Category Archives: RETROvan

Renewing Our Energy

Wednesday I hosted our first annual Racepoint Energy barbecue on the RETROpad. It was a beautiful day, snapping Portland’s heat wave at only 82° tops. The sky was mostly sunny with scattered clouds, light winds out of the north. 100% chance of treason, followed by darkness…

But I digress.

All eight of us have joined pretty recently. Clockwise from the left is Dave, Michael, Nick, Nels, Tabor, Alex and Will. A funny thing happens when you invite a brilliant team like this to your house for a few hours that don’t involve mashing knuckles on keys or glass.

You start to feel a bit… human. Maybe even family. You get to know each others’ hobbies, sensibilities and motivations. Normally, you’d get to know each others’ weaknesses, too. But we don’t appear to have any at Racepoint Energy. I believe that together, we will help disrupt an industry that has turned against this planet. But first we have to ship some thermostats, right?

Meanwhile, Tabor and Dave discuss the prospects of retiring to Portugal and Mazy wonders how long Todd is gonna burn that meat. But what Todd’s really thinking about is why does the RETROvan’s AirPlay system keep cutting out every few seconds — but only when there are guests here? Is all that extra Bluetooth, Wi-Fi and brain power messing with the space-time continuum?

Dave had just flown up from San Jose to meet the team, in the midst of what most Bay Area-ers ultimately do: Flee the Bay Area. Only he’ll be moving home to North Carolina with his wife, where his quality of life will improve greatly. While we’re just a startup, never underestimate how simultaneously liberating and empowering it is to work for a company that embraces remote nerdage.

Will’s our fearless Director. And when he’s not firefighting he’s directing. When he’s not directing, he’s coding. So he never really looks at the camera — unless his code is on fire and he needs directions. We luv ya, Will.

Full-contact Croquet (almost) broke out. Croquet is a French pastime, so you know it’s cloaked with cowardice, pageantry and intrigue — much like WWDC.

You are faced with some moral dilemmas during a match, so it’s a fun team-building thang. It’s also a good beer-drinking sport, especially when there are only six mallets and two chairs for eight people. That’s when the “white beard rule” comes into play, folks.

Here’s Alex at the final post, after which the poison rules kicked in. And that’s Michael in the background. He’s working out how he can best destroy that last post before HR arrives.

You know, Croquet’s default poison rules are great. But we can do better. I’ll create a gitlab issue.

And coincidentally, Alex also won the “Guess the Height of that Sequoia” contest. 

I thanked the team for coming and said, “I’m sorry the meat was tough.” Someone whispered, “Blame the butcher, not the chef.” That kept me up all night, wondering if I had pulled a Trump or maybe a ligament in my brain. And then I remembered this proverb: “Don’t blame the baker if the butcher bakes the bread.” One of those head-scratchers, yeah. 🙂

But I digress.

Renewable Energy. Renewable Life.™

Waterworks & Sea Glass

The galley wall faucet’s nipple-ectomy was a success! We had replaced the tapered brass nipples and I just got the fresh union washers of the correct size. And now… Let there be water. I’ll add an aluminum L backsplash later.The other trick was to buy an adjustable slip-nut plumber’s wrench from Home Depot, in order to tighten all the threaded connections by two or three more turns than was possible by hand.

Once it all went together, I decided I need to add a 12V switch for just the water pump’s branch so that its parent circuit (which is shared by the overhead lights and the 12V galley ports) could be left powered ON at the helm, but OFF at the pump most of the time. So with this lighted toggle switch wired in at the galley, you would have to explicitly turn the pump ON when you need water and then turn it back OFF to be safe. This should help prevent any future disaster where the system springs a leak unattended.

And finally, I got inspired today by that new Insane Pools show on Animal Planet about building custom backyard oases (yes, that’s the plural form of oasis). So next weekend, my friend Gary Jackson is coming to install these beautiful sea glass mosaic tiles on the faces of the RETROpad’s two curb steps. Aesthetically, the 1-inch tiles represent computer pixels to me, but overall it’ll create that shimmering turquoise water effect everyone loves.

32 sheets cost $415 including shipping from Glass Tile Oasis in New Jersey. The sheets are 12×12 inches each, so we’ll simply cut each one in half to make two 6-inch by 30′-7″ strips with one spare sheet in case of defect. Gary will then thin-set them into place using his mud-working superpowers. Should be fun!

