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Review: KOA Quebec City

Chateau Frontinac

KOA Quebec city is a really nice KOA just outside of the City of Quebec just off Autoroute20.  Its location is perfect when passing thru on the way to the Maritimes or on the way from the Maritimes.  It is also a quick drive or shuttle ride to the old city and the Plains of Abraham.

The park itself is really in the suburbs and there are other businesses and houses nearby, but most of the campsites are in a valley that keeps the noise of the city and the highway unnoticable.  The campsites are about what you would expect for a KOA.  The staff were some of the nicest KOA staff I have run across.  There is no need to be concerned if you do not speak French, all the staff were fully bilingual.

The park is well located to visit the old city, which is a absolute must if you are in the area.  The old city is like an old European city with narrow cobble roads, and old stone buildings.  The wall, the fort and the Plains all have lots of history for the history buff.  There is plenty to do in the old city, but we found the perfect way to start a visit of the old city.  It may be a little expensive, but start with a horse carrage ride.  It costs about $100 but they will give you a tour of the old city and point out all the sites and answer any questions.  It allows you to build an itinery and a mental map of all the things you want to do and see.

Charging USB devices without an inverter or AC power

USB charging

I recently purchased a bunch of dual USB 3.1A 12v to 5v plugs that can be surface mounted for my RV.  The idea was to tap into existing 12v or run new 12v DC power to them in the rig.  If I was boondocking I could charge phones and tablets directly off the battery without the conversion waste from converting from 12v DC to 120v AC using an inverter and back to 5v DC using the little 110v wall plug.  It is more efficient to tap directly off the batteries and pull 5v off them as every time you convert from AC to DC and back you waste power.

This solution is also much cleaner, there are no need to carry around a handful of USB AC charging bricks and adding power bars everywhere to deal with the fact that most take up more space than a single AC receptacle.  I also considered the AC power plugs that also have USB but decided I wanted my USB to be directly tied to the DC power of the rig as opposed to the AC.

The install process was quite easy requiring little more than a hole saw that was the size of the plugs, a few feet of 14ga wire, wire strippers, Marr connectors, solder iron and solder.  The install took little more than 30 minutes, with the most complex part disconnecting the battery as I do not have a battery cutoff switch and verifying everything was wired correctly in the end.

I found the plugs online for a few dollars each.  The ones I choose look like the traditional flush mount cigarette lighter plug with 2 USB.  They are able to do 3.1A which will charge a full size iPad.  Link

USB plug

USB plug

Choosing a set of Headphones

Headphones

Choosing a set of headphones is a very personal decision and an important way to keep the peace when living in a 300sq ft RV for an extended period.  There are a number of factors when deciding on what pair to choose.  The most important factor is choosing what you like and what you can afford.  But it is important to try them on and test them with your style of listening.

Some other factors to consider

Bluetooth or not:  I like bluetooth for sitting around on the sofa as the cord dragging on my shoulder bugs me and does create some noise.  Bluetooth has come a long way and you can now get good quality sound over Bluetooth.

Listening type: The type of headphones you choose can be great for one type of sound and bad for other types.  Some brands are very bass heavy and should be better for Rap music but because they are bass heavy they usually suffer in the higher ranges, so forget listening to Zamfir flute music on a bass heavy set of headphones.  Also watching vlogs or listening to ebooks will sound vastly different from listening to music, as well gaming has its own sound profile and a the requirement for a good microphone as well.

Style: There are three main types of headphones and comfort is probably the biggest factor when choosing.  Ear bud sit in ear and some people do not like the feel, but they are great for working out and are very small to carry.  On ear and over ear are similar but the primary difference is the actual size the headphone itself.  Generally over ear are more comfortable over longer time, but on ear can save a lot of money vs over ear and still get you a very good sound.

Price range:  This can be an important factor, but price can be deceiving, spending $300 is not a guarantee that you will get 3x better quality over a $100 pair.  My opinion is that you can divide all headphones into 3 main price ranges.  Sub $25 are typically your dollar store headphones, the ones that Wal-Mart sells or the ones that ship with your phone.  On the other end of the spectrum are the mid range and high-end multi hundred-dollar to thousand dollar headphones.  I cannot tell the difference in quality between them and a mid range pair.  The only difference I can see with them is the build quality, more wood finish, and metal parts vs plastic.  My opinion is you can get excellent quality in the mid range of $50 to $150 range.

