Sunday, January 7, 2018

Basic RVing - Sewer and Fresh Water

I have been RVing in motorhomes since the year Mt Saint Helens blew, 1980.  So that is now 38 years.  I do not claim to be an expert, but I know enough to keep our latest RV working.  You have two parts to every motorhome; 1.  The chassis.  This includes the frame, motor, wheels, and some of the parts that attach to the chassis.  2.  The house.  This is the living part of the motorhome that attaches to the chassis.  Almost all RV's have fresh water and some kind of sewer system.

1.  Sewer system.  Black and Grey

  • The grey sewer and tank is what you have from your sinks, showers, and washer (if you have one). So this water is what you have left after washing your dishes, body, face, teeth, or clothing.  
  • The black system and tank is human waster either liquid or solid.  
  • Most RVs have separate black and grey tanks but not all.  My old GMC had a 29 gallon combined back and grey tank.  I would recommend if you are looking to buy an RV to get the one with separate tanks.  
  • You fill up your tanks and then drain them.  If you are hooked to full hookups at an RV park you just wait until your tanks get relatively full and then you drain them.  You drain the black tank first and then the grey tank to flush the black out of the hoses.  Do NOT leave the valves open all the time.  If you do the black tank will build up a pyramid of poo and it will be hard to flush out.  The grey tank flushes out the black.  I recommend you do not completely drain your black tank as the black stuff can get solid at the bottom of the tank.  
  • Most RVs have a spray in the black tank to wash it a bit after draining it.  It is best to use that at least every few flushes.  If you are getting a build up drive you RV with a black tank partially full, maybe 25%, and then drain it when you stop at the end of the day.  
  • I have used a number of different additives in our black and grey tank.  I personally get one type of the grey tank and one for the black.  My experience is that all of these work.  Some advertise being better for the environment, some are powder, some packets, some liquid.  I generally get liquid and I buy the ones that get the most stars if buying on line.  Some people do not treat their tanks at all.  My experience is that if you are using your tanks a lot they don't need much or any tank treatment.  But if you have had a few days of dry camping and your black tank is 3/4 full you better have some tank treatment to put in it if you have to drive a ways to dump.  I also find that in hot weather putting some treatment down the grey drains in the kitchen and bathroom is a good idea.  Food builds up in the drains and tank treatment usually fixes the odor.  
  • I buy disposable rubber gloves for adding diesel and draining the tanks.  They keep the fuel smell off your hands.  And when draining the tanks it keeps your hands clean and gives you extra friction to turn the hoses where they connect.  I don't always throw the gloves away every time.  Used ones that are not soiled are fine to use again.  But if you use them to drain the black tank throw them out.  
  • I have used many of the different types of large diameter hoses to drain my tanks.  I find the red  Valtera hoses to work well.  I personally like them better than Camco.  I have had the expensive Lippert sewer hose.  It costs 4 to 5 times what the standard hoses do.  I found the rubber push seal at the end of the hose part that goes into the RV park sewer connector to sometimes not be that solid.  But the hose if very nice.  I made the mistake of opening opening my tank valve when I had the Lippert valve on the end of the hose shut and the hose leaked in several places.  This caused a poo shower to form.  Since then I have stuck with simple hoses.  I tried a bunch and then settled on 10' red ones from Valtera.  I usually carry 3 10' sections with me.  
  • I have a clear section where the hose connects to my tank.  That way you can see the color and flow of the drain.  This comes in very handy if you are flushing your black tank with water.  
  • We buy toilet paper designed for RVs.  We get it at camping World.  I do not put thicker paper down the toilet.  
  • Our high end motorhome had a very unreliable level indicator for fresh water in the tank and black and grey water levels.  You need something reliable.  I put in See Level system a few years back.  It is very accurate.  
2.  Fresh Water 

