Monday, April 29, 2024

Duck, NC

Monday - This is the view from the upper deck (this suggests the existence of a lower deck) of the Atlantic. There is a walkway out to the beach and I think I’ll be venturing out there later. I may have to do a Zoom session out here…

This is looking north. Nothing negative I can say about it. Thank you to Bridget’s brothers family for the opportunity and invite! We are here for a wedding at the end of the week. 

And, I guess, streaming shouldn’t be an issue…

After picking up some groceries, we went to Duck Donuts. No pre-made donuts here! They are made-to-order. 

I couldn’t resist a maple-salted caramel with bacon topping. It was delicious! Probably way too much sugar.

I'm out of the lower deck getting ready for a test. The WiFi signal is decent here though not quite as good as in the living room. On this deck level is the unheated pool and the hot tub. I just turned up the temperature from 95°F to 102°F. It should be ready in a couple of hours.

Nice place for a Zoom call test session! It was too sunny and warm on the upper deck at least for the morning session.

Saturday, April 27, 2024

Irving, TX

Saturday - Today we drove to Dallas as we fly out tomorrow morning to Virginia. We are actually headed to North Carolina but the closest airport was Norfolk, VA. The destination meant that the “best” flights were out of Dallas which was a six hour drive from Hondo. By “best” I mean direct, only one flight. If we left from San Antonio, we would’ve flown west then change planes before heading east. This was simpler. The picture is one of the really nice rest areas. This one is between Waco and Dallas. 

We will be trying out a new car rental option on this trip called Turo. Car rentals have gotten very expensive. We are renting a car from an individual rather than a company. When we were in Florida, Dave and Ginny rented their car through Turo and they have used the service multiple times. And they reported good experiences every time. 

The handy restaurant to the hotel was the Red Lobster. The standout dish, for me, was the crispy brussel sprouts. Fantastic dish. I need to figure out the recipe. 

Sunday - We are sitting in the airport with multiple weather delays. Almost two hours so far…

Thunderstorms came through in the early morning hours. At least it cooled off. Only 64°F this morning. 

Here is why the flight is delayed. This is our plane route from Austin to DFW. It needed to wait for an opening in Austin as well as the weather to clear in Dallas. This is cool website. It gives me something to do while cooling my heels in an airport.
If nothing else, the WiFi at the airport was really fast. But I still don’t care for flying…

We met some friends for dinner in Norfolk then drove to Duck, NC. This is crossing Currituck Sound on a bridge on our way to the beach house.

Friday, April 26, 2024

Back in D’Hanis - SKP

Wednesday - Muggy but not too hot, yet. It's still only 11:30am but I'm not going to complain about 75°F! The low temperature was 69°F so the rear A/C was left running. The park is emptying out so maybe the AT&T cellular bandwidth will stay reasonable. The morning test session seemed to go fine so I volunteered to lead the afternoon test session.

There were still occasional audio glitches but it seemed to work and didn’t interfere with the test. After my positive experience with Starlink, I’m tempted. 

I tried "fried chicken" in the air fryer. Less than satisfactory results. It was okay, it did have a crust, but no where near as good as pan fried chicken.

 - Another warm day today after last nights low temperature of 70°F! It doesn't feel as humid today as it has on other days. I signed up for the early test session but the candidate rescheduled for next week. Oh well…

I dropped off an Amazon return at the closest UPS store which was most of the way into San Antonio. I took the Ural and it was a pretty warm ride and right around 100km round trip. Lots of traffic. But not too many Ural riding days left before we head north. The A/C in the RV felt pretty nice!

Friday - Speediest results aren't quite as fast as it was yesterday morning but good enough to participate in testing. It's another muggy day with both temperature and humidity in the upper 70s. It's overcast so not horribly hot sitting in the sun. We are packing up, getting ready to head out to the Outer Banks in NC. I have not been there before and really looking forward to visiting Kitty Hawk. 

