Monday, December 27, 2010

Long(er) Distance Wifi

London ON
2010 12 27

The Bottomline (discussion follows)

If you want superior wifi reception while sitting on your boat buy this:

"This" is an Alfa Long Range Wifi Wireless USB adapter.  I opted for the AWUS036H model which is limited to 802.11 b/g.

It costs $30 and comes with both a 5 dbi and 9 dbi antenna.

You can also buy an 802.11 n adapter for more money.

Why Do I Need Another Wifi Adapter?

Your laptop has a wireless adapter but it is very weak.  Laptops are designed to be used inside buildings and on campuses where there is strong wireless signal.  Sitting at anchor you need a lot better wifi equipment than comes with the stock laptop.

The Alfa is small and inexpensive.  It performs better than systems costing $250.

What Do You need to Know?

Best Website to Buy Your Stuff:

The Competing Systems:   Commercial systems are based almost exclusively on Bullet2HP systems and Alfa adapter based systems.  A third system called Ingenuity has been a total user disaster. Anecdotal evidence available to moi indicates that most boaters buying an Ingenuity system find it difficult if not impossible to install and pretty much ineffective once it is working. 

POE or USB:  Basically who cares.  POE is a stupid term meaning "power over ethernet".  The Bullet2HP system is POE.  The Bullet2HP connects to your computer via an ethernet cable - the  cable we used to use to hardwire our laptops into the internet.  Since the Bullet2HP needs power to run some smartguy figured he could use some of the wires in the ethernet cable to carry power.  Copper wires have been doing this for centuries and guess what?  They still do. I guess it just sounded cool to use a term like POE to describe it.

Being ethernet the POE systems have different drivers and I understand the drivers can be a bitch to install.

USB is well known to all laptop owners.  The USB cable carries the power to the Alfa.  Plug the Alfa adapter into your laptop, install the drivers and use the computer.  Driver installation is a bit awkward if you use the Windows 7 operating system but it was not too painful.   

Antennas:  A good 6 dbi antenna should be perfect for either the Bullet2HP or the Alfa.  The Alfa comes with a 5 dbi and a 9 dbi antenna.  If you buy a Bullet2HP you have to buy an antenna.  Antenna cost for the Alfa will be about $20.   So far I have just used the "came with" antennas but I will get a $20 next week.

If you want a good Moron's Guide to wifi antennas try

How Tough are the Systems: The Alfa adapter is strictly indoors or to use outside in good weather.  However, if you seal it inside a Pelican box or (as one fellow who wrote to Practical Sailor did) inside a short length of plastic pipe you have an outdoor antenna. I get the Alfa out when I use the internet and put it away the rest of the time.  In fact I have taped it to a length of dowel and I stick it in the winch handle hole in the cockpit winch when I use it.  Works for me.

The Bullet2HP is rated for outdoor use.  This is not the same as rated for sailboat use.  Even stainless rusts in salt.  The problem with the Bullet is that is is outside all the time. It is a bulky system and usually boaters it and its wiring permanently.

How High the Antenna:  One advantage of the Bullet2HP is that you can mount it very high.  The ethernet cable can run to the top of your mast with very low signal loss.  The Alfa is limited to USB lengths which means no more than 15 feet.  You can add a 15 foot active USB extension.  In Florida my little Alfa performs as well as or better than Bullet2HP systems in friends' boats.

What About Commercial Systems:

IslandTime PC -

Rogue Wave -

Five Mile Wifi -

The Wirie -

Radiolabs -

The systems from these guys work but cost anywhere from $200 to $400.  Way too much.

I have seen the Island PC system in action and can attest to the fact that it works very well.

Of the systems listed the first three use the Bullet2HP made by a company called Ubiquiti.

For $80 you can buy your own Bullet2HP adapter and for another $20 you can add a good antenna.  Then you need a POE injector and some ethernet cable.  You can probably set up a Bullet2HP system on your own for about $110.

