I’m Back!

I’m back! We had the darkest winter on record here in Austin in 2017, and I got totally snowballed by seasonal affective disorder. It knew it was happening, but it was still so strong that even with all my coping mechanisms in full effect, I was motivationally comatose for months. This is one of the main reasons I don’t live in the Pacific Northwest. I need a better SAD light for the yurt and van!

In the meantime, the conversion on Junior, my Sprinter van, has largely fallen apart, I’ve been to several festivals, I’m ramping up my thrift store resale business, and I got Handfasted to Abigail, my partner of ten years!

I’m gently herding myself back in the direction of regular blogging, so you should hear more from me soon!

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Two Hundred Watts of Bose Kidney Massage

IMG_20180312_235141.jpgAfter starting with useless, blown speakers, Junior’s stereo is now capable of causing both psychotic joy and physical injury. I started with static, and ended with Bluetooth, USB, integrated Pandora, full stereo and 200 watts of Bose sub!

The story began when I found this Kenwood head unit at a thrift store for $10.

I’d also seen a 200 watt Bose Sound 10 subwoofer for $10 for several months forgotten beneath a shelf.

I got everything else I needed to hook them up for under $100. That includes a Axxess XSVI-1784-NAV to, which allows me to install any aftermarket stereo into my Sprinter, a Boss AR1500MK amp with remote for the subwoofer, plus additional cables and the plastic adapter to fit it into the dash.


I connected the Axxess to the Kenwood harness with butt connectors. Now I can just plug my new stereo into the factory socket without cutting anything on the van. The one thing missing from the Kenwood harness was the orange wire for dimming. I still haven’t figured that part out yet.

One gotcha that required several calls tech support was that the remote for the Boss amplifier doesn’t do anything unless the amp is in Low Pass (instead of Full) Mode. By the time we figured that out, they had already shipped me a replacement, which I’ll probably resell. 🙂


The functional output of the amp is actually about 250 watts at 4 ohms, which is perfect for my 200 watt Bose sub. There’s a little bit of headroom to prevent distortion, but not too much wasted power. I still managed to kill the van’s main battery during a blessedly long late-night conversation with a friend, but I was able to delete the problem instantly by flipping the switch to connect the house pack.



I wired up the power leads directly to the main battery bus and hooked up the ground to a big bolt under the driver’s seat.

I snaked the cables from the Kenwood into the battery compartment and through the cable tunnel to the driver’s seat. I put the subwoofer directly behind it, padded with some yoga matt foam, and bolted the Boss amp directly to the side.

The bass response of the final result was powerful enough to annoy my neighbors, which is a new high/low for me. 🙂 After listening to very thumpy music for my 100 mile trip to visit my parter, my kidneys actually hurt. Go me. 🙂

I’ve got probably about a $600 stereo system for under $150. I still haven’t dialed in all the various crossovers, equalizers, etc. I’m still experimenting, and am an obsessive dial-twiddler. I want to change the settings for every song. 🙂

The bass response is amazing, which rocks because I not only drive this van, I often live in it. I left the original tweeters when I swapped out the blown factory woofers for new Pioneer 5 1/4″ ones, and there’s definitely something screetchy and horrible sometimes happening to the highs. I did that installation in a Portland Walmart parking lot at 3 AM, so there’s a *tiny* chance I did something wrong. 🙂 I’m intending to actually get out some audio testing gear and profile the system from the driver’s seat, and will then take action to correct it.

In the meantime, I’ll just listen to Drink the Sea by the Glitch Mob on repeat. Forever.

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Blasting Back into Baking with Soul Bread

With the return of The Sun, I’m finally coming out of the worst bout of Seasonal Effective Disorder I’ve ever experienced and rejoined the Land of the Living. I put on pants before noon today!

The thing I miIMG_20180302_184928.jpgss most when I’m eating strictly low-carb is bread. The great news is that the number of wheat-alternative and low-carb bread recipes is increasing rapidly due to the power of crowdsourcing. I decided to try out this Soul Bread recipe to see if I could reclaim my favorite floppy breakfast and lunch substrate.

I’m using my Cuisinart CM100 combo oven, which is potentially a problem since it doesn’t have a non-convection bake setting. There’s no way to turn off the convection fan, which tends to lead to overbrowning of the exterior and undercooking of the center. It has a combo convection bake and microwave setting that’s supposed to fix this, but I haven’t had a chance to really test drive it yet.

The result, however, was good. I followed the directions without change, and while the center was just slightly underdone, the rest firmed up well. I hit the loaf with the microwave for about four more minutes to fix that problem.

The crumb of the bread is pretty close to the real thing, but slightly eggier and more rubbery. It holds together better than most gluten-free bread I’ve had. The first batch I made using whey protein flavored with vanilla and stevia because I couldn’t find an unflavored one. The result has *just* enough of a desserty flavor that it was a little off-putting with eggs.


