Considering a sailing adventure to Mexico? Just look at how engrossed that guy is in the book! Grab a copy of the Unauthorized Guide to Sailing in Mexico, and you too can find yourself sitting on a Mexican dock with an oversized (but very attractive) hat.

Unauthorized Guide to Sailing in Mexico

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You can also find me on G+ and twitter, and most of my photos get uploaded to radpin.imgur.com

Entries in communication (5)

Sunday
Oct122014

sailing and stackoverflow make a frankenstein 

If you write code, you know stackoverflow. It has become the defacto question and answer resource for software developers around the world. Then stackoverflow morphed into the larger stackexchange network, and spinoffs started appearing. 

I'm a frequent contributor to the fitness.stackexchange.com site, and recently I created a proposal for creating a sailing stackexchange site. If you agree, please head over there and follow it, and ask some questions. The sailing.stackexchange.com site will only be created if there's enough interest.

Stack Exchange Q&A site proposal: SailingStackexchange sites aren't perfect, but there are some clear advantages.

This is not to say that forums (cruisersforum, sailinganarchy, etc) or social networks (wws) are dead: far from it. But on those platforms, the focus is on discussion. If someone asks a question about changing the oil on a Yanmar, you might get twenty replies and half way through the discussion flips to why Yanmar sucks and whatever else is better.

On the stackexchange world, you spend time crafting a proper answer, supporting it with links, references, and source material. It's just different. 

Additionally although there are some regular participants on stackexchange sites, the real value is for the non-regular. It's for the person just looking for an answer to their damn question without having to wade through 50 pages of bored arm chair sailors sitting in Kansas arguing about whether toilet paper should unroll from the top or the bottom.

If you've used the stackexchange network you know how great it is, but if you haven't, check it out.

 

Thursday
Sep052013

the roof, the roof, the roof is my office

Perhaps when you think of satellite phones images of Jack Bauer from 24 flash into your head. In fantasy land satellite phones are these go-anywhere tools that allow you to walk around, talking to anyone, generally the President, and always about important things.

The reality is that satellite phones are expensive, fastidious, and at their best provide the audio quality of a mid 1990's cell phone operated from inside a cave. The remote antenna, the little black hockey puck looking thing on the ledge above my backpack, needs a fully unobstructed view of the sky. Obstructed, even with a tree's thin leaves and certainly with a roof will provide either no signal or continual dropped calls.

The only place I've been able to find that works is on the roof of a two story building near where we're staying. In the sun, on the roof, with clouds of mosquitoes. Jack Bauer never had to put up with this shit.

However if you need to talk to people worldwide where there is no cellular coverage (which generally implies no wifi coverage), you have no choice but a satellite phone. I use an Iridium 9555, which is sort of the workhorse model with a long history of performance. Not all satellite phone constellations are truly global, but Iridium is. My plan is $100/month which includes 70-140 minutes, depending on how the call is connected. In general it's reasonable to assume that airtime is $2/minute, and any outbound SMS messages (which allows us to update Twitter) is $1.

Beyond all that, I have a subscription to UUPlus. For another $30/month I manage to have the majority of my work email forwarded, compressed, and available via the incredibly bad 2.6KB/s data connection (with multisecond latency). Likewise, I can reply and unless you inspect the email header it will look like it came from my Outlook client on the corporate network. 

And with UUPlus, I can download NOAA weather fax forecasts to see just exactly how screwed we are.

If you've never tried to do your job in a place that sans electricity, sans cell coverage, and even sans people, this might not really resonate with you. But for those misguided souls that are trying to bridge the chasm between first world professionalism and the third world, this blog post is for you bros.

Sunday
Nov112012

keep us company underway with twitter

Would you like to keep us company underway? We're scheduled to leave Ensenada on Tuesday morning, and if there's one thing we can say about multi-day passages: they can be boring as hell. Lots of water, lots of sky, on repeat.

I found out that Iridium (or satellite phone) actually works with Twitter

When we get a little ways out and could use some social stimulation, we'll make sure to post on twitter. Ask us questions, tell us your thoughts on life, pontificate about the planetary orbits. 

We'll get notifications if you mention us ( @capterickaufman ), or reply to one of our tweets. 

So, if you want to help us, especially if you are an insane night owl (or on another time zone), please follow us and we'll update as soon as we're underway and settled. 

