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Wednesday, August 15, 2018

The Real Danger Of Rain and Tire Grip.

Rain, Rain, And More Rain
    It's been raining...a in the Northeast. Pretty much every week (or day!) we experience a downpour. I mean, if I was in Seattle...I'd understand, but I'm not. And this is supposed to be summer! Aside from keeping us inside our RV's (there's lots to do in there too!) it makes traveling a bit more dangerous than when it's dry outside. First, there is the obvious problem of visibility. That's reduced. But what about your tires' lack of traction or "grip" in the rain. Sure, tire technology has come a long way and tires do operate more safely in the wet. But it still pays to be careful. Probably the most dangerous thing is a condition knows as "Hydroplaning."

A Tire Hydroplaning
OK...what is it? Well Hydroplaning is defined as "to slide uncontrollably on the wet surface of a road." It happens when your tires have more water thrown at them than they can disperse and it builds up a sheet underneath, separating your tire's contact patch from the road. I'm reasonably sure all of us who drive have experienced this. One second you are driving along on a wet road and all is well, then the vehicle loses grip and you have no way to change direction or slow down. Sometimes it only occurs for a second, but under the right circumstances, it can go on long enough to cause a crash. It's especially dangerous in the first 10 minutes of a rainstorm as the water mixes with oil on the road and creates a slick surface. Is there anything you can do to prevent it?

Well, yes. Some of the things you can do are quite simple. First, SLOW DOWN! Most hydroplaning incidents happen at above 35 MPH. So, if it's practical, slow down. Next, make sure your tires are properly inflated and have plenty of tread depth to dissipate the water. Avoid driving where you can see long stretches of standing water on the road. Try and avoid quick changes in direction or hard braking in the wet. Most of these (if not all!) you should be doing anyway. The best defense against this dangerous situation is being mindful and aware of changing road conditions.

This is a serious topic. RVs are heavier than most cars and, because of the extra mass, are harder to slow down and control even in normal conditions. Add lack of traction and it could all end in disaster. Above all, be careful! When in doubt, find a safe place to pull off the road (NOT the shoulder!) and wait it out. You've got all the comforts of home....use them!

Be Seeing You...Down The Road,

Rich "The Wanderman"

Wednesday, August 8, 2018

Finally, A Low Cost Portable Espresso Machine That Works! - Coffee Time!

The Old Stand-by
    Making and drinking coffee is a topic that is near and dear to me and, I suspect, to many RVers. There's something about the aroma of freshly brewed coffee wafting through the RV in the morning that is somehow invigorating and familiar. I've covered many ways to make coffee in an RV (even k-cups without power!) and thought I had found some excellent methods. Well, I found another. A while ago I purchased an old fashioned double-boiler style espresso maker. It works quite well and fits nicely on my RV stovetop. That's really the only way it can be used easily. Well, what if you can't use the stovetop or are away from the RV and still want your "morning thunder"? Find and buy a portable espresso maker. Last time I looked, they were very expensive for a device I would only use occasionally. Well, that's changed!

Well Packaged
For only $11.00 (with a coupon) you can purchase a workable, portable, compact espresso maker! Like you probably are right now, I was VERY skeptical. Especially at that price point. Since it was Amazon and they allow for relatively easy returns, I figured....why not? It arrived a few days (2 to be exact) later and was packed in 2 sturdy boxes. Inside was the device, a coffee measure, a soft case and, for some reason, another set of rubber grip bands for the outside. It had black ones installed, but they give you a red set as idea why. I guess you can call it a bonus!

Complete Kit!
So, how do you use it? The bottom of the device is the cup. Remove it, unscrew and fill the coffee compartment and lightly tamp it down with the back of the measuring spoon. Remove the top, flip over and fill with boiling water. Insert the unit into the top, flip back over. Pump the handle slowly until coffee dispenses into the cup. Keep pumping until it's empty. About 8 pumps. It runs at about 8bar (8 Atmospheres) of pressure, plenty for decent espresso. Wow... the aroma was amazing! Clean up is simple. Dump the grinds. Rinse everything (wash with some soap to get all the oils out of the cup) and let dry. SIMPLE! Just the way I like it. Self-cleaning would be better, but that's just me.

All in all, this is a winner of a product. Inexpensive and it actually does what it is advertised to do. What more could you want? I know..someone to make it for you? I'm kidding....of course. I find making coffee relaxing. Once you have espresso, you can make any number of coffee drinks with it. Lattes, Cappuccinos, even use the espresso for recipes!

Be Seeing You...Down The Road,

Rich "The Wanderman"

Wednesday, August 1, 2018

Can You Watch Streaming TV Using A Mobile Hotspot??

