough to feel sorry for the nasty, right-wing, republican fundraising lawyer that got shot.

It’s also important to note that the TV funnymen have been having a good time with this one… Here are some excerpts:

** Late Show with David Letterman,’ CBS

“Good news, ladies and gentlemen, we have finally located weapons of mass destruction: It’s Dick Cheney.”

“But here is the sad part — before the trip Donald Rumsfeld had denied the guy’s request for body armor.”

“We can’t get Bin Laden, but we nailed a 78-year-old attorney.”

“The guy who got gunned down, he is a Republican lawyer and a big Republican donor and fortunately the buck shot was deflected by wads of laundered cash. So he’s fine. He took a little in the wallet.”

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** ‘The Tonight Show with Jay Leno,’ NBC

“Although it is beautiful here in California, the weather back East has been atrocious. There was so much snow in Washington, D.C., Dick Cheney accidentally shot a fat guy thinking it was a polar bear.

“That’s the big story over the weekend. … Dick Cheney accidentally shot a fellow hunter, a 78-year-old lawyer. In fact, when people found out he shot a lawyer, his popularity is now at 92 percent.”

“I think Cheney is starting to lose it. After he shot the guy he screamed, ‘Anyone else want to call domestic wire tapping illegal?”’

“Dick Cheney is capitalizing on this for Valentine’s Day. It’s the new Dick Cheney cologne. It’s called Duck!”

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** ‘The Daily Show with Jon Stewart,’ Comedy Central

“Vice President Dick Cheney accidentally shot a man during a quail hunt … making 78-year-old Harry Whittington the first person shot by a sitting veep since Alexander Hamilton. Hamilton, of course, [was] shot in a duel with Aaron Burr over issues of honor, integrity and political maneuvering. Whittington? Mistaken for a bird.”

“Now, this story certainly has its humorous aspects. … But it also raises a serious issue, one which I feel very strongly about. … moms, dads, if you’re watching right now, I can’t emphasize this enough: Do not let your kids go on hunting trips with the vice president. I don’t care what kind of lucrative contracts they’re trying to land, or energy regulations they’re trying to get lifted — it’s just not worth it.”

Academic Film Archive

Their website is not much to look at, so you’d never know it, but The Academic Film Archive is the leading group dedicated to the preservation of all those ridiculous educational films from the 1950’s.

Full of simple words, short sentences, and corporate propaganda, these “educational films” have long since become outdated and relegated to dumpsters and dusty old school warehouses. Usually having fewer than ten words per sentence, they are now valued more for their cheesy entertainment and nostalgia than for their ability to shape young minds. Even so, the Academic Film Archive is trying to change all that. They’ve rescued thousands of 16mm reels and have been working with the Library of Congress to make a worldwide database of all the old educational movies they can find.

These days most school teachers don’t even know how to use a 16mm projector, but as sad as it is, these films were still being used for educational purposes up into the early 1990’s! I, myself, had to suffer through many of these films in school, and it’s simply amazing to me that our education system would use such obvious corporate and government propaganda to educate our children.

Take for instance “The Living Soil”, which was a film produced by Shell Oil Company in the 1960s to extol the virtues of pesticides. Using scary music and little words, children were brainwashed into thinking that their food supply was being saved by the benevolent Shell Oil Company. They were taught to trust these corporations and made to believe that they truly had their best interest at heart… Yeah right… Anyone remember DDT? I’d hope that we’re all smart enough now to realize that we can’t trust corporations to think much about anything other than their share holders and the bottom line.

Seriously though, I love these films. I even bought one on DVD a while back on drunk driving. I just have to keep picking my chin up off the floor from my constant amazement that these people were actually being serious when they made them.

Casey Goes Into Boat Sales

Again, the blogging community stands in wait for The Bison to post something new on his blog. “Casey is usually a rock” says drinking buddy Zach. “But he’s not posted any updates in several days, and frankly I’m starting to wonder what has happened to him.”

Last time The Bison went missing and failed to post updates to his blog, friends and well wishers began to worry that he had been involved in some kind of disaster or car acciden.

This time, however, we have evidence indicating that he has given up entirely on blogging and gone into boat sales. “We’ve seen him selling boats, and we are baffled” says fanboy Matt Batchelder. “While his content is far from compelling, we take comfort in reading his silly antics every morning… It’s just not the same when he’s trying to sell you a boat.”

Here at SpiralBound, we wish Casey all the best in his new endevours, but we must say that he will be missed as a fixture of the blogging community.

World’s Smallest Fish

The smallest fish on record is no longer the 8mm Indo-Paciffic gobby, but rather a 7.9mm member of the carp family known as Paedocypris progenetica. Discovered in a peat bog on Sumatra island by Switzerland’s Maurice Kottelat and Singapore’s Tan Heok Hui, this fish is remarkable not only because it is so small, but because of the way it has adapted to thrive in its environment.

First, the fish lives in murky peat bog water with a ph of 3. This is about 100 times more acidic than rainwater, so it is amazing to find a fish that is actually able to live in it.

Secondly, it has “bizarre grasping fins” with exceptionally large muscles. The purpose of these is unclear at the moment, but it is theorized that fish uses them to grasp its mate during copulation.

Finally and most importantly according to Kottelat, is the scientific significance of finding a complete vertebrae in such a tiny body. Apparently this is nearly unheard of in organisms this small.

It will be interesting to learn more about this amazing little fish as more research is conducted. The Natural History Museum reports that several populations of Paedocypris have already been lost due to habitat destruction caused by rampant development and intensive farming, so researchers are trying to learn all they can about this amazing specimen before it too becomes extinct.

Essay on Calvin & Hobbes

I’ve been a huge Calvin and Hobbes fan since the comic strip began in 1985, so I was thrilled to find that they have finally bundled up every single strip that was ever published into one gigantic set of three canvas-bound books called “The Complete Calvin and Hobbes”. This weekend I picked it up, and as I was thumbing through the three, seriously hefty volumes, it got me thinking about this essay I wrote about the strip a few years ago.

“Calvin and Hobbes” is a comic strip about the imaginative world of a six year old boy named Calvin, and his stuffed tiger named Hobbes, who is not only very much alive within Calvin’s mind, but also his best friend. The strip was created by Bill Watterson, and first published on November 18, 1985. Almost immediately after its introduction, the strip became wildly popular, and it held that popularity until December 31, 1995, when the final “Calvin and Hobbes” cartoon was sent to the printing press.

In 1995, “Calvin and Hobbes” could be found in over 2,300 publications worldwide, and there are more than 18 million published collections in print. This popularity resulted in an incredible following of people who identified with, and cared about the characters. For instance: one series which ran for only a week, involved a situation in which a big dog knocked Calvin down, and ran off with Hobbes. The strip’s readers were more upset by this than Watterson had expected, and they began to write letters asking that Hobbes be brought back safe. The intense interest shown by the strip’s readers shocked Watterson, and he began to realize how important his creation had become to people. He describes reading the comics as “a comforting little ritual to see our favorite characters for a few seconds over coffee in the morning. We care about them when they’re in trouble, and we count on them to look at life with a slightly amusing twist.” This would certainly appear to be the case considering the concern people expressed over the safety of Hobbes.

How was it that Watterson was able to spark such emotion within his readers? What makes “Calvin and Hobbes” so appealing to such a broad spectrum of people

These questions are not easy ones to answer; the mechanisms that make characters believable and likable are diverse and complex. However, by breaking “Calvin and Hobbes” down, and looking at some of the major aspects of the cartoon, we can begin to gain an insight into why the cartoon was able to find a place in so many reader’s hearts.

For this analysis of “Calvin and Hobbes,” we will look at the main characters of the strip, the ways they react to each other, the ways in which the reader reacts to them, and some of the most notable themes and topics of the cartoon. The cast consists of five major personalities, who interact with each other in ways that are usually humorous, but often very deep, and emotional. While conflict is nothing rare in the world of “Calvin and Hobbes,” relationships between the characters are almost always positive. There may be a practical joke here and there, but it’s done in the same way we joke with our close friends or loved ones as a form of affection. This, I believe is a large part of the cartoon’s appeal. People have always been drawn conflict, and when readers see the positive way the strip deals with argument, it becomes harmlessly funny, and people find themselves drawn to it.

The artwork for weekday strips is a slightly sketchy style of drawing, done in black ink, while the Sunday strips employ larger frames, and are done in color. Watterson says that in the early stages of the strip, he used “a cartoony, flat look, in which Calvin’s fantasies looked more realistic than reality.” Later on, however, the artwork became more three-dimensional, which allowed the characters to be drawn from different perspectives. One thing that is particularly notable about the artwork, is how effectively the characters convey emotion. It’s easy to see in their expressions what they are thinking, and the text is written in a such a way that we get a good feel for what’s going on. Loud noises, screaming, and most any exclamations are written in big, bold letters and are often surrounded by a jagged dialog balloon. The calmer language, on the other hand is written in small, uniform letters, which usually appears in a smoothly rounded caption. The mouths are remarkably large, particularly on the children, which gives the reader a feel for how much effort the kids put into getting their points across, as well as helps to show some of the things that are important to them.

The strip’s star character, is of course, Calvin. Calvin is a bratty, six year old boy named after a prominent sixteenth century theologian who believed in pre destination. Calvin spends his days using his imagination to create new worlds and fantasies which lead him to adventure and fun. Since Calvin spends much of the time in the world of his own imagination, it usually doesn’t occur to him that the rules of the “real” world apply to him, and he often ends up getting himself into all kinds of trouble. While Calvin is indeed hyper active and difficult to deal with, he is very imaginative, and tends to ask questions about life’s larger issues, such as human nature or the meaning of life. Watterson says that through Calvin, he is able to explore the things he is thinking about in more depth, and remarks that while Calvin is nothing like him as a child, the character helps him stay in touch with his own immaturity, providing him with a way to “sort through his own life and understand it.” This intellectual curiosity is done in a humorous, but thought provoking way, and I believe it adds to the appeal of the strip, because it prompts people to ponder philosophical questions that might not otherwise come to mind.

With Hobbes, we find ourselves with a somewhat strange situation. To everyone but Calvin, he is merely a stuffed tiger that Calvin drags with him everywhere he goes. To Calvin, on the other hand, Hobbes is not only alive and kicking, but his best friend as well. This leads to an interesting twist within the world of “Calvin and Hobbes,” as none of the other characters are able to grasp why Calvin is so attached to his toy tiger. Hobbes gets his name from the seventeenth philosopher Thomas Hobbes who had a particularly dim view of human nature. This is fitting since Hobbes often shows a quiet, witty, sarcastic attitude as he reacts to Calvin’s outrageous escapades. None the less, Hobbes is Calvin’s best friend, and we can tell by watching his patients, gentle body language, and by reading his thoughtful questions and remarks, that he has a genuine love for Calvin. Watterson says that he created Hobbes, including everything he looks for in a best friend.

Calvin’s parents are a good depiction of a couple trying to deal with a child like him. They often seem sarcastic, and at their wit’s end, but this is because we only really see them while they are reacting to Calvin. In the early strips, they were criticized for being unloving and cruel. I disagree with these accusations; In fact, by closely looking at their actions, Calvin’s parents appear to love him a great deal. His father shows a surprising amount of trust and tolerance, by doing such things as letting Calvin use the binoculars, or going along with his elaborate stories. We can even see his father’s love in the jokes he plays on Calvin, such as teasing him about not getting any Christmas presents. Calvin’s relationship with his father exemplifies of the harmless practical joking that people seem drawn to.

Calvin’s Mother shows her love in a different way. She displays a kind, motherly quality by doing such things as sticking up for Calvin when his father teases him, or bringing his lunch out to the sand box so Calvin won’t have to stop playing. I think readers are drawn to the funny, but positive way Calvin’s parents deal with him, and any reader who is a parent will probably find that they can relate to them on many levels.

Susie Derkins is a quiet, smart, earnest girl, about Calvin’s age. Calvin’s relationship with Susie is pretty much what would be expected from a six year old boy dealing with a girl, which leads to an interesting conflict. Watterson says that he suspects Calvin has a crush on her, but shows it by intentionally acting outrageous. Susie is a little “put off” by this outrageous behavior, which prompts Calvin to act even more outrageous. This relationship is fun for the reader because it gives off the same awkward feeling that most of us went through as a child when we had a crush on someone. Like the others, this relationship is positive, and it deals with the concept of love, which is important, and heart-warming to readers.

These characters all react to each other in ways that are easily identified with and funny, while at the same time, dealing with larger philosophical issues and themes. The goal of any news paper comic strip is to appeal to as many people as possible, so it is important to stay away from topics that may offend people. “Calvin and Hobbes” does this not by completely avoiding issues that people feel strongly about, but by mentioning them, and letting the readers find the answers for themselves. For instance, in one cartoon, Calvin is lying in bed, wondering why man was put on earth. Hobbes rolls over, gives a sarcastic smile and says “tiger food.” This cartoon deals with creation, which can be a hot topic, but instead of trying to answer the question for us, we are left to make our own decisions about it.

Many “Calvin and Hobbes” strips deal with issues of reality, and when taken with the sometimes complex language, it becomes clear that the cartoon is working on many different levels. A good example of this, is the subjectivity of Hobbes’ reality. When he is drawn from the perspective characters other than Calvin, he appears as a stuffed tiger. When drawn from Calvin’s perspective, however, he is animated and alive. Even then, however, it is not always this simple. As we can see in one strip were Hobbes is dizzy from having been washed and then put in the dryer, the issue of the tiger’s reality is sometimes blurred even for Calvin. Another example of this blurring of reality is a cartoon in which Calvin is imagining that he has traveled to another world and is being approached by an alien monster. As the monster nears, we see that it is holding a sandwich and a drink. When the monster finally gets to Calvin, we see that it is really his mother, bringing his lunch to him. This undefined reality allows us to relate to the strip on any level we chose, and I believe it is a major reason for the strip’s success.

Bill Watterson seems to have struck the right mix with “Calvin and Hobbes.” He’s created a world that is inhabited by believable, likable characters, who deal with a rich variety of issues in a convincing and humorous way. I think that inside all of us, we can see a little of each character, and this makes the strip fun and easy to identify with. As we read, we become involved in the lives and thoughts of the characters, and because of the sometimes complex topics covered, we are able to grow from the cartoon. In the final “Calvin and Hobbes” strip, the world is covered with snow, and Hobbes is carrying a toboggan. Calvin remarks “It’s a magical world Hobbes ol’ buddy? Lets go exploring!” The two friends then slide away from us on their toboggan. I hazard a guess that most “Calvin and Hobbes” fans felt a lump in their throat that day; I know I did. For me, however, it wasn’t a sad feeling. I was left with the feeling that Calvin and Hobbes were still active behind the scenes, and that the two friends have only started to explore. This feeling indicates to me that Watterson was able to do with his creation what many cartoonists spend their entire lives trying to accomplish. He was able to create an entire world in which “Calvin and Hobbes” could exist.

Cartoon Examples.
All images the property of Bill Watterson.
The First Calvin & Hobbes Cartoon >
The Last Calvin & Hobbes Cartoon >