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Archive for April, 2017

Baby steps to the grocery store

April 30th, 2017 at 09:52 am

As I near closer and closer to my build completion, I decided to make my first trip outside my driveway, and to the local 24 hour grocery store.

The temperature here was atrocious, peaking at 90F today. Being in the car was very uncomfortable during the day, and I felt like a vehicular vampire, hissing and avoiding direct sunlight wherever possible.

However, as the sun set, things started to improve. I fell asleep around 8pm in my car, mostly from boredom, and slept until around 3am. I had to pee, so I went inside the grocery store, used their restroom, and bought some essential items on my way out.

This being my first time out made me hyper-aware of my surrounding. I watched the employees and other shoppers outside to see if they noticed me before exiting the car. I am sure nobody noticed, and even if they did, I could they would even care. Still, I just couldn't shake that feeling of paranoia. First time jitters perhaps.

Technically speaking, everything worked out well. I still have a few things to iron out, but I need to consider taking that road trip as soon as I can, as the heat is starting to get atrocious.

Finally, I learned that beef jerky is a bad idea because, aside from being pricey, they are also very salty, and that causes me to drink quite a bit of water, which makes me have to pee more often, which is inconvenient. I have to cut down salty foods in general.

Lights done!

April 28th, 2017 at 01:53 am

Earlier, I showed a picture of the Christmas lights I wanted to put up in the car. The picture was a hasty mockup to see how it would look, and to make sure that it would even work at all. It worked fabulously, so after ironing out the details, I just finished installing them.

You see, I also had this slightly nutty idea. I said to myself, "Self, this may be the only chance you have to add some color and texture to your otherwise drab and monolithic build. The solid black color choices so far were necessary to help provide stealth, but what about the rooftop area? Nobody is going to see that, right?"

Since I'm already in the process of hanging up the Christmas lights, I figure I might as well hang up some flowers at the same time. So, here's the result:



I must say I really love how it turned out. The two strings of fake flowers were bought at a local art store, and they were one of several available for 50% off.

The tough part was finding a way to attach everything. Long story short, I had to special order these metal wire cubicle push pins off of Amazon. They seem to be working well though.

Here's a bonus picture from the outside, showing that it's not completely stealthy, but then, that's also without my privacy panels up.



I'm also glad that this part is done because, before having the lights hung up, it was annoyingly scraping against my forehead everytime I got into the car. It also made me paranoid that I would accidentally snag it on one of my limbs and break it. Now they are finally out of the way.

While this build is by no means finished, and is going to be an evolving work in progress, I am getting to a point where I can actually roll out soon! I have to say, it's kind of exciting.

Aziz, lights!

April 24th, 2017 at 01:41 pm

Just thought you guys might be interested in my current experimentation with LED Christmas lights in the car. Having it actually serves a few purposes. First, I love Christmas lights. I think it makes any room look warmer and more pleasant. Second, it serves the practical purpose of room lighting. Yes, the car has its own lights, but only at the front of the car. Last but not least, it doubles as a clear visual indicator that the inverter power is on (or still on). It does all this without getting in the way, and draws very little power at all.



Trust me, it looks warmer and prettier in person than what the picture depicts. Still though, it does feel like something is missing. I would eventually like to try adding some fake ivy and white drapes or some such. In fact, I'm open for suggestions here. However, these are all purely aesthetic considerations that will have to wait until I iron out more pressing issues first.

While I was there, I decided to take another picture of my "laundry room", to help you guys visualize what I am working with:



As you can see, while the trash can doesn't have to be there, it helps to hold the cooler in place so that it doesn't fly into the back of my seat in case of a hard brake.

Speaking of which, I was also going to use the top of the cooler as kind of a small kitchen counter top. However, I also realized that, in the event of a spill, stuff would easily roll off the cooler lid and down the battery area. That would be bad. So, I started to look for a solution of some kind, and decided to try a baking pan.

A baking pan is great because it is very sturdy, can withstand heat, and in the event of an accident, will not shatter or break, resulting in sharp edges.

However, and much to my horror, I later realized that my baking pan was also highly magnetic. That means it may be affected by my induction plate. I double checked online, and the great and powerful Internet proclaimed that just because something is magnetic, does not necessarily mean it would be a problem. It depends. So, I will have to test the induction plate on the pan later, to be certain.

