Monday, September 30, 2013

Tekkier Than Thou

Zebulon, NC

I like to think of myself as a computer technology guru.   After all, I've been doing it since 1962.  I could read floating point numbers in binary, and read ASCII text by looking at the holes in paper tape.

I bought my first personal computer, a Commodore Pet, in 1977.  In 1979, I bought an Apple ][ Plus and I lugged it around for mobile computing on trips to Helsinki. (Those beat the IBM PC 1981 and the Apple Mac 1984) I created my personal web page in May 1994, within a month of when Mosaic (the first web browser) was released.  

On the boat, I blog on land and at sea and I have more computers than I can count. I like to think that anyone who's better than I at onboard electronics just has a bigger budget.  Not true.

I heard from my friend Jill.  Jill is a Kiwi who is circumnavigating on her Westsail 32.   Jill stunned me with her story.   She is using an iPad as her primary navigation chartplotter while circumnavigating.   Not only that, but her iPad is also her primary Internet access device.  She has the iPad with GPS and 3G cell network service. Not only that, but rather than paying international roaming charges, she simply buys a new SIM card in each country she visits.

Jill said that she bought a SIM card in Brazil.  Internet there costs only $2/day.

While at sea or otherwise out of range of 3G, the chartplotter app presumably has copies of the charts in local storage, so GPS is the only signal needed.

Not only that, but as she sails up the coast of Brazil, she ducks in close enough to shore almost every day to pick up a 3G signal. Doing that, she is able to do email, Facebook, and to follow the Americas Cup races.  She says that sometimes they even watch a movie at sea via the 3G.

Wow.  I'm stunned.  That is much more bang per buck than I've ever achieved.  Hats off to Jill.

Friday, September 27, 2013

Innovation Versus Technology

New Bern

I have a new hearing aid! So far it is working great.

I have had severe high frequency hearing loss since the age of 19. It was caused by a factory job back in the age before workers wore ear protection. I've been tested many times and been told many times that a hearing aid might not help. Because of the uncertainty, and because there is no such thing as an audiologist who is not trying to sell me something, I was unwilling to try those $4000 per ear gadgets.

I tried cheap amplifiers. They didn't help enough to convince me to wear them regularly.

Recently I heard about a breakthrough new aid that costs only $300. The popular press oversimplified the story and said it was better because of Bluetooth. That's only part of the story. The stories, and the low price convinced me to give it a try.

The device is the CS10 sold by Sound World Solutions. Stavros Basseas, the inventor, was a hearing aid engineer. He knew what he was doing. I attribute his breakthrough to more than just new technology, and Bluetooth. He must have perceives several simultaneous factors, and he knew their value because of his experience.

  1. Bluetooth headsets for use with cell phones have become a consumer quantity, and are well down on the price curve.
  2. Wearing a Bluetooth headset has become a fashion statement. People are used to seeing them. Compare that with hearing aids which are miniaturized at great expense to hide invisibly in the ear. They were small because people did not want the world to know about their hearing problem. With the CS10, the world can think I'm wearing a phone headset.
  3. A traditional hearing aid includes an audiology test. You have to pay the sky high wages of the professionals who do the test. The test much be very accurate and calibrated because results will be fransfered from the testing device to the hearing aid. The CS10 runs its own hearing test while in my ear. No professionals needed, and demands on accuracy in sound volume are low.
  4. All the "intelligence" and personalization features of a hearing aid must be built into the in-ear device. All user control over the device must be done with buttons or whatever. The CS10 uses an app on my android phone to do all that stuff.
Given all that, the device on my ear need only be a minor tweak on a standard Bluetooth headset. That enables the cost to drop 95%, and the price by 90%. He makes money. I save money. Win win.

As a bonus, the CS10 also acts as a headset for my phone. No separate device needed. Put a video camera in it and I'm halfway to having Google Glasses.

Best of all, push a button and it has a restaurant mode. That uses a directionl microphone to amplify voices of people I'm facing, while suppressing the background noise. Hooray. That has been my chief complaint all those years. Background noise, especially the noise of fans in the room, degraded my ability to hear speech greatly.

