Friday, May 30, 2014

Closure on Projects

It does do a blogger some good to mouth-off on the internet. After doing so -- about the great vice of putting tools down in such a reckless way that you can't find them three minutes later -- it helped me go on a massive cleanup campaign. 

It is not in front of me at the moment but I think that Thomas Edison visualized his thoughts and inventions as an excrudescence (?) from his head, somewhat like dandruff. I smiled thinking of tools and materials flying off my person, in random directions.

But today brings another issue: closure for a project, its difficulty, and whether it is objective or subjective. It's so easy to fall into the trap of thinking that a project's end is fixed, absolute, and objective, when in fact much of it depends on us saying, 'Enough!'

There certainly is a disconsolate phase in the natural history of any project when we are like a hiker who is fooled again and again by false summits. The hiker keeps climbing, keeps making demonstrable progress, but the top keeps receding. This almost always happens on a convex surface.

So too the "end" of a project keeps walking away from us, as we walk towards it. It helped me to start moving in to the new trailer because working on an abode and living in it at the same time are difficult. It just naturally applies the "brakes" to a project. Otherwise you keep dreaming up improvements, or you become endlessly perfectionist and start re-doing some things.

It also helped cheer me up to finally receive the solar panels. Retro-grouch or not, I enthusiastically endorse true progress in the form of MC4 cables and connectors that they use these days. It used to be so slow to wire up solar panels by going in to the junction box, struggling to make a solid connection, and looking for grommets, etc.

And there they finally are: 480 Watts of solar panels. Wiring them up was fun, thanks to the MC-4 connectors. I am happy with the elastomeric white roof paint, too. Can a fellow really live without a supplementary generator? I am going to try.

Sunday, May 25, 2014

A Chance to Work Productively

Around the New Year I argued that 'I am not getting older, I am getting better,' need not be an empty cliche. There really are things we naturally get better at, with age. So why not pound the crap out of these things, and put aside the things we must lose on?

Such qualities include:
1. Self-mastery and self-restraint.
2. Patience.
3. Perspicuity.
4. Setting more realistic (i.e., lower) expectations on new projects or people.
5. Understanding the consequences of our actions.
6. Thinking more independently.
7. Better juggling of trade-offs when making decisions.

This project of converting a cargo trailer into a travel trailer has offered me an impressive and perverse example of how difficult it is to achieve #1 on the list.

If you were to step back from the thousand-and-one machinations of the day, and ask yourself why you can't work faster, you wouldn't have any trouble coming up with a list. But it was fun to identify the top problem on the list. 

For me it is the laying-down-of-tools when I am temporarily done with them. I discard them in the sloppiest and most reckless manner. Then, five minutes later, I am cursing the "lost tool," losing confidence and momentum, and becoming frustrated for no good reason.

I once heard a discussion between a friend of mine, who was an experienced home-improvement-junkie, and his father. The father scolded him for not keeping a more organized workspace. My friend thought it was a waste of time. I must say that I agree with the father. It seems like a waste of time, but five minutes of re-organizing tools and materials can refresh you more than a nap in the afternoon or a hot shower at the end of a hard day of work.

So why won't I do it!?

Looking aft, out the rear ramp. The first part of the floor-to-ceiling, wall-to-wall solar screens at the stern. I am no fan of windows. When weather is good, I say pop this little sucker wide open and and enjoy it!

Any canine who is serious about enjoying the Good Life, needs to be a popular hostess at doggie patio parties. When propped up to be horizontal, the ramp will be the official doggie patio. This screen was inexpensive so I am giving it the benefit of the doubt. Eventually I'll replace it with a hinged screen-door. But I'm finally wearing down and getting eager to get back on the road.

The effect of solar screen in the screen-door. The afternoon sun is passing through the solar screen of a partially open door. Notice how bright the small vertical rectangle is compared to the larger square of gentle sunlight to its right! Supposedly there is an eight or nine times reduction in sunlight.

Monday, May 19, 2014

The Spirit-Soul of a Human Family

The woman in the RV park was swinging her arms as she walked. You can't get much of a walk in an RV park, so I considered telling her about Farmington's (NM) nice linear city park, along the Animas River. That would certainly make for a longer and more interesting walk for her.

But I kept my mouth shut. I might like recreational trails in a city -- in fact, they are my favorite thing -- but most RVers are out to "consume" the standard, bar-coded brand names of the tourism industry. In this area, Indian ruins are the main brand names, which is surprising considering how visually unexciting most old pueblo ruins are. It seems advantageous to simply read about them, for free, on the internet.

