Archive for Understanding

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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Nitrogen for the tires?

Costco does it. Airplane tires require it. What does pure nitrogen in tires do that simple compressed air doesn’t?

Charles Day says it all boils down to moisture. Nitrogen in your car tires at Physics Today tells some of the story.

Pure nitrogen has other advantages over air besides its dryness. When tires get very hot, oxygen, the second most abundant component of air, can react with volatile chemicals in the rubber and cause an explosion. Even at lower, everyday temperatures, oxygen reacts with rubber, weakening it.

So will I refill my tires with nitrogen? Not if it costs more than a few dollars. Having owned the same car for 18 years, I know that worn treads will prompt me to replace the tires long before oxidation sets in.

The question then is how much filling an RV tire with nitrogen might expand its life beyond the 5 to 7 year timeline. That looks to be one of those questions where the data is weak or nonexistent that make for good myth-mongering in order to sell tires…

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US93 improvements north of Kingman

The big news was the bypass around Hoover Dam but the big improvement for travelers included the Arizona side access. That upgraded the road to near freeway spec. What you might notice on that stretch includes a number of overpasses out in the middle of nowhere that are too small to serve as the typical road overpass and don’t seem to connect to anything.

Those strange overpasses are a part of the new highway design paradigm. They are for wildlife. It seems that bighorn sheep can be a traffic hazard along this stretch of highway and it is hoped that providing the sheep their own overpass will reduce that hazard. The Daily Miner reports that “The Arizona Game and Fish Department has its first confirmed sheep crossing.” It’s a $4.8M project that is hoped to reduce the ten or more sheep hits per year by vehicles near Hoover Dam as well as reduce herd fragmentation. That area holds one of the largest contiguous bighorn populations in the nation.

The bridges cost almost $2m each and were built because the sheep didn’t seem to like underpasses. It appears the effort was supported by a good deal of research and consideration of factors involved.  There is more at the AG&F Department website, pictures too.

The NV DOT says traffic crashes involving wildlife cost an estimated $5B to $8B nationally every year. They provide a bit of history and some selling points for animal crossings.

The Canada Safety council says “Collisions with wildlife are a hazard throughout the year, but they start to peak in the summer and fall. The majority of these crashes occur between dusk and dawn, when visibility is low.”

Leslie Linthicum has a mea culpa that cites the effectiveness of efforts to reduce animal collisions. Her column provides an description of some of the methods and techniques that have been tried.

The FHA has a book on Best Practices Manual: Wildlife Vehicle Collision Reduction Study if you really want to get into vehicle and animal collisions.

There are also some interesting comparisons. The vehicle and wildlife crash incidence rate is increasing yet the crash rate per million miles is decreasing while actual miles driven is not increasing. That would indicate that wildlife conservation efforts are succeeding.

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Making ice cream or aging batteries – they have similarities

Serious Eats took after making ice cream without any special equipment. The problem is one that is very similar to how you keep your lead acid batteries from sulfating. How do you keep those crystals from growing into “something more akin to a wet concrete with shards of broken glass.”

With ice cream, you need to agitate it while it freezes to keep the crystallization under control. With lead acid batteries, you also need to keep the electrolyte stirred to keep the crystals from growing large and hardy.

In the quest for making ice cream without the usual equipment, Kenji experimented with the chemistry – much as lead acid battery manufacturers do for their product. After that it was materials prep – like batteries with the red lead paste. Then was the final construction phase and technique. Flash freezing was the key for smooth ice cream.

If you want to make some ice cream in your RV in small amounts without specialized equipment, ice, and rock salt, you might check out the recipe for Real Ice Cream Without the Machine ».

Then you can put on your physical chemist’s hat and think about how crystallization is important in your RV experience whether it is ice cream or lead acid batteries or, come to think of it, the cooling process your refrigerator uses. The absorption refrigerator in RV’s often fail because the ammonia solution crystallizes and blocks the flow that carries heat out of the fridge. What else might there be like this?

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How much can I tow?

One of the questions trailer owners ask is about what they need in a tow vehicle for their trailer. This has been a very subjective matter with a lot of sales hype and FUD mongering thrown in. The SAE has put together a committee to provide a standard against which towing issues can be compared. Automobile Magazine says

There are five engineering characteristics that strongly influence any tow vehicle’s performance:

* The engine’s power and torque characteristics.
* The powertrain’s cooling capacity.
* The durability of the powertrain and chassis.
* Handling characteristics during cornering and braking
* maneuvers. The structural characteristics of the vehicle’s hitch attachment area.

