Friday, January 29, 2010

El Niño


We have a little more wet weather to put up with the next few days. Long-time Winter Texans (as we're called down here) tell me that weather patterns like this happen every few years. It's noticeably colder and wetter than most years... the "normal" years. People that are knowledgeable about these things, experts, tell us that this is an "El Niño" year.

Just what is El Niño? The following is from Wikipedia:

El Niño-Southern Oscillation (ENSO) is a quasi periodic climate pattern that occurs across the tropical Pacific with a roughly 5 year cycle. It is composed of an oceanic component, called El Niño (or La Niña), which is characterized by warming or cooling of surface waters in the tropical eastern Pacific Ocean, and an atmospheric component, the Southern Oscillation, which is characterized by changes in surface pressure in the tropical western Pacific. The two components are coupled: when the warm oceanic phase (known as El Niño) is in effect, surface pressures in the western Pacific are high, and when the cold phase is in effect (La Niña), surface pressures in the western Pacific are low. The oscillation does not have a specific period but occurs every four to twelve years, with the most common periods being around 5 years. Mechanisms that cause the oscillation remain under study.

In popular usage, El Niño-Southern Oscillation is often called just "El Niño". El Niño is Spanish for "the boy" and refers to the Christ child, because periodic warming in the Pacific near South America is usually noticed around Christmas. The more abundant fish stocks that accompany this phenomenon was seen by local fishermen as a "gift" from the Christ child. "La Niña" is Spanish for "the girl."

In North America, El Niño creates warmer-than-average winters in the upper Midwest states and the Northwest, thus reduced snowfall than average during winter. Meanwhile, central and southern California, northwest Mexico and the southwestern U.S. become significantly wetter while the northern Gulf of Mexico states and Southeast states (including Tidewater and northeast Mexico) are wetter and cooler than average during the El Niño phase of the oscillation. Summer is wetter in the intermountain regions of the U.S. The Pacific Northwest states, on the other hand, tend to experience dry, mild but foggy winters and warm, sunny and early springs.

El Niño is also associated with increased wave-caused coastal erosion along the United States Pacific Coast.


Hmmm. I hope that clears it up.

Have a great weekend. I'll have the next Journal update bright and early Monday morning.

Trying to figure all this out...
Thom

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Faster Verizon

A little over a week ago I wrote a Journal entry about our slow Verizon internet connection here in Rockport [Link]. Briefly, we connect to the internet by using the broadband data capabilities of the Verizon Cellular Phone system with a little device called an aircard. Depending on where we're camped, that connection could be fast or it could be slow, it could be steady and reliable, or it could be weak and undependable. When we're camped out in unpopulated areas, far from major highways and cities, I expect the connection to be slower. But I was expecting a better connection than we've been getting here in Rockport. That's what I wrote about then.

But things have changed in the ensuing days. Here's the story:

In the past, I've had our Verizon AirCard and router located in the front of the bus-house, on the dashboard. My thought was that the big windshield would provide the least resistance and interference from the bus-house framework to the radio signals that carry the data to and from the cell tower. I also have a signal booster (amplifier) and an external antenna that's designed to improve signal strength when we're in fringe areas. I had that booster and antenna hooked up here in Rockport when I found the service was so poor and spotty. I really couldn't detect much difference between using the booster and antenna, or not using them. I don't know why. The connection continued to just poke along, often almost as slow as dial-up, which is so slow it's almost unusable.

After I wrote that journal entry about the slow service, I decided to make some changes. I decided to try different things and see if I could find something that might improve the situation. I focused on re-locating the aircard/router to another location within the bus-house.

My first attempt was to move the aircard/router to the top of the desk on the left side of the camper, about half way back. When I re-started the connection there seemed to be some improvement... or was it just a fluke. Even before, I'd have short periods of time where I'd get good speed, but it never lasted.

The next step was to use a 3 foot shielded USB cable to connect the aircard to the router -- instead of plugging the aircard into the router directly. With two 3M Velcro Command strips, I stuck the aircard directly to the side window above our desk.

Well, I've learned a huge lesson. Of the things I changed, something worked. For the past week, we've been enjoying true broadband speeds again. And without the use of the booster and the external antenna.

