Sunday, May 25, 2014

I got my GOES card

It’s not a card issued by AARP that confirms my ability to GO. On recent trips out of the country, Lisa and I noticed the Global Entry lines.  There were few people in them and the ones that went into those lines moved through them in quick fashion.  A friend who travels for his job told us we had to get the GOES card and it would truly be worth the $100 you pay for the application. After nearly missing a connection at the Miami airport due to excessive slow moving lines, we decided to do it.

GOES is the acronym for GLOBAL ONLINE ENROLLMENT SYSTEM.  Global Entry is a U.S. Customs and Border Protection program that allows expedited clearance for pre-approved, low risk travelers upon arrival in the United States. There is no minimum number of trips necessary to qualify for the program. Participants may enter the United States by using automated kiosks located at selected airports. To get a GOES card, you have to agree to divulge a lot of personal information.  Face it: this information is already available to the government, so as someone with no terrorist links or desire to conduct international illegal business, I don’t have a problem laying it out for them.  You go to the Global entry website,  ( and register.  After your application is submitted and your check clears, you will get a letter directing you to make an appointment for an interview. At the interview, you will be photo graphed and your fingerprints are recorded.  The officer will question you about where you travel, what your occupation is, and if you have any outstanding criminal charges.  Assuming you answer to the officer’s satisfaction and everything checks out, you will be mailed an ID card in a protective sleeve to carry with you when you travel. (The protective sleeve shields the RFID chip in the card so your information can’t be accessed.)

Once you receive and activate the card, you can add that ID number to airline reservations to mark your travel documents to indicate that you are a trusted traveler.  This really smooth’s the road through the airport! Once check in luggage is dropped off, GOES participants proceed to the shorter Global Entry line to TSA check in.  In that line, GOES ID holders do not have to take off their belts and shoes, and the search is less invasive.  A word to the wise, though, if, like me, you have artificially parts that set off the metal detector; tell the office right away.  They will then direct you to the front of the line for the millimeter scanner.  If you say nothing and set off the metal detector, they have no choice but to perform the usual pat down.
At major international airports, they now have kiosks for reading the traveler’s passport.  GOES participants have a special expedited line for this as well.  Once your passport is scanned, it will print out a “receipt” that shows your photo on it.  If there is an “X” over your photo, then you will have to talk to the immigration officer.  For a non-GOES traveler, this is another line to wait in, but for the GOES traveler, you will be put at the head of the line again and bypass all the waiting.  This is a really good thing if you are someone who has difficulty standing for a length of time, as this pass cuts through all that and keeps you moving along.
On our recent trip to Utila Lisa  and I both traveled with our new GOES cards and it relieved much travel stress by allowing us to navigate the customs lines so quickly.

On our way back into the country and to our connecting flight, we were also among the first people to get to the baggage claim and back though TSA check in.  (If only they had GOES for luggage!) Getting our GOES card cost $100 but was a small investment towards  more enjoyable travel.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Tales of Tater: Dive Software Test

One of the first things we learn as divers is to fill out our log books.  It's important to keep track of the number and details of your dives especially as you progress with more advanced training.  I log each one of my dives and include notes, sites dive buddies etc.  The technical portions of the dives are copied off of our dive computers.  Items such as depth, time, dive time, surface interval etc.

With modern dive computers comes the ability to communicate from computer to computer.   Now we can download the information stored in the computer to a PC.  What`s the point of that?   Well actually there are several. I dislike the process using my thumbs to navigate through the menu on the dive computer.  I would rather let the computers do that.  I also dislike writing down all the technical details mentioned earlier.  It isn't terrible but I prefer to do it all at once when I feel like it rather than right after a dive.  I also like the ability to tie pictures that I've taken on a dive to the specific log off that dive.  It makes them both more interesting together.  Finally the biggest reason to do that is that I am a dive geek, in mathematical terms; Diver + Geek = Dive Geek = Tater. 