Tuesday, April 23, 2024

Mustang Island SP - TXSP

Monday - We will miss our friends as they begin their summer road trips. I believe that they are roughly traveling together for a while until mid-summer. Last night, I had dinner with the Marx’s at a seafood place in Port Aransas. I was finally able to get a decent amount of oysters which is one of my favorites seafood items.

There was wind and showers this morning again. One thing to remember about the coast, it’s always windy. Since we didn’t need any more water, I went ahead and repacked the hose, regulator, filter, and water softener. We arrived with the SeeLevel fresh water level at 51%. I’m guessing that this is about 70 gallons. We are still at 20% which is around 30 gallons. We even ran a load of laundry this morning. 

By noon we had new neighbors on both sides of us. The site on our passenger side is a primo site due to all the extra space from the electrical boxes. Unfortunately, they have yappy, small dogs but we are leaving tomorrow morning heading back to Hondo.

We had dinner at Grumble’s Seafood Co., the same place I had dinner yesterday with the Marx’s. Oyster po’ boy. Delicious!!

Tuesday - Today was a travel day back to the SKP park in Hondo/D’Hanis. It was just under 200 miles. We arrived back around 1pm and within an hour we were all set back up. The RV ran great.

I went into Hondo today to pick up my birthday freebies from Starbucks and Whataburger. Not a lot but the price is right. There are still a few more freebies but they don’t need to be collected today.

Sunday, April 21, 2024

Mustang Island State Park - TXSP

 - Most of our group is spending at least part of the day at Sandfest, a sand sculpture event in Port Aransas, which is around 10 miles south. I opted not to go as they only had a full event ticket and no one-day option. It's windy, and sprinkling so I think I like the "stay-at-home" option. The pano is the view from the back of our RV site. These are the dunes between the RV sites and the ocean.

I signed up for the afternoon test session and just got off the phone with the candidate. This will be an easy one. (famous last words!) The Starlink connection has been consistent. 

I took advantage of the time, and bandwidth, to fix an error on the ESP32 microprocessor. It has been reporting a potential problem with my choice of GPIO input I selected a couple of years ago. I switched to GPIO4 from GPIO5 as I was using a pull-up resister on the temperature/humidity sensor. The error message no longer comes up and I'm curious if it fixes some other instabilities.

I was digging through photos and noticed that I had some from the D'Hanis brickworks. It's an interesting site with several dome-shaped kilns which are shown in the next photo. I like the contrast of the red bricks with the dark blue sky. And the blue Ural.

Sunday - A much cooler day today. It was windy all night with some occasional showers. Today's high is only 70°F. Still humid at 92% but it didn't feel muggy. The others in our group are leaving tomorrow beginning their summer travels. We will be heading back to the SKP park on Tuesday.

Friday, April 19, 2024

Mustang Island SP - TXSP

Tuesday - This was a travel day from Hondo to just past Corpus Christi. Most of the drive was hot and humid in the mid-80s (°F). We arrived here around 1:30pm and found our reserved spot with water and electricity (50amp!). It was overcast and windy for most of the afternoon.

I'm told that there was a pretty strong headwind and, I'm pleased to say, I didn't even notice it. No problem maintaining 63mph and even speeding up to pass vehicles. 

Wednesday - The highlight of the morning was going to the H-E-B+. The store was huge with a very nice produce section. The temperature and the high humidity make me want to sleep all day. Or stay inside the A/C...

The RVs on each side of us are friends. Bridget has been planning this trip with them for a while.

I tried participating in a test session and the Internet was so flaky that it was almost unusable. At one point, the upload throughput was only 20kbps. Dialup speeds. I dropped out of the session.

Thursday - RMarx let me attach to his Starlink router. I'm in the Zoom session right now and it is working much better. No freezing video, no disconnect and reconnect, and the video is nice and smooth. 

Friday - After making coffee, I finally walked to the beach. There was a nice breeze from offshore so the temperature was pretty nice. 

