The Boat Machine Shop

For the first few months aboard, every attempt to fabricate a part involved clearing a tiny space on the bench, plugging in a funky desk light, and trying to find tools that I had just seen only minutes before. This was demoralizing, so I finally fixed it. This post is a quick look at the Datawake machine shop.

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First, to put this in context, there are five tech “workspaces” aboard this 50-foot boat, each optimized for a different class of projects:

  1. I spend most of my time slouched at the Workstation, adjacent to the two console zones that have the most frequently needed controls (Audio and Communications gear). This has all the essentials, including an Aeron chair, foot massager, boom mics for recording, iPad on an arm, and the Mac with Thunderbolt monitor.
  2. A few feet away to port is the Media Desk, which contains the movie scanner, 3D printer, office equipment, and 8 full-suspension file drawers. This is the place for paperwork, publishing projects, and other things that require an open work surface.
  3. Back at the console is the Electronics Lab, with 18U of rack space filled with Rigol test equipment (oscilloscope, triple bench supply, signal source, and DMM) plus small-instrument drawer, outlets, and ports to ship networks. The main tool cabinet is just behind me when I’m seated here, dominating the room but a good central resource.
  4. Up in the pilothouse, there is an Assembly Bench with good light — a place for soldering and debugging with a Tektronix scope, power supply, hot-air rework station, stereo microscope, and so on. Next to this is a wall of parts inventory with over 800 drawers and bins, and it tends to be the messy spot filled with the clutter of work-in-progress, isolated from the tight workspace at the console.
  5. Down in the anteroom to the engine room is the Machine Shop, with a mini mill, power tools, sander/grinder, air compressor, shop vacuum, vise, inventory bins, and tool boards on the walls. This is set up for fabrication and making metal chips.
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Milling aboard, thanks to Bryan K7UDR

As is typical in a small machine shop, the mill occupies the central spot. This is a HiTorque Mini Mill 3960 (discontinued, but the newer 3990 is here, which adds an air spring to support the head). I love this contraption, and it’s a perfect fit for my constrained space; I was initially trying to figure out how to cram in the larger and heavier Grizzly G0619 (SX3), but my needs coincided with this machine lying idle at Northwest Digital Radio (maker of the UDRC and UDRX)… and Bryan kindly donated it to the Datawake project! I’m honored to have them as a sponsor.

In its current state, operation is purely manual… like the Bridgeport I just sold but a fraction of the size, though still with the standard R8 collets. I have no valid need for CNC capability (for automated control) but definitely plan on adding a DRO system (Digital Readout) from Dropros. I’ll report on that when it happens, but for now, let’s take a general look at the shop space.

mill-close-3The first task was to locate the mill on the desk, raise it with a pad to provide clearance, then bolt it down. I moved the vise off to the corner and added a couple of bright LED worklights (including this gooseneck model screwed to the wall, a desk version, and a little one over the vise). It’s actually bright enough to work in there now, which makes a huge difference in both quality and sanity.

Fixturing with a camera tripodThat bench vise is small for my taste, but is all that fits on this work surface; my plan is to build a second bench against the forward bulkhead, then give that my big Wilton as well as a sander/grinder with dust control. But for now this works, and everything in the restricted space of a boat is a compromise… leading to fixturing tricks like using my camera tripod to support the end of the piano drawer while milling recesses for the Kawai feet. As it turns out, the biggest space challenge is cutting equipment cutouts in the 19″ rack panels… not only is the table travel barely enough, but it requires careful planning (and re-fixturing on large holes) to avoid crashing into the wall.

compressor-reel-installedThe space to the right of the bench used to be a fuel tank for the monster Webasto furnace; we pulled that before the sale, leaving a dark cavern that became a collection point for hard-to-access things that were then effectively lost. So that was a prime candidate for another piece of equipment: I opened the little wall with a curved cut to provide access, then installed a Dewalt 6 gallon 165 PSI air compressor and 25-foot retractible hose reel. This works beautifully, without the mess that is the usual pile of coiled air hose (though I do have another 50 feet stowed away if needed). The space around this is now used by tool kits like the Fein, Porter Cable router, Makita angle grinder, Link socket set, and other things that are easy to identify and reach.

Ed Roberts toolboard

My father’s tool board in the old family home

Through all this, the elephant in the room was not the mill, but the tools… creating confusion since there is also a cabinet up in the lab. I was constantly chasing stuff down, and decided that I should identify the subset that are needed when cutting metal, then give them homes on the wall. I have a long history with tool boards… the photo here is the one in my father’s shop when I was a kid, and I can still feel the texture and heft of each.

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mill-tools-colletsThis turned out to be a fairly easy and incremental process. I rounded up some scrap plywood (5/8 and 3/4), cut it to shape, and lag-screwed it to the wall through the existing layer of mushy acoustical tile over 3/4 ply… and then simply began mounting the most obvious mill-related tool clusters.

I got lazy on the R8 collet holder, ordering one on Amazon before noticing that I could have printed an equivalent one from a design on Thingiverse. Just above that is a holder for the chuck, made out of a Sea Dog 290904 hinged rail tee and a stray flange base… a satisfyingly robust solution. The wrenches just below those are the ones in constant use when changing tooling. And that heavy Tripp-Lite outlet box is excellent.

The clamping kit and box of end mills were easy enough, and I epoxy-coated a stray piece of steel perforated angle to provide a substrate for the 1-2-3 blocks and parallel bars. That plastic tray left over from something or other ended up being a perfect spot for little things I always want to put my hands on, and some clothes pegs seemed made for hacksaws.

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The bowl of random mills needed something a little more custom; I fixed a piece of scrap wood in the vise, sorted them by shank size, and free-handed a holder…

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You can see the general tools in that photo – in all cases, they were just hung with whatever simple screws or brackets would do the job, but please note that most of those are not ready to go bounding across heavy seas. I’ll probably add a few screw-eyes for bungees, or at least pile the loose stuff in a drawer before getting off the dock… but that is not an immediate issue.

drill-stands-makitaOver on the other side, to the right of the mill, it is pretty much the same story. This region is mostly devoted to drilling, and it didn’t take me long to tire of opening the cobalt and brad point drill index boxes… I ordered stands that are now supported on that aluminum angle and screwed to the board. My beloved Makita LXT drill is in a sweet holster that has a magnetic surface for bits, and the somewhat less frequently used impact driver is supported by a hanger bracket. The transfer punch set is beyond the bits, and its plastic box is wimpy; I’ll 3D print one and mount it properly to the wall. And my all-time favorite screwdriver, the Megapro 151SS, is right there at hand (next to the dial caliper, just peeking in from the right edge).

As I mentioned above, I still want to add a better place to wail on heavy things in a large vise, but that is going to require another layer of cleanup and fabrication. The only added features after completion of the tool boards are a hanger for a somewhat wimpy hand vacuum and a wonderful dispenser for folding paper towels, which I have already come to prefer over rolls:

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At this moment, the next milling job is a 4U panel to wrap up console zone Epsilon (holding the Tascam PortaStudio, Raspberry Pi 7″ touchscreen, and MOTU AVB switch). And after that, at last, I’ll make the 6U and 4U panels for the ham radio console so I can get back on the air.

And now, off to cut metal!


For another take on mobile workspace design, please see my post about the Polaris mobile lab… built into a 24-foot cargo trailer.

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Datawake Scanner Installation

Keeping my ear to the ground…

by Steven K. Roberts

One of the central themes aboard this geeky ship is expanding the sensorium. I’ve always been fascinated by data collection in all its forms… not just sensors that reveal system health or the state of the environment, but real-time information that shifts my awareness into a much larger space than this little boat-lab. Video cameras inside and out, microphones, ship tracking and aircraft positions, telemetry, ROV for exploring underwater, various flavors of radio comms, and a scanner:

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Uniden Home Patrol 2 aboard Datawake (click photo for Amazon page, which is where I bought mine)

The feed is rich. Public safety, utilities, work crews, airplanes, ham repeaters, boats… even the comings and goings of the ferries that connect our island to the mainland… all contribute to an overall sense of having my finger on the pulse. I don’t often need this, but I like it… which is justification enough. And during weather emergencies, it provides essential information that is more of a pain to extract with just a marine VHF.