    A few weeks ago, Amazon had a killer deal on the 2nd Generation Fire TV Stick. Only $19.99. Since I already have a couple and they work great on home-based WiFi, I figured I could get one to experiment with on the road. Would I be able to watch ANYTHING at all while connected to the internet via my cell phone's hot-spot? It would be way cool, especially if the satellite dish is blocked by some trees or something. For 20 bucks, I figured it was worth a try. Besides, I could always put a TV in the garage... you know? Here's what I found out.

Unlike traditional analog signals that we used to use a regular antenna to receive, digital ANYTHING is all or nothing. Either you have a usable signal or you don't. Over The Air (OTA) digital signals work that way. Sometimes I get lots of great channels, sometimes not a single one. WiFi streaming TV/video works a bit differently. More like a laptop or tablet on your home WiFi. The worse the signal (up to a point) the slower the transfer rates. When it gets low enough, you will get the dreaded "buffering" and your video will stop until the data "catches up."

My New Phone!
Mobile hot-spots and cell phones typically have a minimum of 3G service. Most are 4G or even faster 4G LTE. That's a lot of letters! Really all it means is that a good 4G signal can be very close to your home WiFi router and LTE even faster. 3G is OK, but will limit what you can do. So, does it work for streaming movies and TV shows through a streaming device? Yes. Well, sort of. When I have a good signal and am using LTE it works great! I can watch HD quality without a hiccup. At "only" 4G speeds HD works most of the time, but can stutter once in a while as signal (bars) go up and down. At 3G speeds HD is mostly unusable, but SD (Standard Definition) is fine. When I can't get a better signal, I can still watch older TV shows in SD and that's fine too.

Be aware that you will be using a lot of data! If you have an unlimited plan, it's not a big deal. However, if your phone/hot-spot plan limits your data to a set number, you can easily go over your allotment and begin getting charged for additional data. Video uses a large amount. HD Video, even more! Figure a Full HD movie will use up to 3 Gb per hour! Don't over-use if you have a limited plan. The overage cost can be enormous!

So, the bottom works! I plan on using my new streaming device to watch Netflix, Amazon Prime video and a few other online networks. Since I have a cable TV account I can watch networks and some pay channels for free, but that's another article!

Be Seeing You...Down The Road,

Rich "The Wanderman"

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

The Incredible Coffee Warmers!

Only ONE Way To make Coffee Aboard!
    I drink coffee. Sometimes a lot. Often I have a piping hot mug that I put down and forget about for a while. Usually too long. Then it gets cold...yuck. Unless I WANTED iced Coffee that is. Even then, that's NOT the right way to make it. So, what's a guy to do? Enter the internet and the handy dandy Amazon search tool. I did a quick search for keeping coffee mugs hot and came up with a winner! Simple and small, it allows you to keep your mug nice and hot no matter how long you procrastinate. Well, within reason that is.

USB Powered. Not JUST For Coffee
It's an incredibly simple device. You plug it in, turn it on and place your hot coffee on top. That's it. I bought three. The first one works with a standard USB (A) connection and draws about 1/2 Amp at 12 Volts (it's really using only 5 Volts, but the converter is built in). Now this one won't heat your coffee, or even keep it hot, but it will slow down the rate it gets cold (pretty significantly). The second one runs on 120V house current and draws 0.1636 amps, so 1.636 amps (or so) at 12 Volts (a tiny bit more with an inverter). I figure it at 2 Amps/hour consumption. Not that it ever takes me an hour to get through a mug of coffee! This one will keep coffee hot AND even reheat it....just watch the amp consumption while on battery power alone. Of course, you can use any of these for ANY beverage, not just coffee. Tea is OK too!

The last one runs on a 12V cigarette lighter plug and WILL reheat coffee from iced cold. It draws about 48 watts at 12 volts or about 4 amps. But it doesn't run continuously, just turns on and off to maintain your set temperature. The problem is, you have to use their mug. It's a pain to clean while keeping the electronics and control panel clean. This one is best for driving. You can keep it plugged in and the alternator will not have an issue with 4 amps extra, when needed. I like this one on long trips when I am flying solo.

The latest ones have a lithium ion battery and will hold temperature (allegedly) for two hours away from their charge base. I haven't tested it (yet) as they are around $79.95 - a bit steep for a mug, in my humble opinion. Perhaps I'll get around to testing it when the prices get into the $20.00 range. It's a cool gizmo, but not THAT cool!

I like hot coffee (iced too) but hate it when it goes cold in the middle of a mug. If you don't like that either, these solutions will help. I promise.

Be Seeing You...Down The Road,

Rich "The Wanderman"

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

The Amazing Beef Stick!

Midnight Snack Anyone?
    OK, so I know the title could mean a whole lot of things, but let's keep this above the neck, shall we? I'm speaking about those convenience store staples, the jerky-like so-called meat stick. There are many brands around these days, but the one I identify with the most is the Slim Jim. They've been around for a long time and I remember having them when I was much younger. I have tried a bunch of different brands (some even with cheese sticks along side), but always seem to gravitate back toward the Slim Jim variety. Perhaps it's just nostalgia. I mean, how could something like this be good for you? Well, it can't. But that's OK; every once in a while I like to live dangerously. Ever want to know what's in one? I did. And I was VERY surprised by what I found out.

