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Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Emergency Roadside Repair! - Part 1

After The First Repair, Before The Second
    As many of you know, I am traveling down to Florida from New York this week with my helicopter in tow. Unfortunately, this trip hasn't been going all that well, mechanically speaking. After getting everything ready and then starting out late we got about 1.5 hours down the road and into the State park lands in Pennsylvania and the rubber hose on my engine water pump ruptured. This was quite a surprise. First the huge vapor cloud that obscured my rearward vision, and the fact it happened at all. You see, I had just had someone replace the pump and I had told them to replace the bypass hose as well. Obviously, they didn't and I didn't check their work. Sad that I would have to...but there it is.

The Offending Hose!
Once stopped on a stretch of I84 at the crest of a hill with my lights/emergency flashers on, I attempted to diagnose the problem. I looked underneath the engine and was dismayed at the large quantity of coolant everywhere. Especially under the BRAND NEW water pump. Of course, the first thing that came to mind was it wasn't sealed properly and had failed. Back up inside the RV I removed the engine doghouse/cover and got a huge cloud of coolant vapor all throughout the RV. Great, I remember how difficult that stuff is to clean off windows. *SIGH* Anyway, as the engine cooled down, I was able to figure out that the underside of the water pump bypass hose at the 90 degree bend had ruptured and sprayed piping hot fluid all over the engine and underside of the cover. What a mess. Usually, I have a spare for every hose. Not this time. Of course, Murphy is the eternal optimist.

The Bypass Hose
After calling the PA State Troopers to apprise them of the situation, they assured me that they could get help to call me in the next few minutes. They did. Outstanding job guys!! A mobile tow/repair person called me straightaway and I explained the problem, he showed up within 20 minutes with an assortment of hoses and extra coolant. Of course, the ONLY one we needed for the fix, he didn't have. He then proceeded to REPAIR the existing hose to get me off the road and to a lot by his repair facility. A new part would be ordered and at his facility by 8:30AM. It got there at 8AM! He was incredibly professional and had an exceptionally friendly demeanor. I was back on the road by 9:30 AM with a freshly bled coolant system and a new friend.

I've been saying (and writing) for MANY years about the importance of carrying spare parts and enough tools to work with them while traveling. Dark and desolate roads with no cell service will leave you to fend for it was in the "olden days" of motor travel. It's a good idea to be prepared. Better to "Have it and not need it, than need it and not have it." Don't suffer "tripus interruptus" like I just did. All over a small $1.45 (plus shipping) part.

Be Seeing You...Down The Road,

Rich "The Wanderman"

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Bulb Check! - Sometimes They Are Out And You Don't Even Know.

Nice Tail!
    I only had one tail light working. I don't know when it stopped working, but since we have yearly DMV inspections and mine is due by the end of October, it could have been almost a year! Yup..never noticed. That's bad. I know I should check all my lights (and oil/fluids/air) before each trip, but sometimes I only do SOME of those items. I know...I'm bad. From now on, I will be fully checking my rig before I move out. It's a smart thing to do. Well, what about changing light bulbs in RV lights? Sometimes it's really easy. Sometime it's not. My tail lights between. Here's what to do.

Big Chunk Of The Tail
Take a look at your tail lights. Are they separate lenses, one big lens, are there screws holding lenses on to a separate assembly? None of the above? Well, the first thing to do is gain access to the bulb itself. In my case, it was a bit more complicated. I had to remove the entire tail light assembly from the back of the RV, lens, reflector, everything! They are about 2 feet long, with 4 sections of wire harness coming out, so that was awkward. Thankfully, they aren't all that heavy. Once removed, I could see a bunch of sockets on the back that push in and twist to remove. As long as you line up the curved slots properly. Mine have 2 smaller curved pieces and one larger one, so they will only come out when everything is lined up. Even then it required a bit of...finesse.

