Turkey anyone?

turkey-cartoon-dreamstimemaximum 29507120I had the good fortune recently to be able to observe some younger colleagues who are also employed in the whacky world of marine refrigeration and air conditioning. On reflection, it could be said that these and other members of the millennial generation may have become so immersed in screens and keyboards that they've glossed over the important step of grasping a thorough understanding of the actual machines. Maybe they didn't get the memo. Maybe they don't feel they need to, as it's all there on the screen. Or is it?

Refrigeration and air conditioning machines are incredibly dynamic devices where the operating parameters and conditions are constantly changing. Much of this type of equipment now features digital displays and controls that give the operator a comprehensive view of how the machine is performing at that instant in time.

But does the modern-day operator have a good enough basic understanding of the subject to be able predict events and performance rather than simply being able to read numbers on a screen? I am mighty impressed at the way some younger fingers can flit at speed through menus, sub-menus, etc., especially as most touch-screens don't seem to be sympathetic to my hardened and calloused fingertips.

But what are these young eyes seeing?

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Guilty Until Proven Innocent

Boxes-dreamstime m 34888483     Yup, that’s the way it feels we’re being treated by shipping companies. Every package or pallet that ships from our warehouse is at the mercy of the carrier, because from the moment it’s picked up to when it’s delivered, hopefully undamaged, on time, and to the correct address, it is completely out of our control. They have the goods, and we the vendor and you the customer don’t. Your package is off on the ride of its life, and we can do nothing but hope and pray that it is safe and sound and not being held hostage or abducted by aliens.

     Our team spends considerable time and effort finding the best, safest, most reliable and most cost-effective way to ship packages, parcels and pallets. So, what could possibly go wrong?

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Conundrum - New or Rebuilt Parts

good idea-bad-idea dreamstimemedium 28973031This is a tale of two choices – new or rebuilt parts for electrical repairs.

We were recently asked by a marine air conditioning service company to quote a price for a replacement electrical box on a now obsolete chiller system. We were informed that the original box had been seriously compromised due to water ingress, and also that there were signs of some components, wires, and/or connections having scorch marks and other signs of overheating.This electrical box carries both high voltage and high current, and so carries a significantly high fire risk if compromised.

The servicing company ruled out any possibility of them rebuilding the electrical box on safety grounds due to its condition, and so sought a complete new, factory-made replacement. Unfortunately,

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That "W" word... Warranty

warranty 267x200At dealer technical training sessions run by marine equipment manufacturers, typically the last item on the agenda before everyone heads off home is the matter of warranty.

The cynical among us might think that this is so timed that it can be rushed through at the last minute so the factory staff can shrink from the baying crowd and make a swift retreat, and that may not be too far from the truth. But why is it sometimes such a contentious subject?

From a new-boat owner's perspective, it is entirely reasonable for him or her to assume that if anything fails on a newly purchased vessel within the warranty period it will be replaced or repaired without too much fuss and bother.

But, unlike an automobile where the car dealership is responsible for repairs to every item on the vehicle, equipment on pleasure craft is supplied by individual manufacturers, each with their own warranty policy.

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I Just Want You To Know....

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I always cringe when my significant other starts a conversation with: "I just want you to know ..."

This is the preamble to news of some form, either joyous or gasp-inducing, and unfortunately it's primarily the latter. The latest was: "I just want you to know that I did look in my mirrors before backing up, and those railings were definitely not there when I looked."

It has also been used occasionally as a form of self-aggrandizement, as in: "I just want you to know that I have just fixed the lawnmower that everyone said was toast, and then rescued a squirrel that was trapped in the trash-can" No comments please on why we'd want save a trapped squirrel. I happen to be fascinated with them, while others, especially avid gardeners, tend to consider them as nothing but tree-rats worthy of riddance.

The inflection in the voice during the preamble usually gives some indication of the nature of what's to come, but not when it comes through as a text on the phone. This is especially true when the oh-so clever gizmo in the car reads a text message to me while I drive. When those first words are uttered by the automaton in the dashboard, I have to grip the wheel tightly and take a deep breath, hoping for the best outcome.

We hear it also on some of the technical calls we get. "I just want you to know that I tried whacking it with a hammer,

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I am not a Twitcher, honest!

