In these early months of the project, updates to the team were frequent. Until they settle down and become more polished in early 1994, we are presenting theme here in month-long batches.

Microship Status – 11/1/93

! — R.s.v.p. — !

IF you are here at UCSD, please send me a quick note right away telling me whether or not you will be at the first general meeting of Microship volunteers, here at the lab this coming Saturday, Nov 6, from 12 noon until 2 or so. This is primarily oriented to students, but interested faculty or local industry sponsors are invited as well. We need to know right away how many will be here so we can plan refreshments, chairs, etc.

(Thanks to Andrea Woo for picking up the name tags… we’ll now be able to identify each other. Also, Sok Sun Chang helped with lab cleanup — enough that we can have a meeting here and actually be able to see each other over the clutter on the benches…)

I should make a few comments on what we’ll be doing here at this par^H^H^Hmeeting. While the agenda is open to discussion, some of the specific objectives include getting to know each other, talking about workspace and logistics, and establishing some initial project groups. Hopefully, we will have a couple of faculty representatives on hand to make a few comments about the options available to those of you who are interested in using this project for course credit. And I’ll be talking through a couple of specific projects in enough detail to express the kinds of work involved: a few of you have expressed some curiosity about just how such things proceed. As you have seen from these reports, a lot of time goes into phone calls, pondering, discarding approaches that seemed perfect only a day earlier, iteratively closing in on good solutions, and — oh yes — sometimes actually BUILDING something.

In other news, I have a couple of sponsor updates. First, Univenture (Dublin, OH) has agreed to send us all the CD packaging sleeves we’ll ever need — they have a new model of archival quality. Let me know if you want to see these sometime — they allow much higher density CD stowage than do traditional jewel boxes. About 7 times the number of disks can occupy the space required by the original method… a critical consideration on a boat!

Also, I’m very pleased to report an offer of support from Microchip Technology (Chandler, AZ). They donated some microprocessors and a PIC programmer to the BEHEMOTH project, and now pledge whatever support we need to do all the low-level controllers and their communication network, including development systems and emulators. I’ll keep you posted as this develops… these PIC chips are extremely low power, fast, and flexible. They come with lots of on-chip I/O (including A/D on the new models), simple multidrop network hooks, and internal EEPROM.


Multihulls Magazine, July/August 93 (they’re a little slow). Always a good browse for multihull-specific info, a bit downscale and funky, but to the point and enthusiastic. A nice counterpoint to glossy yachting magazines.

QST, Nov 93. This is the ARRL ham radio magazine, and is a good resource of ads and technical articles. This particular issue has a full-line catalog from MFJ, one of our sponsors. I’ll be contacting him soon with a wish list… including a multi-band vertical antenna

Microship Status – 11/3/93

Development is occurring on many fronts! With our first general meeting looming Saturday, I’ve been trying to nail down some of the issues associated with student projects, and am pleased to report that one has been launched!

Audio Crosspoint System

Isaac Chu is now in charge of audio crosspoint development — he’s been given the official stamp of approval by faculty (CREDIT), and is preparing to start on this system as soon as I pass along some real specs. He’ll be needing an ECE undergrad assistant on this, so if the following sounds interesting to you please contact Isaac directly <redacted> and cc: me.

(NOTE: In general, since we’re welcoming a very wide range of levels to this project, I want to try to distribute our most advanced students carefully, teaming less-experienced people with each principal engineer. These teams will congeal and dissolve on a project-by-project basis, and can also be quite flexible to accommodate personalities, interests, and skill levels… so don’t worry about long-term commitments. If something sounds intriguing, dive in!)

Anyway, as I mentioned in the Microship Project Catalog, the audio crosspoint system allows any audio device to talk to any other. Fortunately, this is a direct descendant of a similar system we developed for BEHEMOTH, so the analog circuitry and board fabrication of the crosspoint itself are already finished — we just need the control processor and associated interfaces to the MCS network and the analog board itself. This is the subsystem that will let high-level software create virtual circuits between, for example, the speech synthesizer and VHF marine radio… or the Mac audio port and a speaker driver… or the console microphone and the cellular phone… or MIDI synthesizer and headphones… or anything ELSE you care to imagine.

As with all other embedded control systems, I expect that this will be implemented in a Microchip PIC attached to the multidrop network. Having this one underway soon will give us the motivation necessary to start defining message protocol between the host system (Ampro diskless 386) and residents of the network. Tomorrow I’ll call Ampro and see about getting our development system on order — that part of the project will always be resident here in the lab so that people working on subsystems can wander by and plug into the net anytime for testing.

Isaac asked me to send a general text description of the process, so in the spirit of keeping everyone updated on all aspects of the system, I’m sending the general spec to all of you:

Basically, this processor (we’ll call it AXBAR, meaning Audio Crossbar), is devoted to the pair of Mitel 8816 chips that route any of 16 inputs to any of 16 outputs. The architecture of this is such that up to 8 such connections can take place simultaneously, and if 16×16 isn’t enough, we can just hang another board on the audio bus to double the I/O capacity. >From the standpoint of planning internal data structures and assigning I/O pins, then, it is very important to consider expandability (besides, this has product potential and needs to be flexible).

When the host computer decides, in its infinite wisdom, that a connecton should be made, it will send a text message via the network that may look something like “AXBAR: SPEECH SPKR-LEFT CONNECT” to patch the speech synthesizer to the amplifier driving one of the external speakers (perhaps in anticipation of a status or alert message to the pilot). This FORTH-like postfix notation is what we used on BEHEMOTH, mostly because the board that handled it spoke FORTH and was programmed by FORTH guru Mike Perry. Whether we use similar notation here is open to discussion, but the intent is the same: the AXBAR processor recognizes its address, inhales the command string, and parses it.

