Ramblings of a Techno-Viking

A few more things

Not much to report today, just a few things I forgot to mention previously.

Like others have mentioned, my RV came with a big ring of keys. Five of them do something useful, three of those have duplicates. Two apparently don't fit anything. (One looks like a house key.) One lock doesn't have a key that fits it, but that one is non-critical. I'll be adding another key soon, since it doesn't have a locking gas cap.

The RV has two air conditioners, and only a 30 amp power cord. Only one can be run at a time when on shore power, selected manually. The generator can supply 50 amps at 120 volts, so both air conditioners can be run when on generator power.

Adding the RV to my auto insurance policy was cheaper than I expected. I'll need to take it in tomorrow since they want pictures.

Rexhall seems to have a better basement compartment door design than many other manufacturers. Despite the many dings over the years, all the compartments open, close, and lock smoothly. The simple stop that slides out to hold the door open won't wear out for many years.

I've also been playing with my ikiwiki setup, and think my blog looks a bit better. It's close to what I want for now. The RSS and ATOM buttons near the top allow you to subscribe to my blog. If you only want posts with a certain tag, you can click on the desired tag on the sidebar then use the RSS or ATOM button there. Let me know what you think -- Should the pictures be bigger or smaller? Should I do more or fewer? Any other ideas to make my blog better? You can email me at blog@blars.us or use the comment form here. All comments are moderated. (That means I see them before anyone else can.)

Posted Monday 01 November 2010 04:08 UTC
Last edited Friday 05 November 2010 00:34 UTC


Monday afternoon I took my rig (I really need to get a name for her) to AAA to get pictures for the insurance. The Glendale AAA office was busier than I have ever seen it, there was no way I was going to try getting into that small lot. The on-street parking was also crowded, after driving around the block 1.5 times I parked 2 blocks away. While I was there I got some maps -- mainly the California Camping ones.

Opening the curb-side door with the steps deliberately off, since I don't want the step to scrape the curb, it deploys the steps anyway. (It's a wide vehicle, I park as close to the curb as practical.) Later reading the manual it explains this is a feature -- apparently designed to break the steps and raise repair costs. I had noticed this happening before.

After returning to my parking place, taking it slow on city streets rather than the freeway, I noticed a fluid dripping from under the hood. Not good. It felt watery and had a slight green tinge -- antifreeze. Opening the hood, and looking from both above and below, I determine that it is coming from the overflow tank's overflow tube. Oops, I forgot about the manual fan switch when driving. Returning today, with better light and a cooler engine, the coolant level appears to be at the "cool" level, so maybe it was just overfilled. Something to watch and I need to use the extra fan.

Over the past few days, I've been shopping for accessories for the RV. Pictured here are the IR thermometer, the extra-long squeegee, two fresh-water hoses, and a 15A-30A adapter. Not pictured are the pancake compressor, set of accessories for it, and the tire pressure gauge. So far I've bought things at Harbor Freight, Walmart, and Camping World, and looked at stuff at Pep Boys, Staples, and Home Depot. I've also started taking stuff from home, mostly duplicates I won't miss. The costs are adding up, and I haven't started buying the expensive stuff yet.

Posted Thursday 04 November 2010 16:17 UTC
Last edited Sunday 07 November 2010 04:49 UTC

Connecting to the Internet

At home, in my sticks (no bricks) house, I've got a bunch of computers, all running Debian Linux. My current Internet connection is Speakeasy SDSL 384kbps. That's pretty slow by todays standards, and it's expensive, (about $100/month) but it includes two static IP addresses and Speakeasy has better support, including Linux, than most other ISPs. At the time I upgraded from ISDN, the local phone company wouldn't even try a DSL install, since I was near (but not over) the maximum distance from the local central office. The cable company was also not offering Internet at that time. In general, I've gotten good service from Speakeasy, with the exception of a few months when they honored their guarantee and didn't charge me. Speakeasy does offer Internet connections where there are few other options. (In the unlikely event you decide to go with speakeasy, please tell them blarson sent you so I'll get the referral credit.)

The static IPs allow me to run my own mail and web server at home. Since I'm not going to have a full-time Internet connection in the near future, I needed an alternate solution. Housing a server at a collocation service is not cheap. What I wound up doing is getting a VPS (Virtual Private Server, aka vhost (virtual host)) where a portion of one of their servers acts like I have a computer that I can install my own software other than the Linux kernel. This is running at RamHost, where I'm paying $5/month for one of their cheapest plans. This has a static IP, limited but fairly high traffic on their high-speed Internet connections, limited memory and disk space. The memory limits were a problem when I tried setting up a mysql/php blog package, but when I reconfigured Apache and switched to IkiWiki it no longer seems to be an issue. If this site gets really popular, I may have to upgrade to a more expensive plan. The main problem I've had with RamHost is finding a time when they weren't sold out of VPSs so I could order one. I'll be moving my other domains to the same VPS in the near future.

