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Magnetic Personalities

lightning view by christoph von gellhorn Lightning, the moving magnetic north pole, and your compass

We have just resolved the first known instance of a Solara Power M solar panel failure out of the 2,200+ sold by Coastal Climate Control to date. I’m sure there are some out there that will have suffered accidental damage, but this failure was not from abuse, misuse, or a manufacturing defect, but from an act of a god. The Greek god Zeus, to be exact, who apparently sent a lightning bolt earthwards, rendering this panel toast.

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Inverter? I 'ardly knew 'er!

Inverter? I 'ardly knew 'er!


Having popped into an Annapolis watering hole recently, I was taken by surprise when a fellow patron placed an LP on the bar and started discussing it with his friend (if you don’t know what an LP is, ask grandpa). This was surreal, it was like being back in the ‘60’s!

I soon found myself on the fringe of a fascinating conversation between a couple of millennials discussing the finer points of HiFi (grandpa?), even down to whether a DC (direct current) turntable motor gave better results than an AC (alternating current) motor. But, one asked, how can you use a DC motor when the power supply is AC?


AC power supply is a sine wave. Think of a Bactrian camel’s two-hump back with one of the humps inverted (poor mutant camel), with the normal hump being positive voltage and the mutant inverted hump being negative voltage.

By contrast, a DC power supply is a steady, straight line like a DR plot (ask grandpa again, if he’s sailor), and always at positive voltage.
To be able to “make” DC from AC we’ll need to flatten out the sine wave and make it into a straight line, but first we’ll have to rectify that inverted negative hump. That process of rectifying the inverted hump is the key to producing DC from AC, and that’s why the equipment that does it is referred to as a Rectifier.

Now, to produce an AC waveform electronically from DC we’ll first need to make a switchback waveform but invert every other wave crest so that it is negative. That is why the equipment that does this is known as an Inverter.

So, simply put, a Rectifier converts an AC power supply into DC, and an Inverter converts a DC power supply into AC.
Examples of rectifiers and inverters pop up on many a fine vessel these days. A mains-powered battery charger is basically a rectifier, and it’s quite common to find an inverter installed on board to be able to operate mains-powered items from the boat’s DC battery system. Often these two items are combined into an Inverter-Charger, but then there are also some complex hybrid examples as well.

An MPPT solar controller manages to put more amps into the battery than comes out of the solar panel. How does it do it? Well, the DC input from the solar panel is first inverted into high frequency AC which is then rectified back to DC to whatever voltage is needed to charge the battery. From DC to AC to DC.

A variable-speed air conditioning compressor can run at varying speeds suitable for the load, and we utilize them nowadays to great effect in chiller systems. Normally, the speed of AC motors is set by the frequency (Hz) of the supply and the windings of the motor, so what electrickery is involved here? Well, first the AC input is rectified into DC, typically 400-600v, then the DC is inverted back to AC at whatever frequency is required to run the motor at the desired speed. From AC to DC to AC. That way, a three-phase compressor can be run at varying speeds from a single-phase supply, which is pretty darn clever stuff.

With all the amazing advances in electronics we have nowadays, it’s depressing to see examples of someone not utilizing the most complex logistical tool available; the human brain.

Take the picture hanging on the wall in my hotel here in Ft. Lauderdale while I’m here for the boat show. This hotel is one of a major chain, and this particular picture must be hung as shown in hundreds if not thousands of rooms.

Looked at casually you may see simply a smudge of durgy colors, but if it were rotated clockwise 90 degrees (impossible ‘cos it’s nailed to the wall), it would then reveal what I believe the artist truly intended to be seen, i.e. the view from one sailboat to another, possibly in a race, with other yachts on the horizon.

Or maybe the artist had an inverted mind and meant it to be seen as it is. Maybe it’s called “Race to The Moon”. Otherwise I say that it should be rectified asap.

 

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I Think, Therefore I Am ... I think

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I’ve been thinking about a lot of things lately. I don’t know why, maybe it was the winter blues bringing on a bout of the melancholies. In particular, I’m often fascinated with things that just seem to happen, but without any obvious visible clues as to why or how. Take the theory of flight, for example.

I was on a ‘plane recently, and got to thinking about the whole theory of lift and flight. We are taught that air flows over the wing and bla bla bla. But air doesn’t actually flow over the wing, now does it? No, it’s the wing that slices through the air.

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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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Hurry Up and Wait

Cicada bug eyes

Office pranks, cicadas, and supply issues: what do they have in common?

It was indeed an enlightening time being an apprentice with the British national phone system back in the early ‘70’s. In those days the phone company was a branch of the General Post Office (GPO), but soon to become British Telecom (BT).

Apprenticeships were common back then, and at the GPO, Technicians in Training (yes, seriously) like yours truly were shuffled around the many departments to get a feel of who does what. One memorable day this gawky TiT, in poorly fitting baggy overalls, seconded to the heavy-duty pole-erecting gang, was sent off to the stores. Together with other items, I was instructed to pick up a weight as one of our requirements for the forthcoming day’s work. But not just any weight the foreman emphasized, it had to be a long weight.

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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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Holiday Spirit

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Ah, the holiday season has begun. We are being increasingly made aware of that because things have started heating up in already warm places, most noticeably The Caribbean.

