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Electronics

Monkey Business Page 2

Electronics — April 2004
By Ben Ellison


Monkey Business
Part 2: The major change in BSB4 is that the charts are encrypted, a move that’s unfortunately long overdue.
   
 
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Let’s just assume that you’d like as much flexibility with your electronic charts as possible. One route is to use a PC charting program that supports multiple formats. But wait, Maptech, vendor of the best-selling paper-like ChartKit raster charts, just changed its data format to BSB4, and Nobeltec, developer of probably the most popular PC navigation program, VNS, has no immediate plans to support it. Huh? I can’t count the boats I’ve been on that use VNS with ChartKits; there are a lot, but from now on the combination won’t work (note that present and future versions of VNS will still run BSB3 and prior).

The major change in BSB4 is that the charts are encrypted, a move that’s unfortunately long overdue. For years boaters and even dealers have been swiping Maptech chart CDs like kids downloading tunes. Encryption is another hassle of the digital world, involving phone calls or Web visits and long numbers to be squirreled away for a day you hope won’t come, but Maptech claims that its particular technology is thoroughly tested and easy to use. Plus, as a bonus, owners of the format will receive any new chart editions that are issued during the first year. Meanwhile, for the time being, Nobeltec is keeping its software engineers working on current (and interesting) projects rather than modifying VNS for BSB4. The decision is based on the company’s confidence in its own Passport vector charts, which are great (and encrypted, by the way), and the availability of its own raster charts, not so great but to be improved eventually.

So if you are a VNS/ChartKit user and want to get new charts, each of the companies will try for all your business (Maptech, after all, has its own improved Offshore Navigator program). Some folks are going to frown on this whole development, but in my view the real monkey business is going on elsewhere, north of the border.

In Canada a small, private company called NDI (Nautical Data International) has the exclusive right to sell or license electronic versions of CHS (Canadian Hydrographic Service) charts. NDI has a history of irritating customers with an early flawed encryption scheme. Now the company is apparently attempting to charge unusually high royalties to the other vendors of Canadian charts. Sparks are flying. Stories vary, but I can confirm that some of the companies that have current agreements are unhappy, and the two that don’t—C-Map and Navionics—are very unhappy. Both, in fact, have temporarily stopped shipping Canadian charts (see www.navionics.com for more information). Negotiations are underway and hopefully will successfully be concluded without ghastly price increases. But it’s a disturbing trend, especially as an NDI vice president told me that his company is simply pioneering the way as hydrographic offices—and their for-profit sidekicks, I guess—around the world begin to practice “cost recovery.”

The situation on this side of the border is strikingly different, and I look forward to detailing NOAA’s efforts to vectorize all U.S. charts and give them away. For now I will conclude with some of the big thinking that inspired the column and also puts its worries in perspective. I believe that Enriquez would tell us that the sort of cartography that I’ve been talking about here is essentially completed; the maps that really sizzle today—the maps that are shaping the future, the maps that might build empires—are being drawn to nano scale by explorers of the human genome. We boat people have already charted the oceans pretty darn thoroughly. Now we’re just dotting the “i’s” and getting our digital act together. I like to picture a future when these monkey business issues are resolved and perhaps our plotters/computers will even be nimble enough to pull up an antique chart if desired. Just for old times’ sake.

Next page > Electronics Q&A > Page 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7

This article originally appeared in the March 2004 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.

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