Monday, September 30, 2019

The Van Needs a Transplant

You might not be able to tell it, but right here The Van is looking a little forlorn and helpless.

Like all modern vehicles, The Van's heart is her battery, (True, The Van is just shy of 10 years old which is getting kinda old for vehicles anymore, but hell, at my age anything post 1990 is modern!) and after 9 solid years of service The Van's battery is beyond even hospice-care and has belched it's last electrons.

Which is not as big a deal as you might think

since, back in 2015, I installed a manual disconnect switch between the chassis and house batteries.

It's primary purpose is in giving me the ability to connect the alternator to the house batteries when a bulk charge is needed, (When the house batteries are down to a 60 - 70% charge, but not over 80%, and I need a quick burst of juice because I'm camped under trees which defeat the solar panels.) and only when a bulk charge is needed since the engine alternator is a terrible way to try and maintain deep-cycle batteries.

But I can also insert the red key into the exposed nub of the cutout switch, there in the back of the seat pedestal directly below where the key is laying now, and use the house batteries to "self jump" The Van's engine.

Still, knowingly running around with a nearly dead battery is not the best of ideas, even for those that live on the edge of not-the-best-of ideas.

But where the heck is the friggin battery!!

There's enough room up here in the engine compartment to carry three cats and a half-dozen monkeys all at the same time, but no battery in sight. . .

Actually that empty space to the right of the brake-reservoir and just above the computer box is where the auxiliary battery goes for ambulance and other high-electrical load versions of Sprinter.

But those intrepid designers at Mercedes decided to put the primary, and for most of us the only, battery here.

Yeah, that's right, it's here under the driver's feet!

So after pealing back the marine-grade carpet -- not an option I asked for, but after a battery-acid incident during the build-out stained the marine-vinyl flooring I did ask for, right there in front of the sink for all to see every day, we, the builders at Sportsmoble and I, decided the least disruptive way to deal with it was to just lay the carpet down, at no cost to me, over the top -- the next step is to get out the #30 torx bit (Everybody carries a full set of torx with them nowadays don't they?) and remove that trim-piece around the upper part of the foot-well,

to release the heavy molded and well insulated floor mat,

which exposes the black steel lid over top of the battery box.

Actually, burying the battery here under my feet isn't the bad idea it may sound like.

After 9 years and 80,000 miles, when I opened up the box there was a little light dust and fluff gathered around the battery posts and not the least hint of any corrosion.

In fact, I did nothing to clean the box out and you can see how little evidence of the years is showing in there.

The big contraption propped up out of the way to the right is called a pre-fuse box and for those doing their own conversion, there are extra terminals in this box. Just bolt one end of an ANL type fuse to the bus-bar and an appropriately sized and terminated wire to the other end to add your own electrical crap.

The little tube over in the lower left corner of the box with the white elbow fitting on the end of it is the vent tube that plugs into one side of the battery's top cover. Not sure just how effective it is since mine has a pretty solid kink in the hose and there's nothing, no hose, not even a plug, in the other side of the battery's cover, but so far so good.

This is the battery that I pulled out.

As you can see, it's clean, and corrosion and wear free. Too bad it's also dead. . .

This is an AGM, which is obviously the recommended replacement.

If you've been following me for a while you know that I haven't had much luck with AGM deep-cycle batteries and have reverted back to flooded wet-cells which give me much better bang for the buck in terms of longevity, but when I jumped on the NAPA site to hunt down a new battery I was surprised to find that the cost difference between flooded and AGM starting batteries, at least those in the group-49 size that I need, are only about 30%, unlike the nearly 100% difference between the two types in deep-cycle batteries.

So, I clicked on the slightly more expensive AGM version, hoping that I get something like the 9 years of service life out of it that I got out of the original.

On top of that, I also knocked 20% off the price by putting in a silly promo-code that was lurking right there on the web page.

So, for a walk-out-the-door price of $180.52 The Van got a new heart.

Even though the battery box has proven to do a damn good job of protecting the battery, like always, I used another couple dabs from my tube of dielectric, the same tube I've had for years now, on the posts, just to make sure.

When doing these sorts of small projects on The Van, I make a point of using the tools I carry in her. That way I'm sure I've got what I need when I'm out there in the middle of bumfrig helland.

