Exploring the Mac App Store

Aspect Ratio Converter

My new app, Aspect Ratio Converter, is available in the Mac App Store as of the day before yesterday.  It’s not a challenging piece of programming – its only purpose is to allow you to rescale images and video without losing the original aspect ratio.  I wrote it to explore the process of publishing an app on the Mac App Store.

I highly recommend starting out with a tiny, single-purpose app as your first project.  There are a bunch of trivial annoyances when publishing your first app (mainly around “certificates” getting passed back and forth between you and Apple), and it was nice not to have the process complicated by a weighty project.

“Aspect Ratio” is a fancy way of referring to the original shape of a file.  If you’ve ever tried to resize a photo and accidentally smooshed a square photo into a rectangular display, you’ve experienced the dissonance of a non-retained aspect ratio.  Aspect Ratio Converter tells you the new dimensions for your images, so when you resize them, they don’t come out smooshed.   Most image editing programs are able to do this automatically, but Aspect Ratio Converter helps me resize embedded videos on web pages, and specify the exact dimensions of placeholder images.

You can download Aspect Ratio Converter from the Mac App Store.  It’s free, although I think it only works on Lion, aka Mac OS 10.7.

Megatron is ready for winter; We are *almost* ready

IMG 0863 IMG 0876
Left: Megatron, all scrubbed up and ready for a winter’s rest and her new family.  Right: the view out our window day after we arrived in Longmont.

A hard week of packing, scrubbing, and polishing has Megatron as shiny and clean as the day we met.  It was amazing to feel the transformation as we packed our worldly belongings off on to the dock; by the time we were done, Megatron looked and felt quite a lot less like “our home.”  The last thing we did before starting our drive west was a dechristening.  With the last remaining bottle of champagne from our wedding after-party, we toasted and thanked Megatron and each other for keeping us safe, happy, and well-stocked with adventure for the past two years.

Adventures Astern, Adventures Ahead

Top down view of Megatron

It’s the end of another season aboard Megatron.  This past spring, we once again had high hopes of sailing across the ocean to spend the winter in the Caribbean.  One of the awesome things I have learned is not to be ashamed of taking an honest assessment of my abilities and saying “Ha ha!  What the hell was I thinking?”

So we’ll be back in Longmont for the winter, and Megatron will be on jackstands, protected by plastic wrap here in Warwick, RI.  Megatron is for sale  – undeniably the best priced Beneteau 373 in the United States – while we think of downsizing.

We shocked ourselves by making this decision.

Megatron has been an awesome home and platform for adventure for the past 18 months, and we don’t regret a moment of our time aboard.  We traveled many, many hundreds of miles, explored countless beautiful harbors, met friendly and interesting people, and grew closer as a couple.  We learned to work together to keep Megatron moving straight and standing still.  We learned about prop walk, weather helm, night blindness, seasickness, cabin fever, heaving-to.  We received countless lessons in trust – trusting ourselves, each other, our preparations, the boat, and random strangers. Living aboard has been another adventure of a lifetime and I hope we do it again someday.  Maybe sooner than later.  It all depends on which way the wind is blowing.

Earning our docking merit badge

This week Steph and I sailed from Beverly, Mass. south to Marblehead, across the Boston shipping lanes to Scituate, through thick fog to Sandwich, and through the Cape Cod Canal to Onset.  “Sailed” is a very charitable way to describe what we did; we didn’t see so much as a breath of wind at any point, but it was a good and interesting time.

Navigating In Fog

Sailing in fog

Leaving both Beverly and Scituate, we ran in to thick fog.  Megatron is equipped with radar, and it works well.  And when we started sailing, we thought the way radar worked was that you turned it on, and it showed you where all the boats, buoys, land masses, and other obstructions were all around you.

Ha ha ha!  That’s not how radar works AT ALL.  Instead, it shows some of the things around you as little splotches.  Sometimes the splotches are big, sometimes small, and rarely related to the actual size of the thing in real life.  Big metal things, like oil tankers, usually give a nice big “radar signature” (that is, a splotch), but metal navigation buoys often show up the same size as tankers.  Boats smaller than tankers show up about half the time, often sporadically.  And a bunch of other things that show up don’t exist at all.

