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Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Fabric Building - Mid Winter Report. How's It Holding Up?

RV Inside!
    Well, it's snowing here in the Northeast. Again. Not as much as in the past, but enough. A few months ago I completed assembling my fabric building to house my RV and helicopter. I was (and still am!) concerned about snow and ice loading on the roof. Since the company does not publish any snow load numbers, we are left to our own devices to figure out what is safe. So far, I haven't had any issues. However, since it was put together in the cold weather, it really never became taut enough. I believe that is why it's accumulating more snow and ice than it should. Hopefully, I can adjust it when the weather gets warmer. Will it hold up?

It's Snowing Outside Now!
When it snows, I have been going out when accumulation is around 3 inches and pushing the snow off from the inside. The distance between the roof supports is about 8 feet and you can see a a distinct bowing of the fabric between them when there is any snow or ice on the roof. It is pretty easy to take a pole broom and gently push up, first at the bottom by the walls then further toward the top, to get the snow sliding off the peaked roof. When it's icy like freezing rain or sleet, it does not slide off as easily. While doing this it became VERY obvious that the first two sections (front and back) were not tight enough compared with the center sections. I believe that is caused by putting it together in the cold. It didn't shrink any more after it was put together like it would have if assembled in hot weather and then exposed to the cold. Hopefully, I can tighten it up this spring or summer.

Beats This Method, Hands Down!
Regular rain has NOT been an issue at all. Even torrential, frog strangling rain has had little effect on the fabric or frame. However, I did find a pinhole where the cover was folded tightly in the box. I'll fix that with either a patch or some tool handle liquid rubber. Even though it will be an easy fix, there should NOT have been any holes in the cover at all. It is brand new from the factory after all. Other than that, it has been faring quite well. The zippers are easy to open, even in the coldest weather and close back down without undue strain. The frame has not shifted at all, so the tie-downs I "engineered" are working well. So far. We have experienced some pretty high wind loads recently and I did not reach OZ.

For the price, I am quite pleased, with the notable exceptions during assembly phases 1 and 2, and maybe 3 as well!,  a few parts issues and a terrible, out of date manual. If I purchased one now, I would do many things differently. It would have been MUCH easier if we hadn't attempted to follow the steps in the manual. Even IKEA is better and that's knowing that my Swedish is non-existent!

Be Seeing You...Down The Road,

Rich "The Wanderman"

Wednesday, February 6, 2019

3D Printers Are COOL! - Make Parts And Accessories For Your RV And More!

Cannot Wait Until Spring!
    I finally broke down and bought a 3D printer. They have come down in price so much over the last few years it was really hard to resist. For only a few hundred dollars I now have a device that can print in various materials (more on that later) in 3 Dimensions! Yes, it makes Stuff rather than text on a page. Truly amazing. There is a bit of a learning curve. Heck, figuring out which one to buy in the first place took over a month of research! Worth it! I have already printed new cabinet and drawer latches to replace broken ones. Some knobs for electronics, a keychain and a Phaser. Yes, the last one was just for me. Yes, they are a bit fiddly, but with a bit of trial and error (much less than usual for me) and a little bit of patience you can be printing whatever you like in short order.

Anycubic I3 Mega 3D Printer
I remember the Star Trek: The Next Generation "Replicator". You walk up to it, say something like, "Tea, Earl Grey, Hot" and VOILA! You have a coaster and a mug filled with hot tea in a flash. Way cool! 3D printers are NOT like that, but it's a start. How do they work? Well most of them heat up filaments of plastic and squeeze them out through a nozzle. This nozzle is able to move and be controlled in three dimensions by a small computer running a few stepper motors. As the nozzle moves, more plastic is fed in to create an object layer by layer. These layers are THIN! -- 0.1 mm (give or take). The smaller the layer the more detailed the object. Each layer adheres to the one below and on and on until the object is finished. It takes a LONG time. My 4" long Phaser took about 5 HOURS to print. But it was amazing to come back and check on it once in a while to see the progress.

A Couple Of 1KG Spools Of Filament
The plastic itself comes in many colors (or just buy white and paint whatever color you like.) The standard is PLA (Polylactic Acid) which is mostly made from renewable materials like corn starch. It's the default material for most printers and does not require a heated bed -- that's the part material is deposited on. It's pretty strong and light and is fine for most projects.It does not like to be over stressed and will break. Especially if used on small parts.