Here are some download speed numbers to show what the difference has been:

Before; AirCard on front dashboard with booster and external antenna attached; normally between 75 and 150 kb/second -- never faster than 200 kb/second. And the connection would often just drop off altogether.

After: AirCard stuck on side window with velcro and connected to router with 3 foot shielded cable, no booster or external antenna; typically between 700 and 1200 kb/second -- occasionally as fast as 1600 kb/second. And only once did the connection drop.

At those speeds my problems and my whining are over. I've learned that placement of the aircard is critical. It appears that, like real estate, the three most important things about connecting to the internet with an aircard is location, location, location.

Rapidly computing in Rockport;
Thom

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Mustang Island Redux

After my island experience Monday, Dar and I returned to Mustang on Tuesday. The day was predicted to be sunny, but a little windier than the day before... but still a grand day to be on a beach in January.

To get onto the Island, the State of Texas maintains a full-time (24/7) ferry service across the ship channel that separates Mustang from the mainland and serves as the only deep-water access to the Port of Corpus Christi. This narrow channel could be easily spanned by a bridge that would certainly be cheaper than operating this ferry system (6 ramps on each side, 5 big 16-car diesel powered ferrys, and scads of people)... except for one thing -- the bridge would have to allow passage for the big ocean-going ships that must traverse this channel and it would have to be some very high (and expensive) structure. I'm guessing the ferry is the simple and cheaper solution in the short term anyway.


The ferry dumps you into the heart of the little community of Port Aransas (population about 3,700), a beach town with all the expected trimmings... marina, condos, RV parks, many gift and beach-wear shops, little bars and restaurants that come and go, the smell of ocean in the air, and ubiquitous sticky sand and humidity. Mustang is a barrier island, long and narrow, built up by the action of the Gulf washing sand into sand-bars and then sand-bars into barrier islands. Oriented kind-of North-South, there's a highway that runs the length of the island and connects Port Aransas with Padre Island and Corpus Christi to the South. It's also possible to drive the length of Mustang right on the packed sand of the beach, a distance of a little more than 15 miles (not the 20+ I wrote in yesterday's entry), which is what we did Tuesday.

About half way down the beach we stopped, parked the car about 10 feet from the water, pulled out the chairs and cooler, and had a snack lunch while we soaked up the sun. Because it was a tad breezy we found some relief on the lee side of the car, but it was still a bit too cool to expose much skin for that important dose of vitamin D.


Watching the surf, for me, is a lot like watching a campfire. It's hard to explain, but it's mesmerizing. The steady natural ebb and flow of the surf seems to put me in touch with the cycles of nature, night and day, birth and death, hot and cold, storm and calm, war and peace, big and small. It's easy for me to get lost in my thoughts at times like this.

I love walking along the waterline checking out all the debris, both natural and man-made thrown up on the beach by the surf, as the ocean struggles to clean itself... remains of this or that sea-life, wads of old fishing nets, knots of weeds, chucks of driftwood, shells, plastic bottles, colorful rocks, and almost anything else you can think of. A short walk is a journey of discovery, if you want it to be.

We eventually drove every bit of beach it's possible to drive on -- from the ship channel jetty to the north to the pleasure boat channel to the south.

There's a bird sanctuary on the island too, and we decided to stop see what was going on there. We found mostly ducks but were able to get some good photos of a Little Blue Heron, the smaller cousin of the
Great Blue Heron.


The ferry trip back to the mainland was an adventure of it's own. Our ferry driver must have been new or he/she really misjudged the approach on the other side, or both. As we neared the dock and ramp on the other side, Dar commented that we seemed skewed... moments later we made hard contact with the pilings that separate one dock/ramp from the next and bounced off, as everyone aboard looked at each other like "what's going on?". At that point there was nothing to do but back out and try again. But other ferrys were coming and going so we backed up-channel quite a distance before another attempt was made... this time successfully.

It felt great to be out exploring again.

Already planning our next adventure...
Thom

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Mustang Island

First off, Happy Birthday to Son Justin, or "JT" as we call him. We hope you and Kaytlyn have a great day, and know you have a few reasons to be celebrating this year. "Hee Haw" and we'll be thinking of you more than usual today.

