Archive for Owner’s Guide

Mosquitoes, Zika, and Consumer Reports

Lifehacker reports that the Consumer Reports’ Mosquito Repellent Rankings Are Now Available for Free. It’s been a rather wet spring in NW NV and that means not only a lot of weeds but also a lot of bugs, including mosquitoes. A decent repellent can make for a much more comfortable outing.

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Drive a model T?

Sometimes we don’t know how good we have it. Take a look at the 1911 Model T owner’s manual and compare. These days you do have lots of controls and gadgets to work with but they are for the media and navigation systems, remote controls for locks and windows, and other such conveniences. In the Model T, the controls were critical to getting it to run down the road. There were three floor pedals. Spark advance and throttle were on the steering column. A lever on the floor to the left of the driver had something to do with gears.

I remember my grandfather running the ‘stage route’ down near Payson. It was a short trip but he could count on having to repair a flat and carried a bag of fuller’s earth for the clutch and often had broken axle problems. That was then. Things have changed. 

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A trip south on 95

Here’s one: Death Valley Trip, Getting There: Highway 95, Redlich, Columbus Salt Marsh, and Another View of Boundary Peak

Through Nevada, Highway 95 wanders around quite a bit, attaining a nearly north-south bearing only within four relatively short sections: 1) the Winnemucca to McDermitt section, 2) a section south of I-80, running from Trinity to Hawthorne, 3) the Tonopah to Lida Junction section, and 4) the section running from Boulder City to the California state line. Much of 95’s wanderings, especially those that occur between Hawthorne and Las Vegas, are caused by the highway’s attempt to stay within the state while being subjected to Nevada’s western diagonal border. To do that, the road keeps cutting east, then south, then east again, every now and then actually attaining near parallelism to the diagonal, while completing three major south-to-east curves. These curves are at Hawthorne, at Coaldale Junction, and at or just south of Beatty.

The Silver Fox mentions Lucky Boy and Anchorite passes by description but doesn’t name them. She provides a good rundown on the route and provides some pictures to peruse. For more on this route, see our Destinations page Down the middle of Nevada on Highway 95 – The Bonanza Highway.

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Might you one day have a custom tour guide for your RV?

A geologist decided it would be nice to share what he could see out the window on airplane flights. He built an app. John Farrier describes How a Geologist Designed the Perfect App for the Window Seat.

You can look out the window on the airplane and see beautiful mountains, seas, islands, rivers, and more. What are you looking at? There’s an app for that. Shane Loeffler, a geologist, developed Flyover Country, an app that shows air travelers what geological formations they’re flying over. He tells Fast Co Design that he came up with the idea while flying on a plane

Loeffler wants to develop the app further with augmented reality so that you can simply hold up your phone and Flyover Country will automatically display the geology of the area.

You can get a bit of this with GPS devices and apps that show contour lines. For the RV tours, it would be nice to do this with a tour guide that would tell you what was coming into view and what was interesting or significant about it. There are some steps in this direction but it remains an open opportunity. There are also some efforts to link Wikipedia with mapping software that head in this direction. You can get an app that will show you constellations and stars when you hold it up to the sky at night.

Some of the features that might be useful include offline caching such as Google Maps uses, being able to specify commentary focus such as geology, history, agriculture, architecture, local cultural lore, and others. You might also be able to choose a ‘sophistication’ level from ignorant tourist to topic expert to match the commentary to your needs and interests. The tour guide needs to be location and travel aware so it can comment and what is coming up in a timely manner, It needs to talk to you so as to minimize driving distractions. 

Tour books have been around for ages. A major benefit of touring is knowing what it is that you see. New technologies are raising the possibilities for investigating and learning about the places where you travel and visit. The ingredients are all there. Putting them together in a delicious recipe has some work to be done. 

Can’t wait!

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Dog owners, consider your image

Bert Gildhart is a nature photographer. He recently ran across on ugly situation coming to the conclusion that Barking Dogs Not Compatible with Organ Pipe’s Sounds of Silence.

