Log in

sparr [entries|archive|friends|userinfo]

[ userinfo | livejournal userinfo ]
[ archive | journal archive ]

Samsung tech support shenanigans [Feb. 21st, 2017|06:57 pm]

My Samsung Galaxy S7 can't keep its wifi and bluetooth turned off. I turn them off, they turn back on a few minutes to an hour later. I called T-Mobile support about this months ago with no result.

Recently, I called Samsung tech support through the support app built into my phone (this will be relevant later). They told me that they have to follow a troubleshooting script, and had me reboot my phone into safe mode. They gave me the steps and the ticket number and told me to call back in later after seeing if this resolved the problem.

I gave it an hour in safe mode and the problem didn't recur, so I considered it fixed. I booted back into non-safe mode and called them back. They correctly determined based on this experiment that the problem is an app. Then they told me I needed to uninstall any non-essential apps on my phone to see if the problem goes away. I refused, and told them the problem existed before I ever installed any apps on the phone. More specifically, I said that some online forum posts made me suspect the problem was the Good Lock app, from Samsung. They told me they don't do any app support, but that if it's a Samsung app then they have a department for that, and I was transferred to that department.

A nice Australian woman's voice on the automated system told me I'd reached a department I hadn't talked to before, which was comforting. I talked to the person on that end for a few minutes and they said they also didn't do app support. They gave me the phone number for a third (or so I thought) department.

Calling that number brought me back to the first department. This time I told the person I was tired of being sent in circles. They again insisted that I needed to uninstall a bunch of apps, or do a factory reset on the phone. I again refused. I said I suspected a Samsung app of being the problem. They asked if they could remotely control my phone to see what I was seeing.

Now, recall to my mention of there being a support app built into my phone. It's called Samsung+ and it does a lot of things, including phone calls and voice+video chat with tech support, and a feature called Remote Access that lets me enter a code so Samsung techs can remotely control my phone. This tech asked me, instead, to go get a new app from the play store called Smart Tutor. I asked why she couldn't use the Samsung remote access system already built into my phone. She seemed to have no idea what I was talking about. I called the situation ridiculous, but did install Smart Tutor, and she managed to get access to my phone.

Now she looked at my app list and again said I had too many apps and needed to uninstall many of them. I opened the Good Lock app and she asked where I got this app. I tried to show it to her in the Play Store, which was fruitless because I had forgotten that it wasn't from the Play Store. While I was looking there, she repeated that this wasn't a Samsung app. I eventually googled for it and got reminded that it was installed by the Galaxy Apps system from Samsung. I opened Galaxy Apps and found Good Lock marked as Installed. She said she had no idea what that was, and that she couldn't help me with it. She said she could give me the number of a department that could.

I called that number and got a familiar Australian voice. This time the person on the other end let me explain the situation, and they also told me they had never heard of Good Lock. They said they only support a few Samsung apps, and not that one.

I ended up figuring out how to uninstall it on my own. This didn't actually solve the problem, so I'm still on the hunt for tools that can help me do that. I either need to find an app that will tell me which of all my installed apps have the permission to turn wifi on, or I need to connect the phone to a computer via USB and use adb logcat to look at the logs to see what's happening when wifi gets turned on and hope there's something correlated that I can track down. However, I no longer expect T-Mobile or Samsung to give me any assistance with that.

What blows my mind is that four different people at Samsung would tell me they've never heard of Good Lock and that they don't support it. Good Lock is one of Samsung's promoted apps in their own store, a cornerstone of the advertised user experience of the Galaxy S7 and other newer phones. https://news.samsung.com/global/good-lock-customize-the-way-you-use-your-galaxy-smartphone
LinkLeave a comment

Responsibility for Mental Autopilot [Jan. 4th, 2017|06:40 pm]

Your brain is quite capable of performing tasks without you consciously thinking about them. You aren't making decisions along the way, your body just follows the instructions coming from the non-conscious part of your brain until the conscious part interrupts it. I call this your autopilot.

Read more...Collapse )

Who is responsible for actions that you take while you're on autopilot?

Read more...Collapse )
LinkLeave a comment

My Ethical Philosophy [Jan. 1st, 2017|09:29 pm]
[Tags|, , , ]

I follow a variation of consequentialism, filtered through the opposite of paternalism which doesn't have a more specific name.

My value system is how I decide which outcomes are better than which others. It is important to note that the philosophical concepts below are not dependent on that value system. Everything in the next few paragraphs holds regardless of what value system we are considering. Wherever you see "good", "bad", "positive", "negative", "better", "worse", etc below, those can mean whatever you want them to mean, especially if your value system is internally consistent and universalizable. I sometimes even prefer to operate in your value system, if we are discussing a situation where the positive and negative outcomes affect mostly to only you.

I apply a maximax criterion regarding the choices of other actors with agency. That's someone like you, in most cases. When I take an action that allows you to choose between two actions of your own, I am responsible for the most good outcome you could choose, and you are responsible for any less good or more bad in the outcome that you do choose. If I opt to not give you that choice because I expect you would choose the less good outcome, I am denying you agency in the situation, and that would be paternalistic. When I tell you that your dog is trapped in a burning building, you might decide to run inside; if the outcome of your choice is worse than if I had not told you then you are responsible for that outcome, not me. When the villain drops two people off a bridge and you can only save one, someone is responsible for the death of the person that you do not save, and it is mostly to completely not you.

I apply an expected value criterion regarding actions with random outcomes. When I play a game of Russian Roulette, the death of the loser is as much my responsibility as that of the person who made the unlucky trigger pull.

Finally, I do not recognize a fundamental distinction between action and inaction. If I tell you that pressing the button will do something and you press it, you're responsible for the outcome. If I tell you that not pressing the button will do that same something and you don't press it, you're equally responsible. Not pressing the button is just as much a choice as pressing it. This concern is most often illustrated with variations of the trolley problem where the two tracks are switched, which I don't consider to actually change the problem at all.

That's all I've got for now. This is my first real attempt to put this all together in a reference document. It will certainly be revised in the future, as I get a better grasp on the concepts that drive my decisions, and also continue to become better at describing them.
LinkLeave a comment

New year resolutions for 2017: (starting now, because fuck 2016) [Dec. 14th, 2016|12:47 am]
[Tags|, , , , , ]

Put more money into savings. One year of 12.5% contribution to my 401(k) has made up for multiple years of low/no retirement savings. The first year worth of stock grant at my employer also just vested, so that's a start to my short/medium-term savings (so I can buy a house in a year or three, maybe).

Donate more to charity. Katarina inspired me to make recurring donations to the ACLU and Planned Parenthood already. My irregular EFF donations are going to be made regular, and I'm going to add some to that.

Buy more art. My friends make art and their time is not worthless. I also consume a lot of art/media/entertainment that I don't have to pay for. Thanks to Winter for the idea of making a bunch of $1/mo Patreon commitments.

Help my friends and acquaintances more, financially. I make more in a day than many of my friends make in a week. I think I can work at least one day a month for them. Starting today.

Do something more interesting for housing than just living in a bus. I have three buses. I am actively pursuing leads for a small building and parking lot somewhere in SF or Oakland, so I can invite 5-10 people to live with me and make something unusual happen.
Link2 comments|Leave a comment

Uber: "Lie to us to get a job" [Dec. 12th, 2016|04:54 pm]
[Tags|, , ]

I'm not actively looking for a new job. However, in my industry, recruiters just keep calling/emailing, and it's good practice to occasionally follow through. Even if they don't convince me to jump ship, new job offers give me data to use when I'm negotiating a raise or promotion with my current employer.

A recruiter at Uber approached me. I went through a few phone interviews and then came on site for a full day with a bunch of people. It went well. They made me an offer, in the form of an "offer agreement letter", which they needed me to sign and send back within a few days to them to accept. In this case, the offer was actually enough to convince me, if everything else had worked out.

I brought up three potential concerns with the agreement, directly to the recruiter who then brought them to the attention of their legal dept and my supervisor-to-be.

"without express written permission from a senior leader of your organization, you shall not render services in any capacity to any other person or entity"

The obvious intent of this clause is to prevent moonlighting. I don't have other employment or business endeavors, but I do a lot of volunteer and open source work that are the kinds of things people often get paid for (IT, development, management, etc). I offered to make a list of those things for a "senior leader" to sign off on.

"you have returned all property and confidential information belonging to any prior employer"

I told them I couldn't sign this part until I had returned the laptop owned by my current employer, which would happen in about 3 weeks.

"you are under no obligations or commitments, whether contractual or otherwise, that are inconsistent with your obligations under this Agreement. In connection with your Employment, you shall not use or disclose any trade secrets or other proprietary information or intellectual property in which you or any other person has any right, title or interest and your Employment will not infringe or violate the rights of any other person."

This one was the doozie. If you've ever worked in tech, or even visited a few big tech companies' offices, you've probably been required to sign an "NDA" at some point. Half the time you can't even get into the building to attend a meetup without agreeing to contractual terms at the door on the little kiosk that prints your visitor nametag. (search your email for 'envoy "document you signed today"'; kudos to Envoy for making it easy to keep track of SOME of these!)

A significant number of these agreements have some requirement outside of simple non-disclosure. As it turns out, the year preceding this situation was a pretty boring year for me, and I wasn't interviewing for a lot of jobs, so I only had two contracts that gave me pause.

The first was from interviewing at a healthcare IT provider. That contract said, in not so few words, that if I discovered someone mishandling HIPAA-protected information while using their system, I had to inform them.

The second was with my then-current employer, where I am required to notify them if I come into possession of their confidential information through a channel they have not approved. If you've ever seen the movie "Coming to America", this clause would be relevant if a McDonald's employee later worked at McDowell's and was handed the McDonald's operations manual by a McDowell's employee who wasn't supposed to have it in the first place.

I told the recruiter I had a couple of outstanding contracts that might be relevant. He asked for them, and I sent them over. Their legal team had a powwow for about a week. I had a phone call with my supervisor-to-be and he asked me what I would do if I found myself in the exceptionally unlikely circumstance of one of those contractual conflicts arising. I told him that after talking to him I'd talk to the company's legal dept to get official guidance. He asked what I'd do if they wouldn't provide any. That question left me stunned, and I ventured a guess that I would seek independent legal counsel. I suspect now that that was the Wrong Answer.

I originally expected their response to be simple and straightforward. "Hold off on doing tech/dev volunteering until your supervisor signs off on it. We'll amend the agreement to say you've returned the laptop by the time you start here. The contracts you sent are totally standard and nothing to worry about regarding the conflict clause." Instead, at every juncture I got strong implicit and weak explicit direction to simply sign the paperwork and stop making a stink. Of course, at the same time, my recruiter was praising me for reading the documents and being honest.

A week after that call, I was told by my recruiter the job offer was being rescinded and we would "part ways", due to the company not wanting to "take the risk" of hiring me.

The punchline of this all is that at various points in the process I was told, first and secondhand by and through multiple people at the company, that I was the first person to ever bring these issues up. At a company with ~8000 employees, apparently not a single other person has ever mentioned any of this when signing their employment agreement. I am confident that most of them were in at least one of the three situations I described above (including some people I know have signed the exact same contracts, having interviewed or been employed at those same places), and I'd wager that many of them were in all three of them. None of these concerns seem outlandish at all to me.

I post this both to warn future Uber applicants to either bail out early or be prepared to lie as required on the documents, and to ask my friends what I should do in the future in these situations.

Should I be reconsidering how honest I am with people asking me to sign things like this? I've only lightly questioned this policy in my life in the past, but this time it cost me what was probably a few hundred thousand dollars, possibly much more. To be told that thousands of people in the same situation have lied on these documents and I am the only squeaky wheel is giving me significant pause.
LinkLeave a comment

Sparr Bought Two More Buses: DMV [Nov. 28th, 2016|11:52 am]
[Tags|, ]

After buying the buses and tag team driving them from Iowa to California, the next step was to get them registered ASAP so that I could park them on the street. To a first approximation, there are two major requirements for registering a bus as a motorhome in California.

First, you have to remove most of the seats. There are laws about how many seats a vehicle can have and not count as a "commercial" vehicle even if it's not being used commercially. There's a lot of nuance and variation between different states, and in some cases specific cities. As far as I've narrowed it down, the punchline is that 10 seats is legal everywhere in the US, and 15 is legal most places and doesn't draw much attention in the 10-seat states if it's registered in a 15-seat state.

Fortunately I don't actually want my bus(es) to have a lot of dedicated seats. One thing I learned on the road trip to Burning Man last year is that with so much open space, passengers are much more likely to be comfortable on the sleeping surfaces than the sitting surfaces, given that the beds are cushy and the seats are not. They even spread out on the floor with cushions and sleeping bags. That might change if I had comfier seats, which could happen when I add a sofa. For now, simply ripping out every seat in the rear section and half the seats in the front sufficed. The remaining seats are the fold-up seats near the wheelchair securements, as well as the few seats that have bolts through the floor and require someone under the bus to remove. I got one bus that far on my own on Sunday night and Monday morning, and it was the first that I drove to the DMV in San Francisco.

Along the way, I stopped by my old bus to get the kitchen cabinet, with sink and stove, a water tank, and the toilet. Along with a bed, which we already had from the trip, those things comprise the general unofficial guidelines for a motorhome conversion in CA. The actual law just says "permanently altered ... and equipped for human habitation", which gets interpreted by various DMV inspectors in different ways. So far I'm 3 for 3 on big vehicles with a raised mattress, self contained toilet, foot pump sink, and propane stove. People get by with less sometimes, including as little as a bed and a camp stove, but that tends to be much riskier to try.

On the way to retrieve the second bus from its parking in Oakland I also picked up J and D from their hotel. J was already on the hook for a day of work, since our original negotiation had him still full-time driving through Monday. I extended my deal with D for drive time to include wrench time.

The first major wrinkle in the plan developed shortly after I got the second bus to the DMV parking lot, while I was still making logistical plans with J and D. While I was inside the DMV, J and D were going to be busy removing and stacking seats from the second bus. Interrupting that planning, a DMV employee came out and asked me to move my buses out of the parking lot. I said that I couldn't, in not so few words. Her manager came out shortly afterward and repeated it as a demand, to which I calmly and politely responded that I couldn't drive them on the street again until they were registered. I offered to move them to other parts of the lot, but she didn't like those ideas (those parts might still be needed for DMV operations later in the day, like motorcycle driving tests). In the end she said she would call California Highway Patrol (the lot is technically state property, being the DMV's) and I went back to planning.

