Saturday, July 19, 2014

Boondocking Geeks and WiFiRanger

Geeks need electricity, so we’re not all that fond of boondocking. In case you don’t know “boondocking” means to camp in your RV without any hookups – no electricity, no water, no sewer. Some RVers, like Bob Difley, strive to boondock as often as possible. They seek out remote, beautiful places. We only do it as a last resort and end up in parking lots - but it's good to know we can! So, why then did we Boondock 5 out of 8 nights?!
Well, the first 2 you already read about – they were Walmart parking lots when we couldn’t find an RV park with any available spots. We even broadcast our weekly Internet show from one of those Walmart parking lots! Then we had the 3 nights in a beautiful State Park, then it was on to a Harvest Host winery location. Aha! You may be seeing a method to our madness – we do have some priorities that come before computers. Cold Creek winery was a Harvest Host location where we’ve stayed before and we know we like their wine!

Next stop was to visit Kelly Hogan who owns WiFiRanger. This is a device that we’ve used for several years now, and we really appreciate the customer service we get from them. We’ve met Kelley before and knew that his office is near Boise, so before we headed into Idaho we called him up to see if he’d be around. Yep! And there is a gravel lot right next door where we could park if we wanted to Boondock.

Well, OK. With 100 degree weather and fires raging all over Idaho, we had to run our air conditioner. We cranked up the generator and left it running all day. It did cool down at night so we could turn off all that noisy stuff while we slept. We ended up staying a second night because we had such good Internet there! Kelly set up a WiFi access point just for us and we got a lot of work done.
We also got to spend some time learning about his business. The WiFiRanger began primarily as a way for RVers to get better results from campground WiFi. There’s an inside component, and an outside component. The outside component (the ‘Mobile’) is primarily an antenna that pulls in the signal from the campground. The inside component (the ‘Go’) is primarily a router that takes that signal and creates a private WiFi network inside your RV for all your devices to connect to.
We’ve had some discussions about WiFiRanger on our member forums. Here’s a video we did last year talking about the WiFiRanger:

Link to Youtube video.

A “SmartRV?”

In conversation with Kelly we learned more about how the WiFiRanger is being used and it was fascinating. It is becoming the hub of what I would call the “Smart-RV!”
In today’s world, Internet has become a utility just like water and electricity, and many more devices are using it than just computers. Our printers, phones, SmartTVs, Wii and Playstation devices, tablets, picture frames, even some household refrigerators, coffee makers and alarm systems.  This is becoming known as the “Internet of Things.” In a house, where you have one Internet connection and one router, all of these things can be programmed to get to the Internet thru that connection. In an RV, we are changing our Internet connection all the time. The WiFiRanger allows us to approximate the same situation as in a house. Our Internet connection is always the WiFiRanger. It changes what it is connected to all the time, but our devices can just connect to the WiFiRanger.
This is a good thing. We recently bought a Samsung Smart TV. The “Smart” means that it can access the Internet. It can play movies from Netflix, Hulu, or Amazon Prime. IF it has an Internet connection. We program it to get an Internet connection from the WiFiRanger. Then, we don’t have to re-program it when we move.
What Kelly told us though, goes even further. There are engine monitoring devices for RVs which can benefit by a consistent method of Internet connection. Also inverters and other electronic equipment, if they had a consistent method of Internet connection – like a hardwired line of communication – can then be accessed by the manufacturer for troubleshooting. Wow! What a concept. Having trouble with your Smart CoffeeMaker? Just put the pot on the phone with the manufacturer’s tech support and let them fix it! Having trouble with your engine? Call the manufacturer and put them on the direct Internet line to your diagnostics!

Friday, July 18, 2014

Sundance Hike

After our Walmart night, and completing our weekly show, we were able to check into the State Park where we had reservations. What a nice place! Jordanelle State Park. I'd be happy to come here again. The Verizon signal is very good also - it doesn't get much better! Well, the sites could be a bit more level.

The first night we had a little cookout with our friends Tom and Margo Foster who were staying in their townhouse just a few miles away. Then they planned a hike for us the next day!

We started off for the hike by driving to Sundance resort.  Here's the scenery along the way. That's Mt. Timpanagos. Usually, when I know I'm going to someplace scenic, I'll be sure to take my "good" camera. The Canon T3i Digital SLR with the heavy lens that can take very wide angle as well as zoom in (18mm - 135mm) or maybe even the long lens for real (300mm) telephoto pics. But, lately, I've been so happy with the pictures taken by my Samsung Galaxy S5 phone, that I decided to leave the big camera behind. It was a hot day so we had to carry 2 bottles of water each, I wanted to travel as light as possible. So, all these pictures were taken with the smartphone.

We were taking a hike up to Stewart falls. Luckily, most of the "up" was done on a chairlift!

I couldn't have taken this 'selfie' with my good camera!

We walked by massive Aspen groves.

Here's Stewart Falls

May as well take a bit of video too!

After the hike, they took us on a drive up to the Guardsman Pass. First stop was Homestead Crater - it's filled with water that stays at 97 degrees! People take scuba diving lessons here - what a trip! I can't imagine scuba diving in 97 degree water!

Back on the road and going up, up, up. What spectacular scenery! I almost missed my "good" camera with it's wide angle lens here, but then I remembered Panorama mode!

Thanks to Margo, we got a few photos of both of us.

And all four of us!

What a beautiful day! Thanks for getting us out guys!

See more pictures in our monthly photo album.  And, here's Margo's album.

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Sunday, July 13, 2014

The Scenic Route thru Colorado

If you ask Google to take you from Denver to Park City, UT it wants you to drive north to Wyoming and then west on 80. But notice that it does acknowledge some alternate routes that go thru the mountains straight west of Denver. That's what I wanted. The scenic route! What do I care if it's steep grades and curvy? Jim does the driving!

