Sunday, August 27, 2017

More on air?

Today, I went to the bus and it was 82F when I got there so quite a pleasant temperature. The first thing I did aside from switching on the ventilation system was to put the screen in the window. That screen is not perfectly sealed which is a potential problem in such a mosquito infested area.

While having breakfast, I realized that my original idea of having forced air ventilation really wasn't so crazy. It means I'll have to get underneath the bus again butI do notice the inflow of air from the window does keep the place cooler. With the extraction fan going at the same time, sometimes I feel a breeze from the window.

I'm finding my fan is cutting out after 45 seconds at the moment. I think there's a problem with the battery or the charge controller or both. A 10AH battery should provide plenty power. In fact I spent $70 and bought a real deep cycle battery a few weeks ago. That has yet to find its way into my system. I'm suspecting that I might have been better with a 100ah battery but we will have to see how it goes. When I build an underbus cage for it, I might just build the cage to take the 100ah battery that Tractor Supply sells and just build it so that the smaller battery will also fit.

Thinking over breakfast I realized that if I put a second bilge blower to blow air from a vent in the side of the bus skirt through the floor then I could have quite some throughput of air. That means adding a second 2.5A fan and coupling them so they can run simultaneously. Then I realized that if I continue with my plan to put a supplemental power input on the side of the bus then I could buy a single 50W or 100W panel and have it either freestanding or simply placed on the hood or something like that. Given some magnets and a sufficient air gap, it could even be temporarily roof mounted while I'm stationary. That should provide sufficient power in addition to my existing panels to power the fans almost constantly. I'd been stuck on using CPU fans since they're cheap and easily available but they're not quite as good as the bilge fans. They're good - don't get me wrong - but I think the bilge fans shift air faster. Or at least they should when I can get the power and solar setup to function correctly. I had been dead keen on filtering the air coming in. Now I'm thinking that might be more of an annoyance to add filtration than it's worth. If necessary I can always tape a filter over the inlet. The important thing is to get the ventilation working. Sadly, a lot of this involves getting underneath the bus and that's dependent upon the critters hibernating.

Out of interest I looked at other batteries for powering my bus house circuits and came away with the conclusion that however expensive lead-acid batteries are, they're still far cheaper than the alternatives. Lion batteries are getting cheaper but until the highly combustibe, unextinguishable fire problems are resolved, they're off the menu. NiMh is a technology I'd accept but nobody ever made a 12v NiMh car battery. That would have been fantastic. Nobody makes NiCads any more - mind they were'nt that great in the first place. I remember everybody struggled so much with the things when I was doing a lot of photography that many professionals just refused to use them. The only other technology is the supercap. Those are pretty expensive however. For my ventilation system they would be ideal. They fill faster than a battery, have a more dependable full voltage, cannot be over-charged and can be drained empty many more times without ill effect.

Until I can get the battery issue sorted out, it looks like my time spent working in the bus is going to be fairly minimal. I've been inside for 45 minutes and the temperature just rose from an initial 82 which was comfortable to 88 which is pretty warm. Outside, in the sun feel like pretty much the same temperature. The difference is, moving air.

Looking at air conditioning systems, I came across a mini-split air conditioner on the Walmart website for about $450. That looked quite good though I could not find any measurements anywhere. It looked small but looks can be very deceiving. It was a RolleiCool Cool-P800 10,000 BTU unit with unknown amperage, unknown size and no real reviews.

One thing is certain. Though there are small gaps under the window wedge-gizmo that I bought for $5 in Lowes a few weeks ago, I think it's good enough that I could probably get another couple - just for cross ventilation until I can get my powered ventilation running properly. Really, for parked use, an AC unit would work best but if I'm mobile at any time then I'm going to have to have my ventilation working correctly.

I've mentioned the mini-split from Walmart that's $450. That's actually quite pricy. I saw a window unit for less than $100 which would have been excellent was it not for the fact I'd have to build some massive ventilation ducting to handle it. The advantage of a mini-split is that the only holes in the floor needed are for two small tubes. In fact, an AC unit that ran off 12v could probably be solar powered. Now don't imagine that is as mad as it sounds. This is the makeup of an AC unit...

An AC unit comprises two coils. One is hot and the other is cold. Now it sounds like my Peltier cooler! Anyway, those two coils are indirectly connected. Between the end of the hot coil and the cold coil is a compressor - on one side only. The compressor takes gas from the cold coil and squeezes it into the hot coil. When gas is expanded, it absorbs heat. When it is compressed, it radiates heat. The other side of the two coils are connected to a restriction device. This is just something with a very small hole that means gas passes through very slowly - much slower than the pump can pump it. This means one side is always at high pressure and the other always at low pressure.

To dispel heat from the hot coil, a fan is often employed or an aluminum heatsink. On vehicles, it's usually a fan. To circulate cold air, a fan is often used in combination with a heatsink on the low pressure side. The gas inside the coils is not mysterious nor is it a complicated chemical compound. Various gasses can be used, ranging from Freon (which is now banned) through to butane, ammonia etc. All the gas has to do is be free of water vapour.

All AC units will have a thermostat and a timer. The cold side will tend to cover itself with ice and water will condense on it too. That needs time to thaw and the water has to be collected and ejected. In an RV, that water could easily be recycled into the flushing tank for the toilet - or just poured out onto the ground. The thermostat simply cuts off the air conditioner when the interior is at the right temperature. The timer will cut the unit off every 20 minutes or so for a few minutes in order that the coil can thaw and deposit the water.

The gas is not expensive - it's possible to use cheap stuff like car AC refrigerant. That's available almost everywhere. The coils are where the costs lie. Usually they're either copper or aluminum. Both of those are costly metals. Plastic is cheap and available but does not conduct heat at all well. As far as the compressor goes - they can be very expensive too. Having said that I did see a vacuum pump that ran off 12v in Harbor Freight for something like $10-$15 a few weeks ago. That would be absolutely wonderful if it could pump the volume of gas needed. The compressor from and electric tire pump is another option though my experience of electric tire pumps drove me to buying a manual, mechanical footpump.

Complicating matters, there is another kind of fridge around that uses a heater. My parents inherited one and it worked well for years then suddenly quit so they just replaced the heater in a 10 minute operation. It was very quiet, took quite a while to get to temperature and it kept food really cold. I have no idea why it finally died and ended its life being used as a cupboard though.

Meanwhile, some excellent news. If you remember, some while ago I purchased on ebay, a remote camera. I figured I could sit in the house or the bus, log into it and see who was at the front door or in the yard. Hours after I made the purchase, eBay deleted the listing and the seller. I was given some ludicrous time interval (something like August 1st to September 1st) to receive the goods and they didn't arrive by midway through the interval and was given no tracking number. I filed a case with eBay who said the seller did not provide a working tracking number and refunded me. I've only been waiting two months for this! I made the purchase in July. It was obvious the seller wasn't going to honor their commitments when their listings and account got deleted. Let's just say the item was suspiciously cheap.

So, where now? Well, in order to competefurther work on the bus, I have to go underneath. Meanwhile I shall redo my rather messy rat's nest of a control panel. I posted the rat's nest a few days ago but I'll post the messiest part again.
It doesn't look too tidy and is going to look far, far worse if I continue like that! The solution I've come up with is to mount everything on a piece of plywood then install the plywood. I can lay out the connecting wires tidily and tie them all down. Basically, just connect the wires to the gadgets, the wires from the battery and the wires from the solar arrays to the board via tidy, accessible terminals at the bottom. The glass fuse holder will be replaced by a blade fuse holder. After a lot of thought I decided that though I cannot get the 0.5A fuses in blade, I can probably get away with 1A. It just makes far more sense to have everything in the bus as standard blade fuses rather than a mix of types. Coming from the battery there will be a self-resetting breaker and I'll have a 30A fuse on the panel for the battery cable.

As I have a spare charge controller (several in fact) I can mount one on the board. The only thing I will have to do is to put some black tape over the LED display unless I put a door on the unit itself. There just are too many busybodies who'd look at a flashing display and go running off to the police, accusing me of having a bomb in the bus. Then I'd come back and find they'd smashed the door to gain entry, caused untold damage and probably wouldn't pay to repair their wrecking journey. Meanwhile the little sod that went making up stories is probably chuckling to all his buddies about the entertainment he created and laughing at the poor innocent victim.

So, over the last 4 hours the temperature in my motorhome rose from 82 to 93 and has now dropped to 91. That's with a not really working extraction fan and no induction fan. The window screen helps but I'd sure like an induction fan that doesn't need the windows to be opened. Meanwhile I'll probably get another couple of window screens.