Choosing the Scanner

bc125atFor the past couple of years, I’ve had the inexpensive little handheld Uniden BC125AT with added Diamond RH77CA antenna… quite adequate in the analog-only environment of these islands. It’s not exactly intuitive, but works well… and has “service search” that allows it to scan groups of frequencies even if you haven’t set up locally relevant channels. (This was particularly fun when I took Amtrak down the coast last May to visit Google… I monitored railroad channels for much of the time, and got familiar enough with the train and yard operations that the cabin steward asked me for updates when we got stuck at a bridge malfunction in Portland.) This is the scanner that got me hooked, and it is now mounted over my bed.

But for the Datawake consoleI wanted something built-in… one of the primary design goals here is to eliminate loose fiddly gadgets with random cables and battery management quirks. The project calls for an embedded scanner that interfaces well, is easy to use, handles digital trunking, and is more or less future-proof (at least for my casual needs… I’m not a hard-core hobbyist like the folks who live over in the excellent RadioReference forums).

My default plan for a long time was the BCD536HP, which is pretty much the flagship of Uniden’s scanner line. This would panel-mount well (DIN standard) and has the maximum feature set, but the user interface is deep and complex. I preferred something easy to use, pretty, and readable at a glance.

The Uniden Home Patrol 2 is the beast I chose, and so far I’m very happy with it. There are a few features missing compared to the 536 (no service search, close call mode, or priority scanning), but it makes up for that with an added “Extreme Upgrade” that offers a suite of geeky tools. The user interface is a color touchscreen, it records to an SD card, and it can accept GPS input to automatically scan the local subset of the entire built-in (and updatable) RadioReference database as you travel. My initial learning curve on the associated Sentinel software gobbled an evening, but it’s now running on the NUC and everything works well. So let’s install it in the boat!

Panel-Mounting the Home Patrol 2

The first thing that struck me when I received this is that sticking it on the panel was going to be even uglier than I had anticipated. My usual heavy-duty Velcro method would be sloppy, depending too much on the stability of the battery compartment cover, and I worried that it would wobble enough to be irritating when I pushed on the top-panel controls for power and volume.

But a little bit of research turned up the BCKHP1 mounting bracket, pricey for a simple piece of plastic (and yes, I looked first on Thingiverse to see if anybody had already published an STL file that I could print on the LulzBot). OK, fine, given the amount of time this saves… and boom, problem solved!

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There are four cables that had to be routed through the panel, plus an earphone connector that I’ve left available if I want to skip the ship’s audio network. This called for a bushing at each end, tucked out of sight behind the rig thanks to the space provided by the bracket. Let’s define these interconnects.

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scanner-mounted-leftSMA connector for antenna input…
 a bit of a pain as it has to make the leap from that delicate connector to the stiff “pipe” that is my LMR-400 feed line. This coax will forever annoy me whenever I pull the Epsilon cabinet out for service, and the solution was to fabricate a little bracket for the N connector, mounted on the back side of the panel behind the scanner (photo above).

2.5 mm Line-level audio output… requiring transition to the more useful 3.5 mm via a jumper cable, which then connects to a transformer-based isolator since the scanner has a completely different concept of “ground” than the audio gear that will be receiving the signal.

scanner-mounted-rightMini-USB for data and power… piped to the Anker 13-port aluminum hub hanging off the Intel NUC that runs all the ship’s Windows-based comm apps (including SDR, Icom front-end, tools for radio programming, digital modes, and of course Uniden’s Sentinel). When starting the scanner, it asks if we will be using the USB connection just for power, or as a data source from the PC.

GPS input (USB Mini 4-Pin)… an odd connector, acquired by hacking a “Rosewill” cable that will lose its other end, then make its way over to a terminal block carrying the NMEA0183 feed from a Garmin puck GPS mounted on the upper deck (also used by other radios, APRS, and the iKommunicate gateway).

In the photos above, you can peek under the body of the scanner where the cables pass through the 19″ aluminum panel. I used Heyco split snap bushings that let me get away with pre-terminated cable, calling for .5-inch holes.

fusion-cutoutYou see that photo above with the scanner mounted next to the Fusion MS-IP700 marine stereo? That thing owns a serious bundle of cabling, which is already integrated into the system and nicely tied down. I kept putting off this installation job, dreading the process of taking it all apart and having to put it together again.

It thus became a bit of an obsession to do the project in situ, and the only tricky bit would be those two half-inch holes. Wailing on it with Makita and twist drill would be sloppy and throw conductive chips everywhere, so the solution was a Unibit #4 Step Drill (along with a paper chute to keep metal out of the MOTU and a shop-vac to make sure). I put blue painter’s tape over the panel, laid out the holes, fixtured the cabinet to keep it from wandering off on its Delrin runners, and had the job done in about 20 minutes:

scanner-holes-in-situ

OK, with that all done and the rig mounted, let’s get a skyhook up and run some cable!

The OmniX Scanner Antenna

All along, I’ve been assuming that I’d install a discone (the venerable Diamond D130NJ). These work from 25-1300 MHz, though being broadband there is certainly no gain to speak of. Also, aesthetically, they scream “SCANNER!”  I was having trouble getting excited about one of these, and kept delaying an order as I prowled for a better alternative.

In some forum I read glowing comments about the DPD OmniX, reportedly an excellent multiband performer and well-made to boot. OK, why not? Let’s try one.

omnix-portThis is an interesting design, with three dipoles… the two X-element pairs of different lengths and the fat vertical body that provides the mounting structure. The coverage is 118-137, 148-175 & 225-900 MHz. I happened to have an obsolete wind sensor mounted on the starboard spreader of my radar mast, so this presented an obvious mounting location. It went up without much difficulty… using concentric split PVC sleeves of two lengths to straddle a step in the post diameter while giving the brackets something that could handle clamping pressure. TV-antenna-style clamps and a chunk of old PVC are not exactly beautiful from a nautical perspective, but it was expedient and I find I’m not embarrassed at all.

rail-base-feedthrough-lmr400The OmniX has a female N connector at the end of a pigtail, which terminates under a blob of white self-vulcanizing Rescue Tape zip-tied to the spreader. From there, it’s the 50-foot hunk of LMR400 that I mentioned… stiff and perhaps not the best choice, but low-loss for the frequency range of interest. This found its way down the mast, under one of the bridgedeck seat structures to parallel the feed line for the radio-check system, then through the upper console to a spot where it could penetrate the pilothouse roof without introducing water. The photo shows my little trick for getting it through that vertical surface… 7/8″ stainless rail bases, with a hole drilled behind at a matching angle. The bottom one is another run of the same stuff to the dual-band J-pole antenna owned by my Icom ID-5100.

magnet-wall-spottingThe only other trick of note was using a pair of .75″ diameter N52 Neodymium magnets to locate the perfect spot to drill through the cabin wall, as it is easy to measure incorrectly and poke a hole where oops damn it you didn’t mean to… but all you do is tape a magnet in place, slap another onto the opposite side of the wall, draw a circle, and go from there.

At the console, cable management gets tricky… the bundles are thick enough that haphazard spill over the back of the desk is causing problems. I’m now building a support structure out of stainless rail, with a long horizontal member spanning the full 8-foot length of the console. Each of the five cabinets has a lacing bar for cable exit on the back near the top, and between the two will be big lazy loops that allow pulling each enclosure out for service. This is particularly urgent with stiff cable like the LMR400 I used here…

The Scanner in Use

I’ve had this buttoned up for a couple of weeks now, and love it… I scan about 70 channels, and can lock any out if they get annoying (or hold on one if it is particularly interesting). It contributes greatly to my sense of connection with the nearby scene; I’ve listened to the drama around a plane crash (everybody OK), marine rescues, medical emergencies, routine operations on the waterfront, and general aviation. It’s nice to have some information feeds besides Facebook… and the interface with my audio network means I can pipe this to the cabin or mix it in with recorded commentary. And when there is a wailing siren or a stray news helicopter hovering about, it’s good to know what’s going on!

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No Pressure – the Maiden Voyage

News from No Pressure (formerly Nomadness)

Saturday, Nov 12 – 3:00 PM
Friday Harbor to San Diego transit complete!

