Archive for Understanding

The Great American Eclipse

The PBS Space Time YouTube channel has a short presentation on The Great American Eclipse. It’s a once in 40 year special event and there’s likely to be a lot of folks camping out on its path between Oregon and North Carolina. 

sad to say, being PBS the video is plagued by its sponsor (and some wacked out comments) but that is at the end and in the ‘extra notes.’ The presentation itself is quite good and explains the phenomena and what you might be able to see.

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Diesel versus Petrol

It’s always a challenge trying to fit specifications with popular perceptions when it comes to trailer towing engine choices. An Australian AutoExpert, John Cadogan, has a lecture on YouTube that contains a few hints: Diesel Australia – the Diesel vs Petrol story  — do read the text that goes with the video as it is a bit more complete than many such video explanations.

Diesel vs petrol engines: Comparable petrol engines make more peak power – but diesels deliver huge torque at low revs. That means more low-rpm power from the diesel – maybe three or four times as much down at 2000rpm. That makes diesel feel unfussed and effortless in traffic. Diesel motors are about 30-40 per cent more fuel efficient. That means more cruising range out of a diesel, and less spent every week on transport.

This doesn’t help the confusion. There is a clue given in the video that does provide some help. The first item to consider is a proper definition of terms. It is the power that determines how fast you can get up the hill and the engine torque that determines the gear you need to use. Torque is a force whereas power is the rate of energy flow. So torque needs to have both distance and time figured in to be able to compare it to power. That is one problem with the quote. Another is that comparisons such as “maybe three or four times as much” are useless without a proper referent. The key item is that a diesel is a low speed engines while petrol (gas) engines produce best at higher rotational speeds (RPMs). The power range in a diesel covers only about half the RPM of a gas engine. That means that the transition from cruising on the flat to climbing a hill is going to cause the diesel to speed up much less than a gas engine and that means that the gas engine is more likely to need a shift of gears. 

It all comes back to the transmission. Big rigs need a lot of gears despite being diesels because they need all the power they can get and the gears help optimize the narrow torque curve. Choosing the best engine for long haul means it’s likely a bit small for grades and start stop traffic and the transmission compensates. The typical RV isn’t as heavy and can use an engine that has a better power to vehicle weight ratio to handle mixed traffic situations with fewer gears.

That’s just one example. John covers a lot of ground in 12 minutes so you need to listen carefully to catch things a bit different than you think. It’s not as simple a debate and there is a lot of nuance to catch.

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Outside Missing

At MetaFilter the story linked was How 1,600 People Went Missing from Our Public Lands Without a Trace — That lead to an Outside story centered on the case of 18-year-old Joe Keller who vanished from a dude ranch in Colorado’s Rio Grande National Forest.

The MetaFilter page is worth a look for the comments. The Outside story is rather long but contains a lot of information.

“The first 24 hours are key,” says Robert Koester, a.k.a. Professor Rescue, author of the search and rescue guidebook Lost Person Behavior. Koester was consulted on the Keller case and noted that, like most missing runners, Joe wasn’t dressed for a night outside.
 …
There was nothing to go on. In that first week, the search engaged about 15 dogs and 200 people on foot, horseback, and ATV. An infrared-equipped airplane from the Colorado Division of Fire Prevention and Control flew over the area. Collin’s brother Tanner set up a GoFundMe site that paid for a helicopter to search for five hours, and a volunteer flew his fixed-wing aircraft in the canyon multiple times. A guy with a drone buzzed the steep embankments along Highway 17, the closest paved road, and the rock formation Faith, which has a cross on top. A $10,000 reward was posted for information. How far could a shirtless kid in running shoes get? 
 …
Joe Keller had just joined the foggy stratum of the hundreds or maybe thousands of people who’ve gone missing on our federal public lands. Thing is, nobody knows how many.
 …

It’s hard to put your hunches and suspicions to rest. We’ll never know for certain what happened to Joe Keller. We’ll know even less about what happened to a lot of other people missing in the wild. 