The event was precipitated by a confrontation I had with two sets of campers parked adjacent to us who had barking dogs. Barking was not confined to just a yip, rather it was sustained, and it occurred randomly throughout the day and into the evening.

But the “evil” lady (her husband did not join her) in site 135 marched over and launched into me using every imaginable word she could muster up. She said her dog didn’t bark and that I was a so-and-so liar. I told her to leave and when she turned I told her to have a good day. She turned around and again started dropping her F bombs. Then she stomped off yelling that I was a F—— Nazi.

I should note that for a number of years Janie and I traveled with a Malmut, which we trained not to bark, so it can be done! I should also note that about 50% of campers at Organ Pipe were traveling with dogs, but they, too, had apparently trained their dogs, for most pets did not engage in that horrible nonstop yip, yip, yip.

OK, that’s now in the past. Today, we hope to make it to Death Valley and enjoy the “Super Bloom.”

The problem is that the obnoxious dog owners were probably fully aware of their pet’s behavior and its interference with fellow camper’s enjoyment of the campground yet they not only failed to consider this social impact but added to it by mounting an assault on anyone who would dare to complain. In doing so, they branded other dog owners and this hurts everyone and destroys the camaraderie that we can usually expect from the RV community. It is one thing to have your own problems. It is entirely another to foist them on your neighbors. And it compounds the issue when you assault anyone who dares to object to your nuisance.

Yes Gildhart could have moved on but so could have the obnoxious dog owners. The context indicates that perhaps the dog owners should have moved to camp in a dog kennel for a better match to their circumstances.

Be considerate of both your neighbor and the environment. Leave both in better condition when you leave than when you arrived. 

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Nighttime decorations

Solar lights are a great addition to our off grid rally sites. Lights that need electricity are used for our infrequent rallies at places with hookups. Creativity is also evident in the way we string up lights and the methods for holding stake lights upright on hard ground.


RV lights

See the photo gallery!

Now to come up with excuses and rationales about why anyone would want to light up the campground. Identify the RV so you can find it when returning from an outhouse trip in the middle of the night? Marking hazards to help people about hitting them and possibly getting hurt?

The reality is that the solar powered lights are low intensity illumination that provides decoration and utility for the camp. See the pictures and decide for yourself.

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Pulp rags: the I’net to the rescue for light reading

Back in the day – you know, when you paid money to have paper piles covered in ink delivered to your mailbox – there were publications devoted to tales and adventures to entertain for the breaks in the day. The Pulp Magazine Project is an archive of fiction from 1896 to 1946.

The Pulp Magazines Project is an open-access digital archive dedicated to the study and preservation of one of the twentieth century’s most influential literary & artistic forms: the all-fiction pulpwood magazine.

The Project is dedicated to fostering ties between communities of collectors, fans, and academics devoted to pulp magazines, and will offer opportunities for research and collaboration to both scholars and enthusiasts alike. We will provide information on upcoming conferences and conventions, and promote new working relationships between academics and the hundreds of pulp fans, scholars, and collectors beyond the college and university.

Pulp originally referenced the quality of these magazines’ paper: using coarse, untreated paper made from wood-pulp kept production costs low, allowing large shipments of the magazines to be distributed and sold as cheaply, and as far away, as possible; or, without advertising. It was an incredibly successful formula; by 1915, 8 best-selling titles had the combined monthly circulation of 2.7+ million copies—an estimated readership of 15% of the U.S. population.

The PMP archive of digitized magazines consists of full-text, cover-to-cover scans produced in collaboration with a variety of partners.

For SciFi fans, Archive.org has the IF collection.

If was an American science fiction magazine launched in March 1952 by Quinn Publications, owned by James L. Quinn. The magazine was moderately successful, though it was never regarded as one of the first rank of science fiction magazines. It achieved its greatest success under editor Frederik Pohl, winning the Hugo Award for best professional magazine three years running from 1966 to 1968. If was merged into Galaxy Science Fiction after the December 1974 issue, its 175th issue overall.