Old Reliable!
First off, let's discuss the ingredients. There is meat in them, but what kind varies! No kidding. There are things like, something they call, "mechanically separated chicken." MMMmmm.. Well...maybe not MMMmmm, but tasty nonetheless. Normally I stick to regular beef jerky products, sometimes I even make my own. (That's a whole 'nother article!) But you can't beat the convenience and price of nostalgic old Slim Jims. Yes, I know that the sodium content in one small stick equals your entire daily allowance, but it's not like I eat these things at every meal...Maybe one in a long while. They even come in various flavors now. The Tabasco flavored ones are really quite tasty.

Variety Is The Spice Of Life!
Understand, I am in no way advocating these as a health food. Now that I read that last line I realize how silly it was to type. Of course, it's not a health food! Yes, it has low carbs, but that's about their only redeeming quality. Sometimes you just have to NOT care. I look at it this way: If you can have only a select few vices, they should be ones that aren't hurting anyone and don't do too much damage to yourself. I mean, some folks think COFFEE is a you well know, I am certainly NOT one of them! Coffee on the road is a pleasure for me and not a guilty one at that!

Every once in a while, do something that you like. Something that other folks think is "bad for you." If you like it...why not? Just remember to moderate. I believe your state of mind will improve. I know mine does!

Be Seeing You...Down The Road,

Rich "The Wanderman"

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

What Is It With All These "Special" Screws!

    Seems that every time I need to open up and repair anything bought within the last few years I need some kind of special tool. It's getting crazy. I have about 30 single purpose screwdriver tips that I had to buy just to be able to open the various devices. I remember when the, so called, security screws were there to prevent tampering with sensitive or dangerous innards. That I can understand, but replacing the AAA batteries on a flashlight shouldn't be all that dangerous! Luckily, I have found some inexpensive screwdriver bit sets that cover most of the security screws I have encountered so far.

I began by doing a quick search online for security bit sets. Oh my! There were a TON of them. The trick was having the largest choice in a variety of sizes to fit the most screws. There are few things more frustrating than having the correct type of screw bit in the wrong size! Believe me, it's happened to me so many times I have lost count. Amazing what a regular flat bladed screwdriver on a crazy angle will actually open. Of course, when it slips across the screw head and stabs you in the hand it isn't so great. I have the scars to prove it! So, back to security bit sets.

After narrowing the field down to a select few, I decided to order two of them and directly compare them in person. One was a set with 32 bits and a handle all in a plastic carry case with a clear lid so you can see what's inside. When opened and flipped over, the lid acts as a stand. It had mostly smaller sizes and also included tweezers. This one was decent for computer and small electronic device projects, but since there were no larger sizes it wouldn't be my first choice. It was only 7.99 on Amazon, so not a huge price to pay. It now lives in the computer room to use on hard drives and other computer hardware. It's a nice set, but without enough uses for me to use up the space onboard the RV. I have so little to spare...

The other set was from Harbor Freight, it was the 100 piece screwdriver bit set ( item#68457). This one had everything you would need for most jobs. I am SURE there are other security screws out there, but not that I have seen. It is packed in a sturdy plastic case and contained adapters to use the bits with both a power drill/driver or a standard sized screwdriver handle. That's the only hitch. Either you already have a hex drive handle (I had several) or you need to buy one that will work. I had one that I got with a Harbor Freight "free" coupon (Item #69470) that works perfectly. This kit is only 9.99 for 100 bits. A better deal in a much sturdier case.

At some point, you will find yourself up against one of the oddball security screws, wishing you had a way to easily remove it. This is the way!

Be Seeing You...Down The Road,

Rich "The Wanderman"

Wednesday, July 4, 2018

Labelling Everything - Is It Possible To Have Too Many? YES!

The Rarely Seen, Back Left View
    A while back I purchased a portable label printer to label all the connections and wires in my Solar Charging System installation. This type superseded the old Dymo style tape know the ones you turned a daisy wheel to a letter and then squeezed to "indent" a plastic tape (sticky on one side) with the text. Very 70's technology. Worked well, know me, I like newer, more multi-purpose gizmos. When I purchased this one I had all the best intentions of labeling everything..well not in a crazy way! But, rather each one of the transparent storage containers I use with an idea of what the contents would be. Never did get around to that! Recently, I needed to label an overhead panel in the helicopter I trailered home a few months ago and went to use my labeler. No dice, needed 8 more AA batteries AND a fresh cartridge of tape labels. There had to be a better way...and there was!

