Monday, September 15, 2014

SDR radio, first forays

It was happy SDR day. I had squandered $18.00 of joint marital funds and had waited days for my digital equivalent of Ralphie's Little Orphan Annie's secret decoder ring to arrive. I was hoping the message wasn't going end up being something like "Drink Ovaltine." It was the best investment I have made in a long time, although I don't think Katie is as enthused at the cacophony of dronings, squawks, squeaks, beeps and hissing sounds continuously emanating from my office. The paltry funds have let me peer deeply into the mysterious world of radio frequencies which I haven't done since I built a crystal radio as a kid. What fun, but does it really work?


Monday, September 8, 2014

SDR, a $20 AIS receiver and more?

The answer to the title question is yes, and all with a small USB stick that was originally designed to do something else. It's a Software Defined Radio. Mine costs just $18.99 and had free shipping from eBay. The SDR dongle story all by itself is a testimony to very clever work repurposing an inexpensive mass-produced technology had laid under everyone's nose for years. A DVB-T USB stick that decodes European digital TV signals has now become a radio with substantial RF bandwidth. Software driven radios earliest manifestations started in the 1970's. The SDR version I'm playing with had its first glimmerings in 2010, and today they are widely available for a very small price.

Add to this any of a variety of inexpensive antennas you can build yourself and what you can listen to is almost endless. The frequency range of this small device is 17MHz at the low-end up to 1750MHz. This allows you to listen to FM, but also aviation, CB, marine VHF and AIS, police and emergency frequencies, and even the audio from baby monitors. Add an upconvertor for about $50 and you can add shortwave frequencies into the mix. Want to amplify the signal from the antenna add another $30. We still haven't broken a $100 yet.


Wednesday, September 3, 2014

10 rules for safer boating

Rules and laws like everything else come in flavors like good, obscure, and unwritten. Some are codified into our laws, some are not and others appear to be nonsense. Whether we chose to follow them or not is in part based on our experiences, or lack there of. In the end Darwin is the final arbitrator. So I'm going to make up some rules. These won't guarantee you won't get a ticket, or hurt, but statistically I think you may be better off if you pay attention to them. 

Rule 1. The other boaters around you are all addled crazed idiots that are trying to kill you. This isn't always the case, but it should always be your underlying assumption. In fact 80% of boating deaths are caused by operators with zero boating education. This doesn't mean if a boater had some more formal instruction that any of it was retained because the other 20% had some education, albeit perhaps with a more dubious provenance. Only 3% had taken a USCG Auxiliary, Power Squadron, or American Red Cross boating course.

Ten percent had passed some sort of a simple State required open book test. These aren't bad things at all. For the masses something is better than nothing. But in the state of Florida this only applies to someone who was born after 1988. 

The Internet provided 7% of these boater's with their education. I shudder to think to what that could have consisted of. Some of it is very high quality, and others not so much. Cogitating from time to time on your personal level of training and skills is never a bad idea.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Carbon black blues

Years of experience tells me something is awry. The charred appearance lends me to believe the little box has suffered some malady. My sharply honed instincts tell me this is likely at least one of the the reason the boat's air conditioning system is no longer functioning. It's also possible it's not as bad as it looks. Crap, I'm just pretending to be an optimist. The same observational skills tells me this thing is toasted into oblivion and under the best of circumstances won't suitable for an open casket viewing.


Saturday, August 23, 2014

Is boat lightning protection even possible?

Lightning is one badass force of nature. It's seemingly indiscriminate and random, but not quite as much you might think. It favors pointy things, but sometimes ignores them and a less than pointy object nearby it is blown to smithereens. A VHF radio in the dash can be melted from a strike and the chartplotter next to it is fine. Lightning hits the boat next to you in the marina and is barely damaged, while your boat in the next slip has $60,000 dollars worth of destroyed electrical gear and melted wiring. Mother nature can be a bitch and isn't always fair. So what's going on here anyway?


Tuesday, August 12, 2014

P79 transducer install and repair

I've given some thought to what color this slightly lubricious material is and I have two options. The first is petri dish pink. The second is hot porno pink. You know I choose the more salacious name for this not occurring in nature color. This is the back end of a Airmar P79 inhull transducer installation repair. The housing apparently is leaking ergo it's my fault since I installed it. The porno pink colored stuff is nontoxic antifreeze, aka propylene glycol.


Sunday, August 10, 2014

Step hulls and sonar systems

I will be the first to say that step hull designs have shown marked improvement over the years, and also that I'm still not quite a fan yet, but I'm getting closer. I'm however adamant that 2nd stations should not be added to these boats without consulting with the designer first.

I get the fuel efficiency argument, but then again if the boat's cost is north of $300,000 with quads on the back burning 100+ gallons per hour, do you really care about fuel savings? It's like asking the buyer of a new 70' sportfish if he's interested in the new green super fuel efficient 450hp hybrid diesel power package. I can hear the buyer's snorted guffaws now.