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Saturday, Nov 12 – 12:45 PM – Arriving San Diego

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Saturday, Nov 12 – 10:30 AM

Final approach to San Diego…

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Friday, Nov 11 – 9:00 PM

They only stayed in Santa Barbara long enough to acquire fluids and then pressed on… making for San Diego with an ETA of 3:00 PM Saturday.

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Friday, Nov 11 – noon

In the harbor in Santa Barbara…

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Friday, Nov 11 – 9:30 AM

Woke this morning to see them homing in on Santa Barbara… looking forward to the story! (There is a sail tear 2/3 of the way up from a big jibe, and some issue with pedestal steering pump losing fluid… as well as a need for engine oil… so fingers are crossed that the marina has a spot, as they don’t take reservations.)

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Thursday, Nov 10 – 8:00 PM

The crew has a few repairs to make and fluids to acquire, and is making for Santa Barbara. Steady progress and good conditions…

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Wednesday, Nov 9 – 11:30 PM

They are well past Monterey Bay and sailing all night… planning to use the wonderful 5-15 knot northwesterly breeze that should persist all through tomorrow. They need to stop and get more engine oil, and might do that in Santa Barbara.

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Wednesday, Nov 9 – 2:30 PM

Just spoke with Eric and passed along the very benign weather prediction (perfect tailwind today and tomorrow, then light westerlies or southerlies on Friday). He sent three photos… including one from just now with the boat sailing downwind, wing and wing:

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And two of the skipper:

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Wednesday morning, Nov 9

Looks like they are bypassing San Francisco… here is the overnight track via AIS:

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Tuesday evening, Nov 8 — midnight
update from Dick via text message

Today was a much more relaxed day. The seas were relatively calm — mainly 8-10 ft swells and not much wind driven waves. Of course that meant there wasn’t much wind and what there was was on our nose. We did raise the sails as we motored along so it at least looked like we were sailing 😁. We did see two whales today. They surfaced a few hundred yards away, took several breaths and then dove. We also saw another pod of dolphins. Several of them came right up to the boat and swam along with is. Of course we were much too slow for them so they eventually took off. It was also an unusual but normally typical day in that we had three meals! We all had breakfast, ate cheese, crackers, sausage and fruit for lunch and made chili for dinner. Anything but normal for us lately. 

The engine abruptly stopped running today when we were motor-sailing. Turned out it had air in the fuel line which we solved by using the fuel transfer pump to bleed the system. The generator has had a problem in that it did not stop when the stop button was pushed. We traced the problem to a defective stop solenoid that normally cuts off the fuel when the stop button is pushed. We solved the problem (temporarily) by tying a line to the lever which we can pull to stop it. 

watermakerThe water maker was not working since we used it the first day.  That turned out to be air in the line also. To celebrate solving the three problems, I took a shower in the water the water maker made and heated by the power the generator created, which I sorely needed after working on the hot engine and bleeding the fuel lines. It’s the simple things that make the difference 😁👍

Due to the necessary stopovers in Astoria and Crescent City we are not sure we can make it to San Diego by Saturday. No major problem for those of us that are retired but difficult for the one of is that is still employed. For a perfect ending to a nice day, I saw three meteors on my 7-11 watch.

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Tuesday evening, Nov 8 — 5:00 PM

There were some problems today with fuel delivery or air in the system, and for a couple of hours they were sailing without being able to get the engine going, but around 3:30 Dick reported: “I have no idea exactly why it stopped in the first place, but we got it going again by using the fuel transfer pump to bleed the system. Probably introduced when I changed all the fuel filters (that looked pretty clean). Anyway, we are back in business.”

The Iridium tracker was out of commission for about 6 hours, which explains that straight line from Cape Mendocino down to that spot west of Rockport. If you are watching the tracker and they seem to have stopped, experience tells us that it is most likely the satellite phone, not anything bad. It has needed to be restarted a few times…

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Monday night, Nov 7, 11:00 PM
Posted by Dick via text message

portlight-closeWhen we left Astoria, the wind conditions were still right on the nose — possible to sail, but the sea conditions made it difficult so motored the next 62 hours.  We arrived for a rest and dryout in Crescent City at 11:00 PM on Saturday.  The 2½ days getting there were not what we really wanted to do.  Heavy, mixed up seas with winds to 30 knots — on the nose of course. And our porthole tightening and caulking only partly worked… which is mainly why we stopped in CC.  We found one of the forward ports had not been completely sealed around the mounting ring, similar to the one above the aft berth.

The engine started running roughly unless it was throttled way down. Investigation revealed dirty fuel filters. So I changed them while underway. Engine purrs like a kitten now (well maybe roars like a lion is more like it, but it runs smoothly now). Other than having the boat get very wet inside from the leaky portholes, and the occupants getting beat around a bit, the 2½ days from Astoria to Crescent City was invigorating!  At night we had the frequent “ghost birds” flying along with us.  Saturday morning a pod of dolphins followed us for about an hour. Probably about 20 individuals of all sizes. It was really neat to see how effortlessly they swam all around the boat. Going ahead, behind and crossing our path.

screen-shot-2016-11-07-at-11-13-52-pmOn Sunday in Crescent City we spread things out on the dock to dry (at least until it started to drizzle). We also found the leak in the forward porthole and caulked it, and it seems to have worked. We also ran some caulking “rope” around the base of the”doghouse” where it was coming in. During the trip to CC a particularly large wave knocked Al against the dining table, which promptly detached from the floor.  Turned out it wasn’t particularly well attached to the floor. While stopped in CC we bolted it down! Not going anywhere now.

Today we left Crescent City, and finally had conditions that were conducive to sailing! Of course, the wind was still on our nose, but the sea conditions were much calmer so we sailed for a few hours until the wind died down too low to sail and make any reasonable headway. As you can see from our path, we couldn’t sail directly into the wind so we did what is known in sailing as tacking. Sail as close to straight into the wind as possible and then sail upwind with the wind on the other side of the boat. That is why our path zig-zags, not because we had a party to celebrate the good sailing conditions and drank all our wine at once! Alas, by about 3:00 the wind died and we had to resort to our trusty diesel once again. But the few hours of real sailing almost made all the pounding and putting up with the leaks worthwhile.  The weather is supposed to be even better for sailing in the next few days! 

— posted by Dick while underway off Eureka, California

 

Monday, a little after noon

They are on the move, and looks like upwind sailing! No stories from the skipper about the second leg yet, but we spoke and texted yesterday during the Crescent City layover… a few repairs (a port left unsealed by the yard in Tacoma, salon table got loose from my too-short screws, some puzzles about charging and power management). I’ll pass along more as I get news… I’m assuming the next stop is San Francisco.

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Sunday, Nov 6

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Midnight Saturday, Nov 5

No Pressure is safe at the dock in Crescent City, California! This leg from Astoria included some adventures… more to follow when I’ve received an update from Dick. For now, here are images of the trek down the coast as well as a close-up of their location in the harbor:

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Noon Saturday, Nov 5

Happy to report that they are south of Cape Blanco after a challenging night… more when I get an update. Here is their track:

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Brief note from Dick, approximately midnight Nov 4

Well, that was invigorating! Twenty-five knot winds on the nose, unsettled seas and ghost birds playing tag with the boat. Off watch and time for a little sleep. More later.

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8:00 PM, Friday, Nov 4 — Pixel spotted!

coos-pixelHere in quiet Friday Harbor aboard Datawake, I have been keeping tabs open for both trackers, weather data, and webcams. I found a view out the Coos Bay bar entrance that updates every 10 minutes, and hoped they would cross during daylight. Alas, that didn’t happen, but I did catch their port navigation light! Here’s No Pressure in her element… click to see full-size (with context below).

Just outside the Coos Bay bar (which is not nearly as fun as it sounds). They are averaging about 4.5 knots into a stiff headwind.

coosbaFriday evening, Nov 4, about sunset… this is what the bar at Coos Bay looks like at the moment. I am hoping there will be enough light when they pass to catch a glimpse on this Coast Guard webcam that updates every 10 minutes or so. The bar is currently closed to recreational vessels, so they will be pressing on (probably with intent to pull into Crescent City tomorrow mid-day, roughly 100 nautical miles to the south).

