Tuesday, May 27, 2008

"Instant" Hot Water

At home, I've been really spoiled by an instant hot water dispenser. I drink a lot of hot tea, and it's great to have hot water at my beck and call. So what to do in the RV?

OK, so I stole this idea. Just use a carafe thermos with the push down dispenser. I usually boil a large pot of water in morning, and fill up the thermos. Any water that remains in the evening is still quite warm, and we use it for cleaning dishes.

Maybe my only contribution here is where to keep the thermos when traveling. (Actually, I stole that too -- it's my wife Carol's idea ;-) We keep it in the open sink, with a towel wrapped around the base. We also store our coffee mugs there when they are not up front with us. It's been over all kinds of washboard roads without any problems. Even works on CA highways ;-)

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Monday, May 26, 2008

Bathroom Storage

We felt like we needed some additional, accessible storage for our various bathroom accoutrements, to help us get ready in the morning. The storage that exists in the 26.5' Mid-Bath is someone awkwardly located, down by the side of the toilet.

So I performed just a little surgery on a very inexpensive shoe organizer from Wal-Mart (this was a 22 pocket overdoor organizer sold under the Mainstay brand). Basically, because the mid-bath door acts as a dressing room door, the lower left part closes up against the outside of the bathroom wall. So I needed to cut away two of the pockets, and since the bottom pockets are larger, I just folded that one back.

I fastened the organizer with small pan screws, right through the seams. There was no need to remove the towel racks on the door -- the organizer fits right over them.

Also, it was pure luck, but the door handle fit right between two rows of pockets. Here I just took apart the bathroom door handle, and cut three small holes to match the handle, and then reassembled it. Now the door handle also helps to hold the organizer secure.

When the door is closed, the pockets line up exactly with the internal bathroom door frame -- again, pure luck.

We love being able to see our stuff and have it within easy reach. Because each pocket is soft, it will move if you bump into it. We find we usually leave the bathroom door open (in the dressing room configuration) when we are getting ready in the morning, since the Mid-Bath's bathroom is so ... compact, shall we say.

Anyways, this works great for us, and we thought it might help someone else out looking for more easy storage solutions.

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Cutting board and counter extension

This is a simple improvement that takes about 10 minutes. We got this idea from others on the Lazy Daze forum. The only additional item of note is that we went with a large cutting board made out of bamboo. It's from Farberware, and the size we used is 21"x15". We picked it up at Wal-Mart for a little under $20.

It's a little tight to get around when it's up (but doable), and it sure does add significant counter space, which we find that very handy every day. Also, we made sure that it didn't interfere with the dinette seat when it is extended. We kept it close to the wall when we installed it.

And installation was easy: just unscrew the original plastic counter extension (leaving the hinges and bracket in place). Hold the new cutting board in position and mark the holes. And then, since the bamboo is so hard, use an awl to start the screw holes. You'll need new, shorter screws since the cutting board is not as thick as the original wood under the counter. And that's it.

Here you can see it folded down -- we think the bamboo looks pretty good against the woodgrain cabinets.

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Sunday, May 25, 2008

Internet on the go

I mentioned my setup for "internet on the go" in my Thistle Dew Too blog. Here I plan to include a few pictures and a description of what I've done, so that it may be able to help others. This photo shows the system when it is "deployed". The whole process takes less than two minutes, and only involves climbing the ladder part way. The pole you see is an 11' Total-Reach aluminum pole used for window cleaning and the like. It has 3 sections, and I simply attached the lower section to the ladder using heavy duty cable ties.

The heart of the system is a cellular data modem (aka air card) and wifi router. I chose the Verizon UM150 USB Air card and CradlePoint Model PHS300 Router. I purchased these and the other components from the 3G Store, and I found them to be very helpful and accommodating.

