Saturday, October 23, 2010

Patience is a virtue

Finally fixed my right front turn signal a week or two ago, so I'll be much safer doing lane changes in the rain. It was easy (had to replace a short length of cable and connector). I've got a plastic checkvalve, a quart of DOT 4 brake fluid, and the correct size vynil hose (1/4" fits perfectly) to flush out my brake system. Just waiting for the rain to let up. I drilled out the rusted-out bolt on my mirror, and now I have to locate my reverse-thread tap in order to get it out and replace it. Just got my new fuel pump in, and I'm ready whenever the right time comes to put it in-- it's going to depend on a combination of weather, location to do the work, and time available before I end up employed again.

Speaking of which, same with money: I've got some breathing room now, but I'm using that to try to find some source of income. If I start now, I'll be ready by the time I really need to be ready.

It is very odd to be feeling this patient, but I like it a lot.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Be careful what you wish for

The old proverb is true: be careful what you wish for, you might get it.

I've been saying for years now that what I really want-- my end-game in vandwelling-- is to have a permanent, safe, secure, legal (or legal-ish), stable place to park, work on my van, and generally not have to drive around.

But that wish was mostly based on a combination of panic and fear, and not really understanding the vandweller lifestyle: keep moving! It's counter-intuitive to think that moving all around is safer than being in the same place, but it is.

And, in the last few months, I've abandoned my wish for a stable parking space, and I've finally learned how to be a vandweller, and to come to terms with a nomadic lifestyle, even to prefer it! I don't feel a need to have a "safe" parking space; I've learned that the safest thing is to move around every day. I have MANY "safe" space. I've come to enjoy being in a different place every day.

Well, that's over now. I now have a consistent, reserved parking space, and I pretty much have to use it, for at least the next few months to a year.

It's in front of my ex-wife's house.


How did this happen? Now that my ex has found a job, I'm back on dad duty, and, due to her new and very long commute, I'm on dad duty every morning starting really early, making breakfast, packing lunch, shuttling kids to school. This is the job I did when I was married, and it looks like I'm back to it, for at least some time.

Since I often work nights, it doesn't make sense for me to try to find a parking place and then get up and drive down to my ex's house. And where she lives is, for now anyway, a block with a huge number of commercial vehicles which tend to be parked there for years at a time. Mine fits right in. It's walking distance to many things so I don't have to drive. I can work on my truck there without worrying about being grafitti'd or ticketed. It's got plenty of sun for my solar panels (as much as anywhere around here gets sun, that is). It's literally a perfect parking place.

Except for where it is. It feels to me like going backwards. I don't want to be stuck in her orbit. And I also need to get some kind of job or income soon too, which will shuffle the schedule around as well. So it'll be interesting to see how this works out, and for how long.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

TECs suck

Well it turns out that my whole project of attempting to run my TEC cooler on a short duty cycle in order to save electricity, is pointless.

TECs run at only 5-10% efficiency. If I'm using 48W of electricity, I'm only getting 2.4W of actual cooling!! That's a HUGE amount of wasted electricity, considering my entire panel gives me only 200W in full sunshine, maximum exposure, daytime. It's also not enough to actually cool the food. This would explain why the specs on TEC coolers are that it will only cool to 40 degrees below ambient, and not down to refrigerator-safe temperatures. And in winter? I'm getting NOTHING when running it on a 15-minute-per-hour cycle (1A), which is all I can afford in the dark, certainly not enough to run this damn thing, and definitely not enough to keep food from spoiling. This whole TEC cooler idea is brain-dead.

I need to get an actual refrigerator that uses state-change, a condensor, an evaporator, and a compressor. These get 40-50% efficiency, and so to make an even comparison, my 48W of electricity would get me 24W of cooling.

There are plenty of small 12v high-efficiency refrigerators out there, but they are VERY expensive: anywhere from $1500 to $700 to $400. This is crazy. Although, there's one out there that supposedly uses only 10Ah a day. That is what I need.

It seems that these super-ridiculously-expensive units use the Danfoss compressors, which are especially efficient on electricity, and also run off of 12v. A fellow vandweller (who is also an EPA-certified refrigeration tech, luckily), suggested I just buy an old, small, college dorm refrigerator off of Craigslist, then buy a Danfoss compressor, and weld it in, then have him charge it up with refrigerant. I'm really liking that idea. Even better, I can pull the condensor out of the unit, and mount it and the compressor OUTSIDE of the van, underneath it. Got plenty of room under there, and it would keep the heat out in the summertime and also the noise out all year long. So that's an especially intriguing idea.

But either way, this cooler has got to go. It was a good experiment, but it just won't survive the winter, and certainly won't work in the summer.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Lead feet save fuel

I've discovered something very bizarre. I get MUCH better fuel efficiency when I really slam on the pedal and use up more fuel! Very, very strange.

