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Thursday, November 27, 2014

On the road with RV radio communications

Traveling with other RVers is great fun. Staying in touch with one another while on the road, and from "in camp," can get challenging. Yes, most of us have cell phones, but there are areas where cell phones just don't work.

midnightcom on
RVers have used radio communications for years and there are still ways to do it that are easy and fairly inexpensive to get into. Family Radio Service (FRS) radios are handheld two-way radios many RVers use among themselves. These inexpensive radios can be bought at stores like Walmart and Radio Shack. Keeping one at the RV while in camp, then giving another unit to the kids or grandkids can ensure you can call them back in time for a still warm dinner. FRS radios are generally good for fairly short distances, and while we've used them when "caravaning" with other RVers, if somebody drops back or runs ahead, they can get out of range in a hurry.

Friends of ours were using FRS radios when traveling by RV through Portland, Oregon. One of the parties took a wrong freeway ramp, signal dropped out, and it was hours before they got back together.

Other RVers swear by CB (Citizens Band) radio. Years ago, there was a phase where it seemed like everyone wanted to have a CB in their car and talk like a trucker. That was before cell phones became a practical reality. But when cell phones hit, for most CB radios were relegated to the garage sale pile.

A CB will allow you to communicate a few miles with other equipped users. That beats the daylights out of the FRS short-distance fall off. But FRS does have an advantage. With a CB radio, you hear other users, and sometimes the language isn't pretty. FRS radios can be selectively set to allow you to hear the signals of another user set to the same "code." When your buddy with the same code "keys up" or begins to transmit, you'll hear them. Don't mistake this for privacy--other people can hear you, so watch what you talk about.

andertoons on
CB radios have up to 40 channels that can be selected, so if there's too much "traffic" or too many folks using a given channel, you can select a non-used one to carry on your communications. Two channels have specific uses, however. Channel 9 is a designed "Emergency Only" frequency, and in some locations is monitored by police, or even volunteer organizations who help out motorists and others. Channel 19 is the unofficial "trucker channel" where long haul drivers chat and warn one another of trafficproblems (and speed traps). Out West, some drivers use Channel 17, and in California, you may find North-South drivers using 19, and East-West goers using 17. Regardless of channel, not all drivers are proper in their use of English, and many are offended by the language they hear. Doesn't always happen, but sometimes these "bucket mouths" will make you switch off the channel in a hurry.

If you have a CB radio in your rig and leave it on (or "monitor the frequency") you may find it helpful. Say you're RVing down the road and a basement storage door on your rig comes open. A passing driver equipped with CB sees your door flapping and warns you of the problem by radio. They can only do this if they know what channel you monitor; so if you choose to have your radio on, put a sign up in your rig's rear window with the channel number printed on it. Some pick an "off" channel (something other than 19) for their primary channel to monitor, then switch over to Channel 19 if they see a knot of traffic up ahead -- no doubt the truckers will be talking about it.

The "squelch" control on a CB radio allows you to selectively make your CB a little more hard of hearing. Turn the squelch down, you'll hear static noises and a garble of voices. Turn it up, you can tune out the static. Turn it up more, you can deaden the transmissions of all but drivers who are close to you -- like the one that might tell you that you forgot to lower your TV antenna.

CB radios are relatively inexpensive, but they do need a vehicle mounted antenna. If you're handy with tools and running wire, you can probably install an antenna yourself. Some are magnetically mounted and will stick to the roof of your pickup truck. Your motorhome may be a bit trickier to stick an antenna on, but check out Radio Shack stores, or visit the convenience store at a big truck stop and you'll find a huge array of both radios and antennas. You'll sometimes find a CB radio specialist's shop at some truck stops.

Other possibilities for radio communications? Ham (Amateur) radio is another possibility. There are many RV-Ham groups in existence. Ham radio requires licensing, and is a bit more expensive, but it's a whole new world and hobby.

Photos: CB radio--cubwolf (Dave Smith) FRS radio--midnightcomm. Both on

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Too Many Apps? Swiss Army Knife combines several useful tools into one.

2014-11-26 16.35.18by Chris Guld,

Do you have a flashlight app? How about a compass app? Or a stopwatch? A timer? A Bubble Level? When you want to use one of those, can you find it? Do you even remember its name? I use the Swiss Army Knife app all the time, it combines all those tools that I need occasionally into one simple App that is oh-so-useful.

I especially like the magnifying glass. I used it the other day to read the model number from the back of an iPhone. Jim tells of helping someone read the numbers on a tiny SIM card – it was impossible to read without it!

Swiss Army knife is a free Android app and it includes:

  1. Flashlight
  2. Unit Converter
  3. Timer
  4. Stopwatch
  5. Compass
  6. Bubble Level
  7. Calculator
  8. Magnifying Glass
  9. Mirror
  10. Ruler

The model number on the back of an iPhone or iPad case has to be the most difficult thing to read. It makes me wonder why they don’t want you to see it! That model number is very important to look up support on the Apple website. The magnifying glass tool is a lifesaver when I need to read tiny text.


2014-11-26 17.14.27

This is a screenshot of the magnifying glass tool in action. The buttons are (from left to right) pause/stop action, turn on light, focus, decrease magnification, and increase magnification.


  • App Name: Swiss Army Knife
  • Author: Digital Dreams
  • Price: Free
  • Available for Android.
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