Friday, December 30, 2016

Now you see it!

What on earth are these strange things I hear you cry. The answer is simple, gentle reader. They are remnants of the steel bed frames the hillbillies installed in the bus. They are also my new barrel hangers. The 4 hole side bolts to the opposing steel channels under the bus. The side with two holes has a chain joiner as shown but with a chain attached that supports the barrel.

My new drill has a variable speed that goes up to a reputed 3,000 RPM. Clearly I should have set it to a lower speed because after about 50 holes, the drill resolutely refused to cut deeper than the distance between the tip and the wider part of the drill. The edges must have overheated and softened. That put me even further behind schedule as I'll now have to head out to buy a new 5/16 drill bit. For steel I need a good drill bit. My old bit will still work for wood though.

The plan is to get a replacement drill bit tomorrow if the shop is open then to finish drilling the holes the same day. I want to have the barrel hangers all done before I go back to work on the 4th.

While I was looking at my angle bracket I measured it against the battery used for my ventilation system. The plan is to install that battery underneath the bus for which I will have to build a battery compartment. That's actually quite simple. Much simpler than I'd thought it might be. I might yet build a compartment to hold a lawnmower sized battery under the bus to use to charge my phone etc when I'm nit driving.

Thursday, December 29, 2016

A day of disappointment

Today I had planned to work on my barrel hangers after the weather cleared up. Sadly that could not be done. The task needed to be completed was to drill holes. Nothing stunning, just lots and lots of holes. About 108 by my calculation and all to 5/16. That's where things went pear shaped.

As I share accommodation and borrow (but return) tools, I had originally a choice of two corded power drills and two battery drills plus my battery powered cordless screwdriver. Now the two battery powered drills died. One just won't charge and I don't know whether it is the battery or the charger. The other I don't know because somebody else used that one. For a long time I used one corded drill and somebody else used the other. I always returned what I used to the shed at the end of the day. Anyway, I went to the shed today and no drills were to be found nor was the other person that used them. Frustrating.

In the end, in order to ensure I can complete work on my bus, I headed to Walmart, having researched online and found Walmart's cheapest corded power drill was $25. Imagine my surprise when on the Walmart shelf, the drill I wanted was nowhere to be seen. There was a more expensive drill of the same brand though but my eye roamed the shelves and found a cheaper drill. Yes, cheaper and it was corded and not listed on the website. $18 will do me very nicely. If it doesn't last much longer than the time it takes to complete my bus, I can't say I'm particularly worried.
While in Walmart, the Christmas leftovers were on a 50% off sale. Out of curiosity, I bought an incandescent fake candle and an LED incandescent fake candle. The light emitted by them is little short of pathetic. They're not even as bright, combined, as a real candle.
Right now, as I sit in my bus, I have two led lanterns almost illuminating the desk where I'm writing this blog entry and further down the bus I have a single 40W bulb running off 120v fully illuminating the galley. Again, it seems that LED lighting is an example of the greens claiming it's possible to get 9 pints out of a gallon. I honestly do not find this LED lighting to be all that good. The LEDs are dazzling to look at but produce an insignificant amount of light. Indeed, I once heard an electronics technician not being very impressed as white LEDs use way too much power. As many of you know though, trying to find a decent LED lantern is harder than finding hens teeth. As for a real honest to goodness incandescent lantern - they seem to have gone right off the market.

So, I returned with my drill just after darkness had fallen, thus ending today on a mildly disappointing note.

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Cutting angle iron

Today after running a mission, I set to and cut some steel angle inton. This was the steel that came from the hillbilly bed frames. It's fearsomely thick steel. Some measures 3.5mm thick and some measures 5mm thick. That's sturdy enough for anything I need! I tried to beat the thinner steel flat with a sledgehammer a year or so back and the steel just laughed at me. My 12lb sledgehammer swung hard didn't budge the angle.
In the photo, you'll see some of the 5mm angle, nicely cut with my angle grinder. The plan is to drill 4 mounting holes in one side of the angle and two holes for my chain connectors, one on each side of the other side of the angle.

