April 30, 2016

Computers, Devices and Applications

This post was used to announce this new page in our Stuff we have and use [and do...] sidebar.  

Please go to that updated page to see the most recent information. [It was last updated in Sept 2017

The original post below is only the announcement and is now out-of-date... [It may be fun to look at in the future, however...]

The out-of-date original post follows: [Apr-2016] The text is aged parchment color to remind you this is the old version...

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Original version, below. [Published 30-Apr-2016.]

It is now out of date! See the most recent version updated Sept 2017]


_________________________________________________



This is part of a series describing some of our common boat systems and their operation.

We refer to these often not only for our own use, but also when asked specific questions about systems on Denali Rose, and when participating in discussions on various forums.


We aren't implying our choices are the best or only way to go; they just happen to be the decisions we made about what works best for us...
It is worth noting that most of the software [i.e., applications, or programs] we mention, below, is also available for many other devices and operating systems...
And since we are talking about electronics, in the future our choices described on this page may become dated and/or obsolete. Therefore, we will attempt to keep this information current regarding what we have and use, and what we are researching/considering for the future. Check back often as this page will change over time...

And please leave a comment if you spot an error or omission, or have recommendations based upon your own first-hand experience.


Computers:

We are retired management professionals. Therefore we are lazy and prefer to avoid having to do too much [or know too much...] to keep our computers functioning well. We therefore use Apple Macintosh computers and its Unix based operating system. [OSX] 


We also run Windows on our Macs for any programs we need to use that require that OS. [None at present; May-2016]. Also, it surprises many that Windows runs faster on our Mac Powerbooks than on most dedicated Windows machines... This we constantly rediscover whenever booting/running Windows while sitting next to someone with a powerful, dedicated Windows computer...]


We like portability, so we use laptops. We each have a personal one, and we keep our prior generation models as back-ups. All are kept up-to-date, synchronized, and immediately available for use.


Our philosophy is that all of these electronic devices and gadgets- even though they are expensive- are disposable devices... [I know. That hurts, doesn't it? But think about that for a moment...]


Therefore we use them until they no longer work or perform well enough to do the job at hand. Then we replace them with current models. [Cry once...] Transfer everything over, and try to keep going...


Computer Software: [A select few of the many Applications (Programs) we rely upon...]

  • Navigation:
    • OpenCPN [Navigation and route planning; integrated with our N2K network.]
      • GPS [and GLONASS] source is NMEA data on our wireless network
  • Documents, Books, Manuals, etc.: 
    • Google Drive [for the Ship's library documents. 20GB and growing... All manuals, technical books, documents, etc.]
      • Install Drive sync software on your computer
      • Keeps a copy on our computer(s) so we always have access to everything
      • Syncs to the cloud whenever we have internet access via WiFi or Cell data connection so we have permanent back-up accessible from anywhere in the world from any computer
    • Google Docs, [Spread] Sheets, etc. [for all spreadsheets, documents, etc.]
      • Works offline, and syncs whenever we have an internet connection
      • Excellent for collaborative efforts
    • Google Calendar
      • Works offline, and syncs whenever we have an internet connection
      • Syncs with the calendar on our phones and tablets
      • Great for sharing specific calendar(s) with specific individual(s)
  • eMail and document transfer:
    • Gmail [for personal and boat email when WiFi or cell data are available.]
    • UUplus email [and document retrieval service e.g., Weather, news, etc.]
      • Also works via any internet connection including Sat phone, WiFi, Cell, etc.
        • i.e., Is not limited to sat phone only unlike the Iridium GO! email app.
      • Optimized for Iridium Sat phones; works on the GO!
      • Additional details available on the following pages:
  • Weather:
  • Sharing Computer Screens with Tablets and SmartPhones: 
    • View/control what is on your computer screen from your tablet or smartphone
      • Activate Screen Sharing on Mac
      • Install Mocha VNC on the tablet(s) and/or smart phone(s)
  • Windows:
    • VMware Fusion [For running other operating systems on your Mac]
      • e.g., Windows, Linux, etc.
  • Entertainment [Also see this heading under Tablets, below.]
    • Movies: [Videos]
    • Books:
      • Kindle App [for reading books- and PDFs too; e.g., manuals] 
        • You can also email PDFs to this app [Think boat manuals...]
        • Syncs with our Kindle eReaders and our tablets and smartphones
        • Unlimited book subscription [30 day free trial]
      • Audible Books [Our favorite way to share a book... 30 day free trial]
      • Bookbub - A free website that tracks discounted and free books by provider, and emails you when they become available. Sign up for your account, list your preferred providers, reading genres, and notification intervals. My Kindle has over 500 books on it, and most of them were free. Bookbub
    • Music [Use your Music app of choice...]
    • Movies:
      • Since we use Amazon Prime for free shipping, we also watch many free movies and catch up on our favorite TV shows. [30 day free trial.]
      • Netflix Streaming
      • Etc.