A Little Worse For Wear, But Still Functions Great!
So, the one I bought originally had a bunch of batteries and a small rubber keyboard with letters and symbols. It let me pick a couple of fonts and sizes. It used a roll of material in a cartridge that fed out an appropriate amount of label each time you hit PRINT. Squeeze the cutting lever and you had a label.Worked great too.  I've had it for years and years at this point. While researching the cost of labels and the sizes available, I found a great deal on a MUCH newer style with a rechargeable Li-ION battery pack and the ability to connect (via USB) to the computer for a only a few dollars more than a 3 pack of labels for the old machine! This one is a Dymo LabelManager 280. Seems like it was time for an upgrade! I am very glad I did. I am still going to use the labeler I have, but the new one is much easier to get customized labels out of.

Black on White AND White On Black!
I can print up to 1/2" wide labels in a multitude of colors. My old one could do a few different styles, but it was essentially black type on a few color backgrounds. Mainly I used white. The new one does all that too, but has lots of additional colors for both the text and the label itself. Best part? They have a cartridge that can do WHITE text on a BLACK background. Exactly what I needed for the helicopter's overhead panel. So rarely do things work out so perfectly. The included software with WYSIWYG (What You See Is What You Get) software made figuring out the spacing and sizes for the labels simple. AND each one was saved to a file, if I need to print them again.

With USB!
The new one still has a small built-in keyboard to create "on the fly" labels in various fonts and sizes, but I like the software! I got the opportunity to play "What if?" a whole bunch of times before having to print anything at all. Saved lots of label material. Another real benefit is the larger, multi-line LCD screen on the new one. Sure beats the single line one the old one had. Of course, now I HAVE to begin labeling all the storage bins...and maybe some other stuff too! This could easily get way out of hand. I'll have to control myself.

If the price wasn't so easy on the pocketbook, I probably would have stuck with the old ones and simply purchased some more batteries. But now, I get to have my cake and eat it too.

Be Seeing You...Down The Road,

Rich "The Wanderman"

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Why Is Paint Matching On RVs So Difficult!?!

Yup, All Mine!
    My RV was built in 1991. Yes, I know that's a long time ago. But still, I have the paint codes for the color that was used and it shouldn't be that difficult to match. In fact, it was a Toyota pickup truck color for several years! It's kind of an off-white/beige, so a close match isn't ever close enough. When I purchased the RV it had a bunch of miscellaneous items in the storage compartment, including one can of Duplicolor brand automotive spray paint for touching up where needed. So, now I find myself wanting to purchase some additional cans, just to have. Well, that has proved to be much more difficult to do than I ever thought possible. If you are "in the same boat" read on -- I might just save you a lot of time and frustrating effort!

Typical Automotive Touch-Up Paint
First, you have to be able to find out what the existing color is! Most times, it's a stock color from a large paint manufacturer. There are a few of these around: PPG, DuPont, US Paint and a few others. Sometimes you will have the paint code in your RV manual (rarely) or on a sticker someplace on the body or frame. Take a look in door jambs (especially the driver's side door, if you have one), under the dash, in the engine compartment...anyplace you've seen a plate or sticker pertaining to technical info for the RV itself. If that doesn't work (like in my case!) try calling your manufacturer, armed with the year, make, model and maybe even the exterior color name. This could also be part of an option package...don't get fooled!  They could have exactly what you need, or, like me, they could be out of business entirely. If your RV manufacturer is gone, sometimes its products and records are purchased by another manufacturer.....try that one, you may get lucky. If they are gone completely, try online forums. Often there are old postings that might have just the information you are looking for.

This Works!

What do you do if NONE of that works? Well, many body shops have high tech color matching equipment. It can get VERY close. Just be aware, if the paint is old and been in the sun, the original color and the current color may be a bit different. Have them make you a sample to put on an inconspicuous place (inside a storage compartment door?) and when it dries, you can make a decision about how close the match is. If it works for you, have them mix up a pint or quart to have on hand. There are various application methods that take liquid paint and allow you to spray it, even a special can that will allow you to add a bit of paint, then some compressed air, and use it like any other "rattle" can. Around $25.00. Very useful!

So, let's believe (never assume!) that you were able to find the paint code and need a can or two, what now? Easy, go to the search engine of your choice and enter the code. If it's still around, you'll find a way to order it. In my case, the Duplicolor #5708 wasn't available anywhere, so I had to find out the custom mix code from PPG Deltron (DBU 90157, 033 white). With a little perseverance, you can find anything! It may take a while, depending on the age of your RV, but it is possible to have paint on hand to touch up any unforeseen chips and scratches.

Be Seeing You...Down The Road,

Rich "The Wanderman"

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Security For Your RV - Is It Really Needed??

By Its Lonesome
    Like all of you, I REALLY like my RV. I've spent countless hours modifying it, adding personal touches and keeping it up and running. And, it too. I've heard horror stories about RVs being stolen from storage lots and even from people's driveways. Then there is all the stuff we bring along. You can read all about theft of property from RVs if you look online. Generators, property from basement storage, even full-on break-ins with many things taken from inside your RV. It's all possible. But how likely? Just like preventive maintenance, an ounce of prevention equals a pound of cure. Or more to the point, "Better to have it and NOT need it, than to NEED it and not have it." So, what to do?