I did end up getting some more stuff ordered from China. I can't see my going under the bus for a while so making up my control panel is something I can do outside the bus. I don't need to install that until I'm good and ready. Thinking about boxes, I'm pretty sure an old breaker box would be ideal to put all that into and it probably wouldn't be too hard to find one in some place like Restore.

I'm sorely tempted by the idea of an AC unit. I'm not so tempted by the prospect of spending even $170 for a secondhand portable unit. I do love sitting in my motorhome though.

Saturday, August 26, 2017

The fantasy of tire pressure management systems

The biggest scam or a worthwhile tool? Well, TPMS is mandated to be installed on most vehicles these days. The upside is they tell you whether a tire has blown or is at low pressure giving you a theoretical advantage over non monitored tires.

In practice on my own car, the sensors gave false low pressure readings. I'd go hunting around each tire to see which was low only to find they were all at the correct pressure. Then one by one the tire pressure sensors began to die. I heartily wish the receiver would die too. I get a horrible bleep or series of bleeps in cold weather telling me nonsense about low tire pressures.

There are two aftermarket tire pressure systems. The first is a screw-on cap that screws onto the valve stem. Three issues exist with these. The first is the extra weight could throw the wheel off balance though this is highly unlikely. The second is a poorly secured sensor could cause air leakage. The third is they could fly off, causing injury. In terms of effectiveness, they're highly likely to be as ineffective as those that come with a vehicle.

The second type fits inside the tire and replaces the standard tire valve. They need professional installation which drives the price up. Depending on manufacturing quality, they could disintegrate inside the wheel, damaging the tire or causing a blowout. They could change the wheel balance too. In terms of effectiveness they're highly unlikely to be any more effective than those supplied with the vehicle.

My experience of tire pressure sensors is of false alarms, unreliability and general nonsense from them. The best way to check a tire is visual inspection and pressure checking before every trip. The best way to check for low pressure during a trip is to notice changes in vehicle handling. As for sudden low pressure events, those will be noticeable way before any pressure sensor tells you anything. You should be reacting to a blowout rather than looking at what some pokey little screen tells you!

Like automated traction control systems, tire pressure management systems are ideal on paper but in reality are the stuff of nightmares. As an example, the traction control on my car defaults to on so I frequently don't turn it off. 99% of the time, it sits there and does nothing. When traction is actually needed, the first spot of wheelspin cuts power to that wheel. Again, it's nice on paper but horrendously dangerous in practice. As an example, going up a snowy road, the wheels locked up because of spin and I slid backwards toward a junction. Fortunately I knew it was that insanely dangerous traction control, switched the blasted thing off and thus regained control. The other day, driving down a muddy lane, one side locked up and thus I was spun crosswise to the traffic. Switching it off allowed me to regain control. If there was some way of disabling that deadly dangerous device permanently, I would have done so already.

So, my thoughts having seen some discussion of the benefits of TPMS I saw online are pretty well null. My experience of TPMS like LED lighting devices and Android devices is marred by miserable failure. At this point I'd like to point out that the only Android device that lasted more than 12 months was my Nexus 4 cellphone. And that became pretty useless after just 3 years. My iPad Mini 2, however, has lasted me over a year so far and cost about what my Nexus 7 cost me but has thus far outlived it. I therefore do not expect TPMS to be at all worthwhile and will not waste my time nor my money installing it.

Today I tried to track down the short in my electrical system. Thus far it has proven hard to trace. I'm beginning to suspect since pulling all the fuses in the fuse panel before reinstalling them that it might have been something I installed that's causing the problem. Now that would be very strange because everything I installed has a brand new switch, connected to the positive rail. Those switches are all in the off position. That pretty much kills that suspicion. It merits further investigation!
Pulling every fuse in the panel, I found several fuses had been stuffed into positions where there was only a single contact, signifying that the circuit had not been installed. I'm amazed somebody would waste their time and fuses to do that to be honest. Clearly as I could not find the fault this time, I'll have to investigate another time. Maybe next time will prove inspiring. Heck, I could even have erred in my testing methods. I am human after all and have had an eventful and exhausting first week back at work driving school busses.

Playing around with the bus turned on, I tried my screenwash and found both screenwash jets need to be adjusted slightly. While testing them, the screenwash ran out. Thus I pulled out my gallon bottle of screenwash and refilled the container. I could hardly believe it took just half a gallon! I had to really hunt to find the screenwash filler - which was unlabeled. I found the radiator reserve tank, the brake fluid tank, the power steering, the transmission and the engine oil so by process of elimination I found what I was looking for. And wasn't it in an easy place to reach!
There it is, right in the center. To refill that I have to open the hood, climb up and stand on top of the tire then lean half way across the engine compartment to fill it. What genius thought of that one?

There are things I can do inside the bus but the heat is literally killing me. I can get to the bus and sit in my chair but more than that little and I'm exhausted. It's 91F in here right now with the door wide open, one solar fan in action and the window mesh placed over the window. That brought it all down from 95F. The big extraction fan does seem to work but I doubt severely that it removes the quantity of air that it claims. In order to calculate that I'd need to employ an anemometer. That would be a straightforward matter of cutting a cardboard cone to match the size of the anemometer propeller and putting the cone over an exhaust vent when the extraction fan is running. Then I'd double the result since I have two identical vents.

I keep thinking longingly about some form of cooling and will probably keep thinking about it until next summer. The interesting thing is that when my extraction fan kicks in, I get a cool breeze from my window screen and from the open front door. I'm guessing that the fan is doing something, even if it's not doing everything I had opted for. I am loathe to spend $180 on a used portable unit though. A window unit would be the ideal but that would involve carving up one of my windows which I don't want to do. Either that or it would involve mounting it somehow under the bus and putting in some kind of duct work.

Thinking about my in-the-window mesh vent, I realized that my original plywood powered vent wasn't too far off the mark. That, I could not properly secure to the window - it had to be propped up but it worked well enough. Thinking about going further, it might be possible to make a mask that would fit on the outside of the window measuring 24 1/8 inches by 12 with some kin d of soft foam padding for half an inch between the window and the panel. That could be secured on the inside of the frame by some adjusting clamps. It would be rain-proof and the mask could have plexiglass paneling with a powered vent inserted on one edge. With careful placement, a solar panel could be placed on the inside of the glass to power the fan! I have some leftover CPU fans that would be ideal for the purpose. Left semi-permanently mounted, it would not be hard to fix a rain shroud over the inlet vent nor a mosquito mesh. It would reduce light and the size of my window but on the other hand, it might do away with the need for air conditioning in an environmentally, non-permanent and friendly way. It's definitely worth a shot. I could weld a steel frame together fairly readily, having the equipment on site. Indeed, using a simple O2Cool fan (recycling one I've already cut up), I could even have the fan to switch between forward and reverse. Indeed, properly riveted, even aluminum strip could be used - with the advantage of being lighter and rust free.

I spent most of the day fiddle-fiddling or as my late aunty would have called it "fiddle-farting". One of my windscreen wipers was out of alignment very slightly so I adjusted that then noticed the wiper blade of the other was slightly canted so I fixed that. The hex nut on the washer turned out to be too big for a 7/16 spanner but too small for a 1/2 inch spanner. That means that for some ungodly reason it's probably Metric. At a quick guess, I'd say something like 12mm. Sadly I don't have a metric spanner set and can't use sockets because of the nozzle.

I'm a bit stymied by the heat. During the summer this wasn't much of an issue because the humidity was lower. During one of my brief spells of energy, I went outside and looked at the windows, concluding that putting a vent in place - even temporarily - would be very difficult. The windows have not been well mounted by Carpenter - indeed at least one of the back passenger windows is actually crooked. None of the windows are perfectly mounted in the centers of the apertures. I get rather the feeling that there was some pressure on Carpenter to complete busses quickly rather than making them of high quality. Indeed the welding debaucle from one factory proves this. For those that didn't know - some Carpenter busses were made with faulty welds to the roof supports. My bus didn't come from that factory but what that means is that in the unlikely event of a car landing on the roof from a bridge, the roof would cave in to the bottoms of the windows. Obviously a car must have landed on a bus for them to find that out. Clearly it was a problem with one guy who was doing the welding.

Regarding the window panel, I'm tempted despite the difficulty to have a go anyway. There's also the possibility of putting in an induction unit like I was considering in the first place when I built something that would take a smaller CPU fan. Equally, I could go for one of the smaller portable AC units. I just don't feel like doing the amount of work needed to mount a window unit under the bus.

