Friday, July 13, 2012

W00tstock 4.0 Has Come and Gone

The now-annual San Diego ComiCon variety-show companion, W00tstock, has come and gone. As with years past, I went from excited anticipation, to reveling in the warmth of being surrounded by "people like me", to a sudden post-holiday like depression.

I remember some of my friends trying to explain to me what their youthful Church-going experience was like, and I find myself now using the same phrases and adjectives when I try to explain W00tstock to others.  It is very difficult to describe to someone who doesn't get it, except you can say it's a place where you feel safe, everyone laughs at the same jokes you do, and you relish the chance to be surprised and amused in a world where that happens all too infrequently.

Thanks much to the key players who've make this great experience happen for multiple years now:

I can't even begin to list all the Luminaries of Geekdom who made appearances last night, but I will say that the surprise appearance of Molly Lewis during Marian Call's last song made my night.  I'd have sorely missed her if she'd not made an appearance!

Planning for next year's show must begin: NOW!

Friday, April 20, 2012

New Foodie Blog

I've been spending an inordinate amount of time thinking and talking about food lately. Mostly amongst foodie friends and family, but also with non-foodie friends as I try to once-again emphasize Moderation in my eating habits.  More importantly, I'm hoping to strike a balance between eating-what-I-want and not-eating-too-much.  Since the majority of my readers are friends, family, or people who care about the latest camper project or robot hack, and the minority are foodies, I'll be taking the food stuff over to a different blog:  Herbie Eats...

It'll be strictly food-centric, a mix of my fun eating experiences, amateur reviews, recipes, and any thoughts I have as I try to reduce the quantity of what I eat while maintaining (and improving) the quality.  Hope you'll follow me there! Read More...

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

SoCal Desert Rendezvous 2012

After a long gap in posts, it's time to catch up on the Astrolander camper project. After the winter Science Olympiad season (whereupon the author loses all momentum on this and all other projects while he coaches high-school kids through some overly-complicated machine or robot construction), I finally got back in the saddle and started prepping the van for the next adventure.

A random visit to the Reserve America site had revealed an open three day slot at the San Elijo State Beach campground for the 4th weekend in March, so I grabbed it on instinct. Of course, just a few days later the planned date for the Expedition Portal forum SoCal Desert Rendevous was announced and guess what? Same weekend. After some discussion and in deference to familial harmony, we decided to aim for the beach camp. However as the date neared and the weather fouled, we finally decided that cold weather + impending rain + beach didn't mix and made a last-minute switch to attend the Rendezvous after all. It all worked out and we had a great adventure!

From ExPo Desert Rendezvous 2012

The setup for the Rendezvous was that just prior to the weekend, participants would be given only the GPS coordinates to a starting Checkpoint - further instructions would then follow.  We arrived late enough on Friday afternoon that the Checkpoint was no longer manned, but fortunately I'd been able to score the final coordinates a bit earlier and knew where to go.  It worked out for everyone because upon arrival at checkpoint we made some new friends who followed us in after everyone aired-down their tires.

From ExPo Desert Rendezvous 2012
Annika was glad to have a few minutes out of her carseat and took the time to explore the desert, the tracks for the railroad that serves the nearby Gypsum mine, and to make a new friend.  More on that later.

The dirt track into the main camp area was eight or ten miles of mixed surface.  Some dirt road, some washboard road, and some very deep silt beds.  Probably not much of an adventure for most of the attendees, but this was some of the first real off-roading in our van, and Kimberley was not digging the journey, especially the parts where I had to get somewhat off-camber to stay out of the deepest silt ruts or change to another track.  I was glad I'd read-up and watched some videos on driving in these conditions so I'd known what to expect, but more importantly I was glad to have finally fitted good front and rear recovery points and that I'd brought along some Maxtrax traction mats.  Ended up not needing either, but "Be Prepared" is stamped on my bones decades after the scouts.  After all the silt, the van ended up looking like a powdered doughnut:
From ExPo Desert Rendezvous 2012

After the adventure of getting to the Rendezvous camp, the rest of the weekend was relaxed and fun. There were somewhere around 60-70 rigs throughout the weekend, representing everything from Jeeps with trailers, Sportsmobiles, 4x4 trucks and Subarus.  There was even a 2wd Sprinter and someone managed to drag a pop-up tent trailer that didn't look like it had much ground clearance, so clearly the off-roading part wasn't THAT hard.  The guys from Overland Gourmet make their usual huge impression with a catered meal on Saturday, and the Desert Challenge and trash-cleanup events went pretty well (although our area was unexpectedly clean). I was able to get my kite photography rig up for a little while, although the wind was very inconsistent.

