Larry Hosken. Technical writer. Puzzlehunt enthusiast.
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Semaphore Flags Message Maker

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I put together a web app to send messages in semaphore, an archaic flag-based alphabet system.
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lahosken
4 days ago
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It's kind of adorable. http://www.cockeyed.com/lessons/semaphore/index.php?wave=sbkgebg%20yvzn%20nysn%20tbys%20fvreen
San Francisco, USA
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La Cucaracha: On the GO with that new smartphone game? (toon)

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cucatacomango

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lahosken
26 days ago
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San Francisco, USA
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A couple of small epiphany's in a day in the life.

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It was a bemusing and somewhat vexing problem that at first blush was all caused by a watch. It's 5ish in the afternoon on a Saturday and I'm clutching an adult beverage at a function when the phone rings. I stare at the magic box doing it's best to attract my attention. I sigh and take the call. It's a local Captain who is taking a boat way offshore on Monday and his autopilot is now kaput ostensibly caused by a Garmin Quatix watch. This is a new one to me and he now has my attention.

He launches into the saga. He has a original Quatix watch, and tried to connect it to the autopilot while underway. The autopilot immediately freaks out, and has to be put in standby to get control of the boat. The watch is disconnected from the system and he attempts to reengage to autopilot. The odd thing is now the autopilot seems fine until you engage it. Instead of doing its "Otto Pilot" thing it now pops up the "Shadow Drive" is on message and does nothing else. What this normally means is the helm has been manually turned, the autopilot thinks you want control of the boat, and gives it to you. This isn't supposed to happen when you first engage it, and I have never seen one do this. I agree to visit the boat on Sunday morning to see what can be done and will bring the latest software with me.


The boat is a new and large center console fishing boat from a good builder. It has three Garmin 7616 MFD's installed by the factory in the dash. I take a quick glance at the gear connected to it and don't see anything of concern other than older software.

The Captain shows me the problem, and what the hell. The damn thing goes straight to "Shadow Drive" when you engage it. So step one is to do a full software upgrade and see if that corrects the problem. This takes about 20 minutes to do. It's is a zen thing and I have some level of confidence all will be okay when done, but it isn't. The problem stubbornly remains. I take a closer look at the autopilot set up It seems to be okay, and the Shadow Drive is disengaged. What's up with this? I think maybe I should look at the autopilot's computer and see what the idiot LED light is saying.

I go off to the truck to get some boat disassembly tools and the first epiphany slowly seeps in. It's a funny thing about our brains. The Captain had mentioned the Shadow Drive message in his call to me. I had played with the autopilot and seen the Shadow Drive message a dozen times so I erroneously assumed it had one. I slowly realized on the walk back to the truck his boat doesn't have a shadow drive at all. It's a steer by wire system as the image of the boat's Teleflex Optimus 360 joystick appears floating in my head. Something else is going on here.

The console is opened, and yep it's a steer by wire Reactor and I had overlooked the SBW designation when I checked the N2K device list. Further it's telling me via the LED idiot light it thinks it feels okay. I scratch my head and try to figure out what to do next.

When solving a problem in a system with lots of stuff hanging on it information is important, and the Captain had some. He had done some excellent and smart problem solving before I had arrived as evidenced by all of the boat's documentation spread out on the berth.

Buried in the back of the console were two gateways. The first was for the engine interfaces, and the second was for the autopilot. Look he says "the autopilot interface LED is doing a two blink." This means in effect that it's talking to the steering system but not the the autopilot.

The second epiphany starts to coalesce. In my first conversation with the Captain he mentioned something about a Garmin GNT-10 being installed on the boat with issues. This black box transmits ANT+ from the network to devices like like a Quatix watch. The dealer had installed it on in the boat after the fact. 

According to the Captain it had been plugged directly into a N2K port on the back of one of the MFD's and didn't work. I wasn't surprised about that. The boat dealer had just recently returned and installed it on the Garmin network, or so they thought. The last of the puzzle fell into place and I now knew exactly what was wrong.

NMEA 2000 is a version of CAN bus, and uses in many cases the same deviceNet connectors. So in effect there are what appears to be two nearly identical NMEA 2000 networks in the boat. They look the same but one is CAN bus only, and the other is NMEA 2000. The two don't play nicely together at all.

So what happened was the dealer's installer added the GNT-10 to the CAN bus network, and not the NMEA network. This is what was causing the havoc with the autopilot.

So how do you tell the two networks apart? The first thing to look for is a network with only three "Tee's" in it like the drawing above shows. The second way to tell is the tag on the Reactor's cable that says "Do not connect to a NMEA 2000 bus." In this case the opposite happened and a NMEA 2000 device was plugged into a CAN bus network.