When I had a free minute, I found someone in line just keeping a friend company. I talked to that person and gave them $10 to stick around in line to the end, with promise of $20 more at the end. They were happy to take it, and seemed incredulous at the deal. Overall, that $30 saved me about 2 hours in line, and is probably what made the difference in success or failure for the day. With that settled, I went back to getting the first bus ready. I cleaned it up a little and rearranged the living facilities.

While doing that, two CHP officers arrived. I greeted them outside the bus and they seemed friendly. Apparently someone had implied to CHP that I was somehow driving "both buses at the same time", which they repeated with incredulity. We talked about my options, and one of the officers went inside to talk to the DMV manager. Some fuss was raised about the second bus not being qualified for conversion yet, and the lead officer did not believe I could have it ready in the ~4 hours we had to get through the other process. In the end, he negotiated for me to move the buses to the positions I had originally offered to move to, with the caveat that I must get them out of the lot by closing time, and a promise from the DMV manager to sell me another one-trip permit to move the unconverted bus without plates (the same way I moved them from Iowa).

After a couple of hours I met my proxy near the head of the line and got some paperwork and instructions to get the bus inspected after filling it out. I had to ask a few questions; the form has changed in the last 8 months. I got it filled out pretty easily after that, then waited about an hour for the inspector. This is the same person who checks car VIN plates, and multiple cars came, waited, and gave up waiting while I was there. Eventually both inspectors on duty came out; apparently an opportunity for the senior inspector to do a motorhome conversion was a teaching opportunity for their junior counterpart. He was a little dubious that the kitchen cabinet wasn't bolted down, but happy about its general heftiness, and everything else looked good. He didn't ask me to demonstrate the toilet, which is sad because I love showing it to people.

Fun fact: the CA DMV website gives average wait times at each station, but those times start when you get a number. So, after 2 hours of my proxy standing in line, and another hour waiting for an inspector, I finally got a number and my official "wait" started, advertised to be about 30 minutes. As this was going on, J and D were finishing the seat removal (on which they did an amazing job) on the second bus. I asked them to swap the two buses positions and discreetly move the kitchen and toilet between them. I did the paperwork on the first bus, got its plates, and then went back to the "get paperwork" step for the second bus. Thankfully not the "get in line" step.

Inspection and paperwork for the second bus went smoothly. The DMV closes at 17:00, but handles everyone in line by 16:59, so we weren't even close to the last ones out at about 17:30. We drove the two new buses to the same block where I park my old bus, did a little bit of tricky maneuvering, and declared an end to the bus handling for the day. After dinner at a local pub J and D both went their separate ways, towards overnight plans and/or the airport.
LinkLeave a comment

Sparr Bought Two More Buses: Retrieval [Nov. 22nd, 2016|03:14 pm]
[Tags|, ]

I bought two buses at online auction, from the Des Moines Area Regional Transit Authority (DART). I made plans with some friends to meet up in Chicago and drive them back to SF. There were some hiccups along the way, but (spoiler alert) we made it.

On Thursday and early Friday we all started to travel towards Chicago. I flew in from San Fransisco along with Z. D took a train from New York, and J drove up from Indianapolis with his friend M. I had breakfast in Chicago with Z and an old friend there. D, M, and J showed up shortly thereafter and we started driving west in the late morning.

The drive from Chicago to Des Moines was uneventful. We stopped for provisions outside of Chicago and made good time across Illinois and Iowa.

Once in Des Moines we were on a somewhat tight schedule. We went to the DART offices first. I filled out paperwork and the maintenance manager there gave me a walkthrough of the buses and their controls. We all spent about half an hour looking them over and testing various things. D was our resident mechanic for the trip and he poked at things under the hood. Sadly all of this took place after dark, so I postponed taking photos. After deciding both buses were roadworthy, we sent M back to Indianapolis with J's car. There were some contingency plans in place if one of the buses deserved to be scrapped at that point, but we didn't need them. We then went to a UPS store, where I'd had packages shipped ahead of time, and retrieved a bunch of logistical needs (mattresses, ratchet straps, 12V outlets, etc). The last stop in Des Moines was at an OReilly to get spare fluids and such, at D's direction.

After Des Moines we picked up some folks who responded to a Craigslist rideshare post that I had made. A family of five and their two dogs and 2d3 rodents. They had gotten stranded in western Iowa due to a family problem and wanted to get to San Francisco and Tucson. I offered to drop off the Tucson-bound folks in Denver, but they said they'd rather just all go to SF if I wasn't going any further south than Denver.

The next 1500 miles went by in a ~30 hour blur, trading off drivers and stopping for food and fuel and bathrooms every 4-6 hours. Along the way we discovered some mechanical problems with each bus. One was losing coolant at a manageable rate (4 gallons over the whole trip). One bus reports low oil pressure despite having apparently full oil. We also had occasional confusion about why a bus wouldn't go into gear or respond to throttle, although it's probable that we were just missing some interlock conditions rather than anything being wrong. My notes were not as good as they might have been, so it was only later that I narrowed down which bus had each problem.

As we drove through Nevada, we hit a bit of bad luck with timing. Donner Pass (the path through the Sierra Nevada between Reno and Sacramento) was experiencing freezing rain turning into snow, and CalTrans had declared a snow-chains-required condition. I spent 6-9AM calling truck stops and auto part stores and mechanics as they opened (what few were open at all on a Sunday) and in the end we found exactly four chains that would fit on the buses' ridiculously large tires. $550 later and we had the bare minimum number of chains that might get us through the pass, two per bus rather than the 4-6 per bus that might be required in certain conditions.

As we left the clear weather in Reno things got progresively worse on the way up the mountain, until we were in moderate snowfall and a few inches of accumulation at the top. At the agricultural inspection station we got a little card explaining which wheels needed chains on different vehicle shapes. There was no bus, so we decided to go with the 6-wheel 2-axle truck diagram. We pulled over along with all the other cars and trucks just before the chain checkpoint and spent ~30 minutes getting four chains installed. I learned a lot, and I think I could do them in 3-5 minutes each by myself next time, as long as I only had to do outer wheels. If I ever have to do my inner wheels, I'm just going to pull over and camp out if the storm isn't expected to be days long.

We saw a few idiots spin out, mostly people who had lied to CHP about having 4WD/AWD, or been too stupid to enable it at least. No disasters, just short delays as they righted themselves. Traffic was generally 20-35MPH through the pass, and this was one of our few chances on the trip to not be the slowest vehicle on the road.

About an hour later we pulled over again and removed the chains, another ordeal where I learned some tricks. Someone had abandoned a single chain-link tire chain for a large tire right where we pulled over, so I grabbed that. That much heavy duty chain and fasteners has a lot of potential uses, even if I don't use it as a tire chain.

We made it all the way to the bay area without further incident. Then, in the home stretch, one of the buses shut down and wouldn't restart. We got the nasty surprise that it had lost all of its transmission fluid. I drove one bus down to Hayward to drop off our Craigslist passengers while the folks in the other bus took a carshare to a store to buy fluid and fill it up. They got back on the road around the time I finished my detour, and we met up in Emeryville.

The end of the road trip proper was in the Home Depot parking lot in Emeryville. I've parked there before, and have a minor level of rapport with some of their security, all of whom are quite friendly. They seem to have no problem with overnight parking, possibly contingent on my actually doing some shopping there before or after, which I've always done.

Z caught a ride back home. I put J and D up in a nearby hotel, where we all used the shower. I left them there and went back to Home Depot. Along the way I'd started removing some of the bus seats, and that work continued on Sunday night.

Thus ends the story of retrieving the two buses from Des Moines. My next post will cover Sunday and Monday, getting the buses ready and registered at the DMV and into parking spots.
LinkLeave a comment

Sparr Bought Two More Buses: Shopping [Nov. 22nd, 2016|01:34 pm]
[Tags|, ]

As mentioned previously, the bus that I bought 9 months ago has developed an engine failure that will be slightly to extremely prohibitively costly to repair. This has led to me shopping for a replacement.

As part of the shopping process, I re-evaluated my priorities from last time, and re-considered the pros and cons of different sorts of vehicles. Most of those conclusions remained the same, and I won't re-cover them here. There were a couple of significant departures, though.

I was under more time pressure this time. Last time I had my ambulance in good running condition for the duration of my quest. This time, my bus was mostly stationary and I'd lost a lot of the perks of having a home that is mobile (not to be confused with the idiomatic "mobile home"). The net result here was a loosening of some of my criteria.

Owning a bus from an uncommon manufacturer proved to be a mistake. I had trouble finding mechanics who would work on it, and found little to no information online about it. I eventually secured an operator's manual, but never managed to find a service or maintenance manual. Operations as trivial as finding and removing the air filter were painfully time consuming and difficult. My strong preference this time was to go with a "household name" brand.

I started the process by re-creating my email notification rules on publicsurplus.com and govdeals.com, the two biggest government property auction consolidation sites. Although I did occasionally check individual city and county and university sites, the bulk of my leads came from those two. I asked for emails about newly listed buses across the country, and bus auctions that were about to end, or as close as I could get with each site's notification settings.

Then began a waiting game. Most used buses sell for "reasonable" prices, which make commercial sense for a buyer with plans to recoup their investment, but not as much for an individual who just wants the vehicle. I saw and sadly ignored many auctions that ended, or even started, in that fashion. Anyone with a $10-40k budget can buy a much nicer bus at a more convenient sale than I need.

Along the way I pursued a few leads to some significant degree.

The Oakland CA airport sold off a small fleet of buses they no longer needed. I went so far as to schedule an in-person inspection and take a staggering number of photos in an attempt to locate the one I wanted. In the end it didn't matter; a local bus refurbishing company bought up almost the whole lot for $8-9k each.

The Livermore transit agency sold their old fleet, but I ignored it because the buses were longer than I wanted. I regret that now, and wish I had gone to see them.

A small town in Georgia had a bus that I was very interested in, with minor damage that would be inconsequential to me but require costly body repairs for a reseller or commercial user. I paid a friend who lived a few hours away to drive down and get photos and video of it. That one sold for an amount just slightly higher than I had bid. I would have enjoyed a cross-country road trip with friends from Atlanta.

I finally struck gold in Des Moines, Iowa. Their transit agency is in the process of replacing a whole 12-15 year old fleet, and opened the process with two bus auctions in parallel, and a third ending a few days later. The buses are longer than I wanted (same size as the Livermore buses I passed up), but otherwise a good match. I watched the auctions eagerly, and as they came to a close I jumped in and got the first two for $1520 and $2000 (plus taxes and auction fees totaling about 20%). I had hopes to win the third one, and placed a bid on it early, but got outbid with a few days left. This was actually good news; the later unit being bid up gave me a good idea that I had gotten a steal on the earlier ones.

While watching those auctions I had corresponded with some old friends about working together to road trip them back to San Francisco. Plans were made for the 2 or 3 bus eventuality, some plane and train tickets were bought, and I started laying logistical plans for RV conversion and registration once we got back to CA.

After winning the auctions, I pulled the trigger on the tickets and plans, and my next post will pick up with a flight from San Francisco to Chicago, proceeding through the retrieval and road trip back to the west coast.
LinkLeave a comment

Sparr Bought a Police Van: Week Two [Oct. 25th, 2016|12:59 pm]
[Tags|, ]

I put out some inquiries online about getting a new door. Quotes came back in the $600-750 range. I decided to pursue self-service junk yards instead. Row52.com is a website for searching those yards, so I found a few that had multiple compatible vans. Unfortunately all the photos are from the driver's side, so I didn't know ahead of time if they had a sliding door or not. Three junkyards later and the ratio turned out to be 2 sliding doors vs ~16 double doors. I did consider switching to the double, but that would be a non-trivial task involving a lot of new precisely placed holes in the interior and exterior of the vehicle.

The first sliding door I found had severe rust and weld-ripping damage, but the hardware was decent so I picked up those pieces in case I ended up repairing the door I have. The second sliding door I found was good enough (my standards having been lowered by the low frequency of finding such doors). It has a window, which is a mixed blessing. Between my old door, the new door, and the hardware from the first junkyard I was able to mix and match a significantly better set of individual hardware pieces. I need to lubricate a bunch of bearings and hinges, and some mechanical part rust needs cleaning more urgently than the general body rust elsewhere, but otherwise I think those mechanical bits will long outlast the rest of the van.

Assuming the new door is still in its original shape, the body of the van is bent just a little where the latch is. I'll be applying a jack and hammer and some more creative forms of leverage there in an attempt to get everything to line up cleanly. Right now I've got to apply some specific attention to the latch area when closing the door.

Along the way I picked up a replacement seatbelt for the driver's side, an upgraded model with adjustable shoulder height. I also grabbed a door handle and lock knob and linkages for the rear door, which the police had removed to stop prisoners from opening the door from inside. And I nabbed a full set of larger fuses and relays out of one of the junk vans. I didn't have the time/patience/motivation to follow through with the idea, but I noted that it would not be too hard to swap the front doors out for later models with power windows and locks and vent windows. If I keep it, I'll do that on my next, less urgent, junkyard expedition. I didn't think to grab the mechanism that holds the rear doors halfway open; that will come next time around as well. I did see some spare tire mounts for the rear door, but they were all too rusty considering that a new one online is just ~$70. I'll get one when I get a spare, before I make any long trips.

I discovered that the three rear sections are not quite the right size for a twin mattress. The rear two sections are each a few inches too narrow, and the front section (sideways) is a foot too short. If I decide to do a live-in conversion with the cage structures mostly intact, a non-rigid twin mattress (foam or stuffed) shoved into one of the rear sections is probably in order.

I put tape over all the holes in the roof. The inside of the ceiling and walls has stopped collecting water now, and it seems to have mostly drained out. I am annoyed that the previous owners didn't think to cover those holes after removing the light bars, or to put a rubber pad between the steel light bar mounts and the roof to avoid having big patches of rust. The roof needs some sealing attention sooner rather than later.

I put tape over most of the holes in the doghouse (engine cover in the cab). There were dozens of screws and bolts attached to it previously, and every one of them was allowing engine compartment air to blow into the cabin. I need to find some plastic filler or flexible epoxy or similar to plug them permanently, something I can sand down flush.

I ran the fuel tank down to the bottom of the gauge, then put ~31gal in the tank. If the tank is 35gal like it should be, then that means I've got a comfortable buffer at the bottom of the gauge. My vague estimate for that first half tank was 11MPG; I'll know more when I've run this next full tank through.

