Wednesday, February 25, 2009

2009-02-28 And so it begins...

Dateline, Ashland, VA
Longitude: -77.8881
Latitude: 37.7338

As of 4pm today, the journey has begun. Shelby and I are successfully camped at a campground on the north end of town not two miles from RV Service of Virginia, where the camper has resided since I bought it last June.

Sorry for the delay in posting, but let's just say I was busy and leave it at that. It took a lot of preparation, planning and thought to make this happen and as each load of stuff was shlepped out to the camper, it disappeared nicely into storage, closets, etc. After loading in all my stuff you couldn't even tell anything had changed, short of the thick feather bed on top of the bunk.

It was cold and rainy when we hugged Mom goodbye and pushed off. I had spent a lot of time searching for campgrounds within a 100 mile range so we could take a few days to shakedown the rig and work out any problems. Incredibly, almost none of the state parks or RV campgrounds within that range were open until after March 1st or later, so I went with this local campground.

In a short while we reached the campground and checked in. Still raining, I hooked up the electricity, lit the water heater, filled the fresh water tank, then hooked up to the water feed and went inside.

Almost immediately I encountered my first potential showstopper. The thermostat that controls the furnace was pegged all the way to the right, indicating it was 90 degrees (it wasn't - more like 35 degrees) so the furnace would not kick in. Shelby and I discussed this, and could see each other's breath while we did.

She suggested that we should probably eat something so I thawed a couple chicken breasts in the water that had already heated up, then put them into a ZipLoc bag filled with blackened Cajun spice, sort of like a poor-man's shake 'n bake. I cooked them in an iron skillet and made a cup of hot chocolate while I thought through the possible scenarios of freezing here.

After eating the chicken and giving Shelby a tub of the tasty Beneful Beef Stew she is fond of, I took the cover off the thermostat. The needle assembly is embedded in the cover and terminates in a round dial on a screw. On a hunch, I rotated it and it moved without resistance, setting it to the other end of the spectrum at 50 degrees.

That still didn't cause the furnace to kick in. So I found the circuit breaker panel and opened it up. It said the furnace was the third fuse and when I spotted it, that fuse was hanging out of the socket, barely hanging on by one prong. I gave it a little shove and presto, the furnace came on. Sweet. My toes and fingers almost immediately started to thaw.

To find out if I had munged the thermostat I set it at 60 to see if it would cut off. Around three paragraphs into writing this blog it shut down on its own. Success! I notched it on up to 70 and it is now warm and toasty inside the camper.

The temperatures here tonight will just bottom at 32, but the next two days it will not go over that and will be down in the teens, with possible snow on Monday. But now that we have heat, we don't have to worry so much.

At the request of the campground, I detached the water feed and drained the hose, so we'll just use the fresh water tank for now.

The big project for tomorrow will be to hook up to the sewage line. All I have is one dinky little drain hose with a connector only for the camper end. I wandered around and saw that the experienced ones have a long hose with an L connector on the tank end, plus they have these neat little supports to keep the hose under control. I'm fairly sure I can get my hands on one of these somewhere tomorrow.

The campground has WiFi so I am not having to use my cell phone as a tethered modem yet.

I am very pleased that the heat is on. It's funny how we take things for granted. I am even more pleased that I was able to fix this myself, without a lick of training or experience. This leads me to my final thought for this post.

It is my opinion that the handyman gene is recessive. My Dad could build a garage or addition to the house with one tool and no plans. I did not inherit that skill set.

If I had been a carpenter in Jerusalem, Jesus would have died of old age.

But I got lucky tonight. Dad would approve.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

2009-02-14 I Drank the Kool-Aid

Dateline Richmond, VA

I will fess up that I have been behind the laptop curve for a while. Eight years to be precise. My last one, and still a stalwart but bulky friend, was a Dell 8100 I picked up in August of 2001. It has seen lots of travel, been through 4 hard drives at $250 a pop and had two screens. Total investment: $6000usd give or take. Sheesh.

