Sunday, March 30, 2008

Stealth parking

This truck is BIG. I can't slip into most parallel parking spots, unless at least one side of it borders on a driveway, a white/yellow/red zone, or a corner. I also can't turn around fast enough to nab a new spot that comes up on the opposite side of the street; by the time I get there, it is gone.

But, I can do something most people can't. During the day, anyway, in any kind of commercial/retail district, I can double-park to my heart's content, and nobody bothers me. Just turn on the blinkers. It's a big white truck. It looks like one of a million other big white trucks delivering to any of the businesses around.

I can't use this too often, but for things like popping into a store to buy something quickly, it's a lifesaver (and a fuel saver). A BMW double-parked with his blinkers on is an asshole who needs to get a ticket. A delivery truck double-parked with his blinkers on is just another random working stiff doing his job.

I know, I feel kind of dirty. But I gotta do what I gotta do.

I am ninja, you are ninja, he is ninja too

I am an urban ninja.

I slink in and slink out unnoticed. I am part of the shadows. You do not see me, because I am anyone and everyone. I am not actually there. And then I am gone.

A delivery truck parks and is not noticed. A random guy walks into stores, gas stations, restaurants, bars, and public buildings, and uses the bathroom, just like everyone else. The random guy buys stuff, walks up to the counter, pays, and then disappears off into the street.

I get in my truck and go. I was not there.

Last night, I noticed that I even walk differently now. I step quietly, padding around, and making no footstep sounds. I am silent in the dark-- part of the night--, and part of the crowd in the day.

I love the anonymity of urban vandwelling. It's like being a hermit, but in the middle of a fairly large city filled with interesting things to keep me busy. It is perfect for me. I have always wanted to just disappear. Now I am doing it, every day, every night. It's a dream come true.

The Linksys-Area Network

There are very few open access points nowadays compared to 4-5 years ago when I last used a mobile WiFi setup.

But I've noticed that there are still quite a few "linksys" SSID's out there.

And... for some reason... my Linksys router seems to be able to connect to them not matter how bad the signal quality is! I've been in neighborhoods where there are perfectly good free networks or open access points with great signal strength, but I can't associate with them. But there's a "linksys" way down in the noise floor, and no matter how crappy the signal is, my Linksys WRT54G will connect to it every time, no problem.

From a technical standpoint, based on what I know about radio, WiFi, and networking, I can't imagine any way that this could be happening. Signal is signal. But yet, my experience leads me to suspect that Linksys/Cisco is doing something different enough so that it's easier for their radios to connect to other radios of the same brand, than to any other brand.

Very very odd. I guess I'd have to actually look at the waveforms with a spectrum analyzer or oscope in order to see if any thing weird is going on. But for now, no matter where I am, I'm part of the Linksys Area Network, which seems to have nodes everywhere.

Friday, March 28, 2008

A key benefit of urban vandwelling

How else, on a fixed income, would I be able to afford to live within walking distance of any nightlife in town? There's no other way.

I'm finding that there is a safe, upscale, quiet residential neighborhood with decent parking, within 4-5 blocks of just about any nightlife-oriented strip in the city.

Very nice.

The key is to nab a parking space early, either before too many people get home from work, or after they leave to go out for the evening. Camp out there, have dinner in the van, get online (plenty of WiFi), maybe take a short nap, then go out. Walking is my favorite exercise and I miss it a lot. I'm a city boy so I have no problem walking many blocks, and I prefer it to driving anyway. Walk home, and go to bed. If I get lucky with a spot that isn't on street-cleaning day, I can even sleep in the next morning. Sweet.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Panel hel

Five hours. It took three hours to put in last four luan panels, and that included cutting them to fit and taking everything apaart to get to the walls again. And then two more hours to put everything back together again. There is NFW that I was going to rip out any of these to do anything with them and then put them back in. What I got is what I got.

And then, hours after completing this obnoxious task, what do I discover?

Green Glue.