Another really nice day here on Monday. Dar was off to work at 6:15 this morning and I went over to Corpus Christi with neighbor Bill. Our mission was to harpoon a GPS that was on sale at Best Buy. Bill's existing GPS is getting old and needs a database update -- and it looked like he had the option of updating the database in the existing unit for $69 or buying a new one he found on sale for $89 -- kind'of a no-brainer.

Upon closer investigation, the on-sale unit was loaded with a 2009 database that's already more than a year old (the 2010 version has been out for months) -- so it wasn't such a good deal after all. He decided to pass and wait for future deals. With that behind us, we stopped at a couple more places to check out GPS's and other stuff (didn't buy a thing!), and then found an establishment on North Padre Island, overlooking the bay, for lunch. The place is called Snoopy's and it turned out to be quite good.

We took the long way home -- right along the Gulf shoreline, up Mustang Island toward the north and to the village of Port Anansas. For almost the entire 20+ mile distance, it's possible to drive the beach on Mustang... and we did. There aren't many days here when the wind is light, the air warm and crystal clear, like it was today. Dar and I have been to the island many times in the past three winters, but conditions today made it a day to remember. If the weather is similar tomorrow, Tuesday, I'm going to try to talk Dar into coming back and spending the day with sand between our toes.

And whad'ya know! As I write this, about 7:30pm, Dar called and said she's on her way home... the earliest she's made it home since starting this "part-time" job. I think we'll do some exploring tomorrow.

Thinking I'll take a camera along this time...
Thom

Monday, January 25, 2010

Quiet Weekend

Our weekend was calm and uneventful at the old RV Park here in Rockport. Dar felt good enough to work on Saturday and, with a busy ward, a lot of patients, her 12 hour shift turned into 16 hours. She came home feeling much better physically -- the flu bug is gone -- and energized by her busy day of helping other people feel better too.

I finally got around to preparing my expense tracker spreadsheet for the new year -- not difficult but time consuming -- and then I had 22 days of expenses to enter. I also do a budget every year and was pleased to see that some of our cost-saving moves (high mpg car; cell phone savings; dropping satellite TV) are having a real effect.

We had a cold front move through the area on Saturday night. The wind blew hard out of the Northwest and the temp went down -- we woke to a breezy 48f. More importantly to me, the dew point and humidity dropped significantly. Sunday was nice -- high of 70f under full sun.

Sunday we went out to Chili's for lunch and then watched some of both big football games. Neighbor Don started a football pool that paid $25 on all quarter-end scores of both games. It added a little interest and fun to the games. And no, we didn't win a thing.

There are only 7 days left in my SAD month. [Link to article]  Readers of this journal might remember that SAD is my January thing designed to take off a few pounds that may have been added during the previous year and especially during the recent holiday pig-out season. Briefly, it's no sweets and no alcohol -- the two most calorie-packed things I indulge in -- for the entire month of January. My goals were to loose a few pounds and to let the body rest from having to deal with these things. Results at this point are promising. Pounds have been shed and I'm feeling great.

Ready for a little red wine in Rockport
Thom

Friday, January 22, 2010

Nice Day... If You're Able to Enjoy It

From a weather standpoint, Thursday was probably the nicest day in Rockport since we arrived on December 2nd. The official high temp was 77f after a morning low of 57f. Add bright sun and light winds, and you've got the makin's of a dandy -- And it really was.

Unfortunately, Dar woke up feeling a little "under the weather" and couldn't enjoy it all. We're not sure, but at this point it looks like a stomach flu. She stayed inside and laid pretty low all day. I prepared the slow-cooker dinner we had planned for today and did other chores around the bus-house while it cooked.

Unless something happens that compels me to write, I'm going to take the weekend off from journaling. Have a great weekend everyone... I'll be back on Monday.

