Monday, March 22, 2010

Healthcare: we do live in interesting times!

Passage of healthcare reform, whether you're for or against this particular bill, is an amazing landmark event that I frankly feared would never happen in my lifetime. I have my reservations about the bill, but something had to be done, and any sort of action is better than prolonged inaction. Congratulations to the courage and conviction of both President Obama and the Democratic party!

"At every crossway on the road that leads to the future, each progressive spirit is opposed by a thousand men appointed to guard the past." -Maeterlinck

UPDATE (December 13, 2010): A federal judge in Virginia has ruled the insurance mandate (one of my reservations) to be unconstitutional. If upheld, this will probably wipe out the insurance reforms, further calling into question this particular exercise. I still applaud the effort, but now think it was probably the wrong idea at the wrong time. The top priorities should have been economic recovery and jobs (and the home mortgage mess).

Thursday, March 18, 2010

LED Headlamp/Flashlight

The best LED flashlight/headlamp I've found for boating at night is the Photon Freedom Fusion. Click the link and scroll down for full information. Notably:
  • Red as primary or secondary color
  • Full range dimmer
  • AA (not AAA) batteries
  • Safety beacon modes
  • Water resistant
  • Rugged
  • Headlamp or flashlight
  • Constant brightness
UPDATE: I've now learned that red color doesn't really preserve night vision -- what matters is (low) light intensity, not color (see Night Vision, The Red Myth), but the Photon Freedom Fusion (White) is still a good choice, because it's fully dimmable.

    Tuesday, March 16, 2010

    Your Own Logo Gear in Your Own Storefront

    It's cool to have logo gear (hats, shirts, etc) for a boat you cruise or race on, and it's even cooler when the crew gear matches.

    You can of course order custom logo gear from a wide variety of suppliers, but that usually means the hassle and expense of ordering in quantity.

    A good way to avoid such hassles is to use a supplier that makes it possible for you to have your own "storefront". Some will even host your storefront for free, with no order minimums. Once you've designed your logo (for which there is typically a reasonable setup charge), your crew can order what they want without having to design or coordinate orders.

    Storefront suppliers:

    Thursday, February 25, 2010

    SSD or 7200 RPM Hard Drive?

    SSD (Solid-State Drive, based on non-volatile memory) has finally come of age, and is now a realistic alternative to rotating hard disk drives for certain purposes.

    • Fast read speed
    • Low latency (delay)
    • Low power
    • Silent
    • Instant starting
    • No moving parts
    • Cost
    • Write speed not as good as read speed
    • Performance decrease over time
    • More limited lifespan
    It's important to note that there are great differences in performance between different SSD, with the slowest and least expensive SSD (e.g., OCZ "Value Series" SSD) not significantly better than 5th generation 7200 RPM hard disk drives (see 7200 RPM Laptop/Notebook Hard Drives) despite being considerably more expensive, with average read and write speeds (higher is better) of about 80 MB/s. Only much more expensive premium SSD (e.g., OCZ Vertex) offer substantial increases in performance.

    It's also important to note even a premium SSD provides only a modest system performance gain (on the order of about 15% overall) as compared to hard disk. Is that worth the cost and other drawbacks?

    Best Product
    Honorable Mention

    Tuesday, February 23, 2010

    7200 RPM Laptop/Notebook Hard Drives

    Over the past few years 2.5" hard drives for laptop/notebook computers have greatly improved, to the point where they are now comparable in performance to most 3.5" desktop hard drives while still being quiet, cool and thrifty on power.

    That improvement has been made possible by (a) increases in recording density (the amount of data squeezed on a disk platter) that translate into corresponding increases in transfer performance; (b) increased performance of the SATA interface, now 3 Gb/s; and (c) faster 7200 RPM drives that increase transfer performance and reduce latency (delays) over slower rotation drives.

    Each generation is faster than the last. It's important to get the latest generation, and since each generation is offered in a variety of capacities, it can be hard to figure out which generation is which. 160 GB 7200 RPM, for example, is available from Hitachi Global Storage Technologies in 3rd (Travelstar 7K200), 4th (Travelstar 7K320), and 5th (Travelstar 7K500) generation versions, identified only by model number.

    In addition to generation, similar drives from different manufacturers have significant differences in performance due to differences in technology, including architecture and on-board control firmware. Different brands are not the same!

    Best Product
    Honorable Mention
    See Also SSD or 7200 RPM Hard Drive?

      Friday, February 19, 2010

      Great Compact Digital Cameras 2010

      UPDATED: Great Compact Digital Cameras 2013

      Here's how I get my great images: 

      Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ35
      • 18x zoom
      • 27 mm wide angle
      • Fast f/2.8 lens
      • Conversion lens compatible
      • Ultra high-speed autofocus
      • Stereo mic
      • 12.1 megapixel
      • It's what I use
      • Find It Online with Google Products
      Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS3
      What they both share
      • Fantastic Leica super-zoom lens
        (glass matters more than megapixels!)
      • Optical Image Stabilization
      • Intelligent Auto Mode
      • Face Recognition
      • AVCHD Lite HD video
      • Superb image quality

      Thursday, February 18, 2010

      Wireless Mouse that Really Works

      The problem with many a wireless mouse is that they don't work terribly well due to annoying lag. Another problem is the dongle needed for the computer to communicate with the wireless mouse. After much searching I've finally found a wireless mouse that really works, the Microsoft Bluetooth Notebook Mouse 5000. Response is excellent, size and shape are just right (for me at least), battery life is excellent, and the price is right (as low as $25 online). Find It Online with Google Products

      If your notebook computer doesn't have built-in Bluetooth like mine, you can get a Bluetooth dongle so small you can leave it plugged into a USB port, like the Kensington Bluetooth USB Micro Adapter, or a much less expensive generic equivalent.