The Wirie uses an Alfa adapter and charges $200+ for it.  They seal it in a Pelican  box and add nice wire and stuff but really.  Just use the Alfa and pimp  it out.  An antenna and some 3 inch plastic pipe will work wonders.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Quit Your Bitchin'

London, ON
2010 12 15

Finally arriving home after several days in airports we are met with the welcome sight of home:

The white lump on the right hand side
is the car we parked last night at midnight.  
It was clean and shiny when we left her.

For perspective the black thing is our daughter's full size, 200 lb. Newfoundland.  
Apparently he is down with the snow.

Our Chariot, The Mini Cooper is very good in snow.  
Lots and lots of snow

So, yes, it is cold in Florida.  Boo Hoo.  We are told to expect another 18 inches of winter braincandy today.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

How To Become a Competent Sailor

Vero Beach FL
2010 12 08

You start.

At First you Don't Know What to Do.

Then You Do.  Note 1

The road to competence - Well, it's plain
and simple to express:
and err
and err again
but less
and less
and less.'' Note 2

1. Walter Mosley American writer.  Fear of the Dark

2.  Piet Hein (b. 1905), Dutch inventor, poet. "The Road to Wisdom," Grooks (1966) as quoted by Poll Vanderwouw in his blog except Hein used "wisdom" not competence.

For those interested in simple, if not simple minded, ditties I highly recommend Piet Hein's book Grooks. He is one cool dude.  You will all know the line about what doesn't kill you makes you stronger.  It comes from Piet Hein.

Here some teasers:

They're busy making bigger roads,
and better roads and more,
so that people can discover
even faster than before
that everything is everywhere alike.

The human spirit sublimates
the impulses it thwarts:
a healthy sex life mitigates
the lust for other sports

So, How ARE Things in Florida?

December 5, 2010
Vero Beach, FL

We did not get 5 feet of snow last night like they did back home, so there is only one correct answer to this question.

We have food in the larder, fuel in the tanks and a destination, albeit not achievable under sail.  Can life get any better.

Nothing in this world beats having a destination with family there to see you.  We are among the blessed.

Behaviour in the 3rd Wealthiest Zip Code in the USA

Driving our rental car the other day we visited McDonald's looking for a cold drink (a soda not a pop).  This particular store had a parking lot full of lincolns and lexus (lexi?), you know the full array of old people cars.  The clientele was strictly what our friend Peter calls "Q Tips" - fuzzy white heads stuck on skinny whitebodies.  Entering the restaurant we could not miss the large sign on the self serve pop dispenser:


Here we sit in one of the wealthiest zip codes in the whole of the USA and the rich white guys are stealing pop from McDonalds.

This was not a teenage thing.  There is no school nearby and at noon there were no young people in the place.

One old fool proudly explained to us how to get the best deal at Golden Corral, the local buffet: you go there at 4:15 p.m. so you get the "lunch" price.  At 4:30 he informed us with a sly grin they start putting out the dinner buffet items.  This guy drove a BMW.

The Declining Lustre of Vero Beach Marina

A month has passed since the internet went down at Vero Beach Municipal Marina and no one working at the Municipal marina seems able to effect a change in this.  If you wonder how this could be the answer is suggested  in bold in the previous sentence.  The staff here do, however, have lots and lots of excuses, all of which commence with "we're not doing that...".  Them comes the lie: we are waiting for equipment; Bell has to install a new phone line; the state won't approve the antenna; the municipal council needs to vote on it....
On top of this several of the laundry machines have been down for an extended period ("We don't do the laundry room" is the refrain from staff) although the rumour is that they are working now - the machines not the staff.

Lack of hygiene has settled over the washrooms like a toxin laden smog - filthy floors in the showers, paper towelling all over everywhere and so on.  "We don't do that" is the answer from staff.

So at the moment the situation is that nothing here works and no one "does that".

As you can tell some of us are very eager to fly into the snow and cold.  In fact we cannot wait.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Adventures in Seinfieldland

Kissimmee FL
2010 11 21

"Hello".  Jane's voice on the speakerphone does not sound angry.  Not exacty.  More sort of wary with an edge.  For sure Jane was not on the happy side of average.

