April 2006 Archives

Annapolis frees the WiFi, with some ads

Apr 29, 2006

Annapolis WiFiGreat news from Annapolis (with a tip’o’the cap to Jeffrey): today there’s a“wire cutting” ceremony to comemorate the advent of free WiFi service in the downtown area, which definitely seems to include the various marinas and even the anchorage (if you have the right gear on your boat). Will cruisers visit more often and stay longer? I wouldn‘t be at all surprised, though there is one unknown. Users of Annapolis Wireless are forced through a Web portal so that advertising can be sold to finance the free service; the ad concept is fine, I think, but I’ve had trouble in the past with the “forcing” technology, as when I once signed up for a day’s service at a Miami Starbucks and spent too much of the day on the cell with tech support trying to figure out why I was getting dropped so much while trying to send photos to a magazine. I also feel a little badly for the nice folks who rent bikes and online computers right near the docks; but maybe free WiFi will mean more bike rentals?

Navman 8120, is the "C120 killer" dead?

Apr 28, 2006

Navman 8120  Merc copyright Panbo lr

I don’t know why I haven’t mentioned the Navman 8120 before, because I surely was impressed when I had a chance to fool with it last December. But now it’s particularly noteworthy as the company supposedly has a “For Sale” sign on the door (s). Navman has good online dope on this single station multifunction display that was reportedly dubbed the “C120 Killer” during development, and for now I’ll just note that it really does challenge Raymarine on features and value. What I want to point out today is how very neatly it interfaces with SmartCraft, i.e. Mercury and Cummins engines built by Brunswick. Check out bigger versions of the screen above, and below. Navman told me they don’t like comparing that “Troll control” to cruise control, but have you ever seen anything like that on a plotter/fishfinder/radar? Cool stuff.

Now some questions. If you were buying electronics next week, or advising someone about it (as I know many of you do), would you go for a company that is in transition, even if its product looks terrific? That’s why Brunswick’s announcement seems strange, even dumb. But, what if we learn next week or next month that Navman and Northstar will soon belong to a large and respectable marine electronics company that has never offered navigation gear before? That might seem smart indeed. Have a great weekend.

Navman 8120 Smartcraft copyright Panbo lr

Brunswick to sell BNT, Ben Baffled

Apr 27, 2006

Well, I’ll be damned! The very unexpected news is that Brunswick now plans to sell much of Brunswick New Technologies, specifically the marine electronics bundle of Northstar, Navman and MX Marine plus Navman’s non-marine operations. This plan seemingly torpedos my notion that electronics, engine, and boat builders must follow the Brunswick lead and become closely intertwined as all their products become more integrated. What don’t I understand about this picture?

Later today: Of course I’ve called a few folks in the industry; in this little world, Brunswick’s announcement is a big deal, and, it turns out, anticipated by no one I know. You’d think that Raymarine and Maptech might be celebrating; I believe they’ve both been living in fear of losing substantial business if and when Brunswick boatbuilders standardised their helms on Brunswick electronics. But there are way too many uncertainties to this deal. For starters, it’s odd that Brunswick has only announced a desire to sell Navman/Northstar, not the buyer. Some players are fearful that that buyer will be Garmin, others that it will be Raymarine. Or maybe it’s a red herring, and only Navman’s non-marine business will actually get sold (which makes plenty of sense).

As for me, it’s too bad that my recent PMY electronics columns aren’t online (it’s a manpower issue, and I’m told they’ll all go up eventually), because then I could illustrate my embarrassing bafflement with a couple of links. The main one would be my March column about the Northstar 8000i, where I described how it’s taken a few years for Brunswick to digest Northstar and Navman, how these names—now really two brands used by the same global team of developer/manufacturers—have to compete for business within Brunswick as well as without, and, finally, how the 8000i looks like the system that might realize former (good point, Russ, below) Brunswick CEO George Buckley’s vision of a totally integrated boat, and thus win BNT a big chunk of Brunswick business. I’d also have to link you to the current May issue of PMY, where I take a look at Lowrance and wonder if its acquisition by Altor, along with Simrad and a boatbuilder closely associated with Volvo, might be the beginning of a Nordic version of Brunswick. Oy, I even finished with some noodling about “how Brunswick’s electronics and engine divisions are coming together in a seamless, possibly impenetrable, fashion…” May I hereby add: Or not!

Shakespeare's ART-3, check your transmitting power!

Apr 26, 2006

Shakespeare ART3 copyright PANBO BE

I may be naive--I don't have much experience with testing tools--but Shakespeare's ART-3 impressed me. In this picture, bigger here, that VSWR reading well into the red demonstrates something I'd suspected but wasn't positive about...the old antenna attached to the Icom 504 may look OK but it must be pretty pooched inside. VSWR, by the way, stands for "voltage standing wave ratio" though Shakespeare more reasonably terms it "antenna efficiency". Interestingly the meter showed the Icom and other of my test radios transmitting at a mere 17 watts with this same antenna, but pumping out a full 25 watts with a VSWR of only 1.25 (a mere loss of 2% according to the table on the meter face) when well wired to a decent antenna. Antennas really make a performance difference, as does a good power supply. The $90 (retail, though I don't see a place to buy one online) ART-3 can also generate a tone on Channel 72, thus providing a simple reception test. Note that you do need to provide your own short patch cable between the meter and radio, annoying, but it is smartly designed so that it can be used portably with an internal battery or rigged permanently with wired 12v power.

