Archive for February, 2008

More volunteer science

There are still the weather stations, especially in some midwest areas, to inventory. While you are doing that, you might also look into Project BudBurst, operated by the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research (UCAR) – see climate science weblog. This is looking for volunteers to observe when plants bud out or do other climate specific things. The idea is to obtain a database of plant behavior that can be used to monitor climate change.

Project BudBurst ( builds on a pilot program carried out last spring, when a thousand participants recorded the timing of the leafing and flowering of hundreds of plant species in 26 states.The Chicago Botanic Garden, University of Montana, and the USA National Phenology Network (USA-NPN) are collaborators on Project BudBurst, which was funded in part with a grant from the U.S. Bureau of Land Management and the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation. The project is also supported by the National Science Foundation and Windows to the Universe (, a UCAR-based Web site that will host the project online as part of its citizen science efforts.

Project Budburst is one of the citizen-science partnerships of the newly created USA-NPN (, which is managed by the U.S. Geological Survey, and includes partners such as the National Science Foundation, the University of Arizona, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and many other agencies. The goal of the USA-NPN is to engage governmental agencies, environmental networks and field stations, educational institutions, and mass participation by citizen scientists in collecting phenological information on plants and animals.

This one needs you to stay put for a period of time so you can be there when a plant decided to do its thing. It would be one way to put a bit of a focus on your appreciation of nature in a different way and gain more from your freedom to be out and about in your RV.

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Blind obedience

GPS navigation devices are becoming quite popular and that means a number of stories where blind obedience to their directions has resulted in difficult situations Engadget notes the story of the Trucker blindly follows GPS, gets wedged in farm lane and shows the road sign that the trucker ignored. There are other stories such as the one about the driver who took a turn where the GPS told him to turn. That was a few feet short of the intersection and the driver ended up in a lake.

There is no substitute for an alert and observant driver!

GPS navigation units are improving. Their maps are beginning to include information to help match roads to vehicles as well as to consider traffic patterns and other hazards. There is an effort to note “RV Friendly” with signage. Some also use online maps with satellite pictures to view potential fuel stops to evaluate potential navigation hazards.

Conditions and roads change and sometimes that change is so recent it won’t show on your maps or GPS device. That’s why it is up to you to evaluate the road ahead and take appropriate precautions.

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DST Redux 8 March

Daylight Savings Time to return on March 9 ( – prepare to set the clocks forward and get up an hour earlier!

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It looks to be a good spring to visit Death Valley!

Bert Gildart, a writer and photographer, has noticed Spring Awakenings in Death Valley.

“This is about the earliest we’ve seen desert gold in years,” said a park volunteer, who has been here for almost a decade. “Normally, we don’t see such blooms until March, which is usually the best month for wildflowers. To a great extent, it is because of the unusually abundant rain we received last month.”

Whether this year will have a spring to remember will depend upon rains yet to come. So far, though, it is looking like a good time to visit Death Valley if you are looking to see the wildflowers.

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Succeeding the Hensley Arrow trailer hitch – Pro Ride

It looks like it is now the ProPride Pivot Point Projection (3P) hitch. There is also an article on that site, “The Jim Hensley Hitch Story”, that tells the story.

in the first part of 1994, a new company, Hensley Mfg. Inc., was formed in Davison, Michigan for the manufacturing and sales of the hitch, now renamed the “Hensley Arrow Hitch”. … For the next 14 years … Jim continued to work on design improvements in hitches and brake controllers with the idea of licensing these products to Hensley Mfg., Inc. This never materialized with Hensley Mfg. and the relationship between Jim and the company named after him was severed during the middle months of 2007. … At the beginning of July 2007, Sean Woodruff, the 10 year Vice President of Hensley Mfg., also ended his relationship with the company. …In October of this year, Jim Hensley and Sean Woodruff began work on bringing the newly designed hitch to the market.

This hitch is based on an old farm implement design that moves the pivot point from the trailer ball towards the rear axle of the tow vehicle. This means that any sideways push at the trailer tongue no longer wags the tail but is up where the tow vehicle tires can resist it more effectively. That both reduces sway and a steering input that confuses drivers.

The University of Bath has an extensive history of stability research for caravans in the mechanical engineering program. Caravans are what those on the other side of the pond (the Atlantic Ocean) call travel trailers. That web site has a Stability Studies Game that uses a Java plug-in.