This problem should not have happened in the first place and I can only make some broad assumptions about why it happened. The reality is the installation of the GNT-10 after the fact was a waste of money because the three factory installed 7616's were already ANT+ capable.

If I was to guess both the Captain and the owner have Quatix watches and somewhere along the line an inquiry was made to the dealer if they would interface to the installed systems. Someone there made a determination that a GNT-10 was needed and arranged to have it installed, twice and incorrectly both times. I left the GNT-10 in place now unplugged but it should be removed. Sheesh, what a way to spend a Sunday morning, but the boat is fine now and well offshore today with a happy Captain as I'm writing this.
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lahosken
54 days ago
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If someone b0rkens a boat's GPS-autopilot-etc network, do you call them a LANlubber? Still waiting for the first wearable tech-caused shipwreck.
San Francisco, USA
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(Untitled)

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pocket litter posted a photo:

Oklahoma City



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lahosken
73 days ago
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I researched this staircase. It's not up to code.
San Francisco, USA
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Waterspout to Tornado to Waterspout to Tornando

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Back in January we had a cracker of a front pass through Sarasota. Not that I didn't know it was coming, I did. Cold fronts are a regular event here. Almost weekly at some times of the year. They typically roll in diagonally on a long southwest to northeast sagging line. This one was coming in late at night. The evening cooling tends to calm the associated T-boomers down on most occasions. Yadda yadda yadda, big deal. Severe thunder storm warnings are also a dime a dozen here and off to bed I go with a good book. I never saw the tornado watch that appeared at 12:45am. At 2:03am the cell phones start squawking I grab mine, fumble for reading glasses, and holy crap, what the hell going on? This thing didn't calm down, in fact it got meaner, a whole lot meaner. There were warnings galore lined up.


I plunked myself in the living room and turned on the TV. All of the local TV stations had dragged in their meteorologists who were clothed just one small step above pajamas. Warnings were scrolling at the bottom of the screen, but what I was paying attention to was the Doppler radar images which were showing rotation just off the coast due west of me.

Above is a cool NOAA screen shot from the event showing three potential areas of rotation embedded in the front. Note the areas of bright red right next to the bright green where shear is occurring. The one in the center created the tornado that will strike Siesta Key and move onto the mainland. It came to earth at 3:17 am in the Gulf of Mexico as a EF2 tornado and in just five minutes traveled 1.14 miles as it roiled across Siesta Key crossed the intercoastal and continued to ravage the mainland. Hence the title of the piece.

What's unusual is there are few if any cases of a tornado starting as a mesocyclone waterspout then becaming a tornado as it moved onto land or is it now a landspout? Within a minute or two it became a waterspout again as it crossed over the intercoastal waterway, or is it still a tornado? And then again a tornado on the main land.

This is the catch. There are all sorts of fuzzy verbal boundaries and lots of forms of, okay hold your breath now, Cyclogenesis

At the micro end of this scale you have gustnados that can look like a tornado, but aren't. Landspouts are generally considered to be a relative of a typical waterspout but it's over land. Don't forget the mountainado and snowspout either. At the nano level there are dust devils, sand augers, fire whirls and dozens of other similarly named whirlwind manifestations.

So here is a clear rule of thumb. If any of these forms of Cyclogenesis, and I'm using the term loosely are attached to a mesocyclone storm cell (bad ass thunderstorm) consider them very dangerous whether on land or in the water. Even if some of these weather events aren't attached to a mesocyclone they can still be extremely dangerous.

I waited a day for all of the emergency activities to finish and walked the entire tornado path starting on the beach. It was scoured clean and very flat. Damaged beach furniture had been put in piles but I think only half of them were found. I couldn't help thinking beach goers will be finding the balance of them while swimming in the gulf for years to come.

The six story Excelsior condo took the brunt of the tornado's wrath coming in from the gulf. Windows blown out, cars were damaged, but the most notable damage was caused by the roof being stripped off. This allowed the next few hours of very heavy rain to soak the building's interior largely ruining everything.

Here is were my observations differ from the official report that stated the wind field was 350 wards wide. You can clearly see the path where the tornado crossed the road and I would say the wind field was less than 100 yards wide, and the real damage was confined to a width of a few hundred feet.

The bay side portion of the condo was luckier. Not that they escaped unscathed by any means. The spacing between the rows of condos was pretty large and the tornado spent  a chunk of its time there. It did cross over and got close to removing the entire roof on one of the buildings which will required substantial repairs. It then shredded its way through some oak trees and entered the intercoastal waterway. A quarter of a mile later it hit the mainland with vengeance.

