When power goes wrong

Yesterday I made a trip down to the sailboat to do a few things, and when I arrived, I noticed that I didn't have any shore power.  Additionally, the main A/C breaker panel indicated a reverse polarity situation.  I immediately disconnected the A/C panel from shore power via the breaker, and went outside to the plug to see what had happened.

As you can see from the picture, it's pretty clear why A/C power was interrupted.  After a bit of sleuthing, I determined that the socket that the shore power plug was connected into was full of water.  I believe the water caused a short which then resulted in what you see in the picture.

The main breaker in the boat did trip when this happened, so everything was safe, but it's a bit strange it caused so much damage to the plug and socket.  It should have likely tripped earlier, so I'll be thinking/investigating the current boat-side breaker to see if there's a better solution.

The other worrisome situation was that my BlueSea VSM (used to monitor battery health, A/C power, and tank levels) was acting up.  It also reported low voltage conditions on one of my batteries, which only a few days before had reported healthy.  These were new in the last 2 years AGM batteries that should last a long time.

I decided to use the SmartPlug system when replacing my damaged plug and socket - specifically their 30 AMP solution that includes a new plug end and socket.

It took about an hour to install, which was mostly because my shore power cord is slightly bigger than normal, and getting the new plug on was an exercise in strength.  Once that was set, I had A/C power back and waited while the battery charger started bringing life back to the batteries.  Right around that time, the BlueSea VSM stopped displaying vital information and flashed on it's screen:

No firmware image found.  Waiting for download.

So back to using the handheld meter to check on things.  The rest of the afternoon and evening the battery charger worked long and hard and had the batteries back to their normal selves late in the evening.  From other visual inspections of almost the entire A/C wiring (whew!) I did not see any other damage, and everything else on the battery side seems to be OK as well.

I contacted BlueSea on Sunday via email, and on Monday morning they returned the email saying they would be glad to ship out a replacement, and that this rarely happens, and they'd like to see the broken unit.  Very helpful and quick - I hope to have the new one very soon.

I had read a lot about the SmartPlug system, but never really thought there was anything that wrong with my current system that warranted the $200 price for the plug and socket.  I'm glad nothing was badly damaged, and can sleep soundly now that I've installed SmartPlug.  It's a very well designed system, with little chance of a repeat of what happened.  Sealed in several ways, positive locking, and a lot more metal on metal contact, it's well worth the investment, and I would suggest anyone upgrade immediately to prevent things like what happened to me.



 

 

Documenting tools, and Alfred

For a long time I've wanted to document the various tools that I've found useful.  I made a first attempt today with Mac Tools.  I'm hoping to also document tools for Windows, Linux, and various web tools that I find very productive.  If I have time, I would like to also include lists of tools and items in the physical world as well - electronics tools and more.  I'll start with the computer world first...

My most favorite tool I documented today is Alfred.  By far, it's the most useful little app in my entire toolbox.  When Spotlight first came out for the Mac, I adopted the Command-Space key shortcut to search for applications and everything else.  After evaluating Alfred for only a few hours, I replaced Spotlight's key shortcut with Alfred and haven't gone back.

One thing that is well worth the money is the Powerpack which adds functionality like file system navigation, result actions, and iTunes mini player.  I use each of these three many times per day, and they save me using a mouse, and cut down on the time to do things significantly.  I also love the global hotkeys that you can assign to particular apps - I've got my most used applications tagged with hotkeys so no matter what desktop I'm lost in, I can flip to the app I'm looking for without any searching.

The other great thing is extensions.  You can find all sorts of add-ons to control various programs, or to do just about anything else you want.  One of my favorites is Window Resize which allows you to use keyboard shortcuts to arrange windows.  Amazingly helpful when you want to compare two webpages side by side, or arrange emails with other things you're researching.  You can of course write your own extensions and use AppleScript to do just about everything.

It's safe to say that Alfred is one of the top 5 must-have apps in your OSX arsenal.

 

 

Great program on the BBC about RBS

Just watched an hour long program on the BBC about how RBS almost ran out of money during the financial crisis.

It was very well produced, and had a lot of detail and interviews from former RBS executives.  It's interesting to see how the sub-prime mortgage problems affected them so deeply.

The really disturbing thing was how clueless the bank seemed to be, or at least how much of a blind eye they turned to it and didn't want to admit that things were wrong.

I've seen some of the coverage of what U.S. banks and financials did during this time, but the footage in this program was mesmerizing - I couldn't turn away from it for the entire hour.  And not mesmerizing in a positive way.