Tablets:

Since we like the Macintosh computers, we have iPad Tablets. [iOS is the operating system that runs on iPhones and iPads]

We each have our own model of choice, and a third dedicated to ship's systems. [And like our computers, our old (still functioning) tablets will be kept as back-ups (and dedicated picture/slide show kiosks) as they are replaced in the future...]


We buy iPads with cell data capability [i.e., not WiFi only...] so they have a built-in GPS [part of the cell chip...] and can be used as back-up navigation devices or hot spots if we lost use of our smart phones.


Tablet Software [Also installed on our SmartPhones]: 


Some of the important Applications/Programs we rely upon are listed, below. There are many more. These just happen to be the ones we find ourselves using most often among hundreds of apps on our devices... [>200 in May-2016, and counting...]

  • Navigation:
    • Sea IQ Open [Recreational version]
    • Garmin BlueChart Mobile [Great for route planning, tracking and user friendly enough for guests to use and follow-along without interfering with the primary navigation systems...]
    • Skipper [The only app we have found that combines charts and Topographic land maps. This is very useful where we currently travel...]
      • All of the above are integrated with Active Captain data for offline use.
    • Commander Compass [Hand-held compass on steroids]
    • Theodolite [A multi-function augmented reality app that combines a compass, GPS, map, photo/movie camera, rangefinder, and two-axis inclinometer into one indispensable app. Theodolite overlays real time information about position, altitude, bearing, range, and inclination on the iPhone’s live camera image, like an electronic viewfinder. Way cool...] 
  • Weather:
    • Storm [A somewhat sensationalistic (though occasionally fitting...) name for an otherwise worthwhile product from WeatherUnderground- another wx data aggregator...]
    • Weather 4D [Weather and Routing]
      • Steep initial learning curve with limited help [but a great product] 
      • Includes realtime Iridium satellite orbit information [helps with planning/optimizing sat comms]
    • Barometer App
      • Specifically a recording barometer app e.g., electronic barograph 
      • Device must have barometric sensor in it. 
        • e.g., Beginning with iPhone 6 and iPad Air 2 
      • Apps we are currently [May-2016] using/evaluating include: 
    • The following apps from Black Cat Systems: [among many others...]
      • NAVTEX
      • HF FAX
        • Both of the above are back-up app for interpreting radio transmissions if our packet radio modem failed
      • Weather Calc [Useful calculations and conversions]
      • SWBC Sched [World wide shortwave radio broadcast schedule; e.g., news, weather, etc.]
  • Sharing Computer Screens with Tablets and SmartPhones:
    • Mocha VNC [For viewing Macintosh display on Tablet(s) and iPhones.]
    • GoFree [Proprietary device and app for wirelessly mirroring our MFD (Multifunction display; i.e., chart plotter/RADAR) to Tablets, Smart Phones.]
  • Journal
    • Wave Trax [Logging and voyage documenting]
    • Reference:
      • Grog Knots [Best animated knots app...]
      • Boaters Reference [An excellent pocket reference of all things boating...]
      • USCG App [Detailed boating law info, Rules of the Road, and float plan generation and filing.]
      • Wire Sizer [Calculates wire size needed and tracks your wiring projects]
      • SWBC Sched [World wide shortwave radio broadcast schedule; e.g., news, weather, etc.]
    • Security:
      • Drag Queen [Free and robust anchor alarm from Active Captain]
      • Siren Marine [Software for using/programming our Siren Marine security device]
    • Entertainment[Also see this heading under Computers, above]
      • Books:
        • Kindle App [for reading books- and PDFs too; e.g., manuals] 
          • You can also email PDFs to this app [Think boat manuals...]
          • Syncs with our Kindle eReaders and our tablets and smartphones
          • Unlimited book subscription [30 day free trial]
          • Audible Books [30 day free trial]
          • Bookbub - [A free website that tracks discounted and free (even temporary free offers) books by provider, and emails you when they become available. Sign up for your account, list your preferred providers, reading genres, and notification intervals. Donna's Kindle has over 500 books on it, and a majority of them were free.]
          • Overdrive [A free app that allows you to borrow ebooks, audiobooks, and more from your local public library, anywhere, anytime, all you need is a library card, and sign up for a free account. 
        • Music [Use the Music app that comes with your tablet...]
        • Movies:
          • Since we use Amazon Prime for free shipping, we also watch many free movies and catch up on our favorite TV shows. [30 day free trial.]
          • Netflix Streaming
          • Etc.


