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Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Mini, Battery Powered, Engine Jump Starters And Power Banks

    I wrote an article last week about wireless and USB charging battery packs. They work pretty well, all things considered. Some nice folks commented about Lithium Ion battery based engine jump starters and I promised them an article about them. Well, here it is. Everyone knows I tend to be an early adopter of new technology. A couple of years ago I purchased a very small Li-Ion jump starter from a (mostly) reputable source. It was tiny and boasted it could easily start a V8 engine, though not a diesel. I was sold. Did it work as advertised?

It's Only 1/2" Thick!
Let's take a look at the one I bought first then move on to much newer (and better) versions. The one I have has an 8000mAh batter (8Ah) and in addition to regular jumper cables on a 1 foot cord it had a port to charge any device via full size USB. Add that to a bright white LED flashlight all in a package a bit bigger than a deck of playing cards and you have the idea. I carried it in my motorcycle "trunk." Yes, I said, "trunk!" I have a Honda PC800 Pacific Coast, look it up! It lived there unless I was taking a trip in another vehicle, then I brought along just in case. It all fit in a small neoprene bag with a Velcro closure that I had sitting around. I have NO idea what that bag came with...

The White Dot Is A Super-Bright Flashlight
To charge it, they provided a wall charger and a cable to charge from your computer's USB port. It took a long time to charge...about 14 hours from dead. I made sure it was charged regularly. That was allegedly easy, as it had 4 blue lights on the side that all illuminated when it was full. The first time I used it, it worked OK. Not great...but it did start a 3.9L V6. Then I didn't use it for a few months after recharge. I was off to pick up an SUV in Pennsylvania, about three hours away. When we wouldn't start, so the seller jump started it from a conventional lead-acid battery pack, no problem there. We figured it would charge from the alternator on the trip back. After 1.5 hours we made a gas stop. Shut it down (First Mistake) and it had a dead battery. Aha! Perfect time to use my micro sized jump box. Except after it was hooked up (it indicated it had a full charge) no start. power coming from it at all.

Very aggravating. We managed to borrow a full sized jump pack from a tractor-trailer driver. Started right up. The rest of the trip was uneventful. When I got home, I immediately plugged in the battery pack and left it to charge. It wouldn't. Looked OK...voltage from the charger was just didn't work. I'll be taking it apart soon enough to try and fix it (or, at least figure out what failed). Now I was on the hunt for another one. Bear in mind this is two years later and many large companies are offering them at reasonable prices (between $30 and $80). I've been looking at ones with decent warranty periods. Of course, many of these will be made in China. Not a problem in and of itself, but quality is usually a bit spotty. If you get a good one, it's great. If not...return it and try again.

This time, I will be buying one with a larger capacity. I have a V8 Gasoline engine (360cu. in/5.9L) in my RV, so the extra capacity will be useful, especially if my engine battery fails in cold weather. Of course, most RVs let you connect your house batteries to your engine battery temporarily for a boost, but this is a "just in case" scenario. Basically, it's peace of mind, with the added bonus of being able to charge (or run) your USB powered devices away from your RV.

Seems like a good idea, and since they are so small and lightweight, storing them will be a snap. I'll let you know when I finish my research and purchase an upgraded, more reliable unit. I still believe they are a great idea!

Be Seeing You...Down The Road,

Rich "The Wanderman"

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Portable Battery Packs With Wireless Charging - Do they Work?

Too Many Wires!
    A while back I wrote an article about wirelessly charging your devices. Mostly USB (mini, micro, etc.). It involved either having a device that could take advantage of charging wirelessly or using an add-on charging coil to receive the power. I've been using several different wirelessly charged devices lately and it works pretty well. Mainly the issue is one of time, it takes longer to charge without wires since the amount of current is lower than that supplied with a solid piece of wire. That being said, to put my phone on the charging surface before I go to sleep and have it charged in the morning without plugging in a cable is pretty cool. Less wear and tear on your cable sockets. These days, with the tiny versions of USB phone manufacturers are using, too many plug-ins can damage the socket and then you have a real problem.  What about 12V charging when shore power isn't available?

Some of the wireless charging docks that plug in have their own transformers (that convert 120V AC into some type of DC) that connect to the dock itself. Many of them, if you look carefully at the specs, need around 12 Volts to power them. Many of them only need 5 Volts. If you have one that uses 12 Volts, and will accept a range close to it (11-15-ish Volts) then you can use an adapter to your RV's 12 Volt electrical system. That would involve getting a 12V cigarette lighter plug and the appropriate plug on the charger side and splicing them together. Even then, it's a bit of a gamble as your RV's 12V DC electrical system can vary voltage as the batteries discharge and charge. Many devices don't like variety at all.

