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Computer Tips and Tricks

We now have 4 computers, an iPad, and a Kindle aboard Soggy Paws.  Sherry is continually writing emails or giving personal tutorials to people on computer subjects.  We've decided to try to accumulate this info here.  As usual, this is a work in progress...

About Our Computers
Sherry's Computer Dave's Computer Movie Computer
Navigation Computer iPad Kindle

Sherry's Computer

Sherry started out our trip in 2007 with a big beautiful 17" laptop.  This computer was wonderful and fast and had a big screen, but it was heavy, big, and power-hungry.  It also had a super-shiny screen that was awful to use in any kind of natural light.

In 2009 when the Netbooks came out, Sherry relegated her big laptop to 'movie computer' status and bought an Asus Eee 1000HE.  It (theoretically) will run straight off 12v, draws (relatively low amps), has a 10" screen, a usable keyboard, 3 USB ports, and (theoretically) runs 9.5 hours on the battery.  The screen size is a small-but-usable 1024x600.  It cost about $300 new.  The primary sacrifice to size is that it has no internal CD/DVD drive.  It is also maxed out on computer memory at 2GB.

This computer is still her primary computer.  It has seen hard use over the last 3 years--it goes everywhere with Sherry and is often running while underway or in the car.  If we could buy 2 or 3 more of these I would.  It came with XP but is upgradable to Windows 7.

Problems we've had: 

- The battery is starting to run out a little bit.  We've just bought a new battery ( for about $30), but it's not as good as the original.
- The left-click button is intermittent.  We bought a small wireless mouse with a tiny USB interface.  With tap enabled on the mouse pad (which we don't like to enable because it causes inadvertent mouse movement), it is usable without the external mouse, except for click-and-drag operations.
- It *almost* doesn't have enough USB power to power some USB-powered external drives.  (Most drives work most of the time).  This is a very common problem with laptops.
- As Windows and other programs continues to expand, the 2GB memory limit is starting to be a problem.

Dave's Computer

Dave started out with a nice but aging Dell laptop.  His computer needs were small (especially with Sherry aboard), and the Dell served his needs.  But a year after Sherry got her netbook, Dave wanted one too.  We unfortunately could no long get the EXACT computer she had, so we got a similar computer... An ASUS Eee 1015 PEM.  This is basically a newer model of the same computer Sherry has, which came standard with Windows 7.  Unfortunately, the only major change is the 'runs 12v' part, which is less convenient on a boat and which requires that Dave and Sherry have different chargers.

It also is a workhorse... Dave takes much better care of his computer, and it is working fine.

Navigation Computer

The Navigation Computer is the oldest, slowest, least-capable computer on the boat.  As we have upgraded our personal computers, we've 'trickled down' our computers...sold off the old 'Navigation Computer' to some cruiser in some remote place who's computer has died, and installed the now-obsolete personal computer as the new Navigation Computer.

For details on our current Navigation Computer, a 10 year-old Dell D400 see Computer Navigation.

Note that all the other onboard computers are fully configured to 'hot swap' with the Navigation computer.  If it should die in mid-passage, we'd just commandeer another computer and hook it up to the hardware.  We have a text file on the desktop that has a short list of instructions for what's critical.

Movie Computer

We don't have a TV aboard, so we watch movies, and sometimes TV, on one of our onboard computers.  We probably wouldn't go out and buy a new Movie Computer (because we're not that into watching movies), but since we had one left over when we migrated from bigger laptops to our netbooks, we've kept it around for watching movies on.  It has a built-in DVD player, larger screen, more memory, and better sound capabilities than the netbooks.  It never leaves the boat, so we don't care if it's heavier and bigger, and it doesn't run that often so we don't care if it uses a little more power.

We now keep most of our movies as AVI files on the Movie Computer (and backed up to an external hard drive).  We use WinVLC as our primary movie player (much less issues with the variety of format files we try to watch than Windows Media Player).  And donation-ware.

We used Magic DVD Ripper to 'rip' our DVD collection and store it on our hard drive as avi files.  We now have a 1-Terabyte 'Movie Drive' (plus a backup) that holds all the movies--taking up 1/10th the space and 1/100th the weight as our collection of DVD's in a binder.

We also added a tiny USB TV Recevier to the mix.  It plugs in to the laptop via the USB port, and provides us with a TV receiver without having to have yet another piece of electronics aboard.  (Note, you need a pretty fast computer with a good display for this device to work well).

Like the rest of the computers onboard, we have this one pre-configured with the critical navigation programs, so we can use it in place of the Navigation computer if we need to.


My big question when thinking about buying a Kindle was "Kindle or iPad".  Someone I asked told me "both".  They were right.  We first bought the Kindle, and love it.  But the (original b/w) Kindle does a poor job of displaying PDF files, which we use a lot on the boat.  So we eventually bought a used iPad 1 for our PDF and magazine viewer.

Though we do quite often buy books on for the Kindle, we have also acquired in Cruiser-swaps, quite a pile of eBooks.  We use Calibre to manage our eBooks.  See more here.

We really like our Kindle Paperwhite for daytime reading.  NONE of the color readers read well in daylight.  It is smaller and lighter than any of the 'tablets' and also has a battery that will last for weeks (vs hours for the color readers).


I have a love-hate relationship with Apple/iPad.  I originally bought a used iPad from a family member who was upgrading, but I found Apple's store restrictive, and my iPad 1 was totally obsoleted with no upgrade path from Apple.  Many people use iPads for reading, video watching, and navigation.  I don't.

My current tablet is an ASUS Zenpad 3S 10"

We have the following apps installed that we use for weather and navigation:

OpenCPN - The navigation app
Ovitalmap - GoogleEarthy type satellite mapping app
Plan2Nav - Jeppesen Maps app for navigation
Navionics Asia & Africa HD
PocketGrib - Grib file requester/viewer
Windy - Weather viewer
PredictWind - Routing App
AnchorPro - Anchor Watch
GPSTest - Check accuracy of your internal GPS
SailGrib WR - Routing app
DGS Tides - Worldwide Tide Program