Tuesday, August 20, 2019

Newberry 2019 - Getting There

We had heard about another festival, so today's post is about the getting there. Yes, that's right, it's just about the drive there. I'll have at least one about the festival itself and then another one about the drive home. Before I start, Hapy birthday Dad. We would love to bring you on one of these journeys with us, but in the meantime, here is another example of how getting there (and back) is the true adventure when it comes to going to festivals Hapy-style.

First, What's This Now?
So, when Boo and I were at 4Peaks in June, we uncharacteristically bought a couple of plates of tacos while Andy Frasco was playing the tent stage. We approached the small set of tables, and asked if we could share a table with a woman who had one to herself. Brenda, the woman at the table, introduced us to a smaller benefit festival just 30 minutes south being held around a month later (see the 4Peaks 2019 Festival Report). When we got home I got tickets, and shortly thereafter we discovered that Boo had a family obligation on festival-closing-Sunday that she couldn't move, nor cancel so it prevented her from going. She couldn't get Friday off work anyway, so she strongly encouraged me to go. After trying to get one of the kids to go with me, I decided to fly solo.

Off We Go
I worked from home on Thursday, thinking I could get a jump on traffic, after packing everything except the food the night before. Once the clock hit 2:PM, I had hit my 32 hours for the week (plus 8 time off the following day meant I hit my work obligation). So, I quick-packed up food into a cold and doesnt-have-to-be-cold coolers, loaded them into Hapy, and split. Now, in retrospect, my planning / packing could have been a little better managed. I failed to recognize that I did not have a washtub nor a pillow, but that became apparent once I'd arrived at Newberry.

I got ice at the corner market and cruised to OR217 south. Similar to our last drive to Central Oregon, Hapy dropped into limp mode a couple of times and I noticed some lethargy or what almost felt like engine misses. I made a mental note to consider causes and turned off the radio so I could monitor more closely. OR217 was not terribly heavy, but it was busy. By the time we hit I-5 south, it was busier, and it got heavier and heavier until it was a 20mph crawl past Tualatin and Wilsonville. Things got going by Aurora, and soon we were moving at 60mph*. Along the way, I noticed that my temperature climbed faster than I remember on it's way to normal, and then I had to play speed games to keep Hapy under 194*F. This persisted until I pulled over in Idanha. I discovered that only one fan was spinning. After a quick wiring service, and a couple of bee stings on the top of my foot for the trouble, we were on our way again. Yes, bee stings on my foot. I guess that's one of the unspoken hazards of driving in sandals. They hurt bad, and gave me all the more respect for Boo having gotten a tattoo on the top of her foot. That tattoo must have hurt so bad.

Anyway, Hapy got hot again (198*F) even after the fan wiring fix, so I found a shoulder and pulled over again. Hmm.. both fans are spinning, and hot air is blowing by.. So, I pulled back onto the road again... the temp climbed again and within 20 minutes I was on the roadside again. This time, I watched the temperature drop and concluded I was pushing him too hard. Maybe there was a headwind, or driving during the day really does influence his ability to shed heat. Either way, I would drive slower, and pull over periodically to let cars by if the passing lanes weren't coming along often enough.

This pattern continued all the way up the Cascades, the full length of OR-22 and up the US-20 to the Hoo Doo ski area, where I pulled over to let other drivers by. At this point, the drive shifted to downhill, and Hapy's temperatures settled. I was able to roll at 65mph* all the way to Black Butte Ranch without the temperature climbing above 185*F. So, I started to discard the headwind and daytime driving theories. This was an engine-under-load-cant-shed-heat-into-coolant-fast-enough problem.

So.. what did I change since the last drive? Well, I changed the oil. Did I not fill it all the way?
I also added the engine cover. Could that be trapping a bunch of heat?

I See Trees
Regardless of cause, I rolled through Sisters and Bend not needing to pull over because traffic was so slow that I wasn't stressing the engine enough to produce heat spikes. I wasn't stressing myself, either. I knew that on this trajectory, I would have at least an hour of daylight to set up. Feeling confident, I turned the stereo back on, and noticed that the rear speakers weren't making sound any more. "Whatever," I thought, "something to clown on in the campZone." Besides, the fronts were working fine and I was sitting in the front so who cares?

Shortly after leaving Bend on US-97 South, the number of trees increases. For those not from around these parts, west of the Cascades is the classic wet, rainy Oregon you've probably heard of. East of the Cascades is high desert: something like 4000 feet above sea level with little in terms of tree cover. This is especially true once you get east of Sisters and into Bend. I have been north of Bend, all the way to Madras, and it's all like that. So, I falsely assumed that I would see no change to the terrain when I went south. There be trees. It became much more forest-y the closer I got to my turn-off (north of La Pine). Now, it doesn't seem any less dry, so maybe this area just hasn't been cut down, or maybe there are underground water sources. I didn't know, but I was happy to see the trees because trees mean shade and when you're heading into 4 days of mid-summer sun in the high desert, natural shade changes everything. After a few quick lefts and rights, I arrived at the Newberry Event at 7:30. Total drive time of just under 5 hours.

