The second week of November was another one of those weeks where we were busy every day from the time I got up until the time we went to bed, but I don’t have a clear recollection of what I was doing each day as I did not always mark it on my calendar. I think that is because I spent a lot of time at my computers working on WordPress websites and installing packages/updates. Some days are very clear, however.
2013-11-08 (F) The “Eyes” Have It
We had managed to snag a couple of appointment times this morning to have our eyes checked by our long-standing optometrist at the Farmington Vision Clinic. Linda’s eyes had not changed very much, but it had been a couple of years since she got new glasses, so she decided to get a pair. I had been experiencing intermittent “wavy” patterns and was a bit concerned about that. The exam did not indicate any issues with diabetes or glaucoma, so that was a relief. The tentative diagnosis was “pre-migraine ocular disturbance” which was interesting because I was not experiencing any headaches, and rarely do. The trigger may be something that I eat, perhaps caffeine or wine, so I may need to keep a food log. Ugh. I like writing about the dishes Linda prepares, but I don’t like “logging” my food intake.
Chuck is in the process of prepping their bus for southbound travel, so I met up with him for lunch. He had also gotten connected to a guy in California whose older brother was living in Michigan when he passed away back in June. The older brother was well known in the Prevost bus community, and had a converted coach stored in the N.E. suburbs of the Detroit Metro Area. The surviving brother needed to deal with as part of his brother’s affairs, and Chuck had offered our assistance on Sunday.
2013_11_09 (S) Schramm’s Mead
But first we had to deal with Saturday, which started with our usual ham radio club breakfast in South Lyon, Michigan. Attendance varies, but we had a big crowd of at least 20 people. After breakfast we decided to drive over to Ferndale and find Schramm’s Mead. I worked with Ken Schramm before I retired from Wayne RESA. He’s still the TV / Multi-media Production Manager there, but outside of normal business hours he is a well-known expert on the subject of mead, having written a well-respected book on the subject, and speaking at international conventions. He and his wife Jean and their daughter Alison have been working for over a year to get Schramm’s Mead open, and that finally happened about 6 weeks ago. They are at 327 W. 9 Mile Rd. in Ferndale, Michigan. The meadery is located in a very “happening” part of town just a short walk west of the intersection of 9 Mile Rd. and Woodward Avenue and should be a good location for them. Parking was plentiful, with both paid and free options. We sampled their complete line of currently available mead products and bought three bottles. I have added a section to the Health & Food tab of this website on Wine & Mead and refer you there for more information about mead and the offerings from Schramm’s Mead. Let me just say here “this is good stuff.”
2013_11_10 (N) Buses & Ham Radio
Sunday found me headed to Chuck’s house near South Lyon bright and early, or at least early. We needed to meet the guy from California at the RV storage lot in Shelby Township, so it took an hour to get there. He was waiting for us, let us in, and led us to the bus. It was a 1997 (~) Prevost XL (40’) Royale Coach conversion with a Detroit Diesel Series 60 engine and 6-speed automatic transmission. It appeared to be in good shape and Chuck and I set about figuring out its state. The chassis batteries had been left “on” and were drained. The house and generator batteries were also “on” but appeared to be in better shape. It did not appear to have much fuel in the tank, but with the chassis batteries drained we couldn’t get accurate readings from any of the gauges. We got the generator started, plugged in the 24V emergency chassis battery charger, turned the house batter chargers on, and set about finding the circuit breakers and switches seeing what worked.
After letting the generator/24V charger run for several hours the chassis batteries showed no sign of coming back to life. We still had enough hours of daylight to do something about it. We located a NAPA Auto Parts Store less than 2.5 miles from the storage yard and gave them a call. They had 8 of the type battery we needed (12V Group 31). We only needed four. We pulled the old ones out of the bus and headed over. By taking the old ones we did not have worry about disposal/recycling of them and avoided a “core charge.” We installed the new batteries and the DD-60S fired right up. That’s was a beautiful thing to hear. The chassis and brake systems aired-up correctly and the gauges all came to life. That’s was a beautiful thing to see.
