Monday, July 26, 2010

Zombie Walk 2010

My week of Nerd-related activities got extended slightly when a friend let me know that there was a Zombie Walk going on with ComicCon this Saturday.
From ZombieWalk_2010-07-24

Needless to say, I had to drag the family along.  My costume was pretty rudimentary, but there were some really talented and dedicated folks there, including my favorite, the "50's Comic Book Zombie", who was kind enough to pose with me for the picture above.

The walk was organized by Zombie Walk San Diego, as a fundraiser and organ-donor signup event for Donate Life California.  By my estimate, there were somewhere between 500 and a 1000 Zombies who showed up.  Awesome!

More impressive than the sheer number of Zombies was that I was able to get Kimberley and Annika to come along.  Annika was a bit young for makeup, so she wore her "Zombie Snack" bib, while Kimberley was sporting possibly the most subtle costume in the walk, (but she was definitely in-costume):
From ZombieWalk_2010-07-24
Bonus Zombie points to anyone who "gets it".

I was honored to be asked to pose for many photos.  Lots of people thought the sign was great, but I can't take credit for the joke -Think Geek sells the shirt.  My really "big moment", though, was spotting the illustrious Patricia Tallman standing off the curb taking pictures of the shamble as it went by.  I only gave a subtle wave and mouthed "I love your work" as we went by, because the last thing the star of Tom Savini's remake of Night of the Living Dead needed was to be recognized on the street and surrounded by five hundred Zombie fans.  This would be equivalent to someone spotting Mark Hamil watching a parade of the 501st Legion going by.

We were too busy wrangling the stroller amid the shamble of Zombies to take many photos, but I managed a few good ones here, and a quick video snap of the Thriller breakout.

I have found quite a few other good collections of photos, though, so here are the best:
Flickr Set from Mike Rollerson
and another from Sebastian Jesperson
and one from

Searching "Zombie Walk San Diego 2010" or "Zombie Walk ComicCom 2010" should net many more videos and pictures...

Friday, July 23, 2010

W00tstock 2.4 has ended. It was awesome.

Well, I'm still reeling from my experience at W00tstock 2.4 last night.   I'll let the rest of the digirati cover all the juicy details, since I'm sure it was live-blogged, tweeted, and streamed to no end.  I love events like these, where I come away reminded that I am part of a greater, and growing, community of like-minded devotees of all things geek. 

My favorite specific bit from last night's show, though, was the sequence of events surrounding Wil Wheaton's retelling of his first experience with the Rocky Horror Picture Show. There was a cascade of funny that began with a heartfelt reminiscence of life as a teenager in 1980's LA. Then while recounting the gathering of some slightly burned white toast, onto the stage wanders Aaron Douglas, complete with BSG "Chief Tyrol" flight-suit costume, setting up Wheaton for the gag: "No, we asked for toast, not a toaster!", which of course slayed the audience as intended.

Funnier yet is what came next.  After Douglas stomps of stage yelling "Frak you, Wil Wheaton", our storyteller turns to the audience and says (in seemingly one breath): "So its pretty cool when you're friends with Aaron Douglas and you hear he's going to be at ComiCon so you call him up and ask him if he'll come to your show 'cause you have this idea for a bit that you think would be really funny!  Then he calls you back and asks 'Hey, what if I wore my flight suit? Would that be OK?', and you say 'That.... would... be... AWESOME!', then I went into my backyard and screamed to the heavens 'What did I do to deserve this bitchin' life?'".

It came across as completely genuine and reinforces everything else I've heard about Wil Wheaton and his view of this place in the world.  In any case, I laughed until my sides hurt.

There was much more awesome, including a brief Astronomy lecture and sneak-peak at a new upcoming Discovery Channel show from "Bad Astronomer" Phil Plait, surprise cameos from a variety of other geek celebs, and I even got to spend a couple of minutes chatting with Mythbuster Grant Imahara whom I haven't spoken with since we were competitors at a Battlebots event a million years ago.  All in all, a great night, and I can't wait for W00tstock 3.x!

