Sunday, October 19, 2008

Weekend Electronics Install

I spent the weekend helping Shane with his MAJOR electronics wiring upgrade project on Volare. Ben Wilcox ( who was recently laid off by Hinckley and has set up his own shop in Providence doing boat and high end house cabinetry rebuilt the pilothouse and com station dashboards and also built a few cubby-holes for personal electronics storage and charging. With panels removed we took advantage to lead new video, audio, and a few antenna cables through the boat. I also set up the AOpen mini-PC that I had built for Shane a few weeks ago (right).

After a day of wiring on Saturday which included adding the Port Networks MWB-250 from Alan Spicer which was fairly easy to install except that the LMR-400 to RP-SMA crimp connectors didn't show up on Friday as promised. I bought these connectors to facilitate fitting the junction from the low loss cable to the antenna pigtail in the rail, so we couldn't quite finish putting the wiring away. I had a bit of frustration with the Belkin Router onboard due to limited adjustable settings, but a quick e-mail and return phone call from Alan Spicer later and we had it all squared away. Internet is now pulled in with the high powered radio and antenna and then spread around the boat to 3 computers, iPhones, and any guest computers. Photo of NAV screen with Nobletec to the left.

This shot on the right shows the NMEA boat data (including AIS via a Smart Radio Dual Channel Receiver operating with an active antenna switcher also from SRT) being used by iNavX. Data comes in to an 8 port Serial to USB adapter five of which are used (GPS, Backup GPS, B&G, AIS, Depth). Nobletec combines the data and outputs a combined stream back to the Autopilot as well as a virtual com port which then gets served over the on board wifi network via Fransom GPS Gate. That NMEA stream (including AIS) can then be picked up by onboard laptops or an iPhone. I think iNavX is limited to just a few Targets, but it is still quite helpful iNavX then shows the AIS targets and supports waypoints as well and an amazing bit of Tech if you ask me (confusion came from some "lost" targets shown in red in my other screen shots that Nobletech was still remembering). Still not as amazing as Virtual Computing.

I set up REAL VNC, a Virtual Network Computing program that allows viewing and control of the NAV (or Communications) computer over the network. I could theoretically set this up to work over the larger internet, but don't really want to do that, so it is only available over the on-board intranet network (LAN). The pic to the right is Shane's laptop viewing and controlling Nobletec on the Nav Computer over Wifi. I had only played around with this software a bit before and was amazed at how effective it was when working over a local network (as opposed to over the internet when it tends to be a bit sluggish). Operating the navigation or Radar was fairly seamless, and there are even some free programs for the iPhone (Mocha VNC light and Jaadu VNC light) that allow viewing of the Nav screen or Radar on the phone's screen. We had better luck with Jaadu by the way as Mocha was fairly unstable at the high screen resolution of the Nav computer.

Overall a very successful weekend and Volare now has a state of the art network and computer system with some neat integration features. It also provided me with practice for Visions which will undergo a similar, but less severe upgrade in the coming weeks. Feel free to contact me if you are interested in more information about any of these systems.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

WiFi Take 1

I quickly set up the new WiFi system in the apartment last night so that I could start to play with the system and see how it works. Short answer is quite well. To the right is the list of wifi AP's in the neighborhood, over twice what either my Linksys WRT-54gL (quite the powerhouse really) or my laptop sees and I was able to connect via the open "motorola 491" network with a rather weak -91 signal strength. Other handy features include a live signal meter that is meant for use to aim a directional antenna, or quite helpful to determine how viable a connection really is instead of the snapshot of a site survey.

More once I get the chance to set it up onboard...hopefully next weekend.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Winter Plans

Bill will be sailing Visions down to Newport on Monday where she will be staying for the winter again. This time she will have my full time company as I will be living aboard. Besides a nice place to stay and savings of rent and utilities, this will allow me to get a fair amount of projects done.

First will be to install a WiFi system. I have already purchased a Port Networks WMB-250 through Alan Spicer Marine Telcom who has been very helpful in specifying a coherent system for Visions as well as Volare', a 76' Humphries Sailboat which is captained by my friend Shane Vowels who I have been helping with his computer and network upgrades. I will certainly update all once the install is underway.