So I started looking for replacements last Summer, after falling in love with the ASUS EEE PC A client loaned me while teaching a class in Jamaica. Very cute. Only $299, runs Linux, fits in a pocket and boots up in under 15 seconds. Plus it has all the apps preloaded (all open-source, natch).

By the end of the week I was actually getting used to the tiny little keyboard and screen and was very much interested in the NetBook route. Upon my return I started studying up and found that ASUS had an array of higher end Netbooks, the top end of which at the time had a 10" screen, larger keyboard and lots of great built-in features. You could even get it with XP on it. But the price was over $600. That put it within striking range of the low end but still very powerful full-size laptops.

So I studied all of them. Read reviews. Visited stores and played with them. Still, there were a couple things I couldn't stand. One was the prospect of getting a machine running the heinous Vista O/S. I have extra copies of XP I scored through a friend at Microsoft in anticipation of a day when they would no longer be available. So I could potentially buy a Vista box then attempt at lobotomizing it, scraping out the Vista weirdness and replacing it with XP. Yechh. Not fun.

Then in August, I had the opportunity to spend a few weeks with a MacBook Pro. What a sweet machine. Leopard is an operating system the way God intended one to be. It is actually BSD Unix underneath, which gives me great confidence, being an old Unix guy dating back to the mid-80's.

While I didn't jump on it straight away, I had the opportunity to spend more time with Macs at a buds house and really took Leopard to town, examining all its components and ending up being damn impressed.

Knowing September would bring a new announcement from Apple on their laptop line, I waited to see what they would unveil. And they didn't disappoint. The new MacBookPro offered a single-piece body, a very thin glass screen (and no matte option), and a few other features I can't recall at the moment. But they had no announcement for their 17" models, to my disappointment.

I waited and continued studying the overall laptop landscape until the evening of Feb 13th, when I just decided to go ahead and get the MacBookBro 15". The following evening found me at the local Apple store.

After describing what options I wanted and conditions I had (like examining the unit for dead pixels at the advice of a friend), I handed over a credit card and in five minutes became an Apple guy.

I had heard of the "out of box" experience with Apple gear and have to say I was very impressed with the minimalist approach.

Out of the box, the computer was already charged and good to go. Not a dead pixel to be found. So I scooped up my new Mac, a neat messenger bag, a copy of VMWare, a mouse (okay, so I am old school) and headed home to start moving in to it.

I'll just jump ahead to my conclusion and spare the gritty details.

In my opinion, this whole Mac or PC thing is bogus.

By adding VMWare, I was able to load a fresh copy of Windows XP underneath it. Again, I won't bore you with details, but I have a number of packages that only run in XP, so I actually needed it.

It was surprisingly fast. In fact, it boots up XP many times faster than my desktop box, shuts down in just a few seconds, and I have yet to experience a single crash or BSOD. Sweet.

Within several days and after a lot of detailed work validating that my original data was all intact, I am officially moved in to the MacBookPro and loving it. It will replace a tired but well-worn Dell desktop nicely.

2009-02-13 We got the goods

Dateline Richmond, VA

A couple days after my previous whiny blog about Best Buy and everything "being on the truck", I went back over to see for myself if the proverbial truck had arrived.

To my surprise, it had.

So I went to town and splurged on a couple nice things to add to the camper for the trip, starting with:

A Toshiba 19" LCD HD/DVD Combo

The camper is "cable ready", but I figured that there really would not be many opportunities to plug in to someone else's cable on this trip, so I opted for a Digital TV / DVD combo unit to be able to watch movies as time permits. The day after I got this I read an article that rabbit ears (antennas, for you youngsters) were making a comeback in the new post-analog TV era, with many people reverting back to these to take advantage of the crystal-clear digital TV offered free over the airwaves. The camper has an antenna on top and we will see what kind of reception this affords.

Next up was to replace the funky (and broken) old CD/Radio built in to the unit.