With Its' Charging Cable Attached
Extra USB Outlet
If you look hard enough, you can find a wireless charger that uses a simple USB cord to charge itself. Add this to a standard (somewhat) 12V cigarette lighter to USB adapter and you have much safer and reliable charging. I've written a few articles covering USB adapters that have much more detailed information, but they work great and are available in various Amperages to support most of the newest devices. I found a cool charger that gets its power from a USB cord and has a built in charging coil for wireless devices to use. What makes it cool? It has its own built in battery so you can use it whether it's plugged into the RV or not. It will also charge other USB-based devices with a conventional USB port on the side. Its Lithium Ion battery holds 5000mAh of power which is enough to charge most phones more than once. It weighs a few ounces and is a tiny bit bigger than a deck of cards. Best of works. Without any "finagling."

All I do is put my device on the battery pack/charger and it starts charging, whether I have power going to it or not. Almost like magic. Well, after you turn the unit on...I've made that mistake a couple of times! We are getting closer to ditching our tethers...soon...very soon!

Be Seeing You...Down The Road,

Rich "The Wanderman"

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Faded And Cracked Decals Got You Down? - Make New Ones!

Simple Decals.
    When I read through threads on online forums I see many posts about faded and cracked decals. In fact, my 1991 Aero Cruiser has a 4" straight decal going most of the way around the belt-line with two smaller ones above and below. The bigger center one (especially in front) looks awful and I have been wanting to replace it...and perhaps add some unique touches in various places. After shining up the fiberglass gelcoat using an acrylic floor finish they look even worse than before. Add that to several harsh winters and sun exposure and you have a recipe for a much needed restoration. The trick is how do you get it done?

Simple 3 Color Blue Striping For The Sides.
The company that built my RV, Gardner Pacific, has been out of business for many years at this point, so NOS (New, Old Stock) decals would be tough to source. Besides, they'd likely be dried out and useless from age. I'm pretty lucky, since the bulk of the decals on my rig are simple stripes. Buy (or cut) a roll of decal material the correct size and apply. After proper removal and cleaning of the old stuff of course! For some of the other decals, they have to be custom cut. Well, I now know how to do this at home. A couple of years ago, I was tasked with striping up one of my work cars. I had NEVER done anything like that before so I did what I always do...RESEARCH! After a lot of learning I found that you could purchase a cutting machine that would cut out custom decals (including text) using all types of vinyl decal material. Including reflective. Add a little software and some basic computer art skills (which I really didn't (don't) have) and it was pretty easy to get them done.

My 36" Wide Decal Cutter
Much of the learning curve was trial and error (mostly error) figuring out the pressure and speed needed for the cutting machine to cut through each type of vinyl all the way through, without cutting through the backing, which was difficult. Once you "get it" it's easy to change materials and get them all right. Hint...Write Down your settings for different materials so you can go back and cut more. The software let's you pick fonts and type text easily. Using artwork was a bit tougher. You can import various pieces of art, but most of the time, they will need to be VECTOR Rather than RASTER formats. This really just means photos won't work. The art has to be in a computer readable format that describes the curves and outlines. There are programs out there that will convert from a photo or scan to VECTOR artwork, but they are finicky and require "tweaking" most of the time.  You can always draw the artwork on the computer screen (the software helps with curves and "swooshes") which makes basic RV-style side graphics pretty easy.

Screen Photo Of Vinyl Cutting Software
I had to make an "Aero Cruiser" text graphic because I didn't have a font that looked close, since the best version of the graphic is black on an off-white background (Rear of my RV). I took a good picture and used software to convert it to VECTOR, then zoomed in and fixed the small errors. The best part, when it's VECTOR you can re-size as much as you want without losing any quality. The same graphic is used on my RV multiple times in various sizes. The color of your decals is dependent on the color of the vinyl material you are cutting from. It comes in MANY colors and patterns. The cutter will only cut one color at a time since it's material based, so when you are trying to re-create a multi-color decal, you create it in many colors and have the software separate them for cutting. Once cut out, you reassemble them when applied to the RV.

Partially Weeded Decal (The "P" Isn't)
After the decal comes off the machine, you need to "weed" it. That just means taking all the stuff that's NOT your graphic off the backing before you can apply. If you do that carefully, you can have a nice stencil to paint with or use as a reverse (white or body color) outline decal. I never was able to remove it that cleanly...better luck next time for me! Once it's weeded, you can apply a tacky (not really all that sticky) transfer paper to the FRONT side. Now you carefully remove the paper backing to expose the REALLY sticky adhesive on the vinyl. Depending on the type of vinyl you bought, you can use the "wet method" to apply. You just spray (from a misting spray bottle) a small amount of water to the adhesive side, place the decal, adjust then squeegee out any air/water underneath. Then leave it alone to dry. This works best when it's warm out (above 60 F). The vinyl I have doesn't like being applied wet, so I only get one chance to get it in the correct spot and stuck down. Make sure it's LEVEL!! Once done, rub the decal down to make sure it stays down. Believe me, the adhesive is STRONG! I messed up a lot of them getting this correct.

Those are the basics. With some research you can find everything you need online and make your own. Depending on the size of the machine you buy, figure between $150 and $300 for everything you need. Granted, it isn't the easiest thing to do, but it's on par with scrapbooking. Cricut folks will have no problems coming up to speed. I never thought I would learn how to do this...but necessity is the mother of invention!

Be Seeing You...Down The Road,

Rich "The Wanderman"