Doors, Windows Locked, Vents Open
First off, is simply modifying your own behavior and that of your traveling companions/family. If you are leaving the RV unattended, LOCK IT! Seems simple enough, but lots of people leave storage compartments unlocked and even the main door! Yes, I know that the keys are often very common and easy to come by, but it's common or "opportunistic" theft we are looking at here. If you have a trailer without a built-in generator, get a chain or heavy cable and a strong lock to keep it attached to the chassis. Close the windows! You can always have a roof vent open for ventilation, but an open RV sliding window (not the "mail slot" type) is an invitation for bad things to happen.

Typical RV Alarm
I have seen burglar-type alarms for RVs that you can install, some wired, some wireless. All requiring some installation and battery power to operate. They range from ones that sound a loud noise to ones that will call 911 or your cell phone in an emergency. I guess, if you are parked at a campground or in a public place the noise will alert a passerby, but will they do anything? Maybe the loud noise is enough to dissuade someone from entering??? It could work, but most of the theft from RVs is "casual." "Oh open door, let's see what we can make off with!" Of course, parking in isolated or "bad" locations will likely increase your chances of a theft occurring. Be smart! Look around, see what's there, how much risk there could be. Then make an informed decision about whether to stay or move on.

Once you park and set up camp, be smart about leaving your RV unattended...LOCK UP! Even if it's only for a few minutes. If you have compartments that cannot lock, install locks! It's Easy!! You can also refurbish your main door locks if they aren't working well. Remember, we're mobile in our RVs..if a place looks bad....MOVE!

Be Seeing You... Down The Road,

Rich "The Wanderman"

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

To Plug Or Not To Plug, That Is The Question - Are Tire Plugs OK?

Only Four Tires!
    Because my RV only has 4 tires, I am very sensitive to all things tire related. Obviously, temperature and pressure are very important. As is the age of your tires. When you only have four, losing one can be pretty dangerous and lead to a possibly nasty accident. What I'm saying is, check your tires! If you've ever had a puncture in your tires and wondered whether it was OK to plug the puncture and continue using the tire, you are not alone. I was wondering that same thing. After a lot of research and after contacting several tire manufacturers for their opinions I have come to a conclusion for myself.

Check The Date Code!
When you get a puncture in the tread of your tire, it's usually a nail or screw that's found itself on the road somehow. I've seen long pieces of stiff wire (like from a coat hangar) also embedded in car/truck/RV tires. What are the rules for repairing an RV tire puncture? Well, the most important thing to remember is to NEVER, EVER try and repair a puncture to the sidewall. It isn't at all safe and will not hold for very long or at all. So, if you have a sidewall puncture, GET ANOTHER TIRE! Let's say that your puncture is limited to the tire tread. These you CAN fix, but there are specific guidelines on just HOW they get repaired.

The NHTSA (National Highway Traffic Safety Administration), a government agency, says you must remove the tire from the wheel, inspect the tire for problems internally, plug the hole and and patch the area around it on the inside of the tire. If the tire has been run any distance when flat, much damage can be done to the tire itself and it may not be safe to use, even if patched properly. The government isn't alone in this advice. Pretty much ALL the major manufacturers suggest following these guidelines. The ones that don't, suggest you buy a new tire. Hmm, I wonder why?

Most tire repair places won't dismount the tire and inspect, patch, and then plug. They'll simply plug the hole from the outside and fill with air. As far as I am concerned, that's too much of a risk. If you cannot see the damage inside, how do you know what's going on in there? That being said, I have NO problem plugging/patching a tire if it's done correctly. Especially if I JUST bought 4 new tires!

As with any decision involving risk, only you can determine what risk you are willing to undertake. How much is your life and/or property worth?? YMMV!

Be Seeing You...Down The Road,

Rich "The Wanderman"

Wednesday, June 6, 2018

Are You Getting The Best Gas Mileage You Can? - How To Find Out!

The Long Road Home
    I admit it, I am obsessed with getting the best mileage I can on my RV trips. With fuel prices going up (again!) this season, I want to eke out as much as I can from each and every gallon. Now that's not to say I'll be traveling in the slow lane at 50 MPH on the highway...I'm not THAT guy! But I will be dialing it back to an efficient cruise speed. When I first purchased my RV, 3 hours North of San Fransisco, and drove it back to New York heavily loaded, I averaged 14.2 miles per gallon over the entire trip. On shorter trips, especially in hilly terrain, I average between 10.5 and 12.5 MPG. I was pretty sure it could do better. The question was, "why wasn't I?" The answer was to gather more information about how my RV's engine is performing in real time. Here's how I did can too!

