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December 9, 2011

They Keep Shrinking: Smaller & Lighter PLB From DME

Filed in News

(Click images for higher resolution photos)


NOTE: DME has withdrawn this PLB from the market. Click here for the full story about why you cannot buy this PLB

A new entrant in the PLB wars is claiming to be the world’s smallest and lightest Personal Locator Beacon, eclipsing the current record holder in this regard, the ACR ResQLink which was just introduced earlier this year. Slated to be available in Spring of 2012, the new SATRO PLB-110 from Astronics DME Corporation certainly seems to have a good basis for that claim at just 4.09 x 2.39 x 0.92 inches (104 x 61 x 23 mm) and only 4.3 oz. (122 g).

While not a name familiar to most consumers, DME has been making aviation ELTs (Emergency Locator Transmitters) for 20 years with a reputation for quality and robust products. You will find many of their emergency products installed on most airliners. SATRO is a new brand name for their consumer oriented products, derived from the parent company’s NASDAQ symbol “ATRO,” of which the PLB-110 is the first.

Unlike the other pocket-sized PLBs introduced to date, McMurdo’s Fast Find Model 210 and ACR’s ResQLink, the SATRO PLB-110 is inherently buoyant. While not an essential feature in my opinion, you should always have the PLB tethered to you if flying over water, that’s a pretty neat trick in such a small package. No need for a “float coat” to slip on to provide flotation.

SARTO PLB-110I had the opportunity to handle a prototype and the flat form factor, clearly modeled on the iPhone, makes it very much more pocketable than its competition. The antenna wraps around the body, similar to the ACR designs.

It is equipped with a current generation 66-channel integral GPS, full GPS test function, and a flashing LED. The clear top case has a Fresnel lens molded over the LED to help spread that light wider. I’ll be interested in seeing exactly how effective that is in the real world.

The PLB-110 is rated to transmit at a minimum of 5 watts for the duration of its battery life, rated for 24 hours at -20C (-4F). Its depth rating is 10 meters (32.8 ft) for 5 minutes and 1 meter (3.28 ft) for an hour.

The MSRP is expected to be $299, so street price should be competitive with the McMurdo and ACR.

NOTE: This device has not been authorized as required by the Rules of the FCC. This device is not, and may not be offered for sale or lease, or sold or leased, until authorization is obtained.

NOTE: DME has withdrawn this PLB from the market. Click here for the full story about why you cannot buy this PLB

October 3, 2011

Goodrich Buys Winslow

Filed in Musings , News

Press Release below. I admit to having mixed feelings about this. Winslow (my top recommended life raft manufacturer) was going to be sold, that was never a question since it was bought by vulture capitalists, and a sale to someone has been in the works for some time now. The good news, in my opinion, is that Goodrich beat out a number of large foreign conglomerates that were also bidding. Based on what I have seen those companies do, I think Goodrich is probably a better fit. I certainly hope so.

Having said that, the big question is if Goodrich will muck it up as typically occurs when a huge corporate conglomerate takes over a niche company. They destroyed their own corporate aviation division because they had a big corporate mentality. Winslow has succeeded because they have been nimble, innovative and always went out of their way to put the customer first. That’s the reason I have for many years rated them number one in the life raft business and they have been my recommendation for many years.. So far, I have heard all the right lines from the parties, in particular that they are not going to mess up a good thing, but I am too much of a cynic to take that as gospel. I would love to be pleasantly surprised and see Winslow prosper under the new ownership and I wish them the best of luck going forward.

It should also be noted that Goodrich itself is being acquired by United Technologies, an even bigger conglomerate. Winslow is the guppy in all this…

Shark eating fish eating fish eating guppy


Goodrich Corporation has acquired Winslow Marine Products Corporation (Winslow), a leading provider of life rafts to the corporate aviation, helicopter, and marine markets. The transaction closed on September 30, 2011. Terms of the acquisition were not disclosed.

Winslow, a privately-held company, employs approximately 70 people at its Lake Suzy, Fla. facility. Founded in 1941, Winslow has a long history of innovation in the aviation and marine life raft markets. Winslow products are used by the leading corporate and business aircraft manufacturers, and are custom-designed to fit in a variety of aircraft interior configurations. Winslow has also successfully applied its aviation life raft design capabilities to the commercial helicopter market.