My dog and I went off to do our usual thing of walking along the Animas River. On the way back, we ran into two interesting families. The first was a goose family. They paddled along on the other side of the river, which tortures my dog, Coffee Girl, who is no fan of water.

The second family was of the homo sapiens species. But they were unusual specimens: lively and unfearful. It is so nice to have a dog who loves children! She would sprint up to them,  push her tush into the ground, smile, and wag her tail. The parents seemed to enjoy these performances as much as the kids.

One of the girls was small enough to be in a stroller. When my dog sprinted toward her, I tensed up, expecting the little girl to start crying and the parents to give me a dirty look. But instead, the little girl happily submitted to a face wash from my dog, as the mother looked on, approvingly!

Meanwhile the little boy took a flop into the Animas River. He looked like such a happy little animal, just lying there, wallowing and frolicking, despite the coldness of the water. Again, lively and fearless.

If you use a recreational trail in a city, you might have interesting experiences with fellow trail users. Most encounters are pretty routine, and most greetings -- if there are any -- are pretty perfunctory. But the encounter with this family was my all-time favorite. Why shouldn't my favorite wildlife encounter be with homo sapiens? 

I am unmoved and uninspired by the bogus spirituality of the Native Americans, as romanticized by modern PC city-slickers and New Age faddists. Let others have a "spiritual" experience at one of the tourist traps run by the park service, if it works for them. This family was my version of a "spiritual" experience. How fitting that this happened along a river that means 'spirit' or 'soul' in Spanish.

I had no idea it was so easy and fun to build screens, using the kits from the home building centers. I love solar screens. Perhaps I should turn the whole back end of the trailer (at the ramp) to solar screens!

Thursday, May 15, 2014

One of the Prettiest Words in the English Language

Let's assume that most readers find discussion forums as painful to read as I do. I'm almost glad they are, because it created a delightful surprise. On the forum for converting cargo trailers to travel trailer/campers, several people have used the term, "re-purpose," as in 'they repurposed a metal bracket from a shelf in their basement to a new life in their cargo trailer.'

It really caught my eye. What a wonderful word. In some ways, it is magic to create a new function and add value to something that you already own.

When camping in the outback, repurposing scraps and other things is the only way to make your little house more comfortable, unless you are willing to make several long round-trips to town for the hardware store. Personally this is when I've gotten the most pleasure from repurposing. You feel so clever when you succeed! The downside is that the result looks amateurish and ad hoc. 

When you drive a half dozen times a day to Home Depot, Ace, and Lowe's, as I am currently doing, a real pleasure is missed. Driving and buying are "cheating." And they get so tiresome! 

Naturally it is easy to think of repurposing tangible things, especially when you are working on a project like mine. But doesn't it add even more to Life to repurpose Time? Think of any substantial improvement you've ever made to your lifestyle. The essence of it was probably taking hours of wasted time (television, driving & shopping, Facebook, etc.) and reallocating the time to something more worthwhile.

Still, it is valuable to repurpose tangible things just for the sake of getting interested in the subject and wondering how general it can be.

The roof rack is ready to accept 480 Watts of solar panels, arriving in a couple days. And yes, I did repurpose some of the aluminum angle lying in my parts bin to make the eight brackets.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

The Need for a Visual Representation

What would a high-minded humanist think about some poor devil building a house, or the small version of that that I am doing right now: converting a cargo trailer into a livable travel trailer? So many machinations! Why, it's like I've become a machine for measuring, marking, cutting, and drilling.

And therein lies the challenge: to keep alert for the Ghost in the Machine, and to think like I still have an intellect and a "soul" that is concerned with civilization and the human condition.

It was the moment of truth. The batteries were installed, the wiring was done. Now it was time to switch on the first electrical appliance, the water pump. (I like to get switches that have the little red LEDs in them.) As I switched the pump on, there was only a gurgling sound -- no red light. I was more disappointed by this than anything in years!

My reaction was so strong that it seemed odd. Things like that are sometimes opportunities. Perhaps this was illustrating some general principle in human behavior.

Many things develop gradually, and are a bit boring because of it. But there are things that have specific and abrupt beginnings, such as slapping a newborn baby, cutting the ribbon on a new highway, or turning the engine on after a long session of automobile repair. There is a drama to each of these beginnings. 

It seems fitting to honor that drama with a visual representation. No wonder 'Let there be light' in the book of Genesis has a ring to it; or that Michelangelo painted God touching Adam's fingertip to impart Life to him. Perhaps that is why that painting is "great Art." It isn't merely concerned with visual entertainment or with trivial and faddish notions of beauty. It was the dreaming up of a visual representation of something manifestly important and fundamental.