The first step is for it to consult its internal map of the matrix status and find a free audio channel. It then does a lookup to correlate human-readable text strings with their corresponding device addresses, constructs the two commands to the 8816 chips required to turn on the FETs at the appropriate points in the crosspoint matrix, and handles the parallel write operation to make it so. It then sends an acknowledgement to the host informing it of task completion — or an error message if there were no free channels, a device address was not found, or whatever.

Once that is done, it is just as if someone wandered by with a patch cable and physically plugged the speech board into one side of the stereo amp. Things remain that way forever, or until the host issues either a disconnect command or a reset to clear all connections. It could also request a snapshot of the matrix status to update its own records or display a map on the console, check the number of free bus lines, or issue any other status/maintenance request.

In general, that’s the kind of verbal overview spec we’ll use to start the process of designing each of the control systems. From a system management perspective, the verbal statement of a subsystem includes the controller, the attached hardware, the software, the package, and anything that’s connected to it. Block diagrams, schematics, flow diagrams, and other detailed specs flow out of this initial text description.

I want to start this development project with some of the better-defined and more easily tested subsystems. I’ve found from previous experience that it is incredibly motivating to be able to turn things on and make them play early in a project — the night we first got BEHEMOTH’s power distribution done and had the lights working was a night of celebration. Considering that the MCS (Microship Control System) is the core of this entire machine, we need to get that running as soon as possible and have it actually DO something besides sit there displaying a DOS prompt. The audio crosspoint may be our first working component, since the difficult analog design is already done (thanks in part to Sony’s Steve Sergeant, who did all the op amp circuitry and performance anlaysis for BEHEMOTH).

At the meeting Saturday, I’ll show you some of the hardware involved, and we can talk through some of the other subsystems. And I hope that someone out there will team up with Isaac Chu to begin work on this project…

Aqua-mouse Update

OK, maybe that’s not it’s official name, but I’m tired of writing “waterproof pointing device” all the time. I’ve mentioned this before — Interlink donated the DuraPoint (the extra-sensitive one arrived yesterday), and Frank Araullo is actively researching the options of extracting analog data and creating a custom ADB interface, or nabbing the DOS-oriented serial data stream and automagically converting it. We just got a hint that an ADB wizard in Silicon Valley may have already done this, so I’ve fired off a piece of email to find out.

Frank is also studying the XYZ force-sensing resistor array to see what it would take to generate a “displacement pointer,” but at least we have something that will work immediately — and may even turn out to be the correct solution. Naturally, I’ll keep you posted.

Notes On Brainstorm With Dave Wright

My friend Dave Wright is in town this week, preparing to hop aboard a 57-foot ketch and sail to the South Pacific as crew. We hunkered down on the lawn yesterday and chatted about a few things…

First, road-mode. Instead of four flip-down landing gear that retract into stowage cowlings, we will have two detachable struts that stow below deck. When needed, these will plug into the ends of a torsion-bar suspension system mounted athwarships, integrated with the aft bulkhead. The hull stresses should be handled by a deep longitudinal web in the bilge, carried all the way forward to the fixture that receives the hitch assembly. The wheels should be motorcycle wheels, and careful design will be required to predict the stresses encountered on the road and make sure the point loads don’t rip the ship apart. I’m still seeking a sharp mechanical engineer who wants to look into this, working with our marine architects and the FEA group to integrate the custom-machined suspension assembly into the hull. This will be a FIRST in boat design (as far as I can determine), is eminently publishable, and possibly even marketable. A way to build a trailerable boat that doesn’t need a trailer and chase vehicle… freedom to wander!

The radar antenna and many of the whips, the aft video camera, the radar reflector, and various other bits of wind-catching weight aloft will be mounted on an arch structure at the stern. Antenna interactions will have to be planned for, of course, so some will be up near the bow. RF ground will be extensive copper mesh, glassed into the hull below waterline and connected via copper strap carried up to the gunwhale (to avoid corrosion). This then becomes the center of a star grounding system, with a tab connecting to each piece of RF communications gear.

We discussed making the rackmount hardware in the engineering segment as modular as possible, and postulated longitudinal rails with threaded inserts every couple of inches to which vertical members can be attached. This would allow packaging variations within those two 18 cubic foot bays, opening up the space and permitting more flexible gear stowage. Cabling can be constrained to a cable trough under each gunwhale, with distribution channels to each module.

Finally, we talked of various deck fixtures: vents, Dorn stuffing tubes for cable feed-throughs, a clear acrylic dome hatch, and so on. This thing is slowly taking shape in my head….


Practical Sailor, Nov 1 issue, dealing with electrical distribution panels, problems with teak decks, and air conditioning.

Two thick office supply catalogs from the UCSD Storehouse.

Microship Status – 11/8/93

Big issue this time — much is happening! This report contains important information for all Microship project participants…


  • Party Report
  • Upcoming Speaking Gig:
  • Microship Internal Frame: A Hot New Project
  • Ready About!
  • Weather Satellite Graphics
  • Help! (but… How?)
  • Literature Received

Party Report

First, I want to thank the 25-30 of you who showed up here Saturday at noon and helped make our first general meeting a success. A lot of new friendships were formed, and both Robb Walker (Nelson/Marek) and Dave Wright (a visiting consultant friend) were there to help add industry perspective. We spent a couple of hours in mostly-loose general conversation, though I said a few words and introduced our project managers. For your records, they are (email addresses redacted):

  • Electrical Engineering: Dan Perry
  • Mechanical Engineering: TJ Tyler
  • Computer Science: Jim Effros

These relationships are of course still quite new and may change or evolve as we get to know each other, and there’s nothing absolute about there being only three of them, but it’s a start. If you are a student involved in the project, please work with them as much as possible — keeping them advised of status, interests, timing, availability, problems, team formation, and so on. It’s rapidly becoming clear that I can’t keep all the information under control myself! That’s why I need the managers… they are information concentrators and coordinators more than intermediate bosses in a hierarchy.