Next on the agenda is a complete looking over and routine maintenance by a competent mechanic. Fluids and filters and lubricant, examination of the problematic suspension, etc.
LinkLeave a comment

Sparr Bought a Police Van: Week one [Oct. 18th, 2016|09:13 pm]
[Tags|, ]

I am slowly shopping to replace my bus. This involves email notifications from a few auction sites, not all of which can filter results as narrowly as I'd like. So, I get notifications that include other interesting vehicles sometimes. Last week one of those notifications led me to an auction with 15 minutes left, bidding at $499 with the reserve met, for a van with a good engine and transmission. That got my interest. I quickly discovered that it was the longest body Dodge made, in a model I've owned before (1994-2003 Ram Van B3500, specifically the 1997 rather than my old 96), and that it was a police prisoner transport van with all the interior reinforcement that implies. The only major problem was serious damage to the sliding door, and not enough photos to make the extent of the damage entirely obvious.

Read more...Collapse )
Link3 comments|Leave a comment

Sparr Bought A Bus: Sad Tidings and the Future [Oct. 7th, 2016|03:13 pm]
[Tags|, ]

Read more...Collapse )

I will continue living in this bus for now. I aim to drive it back to San Francisco, probably at night for a cooling bonus. I'll keep parking it in my 3 favorite spots near work, moving it every 3-7 days. I've got my fingers crossed that it will start and run for those few minutes every week for a while.

I will look for opportunities to get rid of this bus. I'll be taking some photos to post on Craigslist and elsewhere. Maybe someone wants it for a stationary tiny home. Maybe someone wants to keep it in their driveway and rent it out on AirBNB. Maybe some enterprising diesel mechanic wants to spend a few weeks and $10-20k and get a well-running bus out of the deal. I'm going to ask a few scrappers what they would give me for it, as a last resort, and that should be a decent amount because it's mostly aluminum.

Read more...Collapse )
LinkLeave a comment

Sparr Bought a Bus: Months 2-7 [Oct. 2nd, 2016|11:43 pm]
[Tags|, ]

It's been a while since I posted about the bus. I was working on it a lot for the first month or so, then I slowed down a lot. I didn't stop, and things picked up before Burning Man, and they have taken a turn for the worse recently. Here's what's been going on.

Read more...Collapse )
Link2 comments|Leave a comment

Burning Man 2016 [Sep. 9th, 2016|10:17 am]
[Tags|, , ]

My second year at Burning Man was better and worse than my first. Most of the notable details of the experience were different, although the large scale view of camping in the desert for a week or two with 70k people partying remains the same. Overall, my view of Burning Man remains similar to before I went, and after my first year. It's a lot of fun, and worth the effort and cost if both are lower than average. I'll probably keep going as long as I'm on the west coast. From the east coast, I'd probably go back to spending the same money and effort and work vacation days on 3-5 regional burns instead.

Read more...Collapse )
LinkLeave a comment

Consent violation accusation, 1 month later [Jul. 27th, 2016|06:38 am]
[Tags|, , , , , ]

Previous post: http://sparr0.livejournal.com/77436.html

Last month I heard the following rumor about myself from a bay area acquaintance:

"[a friend who runs a camp at a large event] let me know that someone had complained to him that you were insufficiently respectful of sexual consent boundaries [and that's why you aren't welcome to join his camp]"

Read more...Collapse )

I still don't have enough information to confidently say what I think has happened. I continue to seek information on all of these fronts. This line of inquiry has spawned numerous side quests, all of which I hope to follow to completion in order to make amends, better myself, help others better themselves, or help others make informed decisions about me. Posting this, and following those leads, means I can never again know if an accusation is new or based on the same thing as this round of rumors or even just based on someone having read this post. I can live with that, if it means doing something good with this information.

(cross posted to Facebook, Livejournal, Google+, Fetlife)
Link1 comment|Leave a comment

Firefly 2016 [Jul. 6th, 2016|02:20 pm]
[Tags|, , , , ]


This was my first net-negative experience at a burn or con. The things I learned will have positive value in the future, so eventually I can look back and say this weekend was worth it, but I don't know how long that will take. I've finished burning a lot of bridges and made some new friends. Firefly is still the best regional burn I've been to, despite its flaws, and I'll probably return if they let me.

The Good

I got to spend some part of a couple of days camping with some of the people whose company I enjoy most. This is a welcome reprieve from what has been mostly solitude on the west coast. There were friendly conversations as well as good hugs and cuddles. Due to some things mentioned in sections below, there's a good chance I'll get to spend more time with those people fwen I return to Firefly.

Read more...Collapse )
LinkLeave a comment

Consent violation accusation [Jun. 29th, 2016|12:22 pm]
[Tags|, , ]

I've just heard third-hand, through a grapevine comprised of at-least-mostly bay area people, that "someone has complained ... that you were insufficiently respectful of sexual consent boundaries", and this is resulting in me not being welcome in some spaces at an event.

I don't know who is accusing me. I don't know what they are saying I did. I don't know when or where it happened.

I don't know how much of a game of telephone is going on here. Is this another case of someone labeling me "rapist" based solely on conversations about consent, as happened a couple of times in Boston, and then someone else taking that label at face value?

I've been sexually intimate with four people on the west coast since moving here. Two of them I am still dating and fucking (intermittently), and both seem quite happy to seek out my company. The third asked for a demo of a fucking machine at Dark Odyssey Surrender, and seemed to enjoy the experience and leave happy; I don't know her name and have no idea how to contact her to apologize. The fourth seemed the most likely source of the rumor, since she ended our sexual relationship, so I sent her an attempt at an apology. She coaxed the story from me and explicitly denied it.

If this accusation is following me from my road trip, or Chicago, or Boston, or Atlanta, then I am at a complete loss for how to proceed.

Link1 comment|Leave a comment

Bad start to the weekend [Jun. 10th, 2016|11:07 pm]
[Tags|, , ]

Tonight was going to be a great start to the weekend. Kelly had a ticket to A Night At Hotel Zeppelin for me. I got tickets to #TigerStyle. I left work on time and... then it all went to shit.

Read more...Collapse )
Link2 comments|Leave a comment

Sparr's weekend at Frolicon 2016 [May. 9th, 2016|10:19 am]
[Tags|, , , , , ]

This is the second half of my post-con writing, following a con report style post that's not specific to my experience.

I went to Frolicon this year, after skipping the event last year for logistical reasons, and not otherwise having been to Atlanta for a couple of years. It was a fun weekend, quite full of social and play time with friends and acquaintances, old and new.

Read more...Collapse )
LinkLeave a comment

Frolicon Con Report 2016 [May. 9th, 2016|10:18 am]
[Tags|, , ]

This is the first half of my post-con writing, to be followed by a post about my personal experience and weekend.

Overall, Frolicon is still Frolicon. Circumstances required the venue and date to change this year, which upset a few people, but didn't ruin the event. Every convention has growing pains, and it looks likely we'll weather this one just fine.

Read more...Collapse )

All in all, definitely still a convention worth going to for those kinky and/or geeky.
LinkLeave a comment

Would you kill me for $100? [Apr. 8th, 2016|06:19 am]
[Tags|, , ]

I wonder... if I made "all of my social network Friends/Circles/etc" a beneficiary of my life insurance, how big would the shares need to be for someone out there to have enough motivation to arrange my death? Is there someone on my friend list who would kill me for $10? For $100? For $1000?
LinkLeave a comment

Sparr Bought A Bus: Week Five [Apr. 4th, 2016|04:12 am]

Some Burning Man stuff took time away from the bus this week, but I still got a few things done.

I got the first half of the bed frame built. The cantilever supports are welded and temporarily installed, and there's a platform on top for my current mattress folded in half. I am no longer sleeping on the floor, which is nice. I'll have to take it apart to grind and paint/powdercoat, and to assemble the second half once I can get the heavy duty slides I'm trying to order. While it's apart I'll try to adjust the fit of the supports so they align a bit better.

I decided to temporarily cannibalize the handrail parts that I removed around the first kitchen location. I used them to add some horizontal members to the overhead rails. Now there are enough pieces to support bunk beds or shelves up there. I went with shelves for the short term, with enough free space around them to still grab the rails.

The new shelves are holding most of the long items that I had crammed under the table and seats previously. Wood stock, ladder, brooms, etc. I didn't put the steel stock up there yet but I will. The space under the bed is a good fit for three big storage bins, and the front folding seats have room underneath for four small storage bins. Between those locations and the rear window, I've gotten a lot of stuff out of the way that was slowing me down previously. I also put the hot air balloon and the fourth solar panel into storage.

I started making cardboard inserts for the windows, for privacy and stealth reasons. They are 100% opaque, obviously, so they should be excellent for both. Unfortunately I'll have to remove and reinstall them if I want sunlight through the windows during the daytime other than through the front window or roof hatch. That won't be so bad once I have LED lighting inside. To go with the window covers, I also need to get blackout curtains hung at the front, and to disconnect the light above the front door. I went with white cardboard so that I could get some artistic friends to decorate them eventually.

Intangible progress... I got 15+ people aboard for mobile social activity while I was giving them all rides after a party, to hotels and after-parties. Swapped stories with a few of them, cards with a few more. This is definitely something I want to do more of, especially once the passenger areas are more hospitable.

That's all for now. Plans and priorities haven't changed, otherwise.
LinkLeave a comment

Sparr Bought A Bus: Week Four [Mar. 29th, 2016|12:18 pm]
[Tags|, ]

I am approaching the end of the first month with the bus. Progress has been slower than I'd like, due roughly equal parts to my own laziness, sparse class offerings and a scheduling snafu at TechShop, first drafts of some of the projects not being acceptable, the bus being crowded with stuff due to lack of storage space, and slow delivery time on some of the components. I'm hoping to address at least three of those things in the very near future and speed things up a bit, due in no small part to having received my first parking ticket last night. The nominal reason for the ticket was a street sweeping violation, but they tacked on my lack of license plates. That triggered the start of a 21 day deadline to get it registered and avoid a $121 fine. Despite all of that, I am still making progress, and the space is starting to feel slightly more comfortable with each improvement.

The solar charger seems to be working, despite my not having a way to monitor the battery yet other than a multimeter. I managed to drain the batteries from 25.4V to 25.0V with all my gadgets running overnight, including the lights and fans for a few hours, and it was back up to 25.5V when I checked it after some sunlight. Note to self: Get a low battery alarm.

I built a prototype for the kitchen. It doesn't fit/work well. That's detailed in my previous post. I got most of the rest of the connectors to assemble the whole thing, wherever it ends up going. That included the foot pump for fresh water, the propane regulator and hose and adapter for small bottles, and a few other things.

I partially removed one of the window frames so that I could get behind a wall panel. A significant fraction of the window frame screws are seized with galvanic corrosion (steel screw into aluminum frame). I stripped a couple, and drilled one out. I gave up when I needed to drill out a second one, and will return to that experiment when I have a screw extractor later this week. I did get enough of the frame unscrewed that I could pull it and the wall panel away from the wall. That gave me a glimpse of one of the structural extrusions that I want to use for the table and bed frame mounting. Knowing where that member was allowed me to cut a small hole in the wall panel to get direct access to it.

Good news, the structural member below the windows seems to a similar extrusion profile as the ones in the ceiling holding the handrails. Bad news, it's oriented such that the load bearing channels face up and down, not toward the interior of the bus like they do for the vertical members between the windows. There's an ancillary smaller channel in the useful side of the extrusion, but I don't have nuts that fit it. I've ordered some that might, and will probably end up machining them down to fit. In the long term, this means I need to machine or waterjet cut some adapter plates to make solid mounts to the underside of those members for strong connections, and machine some T-nuts for the smaller channel for lighter connections. In the short term, this means I'm drilling straight through the side of the channel and using screws, effectively treating it like a 1/8" thick piece of angle aluminum. I feel better about this plan given that at least one of the existing installations, the rear upper level retaining walls, also used this connection method for one of their four attachment points.

I bought steel for the table, shower frame, bed frame, etc. I went with a variety of sizes (20ft each of 1x(1|2)x0.125 bar and 1x1x0.125 angle and 1x(0.5|1|2|3)x16GA square tube) which might leave me short for a couple of the final products but gives me plenty to practice with and make prototypes. I got some 1.5x1.5x18GA perforated angle for prototyping connections between my steel tubes and the bolts into the extrusion railes. I also bought a bit of lumber for the table, some 1x2 for the edges and 0.75 plywood for the tabletop.

I built a wooden tabletop and it came out pretty nice. Better than I expected for my first try, not nearly as good as I'd like for the long term. I didn't finish or paint it, and might not if I'm only keeping it for a month or two. I ended up using a lot of small screws to semi-permanently attach the table to the wall, rather than the temporary attachment I need in the long term to use the table as an alternative bed surface by lowering it. I need to investigate attachment methods for the next attempt at a table, since off-the-shelf door hinges aren't going to work as well as I had hoped. I'll probably just buy a commercial restaurant tabletop to replace my prototype eventually, for increased durability and finished-ness. For now, I'm happy that the prototype table is installed and usable. Having a place to sit and work on my laptop or with tools has made the bus feel a lot more home-y.

One side of one of the supports for the roof hatch has started to break. I may have been opening or closing it more forcefully than I should, or maybe it's just dying of old age. I've made a temporary fix with gorilla tape. A less-temporary fix with strapping tape or maybe an epoxy is probably warranted. Eventually I'll want to make replacements for those supports out of metal, once I'm a lot better at welding and a little better at machining. For now, the hatch still opens and closes and stays closed, so there's no rush unless I start going up there a lot more often.

I've ordered a Laveo Dry Flush toilet. I ended up choosing this one despite its higher up front and ongoing cost because I anticipate a guest needing to empty it and wanted to make that as painless as possible for them. This was the only option where the emptying process involves no exposure to human waste.

I received the hardware that I ordered for the overhead rails but half of it doesn't fit. I'm back to shopping around looking for the pieces I need, or cannibalizing parts from other rails already in the bus. I'm probably going to cannibalize in the short term, and then swap out for replacements later so I can put the original parts back where they belong.

I've also ordered a stack of white cardboard sheets big enough to cover the windows. All of the windows have grooves in their frames that I should be able to slide panels into if I can get them cut to the right size. I may do it by hand, or I may do it on the shopbot if I can get my hands on a drag knife or even if I can't, or I may get certified on a laser cutter if TechShop has one big enough. Regardless of how I cut them, once they are installed I'll have privacy at night with the lights on, and nice big white surfaces that I'll need to find a friend to artify for me.

Next steps: Decide where the kitchen is going and buy a commercial cabinet to cut down to fit in that space. Install the sink and stove in that cabinet. Continue shopping for shower pan, and design the shower/toilet enclosures/curtains. Finish short term upgrades to overhead rails. Black out the windows with cardboard. Hang a less temporary curtain at the front of the vehicle, and disable the one overhead light that shines in that section. Make a more permanent set of supports for propping the windows open. Install some sort of temporary stuff storage. Shelves, stacked bins, etc.
LinkLeave a comment

Sparr Bought A Bus: Kitchen and Bathroom Planning [Mar. 22nd, 2016|10:35 am]
[Tags|, ]

I am seriously reconsidering the placement of the kitchen. I'm glad I went with a rough prototype first; I'd be a lot more pressured to keep the current plan if I'd already done the work in real cabinet+countertop materials. I got it put together last night and ran into a number of concerns that I had previously anticipated but underestimated the impact of.

