Archive for Living

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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RV swamp cooler on the cheap

Burning Man fallout: DIY portable camping PVC pipe evap air conditioner by graywolf.

What he built is a tube framed by PVC pipe with a Fantastic Endless Breeze fan at the top, a tub at the bottom, wrapped in cooler pad material, and a small 12v water pump to circulate water. The fan runs about $70 and the pump under $15. Tub, pipe, and pad are common hardware store items and should run well under $50 with the pads the most expensive item (e.g. Dial Mfg. 3072 Dura-Cool Pads at ~$16 ea).

If you are looking at the RV Motorhome Solar Battery 12-Volt Evaporative Swamp Air Conditioning Cooler that runs nearly $600 and want to see what evaporative cooling will do in your RV and what it takes, the DIY project makes for an inexpensive experimental apparatus. The most expensive part of the DIY swamp cooler is the Fan-Tastic Vent 01100WH Endless Breeze 12V Fan and that is a nice item to have even as just an RV table fan.  The KEEDOX® DC30A-1230 12V DC 2 Phase CPU Cooling Car Brushless Water Pump Waterproof Submersible isn’t that expensive and appears to be a general purpose submersible 12v low volume water pump. (note: Amazon affiliate links – check ‘em out and support this site!).

You might start the experimenting using the bathtub as a water reservoir. If you want automatic water filling, add a standard cooler float valve connected to the RV water supply. The two variables you will want to watch are water and power consumption. A few amps and a gallon or two of water per hour can make a big dent in an RV reserves over a hot afternoon.

Note: waste water is an attractive source for an evaporative cooler. The Burning Man have worked on that, too (see the Zyphers post on the evapotron). To use gray water for indoor cooling would require a water treatment plant to filter the waste water, apply a disinfectant, and, perhaps, a bit of perfume. — Possible but needs a bit of effort and care.

Power needs could be handled with a 100 watt or better solar system. The cost of that (think $4 per watt as a good guide) could be shared with other RV electrical power needs.

Another basic cooling device is shade. Awnings are a good start. Putting one of those 10×10 tent gazebos over the RV might also help. The problem with any of these is the afternoon Zephyrs as they can come with strong enough gusts at times to cause havoc with awnings and light structures.

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Trailering, 1952

Josh dug up Living in a Trailer by James Jones from the July 1952 edition of Holiday Magazine. Some things haven’t changed much in 63 years — some have.

“THE FIRST TIME you tow a house trailer you keep jerking the wheel to compensate for that crazy sway in the back end. It takes a long time to get enough used to it to ignore it. The first haul I ever made with mine—a trip that, although I didn’t know it then, turned out to be the first leg of a junket that would take me clear across the country and back and consume a year and a half—was to Memphis, Tennessee, from my home in Illinois. That’s about 400 miles, and it took me four days to make it. A year and a half later, on my way home from California, I hauled from Tucson, Arizona, to El Paso in one day. I had left a green-eared neophyte, and I was coming back a veteran. There is no pride in the world more rabid than that of a confirmed and dedicated trailerite. The next winter I took my trailer to Florida in four days, just about 1,200 miles.”

check it out. People, parks, and tours back when.

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Coffee water

There is a page on Coffee in the Owner’s Guide that mentions the key ingredient but that ingredient is often overlooked in the obsession about beans and roasting and procedures and protocols. The science behind the perfect coffee is a report on research to find out just how the water can influence the taste of coffee. Here are some highlights from the report.

“Hendon used computational chemistry methods to look at how different compositions of water affect the extraction of six chemicals that contribute to the flavour of coffee, along with caffeine. The study, published in the Journal of Agricultural Food Chemistry, found that water composition can make a dramatic difference to the taste of coffee made from the same bean.

“Hendon explained: “Coffee beans contain hundreds of chemicals; the precise composition depends on the type of bean and how it is roasted. The flavour of the resulting coffee is determined by how much of these chemicals are extracted by the water, which is influenced by roast time, grind, temperature, pressure and brew time.