      SmartPhones:

      You guessed it; we like and use Apple iPhones. [iOS is the operating system that runs on iPhones and iPads]

      We also keep our older phones that have been replaced over the years, and unlock them so we can use them internationally with SIM cards we purchase as we travel...


      We have a great cell data plan on our smartphones, so one is typically used as a hotspot device [using a cell booster to maximize the signal strength and distance] that is broadcast to all devices on the boat using our WiriePro [See Networking, below...]


      Comparison shop smartphones and plans. 


      SmartPhone Software: [See Tablet Software, immediately above, because most iOS apps run on both devices.]




      Printer [and Scanner/ Copier]:

      We wanted a compact printer [B&W and Color], scanner, and copier all-in-one as those are the functions we need traveling internationally.


      We ended up with an HP Envy Printer and couldn't be more pleased. It is compact, wireless, and works first time every time... And the expendables are reasonably priced. At under US$100 it is hard to beat.


      One thing we have learned over the years [regardless of which printer you have] is to use heavier weight paper [e.g, 24 pound stock instead of the usual flimsy 20 lb stock] for printed documents you will be providing others [e.g., foreign government representatives, etc.] It holds up better while you are transporting it in your shoulder bag, and feels good in the hand of the recipient. [Like letterhead stock does...]




      FAX: [Facsimile]

      For transmitting and receiving faxes, we use the HelloFAX service in a browser on the computer. [We need internet connectivity to send/receive a FAX...]


      HelloFAX is an online service we use on the rare occasion when we need to transmit [or receive] a FAX. Sending is free; receiving requires a small monthly fee, and is something we rarely need to do...


      Since we keep scanned copies of all our ship's papers, passports, etc. on our local computers, it is quick to print and/or FAX copies quickly, as needed. [e.g., When checking into foreign countries, applying for permits, etc.]




      Networking: [Connecting it all together...]

        Wired: 

      • We have both a NMEA 2000 [N2K] and a proprietary ethernet network [B&G] our computers can be physically connected to. However, we typically rely on a wireless connection as outlined below.
        Wireless: [WiFi or Cell Data for internet access]
      • WiriePro 
        • Boat WiFi router (local wireless and guest networks)
        • Cell hotspot with SIM card available via WiFi
        • See our Cellular and WiFi Data page for additional details
      • WiFi-1 
        • Proprietary WiFi device that allows us to see and control our chart plotter and RADAR screen from our tablets and smartphones
        • Connected to ethernet network
        • Also see GoFree application under Tablets/Software, above.
        • Available from Amazon
      • WLAN [Wireless Local Area Network] from a laptop
        • We can set up a local wireless network from any of our laptops if/as needed

      Additional Resources:
      • Reviews:
      • Sources:
        • Amazon [We often find the best pricing especially when shipping to Alaska is considered...] 
      • Us: [Denali Rose]
        • If you find our information worthwhile, please use our link whenever you make purchases from Amazon. [There is absolutely no additional cost to you. Ever... And it is totally anonymous; We never know who made what purchases...] 
        • Thanks for considering this. It does help keep us incentivized to produce and maintain this level of detail...
        • See our Support page for additional information

      April 18, 2016

      Staying onboard...

      We occasionally participate in various boating forums. [See our Some Forums We Read sidebar for links...]

      Some of those topics may be relevant here, so sometimes we repost to our blog for reference.


      The following may be one of those cases. To accommodate our non-boating blog readers, add additional detail, and/or just cause more confusion, I sometimes add some additional {information and links} to the original forum post, below.


      It is worth noting this topic is ongoing in nature...


      Link to original forum post [29-Nov-2015]

      Additional Resources:


      Re: Jacklines and fall protection devices?


      Quote:
      Originally Posted by deltaten View Post

      A recent post concerning jacklines spurred some thought and research. I need to add new/better harness and tag lines. My little 27 footer doesn't have a bunch of room/places to install jacklines conveniently/safely. 