I should have found a small table or something to lay the lights on after they were removed so I didn't have to keep holding them up. Ah well, next time. I managed to get all the light bulb holders and bulbs out of the fixture. HINT: Remember which bulb socket goes in which hole! (Don't ask.) It was pretty obvious which one wasn't working. The bulb was broken. And sharp. (Again, Don't ask.) After the bleeding stopped, I found another 1157 type bulb and replaced it. Didn't work! Hmmm...Upon closer inspection, the bent metal strip that makes contact with the metal ground of the bulb was broken off. I soldered on a small piece of wire to make contact and it was fine. I SHOULD have replaced the socket, but my tail lights are sourced from a 1989 Mercury Sable (mounted upside down!) So I would have to research a bit to even find out what socket it was! The fix should hold for a while. At least until I get back from my long trip next week. Of course, I will be checking operation each time I stop. Well, maybe not EACH time, but more frequently for sure!

With everything working, I put all the light sockets back in the lens/reflector housing and gently put it back on the RV. All done. Mostly. After putting the acorn nuts back on the assembly, I noticed one side was dimmer than the other! Huh?!? took it back off and looked at the terminal. No difference at all, voltage wise. After fiddling a while it turned out to be a bad/loose ground coming out of the trailer hitch wiring! That was a couple of hours of hunting... So I fixed the ground and (since the tail lights were back off, I replaced all the bulbs with LED versions. MUCH brighter now and less Amp draw to boot.

All in all...pretty easy. You can bet I will be checking my lights/signal before EVERY trip! Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice...shame on me!

Be Seeing You...Down The Road,

Rich "The Wanderman"

Wednesday, October 3, 2018

Electric/Induction Stove Tops - Better Than Propane?

Typical Propane Burner
    Recently, I had to replace the 240 Volt AC electric stove top in my house. The glass surface had cracked at some point and the crack had finally expanded across the whole face of the stove top. Ah did last 25 years, so I got my money's worth. While removing and replacing it with a newer model (still with a glass top) I noticed it could run on either 120 or 240V. Of course, at the lower voltage it wouldn't heat as fast, but would work. What about using these in an RV (without a glass surface obviously!) -- is that possible or even desirable? Or do you prefer a propane gas model?

Vintage Stove Elements
In the old days, electric stove tops were pretty simple, a coil of heavy  gauge metal that heated up when you passed electric current through it. You adjusted the temperature by changing the amount of electricity going through the coil. Later on, they began mounting the coils below a glass top so the surface was smooth and uninterrupted. Later still, you were given a choice of traditional knobs or touch controls. All this is great and works well. But what about in an RV setting? First of all, these type of stove tops use a lot of power. Usually between 1000 and 3000 watts of power! That isn't feasible in an RV unless you are going to run a decent sized generator or always connect to shore power. That, in and of itself, would put the kibosh on electric stove tops for RV use. But wait! There is another type that may be worth a look.

My Small Induction Cooktop
Induction cook tops are VERY efficient: 84% energy transfer versus, best case, 74% for traditional electric cook tops. The efficiency translates to faster cooking times which reduce the overall energy use. A 2000 watt electric stove element uses about 320 watt-hours to boil 2 quarts of water in about 10 minutes.  A 2800 watt induction unit boils 2 quarts in about 5 minutes, using 225 watt-hours. If you reduce the power level to 1300 watts it just about doubles the time back to 10 minutes, so it is a bit more efficient. Compare this to a propane burner. It will do the same job in 8 minutes or so and requires about twice the power overall. Of course, you need to convert from BTU's to watt-hours since it's gas.

My Newly Installed Glass Cook Top
For me, the replacement would be useless. I rarely have that much power to spare while boondocking and propane stoves require no electricity. I already have a large, frame mounted propane tank on board so I'm good. It is way cool to watch an induction cook top boil water quickly even if you need a ferrous or magnetic bottom on the pot to get the ideal energy transfer. It's also really neat from a technology aspect. That's why I have a portable one. I like to cook in my RV, from simple recipes to complex meals. Breakfast is always a favorite! You can't beat the almost infinite temperature control of a gas valve. You can get close with induction.... Still, not ready for prime time on board my RV. 

As always....YMMV!