“Winslow’s focus on customer satisfaction and delivery performance has created a leadership position in the market for corporate and business aircraft life rafts,” said Cindy Egnotovich, segment president, Nacelles and Interior Systems at Goodrich. “This acquisition complements Goodrich’s existing competencies in aviation safety products, fabric and technology and expands our broad aircraft interiors product portfolio.”

Additional information can be found at www.winslowliferaft.com .

Winslow will become part of Goodrich’s Interiors business.

Goodrich Corporation, a Fortune 500 company, is a global supplier of systems and services to aerospace, defense and homeland security markets. With one of the most strategically diversified portfolios of products in the industry, Goodrich serves a global customer base with significant worldwide manufacturing and service facilities. For more information visit http://www.goodrich.com .

Goodrich Corporation operates through its divisions and as a parent company for its subsidiaries, one or more of which may be referred to as “Goodrich Corporation” in this press release.

SOURCE Goodrich Corporation; GR – Nacelles and Interior Systems

June 7, 2011

Delorme Introduces inReach – First 2-Way Consumer SEND

Filed in Musings

inReachDelorme has announced their long-awaited two-way satellite messaging device, the inReach. Unlike Delorme’s first SEND, which was a SPOT product that utilizes the Globalstar satellite system one-way messaging capability, inReach works on the Iridium system that provides full two-way communication, with obvious benefits.

The interface with the device can be through a DeLorme Earthmate PN-60w GPS, as previously, or with any Android smartphone. TWo=way text capability means that in an emergency you will be able to communicate with the commercial emergency response coordination center (CERCC), which in this case is the same as used with the SPOT devices, GEOS. This has obvious advantages over one-way communications.

Pricing for the device and for the subscriptions is still not yet announced, though Delorme indicates that it does plan to offer three subscription levels: Safety, Recreation, and Pro, with prices starting at $9.95 per month for the safety plan and increasing to offer more in-plan message and tracking units.

Availability is expected this Fall. As soon as Delorme provides me a inReach to test, we will provide a hands-on review.

You can read more and see additional photos of the interface and such on Delorme’s blog.

May 18, 2011

SEND Standard Approved by RTCM – Is COSPAS-SARSAT On Endangered List?

Filed in News

RTCMThree years ago at the RTCM Annual Meeting I made a controversial presentation titled, “What Price Your Life? Distress Alerting as a Commercial Service” You can read about that and review the presentation at: http://www.equipped.org/blog/?p=82

This presentation resulted in an invitation to give the presentation at Coast Guard Headquarters in Washington, D.C. I was also invited to sit on a panel discussing these devices by Canada’s Search and Rescue Secretariat at their SARScene 2008 annual conference.

I called for development of a standard for what has since become known officially as Satellite Emergency Notification Devices (SENDs). Globalstar’s SPOT Satellite Messenger was first commercially viable consumer SEND, and the many issues that developed as a result of that device’s introduction into the consumer marketplace was impetus for that call to action. Without a standard in place regulating minimum performance, consumers might be enticed into buying a distress signaling device that might well not work under many circumstances.

Industry and the top level Search and Rescue community heeded that call and acting on a request from the U.S. Coast Guard, RTCM formed Special Committee 128 to develop a SEND standard in December 2008. Starting with the existing RTCM standard for PLBs, the SEND standard was developed with input from the major satellite system providers as well as all the stakeholders from Search and Rescue and manufacturers or potential manufacturers of SENDs. Yours truly was there, as usual, representing the end user, those who are trusting their lives to these devices.

At a meeting held in conjunction with the 2011 RTCM Annual Meeting on May 17, 2011, two and a half years after the inaugural SC128 meeting, the new SEND Standard was approved and will be published shortly. The U.S Coast Guard has graciously accepted responsibility for providing some manner of approval or certification authority pending incorporation of the new standard into FCC regulations, which could take years given the FCC’s glacial regulatory process. The details for that USCG process are being worked out, but this ensures that an independent authority will ensure that consumers can have confidence that SENDs built to the standard have, in fact, complied with the standard.