  • I have been using fresh water hoses that look just like the one in the picture above.  The one pictured is from Camco and this is the one I have.  They are white and get dirty.  I have found mechanics hand soap works well to clean them if you get grease on the outside.  You want a drinking water hose like this one if you care about the taste of your water.  Some people only drink bottled water when they are in their RV.  I don't.  I am careful that I run the water for a while before drinking any that has been in the lines for more than a day or two, but we use double filters for our fresh water and it tastes as good as bottled.  
  • I have had several high quality hoses from the RV Water Filter Store.  I really like them a lot.  They have solid leadless brass connectors or stainless, and are much thicker than standard hoses.  I am about ready to order two more from them to replace standard light hoses like the one above.  The heavy hoses don't kink easy and last a long time.  The brass ends are much easier to use than the light ones.  But the plastic hand knob is nice on the cheap ones though.  
  • You need clean water in your RV.  Our RV has a built in a single standard canister just before the water goes into the coach.  This means the water goes through a charcoal filter to remove chlorine and other chemicals and impurities just before it is used.  This is where the water filter should be.  If you use the charcoal filter before the water goes into the coach then you have a bunch of water that can sit without chlorine for all the time you don't use it.  And this includes your water heater.  We have a second standard canister for sediment after the water pressure meter and before the water softener.  Standard canisters look like this 

  • You need some type of pressure regulator if you are gong to connect your outside water directly to your RV.  I recommend you get the best one you can.  And be sure you use it.  I cost myself a number of thousand dollars by being lazy and not hooking up mine once.  The repairs were a royal pain to get done right and water leaked behind one of my walls.  I now have a Watts adjustable pressure regulator.  

  • This is the pressure regulator I have.  I also bought this at the RV Water Filter store.  I recommend this regulator and the water filter store.  They are a small business focused on the RV industry and are very fast and reliable.  
  • After a few years I got a water softener.  If you travel in parts of the country with hard water a soft water conditioner is a wonderful treat.  Plus your dishes are much easier to clean as is your body when you shower.  You use a tiny fraction of the soap you normally use.  And your RV pipes don't get clogged with deposits.  Mine looks like this.  I got this at the Water Filter Store. Camping World has them too.  
  • Turn off the water when you are away from your RV.  And turn off the pump when you are driving.  
  • If you filter, and soften RV park water you will end up with an enjoyable product to use.  

Friday, December 8, 2017

How To Save Photos And Videos For The Future

After you get your great photos and videos how do you save them so you can easily find and use them in 1 year, 10 years, 30 years?  Almost everyone takes lots of pictures and videos these days because there are cameras everywhere.  Most people want to save some of the best ones to enjoy later.  I still have family photos from the 1800's and treasure them.  So what should be done to make sure you can find the files you want and also use them in the future?  

On a boat off Greek Island - taken with iPhone 7+
I like and use both the easy Apple, Google, Adobe, & Flickr systems.  But I also save a copy in my own file system that is not in any software and in a universal format jpeg.  And I also have prints made of my favorite shots which are in photo albums.  

So how does this all work.  

1.  I use Apple Photos with my iPhone.  But you could just as easily use Google Photos, Flickr, Lightroom Mobile, Microsoft Photos, or a number of on line or push systems.  I look at the pictures and videos on my phone and cull the ones that are no good and do a small amount of editing.  Then I let Apple automatically push photos to my iPad & Mac where I might do a little more editing using Apple's software.  If you are in an area with no wifi you can move photos using a wire and the same Mac Photos software.  When you are finished with the Apple editing you export the keepers to a folder on and external drive or flash drive.  Do not leave a bunch of photos on your computer hard drive or SSD.  It clogs it up and you don't have the freedom to move your files around like you do with the external drive.  

2.  With all regular cameras you move your files directly to the external drive or flash drive.  Save the original and the final edited version as a jpeg.  

3.  You need to add keywords to all your good files.  Keywords are embedded into the files and you can use them ten years from now of six months from now to look up and find this file easily.  Do not let software add keywords do it yourself.  Start doing it on all your new "keeper" files.  Worry about your past files when you get around to it.  

4.  I keep folders by year and month but you can use any system that works for you.  So I have a folder for the years, months, and then within months I number the folders.  Most of the time I can find the files easily by memory but it even easier to just enter into Apple search a keyword or two and they come up almost instantly.  A windows computer does the same thing, just enter a keyword into the file search and they come back in a flash.  