For a bit heavier fare, don’t forget the Gutenberg Project. These are all digitized which means you can put a library in a tablet sized device that would otherwise take over the entire RV. One caveat is to be careful about how well the translation between the original publication and your reading device was done. The IF collection seems to have rather poor epub and Kindle versions, for instance. The fallback is always just straight text. 

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Batteries: looking on down the road

Major advances often come with a confluence of tools and technologies. That may be happening with energy stores where the RV lifestyle, the survivalist ethos, the ‘alternative energy’ appeal, electronic power devices improvements, and control devices are all contributing towards personal sized energy collection, storage, and usage at reasonable costs. Patrick Mannion says Battery Storage Systems Shine With Solar Deployments in EE Times.

The hidden concept is that the RV may grow out of being a parasite on your home’s electrical system but may become a part of it. The RV and its energy collection and storage devices may become a component serving the household energy needs.

A complication in this is in trying to get cost effectiveness distinct from political ideologies and governmental interference.

Technologically, the efficiency of solar cells continues to increase and module costs continue to fall, to the point that it has increasingly become a viable option in many developed regions as well as an alternative to diesel in regions such as Africa.

That said, solar’s cost parity with conventional power sources remains a discussion shrouded in controversy, nuances, biases and misinformation, much of it due to subsidization of both solar cell manufacturing and deployments.

This at the forefront of some Nevada heat as the Public Utilities Commission decided that the energy company can pay wholesale rather than retail rates for household solar system excess energy and also charge for other costs involved in accommodating small systems into its power grid. As one politician said: it is one thing for you to spend your own money for what you want but it becomes something to discuss when you want your neighbor to pay a part of your costs.

As to exactly what technology might float to the top, there are a lot of options with no clear winners.

advanced storage options include ultracapacitors (not a battery chemistry, but counted as an advanced storage mechanism for the purposes of the report) as well as battery chemistries such as lithium sulfur (LiS), magnesium ion (Mg-ion), solid electrolyte, next-generation flow and metal-air.

There is change and some of it is being seen in RV systems.

This trend toward including ESS [electricity storage systems] with solar deployments has had an interesting effect on architecture and converter design approaches (Figure 4). When battery storage was a rarity, the battery was charged by tapping the mains supply, via an AC-DC converter. When the AC went down, the battery would switch in via a DC-to-AC inverter.

All the parts had to be bought separately, battery, inverter, and metering, while multiple voltage conversions led to unnecessary losses and overall inefficiencies. Even the metering wasn’t too exciting.

Now, that’s changed. A full system can be integrated, including the PV monitoring and DC-DC conversion to charge the battery, as well as the inverter. Metering has advanced to ZigBee or other wireless technologies to provide either computer or app-based monitoring of the entire system.

Mannion mentions Tesla’s Powerwall, a $3,500, 10-kWh storage system for the home, business and utilities. Install that in an RV, hang it on a closet wall, and provide the proper connection to your household system and you’d not only get a good sized energy storage in your RV but also a means to supplement household peak energy needs as well. There are possibilities there and a few things to work out but the future does look interesting.

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Batteries: the allure of lithium

In the eternal quest for RV energy storage, lithium batteries are gaining a lot of interest from those who want something better than the traditional lead acid batteries. Lead acid batteries represent a technology more than a century old and are in wide use in automotive and RV applications because they are cheap, rugged, and will do the job in a package that isn’t too outrageous to handle. Lead acid batteries come in a variety of flavors like AGM, gel, or wet cell but the differences are small in matters of charging, usage, storage, and maintenance.

