Chillin’ on the RETROpad

This week was a hot one. So hot, that I can’t really work in the RETROvan in the afternoon once the temperature tops about 95° and my iMac is running at 110°. So I broke down and ordered a portable air conditioner:

This stylish 10,000 BTU Honeywell unit sells for about $350 on It will sit up in front, on top of the dashboard platform near the entry door. The unit also doubles as a dehumidifier, so it could be useful year-round. It weighs only 60 pounds so it’ll be easy to take out when not needed. It draws about 1100 watts at 6 amps, so I’ll have to keep an eye on my circuits. Fortunately Home Depot has a good return policy if it doesn’t work out.

You may recall my original plan was to install a traditional Dometic RV air conditioner on the roof. But that posed two problems: I would lose some precious headroom where the interior vent console hangs down, and it would crowd or even displace my solar panels on the roof due to its large footprint (30 x 40″). So I think going portable is not only more ergonomic, it’s a lot cheaper and requires less work to install.At worse, it’ll require a 4″ vent hole to blow warm air out of the cabin. But I already have two such vent holes in the front cabin firewall that I may be able to use. If not, I can cut a new hole and use this cool stainless steel exterior vent cover.

This is the 15-gallon holding tank that will connect to my galley sink drain for grey water. It just sits under the RETROvan and can be rolled out for emptying and cleaning. The galley’s fresh water tank holds 11 gallons, so this is a good match considering you might dump additional fluids down the sink. Fill the fresh water tank? Dump the gray water tank. Easy.

Here’s how the glass tile finished out on the RETROpad. I’m very happy with it. It gleams in the sunshine, lending more of a resort-like feel to the patio where we hang out on a lot in the summertime.

And here’s a shot of my new galvanized steel steps, which replaced my cantilevered timber steps — which kept splitting. I reused the timber stringers, but I’m struggling to de-warp them (with water and brick counterweights) and will likely end up replacing them with denser wood or maybe some custom metalwork. Each step is fastened with 3/8″ x 2-1/2″ hex bolts, so that part is good. They look great, but don’t try to climb them while wearing high heels. 🙂

Renewing Our Energy

Wednesday I hosted our first annual Racepoint Energy barbecue on the RETROpad. It was a beautiful day, snapping Portland’s heat wave at only 82° tops. The sky was mostly sunny with scattered clouds, light winds out of the north. 100% chance of treason, followed by darkness…

But I digress.

All eight of us have joined pretty recently. Clockwise from the left is Dave, Michael, Nick, Nels, Tabor, Alex and Will. A funny thing happens when you invite a brilliant team like this to your house for a few hours that don’t involve mashing knuckles on keys or glass.

You start to feel a bit… human. Maybe even family. You get to know each others’ hobbies, sensibilities and motivations. Normally, you’d get to know each others’ weaknesses, too. But we don’t appear to have any at Racepoint Energy. I believe that together, we will help disrupt an industry that has turned against this planet. But first we have to ship some thermostats, right?

Meanwhile, Tabor and Dave discuss the prospects of retiring to Portugal and Mazy wonders how long Todd is gonna burn that meat. But what Todd’s really thinking about is why does the RETROvan’s AirPlay system keep cutting out every few seconds — but only when there are guests here? Is all that extra Bluetooth, Wi-Fi and brain power messing with the space-time continuum?

Dave had just flown up from San Jose to meet the team, in the midst of what most Bay Area-ers ultimately do: Flee the Bay Area. Only he’ll be moving home to North Carolina with his wife, where his quality of life will improve greatly. While we’re just a startup, never underestimate how simultaneously liberating and empowering it is to work for a company that embraces remote nerdage.

Will’s our fearless Director. And when he’s not firefighting he’s directing. When he’s not directing, he’s coding. So he never really looks at the camera — unless his code is on fire and he needs directions. We luv ya, Will.

Full-contact Croquet (almost) broke out. Croquet is a French pastime, so you know it’s steeped in cowardice, pageantry and intrigue — much like WWDC.

You are faced with some moral dilemmas during a match, so it’s a fun team-building thang. It’s also a good beer-drinking sport, especially when there are only six mallets and two chairs for eight people. That’s when the “white beard rule” comes into play, folks.

Here’s Alex at the final post, after which the poison rules kicked in. And that’s Michael in the background. He’s working out how he can best destroy that last post before HR arrives.

You know, Croquet’s default poison rules are great. But we can do better. I’ll create a gitlab issue.

And coincidentally, Alex also won the “Guess the Height of that Sequoia” contest. 

I thanked the team for coming and said, “I’m sorry the meat was tough.” Someone whispered, “Blame the butcher, not the chef.” That kept me up all night, wondering if I had pulled a Trump or maybe a ligament in my brain. And then I remembered this proverb: “Don’t blame the baker if the butcher bakes the bread.” One of those head-scratchers, yeah. 🙂

But I digress.