Brands:  Brand name is the trickiest part of the decision as brand does not always equal quality or value.  If your highschool kids are asking for a particular brand, that does not mean it is the best choice.  Brands like Beats and Monster are popular and do make good quality headphones but you can get similar quality of other brands for 1/3 the cost.  Brands like JVC, Panasonic and Sony make good middle of the road all-purpose options, and are consistently middle of the road.  Brands like Klipsch, Harmon Kardon and Senheisser make some excellent high-end options.  The trick is to find good value for the price you are paying.

I have two go to pairs that I really like and use for them for different reasons.   I have a pair of Klipsch S4 ear buds, they are one of the best known names in ear buds.  I use them primarily when I am on the move listening on my phone.  They are small, compact, have a more natural ear canal shape and have great sound range and even some noise cancellation.  They are a great sub $100 option, in fact I got them on sale several years ago for $40 from a regular price of $70.  They were a huge upgrade from the ear buds that shipped with various high-end phones I have owned like an iPhone, several Blackberry and Android phones.  The second pair is a recent addition and they are probably the best pair I have owned.  They are the AKG Y50BT.  They are a sub brand of Harmon Kardon which is one of the best known names in Hi Fi equipment.  At $130 at Costco, they were an excellent choice and sounded as good as some +$500 cans I have tried.  To add to that, I got them on sale for $100, a steal for a high-end sounding set of cans at a mid range price by one of the best names in Hi Fi.  They are also Bluetooth to boot and the sound quality is excellent on Bluetooth as well.

I guess the real question is do you really need to spend all that money on a good set of headphones.  Well I have always been drawn to some of the old guitar rock of the 60’s and 70’s like Jimi Hendrix, Eric Clapton, Stevie Ray Vaughan and Carlos Santana and have been listening to them all my life.  However the first time I got a good pair of headphones I would notice things in songs that I have listened to hundreds of times: new notes, new instruments that I just have not noticed before or a subtle squeak of a string that would normally go unnoticed.  The range and the clarity of a good set of cans brings out parts of songs that you may not have ever noticed before just because the cheap iPhone headphones cannot pickup some of the sounds that have always been there but go unnoticed.

AKG y50BT

Klipsch S4

Netflix while on the Road

Netflix offline

Over the past few months Netflix has been rolling out a new feature to Apple, Android and Windows devices.  This option is available for the store apps for all three platforms but not the browser version of the Netflix website.  At this time it also may not be available on other hardware platforms like Roku or smart TV’s yet.  Similar options have been available “unofficially” for YouTube so you could download all the most recent episodes of Nomadic Fanatic before going camping.

This is a game changer for people who are on the road and regularly relying on poor or no campground WIFI.  Video streaming is the source of most of the WIFI performance issues in many campgrounds.  One user streaming Breaking Bad can use up a significant portion of the total bandwidth that the campground has.  If several people or a dozen people are trying to watch the current episode of Breaking Bad, Orange is the New Black, or House of Cards, it can bring the entire WIFI for the campground to a grinding halt, making it unusable slow for people just trying to check their email and Facebook not to mention that the stream from Netflix will be unwatchable for most of these people.  This will also save people who rely on a cellular hotspot as their primary internet, particularly people who snowbird or full time.  If you can download your content at free or lest costly WIFI connections, you can queue up a bunch of shows every month and not have to use your cellular data to watch them.  This can save people who spend large amounts of money on data.

Netflix has answered this by offering the ability to download some content to watch offline.  This option is not currently available for all shows or movies, but it looks like all the Netflix Original Series that I checked are available to download.  This allows you to preplan and download shows or episodes at home before you go on a trip, or at a Starbucks while you wait for you Vente Cafe Mocha with non fat milk.

Next time you snowbird in Florida or Texas for the winter or simply go to the closest Nations, Provincial or State park for the long weekend, you can download a catalog of content to your device to watch on those rainy days or late nights.  The only limitation may be the amount of storage space on your device as video content takes a lot of space, but a 32gb tablet should be able to fit a few dozen full length films in HD (depending on available space).  The side effect of this, as more people start using this option, we may see an improvement of campground WIFI speeds as less people rely on the campground WIFI to get their Netflix fix.

I look forward to downloading the next season of House of Cards this spring on my tablet and plan to binge watch episodes in HD on my tablet in the middle of a National Park this summer.

