Thursday, September 21, 2017

The mystery be solved

It's hard to see amidst the spaghetti jumble of wiring but the mystery is solved. I'd made a small error in my interpretation of the wiring diagram. Now, when the correct code is entered, the buzzer sounds for 5 or 6 seconds. My next task will be to time my door unlocker. I believe it takes about 5 seconds to open. If not then I might just have to enter the code twice to open the door. Not a major problem!

It turned out that I had to connect the purple wire to the negative, the blue wire to the black wire of my buzzer and the red wire to the positive. Now that's all sorted out, I can get the rest of my door lock working. There is an alarm setting whereby an alarm can be set to sound if the wrong code is entered. I have no specific use for that piezo buzzer so I might assign that as my alarm. It's certainly loud enough!

Why I'd made the elementary mistake before was simply from tiredness. I get so many interesting issues on the special needs schoolbus I drive for work that no day is standard and no journey is routine. I get exhausted by the end of the day. Today, for example, I'm home and so tired I'm literally walking into things. But at least my door unlocker keypad is closer to being installed.

Siting the keypad is an interesting issue. If I put a keypad hatch then somebody nefarious might open it to see what's under the hatch. I could mount it inside the fuel hatch but as I'm going to put a lock on that, it wouldn't be smart. I thought of mounting it underneath but I might be parked on soft mud and might need access when I'm in my Sunday best. I'll find somewhere.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Mysteries of locks

A few days ago, the electronic door keypad I ordered, arrived. Thus I set to today to make the thing work. Programming it was straightforward enough and I could get the light to turn green from red.
 First the light was red..
Then the light was green...

As you can see, I connected the keypad to a 12v battery. I connected a 12v buzzer (bottom right) and tried to make the buzzer buzz. It didn't so maybe I'll have to rethink my reading of the instructions, the salient point of which is here.
It looks as though I should connect the blue wire to the buzzer and the buzzers other wire to the negative. I did that and nothing happened. That has me just a little flummoxed.

Sunday, September 17, 2017

86F and lying on hot tarmac

Today I started the bus and took it out to add wiring underneath. I'm happy to say that it drove well though as I'm not used to it, I was a trifle close to the center line. I suspect the driver's seat is more central than on my usual bus.

The bad - my alternator belt squeaked a little and my GPS speedometer does not seem to work too well any more. There was a hot smell under the hood - not sure what that was but the engine temperature was good. The whole bus needs the attention of a decent mechanic for a clean and grease anyway. My CB didn't seem to want to turn on. That isn't a huge problem though. The rev counter kicked in only on the return journey. A couple of piles of boxes tipped over and one contained a wine glass that now has a broken stem.

The good - on the occasion my GPS speedometer worked, it agreed with my speedometer. The bus drove well. The fact my speedo worked proves the addon speed sensor under the bus is utterly redundant and can be removed.

It was hotter than I thought and the heat gave me a headache. I'd parked near a filling station on a dead end road in order to roll my creeper under the bus. In use I found the creeper to be fairly mixed. It helped a little but not as much as I'd hoped. I spent quite a few sessions lying on the hot tarmac. I could put one cable connector on then I had to sit in the shade to cool down.

By the time I quit for the day, I'd attached the cables from the cockpit to the back of the bus. One pair of wires was too short as I suspected but it won't be a problem to extend them. The cable clamps were a little loose so I put an extra cable sleeve on my wires. That made it all work. I need more cable sleeve and more wires. I need to add more cable clamps but that's a job for another day.
There's a photo of my bus on its first journey in quite a while. It was so bright I couldn't see the screen hence a finger crept into the image. I'm glad to be able to show the bus in different surroundings. Maybe next weekend I can finish the wiring. It was nice to be able to work without insect issues. The temperature was a little too much though. Having said that, if I go to the same place next week, I'll be less dumb and will park the other way around so that I can work in the shade and not in the hot sun.

Saturday, September 16, 2017

180 CFM, maybe?

Today I noticed my electronic keypad looked like it was out for delivery. The eBay tracking said "On it's way to destination" so I though it would arrive today. It did not - I actually met the postman at the bottom of the driveway and did receive a package and a nice letter The letter was just my bus insurance, keeping me road legal. The package was my anemometer.
I measured the wind speed at the mouth of my newest bilge blower at 1200 feet a minute. I measured the air blowing out of one of my vents at the back of the bus at 360 feet a minute. That means I'm getting a little over half the air volume out of the back of the bus that the fans advertise. That might be due to the mushroom duct covers or it could be the mesh screen at the duct cover end is glued over a plastic drain cover which loses probably 1/3rd of the clear surface area due to a thick, plastic grate.

There are two possible resolutions to the air-speed problem with the back vents. One is to clear away the plastic blockage and replace it with a strongly fastened mosquito mesh. The other is to simply do away with a filter at the back and rely solely upon the front filter combined with frequent blasts of air from the blower. It might also be a good idea to replace the mushroom vents with flapper vents though I'm afraid a strong wind might just snap the louvres.

Realizing my planned external solar input (could even be wind input) needed a bracket made so that the power plug could hang downward, I started to drill some of my steel bracket. The first pilot hole went through readily enough with my new rechargeable drill. Enlarging the hole went well until I got close to the required size. Then cutting got incredibly slow with my being able to do a couple of seconds work between half an hour of letting the work and the tool cool down. That was pretty slow.
In the meantime I started on making a hole in the floor for my thick bundle of cables. That started well but then I hit a snag in that the first cable passes very close under where I have started my hole. That means I'll have to complete enlarging the hole from underneath the bus. I have a lot of things to move inside the bus to put securely before I move the bus though.
Part of my problem with not getting much done is that I'm off for just two days a week, most weeks and I run a schedule that is just plain exhausting. I am normally up at 04:00 in the morning, at work by 05:30 and out on the road in a bus by 05:45. At 08:45 I'm usually back at work having completed my morning run. That is, unless I have an extra hour to do. By 13:30 I'm back in my bus at work and on the road, returning to the office at 16:50 approximately. Then on two days a week I have a further run from 17:40 until 20:30. Add to that unscheduled meetings and driving my car to and from between work and where I live which is half an hour each way. No wonder I'm exhausted - that's between 6.25 and 9.75 hours work driving a day plus 2 hours of my own driving. That's up to 12 hours driving per day and it's exhausting - not physically but mentally. Add to that, the temperature on the work bus can be over 100F and I have no water at all with me for that entire time. I get dehydrated. It's nothing for me to drink a liter of water in the car on the way home and to suffer frequent issues because of dehydration.

