The smartest boat in the marina

November 10, 1998

Day 1: Moved in to my new digitally-maxed out Hunter 450 at last. Finally, I live on the Smartest Boat in the Marina. Everything's networked. The cable TV is connected to our phone, which is connected to my personal computer, which is connected to the shore-power lines, all the appliances and the security system. Everything runs off a universal remote with the friendliest interface I've ever used. Programming is a snap.

I'm like, totally wired.

Day 2: Hot Stuff! Programmed my VCR from the office, turned up the thermostat and switched on the lights with the car phone, remotely tweaked the oven a few degrees for my pizza. Everything nice & cozy when I arrived. Maybe I should get the universal remote surgically attached.

Day 3: Had to call the Smartboat people today about bandwidth problems. The TV drops to about 2 frames/second when I'm talking on the phone. They insist it's a problem with the cable company's compression algorithms. How do they expect me to order things from the Home Shopping Channel?

Day 4: Got my first Smartboat invoice today and was unpleasantly surprised. I suspect the cleaning woman of reading Usenet from the washing machine interface when I'm not here. She must be downloading one hell of a lot of GIFs from the binary groups, because packet charges were through the roof on the invoice.

Day 5: Yesterday, the galley CRASHED. Freak event. As I opened the refrigerator door, the light bulb blew. Immediately, everything else electrical shut down -- lights, microwave, coffee maker -- everything. Carefully unplugged and replugged all the appliances. Nothing.

Call the cable company (but not from the galley phone). They refer me to the utility. The utility insists that the problem is in the software. So the software company runs some remote telediagnostics via my boat processor. Their expert system claims it has to be the utility's fault. I don't care, I just want my galley back. More phone calls; more remote diag's.

Turns out the problem was "unanticipated failure mode": The network had never seen a refrigerator bulb failure while the door was open. So the fuzzy logic interpreted the burnout as a power surge and shut down the entire galley. But because sensor memory confirmed that there hadn't actually been a power surge, the galley logic sequence was confused and it couldn't do a standard restart. The utility guy swears this was the first time this has ever happened. Rebooting the galley took over an hour.

Day 6: The marina security people are not happy. The boat keeps calling them for help.

We discover that whenever I play the TV or stereo above 25 decibels, it creates patterns of micro-vibrations that get amplified when they hit the lexan hatches. When these vibrations mix with a gust of wind, the security sensors are actuated, and the marina security computer concludes that someone is trying to break in. Go figure.

Another glitch: Whenever the bilge is in self-diagnostic mode, the universal remote won't let me change the channels on my TV. That means I actually have to get up off the settee and change the channels by hand. The software and the utility people say this flaw will be fixed in the next upgrade -- Smartboat 2.1. But it's not ready yet.

Finally, I'm starting to suspect that the GPS is secretly tuning into the cable system to see Bay Watch. The unit is completely inoperable during that same hour. I guess I can live with that. At least the blender is not tuning in to old I Love Lucy episodes.

Day 7: I just bought the new Microsoft Boatmanager. Took 93 gigabytes of storage, but it will be worth it, I think. The boat should be much easier to use and should really do everything. I had to sign a second mortgage over to Microsoft, but I don't mind: I don't really own my boat now--it's really the bank. Let them deal with Microsoft.

Day 8: I'm beginning to have doubts about Microsoft Boatmanager. I keep getting an hour glass symbol showing up when I want to operate the Radar.

Day 9: This is a nightmare. There's a virus in the boat. My personal computer caught it while browsing on the public access network. I come home and the main salon is a sauna, the V-berth ports are covered with ice, the refrigerator has defrosted, the washing machine has flooded the bilge, the mainsail roller-furling is cycling up and down and the TV is stuck on the home shopping channel. Throughout the boat, lights flicker like stroboscopes until they explode from the strain. Broken glass is everywhere.

Of course, the security sensors detect nothing.

I look at a message slowly throbbing on my personal computer screen:

WELCOME TO BoatWrecker!!! NOW THE FUN BEGINS ...

(Be it ever so humble, there's no virus like the BoatWrecker...).

Day 10: They think they've digitally disinfected the boat, but the place is a shambles.

Pipes have burst and we're not completely sure we've got the part of the virus that attacks marine-heads. Nevertheless, the Exorcists (as the anti-virus SWAT team members like to call themselves) are confident the worst is over. "BoatWrecker is pretty bad" one of them tells me, "but consider yourself lucky you didn't get Blackbeard. That one is really evil."

Day 11: Apparently, my boat isn't insured for viruses. "Fires and Hurricanes, yes," says the claims adjuster. "Viruses, no." My agreement with the Smartboat people explicitly states that all claims and warranties are null and void if any appliance or computer in my boat networks in any way, shape or form with a non-certified on-line service.

Everybody's very, very, sorry, but they can't be expected to anticipate every virus that might be created.

I call my lawyer. He laughs. He's excited!

Day 12: I get a call from a SmartBoat sales rep. As a special offer, I get the free opportunity to become a beta site for the company's new Smartboat 2.1 upgrade. He says I'll be able to meet the programmers. Personally.

"Sure," I tell him.

The Smartest Boat in the Marina - November 10, 1998 - Ken Mayer