RETROpods Away!

Today I got busy and fabricated my other three RETROpods.

These are custom aluminum and acrylic speaker enclosures that resemble torpedoes.

The “bullet” style speaker cans are sold for wakeboard towers on ski boats. They’re made for 6-inch speakers but my Sony Marine 2-Way speakers didn’t fit the hole pattern. So I had to get four red adapter rings cut at TAP Plastics in Tigard months ago. Above, you can see I placed a can in a mixing bowl for stability while I worked on it.

The process goes like this: I align a red ring on the can’s lip and tape it in place with Frog Tape. Using a safety pin, I reach inside, find the four screw holes I want and then scratch their location on the ring from the bottom up. Then I drill out those holes and countersink them to keep the screw heads flat.

Next I align a speaker on the ring and make sure the Sony logo faces the right way. Then I mark the mounting holes simply by spinning a screw hard enough to scratch the plastic.

Now I can drill out the mounting holes. Note how they’re offset by 45° from the first set of holes. The plastic ring is has a 1-inch lip, compared to the can’s original 3/4-inch lip. This gives the speaker enough lip to mount on. And it will also look better, using the RETROvan’s color scheme of red, white and black.

Next I made an 18-inch section of 16 AWG marine-grade wire with heat-shrink spade connectors. I threaded the cable through the center hole and then screwed the heavy aluminum mounting bracket in place from the inside of the can.

And lastly, I screwed the speaker in place with the four screws it came with. I used a power drill only long enough to tap my new holes and make sure they were coerced back into alignment where necessary. The rest was hand-tightened so as not to stress any plastic.

And here’s the result. After snapping the screw covers into place, this RETROpad is ready to hang in one of the back corners using two bolts coming down through aft ceiling panel T7. I’ll wait to do that until Steven gets here next week, since that’s a two-man job.

Warming the Nest

George Morlan Plumbing in Tigard came through today. I took my water tank in and showed them what I needed. It took some digging but Tim found the exact three fittings I needed. They were the last ones in stock and the total came to a whopping $4.68. The parts include two barbed elbows and one plug. I drilled a small hole in the plug to form a vent. That vent will keep the water tank at an equalized pressure when filling or draining.

I returned my disappointing First Alert CO and Smoke Detector to Amazon because of its cheap build quality. I also returned a slew of unused parts to Home Depot and I got enough store credit to buy this for $119:

This second-generation Nest Protect device not only looks better, it will send alerts to my iPhone even if I’m not in the RETROvan. It monitors for smoke and carbon monoxide solely on ten-year batteries, and it’s easy enough on my eyes to even mount over the dinette table and berth. We feel safer already.

It’s been in the 30s at night lately and my cool little space heater is struggling to keep up. So I found this cheap ($60) oil-filled unit made by NewAir. It only consumes 400W and it too has a built-in thermostat. So that should be efficient enough to get the RETROvan through some cold winter nights. It’s just the right size to place under the table near the back doors, keeping our feet (and Mazy’s paws) warm. Plus it looks pretty retro.

The Barista Is In

A few more odds and ends arrived today, so I finished securing my seat cushions to their bases, and boy does that make a difference. This is one of those easily-overlooked aspects of user experience; the idea that you shouldn’t have to worry about a bulky seat sliding or shifting when you get in and out. It’s one of those things that your guests won’t notice unless it’s broken.

The trick was to switch to Velcro’s “Auto” version, which has a different adhesive compatible with flexible vinyl. You may recall my headrest cushions loosened up and fell off the walls, so I’ll try the same fix there once three more rolls arrive.

My Keurig coffee maker arrived too. It’s a bit bigger than I expected but the color looks great and the coffee is familiar. I’ll have to find a new home for my Nostalgia Electrics machine now:

I also got a cool skull & crossbones beer cap catcher for next to the sink.

The opener arrives later.

Smoke on the Water

Today I ordered a First Alert combination smoke and carbon monoxide detector. I’m mostly concerned about waking up dead from CO poisoning in an enclosed space, especially with the vents closed during winter.

It’s a pretty good size to install on a wall or the ceiling, and the B&W style matches the RETROvan nicely. There are more complex devices available, but they don’t get very good reviews. This one has a 10-year battery and voice alerts, so you can’t really go wrong for $54.99.

My custom 11-gallon water tank finally arrived. Once I removed the shelf, it fits the galley cabinet nicely. So now I just need to get the right 1/2-inch NPT barbed elbow fittings. Hopefully a trip to George Morlan Plumbing will solve that. On top, there’s the filler inlet and the vent. On the bottom is the outlet that connects to the pump.

The idiots at RONCO Plastic did put the ugly part of the tank on the front (with their embossed logo upside-down), so I had to turn it 90° to hide that. And you can see I still have room in the cabinet for a fire extinguisher, MAGLITE and more tall bottles, cleaning supplies, etc.

I’m going to mount the SHURFLO water pump right onto the plastic with screws, which should work fine for vibration and noise. You can see it above, nestled just under the sink. Next step is to trace the drain hole onto the wall panel and cut it out. But I’m in no hurry to disassemble the galley for the last time. At least not until I have all the correct fittings in hand.

I found a perfect use for my Pirates of the Caribbean flag. It provides privacy from the outside and just enough translucency from the inside. And it reflects my worldview during these dark days of the Zombie Apocalypse.

