Jan 042010

Our friends Ron and Brenda Speidel call me Gadget Boy, because I always want to check out the newest electronic gizmos. But I have an excuse; I want to be able to tell all of our great readers about them, both the good and the bad. At least that’s what I tell Miss Terry when she rolls her eyes at me when I start salivating over some new toy.

I write about the things when I try them out, but I get a lot of questions from readers asking how I feel about something down the line, after I’ve used it for a while. So here we go, we’ll call this the Gadget Boy Report.

Blackberry Storm – I’ve been using this “smart phone” since last summer, and I have a love-hate relationship with it. Being able to access my e-mail anywhere I am during the day, and respond if necessary, is wonderful. The phone saves me a lot of time and trouble with just that feature alone. The text display and keypad are both large enough to read and use easily, unlike many cell phones I have seen. It has features and applications that can do a number of great things that I could appreciate, if I only had the time to learn how to do them.

The biggest downside for me is that the darned phone is almost worthless anytime I’m any distance from a cell tower. The signal is just too weak. At the Escapees RV park in Summerdale, Alabama, we were maybe four or five miles from town, at most. Terry’s cell phone, and the old LG that we use for business calls, both worked fine, but the Blackberry constantly dropped calls and cut out. I also have problems with the display. If you are making a call, you have to jump through a couple of hoops to get the keypad back on the screen in case you need to “Press 1 for English.” Another problem is that, during a call, it is very easy to move the phone in such a way that your cheek presses the Mute button, and all of a sudden, the person on the other end cannot hear you.    

Amazon Kindle – I absolutely love the concept of the Kindle, the Sony e-book reader, and the similar devices on the market. They make great sense for RVers, where weight is an important consideration. They are lightweight, easy to read, and you can store a ton of books on them.

That being said, I sold my Kindle a while back. I found that I just wasn’t using it enough. I love prowling through bookstores, I love the feel of a real book in my hands, and I gravitate to used book stores like a duck to water. Most fiction paperbacks for the Kindle cost about $10, but I can’t sell or trade them after I read them. I can buy the same book for $7.50 to $10 at Wal-Mart, then get ¼ the cover price in trade when I take it to a used book store, or I can pass it on to a friend when I’m finished with it. I also read a lot of non-fiction books, and the quality of photographs, charts and illustrations on the Kindle was very poor.

Silverleaf VMSpc Engine Monitor – This is one addition to our motorhome that I would not be without. Besides providing more accurate information than my dashboard gauges, it monitors our diesel engine’s performance, computes fuel mileage, explains any error codes that might show up, and a lot more. One RVer told me that when his engine was giving him an error code, a shop wanted $3,000 to fix the problem, and the Silverleaf revealed that it was a quick and easy (and cheap) fix. It more than paid for itself right there!

Verizon Air Card – Air cards have pretty much killed the satellite internet industry for RVers. Ours has provided excellent service coast to coast, and there were more times we couldn’t get online with our Hughes dish than there have been with the air card. Coupled with a Wilson Trucker antenna, Wilson amplifier, and a Cradlepoint wireless router, we can both be online on our own computers. It is a hard combination to beat.

Progressive Industries EMS System – The EMS system in our bus conversion saved us from damage a couple of times, and getting another installed in the Winnebago was the first order of business when we bought it. If you don’t have an EMS system, you are playing Russian Roulette every time you plug into a campground’s electrical pedestal.

PressurePro – If you have read more than a few of my blog posts, you already know how much I rely on our PressurePro tire monitoring system. It’s another “must have” for every RV, in my opinion. It can save your tires, your RV, and even your life!

We have a couple of other items that we haven’t installed yet that we want to get to, if the weather will ever cooperate. One is an automatic engine bay fire suppression system from Mac McCoy, and the other is an automatic fire extinguisher for the refrigerator compartment. Both are easy installations, and both can save your RV from becoming a total loss in a fire. We want to get them installed very soon.

Thought For The Day – Happiness is an inner emotion; it is being at peace with who you are.