"Jane, Jane.  Is that you!!"  This is blurted out by Peter, husband of Jane. 

Peter is driving the Budget Committee and me the wrong way down US 1 trying to deliver us to their home in Solivida outside Kissimmee for a welcome two day break from the Boating Life.  Peter is faced with an unexpected problem and is taking charge.  He is calling his wife. 

Jane confirms that indeed it is she who answered her telephone.  Peter continues "Jane!  Where do we Live!"

Lesser mortals might have grown concerned at their fate, hurtling down a busy US highway in Florida, home of the truly dangerous senior citizen driver; being driven, by the way, the wrong way to the driver's own home.  You need to know Peter and Jane.  Besides, the Budget Committee and I are not lesser mortals.

We have been promised air conditioning and endless showers.  Force 10 earthquakes could not shake the grip of a cruiser promised endless hot showers.  We signed up for the whole tour.

Back to the car: Jane is very calm under the circumstances.  The circumstances include that we are already late; we were expected at her home presently but have not yet left our starting point.  Also this is the second time Peter has called home in the last 5 minutes.  

"Peter, Listen to me.  You have to push the Map button and then type in SOLIVIDA" .  Jane is telling Peter not where he lives but how to program the onboard GPS system on their Lexus sedan.  She knows why he is really calling.  Like all decently married couples they communicate in their own honed shorthand the parsing of  which defies even the high powered cryptographic computers of the NSA.

Instructions received Peter requires only three attempts to get the GPS situated, helped not one iota by the interventions of your humble scribe.  Then we were off.  Like a rocket.  

Peter drives fast.  He talks faster. 

In the hour and a half from Vero Beach to Kissimmee our Lexus stops for coffee, we are given a running geographical history of North Central Florida; the complete history of Peter and Jane's acquisition of a home in Solivida, an age restricted gated community just south of Kissimmee including all of the reasons Peter really liked another gated community better a detailed biographical survey of the lake which we had to skirt enroute and all the details of a truly horrible experience Peter suffered at the hands of the increasingly overbearing and unreasonable State Troopers in Forida.

Peter, a displaced Irishman, can tell a story like no other.  We are captivated the entire time we are in the car.

The last half hour of our drive produces two followup phone calls from Jane.  Each call is intended to remind Peter he is to stop at the grocery on the way home, although the first was cleverly disguised as her requesting Peter stop as a favour to her.  After the last call Peter admits he is glad she called.  "We almost drove past it" he confessed "I forgot all about it".

How could you have anything  but one enormously good time in the presence of such people: the absent minded professor and his Type A mistress. 

Peter is a cabinet maker and secondary school teacher;  Jane an elementary school teacher.  (She says it helps.)  Both are recently retired from long careers teaching the youth of Massachusettes how to make their way in what is certainly an increasingly confusing and uncertain world.  Massachusetts, I point out, took first place honours in a recent study comparing how individual states are dealing with the challenges of education in the post industrial, post china, pre India world.  Peter and Jane and teachers like them moved mountains.

The community, Solivida, is a masterful rendering of retirement life; Peter and Jane's home is palatial sporting a large fully screened back yard (called a "lanai" down here) and a swimming pool.  Busy with sailing  and travel they spend only a few months at "home" each year.  They have no time for retirement.  .

In two days we went alligator hunting by golf cart in the endless ponds of Solivida, had a full tour of the development and a history lesson of its development from Jane, took a tour of Disneyland, or at least two or three parts of it and went to a store that sold ice cream cones with half a gallon of ice cream each.  At least half a gallon.

Most fun was evenings when we watched blatantly pro Democrat TV shows on MSNBC and made fun of Republicans. 

The second morning we woke up to find baby snakes wriggling around the kitchen floor.  Vermin take a different form in the wilds of Florida let me tell you.  Jane and the Budget Committee took care of the snake.

All told we had the best time in a long time in Solivida.   Jane came on the ride home.  It was not quite so much fun.