From ExPo Desert Rendezvous 2012

This one ended up being one of my favorites:
From ExPo Desert Rendezvous 2012

But if you ask Annika what her favorite part of the trip was, it was making a new friend:
From ExPo Desert Rendezvous 2012
We met Joe and his Dad at Checkpoint 1. I was a bit more confident in my GPS and where I was going (since I'd been able to scout the route somewhat via Google Earth), so I lead them into camp. They were only around for Friday evening and Saturday morning, but long enough to make a huge impression on Annika - she's been talking about Joe non-stop since then!

Please click on any of the album-links in the above photos to see full-size images and a few more pictures from the week-end.

UPDATE: Two more can't-miss images from other forum members Tim and Bryon:
From ExPo Desert Rendezvous 2012

From ExPo Desert Rendezvous 2012

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Battery Box and Bed Platform

Once again I'm having to play catch-up to get the blog updated with the state of construction on the Astrolander project.  These projects still span multiple days/evenings, so updates are mostly "project" based.  Here then, is the coverage for the project to build a platform to extend the fold-back bench/bed to a full 72" and also a box to hold the house battery.  As always, more images with annotation available on the web album.

 The project starts with the battery box.  Pretty basic stuff, 3/4" CDX plywood screwed and glued.  I chose CDX for the outdoor-rated glue since I knew the box would be carpeted anyway, plus it was $18/sheet instead of $45/sheet for the nice birch stuff!

The design of the box looks a little odd at first, but the rear edge of the box actually supports the forward edge of the bed platform, hence the extra height.  Everything is designed to maximize space, so the forward part of the box nestles right up to the back of the bench/bed and part of it will be UNDER the seat-back as it folds back.  The cutouts on the front (left) side of the box are to clear the movement of part of the bed mechanism.  The upper notches are to clear the "arms" of the bed as it folds down.  The inner "walls" of the box provide strength for the tie-down system (more on this below) and form the inner battery tray that helps keep things from moving around.  In this photo I'm trial-fitting the Group 31 AGM battery, only to find that it's just a hair tall with the top posts, so I ended up switching to a Group 34 battery.

 As I said, the inner walls of the box actually provide the strength for the tie-down system.  In this shot the box is on its back.  The fasteners for the hooks and eyes go all they way into the vertical dividers, making everything plenty strong.

Here's the back of the van where the box snugs up against the bench seat.  My conversion van bench/bed is mounted to the floor in between where the 2nd and 3rd rows would have been.  I utilized the existing attachment pins in the floor for the original 3rd row bench to mount the box.  The hooks you can see in the above photo grab onto the aft pins in the floor, and then shackles and turn buckles tie into the forward pins to pull the box forward and down, making everything rock solid.

The inside of the box was then coated in brush-on bedliner, then everything was carpeted with a pretty decent match for the OEM floor/lower trim carpeting.

Next was to weld up the support legs for the back portion of the bed platform.  These legs ended up spaced about 16-1/2" on center, but the platform is 29" or so deep, so I made the tops of the legs into "Tees" so that there wouldn't be a long unsupported span in the fore/aft direction.

 The bottom of the legs were tapped for threaded riser bolts so I could adjust the final height to level everything out.  The legs attach to the platform with knob-headed screws into teenuts in the platform.  I wanted a completely tool-less way to remove the platform and break it down completely flat for easy storage in my garage when not in use.

The platform attaches to the battery box with a couple of removable-pin hinges.  Again, a tool-less way to attach the platform to the box, but it serves a more important purpose also:

The whole platform hinges up to allow easy access to the stuff underneath.  In particular, I wanted to make sure I didn't block access to the jack compartment on the passenger side (right corner of photo).  As it stands, the rightmost leg sits directly in front of that access panel.  Eventually, I'll probably add a cam-lock strap or chain at the rear edge of the platform to engage with the stock D-rings at the rear of the cargo area, which will hold the platform down and keep the cargo underneath  from moving in case of accident.
When the platform is down, there's just enough space between the legs for three tall Rubbermaid containers, or two tall containers and one short one with my Coleman stove on top, or two containers and a 7-gallon water jug.  Not as fancy as some of the great drawer systems I've seen on the epic storage system thread on Expedition, but this system is flexible, and more importantly, it lets me easily move the packed bins back and forth from the garage, which makes packing for trips and unpacking afterwards super easy.