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Nick Russell

World-Famous, New York Times Best Selling Author, and All-Around Nice Guy!

  16 Responses to “The Gadget Boy Report”

  1. Nick,

    The reason your cheek presses the mute button on your Blackberry Storm is because of all of your tongue in cheek comments.

    Okay. I will now go sit in the corner.

  2. My wife is an avid reader and since we live full time in our 5th wheel, I wanted to get her a Kindle for her birthday or Christmas but she said “No”. She likes to hold the books when she reads and trades them off when she’s done. That was one of the things that we had trouble sorting when we moved into the 5th wheel since she had about 500 mostly hard cover. Sounds like she’s just like Nick when it comes to books and is laughing at me and saying “See, I told you so” now.

  3. A couple more nice thing about paperback books — nearly every RV park has some kind of book exchange. You drop one off and pick up one you haven’t read, and it doesn’t even cost a dime! Secondly, when you fall asleep reading and drop the book on the floor, you may lose your place, but there’s no worry about damaging an expensive piece of electronics!

  4. Great post today, Nick. It will be a good reference for us as we consider new gadgets. Thanks.

  5. The Silverleaf VMSpc Engine Monitor. Well I would love to have this but I have yet to see anyone who sells and installs it.

  6. I have been here at Escapees North Ranch in Congress AZ for almost two months and online everyday using Verizon MiFi without any antenna. This is better service than the Verizon cell phone we have.

  7. Don,

    You can find SilverLeaf on the web. You can call and talk to a tech who can tell you where and how to make the installation. In most (not all) RVs there is an existing connection point to which you connect the SilverLeaf cable.

    The software is a FREE download

  8. Nick could you please explain what the EMS system is.

  9. There is a site called Better World Books – they sell used books, usually around $3.98 with free shipping. And they will take the books back plus pay for shipping! Well worth a look for all avid readers.

    Even better, a donation is made to the World Literacy Fund for each book purchased.

  10. Chris,
    The EMS protects an RV from electrical problems from shore power that could harm components inside the RV, be it low voltage, high voltage, an open ground or neutral, etc. The sysrem monitors incoming power and shuts down to prevent it from reaching your RV if it detects any potential hazards. Here is a link to Daryl Lawrence’s wesite for EMS systems. We got ours from Daryl, and I highly recommend him. http://www.lawrencerv.com/products.asp?cat=3

  11. Nick – thanks for the great blog – I think it is a great reference blog, and you may even want to put a link to a section called RV Gadget on your menu (The one on the left).
    Having a 5th, many of those gadgets won’t work for us, but many others will.
    It would be great if you could add a section for your ‘other’ gadget, like the handheld GPS.

  12. Don, Jim Shepherd sells and installs the Silverleaf System. You can contact him at jim@rvsafetysystems.com

  13. Motty and Patti,
    We do have such a section. There is a link on the left, fourth one under the RV Bookstore ad link. Here is a direct link http://gypsyjournal.net/RV%20Gadgets%20and%20Goodies.html

  14. hi-
    love reading about what you are doing- gives us more ideas! is that good or bad ???
    could you please give more details about the Wilson Trucker antenna and amplifier so when we head west this spring we will get better service with our Verizon phone and data card.
    thank you
    drive safe

  15. The antenna mounts on the roof of the RV and a cable goes from that to the amp inside. From there a cable goes to the air card. If we are in an area with 1 or 2 bars and plug it in, we jump to 5 bars. We got it all from the 3G store at http://www.3gstore.com

  16. Nick,

    I just got a new “gadget” that you would enjoy – an iPod Touch. I bought it to give to my son for Christmas, but the rascal bought himself an iPhone a week before Christmas when his Blackberry died. By the way, he had the same problems as you with the “phone” part of the Blackberry where he missed many calls or had weak signal. Anyway, since the iPhone has all the same features and more of the iPod Touch and the iPod could not be returned since I had it engraved, I decided to keep it. Boy I am glad I did, I love this new “toy”.