Theories and More Theories
Friday morning, I went around to the back of Hapy to test a couple theories. First: did I short Hapy on oil during the last change? No. The oil was at full on the dipstick and he was parked level. Okay, Second: could the engine cover have been trapping heat? I removed the cover for the drive home to see. Last, I checked the fans again, and when I flipped the switch they both were spinning. Hmm.. Without meaningful internet connectivity, I couldn't really look for more ideas, but I was left thinking one or more of a few things could be going on:

1- when I had the wrong coolant in for a short time a couple years ago, it put a glaze or film in the coolant passages that is preventing the conduction of heat from the metal into the coolant. A chemical flush should fix that.

2- the engine isn't running right, producing more heat than it's supposed to because of something out of normal. I may need Justin to help diagnose that.

3- the radiator is too high, and if lowered, would help dump more heat faster. This is a bit of a stretch since we dump heat fast when we're stationary.

4- no amount of tuning on the cooling system is going to fix this because the real problem is the oil is getting hot and it is not getting temperature controlled sufficiently through the oil/coolant exchanger. This would drive to an aftermarket oil cooler add-on or a larger exchanger.

It was with these thoughts that I left the festival on Sunday, shortly after 1. Like so many of my posts lately, this one got long. Needless to say, the adventure continues, and I'll post about the trip home soon.

Tuesday, August 13, 2019

Making Hapy Sounds (Part 3)

continuing from the Part 2 post about getting music into Hapy the wonderbus. When we left off, we had front speakers installed and rear speakers floating around in their own little speakerboxes. The wiring for all speakers had been routed back behind the dash. For the front speakers, the work was mostly a finished product. The rear speakers, though, were still very much in an experimental phase. Today, we wire up the head unit and complete the work.

Head Unit Physical Mounting
You know how when you swap out a big car stereo (a double-din) for a smaller one (single-din) you usually install one of those plastic boxes in the extra hole? Well, I had one of those box/bin things in my garage, and it had been there for a few years. So, I figured I'd put it to use. Shortly before we left for 4Peaks, I stuffed it into the radio hole in Hapy. On the drive and while at 4Peaks, we loved the extra storage spot. On the drive, it was where we put our phones. While we slept, we put valuables there. So, I didn't want to remove it to put in a stereo. Honestly, it was jammed in there so hard, I'm not sure I could get it out without destroying it anyway. AND, there was nothing in that are to physically attach a stereo to anyway. The old DarkStar stereo was held on from the front. Modern stereos need something to attach a rectangular channel to, and there was nothing there in the bus to bolt it to. So, I popped it into the glovebox instead. It still needs a real mounting, but for version 1, it sits on top of the packing cardboard it shipped in. Will it bounce around? Maybe. Could I break the stereo because I didn't mount it properly? Absolutely. Blindly moving forward, I drilled a 3/4" hole into the driver-side of the box, near the back, to run wires. With the glove box closed, it looks like the bus doesn't have a stereo... like it hasn't for the 15 years I've owned it.

Head Unit Wiring
In retrospect, I could have started here. I am not going to Should on myself (see Don't Should on Yourself), but if I ever have a virgin stereo install to do again, I will. Consider: the 2 most important bits for a stereo install to be successful is for a solid ground and a reliable source of 12V power. One could just solve those 2 wires and confirm the stereo works and your power is good before you do anything else. Wise advice for a future me. Anyway, for a ground, I doubled-up on a o-ring-d ground that was screwed into the air vent box. I verified that ground was good with a continuity test back to the negative post on the battery. For power, I tapped into an always-on circuit but it did not have enough juice to power the stereo. The radio acted like it didn't have any power, though I could read 12V at the plug. So... let me back up and then I'll get back to this.

I wired ground first. Always do ground first. Then, I took the various speaker wires and mated them with their respective colored wires coming out of the stereo plug. I intend to swap these into something more like the plug in Oliver, but this is fine for version one. Last, I tapped into a 12V source, hiding the wire, etc. Then we test fire.... nothing. This is where ideally I would have run ground, and 12V to prove it will power up before doing anything else.

By now, it was getting late and I was getting tired and hungry. So, I ran a hot-lead from the luxury battery (our name for the deep cycle battery under the rock-n-roll bed that powers the lights and 12V sockets) to the back of the head unit strung across the lot couch, with a big coil bouncing between the front seats. It looked super-janky, but I needed to test whether the stereo would power up, and whether the speakers would respond. I plugged it in and heard the CD whir, so I knew I had power. So, I grabbed Boo and our copy of JGB's Don't Let Go CD for a test-listen before we both called it a day.

The smile produced by a JGB "Sugaree" is virtually a given, especially from the mid-70's era. That smile was compounded by hearing it coming from all around us in Hapy. "How loud does it get," Boo asked. She remembers our struggles to hear on the road as acutely as I do. Turning it louder and louder... it never distorted. Pure Jerry deliciousness pouring out of the speakers, hugging us with music until we were unable to talk over it. Yeah, that'll do.