No Pressure at 5:00 on Friday Evening, Nov 4

No Pressure at 5:00 on Friday Evening, Nov 4

Weather report, posted Friday evening

Oregon Coast – 10:45 AM Friday, Nov 4
Update from Dick via text message

No Pressure off Oregon Coast

Overnight track as seen Friday morning, November 4. Click for live AIS tracker.

Friday morning report:  Still motoring along at ~6 kn.  More wind this morning – 15 kn.  Still on our nose.  Amazon still handling the environment without a problem. The autopilot continues to work well despite the erratic compass.  More clouds than yesterday but still a sunny day.  Haven’t seen any marine life except for lots of birds everywhere.  Fascinating to watch them fly along inches from the surface, following the waves as the surface moves up and down as much as 20 ft.  We have seen some substantial logs.  Makes one glad that No Pressure has a steel hull!  Some of the crew are having a bit of unexpected seasickness.  I guess this a bit rougher out here than they have been in before. Maybe spoke to soon about the sun.  Getting overcast now.  And the solar panel was putting out some power.  Running the generator to recharge the batteries after running all night with the radar and autopilot on.  All for now.

Update

Had to add oil to both engines as we have run them a good bit.  Especially the main engine.  Thank goodness for the oil transfer pump and the four gallons of oil we added to the oil storage tank.  Sun has come out again and the solar panel is putting out about 50 watts.  If the sun was higher in the sky we would get more but we will have to wait for more Southern latitudes.

 

Oregon Coast — 11:30 PM Thursday, Nov 3
Update from Dick via text message

Today was clear and sunny. Beautiful day to sail, but with the wind on our nose we would have had to tack and make slower forward progress. So we are motoring to help make up for the three days in Astoria. The really good news is that the boat is completely dry so our porthole tightening worked!

I forgot to comment on the birds on the way out of Juan de Fuca. We would be sailing along and out or our peripheral vision would see something white. It would be one or more gulls gliding along, keeping pace with the boat, looking like ghosts over the water.

When we left Astoria this morning we saw two Coast Guard ships “playing” in the river bar — tipping almost 90°. One of them came over to us to see what we were doing as the bar was closed to anything under 40′. They also warned us that the waves were up to 17′. We told them that we knew, and we had already been on worse coming into Astoria!

The Amazon 44 handles well out here. Stable (at least as stable as one can be in waves this large), easy to control with no pounding. Just cuts through the waves, and we feel completely safe and in control.

We are using a program called Navionics Boating HD running on my Samsung tablet for our navigating and routing.  It works really well inside or out, where it is enclosed in a watertight cover.  Only a minor problem when the weather was so bad coming into Astoria — the waves would sometimes “press” the screen, changing the view!

Thursday night, about 11:30 PM

Thursday night, about 11:30 PM. Click the image for live AIS tracker page

The Second Leg begins!

screen-shot-2016-11-03-at-11-04-50-amOn the move this morning, with launch about 10:00. Click link in title for the track log; I’ll post maplets periodically as they continue south. They have weather-routing consultation from a friend who has traversed that coast a few times in a boat of similar scale, and as before, we’re in contact via cellular (sporadic) and Iridium satellite to pass along changes or address issues. Stay tuned!

Friday Harbor to Astoria
(posted Wednesday evening by Dick Tasker)

We left Friday Harbor Saturday afternoon and motored most of the way out of the Strait of Juan De Fuca.  Finally put the sails up as we rounded the bend at Cape Flattery.  Sailed until late Sunday until the winds ended up pretty much on our nose.  We then motored all the way down to Astoria, Oregon.  Seas were pretty reasonable until Sunday night when they picked up.  The rest of the way to Astoria was pretty rough.

As we crossed the shipping lanes that go into Grays Harbor there was a bit of excitement. It was night and there was a trawler that seemed to be circling within the lanes!  We managed to avoid him but we certainly had to pay attention for a while.

Sunday night through Monday when we arrived in Astoria (up the Columbia River) the seas steadily increased until they were up to 20 ft.  The worst  part was that they were very irregular.  We took water over the bow a good number of times.  The boat handled very well and we felt perfectly safe

The only really annoying part of the trip was that some of the portholes leaked, despite the fact that they were all tightened before we left!  We decided to stop in Astoria for a few days since the wave action was rather uncomfortable 🙂 and the winds were on our nose — with rough seas, difficult to sail and would be motoring into major head winds… and also because the boat was pretty saturated inside due to the leaky portholes.

We found a spot in the West End Marina in Astoria with a hotel right next to it.  The last two days we have spent drying the boat and our clothes, and working to eliminate the porthole leaks.  We found that one of the original portholes had never been correctly sealed around the hull and was leaking like a sieve.  The rest just needed to be tightened a bit more.  We tested them all by spraying them point blank with a hose!

Dick modeling one of the two immersion suits included with the boat... like most of the safety equipment, something we hope is never needed!

Dick modeling one of the two immersion suits included with the boat… like most of the safety equipment, something we hope is never needed!

We discovered when we left Friday Harbor that the knot meter was not working so we did not know our speed through the water.  We did know the speed over the water since we have GPS for navigation.  I had cleaned the one knot meter that we knew was there, but it turned out that there were two on the boat — one for the main instruments and one for a small display in the aft cabin.  The one I cleaned was the aft one.  We found the second, took it out, removed the barnacles and other marine life… and now it works!

The Webasto diesel heater was not working the days before we left Friday Harbor and we diagnosed it to a defective fuel pump that was replaced.  It worked for a few days but has stopped working again and seems to need a flame sensor. Fortunately, we really don’t need it so it is not a big deal.

We plan to leave Astoria tomorrow (Thursday).  The seas have calmed down some and the winds aren’t completely on our nose, so we hope to actually sail South.

October 31, approximately noon (posted by Steve)

No Pressure is safe at the dock in Astoria, after a long trek down the Washington coast all day Sunday and overnight. They crossed the Columbia bar late this morning, about an hour after slack-to-flood, and proceeded to port in anticipation of rising southerlies that will make continuing difficult for the next couple of days (current wind simulation here, with their location the small circle). When I hear directly from the crew, I will update this report.

No Pressure in Astoria

11:30 PM on Oct 30

No Pressure - Moclips

5:00 PM on Oct 30

Happy to report a position update via Iridium! The map will looks like they cut across that point of land, but we’ve been hours without data so it just connected the last two dots. The dot shows their current location just west of Destruction Island, in light winds, motoring to speed things up (and charge batteries):

No Pressure - Destruction Island

3:00 PM (Pacific Time) on Oct 30

Just had text exchange with Dick – sorry for lack of current track images! Turns out the Iridium unit is mounted inside where its view of GPS satellites is compromised by the boat heeling to starboard (they are sailing in nice easterly winds). That has prevented any map updates for the past few hours… but he just moved it outside so we should get one in the next hour (which I will post immediately). Here is their full track as of 10:45 AM; we spoke on the phone around noon and they were sailing very well, with text message follow up at 3 PM.

No Pressure Neah Bay

Right now they are getting perfect easterly winds, which are moving them south at a steady clip of 7+ knots. The wind will start coming from dead ahead in a few hours and they may have to resume motoring. This animation shows current conditions (updated every three hours).

23:00 on Saturday night (10/29)

She is cruising! About halfway out the Strait of Juan de Fuca (all maplets clickable for more detail):

No Pressure halfway thru Strait

No Pressure is now south of Victoria, BC (about 7PM Pacific time):

No Pressure south of Victoria

Departure from Friday Harbor:

No Pressure departing Friday Harbor

They are on their way! More soon as I have a chance to report, and I’ll start posting updates from Dick as they arrive. This page will be modified soon so the most recent information is at the top…

Background

Over the past year, while I have been getting settled into Datawake, my previous boat has been getting lots of excellent attention. She has new opening ports and pilothouse windows, extensive repairs, a fresh dodger, new standing and running rigging, a watermaker, electric heads, a life raft, and a meticulous new owner whose engineering career led him to this boat. Around the end of October, with the help of stalwart crew, he will be heading down the Pacific Coast for a layover in San Diego, then continuing through the Panama Canal with the intent of bringing No Pressure to her new home port on the East Coast.