 

One question I had early on was, Are you better or worse off going missing in a national forest than from a Walmart parking lot? I thought I knew the answer. You can see an aerial view of my firewood pile from space on your smartphone. I thought that in the wild, someone would send in the National Guard, the Army Rangers, the A-Team, and that they wouldn’t rest until they found you. Now I’m not so sure.

In Joe’s case, it looks like he was injured in a fall. Even being only a short ways from the ranch, finding him was extremely difficult. It may be low odds of getting lost and the idea of something happening on only a short walk near the campsite seems not worth considering. What is worth considering is that things happen, the wilderness is indeed wild even very close to campgrounds and civilization, and the risk cannot be ignored. 

 

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Batteries slowly moving to a new era

The previous post referred to a battery upgrade that included a switch from a lead acid to a lithium battery. It appears (good data on this is sketchy) that this produced four times the capacity for size and weight versus a ten times increase in capital outlay. Lithionics is one company that is pushing lithium batteries and its website has some useful information.

Battery life is always one issue. Their FAQ page on this provides a graph of cycles versus depth of discharge but does not mention any other age factors. With 90% DoD, 2400 cycles can be expected while at 10% DoD you might get 35,000 cycles. These are at a 1C discharge rate which is a one hour rate. The usual rating for a lead acid battery is a 20 hour rate and they may provide a range of 500 to 2000 cycles for a similar DoD range.

Lead acid batteries are popular because they are cheap and will take a lot of abuse. Not so lithium. This is why Lithonics pushes its NeverDie® Battery Management System (BMS) to protect the battery from common abuse scenarios. One of the issues it handles is cell equalizing. For RV’s with lead acid batteries that is usually handled by overcharging. Storage will do this with a good battery maintainer but some go for the old style bulk charge while monitoring specific gravity style described on Trojan Battery’s website. The BMS is using modern technology for balance charging cells using cell by cell voltage monitoring as lithium batteries don’t use a liquid electrolyte. This type of charging is also popular for those into remote control hobbies like drones and scale model vehicles that run on lithium batteries.

As for cost, BattleBorn lists an LiFePO4 100 ah 12v LiFePO4 Deep Cycle Battery for $899.00 – Powerstream has a 12v 22AH for $295 so 100 AH of these would cost nearly $1500 – for comparison, Walmart sells a group 29 lead acid RV battery with about this 100 AH 12v capacity at around $100. This is the 1000 watt hour battery capacity level. 

The Journal of the Electrochemical Society has a paper on Calendar Aging of Lithium-Ion Batteries. The abstract concludes “To maximize battery life, high storage SoCs corresponding to low anode potential should be avoided.” Here are some other highlights:

Calendar aging comprises all aging processes that lead to a degradation of a battery cell independent of charge-discharge cycling. It is an important factor in many applications of lithium-ion batteries where the operation periods are substantially shorter than the idle intervals, such as in electric vehicles. Furthermore, the degradation owing to calendar aging can also be predominant in cycle aging studies, especially when cycle depths and current rates are low.

This is particularly important in RV’s and is why cycle life isn’t even much of an issue with lead acid batteries.

Basically, both the evolution of passivation layers and transition-metal dissolution are promoted by a high state of charge (SoC) and temperature

This is similar to what happens in lead acid batteries where the passivation layers is called sulfation. The difference is that lead acid batteries do better with a full state of charge (SoC) while lithium batteries suffer if stored this way.

Battery University has a page on how to Prolong Lithium Based Batteries

Lithium-ion has not yet fully matured and is still improving. Notable advancements have been made in longevity and safety while the capacity is increasing incrementally. Today, Li-ion meets the expectations of most consumer devices but applications for the EV need further development before this power source will become the accepted norm.

That means you need to be careful when evaluating lithium battery specifications and advertising claims. There isn’t a history, things are changing rapidly, and effective measurement standards are not well established.

Environmental conditions, not cycling alone, govern the longevity of lithium-ion batteries. The worst situation is keeping a fully charged battery at elevated temperatures. Battery packs do not die suddenly, but the runtime gradually shortens as the capacity fades.

