Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Location RV-Lag

Doug here, with some nerdly information.

When we started travelling around the country with our phones, computers, tablet, and WiFi equipment, I encountered an interesting situation. Quite often I found that my phone or computer would think that I am still in my previous location, and it would take quite awhile for the situation to resolve itself. By the time it did resolve, it would start all over again upon reaching the next location.

I learned that this problem was because Google (and potentially other mapping services) generate a database of the locations of WiFi networks. This can be used to determine the location of a device if GPS is not available or has not been turned on. For phones, this saves power because turning GPS on to pinpoint location can be avoided if the location can be determined by figuring our where you are based on the WiFi access points that your phone can see. It is also useful for determining the location of computers which do not have GPS receivers.

The WiFi location database can be updated for a WiFi network if the network is moved, but it can take quite a bit of time for this to happen. In the meantime, the inaccurate old location will be used and it can cause your phone or computer to think you are still in the old location.

There is a solution to this problem. You can add the suffix _nomap to the ssid of your WiFi network (router). This will cause the Google location service not to map the location of that WiFi network. If you do this change, it may take awhile for the access point to be removed from the database. However, the problem will eventually clear up. You also need to change all the devices accessing that WiFi network to use the new ssid. Don't forget that you also need to change the WiFi configuration of devices like smart TVs, Rokus, Chromecasts, Firesticks, etc.

This will solve most of your problems. However, I still encounter the problem occasionally in close quarter campgrounds with a lot of transient neighbors. This is because my devices can see their networks and if they aren't named with the suffix _nomap then they could still be mapped to an incorrect location.

In this screenshot, my computer thinks that I am in New York, even though I am actually in Florida. The neighbor across the street happens to have New York plates, and I bet he is transmitting a wifi signal which has been mapped to his house in New York.

So, I am encouraging all RVers that carry a WiFi network to change the ssid of those networks to include the suffix _nomap. This will solve the location confusion problem for not only your devices, but also the devices of your neighbors.

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

"Spring Break" In and Around Hillsborough River State Park

The beaches are relatively quiet now, but as March arrives, so do the tourists in search of warmth and sunshine.

During "March Madness" Florida style, we will be in the heart of one of the prime spring break destinations, Fort Myers. While we hope to enjoy some beach time, we will be spending the majority of our time working with another local Habitat for Humanity affiliate. These Care-a-Vanner builds are like an adult mission trip for us in that we have lots of fun while serving others.  

  We receive so many blessings through the new friendships that form while putting several coats of paint on baseboard ...

 ... or hanging drywall.

Before we embark on more construction fun, we decided that that it was good to take some time to recharge our batteries. 

A week at Hillsborough River State Park was a perfect way to re-energize. Hiking, biking, and exploring the beauty in and around the area gave us the "Spring Break" that we needed.

Our campsite was located under a lovely hammock of live oak trees. Since live oaks are continually shedding leaves, our "backyard" looked like a peaceful autumn landscape. But the blooming wildflowers in the park, including the Zephyr Lily, definitely celebrated the return of sunshine and longer days. 

This state park, located about an hour northeast of Tampa, has many miles of hiking trails. Our favorite trail ran right along the Hillsborough River and was home to alligators, birds, and sun-worshipping turtles.

After a day of getting "caught up" on sleep and fix-up jobs on the RV,

... it was time to start our "Spring Break" with day trips to some of Florida's beautiful areas. We hope that the pictures and short descriptions will give you some ideas for your own active vacation. After hearing about recent blizzards and nor'easters, we imagine that our Northern friends, like this snowmen, are in need of a fru-fru umbrella drink on a sandy beach!

Honeymoon Island and Caladesi Island State Parks

Located a little north and west of Tampa, these barrier islands deliver ... 

... beautiful, uncrowded beaches,

... hiking trails among the palms,

and great shelling opportunities.

Bridges connect so many bodies of water here in Florida, but the only way to get to Caladesi Island is by boat.

For those of you who don't have your own yacht and captain, the Caladesi Island ferry leaves from the Honeymoon Island dock every half hour. It is definitely the way to enjoy some of Florida's untouched beauty. 

Bike Ride on the Withlacoochee Trail

This 46 mile paved bike trail was located about 30 miles north of our campground. 

We enjoyed meeting up with some Habitat friends for an afternoon of biking and conversation. The miles fly by when I get to enjoy "girlfriend" time!

Good conversation as well as fresh-squeezed orange juice from Ferris Groves in Floral City helped us complete our 25 mile journey.

St Petersburg

We took a day to explore the beach community of St Petersburg. We loved the beautiful beaches, interesting architecture and the handsome dudes that hang out at the beach.

In search of lunch and a cold one, we came upon one of our new favorite craft breweries. Located in Madeira Beach, just north of St Petersburg, Mad Beach Brewing served up a refreshing honey mead beer as well as delicious burger and shrimp dishes. The food and beer along with the comfortable patio seating, friendly service, and a Mad Beach coaster made this one that we would like to visit again.