The University of Bath has devised a new game to test your caravan loading skills. Place the various payload items in the caravan and then find out the stability rating of your loading configuration.

This software is not intended for use in caravan design nor is it to be used to judge whether or not your loaded caravan is safe. The results shown in the simulation are indicative of the effects of loading and will not necessarily match your caravan.

While a hitch with sway control capability built in can help improve the driving experience, you still need to make sure that your RV is properly loaded and maintained. There is no substitute for an experienced driver who knows what his rig is telling him and doesn’t do like some of those dang’ fools this winter did in Washoe Valley that went around warning signs and got blown off the road.

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Keeping alert on the road with caffeine

A soda or coffee on the road can provide a stimulant to keep you alert and also create conditions that prompt you to stop every couple of hours to take a break. Both can help you be a safer driver.

Developing intelligence has a rundown on how to get the most out of caffeine in Caffeine: A User’s Guide to Getting Optimally Wired. It suggests you should 1) Consume in small, frequent amounts; 2) Play to your cognitive strengths while wired; 3) Play to caffeine’s strengths; and 4) Know when to stop – and when to start again.

Coffee and Caffeine’s Frequently Asked Questions notes that a 12 oz can of soda has about 40 mg of caffeine while a 7 oz cup of coffee will run about 100 mg. When this is combined with the findings cited in the User’s Guide, it appears that extended wakefulness is promoted by as little as half can of soda or quarter cup of coffee an hour.

Note that it can take more than a half hour for a caffeine dose to kick in and several hours to clear the system. It isn’t a quick cure for drowsiness!

Also note that driver inattention is cited as one of the three major risk factors in all types of crashes. See 2003 Nevada Traffic Crashes. For the speed kills contingent it should be noted that ‘failure to reduce speed’ is cited as a major factor in injury and property crashes. The failure to reduce speed is, again, driver inattention and not a matter of exceeding speed limits.

The lesson is that paying proper attention to your driving and being alert to the needs of the task at hand is important for safe travel. A bit of coffee or soda can help you maintain an edge.

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Vehicle safety

The American Scientist has a good article, Safer Vehicles for People and the Planet that discusses the relative risks involved by drivers of trucks and SUV’s. The section nothing simple about safety describes how simple thinking about common principles can lead to conclusions that are refuted by actual experience.

As important as these studies are, one must accept that they have limited value. After all, no test procedure can replicate all of the conditions that come into play when things go wrong on the road. To address this rather fundamental shortcoming, we and other investigators have sifted through a great deal of real-world data to better reveal how driver and environmental conditions influence crashes—and how well safety devices and vehicle design protect occupants when an accident happens. The yardstick we and others use for this purpose takes the form of the fatality or serious-injury rate for various vehicle types or for specific makes and models. Unfortunately, in these kinds of analyses it is difficult, often impossible, to judge the relative contributions of driver behavior, environmental conditions and vehicle attributes to the overall fatality or injury rate.

One example is the idea that those in a small car are in danger when they crash with your big RV. But this study indicated otherwise.

One of the most important things we found in our studies is that drivers are just as safe in cars as they are in SUVs and pickups. This result is easily explained: Although the risk of dying in a collision is often lower in SUVs and pickups, their high center of gravity makes them more susceptible to rollovers. Fortunately, the recent trend of manufacturers to produce so-called crossover SUVs, which are lower and sometimes wider than conventional truck-based SUVs, has led to large reductions in the rollover risk.

but there is an outcome that might make you think about the ‘bigger is better’ for a tow vehicle.

our study uncovered a shocking statistic: We calculate that during the 14 years the average one-ton pickup truck is driven, it has almost a 1 percent chance of killing someone. (Only one-third of this huge risk falls on the person driving the truck.)

The driver is a factor that is discussed in depth.

Our analyses show clearly enough that SUVs and trucks pose considerable dangers, but some of our other findings appear to have less to do with size, weight or design, and more to do with who tends to drive a particular vehicle and how.

The intent of the paper is to show that vehicle safety is primarily due to factors other than the mass of a vehicle. This is then used to promote the idea that fuel economy legislation should not have size exceptions or conditions.

Rather, the NHTSA should set fuel-economy standards independently from safety standards. For the latter, the nation clearly needs rules that take into account not just the dangers to a vehicle’s occupants, but also the risk that a car or truck poses to others on the road.

That, of course, is a political position. In the process of arriving at their conclusion, though, they do provide a good summary of the issues involved in large rig safety that directly involve perception versus actual risk of driving your RV.