So what I should have done is waited to put the luan panels on, and first bought some Green Glue, splattered that on, and then put the panels on. Oh well.

At this point the big sound leak appears to be the ceiling. I don't hear a lot of noise coming through the walls but the ceiling is just beer-can-thin aluminum. Once I drop the ceiling I'll bet it gets a lot quieter.

The panels look OK, considering they were polyurethaned by kids who insisted on "helping" (and then made me pay them US$8 for their work too). It definitely looks a lot more warm and homey now.

Next I get to take EVERYTHING back out of the van again, and put the flooring in. I'm definitely going to put some kind of insulation underneath the sound-dampening floor underlayment. Probably #30 roofing felt which was recommended to me.

And then the ceiling vent, which I'm still not confident about and have been delaying. And then the dropped ceiling. And then the interior walls and sliding door.

I'm still at least a few months away from getting this completed. My original plan was for all this to take about a month. That was in November. I found a van to buy in January. It's going to be April in less than a week. I estimate that I'm about 50%-0% done.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Why a city is better than Wally World

I've been alternately dismayed, amused, and exasperated when people on the vandweller's list have suggested Wally World (Wal*Mart, Sam's Club, etc.) as an answer to all "where do I buy this" questions. I guess that's not too surprising though; most vandwellers seem to seek out rural areas where Wally is the only store around for hundreds of miles in any direction. Perhaps more importantly, Planet Walton has been very, very vandweller friendly and has-- very wisely-- earned a great deal of customer loyalty from those vandwellers it lets park in its lots overnight all over the country.

But I'm discovering that the City has much more to offer than a Wally World does. It just takes more work to find. A Wally World is basically a miniature, self-contained city shopping district in itself anyway, or it tries to be (and the Wal*Mart corporation deliberately destroys any existing shopping district in any town in which it opens-- that's part of its business plan). But one can find anything here in a city of any substantial size. City stores are a lot more democratic, open, and not as well-organized as a centrally-planned as a federalized Wally World is. But there are tiny niche shops for everything, and lots of huge shops offering incredible selection of anything imaginable.

I just have to walk around, and ask around in town, not online, and I'll find it, whatever it is I'm looking for.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

LCD monitor arm

Possibly the best US$100 I've spent yet.

I bought one of those LCD monitor arms. Mounted it to the new bed I built-- it fits perfectly on the 2x6 frame. It's fantastic. Lots of room to work, and it keeps the monitor in a relatively secure and stable spot while driving. I can leave the laptop stowed while working (I need to build a permanent place to keep it), and use a keyboard and my nice big LCD. The WiFi is via a Linksys box mounted to the wall, so the laptop can now be hidden away.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008


I tried to be clever with the dishwashing stuff, and I screwed it up badly.

It was driving me nuts having to hold the squirt bottle upright in order to clean dishes and stuff. So I thought I'd be clever, and just run a little hose from the squirter to a gallon bottle of melted icewater that I get from the cooler. I leave the bottle on the ground and I can hold the squirter any way I like.

Only, that's dumb. First of all, the squirter takes forever to get any water up through that long hose. I actually have to siphon it by sucking on it. Doh. Also, in order to keep water in the hose after I siphon it, I have to keep the squirter on the ground, under the water level. Only that's even dumber, because it'll leak water all over the floor that way.

I think I'm going to buy the 12v water pump and be done with it. The squirt bottle idea is sub-optimal.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Hardware stores, revisited

So, as an example of what I don't like about what hardware stores have become: today I went into a generic ACE Hardware looking for a 10mm deep socket. Know where I found it? Next to the Turtle Wax.

Why? Because these stores, like Radio Shack's I mentioned earlier, nowadays are more oriented towards consumers than producers. So the wrenches are buried in the aisle and the display cap is waxing compound.

Staying a few nights

The other night I found a parking spot that was so good, safe, quiet, and sunny (and has lots of WiFi), that I've stayed here for two days now.