5.  I have been keeping my photos and videos on line as that seemed for a few years the best way to do it.  On line storage seemed like the best way to store files a few years ago, but now it is only good as a second copy.  The problems with on line storage are;  1.  It is too slow.  2.  Your files are at the mercy of the on line company as soon as you upload them.  Just don't use on line as your only storage.  You will regret it at some point.  I could go on for quite a while with problems I have had storing on line but just take my word for it.  They are your files and if you want to keep them then they should stay in your possession.  

6.  Backup your storage file.  Now that you are safely putting your photos and video on a storage drive you need to back it up with a second drive.  I currently use disk drives, but flash drives are getting cheaper very quickly.  I have had a number of disk storage drives fail so that is why you need two.  But flash drives seem to be much more rugged.  I have yet to have a flash drive fail.  If you have a smaller amount of storage just use flash drives.  Very likely 30 years from now they will still work.  

7.  Make your best into prints.  Very likely most of the on line systems and most of the storage drives will change over the years.  Some on line systems will go out of business or close.  Most storage drives will fail or their connectors will be obsoleted.  If you print things and then save them into attractive books they will stay around the longest unless you have a fire or other natural disaster.  I still have quite a few family photos from 100 years ago and more.  They are almost all black and white prints and they have not faded at all.  


1.  Capture image or video with any device.
2.  Save file to your drive locally 
3.  Keyword your file
4.  Make a backup
5.  Backup your backup either on line or printing or both.  
6.  Phones are great but actual cameras without a phone attached are easier to use, last longer, and work better.  Save yourself some money and buy a camera from a camera company and you will not need to spend so much on your phone or replace it as often.  

Thursday, December 7, 2017

Best Ways To Get Good & Easy Great Pictures & Videos When RVing

Cell phones - Smart phones - The most popular cameras in the World are the ones that come with phones.  Generally the newer the phone and the more expensive the phone the better the camera.  This fact is exploding the number of images and videos produced Worldwide.  My latest phone an iPhone X takes very good images.  However, the latest phones are also getting more complicated to use.  And both Apple and Google have begun to lock down their software so that it is becoming more difficult to organize your images and videos in ways that don't use their software.  Google eliminated Picasa that made it very easy to take photos off your phone and put them where you wanted to.  Apple discontinued iPhoto and Aperture which also made it easy to download photos from your phone to your filing system for safe keeping.  Now both IOS (Apple) and Android (all the rest) have cloud systems which automatically file your photos in their clouds.  What this means for the amateur photographer is that five years and 10,000 photos from now you may want to save a copy of your pictures to one of your back up drives.  To do that would be very difficult and very time consuming if they are on the Apple or Google cloud.  So here is my advice - use your phones to take stills and videos but save copies on your local drive that is not in a software program.  If you are not doing that now, start today with your new images and videos.  

Taken with Minolta 600si 50mm f2.8 macro lens and Kodak Ektar
The above splendid shot was taken with a 15 year old Minolta film camera and Kodak Portra.

I love the way the new phones have advanced the technical abilities of image and video capture.  But to really improve your work you will need a real camera that does not come attached to a phone.  I have a six month old Sony compact that cost 40% of what my latest smart phone cost.  It is far more capable than the camera in my iPhone X except the iPhone is better in low light.  The compact camera can go easily from wide angle to super telephoto optically.  Even at a 500mm equivalent the images are very good.  And at 35mm equivalent the photos are sharp and color rendition excellent.  It also takes very good video and the Zeiss zoom works without adding noise to the video.  You can transfer photos and video wirelessly to your phone or computer, but it also comes with a standard SD card that makes it very easy to download files and put them where you want them.  In your file system.  You can then upload the best ones to Apple, Google, Microsoft, Facebook, or anyone else without fighting with software.