The reason I want to have the solar input cable out of sight is so that nobody messes with it. That's pretty much the same for everything on the bus. I've hidden just about everything out of sight. Sure - if you look you'll see a waste barrel if you look at the rear wheel arch. I'm hoping that rapidly gets covered with road debris and mud, thus becoming unrecognizable. Otherwise, I'd just drill a hole in the bus skirt and put the connector through that.

In the end after seeming to get nowhere for a very long time, I finally managed to get the hole large enough for the cigarette lighter socket to fit. The next stage will be attaching the gizmo to the skirt. For some obscure reason, the skirt where I want to attach the socket is screwed on rather than riveted. I'll do the same with my mount, just in case. When its installed, I'll slop some silicone goop over the connections after everything is correctly connected. To be safe, I'll probably add some kind of safety feature so that if something is plugged in with reversed polarity, a fuse blows.

I must admit to being disappointed with the amount of work completed today but on the other hand, much of what I need to do involves going underneath. That, of course, is not my favorite thing to do.

Looking at the busses at work, I noticed they all have locking covers over the fuel tank. That seeming like a good idea, I mentioned that on one of those God-foresaken bus conversion groups online. Of course, the answer came back to buy a new fuel hatch door with a built-in lock. Idly, I looked those up and they were all very small. They were also very expensive. Thus I measured the lock on my fuel door and found it to be close enough to 3/4 of an inch. It also had a non-locking cam closure. Looking on eBay, I saw several in various different sizes. None in the size I want though so I'm thinking my next best stop will probably be the local hardware store. Cam locks are not exactly uncommon and in fact, most fuel doors have cam locks. According to eBay prices they range from about $5 upwards. That's way better than $20 for a new door!

Honestly, those bus conversion forums are all totally nuts. They are chattering on one at the moment about how much it costs to repaint a bus. Figures were quoted in the thousands. Most people with any sense use a roller and a pot or two of paint from the hardware store. Mine cost probably $200 to paint  - not $10,000 as some quoted. As a defense against such a ludicrous suggestion somebody said they managed to get into a campground where only new motorhomes were allowed. My question is - if somebody is prepared to reject my good money by refusing to let me camp on their land - why should I even care? It's their business and money that they loose. I just mosey on and find somewhere cheaper or free. Besides, how are they going to know the age of your vehicle unless you're dumb enough to tell them? It's possible to disguise the age anyway - all it needs is (if you're that desperate) to put a sticker in some prominent place claiming some fictitious manufacture date. No business has a right to inspect your vehicle or enter your vehicle and even a policeman cannot unless invited or in possession of a search warrant. That includes lifting the hood. I'll go further - the bus groups are full of nonsense. One has to be very suspect of anything said there. I wouldn't mind betting most posters don't even know anybody with a bus.

Just as I thought I'd got the bracket to fit just right, it refused to allow the socket I wanted to mount through the hole. It worked just find for my test socket but for the one I wanted to use, no way. That's frustrating and means more work tomorrow.

Monday, September 11, 2017

Hurricane Irma

Today was supposed to have been a work day but due to Hurricane Irma, that got cancelled. I can't quite figure that one out because all we have is some wind and rain. Tomorrow is supposed to be a work day and I can't figure that one out either because tomorrow is supposed to be the really bad day or the start of a few really bad days.

Needless to say, I had high hopes of working on the bus today. I'd hoped to have a day dry enough to get underneath to install one or both of the cables I made up over the weekend. I also hoped that I'd be able to get underneath to measure the ribs in order to work out whether I can simply bolt a battery cage for my Harbor Freight lead-acid battery into place. If I can do that then I have the option of welding or bolting the cage together.

Sitting in the bus today, I look at the stuff needing to be done. The vast majority needs a good sunny day. Though I have LED lantern lighting in here, it's really not bright enough to do any meaningful work. I can blog but that's about the limit of what's achievable.

At the risk of being a bit repetative and boring, I've got the solar electrics to complete. I need to work a bit on the ventilation and also work on the plumbing with possibly an instant water heater going into the mix.

Today I have been reading all kinds of entertaining nonsense on the online bus groups. On one group they were saying Pex tubing absolutely cannot be connected using "dime store" jubilee clips. That's sheer nonsense as I've always connected my hoses with jubilee clips. Another prize piece of nonsense was somebody saying that air filters expire after 2-3 years and they cited a manufacturer's website claiming so. Well, of course they'd day that - they'll say anything in order to sell more filters. It seems that these online groups are filled with people that cannot think independently and are not willing to question anything they're told. As somebody that thinks outside the box, I find this failure of other people to be somewhat annoying. This is probably why I like to do things on my own so much.

I managed to lock myself out of the bus today. That had me thinking of ways to get in. I had to resort to a key I'd left elsewhere in the end. Had that not been available, I'd have been a bit stuck. Looking around at keypad switches I was baffled about how to make a simple pulse provide constant power to then somebody suggested a latching relay. That would do it! I'll work on that after I've completed my underbus solar wiring. Given the rain today, my preferred site for such a unit which would be underneath the bus doesn't seem that practical. I suspect a better location would be under the hood.

Lots left to do.