12V Source Fixed
We shut things down, and I cleaned up my mess for the night. The following morning, I was back out there to run a 12V lead from the luxury fusebox to the stereo. This sounds simple, but it took quite some doing. I started at the glovebox, running a stiff 12ga wire through the hole and down behind the front "floor" vent. It runs below the TDI accelerator pedal (See Pedal on the Right) and under the rubber floor mat to the right edge of the driver seat pedestal. It runs along the right edge of that pedestal and under the old seat mounts for the 1972 Westy rear-facing seat, under slides for the lot-couch / middle-row seat and under the front edge of the rock-n-roll bed cabinet. It appears behind the cabinet near the corner by the refer-storage cabinet. I wired it into "fuse #12", protected with a 16amp fuse. I layered tape on top of the wire where it intersected with the lot couch slides to we don't accidentally catch that wire when putting the couch back in. That would be bad.

Once I had the new 12V supply line set, I re-tested. All good. I took the opportunity to tuck away some other errant wires up front. That's it for today. Version one is ready for some test drives and a festival or camping trip before we make any modifications or harden wiring to the rear. Thanks, as always, for following along-

Tuesday, August 6, 2019

Making Hapy Sounds (Part 2)

Continuing on my post about putting some music into Hapy, today I will go through some if the fun of installing what I'm calling "version 1" of the fuller sound system into the microbus. At this point, I have a pile of components, a spool of speaker wire and a dream.

Front Speakers Physical Mounting
I really wanted to spare my door panels, but I could not figure out where the kick panels were supposed to go. So, I couldn't figure out how much space I had and where. I haven't had kick panels for years, and pictures on the interweb of them installed really didn't show how much backspace there was. Resigned, I went down the tried-and-true path of a door card installation. My cards were made of a thick MDF material rather than the waffle board that most cards are made of. I don't know if that's better or worse, it's just different. I believe the process would be the same regardless.

Since I am installing 5-1/4" speakers, the hole will be smaller than that. A quick look at the manufacturer's spec's tell me that I need a 4-1/2" diameter hole. We take a few measurements and determine that placing the center-point of the hole between 9 and 9-1/2 inches from the bottom of the door and 6 to 6-1/2 inches from the front. That would place the speaker entirely within the upside down trapezoid below the bottom of the window in the door. I picked 9-by-6 since that was easy to remember, and with a carpenters square marked the spot on the driver-side card. Then, I nabbed a compass from the kids school supplies, measured out a radius of 2-1/4" (radius = diameter/2) and marked the cut line on the card. Had I been less daring, I could have cut a piece of cardboard to match the shape of the lower door card and performed test-cuts on that until I had the location where I liked it. If you are using nice cards, I would encourage that.

I took the card, then, out of the bus, and tried to visualize how the hole would align with the trapezoid. It seemed right, so I set the card down, drilled a hole near the line and finished the hole cut-out with a hand drywall saw (it is straight and cuts as you push away rather than as you pull towards). Once cut, I cleaned the edge with a file. I have this knack of undercutting, leaving myself lots of edge cleaning, and this was another one of those. So, I had to file just to get the hole up to the line, and then clean it up. Once I was able to set the speaker in the hole, I test-fit the card. The hole was inside the trapezoid, but is was fairly front-ward as you can see in the picture to the right. I don't think it really matters so long as the hole is wholly inside the upside down trapezoid. I removed the card, set the speaker in and test fit again. Nothing speaker-related was touching anything other than the card. We had a winner. I transferred the hole placement onto the passenger door card, drilled, cut and shaped it until a speaker would fit and test fit the passenger side the same way.

They looked good. So, I checked to get the speaker top level, marked and started the mount holes. I set the speaker grill on and sent the screws through the grill and the speaker mount holes and on through the card until they were snug. I may swap out the screws for bolts with washers and locknuts (on the backside) in a future version. There's just something about depending upon the threads of a screw to hold speakers to a door card that just seems hinky.

Front Speaker Wiring
One of the reasons I didn't want to put speakers in the doors is the question of how to route the speaker wires. I've seen wiring jobs where the wires don't pass through the front edge of the door, rather they pass from between the card and the door, making a small loop of wire when the door shuts. I didn't want that. Fortunately, I had pulled the door light switches out of the A-pillars a few years ago to paint and never returned them (since they didn't do anything anyway). This put a square hole in the A-pillar. I didn't want to drill a hole in the door, and I didn't have to. There are vents along that edge. So, threading wire from the spool back from the front, the wires passed through the door light switch hole, up through a vent high in the front edge of the door, down the front channel in the door and below the support. I left myself about a foot of wire to which I attached the pigtail that came with the speakers. Then, it was a simple matter to plug the clips into the speakers and then re-install the door cards. The other end of the speaker wire was routed up over the air vents and dashboard supports, and routed over to the hole where the head unit usually would go, leaving them dangling.

Rear Speaker Physical Mounting
I loaded the 6x9 speaker boxes with 6x9 speakers, so the physical mounting was fairly routine, in that respect: wire the supplied wires in the box to the pigtails, plug the pigtails into the speakers, place the speakers in the hole, put on the grills, thread the screws through. Since the boxes are going to kind of float around for now, there isn't much else to do mounting-wise, though that may change as we drive around and discover what we need for locating them for sound as well as whether they need to be a-fixed for travel.

