30 November 2012

Postcard from Arizona- 3

30 November 2012


It's almost Rabbit! Rabbit! day (the first day of a new month) and I am still trying to get the new computer to the point I can call it "useable". It's been almost a month of screwing with this thing! Takes awhile when you have to start all over again: at one point I had to contact Samsung who told me how to use a Function key option when powering-on to restore the computer to an earlier or even not-yet-installed Windows configuration (there are no instructions; the only Help is on-line which pre-supposes you don't a problem getting connected; well guess what Mr. Microsoft and Mr. Samsung, when you click on "Get Help With Connecting to the Internet", you probably don't have a *&^%#$# connection!). The problem was intermittent and seems to occur daily sometime during the mid-morning ('morning sickness' I guess). With that problem sorted, I got started again and must admit it went much quicker the 2nd time (though the Admiral emphatically does not agree!).

Sierra Vista hasn't moved

We drove both vehicles over to Sierra Vista to have the Highlander serviced and to get the windshield washer hoses replaced at Sierra Toyota. While we were off to Maine for the summer, a critter had taken up residence in the engine compartment and needed some building material. Or maybe a low-cal lunch. I guess the hoses were handy and he was sure we wouldn't mind. Sorry dude... wrong!

Surprisingly,  the bill at this particular Toyota dealer was very reasonable for service and repairs. Looks like they have a $70/hr billing rate which is significantly less than we seen elsewhere.

Update on our truck

Just for the record: nothing has broken on our F-350 truck since we arrived. Still running great; still getting good mileage; and the exhaust is still smelly when we idle.

This reminds me of an old Post script that appeared in the Saturday Evening Post around 1952 which went something like this:

During WW-II, a merchant marine captain was disgusted with his First Officer's drinking habits, so to build a case for dismissing him he decided to record the problems in the ship's log:
"Tonight the 1st officer was drunk when he came on duty."
The next night when the First Officer came on duty, he read the Captain's entry and then added an entry of his own:
"Tonight the Captain was sober."

Channel 43

I think I mentioned earlier that I've volunteered to help with Channel 43 (the SKP Saguaro RV Park's private cable channel). It's been fun learning something new, creating the weekly playlists that schedule the video files and play them into the park's video feed. I may have to learn about creating videos as well. Bryan & Mike have been patient teachers!

The key s/w that makes this all work is Playlist Manager from SprintBit.com. It's an SQL-based product that costs all of $29 which, if you forgive a few quirky behaviors, is a bargain for what it does. Last year the freeware program they were using was causing more work than you can imagine. They have photos of the guys laying on the floor in the park's video feed room as they entered new playlists and added videos. No thanks! Call me a prima dona, but Mrs. Bowman's little boy doesn't do laying-on-the-floor-updates-cuz-of-crappy-software-from-China. Bryan and his wife Susan worked on those problems the entire summer and his effort has made the production job nearly routine this fall. What a guy!

14 November 2012

Postcard from Arizona- 2

14 November 2012

[ Edit: I processed a bunch of images from Day of the Dead in Tucson which I've included below. ]

Catching up. Again.

Not sure why I let this happen, but here I am behind again. I think this may have happened before in an earlier life. But I really do have an excuse: we're having too much fun. I think. Is that possible? to have too much fun? Nah!

Did you vote? Everybody needs to vote. I did- I voted for the end of political rhetoric and accusatory BS. Apparently others of you voted the same way cuz it has finally ended. Or maybe they just ran out of $$$. What a relief! Now where do I vote to stop the tele-marketing and the robo-marketing?!

And we have a lot of gas these days. You know... the kind that comes in a big tank and runs the furnace. Since we were already in their system, Barnett's was out to our site in a matter of 3 or 4 days. Last year it took 3 weeks before they brought the tank plus another 2 weeks before they filled it.

The timing was good as the temperatures dropped a couple days after we were hooked up. Got as low as 25° F where we are on the outer reaches of the park. On the plus side, the daytime highs are down in the 70's now and it's incredibly comfortable outside during the day.

Computers and software.