Another Piece of the Puzzle

NSARCThis new SEND standard is only the first step needed to ensure that consumers can have a reasonable expectation of being rescued when they initiate a distress call with a SEND. Concurrent with the development of the new SEND standard, the National Search and Rescue Committee (NSARC), the nation’s top level SAR authority, commissioned its own working group to address another part of the equation, the interface between commercial SEND manufacturers or their agents and the SAR forces that will have to actually go rescue those in distress.

The Commercial Emergency Notification and Location Devices (CENALD) working group (their concern is about more than just satellite-based devices) first effort was to develop an Interface Control Document (ICD) that defines the specific requirements for a commercial emergency call center to pass on the distress alert to the national SAR authorities. This document ensures that that critical information in these messages or phone calls is standardized in format and order so that there is much less opportunity for errors to occur and so that all parties involved know what is expected of them in the process.

The CENALD meetings were held in conjunction with SC128 meetings as most of the same parties were involved. This ICD was completed earlier this year and has been recently approved by NSARC. Upon publication of the minutes of that meeting, expected shortly, it will become official.

Next Steps

While this was going on, yet another group dealing with these devices had been formed, called ProTECTS Alliance and standing for Promotion of Two-way Emergency Communication and Tracking Systems, this was an industry group “created to foster the rapid and orderly adoption of two-way satellite personal location, alerting and messaging technologies.” Once again, you had many of the same players at the table, looking for ways to accelerate the adoption of this rapidly evolving technology into the SAR system and attempting to do so in a responsible manner. As with the CENALD working group, ProTECTS met concurrently with RTCM SC128 meetings. ProTECTS was initiated by Iridium, which made it somewhat difficult to be all-encompassing for other providers in the industry. Late last year ProTECTS became a working group under the umbrella of RTCM, making it independent from Iridium.

A key issue for ProTECTS is the other element necessary for SENDs to be accepted and reliable, the commercial emergency response coordination center (CERCC). It became clear that however well designed the SEND units themselves might be, what happens to that distress alert after it is sent out is critical to saving lives and the ultimate success of this new industry. Right now there are no standards for commercial emergency response coordination centers. Theoretically, someone could set up something in their basement and be perfectly legal, even if it did not provide the quality of service that a consumer would expect.

There evolved two major concerns. One was the actual CERCC itself and the second was the database of SAR contacts that would be notified by the CERCC to affect the rescue. This latter was an issue highlighted in the early days of SPOT when there were difficulties in that interface (since mostly overcome). It would clearly be a disadvantage, potentially fatal, if every new CERCC had to experience the same steep learning curve in developing their database of SAR contacts that GEO (SPOT’s CERCC) had to go through when they, essentially, developed the first ever CERCC.

With urging from myself and others, it was decided that ProTECTS needed to explore the best way to solve this problem, either by pooling industry resources and developing their own SAR contact database or by licensing an existing SAR contact database. It would be costly and time consuming to develop and maintain such a database, but with all of the industry participating, the cost could be shared and made affordable. On the other hand, it would seem like reinventing the wheel was certainly a waste of resources if it was possible to gain access to the GEOS database. I and the chairman of ProTects and a representative of the Coast Guard were tasked with exploring the possibility.

During the RTCM Annual Meeting an exploratory meeting was held with GEOS management, who have subsequently indicated they may be open to a licensing arrangement. Certainly, there are still many details to be worked out, but that would accelerate things significantly if an entirely new database didn’t need to be developed. I commend GEOS for being willing to approach this with an open mind, hopefully to the benefit of all parties.

That then leaves the last part of the puzzle, the CERCC itself. After much discussion, it seems settled that NSARC is probably the best organization to develop a standard for a CERCC. We have plenty of materials to draw from, including the standard for 911 call centers, the AFRCC and USCG RCCs op specs and the experience of GEOS who have indicated they are interested in participating. By developing a minimum standard of performance and training for CERCCs and then providing some ongoing certification to ensure they are operated in accordance with this standard, consumers can be assured that they stand a good chance of being rescued when they are in distress. This would close the loop in the SEND concept, providing consumers an effective and reliably consistent distress alerting alternative to the traditional COSPAS-SARSAT system.