Batteries are electrochemical devices and suffer much the same issues no matter the chemistry. Lithium batteries have advantages in terms of cycle life, high discharge rates, and short charge times. This might get you a 4x capability improvement for a 10x price premium. Here’s where that might be worth considering.

  • If you want to run your RV air conditioner for a few hours or other heavy loads for more than a few minutes, 
  • If your lifestyle frequently cycles battery charge in a consistent pattern that doesn’t show significant variation or have need for deep reserves.
  • If you have an ability to charge the battery at 1C rates (100 amps for 100 AH battery)
  • If weight is a significant factor for your battery bank.
  • If you don’t have to worry about temperature extremes (below 40F or above 90F)

Otherwise?

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Lehto on What You Need to Know Before You Buy an RV

A 19 minute video on YouTube: What You Need to Know Before You Buy an RV – Lehto’s Law Ep. 3.19. Steve Lehto is an attorney in Michigan who has practiced in the fields of Lemon Law and Consumer Protection for 24 years.

I have warned of the problems that come with RV ownership but I know many people are intent on buying them anyway. In that case, here is what you need to know and what you can do BEFORE you buy an RV to protect yourself.”

His basic advice is to make sure to get a prospective purchase inspected whether new or used. If you are not RV familiar, rent one to camp out in an RV park where you can talk to others and find out if an RV is really going to be your thing. He also suggests buying a used RV direct from the owner so you can also get a feel for the character of the person who is selling and find out why it is being sold.

A lot of good advice in the video. Caveat Emptor [wikipedia]

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Cellphones, Email and the new avenues for the old game

It has become ever less expensive to reach out to others. Email and telephone are now nearly free and the robots can roll through telephone numbers and address lists with ease. That means the scammers have a wide field to play in. You aren’t even safe out in the boonies any more as cell phone coverage spreads and remote state parks start to feature Wifi.

Katherine Rodriguez describes one: ‘Can You Hear Me?’ Phone Scam Has Police Warning People to Hang Up Immediately.

Police say answering the question “Can you hear me?” over the phone from an unknown caller can have serious consequences thanks to a new scam that is making the rounds in several states.

“You say ‘yes,’ it gets recorded and they say that you have agreed to something,” Susan Grant, director of consumer protection and privacy for the Consumer Federation of America, told CBS News. “I know that people think it’s impolite to hang up, but it’s a good strategy.”

Police suggest taking the following steps to avoid this scam:

Do not answer the phone from numbers you do not recognize,
Do not give out personal information,
Do not confirm your number over the phone,
Do not answer questions over the phone.

Police urge those who do get caught in a scam to hang up the phone and call 911 instead.

I am not so sure about calling 911 as non-emergency (not threatening life or property) calls should go to the routine dispatch number but 911 is easier to remember.

Here’s the Federal Trade Commission page on phone scams. A search for Washoe County Sheriff scam report finds don’t be a victim.

Anyone who has been a victim of this scam, or who receives such a call, is encouraged to take down as much information as possible, such as a name and call back number, without giving any information away. Then, immediately contact the Washoe County Sheriff’s Office at (775) 328-3001.

Verizon has a rundown on What are Robocalls?

Robocalls are phone calls with prerecorded messages. These calls have increased in recent years because technology has made it cheap and easy for robocallers to make calls from anywhere in the world while hiding their identities by displaying fake Caller ID information. To Learn More visit the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) or the Federal Communications Commission (FCC).

All calls with prerecorded telemarketing sales messages are illegal unless you agreed to be called. Some non-marketing robocalls (such as political and charitable calls to wireline telephones) are authorized by law in most states, even if they are unwanted.

Senior fraud seems to be a particular concern with special laws. Nevada Consumer Affairs says

Older Americans are targeted for fraud because they are the mostly likely demographic to have money in savings, own their home, and have excellent credit… all of which a fraudster will attempt to take advantage of. Also, seniors are less likely to report fraud.

The Nevada Senior Guide also has Tips for Staying Safe As a Senior Citizen by Mark Mahaffey.

the elderly grew up during decades when it was proper to be polite and trusting. This makes them less likely to be rude during a phone conversation or face-to-face meeting with a con artist. The con artist will keep pushing, and the elderly victim may just ‘give in.’