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Using Lowes (hiss, spit) undersized cable loom

I was going to start today working on cutting trees in order to facilitate easier passage of my bus down the driveway but I got side tracked. I realized I'd just made up one single cable - the big one that goes from front to back of the bus. Being under the bus to put one cable in, I might as well put two so I got down to work, making up another cable. This, being the bedroom cable, was originally going to have just one wire - the circulation fan.

Originally, the plan was to keep all the electrics in the kitchen and not have power elsewhere. Plans and ideas changing, I put up two circulation fans to help keep me cool during the heat of summer, given that I decided not to install air conditioning. I'd played with the idea and found suitable units but I just don't like the idea of having something I can only use when plugged into a street supply.

Realizing I might yet change my mind further and being quite disappointed by the LED lanterns available, I looked the other day in the hardware store and saw LED "puck" lights and light strips. They looked interesting but I'm not willing to part with cash yet to purchase anything like that. Having said that, it makes sense to put in extra cabling now rather than having to put in extra cabling later. All my cabling is 14 or 16 gauge so it should handle up to 8A at 12V given the short lengths in use. Thus, my main long cable has two twins and a single wire. My short cable - made up today contains two twins.

After thinking, I realized that I needed two twins in order to power the fan, a bedroom light, a bathroom light and possibly a USB charger in the bedroom. For the moment, only the fan will receive any power. All the cables will be positive with the bus body being the negative. That saves me a bundle on cables and conduit, not to mention fixtures.

Making up a cable is dead easy - I wrap the bundles of wires in tape (in this case it's masking tape but any tape will do) and then insert them into my cable loom (that some hardware stores call by various funky names).
There are the results of my cable spinning. It takes a long time and there is a 10 foot length I did this morning together with the 30 foot length I did yesterday. I suspect I might have to extend the cables. That would not surprise me one little bit nor does it perturb me. It's going to be a simple case of soldering and sharing wrapping then slipping a piece of cable loom over the extension.
There's a nice shot of the cable going into the conduit. I have to bend the conduit past 90 degrees to get it to open in order to accept the wires but when it does, they slip inside very easily. It takes forever because that conduit is quite hard to work with.

Today I saw an interesting video online about Harbor Freight's new 100W solar panel setup. It's a little expensive at $150 when Home Depot sells a 100W panel for $100 but it looks good. I shall be setting up my solar setup so that I can plug an extra panel in via a socket on the side of the bus. That will give me running solar panels that just keep things going and extra power while I'm stationary.

My existing 35W of solar power is currently split into a 20W array at the back of the bus that powers solely my ventilation and a 15W panel at the front that currently does nothing aside from charge my tablet or my phone. It does both of those, admirably.
Here's a photo of my solar array charging my RCA tablet. It's old and only kinda-sorta works but it looks good!  Things charge remarkably quickly. That panel came from Harbor Freight and charges a 5AH Radio Shack battery which in turn charges my tablet or phone.

Years ago, I used to use a laptop for everything. These days, I do everything on a tablet. Things seem to keep getting better and smaller. Tower systems became desktops and desktops became laptops then laptops became tablets. The same is going for cameras - those big, bulky digital SLRs became mirrorless cameras and phones gained cameras. What I'd like to see is a mirrorless camera that can be charged via USB that desn't cost the earth. Something as small as Nikon's 1 system would be very nice. It might even get me back into photography after a hiatus of about a decade!

Just now the temperature in the back of the bus rose above 25C (77F) so my extraction fan came on. Out of interest I covered the ventilation outlet from one side of my extraction fan setup and noticed the tone of the motor changed as it had to work harder to push the air out of a single outlet. I really need to get my anemometer (when it arrives) onto that to see how much air is actually being displaced. Until then I shall probably hold off on installing the brand new extraction fan. It could end up with it being better for me to open up a second extraction vent on each side, using the second of the student light apertures. The anemometer is going to tell me a lot.

After procrastinating a little - even though I didn't have the time - I went down the driveway and marked all the trees that need felling. It was then that I realized that according to Monty Python I was not correctly attired for tree felling. The Lumberjack song speaks of lumberjacks wearing high heels, suspenders (garter belt) and a bra while skipping and jumping. I can probably do the skipping and jumping but I'd better not because I might chop the wrong tree. I'm pretty sure high-heels would sink into the sand though! In the end, I did the job in my usual work-on-the-bus clothes of torn-up 511 trousers and a torn-up tee-shirt.

So, this lumberjack went to the shed and found a bow saw but a bow saw with the floppiest ever blade that no amount of ingenuity could tighten. Undaunted, this lumberjack spotted a chain saw. Having located oil for it and filled the oil reservoir (only two oil levels on a chainsaw - brim full and not enough), the chainsaw resolutely refused to start. After facing about for an eternity trying to get the beast to start, this lumberjack went for the handsaw that was used for everything else on the bus - a straightforward ordinary saw. Within a few minutes two of the six saplings were down. They're not massive - the biggest was something like 5 inches in diameter. It was delicate work - the one thumb got damaged last week opening a vicious ziploc bag and the other got damaged trying to get the pull start on the chainsaw to get the chainsaw started. After lopping two saplings and carting them away, it was time for a break! It's not really possible to imagine a lumberjack doing this in suspenders, high heels and a bra!

In the end, with the able assistance of my girlfriend's sister's boyfriend, the chainsaw was started. Only one problem - it would run for a few seconds and then stop. Fuel and oil were not the problem nor was the spark plug nor the air filter so the cause remains a mystery. On its brief spurts of operation, four or five thick saplings were felled, giving a clear exit that should not damage the bus though for safety, removing the CB aerial will be a good idea.
Looking at the trees, it might not be possible to see but the 6 or 7 worst offenders have been removed. There are still trees that overhang but the limbs are light and thin so with luck they won't cause any damage. It can also be seen that the sky is grey and overcast. That's a sure sign that hurricane Irma is not too far away. As of right now the hurricane is in the middle of the Florida keys with an 80 mile wide eye and 180mph winds. It's currently forecast that the edge of the surrounding storm will pass through the area where my bus is parked. Tomorrow I'll have to secure things in the bus - put things on the floor that are on countertops or on the bed and drive to the local school, ready to install my new wiring. Another task will be to measure the ribs under the bus where I want to secure my Harbor Freight battery. That will give me a good idea about how big to make the cage in which it will fit.  Of course, if it's threatening to rain and storm then I probably won't.