Lithium batteries come in flavors with significant differences (see battery university). The kind found in most laptop computers have nominal voltages of 3.7 volts per cell (versus 2v for lead acid cells). These are usually thumb sized cells. The battery in a cell phone is a flat structure but its voltages are similar to the round ones. What gets the attention as an RV battery is the Lithium Iron Phosphate type invented in 1996 that has a nominal cell voltage of 3.2v. That means a stack of four cells has a nominal battery voltage of 12.8 volts which is suitable for most existing RV equipment.

The problem is that lithium batteries cost about ten times as much as common lead acid batteries and need more care in charging and use. Technomadia has been testing a lithium battery bank and describes their experience in Living the Lithium Lifestyle – 3.5 Year Lithium RV Battery Update. What they found is that they could replace big and heavy batteries with small and light ones that could be more deeply discharged yet still get several times the cycle life.

And if you have lead, you better hope that you have enough solar panels and daylight to make sure that you regularly make it fully through absorption and manage a full 100% charge – because lead batteries suffer if not regularly topped off.

Lithium batteries on the other hand could care less if you never fully charge them. Ending the day at 50% or 85% charged is no big deal at all. You could go for months without ever getting a full charge and your batteries will be just fine.

They discovered that temperature can make an impact they did not expect. Another factor is that lithium batteries need balance circuitry to prevent over charging or excessive discharge. This sort of balancing is usually handled in lead acid RV batteries by float charging over time as they can handle that over charging without suffering too much. Powerstream has a page on charging RV lithium type batteries that explains things. AM solar also has a good rundown on these batteries. They sell a 100 AH (1.3 kWh) battery for $1199. Technomadia does their cost analysis and summarizes “We have over $6000 invested in our battery & electrical system … so far.” That is for a 6.4 kWh battery bank that doesn’t include the solar system.

If you invest in a 6 to 10 kWh battery bank and figure out how to get a 1 – 2 kW solar system on your RV, you might join those who find they can run their AC for a few hours a day on their RV electrical systems. See the video Off Grid Solar Powered RV Air Conditioning – Is it Possible? where the Wynns describe their experience.

You can find suitable batteries on Amazon: GBS-LFMP100AHX 12V 100Ah 1.3kWh Lithium Battery (Lithium Iron, Lithium ion, LiFePO4, LiFeMnPO4 technology (sponsored link) for $700 with free shipping. (Nominal Voltage: 12.8V (4X 3.2 V); – Nominal Capacity: 100 Ah; – LiFeMnPO4 chemistry; – Operation Voltage Range: 11.2 to 14.4V; – Weight: 12.9 kg or 28.4 lbs; – Dimension: 270 X 140 X 241 mm or 10 5/8 X 5 9/16 X 9 1/2 in). Double the size for $1500! Note that this doesn’t include some of the necessary system extras like AM Solar is offering.

If you do a lot of off grid camping, lithium batteries do start to look like a viable alternative, especially for larger RV’s where several thousand dollars isn’t that big of a deal.

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Understanding mile post markers on Nevada highways

OK, a storm came through last night — Time to check nvroads.com (511 Home) and see about road conditions. It is a very slow website this morning as might be expected when a couple of inches of new snow greets the morning.On US 395 north of Reno, the highway is purple and a click provides a popup that says “There is a conditions related event (Chains or Snow Tires Required) on US-395 from mile post 26.0 in Washoe County to mile post 42.1 in Washoe County in Nevada“. This is confusing. The freeway exit numbers on that stretch of US 395 are in the 70’s so what is this mile post 26 to 42 label?

To figure that out, see the NV DOT page on Milepost Signs.

On interstates, two types of mileposts exist. Green post mile markers list the mileage from the state line while white and black standard mileposts list the mileage from the county line. U.S., state and other routes strictly list the mileage from the county line.

For the purpose of milepost signs, roadway mileage numbers start from the south or west end of where a road first enters a state or county. The mileage number continues to build as the road travels north or east.

Safety Recommendation

It is recommended that motorists be aware of milepost signs, particularly while driving in rural areas. Knowing your milepost location will allow for quicker response if needing to call for emergency assistance.