Rear Speaker Wiring
Back when I had run a bunch of wires from the rear of the bus, I bore a hole in the wall behind the drivers seat. I ran a pair of speaker wires through that hole back past the old fridge-turned-storage-cabinet (See From Fridge to Storage). From there, they ran along the floor with the other wires, up behind the air vents (and where the kick panels would be), over the dash supports to the general stereo area. I added some plugs to the wires leading to the speakers so they can be unplugged and the speakerbox can be plugged in. I set the speakers on the rock-n-roll bed and shifted to setting up the head unit.

As always seems to be the case, this got long again. To be fair, I was probably 4 or 5 hours into the work at this point, so it's not like I'm just spinning a big tale out of a tiny effort or anything. Anyway, I'll pick this up next week. Thanks as always, for following along-

Monday, August 5, 2019

Missed it by One Digit

Brief out-of-band post today. Normal post will appear tomorrow.

Spin the Wheel
I decided that after Comcast increased my bill again, that it was time to move to something else. When we first got Comcast, our bill was $99 a month for internet and television with some premium channels plus taxes and fees. I thought it was a good deal, and knew the price wouldn't last. It didn't. A year later, the bill was $160 a month. Last month, it bumped again, to $210 a month. Yikes.

I did some research and concluded that I was grossly oversold on my internet bandwidth. So, I did some competitive shopping and decided to go back to Frontier for FIOS (fiber optic). When I called Comcast, the loyalty guy sold me a package change where I got rid of the television part, but kept a smaller internet package. It was still $85 a month, but since there was no contract and it wasn't a promotion, that price wouldn't change.... until they changed their minds about it. The FIOS deal is $50 a month for 2 years.
Guaranteed price won't change for the 2 year period. And they threw in a $75 Visa gift card to offset the installation charge and they threw in one year of Amazon Prime. I'm sure I'll get to pay for all that multiple times over after the 2 years are up.

UnSolution Center
The FIOS installer came today, installed everything and we confirmed connectivity. I switched over my internal wireless to the new system and before the boys were even out of bed, things were now flowing through Frontier instead of Comcast. Awesomeness. So, all that's left is calling Comcast to close-out the internet part. So... hmm... where's that number again? Oh.. right... 1-800-xfinity. So, you translate that into real numbers it is 1-800-934-6489. Be very careful when you dial that. If your finger slips and you dial 1-800-934-6789 you will have the reached the DISH Network "solutions center".

This is a classic boiler-room style hard-sell call center. The person who answered the phone said it was "the solutions center", but did not clarify that it had anything to do with DISH network. She immediately launched into a hard-sell about internet safety, the dark web, identity theft and how my children would be left homeless and starving unless I bought their package of security measures. I started polite, but found that fruitless. I started interrupting her asking simply to help me cancel my Comcast. She pushed harder and I got louder and more forceful, asking her to please stop selling me stuff because I just wanted to cancel my Comcast. Seriously, a recording of this would be internet gold. I said I understood everything she was saying but I didn't want it and then she started to ask me questions like she didn't believe that I was really listening or whatever. I actually asked her if she was going to quiz me. Finally, she asked if she helped me close my Comcast would I be interested in the program. "No". She asked if there was anything she could help with so I would buy the program and I said no, so she put me on no-music-hold for 2-1/2 minutes before someone else picked up.

The new operator said that it was the DISH Network solutions center and since I was not willing to let them help me with anything there was nothing for them to do for me. Unlike his predecessor, he clearly said it was DISH. I asked him why the other lady didn't say that, and he said some bullshit about how she said it was the solutions center.

It was a complete mess. I said it was clear they never were able to help me from the start and they wasted 15 minutes of my day trying to hard sell me some garbage. And then hung up.

The Lessons
First, check and double check the number you dial. If the person on the end doesn't seem right, check the number again while you're on the phone... before you waste time and energy on it. I stayed on the call because I thought this was some crazy hold music up-sell replacement that Comcast had put in place. Had I double-checked the number I would have realized something was up.

Second, don't get DISH Network. This is super-important. Not just for me but for every single person who consumes media. DISH Network is paying those people to act that way. DISH Network wants to scare callers into getting some garbage "protection" which may just as well be another way your data actually gets stolen. DISH Network purposely picked a phone number that is one digit off (and a very close digit on the keypad) to purposely get accidental dialers. DISH Network has obviously instructed their operators to blur the identity of the call center, emphasizing "solutions center" and skipping the "DISH Network" part. DISH Network, you're scumbags. If DISH Network is the ONLY option for media access (which in the US is extremely unlikely since there are multiple national satellite options), read the paper. Or a book. Or your junk mail. Or stare at the stars. Or go to the local coffee shop and use their free WiFi. ANYTHING is better than giving those vultures your hard earned money, underwriting that call center.

The only upside to the time I spent on that call is that some elderly person, or someone who is otherwise afraid of having their identity stolen was not getting hard-sold by that lady for the 10 minutes she worked me over.