I now know what Tara was talking about-- being "van sour" and feeling stuck to the van and unable to leave it for fear of it getting stolen or burglarized. With the van's engine partially disassembled, it was wonderful to get out of the thing and just walk around instead of driving. I do love walking and I do not like driving.

I really love staying more than one day and night in the same parking spot. I really hate burning up fuel, money, and time searching for a spot and worrying about getting ticketed or hassled. And I really hate having to put everything away and batten down the hatches in preparation for getting underway. Man that gets tiring every single day. I like being disorderly and leaving stuff out wherever it's convenient, and I do not like cleaning things up and putting things away.

Once I find a good spot, I want to stay in it for a while. Alas, I can't do that in the City because it would invite hassles from cops, robbers, or both.

My long-term goal is to find a parking spot that I can stay in for months or years at a time, somewhere that is safe and quiet and has many things within walking distance, and then hardly ever drive again. Maybe build or buy an electric scooter or even do an electric car conversion, and dock it to the van for charging (after adding more solar panels-- I've got plenty of room for them).

I looked on Craigslist and parking spaces are US$200-300/month. For a parking space. Ugh. I guess my dream will have to wait until I find a freebie or trade, which will happen eventually.

Glow plugs

Today I finally bit the bullet and started installing new glow plugs. Since switching to biodiesel, the van has been really hard to start in the mornings. I guess the biodiesel congeals a little more in the cold than dead-dinosaur diesel does.

So I did the first side-- four plugs. I've made a decision not to use foul language in this blog, but it's really hard when talking about this project. I guess it's enough to say that I now remember why I decided to get rid of my cars 8 years ago and take public transit instead. Working on internal-combustion vehicles is no fun (although, I really really want to build an electric car, and I suspect that soon I will do exactly that).

Things I do like about this van is that the engine is INSIDE the cab! Much nicer for vandwelling! Instead of standing outside in the freezing cold or rain-- and in plain view of everyone who passes by-- I can do a lot of work on the vehicle from inside of it.

Also, when running biodiesel, the inside of the engine smells yummy! Instead of the sulfurous stench of diesel, or the alcohol-y stink of gasoline, the valve compartment smells like fresh motor oil, a hint of french fries, and that's it.

If you have to replace glow plugs on a 1998 7.3L Ford PowerStroke, the key is to remove the stupid hose clamp that blocks access to the front valve cover bolt. Then you can get a socket wrench in there and turn it to get the bolt off that also holds the engine-oil dipstick tube too.

I was surprised to find that the bolts on this van are metric! A Ford-- metric. Wow. The glow plugs are 10mm and the valve cover bolts are 13mm (not 1/2").

Also, do NOT use a 3/8" drive deep socket for getting to the glow plugs. It's too wide and as the plug comes out, the socket will get wedged in against the rocker arm ball. Ouch. I found a thinner socket and it worked better that way.

But, what a PITA! Lots of difficult bolt access. Luckily, the Ford engineers angled the glow plugs so that they were easy to access with a socket wrench extension. That was the easiest part. Getting the valve cover off was the hardest part. Also, whose decision was it to have electrical components in an area completely bathed in engine oil? Trying to get a good solid electrical contact when putting the new plugs in was nearly impossible. The tip was completely coated in oil. I hope they work-- I ran out of daylight and will have to wait for the morning to torque bolts and put the air filter assembly back in.

I did the passenger side first. If you number the bolts 1-10, with 1 starting at the leftmost side of the valve cover, bolts 1-5, 9, and 10 were easily accessible from inside the cab, bolt 6 from under the hood (after removing the hose clamp that was in the way), and bolts 7 and 8 from underneath the van.

When I started, the passenger side looked easier, but now that I've done that side, the driver's side actually looks like it might be easier, once removing the oil filler hose and stuff. Seems like there might be more bolts accessible from inside on that side.

Also, when buying auto parts, I stumbled upon a dollar store, and finally found a spray bottle! Works very well-- an indispensible tool for water conservation in vandwelling. Should have been the first thing I bought.