However, it toasted nicely and hungrily absorbed butter almost as well as my favorite breakfast bread, sourdough. If I could get rid of the sweeter flavors, I think we might have a winner.

For the second batch, I scored some unflavored whey protein and a bread machine for $15 from Goodwill. They routinely have 3-5 bread machines these days, so I had a selection. I chose a Regal Kitchen Pro Breadmaker K6743.

IMG_20180310_073512.jpgI deliberately undermixed the ingredients before putting it into the machine, because it has its own mixing paddle and I wanted to see how well it worked. I used the only quickbread setting since the Soul Bread is chemically leavened. The result was lumpy and somewhat overcooked. Next time I’ll do more pre-mixing despite the extra mess.

I also managed to dig a big hole in the bottom of the loaf by accidentally rotating the mixer fin inside it before removing it.

Since this recipe goes straight from mixing to bake with no rising delay, I may pull out the mixing paddle before the bake next time. Since it was overcooked, I’ll likely reduce the bake time, which I’ll probably have to do manually.


You can see how much I destroyed the bottom of the pieces with the mixing paddle here:


Going forward I’m going to try to make versions of my baking recipes both for combo ovens and bread machines. I think bread machine recipes are probably more generally useful, but the combo ovens are really fantastic for people living in tiny spaces where countertop space is at a premium.

Overall this is a great place to start for a low-carb bread! It works well for sandwiches and really shines toasted and smeared with butter for yolk-sopping during breakfast. To get something closer to sourdough I’ll try swapping some egg for whey protein so it will be a bit less eggy and rubbery, and adding a little more leavening to get a more open, airy crumb. I may also experiment with yeast for leavening with small amounts of honey or something else to feed it, without adding too many carbs to the recipe.

Happy baking, and please let me know how it goes if you try it out!

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Standing Up

I just finished this fabulous standing workstation in the yurt!



After finding a monitor mount at Treasure City Thrift, I was ready to try setting up my workspace for standing.

I’ve been a slug all winter, and anything I can do to improve my health and exercise is worth doing. I have terrible posture habits when sitting, so getting my ass out of the seat was critical.

In the process, I also moved my combo oven under the countertop, which increased my usable counter space by at least 30%! I’m a little concerned about whether it has enough clearance when used as a toaster or convection oven, but I think it will be ok. Only testing will tell for sure.


The new location is right next to the door, so I can look outside when it’s open now. I’ll also be able to look through the new porthole window I’m making in the new door, one of my next projects!

I got an Egrodriven Topo anti-fatigue mat on Ebay for about $85 delivered. It should be here Wednesday.

In the process, I waterproofed the OSB I’m using for the countertop. So far I haven’t waterproofed most of the raw wood in the yurt, and I’ve definitely caught certain portions getting a little musty from the humidity. Now that this section is done, I can move all the crap from the other two sections and waterproof them as well. Along with the air filter, it should really improve the air quality when the yurt has to be buttoned up for long periods of time.

I’m excited to think about all the creativity that will be unleashed in this space!

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I Survived the Fast-Mimicking Diet

I just got done eating nothing but avocados and veggie powder for five days. Why? For better long and short term health. It’s been clear for a while that one of the main reasons for what are called Western Diseases is that people don’t starve enough any more. We evolved to go through short and longer term periods when sufficient food wasn’t available, and having food 24/7 all year round violates that pattern. I’ve been looking for a safer longer-term fast for years, and the Fast Mimicking Diet is the first I’ve found that has solid scientific support. For a more in depth look into the science behind why the diet is so helpful, check out this great Found My Fitness interview.

I decided to try this version of the diet from The Quantified Body. The guy who created it is super focused on biometric tracking and scientific rigor, so I’m choosing him to trust the translation of the commercial product into what’s basically 2-3 avocados and some veggie micro nutrient powder per day for five days.

I’ve done a few other fasts in the past, including the wildly unscientific and probably fairly harmful Master Cleanse, so I had some idea of what it felt like to go long periods of time without a lot of food. I’ve also done the Slow Carb and full ketogenic diets for months at a time. The only other thing I consumed was one cup of bulletproof coffee per morning. The Quantified Body guy has two cups of black coffee. Since I had only two smaller avocados on the first three days, I don’t think the extra fat in the bulletproof coffee is going to throw anything off too far.