So what's my latest beef about these boats now? Too often the efforts that go into designing these high speed fishing machines and recreational boats don't seriously consider installation of all the amazing sonar technology that's available to help you actually find fish and the bottom. This conversation to some degree also includes the more traditional hull designs many of which don't do any better.


Thursday, July 31, 2014

Installing the Garmin Side and DownVü through hull transducers

The Garmin Down/SideVu through hull transducers come in two versions. One looks left, right, and down in a single transducer (deadrise of 5 degrees or less and does not require a fairing block). The ones I'm installing are a pair. The port side transducer just looks to port, and the right side transducer looks both down and to the right (deadrise angle from 5-25 degrees. The kit I used consisted of the transducer pair, two fairing blocks, 2 anti-rotation bolts, bushings, washers, nuts, pigtail to connect the transducers together, twelve pin transducer cable, and GCV 10 with a power and network cable. In sum all of the hardware you need is supplied. Let's get messy!


Sunday, July 20, 2014

Sarasota's waterways, a chamber of horrors

I only go into the water under duress, and never very from the shore or boat when I have to. The reason for this is I'm aware of the large numbers of monstrosities that lurk just below the surface of our waters. Locally we have the first sighting of a Pacu, a cousin of the Piranha with a mouthful of very human looking teeth. This fish is known worldwide by names such as the Testical and or Penis eating fish, Nut Cracker and Ball Cutter. Schools of these denizens have been seen in Phillippi creek a stones throw from the intercoastal waterway. 


Sunday, July 13, 2014

Parsing the NMEA press release

"NMEA TAKES AIM AT UNAUTHORIZED USE OF ITS STANDARDS

Action designed to protect ownership rights

SEVERNA PARK, MD—Every year the National Marine Electronics Association (NMEA) and its volunteer members spend significant amounts of time, effort and money to create data exchange Standards that benefit the entire marine industry. Many users comply with the NMEA licensing agreement, which requires purchasing use of the Standards, but some do not. NMEA has announced that it will take whatever action is necessary to protect its ownership rights to these Standards and collect payments for their use.

“The NMEA is a member-supported industry organization that supports the marine electronics industry by providing technical training and the development of various Standards,” said Johnny Lindstrom, Chairman and Acting Executive Director of NMEA. “The Standards developed and released are the sole property of our members. 

“Over the years we have been too lax in enforcing our rights under various copyright and intellectual property rights laws. By doing so, our members have missed benefiting from the revenue that should be realized from the use of these technologies. We are embarking on an effort to aggressively enforce these rights and collect for the use of our technologies by numerous individuals and businesses around the world.  

“Did you know that the cell phone network infrastructure timing is, in some cases, using the ‘UTC Time’ sentences from our NMEA 0183 Standard for synchronization? I have a major cell carrier ‘air card’ that has NMEA 0183 functions in it; I find no record of this carrier ever purchasing the rights to use this Standard.  

“This is just one instance; there are numerous cases where ‘NMEA 2000 compatible’ or some variation of this description is used. There is no such thing as ‘NMEA 2000 compatible’—the product is either certified or it is not, as stated in the NMEA licensing agreement. 

“By allowing this abuse of our Standards we are cheating those that play by the rules and by doing so support the maintenance of existing Standards and the development of future ones. In the past, the only way NMEA has known about any of these violations is by members contacting us. I ask all of our members to be more diligent and to alert the NMEA National Office of any abuses of our rights, so that we may pursue enforcement of these rights by whatever means available.”

About the NMEA
Founded in 1957, the NMEA has led the way in establishing technical Standards for data exchange in marine electronics, with the widely accepted NMEA 0183 data protocol, NMEA 2000® and certification Standards for marine electronics technicians. NMEA Standards and programs focus on insuring that the boating consumer is provided with reliable products and professional service. For more information, visit the NMEA website at www.NMEA.org or call (410) 975-9425."

SiRF Star III GPS and antenna
When I first read the press release I was a startled. There certainly was more than some righteous indignation present mixed in with a dose of "I'm mad as hell and I'm not going going to take it anymore." I also maybe sensed a bit of fiscal concerns peeking out from under the covers. Why else the threat of aggressive enforcement after all these years?

Saturday, July 5, 2014

The Zombie Apocalypse

November 22, 2014
I'm getting more and more concerned about this Zombie virus stuff despite the fact that Washington and the CDC keeping saying everything will be fine, and a cure is near. This morning the news reports said that it has now spread from Africa into China and the Middle East and there is an unconfirmed report of an outbreak in Venezuela. 


Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Views from the Intercoastal Waterway

I spend a lot of time on the water doing boaty things like endlessly turning circles, running for my tool kit to overcome some nautical mechanical or electrical travail, and pointing out to Bob he is now out of the channel and maybe he should turn to port if he doesn't want to buy new props. My camera is always at the ready if unusual sights appear, and they always do.