The sum total of achievements today, not much. I did get to think out my ideas more clearly though. Basically, the problem of AC is twofold. Firstly there's the case of where to vent it and how big the vent pipes have to be. Secondly, it takes 120v AC and my system has an amperage limit of 30A. With a fridge, water heater and microwave then something will have to be switched off in order to run the AC. I've also read very mixed reviews of portable AC units and it's hard to discern which reviewers can't understand the instruction book and which received a faulty unit. It is hard to overestimate the number of idiots around. I am also limited by the diameter of the exhaust vent from the unit. While I can probably put a 6 inch diameter hole in the floor without any issue, bigger might be a problem.  Indeed, my biggest hole saw is just 4 1/4 inches in diameter. A bigger exhaust tube would have to be split and rendered as multiple 4 1/4 inch or smaller exhaust pipes. An eight inch pipe would need two 4 1/4 inch vents. I'd want to vent through the floor and the skirt at the side of the vehicle too. The pipes would also need to be lagged since these dehumidifiers exhaust a lot of heat. It's all doable. It'll just take time and need me to get under the bus for large portions. That's not really going to happen until the cooler weather makes the critters hibernate.

Monday, August 21, 2017

Raising temperatures

When I hopped into the bus at 10:30 this morning, the temperature inside was apparently cooler than outside and it was 81F. That rose to 82 fairly quickly. I'd come out to look at the bus windows to see if there was any way to permanently affix a mosquito screen to the outside. Looking carefully at the windows from the outside, it appears not.
The aluminum strip at the top and in the middle are the upper pane which slides down. There is not border on which it is really possible to secure a screen which is a crying shame. It's just the way Carpenter designed their windows. I'm not planning on replacing windows either. If I have to then I'll fill in where windows used to be and just move existing windows to replace failed window units. I see no point in spending extra money on better windows when I don't know how long I'll want or need my motorhome. This is why I built my own rather than buying one.

By 11:00 the temperature was 82 and by 11:16 it was 86. It would be interesting to know what the full temperature range is and especially so compared to the outside temperature. I'd opened my window and set my extraction fan in operation too!

Speaking of open windows, the screen purchased from the hardware store has a slight defect. The two plastic sliders through which one side slides, protrude a good 1/8th of an inch or possibly more. The same goes for top and bottom.
This has the unfortunate effect of making a gap top and bottom through which small critters can enter. Certainly it stops the vast majority but it's the minority that causes the problem. Another issue is that I have to wedge the window tightly around the unit with a piece of my old electrical box.

The temperature continued to rise. By 11:26 it was 88F inside. As I said, I'd like to measure and track the temperature but I'm not willing to spend money on buying anything fancy enough to do it. I've already had one interesting incident (always happens with the fancy electronic stuff) whereby I bought something on eBay followed swiftly by a notification that the seller's account had been closed and that I should wait for my stuff to arrive. I knew full well after the account was closed, it would never arrive. So, a couple of months down the line I'm still chasing a refund from eBay. Given that the temperature record is of such minor significance, I'd pay eBay prices but not store prices but only if I could be reasonably sure my purchase will arrive.

I'd like to avoid AC totally. It is doable - I lived in a house for years and used no AC. For that I need to find a decent window screen that can keep all the bugs out. Adding fans would be a good touch - similar to the window unit I made some while ago. It might be possible to make this if I built the frame from aluminum. That would probably need some welding and I'm not 100% sure I can weld aluminum with a 90A AC stick welder. I see a lot of baloney online about welding in general  but don't know who speaks the truth, who lies and who just misrepresents things.

The basic idea is a frame that has mesh over it and a method of locking it in at the sides plus some way of making sure it actually stays fitted - perhaps a lightweight rubber gasket such as a piece of plastic tube glued to the top or bottom that will crush to allow me to latch the window to the closest open point. Then something that slides out one side to lock the window in place. In the center of the screen, some kind of CPU fan to keep pulling air inwards. Maybe even a couple of CPU fans. I know they make something similar that takes 120V but I don't yet know how suitable that would be for my RV.

Having said all this, being parked somewhere, an AC unit is a possibility. I looked into using the $100 window units but there's so much messing about involved with installing them that they're just not worth the effort. Instead, a portable unit sounds better. I did see one that looked good on eBay but when I got down to it, it was too expensive at $350 and was clearly a Chinese import as it used R22 (Freon). As far as I know, it's illegal to sell new AC units containing R22 and has been for 7 years. I gather further that in 5 years it'll be illegal even to refill a unit containing R22. Another eBay lemon - what a surprise!

Having said that, there are some units available in the USA. I'm becoming more a fan of buying stuff in the USA than importing it - particularly for things that I want quickly or that might need to be returned. Looking at the Walmart website there's a reconditioned AC unit for $200 that looks eminently suitable. Of course, look at Walmart's website on a Sunday and the price is $200 but look today and it's $229. Walmart tends to be like that with their prices. They go up and down in rather the manner of a whore's drawers and for presumably the same financial reason.

So, the mesh idea has merit though I'll have to look into getting more steel bar and try to improve on my welding. Fitting a couple of USB fans on the inside sounds good. I even have four spare 5.25 inch square fans. If I really wanted to go overboard, I could fit up to 10 in a single window unit. As they move approximately 130cfm then 1,350cfm would be a veritable gale. Truth be told, just about every fan seems to claim 130cfm. It seems to be totally unfounded. I suppose with fans, putting "130cfm" on it is the same as "blows air". It sounds impressive but seems to be totally meaningless - a bit like politician's promises (next to the pixie dust in the fairytale aisle of your neighborhood supermarket).

Interestingly even the AC units seem to lay claim to - you've guessed it - 130cfm. How unoriginal! I wonder how much air my O2Cool fan is supposed to be shifting on its' pair of D cells. Maybe 130cfm?

By the end of the day, the temperature inside the bus had risen at some point to 100F. It has currently dropped to 91F. Heaven knows what it was during today's solar eclipse. That was an interesting though not earth shattering experience and in fact is my third solar eclipse.

Sunday, August 20, 2017

I'll have to do better than this rat's nest!

Today and yesterday I worked on my wiring for the magic box. Yesterday though I didn't blog about it, I did test my magic box and wiring before I fastened the wiring to the wall. A good job too because one connection had come undone. I also had an interesting issue with a crimp connector that absolutely refused to crimp. I've never seen anything like it. In the end I resorted to using a vice but got it so tight that the wires simply snapped off.

Currently I'm charging my phone via my magic box. That's running off my 5AH Radio Shack battery which in turn is being charged via my 15W Harbor Freight solar panel. I think I've proved my system works. The voltage dropped quickly from an initial 13V before I connected the phone to 12.5V which is where it's staying. My meter connected directly to the battery is reading 12.7V so I can see my charge controller seems to be maintaining 12.5V as a norm.
 I can say I'm very happy with the initial few minutes of my test. Everything seems to be working within predicted parameters. Ignore the adjustable spanner in the photo above. That's just there to hold the rubber flaps away from the USB charging ports in order that the blue LEDs show nicely. My USB charges came with detachable rubber flaps but I left them in place.
Wiring in the control area is a bit of a rat's nest. I'll have to sort that out. At the moment everything is running off a pair of Radio Shack lead acid batteries. One is 10AH and the other is 5AH. I have a brand new Harbor Freight 35AH battery waiting for fall to be installed underneath the bus.

The plan is to remove the charge controller at the rear of the bus and to use solely one charge controller - the one in the picture directly above. One cable pair will head out from there to the battery. That cable will probably be fairly hefty. I have two 0.5A fans, a 2.5A fan and a magic box with two 3.1A sockets and a pair of meters at say 0.5A each. That all totals 10.7A. Add in the timer that I have yet to install and I'll say a good safety margin is 20A. I can therefore use a 20A cable. That's actually rather good because the controller purportedly is 20A. Solar input is 35W or about 3A maximum. I can't honestly see any need for any more than that but I will add a supplementary input for supplemental solar or wind power.

I had a go at reversing the ventilation fan simply by switching the leads. While the breeze from the intake was impressive right by the intake, I didn't find it that great to be honest. I'm not sure whether that means I need to double up on bilge blowers and change the air ducting or whether I shall just stick with what I have. Needless to say, I've come to the point with ventilation where the thing that works best seems to be to open a window and put a screen in place.

