Friday, May 4, 2012

Digital Boats

Truthfully, if we had to depend on a sexton and sun sights to navigate our boat Grace would never have left Puget Sound.  Sailing the west coast of the US  out of sight of land at night would never have happened without GPS and radar. 

I recall coming into Westport, Washington at the end of our first foggy day in the Pacific Ocean, feeling in awe of real sailors who, in the old pre-electronic days, would have somehow found their way through the fog into port.   I was steering from way-point to way-point totally dependant upon the Twelve Volt God to keep the GPS chart plotter and radar powered up.  No way I could have found the way in without them.  I felt quite unqualified to be out there.   

I still feel  unqualified, but I have made some progress.  I bought two more Garmins.  Both are battery powered, new in the box, ready to press into service if needed. I'm good to go as long as the satellites don't fall out of orbit.

Electronics also fill our "laying around" time with something to do other than eat.

Reading, for us and most cruisers we know, fills most of our downtime.  Last year, back in the analog era, we read the old fashioned way, turning paper pages stamped with ink, bound together with glue between two covers.  Some are heavy.  All are hard to read in bed.  And all take up space.  Our consumption level is about three books per week.  A twenty week cruise in the Sea of Cortez requires at least sixty books.  Probably more since some are duds that get started and never finished. That's a bunch of space. Space in a small boat is precious.

Resupply is also an issue.  Bookstores in Mexico have the same books as in the US, but they are in Spanish.  Not an option for Judy and me.  Amazon will ship books here, but they must go though a forwarding agent, which adds to the cost, and not having a physical address other then the marinas we are passing through sometimes makes it a less then certainty that they will arrive. The answer to resupply has been trading.  Most marinas and some cruiser oriented restaurants have a couple shelves set aside for book exchanges. 

Last year we haunted those places, stopping in almost daily to check for new books.  No longer.  We now have Kindles. We each have one, plus there is a spare stored away in case one should break, as they sometimes do.  Kindles are small, ergonomically brilliant and each can hold thousands of books.  Plus they are great in bed.  Propped up on a pillow, they can be easily read with minimum effort, an occasional push on the page forward bar with one's thumb is all that is required.  When I drift off asleep it is always when I have read to the bottom of the page.  Moving the thumb to advance the page is the hurdle that sends me off to dreamland.  What is really neat is that you can  download a book direct from Amazon.  The time between thinking about getting a book, and having it just seconds.  Amazing.

Kindles work for us, but I am not sure they are working for Amazon.  They may be regretting creating the ebook reader and ebooks.  There are folks down here who have figured out how to get pirated ebooks.  Most best sellers get pirated within days of their publication and can be downloaded off the Internet. I have read comments by authors who are very concerned about this practice.  Some books that were once offered by Amazon in the ebook format are no longer available.  Maybe because of publisher and author concerns about pirating.  Pirating may become as big an issue with books as it did with music.  I have heard that musicians can no longer count on making much from album sales.  Concerts are where the money is.  It used to be concerts supported album sales, now album sales support concerts.  I don't know if there is a similar option for authors.  Book readings are a tough sale. 

I wish I could say I was a moral giant and could resist the lure of free books, but a giant I am not.  I have seen a few these ebooks swimming around on my computer looking for a Kindle to latch on to.

The same thing is happening with TV shows and movies.  DVD's were traded much like books.  But with the advent of terabyte external hard drives, and programs that rip compress and play media the trading libraries are rapidly disappearing.  Well, maybe not disappearing.  If anything they are bulging at the seams with unused stuff. 

I've notice an interesting trend.  Most cruisers seem to prefer TV shows to movies.  TV series that were originally on cable are the most popular, probably because they don't have to be cleansed of language, nudity or subject matter as they are not broadcast.  Also character and plot development takes place over a 10 or 12 episode season rather then 90 to 120 minutes of a movie.  The most popular series seem to be:  Breaking Bad, Dexter, The Wire, Nurse Jackie, Justified, Homeland.....  We like The Good Wife and Glee.  Both are broadcast shows that hold their own against the cable competition.  It seems that big time actors are appearing in this type of media more often then in the past.  People like Kevin Costner, Nicole Kidman, Clive Owen, Sigourney Weaver, Jeff Daniels, Russell Brand, Richard Dreyfuss, Holly Hunter, and Glenn Close.

Music too has been digitalized and is on every boat in the fleet.  I have been gifted with a couple hundred gigabytes of music.  Music enough to play without repeats morning noon and night for a month or two.  I also started cruising with my own music library of about 120 gigabytes. I can't imagine how much space this music would take if it were still on CD's.

For a couple years before we left I was busy backing up the music collections of the Seattle Public Library and the fantastic King County Library.  The King County Library is fantastic because their unique financing model.  They submit their budgets directly to the electorate through the levys.  No politicians between the library and the people. They always get what they ask for, and they spend a lot on the music collection.  If I were still in Seattle I would back up the DVD collections too.

Finally, the digital device that makes it all possible: our laptop computers. They are the conduit through which everything flows.  We have four of them.  Two identical Dell Latitudes, a big HP for watching TV and Movies and a small notebook that is for Judy's exclusive use. Without them electronic charts, navigation programs, music, books, TV and movies would not exist in digital form, and would not be much of a presence on our boat.  Wouldn't have Free Cell or Spider Solitare either.

Hey, no pictures!  Didn't think I could do a post without pictures.

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