EDIT:

Ok I was paranoid about the prospect of a heating disaster with the baking pan, so I decided to go ahead and test it out right away. Besides, spam and eggs sounded good anyways.



First, I want to state that this is my first time cooking inside the car, simulating a real cooking experience once I am on the road. I have to say, this was a very cramped experience. I can not straighten my head up while doing this. Also, I thought it was amusing that I forgot the spatula and had to walk back inside the house to get it. Also forgot knife, spork, and garlic salt.... Could really use a small cutting board as well.

Oh, but the most important thing is that, NOPE, there was no heat issues at all from the baking pan! This is terrific news. Also, this makes it more interesting and useful as I can mount magnetic objects to the pan.

Anyways, I hope you guys have a nice Monday.

I'm overbooked

April 21st, 2017 at 06:01 am

Ok, so this project... slowly but surely, it is moving along. However, as it moves along, I am ending up with less and less space to work with. All the floor space I have left for all my clothes and also my dirty laundry is literally the size of a tall kitchen trash bin. Yeah.

It reminds me of that amazing scene from the movie Apollo 13, where the chief engineer guy says, "Ok, the boys from upstairs have handed us this one, and we have got to come through. Basically, we have to make this... fit this... using nothing but that." That's how I am feeling right now as I work on this.



Lucky for me, laundry is very pliable, and especially if I am just carrying summerwear, I am sure something can be worked out. Winter will be much tougher, but I have a bit more time to work on that later.

So, as I write this, I am asking for any suggestions you guys may have. Picture a regular, plastic kitchen trash bin. Then picture 2 weeks worth of shirts, shorts, socks, and underwear that has to somehow fit in there, along with space for dirty laundry. How would you go about it? They don't have to be neatly folded or anything, but I obviously would like to separate the dirty stuff from the clean stuff somehow. Also, a bit of organization would be nice too. What do you think?

Baby steps out the garage

April 16th, 2017 at 01:50 pm

First and foremost, Happy Easter everyone!

Last night was the first night I spent outside the garage, sleeping in my camper car. Everything is still a work in progress, but I had enough done that I felt like I could try it outside.

I don't have much report because things are sort of slowing down from trying to iron out all the details. A lot of this is still trial and error, and what I don't blog about are the stuff that I have tried but ended up not working. I don't want to bore you guys with these kinds of details, but this is pretty evident to me as the garage is starting to pile up with scraps and other clutter. Once this is all done, I'll have to clean out the garage.

A design improvement for the window panels just popped into my head. That's going to be my third time completely re-doing those windows. Bah. Hopefully, third time's a charm.

However, I did finish wiring the inverter, although I may re-do the fuse box as well, to make super sure that is done properly. Bah.

I learned that the hard way that cutting your own electrical wiring is best left to the pros or hard core wire-heads. Apparently, flux compound is like super toxic, and a proper job requires a blow torch and soldering, especially on low gauge wires. You also need heavy duty cutters and crimpers the size of two-handed bolt cutters. Wow. Thank goodness people sell pre-made stuff.

So anyways, sleeping outside for the first time was an interesting experience. It was certainly one thing to build the car based on how I think it can work, but it was decidedly another to actually go through the motions and work it.... For example, there is a certain order I have to do things, based on where I have space and where I am currently positioned. Everything feels kind of like a yoga exercise. Ah, if you only you can see how I struggle just to get a little bit of water. Actually, please don't. You don't want to see that sad visual. Let's just... move on.

Another interesting observation is that it is super easy to hear every little thing from the outside. Separately, I use a highly recommended fan for RVs, but these things are surprisingly loud. To compensate for both, I tried sleeping with ear plugs, and that worked out really well, although I dropped one somewhere and will need to find it later.

The engine idling up once in a while is an interesting experience, where for a split second, you think the car is about to roll off.

Before falling asleep, I also felt paranoid about people coming up to the car to see what's going on. I don't know why, but I kept peeking through the cracks in the window.

However, when I finally woke up to the neighbor's lawn mower, I realized that-- all-in-all-- this crazy one man slumber party wasn't too terrible.