I looked around at portable air conditioning units and found several interesting candidates. I looked into mounting a window unit under the bus and it just ended up looking like an awful lot of work. Looking at the dryer section in the local hardware store I found there are detachable drier connections. Those combined with draft excluding flappers and perhaps some marine vent covers look like being a good solution. I can put air outlet plugins for AC in the bedroom and the galley. Clearly they'd need caps but that looks like one way forward. Of course, that would work only while plugged in. For travel, it seems the only solution is to simply not be inside when it's ludicrously hot.

In terms of cost, portable AC units do run more expensive. I don't think there's a great deal of difference between them though. The case sizes range tremendously with none actually matching my ideal dimensions of 10" by 15" by 26". Now those dimensions would fit quite well in through the door of a spare cupboard on the bus. That's 10" wide by 15" deep by 26" high.

I did consider making an AC unit. Initially I considered a Peltier unit but when I tried Peltier stuff it turned out not to be that great and costwise it worked out too expensive. All an AC unit really is, is a loop of tubing with a reduced tube in the middle of one side and a pump in the middle of the other side. The pump expands the gas on one side and compresses it on the other. The compressed gas radiates heat and a fan blows the heat away. The expanded gas absorbs heat and a fan blows air over the tubes, causing heat to transfer from the room to the expanded gas from which it is lost when the gas enters the compression cycle. Even ordinary air can be used as a refrigerant though the water vapor in it will freeze at low temperatures.

The problem with self build is that it takes time and experimentation when usable units just aren't outrageously expensive. Looking online they seem to go for between $200 and $400. Quite pricey but not outrageously. Recommended solutions such as mini-split and rooftop units have other issues. Cost is the main for mini-split and rooftop would raise the height of the vehicle unacceptably.

I've come to the point where everything extra that I want to add or do involves a trip underneath the bus. The only thing that does not is reconfiguring my rats nest. For that I might just get a piece of plywood, paint it the same color as the wall and lay everything out tidily then just come in and make the connections. Speaking of that, I found my Radio Shack glass filter holder has a problem. It seems to want to let go of my spade connectors. It's supposed to attach via spande connectors but they slip off rather too easily. Despite not wanting to go to blade fuses, it looks like I might just as well switch over to blade and replace the few glass fuses in my control panel with blade.

Just as I wrote that, my extraction fan cut in and I could been a really strong breeze from the window with the mesh over it. The temperature dropped a couple of degrees. It looks like the mesh in combination with my extraction fan might well be doing what's needed.

I saw online some screens with built-in fans. Those ran of 120v which made them interesting. I'd rather have some that would run off lower voltages though. I did build a window unit that runs off D batteries but it wasn't a great success in that it was very hard to mount securely in place. It worked really well though the batteries drained quickly. What I might need to do is to try to get one of the ready-built units to try. Although I've considered AC units, I really don't want to have to use AC units.

Maybe... I should just become a snowbird... Drive to Canada in summer and the Mexico in winter? That would be the best of both worlds. I'd get the good, low-priced and free social healthcare in Canada and the great food in Mexico.

Saturday, August 19, 2017

What's the difference between LED lanterns?

Two very different LED lanterns at very different price points. The lantern on the left was marked as having been made by or for GE (and bought in Walmart) while the one on the left is some no-name Chinese junk picked up from a Chinese junk retailer (in this instance Big Lots).

The similarities - both run off D cells, both had the handles snap off very soon after purchase. Both produce laughably inadequate amounts of light. As can be seen - the light produced between the two barely illuminates the little corner they're sitting in.

The differences - the GE lantern cost me $40 while the Chinese junk cost me $10. The Chinese lantern has an indeterminate lumen level. The GE claims 350 lumens. The GE had a very nice handle that could be opened and passed through a loop. The Chinese version had a pop-up hook. The GE loop simply snapped under the weight of the lantern. The Chinese loop just fell off and disappeared somewhere.

Which lantern is brighter? It looks like the Chinese lantern is brighter but this is an illusion. The LEDs are dazzling and aimed directly at the eye in such a manner as to make the lighting deeply unpleasant. In terms of usability the Chinese lantern is hopeless. It produces dazzling light that's of very low quality. I can no more read by the light of the Chinese lantern than I can dance the Polka clad in a tutu.

The GE lantern produces a better quality light that's not dazzling to look at due to the diffuser and because of the lack of bars around the glass, produces a more even light that it's actually possible though not easy to read by.

The quantity of light produced by both lanterns is by no stretch of the imagination worthwhile. They're the manufacturers having a laugh at the expense of the hapless customer. Reading what somebody else said about portable lighting, their claim was that if it wasn't a gas lantern then it didn't produce light. That's pretty close to the truth. There's a Coleman gas lantern that produces 1540 lumens. My calculation using a 100W light bulb is that 1200 lumens is the minimum needed for adequate illumination.

So, where do these lanterns stand (aside from where they should stand - inside the dumpster)? A whole bunch of lanterns must surely be as good as a single decent light? No - afraid not. Lumens do not add up like eggs. Two 20 lumen lamps does not equal 40 lumens in the way two boxes of 20 eggs equals 40 eggs. Stand two lanterns side by side and the brightness does not get greater between them. This is demonstrated adequately with this photo. No point is doubly bright! The blueness of the light has been corrected by the camera.
If lumens added then the area in the center would be twice as bright as the areas on the sides and it's not. All multiple lanterns does is to distribute poor quality lighting throughout an area. It also eggs on the scammers to produce yet more garbage for the low end of the market. Let's face it, Walmart is definitely not the upper end of the market. It's not quite as downmarket as the area taken by Big Lots and the dollar stores but it's not that far above.

So, what's the answer with lanterns and how do they compare to real lighting? At the moment there just aren't that many diffused 1200 lumen lanterns around. I've seen maybe one 1,000 lumen lantern on offer for some stupendously ludicrous price. Given that an LED lantern is dead simple to make, I'm gobsmacked by the prices.
Right there is what could be an LED lantern - a bunch of cheap LEDs and a pair of batteries. People making lanterns can get components way cheaper than people normally pay retail. I think I paid $2 for that pile of 100 LEDs a year or two back. My worthless LED lantern has just 18 LEDs. How many 18s go into 100 and how much do they cost in total? My reckoning is they have (at the price I paid), about 36 cents worth of LEDs plus pressed plastic (which is dirt cheap). If that lantern cost more than 25 cents to make, I'd be amazed. Look at it - it was sold in Big Lots for $10. Big Lots will have a huge markup on it and they paid probably only $2 for it after it had been shipped all the way from China.

What we need is for stores that import garbage from China to pay a shade more - $4 say and sell the lanterns for say $12 and have something that actually produces worthwhile light. I don't want to be sitting in the gloom of the lantern, looking at an unwrapped Mars bar wondering whether it's really a Mars bar or a freshly laid turd...

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

And on the 12th day the Lord spake and said

Let there be a kitchen so the womenfolk may cook and serve their men. And lo, a kitchen was born and women did love this kitchen and their newfound ability to serve their men.

Well, today after having my freshly painted fridge bouncing around in the back of my car for the last week or so while the paint thoroughly baked itself dry, I lifted the fridge out and installed it in my bus. I must say it looks pretty good there. I'll have to install a flat batton to stop it sliding and rig some kind of closure to keep the door shut in transit but I think you'll agree it looks pretty good.
My little kitchen is shaping up nicely with the microwave and fridge visible. The microwave probably won't last too long. It was one of the cheapie $30 microwaves from Walmart bought during their back to school sales gimmick. The fridge came with the bus. It has a 2003 date on the back and I see them on sale in Walmart for $60. Not too bad - a $90 kitchen!

The fridge protrudes a little but more by miscalculation than any other reason. Behind it is my electrical breaker box. Were it not for that, I'm sure the fridge would sit square with the countertop. Having said that, it's not a problem and all looks pretty good. Of course, when the microwave makes its way out of the box, it'll look even better!

And thus draws to a close a summer that was less devoted to bus conversion than I would have liked. As far as retitling is concerned, all the elements are there. It just needs the application to be sent off and then later the improvements start. First comes the underbus battery then comes the air conditioner and then the cold water inlet then the hot water then perhaps a flush toilet. Sometime down the line new tyres and getting the brake pedal adjusted.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

That's a bit small!

Indeed, as the vicars wife once famously remarked to an eager young milkman, it is very small! My timer that is - get your minds out of that gutter!
According to eBay my timer had been dispatched a week ago. According to the tracking number it was two days ago that it finally hit the postbox. The important thing is it has arrived even though I probably need a magnifying glass to see it and a microscope to see the display.

