Monday, April 23, 2007

paring down the laundry list

Its that time of year when you take stock of all the things you wanted to do over the Winter, but just didn't manage to get to. I look at Hapy, and I'm reminded of all the projects that aren't quite finished and the projects that I want to start. I made the mistake of writing down all the things that I haven't finished yet, or want to do, and it is incredibly long. It seems like the same thing happens when I think about the yard, or some house aspect. Before I realize it, the scope of the project gets so massive that it becomes completely impossible to fathom how I could even consider starting such a project. I thought I'd lay out how I take a list of considerable length containing projects of different scopes and priorities, and cut them down to managable bits.

First, you have to write it all down. It doesn't matter that some of the items are gnat's ass details and others are vague high level descriptions. You gotta write them down. Sounds simple enough, but once they're written down, you can shift them around on paper and it frees your head for actual thinking instead of list maintenance. Make sure your significant other's items are on that list or all of this work will be for naught.

Second, prioritize. Sometimes, that's really easy. Other times, I get to this point, and get stymied by "yeah but's". You know things like I have to wash the patio, but I have to clean the gutters and the gunk from the gutter cleaning will land on the patio..... yeah, but we're having some people over in a few days and the patio needs to be clean... yeah, but its supposed to rain... death cycle. Just put the same priority on both of them and move on. You're just trying to get to a point of seeing what's most important, if dealt with completely independently.

Third, define dependencies. Again, this can be really easy, but in the back of your mind, you have that voice in the back of your head that's squaking about how much time you have to do this or that. Tell the voice to be quiet so you can finish this. The rain gutters and the cleaning of the patio seem dependent, but they're really not. You'd like to only clean the patio once, but what you'd like to do isn't a dependency, its a preference. A true dependency would be having to buy a ladder before you clean the gutters. Think in those terms. For those projects that are just vague ideas, you can't do this part. Those vague ideas have to become something that can be defined at a detailed level, or you really can't go much further. If the highest priority item is one of these, sub-step it.

Fourth, estimate times. This is probably the hardest part. I never get this right when doing bus stuff. Most car work, though, has been done by someone else, and its probably documented on the web somewhere with a statement of how long it took them. For me, I take their estimate and add at least another 50%. I work slowly and deliberately and I have tiny windows of time to work, so that multiplier works for me. Estimate in hours not days and not minutes. If you can't think in terms of hours, your level of granularity is off: thinking in days means not enough detail, and thinking in minutes is probably too much detail. If you're doing something you've never done, make sure you have a step for learning how, and add some time for the actual doing of the work.

Fifth, calendar your work. Between lacrosse and baseball games and practices this Spring, I'll have almost no time to do anything. But there's always an hour here or an hour there that I can get something done. I like to pick a night or 2 of the week that I'll spend a couple of hours each doing something after the kids are in bed. Obviously, I can't do autobody work with the big hammers in the living room then, but other items on the list may be more suitable. Also remember there are lots of things that need to be done to keep a house running, so remember that laundry doesn't wash itself, food doesn't magically appear in the kitchen (or on a dinner plate) and lawns still have to get mowed. This sounds obvious, but my early project plans forgot about some of this stuff. Also account for sloth time as you will spend time surfing the 'net, reading a book or watching tv and you need that time for mental health - guilt free.

Last, execute your calendar. Things will go wrong, items will be dropped and you'll want to add others. To add items, you really need to start at step 2 (prioritization) and go through the rest of the steps. Otherwise, the new item will invariably get stuck at one end or the other of the list, messing up all the planning work you did.

I had intended to post my laundry list of things that I want or need to do to Hapy, but diagramming my process seemed more important. I'll put my list, and my following of these steps into the next few posts if for no other reason, so that they'll be written down.

Monday, April 16, 2007

TDI - Day 1

I figured the first 8 hours of clowning with that TDI engine qualifies as a "day" of work. I wouldn't exactly call the hours terribly productive, but they were fun. The hours started with the receipt of the pallet at my house. The picture shows what it looked like. It was completely encased in a plastic sheet and that stretchy plastic stuff that's like saran-wrap for pallet building. I used to use it when I worked warehouse. It was held down with rope and load locking straps.

I can't say enough about how well packet and carefully assembled the engine was. Eric, the cat from Georgia that sold and shipped the engine, removed the alternator and power steering pump. These were packed separately in bubble wrap. The instrument cluster and the ECU were also separated into bubble wrap and another box. The pallet itself had 2x4's nailed to it so the engine sat in a kind of cradle. I think a few little bits broke in transit, but I'll see how bad that is later.