Beginning of the End for COSPAS-SARSAT?

COSPAS-SARSATAnd, closing that loop is particularly important because of how I see the market moving. The new SENDs (devices) will be increasingly more sophisticated or less expensive or both. The value added by the tracking and messaging functions makes these devices increasingly appealing to consumers. Even with a not insubstantial annual subscription cost, consumers are turning to SENDs in droves.

And, that issue of an annual fee may well, over time, become irrelevant with regards to the distress alerting function of a SEND. I have long encouraged the SEND manufacturers and service providers to continue to provide just the emergency alerting function, even if a subscriber’s subscription has lapsed. I believe that sooner or later this will happen, either voluntarily for competitive reasons or by government fiat, just as all cell phone providers are required to pass through a 911 call, regardless of there being a current subscription or not.

The alerting advantages of 406 MHz COSPAS-SARSAT beacons are rapidly eroding with improved performance of SENDs. In terms of pure distress alerting, a 406 MHz beacon still has some advantages, but for many in the market they are not compelling advantages. Consumer uptake of these new SENDs will only continue to accelerate, for all these reasons. That poses a considerable threat to the established COSPAS-SARSAT organization, its structure and the manufacturers of the beacons that function within it. Some of these traditional COSPAS-SARSAT beacon manufacturers are already working on SENDs, seeing their future headed in that direction.

Given that COSPAS-SARSAT seems to be mired in bureaucratic morass that has gotten even worse in recent years, resulting in extraordinary bureaucratic delays in approvals and additional unnecessary expense, it is only a matter of time before they become irrelevant in the consumer world. There’s no indication that COSPAS-SARSAT management recognizes the problem, or that they might do anything about it if they did, given bureaucratic inertia.

Having said that, there just the tiniest glimmer of hope. COSPAS-SARSAT is getting a new chief and it might be that he has the vision and capability to turn around this ship before it is dashed upon the rocks. One can only hope this will occur, as it seems such a waste to see such an effective system descend into irrelevancy.

If that happens, then those bureaucrats are going to find themselves short on work, because if only those required by regulation to carry a 406 MHz beacon are buying, then the market is going to shrink significantly and innovation in 406 MHz beacons will dry up and some manufacturers may likely abandon it. Those who must buy a regulated product almost always go for low price, not performance or features.

Moreover, it is only a matter of time, in my opinion, before SENDs start being accepted as alternatives to 406 MHz beacons in regulated markets. The precedent already exists, no matter that it didn’t succeed for technical and marketing reasons years ago. The new technology is miles better, much cheaper and improving rapidly.

I will continue to work to ensure that consumers can depend upon whatever distress signaling device they settle on. You can help support this work with a contribution to the Equipped To Survive Foundation: www.equipped.org/donate.htm

April 1, 2011

Spot Recalls SPOT Satellite Communicator

Filed in News

SPOT Satellite Communicator and Delorme PN-60wSpot LLC has issued a product recall on the SPOT Satellite Communicator which is bundled and sold exclusively with the DeLorme Earthmate PN-60w. This comes just over a year after Spot had to recall its then recently introduced second generation SPOT Satellite GPS Messenger, or what is now known as SPOT 2. And, as was the case then, it appears the contract manufacturer in China installed a part that was not up to spec.

According to Spot, “in certain incidents, intended messages may not be transmitted, including requests for help or emergency assistance, when the SPOT Satellite Communicator is used at temperatures below 40 degrees Farhrenheit/4.44 degrees Celsius.”

It is important to note that this recall DOES NOT impact the DeLorme Earthmate PN-60w handheld device itself or any other DeLorme product. Spot also says that this out of spec part does not impact any other products in Spot’s line-up.

Click here for details on the recall and how to get your SPOT Satellite Communicator replaced if you have one.