UCSD Microship party Nov 1993 from Steven K Roberts on Vimeo.

Anyway, the party was a great ice-breaker — Trang Luong made a junk-food run that added a bit of festivity to what might have otherwise felt too much like a “meeting.” A group took the Linear Recumbent out for some trial runs, and I heard a number of earnest discussions about Microship matters various. Most important, I received many expressions of interest about a wide range of subsystems, leading me to believe that we’ll start seeing some results in the very near future!

Upcoming Speaking Gig:

If you haven’t seen the BEHEMOTH dog and pony show, you’re invited to my talk (hosted by IEEE) in room 5101 of the engineering building this Wednesday evening at 6:30. It will be the usual bike show ‘n tell, spiced with whatever anecdotes and philosophical commentary occurs to me at the time, capped with a general description of the Microship project.

Microship Internal Frame: A Hot New Project

One particularly noteworthy discussion that took place Saturday has altered the course of our overall ship design. The problem centered around the significant point-loading stresses that we would be imposing on composite structures — specifically the masts, crossbeams, trailer hitch, and wheels. Dave Wright and I had discussed torsion-arm suspension and suitable web structure, but there’s a problem with doing this all in what is essentially a monocoque hull: achieving theoretically possible performance characteristics in composite materials. The spec sheets tell what the material will do… ASSUMING an expert layup job. Coupled with the well-known dangers of point-loading such material, the four major stress areas have been of great concern.

In short, we’re now planning on making a big trailer (possibly with TIG-welded titanium — “are you going to recycle a Russian sub?” someone asked), then wrap a boat around it. NOW is the time for us to start on this critical-path project! I received the following letter from Robb today:

  1. Trailer preliminary design: We need to define the basis parameters of the trailer mechanism ASAP, and then iterate on it as we progress with the design as a whole. At this point design/engineering efforts should concentrate on the connections (sockets?) which will hold the detachable wheels to the internal frame. The frame itself will be designed after the hull geometry is defined further. Of course, the trailer specs will depend on final weights, but for preliminary design purposes we can start with the following estimates: >Total Weight: 3000 lbs >LCG: 17.0 feet aft of bow >The designer will located the wheels (longitudinally) in order to achieve the correct hitch weight.
  2. Suspension concept: We need a smart mechanical design to define a conceptual design for the suspension system ASAP.
  3. Crossbeam (aka) concept: same as above.
  4. Kayak/crossbeam attachments: This mechanism is very important and must carry high load yet still be easily detachable without excess weight or complexity, either on the beams themselves or (more importantly) on the kayak. I do not yet have a concept in mind and this will be a good project for a smart mechanical engineer.

These are critical items which will drive many other aspects of the design (naval architecturally) and must be defined before we can progress on other fronts. I plan to work with TJ and his design team to refine concepts and integrate them into the overall design, however they will require intensive detailed engineering and analysis efforts and will be major projects in themselves. We will need the best people we can find for these projects, so I recommend that we try to identify the appropriate individuals as soon as possible.

Does this push your buttons? If you’re a hot ME major and you want to get going NOW on a critical-path item that will help define the entire boat, please immediately contact TJ and me and we’ll meet with Robb to get started. This will involve materials selection, structural engineering, finite-element analysis, and lots of CAD — and will carry over directly into jigging, fabrication, welding, and working closely with the yacht designers.

Ready About!

Robb loaned me a book by an iconoclast of the sailing world, Garry Hoyt. Without going into too much detail, the essence of the book is that sailing has been hobbled for decades by stubborn adherence to antiquated methods, restrictive sailing rules affecting all levels of yacht design, and a sort of clique mentality that keeps it an exclusive and forbidding, mostly-male subculture. (Some of this sounds very familiar — the multihull is to sailing as the recumbent is to cycling.)

Hoyt’s book is a refreshing look at alternative ways of thinking about moving a craft over the water using wind power. If you are interested in the boat-design aspects of this project, you should drop by the lab sometime before I return this book to Robb and spend an hour browsing it.

(Incidentally, this reminds me: I attach notices of literature received to these postings for your benefit… please don’t hesitate to take advantage of the substantial body of knowledge in the various books, magazines, and brochures cited here. As long as I’m around, you’re always welcome to grab a piece of literature and relax in the lab to enjoy a learning curve.)

Weather Satellite Graphics

In the new toy department, I networked the PowerBook 170 and the Mac IIfx last night and began piping current satellite weather images off the Net to the JPEGview program (thanks to John Studarus for this, and for TurboGopher!). It’s really quite astonishing, and is a capability we should make every attempt to duplicate on the Microship: there’s nothing like an almost-live detailed photo of the earth to help make sense out of weather patterns. Maybe some enterprising graphics software designer on our team (hint, hint) can find a way to grab this data (typically 200K per image) and present it in a live context that overlays the boat’s present course data, with optional chart graphics as well including live links to the databases. Talk about a hot potential product for the marine marketplace…..

Help! (but… How?)

Something is quickly becoming apparent here: a lot of student volunteers are ready to start thinking seriously about projects… and are asking me what to do next. I’m having a meeting with the triumvirate this Thursday evening in which we’ll try to start matching people with systems, but it’s not easy. One thing I am doing to help with this is subdivide some of the microcontrollers further to provide more entry-level controls/data-collection projects, but that still doesn’t address the need of those who want to get started on something right NOW. I therefore offer the following list of tasks that are ready to go. EVERYTHING here is an important step along the way to some subsystem, so even if you’re not already focused on a major project, grabbing one of these and taking care of it will help move us along while giving you experience and exposure. Some may be unglamorous or relatively trivial; some require various kinds of experience… but ALL are necessary and well-defined.