      If you prefer a larger mouse, check out the other Microsoft Bluetooth Mouse options -- while I haven't used them, my guess™ is that they work equally well.

      Wednesday, February 17, 2010

      VHF Radio with DSC and GPS plus AIS

        Your crew are outfitted with hand-held VHF radios with DSC and GPS (see Hand-held VHF Radio Could Save Your Life) that will transmit exact locations should they fall overboard. Excellent. So now how do you actually find them? And since you're so safety conscious, wouldn't you also like to have an AIS receiver? The answer: Standard Horizon Matrix AIS GX2100, which has many cool features, including:
        • Dual Channel AIS Receiver built-in
        • Contact AIS Ship with DSC
        • AIS Closest Point of Approach Alarm
        • Navigate to waypoints with Compass page
        • Navigate to DSC Distress Call
        • Programmable Scanning and Soft Keys
        Highly recommended! Find It Online with Google Products

        Monday, February 15, 2010

        Hand-held VHF Radio Could Save Your Life

        A problem with EPIRB or PLB is that if you fall off a boat, without an expensive 121.5 MHz RDF the boat has no way of finding you by the radio signal, and you might well succumb to hypothermia before the USCG responds and arrives.

        An excellent alternative that will give your boat (and all other DSC-equipped VHF radios) within a range of several miles your exact position, making it possible to find you, is a waterproof hand-held marine VHF radio with internal GPS and DSC.

        Best Products
        • Standard Horizon HX850S
          6W, floating, internal GPS, DSC, SOS strobe light
          "EDITOR'S CHOICE" by Practical Sailor September 2009
          "BEST CHOICE" by Practical Sailor July 2009
          SAIL Magazine 2009 Pittman "INNOVATION AWARD" January 2009

          Find It Online with Google Products

        • Standard Horizon HX851
          6W, floating, internal GPS, DSC, SOS strobe light, glow-in-the dark gasket, navigate to waypoints and compass display.
          Improved version of HX850S

          Find It Online with Google Products
        Honorable Mention
        • Lowrance LHR-80
          5W, floating, internal GPS, DSC, navigate to waypoints
          PRO: track-your-buddy, larger display, less expensive
          CON: not as waterproof, less powerful, not as rugged
        More Information
        See Also: VHF Radio with DSC and GPS plus AIS
        UPDATE: Another option is the Mobilarm V100 "VPIRB" water-activated DSC+GPS distress beacon. Cool idea (despite the misleading moniker), but suffers from limited function and very high price tag (~$750). At (say) $250 it would be much more competitive and compelling.

        Best Computer Stores for San Francisco Bay Area

        Honorable Mention

        BMW Oracle Racing Wins 33rd America's Cup

        Race #2

        My own take is that the upwind tactics of USA were fantastic -- the port lay line call was spot on, and USA then footed for too much speed for Alinghi to tack in front, and had Alinghi tried to lee bow, then it might well not have been able to make the mark. Hats off to American John Kostecki!

        By comparison I thought the tactics of Alinghi (Brad Butterworth) were surprisingly poor, tacking onto starboard too early instead of going out to the starboard lay line when it had a big lead.

        Spithill's driving was likewise fantastic, winning the start and pushing Alinghi into a penalty for the 2nd time.

        And Coutts deserves tremendous credit for assembling and managing such a great team -- his revenge (on Bertarelli) must be sweet!

        Despite all the controversy, I've come to think this event was fitting, echoing the initial success of the solo yacht America in 1857, demonstrating the superiority of American sailing technology -- this boat is simply amazing, and I don't think we're going to see her like again!

        Final Press Conferences

        I thought Larry handled himself well, whereas Bertarelli showed what a childish, arrogant whiner he is. (That he insisted on driving so much instead of giving the wheel to his experts on the boat was a big factor in his loss in my opinion.)

        Will the 34th Cup be in San Francisco?

        The obvious problems with San Francisco Bay as an AC venue are (a) difficulty and cost of finding suitable waterfront infrastructure for all the teams, (b) heavy commercial traffic, and (c) limited racing area with heavy tides.

        Larry currently seems to be leaning toward a return to Newport RI, but does still have San Francisco on his list, along with San Diego (my favorite) and Valencia, Spain. He has promised an independent organizing body, so hopefully the decision will be made for the good of the Cup.

        I think we'll see a return to monohulls in a multiple challenger format, but a bit smaller, somewhat less expensive, more high tech, and faster than the last AC rule. (I personally would like to see it sailed in something like Volvo Open 70's.)

        The Louis Vuitton Series has proven to be popular and successful, and I'm sure that will be taken into consideration, perhaps folded into a new AC venue.

        This will probably be discussed to death on the Sailing Anarchy Forums (but be warned that some of the regulars there can be pretty nasty to newcomers).


        The last highlight video is well worth watching.

        Sunday, February 7, 2010

        Garmin Foretrex 401 Wrist GPS

        The new Garmin Foretrex 401 Wrist GPS is a substantial and worthwhile upgrade to the original Foretrex 101/201, and can be an invaluable tool for marine navigation (cruising, racing, long passages) in addition to hiking. The new high-sensitivity receiver acquires satellites much more rapidly, and holds them in more difficult conditions. New electronic compass works even when not moving. Data can be shared wirelessly with other 401's. Screens are readily customizable. Highly recommended. As of this writing, Internet prices are as low as $172.
        Find It Online with Google Products

        Garmin Foretrex 401

        Garmin Foretrex 401