Such is the nature of true innovation. It is the essence of good engineering. Too bad the public honors scientists but seldom engineers.



Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Strange Sights

New Bern, NC


I came upon several strange sights this morning. All around the marina and the hotel were people in colonial period dress. Cool, I thought, it must ba a reenactment. But a closer look was unsettlingly incongruent. The colonials were puffing on colonial cigarettes, reading the colonial USA Today, and checking mail on their colonial iPhones. I asked one about the event. He said that they were filming a movie at Tryon Palace and that these people were the extras. Ahhhh.


When cleaning up, I found the object below our small objects drawer. I have no idea what it is. The name Chicago Pneumatics is printed on it. It has a clip to carry it in a shirt pocket. The knurled end screws to adjust it somehow. I thought dog whistle, but the end seems designed to fit on a hose rather than lips. Any guesses?


This third item I saw online. The caption is priceless. It said, "So far. So good." Another good caption might be, "Do I hear something behind me?"



Monday, September 23, 2013

OctaSpring Cleanup

New Bern, NC

I'm sure you are all familiar with the phrase "spring cleaning."   In the old days, during winter soot and dirt would build up in the house because of all the fires kept burning.  In spring, when the fires were put out and the windows opened, it was time to clean.  On the boat, we don't have the same driving function (the fireplaces and coal stoves) so our cleaning binges aren't always in the spring.

Every so often however, we like to empty the cabins, scrub all the walls down, and air out the cushions and wash the cushion covers.  That gets the surface clean.

This month, as I work on exterior paint and on making Tarwathie seaworthy once again, Libby is working on another kind of cleaning.   She is digging into each and every storage cubby and finding things we don't need and don't use to throw away.

You see, the priority system on a boat is pretty simple.  All stuff is stored either in vertical piles, or in horizontal stacks in drawers, cabinets and cubbys.  Things used the most, quite naturally wind up on the top of the piles.  Things never used work their way to the bottom where they are hidden, and soon forgotten.  They still occupy space however.   So eliminating those things is what we are doing.  I think this is the first time in eight years that we have done this on a comprehensive basis.

What is the reward?  Not much.  We'll have a little less weight, and a little more room to acquire fresh stuff.  The chance is slight that the weight, the room and new stuff will improve our lives at all.  But it needs to be done sometime.  

If we find anything really surprising, such as the ashes of a forgotten relative, I'll be sure to blog about it.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Drama in The Americas Cup

New Bern, NC

Neither Libby and I are sport fans by any definition.   Football? Nope.  Baseball? Golf? Tennis? Soccer?  Nope x 4.   Wrestling?  Olympics?  Hockey? Superbowl? Nope nope nope nope. The one only sport I enjoy is The Americas Cup finals.  That sure cuts down my TV watching time to once every 4-5 years.  In recent years though even that interest has faded.    As the races got away from the 12 meter rule for yacht design, I thought that they became more and more contests of machines, not of men.  They went from being dramatic to being boring.

I almost boycotted, watching this round of Americas Cup Races from San Francisco, but I relented and watched on   I'm glad I did.  There was plenty of tactics, skill, excitement and drama in this years races.  Therefore, I'm delighted to be proven wrong in my pessimism.

Who should we root for?  Of course there's the national bias.  Our Kiwi friends are rooting for the Kiwis, so we should root for the Americans.   But Larry Ellison is not a very likable guy and I'm reluctant to root for him.   So my choice is to root for drama.   If Team America could even the series, leaving the final result until the final race, that would be extraordinarily dramatic.

Actually, the Americas Cup series I enjoyed most was the one from the year 2000 (more or less).  Using the cutting edge technology of that time, I purchased a subscription to Virtual Spectator.  That software allowed me to watch animated replays of the races.  I could go forward, or reverse at any speed.  I could set my vantage point to any place, including at the helm of either yacht, from above, or from 1 meter above the water between the two yachts.  I could and did play the key maneuvers over and over from different vantage points.