It looks like the road conditions report is for the “black standard mileposts” and not the green interstate ones. The standard mileposts have a two letter county identifier below the highway number while the green ones don’t. The road distance from the south or west is on the bottom of the sign and rotated 90 degrees on the standard signs. New road construction projects are installing larger milepost signs a bit off the road at 5 feet above the road surface. These are intended to be easier to see and less likely to get run over or otherwise damaged.

Milepost markers are the DOT’s coordinate system. That’s fine for them but many of us aren’t keeping an eagle out for each passing milepost sign or aren’t using that coordinate system often enough to know where we are by that system. Instead we call for help using routes and landmarks or we turn it over to computers. The computers are what NVDOT uses to show road conditions on the map at nvroads.com. If you need a list of the source data rather than a map, see the incidents list page.

Google is a step up the ladder in that every driver with an Android phone that allows position reporting provides Google with current traffic data that it can show on its map. Google bought the Waze app to help facilitate this effort. This is a social network where drivers can share information about roads and routes in real time. That is how, for instance, Google maps can show two crashes and one other incident on US 395 north of Reno this morning along with the red colored highway to indicate slow moving traffic. The position reporting is, of course, by GPS coordinates but it is all behind the curtain. What we see is a map with coded information for our travel needs. Note that this is a two way street. You don’t get this information unless you let your device report its position and speed. 

It should also be noted that cell phones have been required to report position to dispatchers on 911 calls for quite a while. They use GPS for this if available or cell signal strength data otherwise. (this is similar to how home computers are using wifi signals to assist localizing I’net searches now). Again, this is a ‘behind the computer curtain’ kind of thing. You could query your GPS for coordinates and read them over the phone, too, but the chance for error is rather high for that sort of thing. An alternative would be to have a macro read the phone GPS data and send it via SMS (gotta’ love all those TLA’s – three letter acronyms!).

Interstate mile markers are most visible on maps as exit numbers. Otherwise, mile markers are scarce on maps. It might be a good project to write a program to use Navigation software to trace a route back to its start or its southern or western intersection with a state or county line, calculate the route from there to a selected position, and then use the distance of that route to report the mile marker. That would be a non trivial exercise. That’s why the color coding at nvroads.com is very useful as the DOT has done the converting between there mile markers and something that is a bit easier for the regular driver to understand.

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Real ID and the burden on traveling interstate

As it is, you need to show your papers on demand. Entering any federal facility and, soon, to travel by air. you will need a certified identification. This is called “Real ID” and the Homeland Security Department has a Real ID FAQ page answering common questions about it. A driver’s license used to be sufficient to establish identity for most domestic needs but many states don’t meet federal requirements for a proper identification in issuing driver’s licenses. The Nevada DMV does have a process where you can upgrade your license to one that is suitable for Real ID requirements. See the NV DMV page on the Real ID Act in Nevada. To upgrade your paperwork, you need to dance through a few hoops, again.

You need to present proof of identity, Social Security number, and two residency documents in person at a DMV office one time only.

These are generally the same documents you used to obtain your Nevada license or ID the first time. You must show them again, plus two documents that show your Nevada residential address. You cannot obtain a Real ID card online or by mail.

You may upgrade to a Real ID license or ID at any time. The fee is $9.25, $8.25 for an ID card or $13.25 for a commercial license. Other changes of information, such as an address change or name change, may be included with no additional fee. If you are completing other transactions such as a renewal, the normal fees will apply and there is no additional fee to upgrade to a Real ID.

This isn’t the sort of thing you can do online, either. The question is how long it will take until you need an ID like this for access to NFS or BLM facilities or other federally controlled RV and camping areas. License, registration, proof of insurance … the burdens don’t seem to be getting any smaller.

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Shoulder Season

It is a challenge: winterize the RV or take one last spin. Joe Laing (Marketing Director for El Monte RV,) explains why Why fall is the best season for road trips — “Autumn travel means fewer crowds than summer, better weather than winter, and big savings on vacation costs—if you’re willing to do your homework“.

