By Janet Groene, F47166
Find radio frequency, food safety, and data storage info via the Web; forum members provide communication, coach selection, and security advice.
When it comes to finding information quickly, a full-timer’s best friend is a computer with Internet access. Check out these Web sites the next time you’re online.
Tuning In. To find the best local radio stations no matter where you roam, go to www.radio-locator.com and enter the zip code for your current location. The site lists the type of station, the frequency, and how strong a signal you can expect at that zip code. Satellite radio is a boon to full-timers, but don’t miss the special flavor gained by hearing local news and weather. It’s also fun to read small-town newspapers to get the “insider” scoop.
Free Advice. Help is only a click away when you need answers to questions about food preparation or food safety. Go to www.AskKaren.gov. One offering on the Web site is a series of brochures aimed at food safety for at-risk groups such as people with cancer, diabetes, or HIV/AIDS; older adults; and transplant recipients. The free brochures also can be ordered by calling the USDA Meat and Poultry Hotline at (888) 674-6854 or sending an e-mail to email@example.com.
Where can you find the best fuel prices? How can you buy surplus government property? The government’s consumer Web site has been revamped and is now found at www.usa.gov. With patience and persistence you can find answers to almost any consumer question.
Safety Deposit In Cyberspace. Backing up the information stored in your computer is only as safe as the place you store the drives or discs onto which you copy the data. You might, for example, back up with DVDs or flash drives and then keep them in the towed vehicle or send them to a loved one. One simple solution is to sign up with a remote service that keeps your data for you.
What do you need to know before choosing a backup service? According to a company called Data Deposit Box (www.datadepositbox.com), here are several questions to ask before choosing an online backup service:
- How secure is it? Your bank probably uses 128-bit encryption. Is the security level for the backup service as good or better? (With Data Deposit Box your data is 448-bit encrypted before it leaves your computer.)
- Is the software easy to install? Many systems were designed to be used by information technology (IT) experts, not by ordinary folks.
- Is your data backed up continuously as you work or must you upload manually? Unless you’re always online, continuous backup is impossible on the go.
- Does the service store only one version of each file or can you retrieve an earlier version of the same file?
- Does the service back up the entire file each time, or just the changes?
- Can the service handle interruptions during transfer or must you start over if there is a glitch while uploading?
- Does the service delete files automatically or ask your permission first?
- If you do work on both a desktop unit and a laptop, can you back up more than one computer for the same price?
- How complicated are capacity limits? With a pay-as-you-go system, you pay only for the amount of storage space used. If capacity is limited, delays may occur if you go over your limit.
- How easy is it to access your data? Some companies allow access only from the subscribing computer. Others allow access from anywhere as long as you have a password.
Full-Timers’ Forum Feedback. This month’s feedback is packed with forum members’ responses concerning ways to stay in touch, what folks deem necessary in a full-timing motorhome, and more.
What new technologies do you use to keep in touch? Len Lofthus purchased a DataStorm satellite system manufactured by MotoSAT and uses HughesNet broadband Internet service. “We also use AOL on this system,” he reported, noting that he keeps the MotoSAT upgraded with the latest equipment and software. “We go to Mexico and want to have Internet capability there,” he explained. In addition to the initial cost of the dish, equipment, and software, he pays $79.95 monthly and also is charged for his AOL service.
Mark and Carol Feld wrote: “Just newly retired and learning the ropes for paying bills electronically, I found that a new e-mail address is the key. This address is used only for my bills and for investment information. It is clean, and it doesn’t get all the advertisements. I use Gmail (Google’s free Web-based e-mail service) as it has all the perks and it has unlimited storage. I don’t have to delete anything at all.
“I pay all bills through my bank but don’t like to use automatic bill paying. I prefer to keep my finger on that process. I pay the bills and tell the bank when to release my money so all bills are paid two working days early. If my bank doesn’t have an auto-pay set up for a bill, the bank will pay to send it through the U.S. Postal Service. I like to use all features of my bank. When the bank pays a bill they shoot me an e-mail with all the confirmation info. I save it in my Gmail account. Google is a great company to use for e-mail, voice over the internet (VOIP), and instant messaging.”
What are the three most essential features you’d advise a first-time full-timer to look for in a motorhome? Frank and Connie Madia wrote that number one on their list is having satellite TV. “The full timer’s quality of life increases tenfold when both members of the family can watch their favorite shows,” they explained, also noting that they record their favorites. “We lived without satellite TV for the first four or five months we full-timed, but have to admit that life is much better with it.”
They also recommended that folks look at the amount of counter space in a motorhome. “Our first RV was a smallish type C with virtually no counter space,” Connie said. But as a part-timer she didn’t do much cooking from scratch. Then, when they upgraded to a type A coach for full-timing, they didn’t consider the need for additional counter space, which she now regrets.
Finally, they advised folks to look at the coach’s cargo carrying capacity. “As we travel and talk to other full-timers, we are amazed at how little attention people pay to (cargo capacity). Too many people think that cabinet, closet, and basement space equals cargo carrying capacity. (Many) coaches out there have a lot of storage space, but the chassis will only support several hundred pounds of cargo. Full-timers need about 3,000 pounds (of cargo carrying capacity) in order to carry the ‘stuff’ that makes life comfortable.”
Another full-timer wrote that his top three recommendations for full-timers would be: Adequate storage for four seasons of clothing and hobby equipment; good insulation top, bottom, and sides for all climates; and adequate net carrying capacity. His wife added that the motorhome should include industrial-grade loop carpeting in mixed tones that doesn’t show the dirt, and light-colored interior cabinetry, which makes the coach look brighter and larger.
How do you increase security and avoid identity theft? One respondent said: “We use a cross-cut shredder (for disposing of documents); use automatic deposit; charge recurring bills to a credit card or checking account; use ‘opt out’ at every opportunity; and put all mailed checks in a USPS mailbox, not an RV park outbox. We have no passwords or IDs on our computer, and we retain all investment data at our location, not on another Web site. We have been full-timing eight years with no security problems.”
How do you cut down on monthly campground costs? Rich Miller found a great deal in a mobile home park where he had a large, shaded site with a cable TV hookup and use of the pool, laundry, and clubhouse for $400 a month based on an extended stay. Whenever he wants to stay in an area for a while he sets out in his towed vehicle to explore mobile home parks (not campgrounds), looking for those that have hookups suitable for a coach. (Most sites in trailer parks are equipped only for permanent installations.)
If you prefer long-term stays, keep in mind, too, that state sales tax is charged on short-term campsite rentals but may not apply to long-term rentals.
How do you keep pets safer, more comfortable and less troublesome? In the June 2007 column I wrote about Bark Sentry software, but at the time pricing and other details about the product were not finalized. The software is now available to download for $29 or can be sent to you on a CD-ROM for $33 plus $2.50 shipping. Using your computer you can find out whether your dog is a barking nuisance while you’re away. The program also allows you to talk soothingly to your dog when you’re not home. For details go to www.barksentry.com.
Question Of The Month: It’s tempting to eat out more often, and it’s hard to find the best food buys when you’re a stranger in town. How do you keep food costs under control? Please reply to firstname.lastname@example.org.