Thanks to Peter and Jane.

Friday, December 3, 2010


On a Mooring Ball, Two Barnacles Stuck to Our Butt
Doesn't Matter Where, Doesn't Matter When

[Curmudgeon and Budget Committee] on Meredith met [George and Georgia] on Agapi & [Russ and Pat] on Consort & [Scott and Kitty] on Tamure & [Steve] on Searcher at a Cockpit Party at Great Sale Cay, Abacos in 2008.  [Curm and BC] met [Bill and Barb] on Suncast in the Erie Canal in 2010.

Three days ago [C&BC] said farewell to [S&K] who had been in Vero for Thanksgiving and then headed outl.

Yesterday [C & BC] met [G &G] at a mall in the middle of nowhere. [G&G] and (C & BC] were delighted to find each other and shared lunch and discovered that both of them [B&B].

Back at the marina [C&BC] suggested {G&G] come for a dinghy ride to see if [B&B] were aboard.  It seemed like a nice surprise.

Enroute to [B&B] {[C&BC] & [G&G]} met [R&P] who had just moored their boat and were themselves dinghying to shore for showers.  Just prior to meeting {[C&BC] & [G&G]}, [R&P] had found [Steve] who was also anchored at Vero. 

Incapable of not noticing the conflagration midharbour [Steve] discovered {{[C&BC] & [G&G]}& [R&P} having a gam.

[Steve] dinghied out to gam in.

It turns out [R&P] are actually travelling with [S&K] but were delayed with engine trouble.

[G&G] invited all to dinner at their condo tonight which we will all attend.

[B&B] were not on their boat but that really did not matter.  [ & B] are coming to dinner.

Boat Work

Aimlessly Floating in the River Styx
Seems Like Yesterday, Looks Like Tomorrow

A week until we fly home.  We put into Vero early to get at some boatwork and to this have we devoted some not inconsiderable time.   On the mainteance issue we try to invest at least 10% of the value of the boat every year in renewing, upgrading and refurbishing.  The last few years have tended to be 20 to 25% years.  When you live on your boat failure to keep up puts you at risk.  Not that failure to have a new flatscreen TV ever imperilled anyone's life but the failure of rigging, diesel, sails, batteries, pumps and other stuff we seem to be incessantly replacing and upgrading could.

As a measure of how busy we have been and how bored we have grown I present the list since August:

The Budget Committee has committed herself to removing the old finish and redoing the brightwork.  Here you see her start on the 3 hatch covers. 

While she was doing this I busied myself installing our new rigid boomvang from Garhauer.  Well, actually my good friend Peter did most of the drilling and tapping.  He was a cabinet maker and teacher in real life and made a series of "how to videos" for Stanley Tool.   He was growing very upset at my misuse of both tools and the english language and stepped in, just in time.

 Left: Peter (behind the boom) installs the boomvang while I watch.
Right: The Boomvang installed

Peter's largess needed repaying and the occasion arose when it developed his rigging was badly detuned thanks to some truly unconscious work by yardmen when he launched his boat.

Out came my beloved Loos guage and we had at it.

Two solar panels which have lain in our basement untouched by ray of sun for 5 years were invigorated and seet to work.

 This we did in Halifax but the pooping in Long Island Sound caused some salt water to find its way to the solar controller where the ocean did what it loves to do - set the copper traces in the controller afire.  Corrosion everywhere, the small piles of green dust copper's best effort at a flame.  The traces were eaten clean through and a new controller  needed to be installed.

Two new battery banks were installed and everything rewired- 4 Sears Diehard PM2s, AGM technology, and an Optima redtop for starting.

Although I hate to mention it we also installed the new Xantrex SW2000, pure sine wave inverter charger, one device of which I wish I had never heard.  That product is a total disaster and should be recalled.  I discussing its many shortcomings with Xantrex about its many shortcomings.

And finally a 19 inch LED LCD Flatscreen TV.  The small white box at the bottom allows me to play all my .avi files  on the TV so I continue to make good use of the bittorrent material downloaded before we left Canada.