Hapy Ending
I am happy with the FIOS, though it has only been a day. When I realized my dialing error and then actually called Comcast, they were very nice. It was not hard to cancel my service at all. Before I got off the phone with them, I alerted them to the fact that the DISH Network hard-sell boiler-room was one digit off of their 1-800-xfinity number (1-800-934-6489) and that someone further up the management chain would probably want to know that. The operator was genuinely appreciative.

Rant over. We'll return to normal posts, as usual, on Tuesday (tomorrow) morning.

Tuesday, July 30, 2019

Making Hapy Sounds (Part 1)

After so many years of driving without a real source of music, I have taken the plunge. Today's post gets us grounded in my efforts to get musical sounds going.

Early Experiment
good ol' Dark Star
Recall a few years ago, I was given an old 1980's car stereo (See A Sound You Hear That Lingers In Your Ear). Since the bus is so old, an original radio probably would have been an AM radio with a single speaker in the dashboard pointing up at the wind screen. Even with the original engine and interior, hearing that radio would have been difficult. Adding the bigger, louder diesel engine makes more white noise. Hopeful, I took that 1980's stereo, and wired it into a power source. I ran speaker-wires to a pair of 5-1/4" speakers on the floor. This sort of worked. We could not get the music loud enough to hear without distortion. Without more evidence, we could not be sure if it was a radio power output issue, a weak speaker issue or a speaker-placement issue. The least expensive option was moving the speakers around, so we tried plopping them on the dashboard, one on each end near the A-pillars. This helped some, since it moved the speakers closer to our ears, but it was not really that much louder and having speakers just sitting on the dash is pretty precarious. So, I pulled the radio, wires and the speakers (the speakers are in Oliver, the MGB, now). Boo and I returned to using a little puck speaker which didn't really deliver much sound. So, ultimately, we drove for probably a year without any music at all. Honestly, we like to just talk about stuff anyway, so the drive to Chinook Fest (See Chinook Fest 2017 - Road Report), for example, was great, even though we had no music and had to wear masks from the forest-fire smoke.

Sound Bar Experiment
After driving Oliver around, and enjoying a drive completely surrounded with sound, I started thinking about how to bring music to Hapy again. As I spun up ideas, C suggested that I simply get a sound bar and put it on that little shelf I built a few years ago (See Sunshade to Shelf). That little shelf gets a ton of use. When we drive, our phones, and glasses go there. I have a couple surgical masks up there in case of forest fire smoke. We keep the cords for charging our phones there. When we camp, we use that aluminum lip for clipping the front privacy / sunshade. Super handy. It has about 2-1/2 inches of height, so putting even basic tweeters up there would be difficult. Arguably, I could install speakers into the shelf so they point down (and I still might do that), but I wanted to try something less destructive first. C's sound-bar idea sounded like a great one. He recommended getting one from Goodwill, and I would have done that if I knew I could get one that (a) worked and (b) had all of its related cords. So, I bought one of these at AZN instead. For $35US, it was a viable experiment, and if the experiment was a bust the speaker could be used on our back deck.

We found that we could not drive enough source volume into the sound bar through the 3.5mm wire/plug input. We used an old MP3 player and then an iPhone that way. Max volume still wasn't loud enough, but there was no distortion. When we used blue-tooth, though, it was totally loud enough to hear. In fact, it was in this arrangement that we drove home from Eugene after JRAD (See JRAD - Eugene Road Report). We used the speaker for lot-sounds at 4Peaks as well. If the sound enveloped us more, I would have stopped right there. After Oliver, I was spoiled and wanted music at least as full as GratefulEd has in Belle.

Plan for Surround Sound
I spent some time looking around to see how others solved for music in their bus, including GratefulEd. He put his fronts into his doors but I did not want to go into the door cards. My original cards were cut for speakers and the vapor barrier (plastic film) wasn't managed properly, causing the speakers and the cards to eventually fail. My kick panels failed a long time ago, but with a plan to install new ones, they present an opportunity for speaker placement. I could put a pair of 5-1/4" speakers as high in the kick panel as I can manage. Until I acquire kick-panels, though, I will need to be creative.

Remember the speaker spot in the dash that faces upwards? I believe I can fit a pair of small (3-1/2") speakers in there, but I think I'm going to hold off on that for this first round. I would like to see how the basic 4-speaker system works first.

For the rear speakers, I was at a loss. The real estate anywhere around the bed is basically consumed. Boo and I need all of that low space for ourselves. The head-space is open and unimpeded, perfect for when you sit up or when you are going to bed. I don't want a speaker there. So, we get out of the box for the definition of "rear".... I got a pair of 6x9 speaker boxes and loaded them with speakers. This will force the wiring for the speakers to be a little more free than your more typical install. While driving, the speakers will sit under the middle-row / lot couch or on top of our camping stuff. I could use velcro to hold them in place; I'll let the driving experiments drive to that, if needed. Once we're parked, the speakers will have enough wire to move up to the pop-top or outside the bus.