  1. Pick up or order coaxial cable from West Marine.
  2. Research relevant state and federal laws to determine whether the 8.5-foot width limit for trailers is legal in all states, or if we should limit this to 8 feet. This is critical… I need the info ASAP since it affects frame design.
  3. Spend 2-3 hours with me weighing things, looking products up in catalogs, or calling vendors to help complete the “gravity impact statement” that is a necessary input to Robb’s preliminary buoyancy calculations.
  4. Do the P-V calculations (James?) to determine pump and filter requirements for the equipment bays, and begin spec’ing components, check valves, sensors, and so on.
  5. Interface the modem-disconnect ports of a couple of TNCs to Motorola RNET radio modems, execute KA9Q TCP/IP code somewhere, put up an antenna (an engineering building without antennas on the roof is EMBARRASSING), and present a wireless Internet reachable link that can be connected to our MCS system when it goes online. Given the scarcity and cost of this hardware, I’d like to either have someone with hardware experience do this, or participate somewhat myself.
  6. Research multidrop protocols suitable for very small processors. Initial hints suggest that the I-squared-C in the PIC can only handle about 400 pF of bus capacitance. I’d like to find some appnotes on that protocol as used in industrial environments — do people hang on bus drivers, or am I missing something here?
  7. Find a copy of the full NMEA-0183 specification document.
  8. Build and test lightweight solar still from plans in the Neumeyer book.
  9. Research all legal lighting requirements for water and road modes.
  10. Interface a Quantum 105MB hard disk drive to the Mac IIfx (need cable from SCSI IDC header to Mac, as well as power and a basic enclosure). This is the system that hosts AutoCAD, GeoQuery, and the JPEG viewer, and there’s about 800K free…


Microchip Technology databooks, including a preliminary on their new PIC16C64 CPU. If you’re going to be working on any of the microcontrollers, you need to start looking at this stuff (I have an older databook I can loan for a couple of days at a time, or you can hang here and read the new ones.)

The Hidden Coast by Joel Rogers — beautiful wish-book about West Coast kayaking, with many photos covering Alaska to Baja.

Microship Status 11/10/93

In this issue:

  • Audio Network Thoughts
  • Trailer Width Information
  • Bay Pressurization System
  • Updates Various

Audio Network Thoughts

Sometimes it helps to concretize a design with a few specifics. Since one of the early microcontroller projects here is the audio crossbar (AXBAR) system that Isaac Chu will be taking on, I thought I’d add further substance by listing some of the devices we expect to see on the network. Making this list has just demonstrated that we need to go ahead and package TWO of the crosspoint boards, which each handle 32 audio channels, half in and half out, with up to 8 simultaneous links active. (Bear in mind that any input can connect to any one or more outputs, but mixing introduces op amp output noise.)


  • Speech synthesizer
  • Cellular speaker
  • Mac audio (stereo)
  • TNC audio
  • VHF speaker (marine)
  • VHF/UHF speaker (ham)
  • HF speaker (marine/ham)
  • Radar audio alarm PC audio
  • MCS audio
  • Hydrophones (stereo)
  • DTMF transceiver
  • MIDI synthesizer (stereo)
  • Console microphone
  • Cassette recorder output (stereo)
  • Video recorder output (stereo) (video switched separately)
  • CD/stereo system (stereo)
  • Audio filter/processor system
  • Manpack wireless intercom
  • Cockpit-crew intercom
  • Audio link to tow vehicle


  • Speech recognition system
  • Cellular microphone input
  • TNC audio
  • Main speaker drivers (stereo)
  • Headset drivers (stereo)
  • DTMF transceiver
  • VHF mic (marine)
  • VHF/UHF mic (ham)
  • HF mic (marine/ham)
  • Cassette recorder input (stereo)
  • Video recorder input (stereo)
  • Audio filter/processor system
  • Manpack wireless intercom
  • Cockpit-crew intercom
  • Audio link to tow vehicle

Trailer Width Information

Frank Araullo responded to yesterday’s help-list with some library research, finding relevant information in the Code of Federal Regulations. It’s not clear to me exactly which roads this applies to, but on that subject Frank writes, “The National Network is a set of freeways that the Fed designated as vital in case of emergency or military need. Now I would figure that most states would make the 8 1/2 foot rule common to all “real roads”; it might be difference for fire trails and such, but I’m not sure if we have to worry about such things. I’m going to check with local DMV on how wide a trailer can be on California roads; checking on other states would require a trip to the County Legal Library downtown.”

Here’s the relevant bit of legalese:

658.15 Width. (a) No state shall impose a width limitation of more or less than 102 inches, or its approximate metric equivalent, 2.6 meters, on a vehicle operating on the National Network, except for the State of Hawaii, which is allowed to keep the State’s 108-inch width maximum… (c) Safety devices… shall not be included in the calculation of width. Safety devices not specifically enumerated… may not extend beyond 3 inches on each side of a vehicle. No device included in this subsection shall have, by its design or use, the capability to carry cargo.

Heck. I was planning to keep spare ICs inside the lenses of my marker lights…

(Uh-oh, a new design constraint just surfaced. Says here that “in no case shall the total gross weight of a vehicle exceed 80,000 pounds.”)

This probably means that we can make this as wide as 8.5 feet in road mode if we need to, though whether we WANT to is another question. Thanks, Frank!


Frank Sharp, at Kitt Peak in Arizona, also responded to yesterday’s list of help requests. He’s sending a copy of the NMEA spec (that’s National Marine Electrical Association for those of you who are wondering, and it describes the serial interface protocol common to most marine electronic and navigation devices like compass, GPS, depth sensor, etc.). He also writes,

We have been using the network wx maps here with qualified success. It seems when a large number of people start accessing a given data base the overload causes the sysop to shut down access……. We’re on our 5th source. For me the Coast Guard or direct access to the bird seems more reliable…..

Bay Pressurization System

James Gerken is working on this, and writes:

Do we have any idea of what the approximate volume of the electronics bay is going to be? Do we have any idea of what the desired pressure range is going to be? Do we have any idea on the expected temperature fluctuations? Once I know some of these numbers, I can start figuring out what sort of air supply we’re talking about.

