Computers, Devices and Applications [Updated Jun-2017]

This is part of a series describing some of our common boat systems and their operation. [See our Stuff we have and use [and do...] sidebar for more like this...]

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.


––––––––– Updated 14-Jun-2017 [by Bill] –––––––––

Computers:

We are retired management professionals. Consequently 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 run MS Windows on our Macs for any programs we need to use that require that OS. [None at present; Apr-2017]. 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], AIS, compass heading, etc. data is available on our NMEA network. More about our network is below...]
      • OpenCPN Logbook  [OpenCPN plug-in]
      • Other OpenCPN plug-ins dejour... 
  • 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:
    • PredictWind Offshore App [Weather]
      • Download GRIB files via email, Weather Routing, Departure Planning, GMDSS text forecasts and Satellite Imagery for your next offshore passage
    • zyGrib [GRIB viewer; weather visualizer]
  • 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. Donna's Kindle has over 500 books on it, and most of them were free.]
      • Librivox [Free audio books read by volunteers...]
    • 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.
Here is a related blog post: iPads on our boat

iPad Accessories:
Cables and 2+A 12 volt USB chargers [3rd party. Apple Certified. 1/4th the price of Apple cables- and they last longer...]
Side note: Be sure to use a USB charging source that is greater than 1 amp output [we found these 2 amp units are sufficient] or the iPad battery on our models will actually loose charge during the day when used for live navigation or as a mirror to the  MFD- even though it is plugged-in... 
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...]
      • All of the above are integrated with Active Captain data for offline use
      • GPS built-in
      • GPS [and GLONASS], AIS, compass heading, etc. data is available on our wireless NMEA network. [More on network below...]
    • Navionics [Added 14-Jun-2017]
      • We are now ramping up with Navionics on our iOS devices because we use Navionics Charts on our chartplotters [B&G Zeus 2]
        • Navionics plans to release some additional capabilities compatible with our B&G chartplotters we will find very useful including:
          • The ability to update charts on the iPad and transfer those updates [via WiFi] to the Navionics Chart SD card in the chartplotter
          • The ability to plan routes on the iPad and transfer to the chartplotter
          • Transfer tracks and routes to the iPad from the chartplotter
    • Skipper [The only app we have found that combines charts and Topographic land maps. This is very useful where we currently travel...]
      • NOTE: We received word from the developer summer 2016 indicating they are deprecating Skipper in favor of Gaia GPS. Gaia does still combine charts and topo maps, but is primarily for topo map use on land and therefore does not integrate with Active Captain, among other differences.
    • 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 weather data aggregator...]
    • Weather 4D: [Several generations... shop carefully...]
      • Weather 4D 2.0 [Replaces Weather 4D Pro, below. Same features and more. Released April-2016; This is the app we use as of Oct-2016]
        • This is the most recent app in this series from this developer
        • Adds charting and navigation capabilities to Weather 4D Pro [below]
        • Comes with extensive user's guide [free with this version...]
        • If you don't have either of these Weather 4D programs, buy this one...
      • Weather 4D Pro [Weather and Routing]
        • This is the version we started with
        • Steep initial learning curve
        • Limited support
        • Abbreviated User's Guide you must purchase separately... 
        • Includes real-time Iridium satellite orbit information [helps with planning/optimizing sat comms]
      • Predict Wind Offshore App [Weather]
        • Download GRIB files via email, Weather Routing, Departure Planning, GMDSS text forecasts and Satellite Imagery for your next offshore passage
    • Barometer Apps
      • 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: 
    • Tide Apps:
      • AyeTides XL [Tablet version]
      • AyeTides [Phone version]
        • Great tide apps, and the only ones we need [aside from what is built into our Navionics chartplotter charts and OpenCPN...]
        • Integrates with Sea IQ
    • 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 Wx related 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 Link [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]
      • Deprecated by the company in 2016
      • Still evaluating tablet replacement
      • Currently use OpenCPN Logbook on Laptop [OpenCPN plug-in]
    • 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. Also see SWBC Sched from Black Cat Systems, above.]
    • Security:
      • Anchor! [iOS. I haven't looked for Android version...]
        • Best user interface I've seen so far
        • Works well
        • We will likely replace Drag Queen for usability reasons
      • Drag Queen [Free and robust anchor alarm from Active Captain.]
      • Siren Marine [Software for using/programming our Siren Marine security device.]
    • Travel:
      • MyTSA [Available as stand alone app, or online]
        • For flights originating in US
        • 'Can I Bring?' is what we use most
      • Packing Pro 
        • Packing checklist
        • We use for inventory checklists 
          • Ditty and 1st aid bags
          • Ditch bags
          • Etc.
    • Shopping:
      • Shopping Pro [Shopping list manager; We stopped using it in Mar-2017. Too many ads and coupons use too much of our precious cell bandwidth, and slow the app down.]
      • Google Keep [Replaced Shopping Pro Mar-2017]
        • We make separate lists for groceries, hardware, boat parts, checklists, etc. 
        • Great when shopping separately in areas with a cell signal. Check off items as you put them in your cart, and your partner's list is updated so you don't buy duplicates... 
        • We make specialized grocery lists too. 
          • e.g., Entertaining a friend with allergies?
      • Paprika [An excellent recipe manager that also maintains food/ingredient inventory and creates shopping lists.] 
        • Highly recommended, but you must use it diligently or inventory will not be accurate...
    • 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]
          • Librivox [Free audio books read by volunteers...]
          • 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

      iPhone accessories:
      Cables and 12 volt chargers [3rd party. Apple Certified. 1/4th the price of Apple cables- and they last longer...]

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



      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. [One exception is also using ethernet with the laptop running OpenCPN for RADAR overlay capability.]
        Wireless: [WiFi or Cell Data for internet access. See our Cellular and WiFi Data page for additional details.]
      • WiriePro 
        • Boat WiFi router (local wireless and guest networks)
        • Cell hotspot with SIM card available via WiFi
      • GoFree 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
      • Cell signal booster [Cradle to enhance signals for cell phone hot spots.]

      Additional Resources:
      • Reviews:
      • Sources:
        • Amazon [We often find the best pricing especially when shipping to Alaska is considered...] 
      • Us: [on 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... [As much as working for pennies per hour can incentivize anyone, anyway...]
        • See our Support page for additional information

      2 comments:

      1. Thanks for your blog, I've found it very useful!

        ReplyDelete
        Replies
        1. Thank you, George. We always enjoy hearing this, although we do try to keep it balanced by publishing various useless tidbits as well...

          Cheers! Bill

          Delete

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