More WiFi observations

I've noticed that the more "rural" a suburban area is, the more open access points it has. Also, the less-frequently populated by vandwellers, the more open AP's it has. Some of the areas I've been in, close to where I've seen other vandwellers, have completely locked-down AP's. Likewise in some denser areas of the city. But out in the sticks, it's not like that. Although, in denser areas I'm more likely to find restaurants and coffee shops with intentionally-open AP's, and the Free the Net mesh too.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Van Tetris

I hate playing Tetris. And for the last few months I have been forced to play Tetris, every day, with every single thing I own. It's making me very cranky. Every project... scratch that, every single activity or thing I might want to do... requires moving everything I own around.

This is because I did a very stupid thing and bought supplies (insulation, paneling, flooring, underlayment, etc.) before I was ready to make use of them. I am just now starting to install these things so they're not in my way anymore.

I also didn't do the bed FIRST, which I would recommend to anyone. Even if it's just a sheet of plywood over milk crates, I'd say do the bed first-- having storage space under the bed is a huge sanity-saver.

Speaking of which: today I made a bed! I followed Michael's advice off of the Vandweller list, and used 2x6" wood, with a 3/8" plywood top. And lots and lots of screws and L-brackets. Air mattress goes on top of that, and there's 2 feet of storage underneath, so I'm not tripping over my stuff all the time anymore! This has reduced my Tetris-playing a lot.

The SOB weighs 150 lbs though, according to the lumber yard guy. Also, the lumber was cheap (US$30) but the braces and screws and all ended up close to US$80! Took all day but it's done now. I chose 6'x4' as a size. I'm kind of wishing I'd made it 3.5'x7', but it is what it is.

And now I absolutely have to rent a warehouse, because the thing is so big, there's no way I can do the floor without taking it out of the van, along with everything aft of it in order to get it through the roll-up door.

I also experimented with wall placement, by using sheets of isocryanuratete insulation. Getting close to figuring out the layout.

Oh and I love that Nashua aluminum tape with the backing paper. That stuff will stick anything to anything. Thanks to whomever suggested that; it's great. I used it to stick scrap peices of insulation to the slats of the roll-up door. Helps attenuate the sound a bit more.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Seeking out the country

I launched out on this vandwelling adventure intending to live in the City.

But at every available opportunity, I find myself wanting to get the hell OUT of the city and into the country, even if it is the beach, the park, or up or down the Coast.

I think it's the quiet and the fresh air. I don't see much view here in a big box that (still!) has no windows or skylight. But I still have no insulation on the roof, or the roll-up door, or the floor, so the traffic noise drives me nuts in the City. And even with no vents in yet, I can smell the exhaust and road dust. I just want to get away from it out to fresh ocean air and the sound of crickets and waves, whenever I can.

I looked up the BLM site and found some great and free possible camping spots pretty close by! I'm already trying to plan when I could get a week free to head up there.

Take only pictures...

Even in an urban area, the whole vandwelling thing reminds me of the old camping adage: "take only pictures, leave only footprints".

It's a good motto to live by, whether in a city or out in the woods. I'm trying to live by it as best I can. I consider a successful vandwelling stay as one where nobody noticed I was there, nobody noticed I'm gone, and nobody can tell I was there.

An open-AP-finding robot

I wrote two little scripts to turn an ordinary Linksys WRT54G into an open-AP-finder. Yeah, I know this is questionable legally, etc etc. So is vandwelling (in most jurisdictions). Like I said, I try to seek out truly public networks. But I takes whatever I can find, and tread as lightly as possible.

These scripts work with OpenWRT (Kamikaze) on a revision 2.2 WRT54G. They require the "wl" tool which is a binary Linksys program that's also redistributed and included in OpenWRT.

