May 11, 2015

Quantum Power!

Quantum of the Seas isn't just a floating resort hotel, it's a moveable one. Ignoring all the power needed to run the hotel: to light the rooms and commons areas, cook the food, run the elevators, and spin the slot machines, it takes a lot of power to move the ship.
According to this Wikipedia article, Quantum has two "20.5-megawatt ABB Azipod XO propulsion units." Azipod XO propulsion units are gigantic electric motors (see here). The picture shows a much smaller unit, about 1/10 the size of Quantum's main units.
How much power is 20.5 megawatts? YMMV but here’s what this site has to say. The South uses much more electricity than the North--because of air conditioning--and of course life style is a factor. And so is the extent to which a power source runs at capacity. Bottom line: 
Going through the math, a 1,000 megawatt rated coal generator with a 75 percent capacity factor generates about 6.6 billion kWhs in a year, equivalent to the amount of power consumed by about 900,000 homes in the Northeast but only 460,000 homes in the South.
So let’s divide by 1,000 and round: a megawatt looks like between 50 and 100 homes. Each of Quantum’s propulsion units could take care of 20 times that: 1000 to 2000 homes. Double that for two units. 
And then there are the bow thrusters, used for maneuvering. Each puts out 3,500 kW, or 3.5 mW and makes them about the size of the Azipod in the picture. That's 14mW more for the four. 
Lots of power.

Cartagena, Spain

Today is Cartagena, and there’s a good chance I'm not going to get off the boat. Not because there's anything wrong. Because I want to write.
Cartagena has a natural harbor, with a narrow entrance and a channel that makes several turns. Here’s a Google map of the entrance to the harbor. If I were working at a more responsive network I’d try to overlay this with an image of our ship so you can be amazed by the ship’s ability to navigate through the passage.  For now you'll have to use a little imagination. But not too much.

Quantum is not a small ship; it’s a giant floating apartment house, 347m by 50m. Remember, 100m is about a football field. Despite its size it’s highly maneuverable, and it navigated through the channel without needing a tug for assistance and arrived just about on schedule. Yay captain Ban.

Quantum's main propulsion system is a pair of huge electric motors with power delivered, if I remember rightly, through slip joints, whatever they are. Whatever the mechanism, it lets the motors rotate through nearly 360 degrees, which makes it possible for them to pull the boat (normal configuration) or push it sideways. And of course it can pull the boat backward.

Quantum also has four bow thrusters, smaller electric motors, that give the captain greater ability to maneuver.
The narrow parts of the channel look to be around 250m wide on the map. The ship is 50m wide. That gives about 100m on each side, according to my calculations, but it sure seemed like less as I watched from decks 14 and 15.
At the top of the map image you can see the wharf where quantum docked. To get there Quantum entered at Punta de San Antonio then had to swing its way past Muella de la Curia, then pivot to parallel the wharf. It’s a tricky ride.
One of our waiters told me that when a ship like ours comes into harbor a harbor pilot comes out in a launch, goes to the bridge, and advises the ship’s crew rather than taking control. That makes sense since an error is likely to cause the ship more harm than the harbor. And because the propulsion and control systems of different ships must be quite different. (Side note: in the Suez Canal it appears that piloting is done by local personnel, who are trained using simulators, to use lots of different ship systems. But for them it's mostly a straight run. Not here.)
Running bow thrusters and main engines at right angles to the boat, we heave up silt from the harbor bottom and push closer to the wharf. The ships throws out a blue line with a loop on the end. Someone on the wharf throws a grappling hook on an orange line, grabs the ship’s line and pulls it in. The ship feeds two giant hawsers attached to the ship's line. The men on shore float the hawsers to a bollard, the big iron posts to which the ship will be moored. They haul the hawsers up, one at a time and drop them over the bollard. Then winches on the ship go into action and tighten the hawsers and settle the ship against the wharf. The same thing happens at the other end of the ship.
Everything goes smoothly. We're due in at 10:00 AM, and we're tied up and ready to debark at 10:15. Nice job, captain Ban.

May 3, 2015

We're on a boat!

Yes, as the song says, we're on a boat. Though not without some difficulty. Here's the story.

We had made their way to the Doubletree Hotel in Newark, returned their car and were all set to head to the Quantum of the Seas. I'd been checking Uber regularly to make sure we wouldn't have to wait too long for a car. What I didn't take into account was this: that traffic in New Jersey congested, and that the Uber driver who picked me up might not be familiar to the area. This last thought was so non-obvious that I didn't think of it until I started writing this. But in retrospect it's obvious. We're not far from Newark Airport. There's going to be a steady flow of drivers from Manhattan, and other non-local places dropping people at the airport. And one of them is most likely to get the call. He wouldn't know the area. If the GPS gave him wrong directions he wouldn't know it. And if he missed a turn, he wouldn't realize it, until it was too late.

