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Musings from Philippe

Sailing, Mountains, Music, and Technology

Pegasus 70 team on their way to Honolulu!

We passed Catalina and just changed from the #1 jib to the #3. Doing 10 knots at 225 true. The course to Honolulu is 255 true. We are to the right of the fleet. We expect a right shift. Life is good.

Pegasus 70 team on their way to Honolulu!

Pegasus 70 team on their way to Honolulu!

Getting ready to start the Transpac 2011

Getting ready to start the Transpac 2011

Getting ready to start the Transpac 2011

Transpac 2011

Sailing Team:
Philippe Kahn
Mark “Crusty” Christensen
Bruce Mahoney
Curtis Florence
Darren Jones
David Giles
Hayden Goodrick
Jeff Madrigali
Mark Golsh
Seth Larkin
Zan Drejes

Boat Project Management:
Zan Drejes, Bruce Mahoney, David Giles

Onshore Pegasus Racing team:
Zan Drejes, David Gilles, Bruce Mahoney, Mark Golsh, Jana Madrigali, Seth Larkin, Cameron MacDonald, Rich McCarthy, Jade Allen, Tyler Greedy, Kathye Cattera

Online Presence:
Caleb Dolister, Peter Spaulding, Arthur Kinsolving, Joe Dolister

Sailor’s Food:
Bonnie Willis

Louis Lot Serial #1584

Louis Lot

Paris, France

Stamp: Engraved on headjoint: L. L. / LOUIS-LOT / PARIS / 1584. On body, possibly stamped: L. L. / LOUIS-LOT / PARIS / 1584. Footjoint unmarked.

Comments: This is an extraordinary flute.; perhaps from the elegant engraved lip-plate at the top and the mysterious obelisk at the bottom. Everything in between is perfect Louis Lot, at yet another highpoint of his workshop. This flute was purchased in 1946 by Sunna Gerber, one of the first professional woman flautists in Switzerland. She purchased this flute while a student of André Jauret’s at the Zurich Conservatory. Jauret assisted in the purchase of this instrument from the orchestra in Vienna, which needed a piano. Sunna Gerber became a member of the Zurich Chamber Orchestra, and toured Europe as a soloist with this orchestra. She played this flute, and other players often admired it in her travels. Sunna Gerber became the first woman professor of the flute in Switzerland, at the Zurich Conservatory. Mrs. Gerber writes that she, “wishes to the new owner of the instrument all the best and she likes to give the part of the history of this Louis Lot flute to the next lucky owner.” Suna Gerber was my professor of lute at the Zurich conservatory. This beautiful flute has undergone complete restoration by Paul Rabinov, and has emerged in her full glory.

Material: The tube and keys and lipplate are silver. The springs are of steel, which is also normal for this shop. Lot’s colleagues, Theobald Boehm and Carl Mendler, were the only ones using gold springs at this time. The pad washers may have been originally gilt (gilding mostly lost). Louis Lot had a very holistic attitude towards his flutes. This is especially seen in his pad washers. Lot meticulously shaped the washers with a graceful curve, and then gold plated them, to treat the singing air with the utmost respect. Over time, the added curves disappeared, but for a long while the gilding did not. The washer for the top G#, and the grommets for the F and Bb appear replaced with, probably, later Lot parts.

System: This is Lot’s model 5, silver flute with C foot. This has been the most popular flute model ever designed. Since it’s introduction by Lot and Godfroy around 1850, virtually every flutemaker has adopted design elements from this model. The trill is to B. For many years, flutists used this lever to trill the thumb key, giving a B to C trill. Lot called this a C trill, incidentally. After Lot’s retirement, sometime in the 1880’s, the use of this trill to close the Bb key, on top of the flute, became widespread. The topside clutches are Lot and Godfroy’s original shoulder clutches, before the “hanging T” clutch was invented. These clutches, along with the ingenious “back-clutch” constitute Lot’s ability to synthesize disparate parts into a simple whole, making order out of the chaos of Boehm’s invention. The lipplate is the “over and under”, or Top Hat style, with a full flange on the top and bottom of the chimney. We believe that this is the special “embouchure unié” Lot mentions in his record book, starting with flute #740 in 1863. This embouchure design gives considerably greater support to the lipplate, and allows a thinner piece of silver. Furthermore, the plate can be soft-soldered to the chimney flange. The lipplate is cut with Lot’s “Guilloché” pattern. This is a machined engraving, using a special tool. It was an extra order, and was one of Lot’s few nods towards the machine age. The guilloché cut gives the player more control at the lip, and adds elegance to the flute. The tone holes are graduated. There are three basic sizes, 14.5mm (left hand), 15.2 mm (right hand), and 16.5 mm (foot). Boehm also believed in graduated holes, but they were more expensive to manufacture, he said. The footjoint is the original pinned design with backclutch. This beautiful and elegant footjoint was first designed by Lot and Godfroy shortly after purchasing the cylindrical patent rights in 1847. It was immediately adapted by most flutemakers, whether for simple-system or new model flutes. I believe that Lot continued to use this pinned foot, although the modern pinless foot was introduced around his retirement. The tail of the low C key rests on the mysterious obelisk that Lot used for a few years at this time. There is something special about this obelisk, which shows up on some of the Lot company’s tastiest flutes. Louis Lot eschewed complication. There is no real benefit from this obelisk, which simply replaces the longer tail generally in use. It is highly possible that this is an artistic choice, invoking a special meaning unrelated to efficiency.