Script #1 is called "parsescanresults":




if [ "$1" ] ; then

while read i; do
#ssid line is foist
sstest=`echo "$i" | grep '^SSID' | cut -d':' -f 2`
if [ "$sstest" ]; then
#gotta reset eerything now!

#parse the RSSi and noise!
sntest=`echo "$i" | grep noise`
if [ "$sntest" ] ; then
sig=`echo "$snline" | cut -d':' -f 3 | cut -d' ' -f 2`
noise=`echo "$snline" | cut -d':' -f 4 | cut -d' ' -f 2`
let SNR="$sig - $noise"

#caplien is third, also has bbssid in there, maybe useful
captest=`echo "$i" | grep Capability`
if [ "$captest" ] ; then
weptest=`echo "$capline" | grep WEP`
if [ ! "$weptest" ]; then
#i only want the ones i could realistically associate with
if [ $SNR -ge $THRESHOLD ]; then
#i hate a certain pay network
echo "${SSID},${SNR}" | grep -v SSID_Of_Pay_Network_That_Annoys_Me

The other is a daemon called "openleds". I start it from /etc/rc.d.



set_led() {
local led="$1"
local state="$2"
[ -f "/proc/diag/led/$1" ] && echo "$state" > "/proc/diag/led/$1"

while true; do
#first reset everthang

wl scan -t passive
wl scanresults | parsescanresults > /var/log/netsinprogress
let opens=`wc -l < /var/log/netsinprogress`

if [ $opens -ge 1 ]; then
set_led dmz 1
cp /var/log/nets /var/log/lastfound

if [ $opens -ge 2 ]; then
set_led dmz f

if [ $opens -lt 1 ]; then
for i in dmz wlan; do
set_led $i 0

cp /var/log/netsinprogress /var/log/nets


So I drive around, I try a parking space and look at the LED's on the Linksys. If the DMZ light is lit, I have an open AP within range. If the LED is flashing, I have two or more!

I want to set another LED to light when I have one of my preferred public networks within reach. Also need to parse the output of "wl scanresults" better to indicate those networks with good signal/noise ratio, or filter out those that don't have good reception.

This whole exercise feels temporary to me. I should just pay up for Sprint MetroPCS, but right now I can't afford it.

Far too many AP's are WEP these days. The more popular brands such as Netgear, 2WIRE, Apple, etc., all ship with WEP on by default. So the days of "wardriving" are pretty much over. Still, this helps for those of us in difficult financial situations-- the Linksys cost me US$35 used, I already had the pigtail cables around, and I made the antenna myself.

But connectivity is nowhere near as easy to find as it was 4-5 years ago the last time I tried anything like this. If this trend keeps up, I eventually will have no choice but to try to find money for Sprint or some kind of Metro service.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Stuff I like

I don't like buying things. Due to the rush that I was in to start this project, and how green I was, I bought a bunch of stuff that now I think I shouldn't ought to have bought. However, a few things, I'm totally happy with-- delighted, even-- and would recommend to anyone:

1) SuperBrightLEDs from . I got the recessed light fixture and it draws so little current that even when I turn off the power mains on my solar controller, the light is still lit, just off of the drain current from the controller! I had to put an actual off switch in there for it. It's as bright as about a 20 watt bulb and uses no electricity to speak of. US$20.

2) Nalgene bottle for peeing in! It was US$9 at Sports Authority. It's brown. It's got a wide mouth and you can't tell what's in it from looking at it. Thanks to whomever on the vandwellers list suggested it.

3) Hand-cranked drum pump for biodiesel, $80 from Whitecap in San Francisco. I was recommended a 110v motorized pump, but it didn't work and needed to be primed. The hand pump works just fine and I don't have to plug it in or prime it if the drum goes empty.

4) Igloo 5-day cooler. This thing really does keep everything cold for 5 days. Very, very nice. I added a faucet bibb to make it easier to drain-- I can open and close the faucet. I am going to have a metal shop fab up an icebox to put in there, connected to the spout, so the water doesn't get into the food and so I can drain it without tipping it over.