Whether my theory on why this is likely is right or wrong, the fact is: that happened. As planned and expected we got a driver pretty quickly. I called him to make sure he knew where we were--which was a good thing because he missed the hotel first time around, but maybe because I moved the pin. Dunno. Uber seemed to show him circling around before he got there.

Anyway the car arrived. As always with Uber it was a spotless car of recent vintage. We got in and we took off. I remembered that there was a trick getting on the road in the first place, and once we'd done that, I let him take over. What I now realize is that I ought to have tracked our progress all the way with Maps or Waze. Instead, I sat back and enjoyed the ride. Until it stopped being enjoyable.

It seemed at first we were going the same way we'd gone the previous night, but pretty soon it seemed different. That's when I pulled out my phone and discovered we were way off course--further away in time and space than we had been at the Doubletree. Bad! Bad! Bad!

I had him pull off and used Waze to plot a course back and looked at Google Maps to confirm it. Also a semi-bad idea. They agreed on the amount of time needed. They disagreed on how to get back. Waze seemed to want to take us overland. Maps seemed to want to turn us around and head back into the stop-and-go traffic we'd seen going in the opposite direction. I decided to go overland.

There were lots of twists and turns, and opportunities to go the wrong way, but I managed to pick the right road, or almost the right one, when the road was ambiguous. We got to the Cruise Port right on time, but only because I'd planned things so that we'd get there a hour early.

I had wanted to take our suitcases on board with us--they were roll-ons--but the baggage handler who called us out of traffic said we couldn't; that we had to check the bags with her. Which we did, but as we walked closer to the entry I could see that there were other people rolling their bags on board. Maybe she was telling the truth. Maybe she gets paid by the bag. Or maybe she wanted the tip that I reflexively gave her for possibly misguiding me.

Whatever. We got through baggage and body scanners. We'd previously registered online, and as part of the registration process we'd uploaded pictures of ourselves and our passport numbers, then printed out a "Set Sail Pass." A young lady with an iPad met us, scanned the barcode on our Set Sail Passes, and up popped our pictures. She scanned our passports using the iPad as well, asked us some fairly stupid questions: "Have you been to Africa in the past three months?" "No." (And if I had, maybe I'd want to lie about it because people are so fucking paranoid!)  "Do you have a cold?" "No." (And what would you do if I had one? Deny me boarding.). Then my favorite: "Are you sure?" This is a question designed to trip up people who lie the first time and who become so guilty when asked a second time that they completely cave in. "Aaargh! You got me. I do have a cold. And I've spent the last year in Africa. Working in an Ebola hospital. And I'm testing a new vaccine. And, yes, yes, I let myself be infected, to test its efficacy."

Well, she didn't trick me. We continued on to a desk where our Set Sail Passes were again scanned, and the results of the first were confirmed, but not including another "Are you sure you aren't sick?" check. The whole process was very smooth,

We'd been warned that our rooms might not be ready--after all the boat had gotten in just six hours before--but the onboard elves had done their job efficiently and our rooms were clean, made up and ready for us, although set up for a queen, not twins as we had requested. No problem, we were told. And it was no problem. Our bags took a little time, but we had them before dinner.

I registered for Internet access, and once things were settled I checked my email which included a bill from Uber. It was for more than $80.00 instead of the $30-ish I had expected. But conveniently it showed a track of the route that the driver had taken: past the turn-off for the port we'd taken the other night, and then all around Robin Hood's famous barn, and finally overland back the port.

It wasn't obvious how to complain, but that's OK. I googled and got the procedure, followed it, and sent in a polite request questioning the charges. On Monday, when the support center came on line, I got an acknowledgement and a follow-up question. And on Wednesday or Thursday I got a refund: they dialed the cost back to what it should have been if the driver had taken the right course. Yay Uber!

Internet cost me a little over $200 for 11 days of 0.23Mbps download speed. Once they've got you on the boat, they've got you. For example, their price for movies on demand: $12.00 a view. But they make up for these extortionate costs by serving amazingly good food, in VAST quantities, delivering extraordinarily fine and friendly service everywhere, having lots of high quality entertainment, and providing lots of ways to amuse yourself for free.

More about this in later posts.