Saturday, September 9, 2017

Was it really that kind of day?

As there's a hurricane brewing, South Carolina's overzealous governor cancelled school for Monday yet the hurricane is not due to touch anywhere near South Carolina until Tuesday when the schools are supposed to reopen. How bizarre is that? Needless to say, I predict a few days off work unless I get called upon to drive a busload of refugees from the hurricane zone. Even then, the document I signed said that I might or might not get paid. That, I suppose, gives me freedom to take or refuse the job if and when it comes up.

Needless to say, today I designated as the day upon which I would put my underbus cabling into conduit. Pulling out my Harbor Freight conduit I used my sole 10 foot section of 3/8 inch cable loom. The next size up which was 1/2 inch was too big thus I made the mistake of going to Lowes (hiss, spit). Certainly, they had 3/8 inch conduit and I bought some. When I got home I found I'd wasted my time, gas and money. Their 3/8 inch conduit is woefully undersized.
Looking closely at the looms in the photo, the one on the right is from Lowes (hiss, spit) and the one on the right is from Harbor Freight (hurrah). The Lowes (hiss, spit) loom is small enough to slip inside the Harbor Freight loom. I rather suspect that Lowes (hiss, spit) have measured their loom on the outside as 3/8 inch whereas Harbor Freight measured it from the inside, allowing me to put 3/8 of cable inside. Shame on Lowes (hiss, spit) for selling undersized products!

After returning home to find my newly purchased loom was woefully undersized, I went to Harbor Freight to buy the right stuff. I got some other stuff while I was there - to the tune of $45 (gulp). That was largely just cable loom and fittings though I did get some larger step drills. Those wil come in handy for my next couple of adventures.

So, returning home, I set to work and within an hour or two had two figure 8 cables and a single cable all nicely taped together and slipped into cable loom. There's not much point in returning Lowes (hiss, spit) junk because I'm sure I'll find a use for 1/4 inch loom later in the project.

Those with long memories will recall I bought a nifty little gizmo that allows me to connect the contacts on one side of a cable connector strip together. Unfortunately it seems to work solely on some kind of cable connector I've never ever seen before.
It's not the fact it's too long that's the issue. The problem is that the connectors are well out of synch with the contacts on my connector strip. That blasted thing, including shipping cost me $5 too! This is the problem when there is no Radio Shack. I can't believe that management were capable of running a useful business into bankruptcy. Now that's what I call inept - I'm positive that the average drug dealer could have run Radio Shack better!

Feeling rather irked by the problems, I bought a box of doughnuts then noticed after I'd got home that they'd soiled themselves in the car. Surely I can't be that bad of a driver!
While I was out, I thought about putting running water into my bus. Somebody recommended using Pex piping for the water inlet. Looking it up, it seems it's often fastened with a special Pex clamp and that needs a special Pex clamp tool. Then I found a straightforward Jubilee clip would work well. That I gather is also called a screw clamp. Putting a straight piece of copper pipe through the floor and gluing it with rubber-based glue then putting the Pex on with Jubilee clips seems the best solution. Reading rather, it seems Pex can also tolerate hot water. That means that I might have the problem solved as far as plumbing goes. My next need is to find the original faucet that came with the handbasin!

Thinking ahead, it might be an idea to find some way of securing the microwave to the countertop. Not so much as so that I can claim it's built in but more so that it won't slop about during driving. There's sufficient countertop for me to put my little gas hob elsewhere when I cook - if I ever do get to go away for a few days in my motorhome. For that, I rather suspect that spray painted and pre-bent steel or aluminum strip might work best. I can just bolt through the countertop and be done.

Going further with plumbing - and this is where the undersized loom comes in - I could recycle my 20A cable (or some of it) and put a line from the breaker panel to my bathroom to power an undersink instant hot water heater. That in turn could supply both the hot faucet and a line that goes under the bus and up through into the shower. The instant water heater I'm thinking about is 10A and on full water pressure delivers Luke warm water but on less, produces hot water. That needs an pressure adjustable shower head. I'm sure they're available!

Today one of my ebay purchases arrived. No - it wasn't fish net stockings nor was it a Curt Cobain LP. It was in fact my latest bilge fan. My latest idea is to install two bilge fans and blow double the air quantity out. At 260CFM, I should be able to change all the air in the bus in just 4 minutes. That should provide quite a little breeze. If I can keep doing that and power my two circulation fans then even in the heat of summer, it should be quite comfortable in here.
This is one reason why I've moved the battery location closer to the back of the bus. The biggest power hog needing the heaviest wiring will be at the back. My 30 feet of wiring put in loom today should be long enough for what I want to do. If, however, it isn't, I can always extend it with no great problem. All I need to do is to solder and shrink insulate extra wire onto the ends.

The plan with the wiring is to have a dual cable running between my two solar panels with an extra plugin so that I can put a 50W panel directly facing the sun, on the ground. 50W on its own will provide a maximum of 4A and combined with the 35W already on the bus, should be able to power my fans almost constantly on a good, sunny day. The remaining dual cable will be split. One leg will power the USB charging setup I installed and the other will be spare. That will power any potential permanently-installed lighting. The single cable which is very lightweight will power the ventilation fan.

I have two further wires to install - one that will power the bedroom fan and one to power lighting for the bedroom and bathroom - if I ever install permanent lighting. I might also run an extra cable just in case I want to put in a USB charger in the bedroom.

