Transit Van Conversion – In Progress

Conversion of this Ford Transit van into a super-cool 4×4 campervan (aka, the Traveling Cat Adventure Van II) is now finally really making progress after several delays, most notably the shutdowns for Covid-19.

It was a year ago, last July, that I ordered the van and set things in motion.  I wasn’t able to find a Transit van anywhere that wasn’t either completely bare bones or loaded with every option – including glass in the rear doors and dark paint that I didn’t want, both which would make the van less comfortable in hot and sunny climates.  So I had to order from the factory.  I was able to finally pick it up last December and pass it off to QuadVan for the 4×4 conversion part, including upgraded suspension, locking differential, raised shock mounts and all terrain tires.  (More details here.)

Van Haus is doing the actual campervan conversion and we worked out a mostly final design layout in January.  I was originally excited about doing a build like this one where there was enough storage for the bikes inside the van under the bed but still room for a wonderful dinette seating area situated mid-cabin.  The platform for a queen-size sleeping area would extend out over the dinette area.  However, given all the gear we like to carry on our adventures (mountain bikes plus gear, two-person inflatable kayak plus gear, telescope and camera gear, folding chairs, portable grill, etc.) plus room for the cats’ litter box and feeding area… well, it seemed pretty clear we needed to dedicate more room to the “garage” by doing a common fixed platform bed.  Plus the queen-sized bed needs to be oriented lengthwise since I can’t fit width-wise between the walls of a van, even with those side extrusions some people put in.  So here’s the final design.  Plus, now there’s room for a full cat apartment under the bed platform.

 

Due to scheduling and miscommunication mishaps, the van didn’t actually get over to Van Haus until late-February and then didn’t really get started before everyone went into shelter-at-home mode in response to the Covid-19 pandemic.  At the end of May, Van Haus was able to start work again, albeit at a much slower pace with social distancing safety measures in place.

As of late June, they’ve installed the front side windows and the little bunk windows over the sleeping area, the powered Fiamma awning w/LED light kit, the 500W of solar panels on the roof, the MaxxAir fan at the rear of the roof, the Amp Research powered steps on both driver and passenger sides, the various external ports (120V, 12V, aux solar, shore power, etc), my two little cellular booster antennas and the swivel seats in the cabin area.

As of early July, they’ve now installed the floor, all the wiring runs, the infrastructure for the upper cabinets, ceiling insulation and initial wall insulation, and the bug screen.  They’re now in the process of making the wall panels and when those are done the full wall insulation will go in.

I already sold the original Traveling Cat Adventure Vehicle in late May and now Darlene and I eagerly await completion of the van conversion, hopefully in August sometime.

I’ll update this post as the work progresses and I get more pictures from Van Haus.

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Bear Inspection

We came across a bear near the Tahoe house today – inspecting a neighbor’s “bear box”:

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Painted Tzolk’in Gears

After painting my Middle Earth Quest miniatures, I turned to my Tzolk’in: The Mayan Calendar gears.  People have done all sorts of very cool, detailed painting with these, but I was just intending to give them a simple wash to make them look a bit like weathered, stone Mayan calendar dials (like these).

Unfortunately, two coats of the wash spoiled the effect so I just added a little bronzing over the stain and called it a day.  (I got the 3d-printed center discs to replace the original stickers from here.) I was most worried about replicating the tiny food day icons/symbols with a painting brush but those turned out great!

 

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Turkey for Dinner

Look who showed up at the door for dinner…

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Painting Middle Earth

I snagged an old copy of Middle Earth Quest sometime last year and knew I’d want to eventually paint the plain, dark gray plastic miniatures to bring them to life – before actually playing the game of course!  Well, I finally got around to painting them over the past week or two.  This is my first time painting miniatures but with tips across the web on everything from priming and base-coating to layering, washing and dry brushing, they came out pretty well.

Okay, so now we can have some adventures in Middle Earth.

Yeah, these things are pretty small.

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Next up, painting the Mayan calendar gears from Tzolk’in: The Mayan Calendar.