“We’ve found that the water composition is key to the proportions of sugars, starches, bases and acids extracted from a particular roast.”

“The coffee industry uses guidelines on the ideal water for coffee extraction from the Speciality Coffee Association of Europe (SCAE), which measures ionic conductivity to quantify the total dissolved solids, however the researchers found that it was the proportions of these ions that Maxwell Colonna-Dashwood, co-author on the paper, said: “Unfortunately most of the time you are limited by the source water available. Water from the tap varies regionally and from day to day depending on how much it rains affected the extraction and therefore the taste of the coffee.

It seems a bit of magnesium is better than sodium but they key to keep in mind is that this taste stuff is getting into the weeds. Both the water minerals and the coffee taste chemicals are in very small amounts and you don’t have a whole lot of control over them. In an RV, you deal with what you can get as you travel. Use the tastes you encounter as another local phenomena to enjoy like the scenery and other attractions.

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Popcorn with an aluminum can

There are those hot air type popcorn poppers but electricity and special gear aren’t necessarily a good thing in the RV. There are those Jiffy Pop (Jiffy Pop – Amazon Affiliate link) but you can also use an aluminum can and a few kernels. Eric Ravencraft describes how to turn an aluminum can into a DIY popcorn popper. Cut a flap for a popped corn deflecter and make a handfull with minimal hassle.

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Spring cleaning: 25 tips

Paul Michael has 25 Essential Tricks for Quick and Easy Cleaning over at WiseBread. These are mostly about uses of vinegar and baking soda and similar well tried recipes with a few techniques and hints. Examples:

“Use a tube sock on your hand, soaked in warm water, to wash your blinds. You can do both sides at once and balance the blind.”

“Simple dryer sheets, like Bounce, rubbed onto your baseboards will clean them up a treat. And as a bonus side effect, they coat them in a way that repels dust and pet hair.”

“Repair Hardwood Floor Scratches – All you need is a walnut. By rubbing a walnut into the shallow scratches, their natural oils help hide the flaw. It’s an age-old carpenter’s trick.”

It’s always handy to keep a list like this easy to find – sometimes it might just make life a bit easier, a bit cleaner, and better smelling!

For books on the subject, see Household cleaning recipes on Amazon (affiliate link). Many have Kindle editions so you can take them along without cluttering your RV!

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Read cheap; take it with you

The University of California Press has made 700 books available for reading free of charge. OpenCulture has the story.

“The University of California Press e-books collection holds books published by UCP (and a select few printed by other academic presses) between 1982-2004. The general public currently has access to 770 books through this initiative. The collection is dynamic, with new titles being added over time.”

The University of Chicago Press also provides some free material.

The OpenCulture page also has a number of links to other resouces that provide free media including eBooks, audio books, and movies.

If you have a Kindle reader, check out dailyfreebooks for thousands of free eBooks including promotional copies as well as copyright expired material.

Of course, don’t forget Project Gutenberg, the “first producer of free ebooks” based on volunteer efforts.

Then there is the local library. Did you know many loan books for eBook readers? For example, you can find a book at the Washoe County Library website and it will not only tell you which branch has the book available or allow you to place a hold on the book, it will also tell you if the book is available in the electronic edition. To help you out, there are even workshops such as the one at the North Valleys Library branch on January 18.

What is nice about the electronics media revolution is that you can haul around significant personal libraries and not burden your RV. Thousands of books or movies will fit in a typical backup drive or eBook reader or tablet.

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Firearms in camp court decision

Eugene Volokh reports that “Today’s Morris v. U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (D. Idaho Jan. 10, 2014) strikes down an Army Corps of Engineers regulation barring possession of loaded guns in recreation areas surrounding Corps dams.” In this case, a tent was considered akin to a home. Second amendment rights are protected in homes.