I also ordered a cool retro USB microphone for working in Logic Pro X and Final Cut Pro.

Ghost in the Machine


Last night I went to Guitar Center in Beaverton to pick up a music keyboard, which basically makes the RETROvan a mobile media studio in addition to software development.

Meet the AKAI Professional Advance 49, a NAMM Best-of-Show award-winner from 2015. This technology is lightyears ahead of the keyboards, samplers and drum machine kit Gary Tobin and I assembled in the 1980s, when I was really into composing via MIDI. Electronic Arts’ Deluxe Music Construction Set was the bomb on my Mac, back then. It was the one app I’d want to have on a desert island.

No, I’m not a musician per se. I was forced to take music lessons as a kid (piano, wind and guitar), but I was always a better listener than a player. I do have a passion for composition, seeing as how that’s really an exercise in programming. And now I seem to have developed a deeper interest in lyrics and social commentary, inspired in part by recent releases from some of my favorite artists.

Now that Phase 2 of the RETROvan project is wrapping up, I had been researching a variety of equipment options (things to do and see) but as soon as I saw this keyboard it just screamed out Star Trek! It bears an uncanny resemblance to the various control consoles on the original USS Enterprise set, like in the Transporter Room:

The keys are semi-weighted and they have both velocity- and pressure-sensitivity. So they feel great, and the action should get even better over time. But the best feature is all the backlighting. Those drum pads are fully programmable, including the LED colors. When the AKAI is turned off, it’s all black & white. But turn it on and it lights up like Olivia’s face on a warm spring day:

This keyboard comes in three sizes: 25 keys, 49 keys and 61 keys. But the RETROvan’s table/desk is 24×48″ and it has to support my 27″ 5K iMac. So the Advance 49 was just the right length for me. Its control layout is very efficient and compact, measuring 29.5″ x 11.5″ x 3.63″. So both it and my Mac’s keyboard/trackpad fit nicely up front and I can just slide up and down the bench seat. What about the “missing” keys you ask? No worries, most keyboards can span ten octaves by simply hitting the Octave ± buttons. And that’s all you need for composing, versus live performance.

I plan to spend some time learning the system along with Apple’s Logic Pro X software. That DAW (Digital Audio Workstation) can also produce music notation (sheet music) with lyrics. And yes, I have a trove of lyrics that are begging to lay down tracks. I also have about a hundred 8MM home movies and old independent films that I’d like to do some narration over, and some sound-tracky stuff.

My son Steven is an accomplished bassist, so maybe he’ll collaborate. And of course my in-laws (Robbie, Conor and Kevin) are all brilliant musicians. Me? I can get a sound outta almost anything. Just ask Mazy.

When the cat’s away, the mice will play…

That’s no moon.

I’ve been joking to Olivia that the RETROvan needs a disco ball for future dance parties with our friend Addie. And then I found this on Think Geek:

That’s no moon. It’s a disco ball!

Too bad it’s so big (16 inches in diameter).

And now I’m trying to figure out how to make wheel covers out of these 15″ cast aluminum 35mm film reels.

Here’s an old one I already have. The diameter nestles in there pretty nicely. My friend Dave says custom wheels would cost $1K each, so that option’s out.

Today I hung a few more things and also mounted the headrests to the walls with Velcro. The strips are 2 inches wide and 54 inches long. The first step was measuring things out and marking the top with a strip of Frog Tape. Then I stretched out the Velcro and will simply slice it at the panel edges with a utility knife. I had to use my heat gun to set the adhesive better on the vinyl, and it seemed to work.

Here’s the passenger headrest floating above the backrest cushion. The ergonomics are good. My dad had helped me find the right height, and you can still sit sideways and use the backrest as an armrest too.

Olivia is in Tampa this week, spending some time with her and family while her mother clings to life. So last night I slept in the RETROvan and watched home movies. But I may need to head east soon.

Ooh, I hear the UPS truck approaching…

Floor it!

Well whaddayaknow. Today I dodged torrential rain and finished installing the flooring!

I had picked up some nice vinyl and laminate tile samples from Home Depot, but I ultimately decided to use the six boxes of flooring I had purchased months ago. Mostly because the RETROvan is a woodgrain- and Earth tone-free zone.

I started dry-fitting the tiles from the back moving forward, carefully bisecting the van down the middle. And to my surprise, the tiles finished nicely at both points of egress. I encircled all three pedestals by using a 12″ platter and a 9″ plate as a template. Then I cut the holes with a utility knife. I used my table saw and a fine blade for most of the straight edge cuts.

To slip the tiles under the heavy helm, I just slid it back and forth and tipped it a bit. The refrigerator was pretty easy to pull out and lift back in, being careful not to scrape the flooring or spill any beer.

If you missed it earlier, this product is made from the same rubber as flip-flop shoes — a high-density non-toxic EVA foam. The tiles fit together as a puzzle, and they feel really great to walk on. Just the right amount of cushiness, with some sound-damping and insulation benefits too. I didn’t bother using any adhesive, but I can always apply some silicon if necessary later. This stuff is really cheap, so if some tiles get dirty or damaged I can easily replace them.

And man does it give more of a finished look to the RETROvan. It’s 7 PM now and Mazy is here watching The Twilight Zone with me. I think she likes the floor too. It must feel good on her old lady kitty paws.