In the photo you'll see a chain link welded to a piece of steel cut from one of the thinner angles. You'll also see three links with welds that didn't work. I have no idea why those welds didn't take to the steel as I cleaned the surface of the steel with my angle grinder before attempting to weld. You'll also notice my welds are a bit blobby. That's probably because the helmet is so dark I can hardly see through the visor. The leaflet says it's a darkness 10 but it's pretty hard to see what I'm doing. I've just ordered an 8 lens and I'll try to pop the 10 out and put the 8 in. If needbe I can always don sunglasses under my welding helmet!
In other news, I have been thinking about cleaning out useless junk. I have a huge pile of utterly useless medical coding and billing books relating to a year long course somebody persuaded me to undertake in order to get better paid work. It turned out that the course was pretty much a scam. Really and truly, all people do when billing and coding is look up the ailment online and put the ailment code down on paper. That's all it is - a course in how to look up a number. I was after the certificate because people here like certificates and yet upon successful completion of the course I was told there is no certificate though at the start I was told there was. It was listed as a Quick Jobs Course in the college prospectus. Anyway, the upshot was... best ever grades by a student and three years on, completing that course has not garnered me a single job interview. So, I looked at that pile of books and I'm just going to get rid of them. There's a ton of money there and I'm going to be lucky if I get my gas money back taking them to a secondhand bookstore to sell them. In fact, having looked up their resale value online, I might find I have to toss them in the garbage.

So, if anybody out there has been told there're jobs in Medical Coding and Billing, stop right there. Most people doing it have no qualifications in doing it. There's no need because 90% of it is computerized anyway. Feel free to slap the daylights out of anybody that advocates Coding and Billing as a career because it's a side job done by an entry level clerk. If any college has Coding and Billing on their prospectus then check to see if they really are accredited like they claim and be aware any college offering Quick Jobs is out to scam you. There are no Quick Jobs other than prostitution or drug pedaling (Though a college such as the one I attended might call it Street Pharmacy Technician).

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

The plot thickens

The plan today was to weld more chain links to pieces of steel in order to make barrel hangers. Well, that was the intention. That's not quite how things worked out though.
Cutting the steel had been done days if not weeks ago. Thus today the chain was cut then a while later the welding started. That was when all the problems began. Both the link and the steel plate were clean, bright, shiny bare steel. One link welded on perfectly. The next looked perfect but when hit with a hammer, fell right off leaving barely a mark on the steel. The next did exactly the same thing which was really frustrating. Then another stuck but every time the link was hit with a hammer, the link bent. Clearly some unwanted softening had occurred.

By the time all the problems occurred, the poor light of the day was fading. Thus a search of the internet for "weld won't stick" was attempted. That yielded nothing but bad advice from forums. Nothing really practical or sensible - forums can be discounted immediately as talking groups by people that don't know what they're doing,

It was then that I had an idea. I still have a lot of hillbilly angle iron. If it was cut into approximately 2.75 inch lengths with two mounting holes drilled on each end of one flat and a single hole drilled to attach a chain connector then it would be possible to complete the task with no welding. That would speed things up tremendously. The angle is made of pretty thick 1/8 inch steel. I wish I'd thought of doing this before. Given a modicum of daylight, the steel can be cut quickly and the holes drilled equally quickly. It's not a nice, neat solution like welding but it is something that can be quickly fabricated on the road should I need to, using just hand tools.

I must say that I'm getting a bit fed up of the slow progress. Given a good day of progress, there is no reason why using the new technique, both existing barrels couldn't be rehung in a day or two. Where I will carry on with welding is for the battery mount for the ventilation fan battery. That is best mounted under the bus. Other items that need welding will probably be my security bars.

One of the things that might be negatively affecting my welding is my stupidly dark helmet. It is so dark I can't see the work unless the sun is bright. It's not possible though to change the lens. I have what I have and I'm not going to throw more money into welding equipment I'm not likely to be using much longer. When the bus is done, I won't need to weld any more.

Saturday, December 24, 2016

Taking stock

Today I sit on the bus, looking around. There are things that need to be done, things that should be done and things that might be done. On the whole, progress has been good.

I looked at the barrel hangers I welded and was unsatisfied as they should in my changed opinion, be oriented differently. Thus I have cut another piece of steel ready to weld links to. Originally, I was going to replace the mounts I'd already installed. I've changed my mind about that now. I'll just add two extra chains attached to four extra mounts. I'll then see which, if any, fail. That will support each barrel from 5 chains, hence I bought some more chain. Rather than buying extra connecting links, I might just weld the right length of chain to half the mounts so if any links fail, the chain will fall safely away from the tyres.

The battery powering the fans needs in my opinion, to be mounted underneath the bus. Thus, I shall make a mount and bolt it to the underside of the bus at the rear. If the mount breaks loose and falls off, oh well. At least it won't fall under my wheels. I keep thinking about a battery to power 12v stuff but thus far can't really see any great advantage. Solar powered extraction fans seemed a good idea but in practice, they're not as practical as they could be. Having said that, they do work and I imagine in the heat of summer they will work far better.