May 1, 2015

If this is Friday, it must be Newark

Here we are on the first day of our Journey To Siena for Dana and Daniel's wedding. So far it's gone better than expected, but that's because I carefully set my expectations quite low. So I easily vastly exceeded them. Pessimism can be an effective strategy, I learned from Dan O'Dowd. When you're a pessimist, either things go badly, and you feel good for being right for your low expectations, or they go well, and you're happy about a good outcome. So I set out fully expecting to have something major go wrong. I was disappointed, happily.

On the positive side: the car was ready on time. I got into no accidents--well, no major ones; more on that later. I didn't get a speeding ticket. The hotel was where it was supposed to be, our rooms were clean; the beds comfortable; dinner was good. Nothing happened that made me stressed. No one got sick and nobody died. Some of these things were expected, but not all. For example, I expected stress; I did not expect death.

On the bad side: I didn't adjust my mirror and some guy had to honk at me when I started to change lanes without seeing him. Check: adjust mirrors. I carefully backed out of parking space, very carefully watching a car that was parked behind me and just to the left of my car (yes!) and missed seeing the car that was parked behind me and just to the right. The driver of that care might have been blowing her horn, but the windows were down and I was too busy (carefully) watching the car to the left to hear the horn it it had been a horn. Bump! I stopped the car, and the driver of the other car came up. "What were you thinking?" she asked angrily. Or something. "Apparently I'm an idiot," I explained. We went back to assess the damage. There might have been a scratch on her bumper due to my car, but there were already several scratches and it was hard to tell which one, if any, might have been mine. Her male companion, much more relaxed than she was said: "It's all good. No problem." I said thanks and we were on our way.

I had been using Waze to navigate, but during the stop and bump episode my phone ran out. So while I recharged it, Peggy her iPhone app to guide us. And guide us it did, right into 4 mile-per-hour traffic jam. By that time my phone had acquired enough charge to reboot, and Waze guided us around the jam, and pretty soon we were flying again. With my phone plugged in to charge as we went.

Then we hit the tangle that is New York and collided with physics. Waze apparently consumed electrons faster than my charging cord supplied them, and after a while my phone crashed again. Peg to the rescue, again! We navigated our way through the New York side tangle of roads, got across the GW bridge to hit the Jersey tangle. And that's where the next bad thing happened. I made a wrong turn. We recovered, and found ourselves facing a toll plaza, with the map app telling us to keep left. Which would have been the right thing to do if I'd had my EZ-pass. But I didn't. And I found myself in a high-speed EZ-pass lanes with no way to get to a take-a-ticket cash lane. So I went through without getting a ticket. Which meant that when we got to the toll plaza at our exit, I had to pay the maximum toll: north of $10.00. In the grand scheme of things, it's nothing.

A few more twists and turns and we found our way to our hotel where, as I said, everything was great. Except, fortunately, for a very annoying noise coming from the fan in our room. Fortunately? Yes.

I went to the desk and the person there, Musa, said they'd sent maintenance to fix it. Right. Eventually, I thought. But maintenance showed up faster than expected, and the guy, a very nice fellow from Ghana, took care of it right away. I went back to the front desk to thank Musa for excellent support, and to ask if breakfast was covered in our reservation; he said it was not, but comped us (and Peg) breakfast for our inconvenience. So, yay! And that's why the annoying fan noise was fortunate.

We had dinner in the hotel, and then took a drive through the tangle of New Jersey roads to the Cape Liberty Cruise port, making sure I got tickets before getting on the short tollway segments to the port and returning. Yay for learning from experience.

The Quantum of the Seas was not yet in port, and that was expected because I'd done my research before we headed over there. It was returning from a weekish-long cruise to the Caribbean, and I had found it would get in at 7:00 AM. Which makes sense. It makes no money sitting at dock, so it was in at 7:00 AM and out at 5:00 with 3500 passengers off, with all their waste and garbage; and another 3500 on, with all that would be needed to sustain them for ten days.

We got back to the hotel and now it was time to drop off the car, which was uneventful except for two things. One: Google maps had the wrong location for the drop off. Two: I had forgotten to fill the car with gas. So I searched for a nearby gas station and ended up getting routed around and around through a tangle of roads, finally seeing a toll both ahead, (What!!!) and a sign that said: last exit before toll. Which you better believe I took, only to find myself going along a winding road that led...back to the hotel. Turns out there is a gas station at the airport. I'd driven right past it the first time around and found it the second.

Round two was success. I had my gas pumped by another guy from Ghana. And found the drop-off. I took the shuttle back to the hotel, and after evening ablutions, the day was gone. No serious accidents. No upset (even when wandering all over the Newark area at night).

But tomorrow is another day. I hope things go well, but I'm not counting on it.