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New cars and nifty features

One the more visible enhancements in new vehicles is the gadget collection. Cybernet catalogs MyFive: Must-Have Gadgets and Features for Cars as an illustration. These gadgets have their RV use, too.

Rear parking assistance is getting to be where you can sidle up next to a parking spot and tell the car to park itself. Milder forms of this assistance include rear view cameras and obstruction sensors. How nice it would be to be able to have a warning if you try to back your RV under a tree branch that is too low or to be able to view all sides of your rig. Then you could back your trailer around a corner on the right and still not have blind spots!

Real time traffic information would help you avoid city traffic and construction zones in your travels and might be extended to help you learn about the area you are traveling through and find services you need when you need them.

Heated and cooled cup holders? That seems a luxury but keeping the coffee hot or the soda cold might extend its usefulness in driver alertness on the road.

The Blue Tooth wireless headset thing is mostly for cell phones built into the vehicle right now but maybe other ideas might surface. Are you a bluetool?

Check out the other gadgets and then think about what you might like to add to your rig to make it safer, more comfortable, or easier to use. Do you look through the adds for new rigs and wonder about some of the features or see something you wish you had in yours?

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Check these out: GPS, rules of thumb, trail maintenance, …

Daily sun time is increasing and that means getting out and getting the rig ready for another season of touring. Meanwhile, here are a few websites to check out to help get you ready!

Rules of Thumb is a website to find those guidelines that are so useful in making effective judgments. The RSS feed posts a new one every day

Automotive Design Line Tech Trends describes how In-car navigation goes beyond getting from point A to point B

Drivers want to know more than just the location of the nearest service station—they want to know which has the lowest fuel prices. They want current road and traffic conditions. They want to know what four-star movies are playing at what theater and at what time (and whether there is time to get there before the show starts and is a notable sushi restaurant along the way).

There is a convergence of technologies that will make it possible to explore your destination on the I’net before you tour it in person. You might be able to see if your rig will fit and current attractions and activities.

Frank R. Leslie has a Trail Maintenance Guide for the Wind River Restoration at The Popo Agie Wilderness, Shoshone National Forest, ~25 miles NW of Lander WY (6/8/96; Revised 2/15/2001). This page describes tools and design issues that go into the part of enjoying the wilderness that is often just taken for granted.

Trail maintenance is a volunteer effort in many wilderness areas. The responsible government agency is referred to as the “sponsor” in this discussion. When volunteers act for the Federal Government, they are empowered as unpaid Federal workers, thus they are covered by certain forms of insurance and may drive Government vehicles. The crew leader reports directly to the trails supervisor, and the crew works on a designated section of trail to accomplish the directed tasks. This guide is a brief crew orientation to the trail maintenance process.

If you are into Airstream history, check out the selected brochures and price sheets from the 60’s – 80’s. (new on this site). Then take a gander over to Fred’s Airstream Archives for more.

Also new on the site is the 1998 Kinetic Sculpture Race with photo galleries and other information about this event on the California north coast.

If you are into Mozart, check out NMA Online for music scores and text.

The purpose of this web site operated by the Internationale Stiftung Mozarteum in cooperation with the Packard Humanities Institute is to make Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s musical compositions widely and conveniently accessible to the public, for personal study and for educational and classroom use.

If you are looking for safe downloads for your MP3 player, see How to find podsafe music, Kieth describes what he has learned and some resources for music he found. If you are into 50’s style rock and roll, check out Yesterday’s Gold, too (they also have album art on the blog).

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More on road trips without much road

American Consumer News has an idea for Go on a Mini-Vacation: Take a Weekend Roadtrip Without Breaking the Bank.

Start by researching destinations that are within a two hour drive time or less to keep the cost of gas to a reasonable amount. There are many online resources which can point you in the right direction … A great place to start is the local visitor’s center

The focus is on keeping the cost down and making the most of the time available.

You might also consider the idea of bringing the remote destinations to your own back yard, too. One of the easiest ways to do this is to watch the birds in your yard. Get to know the local species and those that are passing through. If you really get into back yard observations, you might see if you can learn about other wildlife from insects to mammals and why they are visiting.

The days are getting longer and spring must be getting closer. You can find signs, indications, and portents by just looking out the window as the snow melts and different visitors parade by the bird feeder.