The bus had about ¼ tank of fuel indicated, or about 40+ gallons, so we decided we did NOT need to drive it someplace to fuel it right that minute. The bus was headed to Staley Coach in Nashville, TN at the end of the week and could stop for fuel early in the trip.
I had a ham radio club meeting at 6:30 PM, and needed to get dinner, so Chuck and I made our exit and headed back to his house. I got home in time to change clothes but not sit down and eat. Linda made sandwiches for us to eat as we drove to the meeting.
Our November ham radio club meeting is a significant one as we elect officers for the coming year. Mike (W8XH) agreed to run for a 2nd term as president, Paul (N8BHT) agreed to run again for Treasurer, and I (K8BRF) agreed to run again for Vice-President. Marty (KB8JIU) did not wish to run again as Secretary, and Harvey (AC8NO) agreed to run for that position, which he has held in the past. There being only one candidate for each officer, the slate was declared elected. The program for the evening was put on by Mike (W8XH) and Steve (N8AR). They demonstrated the use of Mike’s Vector Network Analyzer (VNA) to examine the characteristics of an antenna by calibrating out the effects of the transmission line.
Technical note: Transmission lines have losses, i.e., they inherently dissipate as heat some of the energy they are trying to transfer from a radio transmitter to an antenna. The losses depend on frequency, and if the transmission line is of low quality it will dissipate more energy per linear foot than a higher quality one at any particular frequency. How much energy it dissipates thus depends on the inherent loss, the length, and the frequency of the signal. When a transmitter sends energy through a transmission line it would ideally like all of the energy to reach the antenna, be transferred into the antenna, and cause it to resonate, producing electromagnetic radiation. It never works quite that well in practice. If there is a mismatch between the transmission line and the antenna, some of the energy will be “reflected” back down the transmission line towards the transmitter. However, if there are sufficient losses in the transmission line the reflected energy never makes it back to the radio, which makes the radio think everything is just fine when in fact very little of the energy the radio produces may get turned into useful RF EM radiation. Mike’s VNA allows the user to “calibrate out” the effect of the transmission line and “see” what is actually happening at the antenna. That’s cool, and that’s a good thing to be able to do.
2013_11_11 (M) Odds ‘n’ Ends
Monday was a catch-all day for me while Linda went to Ann Arbor for her regular Monday babysitting duty. I talked to Michele and she was encouraged that she would be able to fix the two expensive body panels that I crunched. I called Prevost and ordered the 3rd panel that she would not be able to fix. It would ship via UPS and arrive on Wednesday. I updated my LinkedIn account and added all three of our phone numbers to the Federal DO NOT CALL LIST, a long overdue chore. I called Adams Well Drilling and Water Treatment to get new whole-house sediment filters and chlorine tablets for the carbon filter unit. We have a sediment filter housing that takes 10” long large-diameter filter elements. They are a spun polypropylene with a dual micron rating; 50 microns on the outside and 5 microns on the inside. It’s like having two filters in one! The 50 micron portion removes the larger sediment that can quickly plug and filter and render it useless, leaving the 5 micron filter to remove only smaller particles. The flow rate through this filter is excellent, and it’s easy to change thanks to the pre- & post-filter shutoff valves Adam’s installed, and the pressure relief button on top of the housing.
We had previously arranged to meet Kate for dinner. Having just seen her in Ypsilanti, we agree to meet at the Zukey Lake Tavern in Pinckney, Michigan. Linda and I wanted to check it out as our ham radio club had decided to go there for our December holiday meeting/dinner. They have a very average salad bar, but I was able to get plenty to eat at it. Linda had a veggie burger. Not a great choice for us as restaurants go, but it will work well for the club.
2013_11_12 (T) Madeline Comes To Visit
Linda had agreed to babysit our grand-daughter on Tuesday so our son could continue working on a presentation for his department at the University of Michigan Ann Arbor. I don’t get to see Madeline as much as Linda does, so our son offered to bring her to our house and work there while Linda and I handled baby duties. Madeline is a busy little girl. She is an accomplished crawler and is working on standing up and walking. She loves her books and toys, and grandma bought some new ones to have at our house for her. She kept us both busy while her dad worked on his computer. He brought her Pack-n-Play and set it up in the bedroom that we have designated for her. She went down for nap right on schedule at 2 PM and slept for ~90 minutes. We got to play with her until sometime after 5 PM when it was time to leave.
