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The original post below is only the announcement and is now out-of-date...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The out-of-date original post follows: [Apr-2016] The text is aged parchment color to remind you this is the old version...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It is now out of date!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]


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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

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