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Last Week of Skiing

Darlene and I were up in Tahoe for ten days in early March right up until all the ski resorts decided to close down and the Bay Area counties decided to tell everyone to “shelter in place” to try to slow down the spread of Covid-19.  As it happens, Resi, Troy and Aiden joined us at the house just before that for those last two weekends – and we finally got a nice big snow storm this season – albeit on the last weekend for this unexpectedly shortened ski season.

These two weekends at Homewood (and Alpine Meadows during the week) made quite the contrast to each other: from getting pretty barren to turning warm and slushy to an overabundance of fresh heavy snow and people getting buried and digging out left and right!

On the first Sunday, Aiden finished up his “Super Sliders” season with a slalom race and awards ceremony.  On the last Sunday, with about two feet of new snow, all the major ski resorts had decided to close the night before but Homewood chose to go one more day – for a final huge powder day for passholders and advance ticket holders only.

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Winter Gaming

Well, the global pandemic has certainly put a stop to our frequent gaming meetups, and I don’t mean Pandemic Legacy: Season Two – although Darlene and I have continued to play through the campaign while the real world pandemic develops outside.  (And, so far, in the real world, Darlene hasn’t been called in to help at Stanford Hospital yet.)

Since hosting a gaming day for New Year’s Day and before the directive to “shelter in place” was declared in mid-March, I got in a couple of games of Clank! Legacy: Acquisitions Incorporated and my first adventure in Gloomhaven with Nacho, Luno and Lynette.  I picked up and introduced folks to managing the Taverns of Tiefenthal and manipulating empires in A War of Whispers.  I also got copies of both the original VivaJava: The Coffee Game (very popular with everyone) and the simpler dice version.  I got to try the intriguing but weird Tesla vs. Edison: War of Currents and finally try Race for the Galaxy, which really is just “Terra Mystica in Space”. Other misc games with my local gaming group were of Saboteur,  DiamantPower Grid (with the newer power plant cards), Space Base (still not into it) and likely others I’m forgetting and didn’t take pictures of.  Looks like we’ll be getting together virtually for awhile, with online tabletop game simulations and video chat.

Switching to virtual play and videoconferencing during the pandemic

I also finally got my newer rendition of Merchant of Venus to the table with Darlene – I used to play the original version a lot with Clay, Patty, Dave and Kathie back in the 90’s.  This second edition includes “classic” versions of the board, rules and components to play essentially the original game but also an updated version with some new mechanics and changes to gameplay that I really like.  Oh and Darlene and I tried the “Legendary Asia” map for Ticket to Ride for the first time.

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Colorado Ski Week

This year, Jon, Bill, Kat, Jim, Stan and I hit up Beaver Creek and Vail in Colorado for our annual week of skiing and board gaming. We started off the week with the remnants of a heavy snow storm (as in heavy, wet snow) for a rough first day full of new and old moguls.  It was also pretty cold with highs in the teens.   As the following day promised to be much colder, we all sheltered indoors for a day of gaming including Sushi Go Party, Chinatown, Bang!, King of New York, Instinct, Cheaty Mages, For Sale, and the card game version of Shadows over Camelot.  The following days turned warmer and even sunny and blue skies at times so we were happy to venture out and explore the slopes again.

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Tesla Powerwalls Installed

My two Tesla Powerwall 2‘s were installed last week and now I’m running on my own solar-generated power after dark!

You see, Powerwalls not only keep the lights on when the power goes out but they also let you automatically time shift energy daily to avoid using power from the grid at peak demand times – not something you get from a traditional backup generator.  Plus they don’t need any maintenance or fuel.  And yes, this does mean that now I will still have power for the whole house and, most importantly, running water the next time PG&E needs to shut down the power grid for fire safety.  Yay!

I really like the Tesla app for configuring and monitoring your Powerwall and, if present, your solar PV system.  It continually displays the flow of power between your home, Powerwalls, solar panels and the power grid – in real time.

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Bobcat Crossing Ahead

It would seem that my backyard has become quite the bobcat crossing – this collection of clips is just from the past few weeks:

Perhaps these are those same bobcat siblings I spied as youngsters playing in the yard a few years ago.

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Who Needs New Snow?