Meanwhile, my smartphone pretty much died about a month ago having been in varying stages of demise since September. I bought a Tracfone SIM card and for text messages it has been great. For voice I made one call to another Tracfone and the call quality was terrible. It remains to see whether it's good or just cheap trash. I must admit I really like the idea of paying $20 every 3 months for my phone service, given that nobody ever calls me. That's much better than the $50 a month that I was paying for talk, text and data with Straight Talk. I really do not need data. 

Thinking about data any my bus lifestyle I have realized just why people are so broke these days. Back in the 40s when life was good, most people didn't have a car. They cycled, walked or took the bus to work. They had a radio and some had a TV but no cable. Some had telephones but not everybody. Nobody had cellphones, internet nor most of the electronic gadgets we see as normal but which are in fact luxuries.

My bus has solar powered ventilation, battery powered lighting, a small gas cooker and no fridge. How much electricity do I need? Sure, I have a plugin that I can use in order to use mains power when available but that, I feel, was me making a blunder. I have a feeling that though nice, mains power is a red herring.

Today I looked for Christmas cards. Looking proved to me just how much absolute garbage has crept into my possession. I'm going to have to take one box at a time and see what I really need to keep. I suspect not an awful lot to be honest.

I seem to be moving farther and farther away from the modern electronic lifestyle. My bus has no TV, no video player, no sound system. I have a pocket radio that runs off a PP3 battery that never gets used because I love silence too much. My smartphone died so the only camera currently used is on my elderly tablet. Interestingly, the charge controller on my solar setup will also charge USB devices. That gives me the option of charging my tablet or my phone.

But what about the Internet? Well, my old friend Eric, blogs profusely but does not have his own internet connection. Instead he uses connections along his travels. While I do have a MiFi pad, the data is so appallingly expensive, I never buy data nor use it. 

So, how much am I saving versus spending?
No smartphone so I save $50 a month though I do spend about $6.67 a month on the Tracfone.
No internet so I save between $15 and $50 a month.
No electricity so I save $28+ a month. Batteries cost about $5 a month.
I do use a $3.50 cylinder of butane each week.
Rent - if I paid for land rent in a mobile home park that would be $200 a month as opposed to $525 which was the last actual house rent I paid.

Expenditure now... $25.67 but $225.67 if I rented in a mobile home park
Expenditure at the max... $650+ per month.
Annual saving $7,491

Note... I haven't factored in heating nor cable TV. I'm really unimpressed by beating. When I lived in Britain, in cold weather we wore warmer clothes and went to bed earlier, using minimal heating. Small gas heaters are available though their cost and running cost have not been calculated. The alternative is an electric heater.

So, no wonder everybody is broke. They all have to have the latest gadgets etc. I can put a light on, grab a mug of tea and sit down with a book when there's no available internet connection. We make life too complicated and too expensive with all our toys.

Saturday, December 17, 2016

A mystery solved

Today I went to start my bus but the battery was flat. I charged it and drove the bus forward and back in the yard noting that the gizmo attached to the drive shaft is not a supplementary speedometer. The red power cable is disconnected and the speedometer functions. This is all particularly curious!

Starting the bus was a challenge as the battery was flat. I charged it and it started up straight away. Turning the kill switch on the battery I went back inside to find the power still on. Returning to the kill switch I discovered what a marvelous piece of engineering the people that installed it had done. The switch is on the negative terminal and the terminals on the switch are both uninsulated and in contact with the bodywork. What a stunningly bad piece of engineering! Until I can resolve the short in the ABS circuit, the solution will have to be duct tape over the part the switch touches.

Looking underneath the bus I found the steel plates on my welded barrel hangers are a little overlong. I can trim them though extra width would be welcome. I have a feeling that the hillbilly steel just isn't going to be any good for anything bus related. No matter how much I tried to reuse most of the hillbilly parts, I never could get them to work. I might end up having to buy more appropriate steel.

Today I didn't actually do much. I was just so utterly exhausted from working. My day starts at 4am when my alarm sounds. Typically I drive a school bus, picking up children between 6am and 7am, delivering them to two elementary schools then between 7am and 8am I drive for a high school. Add in a few extra activities and I'll be driving for approximately 3 hours. Then I go home and if I can manage it, I have a nap. The last few days that nap just didn't happen. From 1:35am until 4:30pm I usually act as an aide on a bus while the other driver drives. I take over at 4:30 if there are still children to drop off, dropping the other driver at a prearranged point (which changes). I can then be driving until 5:05 or occasionally 5:45. That's around a 12 hour day! I do that every day and by the end of the day I am shattered. Driving takes a lot of concentration because I have to be aware of what my passengers are doing, what drivers around me are doing and obeying the rules only school bus drivers must obey. Yesterday, for example, on the morning run I had to stop midway through a left hand turn because a car driver thought he could get into a non existent gap. Had I not been checking my side mirrors, he would have been an insurance claim. Then as I was slowing to pick up a child, with my amber lights flashing, a very long flatbed semi pulled out of a turning just in front of me. I'd already seen him as a risk but hoped he wouldn't be that dumb. I was prepared to stop and did. Finally, driving along a narrow road I spotted some children up ahead. As I drew closer one pushed another into the road I had to swerve and brake. Had I not already checked my mirror to see if I was being overtaken my only recourse would have been harder braking which could have thrown my passengers on the floor with injury potential. So now you know... my job is absolutely exhausting.