Condition: This flute has been fully restored by Paul Rabinov. She has been returned to her magnificence.

Pitch: Originally pitched at New Pitch, or A=435-438. Has been used professionally at a higher pitch. Currently set up for A=440.

Sounding Length: Current sounding length 595 mm.; original c.604 mm.

Measurements: Headjoint was cut 9 mm (6 mm replaced). Scale is 22.7mm, or about A=438. Chimney 5.1 mm. Embouchure 10.4 x 12.4 mm.

Weight: 3

This photo shows the brilliant, elegant, and above all simple, clutch designs which have made the Boehm system possible. Under the two keys to the left are little shoulders, pinned to the steel rod inside the silver tubes. This rod is also pinned to the F# key, whose pinned rear is seen in the “backclutch photo” in the middle of the backclutch. The F key is connected to the right side of the back clutch, which extends all the way under the F# spade and the left hand spade, which is pinned to the Bb rod. The knob in the middle of the backclutch top is the “kingpost”, which separates the right hand from the left hand mechanism.

This is the “independent” G#, invented by Lot or Godfroy, probably in the late 1850’s. The earliest attempt at this key is seen on Godfroy silver flute #600, which makes dating the Godfroy flutes even trickier. Here we also see the remains of an old swedging to the left of the G#, and the slight increase in key size at the far left cup. The B trill touch curves gracefully to the left, in aesthetic communion with the G# touch below.

This flute is in excellent condition, considering practically constant professional use for many decades. Most of the restoration work was to correct mechanical wear, not damage.

The upper strap, curving down to include the trill keys, was split by Villette, Lot’s successor. This is the first place to look to see if a body is by Lot himself. In this case, the name and serial number are stamped on the body as well.

Lot’s beautiful thumb keys taper to the right, where the top key fits under a tail pinned to the upper rod, to which the Bb key is also pinned, thus giving a Briccialdi Bb. The lower key fits over it’s tail, which is connected to the B trill lever (today a Bb trill). During padding the spring broke on the upper thumb key, and had to be replaced.

The back clutch is a central element in Lot’s mechanism. While the “loop clutch”, as Boehm called it, is not unique, Lot’s design made it functional.

The headjoint is engraved with Louis Lot’s personal stamp, which includes a hyphen in his name.

The beautiful tear-drop touch for the D# is another Lot and Godfroy design, abandoned by Lot’s retirement.

Lot offered guilloché embouchures from March 14, 1862, when he made a gold one for Vène of Bruxelles. We do not know if he had a machine in his shop or sent out for his engraving. The pattern would have been cut while the plate was flat.



Pegasus-MotionX, with Philippe Kahn and Mark Christensen smash double handed Transpacific record by more than 2 days

Successful Record Powered by iPhone 3GS and MotionX-GPS

HONOLULU, HI–(Marketwire – July 13, 2009) – The record for double-handing the Transpac yacht race from Los Angeles to Honolulu has been broken. At 4:38:35 a.m. Hawaiian Time today, Philippe Kahn and Mark “Crusty” Christensen, crossed the Diamond Head finish line in the Open 50 Pegasus, completing a record time of 7 days, 19 hours, 38 minutes, and 35 seconds, shaving two and a half days off the previous record of 10 days 4 hours, 4 minutes and 49 seconds was set in 2001 by Howard Gordon and Jay Crum also with an Open 50, the Etranger.