Renewable Energy. Renewable Life.™

Waterworks & Sea Glass

The galley wall faucet’s nipple-ectomy was a success! We had replaced the tapered brass nipples and I just got the fresh union washers of the correct size. And now… Let there be water. I’ll add an aluminum L backsplash later.The other trick was to buy an adjustable slip-nut plumber’s wrench from Home Depot, in order to tighten all the threaded connections by two or three more turns than was possible by hand.

Once it all went together, I decided I need to add a 12V switch for just the water pump’s branch so that its parent circuit (which is shared by the overhead lights and the 12V galley ports) could be left powered ON at the helm, but OFF at the pump most of the time. So with this lighted toggle switch wired in at the galley, you would have to explicitly turn the pump ON when you need water and then turn it back OFF to be safe. This should help prevent any future disaster where the system springs a leak unattended.

And finally, I got inspired today by that new Insane Pools show on Animal Planet about building custom backyard oases (yes, that’s the plural form of oasis). So next weekend, my friend Gary Jackson is coming to install these beautiful sea glass mosaic tiles on the faces of the RETROpad’s two curb steps. Aesthetically, the 1-inch tiles represent computer pixels to me, but overall it’ll create that shimmering turquoise water effect everyone loves.

32 sheets cost $415 including shipping from Glass Tile Oasis in New Jersey. The sheets are 12×12 inches each, so we’ll simply cut each one in half to make two 6-inch by 30′-7″ strips with one spare sheet in case of defect. Gary will then thin-set them into place using his mud-working superpowers. Should be fun!

Independence Day

This was an eventful Fourth of July week. My son just graduated from Western Washington University with a BS degree in Manufacturing Engineering after six long years. He started his career on Monday at Tool Gauge in Tacoma. And then my daughter just turned 21. She has one more year to go at the same school, majoring in Public Health Administration. Both of them visited for a while and were eager to help out with the RETROvan.

Last week, Steven and I removed the galley for hopefully the last time, fixed the 12V USB port and connected all the plumbing between the water tank, pump, sink, drain and faucet. This took all day, but fortunately the weather was ideal. Once buttoned up, everything worked except for leaks at the union connections, and as a result the pump kept kicking on and off. The wall-mount faucet only came with one rubber union washer, so I had to order replacements and they should be here Friday. We also swapped out the brass nipples with different ones from Ace Hardware that aren’t as tapered. We applied six rounds of plumber’s tape and struggled to get everything as tight as possible, then got it down to a single drip. So hopefully the new union washer does the trick.

I surprised Shannon with her first new car: A 2002 VW New Beetle in excellent condition and with only 58,000 miles.

We later had Car Toys install a Bluetooth-enabled Sony stereo and then we added a magnetic dashboard mount for heads-up iPhoning.

Shannon later helped remove all ten windows to put their final weather seals and screws in place. The seals are a closed-cell foam tape, double-sided, routed under the outside trim flange. This went smoothly except for the fact that on each window, four of the trim ring screws would not go willingly into the channels from the inside trim piece. I over-torqued and broke off a couple of screw heads so we had to start over on that window. The solution was to drill those too-tight positions out a bit and then put fresh screws in. I didn’t recognize the pattern until much later, but on all ten windows it was always the four holes leading into the corner radius bends. So that means it was a manufacturing defect — easily overcome, though.

Next we installed the back URL emblem and the remaining two safety reflectors. Getting the emblem straight was easy. It says The rear reflectors took extra effort because I had to chisel off the original screws that were rusted into the steel diamond plate.

But after giving Rosie the Riveter a few lessons in step-up drilling and with some creative attack angles, we got the old screw shafts out and the holes enlarged enough to accommodate our beefier screws.

The results look great and we’re very proud to have raised two fine kids in such a Graceless Age. I checked my RETROvan Task List spreadsheet and found that 207 out of 218 tasks are now checked off as complete!

Gang Way!

It’s been a while since my last post. I’ve been swamped with my new job at Racepoint Energy and working remotely full time from the RETROvan as my mobile office and studio.

The RETROpad’s cantilevered gangway steps keep cracking and breaking now that it’s summer, making egress too perilous for mere mortals. The problem is the crappy “Construction Select” lumber sold wet by Home Depot. Don’t buy it, folks. You’ll regret it. I’ve used it on decking projects too and it’ll curl up and split in the sun.

So, I finally found some prefabricated galvanized steel treads sold by Grainger. These won’t rust and I can drill more support holes on the ends to bolt them to my timber stringers. These are 24 inches wide and I ordered four steps for around $158 including shipping.

This is much more economical than fabricating a custom “marina” gangway, which could easily cost $1,000 or more.