A Web Log of the K1 Rebreather Project
Philosophy and Politics - or "Why is he doing this?"
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All material on this page is Copyright (C) 2006 Karl Denninger. All Rights Reserved.
Caution: This page contains adult language. If you're offended by any of the words that George Carlin has been known to use, and which cannot be said on broadcast Television, you don't want to read this page. Strong opinions are expressed here. You've been warned.
I have often been asked "why are you building your own rebreather, when you can buy one of many?"
Its a fair question. After all, among the current known production units are the Inspiration (known as the "YBOD" by some), the Evo (same company), the KISS Classic and Sport KISS (Jetsam), the Megolodon (Innerspace), the O2ptima (DiveRite) and others.
Indeed, over a year ago I placed an order for a DiveRite O2ptima, when it was not yet available. My intention at the time was to purchase the unit based on several representations made by DiveRite at DEMA and through the trade press and their dealers. The original announced price-point was to be $5,000, complete and configured. It was to be "in stock" at all their dealers, available "off the shelf", and man, it was going to bring revolution to the business.
If the O2ptima had done those things, it would have.
But what really happened was something else entirely. The shipping date slipped first. Originally it was supposed to be out by early summer 2005. Then mid summer 2005. Then, well, who knows! I had intended to get certified on this unit and start diving it immediately, but of course that didn't happen.
Then there was the price. It was announced as being intended to price out at $5,000. The original asking price, when it actually was able to be "pre-ordered", was in the mid $6,000 range. Today, it is right around $8,000.
The "available from stock" didn't happen either. At least not yet. The original pre-orders slipped a month, two, then six. Today you can get them with a reasonable wait time, but still - I can't walk into a DiveRite dealer and buy one off the shelf. Even today, coming up on a year from its original promise date.
I was actually set to buy anyway up until the first of the year. I had been working on the K1 project half-heartedly for a couple of months, wondering if I would get this done first or if the O2ptima logjam would break. Then I got a call from my favorite dealer, telling me he could get me one basically immediately. However, there was an unpleasant surprise. DiveRite had decided that to unlock the integrated Trimix deco on their handsets, you would have to take a second class (at a cost of over $1,000) and pay another $500 for the second PIN. The pin charge I could understand - software costs money - but the second class requirement was a deal breaker. It pushed the price of the "fully configured" unit, with training, well north of $10,000. I told the dealer I would not buy - and would build instead - if they thought I was going to dive this unit in the 100' range without helium in the can. Why? Because narcosis is a real issue, and on a rebreather the cost of gas is almost lost in the noise. Therefore, there is, in my view, no reason not to dive 21/35 Trimix right out of the box.
I simply refused to buy a unit and then be forced onto a less-safe breathing gas at the precise time that I was learning how to use it. There was no way I was going to be willingly narc'd while most vulnerable to self-made mistakes.
To be fair, DiveRite just recently (on the 13th of March) rescinded this last policy decision. However, by this time I had already ordered the handsets and done all of the code development. Needless to say, I am not scrapping the project now. And the price point issue - a final price that is nearly double what DiveRite originally promised - remains intact.
There are other issues as well with the O2ptima. The O2ptima only uses the ExtendAir cartridges. These have some advantages over loose absorbent, the most important of which is that they are highly resistant to producing a "caustic cocktail" if you get them wet. But they're expensive - twice as much per-hour of dive time as loose absorbent, and single-source. DiveRite originally said they were going to produce a loose-pack adapter, now the future of that is uncertain.
Anyway, that's how this got started.
But along the way, more got piled on.
I've had, for quite some time, quite a problem with diving politics. I strongly disagree with "nanny state" concepts when it comes to diving - or anything else that affects only consenting adults. Indeed, I've spent quite a bit of money to avoid this in the past. I installed my own fill station for my diving mostly to get around the idea that I should have to take thousands of dollars worth of classes to be able to perform decompression dives with a real decompression gas, or to use Trimix.
Instead of spending that money on classes, I spent it on hardware, and gave the finger to the diving "establishment."
This is, by the way, not new for me in my business and personal life. I've always been one to act as I believe is right, without much regard to what others think of me. I left college two years into it because of a fight over curriculum, and the fact that I was making more money selling software on a contract basis than it was costing me to get a so-called "education." The school insisted on a path of study that had me taking classes where I knew more of the subject matter than the professors of those same courses. I've walked out on a job because the company was doing something I found personally distasteful - no notice, with no other job waiting in the wings - and threatened to do it again in another position while employed by a public company (VideOcart) when they were intending to start tracking personally-identifyable information that could have been used to severely disadvantage people with health insurance companies and others (the latter firm folded that hand, and ultimately went out of business due to completely unrelated reasons.) I've been known to show up in board meetings with "surprises", such as proof that another director had cost a company hundreds of thousands of dollars by ignoring a specification I had written, substituting a cable that was 20 cents per foot cheaper (I thought he was going to actually start a fistfight in that meeting - it was quite fun.) I 'm known as a bare-knuckle businessman when it comes to what I believe in; when I ran my ISP we were the only ones that would not carry the stolen software and kiddie porn newsgroups (out of 100 competitors) and it was part of my mission in life to get law enforcement to crack down on that shit, especially the kiddie porn. That position arguably cost me millions in lost sales over the years (you'd be shocked at how many perverts are online.) I didn't give a damn - it was the right thing to do.