2013_11_13 (W) & _14 (R)
Linda had called a couple of weeks ago and managed to get an appointment with our primary care physician for her annual physical due to a cancellation. Her total cholesterol had risen a little from the last visit, which annoyed her given the way we eat, but her HDL, LDL, and triglyceride numbers all looked really good. She was also able to talk to the nurse and find me an appointment time later in the month. I really did not want to wait until late April or May for my next physical.
Thursday morning I went to Chuck’s bus garage to chat with him and our mobile Mechanic, Joe Cannarozzi, who had come in from Chicago to complete some work on Chuck’s coach. Joe had also been engaged by the guy from California to drive the bus to Staley Coach near Nashville, Tennessee on Friday morning and bring the guy back to the Detroit area. It turned out that Chuck needed new brake pads for his tag axle wheels. We were sitting around wringing our hands about how to get those in time for Joe to finish the brake job when I realized that Joe was going to Nashville where Prevost has one of their major factory parts and service centers! Phone calls were made, parts were ordered and put on account for will call, and it was agreed that Joe would pick them up on Friday and bring them back with him. Sometimes bus stories do have happy endings.
I spent Wednesday and part of Thursday working at my computers. Larry (K8UT) is a member of our ham radio club and a very accomplished web designer. He had given me the “key” to getting a local web-server running: LAMP (Linux, Apache, MySQL, and phpMyAdmin). I got MySQL and phpMyAdmin installed on the Linux box but was unable to create the databases I needed in spite of spending time with the documentation. By Thursday evening I still did not have WordPress running on our local web-server, but I was clearly making progress in that direction. Sometimes computer stories have happy endings too.
The first week of November was very busy, enough so that I was unable (unwilling) to do daily blog posts. Covering the whole week in one post makes for a longer post, but probably shorter than seven separate ones.
We were supposed to get our bus back from the shop on Friday, November 1. We didn’t. That meant I could not take it to Phoenix Paint in Edwardsburg, Michigan on Monday the 4th. I was reminded yet again that a true traveler has no fixed plan. With that off the table temporarily, we turned out attention to other things; Ham Radio Breakfast on Saturday, for instance. It was good conversation, as usual, and we finally arranged to have one couple over for dinner in a few weeks.
Saturday afternoon Steve and Karen came over to visit and have dinner. They were not able to attend our open house/warming because they were in Arizona where Steve had made arrangements to hike to the bottom of the Grand Canyon from the south rim and back up to the north rim. Alas, the park was closed and they had to adjust their plans and find other things to do; which they did (true travelers have no fixed plan). We don’t see them very often, so when we do we have a great, long visit. We had a wonderful dinner of enchiladas and Mexican rice, finished off by chocolate cake with raspberry topping made from raspberries that Linda and I picked ourselves at the Middleton Berry Farm back in September. All vegan, of course.
After dinner we looked at some of their photographs (digital) and they looked at some of ours (also digital). Steve brought along a Raspberry Pi computer. It was slightly larger than a deck of cards and had a 16 GB SD Card that served as its solid state hard drive. It had a couple of USB ports, an HDMI port, and some other connections. Steve had a wireless network adapter in one of the USB ports and a wireless keyboard transceiver (Bluetooth, I presume) in the other. We already had an HDMI cable on the TV so he hooked up to that and voila, pictures. He was even able to control the Raspberry Pi using our TV remote! Now you have to admit, that’s pretty cool. We were also delighted to find out that they have spent part of the last few winters in the Venice, Florida area and are returning again this year. We shared our Florida plans and agreed that we would get together.
Sunday we worked around the house and on our computers until late in the afternoon when Chuck and Barbara, our friends and fellow Prevost H3-40 converted coach owners, showed up to visit and have dinner. Although they did make it to our open house/warming we did not get to visit with them very much that day. We talked buses, of course, but we discussed a lot of other things too, including Florida, where they have spent the last six or seven winters, most recently in the Naples area. Again, plans were made to meet while there.
