Monthly Archives: February 2010

Our new workshop

One of the joys of having so little stuff is you have less to maintain and more to imagine. When you have a completely furnished workshop you spend part of every visit cleaning it back up again. Sometimes you just go down there and tune up the equipment, tweaking the knives, polishing the milled surfaces.

one of many great workshops at UNLV Physics Lab

And you have the workshop ready to transform ideas into things — a workshop in which to create, modify, and destroy materials. But, once it’s furnished and arranged you are kinda locked into the investment you’ve already sunk. You’re limited in what you can imagine doing to the shop.

Jim borrowed a neighbor’s workshop space yesterday afternoon. It’s very modest, just a small u-shaped area attached to his house. He has a few pieces of equipment, enough to do small woodworking. This served Jim’s purposes perfectly yesterday, just laying out, drilling, and deburring a dozen holes in a 1/8″ piece of aluminum for our fireplace.

Anywhere else Jim would have done this with his 35 year old Black & Decker drill. But he had a choice here. The drill press made it far easier and quicker to do neat work on the anodized aluminum piece. And this got him to thinking about how nice it is to have a place to do stuff like drilling, cutting, shaping, grinding . . .

Now Jim’s dreaming up a workshop of his own. Jim started working, after college, as a carpenter then a maintenance mechanic. One job had him in charge and sole use of a 40′ X 40′ woodworking shop, fully equipped. He knows his way around workshops, and can recall and imagine just how he might arrange one for himself. This is pretty harmless — Jim’s too cheap to spend more than he needs to, and he doesn’t have a place for the stuff right now.


While we’re mobile he doesn’t have any place to put another tool anyway. So he announced to me today he is shopping for a drill press. “Yeah, right, you gonna mount it on the truck’s bumper?”, I said. “Nah, this is for the shop I’ll have when we stop full-timing someday”, he answered. And with Popular Mechanic’s help he’s already figured out the specs for his drill press of the future.

We aren’t accepting an early exit from full-timing, we’re both still enjoying this tremendously. He has plenty of time to dream up the appropriate shop and equipment. But I might be concerned if he finishes the shop plan and starts shopping for a place to put it.

Okay, so a drill press and what else? This could go far, this imagining a workshop. We’re both listmakers, and we enjoy getting ideas onto paper, saving them to pore over later. And of course, the shop probably will become bigger than the house. I wonder if he’ll finish it and start listing projects to do in it, then virtually completing them?

Dream on, baby, have a blast! I get to use the shop too.

Jim and Debbie
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©2007-2010 Dreamstreamr

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Hamcation 2010 with RV Service Net

We spent last week at Orlando Amateur Radio Club’s annual hamfest, Hamcation. Our third year attending, we knew the ropes and easily relaxed into the experience. We didn’t know there would be record attendance by our group, the RV Service Net hams.

The past couple of years RV Service Net has had around 25 to 30 RVs attending this large hamfest. This year we had at least 49 rigs — wow! We arrived at the gates before 1130 hours on Wednesday two days before the hamfest would begin. And we were easily 100 back in the RVers queue.

In front of us were many tailgaters or flea market sales folks as well as vendors who find RV travel perfect for managing their work at the shows. We sympathize with the vendors who move from hamfest to hamfest, displaying and showing their products for two or three days at each whistlestop. They can sleep in their own bed every night only if they are RVers, whereas the hotel/motel crowd are in a different room and bed every week or two.

The gates opened on time and parking was handled smoothly and expertly by our group’s own AA8Q Jack Mitchell. Again this year the RV Service Net folks had RV parking at Lake Lawne’s edge, a pretty site within 300 yards of the indoor sales areas but out of the main flow of traffic. Our group had so many rigs parked we established our own small community.

This year, our third, we were less the newcomers. We have met many of these hams in our previous two visits to Hamcation or at Hamvention in Dayton last year. Some we only have met on the air, talking on the RV Service Net’s daily 40 meter morning nets. It was nice to meet them in person and have face-to-face conversations with everyone.

You might wonder, why were we there? One compelling reason is for Jim to represent the Club’s leadership, as upcoming President. He has spent the past two years learning the ropes as 2nd, and 1st VP, and this summer he may become President. One of the primary duties is attendance at Hamcation and at the WBCCI (Airstream owners association) annual rally.

But an even better reason for attending Hamcation is because this is a really fun hamfest for us. This is the largest hamfest in the southeast U.S. and enjoys a large number of new equipment vendors. There are typically over a hundred tailgaters outdoors selling a tremendous variety of gear, new and used, from their tables or trailers or tailgates.