Addendum: I can't believe I forgot to mention this.  So security was stupid.  Like really stupid.  The show started like an hour late because they were doing thorough pat-downs and bag-checks which doesn't sound bad until you remember that 1/2 the crowd came straight from ComiCon and had those massive Swag-bags.  It took FOREVER to process the line.  Worst still, they confiscated my Leatherman Squirt S4, because it was a "weapon".  OK, they didn't confiscate it so much as take it and put it into a plastic bin without any sort of claim ticket whereupon it was gone after the show, even though we had to leave a few minutes before the end.  Oh well, I think the a-hole guard now has a beatup, dull Leatherman on his keychain.  Maybe letting people know before you tear their tickets that there's a "no re-entry" policy, eh?  My car was just around the block.  Moreover, if you're looking for "weapons", maybe you should pat me down a little better, 'cause the farkup rent-a-cops missed my 3.5" Ritter RSK Mini-mk1, which is razor sharp and probably better at the "murdering other nerds" they seemed to be so concerned about.  Obviously I didn't volunteer that one, since I wasn't about to hand over $100+ cutlery.  OK, rant-over, W00tstock was still awesome!  Besides, now I have an excuse to purchase the new Leatherman Squirt PS4 instead!!

Thursday, July 22, 2010


Heck of a line (around the block) for the W00tstock show.

Can't wait!

-Sent via Blackberry

Summary only...

Monday, July 12, 2010

GTRV Organ Donor Teardown, Day 2

Saint Kimberley the Luscious (aka Mrs. Herbie) granted me another big chunk of time this weekend, so I was able to make some more good progress on the teardown.

As before, my annotated image log is here.

The primary goal on Day 2 was to get the steel reinforcing ring separated from the rest of the van. After drilling all the fasteners on Day 1, I found that a significant amount of adhesive had been used. This stuff was STRONG. If I pulled hard on the steel ring, the roof sheet metal would flex some, but the adhesive didn't budge. Well, when in doubt, apply heat:

I worked my way around the perimeter with a propane torch and a wide putty knife. In most cases a little heat and sliding in the putty knife would get things separated nicely. In a few spots things were obviously under a bit of tension because just applying heat would cause the gap to separate.

In a few other places, more heat and a bit more aggressive application of the putty knife were needed. Mostly where the adhesive was laid on thick and there was a lot of mating surface area.

Eventually though, the glue surrendered and the ring came away, leaving just the sheet metal and what remained of the original reinforcing ribs.

The carpet/glue residue looked pretty nasty after "burning", and in a few spots I really did have to burn the paint to get the glue to let go, but that's one upside of a disposable donor, I don't have to care!

And here's the ring after separation. I was pleasantly surprised to find the ring is "open" at the right-rear corner. This made removal much easier and should make re-installation much simpler also, because in several places the horizontal surfaces of the ring slot in between the roof sheet metal and the stock cross bracing. This thing will have to be maneuvered into place around several such interfering areas, so the fact that I can "pinch" the ring slightly will be a help. Once in place, all of the mechanical fasteners should make it at least as strong as if the ring was welded around the entire perimeter.

The remaining white is more adhesive that I'll scrape off later. I really want to brush or blast this whole thing and at least give it a coat of primer. I hate seeing the start of rust on bare steel.

I also had time to start tackling transplanting the passenger seat swivel base into my van.

I had originally installed a different swivel that sandwiches in between the slider track and the seat bottom:

The problem here being that the added thickness of the slider plus the spacers needed to clear the "arch" of the slider track make the seat dangerously high. (Without a headliner in my 2003 van, a couple of my taller passengers are too close to the roof unless they recline the seat quite a bit!) My hope is to be able to transplant the older swivel base into my van.

After removing the seat, I had to get past the massive amount of brushed on bedliner that covered everything on the floor of the donor van. Mostly I just brushed it off the nuts so I could remove the base plate.

The next problem was that my 2003 van includes an underseat heater duct for the 2nd row foot area. At first I thought I could clear the duct by just notching the rear of the baseplate (underside in this photo):

However it turns out that the stack-up of ducting, insulation, and carpet means the studs aren't long enough to meet the baseplate. (The OE seat mount in my 2003 has a raised bracket with feet that extend to meet the studs, rather than a flat plate.) I'm still brainstorming on the optimum solution here. I may try to turn some sleeved nuts to reach down to the studs, or I may build a similar rail/foot system to clear the floor area entirely, but that will raise the seat back UP, so I may have to compensate by cutting down and re-welding the extension tube in the swivel.... ugh.