With that solved, I need a portable Internet solution. I was about to order 3gStore's no-contract Verizon 3g solution, but it was discontinued. While Verizon reportedly has the best coverage in out of the way places, I wanted to avoid a long-term contract. Eventually TechNomadia mentioned Millenicom that offerers no-contract service for $60/month, with a 10GB usage cap if you buy the modem (or 5GB if you don't). These options use the Verizon network in most places, and there is no charge for in-US roaming. (As with other Cell phones, you need to be careful about roaming near the Canadian border.) Their "unlimited" plan isn't, and uses the Sprint network, but there is no over-usage charge.

The Millenicom modem needs to be actived on a Windows or Macintosh computer, but after that can be used from Linux (with no usage display or ability to turn off roaming). The only documentation it came with was on the included 2GB micro-SD card in the modem, and that didn't cover the Novatel usb760 modem, a current version of Linux, or not running it under KDE. Instructions I found elsewhere were missing the wvdial.conf file. My first working attempt connected at 9600 baud -- slower that most dialup connections. Eventually I found the needed magic in the wvdial.conf file, and I now have a working 3g modem that is faster than my home SDSL. My current plans are to discontinue Speakeasy and use the 3g modem for my home network.

Here is my working wvdial.conf (the username and password are ignored):

 [Dialer Defaults]
 Modem Type = Analog Modem
 ISDN = 0
 Init1 = ATZ
 Init2 = ATZ
 Init3 = ATE0V1&D2&C1S0=0+IFC=2,2
 Modem = /dev/ttyUSB0
 Phone = #777
 Username = user
 Password = user
 Stupid Mode = yes
 Baud = 460800

 [Dialer usb0]
 Modem = /dev/ttyUSB0

 [Dialer usb1]
 Modem = /dev/ttyUSB1

 [Dialer usb2]
 Modem = /dev/ttyUSB2

 [Dialer usb3]
 Modem = /dev/ttyUSB3

For phone service, I'll be using my current prepaid cell phone. T-Mobile offers a cheap prepaid plan for those of us who don't use the phone much, $100 for the first year ($25 card every 3 months) and any additional card (even a $10 one) every year after that. The minutes don't expire as long as you renew before the deadline. While the minutes aren't cheap at about $0.10 each, the savings on the monthly charges more than make up for it for someone like me. At the time I signed up, they included a $25 card with the $30 phone. (Their offers change occasionally.)

Posted Saturday 06 November 2010 06:41 UTC
Last edited Sunday 07 November 2010 02:26 UTC

Tweaking my Blog

Over the past few days, I've added some new tags for subcategories of the rv tag, and updated the tags on the old articles. Hopefully this will make things easier to find.

There is now a test server where I plan on making changes to my blog, so I won't need to keep updating an article immediately after I've posted it for such things as broken links or bad markdown. This has let me play with the configuration and change a few things that irritated me about the default IkiWiki blog configuration.

The RSS, Atom, Preferences, and Recent Changes links have all been moved to the sidebar. The first two were the trickiest -- I wound up using feed=no on the main page and feedonly=yes on the sidebar. There is now an "Older posts" link on the bottom of the page for the previous 10 articles. The pictures and title are now placed over the sidebar. Let me know at blog@blars.us or in Comments if you like these changes.

Posted Sunday 07 November 2010 02:26 UTC
Last edited Sunday 07 November 2010 02:26 UTC

Free SF electronic books -- Baen Free Library

If you like Science Fiction and Fantasy, and want to read some for free, check out the Baen Free Library. There are about 100 books available in several different formats, including HTML that can be read with your web browser on just about any computer. I'm pretty sure you can find something compatible with most any e-reader. Many are military SF, but some are classics. Many are the first in a series. This is done with the authors and publishers permission. The catch is they hope you will like them and buy more. Authors include David Webber, John Ringo, Eric Flint, and David Drake. Louis McMaster Bujold only has a short story in the free library.

Sales of paper copies of some of the books in the free library went up significantly after they were made available on the free library.

There are also about 20 different CD collections of Baen books that contain dozens of books each. There is quite a bit of overlap between the CDs, and some with the free library. Initial distribution is done in first-edition hardbacks. I've also seen them as free samples at SF conventions. People are allowed to copy and give away, but not sell, the CDs. The David Webber and John Ringo CDs contain every book they published with Baen at that point. Baen does not put these on the Internet, but at least one site does have them available for download, reportedly with permission.

Baen will, of course, also sell you electronic copies of current titles. There are monthly collections published, including all the new titles as well as reprint titles. The books are available in multiple formats, and not copy protected. Once you have purchased a title, you may download it as many times and in as many formats as you want.

Baen books are free to disabled readers.

Books are fairly small downloads, so even if you are on a 3g connection it won't usually be a problem.

Please note that I'm not getting anything for telling you about this, other than hopefully helping people find good books to read and encouraging an open policy towards distributing fiction electronicly.

Posted Thursday 11 November 2010 09:40 UTC
Last edited Friday 12 November 2010 02:06 UTC

Ramblings of a Techno-Viking

This is the rambling (writing) and rambling (traveling) of a Techno-Viking (bearded middle-aged nerd of mixed ancestry, including Norwegian). My self-assigned mission is to go a Viking (exploration and trade), starting in the Western United States and ending up wherever. This is not about someone who danced in Germany to "Techno" music, I came up with the term independently and decided not to let someone else steal it from me just because they used it first. The new URL for the blog is http://techno-viking.com, but the old one of http://blars.us/blog/ will continue to work. You can even tack a www in front of the domains if you want.