“The court also holds that the Second Amendment protects the right to carry guns as well as to possess them at homes, so that the regulation is unconstitutional even as to carrying outside tents. And the court rejects the argument that the government may restrict such gun possession and carrying on the grounds that the government owns the property, and has no obligation to open the property to the public in the first place.”

An RV is also “akin to a home” so a firearm you have in it should fall under the same judgment.

It used to be that having a firearm handy for protection while camping was no big deal. The comments to Volokh’s post show how this has changed. There is still a need in the wilds for protection and self defense but some folks think there is a danger from firearms that outweighs this need. Sometimes that thinking is so strong it results in court cases. The courts are a bit confused which is why Volokh warns that “It’s not clear how the opinion will fare on appeal, but the case should be interesting to watch.

Whatever your opinion, if you do have firearms with you on your RV experience, make sure you maintain your shooting skills, keep up to date with laws and regulations where you travel, maintain the equipment in good condition, and store it properly for travel.

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Smoothies at camp with tools at hand

lifehacker notes a video about making watermelon smoothies with just a drill, a coat hanger, and, of course, the watermelon.

You may have a cordless drill driver for the stablizer jacks on your trailer and a coat hanger or other stiff wire isn’t that difficult to find. All you need to do is to cut a hole in the watermelon to allow you to get the wire bent into a beater shape inside. Then use the drill to blend the insides. Finally, fix a spout to poor out the smoothies. (food safe rated coat hangers, anyone?)

“the whole process takes seconds and leaves no messy cleanup behind. Just watch out for the seeds in that pulpy watermelon puree you’re about to enjoy. If you want to amp up the flavor a little bit, you could probably pour a little something into the watermelon after you’ve pulled the drill back out”

I wonder if it works and tastes as good as it sounds easy to do.

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A hammock on the hitch

If you unhitch and remove the ball mount from your tow vehicle, you’ve got an empty receiver that makes a solid mounting point. One use for that is a bit expensive but looks interesting (Amazon affiliate link) for those who like hammocks. – Green Eggs and Hammocks HamX2Go Trailer Hitch Hammock Chair Stand

Another option is a flagpole mount. The Camco 51611 Hitch Mount Flagpole Holder is about a tenth the cost of the hammock but you’d need to add your own flag pole and flag.

The problem with leaving the hitch ball mount assembly or a hammock or a flag pole attached to your tow vehicle is that the vehicle tends to become a part of the camp rather than an errands running or touring accessory.

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The non sewage waste water (grey, gray?) if the dump won’t do

The Burners have a rather severe problem when it comes to waste disposal. RV’s are very popular out on the playa but most don’t have waste tanks that will handle a full week’s worth of washing. Evaporative ponds for waste wash water have been superceded and newer technologies developed. The Gray-B-Gon is a wind powered device that fits in well with the Burning Man ethos. Flying Saucer evaporation also works well but uses a pump. The term ‘evapotron’ has been appropriated to name these devices and a web site put up to describe the devices – see evapotrons.

These ‘evapotrons’ are active devices that wet a tulle fabric or burlap cloth or something similar to promote evaporation. Besides the mechanics, there are two issues that are worth considering in normal RV practice. These are filtration and disinfecting. Oasis design has good discussion on Common grey water mistakes about these issues. Some more advanced efforts at treating waste wash water can make it somewhat acceptable for cooling devices (wikipedia). It is probably a better (safer) bet to put mechanical art on top of the RV to evaporate the waste. It appears that even a modest system can take care of ten gallons or more per day at Black Rock City.

It used to be that you could let RV wash water waste drain directly to plant covered absorbent soil away from any pond or stream and any traffic or use. That was reasonably safe. Most camping places prohibit such practice these days. There are some creative and portable solutions available if you need to safely handle waste wash water and an RV dump isn’t handy.

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A reminder about things not to do at a campground

Dave Seminara is in to tent camping. That just makes it harder to escape some of the obnoxious things other campers do. He lists 7 things not to do at a campground. It is a familiar list. Read. Remind yourself. Remember.