We then drove south to the Padre Island National Seashore. They had a visitor center so I could get a stamp in our national park book. The beach was almost deserted and was also windy. I'm finding the humidity makes me really tired...

Monday, April 15, 2024

Getting Ready - SKP

Sunday - Another warm, muggy day. We need to get the RV ready to travel again. I noticed that the air intake hose had come loose again. It is a large, flex hose from the air cleaner intake to a large air box built into the rear fiberglass cap. This allows cooler, air from outside the engine compartment to be brought into the engine. Cooler air, higher density, slightly more power. I don’t know when the hose came off as I usually don’t look up when checking the engine oil. It went back on with less hassle than the last time I needed to put it back on. 

I also put my most of my tools back into the RV. I feel more comfortable having them with me while traveling. Overall, we probably lightened the RV by at least 500 lbs due to stuff being left in the shed. We are only going to be gone for a week. Most of our basement storage is about a third full. I still have a few more chores to do before we can take off. 

Monday - More “getting ready” tasks. Added air to the front RV tires to 110psi. Disconnected the bulk propane line. Put the TPMS sensors on the Jeep. Installed a 20A/40A switch to the DC-DC charger (I’ve only run it on 20A as we rarely need charging from the engine). Brought in the two potentially problematic slides (no problems). Switched the basement freezer to run off of DC. Filled the fresh water tank about half full. Rolled up the window awnings. Removed the ladder extension from the back. Removed tire covers. Pack the folding chairs and tables. Move the dash cam to the RV. Clean and pack up the Blackstone.

All that’s left is dumping the tanks, windshield sun screen and driver side Reflectix, disconnecting water and power, and pulling in the last two slides. 

I’m sure we are forgetting something. But that’s why we are starting early.

Saturday, April 13, 2024

Tour de Castroville

Friday - Actually rode the Ural a bit yesterday to pick up some stuff to support the Tour de Castroville bike ride tomorrow. I need a clipboard to hold the paperwork I'm supposed to be filling out during the event and some paper to record the bib numbers of the riders as they ride through the checkpoint. 

We had a pleasant surprise yesterday. A colleague and friend from Fairbanks stopped by. WalkerW grew up in the area and was in San Antonio for a work-related conference. The conference ended so he is visiting friends and family. We had a great visit, went to the local steak house for dinner, and he drove us around the area showing us where he grew up. It really was a surprise as I had known Walker since the mid-90s and he was one of the most technically competent IT individuals at the university. Bridget taught his kids at the elementary school so there was a lot to catch up on.

This morning, while waiting for the morning test session, I played around with APRS some more. Since the Anytone does have a GPS, I set it up to beacon my location. The radio GPS is -5 and the phone GPS is both the blue dot and the -4. The -5 location is off by about 100'. The -4 differs from the blue dot since I've been walking around and the phone is connected to the TNC via BT. 

RMarx and I traveled the bicycle route this afternoon and tested our radios making contact with the Castroville repeater. Since I only have a handheld 2M radio, they switched our locations. I’m now at rest stop #1. It’s in a much more open location and I didn’t have any problem hitting the repeater even with just the regular antenna on the handheld. 

Saturday - The event started early-ish as I was at the rest stop around 7:45. Initially, I set up on the west side where the bikes came in on their way around the loop. But I moved to the east side and recorded the bib numbers as they left the rest stop. 

There were 250 riders but I missed at least a quarter of the riders as I couldn’t read the numbers. I was out there until around 1pm. Pretty warm day but it was a fun, community service activity. The ham radio club gets community service credit. 

Afterwards, we met back at the park in Castroville for a discussion on what should be changed for next year. 

We went to Whataburger, a Texas fast food chain. Their smash burger is pretty good (in my opinion). Plus, they have sugar free lemonade which I mix with unsweetened ice tea.

Wednesday, April 10, 2024

Post Eclipse - SKP

Tuesday - It's kind of quiet around here today. Many of the visitors when came for the eclipse have left. BTW, it is scattered clouds with quite a bit of blue sky today. One of the other VEs took this eclipse photo in Maine yesterday. He said that they had unseasonably cloudless skies.