I’ve offered to host a page where his brief updates via satellite can be visible to friends, and this is it. I will update this any time there is new information to pass along (and will do another page with a photo essay of the extensive upgrades referenced above). In this photo, taken as they returned from an easy test sail on January 24, that’s Dick at the helm and Eric on the bow, doubtless thinking: “Put down that damn camera and catch our lines!”

No Pressure returning to dock

Notes from Dick Tasker

October 16, 2016:

We will be leaving from Friday Harbor, San Juan Islands, WA on a sailing trip to San Diego, CA on the first leg of our trip to Venice, Florida via the Panama Canal on our new boat No Pressure, an Amazon 44 pilot house cutter. We plan to leave around the end of October (exact date depends on weather) with a crew of four intrepid sailors: Myself, Eric Lewis (my brother-in-law), Rick Butterworth (a long time friend) and Alfred Poirier (a sailing friend of Eric’s).

October 24, 2016:

Location at the dock in Friday Harbor, working on the final projects before departure….

screen-shot-2016-10-24-at-10-37-48-pm 

October 28, 2016

(posted by Steve Roberts) Looks like departure is set for Saturday morning, Oct 29. The boat is looking gorgeous, everything is fixed and fine-tuned, and the crew is stalwart and enthusiastic. First stop will be the fuel dock at the Port, where the 90 gallon aft tank will be filled (two 70 gallon tanks are already full), then off they go… either through Cattle Pass and into the Strait, or over the top of San Juan Island and down Haro Strait. I’ll be watching their track and weather closely, and will re-arrange this page so the newest updates are at the top. Stay tuned!

 

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Audio and Comm Console Development

by Steven K. Roberts
October 2, 2016

SKR aboard Maggie E - Sept 2016

Aboard the Maggie E, a friend’s Ranger 27 – enroute to Lopez Island on September 9, 2016

I catch myself doing it again: waiting for closure on some project before writing about it, an old magazine-freelancing habit. Something should actually be done before you publish the details, right?

Of course, this isn’t a single-threaded project. Subsystems and components are interleaved and interdependent, the objectives evolve with technological change (or at least my awareness thereof), and I’m working on so many fronts at once that I am always in danger of having progress overwhelmed by context-switching overhead.

All that is fun, but when it comes to blogging, old habits die hard. This post is an update from the perspective of 10 months aboard Datawake, and is focused on two console zones that are current work-in-progress.

Audio

The photos from my late-March Meet Datawake story reveal a stack of traditional audio mixer/equalizer units… basically a big funnel that gathers mono and stereo sources, combines them, processes them with effects and glorified tone controls, and makes them available as a master output for listening, recording via Thunderbolt, or other uses. This is SO boring.

auxbar-edgeActually, it’s worse than boring (marginal hardware quality aside). It’s also architecturally inflexible, and fails to address some of the more interesting applications on the boat. What I really need is a way to connect anything to anything, which is why we designed an elaborate audio crosspoint switching system for the BEHEMOTH bicycle and later Microship project. Those supported up to 8 simultaneous connections among any of 32 inputs and 32 outputs… although the Auxbar system shown in the photo couldn’t mix, distribute, equalize, or do anything other than perform clean, line-level routing (which was awesome).

I assumed during the gestation of this project that I would design a Node X to provide this capability… an Arduino with a long SPI shift-register chain driving a huge bank of latching relays, allowing switching with no “data type” issues (since simple relay contacts are bidirectional and work with audio, video, serial, PTT, sensors, or even lightweight power switching). But while offering essential functionality, this concept was poorly integrated with the mixer stack, so remained on a vague back burner.

But now, problem solved… and in my favorite way! Someone else has already done it really well, so I don’t have to spend a year inventing a partial solution. The folks at Guitar Center Pro were kind enough to accept a return of the unsatisfactory ART and Zoom boxes, then sell me some goodies from MOTU… the 1248 and 16A:

motu-stack-new
These things are lovely. They certainly aren’t cheap (Amazon 1248, 16A, & 24Ai), but they eliminate an entire development project while adding a rich web-based UI. A future post will explore them in greater detail… they solve that anything-to-anything problem while providing internal mixers, EQ, and Thunderbolt/USB host interface.

Of course, no learning curve or initial implementation is without glitches, and the first problem was that their free companion iPad app says, in the iTunes store: “The MOTU AVB Discovery from MOTU, Inc. finds all MOTU AVB Devices on your WiFi network, whether they are connected via ethernet or a computer with Thunderbolt or USB.” Turns out this isn’t true as stated, though I see its intent; in a system like mine with two MOTU interfaces, their Ethernet ports are tied up talking to each other… and they can’t be seen on the LAN (though they can via USB on the Mac, of course). One would have worked; so would three or more, using the AVB switch that I had to buy after all… and given that, my choice of the Focusrite OctoPre mkII Dynamic to add 16 more ports via ADAT light pipe was unwise since most of its value is in excellent mic preamps that I don’t need. So this goes back too, to be replaced by the 24Ai that I would have gotten in the first place had their marketing been accurate.

Anyway, the net effect of this mountain of professional overkill (worthy of touring bands and concert halls) is that now all my audio devices… about 40 sources and half that many sinks… will converge on this dense region in console zone Epsilon. Many of those are parts of stereo pairs, related to the piano/entertainment/recording; another group are microphones ranging from podcasting to security; a few more are computers; and a large cluster are radios and their various audio interconnects. There’s even a dedicated Pi for streaming to and from the Internet.

avbmaingrid2

(AVB Routing Grid image from MOTU)

So here’s where it gets fun. Wanna talk on the Icom 7300 HF rig? Pull the boom condenser microphone to my face, poise my toe over a PTT foot switch, and tell the machine via app or macro that it’s time to play radio. The output gets routed to headphones, mains, or console speaker… and if I prefer to use the aero headset for noise reduction, well, we can do that too. Anything to anything, not five dangling microphones and at least that many speakers.

Or, perhaps I’m doing a YouTube video, shaping and de-essing my voice through the DBX 286s input channel strip, mixing in audio sources while talking about whatever… hydrophone, exterior mic, engine room sounds, recordings from the Mac or Tascam box, stingers, theme music, interviews, or radio chatter.

Or maybe I’m off visiting somewhere, far from the boat, and the system texts me to report a security violation. Red alert! Connect via VPN, check system status, watch the cameras including recent timeline, and mix together the interior microphones to discover that it was just Izzy batting a spider who was hanging out in front of a PIR sensor. Phew. (I know, spiders and boats… that sounds wrong… the photo below was aboard Nomadness, reminding me to get out more!)

spider-web-constellation
This whole system is in progress now, with many cables yet to be made (and tested). Things like the piano and monitors are easy, but between this massive audio routing/equalization/mixing system and the cluster of radios I need interconnects… and here there be dragons. It starts with the line level from the mix having to become mic (or other “back panel”) level, ventures into the need for isolation of the balanced connection due to widely varying opinions about the meaning of “ground,” then wanders far afield with the need for filtering due to the fiendish nature of RF. I thought I was going to have to cobble together isolation transformers with level-tweaking pads and and then go crazy with ferrites and capacitors, but it seems this has been done well already by W2IHY… with a kit price of $59.

Radio

So speaking of the ham shack, let me bring you up to date on console zone Delta and its connected antennas. The N4RVE “maritime mobile” rig is becoming substantial, and my current mechanical packaging project is the somewhat daunting effort to cram five ham rigs into a 6U panel, then park all ancillary stuff on a 4U just above (with 2U of coax patch completing the comms cabinet). There is some bleed-over; the Home Patrol 2 scanner is next to the stereo in the audio cabinet, and the SDR devices (Funcube Dongle Pro and RTL-SDR, as well as a spot for the intriguing UDRX) are all located next door in the networking zone, hanging off the gigabit switch or the Nuc’s USB hub.