Last but not least, I did notice that when I woke up, I didn't know what to do with myself. Haha. Everything was out of place. I hadn't given much thought about how much I was auto-piloting through a certain routine when I woke up every day. I guess I need to get used to a new one.

Chasing weather

April 11th, 2017 at 11:24 pm

Uh, I still need to hammer out the final details with my water jug issue, but I think the my best course of action is to just encase the whole thing in a relatively tall plastic trash can. A clean one naturally. I mean they're just large waterproof bins basically. So, I am hoping to have this solved by tonight.

In the meantime, PatientSaver asked this seemingly simple and perfectly reasonable question, "But why do you want to live out in the woods on your own for few weeks at a time?"

I am kind of jumping ahead here, but basically, there are practical and spiritual reasons to do this. It starts out with my personal enemy #1, and that is the nasty, humid Southern heat. Anyone who has had to get into their car after it has been baking in the summer sun knows just how woefully inadequate vehicle air-conditioners can be. There are even times when you are better off rolling down all the windows and just start driving.

Now, imagine trying to stay cool inside that. There are animals and even infants that have been cooked alive this way.

This is also why the phenomenon of snowbirding even exists to begin with. When you are mobile, you might as well just get up and go somewhere cooler.

However, as someone who is more of a penny pincher than one stricken with wanderlust, I just don't see too much value in wasting gas, traveling up and down the eastern seaboard, just to "cool off".

Still, I need to figure out something, and after some internet research and even testing out some ideas, here is what I have figured out so far. Oh, and feel free to jump in anytime and share some ideas if you have any. Believe me, I'm all ears.

Ok, first of all, let me state that I live in Raleigh, NC. This is where my family is, this is where I will be during the colder months of the year, and this is also where I will return to, say, every other week to get my laundry done, check my mail, catch up with the family, etc.

To give you an idea of the weather here, today's temperature is roughly in the low 80s F. It's not considered "hot", but the interior of any car always ends up hotter than the ambient temperature.

To beat the heat, the best place I've found to park in is in a mall parking deck. I am not only almost entirely out of the sun, but I also have easy access to public bathrooms and the food court.

The downside is that malls are only open until 9pm. After that, I can head to my 24 hour gym, where I can shower when I am on the road. Plus, I need to work out anyways.

There are other places I can go to as well, depending on what I want to get done at that moment, such as 24 hour grocery stores, 24 hour Walmart, and truck stops.

So that's a concise example of what my future daily routine may look like.

However, as summer rolls up and the heat intensifies, even parking decks may not be enough. When that happens, I will need to consider snowbirding to somewhere cooler.

But where? This is when I started looking up annual temperatures and precipitation charts in my state.

Here's the mean temperature in July:



Here's the normal precipitation chart (suggesting higher likelihood of rain that should further reduce the heat).



All of them point to the western edge of North Carolina. I pulled up Google Maps to double check what's over there, and lo and behold, it's the Appalachian mountains. Well, more specifically the Blue Ridge highlands. Anyways, point is, it's a vast stretch of cool, shady, national forest land.

I haven't been in that area much, except for the town of Asheville. For those that may not know, this is also the place where one of the richest family in America, the Vanderbilts, decided to build their super McMansion. From what I understand, this Cornelius guy from way back could have built it anywhere, but after hiring a professional surveyor years to find that perfect spot, he came back with the answer: Asheville.

This is significant in part because there were no air conditioners back then. In fact, even indoor bathrooms and plumbing was cutting edge, if not unheard of. Long story short, the climate had to be naturally pleasant for as much of the time as possible.

Today, Asheville is also a bit of a tourist trap, so I don't intend to stay too close or for too long even though it's a nice area. Rather, I've scouted places that are deeper into the national forests, where I have been given permission to overnight at their Walmarts, to having available 24 hour gyms there.

But this isn't just about me trying to beat the heat. I've always fantasized about living a bit closer to nature. How great would it be to wake up, turn on a small kettle for a warm tea, and open the doors to a national forest? Despite doing some prelimary research, I am still not certain exactly whatI will find there. However, that's all part of the adventure, right?

Also, let's not forget that this is aimed towards me not having to own a house, so that I can drastically lower my monthly bills. So yeah, that's the plan and, crossing my fingers, I hope it all pans out.