The current location barely doesn't block the electrical panel door, but it does eat up all the useful storage space that I had closest to that panel, which is where all my 5/12/24V power is coming from. I feel like I'm going to want that space in the future for larger electronics, such as the sound system, video recorder, etc.

I like the sink and drain that I got, but they are nearly/barely too deep for the current location. I can make it work, but the drain and propane hoses and installation would be cleaner in a location with more clearance below.

What if the kitchen goes just ahead of the rear door? This will eat up a little floor space, but also even up the open space depth on both sides up front. The kitchen and door on one side would line up with the dining table and seats on the other side. This would move the sink closer to the bathroom, and the stove closer to the dining room.

What will it feel like if the kitchen is in the bedroom area, next to the shower? Too cramped? Too annoying when someone wants to cook while someone is using the bed? Having the sink next to the shower and toilet would feel good, but having the stove there would feel weird.

Speaking of the bathroom... I still haven't chosen a toilet. I'm pretty sure that I want the toilet to be waterproof so that it can go in the shower, both to save space and to provide a seat while showering. That will be important with the shower having a slanted ceiling with 58-74" of headroom. The hot shower component is entirely portable, so I can erect a curtain and platform outside the bus for showering while camping. The indoor shower will be used in the city and possibly while driving.

I think that what I want to do with the bathroom space is to give it about a 3x4ft footprint, with one solid 5ft wall on the short/window side. The wall will be hinged about 2ft off the ground so that the upper section will fold over like a box lid, being the top of the box whose bottom is defined by the shower pan. This will preserve the open view through the bus when it's closed, as well as provide a table-like platform when the bathroom isn't in use, and avoid the need for the shower curtain to completely surround the shower.

Brainstorming, experimenting, and actually accomplishing things... all continue apace.
LinkLeave a comment

Sparr Bought A Bus: Week Three [Mar. 22nd, 2016|09:44 am]
[Tags|, ]

No disasters this week! It's nice to start one of these posts without a "Today I Fucked Up" section.

I managed to give away two of the seats, and am going to give up on the rest in another few days. They are too bulky for me to store right now, and I'm striking out on finding people who want them. If I had a house I'd have already put them on the curb with a "free" sign.

I finished removing all of the unnecessary handrails. All of the verticals below the 6ft level are gone. The one under the kitchen is gone, along with the plastic box it surrounded. The retaining walls in the back are gone. They required getting under the floor, but fortunately there are access hatches at that level, unlike the stuff in the low floor that I need to crawl under the bus for. The only things left to remove now are the wheelchair backrest walls and the last of the wheelchair anchoring hardware.

I've ordered a couple of 90 degree elbows for the overhead handrails. Along with the other connectors I've reclaimed from the unwanted bits, that will allow me to add a second pair of horizontal bars above the living room seats. Eventually I'll want to be able to fold or remove the rails up there to make more overhead clearance in the living room area for aerials, suspensions, etc. I'm not sure how far in the future that is, which will dictate how much effort I want to put into extending the existing rails for short/medium term overhead storage. With two such bars on each side I can put a simple plywood shelf up there, eventually to be replaced with a light framed surface that can be used as a bunkbed. Extending that length further will add a third and maybe fourth and fifth overhead bunk / shelf.

Another round of hardware shopping got a sheet of thin plywood to make up to three prototype kitchen countertops. Hopefully I can hit the design I like, and then repeat it in hardwood (probably butcher block style). I also picked up the connectors necessary to connect the sink drain to the grey water aquatainer, although I forgot to get the adapters to insert my strainer trap. I'll have to add that next time. I haven't started working on the faucet yet because my foot pump hasn't arrived. I'm somewhat considering an overhead water tank at this point, although I might still want a foot-activated spigot to conserve water. I shopped for propane connectors and hoses but couldn't find what I needed and will have to check a specialty store or search online. Last item was a case of 6qt sterilite bins, which I'm going to consider standardizing on for the purposes of making racks and shelves for storing containers full of sorted and assorted stuff.

I decided to throw planning and caution to the wind and install the solar panels sooner rather than later. I couldn't find any layout that I liked for all four panels so I installed just three of them across the rear edge of the roof, behind the hatch, in front of the air intake and exhaust. I put sheet metal screws straight through the roof material, which isn't as secure as I'd like but will do for now. I kept all the screws in 4 lines so it won't be hard to reinforce with long thin strips of steel later. I've also bought some VHB tape for reinforcing and sound dampening and waterproofing the connection points. The wiring is very haphazard, taped to the outside of the bus, with the charger in the engine compartment. Rather than get into all the battery management wiring this early, which is a project I am putting off for when I can get under the bus among other prerequisites, I just plugged in at the alternator, one of the few places that I'm confident there's low-resistance direct connection to get power to the batteries. As I write this, I haven't been able to confirm yet that it's actually working aside from it telling me my batteries are already fully charged. It's night time right now and I'm running the lights and inverter in an attempt to drain the batteries a bit, so that hopefully come morning I will see them charged again, or better yet catch them in the act of charging.

While installing the solar charger I found yet another electrical junction box and well-labeled wire nest, this time inside the panel in the engine compartment that has a few gauges and engine operation toggles on it. I feel like I'm asymptotically approaching at least having seen all of the wiring harnesses. There are still a couple mentioned in the operators manual that I haven't found, but I know where to look for those when the time comes.

I discovered that half of the electrical defroster/defogger in the front windshield works and half doesn't. I'm going to poke at it with a multimeter and see what I can discern. Fortunately the working half is the half in front of the driver, so this isn't a particularly pressing issue.

I got rid of two of the benches to someone at the East Bay Burners social who wanted seating for their shop. I gave the rest to a friend in Oakland who has some storage space and is willing to do the leg work to give them away to good causes. With them gone, the interior feels even more spacious than it did before, although also exposing a lot more floor that I need to clean, and requiring me to improvise a new lock for the rear doors. Aside from the last things I need to unbolt, those seats were almost the last big things to get rid of.

Conversely, I made my first trip to storage to put more things into the bus. I grabbed bins with tools, more blankets/sheets, and some more clothes. I'm finally back to the wardrobe that I kept in the ambulance, rather than just what I packed for the Boston / Road Trip trip. The difference in having 2-3 weeks worth of clothes vs 5 days worth of clothes is a big deal.

I've been giving friends, acquaintances, and strangers rides. It's as fun as I imagined. I also accidentally had a ~15 person party when I parked in front of the burner social and left the doors open. Even with all the stuff in the way, it didn't feel particularly cramped with 6 people sitting down and 9 standing. I take this as a good sign that 20+ will be a viable party size once everything is installed.

Next steps, in no particular order: Build the prototype kitchen countertops, install everything, and see how it feels/works. Order and install propane accessories. Build a working sink faucet. Continue shopping for shower pan, and design the shower/toilet enclosures/curtains. Choose and order a toilet. Finish short term upgrades to overhead rails. Figure out how to get into the walls below the windows to find/see/measure the structural rails there. Build a prototype for the dining area table. Black out the windows, with curtains or foil, for night time privacy. Hang a less temporary curtain at the front of the vehicle, and disable the one overhead light that shines in that section. Make a more permanent set of supports for propping the windows open. Add door sweeps to the front edge of the solar panels. Install some sort of temporary stuff storage. Shelves, stacked bins, etc.
Link1 comment|Leave a comment

Sparr Bought A Bus: Choosing a toilet [Mar. 15th, 2016|12:28 pm]
[Tags|, ]

Here are my options:

1) Laveo Dry Flush. This toilet works like a Diaper Genie. There's a very long mylar bag bunched up in the seat, with a small section filling a bucket. You do your business into the bucket, then a machine sucks out the air and twists the bag so the waste is sealed in a section, then it extrudes more bag to fill the bucket again. ~15 flushes later you remove all the waste, double-bagged, and incinerate or trash it. $500 for the toilet, $1 per flush. Zero smell. Zero exposure to waste during disposal. Fastest disposal option. https://youtu.be/ia4-U9lZChk?t=204

2) Cassette toilet. Basically a seat and bowl on top of a waste tank. Do your business, flush with a small amount of water, clean the bowl if necessary. Special chemicals deal with odors. Empty the tank every few days of usage by dumping into an RV waste tank or a toilet (multiple flushes) then rinsing and dumping again. $150 for the toilet, $0.05 per flush. Little smell. Exposure to unprocessed waste during disposal. https://youtu.be/5DD4XtHSA9Q?t=111

3) Composting toilet. A seat on top of a larger waste tank, plus a separate bottle for urine. Flip a lever when switching from urinating to defecating. Add sawdust and good-bacteria to tank occasionally, turn a lever to stir the waste after each usage, clean the bowl if necessary. Empty solid waste with a shovel every couple of weeks of usage, preferably into a garden. Empty urine into a toilet or as fertilizer. $500-1000 for the toilet, $0.10 per flush. Little smell, more dirt than poop. Exposure to urine and compost/humanure during disposal. More labor involved in disposal. https://youtu.be/Sq-nfH6bIiA?t=40

The cost comparison is obvious. The ecological impacts are relevant. The comfort of my guests, both in using the toilet and in possibly being tasked with emptying it on longer trips, are relevant. I'd appreciate feedback on these options, especially from anyone who has used one of them before.
LinkLeave a comment

Sparr Bought A Bus: Weekend Two, Repair, Shopping, Seats, Headroom [Mar. 15th, 2016|10:09 am]
[Tags|, ]

I'm making a habit of starting these posts with tragedy and repair. Early in our trip we asked "is the passenger side mirror shaking?". Later, that became "It's definitely shaking.". After getting to SF the upgrade to "It's shaking a lot, I should check that out" was short lived, soon to be replaced with "Oh shit, the whole thing fell off!". Fortunately it didn't fall far; the wires responsible for the power mirror on that side caught it, so all ~30 pounds of metal and motor and mirror just hung there as I slowed down and stopped. I couldn't make effective repairs in the dark and rain without supplies, so I dropped off a passenger and hurried to Home Depot while traffic was light. First thing in the morning I went in and bought some steel tie plates and somewhat beefy self-drilling sheet metal screws. They weren't up to the task of getting through the 1/8-1/4" cast aluminum body of the mirror housing, so I pre-drilled the holes up to almost the right diameter. An hour later, having juggled tools and fasteners and holding up the mirror, it was repaired, and only a little uglier, although a lot more industrial looking.

I made the last delivery from my UShip.com commitments from the trip, leaving only one friend's stuff still in the bus needing to be handed off. It's just about down to me and my stuff and no one else to blame for how cluttered it is inside while I'm working.

I removed the last of the vertical bars that are coming out early in the project, the ones in the rear that had been folded up near the ceiling in order to more effectively attack my forehead. This leaves just four vertical bars installed, the two up front that are currently part of the overhead bar supports and the two in the back that are part of the divider wall for the "upstairs". I removed 7 more of the benches, including the doubles and single in the back, and flipped one of them around for what will become the dining/office table area. There is now a pile of benches and supports blocking the rear door that I am eager to get rid of. I've posted on FB and EPlaya and Craigslist in the hopes that someone will want them for an art car or tiny house. The last things to remove are the walls behind the wheelchair positions and the remaining vertical bars, which is pending getting certified for the metal shop at TechShop and finding some fittings.

With the dining benches in place, I am not happy with how much space that area takes up. The table will be 3x3ft which is great for board games and four-laptop office time, but much farther across than a normal four-dining booth would be. Including the angle of the seats, the whole dining area is about 7ft long. I think that I want to try to modify one of the benches so that it reclines flat. This would allow me to narrow the table and move the benches closer together without sacrificing the necessary length when converting it to a bed by lowering the table. I'll probably end up keeping one of the benches as a spare if I am seriously considering this plan by the time I get rid of the removed benches.

Removing the rear seats let me finally get a feel for how the bed would line up if it filled the back window bay. Unfortunately, this turns out to be too close to the ceiling. I'd have just the center of the bed for sitting up, even with a 2" thick mattress, so that plan is right out. The next lower candidate height gets me an extra 15" which feels comfortable for sitting and a close call for kneeling. The bed plan has thus shifted again, and I am now contemplating something like an ikea pull-out sofa with interleaved slats. The bed will default to narrower-than-twin, and expand to approximately full size with two mattresses side by side.

I'm still contemplating what I'm going to do for small item storage. Natasha threw together a bunch of cup holders and phone holders from cardboard and tape on the trip, and those are helpful, but eventually I'm going to want a bunch of small travel-safe shelves, pockets, etc. There's a lot of dead space behind the driver where I could store paperwork, and space I don't currently have a plan for overhead in the kitchen and other wheelwell areas. I'm considering a "back of the door" sort of organizer, as well as bulkier solutions with drawers.

I also went shopping. Offline first, at Home Depot and Target. I picked up the first half of the cleaning supplies that will be required for a thorough cleaning once all the unnecessary furniture is gone, and a few miscellaneous containers and organizational items. I bought a relatively small shop toolbox with a lock, which means thieves will either need a crowbar to steal my tools or the ability to run off with a hundred pound toolbox, and that second option will go away once I bolt it to the wall. I probably won't keep it forever, as I expect either more or fewer tools in the long run depending on whether or not I take the space in a workshop-y direction, but it will suffice for the first few months so that I can stop leaving tools in all of the seats.

Online, as usual it was all Amazon all the time. I'm giving up on converting the camp stove that I bought and am instead getting a small two burner cooktop designed for an RV. I'm getting three 7gal aquatainers, one for fresh water and two for grey water (sink and shower). I'm going to try to improvise a height adjustable faucet for the sink by using an adjustable showerhead arm. For the sink I decided to try a small rectangular one meant for small bar prep areas which seems like it should fit pretty well. And, the most unusual item I decided to get, a metal spray can meant for showering, made by Zodi. This is a big departure from my original idea of a pump and on-demand hot water heater, but it's a lot simpler and more versatile, with fewer dependencies. Showering will involve pre-heating water on the stove, but I think I can live with that.

I did not order a toilet. I'm still waffling on whether I want something with a black water tank or the kind that wraps up the waste to be thrown away in a bag or a composting toilet. There are a lot of pros and cons to each approach. I asked a few questions on Amazon listings and will probably ask a few more before I decide. I'm also going to reach out on a few subreddits and forums. With the lower headroom, I am even more motivated to put a waterproof toilet inside the shower, to act as a seat.