It's also pretty strange how much footage the BBC was allowed to record of the RBS buildings, headquarters, and other internals.  I suppose that it is a positive thing in some ways - coming clean and trying to move forward.

I didn't realize that RBS was so close to completely running out of money because of the ABN-AMRO purchase combined with the rest of the financial problems.  Extremely scary!  I can't imagine how crazy it must have been for people who had their savings and money with them.

Places to visit in London

View from flat in London

I'm back in London through mid-December.  I'm here for work, and there's a lot of that to do while I'm here, but I hope to be able to see some other sights too.  On my list of places to go to are:


I'd also like to see some other sights outside of London, perhaps Oxford or back to Richmond, which had a lot of great places to eat and look around. We'll see how much time I end up with on weekends and such.


If you have any good suggestions for day trips, evening places to visit, or the like, let me know in the comments!

Been a while...

It's been a while since I posted anything here.  Been meaning to for a long time, but have just been so busy that I haven't found the time to take care of it.... hopefully that will change.


Strangely enough, there is a decent amount of traffic that still traverses the blog every day, mostly on old pages and reference information.


I'd like to write more about the tools and software that I use to make my life easier.  God knows that I spend enough time playing with them in my spare time that I could probably do nothing but that :)


Look for some more posts coming soon!

First sail of the year and a swim

On Saturday, it looked really nice out on the water near our place on the island, so I decided to go out in my dinghy for the first time this year.  It just so happened that it was opening day of boating season.  There was a small craft advisory up, but nearly ready to expire, and the water was very calm as far as I could see in my sailing area.  Further up the channel there were whitecaps.


My dinghy is an 8' Walker Bay with the performance sail kit, which includes inflatable RIB pontoons on the sides of the dinghy.  I sailed it a bunch of times last season, and was always able to get out of any problems I got into, and ended up sailing pretty fast a number of times. 


This time around, it wasn't so fun.  After departing the beach, a friend was watching me, and I got out a couple of hundred feet when the wind kicked up a bit.  I adjusted the sail, and dropped the centerboard in, got down in the bottom of the boat to drop my center of gravity, and got ready to work the boat upwind - the wind was coming from the north.


Before I could even get settled, a huge gust caught me - I remember seeing the water and really tiny ripples everywhere with water flying off of the top.  I let the main sheet go and started leaning to get the nose pointed into the wind, but it was too late - the wind kept getting stronger very fast.


I don't remember which way the boat tipped over, or which way the sail was pointing - I just remember doing everything I could to keep things from getting worse, and when I knew there was nothing left to do, I got myself free of any lines or part of the boat and got ready to get wet.  


The water was about 46 degrees, and it was about 50 outside, so it didn't really feel that much colder when I hit the water.  I was wearing jeans, three shirts, rubber boots, and a life vest.  I did get hung up a bit in the mainsail as the boat went over.  It ended up going completely over and the mast hung up on the bottom - even though I was about a 1/4 mile out from the beach, it was still shallow.  I could see the bottom and the sail stuck in the mud, and the boat was relatively stable, albeit upside-down.  


My friend on the beach was asking if I needed help, and I said "yes" after trying to move the boat around a bit.  I knew the tide was still going out at least for another 30 minutes, so I was worried things would be stuck for a while.  He immediately ran up the beach and started to get his kayak ready to come out to me.  Meanwhile, the rudder popped loose and started floating away, so I rescued that, and then climbed up on the hull of the boat and hung onto the centerboard, resting a bit and waiting for my friend to arrive.


Once he arrived, I transferred the rudder to him, and then after moving the hull to point into the wind, was able to get the mast un-stuck from the bottom.  It was fairly easy to get it back upright, but the boat was filled almost to the top with water.  Really the only thing keeping it floating was the RIB pontoons.  I jumped in, secured a bunch of stuff floating around, and started to bail using my boot.  


At this point, I figure I had been in the water for about 10 minutes.  It wasn't too cold yet.  The wind was still gusting, and I was able to get the sail loose so I didn't go over again, but the bigger problem was the waves and the fact that the boat was filled with water.  I transferred a 10lb anchor to my friends kayak, and continued baling.  After doing this for a while, with him yanking me in a bit, and eventually just rowing for a while, I was able to get to shore.  Dumping out the water was pretty quick, and then securing the sail completely only took a few minutes.  I would estimate I'd been in the water and in the water in my boat for about 20 minutes by now.  