Liquid segue

April 11th, 2017 at 04:58 am

I see many of you express concern and caution about messing with the electricals. I agree. However, having gotten this far-- and even have it working-- I would like to see this through. All that's left now is to make it safe to operate, so I've ordered a battery monitor, ground wire, and a fuse box.

Oh and I forgot to mention another benefit to all this. I know I've been focusing on just the induction plate, but what I am really doing is installing an electrical outlet. Done right, this can be really handy for all kinds of things.

But anyways, as I await for the parts to arrive and complete the electricals, today I tried to tackle something else, which is my desire to carry some drinking water with me. After some research, and realizing how much water can weigh, I've decided to compromise with a 3 gallon jug that I can refill at Walmart.



I also need to keep this thing as far away from the batteries and wires as possible, and the very back of the car seems like the perfect space for it. The only problem is that I am not sure how to strap it down so it doesn't tumble and spill everywhere in the event I do a hard brake.

Anyways, that's what I've been looking at today, and am hoping to figure something out.

Cooking eggs (part 2)

April 10th, 2017 at 05:33 am

Uh, induction cooking. Wow, where do I begin? I am going to jot down as much technical information as I can recall for reference and future use. I've spent days just trying to decipher and understand all this, and I still feel hazy about it. Feel free to double check me, and let know if you see something doesn't look right. After that, I'll share what I have learned so far by trying to cook an egg. (You can jump to the next sections, marked as [INSTALLATION] or [TESTING] if you want to skip this part.)

Oh yeah, I chose cooking an egg as a way to test things, in part because it's a cheap and easy way to see roughly how well something like this works... and because I like eggs and know it's something I would like to actually be able to do.

[SPECS]

* Ok, so the Prius gas engine sometimes self-idles to supply power to its electrical counterpart, the High Voltage Battery Pack (HV for short).

* The HV pack, in turn, provides power to the conventional 12 volt car battery, which provides the power to the car instrumentation and systems like any other conventional car.

* I think the HV pack supplies something like 100 or 110v, making it ideal to power the induction plate. However, everything I've read so far suggests that I should stick to the 12v battery instead. Less question marks, and really, no documentation on how I would even go about hooking up anything to the HV pack.

* Ok, so after some research, I read that one should definitely not try to draw 100 amps from a 12v. Separately, another Prius owner with an inverter has pushed as far as 75 amps, but stating that is pretty much the limit as he started to pop a fuse.

* The lowest wattage setting available on an induction plate is 600w. That means that it should only draw about 50 amps at a time, so this should work.

* The medium wattage setting is 900w, and that's when it requires 75 amp draw, and therefore should be avoided at all cost.

* I should still turn pretty much everything off when running the induction cooker, just to be on the safe side.

* However, the Prius should be left on at READY to help keep power supplied throughout its batteries. I also read that most 12v batteries should have a 45 to 50 Amp Hour capacity, and I highly doubt that I would ever need more than say 10 to 15 minutes anyway to cook anything. Nevertheless, it's wisest to keep the running of the induction plate as short as possible.

* I am using a 1000 watt pure sine wave inverter, with a peak of 2000 watts, to power the DC/AC conversion. This should be adequate for a 600 watt setting. It might even be OK for the 900 watt setting, although that would be pushing it, and I intend to stick with 600 watts anyway.

* As for peak power, I've seen other videos and sources showing that, during startup peak, the induction plate barely registered 1 watt for a second on a Kill-o-watt, so startup peak is definitely not an issue here.

* The inverter's user manual only recommends a battery draw of only 50AH from a 12v, so this pretty much pins me down to only 600 watts anyway.

* My inverter's user manual also recommends to ground the unit, but does not specify how or provide the wiring for it. I will have to look into how to do so very soon.

* The user manual on the NuWave Precision compact induction plate mentions that both the low setting (at 100 degrees F) and the low/med setting (at 175 degrees F) are rated at 600 watts, so these will be the only two settings I will use. The induction plate also has a setting button that explicitly sets the plate to only 600 watts, which is a good thing.

So, on paper, this should work. This also explains how David has managed to pull this off in the first place. Ok, so on to the second part and actually trying to piece all of this together.