In this case I had to add an additional extension to my socket-set in order to reach all the way down to the 10mm bolts that hold this thing in place.

This thing goes down the side of the battery, the side facing the front, and locks it firmly in place, but I didn't have enough reach to get down to the bolt-heads without that extra extension.

Job done, and now a little better prepared for next time.

Monday, September 23, 2019

A Little Odocoileus Virginianus Development

This doe (On the right) has been coming up to our back door for three years now to chow down on feed. Actually, if left to her own devices, like figuring out how to screw off the lid of the container, she would pig out on the corn and basically ignore the better-for-her deer-feed. (I mix a little corn into a scoop of feed before tossing it out.)

As it is, once she's cleaned up the rationed handful of corn she'll stand just outside the barn and stare daggers at my back as I'm working on the computer, trying to get me to throw her some more. (When dishing it out I think of the corn as candy-corn. A little bit is a treat, more than that is unhealthy.)

But this works out well for her fawn who isn't as discriminating and scarfs down anything available.

It's getting late in the season and you can just see a few remaining spots on the butt of her fawn, and those are fading fast.

Late enough that you can clearly see this guy is starting to develop the spikes he's going to carry this fall.

And, like all pubescent males of most any species, get all full of himself until swatted down by one of the "real" bucks after mom has had her fill of his shenanigans and runs him off later this winter.

This doe's first year's fawn would never come down the bank, no matter how tempting the berry-smell of the deer feed or the lure of the "candy-corn". It took them a while, but the fawns of the past two years eventually worked up the nerve, (or got stupid enough!) to come down the bank and join mom only feet away from our back door.

That first year's fawn was a doe. The fawns of the last two years have both been bucks.

At a mere three individuals this is not a large enough sample size to make any conclusive claims,

but this fawn, probably her niece, or even granddaughter, who hangs out with this extended family group of two doe's and two fawns, is either a very late bloomer or a doe, and lurks way up by the tree-line, never even getting close to coming down the bank for a little treat, which reinforces this sketchy gender-based behavioral observation.

But then again, (to be politically correct.) we also have a group of 6 bucks that hang around the area and only one of them will come up to the back door and feed, and the second fawn's mom is even more skittish than her fawn and is only seen occasionally unless they are off in the distance, so it probably comes down to individuals more than gender.

Monday, September 16, 2019

Quick! I Need a Bloody Hunk-a Raw Meat!

We, The Wife and I, started something new last year. (New to us anyway) We use the e-library to download an audio book onto my phone and listen to it when we make our shopping trip to the city.

This has been working out pretty well. I don't have to listen to her sigh and huff in boredom and discomfort during the drive, and she doesn't have to listen to me - well, not talk.

And some of the narrators of these books are pretty dang good! Switching voices and accents as they move from character to character, throwing in coughs and stutters, and hiccups and groans and shrieks and - well, with a good narrator it's like going to a play you can't actually see. (We have found ourselves checking for narrators, performers might be a more accurate description, rather than titles when browsing. . .)

I tried downloading a book for myself and listening to it while doing my laps on the property. But found I'd rather just listen to the natural sounds instead, but maybe I could use audio-books in The Van while driving some of those 12 hour days I'm prone to?

I never listen to the radio, nor to music CD's while driving, but I do have my Great Courses classes on CD that I listen to, 30 or 45 minuets at a time depending on the course, 24 to 48 lessons, again depending on the course. The current one is Human Prehistory and the First Civilizations and the next one waiting in the wings is The Physics of Archaeology, which I though sounded like a good pairing. (I'm also working through Introduction to Botany but that's DVD only so obviously I don't do that one while driving!!)

Anyway, I decided to give the audio book thing a try on one of my trips. And now that I upped my data-plan, doubling my data and getting carry-over of any unused data, while cutting $20 off the bill at the same time (Go figure. . .) I don't have to wait until I have WIFI to download an audio book. (E-books, of which I keep a healthy supply on my phone and read with a Kindle app, are small, audio books are big!)

My phone has a relationship with The Wife's car. In fact they get pretty intimate, to the point of being borderline creepy!

All I have to do is turn the phone's bluetooth on, which I guess constitutes foreplay, then when I get in the car they, car and phone, hook up and start probing each other. But The Van isn't such a slut. It has no interest in an e-hookup, of any kind, so I picked up a set of bluetoothed earbuds to try out instead. (With rather aggressive tires on the rear for traction on Forest Service roads, and the windage of a full-height van, even at my sedate 60 to 65 MPH, it's too noisy in there to rely on the phone's speaker.)