My middle-aged crisis was precipitated by being laid off from a place I had worked over 20 years. Rather than going immediately into "I must find a job" mode, I treated it as a sabbatical, living off my savings, traveling and seeing National Parks I had never gone to before, as well as continuing to work on Debian and OpenStreetMap. Unfortunately, by the time my savings was running out the economy had tanked, and my skills were slightly rusty and not a great fit for most of what is available in the job market. Marketing is not one of my skills, and selling myself is not something I enjoy or feel confident doing.

Most of my remaining capital is tied up in my house. Even in todays market, where it is worth half of what it was 5 year ago, I've got quite a bit of equity. But to get access to that equity, I need to have somewhere else to live. After vaguely thinking about an RV for years, I started researching into the possibility of living in one full time in December of 2009. In late October 2010, I purchased one. Currently I'm purging my possessions, getting my house ready to sell, and my RV ready to live in full-time.

While I may not be able to afford to go out on the road full-time looking for odd jobs, I certainly can't afford to stay in my house in Los Angeles without good-paying full-time work. Hopefully I can get enough from the sale of my house to pay off my debt and give me some working capital while continuing to explore. Rather than spending most of my time and energy working for a large corporation, saving for some future retirement, I've decided to live life now and see what happens. Part of my reasoning is that I think the long-term outlook for the American dollar is bad, we've been spending much more than producing and the bill is going to come due. How soon a crisis that makes the current one look puny will happen is something I'm not sure of, it may be put off for many decades, or the current one may just keep deepening. My record of predicting the future is poor, so you shouldn't worry much just on the basis of my rambling.

Posted Thursday 18 November 2010 08:00 UTC
Last edited Wednesday 12 January 2011 02:18 UTC

RV Maintenance

There were a few issues with my RV that I took it back to the selling dealer with:

  • Jack down light flickering when driving User error -- leveler system not turned off

  • Coolant dripping from overflow tank when engine hot Previous owner's duct tape "fix" to the cracked seam was failing -- now fixed with epoxy

  • Coach battery not retaining charge recharged -- see below

  • Water leaks through front air conditioner when it rains Seal replaced -- this was supposed to have been done before I picked up the RV

  • Bed hard to lift hold-up reattached -- this was mentioned in passing when talking, I didn't expect it to be fixed

Cue's RV did these fixes in a few hours while I waited without charge.

The battery still didn't hold a charge properly, so I decided to replace the pair of 6 volt batteries, even though they were only 2 years old. The previous owner had used 6 volt engine starting batteries, not deep cycle (golf cart) batteries. This was discovered when I took them to a battery store for replacement -- the new ones are much larger and heavier. I only got half-credit for the "core charge". As it was getting dark when I was trying to do the install, that has been postponed until tomorrow, assuming I can get it done before it starts raining. I considered and priced using AGM batteries, but decided not to spend the money on them at this time.

Due to the battery problem, I did not take the RV camping this week. I did take it to a large mostly-empty parking lot and practice driving -- I was surprised how well I was doing parking between the lines. Next week I will be going to Loscon.

The previous owner seems to have kept the interior in very good condition, and spent over $500 replacing the microwave/convection oven a year ago, but ignored many chassis issues. While the engine runs well, I don't know how long it has been since it has been serviced, and I want to take it to a truck mechanic to have it looked over, fluids changed, brakes checked, etc.

Posted Friday 19 November 2010 03:31 UTC
Last edited Friday 19 November 2010 03:31 UTC

Rambling about not much

This is a blog entry on incompletion and indecision. I've got a partly written article that is going to be pretty technical, but I need to flesh it out before publishing. My first "mod" (being very generous calling it that) is halfway done -- I forgot to bring a philips screwdriver.

The other day I had a warning ticket about habitation not being legal on city streets/parking lots on my windshield. The cop then pulled over and told me to move my RV -- It's not parked illegally, but he wants it off that street. For now, I'm parked on a narrower street in front of someones house, rather than the wide street with plenty of parking. I'll have to look up the LA city ordinance on how long you can park on an unmarked street -- I think it's a week, but the cop mentioned 72 hours.

Thawing turkey in the refrigerator doesn't seem possible. In the past I've failed at three or four days, but this time I gave it six and I still had to use the water method to complete the thaw.

Not much seems interesting in the Black Friday sales. I may get up early to try and get a bigger inverter though. (2kw for $150.)

One interesting site I saw mentioned in one of the many RV forums is Roadside America. It's a list of quirky little things to see. I'll have to do some more playing tourist before I completely leave Los Angeles. Some I've seen and like, others sound interesting, and some are not of interest to me. (Who cares what movies it was seen in, I use to work in an office complex frequently used in TV and movie making.)

The other thing I'm doing this weekend is Loscon. I haven't missed one since I started going in the late 80's.

Posted Friday 26 November 2010 03:52 UTC
Last edited Friday 26 November 2010 03:52 UTC