[INSTALLATION]

Ok, so this is supposely an easy job. First, I am already fortunate enough to have the car battery be conveniently located in the rear passenger side seating, rather than under the car's hood like most other cars. Also, it's already exposed for use due to me having to build a bed, so, even easier.

However, my first hurdle was when I realized that the Prius does not actually use a normal 12v car battery. Apparently, it uses a smaller, custom glass mat battery all to its own. Consequently, the terminal post for the positive (red) end is a bit too big for the inverter's wire hole to fit. However, after double and triple checking that there is indeed metal contact from the side screw on the positive end, I decided to try screwing it there instead.



Doing so was rather scary to me, because every metallic contact I accidentally made, including from my ratchet tool to say the safety cage, would spark. I paused to check the internet yet again to make sure I am not going to screw this up or electrocute myself... and to find out why it's sparking so much. Apparently, I was suppose to work on the positive (red) end first. Then the negative (black) end. I only did the negative (black) end first because it was harder to reach but the wire hole fitted easily. Lesson learned.

Funny story, but at this point, my mom called me on my cellphone, asking me if I wanted something for dinner. The cellphone buzzing freaked me out for a second, thinking I just got electrocuted haha. Wow, it made me think I really should not be messing with any of this, but I was in too deep and wanted to see this through.

Finally, I got the inverter wired up, and very slowly and carefully, I powered up my car, then, I powered up the inverter, then I plugged in the induction plate, and well, next thing you know I am this crazy man sitting out in the drive way, cooking eggs out of a car....

[TESTING]

Oh, before that, I did test the induction plate plugged into a regular receptacle and cook an egg there first, just to have a baseline as to what to expect under normal conditions. It was not scientific by any means, but I say the egg cooked in roughly 2 minutes under 600 watts.



Armed with this knowledge, I then cooked a second egg using the car and the inverter. This time, it cooked even faster, presumably because the pan was already warm from the first time. It basically worked like a charm. Nothing strange that I can tell happened. No strange fumes or smoke. Nothing sparking, failing, or dying. The engine didn't even cut on. I just sat there, silently, watching an egg getting cooked.



Another observation I would like to add is that the induction plate has a safety feature where if it doesn't detect the pan or pot in contact with it, it would turn itself off. Because of this, I can't pick up the pan to tilt it or flip the egg like I normally would with a regular stove. Well, to be exact, I think there is like maybe 5 seconds delay before the plate would cut off. I haven't counted, but the point is, the pot or pan should be left on the plate at all times. Unable to pick up the pan, I did the best I can to flip the egg, but it didn't work, so I was like OK scrambled it is.



About an hour later, I checked back on the plate, the inverter, and my car in general. I was paranoid and wanted to see if anything looked or smelled off. Luckily, nothing seems to be amiss. So far so good!

Cooking eggs (part 1)

April 10th, 2017 at 12:18 am

My final major hurdle in the car project is my desire to build some kind of simple kitchenette. My goal is to almost never eat out unless I actually want to, and not because there is no way for me to cook. Plus, if I cook it, I know what I am putting into that food, and it will be cleaner and healthier than, say, ordering a fast food burger, have them cough into it, or drop it, pick it back up, brush it off, and give it to me without me knowing. It can save more money too.

The problem is, the more I looked into this, the less simple it looked. When it comes to cooking in a car, there are 3 basic options. All of them have their pros and cons.



1. Heating Element - Basically they look like these tool boxes but are really a small, enclosed heating space the size of a small loaf bread pan. Using a heating element

1a. Pros - It's dirt simple. Just put your meal in a bread pan, put that in the lunchbox, plug it into the cigarette lighter, and wait until heated to desired warmth.

1b. Cons - It takes a long time (20-30 mins) to heat foods. It will only heat up so much. And actually, I found out that these things draw 12 amps, which is 2 more than than what is available from typical sedan 12v cigarette receptacles. Meaning, it's only a matter of time before it trips a fuse or three. The alternative is to strap it directly to the car battery, but if I must do that, I might as do it for a more ideal cooking method, listed later. Also, space is limited compared to the others.

1c. Verdict - I decided to use this method as my last resort if all else fails.