However, I do wish they would return to the old 12 meter rule.  I'll risk being a technical Luddite in this case.   In fact, I wish they had identical boats, so that the entire contest would be determined by the skills of the crews, and at speeds more comparable to what"normal" sailboats sail at.   I would even support dual Americas cups.  One cup for identical 12 meter yachts.  The other for technologically unlimited (except no stored energy) boats that could even be robotic with no people on board if they want.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Decks: Interim Report

New Bern, NC
35 06.224 N 077 02.285 W

A reader reminded me that I've been making you wait 5 months, and still no report on the new decks.  It's true, I haven't written because the project is still not finished.  But I owe at least an interim report, so here goes.

The new non-skid stuff is beautiful, and tough.  I expect it to last a lifetime and to provide non-skid functionality, while remaining easy to clean.   See the picture below.  I took that close up picture beside the feet of my newly re-installed deck cleats so that you could see the detail.

The waffle pattern comes from net material.  Actually the kind of net used to make bait bags for commercial fishermen.   The net was laid down, then on top of that went epoxy resin.  Then rough spots were sanded.  Then two more coats of epoxy and four coats of gelcoat.  The powder blue color comes from the gelcoat.

Close up showing the pattern and the feet of my deck cleat.

The work was done by Dave at Dawson Creek Boatworks.  According to Dave, the net method is his alone.  Nobody else anywhere does that.  It is a brilliant idea because trying to mold a waffle pattern into large areas of new gelcoat is a nightmare, and getting non-skid properties by adding sand to paint has other problems.  That is what we were trying to get rid of.   Dave does beautiful work.  I recommend him.  His work doesn't come cheap however.  I paid $3549 for the non-skid job, plus another $1275 for some preparatory filling and fairing work because my deck sanding had dug too deeply in places.
Here's a view where you can see more of the deck.

But the project is not done.  What's left?   As you see in the picture below, there are areas (lots of areas) where I had sanded  beyond the boundary of the non-skid.   Dave's quote did not include repainting those areas.

Actually, before leaving the boat, I wondered about those areas and asked Dave for a quote on doing that work too.  He gave me an estimate, but the total was over $12000 and at a labor rate three times higher than the other work.   Clearly it was a case of him not wanting to do that job but being too polite to refuse to give a quote.  

When the job was done, Dave also mentioned that this was the first and only job he had ever done without repainting the deck first, and laying the nonskid on top of the new paint.  That would certainly be a lot simpler.  Somewhere up front he and I didn't communicate and I didn't know that was the normal method.  I think in most cases there was still original and trusted gel coat and paint to be left in place and painted over.  In my case, I didn't trust what was on the deck before and I wanted to sand down to bare glass to be sure.   Live and learn.

Showing where work remains.
To finish, I plan a two step process.  First, I'll paint over the unfinished raw spaces like you see, for color coverage.  It will serve as a primer.  But the color will never exactly match the remaining white smooth ares of top deck.  For that, I'll sand and repaint all the white smooth areas of the top deck.  Whew.  Lots of work still to do.   I'll do step 1 before leaving New Bern, and step 2 over the winter in Marathon.

Lessons learned:  This all started because the gel coat had worn off the non-skid areas on my deck.  It was becoming impossible to keep it clean.   What I should have done was to put new gel coat down.  However, I didn't trust my skills to do the gel coat myself, and I was too cheap to get it done professionally.  I tried to fix it with paint.  That was disastrous.  I could never prepare the surface adequately because of the waffle pattern.  I painted it 5 times in 6 years before giving up.  I suppose the real lesson was that I should have consulted professionals before choosing any remedy.

Anyhow, I think our new power blue non-skid looks great.  Do you agree?

Monday, September 16, 2013

Happy Girl

New Bren, NC

One could almost hear Tarwathie say "ah" as she slipped into the water once again. Now she is back in her natural element. No problems or disasters to report. The engine started after 30 seconds of cranking. No leaks or flooding.

Dave is here with us for the day to help out. His company is much appreciated.

Libby and I will be here for a few weeks. We need to put everything back where it belongs. It amazes me how much we uprooted things with this year's departure from our cruising routine.



Saturday, September 14, 2013

There's no place like home.

Wayfarers Cove, NC
34 58.432 N 076 49.249

There's no place like home. There's no place like home. There's no place like home.   Dorothy had it right.