Financial crimes are devastating for anyone, but especially so for senior citizens. They not only feel afraid, but may begin to question their own ability to handle their own affairs. For an aging person already trying to hold on to independence as long as possible, this can be emotionally terrifying.

On the other hand, sometimes the effort to protect the elderly goes a bit too far. A neighbor got in trouble like this once in caring for his mother as a physician reported a bruise from a fall as potential abuse. For an explanation of the law, see Nevada “Elder Abuse, Neglect, Exploitation & Isolation” Laws (NRS 200.5099) (Explained by Las Vegas Criminal Defense Attorneys)

It is a crime in Nevada to abuse, neglect, financially exploit, abandon or isolate the elderly. Certainly it is illegal to harm people of any age, but Nevada law carries harsher penalties for targeting “older persons.”

Caretakers and family members are often wrongfully accused of abusing elderly people in Nevada. These false allegations may stem from simple misunderstandings, innocent accidents or legitimate self-defense. But a conviction carries devastating penalties and mars the accuseds’ records, causing prospective employers not to consider them for jobs.

It’s a wide world out there and there are people from kids playing with fire to bone fide experienced criminals trying every door and window to find an opportunity for mischief.

Take Care.

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Outcomes and the cost of camping

On the Coyote Blog: Minimum Wages and Price Increases To Customers: A Real World Example Today in Arizona. He manages about 35 public campgrounds and parks in Arizona and more in other states. Politics hit his business which mean they hit you.

We will have to look at our financials for each permit, but my guess is that on average, we are talking about camping fee increases of $2 and day use fee increases of $1. This range of fee increases will actually not cover our full cost increase, but we will try to make up the rest with some reductions in employee hours.

This is one impact. Labor laws also limit how he can engage with volunteers and camp hosts and how he can render site services. For those of us that want to get out and enjoy public lands, this is just one side of the squeeze. The other side is in the growing restrictions on land use and when, where, and how we can use public lands and what can happen to you if you miss something. Think the NFS motor vehicle usage maps as an example and consider that with the stories about how the maps in GPS navigation systems and other maps often have errors. An error in the map isn’t a government problem it is your problem. 

We are slowly legislating ourselves out of access to our own country.

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What about the RV experience and the community?

Bill Kristol has a conversation with Justice Clarence Thomas: Personal reflections on the Court, his jurisprudence, and his education. Near the end of the conversation (at 1:05:30), Justice Thomas mentions that has been a “motorhomer” for 17 years and notes that “there is a wonder out here” with people who share a common experience. It “keeps you normal” he says to get out with others who share his interest in the RV experience. “You’re with the rest of your country rather than isolated from it” he says.

That is the other part of the RV experience. It is not only to experience the land first hand but also to share that experience with others. That builds relationships and friendships and community. 

The conversation also provides some insight into growing up Black in the south after WW II. The story is an example of just how much is possible. Worth listening to.

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1 in 200 on the Oregon Trail

Preparedness Advice talks about Foods Carried on the Oregon Trail that provides an interesting comparison for the modern traveler.

The Oregon Trail was an exhausting, sometimes treacherous, 2,000-mile journey that connected the Missouri River to valleys in Oregon and locations in between. Over half a million stalwart souls were brave enough to leave the relative comfort of civilization at that time and venture off into strange and unknown lands.

We know a surprising amount of the Oregon Trail experience because so many travelers wrote journals, sent letters home, and even wrote books and newspaper articles. True Accounts of Life in a Covered Wagon and Ox-Team Days on the Oregon Trail are vivid, first-person accounts of this harrowing journey.

Most of these pioneers traveled by covered wagons, which were pulled by oxen and horses. Those wagons carried not only passengers and a few personal belongings, but over 1000 pounds of food! They were hoping to add to those food stores with hunting, fishing, and foraging, but none of that was guaranteed, so they had to give careful consideration to the most essential food items.

The journey from beginning to end took from 4 to 6 months. When you think about how much food your family consumes in that time frame, it’s a lot of food.

