Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Trip went well

Well I completed an 1000-mile round trip journey into the hot land and back. It went great! Everything worked more or less as planned.

The cab stayed nice and cool, and no coolant leaks or coolant smell, since I bypassed the heater core. Transmission ran great, engine ran great, all was well. I went down the coast, saw some beautiful country, stopped along the way at campgrounds on the cheap, toured around in LA, did my obligations there, and came back. It was a joy being at home no matter where I was.

I bought two new tires for the front, and moved the front tires onto the rear, replacing the two balding ones. So for the first time in the 4 years I've owned this van, I'm driving on 6 GOOD tires now.

I learned a few things. First of all, I'd overinflated my front tires, so my handling was kind of dodgy; it felt like the van was weaving all over the road whenever I went over any kind of bump or hill. I think my rear springs are sagging too; will have to find out what's involved in putting a new leaf in there. Bled a few pounds out of front tires and that improved the handling a bit. Also, I carried way too much fuel. There are a couple biodiesel fueling stops along the way, and they're very nice, and open convenient hours, so I could have done it all just by filling up along the way. The 5 gals of spare fuel I brought just added weight I didn't need, so I didn't use it on the way back.

Also, I know now what my MPG is. 10. Yes, 10. I get 10MPG. And biodiesel is like $4.60 up here. So it was not a cheap trip. Granted, that 10MPG includes winding down the coastal highway 1 at an average speed of 40MPH, so it's not really a freeway measurement. I took the freeway on the way back and I'm sure that was much better mileage.

And, in 100-degree heat, the fan and vent is useless. My insulation certainly works great-- it's 20-30 degrees cooler in the box than in the cab, for example-- but once the heat picks up in the afternoon, the fan is just moving the hot air around. At night, it can take an hour or two of running the fan full-on, before the interior finally cools down. And even with the sun shining brightly during the day, there's not enough sun to fully recharge the batteries from running the fan at full 4A blast at night. I think if I had to spend more time in that kind of hot climate, I'd have to say, nevermind the solar panels, just park in the shade as much as possible.

When I got back, it was time for an oil change (I do mine every 3,000 miles or so). I know, I should have done an oil change BEFORE driving 1000 miles through the heat, but I'd just changed it and it wasn't quite ready to be changed yet. So I waited until it'd been 3,500 miles, and the oil was FILTHY. Just disgusting, much worse than last time I changed it. Black, nasty oil. That'd mean carbon. Also, it was MORE viscous than clean oil, a lot more viscous. Biodiesel blowby? Maybe my rings are going, or my valve guides.

Another very odd thing: my air filter is filthy, but it's filthy with what a brown discoloration that looks and smells like biodiesel! It looks soaked. I'll have to get a postal scale and weigh it versus a clean one to see how much stuff is actually in there. But, how is biodiesel getting into my INTAKE air? The only thing I can think of is that perhaps, when I start up the engine cold in the mornings, and I always get a huge cloud of white smoke coming out, sometimes the wind blows some of that into my intake and it gets caught in the filter over time. Not sure though; that one is a puzzler.

Friday, August 5, 2011

The work gets easier

Doing work on my van has become an absolute joy. I love it. I know what I'm doing now, and that makes it fun.

I finally got my cooling system squared away. I did a bunch of research and realized I'd been misreading the test strips. Turns out I desperately need to replenish my SCA's, so I'm in the process of calculating exactly how much I need to add and will add it.

I think my heater core is pluggged up and possibly leaking too, but getting to it requires dismantling the entire dashboard, steering column, and ignition lock, so I just bypassed the heater. Bent the supply hose around double into a U and connected it to the return. Done. On this vehicle, the heater core is ALWAYS live, no matter whether the blend door is in the hot or cold position! So by disconnecting it, it'll probably stay a little cooler in here on the hot drive south.

My coolant was in what looked to me like perfect condition. I also checked the flow of my transmission cooler and it is excellent. I did find a bit of sand (yes, sand) in the coolant, but it wasn't magnetic, so I'm not worried about it. A friend said that it might be sand leftover from the cast iron block stamping! Imagine that.

The squeaking/parping sound may have been caused by transmission fluid dripping onto my drive belt and more or less ruining it. I cleaned it off good with rubbing alcohol and the squeak stopped. But I also did the transmission cooler line check, so perhaps the noise was coming from the trans after all. No matter; it's gone now either way.

Well that's it, I'm ready to drive. I might replace two balding rear tires first before this trip, depending on whether I can afford it. I'd like to bleed my brakes but that's easy, and top up my differential which is seeping. I probably should do an oil change, but I'm not really due for one until AFTER the trip, so I'll probably wait on that. I'm sure by then my air filter will be toast. This turbo breathes a lot of air, and riving around on dirt roads is rough on my air filters.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Moore's Law and capitalism

I've said for many years that there is only one thing that capitalism does better than anything else, and that is: make cheap gadgets.

I'm thinking about this as I'm sitting here, I'm legally considered homeless, but I have no less than 7 microprocessors in here! Most of which were cheap or free. I also have at least as many embedded microcontrollers too, and another half-dozen sitting in a drawer as chips ready to be placed into some project or another.

I'm part of a technologically-advanced underclass. I'm told that in China there are huge masses of deeply poor people running around with tons of microprocessor gadgets as well.

Moore's Law keeps marching on; computers keep getting more powerful and cheaper every year. As for other things like food, medical care, etc, even energy, not so much.

There are some interesting developments attempting to apply Moore's Law to problems like energy (i.e. solar energy, battery-driven cars), but they're haven't become quite the self-accelerating spiral that the semiconductor and consumer electronics industries are yet.