There’s a lot of folk spending the holidays on their boats down there at this time of year, and bully for you all. Meanwhile, there are many others that are paying big bucks for the privilege of holidaying on someone else’s dreamboat, and that’s where the heat comes from for us up here in colder climes.

Things that break can’t wait around to get fixed on a charter boat with a bunch of high-paying guests on board who are expecting everything to be perfect. And things do break on boats all the time, usually at the most inopportune moment, a fact that many of you will undoubtedly attest to.

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High From Amsterdam

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Getting there can be daunting, being there is sweet.

With the hustle of the Annapolis and Ft. Lauderdale Boat Shows behind us, there’s been hardly any time to take a breather before heading off across The Pond for the huge Marine Equipment Trade Show (METS) in Amsterdam. I’m always up for adventure, and a transatlantic trip usually obliges, but it can also have its good and not-so-good elements.

For example, although I appreciate the sentiment, I do wish people wouldn’t wish me a “safe flight”. I too really, really wish it to be a safe flight, and in fact I’m banking my life on it. But I also hope for it to be comfortable, uneventful, and punctual, and good wishes in those veins would be far better received by yours truly.

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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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Get used to it

Progress is often shown by changes, but is all change progress?

FLIBS robbreport.com J Christopher
I wish to apologize to all those who got a drenching on the last day of the Ft. Lauderdale International Boat Show last Sunday. It seems that my comment to the traffic cop that: “Looks like this will be the first show in many years that we won’t have rain” spurred the rain gods into action, resulting in the deluge that followed that afternoon.

It made for a slower than normal Sunday in a slower than normal show that had many exhibitors mulling over theories of why that was. We heard it was a general slowdown in the economy; lack-luster promotion; changes in the show lay-out; that “T” word; and the ever-increasing expense of “doing” these types of shows, both as an exhibitor and as an attendee.

“If things don’t change, they stay the same”, so sayeth someone to someone else for some reason sometime in the past. We get used to routines and to having stuff around us work in a particular way, and get caught out when things fall outside the norms. I’m often leaving rental cars unlocked, as my personal car has a “proximity” key that does that sort of stuff for you as you walk away.

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Fake News in The Pipeline

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An Englishman’s home is his castle they say, so as a young lad I was intrigued as to why there were doors in the high wooden fencing separating my grandma’s back yard in England from her neighbors’ gardens. That sort of thing was against the norm, as one mostly kept oneself to oneself except when spying on the neighbors from behind net curtains.

The reason became clear when it was explained that grandma’s garden shed, that ugly, half-buried thing made of corrugated steel panels with earth covering the roof, was in fact a communal six-person neighborhood bomb shelter during WW2. As a tool shed it was dark, damp and dank, and I imagine it was probably no more welcoming in its original incarnation.

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Dover and Under

streetartnewS banksy dover 2
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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Decisions: Smoked Phish or Byrned curtains?

parking lot choice marcus wallis 416821 unsplash 640x480

Decisions, decisions. We often get faced with situations that require making a quick decision or a choice one way or the other.

To some this comes naturally, to others (like me) it is against our natural tendency to want to analyze the situation thoroughly and then methodically choose one course of action over another.

My recent yearning to try playing some sort of musical instrument is a case in point. I have a lovely acoustic guitar that sits un-played for most of the year and then gets the Leo Kottke treatment when my friend Bruce comes to stay, but I never really got in to it. For a while I pondered giving the acoustic another stab, but then one day a fellow exhibitor at a boat show suggested I give the bass guitar a go, as that was his instrument of choice. His reasoning was that:

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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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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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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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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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Ay Caramba!

boat gas explosion

We all make mistakes … don’t we? For me the worst things seem to happen when I rush something or am pushed to a time limit. And having someone look over my shoulder adds an even greater level of stress that can end in a right old fustercluck. Take the time many years ago when a customer insisted he watch as I installed a new alternator and regulator.

I hadn’t been in business that long, and was scrambling for any work I could get in deep, dark rural Virginia, so the chance to install a high-output alternator and remote regulator on a sailboat was welcome indeed. But I hadn’t reckoned on the owner insisting he be on board and watch me, and after a while I just knew this wasn’t going to work. “Don’t worry about me” he said, “I’ll just sit here and keep quiet. You’ll not even know I’m here.”

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A Walk on the Wild Side

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“I wandered lonely as a cloud” mused the wordsmith Wordsworth circa 1800.

“I gotta ramble on” screeched Robert Plant of Led Zeppelin in 1969.

“How was I supposed to know I was walking in the bike lane?” uttered this author last week after a near miss with a speeding bicycle in a dark and damp Amsterdam.

These legs of mine have done a lot of wandering and rambling lately, with the rest of me going along for the ride. First it was tramping the boardwalks and docks in the Ft Lauderdale International Boat Show, mostly stumbling along behind shuffling gawkers guessing how much this mega-yacht costs, or wondering who might own that one. That, combined with pacing the booth day after day, makes for a tiring time, but that was followed by three days back in the office before popping over to the UK for a weekend break prior to heading to Amsterdam.

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Office | Warehouse:
Coastal Climate Control
4831 Tesla Drive
Suite H
Bowie, Maryland 20715
Phone: (301) 352-5738

Request Information
Click here for directions.