Travelers brought books, Bibles, trail guides, and writing quills, ink and paper for letters. About one person in 200 kept a diary.

Then consider what they had for roads, maps, directions, and all those other things we take for granted today.

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What can I tow?

G.R. White thinks tow ratings are overrated. This is despite efforts like the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) J2807 tow-rating standard.

Alongside power, economy and payload, trailering ratings are the Holy Grail of light truck marketing. However, despite recently adopted Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) standards that put everyone on the same footing, the value of tow ratings is almost irrelevant in the real world.

There’s only one way to know what your pickup can tow, and it involves a trip to the scales, knowledge of what Gross Combined Weight Rating (GCWR), GVWR and Gross Axle Weight Rating (GAWR) are and how to calculate it all. Sure, the salesman is correct when they say your truck could pull this or that, but will they be in court or the service drive with you if something goes wrong?

The problem is that measures like in the J2807 standard have carefully specified conditions and assumptions and the actual usage may or may not reflect those conditions and assumptions. White also runs afoul of the measurement problem in his suggested solution as well. J2807 is an attempt at a s usability measure determined by actual performance evaluation. Weight ratings are engineering specifications that are estimated from design and materials considerations. A key item that should raise a red flag is when White refers to the legal system as the only time that argument has any merit is in cases of gross negligence.

Of course, you do not want to abuse the engineering specifications for your rig but you do need to be aware of their source. GAWR and wheel and tire ratings, for example, are close to individual component specific and that means they need careful attention. GVWR is more vague as it is about the vehicle as a system of parts. GCWR is even less precise as it depends upon assumptions about frontal wind area and other factors that depend upon specific circumstances. It also pays to keep in mind that, as engineering specifications, these ratings have a safety margin built in and there are also usually conditions and assumptions considered that can be manipulated for special circumstances. Speed and temperature are two of those conditions and assumptions that can be manipulated to adjust ratings, for instance. Sometimes, like for tires, these conditions are actually specified.

If you remember a family RV experience as a kid back in the 50’s or 60’s, you will recall a family sedan or station wagon with a 100-200 hp engine and a three speed transmission towing a trailer weighing maybe a ton or so. Downshifting on nearly any grade was to be expected and their wasn’t much in the way of creature comforts such as air conditioning or even bucket seats. These days, the tow vehicle is an SUV or pickup truck with nearly double the power of that old sedan and a transmission with double the gears, too. The trailer likely ways four tons or more. People seem to get irritated if their automatic transmission downshifts out of overdrive going up freeway grades and turning off the AC as suggested on I15 going East of Baker is not a consideration.

Yes, it’s prudent to make sure your rig is competent and capable before you buy but people also learn from experience. You find a tow vehicle and a trailer that fits your needs and is comfortable for your RV experience. The choice isn’t a permanent one as your needs, interests, and preferences will change over time. Equipment also keeps getting better, too.

Take care. Drive safe.

 

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Don’t buy blind

Steve Lehto says Don’t Buy An RV! – Lehto’s Law Ep. 45 in an 18 minute Youtube video. He’s a consumer protection lawyer and has lots of sad tales to tell.

Published on Aug 19, 2015 — Why you shouldn’t buy an RV – or what you should know before you do. Recreation Vehicles are very different from cars when it comes to how the law protects you.

His point is that an RV is a complex collection of many systems put together by folks under a lot of pressure and often bought by people who don’t really know what they are getting into. Automotive Lemon Laws and consumer protections are not as stringent for RV’s and the risks are significant.

Caveat Emptor (wikipedia) applies. Know what you think you are buying. Check to see that what you think you are buying is most likely what you are paying for. And know the RV lifestyle needs and requirements related to the particular RV you are buying. Expect things to break or not work as you expect and know what to do when that happens.

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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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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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Cooking: knowing the why might help you adjust for the RV lifestyle

Fifty concepts stated, explained, and illustrated to show the how and why of cooking: The Science of Good Cooking (Cook’s Illustrated Cookbooks)

If you are into Alton Brown or are a Cook’s Illustrated subscriber or just interested in learning about such things as why Gentle Heat Prevents Overcooking, High Heat Develops Flavor, Some Proteins Are Best Cooked Twice, and more, this looks like a good resource.