After spending some time on the Google machine to investigate, I found one of the packages that sounded the best was called Dive Log 5.0., the problem with it was the cost; roughly $50.  As any tightfisted engineer would know, you just don't plunk down some cash based on the marketing of a product.  But a good manufacturer will understand that and let you try it.  I downloaded the free demo and started to play with it.  I was not completely sold (Manta and/or my wife will enthusiastically confirm that I don't buy anything quickly)

$50 is a lot more money than my log book refills!! On the other hand since I don't have any quarry fees, motel stays or dive refreshments to buy until summer, $50 for a onetime fee doesn't see too terrible.  In a weak moment I pulled the trigger and ordered it.

One of the features I like the best about the software is the ability to connect my dive computer to the laptop and just download the most recent dives. I simply connect the cable from my Suunto Vyper to the PC using the provided USB interface cable, go to the download menu in Dive log 5.0 and press the button.  Dives are automatically added to the end of the existing dive log.  You can then edit anything about the log entry including the dive number.  This is a real must for several reasons.  First if you are like me you may want to enter a bunch of dives from before you got the dive computer.  Second, I don't consider every dive that my computer logs to be a separate dive.  Sometimes we just surface to adjust gear, get our bearings, help a student etc..  I often combine dives after they are downloaded.   I can take what the computer calls 3 separate dives of 3 minutes, 10 minutes and 15 minutes respectively and just modify the log into 1 dive of 28 minutes.  If I take my dive computer into a Manta Pool Session it gets logged as a dive and I can just delete that one. 

The details that are downloaded to a log will vary according you your dive computer.  A dive computer such as the Atomic Cobalt provides a lot more information that does my Suunto Vyper, but I have the ability to add to or overwrite any information that is downloaded.

Once you have the dive information logged in correctly you can really start to use the software as you like.  I always like to add a few notes to each log just as you would in a logbook version such as what fish you saw, who your dive buddy was, visibility etc.  There are a lot of built in information in the software that you can use such as dive buddies (which it keeps track of so you can just pick names or groups on subsequent dives),  Tank Pressure, etc.  You would sort of expect that in an electronic log and it is all there.  In addition, there are categories of dives that you can use such as Night Dive, Deep Dive, Teaching, Leading, etc.   These items are also tracked for other uses. But wait, there's more!!

One fun little tool is that you can use maps to track the location of your dives.  Not just say 'Pearl Lake' but you can attach an actual map location to it as you might with Google maps. This information is also stored and can be selected on future dives.

Another fun and/or useful things that the package does is give you the ability to get statistics from the stored dive logs such as how many of a particular type of dive, location of a dive, how many dives with a particular dive buddy,  how much total time under water, number of dives in a location etc.   Nothing like a nice graph to get a geek's heart racing :)

Probably one of my favorite features is the ability to add pictures to the dive log.   I take a fair number of GoPro pictures and while I sometimes make YouTube type videos out of them, I almost as often grab snapshots out of the video.  There is a drawback here that the software does not support video.  I spoke with the developer and he is hoping to add that to future versions but for now it only supports pictures.  You can attach pictures to each dive so that 2 years from now flipping through your log, you can tie the photo to the specific dive and dive log information.  I really enjoy this because I can now take the pictures from say Cayman Brac and directly tie them not only to Cayman Brac, but the specific dive, dive Buddy depth, dive site name etc.   I find that connecting the picture with the dive specifics makes the picture more interesting and also the dive log entry more interesting by tying the memory all together.  (This is especially helpful as I get old, senile and get in more dives)

 But wait!  There's more!!  Aside from the advantages of the software, they have a working relationship with other software vendors for both Android and Mac.   Who cares?  Well there is a big advantage there in my book. 