Meanwhile, eight tons of Megatron and us are steaming south at seven knots.  We pulled out the fog horn at one point, but we knew no lobsterboat would hear it over their own engine.  Plus one blast of it made Euonym jump through the ceiling.  Still we kept it handy just in case

The thing is, once you’re deep into a fog bank, there aren’t a lot of options.  Ours were: 1. turn around and go back to Scituate, a plan we discarded as just as dangerous as continuing forward, since we were halfway to our destination 2. head for nearby Plymouth, which we  discarded as too dangerous because we’ve never seen the harbor and did not want to enter it blind or 3. continue on to Sandwich and the entrance to the Cape Cod Canal.

We went ahead, three hours of both of us staring at a wall of fog 400 yards in front of us.  We saw two other boats, neither of which showed up on our radar, and it was a great relief when the breakwater at the entrance to the canal finally loomed out of the fog.

Our Docking Merit Badge

Megatron at the dockI don’t have a picture of Megatron at the dock in Sandwich, because Stephanie and I were too busy kicking crowded marina ass to take one.  Here in southern Massachusetts, most boats are still in the water, particularly commercial fishing boats.  Sandwich marina also houses a large Coast Guard station, and were playing host to several navy boats.  So it was pretty crowded when we arrived at the end of a long, foggy day.

In the picture on the left, Megatron is the only boat tied up to a dock almost 500 feet long.  The day we landed on that dock, I had to make several passes.  We eventually got tied up with the help of a very understanding harbormaster who caught our desperately-hurled dockline and hauled us in hand over hand.

The difference between that first day and this one is like two years of experience.  In fact, it is exactly like two years of experience.  We brought Megatron alongside the fuel dock, exchanged pleasantries with the very same harbormaster while we tied up and bought fuel, then pulled away from the dock, remained stationary in the middle of the fairway to switch the lines and fenders to the other side (this is harder than I thought it would be – “adrift” is not at all the same as “not moving”), and finally docked across the harbor all by ourselves.

Excuse me while I take a break to pat myself heartily on the back.

In the morning, we backed away from the dock and made a three point turn to exit the marina.  The guy who pulled Megatron out of the middle of the harbor two Aprils ago waved to us on our way out.

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So today I’m writing from Onset, one of the prettiest and funnest harbors in Massachusetts.  This is our third visit – in July, we had the best view ever of fourth of July fireworks from the middle of the harbor.  This time, we went exploring in the dinghy and were two miles up a nearby river when the dinghy motor quit.

We rowed home against a brisk wind for an hour and a half, and then I took the motor apart in the cockpit and smooshed the worthless piece of crap paper washer back into place between the plastic thingy and the more engine-y part of the engine.  God help me if something ever actually goes wrong with the dinghy motor – Steph has taken a three day intensive course in marine diesel maintenance, but my knowledge of gas outboards begins and ends with “oh shit, gas is dripping out of that thing? better unscrew some random parts and wipe them off with a paper towel.”


Goodnight Boat

Sunset in Kennebunkport






Goodbye, Art

Astute followers of inauspicio.us (hi, mom!) will have noticed by now that I took another long blog hiatus.  The reason for it is that a few days after my last entry, my stepfather Art passed away .  His family was with him in his last few days, to support him and each other.  He left a lot of people missing him and remembering him fondly, and he lived a full and fascinating life.  He was a good man and a great stepfather.

We shared many, many memories of his life at his memorial service last year.  One that I did not get to share then I will share now.

Art was one of the world’s great cooks.  One of his specialties – in addition to gourmet meals of every size and description – was oatmeal chocolate chip cookies.  He baked them by the hundred for school sports games, youth group gatherings, church retreats, and family desserts.  Of any type of food, they are without doubt the thing that remind me of him, and they were a constant symbol of support.  His cookies were, if not a stamp of approval, then definitely a reminder that he was always there for you.

When I finished high school and was packing to go away to college he gave me a card with a little gift certificate inside – “mail this home for 1 batch of cookies.”  I never sent it home.  I kept it as a reminder of two things – first, I wanted to save it for when I was having the very worst of terrible, horrible, no good, very bad days, and thinking about things always gave me time to realize that it wasn’t quite as bad as I sometimes feared.  Second, as I held on to the card longer and longer, it meant more to me to have the “hey there Will I’ve got your back” reminder.

Art passed away on April 23 2010 and I miss him dearly.  I still have the card he gave me, and although I will now never get those cookies, I’m happy to remember his unwavering support for a growing stepson.  Rest in peace, Art, and thank you for all of the gifts you shared.