 

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I can safely say that I have never Twitched, nor have I ever been tempted to become a Twitcher. But I will admit to being a bit of a birder, albeit only within the grounds of my estate in Annapolis, where seven bird feeders attract over thirty species of birds over the course of a year. So what exactly is a Twitcher, and should we be wary of them?

Twitching, which Wikipedia defines as “the pursuit of a previously located rare bird” is the preserve of fanatics who’s seemingly sole purpose in life is to seek and locate the rarest of rare birds and then proceed to tick them off a list. This, apparently gives them some sense of greatness in their world, but to most regular birders, Twitchers are frowned upon as being nothing more than inconsiderate glory hunters.

For those with Twitchering aspirations, there is some excellent advice to be found in Sibly’s Bird East book. While browsing this indispensible birders bible the other day, it dawned on me that a large portion of the advice for Twitchers could also be applied when we go hunting elusive Gremlins that are playing havoc with electrical and mechanical systems on board boats. This seems especially relevant for refrigeration and air conditioning, so, using the same advice given for finding rare birds, let’s interpret some points in order to help find those darn marine Gremlins.

1) “Most birders who find rare birds are looking for rare birds.”
Twitchers are actually looking for the unusual. If your mind is honed in to looking only for the obvious and normal, then you may overlook the possibility of something unusual going on. Strange happenings in complicated mechanical systems often occur only under a unique set of circumstances, and Gremlins can be hiding anywhere.

2) “An intimate knowledge of the common species is essential.”
You must have an in-depth knowledge of the system under investigation and its operational characteristics so that you can identify what is normal and what might be the work of a Gremlin. You must have a clear idea of what it should be doing before taking readings, putting a gauge set on, etc., and seeing what it actually is doing. In other words, don’t try and rationalize what you see without first having a clear understanding of what it should look like in normal operation.

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We Are So Terribly, Terribly Sorry!

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“We’re sorry.” “I’m sorry to hear that.” “Very sorry, but it’s out of our hands.”

We’re having to utter these sorry little phrases more and more these days, but not relating to any issues with our products. These are being made in response to reports of shipping issues, where damaged goods, lost or missing packages, inconvenience from signatures being required, and excessive shipping costs all seem to be on the increase lately. In addition, our once chirpy pick-up/delivery drivers seem to be generally disgruntled of late, and they put it down to the “Amazon Effect”.

So, what exactly is the Amazon Effect?

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Wait - There's a Bug in my Phone!

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You can’t seem to be able to get away from it these days; politicians throwing out what may or may not be real facts in response to questions. This typically involves bombarding the interviewer with staccato statements that may or may not be correct and that require research before being able to call into question.

What happened to the good old rhetorical question? You know, interviewer asks a question and gets a question back in return. That’s always been a standard stalling technique, but now seems relegated for use when factual fire isn’t working.

I had a sorta close/mildly similar instance last week, but my experience involved phone company employees, not politicians.

I was in the UK when I picked up the bug.

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Smart Phone - Smart Shopping

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I’ve just read a report suggesting that internet sales are really hurting the traditional chain stores. The number and frequency of retail stores that are closing in shopping malls is really quite alarming as more and more customers prefer to shop online from the comfort of their home.

In England recently I had to battle for space in a narrow country lane with a home delivery van from a supermarket. Nowadays you can order online and your weekly necessities are delivered right to your door, even to a remote shepherd’s hut in the middle of the moor.

If there are any remaining butchers, bakers, or candlestick makers left in English villages, they seem somewhat doomed. It’s enough to send you down to the pub for a pie and a pint, except they, too, are also closing in droves.

It seems social media is taking the place of traditional face-to-face social interaction.

Online shopping has become so easy, even returning stuff is a breeze. If something you bought doesn’t make you look as glam as you thought it would, or doesn’t do what you thought it would do, or if you simply don’t like it, then you can return it; no fuss, no muss. The web retailers now have really slick and well organized return systems that make this aspect of the transaction painless while not making it seem like you’re being punished for being such a dufus for ordering the wrong thing in the first place.

So, what’s not to like, and how does this relate to stuff we need for our boats?