But then, I drive mostly short trips. I have a diesel engine, and it takes forever to warm up, and it's totally inefficient when it is cold. But it's always cold, because I don't drive it long enough to warm it up, so my fuel efficiency sucks.

Well lately I've been laying my foot into the thing the second after I start it. Winding it out, giving it way too much, and climbing hills aggressively on a stone-cold engine. The net effect of this is that the engine warms up really quickly-- on a 4 mile trip uphill I can actually get it up to operating temperature by the time I'm done.

And I'm getting nearly double the mileage I used to get when I was babying the engine, bogging it down, keeping the revs low, and not letting it warm up. Plus, it idles smoother and seems happier.

Who'd have thought? I've dramatically increased my fuel efficiency by being a lead foot.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Refrigerator progress

I've spent the last few weeks being a total geek. My refrigerator uses way too mcuch electricity-- 4A @ 12V-- so I needed to build a timer to keep from having it on all the time.

My ultimate goal is to have a microcontroller interface with my SunSaver MPPT controller and read how many amp/hours I have coming in off the panels, and decide whether to run the refrigerator based on that. I have spent months researching how to do it-- MODBUS protocol stacks, serial interfaces, etc.. I now have a solid design and software that will work, and I'm still working on the last bit of electrical design.

But the rains have already started, and the sun is gone. I can't wait for this fancy interface-- I need to stop this cooler from using more electricity than I have available.

So, in the meantime, I hacked together a little Atmel microcontroller and a relay module, and wrote some code to let me choose a duty cycle of 15 minutes per hour, 30 minutes per hour, always on, and off. I'm choosing them manually, via a switch connected to the microcontroller, but it's better than nothnig. With the 15 minute duty cycle, I'm using only 1A per hour. This keeps me from running my batteries down at night. It's been so dark, I have to use the 15 minute cycle even in the daytime too.

Friday, October 1, 2010

You've got to be kidding me

But wait, it gets better!

I get on the bus, go do my errands, and come back... and some douchebag tagged the whole roll-up door in the back-- the one that I just spent a weekend painting a month ago and looked perfectly clean!

Lovely. Middle of the afternoon. Broad daylight (well, thick fog, but that's our daylight). Million-dollar houses all around. And some fool's name sprayed all over my brand new door.

What is going on, is there a moron festival happening this weekend?

My door had been painted a month ago with a glossy top coat, his paint was still fresh, he painted onto a dirty surface, and the weather was wet, so douchebag's name came right off in 10 minutes with a couple rags and paint thinner. He must have just been there not even an hour before I got back.

Still, the cleaning left a residue (and took off a little bit of my paint), and now the door looks like crap. I have a half a can of white top coat left, so, when the weather warms up a bit, I'll just spray another coat on and cover up.

Grafitti bozo fails. I WIN.

Rattle, rattle

Tonight I parked over by one of the several universities here, a spot I've parked probably dozens of nights before, though I haven't been there in many months, and haven't parked there regularly in over a year now. It's a very busy area, but also residential and usually very safe and relatively quiet.

By about 2am, I was very tired, but working on my relay/timer microcontroller project for my refrigerator. Was just about to go to sleep, when I hear the unmistakable "rattle rattle rattle" of a spraypaint can. And something totally different happened. Instead of an immediate flight or fear or panic response, or even anger and frustration, my first instinct was confrontation! This was a big difference for me, and a big surprise to me as well. I didn't bother with peepholes or yelling; I wanted to get up close and personal into this. I didn't feel cornered or want to retreat, I wanted to push back! I jumped out of the van almost instantly, and, sure enough, suprised a spoiled punk white kid standing next to my van with a spraypaint can, who immediately set off to running down the street before I could say a word. I looked at my van, and he hadn't had a chance to even make a single mark yet. Across the street, on the other side, watching, were three of his buddies, obviously spotting for him. They just looked at me, frozen.

I looked around some more. I usually park in diagonal spot where I'm very visible, but tonight I was on the side of the street, where it was very dark and secluded on the curb side. Sure enough, that's where the punk was planning to create his "masterpeice" on my truck. OK, my mistake.

Again, without fear, but with some resignation and effort (I was exhausted), I packed up my stuff, and drove off for a less hostile environnment. I found a bunch of much more visible spots across the street, but decided I didn't need the hassle, and set off for the quiet suburbs instead. I found another bunch of good spots just a block away, but, standing right there, and looking frozen, were the three kids who were standing around spotting for the "artist". They just looked at me with apprehension. I just looked at them, not so much angry or frustrated, but, what's the word?, focussed. I studied all of their faces as I passed by.

I found a lovely quiet suburban spot just a few miles away, on the outskirts of the city, and a short bus ride from where I needed to be in the morning. Great!

I really do feel like a different person. I'm definitely not the scared little squirrel that first set off on his own almost three years ago. Not only can I manage now, but I can do a lot more by instinct than I ever knew how to do at all.