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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"