The $3000 Chrysler Tool
First off, my RV is an older model. It was built in 1991, so predates most of the OBD2 electronic engine management computing power that anything past 1996 would likely have. If you are lucky enough to have an regular OBD2 connector under your dash, figuring out what's going on under the hood will be MUCH simpler! There are any number of diagnostic tools that plug right in. In my case, it wasn't. While I do have a single board engine computer, it's rudimentary at best. I have a Chrysler V8 with Throttle Body Fuel injection (TBI) that's not so efficient and is sluggish to respond to changes ordered by the computer. That just means, when it calls for more (or less) fuel, it take a bit of time to happen. So there is a good chance I am running too rich at any given moment. That just means I am using up more fuel than I need to get down the road.

Bosch O2 Sensor
How do I prove that and perhaps make it better? Anyone who has a late model automobile these days has heard the dreaded words, your O2 sensor(s) need to be replaced. That usually means a few hundred dollars out of the travel budget. What the heck is an O2 sensor anyway? In the simplest system it just reads the amount of Oxygen left in the exhaust stream. You know, the stuff coming out of the tailpipe. If there is extra Oxygen then the combustion process wasn't complete. The goal is to put in just enough fuel for the amount of oxygen and have no oxygen or unburnt fuel left. There's a fancy scientific word for this, "stoichiometric." In modern cars, the computers vary the ratios of fuel and air to get as close as possible to perfect, therefore getting you the best gas mileage you can have.

The Kit!
Sometimes O2 sensors go bad and the computer has no idea what the right mixture is, so defaults to a very rich condition, lest your engine go very lean, overheat and burn up things inside. Very expensive things. So, all this explanation just to get to what I did to monitor my Air/Fuel ratio. In post-1996 vehicles, you can buy a plug-in dash display that will read out all sorts of information (in real time) about your engine performance and all the numbers from all the sensors it's looking at. That is way cool. My system is too simple (and old) for that. While I do have a diagnostic port, it's pre-OBD1 (not 2...but 1) that reads rudimentary data and figures out what to do based on hard coded data. Not the best, but better than a old school carburetor. Since I wanted to monitor the Air/Fuel mixture in real time, I purchased a Wideband Digital/Analog display gauge with an included Bosch O2 Sensor. It was around $157.00 shipped. It was a kit with all the wiring harnesses  and sensor included.

The Bung, Installed
I had to drill a hole in my exhaust and install a "bung" which is a weird term for a collar with threads inside so you can screw in the sensor. You could also use a clamp-on version, but I worried about exhaust leaks. Once done, I ran the wiring up front, zip tied it away from hot areas and spinning mechanical bits and connected the gauge. It was pretty easy. Only two wires to connect, 12 Volt power and Ground at the gauge. A snap to do under the dash. The sensor has a built in pre-heater that gets it ready to read your exhaust gases and it takes about 10 seconds to warm up. I started up the engine, let everything warm up and began watching the gauge. It will read from about 6.0 to 22.0 AFR (Air Fuel Ratio) you'll see different numbers at different engine loads. Lower numbers mean MORE Fuel and Higher numbers mean LESS Fuel. The goal is to stay as close to 14.6 which is complete combustion. This will likely never happen since performance will vary the amount of fuel all the time.

Colored Lights Around The Edge Too!
At idle, I was seeing 13.7 which is a bit rich, but about right for an idling engine with no load. A bit lower would be better, perhaps 13.5. Once in gear and moving forward slowly, I saw around 14.5, which is pretty close to perfect. Though there is some room for improvement. Once running at around 60 MPH, on a flat surface at top gear overdrive, I saw 14.8. That's OK, but we could lean it out a but, using less fuel and tune it to about 15.1 (just a little less fuel) to get better MPG. Depending upon your engine, it's cooling system and normal efficiency you may be able to go even leaner for best economy cruising, but I would get an exhaust gas temperature gauge and sensor to make sure I wasn't going too lean and burning a piston up. You would be sacrificing instant performance, but we're not drag racing!

When I am cruising steadily and gently press the accelerator, you can see the effect of more fuel introduced into the engine as the gauge will drop to 12-12.5 as the onboard computer senses the need for more fuel (or your carburetor simply adds it). Releasing the throttle back to steady cruise should get it back to where you were before. Wide open throttle, something I don't usually do, will run extremely rich, around 11.5 for best torque. Great for hills, not so great for mileage! Gathering data to be able to modify the mixture for your terrain and driving style would be invaluable. Bear in mind, it's not always possible to change the value in your computer or adjust your fuel system at all. Proper maintenance goes a long way towards efficient running.