Though hard work and some luck, I've come to a place in my life where I can afford to give people the finger and go my own way. I don't need to charter a boat - I own one. I can afford the $5,000 to set up my own fill station, rather than paying it in nickels and dimes to someone for classes and overpriced fills. And - I can afford to finance the construction of my own rebreather, from scratch.
Many in the diving industry have said I'll die doing things my way.
I'm still here. They, obviously, to a man (and woman), were (at least thus far) full of shit.
With rebreathers the politicking is even worse, because the "industry standard" is that training is unit-specific - and you get to start over from scratch if you buy another unit. This is simply fucking nuts, if you ask me. My view is that a manufacturer has an obligation to produce a manual that requires nothing other than ordinary skill in using a rebreather (ANY rebreather) to understand the unit and translate that understanding into reasonably-safe use.
It is also my position that if one is to require a certification to purchase at all, it should only be required once - for all units. If the original class has insufficient depth to cover more than one specific unit, then the class is deficient, not the user, and you shouldn't buy the class at all. Yet every manufacturer along with every agency takes the view that all rebreather classes are "unit specific" - indeed, it appears they've all agreed that this is how it will be.
I've even got an unconfirmed report that one manufacturer, when they were developing a new product, approached agencies about a training program and was told that unless they were willing to require all purchasers to pass a class first they would not offer a certification card for that unit.
Can you say "market power" and "collusion"?
Finally, if you haven't guessed by now, it is my position that these unit should be available to anyone who wishes to buy one without any tied class at all. The only sort of card you should need to purchase one is a Visa, Master Card, Discover or American Express. That may not be a smart choice for most people, but it should be an AVAILABLE choice.
Manufacturers and agencies should be free to urge, strongly recommend, even place in front of you waivers that say in big bold print that if you don't take their class before you dive this gear you will die. I don't mind cajoling, waivers, personal responsibility and trying to scare people, although the latter is almost always counterproductive.
But I do object strongly to the use of force.
The reason for this is somewhat complex, but it devolves down to both the law and ethics, along with raw, blatant hypocrisy on the part of the agencies and manufacturers.
Let me explain.
In the United States, it is generally illegal to require someone to purchase one thing to get another. That is, if you want to buy a computer, it is illegal to require you to buy a printer in order to get the computer. It is also illegal to require to you buy a maintenance contract, or a training class as a condition of sale. This does not preclude a seller from offering a discount if someone buys a bundle, but refusing to sell the machine without the second, tied sale, is against the law. This is part of what Microsoft got sued over recently, and it was what got IBM in major legal trouble in the 1960s and 70s.
Now the rebreather manufacturers argue that there is a liability angle on this, and that their "reputation" is at stake, thus justifying their practices.
And but for how they, and instructors and the dive industry in general, conduct business, I might be inclined to agree with them.
But every one of these manufacturers and instructors requires you to not only take a class but also to sign a liability waiver that says that even if the instructor causes your death due to negligence, you can't sue! The manufacturers also want a waiver saying that you understand that these devices are dangerous and can kill you, and once again, you agree not to sue, even if your death is THEIR fault!
Indeed, I've yet to take a class, board a commercial dive boat or dive at a commercial site where I was not forced to sign such a waiver as a condition of being offered the ability to take the class or dive.
Now there are those out there in the diving business who have said "oh it doesn't really mean that" and "if we were really GROSSLY NEGLIGENT, like allowing you to dive in that cave or on that wreck without a certification, you could sue and win anyway."
They're lying, and here is the proof, in the form of a year 2000 appeals court decision in Florida. Read this carefully guys and gals, and think about it next time you're in a dive shop and some grinning LDS owner shoves a waiver under your nose:
The language of the release is clear and unambiguous, reflecting the decedent's assumption of the risks inherent in scuba diving and his intent to release Appellees from all liability, including any liability resulting from their own negligence. Although viewed with disfavor under Florida law, such exculpatory clauses are valid and enforceable when clear and unequivocal. Theis v. J & J Racing Promotions, 571 So. 2d 92, 94 (Fla. 2d DCA 1990), rev. denied, 581 So. 2d 168 (Fla. 1991). The release expressly states that the decedent "understands and agrees" that none of the "Released Parties" (Appellees) "may be held liable or responsible in any way for any injury, death, or other damages to me [decedent] or my family, heirs, or assigns that may occur as a result of my [decedent's] participation in this diving class or as the result of the negligence of any party, including the Released Parties, whether passive or active." The release goes on to state that the decedent intends to exempt and release Appellees from all liability or responsibility whatsoever . . . "HOWEVER CAUSED, INCLUDING, BUT NOT LIMITED TO, THE NEGLIGENCE OF THE RELEASED PARTIES, WHETHER PASSIVE OR ACTIVE."
