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It is that time of year again

RV Antifreeze

Since winter is very quickly creeping up on us I decided to do a post to point back to posts on a couple of topics that come up every fall:  RV Antifreeze and Snow Load

Choosing RV Antifreeze

RV Snow Load

Review: KOA Halifax West

Halifax West KOA

KOA Halifax West unfortunately goes down on our list of less preferred campgrounds.  There is no question that the park is well located for a visit to the Halifax area and even Peggys Cove.  However the park itself has had some growing pains that make us reluctant to recommend it without a strong warning.

The park itself has all the features you would expect of a KOA including a pool, laundry etc.  Even the sites in the front (older) section closest to the pool are excellent and if you can get a site in that area you may be much happier than we were.  The thing that we dislike about the park is that it recently went thru a poorly thought out expansion.  The first issue with this expansion is that the original park was surrounded by swamp on two sides (the back and the west sides) so to expand, their only option was swamp bound.  This presents several issues, one is that swamps tend to be popular breeding grounds for mosquitos and the back area did have its fair share of them.  The second is that many people often find out that when they fill in a swamp, they need to relevel the area frequently due to the soft wet and unstable ground.  Our site along with the roads and most sites in the new area was very uneven making it difficult to level the trailer, difficult to find a flat spot to put the picnic table and difficult to just find a flat spot to set up a chair.  The next issue was that with any expansion, the utilities like water and electricity need to be factored in, especially when increasing the size of the park around 3-4 times its original size.  A number of times every day we would see the voltage drop on our little Camco voltage meter to under 100v.  This kind of brownout is a silent killer as it does not cause equipment to stop working, it causes motors to draw more amps to make up for the reduction of volts, this generates heat which dramatically shortens the life of the Air Conditioner, Fridge and other appliances.  Finally the water service in the campground did not appear to have been upgraded when the park was expanded as during most parts of the day the water pressure was around the expected 50psi, but between 7am and 10am the water pressure would drop so low it was more like a leaky faucet than a steady stream.  This prevented us from being able to shower in the mornings so we had to do that in the evenings instead.

Now that it is a full year later, they may have overcome some of these growing pains but when we visited we were unhappy with the park due to all the issues we had.  However the area is still worth the visit with the Halifax Citadel, the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic (with many Titanic artifacts), the Fairview Cemetary (with most of the Titanic graves), the Keiths Brewery tours, the boardwalk and the close drive to Peggys Cove and Oak Island.

Surviving Canada 150 in Ottawa

Canada 150

This year we spent the Canada Day long weekend in Ottawa to celebrate the 150th birthday of Canada.  It was an incredible party with many nice people but was it ever busy.

We started our weekend on the Friday waiting for my wife to finish work at her school, then driving 500km to our campground, the Cardinal/Ottawa South KOA.  The campground was an hour south of Ottawa just off the 416.  We had to rush there to arrive before the desk closed at 9pm at the KOA, as Canada Day was the next morning and we planned to head into Ottawa before the desk opened the next morning.

The drive down was like nothing we have ever experienced.  Not only was it a Friday in the summer, but it was a long weekend Friday and we had to cross Toronto during rush hour.  What we did not expect was that so many people would also be heading to Ottawa for the celebrations the next day and Toronto would be the easy part.  I have never seen a 500km long traffic jam before that day.  Even though we took the 407 around the edge of Toronto, there was still heavy traffic all the way.  The service plazas along the way were lined up down the off ramps and the McDonald’s we stopped at in Brighton was so busy that people were lined up across the entire store to go to the bathroom with most of the men and boys opting for the back side of the dumpsters instead of waiting.

We ended up arriving at the KOA at 9pm on the nose and they had just locked the door.  I was able to get them to open back up with almost no convincing and we got checked in and were set up by 9:30.

The next day was to be a day like no other.  We planned strategically to park at a suburban park and ride in Fallowfield and take the express bus downtown.  The park and ride and the bus were not too busy but the bus filled up at the next stop.  When we arrived downtown I immediately noticed that things were different.  There were more police than I had ever seen, and many of them were carrying assault rifles.  The streets of the outer perimeter were blocked off with dump trucks, dozers, and graders presumably to prevent a repeat of some of the incidents that had happened in Europe recently.  There were so many people, all the streets were packed solid all thru the business district and the Byward Market areas which were both part of the outer perimeter.  News reports were saying that there were close to a half million people inside the perimeter which was smaller than Magic Kingdom at Disney World.