The Transpacific Yacht Race is one of the longest-standing and most prestigious ocean races in the world covering 2,225 nautical miles from Los Angeles to Honolulu.

“Double-handing the Open 50 to Hawaii is one of the highlights of my year,” stated Kahn, a noted technologist and the creator of the camera phone. “I love being out in the open Ocean. Once we’re out there, that’s all that matters — we had our sites on the record and we beat it. Mark and I are a perfect team. We work together at MotionX and we race together as partners on Pegasus across the Pacific. Mark’s experience as one of the world’s greatest offshore sailors is invaluable. Transpac is a navigator’s race and that plays into our strength.”

The Race Boat and the Team

The Pegasus 50 is an Owen Clarke-designed Open 50 acquired by Pegasus Racing in 2007. After an extensive refit, it launched in San Francisco. The Pegasus Racing Team has spent countless hours training, racing, and preparing the boat for this most difficult challenge from its base in Santa Cruz, Calif.

Kahn and Christensen, a formidable team both on and off the water, are colleagues at Fullpower, the maker of MotionX. When not at sea, Christensen is the vice president of engineering at Fullpower. While Philippe has raced the Trans-Pacific course 11 times with six wins, he first attempted a double-handed Transpac record in 2007. This is Philippe’s eleventh Trans-Pacific race and his sixth win. Mark has raced around the world four times and won twice.

“Congratulations to Philippe and Crusty for sailing hard, smashing a record, and doing a great job sharing the experience with the race organizers and the rest of the world,” said Lynn Fitzpatrick of Transpac 09. “The Pegasus team and their story added tremendously to the regatta and everyone’s experience. MotionX proved itself in so many ways.”

Race Chronicle: Fast, Wet, and Wild

As race day approached the skippers scour the weather information, and see that the weather is shaping up nicely. The team would get a fast and windy race, just what they needed for a shot at the double-handed record. They set sail with equipment that includes two iPhone 3GSs loaded with MotionX-GPS to navigate from start to finish and to allow them to instantly document their journey via text and video posts to Philippe’s blog on, Facebook, and YouTube.

Before the Transpac started, the sailing team met its first test when their hydraulics to cant the keel failed on the way to the starting line. The well-prepared Pegasus team managed to partially fix the hydraulics in the 50 minutes remaining prior to the start, which enabled the use of one of the two hydraulic rams for the keel. Though not ideal, it was enough to start the race on time.

Clouds covered the sky for the first days at sea with winds steadily building to 22-24 knots. The Pegasus accelerated to 17-20 knots of boat speed and headed west into the deep black of night. At about 1:00 a.m. Pacific Time as he was on the helm, Philippe was suddenly hit directly in the chest by a flying fish. Philippe made a leap to save the fish, just as the sea jerked the boat violently to the right. The fish was successfully rescued, though the sailor was a bit battered and a little bloody. Philippe learned to avoid going to the rescue of strange large flying fish.

The next few days brought on a few sail changes to take advantage of the wind velocity and direction. With MotionX-GPS running on their iPhone 3GS they could instantly know their VMG (Velocity Made Good) or the rate at which they were moving towards the Hawaiian finish line. Excitement grew as they realized that if they could keep up their current VMG of 12.6 knots over the next seven days, they would smash the double-handed record and meet their goal.

Mid-race days and nights were filled with periodic heavy squalls bringing a mixture of strong winds and rain. Riding the puffs from these squalls was extremely important to team Pegasus in order to keep their boat speed high and push for the double-handed record.

As the sun set on the sixth day the team knew it was decision time. Philippe looked at MotionX-GPS in combination with other instruments and weather patterns to determine when to jibe onto port to take advantage of the veering trade winds on their approach to Honolulu.

With Diamond Head in their sights, day seven welcomed the duo with a series of 30-knot squalls and lots of fast and wet sailing. The team was really making great progress, but at around 8 p.m. the mighty Pegasus lost all electrical power and communications. “There was a smell of an electrical fire, so we got out the extinguishers,” said Philippe. “There is nothing worse than a fire on a boat.”