Just think how much that puny little red light meant to me! As it turned out, the connector needed adjustment. And then:

Finally, the thrill of seeing the little red light. My new trailer was alive!

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Sound Advice from Small Children

It is certainly a soothing sound, perfect for beginning and ending a sunrise-to-sunset day of converting a cargo trailer into a travel trailer. The sound is the Animas River through Farmington NM, where it  converges with the San Juan and La Plata rivers, also down from Colorado. 

A fellow was taking his German Shepherd for a swim along the recreational trail as it follows the Animas river.  He predicted that the river would swell up with melt-water in a couple days because of the warm weather up in Colorado. It turned out that he was right.

These rivers through Farmington NM seem popular with ducks and geese. Where else can they find consistent water and food? I like listening to the waterfowl, as well as to the water flow. Maybe it is time to break out Thoreau's "Walden" in order to re-read the chapter on sounds. Then again, there is nothing surprising about the sounds of birds, so how will it really impact the listener?

Other sounds have been having a big impact, sounds that Thoreau probably never mentioned. Next door to the RV park (where I'm working on the cargo trailer conversion) is a small school/day care facility for little children. During the afternoon I can hear them playing in the playground. It is such a pleasant and soothing sound which I've become fond of.

Pleasant? Why should it be pleasant? Squealing children, especially those little girls with their high-pitched shrieks. The sing-song taunts of the playground. None of that is pleasant in the grocery store. I don't even particularly like kiddies. Context is everything, apparently.

But I remember how serious play is for children; how thoroughly engrossed they get in it. And the same thing is happening to me. Despite being 50 years older than those children, we still share this fundamental trait of our animal species. This has a bigger impact on me than a loon or goose being rhapsodized over, by Thoreau.

The four batteries sit right over the axle, and underneath the bed. I got quite lucky at finding a strong plastic box that holds all four perfectly.

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Fast Forwarding Through a History-Movie of Domestic Comfort

These days I frequently fall asleep to "Star Trek, Original Series." One episode, from the first season, relates well to my current project of converting a cargo trailer into a travel trailer. The episode was called "City of Tomorrow," starring Joan Collins. Kirk, Spock, and Dr. McCoy encounter a "Time Portal" on some planet. It played images of the past at high speeds. The "Guardian" explained that they could jump through the portal when they saw an appealing image from the past, and off they would go to that time and place. 

At one point during the playback of images of the past, Kirk said, "Strangely compelling, isn't it?" And indeed it was, and is.

This is one of the "profoundly satisfying" benefits of converting a cargo trailer. You get to experience something rather like the Star Trek episode, above. 

(Rather than give the readers a blow-by-blow account of my cargo-trailer-conversion, I refer them to the discussion forum on the topic. What the discussion forum fails to do is explain the nature of the satisfactions of this process.)

As an example of this "Time Portal" game, consider this week's project of a bug screen or screen door. As always, I try to avoid mindlessly imitating the RV industry, which only cares about the point-of-sale; they don't care about actually trying to live in one of their over-priced, maintenance-intensive, hard-to-camp pieces of crap. I try to back off, look at the historical context, and ask where the point of Diminishing Returns is. 

When did metal wire screens become the middle-class norm? 1900 or so? How awful it must have been in the summer in buggy areas to be constantly whacking at insects, or to live in a hot, stifling house with poor ventilation. It must have been one of those quiet revolutions, such as the graveling of dirt roads. Ahh, to have a large screened porch in that era!

Soon I'll be installing a window. Of all the undesirable things that the RV industry does, putting in too many (single pane) windows probably tops the list. (It helps them at the point-of-sale.)

It probably surprises most people when they first learn that ancient Rome had no glass windows. Stone huts all over the world just had small openings to let in light. I wonder when they started covering the windows with light cloth? When people finally started using glass windows, the glass wasn't the optically perfect "float" glass that we use today. It had bad distortions that you can still see in original buildings from the 1800s.

Perhaps Wikipedia gives a history of "The Window." All I know is that a single-pane window is a mixed blessing: yea it let's light in, but it's only one step better than a hole in the wall when it comes to insulation.

Looking through the curb-side door towards the driver's side of the cargo trailer. The kitchen and desk (to the right) are about done.

The propane cooktop was turned sideways to open up a "huge" chopping area between the cooktop and the (single basin) sink. I will take a navy shower in the "foyer" between the door (camera) and the kitchen, using the same flexible hose and garden spray-head that will function as the kitchen faucet. The water pump is underneath the kitchen counter.