Thursday, March 4, 2010

"Relaxing" in Tucson

We are back at the Desert Diamond Casino in Tucson (map), across the train tracks and Nogales Highway from Tucson International Airport.

We rolled right back down here after our Leadership Summit up in the Catalina Hills, since we really did not have any kind of plan about where to head next, and this was the nearest free parking. We thought we'd spend a few days, collect our thoughts, catch up on some much needed rest, and figure out where to go from here. Also, there is the ever-present project list, and I thought maybe we'd tackle a couple in the nice weather.

In the back of my mind I had thought perhaps we'd roll down to Sierra Vista and visit friends there, but, as it turns out, they are overseas. We learned this at dinner with our friend Mark on Sunday night; he actually had the keys to their place, and is staying there for a few days of R&R with his wife. Small world. He drove over here from his Sunday-night digs at an airport hotel, and we had a nice dinner at the steak house in the casino.

Monday we pretty much crashed. We've been busy every day since we left Florida, and the three-day meeting was fairly intense, with barely enough down-time to catch dinner and some conversation each night. In addition to sleeping in, we mostly sat around the house and caught up on email and various web sites we try to keep up with, but couldn't for the last several days. Neither one of us felt like the $17 seafood extravaganza at the buffet, after a weekend of three full meals a day (we usually have a very light breakfast and lunch, but the Red Cross has a way of beating that out of you). Neither did we want to return to the steak house, for the same reason, so we just had a light dinner at the casino's fast-food venue; I had steam-table Chinese, and Louise had a burger from the grill.

Tuesday ended up being one of those project days from hell. Lately, the battery voltage has been dropping to generator auto-start levels after barely 200 amp-hours of use, which is just over a day for us. The bank is nominally 920 amp-hours of capacity, and we used to get 600-700 amp-hours from them before the voltage dropped that far. They are less than three years old, and don't have all that many cycles on them, so this is very troubling, and I've been worried for the last several days that they are finally at end-of-life and will need to be replaced, to the tune of nearly four grand. First, though, I'd have to at least look at them, and perhaps test each one individually.

This is a major job, involving emptying the "tunnel" of all the stuff we normally store there, then removing some dress panels, and finally squeezing my hands and tools into a cramped compartment full of enough juice to kill me, or at least weld a wrench to the frame before burning the bus to the ground. Taking batteries out from their perch over the front wheel wells solo is out of the question, as they weigh 167 pounds each. All of this must be done while huddled in the tunnel over the steering box, between the wheel wells.

The project took the entire day, and, disappointingly, I did not find one rogue battery with a warped case doing dastardly things to the entire bank. In fact, everything looked pretty normal, with the notable exception of a great deal of fuzzy greenish-white corrosion on a single battery terminal and its associated wiring. This happens to be the "mid-point" of the battery bank, where one 12-volt bank of four batteries joins to the other 12-volt bank of four batteries to make 24 volts. Thus is is also where the 12-volt loads connect, as well as the 12-volt output of the Vanner battery equalizer that endeavors to keep both halves of the battery system in balance.

I racked my brains trying to figure out exactly what kinds of problems with this setup would cause this symptom just on this terminal, but I did not come up with a reasonable explanation. I did meter out the Vanner and confirmed that it was, indeed, performing its function of equalizing the batteries. (We lost one of the starting batteries once when, unknown to us, one of the fuses on the separate Vanner for the start bank had blown, causing the lower side of the bank to be overcycled.)

Once I had the whole bank isolated from the loads, charge sources, and equalizer, I also metered the upper and lower halves separately, and determined they were in perfect balance. That would rule out a lone rogue battery that had gone bad -- whichever half of the bank had a bad battery would read low. So all I could do was cross my fingers that the corrosion alone would account for the low voltage condition under load, and address just that problem.

It was tough going in the cramped quarters, but with application of enough 200-grit sandpaper and weak base solution made from baking soda and water, I was able to clean up all the crimp terminals as well as the battery post. I liberally applied silicone dielectric grease to each connector, reassembled, and torqued the post nut as far as I dared, which was a good bit tighter than I found it. I also tightened up all the other battery posts that I could reach without shorting anything. After reconnecting the equalizer, main ground, and solar charge controller, I buttoned the battery compartments back up.

The Link-10 battery monitor immediately showed 8 amps going into the batteries from solar alone. We seldom see this number, because we normally do not have all the loads shut down. It was good to confirm that the batteries were fully on line and the solar was operational with good output (I had cleaned off the panels on Monday, since we were having so much trouble). Unfortunately, one result of having disconnected everything was that the Link-10 lost track of the state-of-charge, so we elected to run a full charge cycle on the generator, even though it was not really needed, Tuesday night.

So far, things seem to have improved somewhat. I won't really know if this had much of an effect until we've had another full charge/discharge cycle, but I remain somewhat optimistic. Even if we just get another six months out of these batteries, that will be a big help. Among other things, it will let me shop more selectively for replacements; when I saw they were running around $450 apiece nationwide, I blanched. We rewarded ourselves with the $10 before-6pm prime rib special in the steak house for dinner.

Yesterday was to have been another day of relaxation, after a morning visit with local blog reader Jim. Our afternoon plan was a nice scooter ride over to Camping World at Beaudry RV just a few miles away to check on replacement chair swivels and some other things. Just before we were to leave, I decided to synchronize my Blackberry with my PC, the first chance I've had since we changed time zones into Mountain Time (more on that in a moment).