The leaves are turning, the birds are migrating and it’s time for bargain-minded travelers to plan some time away. Bring an extra sweater and plan to play cool weather golf—the discounted greens fees and uncrowded courses will make this your favorite season. Walk a rocky beach and then go back to the lodge for cocoa by the fire. Learn a mountain dance or two at a folk and bluegrass festival. Take a ranger-led hike in search of elk in heart of a national park.

Days are getting shorter, campfires more delicious, weather less predictable, and there is a tang in the air. It is invigorating is you are prepared.

For the SNU Folks – don’t forget Mesquite Spring in Death Valley at Halloween. A trip down U.S. 395 will likely feature fall colors and perhaps even snow-capped peaks in the Sierra. Maybe also snow covered roads on the passes so keep a close watch on http://nvroads.com/ and perhaps plan your route a day or so in advance with Weather Underground’s road trip planner.

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Maps, USGS, online

From the other side of the country the Appalachian Mountain Club’s Equipped takes note of Nearly Every USGS Topo Map Ever Made. For Free. from the USGS Map Locator and Downloader — “an incredible treasure trove for both map junkies and casual hikers alike.

One important thing to note is that, in general, the most recent topo maps listed are markedly different from their predecessors. Part of the new US Topo Series, these maps have been created as PDFs with geospatial extensions (GeoPDF), which gives you the ability to turn on and off different layers (contour lines, place names, water features, etc.) for viewing, depending on what information you are interested in. Unfortunately, however, trails are not currently included as one of these layers—a significant drawback for hiking.

Lastly, and one of the single-most useful online tools I’ve discovered in recent years, is the ability to overlay every USGS topo map on top of Google Earth, another free (and extremely powerful) tool to add to your trip planning quiver.

While you might be able to take the digital copy down to a local printshop to get a large paper copy, buying the paper copy from the USGS store might get you a better copy at less cost. There’s just something about a big map with lots of detail that isn’t there with the same map viewed on a display. Each has its uses: one is great for virtual exploring with a big table and a good light. The other works for active navigation and map editing. It’s also a lot easier to carry around an extensive map library when it is in the form of digital storage rather than large sheets of paper.

Right now, the Appalachian Mountain Club’s Equipped blog has posts on the status of the New England fall color and Railbikes. Looks like a good blog to watch, even if I’m getting back east anytime soon.

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Roughing it smoothly

Ray Whyte is a Canadian handyman with a Prowler. He’s put together a 122 page book (PDF) available for free on his website. The book is well worth the download and probably even a donation as requested. There are a lot of pictures, personal anecdotes, tips and tricks, suggestions, and just plain good advice. Whether you want to see how to weld on an additional entry step or sew together a tire cover, Ray has his story, with pictures and sometimes links to YouTube videos.

Books like this are enjoyable for the pictures,  the sharing of common experiences, and the many ideas to peruse and consider. The price on this one can’t be beat.

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Caveat Emptor: Les Schwab Tire Store

The saga started with the TPMS going to alarm about 5 miles out from the rally site. The flat tire suffered from old age and that meant replacement was needed. The Les Schwab Tire store 954 in Fallon was among the closest I could find that had the tires I needed in stock and was able to replace them on a Friday afternoon. Having a friend who knew people who worked there and a store with a big regional brand added confidence that the store could take care of my tire problem.

Strike one was the error rate. Tires were not inflated to either tire or vehicle manufacturer’s specifications. This is a safety issue. The valve stems billed on the invoice were not on the tires. This is a proper service issue and a reason to suspect consumer fraud. The odometer was misread. This is a potential warranty problem. The tire DOT date indicated that the tires had spent 10% of their expected lifetime on the shelf. That reduces the value of the product purchased.

