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A Colorado Cowgirl in San Juan

I noticed it’s been about a month since my last post so I thought an update was due. We haven’t taken the boat out since the end of June due to maintenance of both our boat and my knee. We are still attempting to get our anchor light and navigation lights up and running before heading out again. Hopefully they will be working early next week.

After suffering for 4 months with some extraordinary knee pain, I scheduled an appointment with a knee doc during our visit to Colorado. Got an MRI and am getting it scoped in September, hopefully that will clear up the current problems. In the meantime they gave me a cortisone shot and that helped immensely. My knees have held up extremely well over 40 years of intense pounding from running, mountaineering, skiing and biking. I’m not surprised that I’m starting to have a bit of trouble with them and expected it to start many years ago.

While in Colorado we visited friends and went to my family reunion. We also visited Steamboat where Shelly found the cowgirl hat she’d been looking for (pictured above). It was just as hot in Colorado as it is here in Puerto Rico, but at least the humidity is reasonable in CO. It’s been over 90 degrees with close to 90 percent humidity since we’ve returned.

Other than that we’ve been working on our SSB radio app for IOS devices. One of Shelly’s IOS apps is going to be demo’ed at a conference next week, and soon I am about to be issued one of the coolest patents ever. More to come!

Below is the cemetery on the coast in old San Juan between the two forts:

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Tropical Cyclone Prep

Full Moon Rises Over Good Karma

We spent the last couple of days prepping Good Karma for tropical cyclone. There is no imminent threat, but we are getting ready to leave for the mainland tomorrow for a while and these weather systems can develop quite fast. A hurricane could form and move through here in the time we are away, so we want to be prepared.

We took down the jib and stored it below. We’ve arranged for a double set of dock lines to be installed and also have the dock master look after our boat. We took the canvass off. Fenders on both sides. The chances of even a low level tropical storm hitting here are not that great, but you never know.

And as a matter of fact the remains of tropical depression #4 are currently passing just north of us, which ironically are causing extremely calm and clear weather. I took the pic below this morning, one of the few times I’ve seen the inland mountains without cloud cover.


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More Never-ending Maintenance

Bluetooth Hack for my Radio Mail Service

Been a while since I’ve posted anything due to the long holiday weekend as well as trying to get some maintenance done. Plus a cool hack of my shortwave radio email system.

I mentioned that while we were anchored at Vieques, we found a few things that were not working. One was the anchor light and another was the navigation lights. It was strange that they both stopped working at about the same time so I looked around and found the terminal block below had corroded:

 The block is at the top of the photo above the wires. This terminal block was put into place so that the mast could be removed without ripping out all the wiring. All the wires connected to this block go up the mast, this includes the deck lights, a steaming light that you turn on while under power at night, and of course, the anchor light that is located at the top of the mast. The connectors were pretty much corroded from the seawater and salt air.

I had to find another terminal block somewhere and so we rented a car for a couple of days. This part can be found in the most out-of-the-way hardware store in the states, but the only store that had it here was a marine supply store. After I finally acquired the part I removed the old one, shown below:

I then cleaned or replaced all the wire endpoints and installed the new block shown below. When compared to the one removed you can see how much corrosion is evident:

After replacing this block, the mast mounted deck lights worked again! They haven’t worked since we bought Good Karma. Unfortunately, the anchor light still didn’t work so something else is wrong. This did not fix the navigation lights either, which makes sense because they aren’t on the mast. Oh well, this needed to get done either way. So I still need to fix the anchor light and the navigation lights.

On another subject, the photo at the top of the posting is a serial-to-bluetooth adapter that allows me to send email from my Mac computer to my radio without being wired to the radio. The previous system used a  wired USB port, this is wireless as it should be in the modern day. Why do this?

Well Shelly and I are working on a secret project that, if successful, will revolutionize radio email! Well, perhaps “revolutionize” is a bit strong, but at least it will bring radio email into the modern world. More on that as we progress.

Until next time, continuing to hang out in the marina and watching for tropical cyclones…

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Anchored at Vieques

We spent the last three nights anchored off Green Beach on Vieques. Very calm and isolated. Yesterday we had a rainstorm move through in the morning and it cooled things down to a very comfortable temperature.