We decided that we wanted to catch the concerts so we got in the line to get into the inner perimeter around the Parliament.  When we got in the line, it was about 1km long and growing by the minute.  It took us 3 and a half hours to get to the first security checkpoint.  We met in the line some of the nicest people and spent most of the time talking with our linemates.  We also met a fair share of idiots insistent on creating new offshoots of the line wherever they liked.

When we reached the first checkpoint we noticed that security would be tight.  There were sniper nests setup on top of almost every building, more RCMP than I have ever seen, and every RCMP officer was carrying an assault rifle.  We cleared the first checkpoint quickly but the second one took a lot more work, as they checked everything on every person (adult and child).  They opened everything, poured out all the bags, questioned about anything unusual, they were very thorough which is what slowed the line down the most despite several dozen RCMP and security guards checking people.

We managed to finally get into the inner perimeter just after the Prime Minister and Prince Charles’ speeches.  After several hours on the hill we moved on to the Byward Market.

The day did not end quietly though.  It took about an hour to get on a bus as the crowds at the bust stops were huge.  Even after walking back a couple stops we still had huge crowds at the bus stops and had to wait about 10 full busses until we got on one.  It was only luck that we got on that bus as 2 busses arrived at the same time and the crowd headed to the first one and we went against the flow to head to the second bus.  That decision paid off as we were some of the first on the bus and all got seats.

In the end it was a lot of fun and a chance of a lifetime to do Canada’s 150th birthday.  Despite the crowds and disorganization,  we expected madness and have been to Disney World twice on Independence day so we had some idea of what the crowds would be like.

RIP Roadwarrior

For those who subscribe to YouTube RV channels like Nomadic Fanatic and Less Junk More Journey may have come across the channel Road warrior with Sean, Caro and their dogs.  There is not a lot of info but the other day Sean and Caro were riding their yellow Vespa to catch the eclipse and were hit from behind by a van.  Sean died at the scene and Caro was airlifted to a trauma center in Chattanooga.  A GoFundMe has been setup to help pay for Caro’s medical expenses.

How Much Solar Do I Need On My RV? — The Fit RV

Notice, that’s “need” not “want”. There’s a difference. It’s going to be a good day for solar power! This post grew out of a well-received seminar I’ve been presenting at RV shows. And that seminar itself grew out of my responses to lots of email questions from our readers that went more or less like…

via How Much Solar Do I Need On My RV? — The Fit RV

File Storage for YouTube Creators while on the Road

Youtube File Storage

YouTube creators tend to film far more content than they actually post on YouTube.  It is also common for creators to film using a variety of cameras, such as DSLR, GoPro, Drone, and iPhone.  Many content creators also are filming in higher and higher resolutions with some starting to produce some of their content in 4K.  This requires significant file storage that even a high-end laptop simply does not accommodate.

I can break down the different storage strategies into three different categories:

Mobile: for content creators that are travelling lightweight by suitcase or backpack, or creators who regularly bluewater sail, RV boondock, have an offgrid Tiny Home or prefer a simple lifestyle with minimal environmental impact, minimal power requirements and like simplicity.

The Mobile solution can be most easily achieved with small portable USB hard drives.  They are lightweight, are about the size of a deck of cards, and do not need a separate power plug.  These drives often cost well under $100 for a 1TB drive making it both cheap and easy to carry multiple drives around in a small RV, sailboat or even a backpack.

The primary drawback to this solution, is heavy content creators may require a number of drives, and I have seen one Sailing YouTube channel that has close to a dozen of these drives.  Also these drives do not have any redundancy so if a drive is lost, damaged or stolen, you content is gone forever.  However an easy strategy to deal with this is to always have your content saved on two of these drives and only travel with one and store both in different locations.   Since this method is so cheap, the best method is to travel with 2 copies on two drives while producing content, and then to have additional drives at your home base for long-term storage to offload the content to regularly.

Home: for content creators that travel less frequently, have a regular home base, or have ample access to AC power via a Solar/Inverter setup or have a generator onboard their RV/ Sailboat.

Unlike the mobile solution, this solution is not suited for someone who has less stable AC power access or travels by backpack as these drives typically require an AC power plug and are bigger (usually the size of a hard cover novel).  These drives are often a little faster, have a lot more storage capacity, have multiple ways to connect to them (wired network, wireless network and USB).  Some even offer redundancy by mirroring the drives to protect you from a drive failure and loosing all the content you have created.