Thump Thump Thump
One of the things that I thought about when I did the stereo in Oliver was the portability of the custom speaker box and amplifier. So, part of the plan for Hapy will include speaker wiring for a possible sub-woofer as well as thought around how to run the speaker wires at the head unit so I could swap the amplifier in without having to re-wire everything. This meant that the head unit needed to have greater output capability than the unit I put in Oliver, since it will probably, most often, be running without the amplifier and sub. I surmise that simply because moving the amp and speaker box will take effort, and sometimes that little extra thing is just one thing too many. So, for a head unit, I got another Sony (MEX-XB120BT, this time) which puts out 45W per channel. It also has 5V outputs for an amp, which aligns with the amp-outs from Oliver's head unit (Sony MEX-M70BT). This should support the portability I was aiming for while supporting some solid sound when I do not have an amp.

With a pile of parts (front speakers, rear speakers, 6x9 speaker boxes, a head unit and a big spool of 14ga speaker wire, I felt ready to start. As with any interesting post, this got long, so I'll stop here and pick it up next time.

Thanks, as always for following along--

Tuesday, July 23, 2019

Love on the Bus

Short post today, describing a day spent just doing little things on the bus in the middle of festival season.

When we got back from 4Peaks, we had a small electrical issue, that was solved in all of 5 minutes with a replacement 8amp fuse. With that quick satisfaction of a minor issue, I wanted more. Since we had driven through the desert and I wasn't really sure when I last changed his oil, I did that. Changing the oil on this engine is so easy. 15mm drain plug loosens easily and sits less than 2 inches above the drain pan, so there's virtually no mess. I remove the fill cap so it drains faster. While the last drips are coming out, I remove and replace the oil filter. This can get messy, but I have found that pulling the filter straight up with one hand while the other, wrapped in a single-use plastic grocery bag, grabs the bottom, you can contain all of the oil. This works best if you raise the filter and let it drip into the holder for a minute before you grab with the other hand. Replace both the upper and lower o-rings. You should have gotten both with the filter, unless you went super cheap, and why would you go cheap on an oil filter?

floor, when first uncovered
While hanging out in the camp zone with GratefulEd, we talked buses of course, and the topic of rust came up. He usually does some level of rust search-and-destroy every other year. Based on that model, I'm due. So, I removed the lot couch and the foam mats off the floor in the middle of the bus, and attacked the surface rust I found there. Years ago, I had cleaned up rust here after removing some il-planned noise absorption matting. The matting did not stick well, and trapped more moisture than noise. So, this time, I cleaned, sanded and re-cleaned the floor. I applied 2 coats of rust converter on the entire floor. Once cured, I applied rubberized undercoating. This should remove the threat of rust from above. This leaves the threat of rust from below, however, and this model of bus has the 2 welded-in belly pans. So, I will need to get creative in solving for that. Then, of course, there is the radiator under the center section. I will need to lower it to get after the rust potential there, but that will need to wait until October, when camping/festival season is over. I walked the bus a little bit, making note of where there was a wisp of rust either as a stain or as a bubble under the paint. There is quite a bit to look at, but none of it really terrible. It's just in lots of spots. More opportunity to love on Hapy while not taking him off the road.

after rust converter and undercoating
With the foam off the floor, I could really hear the echo coming off the steel floor. Rapping on floor with my knuckle was like knocking on the sidewall of a steel shed (clang-clang-clang). Yikes, that's just awful. No wonder my ears rang after the drive home from 4Peaks. So, I grabbed the 80mm Noico that I used on Oliver, the '78 MGB, and cut thin strips to set in the little ribs in the floor. Once all of the rib-divots had Noico applied and worked in with the roller tool, I placed 3 larger sheets down on top above the center section (effectively over the radiator). I figured the fans could be creating more vibration so having a little extra there couldn't hurt. Once rolled snug with the roller tool, I tested with my knuckles again. The clang-clang-clang wasn't as pronounced, but these sheets are not designed to lessen that kind of noise; they are designed to muffle vibrations. So, the real test is when the fans turn on and the engine is running at 2800 rpm. Noise reduction folks have said that only 25-50% of a surface area needs to be covered with these vibration things to have a noticeable impact. I covered over 50%, so, in theory, this should make a difference. Resigned to seeing how it felt when I next drove, I put the foam back down and the lot couch back in. There was no visible evidence that I had done anything, but it seemed like Hapy was sitting taller, like he was Hapy he got some love. Yes, I know that sounds silly.

When I was done with the oil, I remembered that I had an engine cover for the TDI engine in Flash that I took off years ago. I don't remember why I took it off, nor why I left it off, but there it was leaning against the wall on top of my shop bench. I think I had planned to use it in Hapy for years, but figured I needed to cut it to fit, so I just left it there. Well, today I was just puttering anyway, so I gave it a test fit. Wouldn't you know, it slipped right on. Now, the bracket which holds the vacuum ball had the cover mount cut off, so I can only hold it in place with 2 bolts (and I only had one). After pawing through a box of random fasteners, I found a M6 bolt that was 30mm long. Perfect. So, now the engine has a cover. Since I don't look at it hardly ever, the cover shouldn't be an access issue, but it should contain a little bit of the noise. We'll see.

That's really all I have today. I'm working on a new piece of furniture for when-camped, but it is still in the design stage. Until then, more shows and camping awaits!