Best of all is the Orlando, Fl, weather and very enjoyable camaraderie of the RV Service Net’s members. This year we enjoyed the crowd a lot. The weather left a lot to be desired, it wasn’t warm at all. Cool weather seems hardly worth complaining about when every state in the Union was receiving snow. But heck, we’re in Florida and it’s supposed to be warm and sunny.

It was cold and rainy all day Friday until sunset. Really cold and rainy. Friday was the opening day of the hamfest so a lot of us braved the rain and were in the buildings when the clouds just burst and poured down the rain. Stuck inside with our credit cards and all these great vendors selling ham radio gear and accessories. Darn, what are we going to do now?

We made the best of it, of course. The vendors give away waterproof shopping bags, so we won’t need to worry with keeping our purchases dry. Our goal for the opening day, though, was scoping out which vendors were present and what parts of their product line they brought. They cannot bring everything to every show, so we browse and scheme what we’ll do without and what we need to buy.

This decision process is crucial, a real challenge for us. Hamcation represents our one golden opportunity for the year to stimulate the economy and supply our electronics gear needs for the next year. Or at least until the next hamfest. Jim will have to make do awhile with whatever he can secure while we’re here. He stocks up on wire and connectors of several sizes, coax cable and ends, various small fittings for the radios or antennae, and sometimes solder, tape, and even rivets. We take the most time poring over the variety of new radios, antennae, software, and amplifiers.

Deb browses cool electronics stuff at Hamcation

This isn’t just for the vendors’ benefit, but is how we learn about so much of the equipment. We can look at pictures and read descriptions all year long. We can sometimes find a amateur radio store but not often. The hamfest gives us a great opportunity to browse, touch the gear, ask questions about this feature or that, and try to assimilate all this information into a shape we can remember.

Ham station in our house

We have enough amateur radio gear for our rolling house and our truck. We have long distance and middle distance and short range capabilities on the ham bands. We have a very nifty antenna mounted atop the Airstream that folds down electrically for travel or to avoid lightning or falling limbs. We have good antennae to allow one of us in the truck to call the other in the trailer when we are anywhere from a block away to up to 50 miles separated.

HF antenna on our roof

What else do we need? Well, it’s not so much need, is it? Do you need jewelry? Do you need a good looking truck? Of course not, it’s more about necessity! You may have heard before, “When all else fails, Ham Radio works”. This is more than a slogan, it represents a truth demonstrated many times every year across the continent. We are just a small couple of cogs in this wide network of ham radio operators who may, some day, provide essential relaying of communications into or out of an area stricken with loss of normal communications.

So it’s our duty to keep on buying really cool radio gear and learning how to use it so we can help you. You see, it’s not really about us at all, it’s all about serving you. Wow, I’m getting into this, I think I should take a break and go browse a ham radio equipment catalog and see how much more I can help you.

I guess I was getting a little sidetracked. Where was I? Oh yeah, the reason we go to hamfests. We check the new radios and antennas and think, “When we have a much bigger house (than our current 188 square feet) we could get this radio and that amplifier and this power supply and rig it to this really tall antenna on a huge tower and . . .

A bunch of the best Net Controllers anywhere -- RV SVC NET

But the best reason to attend the hamfest with the RV Service Net is the RV Service Net people. From anywhere we set up in North America we can reach friends on the RV Service Net at scheduled ham radio nets any day of the week. The daily nets are directed by volunteer net controllers from all over the U.S. and Canada. And a special treat for us was to meet so many of the net controllers face to face last week.

We talk to these folks We enjoy visiting with them, talking with them, eating with them and, with many of them, traveling too. RV Service Net is a one of many many great groups of ham radio operators. We enjoy being able to reach one of our group’s nets from almost anywhere on the continent. And it is especially neat to spend the week in Orlando with so many hams from this group.

You probably wonder what we purchased at this Hamcation? Jim bought wire, microswitches, grounding strap, and we bought a couple of microphones. Is this not a wonderful demonstration of our unselfish quest to better serve you in any communications failures?

We’re making a little fun about what is really a very serious matter. For all the enjoyment we have, Jim especially, with ham radio the premise for the amateur radio licensing system is to promote advancement of emergency communications capability. And we do take this seriously and continue to carefully hone our skills and equipment for best radio communications.

Jim and Debbie
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What I don’t know about drinking water can hurt me

We lived many years in Charlotte, NC, and benefited from a well-run municipal potable water treatment and distribution system. Some folks turn up their noses at muni water supplies and prefer bottled water or well water, perhaps without investigating the difference in qualities.

