Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Mystery Switches in RV - Just What Do They Do?

    I was in my RV the other day to check that everything was OK. Storing it for the winter doesn't mean nothing can go wrong! I check for water leaks, critter intrusion and mechanical/electrical issues about once every two weeks. It's also a good idea to check your battery water levels and top up if needed with distilled water (especially if you are leaving them charging over the winter!). During my walk around inside I noticed the "odd" switch by the bathroom vanity sink. When I first bought my RV, I had NO idea what it did. Well, after almost a year..I figured it out....luckily!

See The Red Switch On The Left?
Turns out it was wired to turn on the outside light on the outside wall of the RV, opposite from the passenger side and the main door. It sits just above the access door for the water heater and close by the dump valves and connections. Good place for a light, but when I purchased the RV, it didn't work. Well, the switch on the light itself wouldn't turn it on....even replacing the bulb didn't help. You probably can guess where this is going. I had flipped the switch on the light a few times (it must have been in the off position initially) and then at some point flipped the switch by the vanity. The next evening I had stopped for gas and got out of the RV by the driver's side door. Lo and Behold, the light was on! Had likely been on since the day before! You really can't see its illumination from inside the RV because of my thermal covers so I had no idea it was on.

The Light Is Just Under And To The Left Of The Window
Well, I flipped the switch on the light itself and it turned off. At that point I was happy it was working (it's a good place for a light!). When I got back from the trip I looked into it a bit further. If I looked into the dark recesses of the vanity sink cabinet I could see the wires running from the "mystery" switch to the back of the outside light! Aha! One of the wires had come lose from its taped- up junction. Upon closer inspection I realized the switch was lighted and that disconnected wire controlled power to light up the switch! Aha, again! The idea was the switch outside was left on and the switch inside used to turn on the outside light when needed. The switch itself would light up to let you know it was on. Good idea.

But why put it in the vanity cabinet? I suppose it was the easiest place to do the wiring.....hey, at least I figured out what the switch actually did! I'll bet you all have some mystery switches too....Come to think of it...the one above the driver's seat was a mystery too....but that one I figured out!

Be Seeing You...Down The Road,

Rich "The Wanderman"

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

USB Thumb Drives, Hard Drives and SD Memory Cards - Oh My!

Primary TV..Way Up Front
    Last week I wrote a story about deciding which type of "television" to stick with while I travel. Satellite, broadcast, or internet streaming. While I am still deciding on that question, I remembered that with my existing system, I can still watch video files that I download online. There are lots of legal sources for this kind of thing...pick your favorite. Once downloaded and transferred to some kind of storage device that is compatible with your video player, all you have to do is click "play." I used to limit myself to smaller, low resolution files because the memory devices were expensive, but not any more. Well not really anyway. You can get HUGE storage (yes, I know that today's HUGE is tomorrow's TINY), whether it be an SD memory card a USB "thumb" drive or even a small USB external hard drive. The costs are low enough that you can take MANY video files with you. Heck, if you have a home computer and own a bunch of DVDs you can even turn them into files and take along whole TV shows! Really?

MY USB External 1 Tb Hard Drive
When a Terabyte USB external hard drive that doesn't need a separate power supply is only $49.99 and it will store lots of movies and TV shows...what are you waiting for! Figure around 1 Gigabyte (Gb) per movie, which is pretty large. At HD (1080) resolution you can store hundreds of films and many, many TV episodes. Lots more if they are only 30 minutes long! I have well over 800 hours of material on my external USB drive. If you go the USB "drive" or Flash memory route, you can get versions of each that hold up to 1Tb of data. They are VERY expensive. The name brand 1Tb USB drive will likely cost 10 times (or more) what a regular spinning hard drive would cost for the same capacity. You can go smaller -- I've seen 512Gb go for as little as $90 and 256Gb going for under $50. You could always get smaller ones: 128Ggb, 64Gb, and 32Gb versions cost less and less. You could buy a whole bunch and store different content on each one. I have quite a few in various sizes.

Some Of My Assorted USB Thumb Drives
Why not have a bunch of the smaller sized USB flash drives? Well, they are REALLY easy to lose! I've lost a few over the years and sometimes replacing the data is a really long, involved pain in the you-know-what. Yes, I should have backed everything up and put it in a safe place. That's good advice...IF you follow it. I keep a 1Tb external, self-powered, USB hard drive in the cabinet with my Digital media player on board the RV. I only take it out to add or change what's stored on it. At least I can always find it when I want to watch something! Sometimes I use the smaller ones to take along a particular film(s) or something I want to show friends. They are great for that!

It comes down to personal preference. Flash drives use less power, but are usually smaller in storage size. The power usage of a 2.5" Hard drive (the kind found in laptops) is really negligible if you are only using it when the content is actually playing on your screen. I'm sticking with mine until prices on the really large flash drives drop. And they will!

Be Seeing You...Down The Road,

Rich "The Wanderman"

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Decision Time - Satellite, Broadcast TV, Internet TV, All or Something Else?

Dish Folded
    I was lucky enough to have a folding satellite dish already installed on my RV when I purchased it. After I bought a satellite receiver and connected it all up, it worked great for a while. Then the satellite company updated its receivers and mine was no longer supported. At that point, I bought an HDTV decoder to receive over-the-air- broadcasts and also had installed my digital media player system so I could watch prerecorded material on memory sticks or extermal USB drives. So, I really didn't need the satellite system. Well, I still have the dish on the roof, and I like everything to work, but have a hard decision to make.

