Monday, May 25, 2015

A very connected boat. Part 1

The client wanted two things. The first was satellite TV and KVH TV1 fit the bill. It's small, easy to install and supports up to eight receivers. The second goody on the list was improved WiFi access. Although the home port has adequate WiFi service they have discovered many marinas do not. Based on Ben Ellison's Panbo assessment of WiFi systems I chose the Rouge Wave Pro. It works better than my most optimistic expectations. I'll talk about this a bit later.

Then it became a case of in for a penny, in for a pound. The original flat panel plasma TV was okay, but just that. Measurements are taken, and it's new TV shopping time. The end result was a Samsung 5500 32" Smart TV with WiFi. Smart is an understatement. Built in browser with some clever techniques that let you use the remote for URL and search entries. Easy short cuts to Netflicks, YouTube and the ilk. It's very thin, and looks sharp in its new home.

So now we have a big chunk of the pieces in already in place to create a truly connected boat. I've added a Raspberry Pi 2 Model B to act as an interim Signal K server and it's now connected it to the Netgear router. The two yellow boxes will turn blue in time. I have the Arduino and will install it downstream. It will be used to test some Internet Of Things control applications and the system can be used to test prototype gateways when they become available. This is one of two local systems being installed. But this is all for part two. 


A very connected boat Part 2

This is what a Signal K system will typically look like on your boat. The boxes may well be different but the concept will not. This will be a beta site and I'm playing with ways to install the gear, make it unobtrusive, easy to access, and I'm documenting any issues along the way.

My mantra is it's better to be lucky than smart, although being both lucky and smart isn't a condition to be sneered at. The boat is a Searay 39 MY and in this case the lucky part of the equation is access is great. Below this panel is a large removable cabinet door where a couple of air conditioner units live. I can actually work myself into the void, sit upright and get at the back of the panel. It's also right next door to the new TV which made its installation easier. 

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Signal K FAQ's

Much has been going on behind the scenes with the Signal K project which has culminated with NMEA's formal recognition of Signal K that appeared on their website yesterday,  and the most excellent article about all of this by Ben Ellison on Panbo.

So I thought I would post some FAQ's about the project and provide a glimpse of what a system would look like on a boat. There are three pieces to the system. In this beta installation I'm using a Raspberry Pi-2 as the interim server. It has a Ethernet connection to the Netgear router, four USB ports, a SD card slot and will be powered by a dual USB charging port. The yet to come NMEA 2000 Signal K gateway will be installed behind the panel. The router power is going to be reconnected behind the panel. The SS clam shell will be painted black so it doesn't stick out like a sore thumb.

The point is a Signal K installation doesn't require much space, doesn't have to be ugly, won't cost much and the bonus is you get a wireless access point on your boat. I'm finishing a piece on this install which will pop out shortly.


Sunday, April 26, 2015

MFD SD Card Selection Guide

I wrote a recent article for Practical Sailor dealing with SD cards and their care and feeding along with a spread sheet showing by manufacturer make and model the SD cards they use. This was a mind numbing, difficult and tedious set of nuanced data to gather. Practical Sailor has graciously agreed to let me archive a copy of the spread sheets here at the Rant.  The link below the photo is to the page with two spread sheets.

The definitive guide for SD card selection for your MFD.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Blue tape and a piece of paper. What else do you need?

I love 3M blue painter's tape. Period. I always have it in my tool bag, and a few more rolls rattling around in Old Red. Old Red is my 1995 GMC pickup truck. It's still reasonably reliable but it's always slowly oozing colorful vital fluids from engine orifices. Let's just leave it with no one asks me if I have any Grey Poupon mustard while I'm driving around town in it. Overhead is my bitter enemy so I'm reluctant to send it to hospice until I have to.

Lets get back to the blue tape stuff. I rarely use it for it's intended purpose and instead apply it to a myriad other uses and needs.


Monday, April 6, 2015

West Clothing Lifestyle Bluetooth Sunglasses And Some Boat Stuff Marine Store

When I visit my local West Marine its now like I'm walking into a department store. I  pass by all of the soft good fashions wearing my hydraulic steering fluid stained blue jeans and scuffed up boat shoes as I trudge towards the catacombs in the rear of the store. This is where the real boaty stuff now resides. I just hope they won't make me start to come in through a back door marked trade entrance only. Seriously now, mannequins? So what the heck is going on here with West Marine.