As long as I am on the subject of Florida, we started thinking about extending our stay for at least another month because of potential problems with “seasonal weight restrictions” on the roads around our house. I found out from Phil (of the pull-though driveway) that the restrictions usually go up March 1 and stay up until April 15. Most of the roads in our county, and all of the roads we would have to use to get to our house, are subject to these seasonal weight restrictions but the signs never say what that means. As it turns out, it means a weight limit of 8,400 pounds per axle. Our drive axle (four tires) weighs 20,000 pounds and we have over 7,000 pounds on each of the front/steer tires, so there’s actually no legal way for us to get the bus to our house during that 45-day window. What to do? Stay in Florida for another month! Problem solved. New problem: where to stay? New solution: the same place we are already staying, if they will let us extend our reservation.
Monday came and went without the bus being ready. While this delayed my plans yet again, it also provided more time to work on WordPress projects. I checked on the WordPress Backup To Dropbox (wpb2d) plug-in and it appeared to be correctly backing up all four of the sites I am working on to our personal Dropbox account. That was good to see. I also started soliciting “beta testers” for each of the sites. I continued working with the WP-Members plug-in and it appeared to be functioning correctly to block access to selected pages/posts behind a user login. Given that, I started generating user lists for each of the sites to generate usernames and passwords and keep track of when I have created those in WP and provided them to each user.
On Tuesday Linda was able to extend our stay at Williston Crossings RV Resort until April 1st (no fooling). We will figure out later how to manage our trip back to Michigan so that we do not arrive before April 16. Sometime during the week I received an e-mail from the Prevost Owners Group, to which we belong, that the Prevost Motorcoach Show would take place in Tampa, Florida on January 13 and 14, with a reception hosted by Prevost Car Inc. the evening of the 13th. That sounded like an opportunity to finally meet some folks from Prevost in person, and to admire brand new conversions (that we will never buy) from the likes of Marathon, Millennium, Liberty, Parliament, and Vantare. Sometime during the week it also came to our attention that the Prevost Community group we belong to is planning a rally for the first week of April 2014 at LazyDays RV Dealership in Seffner, Florida! Well Bob’s your uncle. It looks like delaying our return until at least April 16 won’t be that difficult at all.
I needed to make an appointment for my annual physical, so I got on the Henry Ford Health System website. They have a new “feature” called MyChart. When fully functional, which it is not yet, you are supposed to be able to directly book an appointment, and see all of your lab results. But first you have to set up your account. I called the number and got an activation code which I then used to create a Username and Password, and was finally able to log in. The direct scheduling feature wasn’t available for my primary care physician, but there was a “Request An Appointment” page. So I did. I asked for an Adult Physical on Mon., Tue., Wed., or Thu. afternoon between Monday November 25, 2013 and Friday December 6, 2013. Less than 24 hours later I received an e-mail informing me that I had been scheduled for a 1:00 PM appointment for an Office Visit on January 15, 2014. Huh???
I used to program computers for a living, and I used to do systems engineering, and I used to do sales and marketing of these things, and I ended my career as a consultant. This didn’t strike me as bad programming; it struck me as bad policy that got translated into a bad systems specification. So I wrote back to HFHS customer service and told them, as politely as I could, that their system was stupid, that is to say, the policies behind the implementation of their system were not “customer-centric.” If I had wanted an appointment in mid-January I would have requested one. So as of now, I do not have said appointment.
The bus was ready to pick up on Tuesday, so Chuck drove me down to W. W. Williams to get it. I took care of the paperwork and left with Chuck following me in his truck. I no sooner hit the highway than I got a Check Engine Light. It came on and stayed on, so I phoned Chuck and let him know that I needed to turn around and take it back if he was willing to follow me and take me back home. He was, so this we did; my plans further delayed. There are worse things that can happen on this bus; the Stop Engine Light, for instance. This light means exactly what it says, the engine is going to stop and you need to get to the side of the road, now, before it does. I’ve only seen that once, shortly after we bought it. We took care of some key maintenance issues and have never seen it again (and I hope that we never do). I figured I wouldn’t get the bus back from W. W. Williams until Wednesday afternoon at best, so any trip to Edwardsburg was now delayed until Thursday. I called Michele to let her know. She had Pato and Tommy lined up to look at it on Friday, so I was getting anxious to get it down there. But there’s nothing you can do until the mechanics (they are now called technicians) are ready to give it back to you. And frankly, you really don’t want it back until they are sure it is fixed.