Sailing, sailing

The learning curve has been steep, challenging, and awesome. While we were in Sandwich we learned that our diesel engine burns 2 gallons an hour at 3000 rpm, but only 1 quart an hour at 2000 rpm. The speed difference is about a knot and a half, which is a pretty decent trade for an 800% improvement in fuel efficiency. Having traveled from Scituate to Sandwich at 3000 rpm, we refilled the fuel tank in Sandwich and resolved to keep the engine rpms down around 2000 when possible.

We spent Easter Sunday in Sandwich, which was totally awesome. We would happily stay here forever, except that they charge us $65 per night to tie up to their dock. Steph made pancakes! And they were awesome! We ate them on a beautiful day overlooking the Cape Cod Canal and pondering how the hell we would possibly get around to Portsmouth RI in just one day.

Monday morning we got our asses in gear and steamed through the Cape Cod Canal. It was nerve-wracking, but not so harrowing as we had been led to believe (thanks, Dad, for putting the fear of God in us). In order to transit the Cape Cod Canal, you need to follow a few rules:

  • Keep your speed below ten knots. No problem. We could barely make ten knots if you dropped us off a cliff.
  • Keep your speed above six knots. No problem, again. Turn on engine, which is a great idea anyway since it is not permitted to transit the canal except under auxiliary power
  • Complete the transit in less than 2 1/2 hours. Well I should hope so. It’s only six nautical miles, so we would be screwed if it took longer than that, anyway.
A great iPhone background

The place where we made a potentially big mistake was in deciding tha we should sail fifty miles after getting though the canal. We had to go all the way out Buzzards Bay, then around what appeared to be a treacherously rocky point, then eleven miles up a river. And all, it seemed, with the tide against us. How is that even possible?

We timed the Cape Cod Canal transit pretty well. Going from East to West, as we were, it was necessary to go through on a falling tide. So we caught the tail end of the falling tide, not realizing that the current turns about an hour before the tide turns (???!!!!). So we began to fight an opposing current toward the end of our trip through, but it wasn’t too bad and soon we were out into Buzzards Bay.

In Buzzards Bay, we had some of the best sailing we could ever have hoped for. The wind was almost directly ahead of us, but it was so awesome that we had to take a chance on not making our evening destination and sail. Anyway all the motoring was not why we bought a sailboat in the first place, so we heaved up the sails and had a go.

It was awesome. Despite the fact that we still have an accidental twist in the genoa track, we made five knots with a weak wind and over six with a slightly stronger wind. The pictures above are from the weak wind. I was too nervous to take photos when the wind came up even a little. We gradually made our way south through Buzzards Bay.

Sailing south on Buzzards Bay

Eventually we had to turn the motor back on because we still aren’t confident in our anchoring abilities. So the choice was either “sail through the night” or “motor to Pirate Cove.” We motored to Pirate Cove. Actually, after we rounded Sakonnet Point and turned north, we sailed most of the way up the river (against an opposing tide, again) and arrived just before sunset. We tied up to the dock with almost no drama. I didn’t hit anything, and no one fell in the water, so it was a huge win.

Then we collapsed into bed. Since then, we’ve been tied up to the dock here at Pirate Cove, exploring the town by foot and by dinghy. The trip South was pretty exciting! I hope the rest of our adventures are as interesting as this one has been.

Cast off the docklines! Make fast the topgallant! And HANG ON!

Anchors aweigh!

I’ve tried my best to keep up over the past couple of days, but the best I was able to do was twitter updates. If you want to read the adventures in real-time, follow me on twitter (@willronco) because I stuff my laptop in a pelican case for travel. Let’s catch up.

On Friday, Jeannine from Wilkins Signs in Chelmsford came by to apply the lettering John Young sent us. We contemplated trying to do this ourselves, but it seemed like too daunting a prospect. There isn’t too much on board that we really have to get right on the first try, but our transom lettering is definitely on that short list. After watching Jeannine, we were REALLY glad we did not try it ourselves.


It looks AWESOME, and even better in person. Thanks a million, John!

Leaving BostonLeaving Boston

After that, we were itching to get going … so we went! It was late in the day, our chartplotter did not show quite the data we were expecting, and we had forgotten to install the battens in the mainsail. so our First Sail turned out to be a First Motor, and just as well for that. Boston Harbor is challenging to navigate with less chart detail than we had expected, and our 5-10 knot wind had suddenly grown to 20-25 knots. But we made it out of Boston Harbor, narrowly (well, it FELT narrow) avoided a 500 foot tanker in the Boston shipping lanes, and negotiated the entrance to Scituate Harbor with time to spare. The Scituate harbormaster was a really nice guy who directed us to an overnight mooring we could borrow, and Steph made us an amazing terriyaki chicken dinner before we both collapsed from exhaustion.


