Sue Zupko: 15 The Bandwidth Highway

NOAA Teacher at Sea: Sue Zupko
NOAA Ship: Pisces
Mission: Extreme Corals 2011; Study deep water coral and its habitat off the east coast of FL
Geographical Area of Cruise: SE United States from off Mayport, FL to Biscayne Bay, FL
Date: June 11, 2011
Time: 1400 EDT

Weather Data from the Bridge
Position: 25.5°N 080,0°W
Present weather: 5/8 SC AC
Visibility: 10 n.m.
Wind Direction: 034°true
Wind Speed: 12 kts
Surface Wave Height: 1-2 ft
Swell Wave Direction: –
Swell Wave Height: 2-3 ft
Surface Water Temperature: 28.3°C
Barometric Pressure: 1011.1 mb
Water Depth: 49 m
Salinity: 36.5 PSU
Dry/Wet Bulb: 30.0°/26.5°

This blog runs in chronological order. If you haven’t been following, scroll down to “1 Introduction to my Voyage on the Pisces” and work your way back.

Take the quiz before reading this post.

One of the first questions I asked when informed that I had been selected as a Teacher at Sea was, “Can I use Skype with my students?”  Well, no.  There isn’t enough bandwidth.  I really had no idea what that term meant.  After discussing this with my chief scientist, he asked the “Powers-that-be” (I really don’t know whom he asked) if we might be able to Skype.  We received permission to communicate with some classes.  Oh, was I excited.  Now, we needed to find the classes.  My school would be out for the summer by the time I came onto the Pisces.  However, my Robotics Club mentors are very flexible and generous.  Mr. Chua, who also helps teach me about computers in my class, offered up his dining room for the Robotics Club to use to Skype.  This was very appealing to me since the kids would see a real robot in use.  Of course, the mentors enjoyed it immensely and asked lots of questions themselves.  We also had a high school class from Cary, NC signed up.  My niece, Debra Zupko, read the email telling the family to read my blog.  She asked if her 4th grade class could Skype with and and jumped on the opportunity when I said yes.  Her class communicates with the Jason Project and is interested in oceanography.  Before departure, I practiced a Skype conference call between me, the ROV crew, and two scientists.  The results were mixed.  We weren’t sure with our limited bandwidth (there came that term again) if we’d be able to do this conference call from the ship.  So, we decided to contact each class individually and do a one on one call like you normally do with Skype.

Bob up at the ceiling working with wires
Bob works with wires

I brought my webcam and computer.  Good thing.  The scientist who was going to bring this equipment did not come at the last minute and I didn’t know until I was on board.  I’m so grateful I took my equipment as a backup.  The Electronic Technician (ET), Bob, informed me when I checked in that we could practice with Skype before our scheduled meeting times. All electronic gear has to be scanned and approved before anyone can use it with the ship’s equipment.  How horrible it would be to infect the computers on the ship with something.

I emailed the teachers we would be Skyping with and set up practice times.  The first group I spoke with was Mrs. Zupko’s 4th grade class in New York.   She has to check out the equipment from the library so it wasn’t a simple process as it is in my classroom where all the gear is ready to go.   I practiced from my stateroom.  They got to see what our room is like and looked out the window at the ocean.  The oohs and aahs from the classroom helped me know this was a cool way to practice.

Mike in white baseball cap in front of computer talking on walkie-talkie
Mike communicates with the bridge

 So, what is bandwidth?  A good analogy was used by the Survey Technician, Mike, that bandwidth is like a highway.  Highways have two directions.  I am talking about the internet highway here.  All emails, blogs, watching the news, playing online, facebook, twitter, streaming movies, ship’s data, communication, etc.  goes on this highway.  When it gets too crowded, it’s like a traffic jam and some things won’t move.  This is when you have to be mindful of others and be polite.  On ship you aren’t allowed to Skype normally (remember, we had special permission and I’ll explain that later), watch movies online such as with Netflix, work on Facebook for hours, play online games, or other things which take up a lot of bandwidth.  Email doesn’t use much so it’s a good way to communicate.  One thing the crew is allowed to use, during non-business hours, which sucks up bandwidth is the phoneline called Voice Over Internet Protocol (VOIP).  This is how people keep in contact with family.  Folks up north, such as in Alaska, don’t have access to these things very often because of where the satellite is and the ship can’t easily communicate.  So, email, but don’t plan to have immediate access.  You might have to wait until the satellite comes in sight and the server can send out the messages.

Back to the bandwidth highway.  All the NOAA ships have to share the highway to and from the satellite.  They are usually allocated 128 KB of bandwidth.  We might have purchased some extra bandwidth from the satellite company or used bandwidth allocated to a ship which is in getting repaired or something.  However they did this, we were allocated enough to Skype with the students and for this I am grateful.  Opening that up was like letting us use the carpool lane.  There is less traffic there and it is less susceptible to traffic jams.

When the high school class was speaking with us, we were actually launching the ROV.  I had the computer set up by the window and held my webcam out the window so they could see that was happening in real time.  Then, they got to speak with the scientists while the ROV was diving to the bottom.  Later, they saw footage from the bottom.  They asked some great questions of the scientists.  Perhaps one of these students will have their interest piqued and become a scientist or ROV engineer.  Maybe a teacher:)

Dave in a blue helmet and orange PFD standing outside with a joystick with the ROV in the distance
Dave uses the joystick to pilot the ROV on the surface

The Robotics Club was very interested in the ROV.  Dave Murfin, taking a break from piloting the ROV and on his way to lunch, graciously sat down and answered some questions.  I learned from Scott Mau, another ROV pilot, about creating underwater ROVs.  Bet we could use our YMCA to run them.  We also have access to some swimming pools.

Back on the bandwidth highway.  I asked Kevin Stierhoff about some pictures we were processing for the website.  I used the incorrect term and said upload when I should have said download.  These always seemed like synonyms to me.  If you have a desire to understand the difference, read on.  On the highway there is coming to your computer and going from the computer.  If you are uploading something, you are copying it from your computer.  While on the ship, these data travel on a highway to a satellite then on to Silver Spring, MD where the internet service provider is.  The server then sends it to where you want it to go.  To download, something is going into your computer.  It comes from somewhere else through Silver Spring to the satellite to your computer on the ship.  The lane for the bandwidth going to the ship is about three times wider than what is going out.  Skype is really bad on our highway since it travels in both directions, and it really hogs the lane.  It’s like one of those homes being moved on the road taking up a lane and a half or more and going slowly.   Everyone has to slow down or get off the road to make room.

FYI, I asked one of the engineers who helped build the Pisces the total length of the electrical cables are on the ship.  “Long.”  He did then give me a number.  Over 200,000 feet.  How many miles long is that?

Myriad white tubes on the sea floor
Polychaete Tubeworm Forest

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