Big mistake; since the last time I sync'ed mid-February, RIM released version 4.5 of the Blackberry OS, and my sync application wanted me to upgrade. Knowing most of my data was backed up, and that the upgrade would back it up again, I clicked OK. Somewhere in the last 5% of the upgrade process, however, I got a fatal error, and I've been in Blackberry Hell ever since. That would include three separate calls to Sprint's Blackberry Support, and hours upon hours on the 'net looking up fixes.

Fortunately, the phone did not turn into a brick. It merely reverted to a blank, empty, factory-default configuration. I was able to restore most of my data from the backup, and after calling Sprint the third time I was able to get the phone talking to the internet again. Unfortunately, every third-party application I ever installed on the phone, perhaps two dozen or so, along with its data and settings, was gone.

This was my own fault. I knew it once upon a time, but somewhere along the line I had forgotten that the routine "backups" I'd been doing on the phone saved internal databases as well as the content of my memory card, but not third-party applications. To back those up, one must follow an arcane and unsupported procedure that involves using the "device switch" tool in ways that were never intended.

So I have spent the better part of the last 29 hours or so trying to restore my Blackberry to its pre-"upgrade" state. Although we did take time out for that trip to Camping World this afternoon. Misery loves company, and I had some today; Louise came back from the laundromat ready to throw her cell phone in the trash, or maybe someplace worse. The battery is so done now that she gets maybe a few hours of standby time and a few minutes of talk before its dead, and even plugging it into the charger it sometimes dies in the middle of a call. We'd decided some time ago that there was no point in spending even $15 on a new battery, when her phone is ancient to begin with, and she qualified for a "free" new one long ago.

There was a Verizon dealer on the way to Camping World, and she now has a sleek new Samsung Intensity. This has a full QWERTY keyboard since we now receive the occasional paroxysm of text messages from our pre-teen and teenage nieces, and she's been coveting that aspect of my Blackberry -- texting from a 12-key phone dial is not for the likes of us (read: old).

So here we sit, the two of us intently programming cell phones. I admit to a bit of envy, as her keyboard is much nicer than mine. Also, I'm hard on phones, and, after nearly two years, mine looks like it's been through the wars. However, mine remains the lone data-enabled phone in the household. Louise had to give up her venerable and long-discontinued National Single-Rate plan (the one with analog roaming) in favor of one of the new all-digital plans, to which she added the smallest text bundle.

I still have quite a bit of work ahead of me. The phone crash provided a good opportunity to upgrade a lot of my apps, something I've been meaning to do but putting off. And then there is the matter of the time zones; after getting everything more or less working, I could not synchronize because #@!~ Microsoft Outlook, the only calendar app that the Blackberry syncs with, does weird stupid things to all-day appointments when you change time zones. Argh.

We also now have the makings of a plan. While we've been here, yet another part of the Red Cross has been in touch with Louise to follow up on a survey she took after one of our deployments in 2008. They actually now want her to attend a one-day meeting later this month to discuss improvements, and I'm not invited. The good news is that the front-runner for location for the meeting is Albuquerque, which means we could drive there quite easily. As I've written here in the past, though, we never count on these things until travel orders are issued.

The meeting happens to coincide with the FMCA convention, also in Albuquerque, and so, if that's where we end up going, I will register for the rally. Not only will that give me something to do during her meeting, but it will be a guaranteed parking spot, and there are some vendors I want to check out anyway. Between now and then, we will swing by Phoenix and check up on our restaurant investment there, as well as the forlorn Honda Metropolitan scooter we left there on consignment a year ago.

Since we have nearly three weeks before Louise's meeting, there is no particular rush to leave Tucson. There happens to be a scooter rally here this weekend, and, since it is within our seven day parking pass here at the casino, we've registered for it. So starting tomorrow evening and through the weekend we will be fraternizing with the Vespa set; I'm sure we'll be the oldest folks there. Now if you'll excuse me, we are about to head in to the $8.85 buffet for the second night in a row.


  1. I have been using the Google suite of applications for some time, now. The calendar shows Blackberry sync capability. I have found Google Chrome and the various other Google applications to serve me well, and like working with it better than the Outlook suite. It might be worth a look if you haven't tried it yet.


  2. Kelly Rocket and MojoMar 5, 2010, 11:01:00 AM

    Hi Louise & Sean,
    Kelly, Rocket and Mojo the Eskimo here. I'm with Louise on the QWERTY key pad. Maybe some day I'll update but at this point I'll stick with the "old" style and not return texts. We're heading down the Oregon Coast in May (where we met you a few years ago), Mojo would like to know if Opal would like to see him, Mojo's almost 16 so this may be his last play in the sand of the Oregon Coast. Mojo also say's he's not riding on any scooter at his age.

  3. Man, do I commiserate with you! I dread updates. Going through an update without an issue seems to be the exception for me, so I avoid them as long as I can. This has to be the single longest blog update you have ever done, at least since I've been reading, but I enjoyed it thoroughly. Fortunately I only have 4 8d batteries to worry about, and they are very accessible, but still, just doing routine maintenance on each battery takes a long time, and can be dangerous as you mentioned...I've got a few "weld" marks on my closed end wrenches.

    Safe travels!


  4. Technology is its own animal, and its a wild animal, never quite tamed and can jump out and bite you at any moment. I've used it all and been bitten several times! I switched to "cloud computing" a few months ago with good results. I stopped trying to sync Outlook with every new phone and new Outlook revision. Now I just use gmail and I can access my mail all kinds of easy ways. Use google docs and Windows Skydrive too. Best of luck on your trials. Remember, computers are profoundly stupid (just really fast!).

  5. Sean, I discovered 3 trawlers for sale at eddy creek marina, on lake barkley. I can forward info to you but need some address to forward email. I do not know anything about these boats but might be worth a look.



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