It's a 16 event, 7 day timer. The way charge controllers are set up, they provide power continuously until they switch off to recharge the battery. My extraction fan can easily outpace my solar panels, a bit like the famed American motorist of the 30s who had to turn the engine of his automobile off when refueling as it used fuel faster than the pump could supply it. The purpose of the timer is to ensure the fan is operational only for as long as required rather than continuing until the battery is empty.

Thus, I've preprogrammed the timer for 15 minute operations every hour. According to my calculations, my fan should evacuate all the air in the bus every 10-12 minutes. 15 minutes should see that done and it commences operation at 10am, running hourly until 7pm. By then, summer or winter, the heat should be gone from the day. They could easily have left off their silly keyboard lock and the 7 day part of the timer.

Ominously the instructions say the timer has a 3 year lithium battery. Does that mean I'll be looking for a new timer in 3 years? Actually, I suspect all the electronics in use will die by the end of 3 years. This is largely why I don't load myself down with electronic junk. It barely lasts out of the reasonable use period.

Today was to have been a day spent working on wiring from my magic box to the battery. With my timer having arrived, I would have probably had a go at installing it. Connection is straightforward as it's just four spade connectors. Two go to the power and two are the switch. It seems polarity is unimportant.

I've been researching air conditioners, particularly the small portable variety. On my blog (which had a random advert via Adsense), I spotted an advert for a marine air conditioner. That looked interesting and I followed it. It seems though that marine air conditioners use seawater to cool the air conditioner high pressure coil. They're also ludicrously expensive!

Meanwhile, I've seen a couple of interesting portable air conditioners. It seems the exhaust vent gets really hot. Having said that, it's something that will be easy to vent through a hole in the bus floor with a duct leading out of the bus skirt with a mesh over it. The key is finding one that not only furs the space but also permits use of the exhaust hose in the same space.

Another alternative exists. I did see a portable unit that was just ten inches wide by eighteen long and about thirty six high that had the exhaust hose coming out of the top. That brings to mind all kinds of interesting ideas based on a unit that can be moved into a storage location. The downside is, according to a tradesman that used one in her grooming van, that the exhaust pipe gets very hot. It's all food for thought and various alternatives exist. I just have to keep investigating until I find an acceptable solution.

Tomorrow is another of my free days. Work starts properly on Thursday but even so, I have work related tasks that will take me to work for a couple of hours - stuff I probably won't even get paid for. That's all part and parcel of committing to an employer and doing one's best. The reality is that being exceptional is unrewarded. Being mediocre is accepted. It's all part of job satisfaction to do one's best, however. I always say, if you're not working on being brilliant then don't bother. I think Lincoln said something similar - whatever you are, be a good one.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

The strange world of the Peltier dehumidifier

Sitting in my bus today, I was dripping with sweat. It wasn't particularly hot - it was about 90F which is pretty OK. The problem was the 74% humidity. My mind turned to air conditioning and to dehumidification. The ventilation fan seems not to have cut on in forever so I'm assuming either the battery or that particular charge controller is at fault. I would have connected my latest charge controller and my latest battery but since my timer has not arrived, it's not practical.

My clothes were drenched in sweat with obvious sweat marks. Clearly not a situation that's welcome. The solution will probably be to get the ventilation working. Needless to say that's not an option right now. Remembering I have a Peltier unit that I put together out of curiosity, I decided to try it with a 12V battery. The temperature of both sides was 92F when I connected the power. I left the power connected for exactly one minute at which point the high-temperature side was over the point at which my thermometer could measure (about 200F). The lowest point I measured on the cold side was 86F. On a subsequent test, the hot side rose to over 200F again and the cold side kept climbing. When I gave up trying it was at 126F.
Previously when I used a 9V battery, I could feel a warm, cool difference. I have no idea what's going on now. It's allegedly a 12v unit so it should be doing more than that. There should have been a bigger difference. The only thing I can think of is the heat from the hot side was making the cold side warmer and that while there was a 70+ degree difference between the sides, the unit was just working as a heater rather than anything else. Quite disappointing really.

That puts me in mind of somebody else's blog entry in which they blogged about "The useless world of the Peltier effect dehumidifier". It's a very enticing technology but all the reviews I read so far are very mixed. People either rave about expensive Peltier dehumidifier or condemn them soundly. I would imagine there's a tendency for those that spend silly money on things to praise them in order to defend the fact they spent silly money. I would tend to question the bad reviews as to whether they operated the things correctly. Based on the conflicting evidence from my tests - one in which the one side was actually cold and one in which the cold side was quite hot I'm going to declare this to be yet another one of those dubious bits of electronics.

I moved on and added side brackets to my aluminum box. One didn't go quite square but what's new. That whole construction has been a fight with holes going where they wanted to go rather than where I wanted them. I'd start a hole and drill straight yet somehow the hole would end up way off where it was marked, even though when the cut started, it was spot on. Somehow the drill is drifting through the material. I'm guessing it's not a good quality of aluminum. I've had strange spots in metals before. I recall drilling some steel with a drill press when all of a sudden the drill stopped cutting. I changed drills several times and oiled the work to no avail. I ended up with a carborundum bit getting nowhere before finally cutting with a diamond tip drill. That went through like a hot knife through butter. Just because it's steel or aluminum doesn't mean it's the same all the way through - especially these days when almost all steel or aluminum is recycled and there's no telling what grades are mixed in.

It's still 66% humidity but only 91F so I'm still drenched with sweat. The humidity is more of a killer here than the heat. I'm positive that when I can finally connect my solar arrays and run everything off a single battery with a timer on my extraction fan that things will be a lot less humid and probably a lot cooler.

After the riveting, I pondered how to put my cables in and decided in the end to put them in a cable sleeve then to cut a notch in the side of the unit with my trusty angle grinder large enough to accommodate the sleeve. Then when everything is wired and the sleeve is poking out, the back can be slid into place and the whole lot screwed to the wall - wiring to be completed whenever. That's not a major task. It's fiddly but not major. Obviously 66% humidity and 91F is not conducive to doing much aside from sitting still and blogging.
The problem with blogging is while I'm blogging, I'm not doing anything toward construction. The other problem is that where I am, the wifi doesn't quite reach. I think it has to do with being in a steel bus. It's a bit of a Faraday shield. My MiFi pad is just plain uneconomical to use and the next step is a smartphone and that's more more than I want to be bothered with. It would be ideal if my flip phone offered a wifi hotspot. Sadly I don't know of any that do and I'm pretty well positive only a few of us would buy such a thing.

So why not buy a smartphone? Well, Walmart's $35 a month for a smartphone with 2GB of data would fit the bill nicely but for two things. First I don't want to have to have a monthly bill that's $20 over what I pay now. Secondly I don't want a smartphone. They're expensive to buy, have rotten battery life and take up too much pocket space. That's without mentioning that nobody calls me anyway!

So, I wired everything together with my magic box, including some nifty soldering of Radio Shack's pain in the rear non-standard pushbutton switch. Finally I put the back on the unit and touched up some of the paint.
In my construction work today I decided to do it the easy way and mount the unit on the front of the horizontal beam with a little protruding below the beam. The wires will run in my cable sleeving along the beam and into the cockpit via a small hole in the partition wall. I'll secure everything with my remaining cable clamps and drywall screws.

Earlier today I connected the bank of fuses using my piggyback connectors. It doesn't look pretty but it is functional. It's now possible to use the entire bank of 4 fuses. Tuesday being my next available day, I should be able to complete the wiring. Today there's just not enough time to do anything other than install the basic unit.

How far am I toward completing the motorhome? Well, aside from getting it retitled and getting the new magic box wired it, it's done for the moment. The 12v system needs an upgrade - it needs the new battery installed and the rear charge controller replaced by a timer that runs off the front charge controller. The two solar arrays need to be linked and I need to think about installing a cold water inlet and possibly putting in a 120v instant water heater so I can have hot water at the handbasin. As far as hot water for the shower goes, that's possible though I have not really got a foolproof method of doing it yet. Air conditioning might not be needed if i can get the ventilation working properly.

All day I've been having difficulty in trying to post photos. I've got three ready to post but whether they'll be attached by the time I publish is unknown. Blogger lets me select the images then just farts around showing me a silly little ball that keeps changing color while progressing no further despite heading off for a cup of tea while I waiting. I'm not 100% sure that it's purely a blogger problem or whether the unreliable HighesNet satellite connection could be also causing problems.