March 24, 2011

ETS Joins Coalition to Save Our GPS

Filed in Musings

GPS AT RISKEquipped to Survive Foundation has joined the newly formed Coalition to Save Our GPS, which is opposed to the unusual and unsound waiver by the FCC for LightSquared to use its satellite spectrum for high-powered ground-based broadband transmissions that may interfere with GPS signals before testing has determined that it is safe to do so and that it does not jeopardize the millions of existing GPS users.

Doug Ritter, Equipped to Survive Foundation Chairman, issued a statement, saying, “Equipped To Survive Foundation represents the users of distress alerting devices (ELT, EPIRB, PLB and SEND) that rely upon GPS to provide the most accurate location. Accurate location significantly speeds rescue and is often the difference between life and death in disasters, emergencies and other survival situations. Any interference or disruption to GPS would significantly jeopardize the safety and survival of those who need rescuing and would also significantly increase the peril to those who risk their lives to perform these rescues. Moreover, interference or disruption to GPS could result in many more lost or imperiled individuals who depend upon GPS to safely find their way, increasing further the risk of loss of life.”

Ritter further stated, “the FCC’s abuse of normal procedures in granting this waiver is an affront to the many millions of GPS users who deserve better. We joined the Coalition to Save Our GPS in order to help ensure that users of distress beacons with GPS will be represented in whatever resolution may be developed to this potentially disastrous situation. We need answers and we need proof from real world testing that existing GPS users will not be adversely impacted by this effort, or it cannot be allowed to go forward.”

More information and links to express your support of this effort can be found at the Coalition to Save Our GPS web site: www.SaveOurGPS.org

December 12, 2010

Sneak Peek – ACR ResQLink PLB – Smallest PLB Yet

Filed in News

UPDATE: July 21, 2011: FCC approval granted, now available for purchase.

(3D CAD images provided by ACR – click for higher resolution images – the images are an accurate representation of the new PLB I examined.)

ACR ResQLink in HandIt’s been a long time coming, but I just got a firsthand look at ACR Electronics’ answer to the popular McMurdo FastFind 210 PLB. The new ACR ResQLink 406 MHz PLB (model PLB-375) is ever so slightly smaller and lighter than the McMurdo at 3.9″ (99mm) x 1.9″ (48.3mm) x 1.3″(33mm) and 4.6 oz (130 g). That compares to the FastFind’s 4.17” (106mm) x 1.85” (47mm) x 1.34” (34mm) and 5.3 oz. Enough for them to lay claim to the “world’s smallest and lightest” PLB title.

The price is not yet finalized, but expect it to be competitive with the McMurdo’s $250 street price.

This First Look is based on ACR provided information and my short opportunity to get some hands-on experience with a pre-production unit. It appears to offer some clear advantages compared to the FastFind, beyond the small difference in size and weight. What ACR have done, essentially, is to put their SARLink PLB on a severe diet, while keeping its desirable features.

As with all previous ACR PLBs, the ResQLink has a flexible blade antenna wrapped around the case that is very easy to deploy one-handed. Just slip the tip from the retaining clip and rotate it up into position. It has detents at both the perpendicular and horizontal points for flexibilitywhile in a pocket or some such arrangement. Its design configuration is to be set down on its back with the GPS antenna oriented to the sky and the antenna perpendicular to the body of the PLB. I like that ACR have added a retainer on the side of the PLB opposite the antenna pivot that the antenna slips into, addressing one of the minor annoyances of prior models of ACR PLBs, the antenna sliding away from the body while stowed. This one is much more secure when in the stowed position.

ACR ResQLink ButtonsThe activation and test buttons are covered by the plastic encased base of the antenna when stowed. Rotating the antenna away from the stowed position gives access to the two buttons on the side of the device. That’s very neatly solves the need for two separate physical actions required by the regulations and keeps the buttons safely protected from inadvertent activation when stored.

The ResQLink uses a 66-channel GPS for very quick acquisition of location, like its previous generation brethren that had very quick time to first fix, and has a full GPS self-test, which I prefer. It can also be used with ACR’s 406Link.com subscription-based web site for through system testing and limited messaging with GPS location. Two days of free testing are included so that the new owner can assure themselves that the PLB is working by testing it up to the COSPAS-SARSAT geostationary satellites and back down to an earth station.