If tomorrow is warmer, I might get underneath the bus since the wasps have gone and see if I can use my carefully welded barrel hangers.

Sunday, December 11, 2016

Nothing much today. Too cold!

Yesterday I built a solar oven using materials to hand. As there has been no sunshine to mention, the temperature inside did not reach any great heights thus the paint I put on my barrel hangers did not get baked on as I'd have liked.

I'm trying at the moment to demolish an entry room in front of a spare mobile home that's being used for storage. It's proving somewhat of a challenge. The problem is the floor of the entry room is unsafe so the whole room has to be removed in order to access the storage. I need to access that storage to put my excess supplies in while I complete the things I'm working on with the bus.

Not getting very far with anything much, I git a little depressed. Being asked to dispose of some ancient tubs of Greek Yogurt, I set them up not far away and built a little backstop then lifted my mood by shooting them with my .357 magnum. That was fun!

Demolishing the room is probably going to be best achieved by pulling the walls down by force. I'll have to work on that!

Saturday, December 10, 2016

Ready for liftoff - almost

Having not started the engine in several months, today I tried to start my bus. Needless to say there wasn't sufficient power in the battery so I set to and charged the battery. While I was doing that I noticed there was a strange red wire coming from the battery and going to a peculiar box coming from the prop shaft. As I fiddled, the wire disengaged itself from its attachment. It had clearly been installed by the hillbilly previous owners.
I have absolutely no idea what that wire is doing other than taking up space. There's a white wire that clearly used to go to the reversing horn. The horn still exists but the hillbilly wiring has long since fallen off.

After a while I started the engine and ran it for 10 minutes noting that the battery gauge and rev counter were not flickering as they used to. I'm now wondering whether the hillbilly owners had added the reversing horn and all the bad wiring. I intend to replace the reversing horn wires but I will wire the horn directly to a switch on the console. The less automation the better!

Hunting around, I didn't find a paintbrush suitable to put white paint onto my barrel hangers. I did however manage to spray them with grey paint. As it is very cold, that paint might take days to dry. 
Thus my cunning plan involves a piece of plywood I found rotting on the ground, a retread tyre that fell apart and the remaining piece of plexiglass from the bus. The plan involves making a solar oven. The plan if the oven works as described is to use it to bake my paint.

Needless to say, as the solar oven comes straight from the green conspirators cookbook, its dubious as to whether it'll work. So many of these kooky green brainwaves never work. I can give a pretty long list of kooky green ideas that don't work yet cost a ton of money.
  • LED lightbulb replacements. I bought 5 and only one lasted more than six months. How is that green when they're unrecyclable and contain phosphorous? They hurt my wallet to five times the cost of a CFL bulb and ten times the cost of incandescent. The amount of power used by LED over incandescent is minuscule. 
  • Solar power. I've tried so many of these solar things and end up throwing most away because they don't last long. How is that green? Solar panels contain cadmium and other toxic elements. How are they greener if they're introducing unrecyclable toxins to the environment?
  • Fuel efficient things on cars. Electronic ignition came in in the 1990s. It saves no appreciable amount of fuel. It's a green conspiracy to make things more technology dependent and expensive. I wouldn't mind betting the green movement is a cunning plot by the Chinese government to make the world dependent upon Chinese electronics.
  • LED lanterns and flashlights. I have never had an LED anything that has lasted longer than the first set of batteries. LED flashlights are so bad that Harbor Freight gives them away free. I have several LED lanterns and none are as bright as a lantern with an incandescent flashlight bulb. They're blinding to look at but the light they produce is terrible.
  • The latest green scam is DEF - diesel emission fluid. It costs money, squirts toxins into diesel exhaust, adds electronics to the system and causes nothing but problems.
See where all these green things are going? They all add tons of extra electronics to everything. It has to be a plot by the Chinese to sell electronics. These greens are nothing but Chinese terrorists waging war on the western world. Forget Isis - the greens are far worse.