    The iPod Touch of course has all the standard features of my existing Classic iPod. You can copy and store tons of music CD’s. We keep ours plugged into the RV’s radio system and enjoy music all day. While traveling we listen to recorded books we have downloaded to iTunes and the iPod from Audible.com. I have an annual subscription to Audible where I pay a flat fee, I think around $150, for 12 downloads. With that membership I get lots of offers for books at prices around $5.00 or buy 2 get a third free, etc. I only buy the full length version which are so much better than the shorter abridged versions you can rent at Cracker Barrel, etc. I listened to books during my daily commute to and from work for 20+ years. You become absorbed in the story and the miles and time seem to fly by. Right now we are listening to Vol. 3 of Shelby Foote’s narrative history of the Civil War. We decided we wanted to know more about the Civil War after visiting Gettysburg earlier this summer. Shelby Foote was an outstanding writer and this is not dry high school history. (Plus he was born in my home town of Greenville, Mississippi.)

    Back to the iPod Touch. You can download all the applications available to the iPhone. You just have to use a WiFi connection, which we do via our Verizon MiFi. I really did not understand what the deal was with the applications before I got the device. Now I am hooked. Here are a few useful to RVers. Once downloaded (a simple operation) all are accessed with a single touch of an icon:

    * “Accuweather” – forecast details for your current location or any other places you choose.
    * “Web Albums” – Quick access to my Picasa online web albums so I can show friends pictures of places we have visited
    * Your daily Blog
    * Google or other Internet search engines
    * Google mail or other mail services
    * “Planets” – Star charts so you can find constellations and certain stars on those starry nights we all enjoy
    * “Peterson’s Backyard Birds and Birds of Prey” – Detailed bird guides so you can identify that new bird you saw on your walk in the woods
    * First aid guides
    * “SleepMachine”, “WhiteNoise” and “Naturespace” – Recorded nature sounds to help you fall asleep. (I like the quiet rain with some crickets and frogs in the background)
    * Many sources for new recipes (although Terry could write her own app)
    * “RV Companion” to help you organize lots of details related to RVing and Camping
    * “Harvest” gives you information on how to pick the best fruits and vegetables when shopping at the grocery store
    * “Amazon Kindle” – you can download books to read. No need for the Kindle. My eyesight is not that great for reading, but so far I have had no problems reading the iPod. Plus it is simple to expand the screen if needed.
    * “Stanza” – more books to download – besides paid books, thousands of the old classics are free – like Sherlock Holmes, books by Charles Dickens, etc.

    The following are probably best suited to the iPhone where your current location is constantly known based upon the cellular signal. However they can still be useful on the iPod as long as you have a WiFi signal:

    * You’ll love this app title, “Sit or Squat”, which tells you all the public restrooms near your current location.
    * “Rest Stops”, which tells you where nearby rest stops are located
    * “Truck Stops”, which tells you many details about upcoming truck stops along the way. All of the information is of interest to Truckers and some is useful to RVers.
    * “AroundMe” and “My Local”, quickly give you an index of nearby locations such as ATMs, Post Offices, Pharmacies, Grocery Stores, etc.
    * “USPS Mobile” also tells you nearby post office locations and a lot more postal information
    * “Hear Planet” has recorded information about numerous places in the US and gives you a map of your current locations with markers of sites with recorded information

    I have many more apps loaded on my iPod Touch but hopefully this gives you an idea of what is available. Many apps are free. Some are the “lite” version so you can sample the app to see if you want the paid version. So far I have spent a total of $20 to $25 downloading apps. Most are just $1 to $2. I have seen one or two that are priced as high as $50, but these were of no interest to me. Most of the “expensive” ones range for $5 to $10. I think $5 is the most I have paid. These were for the two detailed bird guides, but these have so much information I felt the prices was very reasonable. Same for the first aid guide.

    So Nick, look for someone who has an iPhone or an Ipod touch so you can see all this first hand. I bet you will want to get one for yourself.

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