This next picture shows all the other parts that came on the pallet in various boxes. Roughly in the center, there's the catalytic converter.
Below that is the top edge of the intercooler. Next to that is an assortment of plastic for the routing of the intercooler air under the exhaust header. Above that, is the belt tensioner. To the right of that is some of the coolant hosing and the accelerator pedal. What it doesn't show is the thick bundle of wiring, nor all the wiring that was still attached to the engine... nor the main engine itself.

You can see the engine after it was unwrapped and popped onto a rough engine scoot I built. It is my hope that I will be able to get this engine into the engine compartment and aligned with a transaxle just like this: straight upright. The flywheel (and eventually the transaxle) are on the other end. In the picture, you can see the gap in the lower right-hand corner where the alternator goes. That lower pulley (actually its the drive for the serpentine) is not resting on the wood. I measured it to make sure that it didn't. There are lots of wires and bundles all over this engine that need to find homes. Just figuring out this wiring bundle will take some time.

Finally, here is the scoot by itself. Its construction took all of a couple of hours, and alot of that time was spent finding the wood. I made it with recycled 2x4's from a scrapheap in my backyard and some casters that I got on clearance a few years back. Its basically a 3 sided square that's 15" deep and about 8" across. After assembling the simple square (where the backplane was 1" lower than the tops of the supports), I added 2 more pieces at a right angle to the supports to help make it more rigid. The extra inch lowering helped provide a way of attaching the supports to the back. I then bored holes for the caster screws. I used screws that were leftover from a backyard swingset that were 3" long. Last, I added a thin piece (1/4") of trimwood across the bottom to help prevent the open ends from pushing outwards. Why is it open at one end? Because the flywheel comes down so far, it was really necessary.

The scoot actually works surprisingly well. I have moved the engine around a few times and it doesn't wobble nor feel like its going to tip over at any second. I will probably have to buy an engine stand at some point, but until then, I have a place to keep my engine that is upright and accessible so I can get the components back onto it. The engine floats just inches off the ground, so with the low center of gravity, it should stay relatively stable.

That's all for now..

Friday, April 13, 2007

Engine decided

Well, after pushing throguh all the emails and chatroom advice, I've made a decision about the engine choices. If you recall, I had asked for some advice about what to do about Hapy's engine. The existing engine (aka "the Limper") really doesn't have much push anymore.

I coud go the cheap route and get one off of craigslist. I know a cat in SE Portland that's doing that, but his motivations are different than mine. He needs effective transportation now and his original engine has a trashed head. Different situation. He's going to rebuild his original engine while getting A-to-B with the craigslist engine. Good luck, Josh, it looks like you have it under control.

I thought about getting an off-the-shelf (AVP) engine from busdepot. I like BusDepot, and I've heard good things about their upgraded heads. The problem is their most powerful engine still only makes about 68HP (more importantly 99ft/lbs of torque max). Better than the limper, but still not that great when you're loaded with a family of 4, camping gear, food/ice for a week, etc.

Boston Bob was a late entry that didn't get a dedicated blog posting. He makes good reliable engines. They are reportedly more reliable than the off-the-shelf variety, but not necessarily any stronger, so we think about upgrading both the power and the price...

The first more expensive option was the TDI engine sitting on my garage floor. Most of the responses I got from people that knew what this engine was went something like this: "you have a TDI engine!!! Aw.. I've dreamed of putting one of those in my bus..." Not many really knew how much work it would be, but I was told by a guy that does these conversions on vanagons to consider 100 hours a fair starting point for estimating. 100 hours! Holy crap, that's a lot of time! But how much calendar time would that be? I mean if I have an hour here, and an hour there, that could take, like, a year.

Jake Raby got a full posting, and he makes some great, powerful engine kits. A Raby camper special is rated at 92HP (120ft/lbs torque). That's a lot better for getting into the Cascades with a full load. The sticker shock was one detriment, but the biggest blocker was that it was a kit and I'd have to find a good case and assemble the engine. Good learning opportunity? Yes. Get to know your engine all the way through so when something going "boink" you know what it was? Absolutely. Keeps the air-cooled bus as close to stock as possible while delivering a measurable power boost? Definitely.

So... what's the decision? I'm going with the TDI. In the end, I really want to run biodiesel. I feel like driving a hippy icon while getting 16mpg (and pumping high smog exhaust output) on MidEastern oil just wasn't ok. The increase in power will be considerable. I'll post the exact numbers from the dyno charts I have on my PC at home, but from the web, the HP will be around 90 and torque peaks at about 145. I am setting very low goals and expectations for this, and I'll document everything I do in this blog so that someone else will have a better idea of what it will take to do this. Hapy is still on the road, and his original engine won't be pulled until after camping season this Fall.