Which mouse to use on the boat

26/08/2009
Belkin water-proof mouse

Belkin water-proof mouse

It gets wet anyway. Solution – Belkin water-proof mouse
SRP  U$ 29.90


Omnidirectional 9 dBi WiFi solution

06/08/2009

Friend of mine uses for offhore Internet setup like that:

Interline INT-HOR-0924-V omnidirectional antenna

Interline INT-HOR-0924-V omnidirectional antenna

9 dBi omnidirectional 54 cm long Interline in the masttop. Good solution for yacht, cause it’s lightning protection shorted for DC. Same antenna is available also in 12 dBi version, but for yachtowners I recommend 9 dBi model because of wider vertical reception pattern.

Ubiquiti Bullet

Ubiquiti Bullet

…. connected to Ubiquiti Bullet

Bullet turns onmidirectional antenna into Ethernet (RJ-45). Easy and simple. No drivers needed, pure IP internet directly to laptops 10/100/100 base-T connector.

Pro’s:

  • omnidirectional, install and forget
  • POE, needs only Cat5 cable, power is feeded over same cable

Con’s:

  • 9 dBi amplification

Products mentioned

Interline INT-HOR-09/24-V

Ubiquiti The Bullet


USB Internet dongle

05/08/2009

USB internet broadband dongle

USB internet broadband dongle

Close to harbour it’s possible to hook up to local WiFi network, either with WiFi ready laptop, USB WiFi extender of WiFi extender-router. In all those cases, distance to the nearest base station shouldn’t be more than mile or two. We know, that hi-budget ocean-racing teams use all kind od satellite connections. But are there other broadband solutions for less budget. Answer is: mostly.

So-called USB Internet Dongle (broadband dongle) is provided by all bigger mobile networks and they rely on mobile network technologies. So, almost every time, when You have mobile coverage, You are able to use Internet.

USB Internet dongle is connect to computer via USB port. Noew dongles are USB 2.0, but they are backward compatible with older USB 1,0 standard. It needs additional driver and client software. Luckily this all is on the same USB stick and You don’t need to carry along additional CD.

Depending of signal quality and mobile network service providers infrastructure, the speed can vary great deal. In best case You may able to get 3,5G HDSPA speeds at 7,2 Mbps. When signal strength is lower or mobile infrastructure is not supporting higher speeds, USB dongle speed falls back to next available level. Usually it’s shown also in the application window.

Fallback list (download speeds):

  • 7,2 Mbps 3,5 G (HDSPA)
  • 2,0 Mbps 3 G (HSUPA)
  • 0,5 Mbps 2,75 G (EDGE)
  • 0,1 Mbps 2,5 G (GPRS)
Broadband speeds

Broadband speeds

Mbps figures are indicative, depends of sub-standards
and specific hardware in use

GPRS and EDGE speeds may seem quite out-dated. I found it still usable, looking weather website, downloading e-mails and uploading blog posts. Indeed, rich content like multimedia files, large images, video streaming etc is no-no.

Amplified USB cable

Amplified USB cable

It’s wise to use 3 Meter (10 ft) long passive USB cable or even longer (even up to 15 meter or 45 ft) amplified USB cable to place dongle as high as possible, to receive quality signal. I experienced situations, when down in the galley I didn’t have any signal, but standing on the deck with my notebook/USB dongle, I was able to use 3,5G speedy connection.

Some tips using internet dongle:

  • Disable automatic windows update
  • Disable virus database/program updates
  • Disable other automatic updaters (iTunes, Adobe, …)
  • Disable P2P programs like uTorrent clients
  • Configure confirmation requirement before automatic internet connection for e-mail programs, etc
  • Use long USB cable to place dongle to highest point possible
  • Disconnect after use

In near future G4 technology will allow 100 Mbps speeds, but it requires updating all network infrastructure by service providers and in real life it takes some time to get these speeds.


Solar GPS

04/08/2009
F-tech solar-powered bluetooth GPS

F-tech solar-powered bluetooth GPS

Many people use Laptops and cheap GPS mouse (connected to USB), equipped with PC navigation software and electronic charts instead of dedicated chartplotter. It’s a quite good solution for route planning at home. Laptop display is also bigger and it’s considerable faster and more usable than cheap chartplotter.

But there is a problem with GPS. Using U$ 50 – 100 USB GPS mouse is easiest and cheapest way, but the USB wire is always on the way and GPS is not on ideal position. Luckily GPS makers like F-Tech heard that issue and developed solar-power wireless GPS. It doesn’t need batteries, wires, switching on/off. Its just sitting somewhere on the deck and sending positions via bluetooth. Sun is almost limitless power source on the sea, why not to use it? And it can still function in total darkness 20 hours, off the battery, fully charged.

F-Tech Solar GPS tech data:

Protocol:

NMEA 0183 v3.01 (Default:GGA,GSA,GSV,RMC,VTG,CHN)
MTK NMEA Command

Baud Rate:

9600,N,8,1(Default)

Max. Update Rate:

1 Hz

Datum:

WGS84

Channel:

32 channel all-in-view tracking

Frequency:

L1, 1575.42MHz

Hot Start:

1 sec. Average

Warm Start:

36 sec. Average

Cold Start:

37 sec. Average

Reacquisition Time:

Less than 1 sec (Typical)

Position Accuracy:

< 3m CEP (50%) without SA (horizontal)

Sensitivity

Tracking:-158 dBm

Power Supply:

DC 5V

Power Consumption

45mA(avg.)

Battery Life

20HRs with Li-Ion Battery,30HRs with solar power

Antenna Type:

Built in low noise patch antenna

External Antenna Interface:

MMCX

Bluetooth

Class 2, distance up to 10 meters

Dimension:

55(W)x103(L)x22(H) mm

LED Indicator:

Red LED:GPS is fixed or not fixed / Power On
Blue LED:BT is connected or not connected

Operating Temperature:

-10°C to + 70°C

Storage Temperature:

-40°C to + 85°C

Operation Humidity:

5%~95%, Non-Condensing

Products mentioned

F-Tech


Working solution for long-distance WiFi – Ubiquity NanoStation 2

03/08/2009
Ubiquity NanoStation 2 WiFi extender

Ubiquity NanoStation 2 WiFi extender +10 dB

I posted earlier a story about simple USB-based WiFi amplifier. Many yachtsmen use instead Ubiquity NanoStation and it has been proven working quite well.

Basically, it’s WiFi-to-Ethernet router. It receives WiFi signal via 4 internal antennas, amplifies signal, converts it to copper and passes to Your computer via ethernet cable. All electronics is inside the 26 cm long antenna, so there are no signal losses and noises compared with products using long antenna cables. NanoStation uses power over Ethernet method to provide required power to the circuitry, only single CAT5 RJ-45 cable is needed for connection. Additional RJ-45 POE hub is included.

NanoStation works in b/g range, so don’t expect too swift data transfers, but still much more reliable connections, than std WiFi. NanoStation 2 is directional, so You have to align it towards to base station. Expect to pay for NanoStation abpout U$ 80. Highly affordable product!

There are real-life reports about reliable WiFi at more than 2 miles distance.

Products Mentioned

Ubiquity NanoStation 2


Waterproof passive computer on-board

30/07/2009
Stealth Computers waterproof IP67 and NMEA6 rated computer

Stealth Computers waterproof IP67 and NMEA6 rated computer

I posted a story about tough Dell Latitude XFR as near-ideal yachd computing resource. There are also other possible computer systems, not only notebooks, but surprisingly also desktops.. For U$ 2000 its possible to buy 100% waterproof IP67 and NMEA 6 rated passive computer from Stealth Computers. It’s  based on energy-saving Atom 330 dual-core processor. Waterproof means, that all power cords and peripheral wires are sealed. Passive means, that there is no fans, outer panels of computer are used for cooling. Atom processor and passive design keeps power requirements at low level, about 20 Watts (figure is my speculation, no actual data available).

Computer is equipped with 1,5M wires for peripherals, like water-proof LCD touch-screen and USB. Device uses also SSD (solid state drives) making it not only water- and dustproof, but also shock-proof. Input voltage can vary in wide range, accepting as low as 10 VDC, making this computer truly yacht compatible.

Technical data:

Intel Atom 330 CPU 1,6 GHz

2 GB RAM standard (more than enouhg for sailing applications)

80 HB extreme environment HDD (stands 300G), SSD optional

Intel GMA 950 graphics (resolution up to 2048 x 1056 pixels)

Input voltage range 10 – 30 VDC

Products mentioned:

Stealth Computers WPC-500F waterproof fanless computer


Wi-Fire WiFi range-extending antenna from hField

28/07/2009
hField WiFi range extender

hField WiFi range extender

I use WiFi wherever it can. To write my blog, upload sailing photos and videos, looking weather forecast and regatta information. On the sea, only option is to use GPRS/3G/3,5G, but in most small ports there is free wifi at least in Finland, Sweden and Estonia. Problem is, that yacht is away from WiFi base station and signal is weak or none.

hField technology has handy small USB device, called Wi-Fire, amplifying WiFi signal. The WiFi antenna will provide higher speeds at low signal strengths than your typical internal WiFi adapter. It has even beat Draft802.11n products in range and speed at long distances, up to 300 meters.

hField is connected to computer via USB and requires to install driver and wireless manager. It costs about U$ 60.

Products mentioned:

hField Wi-Fire extender


Laptops less hungry – battery friendly computing on-board

27/07/2009

Dell Mini 12, Atom based battery-friendly netbook

Dell Mini 12, Atom based battery-friendly netbook

Electricity is scarce commodity on the boat. So, You like to conserve it. Modern navigation solutions, based on PC and powerful dedicated chart-plotters can drain Your battery quickly. Modern chart-plotters, like Raymarine E-series and C-series units draw 32 Watts or 2,7 Amps. Powerful Laptop can easily draw more than 50 Watts and drain Your battery in a day.

Luckily there 2 two new computer technologies, available right now, what save energy and provide enough computing power to provide low-energy navigation. Even if You like to use sailboat specific complex polar-data based tacking computing and other computer-intensive sailboat specific stuff.

Atom CPU is new Intel low-power CPU. Designed specially for ultra-portable netbook computers like Dell Mini 12 and Asus Eee PC 1100, having 24-30 Watt hour batteries. Atop draws less energy than Celeron and Core Duo. Whole system (laptop) spends less than 10 Watts.

SSD drives or solid state drives, next HDD or hard drive. SDD has no moving pars. They are chock-proof and spend less electricity than conventional HDD. Price is still quite high, but smaller units cost only 100-200 U$.

Screen size is still a problem with less-powered units. Dell Mini 12 has biggest LCD screen on the market, still only 12″. Barely enough for navigation, but not most comfortable.

Products mentioned

Dell Mini 12

Asus Eee PC 1100


Leaping Mouse syndrom

25/07/2009

In some rare cases PC thinks that GPS and other NMEA data, assigned to serial port, is Microsoft Ballpoint Mouse. In this case Your mouse goes nuts and starts jumping to random locations on the screen and off. At least, my Dell Latitude’s mouse started act like crazy.

Solution:

  1. switch GPS and/or other NMEA data sources off, mouse  calms down
  2. go to device manager (Control Panel, System)
  3. find Microsoft Ballpoint Mouse under Mice and other pointing devices
  4. disable it (right click, disable)
  5. switch GPS on, mouse behaves now

Good luck!


Rugged Dell Latitude XFR — sailing-proof laptop

22/07/2009

We use regular business-class Dell Latitude series laptop in our yacht. in most cases it’s OK, but sometimes we have to protect it from seawater:

Dell Latitude D531 laptop 15,4" WXGA 1920 x 800

Dell Latitude D531 laptop 15,4" WXGA 1920 x 800

There have always been rugged computers available, like Panasonic Toughbook 30. But they have been quite pricey and proprietary hardware. Until now. Dell launched rugged Latitude XFR model last month, based on industry standard Dell Latitude E-series platform. So, all drivers and software is exactly the same as usual Dell Latitude E-series business notebook. This makes it cheaper and compatible piece of hardware. And it has twice of the performance of Panasonic CF30.

Dell Latitude XFR rugged laptop

Dell Latitude XFR rugged laptop

Dell Latitude XFR is IP65 sealed against water and dust. It can drop from 4 feet’s, no problem. XFR uses 64GB solid state drive, battery-friendly and shock-proof. 14″ LCD screen is sunlight-readable, one of the most required features on yacht. Price starts from U$ 4300.

Who doesn’t need such protection, may consider more affordable Dell Latitude ATG version. It’s not IP65 liquid protected, but still complies MIL-STD 810F standard of dust, humidity and vibration. Prices from U$ 1800.

Products mentioned

Dell Latitude XFR rugged laptop

Dell Latitude ATG semi-rugged laptop

Panasonic Toughbook 30 rugged laptop


RS-232 to USB adapter, how to connect PC to B&G H2000 or H3000via USB

21/07/2009
Serial-to-USB adapter

Serial-to-USB adapter

Many of us use general purpose laptop PC and PC navigation software like Maptech Chart Navigator Pro, Tiki Navigator Pro, BoatCruiser Pro, Nobeltec Admiral,  MaxSea, Fugawi ENC or other for navigation. For better navigation its vital to link navigation computer not only to GPS, but also to anemometer, gyro compass, depth sonar and AIS system. NMEA 0183 unified protocol makes it possible. Most of marine equipment talk NMEA 0183 and navigation software can understand it. But there the problem arises. Most of sea equipment rely on old-school serial interface, called RS-232. New computers have one or non of these, but plenty of USB connectors.  How to connect RS-232 interfaced sailing processor like B&G Hydra 3000 or Hercules 2000 to PC? I used two Prolific RS-232 to USB adapters to convert all inputs to USB. Windows software and Prolific driver map all USB’s to COM ports, so it’s easy to configure devices in navigation software.

Connecting B&G H2000 or H3000 via USB to PC Laptop

Connecting B&G H2000 or H3000 via USB to PC Laptop

There are many different adapters on market. I believe, they all work fine, cause technologically USB is also serial communication port. I used Prolific chipset adapter and it works flawlessly. In some applications it’s good idea to use one-to-many adapter. For example B&G H2000 sytem has 2 NMEA 0183 outputs and it’s impossible to get all data from one port onlt. So, I had to use 2 adapters and 2 USB ports.

You need also to configure port speeds to 4800 or 9600 bauds on both ends and configure correct COM port numbers in navigation software. But this will be another topic.

Products mentioned

General (Prolific chip) RS-232-to-USB adapter


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