Monday, March 12, 2012

Staying Connected

  We made some more progress over the weekend in our goal of staying connected to friends and family while living aboard Swing Set.
  The first thing we did was get an iPad. A new version of the iPad is coming out, but for our use, we bought the current version and saved some money. The improvements weren't enough to warrant the difference in price for us. Although we intend to install our desktop in our new "office" aboard the boat, we wanted the iPad mainly to use as a backup chartplotter. So in addition to the chartplotter capability, we'll be able to access email and facebook from the bridge. We can access those things with our iPhone too, but we wanted the bigger screen.
  One concern we had was the fact that our iPhone is grandfathered in for the time being with an unlimited data plan, and the iPad was exempt from that plan. Knowing that we would be primarily using the iPad for the chartplotter application, the question was one of how much data transfer was involved in using the chartplotter. A call to Navionics solved the riddle. We were told that once the charts are downloaded, then there is no data transfer involved in the actual use of the Navionics program. I also accessed the data usage report on our iPhone and discovered that in 10 months of use, I only used a combined 19 Gigs of data, both sent and received, so with a 3Gig per month plan with AT&T, we shouldn't exceed that many minutes.

  Another thing we learned was that the Navionics App for the iPhone will work on the iPad, but the screen size is the same as the iPhone screen unless you utilize the 2X feature which does not give the same picture quality. Our Navionics App is for Inland Rivers, so future Navigational Apps will be purchased for the iPad alone.
  Verizon has a pretty good plan too, but since we already have unlimited data transfer on the iPhone with AT&T, we didn't want to lose that, or change phones. We have just added a phone to our plan for my dad to use, so changing phones was not an option at this time.
  When we had our motorcycle, I used a Garmin GPS unit on the handlebars of our BMW. I also had a bracket to hold the Garmin unit that was made by RAM. I searched the RAM site and found a nice bracket for the iPad that we'll mount at the helm for easy viewing and access.
  We are aware that true chartplotting cannot be used with the iPad, as a 3G or WiFi signal is required, one that won't be available in the middle of the Gulf or Ocean. Our primary navigation will be along coastal waters where signal shouldn't be a problem. We'll use our Raymarine GPS and our radar unit to navigate in the remote areas. If this method doesn't suit us, then we'll get a smaller GPS unit to add to the helm for insurance. There is a growing popularity of the iPad for use as a backup chartplotter among boaters. It makes sense to us, plus the addition of programs and apps like Active Captain, Boating Suite and Anchor Watch add to the attraction. We can access those features at the helm without going down below to the iMac desktop computer, but having the Mac aboard will be nice too; I like to write using a regular keyboard.
  We solved the question of Internet availability with a visit to the AT&T store too, by purchasing a MiFi Device for use aboard Swing Set. This device uses a 4G signal to provide our own WiFi hotspot on the boat. We do have to be in range of a cell tower, but our experience is that AT&T has good coverage. So if we are not in a WiFi hotspot, that we can use for free, we'll use our own hotspot for data transfer. We are starting out with a 5 Gig per month plan and we'll see how it goes. 5 Gigs is not enough for movie streamlining, so we'll have to figure out something to access Netflix Instant Movies.
  We have a Roku Box that we use at home to access Netflix Instant Movies, but we have unlimited data usage on our home DSL: It's not an issue. I'll have to do some research to figure out how to use our new system to view movies without eating up our data transfer minutes, but somebody we meet along the way will have a solution. I haven't even tried the America's Great Looper Cruisers' Association forum yet; I may find the answer I need on there. Suggestions can also be submitted to us via email if you have any.
  We're hoping that T.V. watching is not going to be a priority, but we could get socked in by fog or foul weather and need a diversion, so we want to cover the bases. We did add another flat screen to the master stateroom over the weekend. I had installed the T.V. a couple of weeks ago but I wasn't really happy with the installation. There was a cubby hole in the master that housed a small T.V./ VCR combo that we had taken out last year. Once the T.V. was removed, it opened up a larger area behind it that we realized that could be used for extra storage. Last year I made a sturdy door that I had intended to mount the flat screen on, with the added feature of being able to open the door with the T.V. on it and access the storage area behind it. Without getting too involved in the installation process, I'll just say that my original installation had the hinges of the door on a side that required taking the T.V. off of the mount in order to open the door. Also, the hinges were too wimpy to hold the door adequately with the weight of the T.V. added, so I bought a sturdy piano hinge, mounted it on the correct side, and installed a push button latch to hold everything in place with the T.V. mounted and the door closed. I drilled a 2 inch hole in the door to route the antennae and power cables to sockets inside the cubby hole, making a neat installation. We had to use a converter box to obtain channels for the T.V., even though we thought the T.V. was a newer one that didn't require a converter box. But, like the T.V. in the salon, we can get about 16 channels by only using our Glomex T.V. antennae mounted on the radar arch; good enough for local news and weather, along with network programs. All free, goodbye cable bills!
  We pulled out three of our space heaters over the weekend too, freeing up some much needed storage space. We'll resume packing away extra clothes this week in preparation for storage on the boat, using those vacuum bags we have. One thing I was reminded of over the weekend was that those bags are as thin as a sandwich Baggie, and the least little poke will puff up your packing job like Roseanne Barr at a dinner buffet, so extra care must be taken with those things.
  When we visit the boat next weekend, we'll be taking out the bubbleras we are confident that freezing weather is behind us. After serving us for eight years, and the previous owner for many years before us, we're passing it along to friends for them to use for many more years. Our intention is never to have Swing Set, or us, trapped in by ice again.

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