Friday, March 6, 2015

Xducer finessing. You always need a bigger hammer.

Installing marine electronics on boats requires tools and gear. I have lots of this stuff. So much that often the problem is in locating where things are in the beast truck. Ethernet cable testers, several soldering irons of varying wattage's, a fox and hound for chasing wires, volt and clamp on meters, specialized crimpers, outlet testers and much more high tech gear. Most are rarely used or needed on a daily basis. To deal with many boats you have to throw away the finesse, and use things more commonly wielded by stone masons, or needed by railroad track repair crews. The boat often won't give up its gear until substantial brute force is applied.


Thursday, February 26, 2015

Supreme's declare a grouper isn't a computer hard drive

Local fisherman John Yates prevailed in the Supreme court on Wednesday. The wheels of justice had eventually ground slowly and in this case coarsely. The revelation that a grouper isn't a record or document would seem to be a slam dunk but the case was never really about grouper. It was about words and how you interpret them, a most nuanced subject. Coursing through the veins of case was were issues of over criminalzation and prosecutorial over reach. Like all Supreme court decisions this one was replete with lots of Latin, and not oft used words like surplusage.


Wednesday, February 18, 2015

IOT and your boat

Written By Tim Mathews and Bill Bishop.

The Internet of Things is a grand concept more than a thing. It describes interconnection through the Internet of computing devices both large and small, wearable and fixed. Devices like your home's thermostat reminding you to set it to away when you leave the house, the smart phone you left in the coffee shop letting you know where it is so you can go back and rescue it; the machine humming on the factory floor notifying the production manager because humming isn't a sound it's supposed to make; and the locomotive reporting it's position and remaining fuel to the dispatcher so that trains can be scheduled more efficiently. Not all of these are new ideas, but all of them fall under the umbrella of the Internet of Things or IOT.

There's another aspect to this grand scheme. Myriads of small embedded computers with smaller CPUs and capabilities can be linked to larger computers through the ether to coordinate and optimize their more limited capabilities. What we now take for granted is the Internet of Things at work. This is all pretty amazing when you think about it. 

That locomotive's computers may also be reporting on the well being of every axle of every car behind it, so that when it rolls in to the switching yard crews know exactly which cars need attention and which can be sent back out. It's able to do this because of tiny embedded computers in each wheel truck which constantly updates with the only thing they know: "Am I OK or not?"

This isn't limited to just machines. The athlete training for a triathlon wear a watch. The watch wirelessly collects information from sensors being worn. Their heart rate, body temperature, cadence, the amount of time their feet are in contact with the ground, blood oxygen levels are all being gathered by that watch. The watch may have an accelerometer capturing the athlete's motion. But the watch doesn't store this information for long. It connects to the Internet and uploads the data into a more powerful computer where it can be monitored by coaches and trainers or analyzed later for sophisticated feedback about their performance. 

This data can also be shared via social networks with other athletes for comparison or to show off to fans or just to maintain a public record. Most of these scenarios deal with telemetry or one-way data monitoring. Conjure up an image of any NASA mission's ground control; a room full of men in white short sleeved shirts, black ties and horn-rimmed glasses staring at computer screens. That's telemetry.

In essence, this what IOT is about. Telemetry for everyone, hopefully without the need for rocket scientists to interpret it. But it also takes it a step further, because it gives you the ability to not only view the data, but to control the devices sending the data. A thermostat which sent you a message reminding you to set it to away mode after you've left the house wouldn't be all that useful if that's all it could do. However if you could  respond with a curt "enable away mode", that might be pretty useful. Smaller devices talking to larger devices, talking to even larger and smarter devices and then returning optimized information and new instructions back downstream.


Sunday, February 15, 2015

I spy with Gost's eye

I'm installing a GOST Nav-Tracker system today, and this is a piece of cake technically. Doing it well however takes some ingenuity. What we're doing is trying to outwit the thief that wants to steal your boat. For many whose boats are considered statistically attractive to those employed in the marine vessel purloin profession your insurance carrier will mandate one of these system.