After nearly 5 months away, we are back on Tarwathie.  Hooray!  That feels good.   The first thing we did was to hug and to wish each other welcome home.

So how is the old girl?  Pretty good.   She has a new powder blue blouse (the non skid deck), and new skirts (bottom paint, see below).  

On Monday, we splash and she will be back in her natural element.  For now, it was just nice to sleep in our own bed once again.

How she looked while waiting for us.
OMG the propeller!   Too much time sitting in the water going nowhere.  We cleaned that off before sunset.
A few hours later, she has a new color bottom paint.
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Tuesday, September 10, 2013

2013 Road Trip

Zebulon, NC

We are anxious to return to Tarwathie and to sell the car.   We find that owning a car is a big life style changer.   We like our life style on board the boat, and the car would really spoil it.

Having said that, boy we really took advantage of the time we did own a car.   The black line on the topographic map below shows where we have been.  We went to 28 states and provinces.  in 147 days on the road.   We traveled about  7,000 miles.  I'm not sure about that because I neglected to write down the milage when we started.

We had a great time camping but that's not the whole story.  In the 147 days, we were guests in someone's home 50% of the time, we camped 40% of the time and we stayed in motels 10% of the time.  Thank you all our gracious hosts.

When we did camp in our tent, 75% of the time we stayed for one night only.  I think that reflects our nomadic instincts.  Most travelers go to fewer destinations and stay for more nights on each stop compared to us.

Most of all, we've seen many beautiful things and beautiful places on this great country and continent where we live.   Life on the water is beautiful, but it can never match the variety of things to see on land.

We took nearly 5000 pictures on these trips.  Libby and I will enjoy them for years to come.   I'd love to share them with you but 5000 is too many.  I made an album of the 200 best pictures.  You can see it it here.   200 is still too many for most of you.  I promise, sometime soon I'll whittle it down to the 25 best of the best and post that.

Sunday, September 08, 2013

Our Last Day On The Road

Dismal Swamp Welcome Center

36 30.382 N 076 21.313 W

The location of this post (The Dismal Swamp Welcome Center) will probably confuse regular readers. They know that this place is a twice yearly stop for us, nearly a ritual in our marine migration pattern. No, we are not back on Tarwathie yet, but we are very close. This is the last day of our 4.5 month road trip.

Friday and Saturday, we were with fellow Westsailors at the Westsail Rendezvous in Deale Maryland. That was lots of fun. It is very interesting that no two W32 are alike. Every one of them has some kind of customization that is an excellent idea. I have several new ones on my list as future projects to consider.

Today, Google Maps charted an adventurous route seeing that it was Sunday Morning. We went from NSA headquarters in Fort Meade Maryland to downtown Washington DC. We went past The Capitol, The Gangplank Marina and The Pentagon. Traffic today was light. At Fredricksburg, we left I95 in favor of one of our favorite byways, US Route 17. That took us past Urbanna, Yorktown, Portsmouth, to Deep Creek and The Dismal Swamp. Still to come are Elizabeth City, Edenton, and then to Dave and Cathy's house tonight.

I'll write summary blogs about our trip later. I'll also blog about US 17 another time. The famous American icon, Route 66, has almost disappeared, but US 17 is largely preserved. It's glories deserve song.

Friday, September 06, 2013

Dogs and bears

Laurel, Maryland
39 06.193 N 076 51.354 W

What an abrupt cultural change!  This morning we woke up in our camp site on The Blue Ridge Highway.   It was silent and cool.  The only sound was that of the morning bird songs.  The only concern was to avoid the bear.   Two hours later we were driving on the Washington D.C. beltway in rush hour traffic.  Man oh man how stressful that was for a couple of sailors.

I'm afraid that last night was our last night in a tent on this trip.  Today and tomorrow we are attending a Westsail Rendezvous on the Chesapeake Bay.   After that, we drive back to Dave and Cathy's house in Zebulon, NC where we started 5 months ago.