ACR claims that the ResQLink will always exceed 5 watts output, which they claim to be better than the McMurdo’s measured nominal 4.6 watts. They are claiming typical battery life of 30-40 hours at -4 degrees F (-20 C), considerably more than the minimum 24 hours requirement.

ACR ResQLink in HandThere’s a flashing white LED “strobe” that automatically activates when the PLB is turned on that is visible through the clear plastic front of the body. Results of test mode operation are enunciated via this LED as well. A good size lanyard attachment point is provided, along with a lanyard to secure the PLB to you.

it is not inherently buoyant, so a float pouch will be an available option. ACR rate it as waterproof to 33 feet (10m) for 10 minutes.

ACR plans to keep the exiting AquaLink models in production as they feel there is a market for an inherently buoyant PLB, even if it is larger, plus they will keep the digital display “View” versions of the existing models around since they feel the display provides a compelling feature set for some purchasers.

From my point of view, I prefer the smaller, lighter new ResQLink for all uses. As I always say, “if it isn’t with you, it can’t save you™” and you are much more likely to carry the small ResQLink than a larger PLB. For marine uses or where you might end up in the water inadvertently (aircraft ditching, for example), as long as the PLB is connected to you by a lanyard, which you need to do regardless of whether or not it is buoyant, you are good to go.

The new ResQLink is small enough to easily fit into a pocket or can be carried in an appropriate-sized cell phone holster on your belt.

I found the ergonomics of the ResQLink to be very good. It is easy to grip securely, there’s enough exterior elements on the case to assist in that, and very easy to operate one-handed. Both are definite advantages over the McMurdo FastFind.

Notwithstanding some non-obvious issue, which given ACR’s reputation and past experience I don’t expect, the new ResQLink incorporates enough notable advantages over the McMurdo FastFind that it appears to be the next must-have PLB. Expect availability of the new ResQLink in the first quarter of 2011.

We will have a full report and images of the real PLB, along with side-by-side images with the McMurdo FastFind 210, as soon as we can get our hands on one for more than a few minutes.

UPDATE: July 21, 2011: FCC approval granted, now available for purchase.

November 20, 2010

Film Review: 127 Hours

Filed in Musings

An inspiring film about a life-and-death struggle

Review by Wil Milan

127 Hours PosterIt’s difficult to make a suspenseful film when it’s about a true story and everyone knows the ending. That was the challenge for director Danny
(of Slumdog Millionaire fame) with the film 127 Hours, the story of Aron Ralston, the young man who in 2003, his hand pinned under a boulder in a remote desert canyon, had to cut off part of his arm to free himself. But director Boyle (who also co-wrote the screenplay based on Ralston’s book, Between a Rock and a Hard Place) and actor James Franco (Spiderman films,
Pineapple Express) have met that challenge, delivering a dramatization that is not only very accurate, but transports the audience to see and feel Ralston’s predicament, his suffering, despair, and ultimate triumph.

The story made headlines at the time and the premise is now well-known: Out for a weekend of canyon-climbing, Ralston accidentally dislodges a boulder and ends up with his hand pinned by the boulder at the bottom of a slot canyon.
Far from civilization with little food or water and having told no
one where he was going, Ralston is suddenly faced with the type of situation few ever survive.

Actor James Franco is masterful in his depiction of Ralston. He compels the audience to experience Ralston’s
evolution from a bop-along, cocky thrill-seeker to his moment of shock when he is first trapped, then through times of rustration, despair, regret, bits of humor about his own plight, the memories of family and friends that sustained him, his resignation to his own death, and finally the surprising thoughts and events that led to his climactic suffering and euphoria of escape, only to realize that what he still faces is probably beyond what he can endure. Franco’s rendering of a man in extremis ranks among the best such portrayals on film, a tour de force that’s a shoo-in for a top
Oscar nomination.