It is my goal to make my bus conversion as independent of electricity as possible. I tried a solar powered ventilation system. It kinda sorta works but worked far better before I added the battery, charge controller and even the solar panels.

I do use a cellphone and a tablet. That's it for me for electronics though. In fact I recently stopped using a smart phone and went back to a dumb phone. That was driven by Straight Talk pointing out that all I did with my smart phone was to play on the internet. I'm happier with a dumb phone and don't actually miss a smart phone.

Sunday, December 4, 2016

Rain stops play

That's pretty much a standard thing for British cricket. People go to the cricket grounds expecting cricket and a few spots of rain hit the delicate little players so the umpire stops the game. Here, it's rather more of a torrential downpour that has stopped play.

Yesterday I finished putting undercoat on my brackets. The plan today was to give them a topcoat of white paint then while that was all drying, to weld some more brackets together. Unfortunately neither arc welding nor painting work well in wet conditions.

As many of you know, I'm not wealthy hence I'm turning a school bus into a home. Let me thus update you on the latest in the saga of my phone....

In 2013 I spent an inordinate amount of money on a flashy Nexus 4 smartphone. Google had dropped the price by $100 to get rid of the last 4s before the 5s were released. I spent about $300 on a phone that I hoped would last a few years. How wrong I was! In 2015 the charging port became so loose no cord would stay inserted. Thus I bought a cordless charger from China. That worked well until probably August so around about a year. It then started switching off after a few seconds.

Recently I ordered a new charging pad that was allegedly coming from California. That was supposed to arrive on the 30th. When it didn't arrive, I checked the tracking number and found it was fake. By then I'd been without a phone for a week. That's never good news.

The other day, I located the phone I took to Britain in October and put a Tracfone SIM card in it and bought the smartphone package at $15 for the month. Sadly it turned out that only the talk bit will work. Tracfone and Blu don't seem to be on the same page regarding connectivity. Thus, when the package ends in January I shall buy the $20 package giving solely talk and text for 3 months.

I'm looking at the costs of my phone service. I had a smartphone for $300 that barely lasted 3 years. That's $100 a year. I had a Blackberry prior to this that was $200 and which died after a year. Back then I was on a $35 a month plan with Virgin. Then I moved to a $45 a month plan with Family Mobile before eventually, $55 a month with Straight Talk.

Over the years I have questioned why I have a smart phone and then hunted around to justify  having one. Now I am by sheer happenstance using a dumb phone. Thus far I don't really notice any difference. Nobody much phoned me before and nobody much will continue to phone me. Nobody much texted me and I expect nobody much will continue to text me. As far as data is concerned, it was nice to be able to pull up email, websites etc, to take photos and play around.

I had an interesting email from Straight Talk, trying to get me to renew. That was a spectacular own goal! Let me show you the email...
How fatal is that? The phrase "playing on the internet" struck a chord. That was all I was doing. I was spending all this money on smartphones and data just to play aimlessly like a small baby. I don't know about you but I have better things to do with $760 a year than play quickly forgotten games online. My poverty stricken friends use Tracfone and spend $20 every 3 months. That's $80 a year and their phones had two huge advantages. The battery lasts a week between charges and the phones last for years and years.

Had I not been ripped off for the charging pad then I would never have realized that I wasn't missing much by dumping smartphones in favor of dumb phones. I was hung up on keeping GPS but since I already have a GPS unit, I'm covered. I have a neat little camera too. I don't need to be reliant upon my cellphone camera. As far as Facebook, Twitter and all that other online twaddle is concerned, I took those apps off my phones years ago. Straight Talk did me an immense favor by sending this email.

So my phone bill now drops to 10% of what it was. That's very good news!  More good news is the difference in size. My cellphone is now very small at about the size of a credit card and very light in weight.
I had been somewhat dismissive of the MiFi pads because the cheapest is $40 for 4gb that can roll over across just two months. Now that looks much more practical. In terms of cost, I used 2gb a month of wifi data and there's plenty free wifi around. I have to say that this change looks like it's going to be for the better!

My day job as a bus driver is a bit odd. We are not permitted to use electronics such as GPS navigation units. It's ok though to look at street names and a route description while driving. This has led to my making more use of ancient technology - maps and compasses. In order to better do my day job, I have ordered a street map of the area. I find it very interesting how low tech my life is becoming. I'm increasingly getting the feeling that all this expensive high technology, expensive stuff is why everybody is in so much debt. Indeed, people seem amazed that I have no full time power supply on the bus.

I grew up in Britain in the 70s and 80s at a time when CDs, DVDs, MP3s, cellphones, tablets and computers just didn't exist. It doesn't worry me not to have the latest electric or electronic toys.