Thinking about permanent lighting, I'd probably put a couple of "puck" lights up. Thos should throw enough light upwards to light the whole comparrtment. Otherwise, it's lanterns the whole way. My spare cable from the cable run I put in ages ago could be repurposed to power the door lock so that the door lock runs off solar power. Though they have lasted literally months on a single charge, I feel the rechargeable batteries in the door lock are beginning to run low. When they stop operating the door, I'll measure the voltage which will tell me how low I can let NiMh batteries go. Then I measure them on full charge and that gives me a good charging window. The idea is that I can then calculate how many NiMh cells I'd need in order to replace my lead-acid batteries. I'm sure some of my readers will be pretending to split their sides laughing at that one but... I much prefer NiMh to lead-acid and to lithium. There's also no law on this planet that says I cannot experiment with NiMh - even if it proves to be no better than lead-acid. The thing that gets on my tits about people that say "you can't do this" is that they have never ever questioned rubbish they have read online. I offer as absolute proof, the fact that some guy in Nigeria is living well off the proceeds of the Nigerian Prince scam where Prince IWannaRobYourGrave has left loads of money and a corrupt civil servant in exchange for never-ending fees is prepared to share that mythical wealth with you, somebody they have never met.

Tomorrow, my mission will be to clear the driveway so that I can get the bus in and out. That's a long job but fortunately due to the hurricane, the weather has become a lot cooler. As I showed the other day, the branches and small trees are making ingress and egress liable to rip bits off the outside of my bus. Monday, all being equal, I should be able to get out with the bus and get underneath it to work on installing my cables.

While I was at Harbor Freight, I saw a spare battery on sale for my $20 Harbor Freight drill. It was $12 and I didn't buy one. I'm sure I'll probably regret that! I remember somebody in my mysterious past had one of those together with the flashlight that went with it but oddly, only a single battery. That seemed nutty to me! I'll have to charge that battery ready for Monday or I could end up looking a bit silly, taking my bus out and not being able to do anything with it!
And there she is, in all her beauty! My NiCad powered power drill. NiCads went out donkey's years ago but a lot of the cheap Chinese stuff Harbor Freight sells, still uses them. It's a shame because NiCad is quite toxic and should not ever make its way into landfill - which is exactly where the dead batteries end up!

Monday, September 4, 2017

Today I tried my vents

I put my hand up to the vents from which the hot inside air blows and there was quite a breeze. I doubt the vent filters will take much more. It might be a better option to go back to my original plan which was to pump cooler outside air in through a vent in the floor. I'm probably going to go with unfiltered air initially but that's always subject to change. Pumping air out at 130 CFM is a good idea but it's not making it that much cooler inside which is a bit strange. Either I need to pump air out faster or I need to pump cool air inside as well.

In its current orientation, the front of the bus heats up first, meaning that the bedroom starts off cool. The bedroom is, of course, where I sit when I'm blogging. The front is very hot in the morning from the morning sun while the bedroom isn't so hot. When I had the bus oriented the other way, the front would be cooler before the bedroom but then the opposite would be true at the end of the day. My current thoughts are to try an induction fan in the galley in order to pull cooler air in from outside or to double-up the extraction fans. Having said that, properly functioning extraction is a must. At the moment the system is just messing about with the fan running for 45 seconds at a go. That, I suspect, is due to a faulty charge controller and possibly the charge controller has damaged my 10ah battery.

Today being a trip to the hardware store, I'll pick up some wiring. I've thought about an underbus crawler and decided that I do want one but I'm going to see how much it costs just to buy a piece of plywood (that can be used later for other things) and some castors. I might even have some plywood in the shed so I might just go for the castors.

Regarding the wiring, I thought I was being clever when I installed a single extra wire when I installed my last cable run. It turns out I'd inadequately predicted the future. I need more cabling running along the underside. It doesn't help that two charge controllers will fight each other. So, I have to redesign my wiring layout.

So many people have cast aspersions on my welding that I begin to doubt it myself. I've jumped up and down on my welds and hit them with a sledgehammer but still I get the nasty comments. Maybe I just need to shut up about my welding and just get on with it and not mention it. Anyway, I need to weld together a battery cradle for my 35AH battery. I'll put a little roof over it just in case the battery catches fire. That'll serve as a heat barrier from the underside of the floor. I have a 30A self-resetting breaker. That'll stop me accidentally overloading my battery cabling and might also protect the battery in the eventuality of a short circuit. Perhaps I might go for belt and braces and put a fuse as well - close to the battery.

With the battery mounted behind the differential, I'll be protected should those that I suspect are just plain idiots actually be right. If the welds break and the battery falls out, it becomes a road hazard rather than going under my rear wheel which could be fatal for me. Fear of things falling off and going under my rear wheel is why I have 5 chains supporting each 15 gallon barrel. Each chain is attached by four 5/16 bolts to the ribs. Thus, at 135lbs for a full waste tank, each chain is supporting no more than 25lbs and no bolt is supporting more than 6lbs. The chains are specified at 550lbs with the weak point being the turnbuckles, specified at 130lbs each. 5 of them should hold 650lbs which is way in excess of any road forces on a 135lb barrel. The sides of the barrel would give way first.

I've got two charge controllers in place right now - one at the front from the front solar panel and that charges the battery that powers my magic box. That's the one thing that really works well. My extraction fans used to work well when they were just plain CPU fans but when I switched to a single bilge blower that's when it all went to pot.

My charge controllers are rated for 30A but reviews say that's more than they can provide. I noticed the PWM charge controllers don't control output voltage. They just supply it. That makes me suspect that if I need more amperage than they can provide, I can simply put a relay in place where the controller controls the operation of a relay and the relay provides the power from the battery.

It seems the charge controllers go bananas if the battery negative is connected to any other negative on the controller. That's just plain nuts and the sign of poor design. There should be just one negative and all the other connections should be positive. That actually gives me the thought that I should maybe dump these charge controller things and go with a simple battery protector that stops the battery going too low and one that prevents it from being overcharged. The charge controllers don't seem to do anything else.