Though the film is a dramatization, Boyle and his crew took great pains to portray the events accurately. In a recent BBC interview Ralston remarked that upon first seeing the film he was so caught up in its realism that he felt he was there again and found himself weeping through most of the film. Boyle took pains in even some of the smallest details: The rescue helicopter and pilot seen at the end of the film, for instance, were the actual helicopter and pilot who swooped in to rescue Ralston in 2003.

James Franco in 127 HoursWhen this film first opened in a few cities two weeks ago, much was made of reports of people fainting during one bloody scene at the climax of the film at the first Toronto screening. This reviewer can only conclude that there must have been some particularly squeamish people at that screening. The scene of Ralston’s self-amputation is indeed bloody and certainly both shocking and painful to watch, but the gore is not played up and the scene is kept short. That scene felt to this viewer like the minimum necessary to portray something of what Ralston went through, which in real life took more than an hour rather than the very few minutes on film. And it is nothing like the orgies of blood and gore seen in many popular action and horror films.

My criticisms of this film are few and perhaps nit-picky: The seemingly endless and obvious product placements become tedious. The flash-back to a “sex party” in a station wagon seemed gratuitous, though not very graphic. Most of
all, one can’t help thinking that Ralston, a search-and-rescue
volunteer who should have known better, was indeed very heroic in his actions, but was in his predicament only because of his own dumb mistakes and carelessness. Whether that’s a valid criticism I’ll leave to the reader, but certainly the film serves as a superb object lesson on many things not to do (including drinking one’s urine — never, ever do that, no matter how thirsty). Perhaps, in the long run, serving as a strong lesson on the value of wilderness preparation and forethought may be the film’s greatest value.

That said, I highly recommend the film. The strong tension throughout the film and a few scenes may be a bit too graphic for pre-teen children, but for anyone else it’s a superb
film, a very powerful story masterfully told not only in direction
and acting but also with first-rate cinematography and an excellent original score. Overall, a film not to miss.

This review was authored by Wil Milan. Because I and Equipped To Survive have an unfortunate history with Aron Ralston, I felt that I might be unable to give an entirely objective review of the film, so I asked Wil to attend the film preview and write this review. — Doug Ritter

Film web site: www.foxsearchlight.com/127hours/ (includes trailers, sound track samples, and several videos about the film, original event, and location)
Filmed on location near Moab, Utah.
Running time: 94 minutes

March 1, 2010

Reworked SPOT 2 Received

Filed in News

(Click on images for higher-resolution photos)

Re-worked SPOT 2(Updated 03/03/2010) While I was away this weekend the replacement for my recalled SPOT 2 arrived, as promised. This morning I unpacked the padded envelope and found a few surprises. Besides the reworked SPOT with a “You’re good to GO!” sticker on it (more on that shortly), there was a $2-off coupon for Energizer lithium batteries, a new set of adhesive-backed instruction decals for the back, an Addendum to the User’s Guide that originally came with the SPOT 2 and a spare black rubber band that goes around the SPOT 2, hiding the joint between the two halves.

I called and asked why they included the band and was told that it must have been a mistake because it wasn’t supposed to be included and nody had a clue why it was in my package. Guess I am just lucky.

A quick examination of the “new” SPOT 2 showed it had clearly been reworked, it was not a new unit, which was confirmed by SPOT. The case showed some signs of having been used, with black marks on the back. I was told that besides fixing the battery minding circuit by replacing the incorrect out-of-spec part originally used, they also made another modification.

PRV holesIn the recess on the back there are now two very small pinholes (see image). These are backed with a Gore-Tex membrane, effectively making them one-way pressure relief valves. Apparently the battery warning issue wasn’t the only problem that was discovered in the original SPOT 2. Seems that when taken to higher altitudes by pilots, the unit would turn itself on during the descent as the vacuum created by the lower pressure inside the unit sucked the buttons down (the opposite problem we saw when taken to depth and pressure outside activated the buttons). The new one-way “valves” prevent that from happening. The Gore-Tex membrane allows air through, but not water.