Taken with a compact Sony super zoom camera
To get the best images and video you need a more advanced camera like a DSLR or mirrorless camera with removable lenses.  I personally like Nikon cameras, but there are a number of good brands like Canon, Sony, Olympus, Fuji, Pentax, and others.  Of course if you are rich get a Leica or a Hasselblad, I would if I had lots of money to spend on my hobby.  To me the best camera to get good and easy images and video in the more advanced category are a mid sized sensor based model.  This is the Nikon or Canon "crop" sensor based cameras.  Olympus uses micro 4/3rds which is also fine.  And Fuji is crop sensor for most of their bodies.  The cost for this type of camera with lens is between $600-1,700.  A Leica is more like $9,000.  And on the Hasselblad, if you have to ask you cannot afford it.

Shot with Nikon D5500 and 35mm f1.8 lens
 And then we have film cameras.  Analog film cameras have made a come back.  A lot more people have started shooting film today compared to 7-10 years ago when film almost died.  I shoot film all the time and can tell you my opinion is that if you want to get interesting and artistic images you should consider film.  Photo film does not produce the same product as digital.  Film uses a random pigment process and digital is a geometric pixel.  The result is not the same.  Outdoor full sun mid day images come out much better from film than digital.  However, inside shots with various lighting is much more difficult to get right with film compared to digital.  But if you keep it simple and get a reliable camera or two and stick with just a couple of films that you know work you should be fine.  Keep in mind that excellent to outstanding film cameras cost $20-200 with lens.  A Leica is more like $2,000.  If you don't have a film camera and want one just get a major brand SLR from a used camera store or ebay.  It will be much simpler to find a used camera store.  That way you can return it if it does not work.

Consider making prints if you shoot digital or film.  Apple makes it easy to do so along with a lot of other people.  And make photo albums.  Photo albums last pretty much forever and are very very easy to use.  Just open the book.  No computer or electronics needed.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Film Compared To Digital In The Midday Sun On Landscape

Last summer we went for a long trip in our RV out to the middle of the country.  When we were in the Black Hills area, which is a gem of a place to go, we went to Badlands National Park.  I took both my Minolta 600si film 35mm SLR with a 50mm f2.8 prime lens and my Nikon D5500 digital camera with the newest 18-55 f3.5 zoom lens.  The Nikon lens is the "P" version that has received high marks from a lot of people for sharpness and general high image quality.  I put both cameras in my Rick Steve's day pack.  The film camera had Kodak Ektar 100 film in it.  I had the film developed at "The Darkroom" in San Clemente.  I had the film scanned when it was developed to their medium quality scans.

With the Nikon I shot raw.  Here is the raw file with adobe standard adjustments.

The basic raw file made into a jpeg with Adobe standard adjustments
Here is the film shot right out of the camera.  

Film file right out of the camera.  
It is not as easy to see the differences when the photo is small.  If you can copy the pictures to your computer and blow them up a bit that would help.  The file sizes for both are about the same.  To me the film shot is very good right out of the camera.  The digital is only OK.  It is washed out even though Adobe had added a significant amount of color to it when I converted the raw file to a jpeg.  

If you had the Nikon camera do a jpeg file instead of a jpeg and used the Nikon Landscape setting this is the result.  

Nikon using landscape setting.

To me the Nikon landscape setting looks better than the Adobe standard.  This is an adequate photo only.  It is not nearly as good as the film shot.  

And here is the film shot after I made two very slight adjustments to it in Lightroom.  

Film shot with minor editing in Lightroom
Here is the digital shot with some significant editing.  It took me several years, many hours of training, and thousands of Lightroom edits to be able to get the picture this good.  

Nikon digital shot with a lot of editing.  
To me both of the end results are good.  Of course if they had been taken later in the day or early in the day the results would have been much better on either camera.

If you don't want to learn Lightroom and only use Apple's simple Photos app this is what you get.  

Film shot only using Apple Photos.  Very very simple edit.  

Nikon shot using Adobe standard jpeg and Apple Photos 
So what is the bottom line.  Both photos are very similar and very good considering they were taken in full sun at mid day.  To my eye on a high quality large monitor they are equal.  A few things to consider.  