“One would think that campers would know not to snap the branches off of trees for firewood, drive fast around the campground, liter, and leave a fire unattended, but I’ve seen people do all of these things. Everyone slips up occasionally but a little common courtesy goes a long way, especially in the great outdoors.”

It’s sorta’ like picking a spot in the middle of a big dispersed area, getting set up, and then having someone else come along and decide to set up right next to you. Perhaps they think you chose a desolate spot because you need company or something? That something might include 24×7 electricity, music, dog poop avoidance games, and similar stuff as well.

It is one thing to be friendly and say “Hi” but entirely another to be oblivious to the needs and desires of others.

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Knees get old. What to do? AAOS speaks up

The knees tend to flavor RV choices for the ‘retired’ set especially. It flavors why many transition from a trailer to a motorhome or even just part the RV. That is one reason why there are so many products, ideas, and techniques that are promoted to reduce knee pain and improve function, Science Based Medicine summarizes a review of the solutions to knee osteoarthritis.

“The American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons (AAOS) has just issued a 1200 page report evaluating the evidence for various treatments for knee osteoarthritis short of total knee replacement surgery. A 13 page summary is available online. They have done the heavy lifting for us, reviewing all the available scientific studies for evidence of effectiveness.”

It is easy to spend money to feel better. The real question is whether that expense is effective. When it comes to medicine, especially, just spending money can have a positive effect – at least for a while. Some things may even be more effective for you than for everyone else. For the long term, though, it is usually best to know the evidence, the risk, and the odds. That is what the AAOS study is all about.

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Flamingo man – he and his wife on matching outfits

Every wonder who ‘invented’ the plastic pink yard flamingo? Neatorama has a picture with a story about Donald Featherstone and his wife and a lifestyle choice.

“Donald Featherstone, an artist, is most famous for inventing the plastic pink flamingo lawn ornament. But people who know him and his wife Nancy well think of them as an incredibly close and romantic couple. For the past 35 years, they’ve worn matching outfits everywhere they go.”

That’s one way to simplify things.

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propane level check – ultrasonic

The promo video even has an Airstream! (what else do you expect). The truma levelcheck is a German product and the website says Safari Stores in Reno carries them. The idea seems plausible. It shouldn’t be that difficult to use ultrasound to detect presence or absence of a liquid behind a thin sheet of steel or aluminum. It says it is for “For all steel and aluminium LP gas cylinders with a diameter of 7.9 to 13.8 in / 200 to 350 m” — don’t know what they want for it – have to drop by Safari the next time I head to town to find out.

meanwhile, I wonder if it would be possible to hack something like this as a micro-controller project. Most of the ultrasonic sensors are for measuring distance. It’d take some experimenting to see what kind of signal a propane tank would produce.

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Ant control

Lifehacker has a rundown on How to Get Rid of Ants. One idea is to get a good picture of the villain and send it to your local university extension service to identify. As they say, wars are won by knowing the enemy. That is the first step towards eliminating nests and trails and access points.

If you get an infestation at a campground, it can be difficult to get rid of ants that got into the RV. That means you need to be aware of any ant hills near your campsite and to watch carefully any access paths. At least with an RV, the means of ingress are a bit more limited.

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Another route to inexpensive on the road I’net access

How about free? It’s one of those base level service free if you buy the hardware things. Laptop has a story on the latest item: FreedomPop Hub Burst Router Grants Free 1GB Monthly Internet Access.

The Amazon affiliate link: Freddompop at Amazon supports this site.

FreedomPop’s website.

The biggest hassle for this idea might be that it appears to use the Sprint and Clearwire network. That network does not have the presence on the road as does Verizon or AT&T.

There is a similar product for telephones that uses the free Google Voice. Obihai on Amazon provides an ATA (analog telephone adapter) that plugs in between a typical landline phone and an internet connection. You program it with the Google Voice login data and then you can use it for making telephone calls. In addition to the free Google Voice, you can also program it to use one of several VOIP providers that will provide E911 and other services for a nominal fee.