Be Seeing You...Down The Road,

Rich "The Wanderman"

Wednesday, September 26, 2018

The Sticky Stuff - Tape And Its Myriad Of Uses

Close To The End Of The Season...Sad!
    Duck Tape. Yes, "DUCK" not "Duct." In the ancient history of war, a company came up with an adhesive-backed cloth strip that was watertight, mainly used to seal ammo cases during WWII. The cotton cloth was known as cotton "duck." Much later on HVAC workers used this stuff to seal the joints in air ducting to prevent leakages. Hence the DUCT name. Worked pretty well and the name stuck. For years I had been gently correcting folks who called it DUCK tape. Not any more! Over the years this stuff has become one of the most useful and versatile things on the planet. If you search around, you'll find some fascinating jobs it's been used on. I've even seen Clothing made of the stuff that doesn't look half bad. I always keep a few different types around the RV...comes in handy...a lot!

For any aspiring MacGyvers out there, the ability to fix something on the fly is a time-honored tradition. This tape makes many of those spontaneous repairs possible. Got a sliding window that won't stay closed, a strip of tape along the top and bottom will hold it until you can buy a new latch. Have a piece of fiberglass or plastic that's falling off your RV body? Tape it! Have a crack in a skylight or vent cover and rain is coming in? Tape it! Of course there are places that it will not work. If it doesn't stick to the surface, it's not going to do you any good. For everything else you can imagine, I'll wager it will.

There Are Lots More Colors Available!
There are MANY brands of this stuff available. Some are very basic and can be used to make quick, temporary repairs. Some are much more robust, 100 in./lbs. of adhesive (or more) and almost impossible to tear. I've seen that stuff used to repair airplane wings and fuselages! Some may remember the nickname "100 mile-an-hour" tape. It was. Maybe even faster! There was a TV show named "Mythbusters" that really liked duck tape. There were several episodes about it. They even built a working sailboat that they sailed in open water. Well, in the San Francisco Bay anyway. Pretty impressive, if you ask me. Not impressive enough? How about a working Black Powder Cannon. Yes, I said CANNON! It launched full-sized bowling balls 700+ yards! Wow! Now that's amazing. Not that I would ever NEED a duck tape cannon, but it's still pretty amazing for a simple piece of tape.

I always keep several rolls of various strength on-board the RV. You never know when you might need some.

Be Seeing You...Down The Road,

Rich "The Wanderman"

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Pests Be Gone! Electronic Repellers -- Do They Work?

Safely Stored
    Just because I don't really enjoy cleaning at all, doesn't mean I have a dirty RV. I've figured out how to minimize cleaning time by doing a bit at a time. Small bites, you know! So I was dismayed to discover I had a critter sharing the tiny space that is my RV, with me. Quite a shock to see it peek out in the passenger foot well while driving. I had just two questions. How did it get in and how can I get rid of!

Hunting the rodent down inside the RV and killing it was really not an option. They are tough to find and it seemed a bit overly violent to me. Besides, I'd have to clean up the mess. Far easier to make the space less comfortable for it and "persuade" it to move out. I had heard about Ultrasonic pest repellers, but was (and still am) skeptical about their effectiveness. When a coupon code arrived in my email inbox making the cost of one of them only $9, I figured, "Why not?" So I ordered it.

The Generic Box
When it arrived, it was obviously from a non-English speaking country as all the labeling was, essentially, indecipherable English sentences. How about this one; "The upgraded reinforced type repeller applies the physical principle to repel rats, bats, mosquitoes, flies and cockroaches." Ummm, I sort of get what they are writing about, but since there were no instructions inside the box, it was difficult to figure out how to actually USE the device. It has a single button that, when held for a couple of seconds, turns the device on. Subsequent clicks change modes(?)...maybe. There are all sorts of lights that flash or burn steady when various numbers of clicks are tried. I have no idea what they actually do. I can barely hear differences in the sound it emits if I get VERY close to the speaker. There are only two different sounds, so I figure the lights are only for show. I finally figured out that the two sounds were, CF or Constant Frequency, good for Rodents and other small mammals, and VF or Variable Frequency for Insects.

Note The Speaker Grill
Now be aware this device only works on 120V house power. For me, that's OK, since when I store my RV near the house I always leave it plugged into shore power. Besides, that's where it picks up hitchhiking critters in the first place. Likely, from the shore power cord opening. I recently put some steel wool around the slender opening. Hopefully that will help as well. Keeping them out in the first place. There are several versions available that run on 12 Volts as well, so can be installed and hard wired into your RV to work even when 120V isn't available. They are far more expensive, and I don't like using anything that is powered on all the time. Conservation is a good thing when boondocking!