Working on my tan in Texas...
Thom

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Shuckin' on the Sea Shore

Something I didn't mention the other day when I wrote about our neighborhood fish fry was that Dar and I went together with another couple, Tim & Giselle (also from Wisconsin) to buy and prepare oysters as our contribution to the feast. This involved procuring a 105 lb. bag of raw oysters in the shell for $30 from a local fish monger. Then, on Sunday, the day before the event, we had a shuckin' party where we used various implements to pry open the shells and harvest the oysters inside. This is not an easy job, especially when we didn't have the proper implement known as a shuckin' knife -- something we will have next time. It took a couple hours for us to work through the whole 105 lbs. with two of us prying open the shells and the other two separating oysters from shells. When finished we had about a gallon -- maybe 5 or 6 lbs. of oysters -- and 100 lbs of empty shells. It was an experience, one more thing I can cross of my "bucket list".

We did hold back about 20 un-shucked oysters and experimented with preparing them on a grill. The shells pop open by themselves when put on the coals. After a few minutes of cooking we opened the shells enough to top each oyster with various contiments... parmesan cheese, garlic powder, cajun seasonings, tobasco sauce.... and then reclosed for a few more minutes to allow the heat to meld condiments and oyster together. Then simply open and eat... fantastico!

For the fish fry the oysters were breaded and deep fried. And they were a hit among those that partake in this delicacy. But we only went through about half of them on Monday, so the rest were done up and consumed at happy hour last night, Wednesday.

Wondering what all this fried food is doing to my weight...
Thom

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Fog in Fulton

Dar worked on Tuesday and I kept busy around Sandollar by helping out some neighbors with a TV antenna re-wiring job and another neighbor with getting their new laptop computer set up and connected to the internet. Of course, Dar always leaves me with a "wish list" of things she'd like done too.

Under the category of "be careful what you ask for"... the good news is we finally have the warm weather everyone has been yearning for... the bad news is that it's humid, cloudy, and foggy. Last summer we bought a small dehumidifier and it's been working overtime the past couple days. I've taken a couple gallons of water out of the air inside the bus-house during the past day and a half. This air mass should hang around until early Thursday morning, when a cold front will clear things out again.

Flailing in the fog...
Thom

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Slow Verizon

Today, Tuesday, is a work day for Dar. For some unknown reason, she's on the work schedule this week 3 days... I thought she signed up for 2? The way she turns 12 hour shifts into 14 hours will mean she'll put in more than 40 hours this week. Isn't that full-time?? Hmmm? While, the extra money in the bank will come in handy when we're fueling that 100 gallon diesel tank after resuming our travels and explorations in a few weeks, I think she'll find that third day to be a little too much.

The way we connect to the internet is by means of a Verizon "air card". The common belief among fulltimers is that Verizon probably offers the best coverage of all the national cell phone companies. It may not always be the fastest, but from a geographical standpoint, it's the most widespread. We can get some kind of connection almost anywhere we go.

With all that said, I've been disappointed by our Verizon connection here in Rockport/Fulton. It's usually slow and occasionally spotty. We are a long ways from the nearest Verizon tower and even our Verizon cell phone has marginal signal strength, so it's probably not an equipment problem -- we're just too far from the tower for good data speed. It's just something we'll have to deal with. I carry an outside antenna and signal amplifier to boost power in fringe areas, but they don't seem to do much in this location. When I have to download larger files or programs, I walk my new little Acer notebook up to the Resort office and use their free wifi. Having options for connecting to the internet is a good thing.

Looking at the bright side, the slow connection at the camper helps me control my Internet Addiction Disorder. And that's a good thing too.

Patiently waiting while this post uploads...
Thom

Monday, January 18, 2010

Dinner Date and Fish Fry

Monday Morning
It's Monday morning already. Where'd the weekend go? Where'd the last couple months go? We've also just passed the half-way point for our stay here at Sandollar and in just 6 weeks or so we'll be heading back into the high country of the west. I'm already looking forward to our new explorations and adventures.

This past Saturday night Dar and I treated ourselves to a quiet dinner out... just the two of us... the closest thing to a "date" we've had in quite some time. This is something that doesn't happen often when you're part of the Sandollar Social Network, where doing things in groups is the norm. We went to Alice Faye's on the Bay, just a short walk from our camp, had a respectable meal and enjoyed good conversation -- just the two of us.