The core of this region is the panel o’ rigs, and what sounds like a lot of redundancy is really a nice spread of overlapping functionality (or that’s what we hams tell ourselves to ease the heartbreak of GAS – Gear Acquisition Syndrome):

  • 7300-filterIcom IC-7300 – the flagship of the station, this is a very flexible SDR-based rig that includes HF and 6-meters, with a rich touchscreen-based UI, excellent filtering, support for digital modes and external large-screen display, waterfall, SD card for recording, and lots of other fancy state-of-the-art features. This will be the primary tool, and owns a Diamond HFV-5 at the top of the radar mast (via the coax patch panel, so I can try other things if that turns out to be disappointing).
  • ic-m802Icom IC-M802 – the industry-standard marine SSB rig, FCC type-accepted for the marine bands, and channelized for ease of use. It works fine for ham radio, but has almost no knobs to twiddle and is kind of boring when you want to dig deep into QRM/QRN to chase something rare. This is piped to a PACTOR box a couple of versions back (new ones are way too expensive for my occasional need), and owns an AT-140 tuner and Shakespeare 393 vertical antenna pushing against part of the rail as a counterpoise. Even though it’s not mounted in the panel yet, I’ve been using this lately on 20 meters with good results.
  • ic-706Icom 706mk2G – a classic mobile, which also does multimode on VHF and UHF as well as HF… this rig I have had for many years, and think of it as a reliable backup. Ages ago, it was part of my mobile lab during speaking tours, and kept me amused during long drives. My original plan here was to wrap it in foil and pack it in a Pelican box for emergencies, but why not just build it in and add the potential for cross-banding or easy access when something fails… not to mention monitoring multiple things at the same time?
  • ft-817Yaesu FT-817 – the little QRP (5-watt) rig I bought about 10 years ago when working on the backpack technomadic toolset (here is the drawing). This is a much-loved little thing, and likewise ventures into the VHF and UHF bands… I expect to use it mostly for WSPR and other digital modes where processing gain can make up for low power; if it ends up living on one high HF band, it will probably own a thin wire dipole.
  • id-5100aIcom ID-5100 – finally, this is the most recent acquisition… a D-Star dual-band mobile with touchscreen remote head. With some reluctance, I sold my Kenwood TM-D710 to Steve Stroh N8GNJ to justify this purchase. By doing so, I gave up APRS and the data port, as this is the best 9600 data radio currently available off the shelf (thanks to the integrated TNC)… but I gained access to an Internet-linked network of gateways and reflectors. Damn trade-offs. I’m still getting to know the new rig, and have not decided yet if that was a mistake. Default antenna is a dual-band Rocky Mountain J-Pole, but this is via the coax patch panel so it can be swapped around if I need to use the Arrow beam or other tool.

APRS with Yaesu 290I might also need a 220 rig to engage with a geeky subset of northwest hams, but I’m out of console space and that would probably be tucked back in a corner. I’m also very tempted to devote my trusty old Yaesu 290 to embedded APRS. I’ve had this in my truck for about ten years, and it uses a stalwart old Kantronics TNC along with a Garmin GPS to transmit my location to other hams or the online tracking servers. In practice, I almost never use this while driving anymore, but it would be fun on the boat and easy to include. I also have the companion 790, which would pair well with another TNC for back-door control via handheld.

All this offers overlapping but differing capabilities, and the architecture of the audio networking system and independent antennas will allow simultaneous operation (whether with multiple people, or one human plus a few automated processes). For safety, their native audio outputs connect to a single dumb rotary switch in the middle of the cluster, allowing any to drive the single console speaker if all that fancy stuff has gone belly-up… or I just want to do the retro thing and not bring up computers as potent as yesteryear’s Cray to throw a few switches and twiddle knobs. It’s a sickness, I know.

weld-mount-tuner-at140Some of the antennas are up. The most recent installation was the AT-140 tuner for the M802 rig, mounted with the wonderful Weld Mount fasteners and 8040 adhesive to the hull. This pushes a 23-foot Shakespeare 393 mounted to port with the 409 kit, near the stern. There is an art to making a decent HF counterpoise on a fiberglass boat, and folks use sintered stainless under the waterline, clusters of wires cut for multiple bands, connections to tankage or engines, copper straps to thru-hulls, or… in my case… the stainless rail around the boat (safety issues duly noted, with testing required). Initial trials have only used the short segment from the port-side gate aft, but I’ve been doing well on 20 meters even with recent geomagnetic storms making propagation disappointing. I’ll go into much more detail about this and the other antennas in a future post.

shakespeare-393-clouds

counterpoise-rail-sunset
Meanwhile, for keeping my ear to the ground, the delightful Uniden Home Patrol 2 is working well with its DPD OmniX antenna… a skyhook I was happy to find, as it doesn’t scream “scanner!” as does a discone. I had my heart set on the BCD-536HP for maximum feature set and DIN standard mounting, but my friend Steve bought the 436 and found the UI annoying enough to return it… and that convinced me to get this far more friendly rig. You can see at a glance what it’s doing, and management via Sentinel on the Windows box <shudder> was actually not as horrific as I imagined… once I got past the challenging evening of using the registry editor, installing an old version of .NET framework, Googling for hints in forums, and other things typical of a newbie stumbling into a well-established culture in which nobody even notices the absurd complexities any more.

scanner-hp2-ferries
With that, I’m going to pause before diving into the ever deeper pool of related material… there has been lots of other progress and the backlog of blog topics is getting scary (though I micro-blog on Facebook). It’s time to get out of back-screeching chair-slouching computer mode and do some more hardware!

Cheers and 73 de N4RVE aboard Datawake… hope to catch you on the air.

omnix-sunset

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Datawake Historical Photos – Circa 1976

Vic Franck Delta 50 (The Chief) in her early years

One of the little treasures I found aboard the boat now known as Datawake was a binder of photos from her youth. I think these are from the late 1970s (she was designed by Lynn Senour and built in 1974), and they are quite a contrast from my usual view of the ship… a huge blinking console full of electronics. But much is unchanged, and these are a treasured part of the boat’s history. All images are clickable for larger versions… they are faded prints on yellowed paper, but if you peer hard enough you can get a sense of her finish and construction quality. One of these days, when things are “done,” I’ll take photos from the same perspectives and pair them with each of these; in the meantime, you can see more current images in my “Meet Datawake article from 6 months ago.

underway-seattlechief-binder-1

chief-binder-2 chief-binder-3 chief-binder-4 chief-binder-5 chief-binder-6 chief-binder-7 chief-binder-8 chief-binder-9 chief-binder-10 chief-binder-11 chief-binder-12 chief-binder-lines zooming

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Popeye and the Dawg

Witnessing an inter-species encounter

photo ©2016 by Steven K. Roberts
(All rights reserved – please contact for usage info)

Every now and then, a photographer gets lucky… the right palette of colors, a self-organizing composition, and a sweet vignette all align at the moment of shutter-release. This was one of those, caught through the 83X zoom of the wonderful Nikon P900, looking sternward from Datawake

That’s Popeye the harbor seal, a local celebrity, meeting a lovely dog who was strolling the docks with visiting humans at the Port of Friday Harbor. I first posted this on the local “Rant ‘n Rave” group, whence it has been shared about 75 times. I’m probably anthropomorphizing, but it is just so damn… adorable.

Dog-meets-Popeye-SKR

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Rebecca Parks and her Under Pressure series

My dear friend Rebecca moved to Missouri last year, and in addition to her many family activities and house-renovation projects, she is exploring a new artistic realm. When she posted this image of her latest porch-mildew work, I was inspired to write a bit of ArtSpeak to help solidify this emerging genre.

Under Pressure – an Exploration of Meta-Patterns

rebecca-mildew-mandala

2016 photo by BJJ

With her “Under Pressure” series, Rebecca Parks expands Outsider Art onto the virgin landscape of the rural deck, exploring the dialectic contrast between Relaxation Spaces and the technologically mediated high-velocity streams of water with which she creates thoughtful, mandala-like representations of family dynamics, overwhelming information, and transitory states. Often pausing in reflection, her own moisture merging with that of a yet-unfinished work, the artist steps into the canvas of macro and micro to remind us of scale, giving a high-five to the hyphae while drawing attention to the vast gulf between the ambient humidity in which mildew thrives and the explosive intensity of the blast that sweeps it away.