I selected the UM150 USB air card because it shows the signal strength on the modem itself -- this allows me to see if I need to bother to raise the antenna at all (many times, with the amplifier and antenna, I get 4 bars in the "travel" position). I chose the PHS300 router because it has a built in battery, and this allows it to continue working though power fluctuations, or when you are not connected to the external antenna and want to find the best signal strength position.

The rubber band you see in the photo is securing the external antenna to the air card.

Once I decided that I wanted to be able to raise the antenna, I had to choose a location for the Wilson Direct-Connect Amplifier that let me reach the raised position with its 13' cord. Whenever possible, it's preferable to not add extra cable, or you may lose the gain from the amplifier in additional cable losses. So where to put it? The best spot I found for my 26.5' Mid-Bath Lazy Daze was in the rear Maxx Air vent cover (note -- this is on the inside/underside and so is not exposed to the weather). All I had to do was scrape out the center ridge (about 1/8" of plastic) with a sharp knife to give me a flat location to attach the amplifier with double sided sticky tape (after cleaning well with isopropyl alcohol). It hasn't budged -- but if it does, I'll use small machine screws to attach it and then seal those small holes.

I also drilled a 1/2" hole in the corner of the Fantastic Fan housing to run the power cord for the amplifier, and the 6' cell phone antenna that was provided with the amplifier, which attaches with a unique pig tail to the air card. These cords run a short distance across the ceiling of the rear lounge into the cabinet near the TV, and will be hidden in small surface mount wiremold cord channel. The power for both the router and external amplifier can be run off either the 12V outlets (with separately purchased power supplies) or in my case, directly to a 120V outlet I ran separately from the lounge (more on that in a later post).

The idea for the marine railing clamp came from Ted Houghton, a fellow Lazy Dazer, and works great. It allows the external antenna to be easily raised or lowered. You will need to buy the necessary reducers to get the antenna to attach to the clamp. I bought mine from a marine supply store while on this trip -- they are commonly available, but a little pricey in stainless steel (mine cost a little under $50 along with the reducers).

Finally, here is the Wilson Omni External Antenna. Once attached to the marine clamp, just raise it up when you need it, and lower it down when you are done. I keep a short bungee cord to secure the antenna and extra cabling to the railing on the roof in "travel" position (and when it's "deployed," that bungee cord is my reminder on the steering wheel).

So that's it. It's not a cheap solution, but then nothing that works most of the time will be. I believe it is much easier than satellite (remember, set up time, when needed, is less than 2 minutes), and my monthly fee is only $60. And the system works so well (it's true broadband when you have a strong signal; and still usable when less than that), I plan to use it when I'm at home too (and replace my cable modem). All together, the initial outlay cost around $560. You could probably find even cheaper prices out there, but I was happy one-stop-shopping at the 3G Store.

Oh yeah, once you get this all set up, you need to log into the router, set up your security preferences, and then provide that security password to anyone with a wifi-enabled computer that you want to be able to access the internet. Works like a champ. It can also be used while driving (passenger only please), while in the stowed position, because the amplifier and router remain powered on.

I find it's almost too good to be true. And as if to prove it, this lengthy blog entry was made at a campsite with no data connectivity (0 bars) ... until I deployed the system (and now I have 2-3 bars). Woo-hoo. Feel free to submit any questions you might have in the comments section.

6/8/2007: One final note about signal strength. While more is always better, 4 bars will not always give you a high speed connection. If you are in an area for which your carrier does not provide high speed cellular service (or through arrangements with alternate carriers), then you are going to get slower connections. So far, this has only been a problem for me in the middle of the country (rural Kansas, Nebraska, and Indiana). In some of those locations, I had full strength cell connection (4 bars), but little better than a dial-up connection speed. It turns out for my carrier, I can check the coverage using this Verizon coverage site. Nevertheless, we've been on the road about six weeks now, and have only had this problem on a few occasions; and only once no coverage (zero bars) at all with the antenna up. Otherwise respectable to out-right-fast internet connections. Woo-hoo!

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