Monday, June 16, 2014

Garmin GCV Sonar Recording Movie Making

This little demonstration video turned out to be more of a challenge than I had anticipated, but in part it was my fault... sort of. The documentation didn't anticipate I would be dealing with three different Garmin 741xs MFD's, about 6 hours of sonar recordings archived on my computer from two of them, and a chart from a third. But with some excellent and very patient tech support from Garmin it all got sorted out. 

It also required some experimentation to get decent image quality. I started with the original very sharp recordings, played them back in Garmin's Homeport software. The recorded playback was captured using BB Flashback Express screen recording software. The newly created file was exported to a AVI format. From there the AVI clips were edited, and a simple soundtrack was created. The whole thing was then converted into a WMV format for upload to Youtube.

With each conversion you lose a little resolution. Aargh matey, I was in need of Dark and Stormies by the time I was done, but in the end I was happy with the results. It would have been better if the original recording format was a little more video friendly.

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Keeping the legacy alive, installing the Raystar 130

It was dead period. No pulse, and its faded chalky pallor were indicators it had joined thems what's dearly departed. Its destiny is a pauper's landfill grave gently swathed in a plastic garbage bag along with the remnants of last nights Chinese food take out dinner.

The Raymarine classic C-80 is still in mourning, and something has to be done. It's currently a really expensive repository of non-moving electronic charts. There are two things that have to be considered. The old Raystar 120 GPS needs to be replaced, and whatever is selected, we have to install.


Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Signal K is afoot.

I wish to communicate with you!


I know the vast majority of you have never heard of "Signal K" and until recently I hadn't either. Signal K is a collaboration by several open source boating related software developers who have worked together to create a common data management framework to support their efforts.

This includes the open source CANboat and browser oriented Navguage projects. CANboat is largely dedicated to reverse engineering NMEA 2000 PGN's to allow others to access the specific data elements such as boat speed or wind angle.

Friday, May 30, 2014

The press conference

Thanks for attending today. I'll take the first question. Okay Bob, what's your question? Let me be clear Bob, I'm not not going to comment about Cameragate today. As you know the facts are still under investigation. Right now no one seems to know why it was laying in the middle of US 41 including me. The fact the camera's memory chip was missing is concerning to all of us. I'm sure that our blog's security has not been compromised. And especially no comment about the one armed man spotted near the scene.  

Alright Sean you're up. Why do I just use big words all of the time? Well Sean, as you should know I don't just use big words. I use a bunch of little ones too. I guess those are the ones you just seem to know. You're a reporter Sean. Here's a little tip for you. The secret word of the day is dictionary. Whose next?


Monday, May 26, 2014

The 2014 SRQ boat show

I love boat shows. There's nothing like the sweet wafting odor of new fiberglass roasting in the Florida sun out gassing styrene. This was a good boat show, at least from the exhibitors viewpoint. In general, sales were better than last year and many more boats were being displayed. Although it doesn't match the halcyon days when you could get that fourth home mortgage to buy the vessel of your dreams, my sense is that most local dealers are now firmly back on solid fiscal ground. As one dealer told me, "It's good to be back in the boat business again."


Saturday, May 10, 2014

Winch removal made easy

Plan A:
Remove wiring from the winch along with the four corroded bolts from the deck plate. Whiskey Tango Foxtrot, nothing happens! Use a hammer and other nearby objects to encourage separation activities to commence soonest. Again nothing happens. Cogitate on a possible plan B.

Plan B:
The deck plate is really stuck. Squirt penetrating oil twice daily on every conceivable interface. On day three beat on the parts mercilessly. The deck plate still won't freaking budge.


Sunday, May 4, 2014

Installing the Garmin GCV 10 SideVü and DownVü system

Installing the new Garmin GCV 10 (Garmin Clear View) SideVü and Down  system is a snap, and well suited for DIY installers. As with most Garmin gear everything you need is in the box down to the wire clips (lamentably never enough of them), fasteners and other minor bits and pieces. Without further adieu find your floppy hat, grab your tools, count your fingers, and head down to the boat. 


da Vinci, da boat, da interpretation

It was an exhilarating experience to see the drawings from his notebooks come to life, and at the same time a bit of a disappointment at its execution and interpretation. Leonardo da Vinci's machine's exhibitions exist and travel all over the world. I had the recent opportunity to visit one. 

Featured at almost all these exhibitions is the simple paddle boat with the "invented by da Vinci proclamation." I wouldn't take anything away from Leonardo's impressive capabilities but I think that he did three things with extraordinary skill. He combined existing technologies to conceptually solve problems to make a living, was an astute and curious observer of the world around him and he meticulously documented his findings. This left behind a legacy of about 5000 pages of notes, drawings, and a remaining small handful of paintings.

So did he truly invent the paddle boat? I think not, that really happened in the 5th or 6th century. What he did with the paddle boat was to document the technology, understand how it worked, and put effort into figuring ways to power the contrivance more efficiently.