5) Isocryanaurate insulation (from Home Depot). This stuff is light, not too expensive, and it insulates very well (both sound and heat). Easy to work with and cut.

6) Old Linksys WRT54G router running OpenWRT. Love these things. You can use the wl utility to scan for open AP's, it shows the S/N ratio of each, and then iwconfig to pick an AP to associate to. I will write a script to do this automatically, and will customize it to flash LEDs showing how many open AP's are around as I drive.

7) Kyocera solar panels-- I got an 85w and a 130W. And Concord Lifeline AGM batteries-- I got two 220Ah batts. And a Cobra 2500W inverter. This combination gives me enough juice to run the laptop, a 110v LCD, the Linksys, and a bunch of USB-powered accessories, for as long as I can stay awake, every night.

8) Ryobi power tools with the 12V car charger. If I work with the sun shining, I can do tons of stuff and charge up the batteries as I go, all powered by the sun.

9) Nasuha aluminum tape with the backing paper. This stuff rules! It'll stick anything to anything, and seems impervious to temperature, condensation, or moisture. Highly recommended for vandwelling.

10) Colman single-burner propane stove! These things rule! They are hotter than a regular stove, I've found. Gotta be careful not to burn stuff. And they're so efficient! I bought a single canister of propane FOUR YEARS AGO and I'm still using it today. Same canister! It sat for many years unused, but I've been using this canister every day for cooking dinner, for months now, and it's still showing no signs of slowing down. I love my Coleman stove.

I've got some other good accessories and tools/toys too, which I haven't used enough to comment on yet. But the above feel to me like good, smart purchases, and I'm happy I bought them.

Monday, March 10, 2008

As soon as I'm done, I'll know enough to start

I keep thinking of the old saying about painting a car: as soon as you complete the project, you'll have learned enough to be ready to start it.

I've never sawed anything before buying this van and living in it. I've never built anything out of wood except for Junior High wood shop (a LONG time ago). Never worked with metal either. Never dealt with solar, or ran electrical for household use, though I have worked with electronics and low-voltage since I was tiny little kid. I've done lots of work on lots of different kinds of cars, so that part's not new to me, but that's also not what this project is about. This is a home improvement project-- really more like building a home from scratch.

Little things like knowing how to operate a drill and motorized screwdriver, I am just learning as part of this project (i.e. setting it properly to not strip the heads of screws, etc).

I've also been camping maybe five times in my whole life. My family was not outdoor people. So I'm totally new to living out of a cooler, cooking with propane, and general camping-type stuff.

This is, however, the way I do things. I jump in, feet first, totally unprepared, and learn as I go along. So far so good.

Wall insulation 75% complete

Only two more panels to go-- the small ones in the back.

I did one today-- the one where the battery box is. Took about 2 hours-- I had to remove the battery box mounting brackets, move the battery box around, and unscrew the inverter and then screw it back in.

The rails for the roll-up door in the back, attach to the panel via pop rivets, so I couldn't remove the whole panel. Instead I bought a circular saw, set it to 3/8", and just sawed the thing in half across the top, right under the rails. I slipped the insulation underneath and that's that. It's in. It's ugly but so what; there'll be a drop ceiling there hiding it. I covered it in aluminum tape for now.

It's a lot quieter but I still might need some more sound insulation. I'm thinking maybe cork, or some special cork-like stuff that a local lumberyard suggested. I bought a bunch of luan, and I'll throw some clear varnish on that, then put it on top as a finishing paneling whenever I get done with the insulation. Then I got my walls. On to the floor and ceiling next. When will this be done again?


I bought an old Linksys WRT54G router, and loaded the OpenWRT Linux firmware on it. Then I loaded the kismet package, hooked the Linksys up to a 12dBi omni antenna, and set the antenna outside the van (it's eventually getting mounted on the roof; this was the proof of concept). Kismet just ran, and discovered tons and tons of networks! And, it uses a prism0 interface, not the wl0 interface, in "repeater" mode, so that I can probe for networks and get online in client mode, both at the same time. So I've got WiFi in a huge way.

