Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Even The Simple Things - Better Dish Washing

    Who enjoys washing dishes after a meal? What about pots and pans. Bleh. I've heard that some people actually find it therapeutic to stand in front of the sink and clean dirty dishes, pots and pans. Really? I don't see it. I will go to great lengths to reduce the amount of washing I have to do. Sometimes I even use paper plates! Not as eco-friendly, but mostly eliminates the washing up. I try not to use plastic utensils though. Never strong enough for a real meal. OK I'm a bit brutish sometimes! To shorten my dish-washing experience I use a simple item. A dish soap filled dispensing brush.

Typical Sponge Stick
Believe it or not, there are quite a few designs of these brushes. I went through a lot of trial and error (mostly error) finding one that actually worked well, didn't fall apart and managed to keep the dish washing liquid IN the reservoir when it wasn't in use. The most common version is a long plastic handle with a screw lid. You fill up the handle and when you wash it "automatically" dispenses soap. The brush and/or sponge on the end is removable. These are useless. They "dispense" soap all the time. As long as the sponge/brush side is get flow. It was always a pain to find a spot to store it upside down. I always had a puddle of blue liquid at the bottom of my sink. Since it was long, it wouldn't fit under the sink covers. Wasteful. The one I finally found (and use) is much simpler.

Small And Wonderful
For the princely sum of $2.50, I found the best dish cleaner I've ever used in the RV. It's tiny. Fit's under the sink covers (I could fit A LOT of them under there...maybe they'll party like the scrubbin' bubbles you see on the commercials...maybe not!) And the best thing? It never leaks soap all over the place when not in use! You simply press on the top of the rubber cover to dispense a bit of dish soap. Seems deceptively simple; it's not. You see, you need some kind of a stop valve to keep it from leaking. How does it work without any "mechanics" inside? Using science of course!

Here's how it works. The lid comes off so you can fill the clear plastic reservoir with dish soap, whatever brand you like (or is on sale), then you press the soft rubber lid back on. It makes a seal to keep the liquid inside. When you need some soap on the brush, lightly press the "button" molded into the top of the lid. This raises the pressure in the reservoir a little bit, forcing open the red rubber valve on the bottom and releasing a measured amount of soap. Brilliant! Simple, elegant solution that requires no fancy bits and pieces. When you're done with washing, rinse the soap off the bristles and store. Done.

I love simple solutions. Especially when they save time and money. And in the case of RV's with a limited water supply, not using a whole sink full of soapy water AND additional water to rinse will save you a good amount of fresh water. Maybe it's still "therapeutic!"

Be Seeing You...Down The Road,

Rich "The Wanderman"

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Look Ma, I'm Self Heating! - Drinks Without External Heat.

Not Much RV Stuff Going On!
    It used to be, when you had no propane nor electric power and you wanted a hot meal or beverage you were out of luck. Well, you could build a fire, but that's not usually feasible or desired inside your RV, or outside, if it's raining. Believe it or not, there is a solution. I found self-heating beverages and meals! No kidding, they really work. Taste, on the other hand... well you'll have to try them and be the judge. They aren't all that inexpensive. Usually a dozen cans cost around $40.00, so figure around $3.00 a can. Not bad once in a while or in an emergency, but too expensive for regular use.

One Brand Of Beverages

First I found self heating beverages, these are 7.1 ounce cup/cans. Let me explain. Wrapped in a nice foam label is a metal can with a pull tab on one end and a plastic housing on the other. The plastic end has a foil cover. The way it works is relatively simple. First you give the beverage a shake. Then flip it over so the plastic side is "up." next you pull off the foil and press down on the plastic "button" underneath. Flip the can back over and set it down on a handy horizontal surface. I gave it a couple of extra shakes to get things going. Probably doesn't need it... but who knows! Now wait about 8 Minutes. After that, pull open the can "pop-top" just like the ones on a can of soda. There you go, instant hot beverage! It's pretty cool, and surprises everyone who sees it.

See What's Inside
The beverages come in a few different flavors. I've found Coffee with milk and sugar, Hot Cocoa, Chicken soup and Tomato soup. The Coffee (probably the most important test!) was OK. Not great, but would do in a pinch. the Hot Cocoa... ummm... was "different." It sort of tasted like a traditional hot chocolate, but had some weird chemical taste. Not a favorite. The Chicken soup was simply awful. I am a bit spoiled, my Mom will make home-made Chicken soup once in a while when I go over to her house, so comparing it to that isn't really fair. The Tomato soup tasted like, well... tomato soup! It would have gone well with a grilled cheese... hmmm... maybe someone makes a self heating grilled cheese??

How does this work? It's really simple chemistry. The plastic side of the housing contains water. Just above that is Calcium oxide also known as quicklime in solid form. When mixed, you get an exothermic reaction. That's just a fancy way of saying it heats up. There are other chemicals that can be used, but this seems to be the most common. Pretty cool use of basic science!

Speaking about meals. There are a couple of varieties of self heating meals on the market. In a later article I'll try a few and let you know the results! I may not be the best judge of flavor. After all, I like airline meals and MRE's! (Meals, Ready to Eat... courtesy of the US Military).