Tuesday, July 16, 2019

4Peaks 2019 - Music Report

What's this? I know, I usually just have 2 posts about something interesting, so what's with this third post? Well, we tried to focus more on the music this year, so here is an entire post dedicated to it. Consider the layout of the festival grounds first. The camp zone is uphill, but also downwind of both stages, which point at the camp zone. So, when the wind is right, or very light, the sound carries directly into the camp zone. So, as you walk around, visiting friends, play games or check out the vendors, the music is there. This makes it easier to not be in-person at the stage for a performer, which is why we usually don't see much in-person. This year we saw more, and focused more on the music, but still didn't see nearly as much as we thought we would.

Before we left home, I did some homework on the bands. Some previous years I had done that, but it has been a while since I had. With that homework came a pecking order or list of bands I wanted to see with one or 2 each day that I really wanted to see (marked with an asterisk). The list follows, with opinions following. The main stage only operates on Friday and Saturday, and interestingly, most of the bands I wanted to see were on the small side stage anyway. So, that small group who appeared on the main stage are noted.

Time Artist Notes
8:00 *Lil Smokies A blend of more bluegrass than Americana. They were good though, and it was a strong start to the music side of the festival
10:00 movie @TheJunction: UP! Boo hadn't seen "UP", so we added that to the list. But, it was way too cold to sit out in the open watching a movie. When I say cold, it dropped into the upper 30F's, so, yeah, that's too cold to sit in a lawn chair in an open field so we sat by the buses with the propane heater instead

Time Artist Notes
11:00SwindlerDescribed as psychedelic meets funk, these guys were good, but we didn't make it all the way to the stage. 11AM was too early in the day for them, IMHO. They really could have benefited from the cover of dark and some crowd pre-funk. Our neighbor, JerseyPaul, liked them so much that he bought their CD from the merch tent as soon as they left the stage. Strong statement
1:30Mestizo BeatAfro-cuban beats. These guys threw it down. Lots of really good bump in what they were doing. Again, didn't make it to the stage, but the sound across the festival grounds was really really good. We walked the vendors nearest the stage for about half of their set
4:00Polyrhythmicsmore funk. more beats. more dancing. Not as strong as I had expected, but as the day gets later, the expectations rise. Right?
6:45*Pink Talking FishThese guys were the buzz of our festival. Everyone we talked to, we asked about Pink Talking Fish, and they were a huge hit. Boo made it to the front of the stage, but the tent was full front-to-back of dancing. Their set included a ton of Phish (including a really good, long Bathtub Gin), but very little Talking Heads. They hit a "Crosseyed and Painless" that stayed in my head for not just the rest of the festival, but for another week afterwards. That bass/percussion groove was mesmerizing. The topper? a Beastie Boys encore: Sabotage. Mind Completely Blown. We will go waaay out of our way to see these guys again. So fun.
8:15Los Lobos (main stage)Los Lobos was a tale of 2 bands in one long set. They played 40 minutes of traditional Mexican music (Mariachi/Ranchera) and then switched into groovy, jammy stuff. They closed with a "Not Fade Away" into "Bertha" that had us singing along. That's some fun stuff.
10:00*Poor Man's WhiskeyIt is rumored this was to be their last 4Peaks appearance, so this would be their last special / small stage performance. But, we missed it. After Pink Talking Fish and Los Lobos, we were spent. Besides, there were friends to visit, so we took the last band of the day off for some late food. We could hear them across the festival grounds though, and they hit many of our favorites from past 4Peaks visits. They are always solid as the last band of the first full day

Time Artist Notes
12:15Maddie Carpenter (main stage)I thought Boo would like her, since she has Bonnie Raitt and other strong female vocalist influences. I was right, and I really liked her too. It may have been a big stage for her, though, as she sounded a bit nervous, especially through quiet parts of her songs. She can totally belt though, and when she got her footing, she wailed. I had expected her to appear just by herself with a guitar, but she was backed by Poor Man's Whiskey, shy the lead vocalist, so it was an unexpected treat musically as well.
1:30The Drunken Heartsbased a review, I had added these guys to the list. We missed them because of some unexpected, unplanned performances 2 camping spots away from us. I'll explain further down
2:45*Sonny Mandreth (main stage)based on reviews, I got excited about Sonny. Boo and I went down to check him out. The crowd was light, being early on Saturday, but the band was great. He started with a 25-30 minute acoustic set before launching into a full electric set. The acoustic stuff was really good, but during the break between instrumentation, Boo and I drifted away to the vendors and heard the rest of the set away from the stage. Again, the sound quality across the festival grounds is really good, so we could hear it all, but we just weren't as focused.
4:15Sister SparrowI added this band for the lead singer's vocals, and she delivered. The band seemed completely designed around showcasing her singing, which is a minus. The solos were brief and just "okay", and there didn't appear to be a genre; they ranged from soul to gospel through R-and-B and blues. Had the group played like a group, the lack of style wouldn't have been such a thing. From the outside, the set was odd, but her voice is amazing.
5:15Poor Man's Whiskey (main stage)We tried listening to Poor Man's Whiskey through the radio simulcast. The radio fidelity was fantastic, but the delay from the stage flowing up the hill to the camp zone fought with the timing of the simulcast, creating an awful echo. It made the radio not viable for us. They were great, as they always are, but we were not "in the house" for their set, listening instead from GratefulEd's loft or by The Junction
6:45Andy FrascoI added Andy based on rumors. I had heard of Andy, and JerseyPaul raved about them ahead of their show. We chose to grab vendor-food and catch them in-venue. In terms of raw energy, Andy wins the 4Peaks prize. He was jumping all over the place, and whipping the crowd into a frenzy. He closed his set in his apparently-typical way: pseudo-bar mitzvah chair dance to "hora to Hava Nagila" which I thought was a little trite. It was a great show until he jumped the shark that way
8:00Wood Brothers (main stage)I had heard good things about the Wood Brothers, and they totally delivered. For only 3 musicians, we were very impressed for the breadth and complexity of what they were producing. Their sound was the most pure from distance, as compared to everyone else we heard from afar. I don't know if it was the reduced wind or what, but we could stand in The Junction and hear them absolutely perfectly. Every note crystal clear. And so good.
10:00Billy Stringsbased on review, we were going to go see Billy Strings. We chose to stay local, and visit with friends, thinking we could listen on the simulcast. Turns out, the simulcast ends when the main stage shuts down, so we missed them. Unlike some other bands playing on the small stage, they did not carry across the festival grounds, so we didn't hear much. Since the wind had died down, we should have been able to hear; we just couldn't. Our friends had conflicting feedback. JerseyPaul said they were "ok but lacking that special something". Another new friend, Jay, said they were "amazing, simply amazing". Further proof that beauty is in the eye, or ear, of the beholder

