We’re settling in for the winter in Benson, Arizona. Another cold front has come out of the northwest and we’re expecting night time temperatures in the 20′s for the next several days. Heating with electricity is relatively expensive and our rooftop heat pumps (which are our air conditioners in the summer) only work when the outside temperature is above 40.
Our new propane tank being delivered
The propane tank built into our motor home holds 25 gallons. When we’re using the propane for just hot water and the stove that amount of propane usually lasts two months or longer. As soon as we start using it for heating the motor home though, it starts disappearing quickly. We had our propane tank filled about two weeks ago just as the first cold front came through while we were in New Mexico and even though we’ve had a lot of warm days and nights since then it’s just about empty now. I had expected to fill it when we got to Benson but we got here on a Sunday and the local propane dealer was closed. Even if I had gotten it filled however, I wouldn’t want to have to move the motor home just to get the propane tank filled every week or two so I arranged for the rental of a large propane tank for us.
Our new propane tank in place next to the motor home.
It holds 125 gallons of propane and the company that rented it to us will refill it whenever it gets low and we get a lower price per gallon since we’ll be buying it in quantity. This is our first winter in Arizona and although the days are okay (sunny and temps usually in the 50′s and 60′s) it can get cold overnight. I have no idea how long this amount of propane will last, but having this much of a reserve and not having to move the motor home will make dealing with the cold a lot easier.
An arctic blast of air has been making its way to the southwest and midwest over the last several days. We were in Hobbs, New Mexico when it caught up to us. This is mostly my fault because I hadn’t been paying close attention to the weather forecasts, or at least to anything more than the next day’s. We ended up staying an extra day in Hobbs because the forecast had called for freezing rain and I didn’t want to drive our motor home in that. What we got instead was temperatures in the mid-20′s, 20 MPH winds with gusts to 30 MPH and no precipitation at all. But since the weather forecast for the next couple of days included snow we left the next day despite the inclement weather and drove through freezing rain and high winds to get to Las Cruces, New Mexico, where the temperatures at least were supposed to be better. Visibility was poor because of clouds and drizzle and for the most part we drove through pretty flat and arid territory. We did however drive past the Guadalupe Mountains National Forest and what we could see was pretty spectacular, enough so that we’ve earmarked a return trip (when the weather is better, of course) to the area so we can get a better look at them.
It took a lot longer to get to Las Cruces than it usually would have, largely because I had to drive so much of it at 50 MPH or less because of the poor road conditions. Even though it was only 280 miles distance and we left Hobbs at 8:30 AM, we didn’t get into Las Cruces until 4:30 PM. Just before we called it a night I looked outside and it looked like it was snowing, but the light was poor and I wasn’t absolutely sure. This morning it was evident it had been.
The good thing is that despite the snow, the temperature never got below freezing and that by noon all of the snow had melted. So, another year and we didn’t escape the snow, but even if I had looked further ahead at the weather forecasts I doubt we’d have been able to miss it no matter where we went.
We were driving to Hobbs, New Mexico yesterday along the back roads of western Texas when without any warning, the right side of the front window shade suddenly fell down. I pulled over right away and when I took a close look it was apparent the right hand bracket had failed. It looked like it had been sheared completely off right where it bends. I got out the duct tape and taped it back approximately where it started so we could get on our way.
When we got to the campground in Hobbs, I took a closer look at it and found that the controls for the shade no longer worked which was because the wires that powered it were pulled out when it fell. The wires were not well marked (they were all black) but with Susan’s help and a multi-meter I found out which ones controlled the shade. We passed a Radio Shack a mile or so before we got to the campground so I drove back to it and got some connectors and wire and was able to re-connect the shade and get it working again and then re-taped it into position.
The next morning, as I was working on reports, the shade fell again. Apparently I hadn’t used enough duct tape. The wires also got pulled out again but because I had marked them it only took a couple minutes to hook them up again. I double taped the shade and added a zip tie.
Not the prettiest taping job I’ve ever done, but this is in a very tight area that is hard to get at. The zip tie at least should make sure it doesn’t come down again. When we get to Benson I will contact the manufacturer and see about getting a new bracket.
We stayed overnight at an RV park in Tye, Texas which is just west of Abilene. When we left the next morning, starting about 5 miles down the interstate there were windmills on our left. Then there were windmills on our right. And then windmills all around us. Hundreds and hundreds of them.
We drove for close to 50 miles and there were always windmills somewhere around us. This is the biggest wind farm we’ve ever seen anywhere. In some places they were placed in rows that literally went off to the horizon.
The approximate center of all this was Sweetwater, Texas, which bills itself as the Wind Energy Capital of the World and as it appears, rightly so.
We stopped at a rest area that was right next to a number of wind mills. We’ve been near them before and the amount of noise from them is actually quite small. The traffic noise actually drowned out any noise these were making. While other states (we mean you, Massachusetts) have been dithering about wind farms and their local residents have opposed them (NIMBY!), Texas has gone full steam ahead installing them and is currently averaging over 12 gigawatts a year from them.
