Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Engine hatch hell

It was a boat engine hatch much like the one seen below. It was open and the boat was being worked on when the hatch lifter suddenly failed sending it crashing to the deck. The problem was a person was in the way. It took two frantic and adrenaline driven men to manually lift the very heavy hatch off him. An ambulance rapidly transported the badly injured tech to the local hospital's emergency room.

The medical expenses are in excess of $100,000 dollars and still accumulating. He will be off work for at least three months or more recovering. As horrific as this accident was, the good news is his prognosis for a full recovery is likely, and had he been in a slightly different place the falling hatch could have killed him. When a hatch lift fails catastrophically while you're under it you either get crushed or the edges of the hatch act like a guillotine. This event has given me more than some cause for concern. On any given day this could easily have been me!


Wednesday, July 22, 2015

How to hoist a Signal K flag

This whole event comes from an internal conversation with the core Signal K group about getting people to send in pictures of Signal K flags flying on their boats. They all have boats. I don't currently have a boat, that's completed at any rate.

As a bit of a lark I suggested I could hoist the SK flag as a tattoo. I figured this would be much better than hoisting my own petard by far. Then Rob outed me on Panbo. It was now real and printed using pixelated ink on my favorite marine electronics website for all to see. Okay, no worries, I can make this happen, and did.


Sunday, July 19, 2015

Radar raconteur

The radar has been elevated. Its gone from being nearly blind and has entered the world of the sighted. This was a most nuanced and detail driven job. It wasn't that it was physically hard, just every single damn aspect of this task was fiddly. Nothing was straight forward. Climb up, climb down. Go back to Ace hardware and stare into those little boxes containing a zillion parts looking for an answer. Climb back up, climb back down. 

It was a screw up I briefly touched in a earlier piece. The problem was how to undo the damage, install a elevated radar mount, and make it look as close as possible to a factory installation. This took creativity, imagineering, and some classic MacGyvering to pull off.


Monday, July 13, 2015

Boat builders installing marine electronics. Is this really a good idea?.

Like the title asks, should boat builders be in the marine electronics business? I think the answer for some is maybe yes. For some absolutely not. Then there is everything else in between. So I'm going to opine a bit on this subject and explore the pluses and minus of this approach starting with the costs to the buyer first. For the buyer the big plus of a factory electronics install is it's easier to finance the addition of the electronics on a new boat when it's folded into the mortgage.... provided it's well installed.


Saturday, July 4, 2015

Pump Wasteland

All pumps are born innocent and full of hope. Swaddled in colorful four color printed boxes and clear plastics they wait on the shelf for that happy day they get adopted and go to their new forever home. They have yet to know they will end up enslaved in a chamber of horrors. Buried alive in a stifling dark, damp, moldy and nearly inaccessible compartment. This is their hellish destiny. I'm sure on a quiet night I can hear their tiny muffled pleas coming from the back of the boat. "Help us, it hurts so bad and we're afraid" quaver tiny voices. "What did we do to deserve this?"

Life isn't fair. You're born a pump, your job is to pump. End of story. It could have been worse. Think about the disposable diaper's eventual chagrin when they discover their purpose in their new forever home.

Monday, June 29, 2015

Sharknado, the review

"Hi Bob, what's your script pitch this time?" "This a real winner Joe. I've given it the working title Wolfnado. It has everything you need to make a true Blockbuster. Vicious hungry wolves fall out right out of the sky and rip apart anything they see. It's got skimpy bikini shots for the teenagers, lots of guns, chainsaws, blood, fangs and no big words. I'm telling you right now Joe, this is really high concept stuff."

"Bob, that sounds great but how are you going to get it to rain wolves?"

"Joe, this is the high concept stuff I was talking about. There will be a huge storm that develops over Florida. Tornadoes will suck up thousands of hungry raging wolves. The storm then dumps them all over Miami Beach. There's plenty of cheap stock beach footage we can buy that will keep production costs way down."

"Bob, I don't want to rain on your wolf parade, but there aren't very many wolves in Florida if any at all, and the effects people are going to scream about the costs. Those fur computer graphics stuff ain't cheap and all those hemp wearing environmentalists will be on our asses also."

"How about sharks Bob? I mean who loves man eating sharks? Florida has tons of them swimming around and biting people? I don't even go to the beach because I saw that Jaws movie as a kid. We can make them out of rubber cheap, they can be reused and we can put fins on weighted skateboards and pull them around in shallow water." I'm thinking big. Big like "Sharknado." I bet you could write a script in about a week, and we could make it for chump change. Maybe around a fat million dollars. Hmmm... who could we sell it to? The Scfy channel maybe?"


Monday, June 22, 2015

Optical delusions, it's a matter of perspective

Two things are going on here. One is the camera is failing and it took some luck to get this picture below in the first place. It was once upon a time a color camera I think, but it has become more of a faded black and white image when it's working at all.  It's also the incorrect type of kind of camera. The image is accurate but the POV is not.

The Garmin 7612 display is new, the existing camera not so much. The owner was aware the camera had been in poor health, and from my perspective it had long passed on into Kodak heaven. In truth it had no power initially, but when given power it had a severe case of the Delirium Tremens. It really doesn't matter. For these reasons it's going into a plastic body bag for transport and internment at the local paupers landfill.


Monday, June 15, 2015

Two hours afloat and too many things to say.

This radar installation confirmed my sense that radar beams can't see through aluminum pipes. This wasn't something I was so curious about that I would expend valuable energy in trying to test, but now I have some empirical evidence to back up my hunch. 

This was two hours of owner training on a shiny new boat. Like all things I do, it seems my eye has a proclivity to spot other things and events to talk about and today was no different. The radar problem was evident as I walked up to the boat. It's a FUBAR install. It's not my work and I can't do anything about it today so the training will go on anyway.

I try to beat the basics into owners. My approach is to make the owner push all of the buttons, and we are going to do some things over and over until it starts to approach second nature. Make waypoints, name waypoints and go to waypoints. Make tracks, save tracks, name tracks and follow tracks. You get the drill. Add to this autopilot 101 use, and a stern lecture that bad things can happen if you do dumb things with the autopilot at high speeds. In extreme cases you could end up precipitously leaving the boat and watching it recede into the distance while you contemplate all of the mistakes you have made in your life, this last one in particular. I cut this educational activity off at about two hours max. It's all normal mortals can absorb in one shot.


Sunday, June 7, 2015

A tale of two motors

Our two motors suffered from a long and terminal case of rust-itis. It starts with a dermal complexion rash and if not promptly treated rapidly spreads, causes bloating and in the end given enough time all that will remain is a umber colored stain.

For steel to rust you need two basic things. Water and oxygen. Neither by itself causes rust, you need the collusion of both of these ingredients. Now if you add salt to the mix you can dramatically accelerate the process. But my essay isn't about rust, it's about how the water got there in the first place.

I have two recent examples. One is a winch motor in a forward anchor locker, and the other is a autopilot hydraulic pump located in the lazaret. In both cases the owner's aver the motors were working the last time they used them and I believe them. My inside voice however is mumbling the last time these motors were used Ron Popeil was selling spray on hair in a can.


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.