Time Artist Notes
12:30Scott LawWe've been trying to catch one of his shows since the Black Sheep Family Reunion when he appeared with Ducky Pig. BUT, we missed him again. We could hear some from the small stage, and when we went down, we were able to hear about half of his set as we approached through the vendors, but arrived too late to catch any of the magic. We'll get to seeing him one of these days
2:30Rising AppalachiaI had heard rumors of their sweet harmonies, and they delivered. There are few things as sweet on the ears as intertwined female vocals in a bluegrass / Americana / folk genre. We listened while we broke camp, and it was a perfect end to a music-intensive weekend

The Junction
Unlike last year, there were performances at The Junction this year. The GoWesty folks have added a musical pod-cast to their array of offerings (see here). So, when you combine the 4Peaks interest for pop-up performances with this new pod-cast thing and then put the GoWesty folks at the Junction where the pop-up performances are desired, there's a musical storm brewing. And it stormed. There were at least 3 separate performances that we caught. In each case, the crowd was fewer than 20 people and the whole thing was located 2 buses down from us in a little performance area the GoWesty folks formed with 3 Vanagons.

Maxwell Friedman and CJ Neary
2 kids who each sat in with various bands over the course of the festival (Maxwell with Matador, and others and CJ with Los Lobos) set up as the first podcast. There were about 15 of us watching them set up and play through 4 or 5 songs. I learned after they finished that Maxwell is just turning 15, heading into his Sophomore year of high school which means that when he sat in with Karl Denson's Tiny Universe 2 years ago, he was 13 heading into 8th grade. CJ Neary may well be that old now.

Maddie Carpenter
Unlike her time on the big stage, Maddie seemed right at home standing on the lawn in front of a row of Vanagons, singing with a 4-piece backing band. Since her vocals were not amplified, some of her vocals were hard to hear from 20 feet away, but when she powered up, it carried very well. I don't know 100% who the backing band was, but I think it was Poor Man's Whiskey again. They were tight, and pulled CJ up for a song.

There was a great 4 or 5-piece band that we didn't catch the name of. They didn't play any of the stages, but they got on the pod-cast. They had a mandolin player with a big voice and a harmony singer on a guitar who sounded so good together. Of the unscheduled, unexpected performances, I liked these guys the most, and stayed for their entire set, costing me the time to see the Drunken Hearts on the side stage.

The Drunken Hearts in a Late Night Pop-up
Saturday night, after the side stage closed up, we were visiting with friends. Boo and I wanted to stretch our legs and see the cold dark night sky so we wandered off from our camp zone. Across the fire lane, we were talking to NewTrailerRussell, and we heard about a pop-up show. "By the 4 flags" around 1:AM. Well.. it was practically 1:AM already, so we wandered towards where we knew there were 4 flags flying on one pole, and sure enough, tucked in behind 3 layers of tents there was a 10x10 with a band cranking. We worked our way to the front (Jerry's side) of the small crowd of about 40 people and caught 3 long jam-songs by the Drunken Hearts. They were great, and I was sorry that I had to make the choice between some random pop-up show and them on the small stage, but grateful that I ended up seeing both. Best of all, this set was one of their choosing for themselves, not for whatever audience they thought they were playing for.

That's it for the music review. Overall, the music was great. There is always a strong representation of bluegrass at 4Peaks, but this year it felt like the organizers were really trying to get more groove or funk happening. We liked it and we'll be back next year. I think doing the homework ahead of time gave us the means to make informed decisions about the bands, and gave us stronger reasons to get to the stages. I think I'll do that homework more as well.