Designing the wiring system, I need a 1 gauge wire to go from the charge controller to the battery. I need to run a dual wire from the solar panels at the back to the solar panels at the front in order to combine the output of both. That output goes into a charge controller. The thick wire from the charge controller goes to the battery and should be fused at both ends. Because I might still change what I'm going with my ventilation fans, I need to future-proof the wiring. Thus, keeping the bus body as negative, I need two wires that will carry 10A. I'll likely only use one but just in case I decide to replace my exhaust fans with 7 inch car radiator fans, the possibility is there. I need a 7A wire from my magic box and a 1A wire from the front fan. I need a 1A wire from my bedroom fan and since I'm putting in wiring then I'll put in a 7A wire just in case I put a second magic box.

Since I'm not getting too much luck with LED lanterns I'd best also possibly put an extra wire that allows me to run at least some lighting to the galley and the bedroom. I'm not sure how I'd do that to the bathroom though. I really, really want to use lanterns as opposed to wired in lights.

Then there's siting the charge controller and fuse box. I had been keen on having it all at the front of the bus. That was when I was going to run everything from smaller batteries housed in ammunition boxes. Initially I was thinking that I might be using far less power. Now it seems my power system is growing almost out of control.

My first conduit from the front to the back of the bus contains wiring for the reversing horn and the reversing camera. It also contains a spare cable that I've been using to power my extraction fan. Thus, there is no dedicated house wiring system set up yet. With that in mind, siting my battery and arranging my cabling is much more flexible.

Running the charge controller from the rear, I need..

  • 20-30 feet of conduit. 
  • 7A cable from the magic box to the charge controller - say 30 feet
  • 1A cable from the galley fan to the charge controller - say 30 feet
  • An extra 5A cable for lighting (just in case) at the front - say 30 feet
  • An extra 5A cable for lighting from the bedroom for lighting or in fact that could be 10A to provide light for both bathroom and bedroom since they're on opposite sides of the same partition. - say 15 feet (it could even be two 5A cables)
  • 2A dual cable from the front solar panels to the back. - say 30 feet
  • 1A fan cable from the bedroom to the back - say 15 feet
  • Mount the charge controller at the back
  • Mount my timer at the back
  • Mount my fuse box at the back.
  • Short run of 30A cable to the battery.
  • 20 feet of 5A cable to where I'll install my induction fan
Running the charge controller from the front, I need...
  • 20-30 feet of conduit
  • No extra cable from the magic box
  • No extra cable from the galley fan
  • 6 feet of 5A cable for lighting
  • An extra  5A/10A cable from the bedroom to the charge controller - say 20 feet.
  • 3A dual cable from the back solar panels to the front (say 30 feet).
  • 1A cable from the bedroom to the front - say 20 feet
  • Mount the charge controller at the front
  • Mount the fuse box at the front
  • Mount the timer at the front
  • Long run of 30A cable to the battery
  • 20 feet of 5A cable to where I'll install my induction fan.
Looking at it, theres precious little to choose between front and rear mounting systems. The advantage with mounting at the front is that I can simply control everything pretty much from the drivers seat. Mounting at the back means that I can make use of the existing rear compartment for mounting switches etc. It also means I don't have to hide the wiring - as long as it's not a birds nest, it should be fine. I might want to put a simple solenoid switch in, powered from that simple extra cable in order to power everything off from the driver's seat.

So, I sat down and worked out what was needed in terms of wire. Given that most of the wires run 30 feet and that none of the sources I encountered online ever seemed to agree with wire sizes, I took the plunge and did my own calculations - which took forever.
Of course, when I got to the hardware store, I found the amperages given for the different wires was different from what I saw online. Feeling that the online figures were largely bollocks, using the vernacular, I went with the store figures. Needless to say on my way down to the store, I'd had some new ideas (as I often do). Currently the battery is earthed to the bus body. It won't take much to earth the appliances to the body and have the battery earth going straight to the charge controller. In an ideal world, the solar panels, battery and appliances would all be earthed to the body together. This being some kind of funky Chinese screwed up world where logic and electronics don't go together, I can't combine the earths on my charge controller. Thus it works out more economical in wire just to earth the appliances. That means that I need from the front a dual cable from my solar panel and three wires from my fan, magic box and possible future lighting unit. That ends up being two dual cables and a single cable. That's absolutely perfect as far as I'm concerned. As my dual cables are somewhat heavy duty, I can exceed my estimated amperages. Both my duals are 14 gauge which should carry at least 8 amps. This means that should I wish to tie in an extra solar panel, I could easily add a stand-alone 50W panel.

I decided against adding an induction fan on the basis that it was too complicated to figure out all the wiring while standing in the middle of the hardware store. Instead I will have two extraction fans running. That should have the same effect but gets around extra engineering to install the induction fan and believe me, I like things to be simple. I almost decided to say stuff adding the ability to add lighting running off the main battery. I'm now fairly confident I have almost all the wire I need. I did forget to buy wires from the battery to the charge controller but that is no biggie. That's a very short run.

Looking underneath the bus I found a double set of opposing C section pairs just behind the differential. I'm not sure how much the differential swings when in use but it looked a possibility for attaching my battery. Alternatively I could put two 35AH batteries, each behind a rear wheel. That's a thought for the future and tying them together would not be a huge challenge.