The LED's on this router are under software control in OpenWRT, through a shell script. Since I'll only be plugging in my laptop, I don't need LED's for each switch port to flash whenever there's traffic on a port. So my next step is to write a script that lights up more LED's whenever it discovers open (unencrypted) networks. And maybe blinks them when it sees traffic on them-- a LED version of the Kismet client UI. And then sit the thing on the dash as I drive around. So I can pick a spot to work based on how many open networks are around. Kind of like one of those handheld WiFi monitors but smarter-- this one will only show open networks (if someone has locked their door, I don't want in). Maybe flash a different special LED whenever it discovers the Free the Net mesh, which is my preferred way of connecting.

A bit more progress

(this was posted to the Vandweller forum)

It's been a very rewarding and fun few days. I've done tons more
conversion work and will take pictures soon. I basically built a
"sliding door" and wall for the back of the box out of two 4'x8'x2"
isocryanote insulation slabs. I also bought some cheap shelving units
which have helped a lot. I found 1 1/2" webbing at a great hardware
store, and buckles for it, and tied everything down. Now I'm no longer
having to play Tetris with everything I own, all the time.

I got out into nature. That was a huge improvement. Vandwelling makes
a whole lot more sense and is a lot more fun out in a rural area (I
drove down the coast). I'm starting to look at it like I'm on a
4-year-long camping trip.

I think I figured out the safe parking thing too. The residential
neighborhoods out in west side are a lot safer and more
vandwelling-friendly. Downtown sucks for graffitti, crime, and parking
tickets, and "nightlife" oriented areas aren't any better. But the
purely residential districts (i.e. Sunset, Richmond, etc.) are great--
nobody notices.

I see vandwellers EVERYWHERE, all over the City. It's like when you
buy a Toyota, you notice how many Toyotas there are on the road. Well
now that I'm vandwelling I see people everywhere doing it.

My goodness, you are a busy bunch! I can't keep up with the messages.
What a great community. Thanks everyone for all your help and moral

I found that onions, and dishes with lots of onions, make me sleepy.

Powdered garlic and dried minced onions are great for cooking.

I made a dish by accident and it was the perfect meal. I took some Pav
Bhaji powdered mix from an Indian grocery store, and prepared it as
directed (mix with water, then fry in Ghee), then instead of adding
fresh veggies I didn't have (tomatoes, potatoes) and boiled for a half
hour I didn't have, I dumped in a can of garbanzo beans and shredded
up some fresh Kale I had in the cooler. Delicious and nutritious. Kale
tastes like meat to me, it has that kind of filling-quality. That was
a dinner and a lunch the next day.

Quinoa with powdered garlic, powdered coriander, dried minced onions,
and some broccoli, worked for dinner tonight. All cooked in one pot,
on a Coleman one-burner. Food has so far been the easiest part of this
whole thing for me.

Hung out on the beach today and met some cool people. Too bad parking
isn't allowed overnight on the beaches around here.

More Ford electrical woes

Just a few hours ago, I ran the winshield squirter (or tried to; it's
apparently dry) and the windsheild wipers. AND THE DASHBOARD LIGHT

You may recall (ahem) that the dashboard light dies right before the
ignition stops working. I expect in the morning that the POS will
refuse to start.

So, the Ford dealer was FOS. This has nothing to do with the freakin'
steering column. They wasted $1,000 of my money and a MONTH of my
time... for nothing. It is an ELECTRICAL problem.

Luckily, this time I have the schematics. Screw the dealer. I'll look
it up in the morning and see what-all else is connected to that fuse.
I have a hunch it's the windsheild squirter motor-- that's probably
fused or otherwise dead and is shorting out the fuse.

Saturday, March 8, 2008

The Old-Skool hardware store

I'm delighted to have found a hardware store like they used to make 'em. It's in the City, and I'm keeping it a secret (sorry).