Satellite Receiver, DVD/Blu-Ray and Extra PureSine Inverter.
You see, in order to get my satellite TV back online, I have to buy a new receiver, change the dish if I want HD programming (SD is being phased out) and buy a programming package. That's a lot of work. BUT, I will have all my "regular" channels wherever I am. I do frequently find myself boondocking where I cannot get a broadcast digital signal at all. I may be able to get one if I change out the satellite dish to an amplified broadcast antenna, but my "boomerang" antenna (even with the amplifier) won't get me a signal sometimes. I do still have all the TV and movies I have stored digitally or even on DVD, but no up to the moment news ore current events coverage. Well, unless I can get an internet signal. And...sometimes I can't.

Over The Air TV Amplifier
The question is, "Is the cost and hassle worth changing the system over to newer technology?" I'm not so sure. It may be worth more to add an amplifier so I can pull in a better cell signal and use a WiFi hot-spot to connect to the internet at higher speeds for streaming video. There are lots of ways to get live TV that way. Of course, there has to be a signal to start with, but that's another story. I do have an unlimited data plan in 4G LTE so if I can get a good signal I should be able to stream TV well enough. And that's included in my existing cell phone plan. No extra costs there except the hardware to amplify the cell signals themselves. I am looking at around $400-600 to do that properly.

It's a tough decision. While live TV is important to me, it can be replaced by better internet access. The cost up front for cell signal amplification is a bit higher than new satellite gear, but doesn't add a monthly cost. I have read lots of horror stories regarding starting and stopping satellite programming service, so that's a negative as well.

Thankfully, I have the winter to make my decisions. What do you think? In my humble opinion, the internet is a better all around deal...for now. I'm leaning that way.

Be Seeing You...Down The Road,

Rich "The Wanderman"

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Get More From Your Solar Panels - Keep Them Clean!

Right After Install
   Today, I went down to my RV to check out how everything was doing after winterizing it a few weeks ago and was VERY surprised that I was only producing a few watts of power from my solar charging system. Oh great, now what?! Well, thankfully, after taking a look on the roof it became obvious that all the panels were covered in pine needles, dirt and debris! A while back, I experienced a total failure of my original panels. It was quite a shock to see the newest ones producing so little power! Believe me, it was a relief to find out the problem was so simple. Clean your panels! Why is it so important??

Solar panels rely on the sun (Duh.) to make electricity to charge your batteries. If the sunlight can't get to the panel surface they don't produce squat. That's obvious. What isn't so obvious is that a small amount of dirt will make a BIG difference in your electrical production. Shade is the enemy, whether it comes from trees, poles, helicopters or dirt on your panels it's bad. Also, abrasion from dirt and debris can permanently scratch the surface finish of your panels and degrade their performance forever. Depending upon what the surface of your panels is made from (or covered with) use an appropriate cleaner. Mine are a plastic, semi-flexible material, so once washed with plain water to get rid of the "bigger stuff," I use a non-abrasive cleaner (usually a little soap in water) and a microfiber cloth to finish the cleaning. So far, works great with no scratches, abrasions or discoloration.

Cleaned Again!
Solar power can be a wonderful thing! It's quiet, unlike generators. It's free to use (though not to purchase nor install) and can really extend your time without needing to connect to shore power. As a "boondocker" I truly love my solar charging system! With just a tiny bit of maintenance, most solar panels and their associate charging systems should give you years of trouble-free service. When they work they are, essentially, invisible to the user. When they don't.....stress and angst begin. Well, at least they do when I'm involved!

Be nice to your solar panels and they will be nice to you.

Be Seeing You...Down The Road,

Rich "The Wanderman"

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Even The Simple Things - Keep Your Windows Fog Free!

Nice To Be Able To See Outside!
    I hate not being able to see out of my windshield and windows while underway. Well, even when I am camped! Recently, I was touring through my local Wal-Mart clearance aisle, as I am wont to do when I can't take my RV on a trip, and discovered the Rain-X 2-sided Defog Sponge. Wow, that's one long name for a pretty simple item. Driving when your windows are foggy can be dangerous, everyone knows that. I've noticed that the inside of my windshield had developed a thin film that distorts light, especially at night. I get a "halo" effect from things like street-lights and oncoming head lights. At first I believed my eyes were going. Well, at least until I treated the inside of the glass with this product.

It's pretty simple to use. The blue microfiber side can be used dry or with a light spray of clean water to remove the interior film and any dirt or fingerprints that are on the glass. Once they are gone and the glass is clean and DRY, use the yellow sponge side to apply the anti-fog coating. The chemical used is actually embedded in the sponge and does not require any water to be added. This is important!! When cleaning the glass don't over-saturate the blue side with too much water, it will make a mess. Use long. straight and light strokes to completely go over your windshield glass on the inside. The sponge will deform when you get to corners and the like so it should be able to get into every nook and cranny.

The Blue Side!
I then used the sponge on all my interior glass. One at a time, using the same technique that was used on the windshield. Once finished, I could see the difference in the clarity of my windows. If I get close to one and try to fog it with my breath it still gets foggy, but clears immediately. Will it work in humid weather? Seems like it will, but I will thoroughly test it when I can get into some hot, humid weather! Since the treatment is embedded in the sponge, there is no telling just how long it will last. It managed to do all my windows (and I have many large ones!) and still work. So for the $2.00 I paid...result! You could always use it as a plain cleaning sponge and microfiber cloth when the treatment chemical runs out. I also believe the company makes a spray-on defog product as well. This would be an ideal applicator.

Well, at least I know it's not time for glasses. My eyes still work. Well, they do when my windows are clean anyway!

Be Seeing You...Down The Road,

Rich "The Wanderman"