We are staying in a motel in Laurel, MD for two nights.  That is the closest affordable room we could find.   Rooms in the neighborhood of the rendezvous were listed for $560/night!!!  Even camping nearby was super expensive.  Here in Laurel we are right in the back yard of NSA.   Given my anti-government sentiments, I'm sure that they are looking over my shoulder at this very minute.

Anyhow, a parting story on the camping.   We made friends with two couples in adjoining camp sites.  They were on one side of the road and we were on the other.  Both had been there for more than a week.  Both couples told us that the bear visited their sites every night and nosed around.  (This bear did not nose around our tent.)   That kept them awake at night, especially the young couple in a tent.  But that is only half the story.

The young couple also had two dogs.  One was a small boxer, the other was a gigantic Great Pyrenees.   Think of a white Newfoundland dog.  The dogs slept in the tent with their owners.  The people told us that every night the dogs never woke up when the bear came around.  That is surprising.  Every dog we ever owned would be on high alert and ready to bark as the slightest alien noise or smell from nearby.   I wondered what would happen if the dogs did wake up, and then went crazy because of the bear.  A small dog would probably not scare the bear.  He would just kill it.   But what about if the dog was as big as the bear or even bigger?   If the big dog attacked the bear to defend its masters, the bear would no doubt win.  But the bear would also become enraged and all pumped up on adrenalin.  Might not the bear then be likely to attack the people?   I don't think I would want that big dog sleeping in the tent with me.

We didn't see that bear, but driving out of the park this morning we did see another bear crossing the road.  That makes three bears we've seen along the highways on this trip.  One in New Mexico, one in Ontario, and one in Virginia.  The New Mexico bear was by far the biggest of the three.

Thursday, September 05, 2013


Charles Town, Virginia

3926.907 N 077 59.371 W

Well, we had a very educational day. We drove from our camp site on The Blue Ridge Highway to Harpers Ferry, WV. We toured the history there. Then we drove further to Antietam National Battlefield. We learned a lot of history. We were inspired. But we were also appalled and sobered by the realities of what we saw.

I should mention that Libby has a blood relation with John Brown. Therefore, Harpers Ferry has special meaning for us. Months ago I addit it near the top of the list of places we wanted to visit.

John Brown; what an enigma. His cause was noble, his bravery deniable. But his tactics were terrible. He murdered innocent families in Kansas, just because their politics differed from his. In Harpers Ferry hi was worse than incompetent as a military planner and commander. What did he accomplish? Many people blamed him for instigating The Civil War. We both think that The Civil War was an unspeakably horrible tragedy. But perhaps the war would have happened anyhow, and it did end slavery. Most inspirational was the quote below.

Is it not possible that an individual may be right and a government wrong? Are laws to be enforced simply because they were made? Or declared by any number of men to be good, if they are not good? - Henry David Thoreau

The Battle at Antietam Creek was the bloodiest single day battle in American history. 23,000 dead. What a shame. We are taught to admire and glorify soldiers who die to protect our country,but in this case all the soldiers on both sides were doing that and both represented "our" country.

One and only one thing seems morally clear. General George B McClellan seems to have had dozens of opportunities to end the war early and to spare hundreds of thousands of lives. He bumbled all of them and Lincoln bumbled his leadership by keeping McClellan on so long.

When one is searching for moral clarity, everything about The Civil War is so muscled. Real life is messy, but this case is horrible. The Union fought to end slavery, hooray. But The union wrongly denied valid states rights and the right to secede. The South fought bravely to defend their way of life, but I believe their claim that slavery was essential to that way of life was bogus. John Brown inspired. McClellan bungled. Lee didn't believe in the souths cause, but he defended it bravely and brilliantly. Most poignant from our visit to Anteitam was a plaque in The National Cemetray with Lincoln's Gettysburg Address. The last sentence of which says:

-- and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.--- À. Lincoln.

I cringed reading that because I believe that that type of government has perished in the USA. I've heard that mention of the phrase "of the people ... by ... for" are met with derision among the elite in Washington. What a naive concept according to them. So much blood spilled defending a concept that we are voluntarily surrendering in the name of national security. Yet we post those words at the national cemetery over the bodies of those soldiers.