Today has been a series of problems. One of the first was that I put my freshly painted magic box back out to dry and the sky was gloriously sunny. Ten minutes later, it was pouring with rain so the paint now has poc marks. It's not as bad though as when I painted V1 of my toilet. It began to rain and washed all the paint off. Speaking about V1, I'm on V2 now and there might be a V3 after the plumbing I'm toying with comes to pass. I left space under the toilet area for a black tank. Fresh water currently goes in jerry cans but there is space behind the fuel tank for a 15 gallon water tank. There's also plenty real estate behind the rear wheels. I've shied away from that though as I figure for dry camping then jerry cans are best and for hookup, there's no need. With a flush toilet, disposal at a hookup site is easy. With a dry toilet, disposal while dry camping is easy.

While I waited for the paint to dry, I pulled out my trusty 10AA battery pack and tested my magic box. Everything worked as it should. The next stage - putting it on the wall and securing the cable using a cable clamp. That bit was surprisingly easy although I could not locate a suitable cable clamp. That's probably a trip to Harbor Freight sometime.

Illuminating the magic box should have been straightforward but for the fact the handle has fallen off yet another of my LED lanterns. It doesn't matter how much I pay for LED lanterns - they just seem to be absolute junk. On the other hand, that's pretty much my experience of all LED products. Nevertheless, I did manage to light it up and can see that my spray can of metal paint is a few shades darker than my wall paint but not obnoxiously so. My magic box is mounted on the wall, has been fully tested and is in working condition for whenever I complete the operation by installing the cables.
I can honestly say I'm glad to have completed my magic box and that it came out looking so good. I know all the minor imperfections but it's safe and it works. Wiring as I said, will have to be completed on Tuesday. That will give me a fully working battery monitoring, charger monitoring charging station for electronics. If nothing else, that makes the motorhome viable for today's technology.

Meanwhile I mentioned my battery drain issue and somebody suggested taking all the fuses out then replacing them one by one with a bulb attached between the ground of the battery and the bus ground to see which fuse lights the lamp. That sounds an excellent idea!

I can honestly say working in the heat on my motorhome is the kind of sauna that most people would pay good money for. My skin must look 20 years younger by now. Any younger and I'll be carded at the bars!

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Naked in my motorhome

It's currently 86F in the bedroom of my motorhome. Stripping off naked and just being there in my birthday suit seems like a very good idea. I don't want to shock the lampshade though! I think I've probably gone as far as I can for the moment with cooling without investing in an AC unit.

In Walmart, there was a very nice AC unit. It was a window unit that measured about 13 inches high. That would fit quite nicely under the bus. I have heard these Arctic King units just aren't very powerful. That's fine because as far as I can tell, I don't need anything particularly powerful. If I can keep the summer temperature down to say 78 that should be fine. It would need some inventive ducting and an equally inventive bay to fit it into and there's no guarantee that I'd be able to get another similarly sized unit should it fail - which the naysayers keep telling me it will. For the moment then I shall stay with ventilation and removing excess clothing.
Over the last few days I've taken delivery of an aluminum box and have mounted the two plastic panel mount holders for my Chinese USB sockets. I've also added a voltmeter. There's a 12v cigarette lighter socket included also. Now, on order I have another Chinese USB socket. I will probably replace that 12v cigarette lighter socket with a USB socket. There's also a very nice green illuminated toggle switch that lights up green when it's switched on. That should provide a color clash enough to render even the hardiest soul violently ill. The sockets have blue lights, the switch is green and the voltmeter is red.

Looking at my cigarette lighter to 120v inverter I noticed that it's both 8.8A and only produces 120v at 0.75A. That would have a struggle to power a 100W light bulb! I have not checked the power requirement of my Maha battery charger but I would imagine it would be in excess of that even used straight off 12v.

The plan was to wire all the sockets and the voltmeter together under a single fuse on my distribution panel. That plan has changed several times. Adding up the maximum power, the dual USB sockets are 3.3A each. I have two which is 6.6A. Add a 3rd and I'd have 9.9A which would work well off a 10A fuse.

The voltmeter applied to the line coming in from the charge controller should always read 12v. Not much point in measuring that. The line coming in straight from the battery is the one to measure. That should tell me when the charge controller is about to kill the power. It might even be worth putting a second voltmeter just to measure the power from the inverter and measure both. That would bring me down to four USB sockets, two of which are 1.1A and two of which are 2.2A.
I have to thank EngineeringToolbox.Com for the table above. Normally I just use "wire" for 12v applications and never have a problem. On the other hand I'm usually using very low amperages. I'll be putting a 30A cable to my big battery despite the fact my draw will be minimal. So, what will my draw be?

  • 2.5A extraction fan
  • 2 x 0.5A CPU fans.
  • 2 x 3.3A USB sockets
That's a grand total of under 11A. Assuming I add two more CPU fans and two more USB sockets (the car store has better looking USB sockets) that's an extra 7.6A or if both sockets are USB 2 then 5.4A. So I'm looking at under 20A maximum draw.

Yes, you are correct - I do have a 12V socket. That's going bye bye though for this particular project. It will be returning as an inlet for extra solar or wind power where it'll be mounted straight onto the side of the bus. 

Switching down to two dual USB sockets and two voltmeters was the work of a few seconds. It had the effect of reducing current draw to a maximum of under 7A. That still means 14ga wiring for the positive side of the two USB hosts and one voltmeter. The other voltmeter will be powered directly from the battery. That way I get to see the voltage on both sides of the charge controller. The power switch will have to be changed to a straightforward plain switch but be on the common ground side. 

With that all sorted out, I have a delay in waiting for my piggyback spade connectors to arrive and because I need to buy some 12 - 14 gauge wire. Testing the connection of the battery ground to the charge controller supply ground produced no immediate ill effects. Nothing went boom and nothing went up in smoke. That was when I tried it on one charge controller. The other was a different story.

The extraction fan was off due to low voltage. I connected the negative to the negative and the fan roared into life. That's not what I expected and isn't desirable either. Clearly I'm going to have to work this differently. As I've already drilled my holes in the aluminum box, it's hard to undrill them. Fortunately socket blanks exist for this purpose.

Hunting though my parts supply I found loads of on-off-on switches that were of no particular use for this project. I found a few lighted on-off switches that again were of no particular interest. A double pole single throw or double pole double throw would have been advantageous but none were in my supplies. I did, however, find a make contact pushbutton switch and a straightforward on-off single pole toggle switch. Now I can put the switches on the positive side where they should be.

Well, I went shopping and bought some 12 gauge wire only to find it's about the same size as some cable I already have that's not labelled. That's fine - at least I know what I have. I didn't find any replacement switches but decided in the end to go ahead with a pushbutton switch for the battery monitoring on the basis that monitoring will be fairly inaccurate on the battery anyway. Lead-acid batteries need to rest for 30 minutes before the voltage and hence charge level can be correctly assessed. 

In vain I hunted for some piggyback connectors. Those I ordered I figured would not arrive today and yet they did. Thus I was lucky not to have paid through the nose for a second set. I'm determined to complete my USB power block installation today! 

Today's massive shopping expedition included two kinds of bracket to hold my USB power block in place, two colors of 12 awg cable, a can of liquid insulation and a can of paint. My blue piggyback connectors also arrived in the post. Thus, I'm all set for this project.

While I was in Walmart I saw a $10 faucet that would fit my handbasin. I didn't buy it because that's not a project due to be undertaken until winter. Winter has two projects or perhaps three. I need to put cold water plumbing in from a hose connection. That will feed to the cold of my faucet. The other project is to put in two 120v lines. One will go to the inside of my cupboard (if I really can fit a portable AC unit in there) and the other will go to under the handbasin where there will be an instant hot water heater. I had thought about plumbing from the heater to the shower but decided the easiest way is just to put an extra faucet under the sink with a connection to the hot water so that I can fill the cooler that i use with my shower pump. There's less construction involved.

On my return from the store, I'd disconnected the batteries from my charge controllers but the lights on one were flashing away. It seems it still puts solar power through. One of my fans was spinning lazily. Clearly I've got to put a solar disconnect in as well as a battery disconnect. Just think... when the aliens invade, they won't be able to pick me up because I can turn all of my electrical devices off. The only other thing I'll need is a tinfoil hat to stop them picking up my brainwaves. I believe they're sold alongside the August 21st 2017 USA Eclipse glasses.

