May 30, 2011 - Catalina 27 Daysail

Our boat is still in Mexico, but that doesn't stop me from being able to sail. This weekend I went for a quick daysail with close friends who recently bought a great Catalina 27. It was lots of fun sailing for the first time in three months. Thanks Jim+Wendy for a great day!

Cruising in the delta

Wing on Wing

Catalina 27 Interior

May 28, 2011 - Microsoft OWA FAIL

This is great - you'd think a big company like Microsoft wouldn't miss something this fundamental. At work we have some *cough* Microsoft stuff that corp IT is responsible for, such as mail.

Where am I supposed to click, exactly? There is not a single clickable thing on this page that says "OK".

Nice FAIL, Microsoft

Mar 29, 2011 - Inmarsat launches data service for the ISatPhone Pro

During our sailing adventure we took along a satellite phone - an ISatPhone Pro from Inmarsat. While we only used it a few times for voice calls, it has the ability to send and receive short (160 character) emails. We used this email capability often for our daily position reports and to keep in touch with family as well. Now, Inmarsat is finally launching data service for the phone.

For our trip, Inmarsat had yet to launch full data service - where you plug in a computer and the phone acts like a dial-up modem. The latency and slow data rate does not make it anything close to a regular Internet connection - for example, web browsing would be not only painfully slow, but really expensive for the per-minute call charges. However for email, it's absolutely perfect, and a nice alternative to SSB/Pactor.

Having this data service, and regular email access, really opens up what we'll be able to do with this device for the next trip. Not only for position reports and having access to email out on the high-seas to email friends+family, but the ability to receive weather information - for example forecasts and GRIB files from saildocs.

GMN XGate, which offers a compression and duplexing product that greatly reduces airtime charges has also already announced support for the phone. While XGate is moderately expensive, it reduces airtime charges significantly for people with lots of email to send.

A full long-term review of the phone will be coming some time this summer, once we've had a chance to test out the data service.

Mar 28, 2011 - VOIP solution to replace Gizmo5 - Round TWO

NOTE: If you are serious about undertaking this solution, you probably want to read the updates at the bottom of this entry, as we have now switched over to Flowroute.

My super cheap VOIP solution was a great idea, but it had some issues with inbound calls.

So now, I'm giving CallCentric a try instead - even though it will cost more - around $2/month for the inbound number, and outbound rate of $0.02/minute. Inbound calls also are billed at a rate of $0.015/minute, so they aren't free either.

What we have found with my super cheap solution is that Caller ID is flaky at best (if it works at all, it's usually some number in Tacoma WA - probably belonging to either Google Voice or ipkall), and even worse - by the time inbound calls are forwarded through all the services and our phone rings, Google Voice gives up and forwards the call to voice mail. So our phone rings, and we pick it up, but there's nobody there - because the caller is already leaving a message on GV.

Here's what the new configuration looks like:

This is a very simple configuration, consisting of our ATA and CallCentric, plus Google Voice. Our GV number will be forwarded to the CallCentric DID (in fact, both numbers are in the same Central Office), and CallCentric will send the GV CallerID on outbound calls - they just needed to verify that the number, indeed, belonged to me.

As far as ATA configuration goes, it was easy and simple, and well documented at CallCentric's site for those who need a bit more guidance at all the required SIP configuration values.

Some additional pluses:

  • I get the G729a codec back, as CallCentric supports it.
  • CallCentric supports 911 service. There's a small surcharge associated with it, $3 at sign-up. I don't know if there is a monthly fee or tax as well.
  • Some other nifty features you can read about here.
UPDATE 2012-11-08:

After about 20 months with Callcentric I've switched to Flowroute as a result of about 4 weeks of flaky or down service due to DDOS and then superstorm Sandy.

Read the latest update here before considering anything written here.

And another update here on switching to an Obihai OBi100 after my Linksys died.

Mar 22, 2011 - Microwave Popcorn For Cheap

Yep, I originally posted this on our cruising blog last year - so I apologize for everyone who's already seen it, but for everyone else, this is a great money-saving tip!

Did you know that the popcorn kernel doesn't care how it gets hot? Yep, that's right. This is the big secret that the companies making microwave popcorn don't want you to know. You can make microwave popcorn for about 1/10th the cost - and it's healthier because you control what ingredients go into it. This comes via our good friends the Knutson's.

It's really simple, but it'll take a few batches to get things dialed in.

Here's all you need:
  • Popcorn. Just your regular bag or container of raw popcorn kernels.
  • Small paper lunch bags. Cheap, and you can use them more than once. WARNING:  Many black inks have metal in them and MAY start a fire in the microwave - OK, they WILL start a fire. Please don't reuse bags with printing on them!
  • Cooking spray. We just use a generic supermarket brand which is very low fat and low calorie. You can even skip this, if just making plain popcorn.
  • Topping. Whatever you want to sprinkle on top. Salt, Garlic salt, Pepper, Cajun seasoning, à¤®à¤¸à¤¾à¤²à¤¾, Plain. It's up to you.
The basic cooking procedure is really simple:
  • Spoon popcorn into paper bag. (Exact amount will come from the dial-in procedure).
  • Fold over the top of the bag and stick it into the microwave.
  • Start the microwave.
  • Stop the microwave once popping is complete.
  • Pour it into a large bowl.
  • Spray on some cooking spray, and shake. Repeat.
  • Sprinkle on some topping, and shake. Repeat.
Seriously, it's that easy. And don't throw the bag away, you can use it for 2 or 3 batches most of the time - use it until the bag splits!

Now comes the dial-in procedure.

This will take a few batches, but it's no big deal, and once you find out exactly the right amount of popcorn and time for your microwave, it'll work perfectly every time.

We start with 3 tablespoons of popcorn per bag, and use the microwave's built-in "popcorn" program to start with, otherwise start with 2:30 or so and adjust upwards or downwards as needed. Pay attention to the sound of popping in the last minute or so of the cycle. If it's still popping when the microwave is done, then you need less popcorn, or increase time. If popping stops, then stop the microwave before it burns, and you'll need to reduce time, or use more popcorn.

The dial-in procedure is that simple - either add more popcorn, increase time, or reduce the time - and after a few batches you'll find the perfect setting for your microwave.

Maybe you'll find a second batch is needed (wanted?), but that's no problem either - since this is so cheap you'll just make 2 or 3 bags without thinking about it. Put any un-popped kernels back in the bag, along with your regular dial-in amount and cook another batch.

That's it! That's all there is to cheap microwave popcorn, at about 1/10th the cost of "microwave popcorn" sold in the stores. And you choose exactly what you want to put on it - not only is it healthier, but you will come up with awesome things to sprinkle on top that the popcorn companies would never think to sell!