The pair began troubleshooting to find the source of the electrical issue as they continued to sail full steam to Honolulu. While electrical problems are bad, the situation provided a platform for MotionX-GPS to shine. With nothing more than enough juice to send messages via e-mail, the two-man boat navigated through the darkness with flashlights, a mechanical compass, and handheld iridium and iPhones running MotionX-GPS. Co-skipper Kahn posted on the experience in his blog, “Sailing fast. Using the brail method.”

Finally, just after 5 a.m., the sailors were able to partially charge the batteries with a temporary fix. They continued to hand steer and gained just enough power throughout the final day to jibe the keel three more times. Kahn and Christensen carried their speed right down Molokai Channel in high winds to finish just before dawn on Monday in record double-handed time.

About the Transpac

With 44 races starting in 1906, the Transpacific Yacht Race to Hawaii is one of the longest and oldest ocean races in the world from Point Fermin near Los Angeles to Diamond Head in Honolulu. The race was inspired by King Kalakaua, the revered Hawaiian leader of the late nineteenth century who believed that such an event would strengthen the islands’ economic and cultural ties to the mainland. For more information, including results and position reports, visit

About Pegasus Racing

Pegasus Racing is a world-class one-design sailboat racing team made up of some of the finest sailors in the sport. Led by Philippe Kahn, successes range from winning the Melges 24 Worlds twice (2003 and 2007) to winning the Transpac (2001 and 2003) and setting both the Pacific Cup double-handed (2008) and the Transpac double-handed (2009) records. For more information on Pegasus Racing visit

About Fullpower/MotionX

Founded in 2003 by Sonia Lee and Philippe Kahn, Fullpower’s mission is to put motion-sensing in every mobile device. As the leader in mobile sensing solutions, Fullpower is building on its expertise in wireless sensor technology to deliver unique, interactive motion-sensing applications. MotionX solutions are designed and developed in Santa Cruz, Calif.

Important Links:

Pegasus Racing:

Accelerometrics: The art of motion sensing. Because motion is life.

We look around, everything is in motion. When motion slows, life pauses. Motion shapes our lives and gravity defines motion. We want to use gestures to control mobile devices: ShakeShake to roll virtual dice in the iPhone, TapTap to adjust the volume on the headset, Tilt ‘n Roll to navigate Google Maps. We use motion to control our favorite devices and interpret motion to improve our sports performance and our health.

Gravity, Galileo, Newton and Us

Gravity keeps us grounded. It’s our blessing and our curse. Gravity is the key force that shaped evolution. Accelerometers sense gravity, giving us the signals to understand motion. The ancient Greeks with all their brilliance didn’t understand motion, gravity or time very well. More than fifteen hundred years later, Galileo became the father of modern science. Before Galileo, with the prevalence of “Greek Cosmology,” heavier things fell faster and the earth was at the center of the universe. Galileo changed everything. He was skeptical of all the grand Greek schemes. He simply used his pulse to measure time and rolled balls of different weights on the same inclines. He carefully marked where each ball came to rest with every heartbeat (about one per second). Careful observation showed that no matter what the weight was, the balls all moved following the same patterns: one unit in one heartbeat, four in two, nine in three and sixteen in four. Galileo created a repeatable and reliable experiment. Later he used water clocks and pendulums to measure time more accurately. The Greeks were toast and the modern scientific method was invented: observe, reason, and experiment. It was the dawn of the 17th century, some three hundred years ago. Newton then took all the pieces, trusted in Galileo’s principle of inertia, and postulated that there had to be a force that attracted the Earth to the Sun and the Sun to the Earth and everything to everything else in the universe. We still don’t understand the nature of that force. But we know that gravity is everywhere, keeping the universe in balance.

Walking: Defying Gravity

Walking is so natural to humans that we forget the millions of years of evolution that allowed us to defy gravity by standing up and running on our hind legs consistently. Something that most children learn to do before they are two years old essentially defines us as a species. Our head, brain, intellect above all. Standing tall, making weapons, hunting in groups, using tools, and inventing technology have given us humans complete control of the planet. For the better and the worse. Consider this factoid: for every wild ‘protected endangered gorgeous wild wolf,’ there are more than 1000 pet dogs. The domesticated Canis Lupis seems to have prospered much better than the wolf in the wild. Smart move. We now get to use technology to try to better understand motion. After defying gravity, we get to measure gravity. For this, we use motion sensors. With smaller, more accurate, and more power-efficient sensors we can embed motion sensing in almost every mobile device. Now we are measuring and interpreting gravity and taking action.

Measuring Gravity with Sensors and Calibrating Human Motion

Thanks to Newton and Galileo, we know that we can understand motion by measuring acceleration. Cinematics, the science that studies motion, uses high-school calculus to relate acceleration, speed, and position. In a mobile device, when we do this in real time we don’t really integrate acceleration to get speed and speed to get position. We interpret the signals of the sensors and recognize motion patterns. Just like a good speech recognition engine recognizes words captured by a microphone. We use innovative technology to interpret signals captured by nano-technology-based sensors so that our mobiles tell us how fast we are running or walking for example. The science of accelerometers is profound and essential. Satellite-based navigation systems are of little use when signals vanish in an urban canyon or a wooded area or when changes in position and motion are unrelated as on a treadmill. Accelerometrics is a cool new discipline. Newton and Galileo would love it.

Putting Life and Motion in Control

The Wii changed gaming consoles by moving them from the hardcore gamer community to the mainstream. My 11-year-old daughter and I love to play Mario Kart with the rest of the family. Great stuff on a big screen. On mobiles, in the palm of our hands, it’s a different experience. TapTap, ShakeShake, Tilt ‘n Roll are naturals. Motion now controls a whole virtual mobile world. The motion-aware mobile platform is the new media. It is going to be by far the most popular platform in the world as it is just a matter of time before every one of our billions of motion-enabled co-humans wants one. Because life is motion.

Will my favorite Android soon dream of sheep?

People use AI as a buzzword to promote the Roomba vacuum cleaner: That’s a great sign! To be fair, it does fit into the definition of AI as a system that perceives the environment and can make intelligent decisions. The kind of decisions that a reasonable human would make. Now imagine if every camera phone had the ability to “sense the environment” and make “intelligent decisions” that can anticipate and act meaningfully. Then AI comes as a way to help and enhance the lives of real intelligent beings: All of us!

AI is present in a system that perceives its environment and takes actions that maximize its chances of success. For example, the next generation of sensor-enhanced mobile devices may use enough smarts to qualify as AI-based systems. At least that is what we are working very hard on doing at Fullpower.

AI is not just about systems that can learn. I think that for AI, what is more important is understanding the environment and making inferences that maximize chances of success. Learning can be part of the process. It is not necessary or sufficient. By the same token, natural language processing is not automatically AI. It can be. We can use AI techniques as part of a system that does natural language processing. But language is not automatically intelligence. It is communications.

For years, the Turing Test was seen as the criterium and the end of it all: If a human communicating using text messages with a machine wasn’t able to recognize that he/she was dialoguing with a machine, then that machine had to be “artificially intelligent”. The Turing test in my opinion is simply about building a machine good enough to be able to fool a human into believing that it is human through any text message interaction. It’s of course always an interesting exercise, but at the end of the day, it does not attempt to truly emulate the advanced problem-solving abilities of human intelligence. Let alone any form of “social intelligence” or understanding of the environment via sensors for example. And conversely, we can think of many humans who could fail the test themselves yet have “natural intelligence”. So the Turning test may just be an interesting exercise, but not a way to characterize machine or human intelligence.

As it is many times the case, I think that academia may have gotten a bit stuck with the LISP machines industry and with robots. The thought was to replace human intelligence and/or labor. However, things are changing quickly and technology is moving by leaps and bounds. For example, when we all thought that robotics would allow American and European manufacturing to be more competitive, China has become the “factory of the world” without technology by leveraging an endless low-wage hard-working low-skilled workforce. Present-day industrial robots are made of just a little bit of AI and a lot of electronics and mechanics. I’d take R2D2 any day! The world of sensor-enabled and enhanced devices with integrated inference engines has the greatest practical promise for AI’s long-term success. Next-generation robots get better!

Yes, I predict that most of the successful and useful advances will come from sensor-enabled devices and networks of such sensor-enabled devices. Both will be important and make significant advances using sensor-enhanced solutions.

Yet, as Shakespeare eloquently says: “We are such stuff as dreams are made on.” Our robots and machines don’t dream yet. Or as Philip K. Dick’s masterpiece: “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?” asks is the true test of “emotional intelligence”?

Cover of first edition (hardcover)

Sensor-Based Phones are the Next Big Thing!

People are asking: what’s next in wireless technology?

It’s sensor-based camera phones that integrate motion, light, and touch technology and will do for camera phones what the Wii has done for game consoles. Opportunities like this only come around every 5-7 years and it’s here now.

For the last 5 years, Fullpower has been building breakthrough sensor-based technology with rapid deployment strategies, end-to-end solutions, and a strong IP portfolio. I have to say that our team is very proud of our foresight in “seeing” the future.

We are inventing the future of mobile devices. That’s really exciting!

The future of camera-phones, the next couple of years.

Q and A with Philippe Kahn, CEO of Fullpower,
Creator of the first camera-phone solution

What’s next for user-handset interaction?

Philippe Kahn>> Motion is coming next . Shake your camera phone to pick-up a call. No buttons, no fingers. Simple natural gestures. Tap it to advance songs in the media player.

What can we learn from devices like the iPhone, Nintendo Wii, and Logitech MX Air that utilize accelerometers and 3D space sensors?

Philippe Kahn>> The Wii did a lot of things right. What you are going to see is a lot of what people hadn’t thought about for motion. Very cool, interactive, and a surprise for many. It takes complex software technology to make it work right. All the prior attempts have been botched. Just like there were lots of touch-screen phones before the iPhone. But nobody had it right.

Will there be a change in how we use our handsets?

Philippe Kahn>> Camera phones are communication tools. So that’s what we’ll continue doing with them: Talk, share, watch, play. How we do it gets more intuitive, direct, and fun. Motion is a natural way.

Do users have a need for accelerometers and orientation sensors in their phones?

Philippe Kahn>> Sensors bring magic to many devices. But the sensors themselves can’t do anything without the breakthrough solutions. Accelerometers have deployed airbags in cars for 20 years, they just became useful for gaming. For the last 4 years, dozens of team members at Fullpower have been inventing new ways to use sensors and bring a paradigm shift to camera phones, MP3 players, and many other devices. People have tried sensors in camera phones before, but the software didn’t work properly and it all remained a science project.

What is FullPower working on to address this?

Philippe Kahn>> Fullpower has built a huge technology and IP portfolio and filed dozens of patents during the last 4 years. Fullpower works with market leaders to take their camera phones to the next level of usability. The nature of the Fullpower business is that we can’t discuss the projects that we work on for competitive reasons. We are very discrete. In fact, if you asked me whether our technology is embedded into one or another handset contractually I’d have to say: “No Comment”. 🙂

Do you think the cell phone will eventually evolve into a phone, internet device, GPS navigation system, and more? If so, what tweaks will we need to implement to the interface?

Philippe Kahn>> There will be all sorts of camera phones. Small, medium, large. All users are different. We will see everything in terms of functionality, form factors, and interaction models. Sensors embedded in all these camera phones working with Fullpower’s software will make camera phones smarter and much more aware of the environment they are in. That means a much cooler user experience. When everyone does voice, email, browsing, chatting, pictures, video…. What counts is user experience. Our vision at Fullpower is to radically simplify the user experience.

Emailing the Father of the Camera Phone as He Sails Across the Great Blue Pacific

“Your uncle Invented the Camera Phone!?” is what I said before a friend introduced me to Philippe Kahn. Back in 1997, Kahn hacked together a camera phone to easily send photos of his newborn daughter to family and friends. That piece of lore is gadget history 101. What many people don’t realize is that Philippe is also a fanatic sailor. We’re not talking cushy megayachts: Kahn engages in top level competitive racing, in 2003 beating Roy Disney to win the Transpac race from Long Beach to Hawaii. As we speak, he’s on the same journey in a smaller, lithe, double-handed (two man) on the Team Pegasus Open 50, making a play for the speed record. We just emailed him…and mid race, he wrote back.

It’s his tenth crossing, but apparently, the weather is trickier than on his other trips, with two tropicals storms forming in the area. Despite all that, he answered our questions, from the middle of the great blue Pacific Ocean, about the boat, and how exactly you stay sane and connected in the open sea.

How do you stay connected out in the ocean?

It’s hard to type… Small boat, big motion, big fingers… So excuse the typos etc…There are several satellite communications systems; weight and power consumption matter a lot. The practical ones for a project like this are the Iridium network and the Inmarsat Fleet-33 system. The bandwidth is limited, to say the least: 2400 baud for Iridium, 9600 baud for F-33s, but Iridium is far more reliable and completely global. The challenge is also that these systems lose their connections. And of course, with that kind of latency, all standard email and download systems fail and get into endless loops. Latency just kills them as they try to eternally restart operations that never complete. We use systems that pick-up where they started after a connection is dropped to remedy those short comings. Yes, those systems are generally ‘line of sight ‘ and as long as there is not a massive storm it will work well, similar to Direct-TV. Iridium and Inmarsat are the main makers. They are not really water resistant, but pretty rugged. We protect it carefully. Everything is redundant on the boat except the F-33 that is a luxury that we enjoy once in a while when it works.

Tell me about the Boat.

The boat is all ultra light made out of the strongest and lightest pre-preg carbon fiber, the same methodologies of fabrication as the Boeing Dreamliner. The small cabin-pod that you can see on the drawing has a roof-top made out of kevlar so that it is not a Faraday cage. As the rest of the boat is made of carbon and there are many sensitive parts, like high precision stabilized compasses, running networks for sharing information between sensors and devices is tricky. We end-up using Cat 5 wiring, ethernet-style. And that is what connects the sat phones to the laptops and how I am sharing these emails with you. This is like a little spaceship. In fact, that is what people say when they see the boat. It’s made for two guys who want to work hard and take some risks to compete with fully crewed yachts with tens of professionals sailing. So it is light and designed to make everything doable by two.

How are you charging you gear? What kind of electrics are on the boat? Does the weight hurt your performance?

The boat has high performance batteries that get recharged by running the main engine as a generator. We run the engine a couple of hours a day to get enough charge. Weight is the enemy in these kind of boats. So we keep everything to the bare minimum.

What would the difference be without all the electrics?

The Sextant is a super handy Gizmo. Yes, you can get a $99.95 GPS and think that you know where you are, but you wouldn’t know about the stars, the planets, the moon and the sun as you do if you are proficient at finding your position anywhere in the world with a sextant. And that is really where we are, in the midst of the stars and the planets. That’s where we live…

I combine my Tamaya sextant with their celestial calculator so that I don’t need to carry all the site reduction tables. I tell you, at a party with smart hip people, you get more attention with a sextant than you got attention with an iPhone a month ago. Kids love it. Sophie, our 10 year old, is always eager to go and take a planet or a star site. It’s really fascinating to her.

I have a Suunto watch with a barometer, my sextant and always with us a hand bearing compass. If all fails, that will work. It’s important to know how to use those tools and like them.

How are you and co-sailor Richard Clarke taking shifts?

We really are flexible. Right now, I’m on watch, trimming, checking, navigating, taking care of things, writing email… I’m letting Richard sleep as long as he needs to because conditions are fairly stable. When things get hairy, none of us gets any sleep. It’s an exercise in sleep deprivation.

[From the blog: “by the way, we get both less than 4 hours of sleep every 24 hours”]

The blog is interesting to read, coming from someone interested in gear (and sailing), but more than that, for geeks who want to get away from their desks without getting away from their toys. (Gadgets & Ocean = A nice life.) At some point during the race, Kahn went further South than anyone else in the race to see if he could take advantage of the winds from some a pair of tropical storms. (I think.) Overnight, the wind died completely, becalming the boat, while other times, there was so much turbulence that lots of water was washing washing up on deck. And a day ago, all the electronics on the boat went haywire and they had to replace them all with a pair of laptops. The blog talks a lot about the gear Richard and Philippe are using, switch up their playlists on their iPods and iPhones. (I think that’s an iPhone first, being in a race.)

When Philippe gets back, I’m going to have to drill him about his current project, in stealth right now, over at Fullpower. No one knows what it is, yet, but I’ll let you know as soon as I find out. [Transpac 2007 Open 50 Double Handed Record Attempt]

Disclaimer: Philippe is the uncle of a friend of mine, and I’ve crashed on the family couch a few times in Tahoe.

Philippe Kahn founded Borland, invented the Camphone, and decodes human motion. He’s also a fellow outdoorsman, splitting time skiing Tahoe and sailing in Santa Cruz. He’ll share his Transpac 2009 sailing race with us live from the Pegasus Open 50. He and Richard Clarke set the race record for a double handed team in 2008 with a time of 7 days, 15 hours, 17 minutes and 50 seconds, besting all boats in overall time for that year.
[Previous Pegasus Sailing posts on Gizmodo, Pegasus]


This whole weekend, NPR (National Public radio) runs a big piece on the camera phone and its impact on society. I have to say that all business partners, friends and family members have had a great impact in shaping the camera phone. Click here to listen

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