Once the hot shower hardware arrives I'm going to need a shower pan and curtain. I'm working on figuring out how I want that to work. With my current plan to put the shower in the upstairs area, headroom is at a premium, so I need to get the curtain to conform to the ceiling a lot more closely than I originally planned. It's looking like I'm going to store the grey water tank in the shower, and move it downstairs for drainage while showering. If that plan doesn't work out, there's room between the upstairs short wall and the back door to hang a flat-ish grey water tank when it's not in use.

Having ordered the cooktop and sink, I can start to lay out the countertop and figure out where the cutouts will be, where the faucet will go, and where I'll have some tiny amount of clear surface. The first draft countertop will just be plywood coated in some non-flammable waterproofing. Later I might try something fancier.

I've reached out to some friends and found someone who I can pay to clean the interior for me. Not that she'll be doing it alone; I expect to do as much work getting access to the nooks and crannies and moving stuff around as she does on the cleaning. The end result should be that I won't have to worry about dust and dirt and grime getting on me and all my stuff as I'm installing nice new/clean hardware.

Having so much of the furniture and so many of the bars removed has made it feel even more open inside than it originally did. I am very happy with how spacious it seems, looking from the front to the back. So far all of the plans are on track to keep that sight line almost completely unblocked. There's a lot of small tasks ahead for temporarily securing/installing all of the necessities, but it's enjoyable and I can see the light at the end of the [first] tunnel now. I expect to have a comfortably livable space in the next few weeks. Once I reach that point, then I can start making longer term plans for bigger renovations, like the floor, windows, walls, insulation, roof deck, etc.
LinkLeave a comment

Sparr Bought A Bus: Week Two, Security, Stickers, Space, Sleep, Stupidity [Mar. 11th, 2016|10:12 am]
[Tags|, ]

It's been 4 days since we got to SF and I'm calling this the end of my first week off the road. I know, 4 days isn't a week, but Friday feels like a good day to summarize. Maybe I'll post twice a week, to separate weekend work from weekday work? TBD.

Last/worst news first... Last night I made my first serious driving mistake. I turned left from a right-curb parking spot too sharply and the tail of the bus got intimate with a nearby tree, leaving both a bit worse for wear. The upper rear corner of the bus lost two running light covers, which will serve as an excuse to take off a good one to measure for spares. Good news, I now know that some of the solid curvy rigid bits of the body are fiberglass. Bad news, I know that because there's now a ~12in section ripped away from the top corner. Good news, Gorilla Tape repairs seem to have been mostly successful, and will probably hold until I get around to sawing out the edges of the rip and patching with a bunch of fiberglass tape.

I installed a security system from Fortress Security Store. It came with motion sensors that I'm using already, and door/window alarms that I'm not yet. It has an audible alarm (currently inside the bus, to be moved to a secure location outside) and also sends me text messages (or calls me). So far I'm mostly liking it. The alarm functionality seems great. I'm minorly confused/annoyed about how the "call the alarm from my phone so I can arm/disarm or use it as an intercom" functions work, but those aren't essential. The backup battery life is a bit low, but that should be easy to rectify with a larger battery. This will be one of the few things on the bus with its own dedicated power backup.

I cut and peeled off a bit of the textual portion of the side decals, near the ground. They all peeled off easily. The one on the front has nice even paint behind it. The ones on the sides, not so much. Also, the sides were longer cuts, which got a little uneven as I went along. I'll probably end up covering those areas with more vinyl to be drawn/painted on. Additionally, removing the vinyl near the ground revealed the bolts that hold the bus skirt panels on. I need to get inside those to see what's behind some of the lower walls inside, as well as to get under the bus for various reasons.

I mostly installed two deadbolts, one on each of the front doors. I say mostly not because I had to use shims to account for the thinness of the doors, which is easy to fix later, but because the bolts don't span the gap between the door and the jamb. This is the first time I've ever had to install a lock in a place where the door doesn't touch *any* of the surfaces around it. There's a 1-2" gap between the door and the floor, jamb, and ceiling, and a 6" gap between the two doors (which is filled with rubber bumpers). I'll soon be making a steel extension for the jamb where the deadbolt is, as well as steel reinforcement for the door and the jamb. Both need to be stronger if someone tries to kick the door in, and that's on top of the need to repair the structural weakening I did by drilling through the door.

I removed almost all of the wheelchair restraint hardware. The parts connected to the divider wall legs and to the floor hardware came out easily. The floor hardware (sideways telescoping steel channel bolted to the floor) did not, due to rusted bolts that I need access to the bottom of. I'll be figuring out how to get under the bus some time soon; that will probably involve parking with two wheels on a high curb. The hardware on the wall of the bus was the best surprise, giving me a peek at the vertical structural members of the body. Apparently the vertical sections between the windows house more aluminum extrusion channel, with more T-nuts for attachment. This is wonderful news.

I took out the five vertical poles that stood alone, which makes the middle section of the bus feel much more spacious. That included removing the stop request buttons from all of them. It also meant getting inside the air/power/etc sections at the top of the bus for the first time, to get to the mounts at the top of two of the poles (one side) so I could remove the stop request wiring for those. Those mounts attach to the extrusion channel in the ceiling, again with T-nuts. One of the mounts, out of the five I checked, is inexplicably wobbly, despite appearing firmly attached. That bears further investigation. The three mounts on the other side still have their wiring wrapped up and tucked in until I get inside the ceiling on that side. I also removed a bunch of the connectors where the poles meet the handles on top of the seats, and discovered they are adjustable for different angles. I'll be keeping a few of the seats, probably mostly with handles, so I've got the option of doing something semi-structural with poles and connectors based on where the remaining seats end up.

Being up in the ceiling gave me a lot of new info as well. I've now seen the climate control ducting, and discovered that *everything* up there outside of the climate control unit itself is coated in a fine black powder/dust. I need to find out if that's intentional or incidental or bad. I've gotten a look at the door actuation mechanism, the coolant hoses to the climate control, the electrical wiring, and the fluorescent ballasts.

I happened upon a queen sized cushion (calling it a mattress would be a stretch, despite its size, due to its thinness and stuffing) at IKEA in the as-is section, 50% off for no reason I can discern. I grabbed it. It might not have a home in the bus in the long term, or it might get deployed across the living room seats for the last few sleeping slots, or it might get cut in half to make two smaller sleeping pads. Regardless, it's my bed for the duration of phase 1 of the build, and much more comfortable than the cheap hammocks I picked up for the trip. It's thin enough to fold in half or thirds, so it isn't much in the way. I also bought a small succulent plant, which is currently living in one of the front corner windows.

I opened up the camp stove that we bought but didn't use on our trip. At first glance, it doesn't look like it will be easy to flip the propane feed to the other side to make it fit in my kitchen space. I'll take a deeper look inside it once I have a sink, and either fix it or replace it before I cut out a countertop to hold them both. That project is on the agenda for this weekend or next.

I have safety/usage certifications scheduled at TechShop for the metal shop and MIG welding next week. Once that happens I can start working on the bed platform, a table for the dining area, hard points for the ceiling and walls, etc. I've got the shape of the bed platform down on paper and just need to lay out a precise design so I can dimension the parts. The table, which I want to be height adjustable to convert seats+table into a bed, is still on the drawing board. The hard points will probably just be 1/4" steel plate for now, with an eye to something more svelte in the future. If I can get certified on the waterjet cutter in time, I'll use that. Otherwise it's all about the band saw, drill press, and grinders.

I've been on the roof a couple of times now, for various reasons. My step ladder is tall enough for a precarious climb out the hatch. I probably need to get something more sturdy and safe eventually. Maybe something that works both inside and outside? I could make an 8ft ladder that attaches to the back of the bus for storage and exterior use, and can be brought inside and hooked into the hatch (protruding past the top) for interior use. That will probably happen around the same time I'm putting vertical bike storage on the back of the bus for travel, which is probably a project for phase 2, in April or May.

I've gotten word from my agent in South Dakota about the requirements to register the bus as an RV. I detailed them in another post. The short version is that there are 7 items on the list, and I need to have 5 of them. I already have 2, and expect to have 3 more in a week or two. At this point I'm waiting for him to send me the paperwork and let me know how I need to prove that I've fulfilled the requirements.

That's about all that's going on so far. I hope to post again on Sunday night or Monday morning with updates from the weekend.

PS: I didn't mention it last post, but I've started uploading photos to Flickr and Facebook. That includes all the investigation and improvements and damage I've done so far.


Link1 comment|Leave a comment

Sparr Bought A Bus: Days Six through Eight, Colorado to San Francisco [Mar. 10th, 2016|04:18 pm]
[Tags|, ]

The last three days of the trip we finally mostly got our shit together with regard to planning interesting stops. We successfully scheduled but unsuccessfully orienteered for some hot springs west of Denver, then spent a morning at Arches National Park. We delivered some furniture in Eureka NV while traveling along highway 50, the "Loneliest Road in America". There were more mountains, a snowstorm, and miles of people's names written with rocks in the sand on the side of the road. We stopped to explore a small old irish cemetery and an abandoned hospital. We made another delivery in Vallejo CA just before reaching our destination. One copilot was dropped off in Oakland, and the other copilot and passenger spent one last night in the bus in SF. We made a deal for them to unload the bus into storage while I was at work, then had dinner one last time, then parted ways so they could continue their west coast adventures.

This stretch of the trip we started seriously experimenting with more-than-one-gear intentional downshifting and engine braking, as well as manually managing the transmission for the long steep uphills. This resulted in far fewer "please stop" conditions from the engine computer, and a lot less shifting and stuttering on the uphills. I also started to use the alternative shifting mode after some further advice from people on the internet. Overall, crossing the Rockies and the Sierra Nevada was a lot easier than crossing the Appalachians, mostly through more attentive driving on our part, including going significantly slower on the 5%+ grades.

Nothing else of note happened with the bus in the last few days. Next post will be about actually making changes inside the bus.
LinkLeave a comment

Sparr Bought A Bus: Opus Operator Manual [Mar. 8th, 2016|01:53 am]
[Tags|, , ]

I've been trying and failing to get in touch with anyone at New Flyer, who bought NABI, who bought Optima, who manufactured my bus, who might have access to any sort of documentation on the bus. I posted to a few bus forums and someone pointed me towards an expired ebay auction for an almost-right operator manual. It's off by one year, and possibly wrong in other subtle ways, but I'll take what I can get. I contacted the seller and found they had re-listed it. I bought it, and it was waiting for me when I got back to San Francisco tonight. This post is me live-journaling my discoveries as I peruse it for the first time.

The "Summary of Changes" section of the book describes the revision history of the book. This is good news, as it indicates this book does cover my bus, it just happens to be one year newer than my bus. Better yet, the 2004 revision of the book contains no content changes, just copy editing and formatting, which suggests the Opus bus wasn't changed in 2004, so this book should be an exact match for my bus, barring any custom changes that the RRTA requested.

I am apparently supposed to inflate the tires to 110PSI, so my instructions to the Tire Pass folks to aim for 115 was a bit high. I know better, now.

My turning radius is 31' for the tires, 36' for the body. Ouch.

My bumper to bumper length is 34'5", with a wheelbase of 18'1". The height, probably including the heater, is 10'4", and the outside wall width is 8'3.2" (no idea why this one gets an extra digit of precision).

I am supposed to have a 75 or 90 gallon fuel tank. My estimate based on the fuel gauge and fill-ups was 80, so now I need to actually figure out which it is.

The driver's seat is a Recaro Ergo Metro. Knowing this will allow me to find spare parts! Apparently it's missing a non-optional headrest, which I would love to find. There's also apparently a seat adjustment control that we didn't see and I'll be poking around for when I return to the bus.

The light inside the engine compartment is on an 18ft retracting cord, which is long enough to drag it to the side to see the fuel tank, radiator, tires, etc in the dark. Spiffy!

There is a button on the dash with the engine retarder icon on it, which we couldn't identify before. Apparently my transmission has a built-in retarder, and now I want to get on the highway and check out its function. It claims to augment engine braking for steep downgrades. I wish I'd known that 3000 miles ago.

There are seven electrical system multiplexer nodes. I only found ~4 of them in my initial round of panel-opening. Now I know where to look for the rest of them!

My Allison transmission is apparently a B300 or B300R. That narrows down the possibilities significantly.

The section on the climate control system is a tease. It identifies which system I have, but won't tell me what the mystery buttons/LEDs are!

It may be possible to raise the bus suspension above the normal not-kneeled height temporarily, for crossing things like slope peaks and raised railroad tracks. This requires further investigation of a particularly arcane set of conditions and button pushes.

Apparently I'm not supposed to idle for more than ten minutes. This is probably why there's an automatic shutdown. The suggested failure mode is "overcooling" which will result in carbon buildup in the combustion chambers in unburned fuel in the oil. The internet already told me that unburned fuel in the oil could result in the weird oil levels I've seen. This requires immediate investigation.

Also I'm supposed to idle the engine for a few minutes before shutting it off, to promote even cooling. Good to know.

"CAUTION: Do not allow the vehicle to coast in neutral. This can result in transmission damage."... Also good to know!

I need to learn more about safe amounts of engine braking. I tried to balance load on the transmission and brakes while leaving the Appalachians, Rockies, and Sierra Nevadas. However, the manual suggests that all the way down to first gear is acceptable.

Apparently the broken air hoses in my doors go to some sensors that are supposed to stop the doors from closing on people. I probably want to disable that functionality, for primary and secondary reasons. And I could probably save a bit of wasted vacuum or air pressure by capping those hoses.

For some reason, this bus sold to a transit agency in Pennsylvania apparently doesn't have the optional front defroster modules, which would have been responsible for turning the cold air coming out of the dash and driver vents into warm air. I need to get under the front dash and see if they are installed and just missing the controls. If not, at least I know there's room under there to add them.

Apparently the lit up /!\ button and indicator on my climate control indicate a fault, and I can get it to read an error code out to me. I'm not lucky enough to have a key for those codes, but at least now I know what that does/means.

Apparently my powered windshield defroster (which has such cute tiny wires running through the glass) is coupled with mirror defrosters. I hope I don't ever need that feature again.

I never tried the emergency door release buttons because I didn't know if I'd be able to reset them. The operator manual sheds no additional light on this situation. :/

Along with knowing where all the multiplexers are, I now know where 3 more fuse panels are. I should document them.