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Blinded by (ignoring the) Science

Feynman diagram dreamstime m 89989487In the wake of the recent celebrations of science and scientists, I could not let the occasion go without a mention of the late Richard Feynman. For those of you not familiar with the name, Feynman, as well as being a brilliant scientist, was also a fascinating human being and a bit of a maverick who delighted in upending normal thinking and throwing the occasional curve-ball.

In his second book “What Do You Care What Other People Think: Further Adventures of a Curious Character?”, Feynman describes how he was once intrigued at how the brain tracks time, and was curious to see how accurately he could gauge one minute by counting.

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The Price is Right!

Do it once do it right woman shotgunI once read in a sailing magazine something like the following: “It’s boat show time, so let’s take a look at some of the products they are trying to foist on us poor unsuspecting boaters”. As a marine vendor I was incensed to read that, and vowed never to advertise in that publication. I never did, and eventually it folded. Go figure ....

There has long been a feeling that stuff sold for boats was generally overpriced simply because it has a “marine” tag. This seemed to be more prevalent in the 80’s and 90’s, so maybe back then there were indeed a plethora of cheap and tacky items labeled as marine that would have been better suited for the kiddies backyard camping or a day at the beach.

Or maybe it’s because nowadays the internet is playing devil’s advocate and unscrupulous manufacturers just can’t get away with things like they once could. Today’s efficient means of communication ensure that when even minor issues are reported, they require a good customer service oriented response.

Now that replacement parts can be easily sent to remote locations seemingly beyond the edge of beyond, a worthwhile warranty is also increasingly important. Imagine a business getting a call from a customer on a satellite phone in mid-ocean, fretting that his fridge is running longer than it used to. “We’ve got ourselves another fridge-fretting sat-phoner” is the common cry. Oh yeah, it happens.

At Coastal we see and hear many tales of woe

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Mangoes for Life

mango seller     Walking through the gaudy and gay Miami Bayside entertainment area during the Miami Strictly Sail show last week, whilst dodging obstacles such as parrot-wielding hawkers and perfume swatch pushers, I spotted a sign promoting a bar/restaurant called “Mangoes”.
     This, reinforced recently by the sight of them on a supermarket shelf, reminded me that if I ever go back to St. Lucia, I have been promised free mangoes there for life.

How that all came about makes for quite a tale.

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Boat Show Blues

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     When this mailing goes out we will be exhibiting at the Miami Strictly Sail, which is part of the mega Miami International Boat Show. Now don’t go thinking that we do this just to buff up on the tan during a bleak Maryland winter, oh no. No, this is purgatory. This is some form of evil punishment hoisted on us, probably for being so slack and slovenly during the slow winter sales season.
     Our German suppliers refer to boat shows as “fairs”, which to me conjures up images of riding prettily painted uppy-downy horses on a glittering merry-go-round while eating cotton candy, but sadly that is mere fantasy.
     OK, so it is nice to get away from the office, pull on a pair of shorts and give the old pins an airing, but “doing” these shows is expensive, takes a lot of organizing and planning, and they are physically and mentally exhausting.

So why on earth do we bother?

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How to warm up your party

dancing-baby-santas-dreamstime m 7375212Want to know the quickest way to get everyone warmed up at a Christmas party? Take your clothes off!

No, seriously, instead of trapping all that body heat under clothing, why not spread the joy and warmth of the season to those around you? And you won't get cold, I promise you.

You won't really "get cold", because technically "cold" does not exist, just different degrees of heat, all the way down to absolute zero, -273°C. You may well feel cold, but what you'll really be doing by removing your clothing

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The Capital

annapolis harbor
We typically look on Annapolis as being a quiet, peaceful town, where the worst thing to worry about is the increasing regularity of flooding downtown due to rising sea levels, or that the National Sailing Hall of Fame would be moving to our nemesis - Newport. That all changed on June 28, when the peace was shattered by the sickening news that five journalists at our local paper, The Capital, had been shot and killed while working at their desks by a lone gunman.

The Capital, known alternatively to locals as The Crab Wrapper or The Naptown News, is truly a local, small-town newspaper where we get updates on our sailorman mayor’s latest schemes, sailboat racing results, and who did what to whom and when. Now we have far more information than we really want on one deranged individual who had a long-standing conflict with some journalists and decided that June 28 was the day when he and his pump-action shotgun would put an end to it. This was no terrorist. This was no religious or political activist. This was simply someone who is mentally ill and who slipped through the cracks.