 

Sunday
Feb262012

starboardsky.com, my little map/weather/atom thing

Click to enlargeWhen my friend Ryan was halfway across the Pacific, I got an email from him (via SailMail) that he wanted a way to show his family where he was on a map. So I tossed together a goofy little site and forgot about it.

A year later I realized I might need be needing to do the same thing so I've spend a few nights beefing it up. Basically you can embed the map on your site (like we did here), use the Atom feed, and update it via sending emails. When you send an email you also get a response that contains some weather data (closest observations to you). I'm going to try to pump that feature up a bit as well. 

It's free and you obviously know where to find me if you have any problems with it. Hit me up if you have any questions or requests. 

Friday
Dec232011

how to select satellite internet on a sailboat

Inmarsat SatelliteThe other day Charlotte asked me about Internet access while underway on a sailboat. I had always known it to be expensive even for a slow connection, having worked for a satellite company early in my career.

A very brief primer about satellite constellations might help to explain this. Currently, there are over 3,000 satellites buzzing around the planet. A satellite like the one pictured on the left can sit in orbit in a few different ways. The orbit, altitude, capabilities, quantity, and transmit power define the constellation's profile. 

Step 1: Identify a service provider (these are the people who own or lease the satellites in orbit).

One provider, Wild Blue offers satellite Internet access but only to the lower 48 states of the US. Normally when people think about satellites they think of global coverage. Most satellite constellations, such as Wild Blue's are only covering a (relatively) small area of the world. The reason for this is basic economics: it takes significantly less satellites to cover the primary areas where people live than to have sufficient quantity to be buzzing over Siberia and the North Pole (where no one might need access for weeks or months). 

Even a company like GlobalStar, which you would be forgiven forGlobalStar Coverage Map. Click to expand. expecting to be "global" in its coverage only covers most of the populated land masses and a small amount into the water. 

So beyond simple "satellite internet", most sailors are looking for a true global solution or at least one that will cover the vast majority of their sailing grounds.


Inmarsat Coverage Map. Click to expand.Inmarsat, simply put, has the best combination of prices and global coverage. But take note that several areas are still missing. A few-hundred square mile patch in the Eastern Pacific, Drake's Passage off Cape Horn, and in the Indian Ocean near Oman. 

Step 2: Identify the "solution" that they offer. 

A product designed specifically for small pleasure craft is the Fleet 33. On first glance at Inmarsat's website you might see their entry level (~$500) IsatPhone, but that doesn't work for data applications unless you consider using the phone's keyboard to send emails as "data" (which technically it is). There are more powerful options than the Fleet 33, but the pricing gets astronomical. 

Step 3: Identify the hardware you'll need to install. 

KVH FB150 Installed, the white dome on the port quarter. Click to expand.Since we narrowed our search down to Inmarsat's Fleet 33, most of the recommendations point towards the KVH TracPhone FB150 (pictured left). For roughly ~$6000, you can find these available at Amazon.com and Jamestown Distributors. Power consumption (12v) ranges from 2 amps at idle to 20 amps during transmission. 

Although the price is obviously quite high, remember that a new SSB installation can also set you back a good few thousand dollars depending on what you buy and where you buy it.

Step 4: Pick a service plan based on your estimated usage.

Most satellite companies don't bill you directly, instead you'll need to go through another reseller. Since we're looking at the Fleet 33, we'll hop over to satellitephonestore.com's service plans. Their "Entry" plan boasts the following profile:

 

  • A minimum 12 month contract at $863/month. Just over $10,000 a year ($16,000 for the first year, including hardware).
  • 126MB/month. For the casual Internet user, this is very little data. As an example, the average smartphone data in the US (as of July 2011) is 4x this amount.  To achieve what would be even a spartan usage of regular Internet service (1GB/month), your costs will be roughly $36,000 a year.
  • 9.6Kb/s (which is roughly the speed of a dialup modem from 1994). 

 

Summary: Yep, it's still very expensive.

There are certainly some people out there who can justify the costs or have a need for it. And for those of us who suffer varying degrees of Internet addiction, like a heroin junkie perhaps the withdrawals are just too painful and worth stealing your mother's television to help subsidize your habit. If you have the money pay for it and perhaps more importantly you want to invite the potentially maddening experience of trying to conduct business via satellite this might work for you.

And a note regarding costs: the $16,000 - $32,000 numbers represent the cheap side of the equation. For folks demanding DSL level speeds know that they are achievable, but the prices quoted hear will seem like pocket change.