      Having been in the construction trades most of my working life, I started looking at fall protection from that angle. There are several devices that are listed as "fall limiters" or "personal safety devices" that appear to possibly work better than typical solutions.

      For those not familiar, these work like a recoiling dog leash..on a grand scale  Honeywell/Miller is one of the largest manufacturers. They list specs as 400# and limit to 2 foot arrest. Lengths of safetylines vary to near 18 feet! These are usually tagged onto the "H" harness like a typical leash; but allow a spec'd distance travel.

      I foresee a limiter fastened to central point (mast?) and me clipped on, able to move from 'pit to forestay without encumbrance or having to clip/unclip/reclip at several points.
      Now to find an inflatable PFD that'll work with my (potential) rig?

      Wondering if the device couldn't be clipped to the mast and use the "clip off" end to attach to harness?? This would lighten load and bulk on harness . Just might hafta call Miller and ask

      Deltaten,

      You are on the right track regarding fall arrestment. While our primary focus and efforts are oriented to staying on the boat, falls while tethered must be accounted for.

      For a detailed boating perspective from a very experienced mountain climber and cruiser- and the person who wrote the recent Practical Sailor article about jacklines [subscription required, but here is the public blog post leading to that article...] see the following: [and there is much more...]

      The Case for Softer Tethers

      Dynamic Tethers

      Climbing Gear for Sailors--Jacklines and Harnesses for the Unemployed

      Jacklines, Tethers, and Why Monohulls and Catamarans are Different

      The Attainable Adventure Cruising online ebook about this subject- and ongoing discussion as mentioned by others in this thread- will also provide you with great insight; especially with regards to hard attachment points for tethers... [Morganscloud.com - membership required, and it appears some of us here find it very worthwhile as a supplement to this excellent forum...]

      Lastly, for a sobering perspective on what it is like to be dragged in the water or attempt to rescue a tethered POB, read:

      Is it safe to use a tether?

      Here's hoping that none of us ever have such experiences first-hand...

      Cheers!

      -Bill
      __________________
      SV Denali Rose

      Short on opinions; focused on research, facts & experience [yours and ours...]

      April 13, 2016

      Boat Cards

      The following post was converted to a permanent and maintained page in our 
      Stuff we have and use [and do...] sidebar on 23-Apr-2016.


      Please go to that permanent page for up-to-date information.

      _____________________________________________________________


      Original Post:


      Boats are one place where the old fashioned 'business card' has use and appeal. This is partly because as travelers, we don't always have internet access when we meet someone we would like to exchange contact information with.

      Boaters we meet online [e.g., forums- and therefore haven't seen our boat card...] sometimes ask what information we chose to include. 

      Our choices were predicated upon the intended uses and recipients [luggage/shipping tags and other boaters we choose to stay in contact with...] so keep this in mind. [i.e., What info does another boater need?...]

      We also tape our cards on the inside and outside of baggage when we ship or commute [e.g., fly on airlines, etc.; often with multiple checked cargo tubs of boat stuff...]

      With this in mind, we included the following info on our current boat card:

      Front of card:
      • Boat name and USCG documented Home Port and Country 
        • Not the USCG Documentation number- even though this is publicly available we feel it is just more item a fellow boater wouldn't need or care about...
      • Our logo [a graphic artist friend gifted us our beautiful logo]
      • Boat email address
      • Boat blog address
      • Our full names- each including our personal email address and personal mobile phone number

      Back of card:
      • Make and model of boat
      • Photo of vessel [or a watercolor in our case...]
      • MMSI number [International version; i.e., FCC issued] [For DSC radio coms]
      • VHF/Marine SSB call sign
      • HAM call sign

      Future versions of our boat card will include:

      Face photos of us on back. [I don't know about you, but we typically remember the boat name and not always the boater's.... photos would help others remember...]

      Note we don't include mailing address info. This is not only to reduce clutter on the card, but we figure if a fellow boater wanted/needed to mail us something, they will have to contact us first- which is what we prefer. Why?  Because even though we have a full time mail service address, sometimes we will arrange for shipping to our current location- bypassing that... This way we can pick and choose.

      We also maintain a very detailed "How to contact us" document that we share with select individuals and SAR Authorities via secure, online, controlled access. [We also have printed and PDF versions, but prefer you check the online version for changes before using when possible...]

      That document includes extreme details including all mobile phone numbers [including Int'l when outside the US]; satellite phone contact methods and procedures; shipping and mailing addresses; all vessel info for SAR [Search and Rescue], etc. [That document is now 5 pages long with the first page being the short version of all contact info... It contains extreme detail- a how to document really- for everyone including the technically challenged amongst our friends and family...]

