to simplify 2.0    notes from the open road

Tuesday, March 28, 2017


I bet the list of Vanagon owners who have to switch into panamoric mode just to fit their entire solar array in one photo is a short one.

That's 100 new watts of the good stuff at right in the above picture, bringing the spaceship's total to a respectable 355. So that's one thing I've been up to since the last update. It's been a very busy couple of weeks with music work, but in addition to the above, I've managed to knock out some other key improvements in between bouts with those pesky little black dots.

Such as...

...a brand new 250 amp hour house battery to replace the previous four year old one. No, four years isn't such a great lifespan for an AGM battery, but I guess it's not terrible either. Anyway, I blame my two plus years of daily induction cooktop use. Live and learn.

And clearly, I did not plan very well for this sort of thing when building my cabinets. At least, I'm pretty sure there aren't any pro van conversions out there that require an engine hoist to swap a battery. At 160 pounds though, lifting one of these babies up and out of that center enclosure was simply not an option for this scrawny nomad. Enter the immortal hoist, and another seriously cool tool saved the day.

Speaking of cool tools, the 3D printer has been getting a decent workout around here lately. We turned a huge but super quiet CPU fan into a magnetic upstairs window fan (the plastic borders securing the protective screen were 3D printed):  

Yeah, it's a funky looking fan, but I think it suits the homegrown vibe of the spaceship's decor. It's pretty cool being able to sketch out a simple design...

...and an hour or so later have just the right part for the task at hand. Like these snappy bits that now secure my keyboard cover in place way better than before:

Still more to come...

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Brakes & Stereo

Leisurely yet productive days of late, parked out back in the "repair bay" for easy access to all the tools. New brake shoes, along with various springs and other bits that make up the Vanagon's rear brake system are now in, but unfortunately, it didn't occur to me to get a photo of the end result while I was in there. If you look closely though, you should be able to see the warm glow that can only come from fresh brake parts.

The spaceship's stereo installation has also taken various twist and turns over the past couple of weeks, as I've put about a half dozen different amplifiers to the test before finally settling on the one that was right for the job. Then I decided to install an additional pair of speakers in the front door panels, followed by a pre-amp to boost the signal a bit and also offer some basic EQ options.

That's the slightly blingy pre-amp underneath the keyboard above. The actual amplifier is hidden under the desk with the rest of the van's electrical guts. And note the snappy additions to the DC Panel of Modern Wonders – a new rocker switch to toggle the whole system on and off (second from the bottom), and a retractable mini aux in stereo cable to easily connect my phone, laptop, or tablet. 

With four speakers pumping out music now, I'm literally bathing in stereo wonderland, and it sounds particularly great from the comfort of the new passenger swivel seat. Like the new news, this is yet another upgrade I should've made a long time ago.

More to come...

Thursday, February 23, 2017


With the total number of beauty contests won by the spaceship's 29 year old front seats holding steady at zero, and with $1500 burning a hole in my pocket now that the transmission doesn't need a rebuild, I decided to pull the trigger on these babies:

I scored this pair of practically new seats on eBay for under $300 shipped, but since they came out of a 2015 Dodge Caravan, I really had no idea how I was going to make them fit until they arrived. That's either confidence or stupidity – such a fine line. Anyway, another fun project was born...

Since the rails on the new seats didn't line up with those on the spaceship, Q and I put our heads together and came up with a couple of nice, beefy 1/4" thick steel adapter plates – in fits and starts over several days thanks to the biblical rain that has nagged LA over the past week. 

We finally got a window in the weather to do a test run the other day, and let's just say they nap pretty good. Important.

With the return of sunshine and blue skies today, I was able to give the adapter plates a paint job and then complete the final installation. What a huge improvement over the stock seats. I shoulda done this one a long time ago...

Stay tuned for more fun as this latest LA pit stop continues.