  • The Minolta camera is just as automatic as the Nikon.  The Minolta is from about the year 2000 and the Nikon from 2015.  But you can buy the Minolta for $30-50 dollars today on eBay.  The Nikon about $600.  The lenses on these cameras are both worth about $100.  So $130 for the Minolta and $700 for the Nikon.  
  • The Minolta is about the same size as the Nikon and looks very similar.  I prefer the looks of the Nikon just a bit, and the Nikon is a few oz. less.  
  • You can set both on auto and 85% of the time the pictures will turn out good.  
  • If you want to make adjustments on the cameras the Minolta is far and away easier to use.  
  • The Minolta viewfinder is far and away bigger and brighter.  The Nikon viewfinder is very hard to use with manual focus.  The Minolta is pretty easy, but no focus aids like my older Olympus.  Both camera makers thought most people would use auto focus almost all the time.  
  • The Nikon has a complex menu system to learn.  It does have a touch screen though so this particular model of Nikon is easier than most to adjust.  
  • The Nikon and the Minolta work very well to set on auto and just take pictures.  
  • The Minolta has buttons and switches for adjustments that are very intuitive and simple to use and learn.  
When I originally took these shots a little over a year ago I much preferred the film ones.  They came out of the camera much better and I was still learning to get good with Lightroom.  So knowing what I know now which is better digital or film.  I have to give the nod to digital in this case.  I do enjoy using the Minolta camera more than the Nikon, but there is no doubt that not having to go through the hassle and expense of getting film developed and scanned made the digital shot easier.  If I did not already know how to use Lightroom I would go the other way and say film is better.  The camera is more fun and easier to use and you don't need to fiddle with Lightroom.  Then there is the cost of the camera and lens.  The film camera is much less costly.  You have to pay for film, but you also have to pay for Lightroom and spend lots of time learning to use it and working at your computer to get acceptable results.   

If you have any film cameras left over from the film days, use them.  Buy film.  Kodak, Fuji, and a few others still make very good film that is easy to use.  I mostly use mail order to develop and scan.

Monday, May 30, 2016

Google Maps Is Now A Good Way To Plan Your RV Travel

I have used many Google services over the last few years and in many cases they keep getting better and more relevant to RV Travel.  Way back when I only used paper maps and planned our RV trips on paper.  I would get out a tablet of paper and make entries for the days we would travel.  Later when computer maps came out I bought DeLorme maps first.  They worked pretty good and when I got the map CD it came with a gps that I plugged into my laptop and it would tell me where we were and give directions.

Delorme Map with Topo 
Next we used Microsoft Streets and Trips.  It was much easier to use than Delorme.  Then Trailer Life came out with a specialty RVing map software and we used that through several upgrades.  None were perfect, but I did like the Trailer Life program as it did a lot of things related to RV travel well.  And a key to all of these systems is that you could save the maps and add points of interest and RV campgrounds.

I started getting Garmins about 8 years ago.  My wife bought me one for Christmas.  It was amazing how good they were at helping you find places.  Web maps then wiped out all the software CD systems.  Microsoft finally discontinued Streets and Trips about 2 years ago.  And smartphones are now used by most to find places.

Google Maps have been very good for a long time, in general.  But you could not easily use them to plan a trip with.  I tried a number of times.  Several years ago they added the ability to add points of interest and campgrounds, but to me it was still a hard system to use.  Now Google Maps can save your trips and easily add layers with both points of interest and campgrounds to the same map.  So for this summers very extensive trip I have put all of it on a Google map.

I switched to using the Apple calendar about 8 months ago after years of using the Google Gmail calendar.  So I have not yet figured out how to integrate the dates on the Google Map for the trip.  But I am going to work on that for our Fall trip to the Balloon Fiesta in NM.  At this time I highly recommend using Google Maps to plan extensive trips.  And send me comments on how to integrate dates into the maps if that is something you know how to do.

Friday, August 14, 2015

Beautiful Mammoth Mountain Area

It has been about ten years since I have been to the Mammoth Mountain lakes area in the eastern Sierra of CA.  It is a beautiful area with lots to see and do winter or summer.

Mammoth was always a great fishing area.  When I was much younger I used to come up here to the great small World famous trout streams.  And then there is winter sports.  Mammoth mountain gets lots of snow and this place is packed in the winter.  But ten years ago when I last came up to go fishing there were few people here in the summer.  Not any more!  When we visited last week this place was packed.  The difference is summer mountain biking.  Everywhere people dressed up in expensive bike outfits are riding very expensive mountain bikes.  So this means if you decide to come up for a visit in the summer, make reservations.