So I picked up the Pioneer DEH-1100MP. This is a digital radio with a CD player capable of playing regular and MP3 CD's, plus has the all-important MP3 input on its front panel. Having exploited some of the great deals offered on during the past several months, I now have five Sansa MP3 players, 2 each of the 1gb model and 3 of the 4gb model. All have built-in radios and the big ones also play videos. Total cost on all five units togeter: $90usd. Really. The big units were originally around $250usd. I can't say enough good things about so will just give it a big old Woot and recommend it.

Of course that fine new Pioneer CD/Radio wouldn't sound great through the crappy old speakers currently installed in the camper, so I picked up two pairs of Alpine 5-1/4" Type-S Speakers. They sounded fantastic even in the store and had both good bass as well as a decent high-end. At least enough for these ears.

I happily trotted all of these out to RV Services of VA on Friday and handed them off to Wendell, who assured he would get to them "next week".

See the next post for the real electronic score.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

2009-02-10 Best Buy, If You Can

Dateline Richmond, VA

I have spent a lot of time thinking of what things I need to acquire for the camper for the road trip, beyond the standard stuff one carries.

This list includes a LCD TV/DVD combo, a replacement stereo with four speakers, a video camera, and a new notebook computer. All things one could, in theory, buy at a store like Best Buy.

I've made several recon missions to Best Buy over the previous few months, scoping out possible candidates, and then researching them. But it wasn't until last night that I actually was able to locate a knowledgeable sales associate in each department who actually knew the products and seemed to enjoy talking about them. The added bonus was that the store was empty of customers, so I had each of them relatively undistracted.

In each case, I told them my criteria and requirements, and we soon found the ideal model for my needs. And with each separate case we ran into the exact same problem: they didn't actually have that particular model on hand. In three cases it was "on the truck" and I should check back in "probably like 3 or 4 days".

In the case of the car stereo, there was a model replacing the one we had chosen, which was only 30% more expensive, but also included an iPod cable. Even then, the higher priced model was not "out yet". It was somewhere between "on the truck" and "where it could be carried to a register".

So I left empty-handed, despite having the budget and intentions of spending a good chunk of change.

I actually considered that visit to Best Buy a good experience, despite the outcome.

It was fun talking with the sales guys, who knew an awful lot about the products that they didn't even have for sale.

If I can get them delivered quickly enough, I may order them online, otherwise I will make due and improvise.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

2009-02-08 The Word is Out

Dateline Richmond, VA

In celebration of getting near the end of squaring away my things in storage for this trip, I updated the main page of with an announcement of the upcoming Travels With Shelby trip, which I expect to begin by mid-week.

I'm now putting the word out on my social networking sites in an attempt to arrange meetings with friends, family and former clients along the way.

Our routing map is published and will be updated with actual routing as the journey evolves.

We're shooting for getting in about 300 miles per day and hope to stop at YMCA's along the way to work out.

Shelby has her spot in the Suburban picked out, warmed up and is ready to go.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

2009-02-04 Cold Preparations

Dateline Richmond, VA

It's been a couple days since I updated the blog. I've been busy getting stuff squared away in storage and pulling stuff from storage that will be useful in the camper.

I'm also about halfway through reading "Travels with Charley" again, fascinated by the things Mr. Steinbeck pioneered. From the whole camper concept to his ingenious bucket method of washing clothes, he innovated a lot of things people take for granted today.

In the absence of having a trip-related photo to post, I'm submitting one of my Son in Law's new office, the Supercarrier USS Ronald Reagan. This shows it in the "Man at Rail" configuration, with the crew lining the rail as it pays it's respects at the USS Arizona Memorial in Pearl Harbor.

While I am very proud of him and his new job on the world's largest machine, there is a chance I may be able to join him on it for a 5-day cruise back from Hawaii to San Diego in October of this year. Each year when it returns from deployment, the Navy books several commercial airliners and offer crew members the option of flying home early. Apparently, they never have trouble getting enough volunteers for this.

Family members of the crew are then invited to join in on their "Tiger Cruise" and experience life on a Super Carrier for what must be an amazing five days. I'm keeping my fingers crossed that this comes to pass.