I’ll take a few guesses. On the total volume, we’re really looking at a number of enclosures — about a cubic foot for each console, and maybe about a third of the 36 cubic feet available in the engineering section (the rest is for storage). We should also assume that we’ll pressurize the video dome, and probably a couple of other things we haven’t thought about yet. So let’s use 20 cubic feet as a capacity guesstimate.

As to the pressure range, Dave Berkstresser pointed out that high pressures would vastly add to the weight of packaging — a 1 square foot panel covering an enclosure that’s a scant 30 PSI above ambient has to withstand something like 2 tons of force. So the range we really want is maybe 2 PSI above ambient, actively maintained to prevent thermal fluctuations from causing problems (this requires the ability to vent, too, I just realized — the separate enclosures will each be on the downstream side of a check valve so one catastrophic failure won’t expose everything else to contamination).

Finally, temperature fluctuations will cover the full range of ambient temps in which I may be traveling, a bit higher on the console where there will be some greenhouse effects when the sun is astern. Figure somewhere below freezing to just over 100 degrees Fahrenheit…

James continues:

I came across a product in Flinn >Scientific’s catalog, Drierite, that is based on anhydrous calcium sulphate, with an added indicator compound so that it goes from blue to pink when wet. It is reusable after baking, and can dry gases down to a -100F dewpoint, which should be enough for this sort of thing.

Excellent. Is it available in easily handled cartridge form, with some kind of quick release so I can recharge it painlessly with the camp stove?

James also has a friend with commercial fishing experience who is sending some comments on saltwater exposure issues… watch this space for further updates in this critical area!

Updates Various

First, I am very pleased to report that Yendo Hu has offered to assist: “I would be glad to offer help as an advisor to microcontroller and hardware electronic development (at the firmware and transistor,ic,resistor level) for those students working on projects needing the support.” This is great news, since he’s had quite a bit of hands-on microprocessor experience and is locally infamous for his balancing machine.

ECE team members working on controllers should get acquainted with him.

In the sponsor-relations department, there was some progress today. I spoke with Current Designs and requested minimal decking, high-volume style, to give us hooks upon which to hang our own structure. They’ll do it without cockpits or bulkheads, since we’ll have to design those, but it will solve the problem of molding a deck to fit the precise hull seam. They will contact Nelson/Marek to confirm details, and then proceed with the layup.

I spoke with our new GPS contact at Motorola, and requested the CORE GPS module — that’s the integrated unit that will live on the bus as opposed to the handheld Traxar that goes in the pack. I also sent them an article from PEN magazine that speaks of my use of their product.

A follow-up call to the east-coast US dealer for the Furuno radar yielded the fact that the Model 1621 does NOT export video, which is too bad. We’ll live with it. The proposal for sponsorship is still under consideration.

Finally, does someone who has done installation, wiring, and other hands-on electronics work want to spend a bit of time helping me install the security system in my lab? The rash of recent thefts on campus is making me nervous… not to mention all this publicity about the $1.2 million bicycle! That’s such a bogus number… it’s an estimate of what it would cost to build if I had to pay everyone including myself. Out of pocket cost? A tiny fraction of that. Current market value? Minimal, since it’s valuable only to me. Ransom value? Forget it; I’m into boats these days. Think I’ll avoid quoting dollar values on the Microship when the media starts showing up… it’s too glib a handle and distracts the viewer from the real issues.

Cheers from the lab!

Microship Status 11/12/93

In This Issue:

  • Triumvirate Meeting Report
  • Final Comment On Road Width Limit
  • Thoughts On Micro Network Hardware
  • Tadpoles At Sea
  • Lab Security System
  • Cdt Status Report
  • Triumvirate Meeting Report

I inhaled pizza and beer last night with the division managers and John Studarus, and we actually managed to stay moderately focused on the subject at hand despite tidal forces to the contrary. In short, we concluded that the triumvirate should be in the loop on all my communication with involved students, and they need to get to know everyone well enough to help match people to tasks. This requires significant commitment, since they will have to learn just about everything about the Microship as it evolves rather than narrow their foci to single subsystems. If you’re involved in the Microship in any way, please communicate with them as much as possible about your interests, special knowledge or resources, progress on your projects, problems, and anything else. At the moment, I’m able to be involved with all active projects… but then… there are very few underway and they are in the early stages.

The important thing here is that I not get so busy being a manager that I no longer have time for engineering, sponsor relationships, and writing.

Again, just for your reference, they are:

  • Electrical Engineering: Dan Perry
  • Mechanical Engineering: TJ Tyler
  • Computer Science: Jim Effros

Final Comment On Road Width Limit

I think we’ve pretty well nailed this issue: we will limit the boat in road mode to 8-foot overall width. The legalese in MS-11/10 notwithstanding, there are a lot of roads out there other than Interstates… here’s Frank Araullo’s follow-up message:

I called DMV this afternoon, and they said that max width is restricted to 96 inches on all California roads.

Besides, we have to think about other countries, and 8′ is enough of a vehicular standard for vehicles sold worldwide that it is probably safe. Case closed.

Thoughts On Micro Network Hardware

As I mentioned in the last report, the I-squared-C interface on the PIC processors is limited to a trifling 400pF bus capacitance, which is not very interesting for inter-system use. I spoke with Charlie Faddis near Seattle last night, and he outlined the multidrop architecture he has been using for years with 8051 and DS5000 processors. It’s nice… a single line, pulled low through 470 ohms by the TxD line of the host, routed around to the satellite processors accompanied by ground. At each site, a pair of transistors handle inversion, and anybody can pull the line up to initiate a transfer (once the right to speak has been bestowed by the master). It’s a master-slave set up, with the master role passed around as a token. Each board has a letter designator, and each message begins with a couple of synch characters (==) followed by originator address, target address, printable string, and a carriage return. This is simple, and allows easy human access to the net. (In our case, the high-level protocol will have to be broadened to allow asynchronous requests and peer-to-peer chitchat, which of course introduces the need for collision-detection… though we could use polling to solve that problem.)