Afterwards, we decided to expand our artistic experiences with a visit to the Salvador Dali Museum in downtown St Petersburg. 

During our self-guided audio tour, we developed a new appreciation for his surrealist style and his clever use of optical illusions in his paintings.

What do you see?
Abe Lincoln or the woman looking out a window?

Always nice to enjoy a new activity together!

Biking, Sponges, Breweries, and Sunsets 

On our last day of "Spring Break", we drove into Tarpon Springs and took a bike ride along the Pinellas Trail. This beautiful urban trail stretches 37 miles from Tarpon Springs to St Petersburg.

Being an urban trail, there were wonderful discoveries along the way like ...

... a trailside brewery in Palm Harbor,

... ice cream and "artsy" dolphins in Dunedin,

... a touristy historic village in Tarpon Springs

renowned for their sponge industry
(my dishwasher loves his new sponge),

... as well as their Greek food
(we both loved the baklava!).

We ended our week with a colorful sunset over the Gulf ...

... grateful that we have found our "Spring Break" in the beauty that surround us. 

Until next time ... seek out the beauty of spring around you ... and enjoy the adventures in your life!

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Habitat for Humanity Build #10 and 11: Sebring, Florida

In early September 2017, Hurricane Irma struck Florida. She not only caused extensive damage to the coastal communities, but also ransacked towns further inland. Highlands County, including the cities of Lake Placid, Sebring and Avon Park, was particularly hard hit.

As we arrived in late January, there were still many visible signs of the storm's destruction ... blue tarps on roofs, twisted gutters, missing siding, and collapsed  buildings. 

In some cases, homeowners were now just finally able to get the help needed to clear out the moldy and damaged household items and start trying to rebuild. In the midst of all the damage, there was also signs of a community coming together to help their neighbors.

During this Care-a-Vanner build, Doug and I had the privilege of working with the local Habitat for Humanity of Highlands County in Sebring to bring hope in the form of a new homes for families who were affected by Irma.

Habitat is bringing hope to families like the Powells, who have been living in a hotel room with their two young children since the storm destroyed their home last September. In the four weeks that we were there, this family was overjoyed to see ... 

... drywall go up,

... the painting crew get assembled,

... the ceilings get primed,

... and color appear on the walls,

... the tile for the bathrooms get cut (new "skill" for my resume!),

... the flooring get laid,

... the trim get painted,

... and the driveway take shape thanks to our
hard-working "concrete crew"!

Just a few weeks from now, this house ...

will become the Powell's
beloved home.

While we mostly helped with the construction of this new home, we also got in on a little de-construction as well. A storage building that had lost its roof in the storm needed to come down to make room for future Habitat homes.

The building, with the persuasion of many hammers, saws, and a pickup truck,

... was soon just a huge pile of boards,

... much to the delight of the demolition crew!

This Habitat affiliate, with the assistance of a federal grant, is also working closely with low-income homeowners who need critical home repairs done following Hurricane Irma. Many have been living in leaky and moldy structures for months.

Through the disaster response program Jeff and Laura, two "super-skilled" Care-a-Vanners, assist homeowners in repairing shingles, siding, soffit and other storm-related damage. When I was talking with them one evening, I found out that this program was in great need of a "secretary" to go through the applications and contact the homeowners to see if the repairs still needed to be done.

Finally! A construction job that I am good at ... organizing files and talking with homeowners ... I can do that! I was very grateful to have "real life" retired office managers Cheryl and Debbie work with me to get the job done more efficiently. And the greatest job benefit was hearing the gratitude in the voice of the homeowners when they realized that someone cares enough to help them finance and do the needed repairs.

This was our longest stay at one Habitat location in the two years that we have been participating with the Care-a-Vanner program. The days were long and hot ... and started much earlier than Doug would like.

But each day brought blessings in the form of ...

... Kizzy's smiling face greeting us at the office,

and bringing us lunch at the construction site,

... our construction supervisors Mike and Corey's
knowledge, skill, and patience, 

... volunteers still smiling after
hammering out thousands of old nails,

... future homeowners working alongside
and sharing a little humor with us,

... past Care-a-Vanner friends whose travel paths
crossed ours once again,

... beautiful smiles and a contagious enthusiasm
of new Care-a-Vanner buddies,

... and the best blessing of all ...
 23 month old Love, who stole my heart
and gave me a much needed "grandma-moment"!

We are grateful for the blessing of working with so many
skilled and caring Care-a-Vanners
who are helping bring back joy to families in Florida.

Until next time ... Be the Blessing to One Another ... and enjoy the adventures in your life!

After a few days of wearing these dust masks,
"Professional drywaller" is not going on my resume!