My (not very!) old HP laptop packed it in. It's not like I didn't have some warning: the touch-pad had died a couple months after I bought it; some keys didn't work right, though that was intermittent and infrequent; then the eSATA connector (connects to my 2 TB external drive) literally fell apart and I had to switch to the very slow USB 2.0 port; and finally about 2 months ago the wireless connection died. Fortunately the latter was only an annoyance as I had a spare NetGear WiFi device that plugs in to a USB port. A separate but really big issue was something associated with the CPU and memory. Processing images started taking longer and longer. I had thought it was maybe a virus, but McAfee Virus Scan and Microsoft malware s/w insisted all was well. I decided it was time to move on, but I held off till we got settled here in Benson. Almost as soon as we arrived I ordered a replacement laptop.

But what to buy?
  • The old Sony we had on the boat did really well, though it was shot by the time we moved into the Santa Fe house. It worked well and I felt OK with getting another except anything with a Sony logo is pricey.
  • I wore out the Dell replacement for the Sony... it didn't last 3 years and it was in a friendly environment.
  • I learned over 15 years ago that Gateway is not anything I want to own again.
  • The HP that replaced the Dell has lasted only 23 months, so I didn't want to go there again. Plus HP says they're getting out of the PC business.
  • There are a ton of choices out there, but I've never heard of 90% of the brands.
  • I decided I wanted to try a Lenovo. Their ThnkPad model was recommended by photographers who process all their images on them (they use a 2nd monitor so they can calibrate color). I think Lenovo is the old IBM PC machines which always had a good reputation (created by the Point of Sale Division of IBM). But they ended their 2-day 20% discount special during the 2 hour period between configuring a machine and checkout. So screw 'em.
I was whining to myself about my lousy timing when I happened to notice the TV and home theater electronics in our Montana: all Samsung equipment. Hmm... this stuff has survived road shock, vibration, altitude changes, high-/low-humidity, and extravagent (though not extreme) temperature swings. This stuff just keeps on keeping on.

So I went to Amazon.com and there was a Samsung Series 7 (it's considered a gaming machine) configured pretty much as I wanted it for about $800 less than the discounted Lenovo I had just tried to order. Plus it had an optical disk drive which reads Blu-Ray & reads/writes multiple format data CDs (for some odd reason Lenovo doesn't offer ODDs on their work station laptops... ???). Amazon had the laptop in my hands in 2 days. Then things got hard...

Getting 'stuff' off the old machine is always the biggest challenge and this time is no exception. What a pain, especially when my 2 TB external hard drive decided it's going to join the rush to retirement! Fortunately I managed to move my images (all 18,000 of them) plus my genealogy, text, spreadsheet & tax files before the external drive died. Sadly I failed to get the last full back-up on the HP restored to the Samsung since my external hard drive also died! It wouldn't have reinstalled executable files, of course, but I had a lot of things I wanted to keep like the goose--bumps.com and rabbit-rabbit.org web site source files and all my saved e-Mails which, among other things, had activation codes for downloaded s/w, receipts for purchases (for warranty claims), all my Contacts and all my Bookmarks. But that's how it is. I'll just have to move on from here (if you haven't already, seend me an e-Mail so I can get your address back in the Contacts!).

At this point I have installed 3 earlier generations of Adobe Creative Suites (CS includes Photoshop, Dreamweaver, Acrobat, etc.), bought and installed the upgrade to CS 6, then uninstalled CS 4 thru CS 5.5 (in hindsight it was unnecessary to install these before the upgrade as Adobe allows typing the qualifying activation codes); my 2 favorite image managing & editing programs are installed: DxO Optics Pro Elite 8 and Adobe Lightroom 4; Microsoft Office 2010 is up and running; I've installed Mozilla's Firefox browser and Thunderbird e-Mail programs (I refuse to use IE or Outlook); and Family Tree Maker 2012 (from Ancestry.com) is up and running and can read my family history file. Still have to deal with H&R Block's TaxCut s/w which I'll need soon.

Btw, it may be nothing but growing pains, but I think Windows 8 (vs. the older Windows 7) may have been a mistake. Ihave essentially thrown away 20 years experience with prior Windows systems as the user interface (aimed at the touch-screen market) has no relationship to prior versions. For instance, none of the utilities like Notepad or Windows Backup or Disk Manager are to be found anywhere. Even the venerable Solitaire & Minesweeper games are gone. I guess with the truck pretty much fixed I now have something new to whine about!