Charlie is sending more info on the hardware layer, which is simple enough that we may adopt it for the MCS network. I’ll keep you posted. In the meantime, I’m studying PIC specs and still pondering the advisability of using this as the standard controller platform.

Tadpoles At Sea

John Studarus from Computer Science is now working on the Microship’s file server, which will be a Tadpole SPARCbook, repackaged and stowed in the engineering section. This unix machine may also be the boat’s link to the Internet, though we do have some stable software already that allows the Mac to run POP sessions via the Qualcomm OmniTRACS terminal. Having a variety of paths available is desirable, but complicates everything!

Anyway, if this architecture shapes up, it will add robustness to the high-level on-board network and provide plenty of server space — as well as a brand of hackability familiar to the huge population of unix-C gurus out there on the Net. I’ll periodically update you with developments in this area, or comments directly from John that might better justify the need for yet another computer on board!

Lab Security System

I suppose it’s unwise to publish details about one’s security system, but I do want to thank Jeremy Heath for spending a couple of hours here today wiring this. We now have very touchy sensors all over the place, with violent and dangerous responses to unauthorized intrusion. I’ll sleep better on those nights when I actually leave here…

CDT Status Report

I’m going to try to keep a log of the “Clearly Defined Tasks” that fall outside the purview of focused projects — those random items that I periodically post here in the hope of finding volunteers. In general, this approach is working, but during the management soiree last night we did observe that it may be more effective in some cases to redefine “volunteer” as a transitive verb, if ya know what I mean…

Still, I like it best when someone responds spontaneously to a help request — if you want to get to know other participants better, collect a bit of glory, and bask in the satisfaction of having nudged this mega-project along, please contact me about ANY item that you feel equipped to handle. Below, for reference, are the 26 CDTs I have listed in these reports, with the status of each noted. In future issues, I will ONLY list new ones, those that are still open, or those that have been recently completed. (Note that this only includes tasks I’m opening up to the group, not my own epic TO-DO list. You don’t want to see that, believe me…)

CDT-1: Seaweed Canyon Cleanup. Completed 10/23 by Mark Jones, James, and Steve
CDT-2: Status report archive printing (ongoing) Being handled monthly by Frank Araullo
CDT-3: Extract GPS fixes from Traxar Completed 10/28 by Anthony Wei
CDT-4: CD library organization Completed by James Gerken, Sok Sun, and Steve
CDT-5: Literature filing (ongoing) Some help from Andrea Woo, more required
CDT-6: Acquire scale Completed 11/9 by Dave Wright
CDT-7: Dura-Point test on DOS machine Completed 10/28 by Frank Araullo
CDT-8: Pack and ship MV packages
CDT-9: Pack and ship Tadpole SPARCbook cancelled
CDT-10: Lab cleanup before general meeting Completed
CDT-11: Install lab security system Completed 11/12 by Jeremy and Steve
CDT-12: Set up Linear Recumbent Completed 10/28 by Dave Yao and Frank Araullo
CDT-13: Coaxial cable order from West Marine
CDT-14: Strobe light acquisition
CDT-15: Buy name tags for general meeting Completed by Andrea Woo
CDT-16: pick up folding table for meeting Completed 11/5 by Trang Luong
CDT-17: pick up food for meeting Completed 11/6 by Trang Luong
CDT-18: Trailer width legal limit research Completed 11/10 by Frank Araullo
CDT-19: Tufram and Everslide info Source provided by Dave Berkstresser
CDT-20: Pneumatic system calculations In progress by James Gerken
CDT-21: Bring FTP site up to date done 11/11 by Steve; updates required
CDT-22: Complete table of weights for buoyancy calculations In progress
CDT-23: Acquire NMEA-0183 document Enroute from Frank Sharp
CDT-24: Build and test solar still for backup desalinator
CDT-25: Research legal lighting requirements

Microship Status 11/17/93



by James Gerken

I’ve finished plugging in the numbers, and I have an idea on the size of the pressure reservoir needed. Given that the requirements are: 2 psig (the g stands for gague as opposed to absolute pressure… to convert from gauge to absolute, add 1 atm or 14.7 psi.), 20 cubic feet pressurized space, and 35-100 degree Fahrenheit temperature fluctuations:

By converting into SI units: 1.136 atm, 566 liters, 274.82-310.93 Kelvins.

Using the ideal gas law, Pressure * Volume = Number of moles * Temperature

  • a constant R, I arrived at the conclusion that with the given temperature change, the change in amount of gas in the system would be 3.3 moles. I then calculated the volume needed to store that amount of gas with a safety factor of 1 at various pressures.

I also came up with my general conception of how I would rig up a system for this and it looks something like this:

[impossible monospaced ASCII art redacted]

(Editor’s note: check valves allow one-way air passage only — they’re “air diodes.” It would be nice if regulators include this functionality, but I don’t know if they do. The pressure relief valves allow venting from overtemp conditions. –SKR)


Note that the above was contributed by one of the project participants. I want to start doing more and more of this — I’m busy enough without writing a chapter a day in the Microship Project History book. If you’re involved in this, please occasionally update me with a short summary of your work. I’ll edit as necessary and post to the whole group under your byline (and it will become part of the Microship archives).


Jerry Wong is gathering product literature from autopilot vendors: Raytheon, Robertson, Navico, Autohelm, Cetrek, Alpha, and Benmar.

I’m negotiating a half-hour TV feature about the bike, and another about the Microship, with the French TF-1 network. Brigitte Chwala, in the ECE Undergrad office, is helping with this — she speaks fluent French. If the deal goes, anyone working on the project will have a shot at on-camera time and 15 minutes of fame in France.