Not only was it steep and curvy, but there was lots of construction and it was raining!

I still think it was worth it. Beautiful scenery! Here's the area near Glennwood canyon.

We planned to find a place to stay somewhere around Glennwood, but no such luck. I found all the campgrounds available using my Allstays Camp and RV app, and tried calling them. All full. So, we ended up in the Walmart parking lot in Rifle, CO. There were "no overnight parking" signs all over the place so we were a bit worried even there. We had some shopping to do so, once inside Walmart, we found a customer service manager and asked about parking overnight. "No Problem" she said. OK. And, here's the view from our bedroom window. Not bad.

The next day we headed straight north out of Rifle. It was a small road, but well maintained. Jim pulled off the road for a delightful lunch stop.

I'm so glad we took the scenic route!

We actually had reservations for our next destination near Park City where we planned to meet up with our old friends Tom and Margo Foster who recently bought a vacation home there. Unfortunately, we arrived a day before our reservation and we were told there were no spaces available at that park. We called around, and everyone was full! So, it was another Walmart night. This time in Heber City, UT.

The location of our production studios for the 3d Episode of our weekly show.

Our main concern was Internet because we had to do our weekly show on Sunday. This was our third episode of "What Does This Button Do?" Pretty amazing that we can produce a worldwide broadcast from our RV using the generator for electricity, our cellphones for Internet connection (Verizon was actually very good at the Walmart!.) We did mess up and not have our sound set correctly though. We talked for over 13 minutes before getting the message that no one could hear us! We've edited that out, and you can watch the recording of WDTBD Episode 3, along with all the other archives at

Our view of the super moon the next morning was made even more super looking out our bedroom window in a Walmart parking lot!

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Friday, July 11, 2014

Wait Wait...Don't Tell Me

By Jim

Chris thinks I should write a Blog post every now and then. I used to write on occasions like my parent's birthdays and anniversaries and things like that. Now they are gone, certainly not from my memory, just nothing new happening with them. Dad's birthday is coming up on the 17th. I miss you, sir.

We, on the other hand have lots going on with us. At least it seems that way to me.
When Chris returned from Florida, we were able to get a site at one of our favorite campgrounds in the country, Golden Clear Creek RV. We wanted to be there because we had tickets to an event at Red Rocks Amphitheater nearby.
Our seats were much closer to the stage

Wait Wait... Don't Tell Me is the NPR Radio news quiz. It's a fun weekly radio show with a huge following. They tape it Thursday nights in front of a live audience, usually in Chicago, but regularly at other venues around the country. We knew they were going to be in the Denver area around the same time as us, so we made it happen. Peter Sagal is the host. There is a panel of three who answer questions about the week's news.

8500 fellow fans enjoying the show

The public can call in and participate to win a valuable prize, Carl Kasell's voice for their voice mail.
Paula Poundstone is our favorite panelist. Tom Bodett and Brian Babylon were the other panelists. Bill Curtis is the announcer and scorekeeper. We have heard some hilarious moments on the show over the years.
If you don't recognize any of those names, you are missing out on some unique entertainment.
The completed show is aired on NPR stations on Saturday mornings. We're usually doing something else at that time, so we have made a ritual of listening to the Internet podcast on Sunday mornings. I'll be talking about the mobile app I use to listen to podcasts on our weekly Geeks On Tour show, What Does This Button Do? Be sure to tune in Sundays at 2pm Eastern time.

This was our second visit to Red Rocks, but the first event attended. Here is the link to the post the last time were were here. It is a great place to see a concert or view an event like WWDTM.
If you are ever in the Denver area, check it out. I know we'll be back.

Chris does a great job chronicling our travels here, doesn't she? I seldom feel the compulsion to write. I do most of the driving. She does all the writing. That's our deal.
Do you think it is better that way?

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Thursday, July 10, 2014

Flowers, Glass, and HDR photos

We got an email from a Geeks on Tour member who noticed that we were in the Denver area and she recommended that we visit the Denver Botanic Garden. When we responded that it sounded like a great idea, she came out to our RV and delivered a pair of admission tickets!  Thanks Karen! It was a very special day. A true feast for the eyes. I just couldn't snap enough pictures! With my good camera (Canon T3i) I took 3 exposures of each shot and let Google+ Photos turn them into Auto-Awesome HDR pictures. But then I also had to take some pictures with my cellphone - a Samsung Galaxy S5 - it does a great job. I'm wondering if you can tell which pictures come from each camera!?

What is HDR? It stands for High Dynamic Range and it means the range of light that occurs in the photo. The primary purpose is to take a good picture of a scene that has very bright areas as well as very dark areas. Here is the explanation we give in our Smartphone Photography workshop.

By the way, we'll be offering our smartphone photography workshop at the upcoming FMCA Convention in Redmond, OR  August 13-16.
My Canon T3i camera does not have a setting called HDR. What you do is use the Exposure Bracketing feature and take 3 pictures in a row of each shot. The first will be 'normal' exposure, the second is underexposed and the 3d is overexposed. I let Google+ Photos automatically upload all the photos to my cloud account and when it notices these 3 bracketed pictures it will use it's "Auto-Awesome" feature to put them together into an HDR photo. Here's an example:

I've written about this Auto Awesome feature of Google+ Photos in my blog. We also have a member tutorial video on Google+ Auto Backup and Auto Awesome.  This process not only gets the exposure right for the dark and light, but because it overlays 3 pictures, it also produces much richer colors. Often the end result looks more like a painting. It's easy for it to get overdone, but it also produces some very pretty pictures!
I knew that many of the HDRs from this day at the gardens would be over the top because the real colors were already over the top. But, isn't it cool?

As always, more pictures in our Web Album for July.