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A volunteer opportunity while on the road

If you are looking for a stimulus to lead you in new directions while touring, take a look at If you have an interest in climate and weather, this is one way to find out how it is done and meet people doing it. It provides an example for getting off the beaten track and actually knocking on the door and finding new friends with a common interest during your travels.

Your help is needed to document the measuring environment and equipment condition of weather and climate monitoring stations worldwide.

A hands-on photographic audit will help sort the good stations from the bad ones to improve the reliability of the data and conclusions drawn from it.

If you have a digital camera, a portable handheld GPS device with accuracy within 100 feet or better, and the ability to follow simple instructions, you can contribute to this database.

See the RULES FOR USE. These are good to keep in mind for any visiting you do.

Visiting and touring manufacturing facilities is one of the more common non-tourist activities. The fact is that there are many places to visit and most often you will be welcome if you are courteous and have a common interest. Many practicing professionals don’t mind an occasional visitor asking about what they do and the tools they use and showing a true appreciation for their efforts.

The traveler on the road can help collect data of many sorts. You may not be in the league with Lewis and Clark (see Journals of the Lewis and Clark Expedition) but their journals can provide a model for ideas about how you might take note of your travels. The amateur radio community has begun to organize their contact information in a way that can be used for serious scientific study. There is a program for ships and yachts at see to collect oceanographic data (see Ocean research worth a fortune | Boat/US Magazine). Perhaps one day someone might figure out how to make good use of the data that can be collected by those traveling the roads and highways.

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SNU February Newsletter

Dear SNU Folks,

The February 2008 Newsletter has been posted.

* Note: Links to photo galleries and additional information mentioned in articles in this newsletter can be found at the following that link, too.

>*>* Attention Please: The location of the March SNU rally has been changed to Pyramid Lake. See details in the newsletter.

Topics in this newsletter include:
* Upcoming lunch at El Charro
* President’s Ramblin’s
* Storm Stories
* SNU website

>>February 16 2008 Luncheon
The SNU luncheon will be at El Charro Avita, South Carson St in Carson City, NV. Cost is $15 per person. Plan to arrive about 11:30 am. SNU members, other Airstream owners and potential Airstream owners welcome. Please RSVP Call 775 972 9392 or email

> Check Zephyrs to find out what else is new on the website

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Thinking about life’s changes

Have you dreamed of full-timing on the road? Is a new RV a part of a plan for a change in lifestyle? There are some issues to consider if you share your life with another.

“But if she is thinking about traveling the world and he wants to spend retirement on the golf course with his buddies in town, there will need to be some compromises,” says Szinovacz.

7 Tips for Retiring With Your Spouse by Emily Brandon in USA News and World Report describes issues that you need to consider to be happy together if something disturbs your life.

If you are looking for a life on the road in your RV, that will flavor how you look at these issues.

You will need to figure out what will happen when you spend much more time together in much less space. It will no longer be commuting to work and sharing space only for a few hours a day. How will that influence the relationship and how will you deal with the change?

The lack of space will impact hobbies yet each of you need separate avocational interests you can pursue on the road. How can you take your hobby with you and how can you keep it from undue interference and intrusion on how you do things together?

Hanging out with your friends is important. You will make new friends on the road and you need to give special consideration to clubs and organizations with an RV flavor. Plan to attend rallies and other events or buddy caravan to maintain and develop personal relationships that keep you mentally healthy.

Don’t take things for granted. Discuss where you want to live, how you want to live, and what you want to do together. You cannot bury your dreams but then you can’t let them dominate a relationship. You will need to figure out how to bring dreams together and that will take work.

Budget time for your family. On the road you can visit, and with your RV you can minimize your intrusion on, others when you visit. You need to include these visits in your plans and spend appropriate time with your parents or your children or other close family members.

Talk about resources. Money can tear your relationships apart if you have different priorities, different views about how to spend what you have, or even different perspectives about what is available. When you make a change in your life with another, you have to agree on what is available and how you will use it.

Plan for the possibility of the unexpected. You might end up retired before you thought it would happen. Some opportunity might arise unexpectedly. Some disaster might tear at your life. Be prepared. Consider what might happen and have an idea about what you would do if something did happen.

Whether you are looking at retirement with a spouse after a long life of raising a family and commuting to work or whether you are a young couple looking to take it to a virtual office on the road you will likely have a more rewarding and successful outcome if you think through these issues together and figure out how they will impact and influence your efforts.

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