April 2008 Archives

Crazy Lenny "stress test", and a Mad widget

Apr 30, 2008


“I chastised the children for their lack of destructive ambition, handed out sticks and suggested they use the handhelds as drums, instead. They started whacking away.” Lenny Rudow’s Handheld Stress Test, published yesterday on Mad Mariner, has to be one of the funniest electronics articles ever. Plus it’s good to know what abuse these Garmin, Lowrance, Raymarine, and Uniden GPS and VHF units can take. They all survived the kids and even the flush test. I’ve always appreciated Lenny’s work—which runs from fishing to electronics—and enjoyed getting to know him when we played judges together in Miami…but had no idea how creatively destructive he could be.

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N2K instruments, install details

Apr 29, 2008


My obsession with NMEA 2000 instruments continues. To better test and photograph them in real light conditions, I installed the array in a single, more serious panel. The weapon of choice was that 3 5/8" hole saw above, which is a little bigger than needed but gave me wiggle room for final alignment. It would have worked for surface mounting the Maretron DSM 250 too, but I decided to flush mount it so it didn’t overwhelm the others. The ST70 can also be flush mounted, while the others are all surface only (correction: Furuno will offer a flush mount kit). Note that I did the layout on a template (which, in my case, also became a backing piece), which I then used to make neater and surer cutouts in the white finish panel. A good idea if you are actually cutting holes in your helm or cockpit!

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SPOT share pages, in beta

Apr 28, 2008


The SPOT satellite messenger is about to get more attractive to many boaters. Originally it wasn’t all that easy to share your tracking with friends and family; in fact, to do so you had to share your entire Spot account user name and password. But now Spot is beta testing a pretty sophisticated feature that enables Web sharing of both tracks and messages. Above, and bigger here, is a zoom of a shared page I recorded over the weekend; every 10 minute tracking isn’t perfect for driving, but #14 is the exact parking spot I occupied at Rankin’s, my favorite hardware store.

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Vesper AIS WatchMate, smart details

Apr 25, 2008


Milltech Marine is carrying a new AIS display of particular interest to power-sensitive offshore sailors. The Vesper Marine AIS WatchMate has a 5–inch “daylight readable” monochrome screen, but purportedly only draws 1.2 watts average, 2.5 max. The $499 unit is not a receiver and does not do graphic target plotting, but I read through the preliminary manual and was impressed by how thoroughly the designers—who are offshore sailors—thought out the details of collision avoidance. For instance,  WatchMate not only has range and CPA/TCPA alarms with sophisticated filtering, but also supports four “profiles” so you can easily switch setups in different conditions like “offshore” or “coastal”. It strikes me that WatchMate would also work well with a Class B transponder, though of course you’d still need a PC connection to set it up and, sigh, you can’t buy one in the U.S. yet. Note, too, that those NMEA 0183 ports shown below are actually wires in a single cable, and should be fairly easy to install in a waterproof way, plus there are several other possible install configurations. Hopefully Milltech or Vesper will make the manual available soon. Vesper_AIS_WatchMate_diag

AIS, this 'n' that #7

Apr 24, 2008


I haven’t done one of these AIS miscellaneous entries since last June, but even then was wondering why the FCC hadn’t yet approved Class B! Now it seems like the U.S. marine safety community has gone into a state of depression about it. I’m no longer getting e-mails guessing when the FCC commissioners might finally act, and don’t know of any recent efforts to make that happen. Color me guilty too, though I did turn an April PMY Q&A into a mini editorial on the subject (it’s below the electronics maintenance story some of you helped me with). But I’ve been encouraged to try another avenue, which I’ll describe below, after a few this’n’thats

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Simrad IS20s, middle school

Apr 22, 2008


If the Furuno FI-50 family featured yesterday are segmented LED old school—and the color all-in-ones can display data any which way (if the page designers get their butts in gear)—then Simrad’s IS20s are the middle school of N2K instruments. Aside from four analog-look dedicated displays (can’t call stepper motor driven hands responding to N2K smart sensors actual analog, can we?), the IS20 family has the Combi and the Graphic displays shown above, and bigger here . As best I can tell they use the same dot matrix screen, but the Combi is limited to four preprogrammed screens showing only the data sourced below left (“position” is really about SOG). In fact it can be installed as a stand alone—just plug in smart triducer and SimNet power cable—and is similarly simple to use.

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Furuno FI-50s, another calibration road taken

Apr 21, 2008


Well, it’s one thing to contemplate testing a rack of N2K instruments (between slurping oysters and admiring sea birds), and quite another thing to do it. So many factors…oy! Today’s focus is Furuno’s unusual approach to calibration; it turns out that the FI-50s can do extensive calibration of almost any sensor because its done within the instruments instead of within the sensor. This could cause some confusion but overall seems like a terrific option, especially for folks who are going to use other manufacturer’s N2K sensors or bring existing 0183 smart sensors onto a network with a converter (like the Simrad AT10).

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Jensen NVX3000PC, a car/boat computer?

Apr 18, 2008


Smaller, faster, cheaper! I’m wondering if some of the new automobile computers, like this Jensen NVX3000PC, wouldn’t work pretty nicely on a boat. You got your built-in GPS, 7” touch screen, 30 gig drive, Windows XP, SD card slot, dual USB ports, 12v and li-ion power supplies…even WiFi and a remote control. There’s also the Azentek Atlas CPC-1000, which apparently adds AM/FM/Satellite/HD audio, a CDRW/DVD/MP3/WMA drive, Bluetooth, and CANbus integration. And no doubt there are others, at least concepts. I don’t know if any of these things are actually shipping, and I’ve heard that states like California are clamping down on how much computing you can do, or visual entertainment enjoy, while driving…which might impede developments. But isn’t some sort of inexpensive, mass market computer going to make sense afloat?

Lowrance LCX 113c, good N2K citizen

Apr 17, 2008


Speaking of good NMEA 2000 citizenship, the Lowrance LCX-113C HD in the lab is stellar. Press “Enter” on any of the devices listed above and you’ll get its details including live data. Click on the diagnostics tab and you’ll get info on error messages, total bandwidth being used, and more.

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NMEA 2000 instruments, ready to rock

Apr 16, 2008


So I may be on semi vacation, and having a time, but I’m still looking forward to getting back to the lab where the network of NMEA instruments recently grew to include Furuno’s and Simrad’s latest. Check out the big picture here . I’ll be writing a comparative overview on these five brands soon after I get back, and I’m trying to sort out factors to check out. So far I’ve got:

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