Saturday, August 20, 2005

We are back on-line now with our satellite system, so I can finally post from the comfort of our coach again. I have also updated our position on the DataStorm map.

We are still in Minot, although the FMCA show technically ended Thursday. On our way here, we thought that it might take us through Tuesday to go through all the exhibits and attend whatever seminars we wanted, and that we would be leaving by Wednesday morning. As it turned out, though, it was a very productive show for us, and we ended up with appointments all the way through yesterday afternoon.

For starters, we attended several interesting seminars, most notably three on traveling in Mexico and Central America. These were very informative, and we are very much looking forward to our first trip south of the border. For our first foray, we are going on an organized caravan, which is currently scheduled for October, 2006, although we are on a waiting list for a departure this February. The seminars wiped out most of Monday and a good deal of Tuesday as well.

Unlike our past visits to FMCA events, we spent very little time in the outdoor coach exhibits, and breezed through them quickly during the preview on Monday afternoon. We are certainly not looking for a new coach, and our intensive interest in these exhibits in past years was motivated by collecting ideas for incorporation into Odyssey.

While we did briefly visit the indoor exhibit hall on Tuesday, we spent literally all day there on Wednesday. We came armed with a list of items we wanted to either investigate or purchase here at the show. Chatting in various booths took more time than we expected, and by closing time, we still had not seen the entire floor. No problem, Thursday would be another day, and, besides, on Tuesday afternoon we had signed up to have Odyssey weighed, and the weigh-in appointment was set for Friday morning.

Also Wednesday afternoon, we finally ran into the Diamon-Fusion people, and were able to nail them down on the exact terms of their glass warranty. We ended up, by Thursday morning, deciding to try the product. Usually, I view these sorts of treatments as snake oil. However, with the amount of glass damage we are sustaining to the lower windshield, we are willing to look at anything that might help. The expensive ($1,300 for our one-piece windshield) treatment comes with a four-year guarantee against rock damage and consequent glass breakage, and that will easily pay for itself if the window breaks, as it cost $3,000 the last time we replaced it. Our regular insurance also covers glass breakage (and chip repair), but we have been reluctant to file claims since we are so hard to insure in the first place.

Speaking of insurance, we spent a good deal of time at the AON booth discussing the issues we are having with Odyssey's policy. Specifically, we are still insured at an agreed value from before we had the new conversion done at Infinity. We spent twice again as much money on the new conversion as our entire agreed value, and we have been trying to get Odyssey re-appraised, or at least insured, at something much closer to our total investment. Most appraisers won't touch this coach, because there are simply no comps.

After going around and around about this on the phone with AON, the representative at the show was able to call the underwriter at National Interstate, our underlying carrier, and they agreed to insure it at a value I would call fair, on the condition that we have Infinity write up a feature sheet and a "fair market value" for the coach based on their conversion expertise. Since we have extensive documentation of the work Infinity did and what it cost, as well as the features of the coach, this should be straightforward and we will begin working on the required verbiage immediately. If we can bring closure to this issue, it will have made the whole FMCA show visit worthwhile just by itself.

We also picked up a variety of small items that have been on our wish list, including the Campfire-in-a-Can that we originally saw at the FMCA show two years ago, various hose and cord organizers, and silicone and Teflon bakeware (demonstrated at the most excellent seminar on getting the most out of the weird Advantium oven we have).

The other major purchase we made at the show was our new satellite equipment. While there was nothing really wrong with the old equipment (actually, in many ways the older 4000 series satellite modems are better than the newer 6000 unit), it needed to be wired directly to a Windows computer to operate. In order to have our convenient wireless laptops work, we have been using a leftover clunker laptop just as a server to run the satellite gear and serve a wireless hot spot throughout the coach. The clunker in question, a ThinkPad, has been dying a slow death for the last year. First the hard drive went out, and I replaced it with one I had lying around, which was only 6GB, barely enough to run XP and the satellite software, and then only because I deleted every non-essential part of Windows I could get away with.

More recently, the top alphabetic row of keys on the keyboard stopped working. I disassembled the entire thing to see if I could patch it up, but no such luck. We have been "typing," whenever necessary, using the on-screen keyboard built in to Windows, but that only works when Windows is already running. Troubleshooting hardware problems pre-boot or from DOS is impossible, and the external keyboard we have also will not work without Windows loaded. The last couple of problems forced us to give up one of our cherished wireless laptops to act as the server, and we knew it was only a matter of time before the ThinkPad had some kind of problem we could not repair at all absent a fully working keyboard.

It came down to acquiring another laptop to run the satellite modems, or upgrade to the newer 6000 modem which has a built-in server, eliminating the need for another computer. The 6000 upgrade, including the newer D2 dish controller required to make the whole thing work without a server, was $900 after some haggling with one of the four or five vendors here at the show (close-quarters competition being one reason we chose to do this here), and a replacement XP laptop to function as a server would not have been much less than that.

Since we were changing equipment, necessitating re-commissioning the satellite, we also took the opportunity to change service providers and to move to a different bird, AMC9. This satellite, at 83 West longitude, was not available to us when we signed up a year ago. Its advantage is that it covers the entire continental US, as well as the northern third or so of Mexico. Consequently, we now have service here in Minot, whereas our previous satellite, SatMex-5, had a big gap across the northern reaches of the western states. (The only other choice we had a year ago was a bird with a big hole over Texas and no coverage in Mexico.) We will likely have to switch back to SatMex-5 when we embark on our Mexico caravan, but that's now a year away. Our new provider also does not charge for bird changes up to twice yearly.

The Diamon-Fusion people did not finish with us until nearly 4 yesterday, so we decided to find a spot to boondock here in Minot. We ended up parking with a group of four coaches, and they invited us to happy hour. Eventually we had dinner with them at a nearby restaurant -- nice folks.

We're not sure where we are heading from here. We have been so focused on the show that we have not had much time to give it any thought. There are several items on the calendar that interest us, but, for now, we are going to take things a bit slower and day by day.

1 comment:

  1. The "Campfire In A Can" was a crackup. Can't wait for your consumer's review of it in operation. You changed your service provider for your satellite. Could you provide a synopsis of the pros and cons of the various services you considered? Thanks for the time you take in this blog.


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