Rebecca thus explores the very extremes of water, from passive to invasive, turning these into metaphors of each other and by extension, of information and power. The viewer becomes participant, invited to contemplate our own narrow range of survival and the transition from informational stasis to the overwhelming flood that destroys some and nourishes others, leaving an indelible yet transient meta-pattern on the landscape of our culture. In her representation of this, Parks has captured the diverse cultural overlay of the Internet, our own assimilation, and the struggle that belies the beguiling passivity of a rural porch bathed in the informationally rich vapors of WiFi.

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Building a Feline Outhouse

Take it Outside, Kitty…

by Steven K. Roberts, aboard Datawake

Isabelle and Steve aboard DatawakeOK, so I admit it… I love this cat. Isabelle lives aboard with me, and her tubby cuddly awesomeness increases the quality of life in lots of ways. But even a quirky Russian Blue who pushes all the right feline buttons but lives indoors comes with one little “feature” that can’t be avoided: the need for a cat box.

For the first four months aboard, this was located in the shower compartment of the guest cabin, where I figured it could have its own vent window and be mostly out of sight. But when a friend stayed aboard for few days, we had to relocate Izzy’s facilities to the afterdeck, leave the door propped open, and keep the canvas zipped shut… and that residual smell in the forward head never did go away. This is too much of a lifestyle impact in a limited space, and besides, I have more guests on the calendar.

catbox furnitureIt occurred to me that what she really needs is an outhouse on the afterdeck, with private entrance, exterior ventilation, easy access for cleaning, LED lighting, air filtration, and of course a network camera so I can see if it needs attention. And while we’re at it, might as well make it useful as bench seating for humans. This article is about the resulting project, which has solved the problem… and I share it here for others with big boats, small houses, or other spaces where a contained exterior cat box is needed.

I should mention that my first approach was to simply buy such a thing… surely this problem has already been solved! Indeed, I did find a few enclosed cat facilities on Amazon. But MDF/composite construction in a marine environment turned me off to one that had negative reviews for getting damaged by the inevitable wet spills, and another that looks like a large planter pot would have been cute but a pain to interface with a door in a vertical wall.

Still lazy, and not wanting to sacrifice a tempting antique linen chest that nearly went under the knife, I ordered a wooden toybox that was marginally big enough. I’m not going grace it with a link here… it was awful, with manufacturing errors that made it impossible to assemble, and it was too wimpy anyway. Everything on a boat must handle dynamic human weight. Back to Amazon it went.

OK, fine. I guess I have to build something.

catbox assemblyThe dimensions were non-critical… large enough for a nice big litter box or maybe a fancy self-cleaning one down the road, with enough additional room for a jumbo cat door and a few extras like vents and a small air purifier. I settled on 40 inches long, 20″ deep, and 20″ tall… with a simple hinged lid. I used 3/4″ ply for the bottom and top, with 1/2″ for the sides. I’m no woodworker, so there is nothing at all fancy here… just some scrap 2×4 ripped in half to give me a way to fixture the big pieces, with 1×2 verticals inside all four corners. At reasonable intervals, I used stainless wood screws to provide clamping pressure, with white glue smeared on all mating surfaces.

I screwed 8 rubber feet to the bottom to allow air flow, and ended up removing the front row of four and adding a spacer strip to compensate for the greater-than-90º angle between wall and floor (this is a boat, so by definition nothing is square).

hinge closeThe top surface needed to be smooth for piling stuff on (like cushions) so I decided to cut recesses for the hinges. This involved the router and some clamped-on wood scraps as a guide, with bit depth set to match the thickness of surface-mount polyolefin hinges that I had in stock from a previous unfinished project. These happened to have ideal dimensions, with the holes spanning the 3/4″ lid after recessing, and the thickness served as spacers for exactly the gap I wanted between box and wall.

(If you’re following along with the idea of cloning this, none of the dimensions are critical, as long as it’s big enough for the box at one end with room for the door to swing at the other.)

catbox handleThere are a few other details. I wanted a handle on the lid… so found a scrap of 1″ webbing and an old piece of kayak paddle shafting, then attached it with two screws. Not shown (and unnecessary once installed, but nice during construction) is a stainless wire with eyes, screwed to inside top and left side to keep the lid from flopping all the way open and breaking something.

right-ventFor ventilation, I installed a large plastic grille near the bottom in the front (visible in the photo above with cushions), along with a smaller one high on the right side. Convection brings clean air in, across the litter box, then out… and so far that seems to be working if we are not in windy conditions that make their own rules. The door has a felt seal, so smell rarely makes it inside.

catbox hole under deskOf course, the hardest part is cutting a hole in the boat. We skippers have a reluctance to do that, even above waterline, and this was to be a big one…. a “Tubby Kat” door (to Isabelle’s utter mortification) with a 7.5″ x 10.5″ flap. This not only required the saber saw for cuts on box and wall, but the trusty Fein tool to remove a section of that structure that supported the sofa back when this boat was optimized for human comfort. While hacking away under the desk, I added two holes for 3/8″ carriage bolts to keep the plastic door from carrying stresses, along with a larger one (using a hole saw) for that thru-hull fitting that I use to pass wiring. This carries Ethernet, camera power, 12V for the LED, and 115VAC for the air cleaner.

Adding the door and other hardware (after a couple of casual clear coats with water-based polyurethane), here was the first look at the box installed…

catbox door

But wait, that’s too dark! Isabelle needs to see clearly to do a good covering job, and I need to see clearly when cleaning it. And besides, there’s the webcam to consider. I installed an LED license plate light that cost about $5 from Super Bright LEDs… with a 12V pair running around to a 1-amp output on Shacktopus. The light is mounted on the back, above the box, and the camera is on the left (still without the air cleaner shelf or motion and lid sensors). Just this side of the camera mount are hooks for the cleaning shovel and a little brush/dustpan to tidy up… and I will add a mat to help with clean feet on the way back into the cabin.

complete with camera

By this point in the project, I had already let her alpha-test the box for a few days without having to push through a door, but now it was time to get serious. From the human side, a forbidding gateway presented itself, and she sniffed around it a few times without interest.

catbox door cabled

I carried her outside and poured her in, then returned to my desk to call her. Somewhat pathetically, she pawed the door. “Steev. Why Izzie in jail?? Free me nao?” Her reluctance to use it persisted over the next day, but she got over it and it’s now just an accepted part of the on-board facilities.

catbox-camOn the tech side, I still haven’t added the sensors for door and lid, though it’s not really an urgent problem compared to the long list of other projects aboard. What was immediately essential, however, was bringing the camera online… which is a trivial task since I have a gigabit switch for the on-board LAN a few feet away. With a quick power cable splice and two RJ-45 connectors crimped to some CAT-5 cable, my old Axis 210 was back in service.

Now I can keep track Izzy’s comings and goings, so to speak, and know when cleaning is necessary without all those tedious steps of shuffling out back and lifting the lid. It’s one click from the home screen of the Datawake web interface.

And, back to the initial point of all this, I got my guest cabin back! Here’s the “other” business end of the system, with the air cleaner and odor filter installed (that is resting on a couple of old shelf brackets, with 4″ Velcro strips on back and end to keep it stable):

catbox-equipment-end-filter


Update

I posted a link to this article on Facebook, and added a brief photographic narrative of Isabelle’s reaction to the presence of the webcam:

When I first told her about the camera idea, she said, "oh, jeeze..."

When I first told her about the camera idea, she said, “oh, jeeze…”

"Hang on... the webcam doesn't have an open port in the firewall, does it Steev? I just followed that CAT-5 cable..."

“Hang on… the webcam doesn’t have an open port in the firewall, does it Steev? I just followed that CAT-5 cable…”

I'm so busted. She's doing a press conference right now about the webcam...

I’m so busted. She’s doing a press conference right now about the webcam…


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The Datawake ADS-B PiAware Receiver

Tracking Aircraft with a Raspberry Pi

by Steven K. Roberts

One of my obsessions over the years has been collecting data, probing the radio spectrum, sensing outside my normal limited visual and hearing range, and deploying probes to expand my awareness of the environment. This leads to recognition of patterns, better understanding of how things work, and the almost voyeuristic thrill of peeking behind the curtains of technology or human activity.

