Saturday, April 26, 2014

Apr 26 - Update and Satellite Messenger

Steady progress as we play the waiting game here in Southern Oregon. Truck camper number one (the Northstar) hasn't sold yet but we remain hopeful we can find a good home for it soon. Truck camper number two (the Four Wheel) is in production and we have an appointment to have it mounted mid-May.

There's a lot of "behind the scenes" activity here at Timber Valley SKP as Spring breaks out and warms up the turnover rate in memberships a bit. Having a stable community with little turnover can be a good thing if you're already a member, but if you're high on the waiting list and waiting (and waiting...) it'd be good to see a little quicker pace. Based on what we know it'll be "nip and tuck" to have our membership and lot before heading back to the Midwest in mid to late June.

And the ever-exciting "baby-watch" is also proceeding along a natural course toward an approximately early June delivery. Son and DIL Kaytlyn are ready... to say the least.

People ask us "where's Sutherlin?" Up until this point I've responded with a more complicated than necessary answer... along the lines of "well, sort of between Central Oregon and Southern Oregon... a hundred miles north of the border with California... 60 miles south of Eugene". After a little research I've found that most people refer to areas on the basis of river drainages, and most sources consider both the Rogue and Umpqua rivers to be Southern Oregon. Sutherlin is on the northern edges of the Umpqua river drainage and, thus, firmly in Southern Oregon. That's my new response and I'm sticking with it.

There are large tracks of forest and mountains in this part of the world that have no cellphone service at all. It doesn't matter how big a booster and antenna you may have, the best use of your cellphone or mifi internet device when camping and exploring in these parts is as a paper weight or marginal flashlight. And that fact, for those who like to be connected -- if for no other reason than for safety -- concerned me to some extent. We plan to spend much more time in remote and wilderness areas than ever before... so how can we reach out for help if we find ourselves in trouble?

There are some existing solutions to this problem: satellite internet (those big honkin' blue-light dish deals you used to see on some RV's), a Spot tracker device, ham radio, and satellite telephone. For both practical and price reasons, with the possible exception of the Spot thing, I didn't see any of them being a solution for us.


But a few months ago I started reading about satellite messenger services that provided a two-way messaging capability. Similar to the Spot device, which is one-way only, these things let you send and receive short SMS-type messages from anywhere on the planet. That's right... anywhere... because it utilizes satellites flying around overhead in near earth orbit. Like the Spot, most of these devices also provide tracking services (think virtual bread-crumbs on an internet map), and an SOS feature that sends out a call for help from emergency services to your last known position. But again... this thing is two-way capable. I'm interested.

We eventually settled on the Delorme InReach SE which I've been testing for the past few weeks. It uses the Iridium Satellite network, probably the most complete system up there, and has been working flawlessly. By smartphone standards, it's interface and usability are primitive. You're not going to be texting little happy-notes or sweet nothings to your army of "friends" in cyber-land. It's a device for important and critical communication only.

The other thing I like about the Delorme service is the range of plans and their afford-ability. We're on a basic "safety" plan that costs less than $15 bucks a month including taxes. [plan clicker]

In case you're wondering, I have no vested interest or involvement with this company at all. I'm just hopeful the technology will "fill-the-gaps" in the ability of a couple getting-older-timers to reach out if we need to.

As I gain more experience with this satellite messenger, I'll report more in the future.


Thursday, April 17, 2014

Apr 17 - Truck Camper For Sale

For those naysayers out there who said we'd never be able to live with a truck camper... that it'd be way too small, too cramped, too uncomfortable.... well, we put the Northstar TC on the sales block today. We've decided we can't live with it. But NOT for the reasons you might think.

We're selling it because it's a little too big for our new style of travel. That's right, we actually desire something smaller. I guess that means you doubters out there can remain comfortably entrenched in your negativity.  I mean, there's always a chance we'll eventually see the light and come to the realization that we Americans really must have 40 or 45 feet of decal-covered fiberglass with full-wall slide-outs in order to see North America.

But somehow, I doubt it.

On the off-chance that someone out there finds this and happens to be looking for a really nice like-new Northstar truck camper, contact me and we'll chat about it. My email is ksdp39-10 at yahoo dot com.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Thoughts on Computers; Death and Resurrection

As recently as a year ago Dar and I were getting along with two computers on-board the good ship "bushouse". Both Windows machines, Dar's was an elderly Dell running XP and mine was a slightly less elderly little Acer running Win7. For years we worked away on these two machines, Dar processing photos and me writing, with only the most minor problems. We had reached the point where we considered them "appliances"... not unlike a toaster or a microwave oven. They performed the jobs they were built for, reliably, with little intervention or "tweaking" from their users... us.

But like all living things and most machines, time takes a toll. And technological advances with microprocessors and other gizmos and systems means the future is quite grim for any computer for which the fingers on both hands are needed to count years of service. Dar's Dell was becoming sluggish and temperamental. And then, a few weeks ago, the event every heavy computer user fears... breaks into a cold sweat just thinking about... the little Acer up and died. Suddenly. Just like that (snap). A post-mortem examination suggests it was a stroke, er, a scrambled brain, a crashed hard-drive.