Next up is ABS (Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene). This is a VERY common plastic and has been in use for decades. It's strong, lightweight and can handle a decent amount of stress. My Attex 6 Wheeler's body is made from it. It is UV resistant and works well outside. You can make gears and machine parts from it. I've seen screws and nuts used in various applications. It is a bit harder to work with and your 3D printer settings are critical to get a good output.

Nylon is next up. Incredibly tough and resilient, it is difficult to get good results, but if you can get past the trial and error phase, the parts and/or objects are REALLY tough wearing.

The Star Trek Phaser One
There are MANY "exotic" materials as well. TPE is flexible like soft rubber. You can make lots of stuff with this. It's a bit hard to feed properly, but works OK in my printer. Add to that, Ceramic, Metal, Wood, Carbon Fiber, Magnetic, Glow in the Dark, and even Conductive! There are so many materials you can use, the limit to what you can make is up to your imagination. I started with replacement parts and "trinkets." I am graduating to full on design and prototyping of products!

So what's the process to make something? Well, you first install some free 3D design software on your computer (Mac or PC) and create an object file. If you do not or can not draw, there are quite a few places online that you can choose and download from THOUSANDS of free files to print. I was/am amazed at what is available. This file is opened in the free Slicer software. I know, weird name, but it's what it does. It takes the object and cuts it in very thin "slices" of data that are then fed to the printer. Either directly via USB or indirectly by saving it to an SD card that you then insert into the printer. Most of what I have printed was downloaded. The Slicer software allows you to rotate, scale and perform various tweaks to the printing parameters.

These 3D printers are not for impatient people. I am not the greatest at waiting, but it is so cool that I wait patiently while it prints out my next...thing! Who knows, I may figure out a way to bring it along (it's attached to my laptop) and print out stuff on the road as a new source of income...hmmm. Maybe!

Be Seeing You...Down The Road,

Rich "The Wanderman"

Wednesday, January 30, 2019

More Low Carb "Cheats" - How To NOT Feel Like You Are Missing Out!

    Lately, I have been writing some articles about low-carb cooking, recipes and products. My goal is to replace the high carb versions of what I miss with low carb versions that still taste the same. That's the real trick. So many low carb versions of things just don't taste the same as their counterparts. You end up feeling like you are missing out on something. That leads (for me at least) to a nagging train of thought that keeps me thinking about what I am missing and trying to rationalize just having a small amount. It's a slippery slope for me! Next thing I know, I'm eating ice cream and pretzels (delicious by the way) out of a tub while watching TV. Let's explore a substitute for something I used to always take on RV trips. The simple and tasty granola bar.

Image result for nature valley protein barsTake a look at the calorie and carb counts for an average granola bar. Believe me, I was as shocked as you when I realized just how energy dense these things are. I don't care, I like them. They happen to be good as a snack with coffee, or on the run when you just need something to nibble on. For the last couple of years I have been reading granola bar labels and hoping for one that would be "guilt free." It's been a long wait, but new products have been rolling out over the last few months that fit the bill perfectly! The first one I came across in the supermarket was Nature Valley protein bars. They come in some pretty great varieties; Salted Caramel Nut,  Honey Peanut Almond, Coconut Almond and Peanut, Almond & Dark Chocolate. They really taste amazing and the texture is spot on. These are mid way between crispy and chewy bars.. Just the way I like them!

Image result for great value protein barsIf you are minding carbs, these are pretty low, especially if you subtract the dietary fiber (I do) 14 grams - 5 dietary fiber = 9 Total Carbs! (6 grams Sugars) I am eating around 65 grams a day to maintain my weight. Remember that's an average by the week, so I don't go crazy counting everything all the time. So these are a pretty guiltless snack. Be aware they do have 190 Calories as well. The main issue is price. They are around $5.68 for 10 or $3.89 for 5 bars. Not terrible, but significant. That being said, Walmart's brand, that just came out, is as good or perhaps a bit tastier than the originals and they are only $1.92 for 5. Right now there are only two varieties available, but they are good! Same nutritional values. I keep a few in the car and sometimes even one in my pocket for an afternoon snack.

You can avoid temptation and get to eat stuff you like without feeling guilty! It is possible. I'm proof. I'll keep finding substitutes and moving forward. In follow-up articles I will be writing about guilt-less pancakes, cookies, cakes, biscuits and yes...even pasta! Ice cream too!! Stay Tuned!

Rich "The Wanderman"