We were a few hundred feet down the beach from our house, so I walked the boat back through the water (I was already wet anyhow) and helped secure it along with help from my friend.  I got up to the house and immediately jumped in the shower - probably at about 30 minutes now, and definitely shaking a little bit from the cold water.  I warmed up over the next hour, but was very worn out after the adrenaline and working to get things secured.  


Here are a few things I'll be doing differently the next time I go out:


Better floating radio - the radio I was carrying wasn't attached to me, and although it floats a bit, it isn't designed to be underwater as long as it was while the boat was overturned.  I have also never been able to get it to stay attached to me no matter what I do.  I have a different radio on my big sailboat that floats much better, and can be attached better as well.  I'll be using this from now on so I can make sure I can get in contact with someone in the even this happens in the future, and a friend isn't standing on shore!


Less layers and better boots - the layers of clothing I had on were quite heavy while I was in the water, and didn't really help when they were dry.  I've tried to find a better lightweight sailing coat of some sort, and now I'll definitely investigate a better solution.  The boots I was wearing were 12" high or so, and useful for getting off of the beach without getting wet, but were nearly useless while in the water.  They kept coming off.  


Whale pump in the boat - I used to carry one of these, and couldn't find it for the last few outings.  I'll always make sure I have one from now on in case I need to empty the boat.


One thing I'm still considering is the life jacket - I had a kayak-style lifejacket on which doesn't require any inflation or the like.  However, it was a bit restrictive when trying to move around and get the boat righted.  I think I'll look at some newer designs that might be easier to move in, but still be as bouyant as the existing one.


The only "damage" was the socket that the main mast was in popped out of it's mountings, and bent some plastic, which I was able to push back together - everything looks solid and stable.  I of course, lost a little of my pride, and got a little cold, but I'm glad I'm safe!  I'll try again next weekend!

Back in London

I'm back in London for work, and it looks like great weather this week.   Today I spent the day wandering around Southbank, where my hotel is, and then crossed the river and wandered through Westminster, Trafalgar Square, and other places.  


I also found an awesome spot on a bench near St. Thomas's hospital about 100 feet from my hotel to sit and read a book.  You can't beat the view!


image from www.flickr.com


I'm here to finish selecting a contractor for a work project and will be here all week.  The rest of the week will be spent at work during the day, but hopefully I'll be able to explore a bit more in the evenings.  I fly back on Saturday - a long week ahead!

Good coffee in London

I'm surprised at the quality of the coffee available in London - when I was last here in 2004 it was a big challenge.  Now, it seems that there is a small shop on every corner.  Of course the ubiquitous Starbucks are everywhere, but that's not real coffee IMHO.


DSC00245 (1)


The best one I've come across so far is Taylor St Baristas - it's very much like Macrina or Fiore back in Seattle, including the wonderful pastries and fresh food available, as well as the ambiance, free large seating areas, and wifi access.  The closest one to my hotel and the office is here - literally 2 minutes from the office - you can see it down the road.


The picture above includes some wonderful banana bread, lightly toasted with butter.  They were out of the porridge and honey, or otherwise that would have been present :)

Off to London

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I'm leaving today to travel to London for work and my new job - I'm really excited about both....


I haven't been to London in at least 5 years, and this time around I was able to schedule things over a weekend so I have one day of my own time to look around.  Every time I've been before I have had work committments and never had the opportunity to do much outside of that.


I've had suggestions from many people as to where to go, what to see, and what to eat.  I haven't made up my mind about any of them - I just hope the weather cooperates - looks sort of like Seattle weather right now...


 


 

Honey beer bread

I gave a friend a bread of the month club subscription - I'd make whatever bread she asked me to once a month - for christmas this year.  So far it's been pretty rocky - I'm not living up to my subscription as best as I could.


This weekend, I was asked to make Honey Beer Bread, which looked really tasty.  It turned out pretty good!


image from www.flickr.com


It tasted just like beer and honey, but not in an overpowering way.  I think the beer we chose had too much yeast in it, or it wasn't warm enough when I used it, because things turned out a bit more dense inside the bread than I would have liked.   Still really good on a cold day like today!


We also made the second part of the recipie which involved grilled cheese, dijon mustard, and caramelized onions.  Super tasty once they were grilled panini-style.


I definitely would try the bread again - perhaps trying to find a milder beer, and maybe increasing the temperature during cooking to get more of a crumb on the outside and less dense inside.