Other winter projects include preparations for install of an AIS B unit which are finally approved by FCC and went on sale in the US this week. Final install probably won't happen till the boat gets hauled and rig gets pulled in the spring as we want to put the antenna on the masthead for best range. This does bring up some interesting delemas including too many antennas. Discussions of Panbo have gone wild with regard to a "magic" flat panel antenna that may prove to be the answer to our dreams with the ability to combine multiple antennas, but technical data is sparce and Ben won't get to testing a working unit till next week. I may end up with a temporary wifi install for a few weeks till the antenna question gets answered.

We are also looking into the Iridium OpenPort satphone system as a possible addition to Visions as data costs become very competitive when looking at a per MB cost. Time will tell as real world pricing becomes available. This and an eventual install of a dive compressor top our winter lists. I should also finally have the time to compile my NMEA rebuild information and finally post that long promised info for others reference.

Last thing....I got version 1.0.4A of iNavX last night with the addition of a scale % dialog on chart rendering. A nice improvement that at least gives you a clue as to where you are. Rich is looking at my suggestion below, but isn't sure if he can do it within the programming language of the iPhone in a reasonable way.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

iNavX 1.0.3

iNavX 1.0.3 was officially released on Monday. I got a the final version for testing the previous week so I got to play around with it over last week and the weekend. I set up an AIS simulator and fed about 1min of AIS data on a loop via Wifi. It was pretty cool and seemed like a nice addition to the program.

The Main change with 1.0.3 was the change in zooming. Zooming is now controlled by sliding (or just tapping) the circle to the left or right on the "Zoom Bar" which then re-centers when the chart re-renders. This is a LOT easier than moving the zoom dot around very small amounts for minor zoom changes. The disadvantage is that there is no longer an indicator of you zoom level. Richard is working on this and has one solution in mind to display the scale as the chart re-renders, but I prefer a constant visual signal.

My idea (crude photoshoping) is to the left. Basically a zoom indicator in the form of a triangular pointer would be rendered left to right on the zoom bar to indicate how far in the chart was currently zoomed. Not sure how easy or possible it would be, but ideal would be some way to drag this triangle in order to make gross changes in zoom level (ability that was lost in 1.0.3). Overall, 1.0.3 is an improvement in zooming and luckily Rich is going to continue developing his methods.

In other exciting iphone navigation News, Panbo announced Navionics Mobile which is essentially a Vector chart version of iNavX (also known as iNavX2). I am alpha/beta testing for iNavX, but am under an NDA, so nothing more until I am told I can talk. The most promising potential for the raster based system partnered with Navionics is the worldwide availablility of detailed charts. Amazing what a little phone can do.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

You too can be a "Whitbread" Sailor

When I was a junior sailor and instructor at the Camden Yacht Club we would spend at least one rainy day each summer watching old videos of the Whitbread Round the World Race. My favorite boat was the bright red Steinlager ketch. These were videos from when these were essentially amateur sailors, in fact some of the boats were pay to sail vessels. While luxury vessels compared to the modern day "Whitbread" -- Now Volvo Ocean Race, they were still far from comfort and I will never forget the video of the guy who had to get his hands stiched up in the southern ocean after he slid down the wire rigging (how low tech were these things) to arrest his fall from up the rig. We all would have loved to be on those boats for a day... just a singular day mind you as it looked torturously uncomfortable for any longer.

The modern incarnation, the Volvo Ocean Race starts October 11th for the second time in canting keel Volvo 70's. I will be rooting for the local Puma Ocean Racing Team which called Newport home all summer and has several locals onboard.

I was excited this morning to read that I can partake in some of the action from the comfort of my office chair or couch by playing the Volvo Ocean Race Game. It is free to play, with additional features (such as autopilot to enable steer to wind or scheduled course changes) at what is promised to be moderate fees (not sure how moderate yet), with all proceeds going to charity. Basically you get to be the weather router (which I have had moderate success with). I am curious to see what they end up using for "actual" weather data to determiine how you do, an whether it will pay off to use other weather models to try to win the race or if it isn't that "smart". Still, should be fun, so join in....and join my group "Newport" if you want to. In any event, add me as a friend (ibsailn at gmail dot com). See you on the virtual water.