Monday Night
Predictions of good weather prompted our group here at Sandollar to plan the oft delayed and much anticipated Fish Fry for today. A couple times through the winter the whole neighborhood gets together for the feast. Everyone brings a dish to pass and the main course of locally caught fish is provided by our two master fishermen -- Don and Prescott. The fish is chunked up, breaded, and deep fried to perfection. And it really is good.

About 50 people from the 'hood enjoyed the feast and a few hours of mingling and meeting new neighbors. We ate about 1pm and things broke up about 5pm.

No dinner tonight...
Thom

Friday, January 15, 2010

Rainy Days in Rockport

Not just rain... but HEAVY rain. Unless my nutty neighbor snuck out early this morning and dumped a cup of water in my rain gauge, we've gotten almost 4 inches between 8pm last night and 10am this morning. The forecast is for rain to continue on and off all day today. But the bus-house is warm and dry, and we're enjoying the day inside... and using it to good advantage to do those "indoor" things that get pushed off when it's nicer outside.

Dar worked at the hospital both Wednesday and Thursday. She's putting in a lot of hours but enjoying the change of pace and the new environment, challenges, and contributions she's making. For her, it helps break up the boredom that can set in when we park for a long period of time. And, even though we're usually in sync and get along well together in our small space for long periods of time, we're finding that having some time apart is good for our relationship.

Enjoying the rain...
Thom

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Haiti

After a day and a half the dust is settling and the extent of the tragedy in Haiti is becoming clear. This is one of the poorest and most desperate countries on earth. The earthquake struck at a place and in a manner that maximized pain and suffering and death on some of the most unfortunate people on earth. How sad is that?

Medical and emergency services in Haiti that were marginal before the event are apparently almost non-existent afterward. The weak government is virtually gone. Much of the infrastructure... electricity... clean water... is gone. There's no way to know how many died from the quake itself but the streets are lined with dead bodies. And certainly many more will die from the aftereffects... disease, hunger, anarchy, desperation.

What humanitarian assistance is provided will have to come from outside Haiti... from the USA and from other countries that have the resources and the compassion to help. It'll be interesting to see which ones step forward.

I hope every one of us can find a way, however small, to lend a hand... to help these survivors out.

Very sad and wanting to help...
Thom

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Whoopers

Yesterday we headed off to explore the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge. This is not a new place for us as we visited at least once during each of the past two years. Click here and here to read journal entries from those earlier visits.

It felt good to get out with the cameras and binoculars again but we discovered much of the wildlife was out of sight -- probably hunkered down and burrowed in to stay warm on this cooler than normal day. Compared to last year, when the area was under extreme drought and dry as a bone, there was a lot more standing water in the ponds and marshy areas after the, thus-far, wetter than normal Winter. This is a good thing and much closer to what could be called "normal" for the Refuge. It certainly makes surviving easier for all the fur, feather, and scale covered denizens that call this place home.

We did see a few Whooping Cranes... the 5 foot tall "rock stars" of the Refuge. These big birds are very wary and really prefer a solitary existence, grouping up only during the Spring and Fall migration to and from Northern Canada, and during times of stress. Last year, during the drought, when food was hard to find, they grouped up around survival feeders set out by the Refuge... something that would never happen in less stressful times. According to the Refuge biologist, there are 264 "whoopers" at the refuge this year. We found one pair near Lamar -- outside the Refuge boundaries to the south -- which we could get much closer to than any before. From the observation platform in the Refuge we saw a few more... but quite distant. Binoculars or a spotting scope are a necessity if you really want to see something more than a white spot in the distance.

Besides the cranes, we saw a bunch of deer and all kinds of birds. But no alligators, no wild pigs or javalina, and no armadillos, which are normally out in big numbers along the Refuge roads.

Dar works at the hospital today and tomorrow. And I'm thinking about running into Corpus Christi today with a couple other guys from the neighborhood... someone needs to go along to keep them out of trouble. The near-term weather forecast includes rain, potentially heavy, Thursday night and Friday. So getting out today will help delay the onset of camper fever that could result from spending too much time indoors these next few days. Rain might be good for the wildlife around here, but I'm ready for more sun and warmth.

Bailing bucket in one hand and a cup o' tea in the other...
Thom

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

A New PC

Dar and I have two laptop computers. They're made by Dell, they're both running Windows XP (I did what I could to avoid the problematic "Vista") and they've both been reliable and trouble-free machines. Mine is almost 4 years old and Dar's is the baby at just 2-1/2.