I have never been comfortable with guns, and I’m sure that sleeping with one under my pillow would cause a high degree of both physical and mental discomfort. I did have occasion once to fire a stainless steel boat shotgun at some flotsam while motoring down the west coast of Central America delivering a 65’ sailboat. It didn’t come naturally so I switched to a flare gun as being my weapon of choice, with that menacingly fat barrel and striking orange handle (stock?). Being a crew of just four, we were formulating a plan of action in case we encountered some bad guys as we paralleled the hostile shores of Guatemala and San Salvador. And encounter them we did …

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Now There's a Thought ...

starling spreading wings

When bad ideas take flight.

Some folk say they hear voices in their heads. Others report ringing in their ears, and yet others seem to have ear-buds permanently glued in place. My head seems to be always full of a mish-mash of ideas, thoughts, and technical tidbits with a little music trickling through from the background for good measure. Some of those ideas turn out be good ideas, whereas some, OK most, are best left unreported and forgotten.

Here’s a wacky idea from a couple of economists, as reported recently by Tim Harford in the Financial Times.

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Balance of Power

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There was a very informative article seen recently in Power and Motor Yacht magazine regarding ground fault interrupters. Nowadays these items may be found in differing guises at both ends of a shore power cable; i.e. on the pedestal on the dock and installed on the vessel, as well as installed in certain 110v outlets on board.

So, what exactly is a ground fault interrupter? Good question.

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Stop Milling Around - Go with the Flow

water mill dreamstime
I’ve just returned from a quick flit to England where I had the pleasure of being able to take several walks in the countryside in some rather splendid weather. The particular region I was in has an abundance of brooks and streams, and these were boisterous and lively following a period of lengthy rain.

Back in the good ol’ days these streams powered all sorts of mills, providing the mechanical power to crush stone, grind corn, saw logs, etc., and the area was littered with either the remains of old mills or with ones converted into other uses (i.e. holiday homes). There would have been a number of mills on one stream, one after the other as the water flowed downhill, with the same water that powered the top mill being used for successive establishments downstream.

What a wonderful early example of a renewable energy source.

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What a Trucking Nightmare

cargo ship unload axel ahoi 50659 unsplash 640x318We have several house rules at Coastal Climate Control. There are the typical ones such as the sign in the warehouse toilet saying “Gentlemen please lower seat when finished”, and then there are unwritten words of wisdom like; ”If you have it, flaunt it”. Personally I’m a bit lacking in flauntable assets, but Coastal sells some of the best specialized marine equipment available, and we flaunt it whenever possible. In fact, next week we will be in very flaunty mood at the Annapolis Spring Sailboat Show April 20 thru 22, so if you’re in town come on by and see what’s new.

Another unwritten house rule is: “If we don’t have it, we can’t sell it”. It seems obvious I know, but keeping adequate stock of popular items is becoming a bit of a problem these days, especially for products that we import. We strive to be good girls and boys and pay our bills on time and plan way ahead in order to anticipate shipping delays, but we still often get caught out, and increasingly so these days. There are three main areas that we have no control over:

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Dover and Under

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Dover, England. A fascinating place. I was there recently meeting with a friend who keeps a sailboat in the marina, and he showed me around the ongoing construction project that will one day be a spanking new marina complex plus more desperately-needed parking spaces for lorries (trucks) waiting to embark to Europe on ferries. I also happened across the huge Banksy street art that appeared overnight recently on the end wall of a building near the docks. This features a star being chiseled off the European flag, a satirical comment on Brexit for the amusement of those heading to the ferries over to Europe.

There’s enough history in Dover, both ancient and recent, to satisfy all manner of inquiring minds. Being at the closest point in England to Europe it has proved to be an enticing location for a water-borne invasion through the ages, so it’s only natural that various means of defense have been constructed to repel attacks. The town itself is at sea level, but at its eastern and western extremes it is under the shadow of the higher elevations of the famous White Cliffs of Dover. The cliffs are sans bluebirds these days, as that was the nickname given to wartime fighter pilots in their blue uniforms. Perched menacingly on top of the eastern cliff is one of the most imposing and magnificent castles to be found anywhere; Dover Castle.

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