I felt pretty hungry and somewhat weak on day 1, but the hunger mostly went away after that. I got little spurts on day 2, but by day 3 the hunger reaction was almost completely gone. I definitely felt weaker than usual, and restricted myself to activities that didn’t require a lot of concentration or exertion. I like avocados, and enjoyed eating them for the first three days. The veggie powder I got was largely wheatgrass based and had that nasty sweet grassy flavor, and was much harder to get down in a cup of water. In the future I will use a different powder. On the evening of day 4 I started feeling a bit nauseous and heart-burny. I had trouble eating my food, but I stayed on protocol and ate it. I felt the same way on day five, along with some increasing spaceyness. I ate both avocados, but decided to skip the last dose of veggie powder.

The hunger reflex is actually much more changeable than many people realize, and on longer fasts it almost completely shuts down. When I was actually eating the avocado, it would kick up fiercely and briefly, but there wasn’t any “getting hungry” part that crept up like usual. Besides not being hungry, I mainly just felt weak and slow. I cut myself a lot of slack and rested frequently. I was still able to learn some metalwork to repair my van.

Afterward the heartburn stayed with me for a day or two. I ran out of my good coffee and butter on day 2, so my bulletproof coffee was made with much more acidic coffee and only coconut oil afterward. However, I think the biggest contributor to the heartburn was the nasty wheatgrassy powder I was consuming. I probably didn’t need as much as I took (4 tbsp per day) and the flavor was pretty nauseating.

As it’s gained in popularity, a lot more recipes that are conformant for the diet have come out. I choose this version because it was very simple. Next time I will show a little more creativity in my cooking for some variety. I think more electrolyte supplementation can help with the weakness that comes from the huge amount of water loss going into ketosis. I would also like to figure out which bio-markers I can check before and after so I can see some N=1 details of what’s going on with my body. In particular, I’d like to look for the things that *don’t* change as much doing just a ketogenic diet and eating within a 10-12 hour feeing window, because I’m often getting those benefit already elsewhere. More research is required.

I intend to do this about 3-4 times per year.

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Aventures in Hot Metal – Part 3: Success!

I got the van pipe fixed and back on today!

Here’s the damaged newer pipe still on the van. You can see clearly where the sooty diesel exhaust is leaking along a crack between the pipe and the flange.


With what I thought was one repaired pipe ready, I was finally willing to take the other damaged pipe off. This is a Big Job, and I didn’t want to have an undriveable van for days. It was *much* easier to take off with my boroscope camera, as I could point it at the hard-to-see-and-reach bolts behind the engine right at the firewall.


It’s still a massive pain in the ass, but I got it done and the pipe was out.

Then I had to decide, do I fix the newer pipe, or install the one I had fixed with super shoddy workmanship? It turned out the stainless steel collar I made on the backup pipe was only really held on by flux, not bronze or steel. I peeled it off and decide to try repairing the big hole with bronze, simply dabbing on new metal until it was covered. In the process, I managed to cut the whole pipe in half.



So, fix the new pipe. 🙂

Unfortunately, the *new* pipe was much more badly damaged than I thought it would be. It was barely hanging together by a thread! That crack you see below goes *all* the way around the pipe. That little bit in the middle is the only part that’s still together!


The Good News was that this is exactly the kind of fix that the SSF-6 is really good for, and I still had most of a $30 stick of that left. All the problems in hurting the old pipe came because the oxyacetylene torch can easily melt steel, especially thin steel pipe. Instead, I used my propane plumbing torch, which is much cooler. It would be very hard to accidentally cut steel, but it’s still hot enough for the 1150 o F SSF-6.

I basically made a new collar starting up higher on the pipe than the rip, and dribble the SSF-6 down the side to make a new join. It worked beautifully, there was no risk of blowing up the pipe, and everything looked clean and sealed when I was done.


I pressure tested it to 24 PSI with my blocking plates and saw no leaks. There was also no light visible looking into the tube in sunlight, which is how I found several of the leaks in the previous repair.

I re-installed the pipe over the course of several hours, another huge job. I fired up the van and tried feeling for leaks with my hands and couldn’t find any. Success!

There are two problems. One is that I may have further stripped the damaged hole on the lower pipe connection to the EGR cooler. I had blamed myself for stripping it, but the more I think about it, the more convinced I am that it was originally stripped. I think the pipes are breaking like they are because that side isn’t held on as tightly as the other, so as it expands and contracts, it twists the end of the pipe right along where the breaks have happened in both pipes. This would explain the repeated failure, and it will probably happen again until I fix that hole. Doing that would require pulling the pipe *off* again, however, and I’m 100% unwilling to do it now. Next time it fails, I will, but I have a whole other hair-brained solution to this problem that will make the EGR cooler obsolete, and it involves the pipe I destroyed earlier. More on that later!

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Adventures in Hot Metal – Part 2

After all my hard work, it was time to pressure test the exhaust pipe!

I found some thick Playmobile toys that I though would work to plug the ends. I cut them out and drilled the appropriate holes. I then screwed in the air connection fixture for my shop compressor.