Public water systems maintain stringent monitoring, process controls, and reporting to meet or exceed mandatory EPA guidelines (FDA standards for bottled water are far different from EPA’s tap water standards, according to NRDC). There are, of course, always exceptions but, given a highly regulated water source and an essentially unregulated one, we’ll generally stick with the EPA-regulated water source.

Full-timers may be less familiar with local water supplies than home owners and sometimes this can matter significantly. Have you ever considered asking the local tap water supplier about the water quality? Shouldn’t you know if the park is under a boil-water condition, or “the water is okay but no one drinks it”? Wouldn’t you like to know what you’re drinking?

We’ve started asking about the water source and quality if we’re going to connect to, or fill from, a park’s supply. You may get a funny reaction from the park’s office staff (even if they are the manager). Sometimes they’ll say, “Hmm, I hadn’t thought about it, I’ll find out.” We’ve been told, it comes from the adjacent housing subdivision and is whatever they get.”

And we learned at one park, “The well water is untreated.” We needed to fill our potable water tank, but didn’t want to store untreated water in it. Cleaning the interior of a water storage tank is much more difficult than keeping it clean. Or do you believe what you don’t know won’t hurt you? You can’t see in the tank, and the gradu isn’t showing up in your ice trays so everything is okay. Wrong.

How do we maintain our RV’s potable water system? We provide the following not as a prescription for your use, nor as a superlative to anyone else’s methods. The following is what we have done for the past five years. We wish we could show you a picture of the inside of our tank (or maybe we shouldn’t be looking in there anyway).

> We keep our fresh water tank full as much as we reasonably can. We can treat what is under the water line, we cannot treat above the water line. Air space above the water line is space for growing stuff on the tank walls. Keep the tank full most of the time.

> We change the fresh water on a regular basis, even if we haven’t used it. Water treatment is our friend (many people will argue this, but this is about us) and inhibits organic growth in our fresh water tank. Chlorine treatment doesn’t persist in stored water.

> We don’t put untreated water into our potable water tank. If the park offers only untreated water then we’ll treat it during the tank filling (more on this later). We don’t have a nifty siphon pickup attachment for our fresh water (white) hose. Instead we use a piece of NSF grade clear tubing two feet long to siphon from a one quart container of the bleach and water solution. We mix the solution following guidelines for emergency treatment of drinking water from EPA.

We found a helpful link to system cleaning procedures as well as normal chlorination here. We also have used guidelines from an EPA document, emergency disinfection drinking water. The EPA guidelines are similar to what Jim followed in treating institutional potable storage tanks in his previous lifetime.

An interesting side note comes from monitoring our drinking water pitcher. This pitcher is clear plastic and sits upon our counter-top. The pitcher holds almost a gallon of drinking water and receives artificial light or indirect sunlight all day. The pitcher has an integral filter cartridge. And, within three to four weeks, we start seeing green film in the pitcher.

The filter’s advertisements claim, “Lowering levels of sediment and chlorine–evident to the nose and mouth–enhance water taste while health concerns are addressed by reducing copper, mercury, and up to 98% of lead commonly found in tap water” (Amazon ad). Relevant in this discussion is the reduction of chlorine in the water. No algae inhibitors, so here grows the stuff! We thoroughly wash our pitcher every three or four weeks when we notice visible green in the bottom of the pitcher. Can you wash your RV’s fresh water tank so easily, and how do you know when to do so?

We mentioned earlier, we cannot readily see inside our fresh water storage tank and aren’t sure we really want to. [I think I’ve seen some pictures of old potable water tanks removed from RVs — not a pretty site. We couldn’t find them to attach for this article.] We do want to maintain our fresh water tank in a reasonable manner and believe we can do this by following three simple guidelines.

> We keep our fresh water tank full as often as we reasonably can.

> We change the fresh water on a regular basis (drain and refill at 3-4 week intervals).

> We don’t put untreated water into our potable water tank (if the source is untreated, we’ll treat the water while filling our tank).

Our RV has an inlet water sediment filter with a large cartridge in a plastic canister. The whole house water filter keeps rocks and other debris from clogging our valves and faucets. We mentioned above we also use a Brita water filter for our drinking water. We do not use bottled water and don’t buy water (RO or other processes).

Whenever we stay in an area for a few days we become accustomed to the local water “flavor”. Filtered through our counter-top pitcher, the water makes good tea and is fine in our re-usable water bottles. Why incur additional costs (and increases of disposable plastics to waste dumps) of bottled water? Or dumping quarters or dollars in the RO water dispensers?

We believe we are providing safe and sufficient quality water for our uses with the above steps. This has worked for us. What do you do?

Jim and Debbie
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©2007-2010 Dreamstreamr