Professional: for content creators who need significant storage capacity, significant speed and have reliable access to AC power.

The Professional category is best suited for people who are comfortable with technology, require additional storage capacity as well as higher speeds.  These devices are usually sold as Network Attached Storage (NAS) devices.  They typically have multiple drive bays allowing for dozens of Terabytes of storage space.  They also usually have multiple redundancy methods to protect files like RAID 1 (mirroring between two drives or two groups of drives) and the more robust RAID 5 (grouping a bunch of drives into one big disk with a parity disk which allows you to sustain the failure of any of the disks in the array).  Drives are also often hot swappable, so in the case of a failure you do not need to power down the NAS to replace the failed drive or use tools to get it out.  They have much higher thru put often with multiple 1GB and in some cases 10GB ethernet connections and by using much faster hard drives.  They also can often be expanded on the fly by buying another identical drive (if you have empty bays) and expanding the storage.

Unlike the other two options, this solution can often be quite expensive, with you needing to buy the enclosure for up to $1000, plus up to a dozen drives for around $100-200 each.  This option is very power-hungry, louder, and generates a lot of heat.  It is also a good idea to protect it with a battery backup.

 

Adding a WIFI and a Cellular Amp to my RV Part 5: More Options

Adding a WIFI and a Cellular Amp to my RV

When I originally built my WIFI amp/antenna setup and my Cell amp/antenna setup for the RV, I was looking for an easy permanent solution for most scenarios.  I choose a home built Linksys WRT54G router and a 5dbi omni directional antenna for WIFI and a Wilson Sleek with a Netgear LTE data hotspot for cellular.  In both cases the amp was mounted in my entertainment stand in the RV and the WIFI antenna attached to the crank up TV antenna.  The Wilson mag antenna was mounted to the roof on a metal ground plane.  I also had an Alfa 1W USB wifi adapter and a Sierra Wireless LTE USB cellular data stick for more mobile situations.

To read my original 4 Parts written about 2 years ago:

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

Part 4

Both these setups have served me well and work for most scenarios, but there are a few scenarios that are not covered:

  1. improved coverage when away from the RV
  2. extreme fringe coverage with a 25dbi Yagi antenna
  3. enough adapters and pigtails to fit any possible configuration while on the road

My total cost was about $20 on eBay and all parts were ordered from China so delivery was slow, but cost was also quite low.

  1. 25dbi Yagi antenna with built in RP-SMA connector
  2. RP-SMA to RP-TNC adapter to connect Yagi to Linksys router
  3. RP-SMA to SMA adapter to connect Yagi to Wilson Sleek
  4. RP-TNC to TS9 pig tail to connect Yagi directly to cell hotspot

This combination of devices/adapters allowed for a number of scenarios beyond the original scenarios

  1. amplified WIFI with the built-in Omni directional antenna
  2. extreme amplified directional WIFI with the built-in Yagi antenna
  3. amplified Cellular with the Wilson setup
  4. extreme amplified directional Cellular with the Wilson setup plus the Yagi antenna
  5. portable mobile amplified WIFI connectivity for the laptop when not at the RV with the Alfa WIFI adapter using both the stock Omni antenna and the Yagi antenna.
  6. portable mobile amplified cellular connectivity when not at the RV with the Sierra LTE stick

What I have learned from all of this is that most of these solutions are cheap and easy to use and add value by improving my WIFI or Cellular signal when in less urban areas.  The one thing that I have noticed most is that just like WIFI and Cellular signal is logarithmic and not linear, so is the work involved to gain a better signal, only in the case of the work involved, it is inversely linear.  Basically, adding a WIFI or cellular antenna to the roof takes a bit of work, but has a big return, as you try to tweak things more and more to improve your gain, every tweak you do takes more work than the last and has less effect than the previous one and eventually you are investing large amounts of time and money to improve things a tiny bit.  Of all the solutions I tried, the Yagi antenna was the one that was the least worth it in my mind.  It is a lot of work every time you stop to find the cell tower or WIFI access point in the park, aim the Yagi and then only get a marginal improvement.  Yes a Yagi is a great idea for a permanent solution but for me it is just too much hassle for a long weekend.  Most importantly, RV’ing for me is an escape, so if I cannot get a good signal with the roof mounted WIFI and Cellular antenna, well then I guess I will just have to read a book in front of the fire instead.

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.

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.