Doing Its Thing
So, does it work? In a word, maybe. Scientifically, it has been proven that mice and other small mammals can get used to any sound over a long period of time. So for ongoing pest control, probably not going to work. To get rid of a single critter or a few...maybe. Just make sure you find the point of entry and plug it up so you don't get them back. I will be testing this gizmo over the next few weeks and update this article accordingly. My expectations are low, so if anything happens at all I will be a bit surprised. Even if it doesn't make them run screaming from the RV, at least the light show can be entertaining.

I've got my fingers crossed!

Be Seeing You...Down The Road,

Rich "The Wanderman"

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

The Importance Of Backing Up - Your Computer!

    I just avoided a catastrophe....barely. I had an old laptop that had a bunch of documents and software on it that need an older version of Windows. I keep it around to program radios and other older devices I still use. A few days ago, I needed to add a channel to a few radios and when I booted up the laptop it warned me that the hard drive was going to fail...soon. I'd never seen that exact message, so I thought backing up would be a prudent thing to do. Boy, was I ever right! Sometimes the universe smiles upon us and the stars align to avoid a major hassle. This was one of those times. I am most grateful!

Since it is an older laptop and I don't have many applications on it, there was only about 43 gigabytes of data on its small internal drive. So I attached an external 500 megabyte USB drive I had around and went to do a backup. This laptop gets some additional attention since it is required to program some devices that won't work with later versions of Windows and REALLY want a regular old-fashioned serial port. Not one of those Serial to USB adapters. The built-in backup tool from Windows XP is awful. I needed something a bit more robust that would allow me to restore the entire drive when the old one finally fails. That's where this adventure begins.

Typical Backup Screen.
Picking the right backup tool is critical. A quick search online for "Free Windows XP (or whatever version you have) backup" will garner MANY results. I narrowed it down to two of them. EaseUS Todo and Macrium Reflect. After researching both the back up AND the restore processes I chose EasUS Todo. Why? Well, because when I really need to get back up and running after a catastrophic failure, I don't want to have any additional stress. It's bad enough to have the hard drive fail. It's another thing to have the restore process cause extra problems. It should go smoothly with the least amount of pain possible.

Now on to the backup process. With EaseUS it was mostly point and click. Download and install the program. Start it up, choose a drive to backup and a destination for the data. Click start. That's it. It will take a while to finish. A lot longer if you have a very large hard drive to backup. I suggest you make an emergency disk or Flash drive in case you need to restore in a...well...emergency! Coincidentally, the following day when I went to boot the laptop to finish the radio reprogramming it wouldn't boot! I had a spare 512gb 2.5" laptop drive so I pulled the failed one and installed the new one. Booted from the emergency disk and restored.

Bingo, I was back up and running in about an hour, with additional hard drive storage space as a bonus. I can't tell you how nice that was. I mean, it's always a hassle when a hard drive fails, but when you plan for it...not so bad. Of course I didn't lose ANY data because I had JUST backed up... but depending upon how often you make a backup, you may lose something. Believe me, it will be better to have the majority of your programs and data available for the restore than none at all!

Be Seeing You...Down The Road,

Rich "The Wanderman"

Wednesday, September 5, 2018

Even The Simple Things - Cell Phone Tempered Glass Screen Protectors

Comfy, Huh?
     I have a "smart" cell phone. It has a large-ish screen that gets dirty all the time AND is prone to scratches in day-to-day use. For a long time, on previous phones, I was using the plastic stick-on screen protectors. They were ALWAYS difficult to put on without lots of bubbles underneath and I wasn't all that thrilled with what they did to the screen clarity and brightness. Of course, back then, there were very few choices for a substitute. Lately, Tempered Glass Screen Protectors have become commonplace. They are VERY thin slices of glass with glue around a very tiny portion of the edge and a bit wider at the bottom where you don't have your screen "real estate." I was convinced they were fragile and wouldn't last a day. I was wrong, very wrong.