A new ham radio project arrived yesterday. This is something that I've been curious about ever since I got my license. I picked up a Mobilinkd TNC (terminal node controller). It is a small device that has an internal rechargeable battery and connects to my handheld radio in the audio ports with a special cable. The connector has PTT (push to talk) connections as well. And, it connects using BLE (Bluetooth Low Energy) with my phone. There are two applications I'm interested in trying. Winlink and Winlink is an email client and is a location posting and receiving app. Both give you the option to use the TNC for transport. For APRS, you just tune the radio to 144.39mHz, the North American APRS frequency, and the app will send out periodic position information over VHF.

I already tried the Winlink app using telnet as a transport and verified that my email address ( works. The nearest Winlink stations are in San Antonio and Kerrville. A bit far for my VHF handheld. 

Wednesday - This morning, I replaced the tube in the rear of the Ural. The screw did quite a number on the old tube. Ripped a huge hole and the valve stem was pulled out. Fortunately, I have several spare tubes. 

   After replacing the tube in the pusher, I rode out to my checkpoint to see if the radio worked on the Castroville repeater. I could hear the code identifying the station but never got a response to me “radio check”. But APRS worked and I could hit the Hondo repeater easily. And the Castroville one was even closer. 

It was pretty windy on the ride. Headwind and crosswind on the way back to the RV with some pretty significant gusts. So I stopped for lunch in Hondo at my new favorite fast food place. Whataburger. Tasty smash-burgers with plenty of veggies. 

While I was having lunch, I thought about the torn out valve stem. I didn’t remember actually looking at the valve stem. After arriving back at the RV, I removed the pusher, removed one bead and the inner tube and searched for the valve stem inside the tire. I’ve had enough practice over the years that it only took about 15 minutes. 

Found it…

Monday, April 8, 2024

Total Eclipse 2024 - SKP

Monday - The day started out with breakfast so I was in the clubhouse at 6:30 making sausage patties and eggs for breakfast biscuits. The RV park had several events such as this presentation by a NASA educator. She was a daughter-in-law of our neighbors. The ham radio club had numerous members scattered around the area and reported using the local VHF repeater. There were some reports of heavy traffic and full parking lots in a few areas. Several of us shared one tactical ID as we were all sitting in the same area. We had 100% cloud cover for most of the day. 

But it did get dark at the predicted time. And, it was amazing how quickly it seemed to transition to dark. It did cool off during totality. 

Here is the output from our solar panels during the eclipse. 

The special dinner was pulled pork with all the standard sides. A couple of days ago, they made the smoked pork on the parks smoker. It smelled fantastic for several days after wards. 

After dinner they had karaoke and door prizes. I stuck around for a short time just to be sociable. 

Sunday, April 7, 2024

Misc - SKP

Friday - This morning, I met with a couple of folks from the local ham radio club as I had volunteered to help with the Tour de Castroville, which is a local bicycle/walk/running event a week from tomorrow. Since I had never volunteered with them before, they wanted to make sure I knew what I would be doing and what to expect. I will be at one of the rest stops along the bicycle route keeping track of bib numbers and reporting them over the radio. And monitoring the frequency if they need to contact anyone at the rest stop. There will also be someone there with Winlink set up. This is an email setup that uses radio as the transport to an Internet connected gateway. 

I’m interested in getting Winlink set up as there is now software for the iPhone that connects to a BT enabled TNC. Next week’s project…

The upcoming eclipse is the “big deal” around here. We are right in the path of totality so, if the weather cooperates, it should be a nice view. The current forecast is for clouds and rain so it’s wait and see time. Visitors are scheduled, meals and events are planned. My only role is helping out in the kitchen on Monday morning. 

The weather channel forecast is for clouds on just about the entire path. Maybe that’ll keep folks away from this area.

For dinner, I prepared one of my favorites. Carnitas and had it in tacos. There is enough leftover for at least one more meal. 