Strike two was response to notification of these errors. I sent a letter to the store manager describing the issues and suggesting that procedures and policies might be changed to reduce the odds of them happening again. The manager called in response to my letter and asserted that the errors were insignificant or just matters of judgment. The ‘computer did it’ was the reason why billing for product not delivered shouldn’t be considered fraud. My concerns were shrugged off.

Strike three was the response to suggestion for improving the store’s quality of service. The idea of fixing the invoicing system was met with laughter. The idea that things might be done differently to reduce errors was dismissed. There seemed to be no interest in quality of service improvements.

Caveat Emptor! (wikipedia) You are not likely to be at the top of your game when out on the road and you don’t need added burdens. Yes, you should always carefully check what you purchase but you are on their home turf, not yours. You need commercial partners you can trust to help you get things right. You don’t need to work with vendors who add to your concerns or issues that might need to be addressed later. 

The issues raised about tire inflation, tire age, and RV issues are worth a review. Posts on these topics to follow!

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Don Featherstone, R.I.P.

U.S. News reports that Don Featherstone, creator of pink plastic lawn flamingo, dies in Massachusetts at 79.

Featherstone, a trained sculptor with a classical art background, created the flamingo in 1957 for plastics company Union Products, modeling it after a bird he saw in National Geographic. Millions of the birds have been sold.

His legacy lives on at many Airstream gatherings. What is about the pink flamingo yard decoration and an RV rally is something to ponder – some other time, some other place.

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Minimize the problem: Mosquitos and other “Protection against arthropod bites”

Indefinitely Wild has a good rundown on What You Can Do About Mosquitos.

On that turkey hunt in a mosquito-infested valley in the eastern Sierra foothills, I applied a 50 percent DEET lotion to my baseball cap and, during the day, wore permethrin-impregnated, full-coverage clothing. At night, I slept unprotected, first in a stand of trees next to the river that enjoyed a constant breeze, then the next night on the ground, in still air next to the car. Before going to bed, I placed the Thermacell on a rock a few feet away and made sure it was fitted with a fresh pad. I was armed with a head net, just in case, but didn’t use it.

The result? After two nights and two days in mosquito central, I found two bites on my right wrist. I guess nothing’s a 100 percent guarantee, but there absolutely are effective methods and products to keep mosquitoes from sucking your blood.

Your RV is a partial solution, too, but have you checked for your supply of repellent to make sure it is fresh for the coming season? What other precautions are appropriate so you can (a) enjoy the outdoors and (b) protect the inside for a good night’s sleep?

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Batteries

The English isn’t all that polished but the message about how to get best lead acid battery life is good. See Maintenance-free lead batteries Panasonic will surprise by their lifetime at the Electronics Lab Blog. It does appear to be a Panasonic battery press release but that only means you need to be careful about what is hype and what isn’t.

“However those are things, which can be easily checked up from available internet source or even better from satisfied users. Instead of it, we better bring you a few advices for usage of VRLA/ SLA batteries to serve you as long as possible”

This list is similar to what you’ll find posted in the archives here: “number of cycles (thus a battery lifetime) is very strongly dependent on a level of discharge before consequent recharging.” … “real capacity of a battery (amount of energy, which we´ll get out of it) is strongly dependent on a discharge current.” … “real capacity of a battery also depends on temperature.” Also note the comments about number of cycles.

Hype? Perhaps the best example is the claim that “top quality AGM VRLA batteries last you up to 15 years.” Maybe. The issue is that lead acid batteries gradually lose capacity as they age. If you use and maintain batteries properly, this will be a gradual degradation. The end of life decision then becomes a matter of when deciding the reduction in capacity is sufficient to warrant replacement.

Lead acid batteries are so common for RV and automotive use because they are inexpensive, do the job, and reasonably tolerant of abuse. As a contrast, lithium ion rechargeable batteries have ten times the energy capacity by weight, cost ten times as much for energy storage, and are very intolerant of abuse – so intolerant that Li0ion battery cells often have their own integrated electronics to make sure they are not overcharged, discharged too far, and protected from excess current. Now, if you want life, the NiFe battery might be for you (see BeUtilityFree.com NiFe FAQ or Wikippedia) but the trade-off for lifespan is weight.