My Essential PH-1
When a few brands went on sale for my new Essential PH-1 phone (about $8.00 for 3) I jumped at the chance to test them out. With low expectations, mind you. When they arrived, the first thing I noticed was the completeness of the installation kit. You got the glass itself, covered by two plastic protectors of its own: one on the outside and one on the side that would eventually attach to the phone. It had a screen cleaner wipe for each protector and a microfiber cloth for cleaning. The directions...well, you know...they were not really written by someone who speaks English as their native language. But, I got the gist. The pictures helped a great deal. The microscopic print did not!

The Complete Kit
Installation wasn't all that tough -- MUCH easier than a traditional screen protector. First you clean the screen with the included wipe. Then remove the back plastic protector from the glass (the side that actually sticks to the phone). Then carefully place it over your screen, being careful to line up the edges all the way around. In my case, the soft cover I had has a lip the goes all the way around the phone to keep the screen off any surface when it's face down. This oriented the glass sheet perfectly for me. Once in place, take the soft cloth and push down the protector from the bottom to the top in long gentle passes to make sure no air is trapped that could hold the cover away from your phone. Then simply remove the top plastic cover and you are done.

Another Phone Picture
It's a good thing I have had this in place as I already see some scratches on its surface. I can always replace the protector for little money...the phone's screen, not so much! Is it all hearts and flowers? No. In my case, after about 10 months of use, the adhesive is beginning to weaken, sometimes the protector drops off or slips. Pressing it back in place is a quick temporary fix, but it's getting worse. I understand that the glue has to be strong enough to hold in place, but easy enough to remove that it will not damage the phone....but it's still a pain. I figure once a year I will replace the protector with a new one. For those of you keeping track, that's $2.66 a year.
Not so bad!

Be Seeing You...Down The Road,

Rich "The Wanderman"

Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Time For New Solar Panels! - Even More Efficient And New Material!

    Yup, I went and did it. Couldn't leave well enough alone. I located some new, more efficient solar panels with a new technology twist that are even smaller than the last set! At $192 each with 6 year warranty from Amazon, how could I resist. Of course actually getting the old ones off and new ones installed wasn't fun at all. The concept of semi-flexible panels adhered to the roof and matching the contours is great! Putting them on isn't really hard at all. Getting them OFF, I wasn't easy nor pleasant, but I got the new ones installed. Wow!! 

The old set (my Third!) was advertised as 100W panels. I had six of them giving me 600 watts of power. They were, in truth, a little bit better than 100 Watts...maybe 110 watts each, so I had plenty of power. The install on those required trimming the edges to fit in the small spaces I had available on my roof. The new ones required ZERO trimming as they were about 2 inches smaller in width and length. Have you heard the old joke about the successful electronics manufacturing company? They moved into a smaller space! Well this is a perfect illustration of that.

Aside from the size, the new twist is a material named ETFE (Ethylene-Tetra-Fluoro-Ethylene.) It is much more durable and resistant to UV light than the old panels. Their top layer was made from PET (Polyethylene terephalate.) That's what they make water bottles from. ETFE is harder, stronger and allows for a bit more light transmission. All good, but the real trick was the addition of a surface texture to the panels. It's designed to act as mini-lenses to focus more photons (light) onto the electricity generating portions of the cells.

Sounds good in theory. Since they are not smooth any longer, cleaning debris and dust may be more difficult. A paper towel will just shred itself if used on the surface. However, the instructions do say that you can rinse them with a hose...I'd be wary of too much pressure though. Just paranoid I guess.  I am sure there is a cleaning/dusting device that will work. I have a bunch of micro-dusters I'll try, but I believe I'll need something with a bit of force. Perhaps a lightweight paintbrush with soft bristles. One I can get wet... I'll try a few different ones until it succeeds.

The Major P.I.T.A. Rearmost Panel
The hardest part of this install was removing the old set of panels. The 3M 760 Paralastic adhesive really does work incredibly well! When applied it stays on tenaciously! Since it was applied to the entire area of the back of the panel and held down with weights (sandbags) until dry, the removal required getting underneath and slicing through the adhesive. A thin wire attached to two dowels (used as handles) made quick work of most of the panels, but not all! The one on the rearmost section of the roof was especially stubborn. It required using an oscillating multitool and had to be "rolled" as it was removed, destroying the panel. Well, at least they came off without damage to the roof.