Goings on

We've made it to dinner a couple times with friends Mike & Susan and we made it to the Day of the Dead celebration in Tucson with friends Doug & Linda (I can finally  process the images!). Celia has gotten back into line dance (no surprise there) plus she volunteered to do Channel 5 updates (daily announcements). And I've volunteered to work on Channel 43 here in the park. Mostly we've tried to keep a lid on eating so at the very minimum we don't gain.

Oh... and we bought and have started using a Bissel Green Machine which both vacuums and shampoos the carpets and hard floors. It's a beast (heavy, uses water for filtration), but it has dual use and works pretty well. Timely addition as our now 3 years old Kenmore Intuition vacuum is starting to die. Hmm... this seems to be a recurring theme: replace things at 3 years old. That's pretty poor!

So that's it for now. Here's the phto from Day of the Dead...

Perhaps the most patient person I've
met, Doug volunteered to drive through
what turned out to be horrible traffic!

The celebrants sort of milled their way past us...

...and just seemed to keep coming.

There was a lot of interesting figures
that had to be done by art students at
Univ. of Arizona here in Tucson.

Most were in costume or had some theme makeup..

... like this one that made me believe Monalisa was back from
the dead. With a black eye!

The Admiral was having a great time!

Many rememberances for family members
that are gone like this guys mother...

...and someone's father.

Someone had to have seen the Chinese New Year parade in
San Francisco!

Not everyone was in costume...

...but these mariachis certainly were.

Mmm... try to keep up kids!

01 November 2012

Truck repairs and changes

1 November 2012

Hey, dude... what did you have to do to get your mileage to improve so much?

If reading technical details about our truck (repairs, mods, whatever) is b-o-r-i-n-g and if hearing again my obsessive rhetoric about fuel mileage makes your eyes glaze over, you'll want to skip this post.

To anyone left, if you've read through the our year-and-a-half of whining and up & down emotions with each mod or repair, you know we've spent a lot of $$$ to get to 13 mpg when pulling our 15,000# Montana over fairly level ground. What's more, we're now getting about 17 mpg running solo on level ground at 55-60 mph. What we have now works well for our needs, but there are cheaper ways to get to this point.

We started with nearly everything Banks makes for our truck (air cleaner, DPF-back exhaust, inter-cooler, and their 6-Gun Tuner). It helped improve fuel economy by 15-20% and it was all CARB-approved mods (it could pass a pollution inspection in California). It was not, however, a dramatic improvement in mileage. In fact, the firmware mod Ford supplied in 2011 produced about the same result.

Then the EGR system temperature sensor in the DPF died. The resulting Ford-approved repair by the dealer in Sayre, OK nearly destroyed the truck and left me prejudiced about the hazards of DPF and EGR systems in general.

Thanks to having access to a mechanic that has dealt with all this before, I learned about a way to keep the Banks tuner, remove the DPF and its attendant cleaning cycle, and have access to the power-boosting settings that our Banks tuner offered. As I see it, it's not till you defeat the EGR system that you get meaningful improvement in fuel economy.

But before you get too enthused about seeing your mileage jump from 9 mpg up to 13 mpg while pulling a 15,000 lb. load on level ground, there are a few things you need to inform yourself about. There are more issues than just fuel consumption, but here's a few talking-points to start considering:
  • There's no guaranty from anyone you'll get improved fuel economy, Period. They won't even talk to you about it. DPF-delete plus a compatible tuner is strictly an off-road system.
  • You're left with a truck that will never pass a pollution inspection, so understand what your state requires.
  • Understand your own feelings about driving a truck that may cause more pollution. Your personal cost of fuel isn't the only issue.
  • Installing the necessary non-Ford firmware from S&C in our Ford's ECM would have  ended any warranty coverage; our warranty had expired July 2012.
  • I'm told some (most?) dealers won't work on a truck with these mods even if the repair is unrelated to the mod. That may be urban myth, but you should ask your local dealer if you think you may need their help at some point, like to repair the transmission or change the oil.
  • Diesels have smelly exhaust, but ours seems stronger than when the truck was stock.

