We're looking for the trash fence...

Actisense NGW-1-ISO Firmware Upgraded fixes incorrect Position passed to Icom M504

Posted on Thu 08 December 2011 in Nav Station

I have been noticing a problem with the position displayed in my Icom M504 VHF. My current latitude is 24°09.200N. But the VHF was displaying 2°49.200. The GPS data is fed to my VHF and my SCS PTC-IIUSB modem from the NMEA 2000 network via the Actisense NGW-1-ISO (NMEA 200 to NMEA 0183) gateway.

I contacted Actisense support and they suggested I upgrade the firmware in my NGW-1-ISO. That involved a multi-day hunt for serial cables here in La Paz. In the end, I found them at Sterens which is on Forjadores across the street from the Plaza de La Paz (AKA the Soriana shopping center) with help from the gang at Club Cruceros de La Paz. BTW, Sterens is an electronics store with all kinds of cables, connectors, and electronics doo-dads. More like a Radio Shack than a Frye’s, but better than the Radio Shack’s here and cheaper too! I paid \$89 MXN for 2 6ft serial cables.

Once I had the serial cable in hand, I cut one end off the end I wouldn’t be connecting to the computer. I then used the continuity test on my multimeter to label all the wires so I knew which wire went to which pin on the DB9 connector I would be plugging into my computer. You need to label each wire to its proper DB9 RS232 cable pinout because later you’re going to need to connect Pin X with the Red wire on the NGW-1-ISO, etc. This is not hard at all. Your digital multimeter has a continuity test. You stick one of the probes into Pin 1 and test each wire, when it beeps you label that wire as #1 and so on.

With all the wires labeled, I was ready to connect the NGW-1-ISO’s wires to the Serial Cable as specified in the NGW-1-ISO manual for connection to a PC. Once that was done, I ran Actisenses’s upgrade utility, selected the COM port the serial cable was connected to and performed the upgrade. I offer all that detail in case one of you needs to do it too. There currently is no other way to upgrade the non-USB Actisense gateways.

After all that, I connect everything back up to my ICOM M504 and the position is now being displayed correctly. This is VERY important in case we ever need to use the DSC Distress call on our VHF which transmits an alert and our position. Without this fix the position would have been wrong!

Crisis averted. The world is now safe for eating delicious homemade cupcakes which Dawn made last night. Its good here. Its very good here!

iPAD Weather Apps Review

Posted on Fri 23 September 2011 in Geek

We’re back in planning mode and waiting for a weather window in Charleston to jump down to San Francisco which made for a perfect opportunity to play around with weather Apps for the iPad.

A first rate weather application should allow you to see both wind and sea state information simultaneously. Air Temp, Water Temp, Cloud Cover, Precipitation are nice but not super critical for my needs, but may be for others. I’ll first go over some of the common functionality of these applications and then review how each app did at implementation.

All of the apps use public weather data either directly from NOAA, Saildocs or some other such relay service. If you’re familiar with receiving GRIB files through SSB or the web then you will be familiar with the way they are visualized in the apps. Each app adds a lot to the presentation of the data and making it easier to understand. Some of the apps support more than one data model (read about the GRIB data models on SailDocs). Since I don’t have a ton of experience interpreting data models, I am unsure which data model is better than the other or which is better suited for which route planning. It would be useful to look at more than one data model to see if and where they differ. The assumption that agreement between data models means a higher likelihood that the forecasted conditions are what you’ll actually see out there.

All of the apps allow you to visually select the area of the forecast model by selecting an area on a map. Additional selection information includes the following options: forecast to retrieve (and hence the file size), number of days in the forecast, number of forecasts per day, and the weather data to be retrieved (wind, wave, temps, cloud cover, precipitation, etc.). After selecting the data you want to include the GRIB file is then downloaded by the application.

All of the applications have the ability to play, or animate, the multi-day forecasts. This is similar to watching a time-lapse RADAR image on the web or on the local TV news, but in this case it shows the evolution of the forecast in your selected area.

Keeping the above information in mind and the disclaimer that I am at best an amateur neophyte weather forecaster, here are my reviews of the following applications.

WeatherTrack (iTunes) only allows you to see one weather data model at a time. Animating the data requires an extra step after download and there is some pause while it is generated. The other apps generate animations on the fly or by default; in this case the extra step makes the implementation feel less polished.

Weather 4D HD (iTunes) has some stunning graphics and not only are they are sexy, you can understand more information faster. With a two finger tap on the screen controls can be accessed that allow you to change the information displayed. For example, you can choose to mask forecast data over the land (or water) so it is hidden. You can also change wind display visualization from traditional wind barbs to color gradients. This can also be done for temperature data. Another nice feature allows you to visually display sunrise and sunsets data by changing the background display map from day to night making it obvious to tell if you’re looking at a day time part of the forecast or a night time forecast. This is VERY intuitive and when you’re trying to plan a multi-day passage it again makes understanding what will be happening at day or night on your projected route more obvious because you are visually prompted to see the end of each day.

This is by far the best app due to its visualization and its ease of use. However, it only supports the NOAA GFS Model which does not contain sea state information, which as I mentioned earlier was a must-have feature.

NOTE: I have spoken with the author of Weather 4D HD and he told me he just submitted an update which does include wave data. YAY!! I’ll update this review when I have actually used it.

PocketGrib (iTunes) is the only application that currently displays multiple types of data and does contain sea state information. Visually it is not as sexy as Weather 4D HD, but it is functional. Some things need work, like the date selection on the bottom takes all of the real estate on the screen and thus covers up the icons legend. This is especially problematic since I had a hard time deciphering the different sea state icon sizes. The red sea state icons are like carrots (or arrows) of differing sizes based on height pointing in the direction of the wave\swell. I don’t find the sizes of the icons to be considerably different. So if you have three icons represent three states the one in the middle isn’t different enough from the one above or below. Adding color gradients, wave gradient height would help, or even better, providing the option for both.

PocketGrib only supports one data model and the file name indicates it’s a GFS model. However, GFS models don’t contain sea state information. I contacted the author and they are merging in WW3 data, but don’t mention it. Probably not a big deal to an average user, but I think they miss out on getting credit for it.

Of the apps that I reviewed, PocketGrib is the only application that meets my primary requirements to allow me to visualize both wind and sea state information simultaneously. I am selecting it to use for future passage planning. Since I really liked Weather 4D HD, I will be using it when I in port and want to see normal land lubber weather.

I’m stoked for the new version of Weather 4D HD to come out, I keep checking for app updates looks like that will have to wait till we’re further down the coast.

New Nav Station Bench and Desk Completed

Posted on Sat 16 April 2011 in Interior

New Nav Station Bench and Desk

I am very pleased to show off the new nav station bench and and desk. This replaces the cooler and board I’ve been using for years. You can see more pics of the pieces coming together on flickr.

The 1/2” cabinet grade teak has all been finished with at least 4 coats of varnish. The desktop has an additional coat of a heavy duty varnish.

You can probably make out the hinges in the bench, it does open and has a pretty decent amount of storage.

The only thing left to complete is to put a locking clasp of some kind on the lid.

In addition to the desk I also mounted the new 19” Viore LED Monitor (LED19VH50). That’s the large monitor on the right of the picture. It’s mounted with a standard VESA mount and can directly off of 12VDC!!! The size of the monitor is important because It’s mounted on a door that opens and the monitor has to swing over the top of the original desk.

I’m VERY excited to have this completed. Next step in the aft berth is to put up the headliner; things are coming together !!!