PS, 3/12/2011: Valuable discussion about what a meter like the ART-3 can, and can not, determine following this entry.

AIS, this 'n' that #4

Apr 25, 2006

Liverpool AIS Web crop

* Thanks to Panbo reader Derek for a link to AISLiverpool, the neatest AIS plotting Web site I’ve ever seen, especially since AISlive, and then Xanatos, became mostly subscription services. I’m not sure this will please the IMO, which is trying to limit AIS Web broadcasting, but it certainly is a great place to see how well the technology works. The example above, cropped from the full screen shot, illustrates how AIS is now being used to mark significant fixed objects, as well as ships. AISLiverpool is also endless fun for harbor gawkers, adding Web cams, photos, track histories and more to the AIS data. The site seems to be the work of an enthusiast, but I can’t find a link to the author (anyone?), who deserves applause I think.

* Check out Maritec, makers of just about everything AIS including test hardware and software. The news section suggests that the Class B AIS standard is finally done (maybe someone can confirm?).

* And here’s an interesting conversation about diddly but important NMEA 0183 details involved with getting an AIS receiver connected to a Raymarine C or E. Meindert Sprang, of ShipModul, provides expertise as usual.

* Finally, note how a Brookhouse Multiplexer made Jan-Enno a “happy man” by letting him hook a new SR 162 AIS receiver to both his Raymarine C80 (along with SeaTalk instruments) and his laptop. He explains how it works in the “user comments” section at the Brookhouse site.

Icom's CommandMicIII, and some (juvenile) electronics humor

Apr 24, 2006

Icom CommandMicIII copyright Panbo BE crop

So I spent a good part of my weekend wiring four different DSC radios to two plotters and a PC, and experimenting with some of the selective voice calling, position requesting, and caller plotting functions then possible. It turned out that the NMEA 0183 interfacing was relatively easy, and the DSC stuff worked pretty well, but there were some hassles. I’ll probably write several entries on this subject this week, but let me start with some comments on Icom’s new CommandMicIII.

It’s nice! Fully pictured here , you can see how hunky it is (my hand is average size). That means a big, fine sounding speaker. And, while those small screen fonts are quite small, they are sharp. This remote mic will do everything the radio can do, including all the DSC (there’s a distress button on the back). I particularly like the “jog dial”, which alternately controls channel, volume, squelch, menu settings and more. In fact you might say I’m a knob guy; for instance, I think the ‘rotary’ controls on NavNet and Raymarine E/C machines are very desirable features. But, wait, I’ve way outgrown the dirty mind of a 12 year old boy. That’s why I didn’t really notice this finger photo until the finger owner made noise about it, and I didn’t even notice the giggly conjunction of VHF channel 69 and the word “pleasure” (Icom’s fortuitous label for this ‘recreational’ or ‘non-commercial’ channel), until I saw the photo above. Honest.

The Raymarine warranty #2, bad news from powerboat.about.com

Apr 21, 2006

Rant Banner

Yesterday I described a relatively small change in Raymarine’s warranty policy (arguably good for consumers), and how a vague article about it in MEJ led a few folks to think that Raymarine no longer warranties user-installed electronics, which is absolutely not true! Well, I first heard this ugly rumor from a Panbo reader cruising in Malaysia, who referred me to the astonishingly wrong online article pictured below. The author, Jim Shepard, took the overly broad first sentence of the MEJ piece, ignored all hints to the contrary, and spun a stirring fantasy about Raymarine as Corporate Evil Doer and the end of discount electronics as we know them. Somehow Shepard, who fancies himself an “an old sea dog” who speaks for “the average Joe”,  even divined just how rottenly Raymarine feels about do-it-yourself customers like me and many of you: “Raymarine says they are taking this action because apparently most of us are too stupid to install our own equipment.”

Yes, I’m damned steamed up about Shepard’s Bad News piece, probably because I’m trying myself to bring some honest information about marine electronics to the Web, and this is the opposite! It’s not just factually wrong, completely wrong, it seems intent on reinforcing a prejudice that’s baloney (I think). Plus, while it’s one thing to make a mistake, even get carried away on a rant, one beauty of this digital medium is that we can fix or notate our mistakes. Oh, Shepard did publish a follow-up piece, Good News from Raymarine, and there’s even a link to it buried in the original page, but I don’t think that’s nearly good enough. The Bad News page appears high in Google search lists and will be misleading Web surfers for months to come. 

