March 2009 Archives

Google Voice, call me!

Mar 31, 2009

You may remember my enthusiasm for GrandCentral, a free online voice mail, PBX, and one-#-for-life scheme with fantastic potential for cruising boaters (as well as mere mortals).  In that March, 2007, entry I even hoped for/predicted the startup's purchase by Google, which happened almost immediately.  It remained functional, but very quiet, all these months.  (I never did use it as a real contact number, because I like the Maine numbers I have, but did use its slick call recording abilities for tasks like testing the Cobra noise cancelling cell mic.)  Well, finally GrandCentral has emerged as Google Voice, with several added features like voice-to-text, conferencing, and Skype-style cheap foreign calls (only from whatever U.S. phone you're near).  Let's test the voice-to-text; if you click on that widget above, you can call my number for free; you'll hear a voice message I custom recorded to go with the widget, and the message you leave will be converted to text and sent to me via e-mail or text message (along with a link to your recorded message). I tried it once myself and it worked very well, but you may talk funny...

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Underwater lights, stupid & offensive?

Mar 30, 2009

I was surprised when Tim Flanagan went all Glen Beck on underwater lights last week. It hadn't occurred to me that "no boat owner with an ounce of sense" would drill a hole below his or her waterline just to "make the water glow pretty colors".  In fact, senseless me has long considered going for the dramatic effect above (compliments DeepSea Power & Light) on Li'l Gizmo, which has become fairly reasonable and easy thanks to gear like OceanLED's Amphibians. You'll note that they are surface mounted, and hence only need a cable hole through the hull (they also purportedly run cool enough to use on deck). But, heck, I'd  consider putting bigger holes in big Gizmo's transom if the LED and thermoplastic casing technologies reach the right cost/performance point, which is where they seem headed.  Any underwater fitting deserves especially carefull installation, but I don't think fixed underwater lights compare, danger-wise, to true thru-hulls which involve a forever hole protected only by an often open valve and a hose.  Has anyone heard of an underwater light causing a sinking?  And while I won't argue that anyone really needs underwater lights, they sure can be beautiful...

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Gizmo schematics, key to troubleshooting and updating

Mar 28, 2009

Something I was very pleased to find on the ever more likely future Gizmo is extensive documentation on its DC and AC wiring.  In that fairly random sampling above you can see a conceptual diagram of major systems, detailed panel flow charts and layouts, and -- most impressive, really -- a hand drawn schematic made when a second 30 amp shore power input was added sometime in the boat's relatively short history.  There's much more, including cable by cable wire chase assignments and voltage drop calculations, and most of those cables are physically labeled.  Thank goodness, as this is the aspect of the yacht I'm the dumbest about.  I won't feel like Gizmo's truly able master until I better understand her electrical systems, and what to do when troubles arise.  Plus, despite being thoughtfully and carefully put together in 2000, there's so much useful electrical and electronic updating that could be done in 2009...

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Discount Marine Electronics, ripping off Panbo?!?

Mar 26, 2009

Well, ain't that a bitch!  Thanks to the vigilance of Steve Roberts I now know that an online "store" called Discount Marine Electronics is posting Panbo entries as though "it" created them. Actually all they're doing is putting up the same first picture and paragraph anyone can get via XML feed or email (see Subscribe button top right). But Discount Marine Electronics is cutting out the "read more" link, so readers really don't get the whole jist of the entry but may be fooled into thinking that the diligent staff of Discount Marine Electronics is testing gear and writing about it on a regular basis.

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CruzPro CS60, solid state switching

Mar 24, 2009

Like so many CruzPro instruments, the CS-60 fits a 54mm hole, comes round or square, and has a three-button interface (with a surprisingly deep menu structure behind it).  But what's a "Clocked Switch"?  Actually that "gauge" contains four solid state switches each capable of handling a load up to four amps and each programmable to its internal clock in two ways...

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Shipnet, "reality tagging" on Nomadness

Mar 23, 2009

Zounds!  When we last checked in on Steve Roberts, he was installing a Simrad AP20 with a rudimentary NMEA 2000 network, and waiting on a Furuno NN3D MFD12. It was pretty standard stuff for a guy who's into "geek expressionism, gonzo engineering, gizmological expeditions, and applied technomadics."  Well, check out Steve's current vision of the network that will eventually reside on his 44-foot steel pilothouse cutter Nomadness.  I think he changed his mind on the Furuno -- too bulky for his helm -- and is still undecided on the plotter/radar front, but, wow, has he been thinking about communications and system monitoring/control. Steve explains the whole diagram here, but let me just add that all those nodes lower right are based the interesting open source Arduino I/O project...

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Battery Bugs, new monitoring tech?

Mar 20, 2009

Lest you think I'm just about big diesels, check out the good Annie G.'s auxiliary propulsion power system. Years ago I bought the cheapest Minnkoda electric trolling motor I could find (visible on Annie here) and moved the control switch to that battery box where the 'custom' wooden shift/throttle gives me five speeds in forward and three in reverse. None exactly makes the 18' iron-keeled sloop jump, but the rig is handy for getting into the Camden Inner Harbor slip I often use. But I always had a problem knowing if I had enough charge to use the motor as needed. That was neatly solved last summer with the addition of that solar panel and most especially the Argus Analyzer Battery Bug...

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iPhone nav, forward in many directions

Mar 19, 2009
Thumbnail image for MotionX_iPhone.jpg

Thanks to the April editon of Sailing World, I now know about the interesting and nearly free iPhone app MotionX-GPS. It's more a GPS than a plotter, and not specific to boating, but, as you can see above, it's got some boating fans. MotionX purportedly uses the iPhone's accelerometers to improve GPS performance, it supports open source mapping, and it was developed by a company founded by well known competitive sailor/geek Philippe Kahn. Unfortunately I can't try it on my iPod Touch because the it has no internal GPS, and no way to attach one (darn you, Apple!). But there are some iPhone marine apps I am trying, or will soon...

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NMEA 2000, power "problem" part 2

Mar 18, 2009

I think I got this diagram right, and I think it's important to understand if your boat might end up with more than a few NMEA 2000 powered devices on its network. As discussed on Monday, the popular 'light' (or Micro) size NMEA cables only contain 22 AWG power (and data) wires.  Its well insulated power wires are apparently perfectly safe (despite some internecine standards organization hubbub on that score) but they simply can not carry much DC juice very far. Electrical resistance is dependent on wire size -- DC especially so (hence the fascinating "War of Currents") -- and the few DC wire tables that even include 22 guage don't look good. Which is why some manuals, like Garmin's below, go to some trouble regarding powertap placement...

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NMEA 2000, the power "problem" part 1

Mar 16, 2009
Maretron_Test_Setup_cPanbo_2005.jpgSigh, that's my first NMEA 2000 network, circa Spring 2005, when there wasn't much more than Maretron to hang on it, and not many boaters were interested anyway.  Now many more N2K devices have joined these on the lab's snaking backbone (and there are many others I'd like to try), N2K is an active topic on Panbo forums and elsewhere, and the network for my maybe-new Gizmo boat is going to be a serious undertaking.  The Standard has come a long way, and methinks it's time to reveal a little drama that went down along the way. Yes, those gray Micro cables and the yellow powertap did incur drama, even soap opera...

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