Saturday - I rode the Ural to the monthly ham radio meeting. Because of events this month, the meeting was held a week early and moved to the small town of Lacoste. It was a 60 mile round trip which makes it the longest Ural ride this year. It was a nice, relaxing trip. After the regular meeting, I stuck around to be a VE for their in-person test session. I haven’t done an in-person test in almost four years. It was definitely different. 

I also met the folks I will be working with next week on the Tour de Castroville event. To get ready, I dug out the programming cable for the Anytone radio to program in the Castroville repeaters and re-setup APRS. Dave gifted me with his homemade antenna for the Anytone HT. It seems to be slightly better than the Nagoya NA-771 that I’ve been using. I can actually hit the Hondo UHF repeater from inside the RV. 

 - Here is a “leftover” project from back in Fairbanks. I installed an NMO antenna mount on the Ural box. It’s a ½ wave antenna so no ground plane is needed. I couldn’t reach the local repeater with the HT but I can with this antenna. I had this antenna mounted on the truck before but had a more powerful dual-band radio (50 watts). I still can’t believe reach the APRS gateway as I think the closest one is around 18 miles east near Castroville.

I think I have APRS configured correctly. To test, I had it send out a beacon every 30 seconds. I then rode out on 90, took the back road through town, and went a mile or so out towards Castroville. The track matches my path. After returning, I changed the APRS intervals to very infrequent updates. 

After turning around on 90, I picked up a screw in the pusher. Switched to the spare while RMarx, who was on his way back from the Dallas area, made me more visible. It took maybe 15min to put on the spare. It’ll take me much longer than that to patch the tube. Sounds like a project for this week.

Wednesday, April 3, 2024

Busy Week - SKP

Happy Easter - There was an Easter dinner here at the park today. Lots of tasty food and wonderful company. Needless to say, no dinner this evening. It hit over 83°F today and it felt pretty muggy. Tomorrow, it’s supposed to be in the low 90s. 

Upcoming projects are Dicor around the front solar mounts and the front cap, rv tire air pressure, water softener regen, Jeep oil change, and generator maintenance. It’s going to be a busy week.

Monday - First thing this morning, I took the Jeep to the Quick Lube place in Hondo. They were fast, efficient, and friendly. One task is done. After picking up some groceries, I started to work on the next task. The stud extractors that I picked up on Amazon worked like a charm. I was worried that the brass drain plug would just shear so I used a torque wrench to limit the torque. I started out at 60 ft-lbs and it started to turn before that. The oil is draining while I'm preparing for the morning test session. I changed the oil filter but I’ll hold off on the fuel filter so I don’t get diesel fuel all over my hands. (See the following paragraph) I need to reread the manual to find the air filter access.

Bridget volunteered to do a presentation on sous vide cooking. This translates to both of us doing a presentation on sous vide cooking. On Saturday, I picked up some boneless skinless chicken breasts at H-E-B and seasoned them with salt, pepper, garlic, and two different dried herbs blends. I just started the sous vide in the clubhouse and it should be done shortly after the presentation starts.

Tuesday - We had quite the storm blow-through last night. Lots of wind, lightning, and thunder. There was a weather warning of possible hail but I don't think we had any.

The presentation was well received with quite a few questions. And the chicken that I cooked as a demo turned out pretty tasty. 

Today was a busy day. I finished up the maintenance (air and fuel filter) on the generator. Started it and ran it for 15 minutes. While I was at it, I started and ran the RV engine for 15 minutes. Regenerated the water softener, emptied and flushed the black tank, and Bridget's newly ordered combo washer/dryer arrived.

Thank you to RMarx for his willingness to help get the old combo unit out and the new one in. The combo unit is 150lbs so it's not an easy move. It's now installed and the first load is running.

Wednesday - I had an appointment at the local clinic here in Hondo. Just an initial setup of the paperwork and get some baseline and history. I need to go back tomorrow morning for some lab work.