The wiring came in at quite a price. I won't say I was shocked because after yo've seen some of the things I have, it takes very little to shock me! While in the store I priced castors for use with some plywood that I could use as a creeper. Some were horrible prices and as I needed 4, the price of a Harbor Freight creeper began to look much more attractive. Then I spotted some casters that were end of line for $3 each. I bought two plus two of those that can be steered for $5 apiece. That came to $16 or about half the price of a Harbor Freight creeper. On my return I found I'd got some 7 ply leftover from when I built the top of my toilet and my bedroom desk. that came in very useful as did some of my leftover 1/4 and 5/16 bolts. One set of castors needed a 1/4 inch bolt and the other needed a 5/16 so I was well prepared.
A few minutes of drilling and bolting and my creeper was ready. I only did some of the bolts because it's not intended to be used more than a couple of times. Hence, of course, I jibbed at spending $30 on a creeper. I'd been thinking I'd have to work harder on construction but the plywood though short and wide looked a pretty decent size so my creeper was born. My next task - to tape my two dual cables and extra cable together so that I can put it all in a sheath. For this, I don't mind using extra sheathing for the bedroom/bathroom cables. I can easily have extra runs of conduit.

Sunday, September 3, 2017

What an idiot!

I'm an idiot. I went to Harbor Freight and got all the stuff I wanted but completely forgot to go to the hardware store for 1 gauge wire. That means another trip at some point.

Overnight I'd had a brainwave or a brain fart depending on your point of view. Just down the road from me is a school. That school has a huge tarmac car park which would be ideal to lie on to work under the bus. The only thing better would have to have a creeper to lie on as I work under the bus. In a spot of short sightedness I didn't buy a creeper. I figured I'm so close to completion I could do without it and indeed I can. The problem is it would speed things up no end but only if I'm working on tarmac.

So, on my shopping expedition I bought a cordless rechargeable pistol drill, some more wire conduit and attachments and a metric spanner set. Within a few minutes of remembering what I'd bought after I got home, the windscreen wiper washer angle had been adjusted using the 12mm spanner. I regret not spending the extra $30 on a creeper to go under the bus on tarmac. On the other hand, how many more times am I likely to want to go under it for the moment anyway?

I looked at lanterns while I was out, at KMart. They had a nice looking hurricane lamp that takes oil for just $8. Reading around it appears that 12oz of oil will keep it lit for 35 hours. The downside is it produces heat, is a minor fire hazard and produces only 200 lumens.
It sure looks nice and the price is very acceptable as is the run time. I'd like for it to have decent light output though which is where I have to pass on a real hurricane lamp.
Next on the menu was a double mantle gas lantern. Again the same issue of it being a fire hazard together with an explosive hazard too. It is, however, the brightest lantern to day at 7,500 lumens. That's 7 times brighter than I've assessed as being the minimum requirement. I did check their figures and 600 Candela does equal 7,500 lumens. Nice, but I'll have to pass.
The last lantern was a strange one. I've mentioned LED beam technology before. This is a beam lantern. It has three long LEDs emitting light. While it claims to be 1,000 lumens I'm not entirely convinced. I'm mightily perplexed as to why they have a brightness control knob on the thing as 1,000 lumens seems a bit minimal to me. Apparently the knob can reduce light to 100 lumens or about the equivalent of 8 candles - that's probably not enough to distinguish between a turd and a mars bar.

The problem with all of these LED contraptions is they're directional lighting elements being used to spread light in all directions. It just does not work. When the lamp is unshielded as most are, the light is just plain dazzling. It's not very bright but it is shining right in one's eyes continuously. The only way around that is to diffuse the light by putting a piece of paper around the glass of the lantern. By the time the light is diffused enough to be pleasantly usable, the brightness is negligible.

I'm having a great deal of difficulty in seeing the advantage of LED over incandescent bulbs for lanterns to be honest. I'm just not seeing any worthwhile light from LED lanterns. What does seem to work with LEDs though are the puck light type of lighting. I've seen quite a few battery powered LED puck lights. They use the benefit of LEDs directionality. Having said that, my 6 LED Harbor Freight magnetic task light is not quite as bright as it could be.

Looking at eBay today I saw somebody selling a pack of 10 Lion 3.7V 6AH batteries for about $10. Put together in fours, 4 packs would cost around $40 and produce 60AH or rather would be the equivalent of 60AH. That would be quite decent had I not already committed to my $70 Hacrbor Freight lead-acid deep cycle battery.

Thinking on ventilation and hard on the heels of my purchase of an extra 2.5A 130CFM bilge blower, I decided to spend the money and buy an anemometer. That was I'll know exactly how much air is being blown out of my bus.

Having thought about moving the bus to hard ground to work on it and thus avoiding the ant problem and possibly displacing the wasps in the process, I've realized there's yet another problem.
The driveway is overgrown. I'll have to cut some bushes back. Last time I tried this driveway without cutting bushes, the bushes snapped my CB aerial and ripped off one of my marker lights. Both of those cost money to repair. I can see I'm going to have to get happy with the pruners to make myself some space!
While I was in Walmart looking for a kitchen faucet for the house here, I looked at some handbasin faucets then remembered that my bus came with a faucet. I'm not quite sure where that faucet got to through. If I could find it, I'd put it through the dishwasher and make the first moves toward putting a cold water connection and maybe then a hot water supply into the bus. I've already worked out that the hot water can be plumbed straight to the shower. The reviews of the low amperage instant water heater indicate that the water is warm and not hot unless the water is drawn very slowly. That, honestly, sounds ideal.

I'm still mulling over the air conditioner issue. I'm hoping that with the fans running, if I really can extract 260CFM then 4 minutes should see all the air changed in the bus. Running either continuously or in bursts, that should keep me as cool as air conditioning. Indeed, many houses do use central ventilation as opposed to air conditioning because it really does work. If I stand outside though the temperature outside the bus is the same as inside, it really does feel cooler outside. That's purely because the air is moving. Inside the bus I have some fans that I use just to make the air move and it makes a difference.

A wise fellow once told me that avoiding air conditioning would reduce my energy costs to very low levels. That tallies with my experience. I lived without air conditioning and was the envy of all around me - because of my electricity bill. In the whole 3 1/2 years I rented a nasty little hovel in the center of Lexington, my electricity bill was never over $30 even on the hottest summer.