We took the dinghy into the beach and snorkeled a bit. Saw a sea turtle hanging out in the underwater rocks. At night we saw some bioluminescent critters, some way below the surface of the water.

it was great to get out on the ocean again but we had a few minor electrical problems and another issue that made us try out our other anchor. I traced the electrical problems down to a corroding junction terminal. Can’t fix it here so we’ll head back to the marina. The second anchor worked great. We were a little cautious with it because it is on a rode (rope) rather than a chain, but we had no problems.

should be a great sail back to Palmas, going west!

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Boat Fire!

Explosion and then Fire!

About 2:30 this afternoon Shelly heard an explosion and we saw this boat fire in the boatyard across the harbor. This is the second one we’ve seen.

It isn’t one from the regatta. Day 2 was similar to day 1, they do several 30 minute races over the course of a day. Each boat has a racing crew that practice and race together. Trophys were awarded on day two.

And that is that.

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Regatta Day 1

Prepping to Sail Out Of Slip

Today there was an invitation-only sailboat race starting at the marina. Six identical boats were lined up in the slip next to ours and sailed out (no motors on these guys) into 20 knot winds to the east.

At the Starting Line!

They all gathered in the starting area in semi-rough conditions. I was impressed they were able to gather so close together under sail power only. They took off around a preset course

Racing Downwind with Genoas Out

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Sharing “Cyber Secrets” with Russia?

Is There A Problem with This?

Yesterday Reuters had a headline article about how western tech firms share cyber secrets with Russia in order to sell their products in Russia. You can read the article here.

In my opinion: This is a sensationalized story written to fit in with the times. Here’s why:

  • Western tech firms are not intentionally “sharing” cyber secrets.
  • Tech companies will do essentially anything it takes to gain entry into a lucrative market. Always have, always will.
  • Security functionality should only depend on a small set of secrets, such as a key that cannot be examined by anyone. Encryption algorithms, authentication techniques and security functions should not rely on being secret and as a matter of fact, if they are it is viewed as a bad implementation.

The Reuters story focuses on the current boogeyman country Russia, and mentions China. The Chinese government has an arguably tighter grip on the Chinese economy, is far more paranoid than Russia and is at least as aggressive in cyber spying. The Chinese market is so large that western companies will bend over backward to get into it. Here is an example:

All PCs have a little crypto processor called a Trusted Platform Module, or TPM. If you’ve ever used Microsoft Bitlocker, you’ve used the TPM on your machine. The TPM implements security algorithms developed by open standards committees, everyone knows what goes on in a TPM (or could know if they wanted).

China doesn’t like the TPM because they either don’t trust westerners to develop secure algorithms, and probably because the TPM has no backdoors, or ways for the government to get around the encryption. More specifically, the Chinese don’t like the security algorithms in the TPM.

Ok, now a PC maker doesn’t want to make a special motherboard for China only, or change their software to operate differently in China. You know what the solution was?

China devised their own TPM algorithms and had western PC makers put those algorithms in the Chinese market TPM instead of the open standards algorithms. The suspicion in the security community is that these algorithms have backdoors that only the Chinese government is aware of.

Western PC manufacturers will happily follow the Chinese government rules and implant spy devices on PCs meant for China. Most companies would be staunchly opposed to this suggestion from the U.S. government, arguing that they don’t exist to manufacture spy devices for the government. Yet that is what happens in China.

What is going on in Russia is nothing new, except apparently importing to Russia becoming more strict. You really can’t blame the Russians (or anyone else) for worrying about backdoors in western-built products, the stories about the NSA implanting secret access have been all over the internet. Companies are usually open to having a “trusted third party” examine their code and products to ensure no backdoors are present. This is not “sharing secrets” as the third party is severely limited in what they can disclose.

The Reuters article pointed out that Symantec ceased allowing code inspections because they did not trust the trusted third party, probably for good reason. The fear is that the third party was actually looking for security vulnerabilities as an agent for the Russian government. Indeed, if the third party is not trusted, the procedure does not work.

BUT, the interest of western companies is heavily weighted to protecting intellectual property rather than worrying about vulnerabilities in code. That is more likely the reason Symantec dropped out of the program. They are, after all, in the software security industry and if their code was broken well then their business is ruined. So in their case, hidden vulnerabilities are, in a sense, intellectual property to be protected.