We stayed at Mammoth Mountain RV park.  (click link left to go to the RV park web site) It looks like it was built and is run by the National Park Service.  It is not.  I really like this RV park a lot except for the very thick dirt / dust that covers many of the sites.  You and your pets and especially children will track in lots of fine dust.  But the spaces are mostly very large, and the utilities work well.   It is set in a forest of large trees.  The people here were quite nice and the location is great.  A few blocks from the center of town.  Or a quick bike ride.

The Devils Postpile is a National Monument and is 13 miles out of Mammoth.  Driving up there and stopping at the sights on the way has always been one of the major things to do when here.  You can still drive up towards the Devils Postpile and stop at the several attractions on the way like a large earthquake fissure and the Minarets but now since there are so many people here in the summer you have to park by the main ski lodge and take a tram/bus to the Postpile.  This is not convenient.  When we were there this parking lot had many hundreds of cars and looked like about a three block walk to wait for the bus.  So we did not go to the Postpile this visit and went to see the Inyo Craters instead.

One of the two Inyo Craters
The visit to see the Inyo craters requires driving on a dirt road for about a mile and then walking uphill a few hundred feet in elevation.  The length of the trail to the craters is about 3/4 of a mile.

When you go to this area just keep in mind that the whole valley is an ancient super volcano crater.  Like Yellowstone, but a bit smaller.  So if it blows when you are here that would not be a good thing.  But I don't think that is expected to happen any time soon.

The summer temps in this area a very agreeable.  Be sure to drive up towards the twin lakes area right out of town.  There is a lovely old Tamarack Lodge area.  It is a beautiful spot.

I have to say that I preferred Mammoth Mountain before the crowds of summer bikers showed up.  But then I am not a crowd loving person.  Today you can have a lot more choices of food and drink than then years ago.  It was nice though the last time we were up we did not bother to make reservations and just showed up.  There were lots of hotel rooms available.  Not any more.


Thursday, August 13, 2015

Tufa Or Not

Many times I have driven past Mono Lake in the eastern Sierra mountains and looked east going about 60 mph on 395 and said, "some day I have to stop and see the Tufa".  Well earlier this week the time had come.  We stayed 3 nights at the Mono Vista RV Park in Lee Vining CA, right across from the Mono Lake visitor center.

This is what I planned to do.  Take some beautiful pictures of this lake and it's famed Tufa.  Full disclosure here.  This image was not taken by me and I got it off the internet.  I wish I had the opportunity to get this kind of shot.  But sadly climate and wild fires were against me.

Here is about the best I could do.  There was just too little alpenglow to get any kind of shot.

This was just a little peek of glowing night sky that lasted for five minutes and hardly made it to the Tufa at all.  If you look close at the picture of the tufa you can see the tiniest amount of red in the foreground.  And that was it.  I went all three nights over to get great shots and did not have much luck.

But we did go to Bodie and that produced some great pictures for memories.

I do recommend the Mono Vista RV park if you go to stay in Lee Vining.  Nice people.  Sites have grass.  Some trees.  Very clean and neat.  Good utilities.  Price was about $35 with Good Sam.  Click the link above to go to their web site.  This park is very close to the road that goes in the back side of Yosemite.  I had the opportunity to talk to all sorts of people from all over Europe who were staying in this RV park and going over into Yosemite.

So what else is in Lee Vining.  There is the Mono Lake visitor center.  This is a large park building with exhibits, maps, rangers, ranger talks, and so on.  I highly recommend stoping here ever if you are not overnighting in Lee Vining.  It is right off 395 just a block north of town on the east side.

Great views from the visitor center.

The columbine flowers were next to the building and this is one of the most interesting and beautiful flowers I know of.  I like these pictures a lot better than the ones I got of the Tufa.

If you do not feel like spending a lot of time at Mono Lake it is easily accessible from Mammoth Lakes.  However, in my opinion staying at the Mono Vista RV park is better than any I saw at Mammoth Lakes for larger RVs like ours.