The new plan for ventilation is to install my two bilge blowers on the bulkhead partition above the rear door as opposed to the ceiling where they currently reside. They'll be wired in parallel in order to reduce wiring and because there's a risk if just one operates of it sucking air in through the other exhaust vent. The noise level will, of course, increase and I'll have to design new air intakes for them.  Before that though I need to test to see if my exhaust vents can handle 130 CFM which is where my forthcoming anemometer comes in handy. At 260 CFM I should begin to feel air movement from the front toward the back of the bus.

Today my only score is that I adjusted my windscreen washer jets so now they hit the center of each half of the windscreen. But wait - in the best manner of the TV salesman - there's more! I used my magic box - the purple box containing two voltmeters, two switches and a pair of dual USB chargers. I charged not only my phone but my tablet and it worked very well. Both were fully charged in about the right amount of time.

If I can get under the bus to do the wiring sooner rather than later, my first task will be to connect the two sets of solar panels so that they double up the power coming to the battery. Initially my 35AH battery will be situated in the cockpit but while I'm under the bus I shall measure in order to install the battery underneath. I'm leaning toward installing it behind the rear differential on the basis that there's plenty unused space there.

This weekend I'm in no hurry to do anything because I hurt my thumb on Saturday afternoon, trying to open of all things a ziplock bag. It's a lot better today but needs to recover more for Tuesday because Tuesday I'll be back behind the wheel of a 16 ton special needs schoolbus. Yes - I drive the short bus!

Saturday, September 2, 2017

As I watched from my bus...

Driving the work school bus yesterday, I have a 90 degree left hand blind bend to negotiate, on part if my route. Complicating the manoever is a poorly placed road sign. Well, complicating the manover for inexperienced drivers, that is. I will make no references to being able to do it with my eyes shut as that would give a false impression. I will say though that I achieve a great deal of satisfaction from doing that bend while keeping the back wheels on the correct side of the double yellow line and avoiding the road sign. While I drove, I watched a local resident going gingerly around that bend and smiled. I can do that bend far quicker - in a 16 ton, 40 foot bus.

The bend episode had me considering the amateurishness of many bus converters. I have the utmost respect for people willing to get out there and do something constructive. I much prefer people willing to get up off their backsides and do something. I am rather concerned though to read some of the questions I see on the bus conversion pages online. One I saw yesterday had me reeling in horror. Somebody thought they might have damaged their parking brake by driving with it engaged. The horror is that they were able to drive and didn't realise how unsafe their parking brake is. When applied, full throttle on the engine, in the lowest gear should not move the vehicle.

I read stories about people writing their busses off in bad crashes. I read questions about air brakes that just plain make me cringe. The value of having a CDL as I do cannot be underestimated. Today I was almost hit by an amateur driving a U-Haul truck that was clearly too big for them. Just because the law allows people to drive big vehicles non commercially does not mean that people should. Really and truly, some training is needed. Particularly CDL training. The course is not hard and by the end will have been invaluable.

As a schoolbus driver, I see the results of other drivers stupidity daily. I see near crashes, crashes, people pulled over by the police and so on. Only yesterday I sawinsane driving on the interstate. As my old instructor says, 90% of the crashes are caused by people in a hurry. Slow down and take your time. My school bus conversion is governed to 55mph. I'm perfectly happy with that. The fact people scream past at 80mph does not worry me one bit. What worries me is having to detour around their blazing wrecks a few miles later.

Today I didn't actually do too much. Driving schoolbusses in 90F with no air conditioning is tiring and dehydrating. I spend the first day of the weekend thoroughly exhausted. It could have something to do with being 50 too!
Most of the stuff I need in order to revamp and tidy my solar console has arrived. There is one item still on its way however and that is my fuse bar. That will hold 12 automotive fuses. I decided in the end to go with standard sized automotive fuses throughout on account of their universal availability. The glass household style fuses are very nice but there are too many different styles and they're hard to obtain.

In the picture is my timer. As my solar supply is insufficient to keep my extraction fan running constantly, it will have to run in bursts. The timer will make it do so while optimizing its efficiency. There's a connecting bar to connect all my earth connections. That will simplify my wiring considerably. The strange looking object is a 30A self resetting breaker. That will be fitted directly to the battery. Should anything happen, the battery will be protected.

I had been thinking of putting everything into a steel box with a lid - just to protect it from prying eyes. Having found nothing online, I looked in the shed and found the old Square D breaker box from the hillbilly conversion.
After removing the breaker holder and hosing the rat poo off the box, I decided it had too many issues. Number one was weight - it's pretty darned heavy. Number two is the depth - it's way too deep for what I need. I idly considered cutting and welding but that's a lot of work for very little gain. In the end, simply attaching them to the wall and keeping the wiring tidy is all I need do. To hide it from prying eyes, a simple hinged flap is all that's needed.

My 12 fuse bar has made its way from Shenzhen in China to San Francisco. Barring the big earthquake San Francisco has been fearing for decades or another hurricane such as the one that flooded Texas last week, my fuse bar should be with me soon. Once that's here I'll be in a better position to plan my revamped solar control setup.

I suppose the task for tomorrow really should be to build myself a battery holder for my 35AH Harbor Freight battery. I will probably build it so the battery will be mounted width ways across the bus. I'll probably mount it behind the rear wheels, simply because there's plenty space.

Thinking about ventilation I ordered a second bilge fan. While doing so I encountered a 7 inch 8A car radiator fan. Now that promised to shift 700cfm so in two minutes all the air in the bus would be extracted. It might be worth revamping my extraction fan system at some point. For the moment I decided to try installing a second 130CFM fan. I have not as yet decided whether to have it as an induction fan or as an extraction fan. As an extraction fan, the air would move at 260CFM or 4 minutes to extract all the air. I'm nit convinced I'm really getting 130CFM though. I'm getting plenty but is it really 130CFM? It's something to think about.