Additionally, I now have a pre-flight checklist, most of which I will ignore. I also have a few hints at weekly/monthly maintenance tasks, which I will not ignore. Overall, this is a lot of useful new info. Sadly, there's still missing operational info, such as how to engage the baseboard heaters, the specs on the climate control air filter, etc. Hopefully I can find a service manual some day to fill in the rest of those gaps.
LinkLeave a comment

Sparr Bought a Bus: Interior layout, design, and functional plans [Mar. 6th, 2016|06:57 pm]
[Tags|, , ]

I've been mulling over a lot of options while traveling. Now that I've got my hands (and tape measure) on the bus, I've started to narrow down the possibilities. I don't want a typical tinyhouse/rv style renovation, for both stylistic and practical reasons. I do want open space, lots of seating and sleeping room, and the necessities for living as well as for registering and insuring it as an RV.

Here's what I've got in mind right now:

The bedroom will mostly fill the rear section, which has less headroom than the rest of the bus. This is the space I am least decided on, even for a first-draft approach. Both of my current plans require getting checked out on the metal shop and mig welders at Techshop. Plan one involves a steel-framed variation of the dual/trundle bed system from Hank Bought a Bus, which provides two twin beds and plenty of under-bed storage, and converts to a king plus a twin by sliding one bed into the aisle. Plan two involves facing "day bed" style seats, with fold-out cantilevered support across the aisle for sliding both mattresses down and together to span the whole section. I'm also still brainstorming other options. The bedroom will probably be the last step in the first pass of renovation. Prior to that, while I'm doing everything else, a mattress on bins will do as well as it always has.

The kitchen will be above the wheel well behind the driver, comprised of a sink in front of a camp stove. I've got a stove that might work if I can flip the propane feed to the other side, and even a small aluminum-box oven to go on it. A frame for the stove and sink will also be made in the TechShop metal shop. The pantry will be above the other wheel well, with some storage compartments and a cooler. That area will probably be made from wood in the short term, possibly indefinitely. Both wheel wells have a bit of dead space inside them, above and ahead/behind the wheel. One of those four spaces is occupied by a fire extinguisher in a recessed housing, and the other three might be reclaimable space. I can probably put my propane tank(s) in one of them, with some custom metal or fiberglass work.

The shower will be opposite the back door, relatively large and doubling as (bike?) storage. Its floor will be raised 4-6 inches and contain the grey water tank (pending a smell-blocking solution). The shower probably won't have solid walls, instead having floor and ceiling shower curtain rods for a wrap-around curtain. I saw a small on-demand propane water heater at a camping event a couple of years ago; I'm going to investigate how small those can be.

The position for the fresh water tank(s) for the shower and kitchen is TBD. I'm torn between putting them down low and requiring power or foot pumps, or putting them up high and letting gravity do the work but also having much more catastrophic failure modes. I've heard good things about some small powered pump+spray devices which might make my mind up for me. Either way, for now I'll be going with 5-7 gallon carryable containers, rather than needing to rig up a fill hose.

The front area between the wheel wells and rear door, the "living room", will have the original six folding seats, four normal seats with a table between them, and lots of open floor. Some of the original overhead bars will remain, some will be cut, many removed. In the long term I'll probably remove all of them so there's more room for hammocks, an aerial sling, etc, but for now I'll keep them because they are so much fun to climb on.

A key aspect of this plan is that it retains an unimpeded sight line across the width of the bus from the front to the rear, except for the pre-existing wall behind the driver's seat, which contains a power distribution panel that can't be easily moved. I really like this aspect of Hank's design, and I'm hoping to stick with it. I will add curtains or folding partitions for privacy, but their default position will be open.

I'm going to be removing the sandpapery flooring material and haven't decided what I want to do with the floor yet. Wood seems like a popular option for bus conversions. I like how it looks. I don't like that it usually requires an under-floor layer, which will eat into my precious headroom. I might take the easy out for round one and just put down carpet and padding for most of it, and whatever the modern equivalent of linoleum is for the areas around the doors and shower.

The exterior is... a big project. I'll be cutting out or covering up the advertising text ASAP. I'm probably going to keep the giant human spine art for a while, because it looks cool and keeping it is easy. Eventually I might want to cover it with a new custom wrap, or have it painted. That's another project for another month (year?).

The interior walls are mostly going to be left as-is until I decide I need some insulation. I'm not even sure that I need curtains on the windows that currently have decals on them; I'll be investigating how see-in-able it is in daylight and nighttime once it's sitting still. The doors need some work for security reasons, but I don't think I'll be doing anything decorative or design-y with them beyond that in the near future.

This plan gets all the necessities out of the way ASAP and leaves me a very open and flexible space for ongoing usage and improvement. Ten seats is plenty for most of my travel plans, and beds and hammocks will bring the sleeping capacity up to match, both very early in the process. I could be doing ten-person day/weekend trips as soon as April. The process won't be as impressive as a raw-to-finished-in-one-step renovation, but I think this plan fits well with my short and long term goals.
LinkLeave a comment

Sparr Bought A Bus: Days Three through Five, Ohio to Colorado [Mar. 5th, 2016|04:17 am]
[Tags|, ]

Our trip continues! I am writing this post as we cross Nebraska and Colorado, approaching Denver for a morning hotel stop. A friend of mine from Atlanta met us in Chicago so now we have three drivers. This has led to more night-time driving and making up some lost time. We now have three hammocks hanging up, and have been time-sharing the queen size bed that *perfectly* fits across the front six seats (the inwards facing ones that fold up for wheelchair parking). We picked up the last of our furniture deliveries near Chicago as well, and the first dropoff isn't until Nevada, so our obligated travel is taking a ~2 day break.

We are considering a short detour to Arches National Park, which I saw on my previous trip and recommended for this one. We are slightly considering a longer detour to Zion National Park, which would be more appealing if there were more highways around here rather than having to drive the wrong direction for an hour to backtrack. I'm sure we'll pack a few more stops into the CO/UT/NV section of the trip as well. I'd like to make Eureka NV on Sunday morning, and get to SF on Sunday night, and that's feeling very doable at this point.

In the last few days we've stopped at a bird sanctuary, a gorge full of devonian fossils, a whirlyball court, some botanical gardens, and a couple of other places that have slipped my mind. I took some photos, but haven't posted any (including to go with my previous journal entries) due to mostly having little to no data service on my phone on this trip. Photo uploads will come next week when I'm in San Francisco.

We stopped at a big truck stop with a first-time-free tire inflation service. Their machine couldn't reach two of our six, but it let us know the other four were around 102-117 PSI. I asked to have them all inflated/deflated to 115, and I'll investigate the ideal pressure later (labeled max is 120 cold). Their shop had to get the last two by hand, due to the outer rear tires having their valve stems pointing inwards(!?). I also paid to have us weighed. We're at about ten tons on the back axle and four on the front. I look forward to unloading all my junk and re-weighing it empty; I might have two tons of stuff in here right now between all my books and board games, along with wooden furniture including my own and the stuff we're shipping.

We've continued to fight the air drafts. Even though we are finally reaching some comfy daytime temperatures, the nights are still dangerously chilly, and we'd like it to be comfortable inside rather than alternating hot heater air and freezing drafts, as well as losing less warm air overnight. A few more windows are taped shut, and we've gotten a little better at covering the holes around the doors, but there are still spaces that cold air just blows right in. Any solutions to those problems are just temporary; they will be permanently fixed when I get around to working on the doors and windows more seriously, including weatherstripping, double panes, etc. I did throw together a shop vac hose and some tape to get some heated air down to the driver's feet, which has been the most problematic area.

I got a call back from the company that made the advertising decals covering the bus. Sadly just from someone in sales, who told me to call them back next week to speak to an engineer who knows how to remove them. The spine art is pretty cool, and I'll probably keep it for a while, but the text has to go. Whether that means removing it or putting vinyl or paint over it depends on how hard and/or expensive each of those options will be.

I got an email back from Luminator about paying them to reprogram the sign or for hardware/software to do it myself. They forgot to include the price sheet, though. Hopefully I'll get that soon. I might end up hunting down someone who already has the hardware/software and getting them to do it for me.

I've started to brainstorm how to add locks to the doors, ignition, fuel tank, etc. It's a bit tricky given the existing hardware designs. I'll probably do that roughly quickly, with plans to revisit it later in a prettier fashion. Security against break-ins will also be electronic, in the form of an audible alarm that also sends me text messages. I've got the system, I just need to get a SIM card for it and add a solar charger for the battery so I can keep it running indefinitely.

Someone pointed me towards an expired auction on EBay in Canada for an operators manual for a bus model very similar to mine (1 year newer, different engine from the same manufacturer). I've sent a message to the seller to see if I can get it from them. Even though the engine part will be partially inapplicable, a lot of the other details should be the same. Fingers crossed on that. At least I know what the book looks like now!

We have now driven through enough of a snowstorm to solidly cover the windshield outside of the wiper zone with slush/ice. It behaved just fine, except that the driver's view of the passenger side mirrors is blocked, outside of the wiper zone. That's a serious design wtf, and I'll be considering how to address it for the future. Also some of the front light housings collected enough slush to dim the lights. The headlights kept their housings melted just fine, but the high beams and turn signals were covered due to not being on constantly. Relatedly, the windows are all huge and flat, making them tedious but not difficult to wash and squeegee.

We passed the 2000 mile mark of the trip, bought our fifth tank of fuel, and I finally put my fuel receipts into a spreadsheet. We're doing a little better than 6.5MPG, and I think we've mostly been doing 55-60MPH. Since we're in a hurry I don't want to try it right now, but I'll put a full tank through at 50MPH next time I make a trip and see how that works out. For now, I'm happy with 6.5 on the highway. I don't look forward to finding out just how bad it gets in the city, though. I definitely won't be driving this beast around as much as I did the ambulance, even ignoring the parking concerns.

That's all for now. Next post will probably come Sunday night after we get to SF and I deliver all my passengers to their destinations. At that point I'll have delivered 1-2 of the 3 pieces of furniture we're carrying, with 1-2 left as well as my own stuff to unload into storage. That's probably a job for Monday evening, if I can find a few extra hands and a bigger and more easily accessible storage unit than I have now.
LinkLeave a comment

Sparr Bought A Bus: Day Two, Pennsylvania to Ohio [Mar. 2nd, 2016|12:27 pm]
[Tags|, ]

We spent most of the second day driving through PA, ending up in Cleveland OH. Our original plan was to head due west past Pittsburgh, but we committed to a detour to make a bit of money doing furniture delivery, which is a thing we're doing along the way to recoup the cost of the trip. Dropping that shipment off was exciting, including a cop following us along a meandering trip through a mostly-closed warehouse complex. We decided to call it a night in Cleveland, where I am currently writing this post the next morning. This stop put us a bit less than half a day behind schedule, which I think we can make up.

We got to see a huge old prayer house in Brownsville PA that is being renovated by a woman and her partner. It's a small town, presumably/apparently supported by the local coal industry. The building might be 200 years old, with original wood almost-everything, perhaps 4000sqft in two floors including 14ft ceilings in the basement. She got it for $7500!

We stopped at an adult novelty shop on the highway. This was primarily because one of the passengers never had. However, oddly enough, we actually needed provisions of a non-sexual nature that they could provide.

Good news:

We've put 500 miles on the bus and it's still going. The oil leak I was warned about has not made itself apparent yet. The dipstick depth hasn't changed noticeably, the oil pressure gauge hasn't moved outside of its apparently normal noise, and I haven't spotted a puddle. I'll be checking for a puddle again after parking it on clean pavement for the night.

I forgot to mention yesterday that the bus came with a mostly full tank of diesel, perhaps 60 gallons. That's $100+ off my expected trip cost right there.

I added fuel for the first time. I confirmed that the gauge does go up to 100%, and seems at least vaguely linear. My first estimate of our fuel efficiency is 6MPG, which is better than I feared and not as good as I hoped. I will have more accurate numbers on the second fill-up. I am hopeful that more efficiency can be gained by not climbing mountains, and by aiming for 50-55MPH more often than 55-65 as we seemed to want to do over the first two days of driving. I'm also much-more-vaguely guesstimating that it's burning one gallon of fuel for every 40 minutes of high-idle time.

I got some initial measurements. The interior width is about 94". The height at the ceiling peak up front is 98", estimating 86" at the walls which I can't measure at all yet due to ducting/conduits. The rear walkway is 16" shorter and the rest of the rear area is 22" shorter. I've taken a crack at measuring the length of various sections, but all my storage stuff is currently in the way. Roughly speaking, the rear "room" is about 9ft long, the rear door area is 5ft, the front "room" has 10ft of floor-to-ceiling length and 4ft above the wheel wells. Another 4ft for the front door, 1.5ft above the dash, and there's approx 2ft of rear window bay. Allowing 1ft for the bumper and accepting the nominal length of 34ft there's about 2.5ft missing from these measurements, so I missed something. Overall, I am very pleased at the amount of space, which amounts to about 14x8x8ft for the living room, 9x8x6ft for the bedroom, and 3x5x7ft for what I currently plan as storage+shower. If I give up the rear door entirely, that gets me another 3x5x7ft space.

Bad news:

Twice while climbing the Appalachians the gauge cluster complained with an unlabeled red indicator and a displayed icon that I failed to photograph due to not being at the front of the bus at the time. We stopped for a minute, rebooted the bus (ha!), and it went away each time. It did not recur after the mountain climbing portions of the trip. I predict we will see this behavior again as we climb the Rockies, and I'll pay more close attention then.

The bus is extremely and exceptionally drafty. At highway speeds in freezing weather, especially with snow+sleet and 20MPH+ crosswinds, we could not keep the interior comfortably warm. Some areas were uncomfortably cold and windy, including the driver's feet. I identified and closed at least two legitimate vents bringing in cold outside air, despite the primary heating system being fully engaged. I found one window that won't stay closed on its own and taped it shut. That leaves a lot of mystery leaks around the "dash", the walls holding the wiring panels, the edges of all the windows, and worst of all the doors which not only have wide brushes as sweeps but also have fist-sized gaps. I'll be trying to cover a lot of those with tape, cardboard, plastic, blankets, curtains, etc along the way, since it looks like we've got at least three days of cold driving ahead of us before reaching relative warmth around Denver. I'm also going to attempt to figure out if and how the baseboard heaters work. Despite being passive, every bit of heat will help.

We are spending more time on comfortable overnight stops than I anticipated. I decided that I am quite willing to spend the ~$400 it will take to keep us in hotels every night. However, hotel stops tend to involve hours of not-driving that could otherwise be spent doing interesting things along the trip. I'll be bringing this up with my copilot(s) and passenger(s) to see if we can find a mutually beneficial solution.