But, surprisingly, it turned out to be a mostly trauma-free event. For a while now, being aware that as time went along the chances of something bad happening was increasingly probable, I've been backing up the folders that contain our important files to the "cloud". Constantly monitored, whenever any of those files change or a new file is added to the folder, it's immediately updated, backed up, to storage space up there in the sky somewhere... (maybe Honduras or France?). So when it came time to replace the computer it was a snap to rebuild those folders on the new computer using the nether-world drive.

But isn't the cloud a little risky? I mean, the NSA or that pesky hacker that lives down the street might break into your files and read all your secrets... steal your identity. There's no sure way to totally prevent that from happening, even if those same files are stored right there on your computer hard drive. But to make it a little tougher I do encrypt the folder that contains anything that could be valuable to a thief. Other than those few files, I really don't care who takes a look at my stuff... they'd surely find it all painfully boring anyway.

I replaced the now-dead little Acer with another Acer. We've found the 11.6 inch screen size to be very workable while keeping the form factor (size/weight) compact... important for people living in small spaces... or lugging it around to libraries or other hot spot locations... or traveling with it on a train or plane. For us, it's the perfect balance between usability and portability.

Resurrected From the Dead!
After a small ceremony we laid the dead little Acer in a tomb while Gage (my SIL) and I hatched a plan. After a quick (on his super-high speed cable internet connection) download and a new brain from Amazon (a snappy new solid state drive for less than a hundred bucks), and a little conjuring and praying over the various parts scattered around his office... after three days a new Linux machine rose from the dead.

Why Linux? I've been curious about it for a long time. From what I've read online, it's "pros" are that it's small, stable, quick, and free. On the other side of the equation, it's "cons" are that it can be a little "geeky" (technically challenging) and that some programs you've been using on Windows don't or won't run on Linux. As I use Linux more I'll have a better handle on how all this affects me.

Our current stable of computers is as follows: the new 11.6 inch Acer Windows machine (the "Win-book"), the "risen" 11.6 inch Acer Linux machine (the "Lin-book"), and an Acer 11.6 inch Chromebook. Does anyone catch the pattern forming here? We also have two 7" Android tablets, neither of which are Acer... just in case you were getting worried about our brand-sanity.

All our computer gear (coffee cup for scale)

So, to recap my thoughts, I give a big "thumbs up" to cloud backup storage and little Acer computers. And, at this point, I've also found both the Chromebook and the Lin-book perfectly acceptable for the majority of our computing needs. They both have a full sized regular keyboard that this writer just can't get along without.

For fun, I piled all our computer gear in one pile to see what it looked like. All of it together (3 computers, 2 tablets, a Canon printer, and a scanner) forms a heap about the size of a pile of legal pads 8 inches high -- not much larger than a toaster. A few years ago just the printer would have been larger than that.

I've also been experimenting with a tablet and blue-tooth keyboard combo for writing... but haven't found it to be nearly as usable as one of my Acers with a mouse.

With any luck, we're now back to the "appliance" stage with our computer stuff.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Apr 3 - Lost in the Wilderness

Yesterday, April 2, with a strong desire to get out and explore, we set out to find the long sought shortcut between Sutherlin and Glide (both in Oregon). Separated by perhaps 15 miles (for a crow) and terrain rugged enough that there's no easy or paved direct way, we'd be feeling our way through wilderness on little used and poorly marked BLM and logging "roads". Using MS Streets and Trips and a new Delorme Oregon Gazetteer Atlas, we plotted two possible routes through the rugged forested mountains between our start and end points. Then, with Lewis and Clark-like resolve, not to mention a good dose of optimism, we mounted up and headed out into the unknown with the low-clearance one-wheel-drive Ford Focus - probably not the optimal thing for what most would consider jeep roads. Our truck and camper is up in Camas WA awaiting an adventure with the two grandkids next week. Thus, our need to take the Focus.

There's no point in getting too detailed about the ensuing few hours. But I will say that reliance on either Streets and Trips or the Gazetteer is a good way to get yourself into trouble. Both of them show roads that might exist (or had existed at one time), but are currently gated, not used, or otherwise impassable. The Garmin was also of only marginal use. We came up "snake-eyes" on both the routes we plotted (locked gates) and had to rely on the Garmin's tracking function to find our way through the maze of trails and roads to get back out the way we went in.

But despite our lack of success it was an exciting experience. Kicking around the back country is one of the things we want to do more.

Later in the afternoon we stopped at both the regional offices of the Forest Service and the BLM in Roseburg. The smart and helpful folks at each stop loaded us up with a bushel basket of maps, guides, and other resources that will be helpful as we explore the Umpqua area in the future. We also now have a proper map of both the National Forest and BLM land in this area. A surprise to me was the amount of BLM land in southeastern Oregon... over 300,000 acres of it. Dispersed camping is allowed on most of it, but accessible to smaller rigs only.

Think we're going to like it here.

Cooper Creek Reservoir

Through a clear-cut

about 2000 ft. elevation


Stopped by a gate.