The ingenuity comes into play because you have to do your best to hide these systems from an experienced filcher. Sometimes this is fairly easy to do, and sometimes not so much. My sense is that the experience thief wants to get the boat out on the water as quickly as possible. Once well clear of the dock they will start to hunt for it. Using the phrase "my sense is" is not to imply I have any actual experience in heisting a boat, but merely an extrapolation of how I would go about it. These pictures have been severely redacted to insure the locations of these pieces and the type of boat are not divulged.


Ruh-roh! Transducer transplant time.

"Can you install these transducers without a fairing block?" I was asked. "I don't know, what transducers?" came my muffled squawk from the interior bowels of the boat. Let me climb out of this god forsaken  hole and take a look."

My response was, "Sure you can install them without the fairing block, if they are pointing straight down. But these aren't level, not even close to level. Who installed these things?" The factory was the answer. The fairing blocks were still in the box along with the apparently unread instructions. This was Thursday morning and the boat was delivering Friday afternoon. I still had a lot of other things on my do list like finishing the autopilot and the security tracking system. What is the art of the possible in this case? Not much methinks. A plan is needed.


Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Shack Collapse

Even as bankruptcies go this was fast, and well planned. As the ink was drying on the Judge's paperwork. about 1700 stores headed off into liquidation land. Everything must go, and it largely has by now for many of the stores. The store below hung the signs on Friday, and essentially the majority of the inventory, the good stuff at any rate was gone by Sunday night. I was a regular customer here and sadden by the events. RadioShack had been around for over ninety years, and somehow they lost their way. The rule "Find out what you don't do well in life, and then don't do those things" had largely been ignored.


Friday, January 30, 2015

From the "Splendid Galley" Spam, Spam, Bacon, Bacon Jam, and Spam App

The pressure is on. You've been invited to the big party on the yacht again and the painful memory of your last appetizer effort still lingers. The haunting vision of your tofu stuffed cucumbers accompanied by an organic plain yogurt dipping sauce languishing untouched on the fantail still sears your retinas. Never again you swear.

The Rant's culinary experts have the perfect solution for you. Fried jalapeno Spam sticks served in bacon bowls with a bacon jam dipping sauce. Spicy, tasty, and always an epicurean favorite. This dish will surely be the centerpiece of the party's conversations. Just one look at those glistening Spam sticks will make you want to sample it again and again.


Saturday, January 24, 2015

Trackology explained

There is a reason the brothers were called Grimm. While researching tracks in general I found an early precursor to our modern chartplotter versions, the story of Hansel and Gretel. This is a grisly story with its only redeeming value being a happily ever after ending. A spineless wood cutter father, a cruel stepmother who wants to lose the kids in the dark black woods, a cannibal witch that wants roast child served with a fava bean side. It's a wonder how urchins could sleep after being read this horrific story. Come on kids, we're going camping in the woods. Want to come? The concept of leaving now pixelated bread crumbs behind to show the way back however has stayed with us.


Friday, January 16, 2015

Car v Boat, a brief analysis

There are interesting contrasts between a car and a boat. I'll start with the car. An average car has on the order of about 30,000 parts. These range from cam shafts down to the cheesy squeeze on hose clamps. How many parts are there in a boat? Who the heck truly knows. This question could be answered by manufacturers who have some sort of good configuration control management, but few really have any idea.

So I thought I'd look at a car repair I recently did and contrast it with similar jobs on a boat. It's admittedly a rare case for me. I try hard to obey my cardinal rule. Find out what things you don't do well and then don't do those things.

A combination of avarice, curiosity, and reading the horror stories owners have told online about the costs charged by dealers drove me to attempt the task. Just so you know in advance I'm going to remove the car's fuel tank, pull the fuel sender assembly, replace the fuel pump and reassemble. Don't worry this isn't going to be pedantic passive voiced filled DIY droner.


Autopilot Guidance

To say the boat owner was upset was an understatement. The boat had nearly thrown himself and it's occupants into the drink. Without seeing the event I already had a good idea about what had happened, and I've been on a boat in the recent past that had done the same thing with me on board. It was scary to say the least to have the boat tipped 45 degrees on its side in a high speed turn.

I patiently listened to the story. The boat was under autopilot control and traveling around 40mph. A crab trap buoy was spotted ahead and the autopilot was disengaged. The owner steered around the  buoy and re-engaged the pilot and this is where things went awry. The boat was about 40 degrees off course, way off the course line and still traveling at about 40 kts. There are ways to mitigate this event, but not alway completely and sometimes with a small price to pay.