The bus refuses to idle for more than 30 minutes. This might be a simple timer, or it could plausibly be some over-threshold condition like overheating. I don't see anything on the gauges that is rising or falling before the shutdown, so I'm leaning towards the former, thankfully. Annoyingly, regardless of the cause of the shutdown, there seems to be a ~5 minute off-on-cycle lockout on the climate control system, which means 1/6th of the idle time is spent with no heat :/
LinkLeave a comment

Sparr Bought A Bus: Days Zero and One, Boston to Pennsylvania [Mar. 1st, 2016|10:55 am]
[Tags|, ]

I left Boston on Sunday evening in a UHaul truck full of my stuff. Logistical shenanigans delayed the departure, but we eventually got on the road. With me was Natasha, who is one of my bus copilots, and Ben, a friend in need of a ride. We dropped Ben off elsewhere in Massachusetts and proceeded southwest. I had forgotten that the NYC tolls are mostly one-way, so we got across the bridge without paying the $26 that I recalled from my last trip in the other direction. We did encounter one New Jersey toll that was $1 for autos and $6 for 6-wheel trucks, the largest ratio between those categories I've seen. We picked up A, a friend and road trip companion, along the way, and made it to Lancaster PA after dawn. Some negotiating with the hotel clerk got us a room until 1PM, and we napped away the rest of the morning.

After a refreshingly long nap in the hotel, we proceeded to the bus facility. I had originally planned to pick up the bus in East Petersburg where it was being stored, but the owners moved it back to the Red Rose Transit Authority facility in Lancaster for storage. My trip partners dropped me off and they went to get food and otherwise kill time. I got a glimpse of the bus at a distance on my way in, and there was a minor amount of squee involved there. I met someone in their office to sign over the title and get a bill of sale. With the paperwork in hand I finally got my hands on the bus, escorted by their head of maintenance.

First up, there was much visual inspecting. I poked and prodded a lot of the parts, opened hatches, peered into walls and cavities, and otherwise pretended to know what I was looking at. I took a few exterior photos, for posterity (which is something you should do with *everything* expensive and used that you buy, in case there's a dispute later about the delivery condition). Then we tried to start it. Or, we tried to try to start it. He had showed me the battery cutout switch, and he knew it had started earlier that day, so we didn't think power was a problem. Despite that, we literally could not figure out the order of operations to engage the instrument cluster or the ignition. After a few minutes of being mutually stymied, he went to get one of the hands-on maintenance folks. That guy showed us the arcane ritual required to engage the ignition, which I will not reproduce here because that obscurity is currently the only security I have; installing a key interlock is on my to-do list.

At that point, I had a running engine and a bunch of free time while everyone else was out gallavanting. I flipped all of the switches. I turned the bus off and back on. I took a lot of photos, including every part that looked mechanically interesting and everything with writing on it (hooray for wiring diagrams and part numbers!). I got a couple of videos with audio of the engine running, including stopping and starting it from under the hood. Those photos and video will be online somewhere near this post in the near future.

This is the part of the story where I drive off into the sunset, right? Nope. Having learned the ritual for starting the engine, I found myself stuck on step two, engaging the transmission. I googled. I poked. I combinatorially attemped every one and two push or push+hold combination of the relevant buttons on the transmission controls. Then I gave up and called the guys inside. Once again the head of maintenance couldn't figure it out, and called in a specialist. He immediately recognized that the transmission controller flashing the current gear instead of displaying it steadily indicated an interlock condition; that is, some switch on the bus was open and telling it not to go. He shut it down and walked me through a checklist of about half a dozen things, which I suspect is actually less than half of the real whole interlock checklist. Having done that, it went into gear and he drove it to the far side of the parking lot. I was left with a driveable bus and departed to meet everyone else.

After a short drive we met up at the UHaul facility and spent a few hours cross loading cargo. I removed four of the rear seating benches so we could optimize our luggage tetris and was generally quite pleased at how easily they came out. The floor level bolts had rusted, probably from salty snowy wet passengers' feet. They were tough to start and required a ratchet all the way out, but none of them seemed even close to stripping or otherwise misbehaving. The bolts at butt level, both the cantilever attachment at the wall and the diagonal support on the bottom, came out like butter; none took more than 1/4 turn with the ratchet before coming the rest of the way by hand. The seats stack very densely when the diagonal support is removed.

Having returned the UHaul truck and made a quick thrift shopping trip, we set off westward. It was well after dark, and we were tired from sleep deprivation and moving, so we quit early. We got a hotel due to not having converted enough of the bus interior for sleeping yet. Natasha did get her hammock up, and engaged in some entertaining acrobatics to mount it, but we hadn't cleared enough floor space to put down bedding for myself or A. The hotel was accommodating, and we ended up showered, jacuzzi'd, fed, and comfy in time for a long full night's sleep. I am writing this in the AM of day two, as we are finishing breakfast and preparing to depart westward from Carlisle PA.

PS: This post will eventually have a prequel covering the details of the shopping, auction, and purchase process.

PPS: Carlisle PA is where I spent a couple of weeks in the company of my father in the late 90s as he was dying of lung cancer.
LinkLeave a comment

Why am I shopping for a transit bus to live in? [Feb. 16th, 2016|08:51 am]
[Tags|, , , ]

Why live in a vehicle?

Save money over renting or owning a building.
At least as customizable as owning a [tiny] building, far more so than renting.
Can move my house temporarily for events, permanently for relocating to a new city.
Can avoid some residential zoning laws.

Why live in a large vehicle?

My ambulance was good for 1-2 people for a trip. It's too small for 2 people for permanent living, or more than two for visiting. It's way too small for a party of any sort.
An upgrade from a van/ambulance to a large vehicle is like ab upgrade from a tiny studio apartment to a 1.5-bedroom apartment.
Existing school bus conversions can sleep 4-6 easily, seat 8-20 for social.
Large vehicles are safer on the road for myself and passengers (evil parent SUV rationalization)

Why not an RV?

RVs are not stealthy at all. It's obvious someone lives inside.
RVs come with a lot of preconceptions that I want to avoid.
Weak walls.

Why not a box truck?

High floor.
Wasted space above/around the cab and hood.
Weak walls.

Why not a step van?

Generally much higher used price than somewhat equivalent other vehicles.
Weak walls.

Why not a school bus?

Low headroom (~6ft?).
High floor.
Weak walls.

Why a transit bus?

Rear engine and unibody means no drivetrain under most of the body, keeps floor low and allows maximum interior headroom (up to 8ft!).
Rear engine is much more accessible than under a hood/doghouse up front.
Rear engine means less noise around the driver.
Side-front and side-mid doors appeal to me more than other combinations.
Unibody means strong walls and roof, including pre-installed interior rails and poles.
Heat/cooling for the whole interior.
Large designed-to-be-removed windows.
Usually excellent previous maintenance regimen.
Higher scrap value, for last resort disposal.

Why not a transit bus?

Less availability, usually farther away.
Less access to qualified mechanics.
Many more miles on the odometer when I get it.
Smaller community of modders/converters.
Not designed for highway speeds.

I’d appreciate any additions to these lists. I know that I have blind spots, and I want this to be a well reasoned decision when I finally pull the trigger.
Link1 comment|Leave a comment

Budget for my first employed month in a new city [Feb. 7th, 2016|11:32 am]
[Tags|, ]

Here's an approximate breakdown of how I spent two paychecks across the first whole month I spent in the bay area after becoming employed:

27% repaying debt
21% transferred to short/medium term savings
11% for two weeks at a collective home / hostel in SF
8% on renting and furnishing a storage unit (shelves, bins)
7% on food including groceries and dining
7% for vehicle maintenance and fuel
6% for a new bike and accessories
3% in cash withdrawals for misc purchases
3% for event tickets
2% on a new suit
2% for my cell phone bill
1% for online video services
1% on laundry (including significant over-charge to be refunded/disputed)
1% on "misc"

The above is all based on net paycheck amounts. Here are the proportionally equivalent amounts from my gross pay:
57% taxes (36% of my total gross income)
21% 401(k) contribution
2% health insurance
LinkLeave a comment

Your definition is useless to me [Feb. 3rd, 2016|01:02 pm]

Trigger warning

"Your definition is useless to me". I find myself saying this a lot. People interpret it as an insult or a dismissal. It is probably both, but that doesn’t stop it from also being a practical message that is important to convey.

When you and I are disagreeing over the meaning of a word or the value of a word having meaning at all, part of my position is usually based on my practical need for a word to mean something useful. By useful, I mean that I can put that meaning to some use, potentially including uses that we both agree are desirable.

Whether we are talking about a verb or a noun or an adjective, the purpose of any word is to differentiate between things that match that word and things that don’t match that word. “Rain” means liquid water naturally falling from the sky, and situations that aren’t liquid water naturally falling from the sky aren’t “rain”. “Jump” means propelling yourself into the air, and actions that don’t propel yourself into the air aren’t “jumping”. When I say it is or isn’t raining, or that I did or did not jump, those definitions help you understand the state of reality that I am describing. If you want or need information about whether liquid water is naturally falling from the sky then our shared definition of “rain” allows me to convey that information to you using that word.

The first category of useless definitions are definitions based on things that haven’t happened yet or can’t be known yet. If I were to say that “rain” only includes falling water that reaches the ground, and then we went to the top of a tall building and observed water falling from the sky, we would be unable to classify it as “rain” or “not rain” because we don’t know yet whether it will reach the ground or evaporate/freeze before it gets there. That definition of “rain” would be useless to us. Doubly so, as not only could we not accurately describe our observation, but someone else using a more common definition might tell us that it’s rain and we make a mistaken conclusion about the water reaching the ground below us. This category includes definitions of the word “consent” or “rape” that are subjective or non-deterministic. If your definition of those words leads to “you can’t know whether that sexual act you’re engaging in right now is consensual or rape” being a valid statement, then your definition is useless to me. And, again, I mean that in the most literal sense. There is no use to which I can put that definition, even in pursuit of our [presumably] shared goal of avoiding rape. Your definition actually reduces my ability to communicate by eliminating or making ambiguous part of my vocabulary.

The second category of useless definitions include words that mean exactly and only what the speaker wants them to mean. This category frequently includes words like “art” or “artist”, “pornography”, “right” or “wrong” or “good” or “bad”, and “enterprise”. More controversially, and the inspiration for this paragraph, it includes trans-inclusive definitions of “man” and “woman”. While I am supportive of these definitions, that does not stop me from categorizing them as useless. As these definitions are adopted, the information content of the words drops towards zero. When you tell me “Pat is a man”, do you intend to convey any information via this statement? If so, you must be using some definition of “man” other than the circular one of “anyone who identifies as a man”. If not, why say it at all?

I am not immediately seeking comment here, although it is welcome. The primary purpose of this note is for me to link to when this concept comes up in future discussions.
LinkLeave a comment

Another attempt to figure out what you mean by “racism” [Feb. 3rd, 2016|12:30 pm]
[Tags|, ]

I'm trying to wrap my head around the social justice definition of "racism" (and other -isms) and have failed to successfully research the topic, or to glean effective insight from others' comments on my previous discussions. Here is my latest attempt to rephrase my confusion.

On average, around the world, Japanese people are discriminated against by Caucasian people. Attempts to eliminate oppression and discrimination are rightfully aimed at this situation.

However, in Japan, a small subset of the world, the situation is reversed. Japanese people hold most/all of the power in a given situation, and Caucasian people are discriminated against.

I can accept the idea that a single black person without power/authority who discriminates against white people in America is not racism.

I cannot accept the idea that a hundred million Japanese people WITH power/authority who discriminate against white people in Japan is not racism.

If you disagree with me about the situation in Japan being racism, then we are simply speaking a different language, and your definition of racism isn't useful to me in any practical capacity. I am unable to make effective decisions for addressing the situation based on that definition.

If, however, you agree with me about Japan, (and about the other case, where agreement is more likely) then I need your help to figure out where the lines between the two cases are. I need to be able to look at a situation that's in between those two and figure out whether it's racism or not. Help?
LinkLeave a comment

Dark Odyssey Surrender 2015 [Nov. 17th, 2015|11:46 pm]
[Tags|, , , ]

While living on the east coast I heard great things about the Dark Odyssey events. They host some camping and hotel kink/sex events each year near DC. I never made it to them due to a mix of travel distance, timing, and cost. This year I happened to be in the bay area when their sole west coast event, Surrender, was taking place. Between volunteering and continuing with my RV lifestyle, attending was extremely affordable, so I decided to check it out.

Read more...Collapse )

Overall, the event was quite enjoyable. I would certainly go again to a Dark Odyssey event, if I am ever again in the right part of the country at the right time and can do it again on a <$100 budget rather than the $500+ budget that seems more typical (travel, ticket, hotel).
LinkLeave a comment

Epic Road Trip, Nevada to Oregon [Oct. 31st, 2015|02:16 pm]
[Tags|, , , , , ]

After parting ways with our Burning Man campmates we did some touristing and ran some errands in Reno. As we were deciding which way to go from there, a friend invited us to join her at Lake Tahoe, so we headed that way. A late night of cleaning playa dust out of the ambulance led to us arriving in Tahoe after midnight, so we crashed in the ambulance and met my friend and her campmate the next morning.

We spent a couple of days around Lake Tahoe. There was hiking, time on the beach, and gazing at the sunset. We had some good food, some comfortable decompression time, and the novel experience of a timeshare presentation (for free breakfast and $100 gift card!). One fun hiking moment had us choosing between paths to "Cascade Falls <--" or "--> Desolation", giving me a strong Choose Your Own Adventure / RPG feeling. We opted to avoid Desolation :)

Leaving Lake Tahoe involved driving back through Reno, where we spent another night. I played some poker again. In the morning we proceeded up through northeast California. We stopped when crossing the Pacific Crest Trail for Emma to do some hiking, with an eye towards a much longer PCT hike in the future. At Cave Campground we walked through a lava tube which was really cool. For our overnight we made it up to Eagle's Nest RV Park, a place that had advertised free post-burn camping for burners and whose website said they had metered electrical hookups, but upon arrival they cajoled us out of twenty bucks for a flat rate hookup. I was too tired to argue, but probably won't stop there again.

Around this point in the trip Emma started to do some serious planning of the stops she wanted to make in Oregon and Washington. Unfortunately, we figured out that most of the places she wanted to see had schedules that didn't match up with our travels at all. Many of the places were only open one or two days a week!

On the way from CA to OR we stopped at the Tulelake County fair, which was fun and silly. There were prize winning baked goods that we weren't allowed to eat, prize winning livestock that Emma turned into a five year old in the presence of, and the most appalling religious anti-sex propaganda booth I've ever encountered in person. I took one of each of their flyers, which Emma couldn't even stand to read, and plan to post about that separately. We continued north up to Crater Lake National Park and made it just in time for the last guided hike of the season. Fun fact: the non-snow season at Crater Lake lasts about three months; they have often-impassably-deep snow cover from October through June. We hiked up to a great lookout, learned some things about trees and birds, took some photos, and then headed north out of the park.