Google Voice uses an email ‘chat’ function for its phone calls. It provides extensive voice mail facilities as well as the ability to route incoming calls to your other telephone numbers. When you sign up, you get a free telephone number but you can port a cell phone number (not a landline number) to be your Google Voice number for $20. Google has what they call 2 factor login that has, as a feature, special passwords you can allocate to specific applications such as the Obihai ATA or an email program like Thunderbird. If you log into your Google account from a computer, you will need to enter a code number received via phone call as the 2nd security layer.

Both of these communications channels, one for I’net and the other for telephone, illustrate how technology is being leveraged so we can get more for less. It can drive you nuts trying to keep up.

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CO, grid power, and recognizing the dangers

“By far, the biggest killer after a blizzard is carbon monoxide poisoning,” Lavonas [associate director of the Rocky Mountain Poison and Drug Center in Denver] says. “The biggest mistakes people make are using improvised heating sources and using electrical generators improperly.”

Liz Szabo says Portable generators pose safety risk after snowstorm. The same thing happens whenever there is a major grid outage.

The same issues are a concern with RV’s. This is why such things as the Camco 44461 Gen-Turi RV Generator Exhaust Venting System [Amazon affiliate link] were created. If you can’t get the genset away from your RV and downwind, then perhaps getting the exhaust up will help. Whatever you do, a properly functioning CO detector is a must.

One of our friends ran a 2kw genset in the back of a pickup truck for an oxygen concentrator overnight. He was startled with the CO alarm in the wee hours as genset CO had penetrated his trailer.

In a B-Van, the genset exhaust was run to the nearest side right under the main window. It should, at least, have been run back to the rear quarter away from any windows or vents.

Note that carbon monoxide is a cumulative poison. Alarms have to look at potential dose over time to determine when things are getting hazardous.

As for the grid, PhysOrg says Better power grid synchronization may enable smart grids to self-recover from failures.

“Although the LHC has often been called the largest machine in the world, that title may be more appropriately given to something much more familiar: power grids. Consisting of thousands of generators and substations linked across thousands of miles, these networks form the backbone of society in developed countries. Yet most of the grids that power our modern economy are based on technology from the 1960s, even though power demands have changed dramatically since then.”

If you can get around the bias that seems so common these days about everything falling apart, the story does report on some of the esoteric stuff that we depend upon for electrical power. The grid is kinda’ like a big bowl of Jell-O (Jell-O at Amazon) with all sorts of wiggling on its surface. If something big comes along, a jiggle can form that swamps things and creates havoc. The report is about new techniques that watch the surface of the Jell-O and apply counter jiggles to help keep the surface smooth and power flowing like it is supposed to.

note: Amazon affiliate links support this site at no cost or obligation to readers. Your click through is appreciated.

The thing is, to make Jell-O during a power outage really requires refrigeration and that means an alternate power source. The advice is that you want to avoid opening the refrigerator door to help keep things cold. Maybe Hot Chocolate? But that requires heat and the problem of backup heat sources in the house is another hazard. Oh, my. Just bundle up and wait it out?

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Tips for a steak on the stove

Off the (Meat) Hook has an entry {meeeeeeeeeaaaat} How To Cook Steaks On Your Stovetop That Taste Better Than in a Fancy Restaurant with some good tips for a good steak.

In your RV, the biggest problem is probably going to be the limits of the stove. Most modern RV stoves do have a high heat burner that will help get the pan good and hot. A good sear is one critical step to a good steak.

Also see wikiHowHow to Cook Steak in a Frying Pan. What’s Cooking America has its take with similar ideas: Perfect Steaks – How To Cook Perfect Steaks

good quality meat, room temperature, season or cure ahead of time, very hot pan, dry meat, good use of fat in the meat, consideration for carry-over cooking, — simple stuff but getting it right is sometimes not as easy as it sounds.

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