Independence Day

This was an eventful Fourth of July week. My son just graduated from Western Washington University with a BS degree in Manufacturing Engineering after six long years. He started his career on Monday at Tool Gauge in Tacoma. And then my daughter just turned 21. She has one more year to go at the same school, majoring in Public Health Administration. Both of them visited for a while and were eager to help out with the RETROvan.

Last week, Steven and I removed the galley for hopefully the last time, fixed the 12V USB port and connected all the plumbing between the water tank, pump, sink, drain and faucet. This took all day, but fortunately the weather was ideal. Once buttoned up, everything worked except for leaks at the union connections, and as a result the pump kept kicking on and off. The wall-mount faucet only came with one rubber union washer, so I had to order replacements and they should be here Friday. We also swapped out the brass nipples with different ones from Ace Hardware that aren’t as tapered. We applied six rounds of plumber’s tape and struggled to get everything as tight as possible, then got it down to a single drip. So hopefully the new union washer does the trick.

I surprised Shannon with her first new car: A 2002 VW New Beetle in excellent condition and with only 58,000 miles.

We later had Car Toys install a Bluetooth-enabled Sony stereo and then we added a magnetic dashboard mount for heads-up iPhoning.

Shannon later helped remove all ten windows to put their final weather seals and screws in place. The seals are a closed-cell foam tape, double-sided, routed under the outside trim flange. This went smoothly except for the fact that on each window, four of the trim ring screws would not go willingly into the channels from the inside trim piece. I over-torqued and broke off a couple of screw heads so we had to start over on that window. The solution was to drill those too-tight positions out a bit and then put fresh screws in. I didn’t recognize the pattern until much later, but on all ten windows it was always the four holes leading into the corner radius bends. So that means it was a manufacturing defect — easily overcome, though.

Next we installed the back URL emblem and the remaining two safety reflectors. Getting the emblem straight was easy. It says scenario.com/RETROvan. The rear reflectors took extra effort because I had to chisel off the original screws that were rusted into the steel diamond plate.

But after giving Rosie the Riveter a few lessons in step-up drilling and with some creative attack angles, we got the old screw shafts out and the holes enlarged enough to accommodate our beefier screws.

The results look great and we’re very proud to have raised two fine kids in such a Graceless Age. I checked my RETROvan Task List spreadsheet and found that 207 out of 218 tasks are now checked off as complete!

Gang Way!

It’s been a while since my last post. I’ve been swamped with my new job at Racepoint Energy and working remotely full time from the RETROvan as my mobile office and studio.

The RETROpad’s cantilevered gangway steps keep cracking and breaking now that it’s summer, making egress too perilous for mere mortals. The problem is the crappy “Construction Select” lumber sold wet by Home Depot. Don’t buy it, folks. You’ll regret it. I’ve used it on decking projects too and it’ll curl up and split in the sun.

So, I finally found some prefabricated galvanized steel treads sold by Grainger. These won’t rust and I can drill more support holes on the ends to bolt them to my timber stringers. These are 24 inches wide and I ordered four steps for around $158 including shipping.

This is much more economical than fabricating a custom “marina” gangway, which could easily cost $1,000 or more.

First Snow

We’ve had light snow in Portland recently, so here are a couple exterior shots:

Portland doesn’t really get bitter cold, so my dual space heaters don’t have much trouble keeping the RETROvan cozy.

I’ve found stainless steel replacements for those overpainted side mirrors, made by Velvac. I also removed the cracked and overpainted reflectors and have some new ones on order. It continues to baffle me why an auto painter would not bother to remove such fixtures first, so they don’t get ruined.

I received my American Autowire Highway 22 “custom upgrade” wiring harness kit from Summit Racing this week, and it looks good. All the individual circuit branches are pre-terminated and individually bagged. I plan to start that daunting task as soon as the weather warms up a bit. Still waiting for the mounting bracket, and I have to strip and paint the cockpit first anyway.

Cushy Job

Lots going on this week. I’m about to join a Renewable Energy startup company, which is pretty exciting. I even had my final interview in the RETROvan which must have impressed them, since their parent company also makes SmartHome systems.

In the meantime, I’ve finally addressed my saggy headrest cushion problem. The product Velcro recommended for me, which was supposed to stick to soft vinyls — doesn’t. So, I came up with three potential solutions from items I found at Home Depot.

First, all of them involve the use of stainless steel wall-mounted D-loops, much like you’d see in any cargo van for lashing down cargo or hostages. I mounted those between the windows, directly into the side ribs for additional strength with beefy #14 sheet metal screws. From there, it’s possible to use:

  1. Polyester lashing straps, with buckles
  2. Bungie-style cords with a hook
  3. Nylon-coated steel cables with custom cable hooks

The latter would look the best with the black & white motif, since the cable I found has a red translucent coating and is actually made for dog runs. But unfortunately, it’s not flexible enough to nestle the headrests and it would be too difficult to adjust the lengths of the loops to keep the cushions level before crimping them together.

The Bungie cords were interesting because they’re pre-made to almost the right length. But because the cord was so thin it dug into the cushions at the bottom and looked bad.

So the winner was my first, gut instinct: Lashing straps. The ones I found are made by Husky and they’re black with red stripes. The straps are 1 inch wide so they nestle nicely without being too much of an eyesore. They came in 8-foot lengths but were easy to cut. And most importantly, they support the headrests at just the right height and angle, flush to the wall. And the buckles make them adjustable.

Maybe someday I’ll find some transparent straps to swap these out with. I actually did find some, but they were made for bras!

The hardest part was removing the failed Velcro from the backs of the cushions without damaging my expensive vinyl. The adhesive left a mess and had to be dissolved with a 3M industrial solvent, but it worked.

The photo above shows the starboard side with the Velcro still intact. I removed the Velcro entirely from the port side as an experiment and it’s a little saggy at the ends. So I think the ultimate, final solution is either A) a combination of both solutions: The straps for support and the Velcro for alignment and snugness. Or B) two more straps mounted into the walls panels, versus the internal ribs.

Details, details…

Rewiring

I started researching what it would take to rewire the RETROvan’s cockpit, starting at the rat’s nest called an instrument panel. You may recall that the previous owner had the cab painted an off-white, but the painter didn’t remove or mask everything—namely all the wires and hoses.

Ford’s original wiring diagram is only of limited value because it doesn’t show the actual panel that’s in my rig. But the basics are there and it looks like most of the components are easy accessible in the chassis. It would just take a long time to get this right.

But I did find a fairly universal aftermarket kit that might just work. This one includes a fuse panel for added convenience and safety. It’s made by American Autowire as the Highway 22 kit, for around $422.

So my general plan for Phase 3 is to remove all the steel cockpit panels I can, disassemble the instrument panel, strip and paint everything, put it all back together and then rewire everything clean, using the proper color-coding. I just haven’t decided whether this is a DIY job or one for an automotive electrician.

Here’s a cool fuse block bracket made by HPI Customs for $65.

All the front windows and seals will need replacement too. But that’s a job for any auto glass company.

I also lucked out today and found the 3/4″ drain hose I need for the galley sink. I bought six feet at $2.59 per foot at West Marine. So soon I’ll tear out the galley one last time to finish connecting the water tank, pump, faucet and drain.

Need a new gas pedal, too.

Features

Just realized I haven’t really put together a comprehensive feature list for the RETROvan. So here’s a start:

  • 12V deep-cycle battery bank (2 @ 6V, in series)
  • 12V outlets (2)
  • 120V outlets (8)
  • 120V power strips (2)
  • 2000W AC/DC inverter
  • A/V jacks in wall
  • Aluminum cladding
  • Apple TV with AirPlay & game pad
  • Automatic vents with rain sensors (2)
  • Biometric safe
  • Built-in storage cubbies (~20 cubic feet)
  • CarPlay A/V receiver
  • Coffee maker
  • Curio shelves (powered)
  • Custom 2-way speaker enclosures (4)
  • Custom dinette/berth cushions
  • Custom cabinetry (lacquered maple & stainless steel)
  • Custom pontoon helm
  • Custom receiver enclosure (acrylic)
  • Custom RV pad (gated & secured)
  • Custom windows (10)
  • Dehumidifier
  • Dinette table (on telescoping pedestal)
  • Dual ovens (microwave & convection)
  • Fresh water tank & pump (11 gallons)
  • Galley sink
  • Gigabit Ethernet (via shore pedestal)
  • HDTV (19″)
  • HDTV antenna (powered)
  • iMac (5K, 27″)
  • Insulation (R-13.1)
  • iPad Pro integration on helm
  • Insteon SmartHome integration
  • Lava Lamp with Bluetooth speaker
  • LED accent lighting throughout (USB)
  • LED overhead lights (12)
  • Marine navigation compass
  • Marine control panels (with custom wiring/labeling)
  • Marine plywood subflooring
  • Medicine cabinets (2)
  • Music keyboard controller
  • Nest carbon monoxide & smoke detector
  • Radio scanner
  • Recording studio equipment
  • Refrigerator/freezer (with real compressor)
  • Rubber “puzzle-tile” flooring
  • Sci-Fi collectibles on display
  • Security systems
  • Shore power pedestal
  • Solar panels (4 @ 100W)
  • Space heater (oil-filled)
  • Space heater (with LED fireplace)
  • Television ceiling mount (motorized)
  • Tractor seats on telescoping pedestals (2)
  • USB outlets (10)
  • Wall-mount faucet
  • Weather station
  • Wi-Fi hotspot

What’s with all the Diorama?

I’m enjoying a bit more classic sci-fi geekery, so indulge me.

This is a 7″ Godzilla from the old Japanese series, circa 1968. Not the original 1954 Gojira version, mind you. But the one we got in America. You apparently can’t buy these new in the US. They have to be imported from Japan due to licensing restrictions. But even with shipping, it was just $15.30. He’ll sit somewhere up on the RETROvan’s dash in lieu of some Bobblehead Jesus when he lumbers ashore next month. I was around six when my cousins and I first saw Godzilla on late-night TV in glorious B&W. It terrified us and gaslit our imaginations. It later taught me that all you need is a rubber suit, a few models to smash, some campy music and a camera to tell a fantastic story.

This $22.74 scene is from the Devil in the Dark episode of Star Trek (the original series). That’s Spock of course, about to mind-meld with a creature of silicon origin that has a penchant for mining and protecting its young. It’s a classic episode about how humans can be an invasive species. But Mother Horta will always remind me of leftover pizza. So this diorama will sit next to my RETROwave oven.

And this $17.47 scene depicts Captain Kirk fighting Kahn, played impeccably by Ricardo Montalban. The episode was called Space Seed. This one is less interesting to me but for the price I had to get Kirk, who can be posed next to Spock instead. This affordable collection is mass-produced by Diamond Select, and more scenes will follow. And once discontinued, each issue can increase tenfold in value to Trekkies.

These two scenes will balance out my Batman and Robin pieces and I’ll be done with both shows, covering my two childhood favorites.

I do have other little displays in mind wherever they’ll fit. For example, any nice 4-inch collection that would fit along on the RETROvan’s photo ledge shelves behind the LED light strips. There is a nice one from Toy Story but while I’m big into Pixar I can’t quite pull the trigger until I shop some more. Another possibility is a long WWII submarine model that would nestle up there. One of my favorite sub movies was 1958’s Run Silent, Run Deep. Or it could be a line of stormtroopers goose-stepping behind Darth Vader. We’ll see…

And finally, my RETROpods were looking a bit naked so I designed some decals and had them die-cut at Signs Now in Tigard. And man, they sound better now! I’ve got the EQ and fader dialed in, rocking out to The Grand Illusion by Styx right now and it sounds like the recording studio itself.

RETROfun!

Today I installed two LED light strips on the lips of the aft ledge shelves. This is nice because I don’t lose any shelf space, and they’ll illuminate any objets d’art I put up there, like crystal or glassware.

They also reflect off the ceiling, creating a Northern Lights effect. Or I can simulate red-out conditions at night, like in a submarine.

These were only $9 each and they include an inline USB controller. The lights change colors and can blink or animate in patterns. The strips have an adhesive backing and can be cut to length.

I also ordered this “modern retro” Lava Lite sold by Sharper Image. I always had a Lava Lite in my bedroom growing up, and this one reminds me of some Star Trek props. It’ll likely go on the galley, next to the coffee maker. It features a Bluetooth speaker, so I can pump ambient audio loops to it from the iPad on the helm. That audio would be independent of any movie or TV show I might be watching.

“Nomad” from Star Trek – The Changeling

RETROfun!