Many of us have done dive trips to remote tropical locations.  One of the big problems with flying with dive gear is packing. Weight and space for a dive trip are at a premium and can be very expensive if you go over the restriction.   Well one of the things I carry with me on trips is my laptop.  I have an older 15" Dell that I take mostly to use with my GoPro so I can download the video.  Mine weighs a few pounds and is about 2 inches thick.   What if I didn't have to take it?  What if I could use a 7" tablet and download save all of my video files to the tablet or a memory stick?  Well I can.  And now I also have the ability to download my dive computer to my tablet.   Dive Log 5.0 works with an Android application called Divemate USB.   I can load all of my electronic dive logs (minus pictures) onto a cloud application called Dropbox and use it to transfer all of my log information onto my Android tablet

as well as my phone using Divemate.  

It is a separate application but holds all the same information except the pictures (pictures can be added to but are not automatic and I wouldn't waste the memory space).  It is two way sharing in that I can also use Divemate to download new dives from my Vyper directly to my tablet and Divemate will allow me to transfer the information back to my PC and the Dive Log software through the Dropbox.  Oh man Jimmy Ray you gotta be lovin' this!!!

I love the fact that I can use both packages for the same information and each has some advantages.  For example Divemate has a built in feature of combining dives, which I previously mentioned I do manually in Dive Log.  But I much prefer the Dive Log software because of the statistics and generally more comfortable viewing on the larger screen. 

I don't claim this is for everyone and there are a couple of drawbacks.  If you want to log previous dives to catch up to your current dive (which you do not HAVE to do) you either need really good information or it can distort some of the statistics that it produces.  For example if you don't have a detailed record of your tank pressure delta on a given dive or dives, it will be included in your SAC calculations and can throw that off.  

If I lived somewhere I could dive 150-200 dives a year, I might skip all the features and just use it because it was easier but since I generally have several months of the year where all I can do is dream about diving and re-live past dives, I really do like the product and messing around to find all kinds of things such as number of dives at a given depth, temperature, number of dives by month, number of dives with particular dive buddies, training dives, night dives etc. as well as being able to put the right pictures with the right dives. And oh boy, who doesn't like a good graph??    But wait, there's more!!

Call Manta Divers now and get a free air fill with any gear purchase over $200 with one easy payment.  Yes you heard right, that's a $10 savings if you call now.  Operators are standing by.

Photo Credit: All Photos in this blog post are the work of Scott Durban

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Utila Part One

Hey Blog readers!

Did you miss me?  Sorry about the lack of communication.  As you know, we were in Utila over Easter and the internet connection was a bit spotty and, truthfully, I was really too busy diving to write!  I guess that is a good thing.  I did manage to post a couple of videos to Facebook there showing a brilliant red sea horse, the Halliburton wreck and our whale shark encounters.

Utila is one of a few destinations that I never tire of.  It is remote and fairly primitive compared to places like Cozumel or Aruba, but that quality is what draws me there.  I especially love staying at Utila Lodge, an eight room all inclusive resort.  The rooms are literally over the water, so guests can be lulled to sleep each night by the sounds of the ocean.   The food that is prepared there daily is not fancy at all, but is nutritious and well balanced: salads, fresh fruit, barbequed pork, baked fish, shrimp, chicken and other dishes sure to satisfy after a day of diving.  The desserts, though, were a highlight, my favorite, though were the snickerdoodles!  

The weather was fantastic: 87F plus on the land, and 83F in the water.  Kisty Engel, the resort owner, is a friendly, fun person and was a wonderful host to our group. She and her late husband, Jim pioneered diving in Utila, building the island’s first dive resort, first hyperbaric chamber and setting up the first permanent moorings.  We have much to thank them for as this island has some of the most beautiful reefs and marine diversity around.

As I mentioned, our package included three dives per day with two night dives.  Willie, our dive master, was great at spotting critters, such as mushroom scorpionfish, sea horses, arrow blennie, decorator crabs, juvenile spotted drums and tiny hermit crabs. Though dive leaders tend to ignore the sandy areas of the reef, Willie showed us how interesting they can be by spotting tiny hooded sea slugs, pipefish and a northern stargazer on our night dive.  Each dive was better than the last.

I’ll write more about our adventure next time, but in the meanwhile, enjoy this YouTube of day one in Utila.