2. Propane - Using some kind of propane cooker is what Bob (founder of CheapRVLiving and RTR) and many others use.

2a. Pros - Propane (or even butane) is cheap enough, will generate enough heat to cook just about anything, and using just about any cookery. Bonus is that a small Coleman propane tank shown in the pic above can also be used to power Mr. Buddy heaters during winter. It's also a fairly simple system to implement.

2b. Cons - Propane itself is a harmful gas in enclosed space, is a fire hazard where the entire car can theoretically catch on fire. Even if it is used safely, gas cookers can generate a lot of heat during use. Remember how heat is my enemy #1? Also, as a fire hazard, it can not be used indoors, and as an outdoor-only cooking method, it is also at the mercy of Mother Nature.

2c. Verdict - Bob (founder of CheapRVLiving and RTR) and many others insist that this method will work just fine, but even if it works perfectly, it's still going to generate a lot of heat that I am trying to avoid. I would also prefer to be able to cook in my tiny car, which I realize is asking for even more, on top of an already challenging build.



3. Induction plate - Finally we come to a very interesting option, which is the efficient use of an electromagnetic field that is converted to heat when it comes into close contact with an iron-rich pan or pot.

3a. Pros - Induction cooking is very energy efficient, enough so that it can even be powered by a 12v car battery at low heat settings. However, this should not be understimated as the heating is also super fast. Like, microwave fast. About 2 minutes or less and temps can reach upwards of around 100F to 175F. All without actually generating heat on its own (though the pot or pan will be very hot of course). Unlike propane or butane, the lack of any gas source means it can be used safely indoors. It's amazing, honestly.

3b. Cons - It's also, by far, he most difficult route to take. It means I need to be very aware of what the electrical systems and specs of every component in the entire chain, not just ensure that it can work at all, but that it can work safely. I can't just take one guy's word for it. Since I also have to assemble my own system, I have to know exactly what I am working with. Sadly, it's also the most expensive option in terms of upfront cost.
Also, I am concerned that this much wattage could accelerate the wear and tear on my car's battery systems.

3c. Verdict - It's by far the hardest route to take, but if it works, it could also be among the safest, most efficient, and most effective method to cook food. I just have to try it.

So, that's what I did. I ordered the induction cooker and some related components (such as a pure sine wave inverter) and gave it a shot, which I will detail in my next entry.

Sharing the parking lot with geese

April 4th, 2017 at 09:26 pm

Ok, I'm still here, I still sleep in my car every day, and it's starting to feel a bit more comfortable so that's good. And yes, I'm still working on the car.

The past couple of days had been rainy so I couldn't quite continue with the next step, which is basically to spray paint the reflectix window panels. That was fine I guess since I needed more time to work on other details of this project.

Today, however, the weather is bright and sunny, even unusually hot at up to 85F. So I decided that it is a good day to get out there and basically see how well the whole setup work, even though I am not finished with it yet. Once again, heat is my #1 enemy, so I wanted to see what it felt like with me in it for an extended period of time.

I also added a couple of trash cans to work out where the trash and the dirty laundry would go. I don't have lids for these bins, but I am not sure how badly it may smell. If it's bad, I'll have to either build some kind of air tight lid, or find containers that have this feature.

Also, the window screens that I worked so hard on might not work. Amazingly, the military grade duct tape I used doesn't seem to stick to fiberglass mesh. Color me surprised, but yeah, there are whole strips that are just flailing in the wind here. I do have an alternate method I may try, but I also want to think some more on this. We shall see.

Finally, I accidentally broke the flexi-arm clamp that is currently holding up my smartphone. The clamp itself is plastic so it wasn't very strong to begin with. Will have to figure out another solution for this as well, or at least a replacement....

So yeah, here I am, parked under the shade, blogging and just hanging out with the parking lot geese.



But you know what? It's oddly relaxing.

My next major upgrade

April 1st, 2017 at 05:50 pm

Ok, so my current car is indeed too tiny, so I've started to look around for options. That's when I found this magnificent camper top:



Unfortunately, it may be a bit out of my price range. So, inspired by Chris from PriusOuthouse, I may follow his design and build this instead:



I understand the interior is a bit on the drab and simplistic side, but it will have to work:



While I'm here, I've been thinking about car security (and companionship), and while dogs make wonderful travel companions that can also double as your car's security system, I have a soft spot for kitties too. Some don't think they make great car security, but I am not so sure: