Saturday, May 23, 2009

TechTip: YOTREPS

Short Answer
It's a pain in the neck, but go ahead and set up your YOTREPS account.

Long Story
So I have to admit a painful secret for a cruiser – I find the SSB (single side band) radio seriously annoying. I do not gain any pleasure dialing into the morning Amigo or Chubasco cruiser nets and listening to the checkins and weather. The hiss and pop and static make it impossibly challenging to listen to, and I find Don (who does weather every morning on Amigo Net) more than a little frustrating all by himself.

Jaime on the Radio
Jaime on the Radio
Originally uploaded by toastfloats.
But those irritations are actually minor compared to my single biggest beef with SSB systems: the software. Unless I'm missing something, all the software written to connect laptop computers to the SSB were written sometime prior to Windows 95. To a woman steeped in user interface design and super-satured with the daily tactile pleasure of working on a MacBook running Leopard, applications like AirMail, ITS HF Propagation, and WeatherFax are jarring, almost painful experiences. Put these horrid, kludgy ports on Microsoft Vista Home Premium and you have a perfect storm of endless frustration and viscerally disappointing moments.

And to make it all worse, you're supposed to use these tools connected in some great network on the air waves to send reports to probably the earliest social network site ever built: YOTREPS. YOTREPS collects the position and weather reports from boats all over the world, sharing them for the public, weather routers, and fellow cruisers. It was built and deployed in the dark ages and as near as I can tell, hasn't been upgraded since HTML 1.0.

I'm sure that circa 1992, YOTREPS plus SailMail plus an ICOM SSB and a Pactor modem were nothing short of miraculous. I have no doubt that at the time, cruisers must have been in heaven. Here was a tool which quickly and relatively painlessly posted to a public web site your latest position. AirMail even has a form built into the interface to prompt you for your position and weather information which it then converts into the text report required by the web site. It must have seemed the height of technology, pushing cruisers to the bleeding edge. In a world driven by Facebook, Twitter, and Flickr, however, this system is not just antiquated, it's comical.

So why am I going to recommend to cruisers-to-be that you invest the time and energy in getting and maintaining a YOTREPS account? Because YOTREPS adds a valuable piece to the communication puzzle. SPOT is a much better tracking system, but it doesn't work in the middle of the ocean. Twitter is a much better way to communicate to your friends and family what you are doing and works perfectly over SailMail, but it doesn't have a map to enable folks to easily track your progress. Finally – and most importantly – YOTREPS is still widely accepted as a resource for weather routers and meteorologists to obtain real-time data about conditions on the high seas. I put YOTREPS in the same necessary evil category as pooper scoopers and mammograms.

Our own communication plan relies on combining the three services: SPOT, YOTREPS, and Twitter to provide a constant stream of information back to the people who worry and care. Now I'll grant you, we may be getting a little carried away with all this tweeting and posting and reporting, but at least there is very little chance anyone will lose us is in the stunningly beautiful wilderness down in the Sea of Cortez.
YOTREPS
YOTREPS
Originally uploaded by toastfloats.

1 comment:

Split Decision said...

Friends of mine also cruising on a catamaran use Yotreps. I wrote a widget which displays their Yotreps updates on a small map on their blog.

I don't know if it would be of any use to you, as you already have a google maps widget to display your position. The only advantage might be that the widget updates positions automatically every night and links to your Yotreps page. But maybe it would be of use to some of your friends or readers. A form which generates html code to insert the widget on a blog or webpage is hereOh, and I enjoy your blog, especially since I'm not currently cruising on my boat.

Scott
Gemini Catamaran Split Decision