While I was gone dealing with the bus, we got a call from Steve (mentioned earlier) wondering if he had left his Raspberry Pi computer here on Saturday. We checked. Yup, it was here. Rather than meet him somewhere, we agreed that he would come back to the house on Wednesday to get it and do some work on our computers while he was here.
Steve arrived late Wednesday morning, Linux “tools” in hand. The principle target of the work was to install Linux on one of our machines and then install/configure the Apache web-server program. This would allow us to have a “virtual web-server” that I could use to build duplicate installations of my WordPress sites, allowing me to develop and test them before making the same changes to the live sites. That sounded cool. Steve has been trying to get me interested in Linux for 10 years but I never saw a real need for it until now. It turned in to an all-day project (of course, don’t they all?) due to the age of the machine we decided to use, but that was the machine I wasn’t using for much of anything else, so that’s where it needed to go. Steve got Linux installed and then installed Apache2. We ran out of time to configure the Apache2 program, but that was OK as it will give Steve a reason to come back.
While we were working on the computers we talked some more about Florida. It turns out that the Capitol Steps are scheduled to appear at the Venice Stage Theater in Venice, Florida at the end of January. Our annual get-together with Steve and Karen has often involved dinner and a performance by this group, which specializes in political satire, much of it musical. They said we could stay overnight at the place they rent for winter in Venice if we wanted to go to the performance, which is at 8:00 PM on a Monday evening. The nice thing about traveling with cats is that you can leave them for 24 hours and they are fine. They sleep for 20 of those anyway.
I checked Wednesday afternoon and the bus was reported as “ready to go.” I decided to pick it up early Thursday morning and head directly to Edwardsburg. That meant towing the car so I had a way home, but it also meant that Linda did not have to drive me to W. W. Williams. That worked out well as she had to head in to the bakery on Thursday anyway.
I sometimes get a bit anxious the night before I am going to drive the bus as I don’t drive it every day and we are still finding a fixing “issues.” I used to experience the same thing when we would book one of the Southgate Flying Club airplanes and go flying. Again, I didn’t fly every day. Does this ever happen to you? As I was drifting off to sleep I suddenly remembered that I had planned to fill the fuel tank at the Mobil Truck Stop on I-96 between Howell and Lansing. But that was based on leaving from home. Now wide awake, I got my iPad, pulled up the map application, and zoomed in on the I-94 Baker Road interchange west of Ann Arbor. There are three truck stops there, two Pilots and one Travel America. I was able to examine each one carefully, checking in/out access and pump locations. I decided the Pilot station on the north side of the highway was my best option. I knew I had enough fuel in the tank to get that far easily, so I was then able to go back to bed and finally fall asleep.
I must have been sleeping lightly because around 4 AM I was awakened by the faint sound of running water. That’s another one of those sounds that will jolt you awake once you become aware of it. The new flapper in the master bedroom toilet wasn’t quite sealed and the water was running ever so slowly trying to keep the tank full. I was finally able to adjust the flapper a couple of days later and get it to seal, but between the truck stop research and the running water, it turned out to be a short, fitful night’s sleep. Not good preparation for a long day of driving.
I would like to say that the trip from W. W. Williams to Phoenix Paint was uneventful, but Check Engine Lights are definitely an event, and I saw ours come on four times. It eventually went off each time, finally staying off after the 4th time; once it’s come on I tend to be a bit on edge wondering when I will see it again (or worse).
I stopped for fuel at the aforementioned Pilot truck stop on the north side of I-94 at Baker Road and pulled in behind a truck at the last pump, or so I thought. I sat there for a while until the driver came out and moved it, at which point I pulled up only to discover that there wasn’t a pump at that position. So I pulled out of the truck stop onto Baker Road, came back in the entrance, and got in line behind a truck that was putting fuel in its tanks. That truck finally moved and I was able to pull up to the pump.