More pics here.

Motion sickness and plane blogging

For the longest time I have been plagued by motion sickness doing various things. Sailing, one of my favorite things to do, makes me sick if I go belowdecks when there are even moderate waves.
Riding in a car and trying to look at a map, or reading will end up making me terribly sick.
Flying on airplanes is just as bad.
For the last few years, I've been using the ReliefBand which is a watch style device that uses two small metal contacts to send a shock into the nerve cluster near your wrist. This has worked amazingly well.
I'm still very tired when I fly, even a short 2 hour flight. The worst time is when we slow down to land and my body realizes that things aren't as fast as they had been. The ReliefBand helps. The second worst part is the car/taxi/bus ride afterwards since its another speed to adapt to.
One great thing is how much easier this has made actual in flight experiences. For instance, right now I am writing this from my iPad, on a plane from Burbank to Seattle via gogo inflight wireless. A year ago if I tried this, I would have made some very unhappy seat mates.
There are exercises that I used to do a year or two ago that helped with inner ear development (yes k I know I owe you these) and I want to reconstitute those as well in the hopes that I might be even better when flying.
Oh yeah, and the in flight wireless is sure fun to play with. Crazy how it can work...

Smartfish Engage Keyboard and Whirl Mouse

I recently had the chance to use a new keyboard at work - the Smartfish Engage.  It's main feature is the ability to change angle and spacing at various times to reduce fatigue and RSI.  


I have had problems with my right hand for a year or so as a result of doing too much on computers at work, and have tried a bunch of things to help.  I've tried a bunch of different keyboards from all the major manufacturers, and more specialized folks like Kinesis.  Most of them helped a little, but I always seemed to go back to the usual Microsoft curved keyboard.


So when I saw the Smartfish Engage, I was very interested, given that it looked like it had the same Microsoft curve, and it was built to help reduce fatigue and RSI.


I got the keyboard around the beginning of January, and used it for 3 weeks before writing this post.  


The keyboard is very well built and pretty heavy - after all, it has motors inside that change the angle of the keyboard, and move the two halves of the keys away or towards eachother.  I really like how it all runs off of the same USB connection as is used for data.  


You can adjust how frequently the changes occur - useful if you type fast (like I do) and don't want it changing so frequently.  It only changes after a certain # of keypresses, so you can be assured that it's not changing when you're in a meeting. 


The moving motors experience gets easier with time - the first few times the motors fire up it will be quite surprising - there's no warning when it's going to happen, and the motors are not quiet.  I can now even continue typing as it's moving, which is sort of a fun game.


While the motion definitely helped in the fatigue area, the keyboard keys themselves caused me more fatigue than a normal keyboard.  They didn't always fire when I pressed them, and they took more pressure than many of the other keyboards I've used in the last 5 years.  This meant that by the end of the day, I was actually more tired than if I didn't use the Engage.  Disappointing.


There were also some strange placement choices for keys which caused me to hunt for things more than I would have liked.  Most keyboard manufacturers get creative with some of the less used keys, admittedly, but there were a few on this one that were just too obscure or mixed in with other keys.


I think as a concept, the Engage is a great idea, and I look forward to further refinements in the future with the keyboard keys themselves, and perhaps other competitors trying to do something similar. 


The nice surprise was the Smartfish Whirl mouse, which I also have been using.  I really enjoy this mouse, and it's definitely helped my hand/wrist fatigue.  It's super easy to use - no changes or training required.  So far I have not found a single thing wrong with it.  I am surprised more folks haven't developed similar products.  Very natural feeling compared to a normal mouse.


Overall I think Smartfish has some great concepts, and look forward to more great products in the future.


 

Macbook Air - 3 months later

Images
A while ago I wrote about my first impressions with the Macbook Air - after 3 months of using it constantly, I can say it's my most favorite computing platform in at least the last 5 years, if not longer.  


The two biggest things that it has going for it long-term are size and battery life.  Not only is it so light that I don't even notice it in my bag, but it lasts so long that most of the time it only sees the charger when I am done for the day.


I don't seem to have any issues with the lack of a backlit keyboard, and I absolutely love the speed that the SSD's bring to the platform.   I'm using Boot Camp with Windows 7 for a couple of apps I can't run under OSX, and it seems to work there just fine as well, albeit slightly less efficiently (just like all of the other Macbooks).


I think the Air is a great system for anyone who needs portability and moderate power in a small, well designed system.  It's well worth the money.