One of the reasons we came to Waco was to visit the Texas Rangers Hall of Fame and Museum. Since we are still new to being Texans we felt it would be a good experience to soak up some more of Texas history.
It is not a large museum. It has about a half a dozen rooms, most of which were medium sized. The history of the Texas Rangers was presented in more or less chronological order in a couple of the rooms and the rest of the museum had exhibits about individual Rangers and events.
MobileSpiro is a project to develop a personal, low-cost spirometer attached to a tablet or a smartphone. I wrote about it, along with several other similar university projects, about a half a year ago in my blog on Pulmonary Function testing. On Tuesday I got an email from one of the people working on the MobileSpiro project at Rice University which is in Houston. He wanted to know if I would be interested in taking a look at their project at some time, critiquing it and giving them some advice. He didn’t know we were in Texas, let alone only 70 miles away when he emailed. Since we’re leaving Livingston on Saturday, starting the final leg of our trip to Arizona, I made arrangements for us to come and visit Thursday afternoon.
Rice University turns out to be almost across the street from the Natural History Museum that we visited last year and is about an hour and a half drive from where we are staying in Livingston. Guarav Patel, the project manager, met us near where we parked and took us to his lab, which is part of the Electrical Engineering department in a building partly funded by (who else) Texas Instruments. The spirometer consists of a hand-held sensor that is attached via bluetooth to an android tablet. The tablet has some simple software that controls the hand-held sensor and displays the results on its screen. They demonstrated it for me and I gave them advice about what data it should be collecting and how it should be displayed. They are all electrical engineers with no experience in the medical field and the project had been proposed by a faculty adviser a couple years ago. They were glad that I was able to visit because they have not been able to find anybody with real experience in this area who could advise them.
We talked for a couple hours about the device, their plans for it and some of the suggestions I made about integrating it into physician office and hospital data management systems. They asked if I would continue to advise them and I agreed as long as I could do it over the internet. Guarav walked us back to our car and just as we were going by the entrance to the central court, the sun was going down and he took our picture with his cell phone.
Richard and Susan and the sunset at Rice University
Susan and I found a great seafood restaurant about a mile away and had dinner there. Even though it was almost 8 o’clock when we left, there was still a lot of traffic on the interstate which makes me glad I don’t have to commute any more. For me it was a fun trip where I got to talk shop with people who were interested in the subject matter which is not something I get to do all that often. It will be interesting to see where they take this project and what help I can give them in the future.
We made our annual visit to Bay Diesel in Red Bay, Alabama, today. Oil change, lube, new oil and air filters for motor home and the same for the generator. In case you were curious, our diesel engine uses 28 quarts of oil. Bay Diesel does a great job and although it’s a bit out of the way for us to stop by Red Bay as we head to Arizona, we think it’s worth the trouble. Our motor home weighs 28,000 pounds so they don’t use a little rinky-dink car lift to get it up so it can be worked on. There are four mobile electric jacks that they maneuver under the wheels and they are all synchronized to lift together. Somewhat impressive when you see them in action.
Seen while traveling north on I-81 in Tennessee.
It was cold and raw out today so we decided to go somewhere we could be inside. We chose the McClung Museum, which is in Knoxville on the University of Tennessee campus. It is a medium-sized museum with a very eclectic set of collections. It had a room of Southwestern pottery; a room on Egyptian archaelogy; a room about Tennessee Indian history; one on local geology and paleontology with a skull of Edmontosaurus, a duckbilled hadrosaur; an collection of design art from around the world; a corridor display on the Civil War battle for Knoxville; a corridor display on fresh-water mussels and finally a room on human fossil ancestors. Whew!
Susan with a Neanderthal skeleton
All of the rooms were concise and well laid-out. All of the exhibits were well labeled. We’ve been to a lot of museums, so the local elements made sense but we didn’t quite see how the pottery, Egyptian artifacts and the exhibit on human evolution fit in however that’s half the fun of going to museums like these, the unexpected exhibits.
Richard in the Egyptian Room
We give the McClung Museum an A- for handicap accessibility. The entrance and exhibit rooms were eminently acceessible and almost all of the exhibits were easy for Susan to see from her wheelchair. The only minor dink would be that the handicap accessible bathrooms had a short ramp and heavy door that Susan needed help with.
Once again we left New England later than we’d like. This time at least we haven’t had any snow, but the cold certainly caught up with us. We’re in Baileyton, Tennessee about 850 miles down the road from Massachusetts. It was 24 degrees outside when I got up today. We knew it was going to be cold so I had disconnected us from the water and put the hose and filters away where they wouldn’t freeze. When I went out this morning to reconnect them there was frost everywhere. It’s a good thing we filled our propane tank a couple of days ago!
Frosty morning in Tennessee