Messages from space

I’m pleased to report that my celebrations of out-smarting the weather far exceeded all expectations and finally ended some time yesterday morning (Sunday). After a brief recovery period I decided to get cracking with some more mundane matters, namely the problem of how to update this website once I’m at sea.

Luckily those nice people at Motorola anticipated my need and created the Iridium communications network of 66 satellites, giving global coverage. Unfortunately they vastly over-estimated the market and nearly went bust, losing something like $5bn on the project. The satellites were about to be shut down when somebody else stepped in and snapped up the lot for a bargain basement price, and the network is now up and running again.

I’ve bought an old handset which is enormous, looking like a yuppie relic from the 80s, but will apparently work anywhere in the world, including the middle of the Atlantic or indeed the North Pole should I go a little off course. It works like a mobile phone, and you can get monthly contracts or pre-pay cards to buy minutes of air-time. I decided on the latter and popped along to the local dealer, Explorer Satellite, to get sorted.

They turned out to be very helpful chaps indeed, and found a data adapter to connect it to my Mac which they let me have cheap as it’s got a few tooth marks on it. Not sure whose they are, but not to worry, I’m sure it’ll be fine. Andy and Terry soon had me connected and by the time I got home I’d received my first ever message from outer space. If you’re ever in the area and in need of satellite phone stuff then I can highly recommend them as they certainly seem to know what they’re talking about.

So, now I’ve got a comms link, how do I update the website? Well, the obvious way is via the usual web interface, but at a data rate of 2400 baud and a cost of $1.25 per minute this would prove to be a painfully slow and very expensive process. So I put my thinking cap on again, and there now follows a geek-speak interlude which those of you with lives will find of no interest whatsover.

This blog is based on a MySQL database running on my ISP’s server, with all data access via PHP embedded into the HTML of my site. The quickest and simplest solution would be to connect directly to the database server, but my ISP doesn’t allow that for security reasons, which is quite understandable.

There are several ways around this, but the one I’ve settled on for now is to write a Java program to talk to the web server itself, so I can send it PHP commands to update the blog database. I won’t go into too much detail yet as there are security issues which I want to resolve first, but it looks very promising and will reduce to a minimum the amount of data I’ll need to send and receive with each blog update.

This approach means that I’ll be exercising my Java skills which I’ll need when I get back to London and have to start working again. I’ve decided to use Eclipse as my development environment as it’s free, and I used it in my last job so am used to it. If you haven’t tried it and are in the market for a fully-featured free IDE for Java (and other stuff) then check it out at www.eclipse.org.

I spent the rest of Sunday evening programming, which was very pleasant indeed, and I hope to get it working before I leave, although I still have no idea when that will be.

Today (Monday) it’s rained all day so I’ve been working inside the boat, and have managed to put back all the ceiling panels and interior trim which I had to remove to bolt the liferaft cradle to the coachroof. I also got an interim statement from the boat yard and am trying hard to ignore the horror of the rather large number at the bottom! Oh well, it’s only money, so I think I’ll get back to my programming and forget all about my overdraft.

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