Be Seeing You...Down the Road,

Rich "The Wanderman"

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Bring Cool LED Light Into The Darkness!

    For Christmas last year I received a really cool lantern. I'd never seen one like it before and that's pretty rare! It's L.E.D. (Light Emitting Diode) based so it's particularly efficient. I really have a soft spot for flashlights and lanterns. When I was little, I used to build "forts." Mostly a couple of broomsticks with blankets and towels hung across to make a cozy spot.


Now that I think about it, perhaps that's why I like my tiny Class A RV?? Ah well, whenever I see a new, inventive or just plain cool light, I can't resist. When LED's began to come on the market, the number if nifty lights expanded dramatically. I am literally like the proverbial "kid in a candy store!"

This one was/is no exception.  It's a 3 sided triangular shape that looks very futuristic. Really appeals to me! It has a simple slider switch that turns it on and lets you set the brightness. From just enough to way too bright. It has 9 LEDs per side, that's 27 LEDs total. The plastic "chrome" plated reflector bounces all that light around and makes for a pretty decent floodlight. At the 3 flat sides, you get a vertical rectangle of light, that is much brighter.

I am not particularly fond of the 5600K "Daylight" color of the LEDs. Some people really love the way it looks, but I still prefer the 3200K "Regular Old Incandescent Bulb" color. Sort of an orange-y yellow. Seems... homey-er.

It's also got a convenient handle that can be used to hang the lantern wherever you need.

Since it's powered by 3 full size "D" cell batteries, it should last a VERY long time. The batteries do make it a bit heavy, but that's OK. It will be much harder to tip over.

I had a bit of trouble getting the battery cover to close properly when I inserted the batteries. It's a water-tight compartment and has a thin silicone seal around the edge. It only goes completely on in one direction (there's a locating tab so that was OK) but you have to simultaneously push it down AND start the center screw. After a few tries I finally managed to get it on properly.

Once the batteries were in, I waited until dark to try it out. Unfortunately, my RV is covered AND has about 8 inches of snow on it and plowed snow built up around it, so photos of the lantern working in the RV will have to wait!

In the House, WITHOUT a flash, my old digital camera shows it's pretty bright. Even on LOW. On HIGH you couldn't see the lantern in the photo at all!

When I held it up to a window and turned it on, it lit up a HUGE chunk of my backyard. Some of that is likely reflected light from the snow cover though.

All in all, a nifty piece of equipment. Whether you use it for emergencies, walks at night or just supplemental light, it will work well and look cool doing it.

Rich "The Wanderman"

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Even The Simple Things - What's Behind You!

    What's behind you? That's a question all RV drivers ask themselves quite often. Can I change lanes without crushing someone in their sub-compact? Another good question. Alas, many RV's have big blind-spots to contend with. Many of them are equipped with large mirrors, some even split with wide-view or convex lenses that allow you to see a great deal more than a stock flat mirror. Unfortunately, that doesn't always complete the picture. What can you do??
 Well, I have a pair of large RAMCO mirrors on my Aero Cruiser. They are the split glass style. On top is a traditional flat mirror and on the bottom a somewhat convex version that lets me see more of the side of the RV and what's near me. This is great for cars that are behind and to the side, not so great for ones that are tucked in tight or on one of my front or rear corners. No matter how I adjust them, there is always some spot I cannot see easily. Makes for some white knuckle moments, let me tell you! Sure, you could constantly adjust the mirror and view the blind spots, but how convenient would THAT be? I'll bet it would get tiresome in a hurry! There had to be a better way. Finding inexpensive solutions is becoming a specialty for me lately.

 Yes, OK... I hear WHAT'S the solution already?

Many companies make stick-on or glue-on concave mirrors that adhere to some section of your existing mirror. Simple solution. I've tried both types of mounts. While they both use a double-sided tape method to attach, the first kind has a stem with a ball joint that allows you to adjust the mirror in all directions. This one works OK, but it has a mind of its own. They seem to move whenever and wherever they want to, especially when they begin to wear or deteriorate from the elements. The other style is a bit more elegant and robust.
The other kind is a bit harder to explain. It also sticks on with a piece of double-sided tape, but mounts much tighter to the mirror itself. Once stuck on, you can rotate it to change the point it aims at. I know it sounds odd, but it works! I haven't had these move at all and the picture I get includes all of the left-over blind spots my existing mirrors miss. I mounted mine at the inside bottom corner of both the driver's and passenger side mirrors. I do lose a tiny bit of the flat plate mirror, but it was mostly showing who was sitting in the seats anyway!

One of my absolute favorite things is a simple, elegant solution to a complex problem. While this is certainly not like finding out that kiwi fruits cure cancer, it was a particularly vex-some problem when I was driving. I don't usually enjoy running poor souls off the road since I can't see them! As with any solution, Your Mileage May Vary (YMMV.) But I'm guessing that these will work as well for you as they do for me. At only $3.29 at Wally-World it was quite a bargain.

One caveat, make sure your mirror is completely clean before sticking them on!! I used an alcohol wipe first. Any dirt or grime will negatively impact the adhesion of the tape and you may go to take a look at your nice mirror and find it's gone off on it's own down the highway. 'Nuff said.

Be Seeing You...Down The Road,

Rich "The Wanderman"