The first thing I did was to put the pushbutton switch in place. That had to be shaved down on one side to make it fit. Now that is a Radio Shack switch and shame on Radio Shack, it isn't a standard spade connection. In fact, after trying it with midget-sized spade connectors, I can rule those out too. Radio Shack has just forced me to solder that connection though why, I don't know as it would have taken barely a fraction of a fraction of a fraction of a cent to make the tags big enough to offer the choice of solder or midget spade. 

Next came the delay. Looking at my brackets, they were shiny metal - possibly tin plated. That meant I had to use a self-etching primer before painting them. They're what's going to hold my box in place. I'll rivet them to the sides of the box and screw the box to a cross beam. I'll have to sit what I'm charging on top of the counter or perhaps on top of the microwave. I'm assuming that if I'm solar charging things then the microwave is packed away because I'm dry camping. 

The piggyback connectors are definitely the business. They make connecting my USB ports in parallel, a real breeze. I think I always underorder connectors. I've had to reorder several times. I seem to be on the right track. Since I'd got this far, I connected the unit to a battery and it worked well. Both USB chargers lit and the voltmeter lit. There was a heck of a crackle as I connected to the electricity but that's only to be expected. The switch currently is upside down and will have to be removed and rotated. That's a matter of seconds work at this stage though.
As can be seen, it's looking pretty good. The goal is to have solar charged USB devices. While I work in the bus, I can charge my phone or my tablet or my MiFi pad (should Straight Talk MiFi ever become a viable option again). I heartily wish somebody would produce a straightforward flip phone that could be turned into a hotspot. I don't want a clunky great big smartphone. I want something with decent battery life. 

That was pretty much it for the day. By the time I'd done all that, dusk was falling. That brings me to two questions people keep asking me:
1. Why is the bus taking so long? Simply because I have a life to live around doing it and I want to get things right.
2. Why are you spending so much time on the bus. The answer to that is more complicated. I need to get it done and done as quickly as I can. My mother never lived to see its completion and always considered it to be some kind of hobby anyway. My dad's not quite sure that it's not a hobby but I want to show him it's completed, titled as a motorhome and that I've used it for a trip or two. Concurrent with that, a friend who's on his last legs is going to Canada in a few weeks and will spend 3 months there, during which time I hope to be able to drive somewhere in my motorhome to meet him.

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

New math

I decided in the end to mount the USB and 12V connectors on the galley-driving compartment partition and to have solely the CPU fan in the bedroom. This makes connections a lot simpler though when I run my cables under the bus I might well add extras in case I change my mind later (a possibility).

Looking at my two Chinese connector panels, I removed 3 of the voltmeters and replaced two with Chinese USB connectors and one 12V connector. That should fit nicely on the aluminum box that'll soon be arriving.
Now the maths works out something like this. There are two 2.1A USB sockets plus two 5v 1.2A sockets. Add to that a 2.5A fan and two 0.5A fans. That all comes to 11.1A. The cigarette lighter socket is nominally rated at 12A and the documentation on my combination dual USB and cigarette lighter socket recommends a 14A fuse. That adds up to 23.1A. Add in the one piece unit I purchased the other day and we're up to 27.1A.
If you turn your head upside down, you'll notice my charge controller tops out at 20A. That doesn't overly worry me because I'm highly unlikely to have all the devices running at the same time. Having said that, there's a big case there for putting in a resettable breaker just to make sure I don't go over 20A. Of course I could spend a ton of money on buying a massive new charge controller but until my existing 5 charge controllers, each of which can handle 20A die then there's just zero point in bothering. I cannot possibly imagine any circumstances in which I would use such a massive amount of power.

My fuse array is set up for four fuses. Those will be fan 1, fan2, fan3 and sockets. The sockets need a 6.6v fuse for the USB, an unknown quantity for the voltage meter and something for the 12v socket. I only have two devices that run off a 12V socket and to be honest I do not know their amperage. One is a battery charger for AA batteries (it also runs off 120V) and the other is a 120v inverter that produces 200W. Neither of those, I actually use.

Thus, replacing the 12V cigarette lighter socket with another USB charger socket sounds much more practical. That'll have to be ordered but I think it'll work out far better value. That would take the total power from the USB cluster to 9.9A plus say 0.1A for the voltage meter or a 10A fuse. Combined with the fans totaling 3.5A, I'm now under the maximum limit of the charge controller.
Another issue is that my 4 fuse holders have no interconnection. It seems for that I need something called a piggyback spade connector. I went to one of the multitude of car spares shops. I think it was Advance Auto and could find no piggyback connectors. In the end I hunted online and found a pack of 3 for some awful price then Walmart had a pack of 25 for some ludicrous price. Finally, eBay had a pack of 25 for under $5 including shipping. Though it'll take a few days, they should be here next week. I hate all these delays in my plans.

As far as the other USB connector is concerned, I'll have to order it and wait - that's coming from China. Eventually I might use the dual connector I purchased the other day but not in the currrent iteration.

By the time I want a 12v cigarette lighter socket, I'll probably have upgraded my battery from 35AH and will probably have added extra power input. I did email somebody the other day that makes tiny gas engines for bicycles. They're quite inexpensive and at about 45cc would do well turning a car or motorbike alternation to develop power for a 12v battery independent of solar power. Solar is fine for a wide variety of things but the power produced while it will handle my small demands, won't handle much more. I certainly doubt all the online claims I've seen of being able to run air conditioning and fridges off solar.

Meanwhile, the subject of my mysterious battery drain came up at work and one old fellow that used to work as a bus mechanic then as a driver but who now works solely as an aide piped up saying that he would suspect the alternator. I tend to agree. Reading up on alternators online, it seems this kind of thing happens when the bridge rectifier built in begins to fail. There could be other reasons too but if I can get somebody to test the alternator then I might be closer to a solution. Otherwise I'll have to wait until I can get underneath the bus again.

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Choices, choice, choices

After an unexpectedly early release from work, I retreated to the bus cum motorhome to work. Work today was centered solely around deciding what to do with my accessory sockets. I have two kinds of accessory socket - the one I bought the other day that's self-contained and the pair I bought on eBay.
The unit on the left has a voltmeter and twin USB connections, one of USB 1.1 and one of USB 2.0. The one on the right has a cigarette lighter socket and two USB 2.0 connections. Interestingly, I discovered that drilled carefully with my 1.5 inch hole saw, a piece of 2x4 could readily house the unit on the left. Now that unit has the advantage in requiring only a 3.5A fuse and lighter wiring than the other unit. The other because of the 12v socket requires a 14A wire and fuse because the socket is rated at 12A. I really don't want nor need massive amperages in the bedroom nor do I actually have any great need for a 12v socket, in the bedroom.

As I already have the circulation fan functioning in the galley, It's a straightforward matter to put in a USB and power socket. That's the theory! The problem is finding that ideal site. Ideally, my 12V stuff  could run much of the same route as my circulation fan. The only problem, I glued the 12v fan wires in place and the higher amperage cable was better put through a conduit. With a conduit, putting the lighter wire through also made sense. Doing it this way also means a 12V and USB socket could be operational today.

Meanwhile, I looked at my extraction fan. I'd already noticed the T section end had a tendency to wobble about. While stationary, that's not a problem. In motion though I fear it could break the mounts for my extraction fan. That could prove expensive. Thus I resolved to add a bracket each side and to support it with a stout zip tie. The zip tie does not have to support any great weight, rather it has to dampen vibration. That should work quite well!

My requirement for fuses now includes 14A, 0.5A and 3.5A for my assorted sockets and fans. It would make sense when I mount the underbus battery to put an overly large fuse on it so that it will be protected absolutely in the case of a short circuit but then to have an overall fuse for it totaling the maximum amperage likely to be used so that I'm protected from drawing too much current. In the unlikely event too much current is drawn, the easily accessible fuse will blow while the underbus fuse will not.

I'm still awaiting two items from eBay. One is my timer for my fan at the back of the bus. Once that's in place I can set it to a 10 minute run time every hour and set the charge controller to work correctly rather than using it as a fan controller. The other is a remote camera I ordered. This apparently has remote pan and tilt controls and is accessible via wifi. A very useful gizmo to have! The problem is I don't think I'm going to receive it. Hours after I purchased it, eBay sent me a memo stating that the item had been deleted but not to worry as it should arrive soon and that if it didn't I should contact the resolution center.
Not only did they delete the item, they also deleted the seller. Thus, I have to wait for the item not to arrive before I get my refund which looks like being September. This is absolutely ridiculous and smacks to me of eBay being a shade dishonest. What they're actually saying is: "We've deleted the seller and we're going to hang onto your money until you can prove the seller never provided the goods". As far as I know, as soon as the seller was deleted, their account was killed off and they have no access to the data files as to where to send my stuff, assuming of course that it wasn't a scam in the first place.