Personally, I’d be happier if the U.S. government required such code inspection on imported products. We know spyware is implanted in Chinese-made items. This would simply become consumer protection, hey you can spy on your customers but at least disclose it. I doubt it’s practical, though, given the vast number of imported products to the U.S. and the dearth of interest in the government to seriously protect cyber infrastructure.

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Need for Federal Laws Regarding Handling of Personal Data

Are you worried about government agencies spying on you?

Well, that isn’t the only problem you should be concerned about in this area:

“Detailed information on nearly every U.S. voter — including in some cases their ethnicity, religion and views on political issues — was left exposed online for two weeks by a political consultancy which works for the Republican National Committee and other GOP clients.”

Read this.

Less than a century ago, this kind of information could land someone in a concentration camp, thus the EU has fairly strong data privacy laws today. Not so in the U.S.

It can be done. Laws have been made in the past, such as HIPAA laws that protect medical data. Unfortunately, the most powerful corporations in the world are dead set against such laws so there is a huge barrier to overcome.


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The Tropical Atlantic

Get the Party Rolling!

The National Weather Service or some agency in the weather prediction end of the federal government designates hurricane season as running from June 1 to November 30 for the tropical Atlantic. It’s called “hurricane season,” though hurricanes are only the most powerful storms. There are also many smaller storm systems from tropical waves to tropical depressions to tropical storms. The better term to use is tropical cyclone.

The peak of the season is usually late August through the end of September. However, this season is looking a bit ominous: There are two systems they are watching for tropical formation and it is only mid-June. The tropical cyclone prediction map from NOAA above show the probability of two systems forming in the Caribbean next week. The leftmost red area has a 90% chance of forming and the storm on the lower right has a 60% chance. Neither are predicted to “hit” Puerto Rico at this time but the storm off Mexico is already causing the winds here to increase a bit.

Interestingly, if these systems get big enough to become named storms, they won’t even be the first of the year, tropical storm Arlene formed in mid-April, only the second time this has ever been observed. But wait! Even more ominously, a big stationary tropical low formed in mid-March when we were in the Turks and Caicos, I posted a pic of the storms at the time (below):

Big Storms in the TCIs Last March

This storm almost got big enough to be named and that would have been a first ever. It generated huge waves in the TCIs, and that’s the thing about these tropical systems. Even if they don’t form named storms, they are usually associated with lots of rain and wind.

So our first tropical cyclone season in the Caribbean may be a busy one. But hey, you can’t say you’re a salt encrusted sailor until you’ve spent at least one hurricane season in the “belt.” We’ve ordered new, doubled dock lines…

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Tax Avoision

Going For My Morning Soak in the Seaside Pool at the Yacht Club Marina

Palmas del Mar is a gated community here on the east shore of Puerto Rico. Actually, it’s double gated. You have to go through a staffed main gate to get into the development. The development consists of many separate houses, villages, condos, and hotels, plus the marina, with a golf course meandering around them. Each community or hotel has it’s own staffed gate, including the marina. The landscaping is well maintained, there are no stray dogs and no trashed out buildings or streets. And there are sidewalks and walkways, the true expression of a luxury community in the Caribbean, apparently.

So this is a high end community for the island. The Yacht Club here has a tiki bar that serves what the locals call the best burger on the island. And it is pretty damn good. But the locals complain that if you don’t have a boat parked here you can’t get in, they hardly ever open it up to the public. Now here is the kicker, the seasonal rate (which we are in) is amazingly reasonable. So we get quite a bit of luxury living without having to pay the steep prices.

Many of the “locals” we’ve met here are expats from the states. Well, “expat” isn’t a proper description since we are in U.S. territory, but nevertheless, it is a bit different here. All PR citizens are U.S. citizens though they cannot vote in national elections and do not have voting representatives in congress. So their law is a mix of U.S. federal law and some Puerto Rican law.

Apparently there is a huge tax advantage for businesses here: There is no capital gains tax. Zero. For personal income tax it is pretty low, like 5% or something. Many of the people we’ve met here moved their business here to avoid paying these taxes, which is a huge advantage. Thus the title of this post, tax avoision. It is a real word. I learned it from watching The Simpsons.

Walking Path Through the Beachside Trees

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