US Senate clears the way for ISP’s to sell your browsing history

Cyberghost VPN

Recently the US senate cleared the way for American ISP’s to sell user history.  What does this mean to you?  For the average American, this means that the ISP’s can collect and sell all your browsing history to anyone.  Not just how many times you access Facebook, what types of things you shop for on Amazon and eBay, but also what sort of medical conditions you search for on the web, what bank do you use, and what political parties or groups do you post about.

For an American you may see this as troubling, but for anyone in another country this may be equally concerning.  Many countries around the world follow the American lead when it comes to technology legislation.  A decision that the American people dislike is also likely to be disliked by people in many other countries especially people in countries with more oppressive regimes.

One thing you can do to protect your privacy is to start using a VPN service.  A VPN service works by tunneling your traffic directly between your computer, tablet or phone to an exit node of your choice in the country of your choice.  A tunnel is encrypted and funnels all of your traffic thru this encryption protected tunnel thru your ISP all the way to the exit node.  The encryption protects you from anyone in between your device and the exit node from seeing what you are doing.  The important factor is the encryption and most services use industry leading encryption algorithms that have not (that we know of) been cracked by any 3 letter agencies and would take enormous amounts of computing power and many months or years to crack.  Also in most of these services the encryption key used to protect your data rotates so frequently that by the time someone with access to enormous computing power and time was to be able to (maybe???) crack the encryption, the key would have changed many hundreds or thousands of times.  In many cases these VPN services will work equally as well at home, in your RV on an untrusted public campground WIFI, or while using your phone on the highway or while using a hotspot in a campground.

There are many VPN services available on the net.  One question you should always ask is if I cannot trust my government, can I trust this service with my private data and do they log my private data.  Typically with a paid service they are more trustworthy and many services do state if they retain or sell your data.  A good strategy when choosing a free VPN service is to look for a service that offers free and paid tiers of service.  Their free tier will likely follow the same levels of service as the paid service but with a reduction in how much you can use it (based on time or bandwidth).  Services that are only free, advertise or are only offered as a web browser search page are ones that it is good to be most critical of, their business model is often based on advertising or click based revenue and privacy is secondary to them.  Relying on a respected computer magazine like PC Magazine or site like Lifehacker.com  is often a good way to help find a trusted service.

I have been using Cyberghost for several years as it has all the features that I am looking for.  They are very clear about their data retention (or in this case non retention) policy.  They have exit notes in many countries around the word including countries that do not have sharing agreements in place, like USA, Canada, UK, Australia and New Zealand (the 5 eyes) do.  They also do not restrict bandwidth usage which means that you can also do things like stream YouTube and Netflix.  They support more installation options than just about any other offering I have seen including the standard: Windows PC, Apple and Android but also many other options including setting it up directly on your home router (so your entire home is protected), Linux and other less common devices.  They also offer many tiers of service including free and a number of paid options with more features and flexibilities the more you pay.  They also offer free trials as well.  Their pricing is also one of the better pricing models on the market and their pricing models and the prices themselves do not change frequently.  The most important thing for me however is that they are one of the most respected options on the market and are almost always rated in the top 3 services and frequently rated the number one service.

download Cyberghost VPN

Code Reader for Car Engine Codes

ELM 327 code reader

Have you ever been camping in the middle of nowhere or over a holiday weekend and your check engine light came on?  If you are reasonably comfortable with doing minor repairs on your car you may already own a code reading device to determine what is actually wrong with your vehicle.

I decided that with the amount of travel we do and since I am fairly comfortable under the hood, having a little Bluetooth code reading device in the car would be a good investment.  I found one on Amazon for around $10 and it is about the size of a Zippo lighter.  The device connects to a cell phone or tablet using Bluetooth.  There is also a WIFI version of these adapters available as well.  I know that if I get an engine code I can determine how serious the issue is, possibly fix the issue myself and clear the code or simply walk into a repair shop well informed.

Bluetooth Elm 327 code reader on Amazon

Review: KOA Sydney NS

KOA Sydney

The KOA in Sydney Nova Scotia is not a big park or one of the best parks we have stayed in but few KOA parks have a view like this park.  The park is terraced on a large hill near Sydney Nova Scotia along the Cabot Trail and just on the edge of the Cape Breton Highlands National Park.  Nearly every site has a grassy spectacular view of the sound and the bridge crossing it.  The owners are very friendly and it is nice to go to a park where they treat you well and say hi to you every time you walk by.

If you are looking for a stop before hitting the ferry to Newfoundland or before doing the Cabot Trail, this is a perfect spot to stop over.  You are unlikely to run into a KOA that has views like this right from your campsite, especially one that has these views at every campsite.