With the addition of some firm 2" foam, the bed platform mates up perfectly with the bench seat as it lowers into a bed, making the sleeping area roughly 56" by 72".  I bought the slip cover material at Ikea, and it was sewn by my Mother.  I would have done it myself (hey, a sewing machine is a power tool too!), but I was running out of time prior to Overland Expo 2011, and Mom was eager to help.  Admittedly, she did a much better job than I would have.  Thanks Mom!

The only bad news here is how snug the platform is to the rear doors.  I plan to build some drop tables onto these, so I'll have to modify the platform at a later date to provide a little clearance.  Oops!

Getting the battery box built meant I could also install the house battery and split-charging system.  For the split-charge controller, I gambled on the T-Max system from Summit Racing.  Definitely not as full-featured as the offerings from IBS or National Luna, but way way cheaper, and budget was a consideration here.  If or when it fails, I'll consider upgrading, but for now it's working great.  I mounted the display/control interface on the lower dash next to the doghouse on a custom bracket.  I do actually like the display - during normal running it only lights the charging LEDs at the top left, you can hit "display" to see the state-of-charge on the main (starting) and aux batteries at any time.  I like that it's completely dark when the engine is off, since the LEDs could be annoying at night.

The other half of the T-Max system is the massive solenoid.  I used some scrap aluminum to make a mounting plate that I riveted to the bottom of the mounting bracket that holds the starting battery and ECU mounting frame in the engine bay.  The block on the left is one of two 150A breakers (one at each end of the run of cable back to the box in the rear).  I used extended side posts to tie the extra power and ground cables onto the main battery.

The main run of cables from the engine bay to the battery box was made by cutting up a new set of 2-gauge jumper cables.  I like using jumper cables because they're fairly flexible and inexpensive compared to buying other big cables by the foot.  In this case I opted to separate the positive and negative and cover each with a tough outer braid.  For the entire run these are fixed to the van BODY, and always above the sub-frame because I know the body-to-subframe distances will be changing soon when I install the lift kit (which includes body-lift pucks.)

The cables enter the interior just aft of the fuel filler and stay behind the plastic interior trim (removed in this photo) until they enter the battery box where they connect to the second breaker, fuse panel, and house battery.
For now I'm just running my Edgestar fridge and house lights (rewired the vans dome and map lights to take power from the house battery), but eventually the HAM radio and a few other goodies will also take power here.


Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Overland Expo or Bust!

OK, it's March and I haven't posted since November 2010, so it must look like I'm making no progress on the Astrolander, right? Couldn't be more wrong. In just over seven days, I'll be departing for Overland Expo 2011. To paraphrase their slogan, I'll be spending three days getting trained and getting inspired, hopefully I will be more or less outfitted by then. ;-)

The trick is that in addition to all the training and experiences I'll be having AT the Expo, this also represents the first dry run for the Astrolander with a full 3+ days of boondock camping, whether I'm ready, or not. I've had this on the calendar since last year, but the pressure to get things ready really kicked in around November/December. Unfortunately, that's also Science Olympiad "season" around these parts, and I got talked into coaching an event again this year, so there went a good chunk of December, January, and early February. I've been making up for the lost time with some late nights and full weekends, but the crazy build schedule hasn't left much time for blogging the progress. Look forward to more of my "retroactive" build entries with more detail, but for now, here's a short list of the things I've been working on:

  • Designing, building and installing the whole rear storage/bed-platform cabinetry system
  • Installing the cabling, charge controller, and AGM for the House battery system
  • Running long-scale power consumption tests on the DC fridge in order to spec the above system
  • Machining and installing curtain tracks, curtains
  • Laminating additional supports to the roof for the rear of the upper bunk
  • Re-gluing the bulb seals around the pop-top
More importantly, here are a few of the things I still hope to get done before I leave for OvEx:
  • Finish carpeting bed platform and battery box
  • Cutting Reflectix insulating panels for the windows
  • Sewing slip cover for the rear mattress (Handed off to Mom!)
  • Installing new CB antenna mount, CB
  • Welding drop-tables for the dutch-door kitchen
One or more of those tasks may not "make it", but I'll do my best!  Pictures to come as soon as I have some time to breathe.