(note: Amazon Affiliate Link: helps the site at no cost to you)

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Towel tech

There Is a Right and a Wrong Way to Use a Beach Towel — do you want to know why?

“That water-wicking blanket is actually an intricately designed instrument, fine-tuned to provide you with the best possible poolside experience. And here’s the thing: It’s entirely possible that you’ve been using it wrong all along.

The beach towel is not just an oversized, elaborately patterned bathroom towel, used to dry you off any which way. It has two distinct sides, designed for two very different purposes—and one side has absolutely no business in the bathroom.”

Gizmodo‘s Rachel Swaby provides some insight into the technology behind towels and why a bath towel and a beach towel are different. Who knew?

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Understanding the price of gasoline

Already the headlines are working on fears of $5/gallon gasoline this summer. You may have also seen stories about the North Dakota oil boom or the political fracas about an oil pipeline. It’s all about what kind of oil is where. Casey Research has a nice story to help explain things: It’s All about Differentials.

We’re talking about oil price differentials, which means the different prices paid for crude oil in different parts of the world. People often talk about “the price of oil” as though there is just one price, when really there are dozens of crude blends that each has a different valuation. Sure, some blends are much more prevalent and therefore important than others.

If you want to skip right to the bottom line, it is this: location matters. Bakken producers are getting hammered on pricing because they struggle to get their oil to the nearest refinery and storage hub – in Cushing, Oklahoma. Then, in a cruel feedback cycle, once the oil reaches Cushing it actually pushes its own value down by adding to a supply glut – there isn’t enough refinery capacity in Cushing to process rising output from the Bakken and the Canadian oil sands, and there are only a few small pipes available to ease the glut by moving oil from Cushing to the big, sophisticated refineries on the Gulf Coast.

The right kind of oil has to get to the right kind of refinery to distil to the right kind of gasoline (or diesel) you need to get your rig on down the road. The price you pay at the pump reflects all of this and much more.

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RB energy supply considerations: Sean replaces his batteries and considers the issues

Sean has a bank of eight 8D sized batteries that he is replacing. That’s 22 kilowatt hours of total energy storage weighing more than 1300 pounds. His blog post takes a look at costs and options.

When all is said and done, there is not a single one-size-fits-all answer for the right balance among batteries, inverters, generators, solar, and power-pole usage for all RVers. Our set of choices is almost the right balance for us. If I were in the market for a generator today, I would buy a 6.5 kW as opposed to the 15+ kW unit we have now (and which came with the bus). But I would definitely not trade in my large battery bank, and the flexibility it buys us, even though it costs us about a grand a year.

His post takes a look at cycle life considerations, charge cost effectiveness, use profile variations and its implications, and what it really costs. It provides a good basis for looking at your options for meeting your RV household energy needs.

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Automotive tech: they don’t build them like they used to.

Popular Mechanics lists 23 Ways Your Car Is Better Than Your Dad’s – Auto Industry News – Popular Mechanics and Wired lists ten examples of Hidden Tech That Makes Modern Driving Better. A lot of these items increase comfort and reduce fatigue and are in tow vehicles as well as the everyday automobile.

Active noise canceling systems and acoustic glass help make for a quieter ride. Direct and minutely controlled fuel injection along with turbo charging systems provide more power for less engine at better fuel efficiencies. Integrated GPS is being used to determine sun angle and adjust climate control. Magnetorheological dampers adapt the suspension for driving conditions. Security is improved making vehicles a more difficult target for thieves. Sound systems make the stereo of yesteryear, even the home ones, look rather anemic and low-fi.

The reliability is also a target. Engine alternators are producing 1.6 kw and fan belt driven pumps are moving to electrical. Tires get better traction, are less prone to damage from road hazards, and last longer. Engines and drive trains often come with warranties up to five times (or more) as long as they did in the past.

They don’t build them like they used to and much of the improvement is behind the scenes and stuff we take for granted.

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