It’s been a pretty dry January and February for snow in Tahoe, but we got the gang together at the Tahoe house for an early February weekend all the same. Darlene and I joined Greg, Erin & Merritt for a sunny Saturday at Squaw Valley and then Resi, Troy & Aiden at Homewood for a very windy Sunday.  But it would seem the wind didn’t slow down Aiden at all…

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Unistellar eVscope

I recently received my eVscope from Unistellar and after just a few sessions with it, I thought I would share my thoughts and experiences with it so far – particularly since there wasn’t a lot of info available when I ordered it in back in July of 2019.

Overview

The Unistellar eVscope is quite different from a traditional optical telescope.  It’s a highly integrated and automated digital imaging telescope that enables you to easily find and view deep sky objects in color and detail that would not normally be perceptible to your eye looking through a normal optical telescope.  In addition, the eVscope is designed to let you easily participate in and contribute data to crowd-sourced “citizen science” projects.

The eVscope is a 4.5-inch Newtonian reflector that captures light on a highly sensitive, low noise Sony IMX224 color sensor while using a motorized alt-az tracking mount and autonomous field detection to automatically identify, align and continually track its view of the sky.  Integrated image-processing software takes and combines an on-going series of short exposures to generate an image in almost real time that brings out much of the very low light, color and detail that’s not visible to the human eye even when looking through a normal telescope. This view accumulates over just seconds and minutes and is displayed both in the telescope’s eyepiece (on an OLED display) as well as on a WiFi-connected smartphone.  The whole thing is self-powered via an integrated 9-10 hour rechargeable battery, fits into a large backpack and weighs just under 20 lbs. including the provided tripod.

In other words, it’s quite an impressive level of integration!

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Carrizo Plain National Monument

After getting the Traveling Cat Adventure Vehicle back from the repair shop (following my close encounter with a falling tree limb), Darlene and I decided to get in another little road trip.  I found Carrizo Plain National Monument initially as looking like a nice layover point on our planned way to Joshua Tree National Park, but we ended up deciding to spend our four days just there, exploring the hills and valley.

Carrizo Plain is probably most known for many illustrative pictures of the San Andrea fault cutting across many old creek beds and showing how quickly (geologically) the two plates are moving past each other.  It’s also home to some once elaborate Native American rock paintings, at “Painted Rock”.  Here’s some great side-by-side images showing the terrible damage these rock paintings have been subjected to over the last century.

In the spring, the valley and foothills are often covered in a brilliantly varied carpet of wildflowers.  (See this image search for examples.)

Besides these sights, we got in some hiking, drone-flying and general exploring.  I also brought along my newly acquired digital imaging telescope from Unistellar to see what it can do.

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New Years Day Gaming

We gathered fifteen gamers for a full day of gaming this New Years Day!

I joined Greg and Erin and GregToo! as we drank and caroused until just Erin was left standing at the Red Dragon Inn, and then Dan and Luno joined with us to just barely vanquish evil in a desperate game of Shadows Over Camelot.  Troy, Roland and Nacho fought over the solar system in The Expanse; Darlene, Lynette, Jacobi, Molly and John worked to defeat the monsters in Horrified and then later collected birds and bird eggs in Wingspan.  Nacho, Troy and Roland then competed to build up their cities in Machi Koro.  Nacho, John, and Dan joined me for more endeavors in the industrial eras of Brass: Birmingham while Darlene, Greg and Luno explored the worlds of Above and Below and Roland, Jacobi, Molly and Lynette weaved histories of civilizations in Tapestry.  After dark Roland, Greg, Luno, Lynette and Elizabeth gathered gems in Century: Golem Edition and then we all finished off the night in a six-way, cobblestone-filled bike race of Flamme Rouge.

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Christmas in Tahoe

Christmas in Tahoe… fresh snow, skiing, snowshoeing, hanging a ceiling fan, playing new board games (Covert and Pandemic Legacy: Season 2).

 

But then… uh oh, my cat broke:

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Troy’s “Hawaii Five-Oh” Birthday

Pics from Troy’s “Hawaii Five-Oh” birthday party this past weekend – click through for the gallery:

   

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