My Engine Bay
So, now that we have all this information, what can we do with it? The simplest use is to modify your right foot behavior to keep the AFR at the most economical number you can. In my case, I started looking for issues with my fuel system and found a bunch of small air/vacuum leaks that were confusing my computer into thinking I was leaner than I actually was. It was dumping more fuel in to compensate and that wasn't doing my mileage any favors. Easily fixed. There are many fuel injection systems that can be modified. Some by simply adjusting some screws (potentiometers or physical) and some you will need to purchase or program a chip to modify how the computer thinks. That's a completely different story!

So, how did I do? On the surface, it appears that I have made my engine a bit more efficient. I'll have to wait until my next longer trip to see if that's true. It didn't take too long to add the AFR gauge and sensor and it will give you more information to work with. If it gets my mileage's worth it!

Be Seeing You...Down the Road,

Rich "The Wanderman"

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Even The Simple Things - Bowls For Everything

    Last week I was on a short trip in my RV and had stopped for the night. As I usually do, I prepared a meal. Since I was by myself, the quantities were going to be smaller. Then it occurred to me...I really don't have enough bowls to cook with at all. For example, I have a cool collapsible salad spinner that does multiple duty as a colander and a large cooking/serving bowl. But it's Big...too big for one person. I realized that I don't have any other bowls, aside from tableware and plastic/paper disposables, to use for cooking or serving....especially for one person. Hmmm, what to do?

Simple, find some durable nesting bowls that take up very little space and can be used for a lot of things. A tall order, that! Well, after perusing the aisles at various shops -- you know, my typical haunts, Walmart, Outlet stores, freight liquidators and the like -- I found the perfect bowl! In fact it was sold as a set of three! With snap-on lids! Score! They were $1.99 at K-mart of all places. I thought those were gone, but no, a few still exist. Way cool! The lids actually have a small gripper with a notch to attach them to the bowl edge when not in use. I just stack them all up with all three lids on top and I'm good to go.

They are a bit small. Perfect for single servings or multi-ingredient recipe prep. I'm also going to use them to make my "Mock Mousse." Should be great! They will also be great for storing leftovers from larger meals. The lids fit VERY tightly and will likely survive a fall or flip in the RV fridge if the road conditions get nasty. They are a simple aluminum alloy construction so should last a very long time. I wouldn't put them in the dish washer (dish washer detergent for machines can do horrible things to aluminum). Not that I HAVE a dish washer on board. Well I do, but his name's Rich!

These bowls are the very definition of a Simple Thing. Try a few -- at this price they are usable for all sorts of things in addition to cooking. How about nut and bolt storage? Or sorting various bits....hobbies maybe? Anyway, they are quite useful and have earned a spot on board my RV.

Be Seeing You...Down The Road,

Rich "The Wanderman"

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Portable Hot Sauce - Variety Is The Spice Of Life

Compact Kitchen
    Sometimes, when cooking, I like to spice things up a bit. There are any number of hot sauces available, probably in the hundreds of thousands at this point. Obviously, we can't carry them all. My basic rule regarding hot sauce and spicy food is this: "If I can't taste the underlying flavors, only the heat...that's too much!" That being said, a bit of heat, mixed with some extra flavor, is a welcome change to daily favorites. I love to add a few drops of Chipotle flavored Tabasco sauce to my morning eggs. Delicious. Adding regular Tabasco to other dishes makes them into something else...easily and with no real effort. Of course, you can use Sriracha as well...different flavor profile, but just as delicious. I am sure you all have your favorites too. I know I am leaving a lot of them out...ones I like too...but you have to be selective when you have very little storage space. Here's how I keep a variety around.

Cute, Right?
Small Bottles...REALLY small bottles. Enough for a recipe or two. I keep finding assortment packs of hot sauces that include a few different recipes in the various close-out shops I haunt. A few days ago I found a Tabasco"sampler" pack. While not the smallest bottles I have seen (those were in Military MRE's back in the day), they are just the right size for a dash of flavor in your RV recipes. This one included, Original, Chipotle and Jalapeno (though not "on-a-stick," for all you Jeff Dunham fans!) All in a cute little box. How much? A single buck. 1 Dollar for about 6 (OK maybe 9) meal additions. I couldn't resist. So, I bough a few of them to have "reloads."

Now, if you, like me, enjoy the odd squirt of Sriracha to liven up a meal...amazing with Asian inspired dishes!... you'll love the handy tiny sizes that are available. You can even get two different keychain with carabiner styles as empties that you fill yourself. Perfect for on-board use. You could even use it as a keychain, but I'd hate to have it open in my pocket! Ouch!  Believe wouldn't let that happen again....ever! Here's an awesome tip...add Sriracha to Ramen noodles and some leftover vegetables. WOW! Quite warming and fantastic on a rainy (or snowy) day. It's also great with leftover chicken and fresh spinach. Just stir some in when you heat it up in a skillet. Whenever I have leftover stir fry, I'll make an omelette the following morning. A couple of shakes of this stuff will definitely wake you up in the AM.