But computers grow old, eventually succumb to the second law of thermodynamics (systems tend to move from a state of order to a state of disorder) and WILL eventually fail -- it's not a matter of "if", just "when". But what's a reasonable life span? I've read that somewhere around 5 years is a good useful lifespan for a laptop. In addition to aging mechanical components and no longer adequate memory space, after 5 years much of the software itself is no longer supported or updated.

You can wait for your old machine to croak, or you can save yourself a lot of trouble, pain and suffering... not to mention lost files and information... by acquiring your next machine while the old one is still functioning. That way you can take your time, do some research, and wait for the right deal to come along on the right unit. And once you have it, you can take your time in getting it set up to your liking, loading the programs you use, and becoming familiar with it's operation.

After a few months of researching and looking at what's available these days, I bought an ultra-portable Acer Notebook last week. Here it is sitting next to it's big brother.



It's small and very portable -- something I was looking for. I considered an Apple, one of those even-smaller "netbooks", and more standard sized machines. But ultimately I was tipped toward the Acer on the basis of a good mix of power, features, size, and price.

I'll let you know how it goes after I use it a bit.

Computing on the Texas Coast...

Thom

Monday, January 11, 2010

Slow Easy Sunday

What happened to the Packers yesterday? First off, I don't know who was on the field during the first quarter... but it wasn't the same team that annihilated these very same Cardinals just a week ago. I suspect it was a stand-in high school team. After half time the Packers Offense finally showed up. But the Defense was missing all day long. Enough about that subject.

Besides watching a little football playoff action, we enjoyed the sunny and cool Sunday here in Rockport. All that frigid arctic air is moving away and, when the sun shines, things are slowly warming up again. Dar worked on a scrapbook project for much of the day and I made brownies, which I can't eat if I stick to my SAD Program. But Dar and our neighbors will enjoy them I'm sure.

We talked about finding some adventure this week. I wonder what that will be? Hmm?

Warming up near the water...
Thom

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Heating RV's

Living in an RV ain't all romance and adventure, buckaroo. No sir, at times it can be downright challenging. For instance, how do we manage to stay warm on really cold nights?... and do so at the lowest possible cost? The recent cold weather (it's been in the 20's the past couple nights) made me think this subject might be mildly interesting for some readers. And I need to write something anyway... so here goes.

RV's are basically little boxes with very thin walls. When you've only got 8-1/2 feet (outside width) to work with, and because every RV buyer wants as much interior space as possible, thin walls are the resulting reality. But I don't care what kind of insulation is in those little skinny walls it's not enough to make any RV "easy to heat" in very cold temperatures.

Most RV's have a collection of various systems designed, to one extent or another, to make the unit usable in most weather conditions whether connected to full hook-ups (electricity, water, sewer), not connected at all, or when only partially connected. For example, the refrigerator runs on standard 120 volt power when hooked up to outside electricity, or on LP gas when not connected. Same with the water heater.

There are multiple systems that can be used for heating and which ones are selected depend on a number of factors. Here's a brief discussion of each:

Forced Air RV LP Furnace: These units use internal 12 volt power for the fan and controls and LP gas for the heat source so they're usable whether or not 120 volt power is available. Our LP furnace is rated at 40,000 BTUs. Unfortunately, these things are known to be very inefficient, and about half the heat produced by the burning LP gas is expelled outside as exhaust. So we're lucky if we get 20,000 BTUs out of this system. And they are loud, annoyingly noisy enough to drown out the TV or a conversation with your mate. Most of the time we leave ours off during the night, layer on the blankets, and only use it to warm things up in the morning. There are some newer systems that are hydronic -- that heat and circulate water throughout the coach floor for warmth. They're much quieter, more expensive, and are probably more efficient than the forced air unit we have.