All of that previous clap-trap up above is a long-winded way to explain why, when I was prepping for the next of my pretty much annual trips to Michigan, a trip that takes a total of a little under 30 hours one way to drive, I burned up some of my data allowance and went looking for a book to listen to on the way.

So what's all this got to do with the need for raw meat??

Hold on, I'm getting there.

Our e-library is a consortium of 5 counties, but these are 5 rural counties with a population that doesn't quite total up to a small city's worth of bodies. That means the budget is small and the pickins are slim. They have a fair enough selection of titles, as long as you are content with popular authors, which is a lot like listening, over and over and over again, to the painfully limited and drearily similar selection on those "Top 40" radio stations, (Have I mentioned that I don't listen to the radio ever since Paul Harvey went off the air??) but there are only one or two copies of each and, just like real books, can only be loaned out when available. I have seen popular books with waiting lists up to 24 weeks long!

So I went browsing through the much more limited "available now" list, but found that books that looked interesting were books The Wife would want to listen to also, so, because our choices are limited and we can't afford to waste any of them, were off limits for solo listening.

Even though they both tend to figure heavily in the "available now" list, and have too much blood and action for The Wife's listening preference making them fair game for solo listening, I'm burned out on Jack Reacher type novels (Maybe if Cruise hadn't been involved in the franchise I might feel differently) or Patterson books, (I mean how many books can a guy write?! Even if he is only the co-author on most.) And, not being a) particularly political, b) interested in "celebrities", or c) much of an activist, I get enough non-fiction from my classes.

So (Drum-roll while we queue that standard Monty Python phrase, "And now for something completely different") I thought I'd try a different genera. After all Nora Roberts has produced a few halfway decent "romantic mysteries" suitable for mindless entertainment while driving.

Of course a name like Nora Roberts is not going to be found on the available list of our under-funded, backwater e-library, so I picked one by someone else that was listed under that genera.

So how'd the experiment go?

Well, I discovered two things, audio-book related things, on that trip.

  1.  I enjoy the "silence" of being on the road, (In this case silence is subjective, what with the engine, tire, and wind noise, but you know what I mean.) and adding long stretches of audio-book to my hand-full of half-hour university classes was just too much noise for me.
  2. A guy has to be very selective about the romance novels he chooses. Even those touted as being mysteries. 

In self-defense, about halfway through the 14 hour book I had to rip the earbuds off and throw them back behind me, safely out of reach until the next stop.

It happened insidiously.

Sneaking up on me in plushly-slippered feet.

Gently embracing me in feathery swaths of encircling silk lightly scented with platitudes and flowery language.

But with one "palpitating heart sparked by his brief but oh so electric touch" too many, I realized that my testosterone level was being sucked low.

Way too low.

So low that I could feel residual estrogen worming worming it's way into my very core.

As if my man-boobs aren't big enough already!

So quick, somebody throw me a big bloody slab of raw meat so, with a guttural growl that will freeze the blood of every creature within - well, a few feet, I can rip a chunk off with my vicious man-teeth so I can start the process of restoring myself to my proper place on the gender scale, surreptitiously getting rid of the tissue tucked in my sleeve as I do!!

And yes, after a figurative session of running down my dinner with spear in hand and feral gleam in my eye, I did eventually go back and finish the book, but then ya kinda gota have ta don'tcha.

After all, even though you know the outcome before you crack that first page, it's still nice to actually hear them get together forever in the end. It sends that warm fuzzy fullness through your - - - Oh Crap! More Meat!! I Need More Raw Meat!

Monday, September 9, 2019

Sunscreen and Bug Juice or Bug Juice and Sunscreen

I won't point out which one is me in this 1960 photo, but it's possible that I had big hairy ears as a kid. . .

Being the product of Irish lineage I come by my fair skin honestly.

Growing up in the north we had two seasons, cold n coats, and beaches n bugs.

(I have an old beach photo, but since it includes all my siblings as well as many of my cousins I decided not to post it here.)