So do your homework to understand the ramifications, both legal and practical. Installing a DPF-delete kit in the exhaust and loading 3rd party firmware in the Ford engine control module (ECM) is a slippery slope. There are traps, trade-offs and the potential for damage to your wallet and your truck.

This is the hardware we ended up with

In our case we already had a Banks 6-Gun Tuner and all the other Banks hardware. But our Banks doesn't change anything in the Ford ECM... it lives between the ECM and the engine. So with Banks equipment, the EGR (exhaust gas regeneration) system continues to operate and you can pass a CARB inspection in California (CARB has approved the Banks 6-Gun and a sticker with the permit number is supplied by Banks). No matter what Banks has done to improve mileage, the ECM still goes into the regeneration cycle and the mileage goes right out the tail pipe. If you just install a DPF-delete kit, which is nothing but a piece of tubing that fits where the DPF used to be, the  ECM will fail to work because certain sensors are no longer installed.

Since the Banks tuner doesn't change anything in the Ford ECM to disable EGR, we needed a different tuner that would turn off EGR plus a DPF-delete kit (a piece of " or 5" exhaust tubing). With that tuner installed first, then the Banks tuner can be "piggy-backed" on it and continue to modify fuel flow as it always has. Scott steered us toward the S&C Mini-Max tuner as it's been proven in this application. The Mini-Max replaces the stock Ford ECM firmware with something similar except it has no EGR functions. At this point your warranty is dead and you've got an off-road vehicle.

The Mini-Max must be installed in a specific way prior to re-connecting the Banks 6-Gun tuner. Normally the Mini-Max display and cable is used to install new firmware in the Ford ECM and then left in place so you can see truck/engine operating parameters as well as set any of the 3 power levels. In our case we just wanted the firmware installed then left in the Stock setting (0 HP gain). With that done the Mini-Max display and cable can be removed and the Banks re-connected between the ECM and engine. Both tuning systems (Banks 6-Gun Tuner and display as well as the S&C Mini-Max ECM firmware but not its display) are installed and operating simultaneously, i.e. the Banks is "piggy-backed" on the Mini-Max.

In our installation, none of the Mini-Max hardware is used after the replacement firmware is installed. The 6-Gun display continues to operate the Banks tuner, completely oblivious to the presence of the modified ECM firmware. S&C has created some impressive tunes for their system (as high as +500 HP over stock on a 6.4L Ford), but only one is available without their display. So for our installation the S&C will be left set to Stock for as long as we have the truck.

The tech doing the mod really needs to have been down this road before- it's complicated! Doing something out of sequence can leave you with a dead truck. If it's done properly - ours was, thanks to Scott Spear at Spear's Auto Center - I would expect your 6.4L PowerStroke diesel to produce a similar improvement in fuel economy to what we have seen. But again, their are no guarantees. The exhaust cleaning cycle, elimination of about 150# of metal, cooler inlet air (that's what the inter-cooler does for us), and less-restricted intake and exhaust are all involved in making the engine more efficient.

We've never felt a need for more power from our 2008 Ford F-350. It has plenty of torque just as it comes from the factory. Yes, we still have the option to dial up an extra 50-185 HP, but what for? If it reduces our fuel economy, we're not interested. Banks will tell you, though, that the best economy may not come from the lowest power setting. Yet I continue to avoid those higher settings because my greater concern has always been that more power may cause transmission or differential damage.

On the down side, the exhaust odor while idling is stronger than when the DPF was installed and we've found we're getting a little diesel exhaust inside the Montana while we're pulling. I guess the latter explains why some some owners install vertical exhaust stacks on their pickups. Plus we're at risk of being cited and fined for having tampered with the EPA-approved exhaust system.

I'd love to see numbers which compare emissions caused by the stock system (including the ash blown out during cleaning) vs. a system that defeats pollution controls while using 40% less fuel. To my knowledge, that sort of data is unavailable... ???

If you decide to attack the fuel economy issues with your truck, get a good diesel tech to help you and to do the work, or at the very least guide you. That ain't me, but if you're near central New Mexico (Cedar Crest, NM), Scott Spear is your man!