So, we return to our camp site tonight in a somber mood. Better educated, inspired, but sobered.

Wednesday, September 04, 2013

The Blue Ridge

Elkton, Virginia
38 24.437 N 078 37.256 W

Boy are we having fun!   We spent the last three days camping on Loan Mountain off the Blue Ridge Parkway in Virginia.   This place is a new candidate for favorite.   The mountain scenery is beautiful, and since Labor day is past there are no crowds.   We are really really enjoying ourselved here.

150 yards behind our tent is the Appalachian Trail.  Also there is a rock promontory that lets you sit and see to infinity.   Does anyone remember the opening scene of the movie "Sergeant York" where Gary Cooper sat on a rock contemplating infinity in the Ozarks?  This place looks like that.
It is especially nice in the evening, and it is west facing so we see spectacular sunsets.

Two nights ago, neighboring campers heard a bear rooting around out tent at night.  They got a picture of him at dawn.   We had all our food locked in the car according to the rules.   But that leads to an unsettling question.   Is it a good thing to lock our food in the car making us the only tasty bear food nearby?   It doesn't help when your partner says, "I hope you didn't brush your teeth before coming to bed.  They say that bears love the smell of  toothpaste."

It fun what you can do with a 10 second delay on your camera.  Just don't step back.
Panorama from the summit of Blackrock Mountain this morning.
We have two more days of Blue Ridge camping to go, then off to civilization, a motel, and a Westsail Rendezvous on The Chesapeake. 

Tuesday, September 03, 2013

The Beauty of Glass

Sutton Lake, West Virginia
38 40.244 N 080 32.923 W

Below are some of my favorites among the snapshots I took at The Corning Museum of Glass.   The beauty and innovation in some of those pieces takes my breath away.   What a marvelous medium for artistic expression.   If I didn't live on a sailboat, I'd be sorely tempted to take it up as a hobby.

Several of the pictures were taken through plexiglass display cases which limits the quality of the photos.

The museum is apparently very rich.  It has been able to acquire the best of the best examples of the works of the world's finest glass artists.  Bravo for them.   If you have a chance, stop in Corning to see youself.

(p.s. Corning's Stuben Glass Works no longer exists.  Starting in 2014, the size of the museum will be doubled.)

Works by Richard Marquis

Approx 1 meter in diameter

Add caption

Approx 1 meter each in size

Made from broken LCD glass (like the glass on your iPad screen)

Took three years to carve

Window by Tiffany

Sunday, September 01, 2013

Hill Country.

Sutton Lake, West Virginia

38 40.244 N 080 32.923 W

What we have seen so far of West Virginia reminds me of Norway. In Norway I once remarked, "they can't have a football team in Norway because there is no flat spot as big as a football field." So is it in WV. The exaggeration is only slight. Our campground has a flat spot big enough for four fields. But the roads in and out are as narrow, windy, and steep as you'll ever see. The hills and mountains are beautiful. This area had lots of rain this summer so the lush green colors are vibrant.

We are spending the Labor Day weekend here to stay off the roads and avoid the crowds.

Last evening the had "Hillbilly Stomping and Hollering" at the campground. It was lots of fun. I describe it as like River Dance, but (much) less practiced. Anyhow, we are getting a good exposure to the Appalachia culture down here. Very cool. Sometimes we have to struggle to understand what people are saying, but most people have little or no regional accent. I blame that on TV.

There are no signals at the camp site, so I have to drive 15 miles in the morning to a McDonald's to get Internet. Each morning I fear that the headlines will say we are involved in a new war. No war this morning, thank goodness. But the New York Time's lead story says that Obama also plans to attack Iran before the end of his term. Ay caramba. Below is what the NYT actually said.

In a two-hour meeting of passionate, sharp debate in the Oval Office, he told them that after a frantic week in which he seemed to be rushing toward a military attack on Syria, he wanted to pull back and seek Congressional approval first.

He had several reasons, he told them, including a sense of isolation after the terrible setback in the British Parliament. But the most compelling one may have been that acting alone would undercut him if in the next three years he needed Congressional authority for his next military confrontation in the Middle East, perhaps with Iran.