Or, at least, we tried to head out of the park. Switching from all-8%-up-grades to all-8%-down-grades quickly illustrated that my fuel gauge was misbehaving at steep angles, and we ran out of gas on the way out of the park. Luckily for us, I carry an extra gallon of fuel for emergencies. Unluckily, the nearest gas station was 16 miles away, and the nearest we were sure would be open was 25 miles away, since it was pretty late at night. Both of those numbers are significantly higher than my average MPG. So, in goes the fuel. We get up to speed, and I see the most beautiful sight of the trip... two signs, "Altitude 4000ft" and "4% down grade next 8 miles". Terminal coasting velocity for the ambulance on a 4% grade is about 45MPH. Plenty fast enough that I wasn't afraid of being rear ended by an inattentive motorist. Now, the scariest part of the trip... Driving the ambulance at 45MPH without power steering. The brake cylinders hold plenty of fluid for a complete stop, so I wasn't afraid of failure to stop, but having direct mechanical control of the steering was nerve wracking. On the bright side, the dead zone in the middle of the wheel was gone. We made it to the 16 mile station with the idea that we would just overnight there if we needed to. It turned out to be unnecessary as it was a ski resort in the off season with a phone at the station for calling a maintenance person down to sell us gas. He seemed cheerful and happy for the break in the monotony. We set out for western Oregon (having decided nothing in eastern OR or WA excited either of us enough for a 6+ hour detour) and spent the night somewhere along the way.

The next day we drove up to Portland, where we both had touristy plans and a friend had invited us to use their driveway. Next journal entry will cover Portland and Seattle.

PS: This entry covers September 9-14, 2015.
LinkLeave a comment

Berkeley CA USPS general delivery shenanigans, part 2 [Oct. 26th, 2015|01:28 pm]
[Tags|, , ]

It's Monday morning and I'm writing this as I proceed.

First up, trying to call some POs in Oakland and San Francisco and other nearby cities to find out how widespread this situation is. Also to try out USPS Customer Service's suggestion that I call POs in advance to let them know I'll have GD mail coming. 20 rings each and no answer at 94612 (Emeryville), 94188 (SF), 94706 (Albany), 94801 (Richmond) (with an automated message every 5 rings). Finally giving up on main post offices and trying a detached delivery unit (a term I learned on Saturday). Fremont DDU answers quickly, a human transfers me to "Aung". Aung says I don't have to do anything at the post office beforehand to receive GD in Fremont, and that they do have the same 30 day limit as Berkeley.

So now I'm calling USPS Customer Service once more. On Saturday they gave me a lot of info that matched the DMM, and they walked me through finding DMM section 508.6 on the USPS Postal Explorer website. That section contains most of the relevant info, but not the "No application required" that they quoted to me from their internal system. I've reached customer service again and am speaking to Rana. She tells me that this info comes from their internal documentation system, called "Franklin", and it is in document number 7461. Verbatim: "No application is required for general delivery. Persons interested in general delivery should speak with the post master".

Now I'm calling the Berkeley DDU intending to speak to Leo (supervisor) and then Ray (Postmaster) as instructed on Saturday. I've reached Richard who tells me that Leo and Ray are both unavailable at this time. He offers to try to help. I explain the whole situation, including all of the new information I've gathered since Saturday. He says that he is documenting this all, including the Franklin document and new PS1527 language, and that he will begin the process of getting the correct information out to the supervisors and clerks. When I ask for a timeline he says that he aims to have this resolved by the end of the week.

I also tell him that I aim to file a formal complaint against the clerk on Saturday who refused to talk to customer service after telling me to call them. He says that can be handled as all of the corrected information is handled. I tell him I will follow up at the end of the week, both with him and with local homeless task force and action center groups in order to spread the word that general delivery is finally available in its intended form in Berkeley.

Next up I'm calling Fremont again, to correct their misconception about the 30 day limit. I reach Edward and he offers to give me the person I spoke to earlier. Instead, I ask for the manager or postmaster. I speak to Manny, explain what's going on with the 30 day limit and the errata verbiage on the new PS1527, tell him that I spoke to Richard in the Berkeley DDU, and he says he will look into this.

I'm leaving a voicemail for Augustine Ruiz, the California media contact for USPS, to inquire about this situation.

I'm leaving voicemails for Mary at the Alameda County Homeless Action Center and Yani at the Berkeley Food and Housing Project, to ask about others who've encountered this problem and how to spread the word when it's resolved.

I doubt this is the end of the story, but I'm done until someone calls me back or Friday, whichever comes first.
LinkLeave a comment

Not every insult is misogynistic. "geek" [Oct. 25th, 2015|03:49 pm]
[Tags|, , , ]

It really bothers me when someone tries to frame *every* discussion about men or women being oppressed or insulted as being based in misogyny. I get it, misogyny is a problem. It's a bigger problem than any of the other problems in question. It's big enough that it has side effects that some people might misrecognize as misandry. But it's not the only problem. Not everything is about misogyny, and I don't need to have experienced misogyny for that conclusion or my reasoning in reaching it to be sound.

Most of the ways you can insult a man for being un-masculine also imply that he is being feminine. If being feminine is an insult, that's misogynistic. Most of the ways you can insult a woman for being un-feminine also imply that she is being masculine. If a woman not conforming to her gender roles is an insult, that's misogynistic. There's a whole argument to be had about whether misogyny is to blame for every possible insult of that sort, where someone of one gender behaves similarly to the common perception of the other gender. For the sake of this post I'll agree that it is; every such insult is rooted in misogyny. But those insults only make up *most* of the insults that can be levied at someone just for being farther from the social perception of their gender. Try on this counter-example:

"Geek". This word is commonly used as an insult in school-age settings, although it's gotten a lot less insulting in the last 20 years. Applied to men, it often includes connotations of not engaging in "masculine" pursuits. Geeks don't like sports, etc. Applied to women, it often includes connotations of not engaging in "feminine" pursuits. Geeks don't like fashion, etc. However, unlike the majority of cases, where being farther from feminine makes you more masculine, and vice versa, in this case you can be farther from both at the same time. Like the political spectrum, it's not one-dimensional, no matter how common that perception is. Libertarianism can mean being farther from the left without being right, and farther from the right without being left; Geeks can be farther from masculine and feminine at the same time.

I would welcome more examples in comments, or discussion of the phenomena mentioned above. If you're guilty of the generalization I've pointed out here, I hope you'll make it less often after reading this. If you want to try to convince me that "geek" being an insult is somehow rooted in misogyny... good luck.
LinkLeave a comment

Murder is bad because the sky is orange [Oct. 25th, 2015|01:29 pm]
[Tags|, , , ]

You: "Murder is bad because the sky is blue."
Me: "What you just said is wrong."
You: "Why do you think murder is good?"
Me: ...

You: "Murder is bad because the sky is orange."
Me: "The sky is not orange."
You: "Why do you think murder is good?"
Me: ...

These two examples represent a fundamental failure of communication that I'm trying to figure out how to address when and where it happens, without confusing people further. It took me a long time to figure out that a lot of people can't tell the difference between me contradicting their argument or premise and me contradicting their conclusion. Since that dawned on me, I've only ever managed to successfully navigate this conversational space by accident. Starting from "Murder is bad because the sky is [blue/orange]", how do I get to a position where you understand the following things:

1) I agree with you that the sky is blue / I disagree with you that the sky is orange.

2) I agree with you that murder is bad.

3) The statements I have made that do not include the word "murder" are not about murder

Anecdotally, I can report that simply breaking the statement apart into those components does not have the desired effect. If anything, using more words in such a straightforward way makes things worse. Actually naming the logical fallacy being employed, more so. So, I am looking for different words to use.
LinkLeave a comment

Berkeley CA USPS general delivery shenanigans, part 1 [Oct. 24th, 2015|02:29 pm]
[Tags|, , , , ]

TL;DR: Personal project ruined by local USPS misbehavior. Follow-up and escalation might improve mail service for local homeless people.

Good news. I got accepted to present a project at FIGMENT Oakland 2015.
Bad news. The acceptance was at the last minute, so I need to build my project from scratch.
Good news. All of the components were able to get here with just enough time to spare.
Bad news. Berkeley CA sent one of my packages back to Virginia because they have some outdated and/or unsubstantiated policies about general delivery[1].

Read more...Collapse )
LinkLeave a comment

Smart ticket prioritization [Oct. 21st, 2015|12:08 pm]
[Tags|, ]

A long time ago when I worked in ticket/email-based technical support, I had an idea for ticket prioritization. I never convinced any of my bosses to try it, but here it is in case anyone is in a position to give it a try:

The user is presented with three(ish) levels of priority. Low, Medium, High. They prioritize their tickets when they create them.

The support person is presented with five levels of priority. Back burner, Low, Medium, High, Critical. By default, the user's levels map to the middle three levels. Every ticket must be [re]prioritized by the support person *when it's closed*, with informed hindsight of what the actual importance and urgency were.

Now, here's the fun part. After a user has submitted a few tickets, the system can learn how well they prioritize their own tickets. If a user's "High" always earns a "Critical" from the support person, then eventually their High tickets will automatically get upgraded to Critical before a support person sees them (and might get seen sooner!). If a user marks everything "High", they will probably all get downgraded to "Medium" internally.

If you ever implement this, let me know, please. Also, if you ever want this implemented in your ticket system, I'd love to take a stab at it.
LinkLeave a comment

You keep using that word... "Resident" [Oct. 13th, 2015|03:01 pm]
[Tags|, , ]

"Resident" is today's word that most people don't understand the implications of. Specifically, being a resident of a place, for legal and bureaucratic purposes.

Let's get the core misunderstanding out the way first. Unlike almost every other linguistic argument you'll find me involved in, there is no single common definition for this term. There isn't even a clear plurality; with tens of competing definitions in relatively typical usage[1]. In general, there is no social or legal control over who is considered a resident by an organization, at any level, for any purpose. Every single institution, organization, club, or group, government or private, gets to make up their own definition of this word, and most of them do. It is uncommon for anyone to accept anyone else's definition here. If you think that there's one national definition of residency that everyone uses or agrees on... you're wrong. If you think that whatever your state says, goes... you're wrong. It's a complicated morass that I hope you remain blissfully ignorant of, but suspect most of you will encounter at one point or another in your life. Understanding this misconception might help you get through that encounter a little faster than if you were caught flat-footed and confused by this situation.

Read more...Collapse )
LinkLeave a comment

So you say there's a better approach to communication to solve this issue? [Oct. 1st, 2015|03:42 pm]
[Tags|, ]

I get this a lot. I'm engaged in a heated discussion, perhaps even an argument, on the internet. Not a pointless discussion, but one with real world consequences. The topic might be consent, or safety, or event planning and policies. Something that people have strong opinions about, even when those opinions aren't necessarily well thought out. I'll have a position in this discussion that I'm trying to promote or defend, and someone else will be contradicting, refuting, or attacking that position. At some point, the conversation will shift. One or more people will stop (if they had started) discussing the topic, and start making comments about how I communicate. I will get called counterproductive, disruptive, confrontational, etc.

Read more...Collapse )

Finally, in both cases, and more in line with the (1) point that I quoted above... If you believe you have a better approach to achieving a goal that we both believe is good, you can sidestep any need to convince me otherwise by simply implementing your own approach. Alternately, you could convince someone else to implement it, someone who isn't already committed to a differnet approach. The fact that we are having this conversation tells me that either you aren't able or willing to implement your own solution, which hints at some hidden cost or requirement that you aren't considering in pushing that solution on me, or that your solution doesn't actually achieve the goals in question. If those two things weren't true, you would have already solved the problem, and I'd never have started down the path of trying to solve it myself. This response applies at every level of meta related to most such issues. It applies to actually solving the core problem. It applies to eliminating uncomfortable discussions about the problem. It applies to discussing how to eliminate uncomfortable discussions about the problem.

So, as long as you aren't willing to explain to me how my approach is net-bad, or willing to get yourself or others to implement your better approach, we're just going to continue disagreeing about the appropriateness of me using a maybe-not-optimal approach to achieving positive goals.
LinkLeave a comment

I am shy. No, really. [Oct. 1st, 2015|02:59 pm]

I'm one of the more shy people that you know. Most of the people who see or hear me make this claim, probably including yourself, are incredulous. That goes double for people who have spent a significant amount of time around me, but with whom I don't have a close personal relationship. This is because most of the people that I interact with on a regular basis have a strongly filtered view of me. I interact with most of you mostly in environments where one of a few mitigating factors come into play. Outside of those environments I'm the typical socially awkward and mal-adjusted loner geek, and most of the world falls into that category.

Read more...Collapse )
LinkLeave a comment

Burning Man 2015 [Sep. 26th, 2015|10:55 am]
[Tags|, ]

My first trip to Burning Man was a matter of convenient timing. I've wanted to go and see what all the fuss is about for a while, but the circumstances have never been quite right to make it affordable and feasible. This year, I had given 3 months' notice to leave my job in Chicago and made plans to take a counterclockwise tour of the US through the fall and winter while seeing the country and visiting old friends. By happy coincidence, this meant I would be driving near or through Nevada in late August, just in time to visit Black Rock City.

Read more...Collapse )

This was an enjoyable burn experience for me. Overall, much more so than any single regional burn. I am not sure if I'll be back, because I could spend the same money going to half a dozen regionals, and that might appeal to me more. Time will tell, and future travel coincidences could have a significant impact on that decision.
LinkLeave a comment

The selfishness of being in the closet [Sep. 23rd, 2015|01:03 pm]
If you keep part of your life secret because of potential negative consequences to yourself, but social trends indicate that more people making that part of their life not-secret reduces the negative consequences to others in the same situation, then you are responsible for a share of the negative consequences, actual and potential, faced by anyone else with that same secret.

Read more...Collapse )
Link2 comments|Leave a comment

Epic Road Trip, South Dakota to Nevada [Sep. 14th, 2015|12:40 pm]

I've fallen behind on posting trip / event / ambulance updates, mostly due to having no internet access, or no time. This is the first in a series of catch-up posts. I'm going to cover the road trip after my last post, skipping anything related to ambulance improvement, and stopping at Burning Man, which deserves its own post. I already posted about my stop in Rapid City, SD, where I failed to get a new driver license, so let's pick up from there...

Read more...Collapse )

I'll post about Reno later, when I cover before/during/after for Burning Man.
LinkLeave a comment

[ viewing | most recent entries ]
[ go | earlier ]