In recent years, most ACE-style hardware stores feel to me either like 7-11's-- small and no selection-- or huge behemoths trying to be Home Depot.

Even though it's an ACE, the store I found felt noticably different, like hardware stores used to be when I was a kid: big enough to have everything I might need, but small enough to be able to get around in. And very well-organized. I found what I wanted, and then things that I definitely needed but would have forgotten to buy, were right there logically next to them, all in the same place. Sweet.

I also discovered a huge industrial supply store too-- a totally different beast but one which is also good to have around.

Now if only there were an electronics shop like Radio Shack used to be-- with actual useful parts and components and stuff, instead of cellphones and TV's and keyboards and radio-controlled cars. Sheesh.

Friday, March 7, 2008

Getting messed with

(this was posted to the Vandweller's Yahoo group)

My friend who was homeless for several years, warned me, "You're going
to get messed with. The cops will mess with you. Criminals will try to
rip you off. You'll get messed with. Just deal with it." Of course,
she used much stronger language than that. I thought I would be clever
and stealthy enough to escape. But so far, she has been right. I guess
I have to be more clever-- or more careful.

I've gotten tagged wtih graffitti three times so far. I found that
acetone is amazing, by the way. It takes off graffitti as easily as
wiping down your kitchen counter. Takes the underlying paint off too,
but, very nice anyway.

I actually caught someone spraying me, and stopped him a few nights
ago! I was in a nightlife-oriented area because I desperately needed
wireless access and I knew there'd be lots of it there. There was. At
around 2AM, I'd had enough and was deciding whether to stay or to go
find another parking spot to sleep in. Just then I heard "sssss". My
first thought was about the source of that "ssssss" having an
unhealthily close relationship with his mother. I was furious. Way too
angry to be scared. So I slid the door to the cab, and looked out via
the mirror. There was a white kid, about 20, totally clean-cut,
looking like he was straight from Indiana or something. I opened the
passenger door and shouted, "HEY!! CUT THAT OUT!!". He looked at me
sheepishly, like he'd just hit a foul ball through my living room
window. And said, "Ummm.... sorry". Then he put his spraypaint back in
his backpack and slinked away with his tail between his legs,
muttering, "Sorry... sorry", while I glared at him.

Then, the other night, someone tried to steal my van! I was in a
somewhat poorer residential neighborhood that had some industrial
shops around, figuring I'd blend in. I woke up at around 4AM to the
van being shaken, like someone was pushing on it. I can't do a Rebel
Yell, being a Yankee, so I did my best Joe Pesci voice, and hollered,
"HEY!" Silence. Nothing. I went back to sleep, thinking it might have
been the wind or someone just leaning up against the van. I woke up
the next morning to find that someone had drilled out my driver's side
lock! I guess the guy was pulling on the door to try to get in. That
was scary. Maybe he lived in the apartment building next to which I
was parked, and saw the solar panels on the roof, or something. Or
maybe he just thought the van might have something valuable in it, I

Cops, of course, have ticketed me four times. My own fault for not
being an expert on the vehicle code. Once for parking on the street in
a town that didn't allow any commercial vehicles over 10,00 GVWR.
Three times for being on the wrong side of the street; in some areas
where I find myself, you aren't allowed to park on certain sides of
the street on certain nights because of street sweeping.

Bad things seem to happen around 4AM. 4AM-5AM seems to be Bad Time for
me vandwelling.

My safest nights so far have been in suburban strip-mall parking lots.
That seems to be the best spot. Nobody around, relatively quiet,
well-lit, no kids messing with me, too small to have private security
guards, and since it's private property there are no cops issuing
parking tickets. The box van blends in effortlessly there. Of course I
hate being in suburban areas or strip malls, but I'm discovering
that's the safest place to be at night.

It seems like the key is to be in a neighborhood too upscale for
desperate street criminals, but too grungy for the cops to monitor too
closely. It's a delicate balance.