Here is part two of the discussion. In the news this week was the story of a former NFL player who fell overboard landing a fish in the dark while his boat was under autopilot control. The boat wasn't moving quickly but was too fast to catch. The individual was able to swim the 9 miles back to shore. He is very lucky boy. The boat was found later off Grand Bahama Island. 


Sunday, January 4, 2015

Specifications translated


Design Requirement Specifications for
Marine Electronics Installations

1.0 Scope: This specification applies to all recreational and commercial vessels 20' or longer capable of navigating offshore. If the vessel does not meet these requirements it shall be clearly labeled on a visible plate that it is "not capable of being fully equipped for safe use offshore." Offshore means any body of water where a vessel can be out of view of land.

This means that if you can't easily put a full suite of gear needed to safely navigate offshore on a boat quit deluding buyers that your product is suitable for big water, even if it looks like it can float on it,  for a while at any rate.

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Xmas Day 2014



“CALVIN: This whole Santa Claus thing just doesn't make sense. Why all the secrecy? Why all the mystery? If the guy exists why doesn't he ever show himself and prove it? And if he doesn't exist what's the meaning of all this?
HOBBES: I dunno. Isn't this a religious holiday? 
CALVIN: Yeah, but actually, I've got the same questions about God.” 

Friday, December 19, 2014

Rudolf's dead

The air was thick with the smell of burnt venison as I pushed my way through the crowd of elves and reindeer. I broke into the clearing and shuddered at the scene. It was Rudolf alright. His nose was a charred mess, wiring was melted, and the battery pack had slagged down. "All right, did anyone see what happened? Let's back away from the scene a bit" I bellowed, "I don't want those pointy shoes and hoof prints to muck up the scene." A swarthy elf in green camo elbowed himself forward.

"I'm Marley, head of security, and no it's not Rudolf, he died years ago and was buried next to Burl Ives. This is Gustaf. Everybody was inside the workshop when we heard the screaming. Ever hear a reindeer scream? It's bad enough they have a foul disposition and smell like wet mildewed burlap. But their scream sounds like a banshee being slowly dropped into a pot of boiling oil. When we ran out we found him just laying here still smoking."


Thursday, December 11, 2014

One tooth, Bluetooth, Aux tech!

I'd like to say it was the perfect storm, but it was all too ordinary in my world. Older tech meets new tech but it needs to engage in a ménage à trois to work. The partners in this salacious tryst are an older Kenwood stereo, a new Wet Sounds Bluetooth receiver and volume control, and a Scosche FM modulator. The Wet Sounds Bluetooth volume control is an interesting little device. Not only is it a Bluetooth receiver, but it controls the volume, you can stop it (in effect a mute control) and change tracks all in a very compact package.



Sunday, December 7, 2014

Anchoring? No aweigh

Truth be told most Floridians don't like boats. They are viewed at the very minimum as an inconvenience and at the worst boaters are a menace to society. Bridges go up and delay the critical trip to Walmart. Home owners associations don't want them in yards whether visible or not. Waterfront property owners cry about their multi-million dollar views being despoiled. 

Municipalities chaff at the bit because they are powerless to regulate something that floats in plain sight just mocking them. Imagine that if you can.

Environmentalists accuse boaters of slaying manatees and turtles, mowing down sea grass and coral, and polluting the waterways. Oh yeah, they also drink excessively, have noisy exhaust systems, even louder stereos, make big wakes, scare fish, go too fast. Have I missed anything?


Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Suri to the rescue

Hi Suri, I seem to have a problem.
Is it something about your boat again Dave?
Ah, possibly Suri, I may have hit another rock or something and the boat seems to be slowly sinking. What should I do?
Would you like to call a boat towing company Dave? 
Suri, I can't do that. They canceled me the last time I ran aground. The guy said they can't afford to have me as a customer any more, and now it will cost a fortune.
Okay Dave, have you turned on the bilge pumps?


Monday, November 10, 2014

FLIBS 2014

There is nothing quite like the Fort Lauderdale International Boat Show. Three million square feet, almost 70 acres of boats. The odor of out-gassing styrene is omnipresent, and what's that other sweet smell wafting in the air? Ah yes, I recognize that elusive and ethereal scent, its money. You want a big boat? A really big boat? Then FLIBS is the show for you.