Most of the machines I’ve built share this as a common thread, with radio receivers, cameras, and sensors all contributing to “situation awareness.” Aboard Datawake, there is a suite of communication tools that include four SDR (software-defined-radio) systems along with a cluster of amateur radio gear and other receivers in the console. This article is about the first of those to be brought online… the ADS-B ground station that collects location data from aircraft and contributes it to FlightAware. Why? Because we can.

ant-box-chart-adsb

This was mostly a packaging project; I didn’t have to invent anything, other than a way to keep the hardware tidy, cool, and reliably connected to my network. Since there is quite a lot of interest in doing exactly this, I thought I’d share the details.

ADS-B Feeder Basics

AIS-Valis-screenshotThis is similar in many ways to AIS, which is of course much more relevant to my nautical needs… in fact, I used to run Marine Traffic Station 401 here on San Juan Island (which moved to a friend’s house when I vacated my old lab building). In the marine environment, that provides extremely useful information about nearby boats, sometimes as an overlay on the chart plotter, seeing around corners (unlike radar) and giving a heads-up about potential collision situations. It is also the basis for a whole mini-industry of live ship tracking, with Marine Traffic just one of many services. This operates on 162 MHz, and is increasingly used by recreational boaters.

In the flying world, there is a similar tool called ADS-B (an acronym for the chewy “Automatic Dependent Surveillance – Broadcast”). This operates on 1090 MHz, and is so far mostly on commercial aircraft. Like AIS, it provides radar-like functionality by having individual planes determine their own position via GPS, then share it by broadcasting packets that can be received by other aircraft or ground stations. I am now one of the latter, in turn feeding that data to FlightAware, which is one of the commercial services that let folks track planes as they make their way between airports.

The most cost-effective way to do this is with a dedicated Raspberry Pi running PiAware copied into a micro-SD card, along with a receiver dongle, 1090 MHz filter, and ADS-B antenna. In my case, there is also a POE splitter to allow the rig to run via power over Ethernet off my Netgear switch, eliminating an additional messy cable and wall wart. Here’s the rig, as a temporary lash-up before packaging:

piaware-unpackaged

Assembling the Station

There are a few issues affecting my packaging choices:

  1. Although the three colorful main components (filter, receiver, and Pi) easily attach together as a rigid assembly, the loads from heavy antenna cable and mounting could be high enough to stress connectors. I chose to connect the filter and receiver directly to minimize insertion losses, but use a USB extension cable from there to the computer.
  2. The exposed Raspberry Pi would be subject to static damage from a casual touch, so it needs a case (and besides, I didn’t have any small hardware on the boat to simply park it on stand-offs).
  3. The POE splitter is on the right, and needs no special attention other than appropriate cable routing for Ethernet in and out, as well as power to the Pi.
  4. I worried a bit about excessive heat gain when first considering sealed packaging up on the bridge deck. Research on this subject was inconclusive, with reports of overtemp errors in hot attics, so I elected to put it into a clean environment below and optimize the layout for convective airflow. Besides, blinkies.

adsb-pi-case-printingThe first job was to package the Pi, and since I have a Lulzbot Mini 3D Printer aboard I went to Thingiverse and found a nice sleeve case. I used Cura to slice the STL file and make a 4.3 MB gcode file, sent that down to the OctoPi attached to the printer, told it to start, and went to bed. In the morning I had this lovely thing (I tossed the little end cap):

piaware-case

This was printed with HIPS (High Impact Polystyrene), which is not my favorite material… but it’s forgiving and works fine for things that don’t have to flex or be terribly precise. The Pi slipped into this with some reluctance, exposing the micro-SD slot, micro-USB for power, HDMI and audio (unused), Ethernet, and the four USB ports.

pi-case-velcroFor the overall substrate, I grabbed a black plastic electronic enclosure I had lying around; this is the kind with bottom surface, top cover attached with four screws into threaded bosses, and front and back panels. The latter were not used, as I wanted maximum convective airflow from vertical mounting on the wall, and in that spirit I mounted the Pi case with the slots upright and unblocked by Velcro. None of this is terribly critical, it turns out; temperature measurement with a Fluke IR thermometer is showing 93º F on the Pi board at the moment with ambient at a comfortable 76° F (this is unscientific; I haven’t figured out how to see reported CPU temperature via FlightAware or the local server).

With this done, it was a simple matter to lay out the hardware in the generous space of my 8×9-inch enclosure. The Pi box is Velcro’d on, and the other items are zip-tied via holes drilled as needed. Because of the different thickness of the filter and the receiver (from center SMA-connector axis to bottom surface), I glued a 1/4″ pad of Neoprene underneath the receiver to minimize connector stress when pulled down by the zip ties. Here’s the whole machine, ready to mount in the boat:

adsb-packaging-complete

Placement of this on the wall was dictated by the antenna cable, which is 7 feet of LMR-400 routed down through the bridgedeck console and through the corner of the pilothouse. It is stiff and needs wide easy curves, and that pretty well defined the orientation and position of the box. I slapped on two industrial strength Velcro strips and it was done, with a nice coax curve into the filter and the Ethernet cable to the splitter. The open ends are at top and bottom, so convective airflow should be enough to keep the Pi happy (and if not, it will be easy to add a fan).

adsb-enclosure-wall

The ADS-B Antenna

There are lots of ways to do this part, and as a true hobbyist I probably should have taken the time to build any of the homebrew designs that can be found online. But for $45 I could be lazy, and just get the project done… I bought one of the 1090 MHz antennas produced by FlightAware on Amazon.

Cable loss is the biggest issue at these frequencies (well, other than antenna placement), so I minimized the length by going with the 7-foot option. This ended up being a tighter constraint than I had planned, and with the stiff LMR-400 cable, sharp bends were not an option. The solution was to mount it on the inside surface of the wall around the upper helm station, using stand-offs and long 1/4″ bolts to let the antenna clear the rail structure:

adsb-antenna-fh

adsb-antenna-baseThe connector is the N-type, and I gave that a little extra protection with some self-fusing silicone Rescue Tape (great stuff to have around). This whole lashup, including the final curve into the unit down in the galley, needed every bit of that 7 feet of cable, but better that than a big loop of lossy excess as so often happens. The mounting left four ugly bolt ends and nuts on the outside of the boat, and that’s annoying enough that I’ll either make a cover or find a way to use it for another purpose. But it did manage to span the edge of the canvas that covers the wrap-around smoked windshield, eliminating the need to do any fabric hacking… and initial results indicate that the location is fine despite an orthogonal aluminum strip on the top edge of that covered acrylic surface.

Performance

Comparing my “feeder” performance to other stations serving ADS-B data to FlightAware, it looks like this is working beautifully… with plenty of hits over 200 miles. It’s fun to click on individual planes, go explore their tracks, and correlate that with what I see in the sky or hear on the local Friday Harbor Unicom or more distant ATC channels.

planes-local-server

You can see my statistics at FlightAware here. Before actually getting this beast off the dock, of course, I’ll have to deal with either auto-updating my own location or simply taking it offline to avoid confusing MLAT and stats-generation. That won’t be an issue for a while yet…

warm-adsb-glowAs I admitted at the beginning, this is all rather irrelevant to the obvious nautical mission of Datawake, but it contributes to the larger mission of more deeply understanding the world around me. It’s fun, too. But all that aside, I hope the construction tips in this article are helpful to others who wish to add ADS-B feeder capability in more conventional settings, packaging the hardware in a way that will keep it running for a long time.

I’ll close with a short video snippet of the Pi case printing on the Lulzbot Mini down in the boat’s machine shop…

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Lotus Blossoms

Every now and then, the pixels align, the light is right, and the subject is perfect. This post has nothing to do with geeky boats, technomadics, blinky gizmology, communication tools, or even Isabelle the cat… it’s just a photo I took at a friend’s garden pond in Friday Harbor on June 18. It’s worth viewing at full size (click the image).

Double Lotus in Friday Harbor
©2016 by Steven K. Roberts

Double Lotus - Steven K Roberts

This was done with the Samsung S6 at maximum resolution, with a minor crop and addition of the credit. Makes me want to buy this…

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