The two story home on the water was completely demolished, and resulted in the only injuries which were fortunately not life threatening. Fire and rescue personnel extracted two women from the second floor with lift bags.

The tornado then coursed its way through a residential neighborhood for a distance of about two long city blocks.

A walk along the now blue tarped damage path was accompanied by the buzzing of dozens of chainsaws grinding through fallen tree limbs. The majority of the damage was blown in garage doors and windows, roof shingles and other roof issues along with damage from large branches and fallen trees and then it dissipated into thin air.

On the whole the National Weather Service does a great job, but most of us aren't paying any attention. I spoke to a neighbor who was on the edge of the damage. He was clueless, but the noise woke him up and went out onto his porch. His comment was it was raining shingles, branches and leaves. He understood exactly what the noise was and bailed for his bathroom. So this engenders the question, how does the weather service know there is a tornado?

The answer in most cases is they don't. What they can see via radar are places in a storm cell that have shear that creates rotation and may cause a tornado. When you hear there is a tornado on the ground it's usually because someone saw it and called in a report. There are a few exceptions to this. The screen shot above is a radar image showing a tornado's debris ball. This is what was causing shingles to rain down on the neighbor.  It's those few white and pink pixels at the end of the hook signature. This doesn't happen often due to weather conditions, what type of debris it is, and how much of it is there.

So what's the take away from all of this other than these are random and devastating acts of the weather god's wrath. There are several. Boaters, although not enough of them, generally pay close attention to the weather and me more than most.  It's a Darwin thing.

I had known the front was coming for a couple of days, but if I had taken a closer look, and I did have the tools to do this with my link to the NOAA/NWS Storm Prediction Center. They had been concerned about severe weather development in SW Florida two days earlier and had been tracking the front. I had just glanced at the weather maps and radar summaries thinking it's another damn front again. It would be a rainy day and not good one to be on the water.

My problem was this occurred less than two miles away from me, a friends boat was badly damage when a palm tree was ripped up and thrown at his craft, and two good friends lived within a block of the tornado's path. The thing that saved a lot of people's bacon including mine was the fact that most of us have magic information boxes in our pocket and if you turn on the "Emergency Alerts" switch at will at least tell you there are things like tornado warnings going on. That's what woke me up. Is yours turned on?


The radar images are from NOAA websites and the photos were take by the author.


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lahosken
93 days ago
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"Gustnado" was only the second-coolest word I learned from this article
San Francisco, USA
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Imzy is a community platform where people pay each other for being nice

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(credit: Nan Palmero)

Imzy is trying to be everything you want out of Internet community, minus the awfulness. Founded by a group of ex-Reddit employees, including Dan McComas and Jessica Moreno, the company has raised $3 million in investments, partnered with Lena Dunham and Dan Harmon's online communities, and attracted tens of thousands of users in closed beta. They did it based on one promise: they would not be like Reddit. What exactly that means depends on what you hated about Reddit in the first place.

For people like Dunham—whose email list known as Lenny Letter already has its own verified group in the new community—Imzy means being free from a lot of the harassment and trolling that haunts other platforms. Imzy CEO McComas told Ars via phone that part of the company's strategy is inviting a wide range of groups including Lenny Letter and Black Girls Talking to be part of Imzy from the start. "We're trying to get diverse groups to work with us now, because [as the company grows] you're only as diverse as your private beta. People tend to bring in people like themselves," he said. "If we waited a couple of years to address this, it would be too late. We would already have a cultural norm and that's tough to change." Essentially, Imzy is hedging against developing a community that would embrace groups like Reddit's racist r/CoonTown or the pro-rape subreddit r/rapingwomen. McComas added that a big part of their strategy is to pay community moderators—they have two working full time on staff already. "At Reddit, there was one staffer per 20 million unique visitors. We think we need a higher ratio of staff to community members,"

But as McComas admits, creating good policies around community and diversity don't really rake in the dough. That's why the backbone of Imzy is going to be their tipping and payment system. Currently the beta allows users to tip moderators and other community members, but in the long term the idea would be for each community to figure out how it wants to use its payment system. Comedian Dan Harmon, creator of the cult hit Community, has an Imzy group called Harmontown where members can pay $5 per month to listen in while Harmon tapes his weekly podcast. Imzy gets a cut of those payments. In the longer term, with Imzy providing a variety of tools for buying and selling, groups might form around selling clothing, games, or art. Imagine joining a group devoted to homebrew telescopes, and meeting people there who would sell you their latest kits, to your exact specifications. For Imzy, that's the goal.

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lahosken
93 days ago
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If I know you and you want an Imzy invite, ping me
San Francisco, USA
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