Cleaning up the remaining adhesive took a while, but a combination of the oscillating multitool, some alcohol and a scrubbing pad got rid of the residue. This time around I used a different technique for bonding the panels to the roof. The "thin layer all over the back" works well, but if there is an air gap surrounded by adhesive, the trapped air can become super-heated and expand to the point of cracking the rather delicate silicon wafers used in the panel's construction. This is bad and can ruin a solar panel very quickly. They get HOT. I mean, they are sitting in the sun...that's the whole idea!

This time, I applied 10mm beads across the panel about 4 inches apart leaving a 6 inch gap for air to escape. No matter where the air is, it has a path to exit from under the panel. I have zero fear that the panels won't stay attached, but I also used some strategically placed Eternabond tape to hold down the wires and a tiny bit of the front of the panels. Remember to NOT block any gaps you created for air to escape!! The tape will keep the wires from flopping around in the wind and reduce wear on them (and my nerves!). It will also serve to protect the black wires from additional UV damage along the way.

So, after all was rewired and the fuses put back in, how is the performance? No idea! I am parked in my driveway until tonight. I'll know after my trip. So far, the readings have been favorable. I have no doubt they will perform at least as well as the previous set. All this while being a tad smaller. That's a good thing!

Be Seeing You...Down The Road,

Rich "The Wanderman"

Wednesday, August 22, 2018

Self-Driving Cars....Sure. What About Self-Driving RVs?

Self Driving??
    There has been a lot of ballyhoo and speculation recently about how the "so called" self-driving automobile will change the world. Well, at least our daily commutes. Much of the talk centers around urban and suburban driving. You know, lots of obstacles and pedestrians wandering about. Difficult for a computer to determine what not to hit. That's all well and good from a safety standpoint, but what about long highway drives? There are many self-driving systems on the market today that can safely navigate interstates with clear lane markings with ease. Sure, you have to keep an eye on them and sometimes a hand as well, but they are getting to the point they can be mostly relied upon to safely navigate these long byways. What would be so bad about having these extended "cruise controls" on our motorhomes?

A240 Airliner Auto Pilot
As a pilot, I am acutely aware of the usefulness of an autopilot as well as its inherent weaknesses. It's great to set a course and let it take over the long flight legs between course changes. As autopilots evolved and GPS became more commonplace, many additional tasks were taken over by the autopilot. (Yes, I know all about inertial navigation, but that's a whole 'nother story!) There are versions of them that can safely take a plane from takeoff at one airport to a safe landing at another, handling all the tasks in between. I'm not looking for the type of thing where you set a destination and get up to fix a cup of coffee, but rather just auto lane maintenance and separation from other vehicles on the interstate. It's essentially do-able now. But do we want it?

Google's Fleet Of Self Driving Cars
For everything, there is a slew of good and bad points. Pro's and Con's. The debate between Human and "Artificial" Intelligence is way beyond the scope of this article. I can definitely see the pro's of having a second set of eyes and it could very well add a dimension of additional safety. Am I ready for the realization of the old urban legend regarding cruise control in an RV? You know the one, where a Class A RV renter decides to get up and make some coffee or go to the bathroom while on a lonely stretch of road. After the ensuing crash he was asked what possessed him to abandon the driver's position in the first place. He replied, "Isn't that what the cruise control is for?"

Uber's Self Driving Sensor Package
To retrofit an existing RV with the technology needed to have a functional (mostly) robot pilot would be difficult and expensive. Many sensors (LIDAR, RADAR, HD Cameras, SONAR, etc.) as well as a bunch of specialized computers and software would need to be added. Not to mention servos to actuate the brakes, accelerator, steering and gear selector. Not really that practical. That being said, who knows? As the cost of the technology decreases with an increase in vehicles using it, we may see new RVs have the technology offered as an option. Hopefully, not too soon. I'm an early adopter of technology....just not too keen on tech that could potentially cause me or others harm.

Be Seeing You...Down The Road,

Rich "The Wanderman"

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

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"