Sunday, July 27, 2014

Living History

The Great War started 100 years ago. Besides being of enormous importance to the world over this past century, it is an uncanny illustration of the old adage, 'the more things change, the more they stay the same.' An incident -- the assassination in Sarajevo -- was turned into the opportunity to kill millions by the blundering politicians and emperors that the sheeple stayed loyal to. A couple years later a suspicious or misinterpreted incident, the sinking of the Lusitania, was used to suck the USA into an unnecessary war.

Consider such things in light of what has been going on in Ukraine the last week. And yet the general public learns nothing about how politicians use incidents to start wars.

It is not easy finding good histories of the Great War. Oh sure, I've read Barbara Tuchman, Niall Ferguson, and Martin Gilbert. The difficulty is in finding a book not written from the British or American-interventionist angle. I had almost lost hope until Thomas Fleming's "The Illusion of Victory..."  I will bring up its points in later posts.

What a shame that those of us who knew someone in that dreadful war didn't really learn much from him about the war. I've only seen one photograph of my grandfather in action: he was a midwestern farmboy, and a recent immigrant from Sweden, who they put to work handling the horses that moved the cannons.

Ah dear, I can't find the photograph of Walmart plastic shopping sacks blowing downwind into New Mexican cholla, and being impaled of course. And there were so many sacks that day! It is hard to believe that mere plastic sacks could look so macabre. What a perfect visual representation of the trench, barbed wire, and machine gun warfare on the Western Front! 

I would really appreciate any suggestions from readers about good history books of the Great War.

Friday, July 25, 2014

Is Ice the Best "Battery" for Mobile Living?

Since the last post ended with a bit of a downer, let's see if we can crawl out of the slough of despair today. Let me be a good sport and admit that I am temporarily stymied in finding an economical, high-ground-clearance tow vehicle for pulling my 3000 pound converted cargo trailer/travel trailer and storing two bicycles inside.

Usually when a problem has you temporarily beaten, it is best to put it aside and work on something else.  So let's get to work on reducing the weight of camping gear and personal possessions. One way or another, lighter loads will pay off when it comes time to select a new tow vehicle, whatever it is.

After water -- be it clean, grey, or black -- batteries are the heaviest factor that an RVer has any control over. I am using four 6-volt, golf cart, flooded, lead acid batteries: model GC-2, made by Interstate. With cables, clamps and boxes, let's round off their weight to 70 pounds each.

Downsizing from 4 to 2 such batteries reduces the weight of the trailer by 140 pounds. Imagine how many clothes, dishes, and toys you would have to get rid-of to add up to 140 pounds! 

Unfortunately I don't have an energy-summing device to give you exact numbers. Suffice it to say that my DC-voltage-powered refrigerator is the biggest energy-draw in my trailer, and therefore that is where the improvement must come from. (It's a 12 Volt-DC, compressor-based refrigerator: the Whynter 45 quart model, sold at 

Let us not think of a battery as an electrochemical device, but as an example of the more general category of "energy storage devices." There aren't too many other examples of energy storage devices besides the battery, but one that we usually overlook is the heat capacity of water and the heat exchanged in freezing water.

During the day, my nearly 500 (nominal) watts of solar panels usually charge up the four golf-cart batteries by mid-morning. Then, the rest of the day, the whole system is just maintaining a full charge on those batteries. Therefore much of the capabilities of the solar system is being wasted.

Wouldn't it make more sense to run the solar system full blast, all day? If I used my Whynter refrigerator as a freezer for various jugs of water (rather than as a refrigerator for food), all of the solar capabilities will be "soaked up" during the day, freezing water. Then, at night, I could just turn off the Whynter frig/freezer, in order to get by on merely two golf cart batteries. The ice jugs would then be transferred to a common inexpensive "Igloo" or "Coleman" cooler chest, which would serve as the refrigerator for my food. 

The Whynter unit has thus gone from being a food refrigerator to purely an ice manufacturing machine. I have done something like this before. Basically it works, but well enough to downsize 4 golf cart batteries to 2?

If the reader knows any success stories (or failures) with this technique, please comment.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Update: Tow Vehicle Shopping the Old-fashioned Way

There must be people out there who are ten times better than me at internet searching. I don't even like buying things on the internet, other than music. 

Today I dropped in on the local car dealer in Gunnison CO just to kick some tires. I was suspicious that my internet searches were at a dead end. As luck would have it, this dealer had recent models of all the categories I polemicized about, last post. It was uncanny.

What an amazing difference there is between seeing something real and merely reading about it. Just think how good those reviewers made the Dodge Durango and Chevy Traverse sound. One glance at them and I chopped them off the list. They had those annoyingly-low, plastic, front-bumper skirts (air dams) that hang down to about 4 inches from the ground. Ridiculous! You couldn't even get close to a concrete curbstone with one of those suburban mommie-mobiles.

The Subaru Outback had a high and clean undercarriage, but it didn't look like a real hitch could be attached anywhere. The Toyota 4Runner and Nissan Xterra impressed me the most.

Perhaps I should start using to do searches, and actually ask questions in the search. But does this search engine actually look at the logical thought-content of your question, or does it just pick off keywords? If the latter, the question-like approach is a gimmick to differentiate it in the marketplace.

Today was a powerful example of the internet's limitations. It is fully justified to roll your eyes or sigh in resignation when you ask a human being just about any question these days, and their pat answer is, 'Oh just google it. It's on the internet somewhere.'


A good primer on four-wheeling at jalopnik.


A good article on why Ford hasn't gone the Direct Injection route, as GM has. 

Another skeptical article about Direct Injection. 

One of the commenters suggested that getting bicycles in and out of the back of an SUV would get old, fast. Today I went back to the dealer and got permission to slide my mountain bike into the back of a Toyota 4Runner, and then stand it upright, inside.  It wasn't even close to succeeding, except by lowering the saddle. The 4Runner was long enough for the mountain bike. (Obviously the front wheel was removed.) 

Lowering the saddle each time the bike goes into the vehicle, eh? Not sure I could get used to that.  Presumably the same thing happens with pickup trucks, unless the cap flares upward towards the stern.

I was no fool to have bought a cargo van as my first tow vehicle!


It is unusual for me to flail away so ineffectively over practical details. Shame on me. When I started RVing, I had the satisfaction of buying an extremely useful tow vehicle at a good price. It enabled me to live a more interesting life, and to live like I wanted to live. I felt like I was beating the system.

(If the cargo van was such a brilliant idea, why doesn't everyone get one? You know why: the Little Woman won't stand for it.)

Naturally  I would like to pull off a stunt like that again. But it just seems like there aren't as many options as there used to be. Every vehicle is loaded with crap. They are too expensive and complicated. Ultimately it is the debt culture that allows this to get worse every year. And every year government regulations force the auto industry down a narrower and narrower path.

How do you "win" when your options wither away every year?