Despite being insanely tired having been wide awake at 3am - a full two hours before my 5am alarm, I managed somehow during today's meeting to remain awake - something 12 others did not manage! Even more amazingly I managed actually to do something on the bus rather than just blogging about what I might do and studying things. I installed my extra zip tie support for my T section.
As it's possible to see, things are supported at the T end. The other end already has plenty damping and support. With luck that will mean there won't be any fractures taking place. In the unlikely event the thing does fall apart then I probably won't replace the bilge fan. I'll probably put Y adaptors on each of the vent tubes and put a pair of CPU fans of about 3 inches diameter onto each of the open legs of the Y. That should provide 2A of extraction fan that will run much quieter. My bilge fan is pretty loud!

Siting my 12V + USB power connector proved particularly challenging. As there was an overhang under the back of the unit that critters could theoretically use to hide, siting was limited. In the end, lateral thinking was used such that the unit was cockpit mounted. Having studied the other units carefully and found a 1.5" hole saw and a piece of 2x4 was all that was needed for a mount, it was decided that was how they were to be mounted. That raised my available USB sockets to 6 running from battery power. It had an unforeseen consequence that I will have to add extra fuses and an extra couple of fuse positions.

Well, that was my decision until I'd put connectors on the device and discovered that there just wasn't the available real estate amidst all my wiring etc to put my connector. That put the project on hold for today which given how tired I was, was probably a good thing. Mistakes are costly as the Vicar's wife discovered when she found her opponent was not bluffing and strip poker meant just that!

I am definitely feeling the lack of a Radio Shack type place in Lexington. There's just nowhere to browse electrical components for possible solutions to issues nor a place to buy electrical components. Lowes (hiss, spit) has a good 120v section but their low voltage and 12v section is pathetic. As for the car parts stores - they have most of it but the prices are outrageous.

Having discovered I can just drill holes in a block of wood to mount my USB connectors and volt meters, I might just do that. Have twin USB connectors with a voltmeter. Having said that though, more USB charging ports is definitely better. That raises the amperage to 6.6A for a dual dual. That's definitely something I could mount on the partition between driving compartment and galley. On the other hand, with Chinese stuff it might be better to mount it in a non-flammable steel box just in case of fire. Something to think about tonight!

Monday, August 7, 2017

''Twas a bright and sunny day

And I skipped off happily to work for it was the beginning of the school bus driving season and I did not have to heft palates and boxes for the maintainence people any longer. Today was a simple course on handling difficult children.

So, having elected to go home rather than do extra work for maintainence, I drove to Walmart to get my photos for the retitling process. Let's just say that Walmart would not have to do any worse with their photo quality! Still, it's reasonably recognizable and will do for retitling. It doesn't have to be perfectly printed though those that saw the images commented how bad the pictures were, meaning the prints. Needless to say, on the way, I picked up a rather fetching 1/4 inch screw and listened to it going tappety tap as I drove to Walmart. Fortunately they had a tyre repairman so while he set to work, I went shopping.

Thinking exclusively about retitling, I bought some purple paint to put on the old fridge that came from the original conversion. It's a nasty little fridge and I certainly wouldn't like to put food in it having not known whether it has been used to store turds or used as a rat's nest. I suspect the latter for there was plenty sign of rat activity in the original conversion.

Walmart also had a USB and 12v socket which looked ideal to put in the bedroom area. The truth is I really would have preferred solely USB but I have a 12v voltmeter plugin that's currently at the front of the bus but which could be used quite happily in the cigarette lighter socket. Yes, I do know they're called accessory sockets these days but I'm on old codger who was brought up with it being solely the cigarette lighter socket or in fact the colloquial term in Britain was the fag lighter socket. That was an era when smoke free zones were an oddity and an adult that didn't smoke was viewed with suspicion.
So, I bought my cigarette lighter and USB socket. If you remember, I bought some on eBay that were panel mounted. That would be nice but I wasn't prepared since my plans changed to buy a box to panel mount them onto. I could have but for the price various sellers wanted, it was cheaper just to buy a USB/cigarette lighter socket ready to mount.

While I was out I also got some purple paint that doesn't really match the color of my kitchen but it's pretty close. Looking at the sky, it was bright and sunny so I sprayed the fridge on each side, the top and the back, purple. Now it looks much more the part.. Having said that, brand new that fridge is $60 in Walmart right now. I didn't buy one but it was a pretty close thing!

 The end result looked pretty decent. As soon as the paint was mostly dry though, down came the rain. Fortunately that fridge only has to look good. It doesn't have to be used. When it's dry, I'll probably give it a thorough wipe out inside with Clorox and then spray the exposed working areas with Raid to kill any remaining critters.

While in Walmart I saw another thing that would add to the credibility of my motorhome conversion, namely a $30 microwave. I've only ever seen them at that price once before. Needless to say, one made it home. It's a no name brand and is 700W so cooking anything will take forever. I have experience of a Rival microwave. That cost me $50 and after 2 years light use was pretty well rested to bits. I expect no less of this one but it cost me only 3/5 of the price!

The goal is to prove beyond reasonable doubt that I can cook, bathe, sleep and live in my motorhome. That should mean retitling is pretty straightforward. There are already plenty facilities. All I have to do is to say I left my generator at home or just borrow a Harbor Freight generator. They might comment on the lack of hot water or the lack of a water inlet but I have workarounds for both. Pretty much the same goes for the toilet. Dry toilets are fine. I'd love a cassette toilet that could be plumbed in as needed. I don't think cassette toilets have become popular in America unlike in Europe where cassette toilets rule.

I had another go with the pretty average cleaner. I set it to go on the floor in the cockpit and it didn't seem to do too much to paint that had dripped on the rubber floor. That was pretty much to be expected - the easy jobs, it does reasonably well. The more challenging jobs that it would be awesome if it did, it won't touch.

While in Walmart I had a look at the lanterns. I see GE now has a slightly bigger and more powerful LED lantern that has a metal loop as opposed to the crappy plastic loop that broke on me. Nice but I already have more than enough underpowered lanterns. There was one lantern with adequate power (well, close enough to adequate to call adequate) it was 1,000 lumens. I'd say "adequate" was the same as a 100W light bulb or 1,200 lumens. Below that and you're just groping around in the dark like a savage. I can see how many divorces must start when two couples go camping and kiss under the light of a (popular) 200 lumen lantern where the husband kisses his wife and finds out that it's the other woman's husband. No, seriously - the vast majority of those LED lanterns really are no better than putting a glow fly in a glass jar!

As many of you know, I have a Walmart Straight Talk MiFi pad. I love it because it means I can access the internet from my tablet while sitting in my bus. As I have a somewhat tedious meeting to attend tomorrow I thought I'd put money on my MiFi pad only to find I can't get into the account. Looking at the Walmart site, it seems these MiFi pads have become a real rip off now. I can pay $40 for 4GB of data or $15 for 1GB. If I had a Straight Talk phone then I could get 8GB for $45. The problem is I don't ever need that much data. I never used 5GB when I had a straight talk phone. I'm going to say that Walmart has become too expensive. At $45 for 8GB, $15 should get me at least 2GB. But I think they're secretly trying to coerce people into dropping MiFi in favor of their pricy cellphone plans and their pricey cellphones. When I had a smartphone, I used it often as a MiFi pad. I just don't need that much data. When I used my MiFi pad daily, I barely used 4GB in two months!

Indeed, as those familiar with my progress know, I dumped smartphones because they don't last very long and are ridiculously expensive. Soon, I reaped the financial rewards of using a flip phone to the tune of paying a third of what I had been. Last month proved me so right since out of my 300 allotted minutes I used just one. Since I dumped smartphones and went flip phone I reckon I've saved $300. By not buying a new smartphone (my old one was $300) I think I must be into $600 savings by now.

Wifi is nice to have but as several of my friends have noticed, public wifi is so widespread that it's possible to be online in many areas without even purchasing a connection. In the old days, I'd write my emails and make a connection every other day to upload them. I believe the reason people are so much in debt is because they're addicted to the little, expensive,  valueless things like having your own connection available 24x7. Freedom is so nice. Maybe I should name my bus, Freedom?