Getting fuel at a truck stop isn’t like putting fuel in your car. The gallons and dollars involved are usually an order of magnitude larger and you usually cannot run a credit card at the pump. I went inside, waited in line, and was finally waited on by a nice woman. I told her I probably needed 150 gallons and I failed to recognize that she ran my credit card for $150. I was only half done washing the windshields (the bus has four) when the pump shut off. It had put in 37.9 gallons for exactly $150. So I went back inside, stood in line again, and had her run the card for another $350. Back outside, I restarted the pump, waited for it to finish, then went back inside, got back in line, and got not one, but two, receipts with the dollars and gallons on them. By the time I got back on the highway the fuel stop had taken about one hour. More delay.
No sooner was I on the road then I got a call from Chuck checking on how my trip was going. That was both thoughtful and reassuring; it’s comforting to know folks are aware of you and concerned for your well-being. In some ways, owning a converted coach makes you part of a “fraternity”, if you care to join. While we were on the phone the Check Engine Light came on for the 3rd time since I had left W. W. Williams. It went off and came on again. I discussed it with Chuck and decided to pull off at MY FAVORITE REST AREA to check the coolant level in the overflow reservoir. (I talked about this rest area in my article in the February 2013 issue of Bus Conversions Magazine. This is the same rest area where I was stranded while Linda and I repaired the patio awning that came loose a few miles earlier on westbound I-94. Ironically, I was on my way to Phoenix Paint at that time as well. I’m not superstitious, but I don’t like unlikely coincidences.)
The rest stop in question is near Grass Lake, Michigan, about 12 miles east of Jackson, Michigan. It’s a very nice rest stop; I just seem to end up stopping here for less than nice reasons. I popped the rear engine hatch, improvised a dip stick, and checked the level in the overflow reservoir. It was up to the bottom edge of the filler tube, so no obvious problem there. I looked around the engine bay for any sign of a coolant leak, but everything looked dry. I took some comfort in the fact that Bob, the service manager at W. W. Williams (Dearborn) had told me that he and the technicians were very impressed with the condition of our engine; that it sounded good and ran well. They’re real experts, so that’s no small thing.
The rest of the trip really was uneventful. The Check Engine Light did not come on again, the transmission shifted well, the cruise control worked properly (as it always has), the engine coolant and oil temperatures ran normal, and the speedometer suddenly decided to work again! I took I-94 W to I-69 S to M-60 W to M-40 S to US-12 W to M-205 W and pulled into Phoenix Paint just a mile north of the Indiana border around 1:00 PM. I’ve done this trip many times, but it was a very pleasant drive with fall colors still in evidence, light traffic, and nice weather.
Michele got me into the building and parked and had me air up the suspension so they could have easier access to the inside of the wheel wells. She and Pato got right to work removing the damaged panels while I hooked up the electrical shoreline, got the house battery charger turned back on, and activated some circuits for the inside of the bus including the auxiliary air compressor. I stopped to look at things and answer questions as I unloaded some items from the car, and then moved stuff from the bus to car that had to return home with me. What started out as a trip to have paint scratches buffed out had become a trip to also find and seal roof leaks and repair/repaint damaged body panels, so Michele and I looked the coach over and discussed the work to be done. I was there about 90 minutes—a really short visit for me and Michele—and got back on the road for home around 2:30 PM.
I had originally planned to spend a few days at her shop working on some small projects of my own, but that was based on a Monday arrival. We had plans to meet up with our friend Kate in Ypsilanti on Thursday evening to see Roy Blount, Jr. at Eastern Michigan University’s Pease Auditorium. I made it home with just enough time to change clothes, but not to eat, and we headed off to Ypsi. We got there just as Kate and her friend Teresa were arriving and got four seats together. RBJr was very interesting to listen too when we could hear him and understand what he was saying. He speaks somewhat softly, and the PA system for the auditorium was not adjusted properly to compensate for that.
After the event we headed over to the Sweetwater Café, just a short walk from the auditorium, for coffee. They had some nice looking veggie rollup sandwiches, so Linda and I had a late/light dinner. We finally got home around 11 PM, a long day for me.
Although my health is better than it has been for the last couple of decades, I do not pretend that I am not in my 6th decade. I can still do the all-day-drive thing, but I am much more tired at the end of it, and it takes me multiple days to recover from it.