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For the survivalist or some interesting reading of classic home how-to literature

The Survivor Library says it is about how to survive when technology doesn’t – classic survivalist meme. The Library Index includes 106 categories of ‘how-to’ out of copyright books. The cookbooks collection has an extensive collection mostly from the 19th century up to about 1922. The books are available in both PDF and epub versions. The epub version works for your eBook reader but sometimes the conversion has glitches.

If you are interested in science, technology, and home-making as it was 150 years ago, this library should provide many interesting resources.

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RV Composting Toilet Thoughts

The Wynn’s YouTube channel has several videos about their RV composting toilet experience. Composting Toilet Secret Tips and Tricks is a good place to start if considering this option. Nature’s Head Dry Composting Toilet / Standard Crank Handle (Amazon affiliate link) is a popular example of the appliance. There are a few things to consider about composting toilets in an RV:

  • The RV composting toilet costs 3 times (or more) that of a typical RV toilet.
  • Proper composting requires aeration, 50F or better temperatures, 50% (+/- 10%) moisture content, and weeks to months of time.
  • Disposal of waste remains an issue. The Wynn’s experience is that they need to dump the urine bottle every 2 or 3 days and the compost bucket every 2 to 3 weeks.
  • The RV toilet needs a continuous electrical supply to keep its ventilation running. That is key to smell management, aeration, and moisture removal.
  • Water use may be a bit less. The typical RV toilet needs enough water to keep solid waste in the tank covered. A composting toilet only needs enough to clean the bowl.
  • A composting toilet needs to be ‘primed’ with peat moss or something like Worm Factory COIR250G10 Coconut Coir Growing Medium 250g – 10 pack (Amazon) to help aerate the feces and optimize decomposition.
  • Flushing the RV composting toilet involves cranking the aeration and maceration paddles.

Some cabin and house type composting toilets can get really sophisticated. The big issues that complicate the operation are that of removing moisture, allowing for a proper composting time, managing temperature, and facilitating final disposal.The RV toilet manages moisture by operator attention to separating feces and urine into separate containers, depending upon mild ambient temperatures, forced continuous ventilation, and removal of waste prior to complete decomposition. 

The comments I see indicate some of the same issues and attitudes regarding waste disposal as occur with gray water. With regulations and laws getting ever more strict, disposal of any biologic waste outside of specially designated places should be assumed to be prohibited. You might get away with dumping the urine bottle in a privy or toilet but the compost is another issue.

RV toilet compost should be handled and treated much the same way as cat litter. It should be considered dried out rather than composted. Some toilets allow rotating compost buckets to help further composting but the RV situation with a total bucket time of only a week or two with additions within a day or two of disposal isn’t going to do much other than start the initial phases of composting. The week or two does provide a good composting start and does remove a lot of moisture and that tends to reduce the volume and weight of the waste. The result isn’t the sort of thing to put in a privy or other toilet. It also isn’t the sort of thing to spread out in the open. That leaves bag and trash or shallow burying (if allowed).

There are a number of DIY composing projects out there. The RV provides a few opportunities for such a system. For example, the air feed for the toilet could come from the top of the refrigerator heat exchanger. That would help refrigerator efficiency as well as provide pre-warmed air for the compost pile. Both the compost pile air exhaust and the urine bottle could be routed into the RV black tank to reduce the necessary waste disposal intervals. 

The standard RV toilet works well for most RV needs and provides a fairly high barrier for competing technologies. What seems to give composting toilets an edge for some are ideological fantasies. These center on ‘green’ ideas like saving water or recycling or personalized waste handling. Perhaps the old style gopher hole should be considered for comparison. As with all waste, the issue is really more a problem of concentration than it is with where it goes.

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