InReach Mini: It Could’ve Been a Contender

Because many of my motorcycle trips are solo, and take me beyond cell phone coverage (although not off road!), I’ve been interested in satellite-based text messaging devices. As a class, these basically give you the ability to send (and sometimes receive) SMS/text messages by way of orbital satellite networks. Which makes it much harder to go off grid…and more likely that, if you need help off grid, you’ll be able to let someone know.

The Garmin InReach Mini (their latest offering) seemed to be an ideal choice. Small. Can work with your cell phone via Bluetooth, making it easier to compose and read messages (i.e., you’re not limited to a handful of keys and a tiny screen). Uses the Iridium network, which seems to provide the best coverage of the alternative networks (not that I plan on being in Northern Canada anytime soon). And it offers a wide array of monthly service plans — which you have to have for the device to be of any use — that can be put on hiatus during the rainy season when you’re not on the road much anyway.

So I bought one.

And it’s turning out to be a mistake.

First and foremost, the Garmin InReach website (necessary for setting up, configuring and managing the device) is not very well designed. Activation was challenging, made more so by being offered important advisories on how you ought to configure your device…after you’re part way through the activation process. And don’t get me started on how many emails you need to set up an account, add a device and participate in the Garmin community forums (three, in fact; bizarre).

But the really bad problem was that only about 25% of my test messages ever arrived. With no indication that there was any problem sending them (i.e., the Mini reported success, but the message never got where it was going).

After some back and forth with tech support I learned that I happened to be using my new Mini during a period when AT&T was rejecting messages (perhaps as a result of mistakenly classifying them as spam). Go me.

It also turns out that this is not the first time AT&T has suddenly stopped accepting InReach Mini messages. A tech support guy I spoke to says it’s happened more than once in the last six months. But, good news! The problem always goes away after a few days. Only to re-occur, randomly, at some point in the future.

There is a workaround: send email messages rather than text messages. Fortunately, and despite the fact that this is not disclosed anywhere I could find in the Garmin documentation, emails cost the same as text messages. Judging by what they look like on the receiving end, I suspect they are just text messages, embedded into a simple email template.

Unfortunately, for me and almost everyone else I know, email lacks the immediacy of a text message. Text messages pop up on your phone. Emails you have to go read. And immediacy counts…particularly when you’re in a difficult, bad or emergency situation.

Moreover, who’s to say the emails won’t someday be spontaneously rejected? Granted, emails don’t get delivered by way of your cell phone carrier. But since Garmin doesn’t seem to know why the text messages are being rejected, despite repeated occurrences of the problem, I’m a little hesitant to embrace the workaround as solving the problem.

Besides, it really torques me that Garmin didn’t disclose its repeated problems with AT&T, which stretch back for at least 6 months, somewhere in their advertising. I spent a lot of time researching the Mini before buying one, and I never came across any mention of this problem (which is part of the reason for writing this lengthy post). They should’ve done so, if for no other reason than it might put more pressure on AT&T to define what would be required for a permanent fix 1.

So I regret to say that, while it looks good on paper, if you’re on an AT&T cell phone account I’d stay away from the Mini.

In fact, I’d require any purveyor of this technology to confirm they haven’t had problems with particular carriers suddenly and mysteriously not delivering text messages.


Earthrise

I had no idea that one of the most iconic images of the 20th Century was seen and captured on film by accident. Check out this link: https://www.youtube.com/embed/dE-vOscpiNc

Borman’s quote about what he saw is famous. But when I see that image of the Earth coming over the dead lunar horizon, I always think of a passage from a favorite sci fi novel: “A sapphire. Yes, another stone; but this one is a precious jewel, because it holds beings who are aware.”

Thanx to my buddy John Williams for bringing the video to my attention!

That’s One Way to Move In!

There’s a new apartment building going up on Walnut Street in San Carlos, just north of San Carlos Avenue. That in and of itself isn’t unusual…but the way it’s being built is, at least for San Carlos.

That’s because it’s being assembled out of modules that are built off-site and trucked to the construction site. I’ve been told this may very well be the wave of the future, because it allows for economies of scale that are hard to achieve otherwise. Particularly since most multi-family dwellings aren’t built out of uniquely different units; they tend to draw from a set of plans, perhaps unique to a site, that reoccur within the overall building design.

Here’s a video of one of the units being installed (click to enlarge):

Apartment Module from Mark Olbert on Vimeo.

Early in the video, if you look carefully behind the crane’s boom you’ll see one of the engineers giving hand signals to the crane operator, to move the module into position. Towards the end, if you look at the right side of the video, you’ll see a contractor tightening bolts to warp the module into its final position (warp being an ancient nautical term not having anything to do with antimatter, dilithium crystals or Zefram Cochrane :)).
 

There’s Usually an Easier Way

There was a UK TV crime show back in the early 90s that I used to watch. It only lasted one season (1994), and, while it was enjoyable, the theme song was what stuck with me. In fact, I made an audio recording of the theme — manually, as this was l-o-n-g before consumer audio recording and editing software! — which has been part of my music collection ever since. It’s part of my “gym collection”, on my iPod Shuffle.

Yesterday I decided to see if I could find a digital version of the piece. I had, however, long forgotten the name of the show.

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Cruising at 5 Miles per Second

This past Sunday morning I got up a little before 6 AM to see the International Space Station cruise over San Carlos. It was one of the better displays, going from the western horizon to the eastern horizon, and passing very close to straight overhead. So it was visible for almost 10 minutes, outshining everything in the pre-dawn sky.

I waved at them, too. But I doubt they noticed me :).

It being Sunday I then went back to bed, waking up for good around 8:30 AM.

By which point the ISS was just about completing it’s second lap around the Earth since I’d watched them pass out of view.

Now that’s fast!

Now This Is Way Cool!

I’m sure many others have already had this experience, but it’s a new one for me. WiFi and internet access while cruising over Northern California at 34,000 feet doing 500+ knots!

Sure, the connection gets a little slow at times. But the amazing thing about the singing horse isn’t how poorly he sings, but rather that he sings at all :).