Anyhow, more to come, stay tuned!

Tuesday, July 06, 2010

GTRV Organ Donor Teardown, Day 1

Due to the long holiday weekend, I actually had some time to spend starting the teardown in order to prep my "Organ Donor" GTRV for the top-ectomy and transplant to my 2003 recipient van.  Mostly this was about getting things out of the way, and figuring out how the original conversion was constructed.  It was a very productive day!  My full photo log, complete with all the gory details is available here.  
From GTRV-Teardown

Please forgive the seemingly inane annotations on some of the photos, but they are there to remind myself what I was photographing, in case I have to refer back to these pictures a month or a year from now. 

After a full day of removing hundreds of screws and drilling hundreds of rivets, I'm now very close to being able to remove the steel reinforcing ring from the donor van's roof and separately lifting the top assembly off altogether.

From GTRV-Teardown

Most importantly, I have learned a lot about how the GTRV conversion are constructed, so I now feel very confident I can complete this transplant with minimal problems. The biggest casualty thus far is the headliner carpet from the donor. It was glued into place for the entire perimeter of the access portal, and removing it was destructive. It will need to be replaced when I'm done with the mechanical transplant, but I will be brainstorming for ways to avoid having to have the new headliner glued in the same way.

Sunday, July 04, 2010

Kite Photography

We got to spend a portion of our holiday weekend visiting some friends at Fiesta Island.  Since I'm neck-deep in my camper-conversion project, I didn't do a very good job of prepping the van for a day at the beach.  On the plus side, I did bring my kites and new carbon fiber KAP rig, so I was finally able to get some aerial shots with my little $40 Canon SD450 from Craigslist.

From FiestaIsland-2010-07-03

I used the Canon Hack Developers Kit (CHDK) running a script called "UltraIntervalometer" to run a timelapse program, taking a shot about once every 3 seconds. I just launched the kite and tied it off, then started the script and walked down the kite line a little ways and attached the rig, then let the kite fly! This was just my opening experiment, so I didn't spend very long taking shots or changing the aim point. I built my Picavet suspension rig in about an hour from some scrap carbon fiber, so its totally static, (making it very light!) but it means I'd have to walk down the line to change the aim. My biggest lesson learned was that I'll need to spend more time with the actual camera settings. Shooting mostly beige sand left the majority of my photos a bit washed out. I'll work on that. Read More...

Thursday, July 01, 2010

Major Step forward....

My "Astrolander"/Zombiemobile project has just taken a major step forward.  This past weekend I flew to Vancouver and picked up a GTRV-equipped Safari donor van.

A few weeks ago, I found a high-mileage and beatup GTRV Safari on craigslist. 380,000 km (236k miles), and what the seller generously described as an interior "in need of TLC", but the top shell, tent, and hardware are all in excellent shape. Moreover, it was selling for an incredibly low price, cheap enough to justify buying the van just for the parts. Van was in North Vancouver, BC, but the owner was hesitant to deal with me, he thought I was a scammer! Once I explained that I would pay his asking price because the top shell, tent, and other hardware alone were worth that much to me, he agreed to sell. Then it was just a race to get my passport renewed and hope that nobody else stumbled across the advertisement and thought it was as good a deal as I did! Of course, any good road trip has an adventure story.  Here's mine in Reader's Digest:

Finally flew into Vancouver last Sunday, took the SkyTrain and SeaBus to North Vancouver and met the seller. We looked over the van, covered some of the problems, but confirmed that the pop-top and tent are in excellent shape. Concluded the deal, including purchasing a 1-day BC insurance package, and I head for the border.

Border line was massive, almost 2 hours just to get to the kiosk so I can get pulled into secondary to start the process of importing the vehicle to the USA.

First CBP officer at secondary didn't know as much about vehicle importing as the CBP website (and thus me), so we wasted some time with him telling me I couldn't import the van because the speedo had kph on top. (!!?!) After I insisted that the van had all the proper labelling (CMVSS and EPA labels, etc.) and that it was an HS-7, part-2B import, he handed me off to a second CBP officer who within five minutes confirmed that all was well and I was on my way.  It helped that the van was actually built in Minnesota (for the Canadian market, but still), since there was no duty to be paid.  The EPA sticker even confirms California-emissions compliance, so this made things much smoother.