If you like your food crazy hot, these tiny versions aren't for you. Unless you can find a Ghost pepper extract that comes in the eyedropper bottle. No joke! It's insanely hot...could damage mucous membranes hot. If you're into that kind of thing. Personally, I like less actual pain with my meals!

Be Seeing You...Down The Road,

Rich "The Wanderman"

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Even The Simple Things - Removing Labels, Gunk, And Stuff

Crazy, Huh?
    How often have you purchased something only to notice a bunch of adhesive labels all over it? Usually on the bottom. Ever try to scrape one off with a finger nail and end up with little bits of label and a bunch of excess glue still on your shiny new item? This kind of thing happens to me all the time. Getting the glue off is usually pretty easy. Some kind of citrus based cleaner will do the trick, but what about getting the label off in the first place. Wouldn't it be easier if you had a small tool that would get underneath it and remove it quickly and easily in the first place? What about cooked-on gunk in a Teflon-coated pan? You know, as soon as you get a scratch on one it's useless to cook in. No metal tools, ever! Well, after a long time using my nails, I can honestly say I found a better way to do it that won't scratch the finish on anything (within reason!).

Simple AND Handy!
It's one of those crazy simple ideas that I wish I'd thought of (and marketed!) myself. But I didn't. Ah well, at least I can share the knowledge and save some of you some time and aggravation. A week ago I was in a Bed, Bath and Beyond. No, I'm not a regular there...just visiting! While wandering around I noticed a bunch of little kitchen tools in baskets. One drew my eye. It was/is called a "Thumb Scraper." Just a soft silicone covered handle with a depression for your...well...umm..thumb! And a thin, stiff plastic scraper end. It seemed way too simple (and cheap at 1.99) to work. So I bought a clearance aisle glass with a bunch of labels on the bottom and removed them...quickly! I was sold.

When I got it back home I made myself a, purposefully, cheesy and messy omelette in a regular Teflon pan. Made sure the cheese was nice and stuck to the bottom. Pulled out the scraper and, voila!, all the mess was scraped off with no damage to the pan at all. Double win!

This thing is pretty tough, looks like it could be used to pry apart small electronics as well. Like a cell phone's case. I'll be trying it on a few more things. Who knows how many uses I'll be able to come up with.  Drop me a line... let me know if you come up with any nifty uses! Hey, how about decal removal...or maybe just the small leftover pieces?

I love inexpensive items that solve multiple problems and take up very little storage space. Seems like they are tailor made for our RVs. If it speeds cleanup...double win!

Be Seeing You...Down The Road,

Rich "The Wanderman"

Wednesday, May 9, 2018

Check Your AC Outlets! - Right Voltage? Polarity? Ground? - It's Easy!

    When I have access to 120 Volt AC power, whether by using my generator or connecting a shore power cable, I ALWAYS make sure the power I am receiving/using is up to snuff. Does it have the correct Voltage? The correct Polarity? Is it Grounded? In extreme cases, improper wiring at a campground or other power source could fry your electrical system and lots of expensive components. It's easy to check before you connect so....why risk it?If you think it's a P.I.T.A. (Sound it out...Pain In The A...) then these two inexpensive simple devices will make it easy!

First off is a $4.75 Polarity and ground checker. These come in all shapes, sizes and colors. Mine is Yellow, don't you know. They have three lights on them and a small diagram telling you what those lights mean. Typically, you get the two right most ones lit and instantly know the receptacle is wired correctly. It's really easy to use. Just plug it in to the outlet and look at the lights that illuminate. For me, ANYTHING that isn't "CORRECT" won't be receiving my shore power plug any time soon. Some incorrectly wired receptacles are worse than others. It really never pays to gamble with your expensive electrical system. A few seconds of testing could save you a whole lot of grief and money.

Once the wiring has been checked and is OK to use. I test the actual electricity coming out of the socket. Namely, the Voltage and the Frequency. Everyone knows about what the correct voltage is. It should be around 120V, sometimes as high as 124V or as low as 110V. Anything above or below those numbers could very likely damage things plugged in and operating. Frequency is a bit more complicated. In the United States we use 60Hz power. Not to get overly technical, that just means that the power oscillates back and forth (Alternates) from the power station to you. 60Hz just means 60 times per second. Some of the rest of the world uses 50Hz. Most modern power supplies can use either. If it's WAY off you shouldn't use it. This can be an issue with your generator as its speed will directly affect the voltage and frequency. I use a Kill-A-Watt meter to check both. As a bonus, it will tell you how much power (amps) your device  (that's plugged into it) is drawing among other features. At about $20.00, it's well worth it!

Again, a tiny bit of work before you plug in, can save you a world of hurt. I'm all about enjoying my RV and each and every minute of each and every trip. If I can prevent something from going wrong, I'm way ahead. Every moment I get to travel is precious to me. What's that worth in dollars?? Priceless!!!

Be Seeing You...Down The Road,

Rich "The Wanderman"