I’ve corresponded with Shepard suggesting that the misinformation on the page be fixed or clearly marked, but he blew me off, suggesting that my e-mail sounded like it “was written by the PR Dept. of Raymarine”, and worse. He’s sticking to his self image as a heroic and independent old salt standing up to big corporations. What a load of crap! Shepard’s stated goal is “to separate powerboating ‘fact’ from ‘fiction’”, but, by leaving Bad News up on the Web as is, he’s actually doing boaters a disservice. Electronics are confusing enough without large paddies of misinformation laying around. If you too feel that Bad News ought to be clearly marked as bogus info, email Shepard or, better yet, the Public Editor at The New York Times Corp., which actually owns About.com. End rant!

Raymarine warranty About bs

PS: Hopefully the misspelling in Shepard’s headline tips off some readers to the profound lack of professionalism they are about to encounter. Maybe it will also help embarrass the Times enough to clean up his mess.

PPS, 4/22: Well, I don’t know if it was this rant, my (yours?) email to the Times, or what, but less than a day passed before someone corrected the spelling at Bad News and also added a “Note to readers” directing them to the Good News follow-up. That’s all good, though Shepard stills owes his readers and Raymarine an acknowledgement that the entire basis of his strongly worded editorial turned out to be untrue, and hence all the mean suppositions he derived from it are simply unsupported.

The Raymarine warranty #1, truth and fiction

Apr 20, 2006

Raymarine warranty Hull Truth

OK, so about a year ago Raymarine made an interesting change to its warranty practices. In addition to the standard two-year “send it back to the factory and we’ll fix it” policy, Raymarine also offers one year of onboard warranty service for gear that retails for more than $2,500 and is professionally installed. The change is that now the installer must be certified, either directly by taking a Raymarine training/test, or indirectly by earning an MEI or CMET certification from NMEA. No certification, no onboard warranty. All this, clearly spelled out here, makes good sense to me…one, the existing extra warranty for boaters who spend the money to have a professional installation (which should mean fewer warranty problems for Raymarine), and, two, now trying to make that installation truly professional by mandating installer standards.

But a weird thing happened. Raymarine’s new policy has become a bit of a PR disaster thanks to some sloppy journalism and the wicked power of the Web. In March, NMEA’s Marine Electronics Journal published an article on the new policy that flatly began, “Marine products manufacturer Raymarine will no longer warranty its products unless they are installed by a certified installer…” The article is really an ‘inside’ piece for installers, and it does eventually reference the actual ‘onboard’ warranty change, but it is, shall we say, not as clear as it might have been. It led to the discussion pictured above on the Hull Truth (where there’s an excellent electronics forum), in which self installers started to get seriously upset. Thankfully that thread was brought back to reality by a well spoken installer named Jim Maier, but the misinformation one can read into MEJ’s confusing article has spread further. In fact, don’t be surprised if you hear tomorrow or a year from now that Raymarine won’t give you warranty on electronics you install yourself. It’s total bull, but the rumor is out there in much worse form than I’ve discussed today. Prepare for a RANT tomorrow.

Mind the flares, a product recall

Apr 20, 2006

PWSS MK7 flare recallApparently there’s a bad batch of Paines Wessex white collision warning (Mk7) hand flares out there, specifically batch numbers 2045 through 2046, which were distributed in the U.S. and Europe. You really don’t want to set one of these off. Instead you want to return it to your dealer or contact Paines Wessex.

Zeus (4), IPS joystick, and what does it all mean?

Apr 19, 2006

IPS BenE Panbo

Volvo also introduced an omni-directional no-thruster-needed joystick at the Miami Boat Show. It has a computerised control module running a pair of independently turning IPS drives, like Zeus, but doesn’t have Zeus’s nervous system. That’s me trying it above, and while it just can’t have the precision of Zeus without the feedback, it too is a big advance in easy boat handling (plus it’s available right now). So, looking forward, we see two major marine engine manufacturers with new drive systems that offer significantly easier handling (and some other features) and are very electronic.

If I was an independent electronics manufacturer I’d be nervous. The Brunswick team—Mercury, Cummins, Northstar, and Navman—are already a little ahead in terms of the relatively simple business of putting engine data onto a CANbus (SmartCraft) so it’s available at all displays. I know companies like Lowrance and Raymarine are trying to get this sort of engine relationship using NMEA 2000, and there’s been progress, but once systems get as complicated as Zeus I doubt that multiple manufacturers will be involved. In fact, a Zeus engineer pretty much told me that it would be impossible to develop something like station holding unless it was all in-house (and note, you Ethernet freaks, that it’s all done with CANbus). Thus I found it interesting that Altor, the Swedish equity fund that’s taken over both Simrad and Lowrance, also just purchased a large Swedish boatbuilder with close ties to Volvo Penta. “Is this the beginning of a Nordic-centered Brunswick,” is the question I asked in my latest PMY column (mostly about Lowrance, and hopefully online soon). Will other engine and electronics companies merge or make alliances? Will all this push the independent players to greater support of  NMEA 2000? Time will tell.