Heat Pumps: Our RV came with two rooftop A/C-Heatpumps -- in cooling mode they're designed to move heat from the inside to the outside during warm weather (normal air conditioning), but can be switched to heatpump mode to move heat from outside air to the inside living space. Believe it or not, there's still enough heat in 40f degree outside air to make it work. They require 120 volt power which means you've got to be plugged into ground power or have the generator running. And because they require enough heat in the outside air they don't work well when temperatures drop below 35f or 40f degrees. Each one is rated at 13,500 BTUs, but inefficiency and reality probably bring the usable number down to 10,000 BTUs or so. They're quieter than the furnace but because they're on the roof and the air enters the RV through ceiling vents, the heat tends to stay near the ceiling and the floor feels relatively cold.

Electric Portable Space Heaters: These are the little plug-in heaters available almost everywhere. They come in all sorts of styles, sizes, and types. But they all have one thing in common... they all put out the same amount of heat. Assuming they're rated at 1500 watts (and they almost all are) they all produce 5,100 BTUs. And because they're 100% efficient (any inefficiency is expressed as heat -- exactly what the unit is designed to produce) you get all 5,100 BTUs. Here again, you need that 120 volt power from the grid or from the generator. We have one that serves as our primary heat source most of the time. Because we rely on this system so much, we carry a back-up unit just in case the one we're using croaks.

Portable Catalytic LP Heaters: These are units that claim to be safe for indoor use. Using LP gas as a fuel, they use a very efficient catalyst to burn the fuel in a flameless process to create radiant heat. Because they're so efficient there's no need for an outside exhaust. They don't require any power besides the LP gas, so they're popular with people who like to boondock and drycamp a lot. Available in different sizes between 4,000 and 12,000 BTUs, almost all the heat generated by the heater is usable. The downside of these things is that you've got hydrocarbon fuel "burning" inside the RV and even though they claim to be safe for indoor use, they still recommend keeping a window slightly ajar as a precaution against accidental carbon monoxide poisoning or a lack of oxygen. At this point in time, we don't have one of these units.

So during the past few cold days this is how we manage to stay warm: during the daytime when outside temps were in the 40's, I ran one heatpump which gives us the most bang (heat) for our buck (we're paying for electricity here). At night when the temps dipped into the 20's, we run the little electric heater augmented by the LP furnace.

If we were boondocking or drycamping with no hookups at all we'd have to rely on the RV's LP Furnace. Since most of our "no hookup" camping is done during warmer periods of the year, we've been able to make that work. But if we do more "no hookup" camping in colder weather we might look into a portable catalytic LP heater.

For the complete picture of these heating system decisions we should also factor in the price of LP gas, whether or not we have to pay for electricity and what the cost is, and then which of these two energy sources has the best price per BTU. Here in Rockport we've been paying $2.80 per gallon for LP gas and 13 cents per Kilowatt Hour for electricity. I won't bore you with the math but at these prices we get far more heat for our dollar with electricity than we do from LP gas. That's another reason to run the electric heater and the heatpumps instead of the furnace.

I hope this all made some sense and provides a little insight into our lifestyle.

Still under a pile of blankets and a comforter...

Thom

Saturday, January 9, 2010

A SAD Month

A number of years ago, after an especially big holiday season, the readout on my scale went berserk. And if you can believe the coincidence, at exactly the same time my leather belts all shrunk by an inch or two. Hmmm.

As I was contemplating this odd series off events someone near and dear to me suggested that it may not be all that odd at all... that perhaps I was looking for an explanation on the wrong side of the equation. She thought it possible that it might be ME that changed and not the scale and my belts. Hmmmmm.

After getting a second opinion from a second scale (what else would you get from a second scale?) I had to reluctantly agree that it was indeed ME that was different... that I was expanding just like the universe after the big bang. Holiday dinners, parties, and celebrations are all replete with calorie-loaded temptations -- candies, cookies, hors d'orves, more deserts than I have fingers, huge meals with 17 side dishes, spiked egg nog, and alcoholic concoctions of all varieties. And all of it in abundance. All these offerings are the crack cocaine of weak willed people like me... people with little will power to control our intake... people who's brains somehow suppress the knowledge of what we're really doing to ourselves while rationalizing that 'just a little more' isn't going to hurt and, besides, we can always exercise it away later... right? Well, however it happened, I had gained a bunch of weight.