Standard J2807 spells out test procedures and performance requirements that must be meant for a manufacturer to assign a maximum tow rating to a particular vehicle.

Most of the issues, concerns, and questions that have come up over the years in the ‘what can I tow?’ question have been addressed in the standard. For instance, a tow vehicle must be able to go forward and backward 16 feet on a 12% grade five times in five minutes as well as meet acceleration times over a set of defined speed ranges commonly encountered in driving. The Davis Dam run on 68 and 163 in Arizona is used as a criterion where the rig has to keep up a minimum cruising speed when temperatures are over 100F and the AC is on full. Handling is also considered. Turns up to .3g or so must not exhibit oversteer and panic stops need to stay in lane and be accomplished in specified distances at various speeds.

These criteria will not only help choosing a tow vehicle but can also be used to understand what the ‘experts’ think is necessary for proper and safe towing. Starting with 2013 models, you may see the claim that the vehicle meets J2807 SAE standards and that will provide some assurance about the claims for what the vehicle will tow.

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Phone options

If you live on your phone, the unlimited cell phone minutes plan is something you might try to hold on to. They may not be available for long.

If you don’t need your telephone with you 24×7 and reducing costs is a consideration, WiseBread has some ideas in Kick that Cell Phone Contract: Save with a Prepaid Plan.

There are two basic cell phone networks. You may have seen the advertisements about who has the best coverage. One network uses CDMA and its major provider is Verizon. The other uses GSM and its major provider is AT&T. They are not compatible with each other and phones for one will not work on the other.

Some of the pre-paid cell phone providers contract with Verizon, AT&T, and other network providers. Tracfone, for instance, will sell you a GSM or a CDMA phone depending upon where you say you want to use it. If you are in Reno, Tracfone prefers a GSM phone. If in Gerlach or Doyle, the choices are CDMA phones. Verizon has better coverage in the less populated areas, it seems but AT&T better coverage in town.

Another factor to consider is that GSM phones use a SIM card and CDMA phones don’t. The SIM card is a little memory card that you plug into your phone that contains the service information from your cell phone provider. It is a lot easier to plug that into the phone for both you and the phone company than having to type in long strings of numbers on a CDMA phone to do the same thing. That is why the CDMA folks are looking at A RUIM card (also R-UIM) or Re-Usable Identification Module as a means to control service more easily.

Note that pre-paid cell phone service is often very basic. The phones are inexpensive and don’t have a lot of the bells and whistles the contract providers offer. You will usually have to look for other options for I’net access.

A pre-paid cell service can be a very inexpensive option as a part of a more complete plan. If you wait until you find a wifi hotspot, you can use Skype or MagicJack to the long calls and keep the pre-paid calls short.

The market is in a turmoil and things are changing quite rapidly. There are many different ways to do things. That provides opportunities for meeting your needs at low cost but it also means it is easy to miss something. Keep your options and your eyes open. It can be fun.

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Sway control and modern vehicles

Controlling trailer sway is often a hot topic in discussions. It is often difficult to figure out what to do to make sure the trailer stays behind the tow vehicle or why trailer sway happens. The recent labeling of the Lexus GX as a ‘do not buy’ by Consumer Reports (CR) has related causes. Why the Lexus GX may be rollover-prone (and the 4Runner isn’t) covers a number of issues that will help those towing trailers understand what is involved in rig stability and what modern vehicles do about it.

The first item is about oversteer. Trailers tend to exaggerate this because they push the rear out in when turning. “Cornering oversteer is something automakers try to avoid, except on high-performance sports cars. On SUVs with a high center of gravity, this is an especially serious problem”. Coupled with oversteer is that of lifting the throttle that CR uses in its tests to aggravate problems. Lifting throttle and failing to compensate for oversteer are primary contributions to trailer sway problems.

Electronic Stability Control Systems (ESC) were first adopted in the late 1990’s to combat the problem. “ESC relies on signals such as steering angle, lateral and longitudinal acceleration, yaw rate (the rate of rotation around the vertical axis), brake and throttle position, among others.” These systems can make your RV experience safer and more pleasant but, as in the Lexus case, they may not be tuned quite right and that may create problems.

It would be easy to read this article and just write off the problem as a technical, even computer, issue. That would be to miss what is being said about SUV’s, typical vehicle stability factors, and the implications of CR’s tests that are intended to bring out typical vehicle behavior problems. There are some things to learn that you can use to enhance your RV driving experience and comfort and safety.

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