Made my way into Bellingham, WA and stumbled into the driveway of my friend Tom, already besieged by the Sportsmobile of fellow internet denizen Brian. Hey, Pop-Top Party!! After comparing Tom's van to mine and the minor evolution of the implementation, we had some decent beer and some grub, all in all a too-short visit.  Its worth noting that though Tom and I had been conversing for over a year at this point, we'd never met in person.  The internet has truly changed the world.

I have to stop here to thank Tom, Jen, and Brian for such a warm welcome and their fabulous hospitality. By-far the best aspect of the trip was meeting you all and thinking forward about the next visit when we can actually enjoy your beautiful surroundings!!

We picked up my co-pilot Kevin from the Bellingham airport, gathered a few supplies, and aimed the van south.  By 11pm, we were on our journey, and here's where we started finding some of the "features" of this wonderful machine. First, the instrument lighting in the dash was out. Lots of fun trying to avoid a speeding ticket in an unfamiliar machine on the very dark northern stretch of the I-5. With the creative use of the map lights, my EDC Fenix E01 penlight, and/or my ipod, we were able to keep tabs on instrumentation until dawn. Other "features": Door locks are broken in an inconvenient combination of ways (lock cylinder on driver's side, power lock switch on passenger side, etc.); water temp gauge reads 40c constantly; no cruise control; and a few other niggles.

We went straight through, stopping only for bio breaks, fuel, and breakfast. By 10am we were far enough into California that it started to get hot. Real hot. The little thermometer on my REI zipper-pull said 100+. Before 11am. Oh, and it turns out the van's AC doesn't work either. Crap. Oh well, windows down, we soldier on. The upside of our late departure from Bellingham was that we had missed any sort of traffic going through pretty much all of Washington, Oregon, and Northern California. The downside is that we hit central California in the middle of one super-hot day. 105-110°F in Sacramento, Bakersfield, etc.

By 4:30pm, we were at the base of the Grapevine. Citibank's Fraud Detection division helpfully declined my card at this fuel stop, because they'd noticed what they thought were "too many" gas purchases. Um, I'm on a roadtrip back from Canada, hello? The guy starts reading off charges in Washington, Oregon, Northern California.... oh, all moving south. Duh. Sorted out that little issue and back on our way.

For most of the afternoon, it seemed the Water-temp gauge had been "waking up". It had slowly begun to register, then read near the middle of the gauge. As we got into the serious climb of the grapevine, it started to move more quickly toward the top end of the gauge. I wasn't sure whether I could trust it, but figured discretion was wise so we took a casual pace up the hill. On the descent the gauge settled back to just south of the middle, so we pressed on. With a last-minute move into the heavy-truck lane, we narrowly missed getting stuck in a massive backup due to a recent accident where the passenger and truck routes of the grapevine rejoin, then had clean sailing all the way through LA. Somehow we'd timed the drive to miss EVERY bit of rush hour traffic on the entire west coast of America.

We entered into San Diego proper by 9pm, dropped off my copilot, and headed for home. Stopped at the store to get some milk, and then.... crank but no fire.

Yep, after 1400+ miles, two countries, three states, and 22 hours, the van has died within two blocks of my house. Oh well, it could have been much, much worse.

I walked home, took a shower and went to bed. The next morning I got up and started trying to debug the van. After half a day of checking the easy stuff, the manager of the grocery store who's parking lot the van had died in got sort of testy about me crawling around the van checking things, so I just had it towed to my friend's shop. Getting it running would have been convenient, but as it stands is not strictly necessary since the donor wasn't expected to survive the transplant procedure anyway!

Next steps? Start taking pictures and pulling parts. We'll probably start this weekend.

One last note, I have to say that this acquisition is also a personal milestone for me. By my calculations, and including my wife's car (which is titled in my name, so its fair), this brings my aggregate horsepower to 1022. Yes, I've entered four digits, and I now have an aggregate horsepower equivalent to a Bugatti Veyron plus a Honda 250cc dirtbike. This is short-lived of course, as I still plan to shed one "real" car from the fleet and the donor will take a trip to the scrapyard as soon as I've stripped it for useful goodies, but still...