Speaking of which, the Addendum changes the original depth rating of 5 meters for up to 1 hour to 1 meter for up to 30 minutes. We were told this was a precautionary move since it was feared that the original seemed to encourage users to take it diving and such, with potential for problems to occur, and they didn’t want to encourage that sort of use. I’m not sure I agree with their reasoning and even then, not sure why they would reduce it by so much. Why not halve it, if that was a concern? Only time will tell if this has any negative consequences for users. We know that at least a few warranty claims were rejected on the original SPOT, with a similar 1 meter for 30 minutes rating, when they quit working while running a river and the like, even when it wasn’t immersed that deep or that long. With the original SPOT 2 specs, which we tested to and found to be accurate, we were encouraged that the SPOT 2 was substantially better in this respect. UPDATE 03/02/2010: While SPOT initially claimed that there was no actual reduction in how waterproof the SPOT 2 is, they have now confirmed that this is an actual reduction due to the Gore-Tex membrane “valves.” I’d have to say this is a disappointing move by SPOT. If anyone has any issues with the waterproofness of the new SPOT 2, please drop us an email. We’ll be testing it again at our earliest opportunity.

battery coverWhile on the subject of waterproofness, we noticed that the battery cover didn’t seem to fit very well on what was clearly a new seal. Both the top and bottom of the cover were raised when the cover retention screws in the middle were tightened down. SPOT told us that the seal would still seal just fine. The cause, we were told, was that the new seals they could get in a reasonable time-frame were a harder durometer rating than the original, so don’t compress as much. They said that waiting for the original seals would have added considerably to the time it would have taken to return the units to customers. All I can say is that it doesn’t look great, but it isn’t so bad as be more than a minor annoyance. We’ll see how well it works when we test the SPOT 2 at depth again. I suspect that SPOT may end up replacing a lot of these seals with the correct one for some disgruntled customers.

The Addendum has revised battery life times and a fair number of cautions about situations that could shorten the battery operating life. There is also a caution about dropping the unit and potential battery failure and a suggestion to replace the batteries if dropped. That is a bit worrisome. Only time will tell if that’s just lawyers being cautious or going to be a real problem for users who might bet their life on this device. Click here to read the Addendum:


It may be a few weeks until we have time to do much testing. After inserting the batteries in the replacement SPOT 2, we did a Check OK test and it properly showed up on our account and sent a text message. That confirmed not just that it was working, but also that SPOT had replaced the original EIN on the account with the new EIN as their previous email indicated they had done. A check of the billing also showed the promised free three-month extension of service.

We’ll let you know how well everything works when we have time to do some testing.

February 24, 2010

Recalled SPOT Owners get Additonal 2 Months Service

Filed in News

(Replacement SPOT 2 received. Check it out here.)

Today I received notice that the replacement for my recalled SPOT 2 has shipped and was happy to see that they are offering those whose SPOT 2s were recalled an additional two months of service beyond the one added month originally announced. I had thought the original offer was pretty cheap of them, this is much more respectful of the hassle their screw-up caused customers. (Read about the recall of SPOT 2 here.) They have also seamlessly migrated the IEN from the old unit to the new one, or at least that’s what they are promising. Here’s the email I received:

Thank you for returning your SPOT Satellite GPS Messenger (SPOT 2) as instructed under the SPOT Product Return Program. Your replacement SPOT 2 has shipped and you should receive it within 7 to 10 business days.

Spot LLC has performed an ESN swap migrating your complete profile and message contact information to your replacement SPOT unit. Your new ESN number [0-8054288] has been updated in your account. Simply access your existing account using the same username and password you have assigned during login at www.findmespot.com.

Your SPOT 2 is all set to go! Please make sure to install new AAA Energizer® Lithium Ultimate 8X batteries. We recommend that you test your SPOT 2 unit by sending a Check-in/OK message. A message should appear in the My GPS Locations section of your account.

Again, thank you for your patience. For your inconvenience, we are extending your existing service contract by 3 months, an additional 2 months more than originally promised at no cost to you. Your account will update automatically within 30 days reflecting your new renewal date.

SPOT is dedicated to providing you with only the highest quality satellite communications products. We appreciate your business.

Enjoy your adventures!


The SPOT Team

Questions? Please call 1 (866) 727-7733 or email SPOTexchange@findmespot.com

(Replacement SPOT 2 received. Check it out here.)