Apple’s Mike Clark sent the special SCSI terminator for the Mac IIFX, and Frank Araullo is working on finding a case for the add-on Quantum drive.

Mark Reynolds of Sobstad Sails visited the lab yesterday to see BEHEMOTH and discuss the design of the rig. He’ll be in contact with Robb Walker over the next few days to get up to date on the overall marine architecture of the sytem.

The San Diego Boat & Sportfishing Show is happening Nov 18-21 at the convention center: Noon-9 on Thurs and Fri, 10-9 on Sat, 11-6 on Sun. If you are interested in boats and want to meet some vendors, this may be worthwhile.

Today I did a test posting to the vast and weighty nomadness alias (nearly 2,000 names). About 10% of them bounced, which was a sufficiently overwhelming experience to keep me dancing with the listserv all evening.


The NMEA 0183 “Standard for Interfacing Marine Electronic Navigational Devices” is now on hand, thanks to Frank Sharp. It includes addenda on autopilot interface standards.

Microship Status 11/22/93
by Steven K. Roberts

In This Issue:

  • Replacing Wires With Computers
  • Andrea And The Sound Board
  • Updates And Quests Various
  • San Diego Boat Show
  • Literature Received

Replacing Wires With Computers

Actually, this used to be a sort of joke in the Early Days: when I started noticing that computers were getting cheaper and smaller, the thought of them becoming cheaper than wire was amusing. Little did I realize that it would come true.

I thought it might be good to philosophize for a moment — the evolving Microship network architecture reflects a number of somewhat radical techniques. When reliability, power, and weight are critical issues, things change somewhat…

Let me introduce a key concept. Computers really can be cheaper than wire: high-quality waterproof connectors are expensive and heavy, and cabling can be a major pain. When any number of 7.5 square-inch computers (drawing 10mA each and costing $55) can be dangled from a single bus, and when each of those can sense and control just about anything, it suddenly becomes very desirable to use them for even the most trivial tasks. We can run a single communication network around the boat, along with power and ground, and then shout into it: “hey, satellite station… turn yourself on!” and expect it to do just that.

If you want to see the other extreme, wander by the Microship lab sometime and I’ll show you the control console from the Winnebiko II. Lots of switches, modes to rembember, kluges and hacks. It’s dramatic and impressive, but way too complex and inflexible.

So as we launch into this group development project, you’re going to see some very strange computer applications. In the simplest case, we’ll have little New Micros 68HC11 FORTH boards that aren’t even running any programs. Since the multidrop protocol connects us as needed to the console port of any node, a machine that’s just sitting there in its interpreter loop can be instructed to read a port, perform a calculation, and report the results — or toggle a bit and turn on some external device. Even in the more complex cases, all code can be downloaded from the host, making repair trivial and software changes even more so. This sort of approach is not unique to the Microship, by the way — automakers are discussing fiber networks linking all peripherals, and the luxury yacht Marishiten, just launched by Nelson/Marek, uses a similar technique to minimize the traditional miles of cable and massive bays of circuit breakers. A touchscreen runs the whole ship.

I spoke with the president of New Micros this afternoon and he confirmed the company’s support — I’m now preparing an initial product wish-list. We will modify the design a bit further and introduce an intermediate processor to serve as the hub, with the 386 MCS layered on top for development, net connections, good graphics, and interpretation of the raw data present at the lower levels.

Andrea And The Sound Board

Saturday evening, after attending a koto recital on campus, I returned to the lab with Andrea Woo and presented her with the task of building a voice message board. This was a kit donated by my friend Bill Brown, WB8ELK, former editor of 73 Magazine. The PC board is based on the ISD1016 chip, a rather amazing device that is essentially a one-chip tape recorder. Using technology similar to that of an EEPROM, the device stores up to 16 seconds of speech as analog samples, recording or playing back from any of 160 starting points. The neat thing is that it’s completely non-volatile — you can record a message, put the chip on a shelf without power for years, and find your words intact when you plug it back in.

Bill has used them as automatic call generators for ham radio contesting, foxhunt transmitters, and most intriguing, a voice ID beacon aboard a balloon that flew to over 100,000 feet and could be heard on VHF over several states. (Bill also likes to send live video from balloons, but that’s another story.)

On the Microship, this could be valuable as a low-power emergency beacon — if I’m in trouble, I could tell the system to begin calling for help on a variety of frequencies, perhaps following the clear voice message with a synthesized lat-long sentence from the GPS. It could also be useful as part of the security system. But what we mostly used it for Saturday was training for Andrea — it was her first attempt at hands-on hardware fabrication.

I’m pleased to say that it worked the first time — she’s now familiar with soldering, handling ICs, reading resistor color codes, and otherwise assembling electronic devices. But more important, she experienced one of the fundamental delights of this technology: slaving over a board for hours, inhaling acrid solder fumes and blearily decoding cryptic component values… then turning it on for the smoke test and seeing it actually DO something. Congratulations, Andrea!

Updates And Quests Various

I don’t want to be a list admin, but I seem to have no choice. About 6 hours last week were spent dealing with a flood of Mailer Daemon messages generated by a short test posting to the new nomadness listserv. There are about 1,600 people on the list, and it has been months since my last posting (which was when someone else was managing it). Nightmare. The worst bounce was from MCI Mail, whose bogus software refused to deliver to ANY of the 20 or so recipients because three of them bounced… actually telling me to edit them out of my header and try again!

TJ Tyler, Robb Walker, and I had dinner tonight — discussing the Microship’s internal frame structure, trailering, FEA, materials selection, and related issues. Although we’re heading into the least productive time of the year, the task before us now is to establish the mechanical engineering team ASAP and get going on these critical structural issues. If you are interested in being part of this, please email TJ immediately.