As an aside, I've always been critical of all those diet programs and diet books out there. They seemed to me to be just gimmicky and when boiled down to the core, they were all saying the same thing. But a lot of people were making some serious cash from writing them. So I went to work and wrote my diet book... a book that would fit on an index card. Here it is... in it's entirety...

Thom's Weight Loss Program

step 1: reduce your caloric intake

step 2: increase exercise... move more

step 3: go back to step 1 and repeat until you reach your ideal weight.

That's it. But I had a problem getting it published. You see, a "book" usually involves "pages", more than one, and publishers, while they were curious about it's novel simplicity, didn't know how to make a book of just one page.

Back to my story.

Faced with a choice of having to buy a lot of new pants or doing something to loose those holiday pounds, I chose the later. But I needed a gimmick... a way to trick myself, motivate myself, into action... something that would direct my efforts for the maximum effect. Maybe that's what those big diet books are really all about.

Here's what I came up with: Since most of my "gain" comes during the holidays, and since it's best to address any problem right away, whatever I did should probably be done in January. Furthermore, for me the elements of my intake that contain the most calories and have the least food value are sweets (candy, cookies, deserts, etc.) and alcohol (beer, wine, booze). So that's exactly where I should focus my efforts for maximum effect. What if I gave both of them up entirely for the month? Could I do it? Would it work? Hmmm.

And since I was still working at trying to get my diet book published, I thought it'd be good to come up with an acronym for my 3 step plan. Acronyms are hot... they really help sell ideas, not to mention, diet books. So I decided to call my diet the SAD Diet... the Sweets and Alcohol Discontinuation Diet. And maybe I should stop calling it a "diet", which is way too simple sounding. Maybe I should refer to it as a "program". That's it! The SAD Program.

So I did it! I knocked off the sweets and alcohol for the entire month of January that year. And wow... did it ever work. I lost all the pounds I packed on during the holidays and more. And because it's a month long program, there's a learning effect that extends beyond those 31 days. When February rolled around, I found myself slowly and deliberately sipping wine, and really savoring it. When I ate them at all, I took smaller desert portions. Both were enjoyed more deliberately.

Anyway, I decided this January would be a SAD month for me again. It's been a couple years since I've done it but it's going well. The sweets I can take or leave -- I usually take, but if I have any excuse at all, they're easy to leave too. What I really can have a hard time with is the alcohol. I love a glass of wine while cooking, or a drink during happy hour, with dinner, maybe a second after dinner. But the SAD Program gives me the motivation I need to say no.

Still looking for a publisher...

Thom
(8 days down...only 23 frickin' days to go)

Friday, January 8, 2010

Bored on the Beach

2010 began with us camped on the same exact spot in Texas where we started 2009. Sandollar Resort is a friendly place, aging and a little tired like some of it's denizens, but comfortable and laid-back. It's located on the north edge of Rockport, TX. in the town of Fulton. Besides the RV Park, the Resort includes a motel and a couple naturally heated swimming pools that get very little use during Winter. I'm told Summer is high season around here -- many of those folks baking in 100f+ degree heat in Houston and Dallas and San Antonio escape to the coast for cool breezes, but usually settle for warm ones instead.

It's a different story today. It's Winter. We woke to 28f degrees this morning, but at least the north wind is strong and gusty. The past month has been cooler and wetter than normal. It looks like this will be one of those Winters to remember (or to forget?), not just here but most of the rest of the country as well. Oranges and tomatoes are freezing in Florida, the Midwest is hip deep in snow and has been frozen solid for weeks... the whole country is having a rough one. I've written before about how few places in the continental USA are consistently warm during Winter -- this year maybe none.

A couple weeks ago Dar started working part-time at a small hospital about 20 minutes from camp. Trained as a registered nurse, she wants to keep her skills up-to-date and her resume' fresh so she has the option to bring in a little income when we're at one of our three extended camps during the year. Remember, we're on an extended sabbatical, not retired. She's only working two days per week -- just about right to break up the creeping boredom of sitting in one place for two or three months.

In case you didn't notice, I took a break from this journal for a week. There really wasn't much going on and I was going through a bit of a low time that may have been the result of my January Purge, the SAD fast. More on that tomorrow.

Keeping an eye on the propane tank...

Thom