Monday, February 15, 2010

Unintended consequences

Ah, the joys of unintended consequences.

Before I put my ceiling in, air circulated rapidly in here due to convection. The roof is a beer-can-thin sheet of aluminum, and it'd heat up quickly and lose heat quickly. Thus, there was always a big differential between the air temperature at the floor of the van (which is well insulated) and the top, so air would blast through here as if there were a fan running.

But now with the acoustic ceiling and insulation in, the air temperature is uniform thoughout the van. The ceiling doesn't warm up; it's very well-insulated. Air just stagnates in here unless I run the fan. So, a bit of the quiet that I wanted so badly, has gone away, because I have to run that noisy fan a lot now. Oh well, I guess in the summer when it is REALLY hot, it'll be a lot more pleasant in here.

On the positive side, one of the unintended consequences of making my bed 14" high instead of 30" high, is that the bed moves a lot less when the van is being pushed back and forth by the wind. My big flat box has zero aerodynamic capability, and every wind gust makes it shake like an earthquake. When my bed was higher, I felt every bit of that, and it'd wake me up. No more; I'm lower in the floor plan now, so those movements aren't so annoying anymore.

And, finally, spring is here! I couldn't be happier. I love spring in California, especially on the coast. The sun is out, and here comes the fog already!

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

The Leeward Side

I've noted here before that I'm getting pretty good at picking parking spaces that are to leeward of some major obstacle: a hill, a mountain, a large office building, etc. That helps me sleep, by not get my van smacked around by the high winds we've been having. And I'm also staying upwind from freeways and other sources of pollution, which makes me healthier.

But I've discovered another interesting thing. It's a lot quieter too. I didn't realize the degree that wind carries sound. If I'm near a freeway, and I'm either upwind or on the leeward side of a building from it, then I don't hear it hardly at all.

Days of high winds, there's more highway noise all around. Calmer days are just quieter.

Wind carries sound like it carries odors? Really? I don't understand the physics of it, but so far my experiments indicate that this is indeed what happens.

Thursday, February 4, 2010


A vandwelling friend had some trouble with his laptop. Laptops tend to fry when you run them with the power on and when the battery is fully charged-- I ruined an old Sony VAIO that way. The charging circuitry doesn't like that, and tends to fry the dc-dc converter inside the unit. The DC-DC converter is usually a set of surface-mount components, not easy to R/R, and usually means replacing the motherboard, which of course on a laptop is pretty close to the same cost as just replacing the laptop.

Now that my van is so quiet, with the new ceiling, and the sunshine is back again, as I'm sitting here in the van working on my netbook, I notice a crackling sound coming from the powersupply section of the netbook. I am running my netbook directly off of my solar, since the netbook wants 12v and my solar electrical system is 12v. But wait. It's not 12v; the solar charger just sends battery voltage out, it doesn't regulate it. So, in sunshine, with my house batteries charged, my netbook is getting anywhere up to 14.1V! Not too smart, and could be frying all kinds of components. May have been doing so for a year, but it's been so damn noisy in here that I haven't noticed the complaints from the switching DC-DC converter inside the unit.

I unplug the laptop from my house batteries. The crackling sound goes away. Drat.

Some quick online shopping locates an external power adapter/regulator (which is, basically, a DC-DC converter itself), to give me regulated 12v, for $15 including shipping. Off goes the credit card, and I'm done. It's possible I've been frying my netbook for the last year. So far, no signs of damage, but I'm not going to risk it any longer. $15 is a lot cheaper than $300.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

./configure; make; make install

Just opened up and checked my fuel tank; it's clean. So I finally changed the fuel filter, after it had been plugged with disintegrated rubber sludge. I also put in a new fuel heater since the old one had fallen apart; that might be helpful next winter.

The engine is running somewhat better now, but the engine computer is very confused since the running conditions have changed. I'll give it another dozen or so miles and see how it goes, but it certainly does seem to have more power now with a clean filter and no more sludge in the system.

Checking the fuel tank, and even draining it, took an hour. Changing the filter this time took a couple hours. It's becoming routine. I know how to get the air filter off in the most efficient way, get to the fuel filter, lube up the threads, etc etc. This has to be the 5th fuel filter I've put in within two years. No more homemade fuel for me! From now on, it's only ASTM-grade commercial biodiesel.

I'm almost at the point where the maintenance work is routine. It's become like the "./configure; make; make install" dance to compile software on Linux, which I've been doing for a decade now and is second nature.

It's very similar to diesel mechanical maintenance. Most of the time it's routine, but there can be all kinds of crazy stuff that goes wrong if you don't have everything together, and knowing what to do in that case requires expertise. I remember the first time I did it-- either compiling software or doing maintenance on my truck--, there was all kinds of drama and crazy things going wrong that I didn't know how to fix, and turned the whole procedure into a huge, long, drawn-out nightmare. But no more. I can compile software, get it to run, and fix bugs that prevent it from compiling, often without much thought. I can do most of the maintenance required on the truck now, and it's routine and drama-free, most of the time, just because I've done it enough times now to know how to prevent things going wrong, and what to do if it does.

And now, I've got to get to work on my actual work, what I started living in a van in order to be able to do. The means is nearing completion, now it is time to focus on the ends.

The one small distraction is that I still have to reconfigure my living/working space for more efficiency and to give me more time for my work, and more convenience in my life. And I'm almost there with that too. Good times.