Monday, April 13, 2015

Electronics and communications

When I talked yesterday about upgrades and modifications, I didn’t talk much about one of the most important aspects of what I’ve done: power and communications.

The first thing I did when I got the rig was replace the converter: the box that converts 120V AC to 12V DC, and which charges the coach batteries.  The old converter was OEM equipment in 1999.  It didn’t use the current methods of charging batteries in stages, and was pretty much destroying the deep-cycle marine coach battery.  The new converter uses modern technology, and has kept the coach batteries ( I added a second ) in fine shape.  

The other early purchase I made was a power conditioner.  This is a box which plugs in to the campground power outlet; the rig’s power cord plugs into it.

This wasn’t cheap, but it protects the rig and its equipment from power spikes (lightning strikes?) and brownouts (all the a/c units in the campground fire up at once?) and other potentially problematic electrical events.  It’s done its thing twice that I’m aware of: it detected low voltage and switched me off campground power, then when voltage was back to normal, it switched me back.  If I’d been running a/c at the time, this could have saved me some expensive repairs.  Instead, all I had to do was reset the clock in the microwave.  

When I added the second battery, I also added a 400 watt pure sine wave inverter, hooked directly to the batteries.  This gives me a reliable source of 120V AC for electronics.  I didn’t wire it into the coach systems: I simply plug an AC extension box into it and plug things like the lap top, the phone, the tablet, the video camera, the wifi hot spot, and the bluetooth speaker system into it as needed.  Ironically, these are all DC-powered devices, but they run off chargers which need AC.  I don’t have all of them plugged in at once, of course.  Mostly. I charge them up overnight and run them on battery power during the day.   When I’m in motion, I plug the iPhone and the iPad and the dash cam into the inverter power rather than the cigarette-lighter DC outlet in the dash.  

It all seems to work well. If you’re not familiar with this technology, it’s important to spend the extra money on a “pure sine wave” inverter; this will keep electronics and small motors way happier.  400 watts is MORE than enough for anything I’m doing.  I did make sure that the inverter I got had a cooling fan which only comes on when needed… which so far has been never.  Not only does this mean I don’t have to listen to a fan all the time, it also means that the unit consumes essentially zero power when nothing’s plugged into it.  This is important while camping off-grid, when every ampere counts!

The laptop and phone and tablet are the Apple gear I use at home.   The phone is an iPhone 6 with 16 G (gigabytes) of memory; my service provider is AT&T.  I was one of the original iPhone customers, which means I get unlimited data with my phone.  Handy for email and for streaming media.  In camp with a good AT&T signal like I have here at Valley of Fires, I run music from various on-line sources through the phone and then via a Bluetooth wireless connection to a Big Jambox speaker system.  (I’m listening to NPR Morning Edition as I type.) After a try with T-Mobile as a data provider, I switched to Verizon this summer simply because of their superior coverage.  What I don’t know is how much data I will consume when traveling like this.  Verizon and most other vendors sell data by the gigabyte per month.  My current plan gives me 5G per month. In a little over a week, being more abstemious than I’d like about data use, I’ve used about 2.5G.  I’m guessing that I can do what I want — upload and view videos, for example — on a data budget of about 4-5G per week without stressing.  If I’m on the road for 2 weeks in a month, that means about 8-10G per month.  

That’ll cost me about $80 a month, compared to the $50 I’m paying now.  It’s worth it to me.  It’s a half a tank of gas. ( I know, ouch!) Some people need their hair driers when they travel, or their coffee makers. I value the access to information and the ability to share this experience with others, given that I travel alone almost all the time. 

Time to go for a walk.

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