I fired up the compressor and tried it!


The plastic blocking plates and the vinyl shower pan liner weren’t even close to strong enough for a complete seal to 30 PSI, but even at slightly over 20 PSI, I could tell air was coming through the repair! Drat!

So after all my hard work, the part leaks. 😦 Ironically, I think I fixed the original leak pretty well, but the huge hole I blew in the pipe wasn’t sealed by the coil of stainless wire and very expensive SSF-6 silver solder.

The are two main problems with this otherwise brilliant idea. First it’s *very* hard to heat the thicker pipe (still pretty thin) without totally destroying the thin wire on top. Maybe someone better than me could pull it off, but I actually melted through the wire several times. Everything has to be evenly hot for the SSF-6 to do its capillary flow action to the right place. Second, the SSF-6 is $30 a rod, so while with proper heating it might be theoretically possible to seal the entire coil, it would super expensive.

So, back to the drawing board. This time using a carbonizing flame instead of a neutral flame (not as hot, better for brazing), I painstakingly re-melted the silver and pulled off the stainless wire in little bits. I then used a wire brush to brush off the silver while it was still liquid. My friend Tyler warned me that I might be compromising the stainless pipe’s corrosion resistance by using a mild steel brush, but 1) the parts of the pipe I’m re-working a shitload of times are already probably altered anyway and 2) I was only heating to the melting point of the SSF-6, which is 1150 o F, and not the melting point of the stainless.

After I got done with that, I sanded down the surface a bit with sanding cloth, especially to get the big hole level with the rest of the surface:

Sanding off the Bad Stuff                                     Not Perfect, But Better!

Next I cut a piece from a stainless hose clamp that was long enough to go all the way around the pipe with a little to spare. This collar will cover the big hole I blew into the pipe and was cut from a much longer clamp so there were no holes. I then used vice grips, pliers, and another hose clamp to gently form the collar into a perfect fit for the pipe. My intention was to try using the SSF-6 the same way that silver solder is used for joining copper pipes in plumbing. Note how I only covered half the collar with the hose clamp. I brazed the opposite end of the collar *first*, then I was going to move the clamp to the other side and do it again.


I fired up the torch, and was successfully able to get the SSF-6 to slurp into the gap! I let it cool down a bit, then took off the hose clamp. At first it seemed like the clamp had been successfully joined to the pipe, but a little bit of wiggling and it popped off. Shit!


The gap was too big, and I’m also guessing that there wasn’t enough flux inside the join. I should probably have brushed it with flux before putting the collar all the way on. You can see the shiny part where the silver did exactly what I wanted it to do, but it would have taken a *lot* more of the SSF-6 to get this right, so I decided to save what was left for fixing the pipe that’s still in the van. It has only a hairline crack right at the flange, and that’s perfect for the SSF-6’s capillary action.

Getting My Bronze On

It was time to learn how to work with bronze. I had originally though it wasn’t high temp enough for this application, but bronze’s melting point is actually much higher than the SSF-6. It doesn’t capillary quite as nicely, but it *can* be used to actually add material if done correctly instead of only flowing into tiny gaps. I had already picked up some flux coated bronze rods from Home Depot the day before, so I was ready. I had tried them the day before using my little propane plumbing torch, but it wouldn’t melt the rod even directly in the hot tip of the flame. It would have to be oxyacetylene again.

I put the collar and hose back in place over the hole and started again, this time with the bronze. It took some finagling, but I could already tell I was getting better with the intricate hand dance. I angled the work piece so that the bronze would tend to flow downward slightly into the join. I moved it when necessary to keep the working edge pointing upward. Here it is after the first go round. In this picture you can also see the original rip that started this whole process. I was fixed by the silver, but got un-fixed when I pulled the wire coil off.


This time it sealed a lot better! I took the hose clamp off, and it was still stuck on there!


I moved the clamp to the side I just brazed, and repeated the process for the other side. I also did a little dab-dab to seal one tiny hole I had made for the wire, the original tab tear, and the gap where the flange meets the pipe. I found that it was *much* harder to do this than to just get the bronze to flow. It would have helped more if I had oriented the workpiece so that it was perfectly horizontal to discourage the bronze droplets from running off.

Once everything cooled off, I did another pressure test, this time with soapy water. Success! No bubbles were visible on the repaired side!


This is all very crappy workmanship, I am a rank beginner, and I am desperately hoping that I don’t have to use this pipe in my van. However, I do *not* want to take the newer pipe, which *also* has a hairline leak where the flange meets the pipe, out of the van until I have a viable replacement. My plan is to remove the newer pipe, fix it now that I’m more competent and because it’s far less damaged and an easier repair, then put that same pipe in the same day.

Wish me luck!

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