We were outdoors kind of people and when we weren't risking snow-blindness and sun-burning the undersides of our chins we were sizzling on the beach. But back then we didn't think much about the detrimental effects of getting those deep brown tans that we thought looked so healthy. (We came by that honestly too. When mom, pre-kids, returned from a summer nursing school rotation in Traverse City, with all it's sugary white sand beaches, her dad found her shockingly dark and wasn't at all happy, to say the least. . .)

Things are quite a bit different now.

Oh, I still spend the majority of my day either outside or in the barn with the big doors open and sunlight bouncing through. But now, being so over that deep-tan-is-a-chick-magnet phase that I use the SPF 100 stuff and embrace the pasty-white look, I go through so much sunscreen there is no risk of any of my several bottles, stashed around in various convenient places, hitting their expiration date. (In addition to zinc, which will last virtually forever in the bottle before it ends up on my skin reflecting sun's rays like millions of tiny little mirrors, sunscreens also includes one or more of a number of organic compounds that interact with UV rays, absorbing the UV as it changes their chemistry, and these do have a shelf-life.)

Growing up in the north also meant loads of bugs to deal with during certain parts of the year and bug juice was always a necessity.

Here in Central Texas the sun is a little more intense, but the bug situation isn't so bad. Except one persistent bug that I have to deal with during my daily laps around the property, the Deer Fly. These are especially plentiful on the back half of the property which is heavily wooded and a favorite hangout for deer and feral hogs.

These suckers (and I mean that literally) are only medium sized little buggers, but they bite hard!

So, especially during the dog days of summer, that means bug-juice as well as sunscreen.

The cream style in the green bottle on the backs of my arms (Bared because I cut the sleeves off the button-down shirts I wear around the property) as well as the back of my vulnerable neck. I reinforce this with a few quick spritzes of the runny stuff in a spray bottle on the brim of my hat and, with some contortions that were easier when I was younger, the back of my shirt.  (Summer not only means deer flys, but it also means I sweat right through my shirt during my laps and those damn flys will land on my back where I can't reach them and bite right through that clinging shirt!)

So does it make any difference which order they are applied?

Well yes, it does apparently.

According to those that are supposed to know, the sunscreen should go on first because for maximum effectiveness it needs to settle into the skin (Which is why it should be applied about 15 minutes before exposure) and floating on top of the light, oily bug juice kinda hampers that.

And while sunscreen should be applied generously, there's a damn good reason the instructions for the bug juice say to apply it sparingly, no matter how thick the bugs!

I carry a little bottle of each, sunscreen and bug juice, in my pack as well as another set in my bike-bag. They live in a small compartment along with a plastic combination whistle/compass/thermometer/magnifying glass (Supposedly for starting fires but once the plastic lens is scratched up by age it's really not very effective) just in case.

But this is what happened recently when my small bottle of bug juice leaked into the compartment of my bike-bag.

It was not pretty!

It took me a half hour and a good portion of a bottle of isopropyl alcohol to clean the sticky, black gunk of apparently perpetually liquefied plastic that used to be my emergency whistle from inside the compartment, then three rounds of pumiced orange gunk-off to clean my hands. (In my rush to clean up the mess I didn't think to don blue gloves until I was already screwed. . .)

So now, each morning when I go out to The Van to prepare for the day, I try to avoid thinking about what the hell that bug juice, that stuff that apparently liquefies plastic on contact, is doing to my skin.

Thursday, September 5, 2019

Nearly Swallowed By Nature!

I was sitting on a bench one morning this summer, looking out across the pond before the heat of the day kicked in, you know,  minding my own business and just generally playing at being retired,

when I felt something tickling at my arm. I absently brushed it away, but the tickling persisted.

when something began tickling my arm. I looked down to discover that the prodigiously growing vine next to me was getting overly familiar!

Now generally I don't mind sharing that bench with the vine, but this was going too far!  This was worthy of a trip to HR to file a complaint!

And soon or I was going to be swallowed up by those twinning tentacles and held fast until the winter frosts released me.

You see that short bit of vertical stick in the top center of the photo above?


That's all that's visible of my Dad's hand-carved walking stick, his working stick - not the real fancy one he carved and painted in a wood-carving class that is now safely displayed, indoors, at one of my siblings places.

This plainer version was the stick he actually used for hiking and now, fittingly, it has a place out in the fresh-air overlooking the pond. And at the moment it is going nowhere because that vine has a real tight grip on it!

Monday, September 2, 2019