The release also releases Appellees from any "gross negligence" as alleged in the Amended Complaint. The term "negligence" as used in the release is not limited, and therefore should be construed as intending to encompass all forms of negligence, simple or gross, with only intentional torts being excluded from the exculpatory clause. Theis, 571 So. 2d at 94.
cite: Borden v. Phillips, 752 So.2d 69 (Fla.App. Dist.1 02/16/2000)
Any questions? I didn't think so. So the next time you hear the absolute bullshit that this dive waiver doesn't really mean that you can't sue, even if your instructor is drunk or took a few hits off the crack pipe before the class, tell the shop to get f*d and that they're lying - because they are.
But guys - make up your mind. If you want me to promise not to sue you if I kill myself on your gear, even if the cause of my death is something that you screwed up when you built the damn thing or taught me how to use it, then put the paper in front of me, have me sign it, and hand over the hardware. End of discussion.
If, on the other hand, you insist that I take training because I need it to be safe while using your gear, then have the balls to stand behind that training and don't demand that I sign a waiver also.
In short, you either believe that your training and equipment, combined, are safe, or you do not. If you do, then demand that I take the class but ditch the waiver. If you do not then shove whatever waiver you want under my nose and demand I sign it, but once I do, leave me the fuck alone, take my money, and hand over my hardware!
I'm tired of hypocrites.
I see hypocrisy every day in virtually every place I look, and it generally draws nothing more than a snicker.
But when someone wants me to spend close to $10,000 I'll be goddamned if I'm going to give the money to someone who talks out both sides of their mouth about "life support" and "being safe by taking this class" while at the same time shoving a waiver under my nose that says if the fucking thing explodes on my back due to a build error that sparks into a 100% O2 breathing loop, or if their "instroketer" screws up some part of the class and teaches me the wrong shit and I die as a result, that's just tough titties for me.
If you want me to trust you, then cut the shit and stand behind your product - whether its hardware or training. If you insist on me taking all the risk, including that of your fuckups, then I insist on being allowed not to participate in those fuckups - in short, I insist that you allow me, and me alone, to decide what I need to do in terms of training and experience and what I don't. After all its my ass down there - not yours.
My risk, my call. Your risk, YOUR call.
Diving is one of the few recreational endeavors left where one's risk is uniquely personal - where what you choose to do affects only you and those who voluntarily come along on your journey. Nobody else gets killed if you fuck up - the harm is limited to consenting participants.
Many say that diving without these required certifications is "so dangerous" that it should be banned, and have worked awfully fucking hard to coerce others into doing their bidding. Of course there's lots of profit in that position, but does it have a basis in reality? Let's think about this a minute..... and apply it to another consensual adult activity - sex.
How come we allow men to practice gay sexual intercourse without condoms? Ever see the statistics on that group of people? Up to 50% of those who do not use condoms "every time" are HIV+ and will die of that disease (so says the US CDC; approximately 26% of gay men "ride bareback", and of the total gay male population, 7-12% are HIV+. There you have it......)
They won't die today or tomorrow, but die they certainly will; even with today's drugs you can only delay the inevitable.
Yet nobody seriously considers trying to tell gay men they can't bugger one another - consenting adults all - without going to jail or having their peckers cut off. And nobody is standing around policing whether or not they use condoms "every time."
And even though the death rate on rebreathers is indeed higher than anyone would like, it sure as hell ain't 12% overall and 50% of those who don't take training! Indeed, I challenge you to find those who have killed themselves on hombuild units - where training is simply unobtainable at any price. Good luck.
How can you justify telling me that I can't take the risk of killing myself by using a piece of dive gear for my own enjoyment - a deeply personal risk that only a few thousand engage in every year, and of those, fewer than 1% have a "bad outcome", when nearly the majority of those guys out there in San Francisco will certainly die from practicing what THEY enjoy doing? Simply on the numbers, this makes absolutely no sense.
In short, make up your mind and cut the shit. And more importantly, quit lying to me.
If diving requires instruction to be "safe", then tear up the liability releases and have the balls to believe in what you preach.
Otherwise, stick the liability release under my nose, but shut the fuck up and sell me either the hardware or access that I desire to purchase so long as I'm willing to sign your piece of paper.
If you won't do either of the above then expect me to give you the finger and go around your roadblock if I'm able - as I am doing right now.
If I'm successful in building this thing, and can find a way to avoid having my nuts sued off while making it possible for others to give you the finger as well, all at a more reasonable price than has up until now been shown in the marketplace, you can bet I will. And if the agencies try to tell me that they won't allow a class to be offered unless I refuse to sell to people who haven't taken one, they're going to get a very-unwelcome surprise.
See, anti-trust actions allow treble damages, and I'd love to have a new boat paid for by those guys.....
Got a comment on this? Email it to me. There's a Turing Test for you if it bounces initially - do you think you can pass?