This trip has been funny like that; we haven’t really done much Hard Physical Work, but we are both completely exhausted at the end of the day. By the end of yesterday’s voyage, I was ready to hibernate. But instead we soldiered on, leaving much earlier this morning to arrive in Sandwich – at the northeast end of the Cape Cod Canal – in late afternoon. Today we were able to actually sail, which was an incredible experience. Megatron sails beautifully, even in the hands of two rank amateurs such as ourselves.


Because of the wind angle, we were soon faced with the choice of staying overnight in Provincetown or motoring on to Sandwich. Provincetown would have been a cool side adventure, but we are pretty keen to make it to Rhode Island, so we motored. And then, at the end of a long and overall very challenging day, we had to enter a tiny harbor across a five knot current and then dock side-to (“beam-to” is the correct phrase, I think?) in a pretty strong cross breeze. Steph, me, and Megatron all survived, but we will need lots of practice if we are ever going to try something like this in tight quarters. As the (again, very nice) harbormaster said, “You’ve got to learn sometime.”


So we are!

Dinghy Day

After much discussion, deliberation, and hand-wringing, we took the plunge and bought a dinghy today. I’ll spare you the six hour saga of renting a truck and spending three hours at the dinghy store, and instead show you that I brought it home in said truck:

Dinghy in rented truck

Then Steph and I dragged it out onto the dock and built it (it’s an Ikea-style dinghy, some assembly required).

Made it to the dock

And then we took it for a shakedown dinghy cruise around the marina:


Here’s what we now know about this dinghy: it is tippy! On our honeymoon we had a ten foot rigid bottomed inflatable dinghy, which was a super lot of fun. For our current adventures we got an eight foot long hard plastic dinghy, with a 2.5 horsepower yamaha motor. Here is why we chose those particular options:

  • Plastic, instead of inflatable. We’re going to be using the dinghy to explore rocky coastlines in an area with a 14 foot tidal range. We have to be able to drag it over rocks, without worrying about popping it. Inflatable would have been more stable, and have a higher load capacity, but it was also more expensive and not as durable.
  • A little engine, instead of a big one. “Big” in this case would have been about 8 horsepower, maybe ten at the outside, but that’s a lot more than two and a half! We chose a small engine because it was cheaper, and even more important lighter weight. We need to be able to get the dinghy and motor out of the water and onto the boat in a pinch, and a 34 pound motor makes that pretty easy. A 94 pound motor would have been pretty tough!

Now that the weather has started to clear, it looks very likely that tomorrow we will have a chance to install our new name! My hero friend John Young sent us amazing new laser-cut labels for our transom (vocabulary update: the “transom” is the very back of the boat). We got them via FedEx yesterday, in the middle of Noah’s Flood. The decals have to be put on in sunny, warm weather, so we’ve had to wait. I cannot describe how excited about our new name, MEGATRON, done in what is indisputably the world’s most awesomely-named font: “Smashing Sans”


Also, Steph says hi!

40 knots over the transom

The storm I blathered about yesterday didn’t materialize until early this morning, about 4 am. When it did, though, it didn’t waste time. We’re tied securely if inexpertly to a dock in a very protected harbor, so it’s almost impossible that we would experience anything more than minor discomfort. We definitely got that! It was more of a surprise than anything else to suddenly find ourselves pitching around, even just a foot or two. A foot or two isn’t a big wave, really, but it is a pretty fair distance for your house to move.

North Wind

I eventually made up my mind to go out and retie some of our docklines. I thought I could keep us a little closer to the dock and thus reduce the amount of space in which we could agitate. It worked pretty well! My feet got appropriately soaked, and I otherwise stayed pretty dry. We’re generally doing a lot better with the squeaking, pitching, and rolling now. The solution seemed to be to get us closer to the dock. That was also a bit scary, because the dock is this hard immovable object, so my instinct is not to get as close to it as possible. But tied up closer and more securely has given us a more comfortable day, so WHEW!

Perhaps you are wondering: “How could they get wind over the transom? Isn’t that the back of the boat?” You are right to wonder that! Normally, if we were anchored or tied to a mooring, we would swing around to face into the wind. It’s only the fact that we are tied to a dock, with the back of the boat facing toward the only exposed area of the harbor, that makes us so exposed to the elements. Having committed this oversight once, we will probably never do it again. Lesson learned: check where the harbor entrance is, and don’t point the boat away from it!

Every day is an adventure