One of my immediate tasks is to research aircraft landing gear. If we’re lucky, we may find that someone has already created something close to what we need, optimized for light weight. If you know anything about this or have ties to a local subculture of pilots, please let me know.

My major quest at the moment is for a manager — the need is becoming critical. If you know of anyone who wants to get involved, initially part-time (for pay), please put them in touch. Prior business experience, good management skills, and sharp communications are a must.

San Diego Boat Show

Sunday, TJ and I went to the San Diego Boat show at the Convention Center. This turned out to be extremely worthwhile: lots of vendors of relevant components, a chance to compare competing products, and plenty of boats to look at. We clambered about on a prototype F/31 from Corsair, studying their folding aka assemblies and crossbeam structure, and spent a few hours wandering the aisles, gathering literature and learning. I also met David Crane (of D.F. Crane Associates, specializing in nautical computing) — he expressed interest in helping us with live satellite image reception without having to be connected to a server on the Internet or suffering the noise of HF weatherfax.

Rather than enumerate it all here, I’m listing the new information in the LITERATURE RECEIVED section below. In general, it was a good reminder that getting out and making contacts is critical, no matter how cushy life is here in my daily routine on campus!


Cole-Parmer new products flyer (laboratory instruments)
New Micros — additional literature on Easy-A protocol and 68HC11 boards
AutoCAD World newspaper
British Columbia tourism material
DF Crane Nautical Computing catalog: fax, navigation, and much more
Radar Flag brochure: American flags with integral radar reflectors
Furuno full-line catalog: radar, depth, comm, satellite, GPS
BOAT/US catalog & newsletter: claims to be the Price Club of boating
Aquatilis water bike flyer
Watercraft trailer flyer
AstroLite battery flyer
Ocean Marine Insurance flyer
Eternity water filtration catalog
Performance Sailing magazine (Oct 93)
PC Weatherman weather software flyer
Starlight night vision binocular flyer
Fleming self-steering gear flyer
Sea Recovery reverse osmosis watermaker brochure
Interlux boat paint guide
Detco varnish flyer
Venus-Gusmer sprayup, injection, casting, and fabrication catalog
Shower Anywhere portable shower flyer
Differential Corrections (new GPS differential method, by subscription)
Sea Tow towing service flyer
Icom IC-M15 waterproof handheld VHF flyer
C Cushions custom vinyl-coated cushions flyer
West Marine holiday specials

Microship Status 11/30/93

In This Issue:

  • Random Post-thanksgiving Updates
  • Questionnaire Status
  • Literature Received

Random Post-thanksgiving Updates

OK, that’s over. While the world was vacationing, I was slaving away here in the lab (OK, OK, so maybe I did have a couple of Thanksgiving dinners and some out-of-town company and a bit of play, but hey, I worked, too… really!)

Random updates:

I built a “helmet-cam” to allow mounting of the Hi-8 camcorder atop an old Bell bicycle helmet, just for kicks.

Jason Corley wandered by and built an LM380-based audio amplifier board.

The shipment of 250 Univenture CD JewelPaks arrived.

John Studarus has the SPARCbook alive on the net at Scripps, and is working on some of the initial software that will make it the Microship’s net hub. He came over last night and we had a long talk about networking, mail handling, and related issues… I’ll do a whole article on this subject soon.

Andrea Woo and I packaged a stereo system for the office, and we now have a wide range of entertainment audio in both office and lab (TV, CD, FM, shortwave, MIDI, etc). I also purchased a small video/audio mixer for doing simple editing between the camcorder and the VHS deck.

I fired up the Icom 725 the other night and chatted with a few people on 40-meter ham radio, using the bike’s dipole lashed to a chair on the patio. We really must put an antenna on the roof here in the engineering building — any volunteers?

Dan Perry has started on the solar still project.

Frank Araullo picked up a case and SCSI cable for the Quantum disk drive while in Santa Clara over the weekend. The bad news came in two stages: first, the power supply was bad, so we used one of mine. Second, connecting it to the FX fried something in the FX, apparently seriously. I hate SCSI…

I’ve had extensive email contact with Ampro, and we’ve settled on a configuration for the host PC… now awaiting final approval and shipment. I believe it will be using a small Sharp color LCD that will also serve as a video monitor.

In a similar vein, I’ve been in contact with New Micros and am about to send them my wish list. The study completed so far has led to a couple of suggestions for additions to their product line, including simple low-power multidrop-point nodes that merely pass through a serial port (it can be done now with V25-based boards, but they draw 50 mA). As is, we may be adding a small serial crosspoint for random devices… still puzzling over the best configuration here.

The blackboard in my lab now carries a big convoluted drawing of the whole Microship network and control system, and I’m working tonight to get it into MacDraw. We’re actually about to the point where we can sit down and discuss detailed information flow and look at task partitioning… I might distribute copies of the drawing once it gets past Rev 01. There will be some kind of group presentation once I feel the overall architecture is solid and we can start carving it up into specific projects with firm design goals.

Questionnaire Status

I distributed a piece of email with 10 questions last week (only to UCSD students, the rest of you can ignore this paragraph). The deadline for replies is December 5… I have so far received 22 responses out of 54 recipients. This information will not only help us form teams and assign projects, but will also let us drop the names of those who are not responding. So if you want to be involved, please take a few minutes to let me know by answering the questions. Thanks!


A massive box of stuff was delivered from my base office over the weekend, and I won’t bore you with details. Of note, there are recent copies of ham magazines, as well as the usual deluge of general office/business/supply catalogs and various ‘zines. As always, if you need any kind of info relevant to the project, ask here first. Better still, if you want to help ORGANIZE all this, I could use about 8 hours of help, in chunks of about 2 hours, to bring the literature files up to date and try to get the magazines under control.

General Magnaplate literature on synergistic surface enhancements for metals exposed to corrosive environments (including Tufram).

Seda kayak catalog (a local builder).