      Here is a SAMPLE version of our contact document. [All of our personal contact information is obfuscated. All procedures are accurate as of the revision date on the document.]

      How and where to have boat cards designed and printed?

      We received great service from Vista Print online, and will use them next time as well. They are a one-stop-shop; design your card and receive a box in the mail. 

      We designed our own card [i.e., we didn't use their fill in the blank templates...] using their online system [and you can use Pantone #s for color of you are geeky...] and had them printed on heavy, waterproof card stock for cheap. [~US$33 for 500 cards + $10 shipping to Alaska in early 2015...]

      April 6, 2016

      Cellular and WiFi Data and Communications

      This post is to announce this new page in our Stuff we have and use [and do...] sidebar.  

      Please go to that maintained page [last updated May-2017] to see the most recent information, as this post is basically an announcement that will become out-of-date over time...

      The out-of-date original post follows. The text is aged parchment color to remind you this is the old version...

      _________________________________________________

      This is part of a series describing some of our common boat systems and their operation. 

      We refer to these often not only for our own use, but also when asked specific questions about systems on Denali Rose, and when participating in discussions on various forums.
      We aren't implying our choices are the best or only way to go; they just happen to be the decisions we made [...or sometimes what came with our boat...] 


      And since we are talking about electronics, in the future our choices in this post may become dated and/or obsolete, so we will keep this information current regarding what we have and use, and what we are researching/considering for the future.


      Overview:



      When we are traveling or just anchored on the boat, we like to stay in touch with friends and family, and have access to the internet for all the usual reasons, including paying our bills, reading our [scanned] snail mail, etc.

      While the internet is pretty much taken for granted on land, it is less available when one lives on the water in some areas...
      • Our options include:
        • WiFi: [details below]
          • 'Join' an existing network our central WiFi system can 'see'  
        • Cellular Data: [details below]
          • Use on of our cell phones as a mobile hot spot
          • Use the cell data side of our central WiFi system
        • Satellite
        • Radio: HAM/Marine SSB
      On a boat, we are sometimes in areas where signals are weak or non-existent. 

      If the signals are weak, we need to optimize the available signal using specialized electronic devices in order to use the WiFi or Cellular service. [The purpose of this post.]


      Sometimes we are just too far away, or the signals are blocked by mountains, etc. In those cases, at present we are limited to using either our Satellite Phone [our preference] or our HAM/Marine SSB radio.


      Which devices do we use to optimize WiFi and Cellular signals with good to excellent results?


      Wifi and Cell data in one device: 


      We installed a WirieProThis unit is also our WiFi router for the entire boat, and only needs a single 12VDC wire run to it. [No coax, ethernet, etc...]


      The WiriePro allows us to pick up WiFi signals our computers and phones don't even see. However, it is rare to find an open WiFi network these days, so this is not useful unless you can make arrangements to gain access to the WiFi networks of choice.


      The WiriePro also has a built-in cellular data modem. When you add an active cell data SIM card [internationally compatible] it behaves just like you were on a WiFi network.   

      To further enhance cellular reception, we added a 6dbi external cell antenna add-on to greatly improve cellular range. [It replaces the 2dbi rubber ducky cell antenna that comes with the WiriePro.]

      Wirie also sells repeaters for larger and/or metal boats, a GPS add-on which includes free tracking, etc. 

      This is a very good company founded by sailing cruisers that understand our communication needs, and provide excellent products and tech support. Consider their products if you like to plug-and-play instead of spend your time geeking and troubleshooting...



      Cellular phone booster:


      For use with our cell phones [which are also a personal hot spots] we use a Wilson Sleek 4G Cell Booster [Now labeled WeBoost; here is the link to the latest model

      Wilson seems to support the most carriers and frequencies. i.e., as universal as it gets right now...
      Use with this antenna for trials and land-based use, and/or this marine grade antenna [With appropriate marine grade antenna coax wire...] for the best performance. 

      This is a great device that adds additional bars of signal strength over what the phone can 'see'... 


      While we are traveling in the areas where our cell phones are supported [and because we have a large, cost-effective data plan] we typically keep one cell phone [with hot spot active] in the Wilson booster. Then we subscribe our WiriePro to our phone's hot spot WiFi signal - securely beaming internet connectivity [through the one cell phone hot spot] to every device on our boat. This suits our needs well in our current cruising grounds.



      Additional Resources: