July 2008 Archives

Golden Shellback, waterproof your gadgets?

Jul 31, 2008

Golden Shellback blackberry

That’s a Blackberry getting dunked in pan of water, which it apparently survives just fine, thanks to a new “vacuum deposited” polymer coating process called Golden Shellback. You can see the CNET video “Waterproof your gadgets” below, Gizmodo filmed a cell taking a call while in a glass of ice water, and Tekzilla had some fun with an iPhone. But I’m a little confused; all these tech sites talk about “waterproof” but Golden Shellback itself clearly calls its technology “splash proof.” Many of us know from handheld VHF history that there can be a big difference.

Continue Reading

Fuel management 5, Northstar & Smartcraft

Jul 29, 2008


Mad Mariner just polled 400 U.S. boat owners about how they’re handling goosed up fuel prices, and the results are depressing. Though not terribly surprising, which is why I’ve gotten so keen on fuel management (part four is here, and you can work back). Actually it was years ago that I first saw the benefits of combining a simple gasoline flow meter with a GPS and software able to do calculations like miles per gallon, using Navman gear with the 250hp Volvo I/O on Ralph (still for sale, make an offer!). I could see the most economical spots in the boat’s power curve, and I could see them change with weight, sea state and other factors. I’m not sure I ever got it perfectly calibrated, so the numbers shown above may be inaccurate, but in terms of relative nm/g—and sweet spots—that’s not critical. And of course the subtleties are at least twice as important wallet-wise as they were in 2002, when I took the picture above.

Continue Reading

AutoTether, an update

Jul 28, 2008


I was pleased to meet the founder of AutoTether, Anthony Viggiano, at MAATS, and learn more about his wireless MOB safety product, though I’ve already tried it, liked it, and written it up in PMY. Anthony, who struck me as a classic entrepreneur, says he didn’t realize how hard (and expensive) it would be to develop this system. The first part, settling on a design and getting it to work, was relatively easy, he said, but achieving a high level of reliability, without false activation, took some serious efforts.
   There are a lot of extraneous wireless signals out there and after a year of added development AutoTether passes highly secure codes between base station and FOBs. Like I say, it seems to work fine, and I’ve yet to see a false activation. Now Viggiano has come up with neat variation, seen above, which will be of interest to sailors and bigger power boat folks; the AutoTether activator can be used to set off an air horn instead of an engine kill switch. Viggiano is also in serious talks with at least one big nav systems manufacturer about integrating his MOB device with a whole helm system. Maybe this business idea will work out.

Love thy coax, love thy connectors!

Jul 25, 2008


Let me say right off that the delightful title above—antenna cables and connectors really are important to performance—is stolen whole from a first class essay on antenna cabling written by Jason Reilly. And the illustration is cut from another useful coax connector page by Edward Kuester. I don't want to be an expert on such matters, but anyone who fools much with VHF, GPS, AIS, TV/FM, WiFi, and cellular antennas runs into all sorts of semi-standard connectors, and often the need to transition from one to another. The links above are great for the nomenclature, intent, and limitations of the various types, but I don’t think I’ve yet found the best sources for all the bits and pieces I could use in the lab, and you might need on your boat.

Continue Reading

RNC disruption, not as bad as it sounds?

Jul 24, 2008


The U.S. Government has stopped distributing electronic updates to the official raster charts for up to 12 months? That doesn’t sound good. NOAA’s download site doesn’t mention a time frame for the “Interruption” but the U.S.C.G. internal bulletin shown in part above is more dire. (It’s published in full on Kurt Schwehr’s site, where you can also check out the Chart of the Future.) This is bad news for all of us who like using RNCs (Raster Navigation Charts) in the many charting programs that support them, not to mention Furuno, which decided to go with U.S. RNCs (and ENCs) in NavNet 3D and is already taking some heat for it. When NOAA decided to serve up RNCs free back in 2005, one of the big pluses was that they would be kept very current, and there were even little patch updates available. Besides, isn’t it depressing to any American that our government can’t even keep a relatively simple and inexpensive program like this going?

Continue Reading

Raymarine A-Series, reloaded

Jul 23, 2008


Amongst ICAST’s abundant rods and lures—even a big, lively bowl of live worms—I came across this interesting development: Raymarine previewing an impressively redesigned A-Series, previously unannounced and currently invisible on line. There will be five new models, whose names correspond to screen sizes, sort of. When the series truly debuts in October, we’ll see a 5" A50d, a 5.7" A57d, and a 6.4" A70d (hey, the C70 is actually 6.4" too), all with HD fishfinders built in (unlike the superseded models), plus A50 and A70 plotter-only versions. 

Continue Reading

Fuel management 4, Maretron N2KView

Jul 22, 2008


Remember Maretron’s N2KView? I tried the initial version last fall, and later wrote a column about the whole concept of packetizing NMEA 2000 data. Recently I’ve been testing Version 2.0 and can tell you that it’s faster, prettier, and more configurable—better in every way. Perhaps more important, though, is Maretron’s recent decision to position the original $2,995 product—which can or will eventually control switches, take action on alarms, handle cameras, etc.—as the Platinum version, and offer a Standard view-the-data-anywhere version for $995 (as explained in this PDF).

Continue Reading

Furuno SC-30 satellite compass, so sensitive!

Jul 21, 2008


That’s a strange, but very impressive fishfinder scroll on the NavNet 3D MFD8 above, and bigger here. You see, Furuno claims that its new SC-30 satellite compass is so sensitive to a vessel’s altitude, which really only changes as it heaves up and down in seas, that NN3D can use that input to remove heave error from its fishfinder screen. I was pretty skeptical about that claim until the end of my NN3D cruise off Cape Cod, when Iker Pryzo uninstalled the SC-30 and showed us how simply pumping it up and down a couple of feet—shown below—registered immediately on the screen above. If it can respond to small, quick movements like that, it can surely detect swells and likely also compensate for pitch and roll, and thus stabilize side scanning sonar. Amazing!

Continue Reading

MAATS Innovations, the winners are...

Jul 18, 2008


There were 15 entries in the “Aftermarket Electronics, Electrical Equipment, Instrumentation, Navigation Equipment including Software” category of this year’s MAATS Innovation Awards, and not a dud in the bunch! Which is why it’s particularly noteworthy that we seven judges gave the award to Lowrance’s Broadband Sounder and an Honorable Mention to Lowrance’s LVR-880 VHF/FM radio. I’ll be writing more about both these products as I should have samples installed on Gizmo in a week or so. The photo above is from a pre-production 880 that I tried in the lab for a month or so; the NMEA 2000 DSC features weren’t yet ready for prime time, but I was quite impressed with how well it could bring in FM radio while also scanning one, two, or all VHF frequencies, muting the FM whenever squelch was broken. Congratulations, Lowrance!

Continue Reading

ACR iPro, a GPS EPIRB with a screen

Jul 17, 2008


The GlobalFix iPro GPS EPIRB that ACR introduced at MAATS has at least two valuable innovations, the most obvious one being that one-inch digital display. While the EPIRB doesn’t need the screen to operate, it can provide reassuring and useful info. When you self test the unit, the screen will show the results and even suggest servicing if needed. If you actually activate the unit, as was being simulated here, the screen will give your GPS coordinates—handy if, say, you’re also calling in the distress situation via sat phone—and advise you on correct deployment. That’s what was happening in this shot. The iPro supposedly has an improved GPS receiver, but it wasn’t happy inside the Las Vegas Convention Center. So the scroll across its screen read something like: “GPS…WEAK…IMPROVE…SKY…VIEW.” Nice! 

Continue Reading