One more thing: our truck is a 2008 Ford F-350 with the 6.4L PowerStroke diesel with 4-wheel drive, long bed, dual rear wheels, 4.10 differential, stock tires, tow package. It's big and it's heavy. I would expect what I've described above to be applicable to any similarly equipped Ford F-350 PowerStroke, but if you have anything different - e.g. single rear wheels, 2-wheel drive, whatever - the results will surely be different. Maybe better, maybe worse, but certainly different.

Similar mods are available for all recent American trucks (Dodge, GMC/Chevy, other Fords). In fact, I got launched on this path by a guy with a 2006 Dodge with a  Cummins diesel. Do your homework for your truck. I'm just highlighting one way to peel this onion called fuel economy. I will never recommend anyone else do what we've done.

There are a few forums where you can get info from other owners... Google is your friend. Lots to be found out there. Just remember that along with all the good info is a lot of stuff that's flat wrong! It's your job to separate the wheat from the chaff.

Postcard from Arizona- 1

28-31 October 2012

Santa Fe

We retrieved the truck on the 27th (Sat) and the 28th was supposed to be a 'drive it and see if it's OK' sort of day. Well, it was a good plan, but life got in the way. Instead of a test drive, Sunday saw the truck doing some hauling to get a few things from the house to the Montana. Then Monday the 29th we returned the rental car (btw, the Kia Forte we rented was excellent!), aired the tires, cleaned all the glass in the truck, and fueled up. Then we discovered the Admiral's favorite Key West hat was missing, so back to Budget Car Rental. I'm not sure I actually finished what needed doing or if I just got tired and quit. Airing up the tires always kicks my butt!

I had either of 2 first-nite destinations in mind:

    Las Cruces KOA (290 mi) or
    Road Runner RV Park in Deming (345 mi).

When the Admiral heard more than 300 miles to get to Deming she told me where to go! So I drove to Las Cruces.

We've been to Las Cruces KOA several times and know what to expect. Staying more than a single night means you have to deal with the dust from raking the gravel late the next morning. So there was no choice but to make it a 1-niter. The park is pristine, but keeping it that way raises dust even with the watering system on the back of the small tractor.

Other than a 1-hr delay in Albuquerque for an accident, the trip went well and we managed to get 12.7 mpg... a first for us while pulling. The next day we pulled to the SKP Saguaro Co-op in Benson and... Yikes! 13.2 mpg! What an incredible drop in fuel usage


We have arrived safe and sound in Benson, AZ on 2 November. The last leg was about 215 mi and, as I mentioned above, this time we saw 13.2 mpg. We ended up at close to the same elevation, but the trip was anything but level: we started at 4,600' and ended at almost 4,400'. In between we dropped to under 3,400', went over 3 low passes before climbing to 5,000' as we traversed the pass into Texas Canyon, and finally ended up at 4,385' here in our site. The route had everything: steep grades both up and down as well as long flat stretches. Made me feel a lot better about trying to tackle Alaska next year: 13 mpg for much of the 10,000 mi means a saving of $1,500 - $2,000 compared to 10.5 mpg.

Old friends

The best part of arriving in the park was getting to connect with old friends. We'd been in touch with Mike & Susan while we were on the road, so it was no surprise to them when we pulled in. Naturally we had to do dinner out so we could get caught up and that meant a trip into town to Reb's. Great meal, great conversation, great to be back!

Summary for the summer

Benson, AZ to Trenton, ME via Elkhart, IN, upstate NY, southern VT & NH, including day trips was 4,600 mi. Trenton, ME to Benson, AZ via Asheville, NC, Louisville, KY and St. Louis, MO including day trips was another 4,000 mi.

We left Benson 8 April, stopped in Santa Fe for 31 nites, took 34 days to get to Maine, spent from 16 June thru 13 September in Maine, then spent from 14 September to 16 October getting to Santa Fe where we stayed for 2 weeks. We left Santa Fe on 31 October and spent 2 more days to get to Benson, AZ on 2 November. That's about a week short of 7 months on the move, and our truck runs better than before we left. The coach, however, looks like it's just traveled 8,600 miles. We need to get scheduled with Hooper so it's not an embarrassment to us and the park!


Still haven't got this resolved. Looks like I'll be getting a new laptop... maybe a Lenovo? Dunno. Too many choices and it's easy to get Analysis Paralysis.