Nov 10, 2010

TNR 11/9/10 - Bridges!

Update: ampers did a really cool piece on the Bridges of Hennepin county! It's only 90 seconds, click on it!

Every bridge that crosses the Mississippi within the beltway! That's 18 if you didn't know already. Those are the "shore to short vehicle allowed, distinct" bridges. We have a pretty high standard. If you just counted the number of times you went over a land to land span it would have been 38. Not too shabby!

I was running two mapping applications and Tom was running a third. It was an interesting experiment to see the different options. These are all Android apps, BTW.

Instamapper (Application name: GPS Tracker)
Pros: Always on so it's easy to define start and end points, simple web interface,
Cons: Not highly configurable, not a lot of statistics available

GPS tracking powered by

EveryTrail (as reviewed by Tom)
Pros: Seems to be very robust in the current version, allows you to either see the map or see overall statistics as you're going, the display interface for afterward is pretty solid, it seems to prioritize the data collection such that whatever might be going on with the phone, it gets the data anyway
Cons: It can be slow to respond to input, can't see both the map and stats at the same time, display interface on their website uses flash, which I hate

Google MyTracks
Pros: Lots of display information, super easy upload to My Maps, quite accurate despite GPS quality
Cons: Hard to tell if you're recording, stats good but don't filter obvious GPS errors, have to remember to start and stop recording. :)

View TNR - Bridges! in a larger map

I think it all comes down to what your needs and personal opinions are. None of these are rubbish, and for certain needs some of them are stellar. But I don't think there is a consensus or best practices for what a navigation recorder needs to be. Someday...

Nov 7, 2010

Mississippi Cruising

GPS tracking powered by

Yes, I know it's not *really* the upper Mississippi, but it is if you're talking about the river within the beltway.

The original plan involved lots of charts, maps, schedules, complicated drop off and pick up, and an actual timetable. Unfortunately that got delayed until next spring, but I had a couple hours and a desire to go boating.

I headed for Boom Island. I had never been there but the images of the landing looked promising. I was not disappointed. Nice smooth pavement ramp, steep enough to get the trailer wet without much trouble, but not so slick I have to worry about the car getting stuck. Ample parking (when there are no events, obviously) and a very short walk from parking to landing are always a bonus.

Just off the ramp is a small rectangular pool that looks as if it normally has a couple piers in it. Really nice to have smooth, calm water for launching, especially on a river! I floated a bit while prepping the boat once I got it on the water and got the engine running. I usually use the electric trolling motor for "impulse power" before and after trailering, and this was an excellent place for it.

I didn't have any detailed maps, just the GPS maps, but I had studied this section of the river from Boom Island up to Coon Rapids. I would motor upriver for 3/4 of my time on the water and back downriver for the last 1/4. Or so.

The motor pushed me upriver quite nicely at about 3 or 4 mph. I didn't mind the noise so much, but when you're on a river you have to pay a LOT more attention to what you're doing. Between the eddies, the debris in the water, and the other river traffic it can get pretty busy.

I did get the chance to see some interesting sights on the river. There was even a cute little shanty/house boat docked at a house. They also had a huge houseboat looking thing, but I'm pretty sure it would get through the bridges upriver or the locks downriver.

When you're on the river you get to see a lot of things that you don't see from the streets:

I had no idea that was where garbage trucks lived.

The river definitely has some character to its current. I'd love to have a really clear understanding of what exactly is on the river bottom at any given point. The swirling vortex of doom in the picture above is a common sight. Quite often it means there is a wing dam down there somewhere, but I have a feeling it could also indicate other obstructions or imperfections underwater. These and other less visible currents can make the boat wiggle side to side, drift slowly in a lateral direction, or even surge forward suddenly. It's not a major issue, but it absolutely affects how attentive you must be to minor course corrections.

This trip was also my first sighting of a barge/tow vessel underway. I'm glad it was a small one. The wake it kicks up is obviously a big one, but if you quarter nose into it you cut right through it. What I didn't expect was the "echoing" of the wake off the shores. For a while the water gets choppy and unpredictable as the wake bounces around on itself. Fun!

I had been setting something on the phone/gps and hadn't been looking ahead for about a minute when I looked up and saw barges bearing down on my fairly quickly. I had a lot of time to get off to the side, but it was a very vivid reminder to Always Pay Attention! I had topped off the fuel tank just minutes before (a distracting activity) and will take more care to move to the edge of the river, anchor well, and be ready for anything coming up or down river.

Again, you see things on the river that sometimes surprise. This drain pipe was just sticking out over the water, ready to dump whatever may come. I'm sure it's a storm drain or something like that, but when I think of the dirt, fuel, tar, junk, litter, chemicals, etc. on a regular street just dumping straight into the river it makes me wonder just how nasty it is way down south. It just gives one pause.

Just before the Camden bridge is a railroad bridge with a rather threatening sign on it. I was curious to know what a hazardous channel was -- I'm assuming it just indicates the end of the navigable dredged channel. Unfortunately, the current between the quite wide bridge supports picked up quite a bit. By the time I crossed over the "wake" from the bridge and started to pass beneath it the boat had slowed to a stop. I could maintain position with the motor, but it just wouldn't get past. I was going through the middle of the channel, and I suppose I may have had better luck on the sides, but decided I'd had enough and would have to explore this further some other day.

Popped back downriver quickly and found myself having to hold my hat on. I think it was more of a headwind than a wind from the crazy 9-11mph speeds. Trailering up and getting home was wonderful due to the landing, and I called it a short but successful day.

Random things:
  • The "wellingtons" Jill got me for our anniversary were wonderful! Dry feet even when standing in ankle deep water at the landing!
  • The river was quiet and I saw very few people, which was nice
  • I rarely touched the motor handle and steered mostly by shifting my weight on the pilot's bench. A controller for trim would be nice but not needed.
  • Still need a device for holding stuff on topdeck, and would like a phone charging adapter onboard as well.