The Unlevel Bed

Looks like it’s finally time to re-level the yurt platform.

To be honest, I’ve never slept as well in my yurt as I did in my house, which was on a slab foundation. I had a really nice $900+ Serta queen-sized mattress in my palatial master suite with its built-in hot tub. Moving into the yurt coincided with getting a 5″ memory foam mattress. The cargo bed also has no boxspring, so the foam mattress sits directly on its hard OSB frame. The AC setup, while rapidly improving, is still more intrusive in the yurt. It’s right next to the bed and blows the cold air directly over my feet. Finally, the yurt wiggles just a little bit on its platform, so there’s a small feeling of wobbliness to sleeping that took some getting used to.

I went to bed after a pretty long and exhausting day, but didn’t feel very happy there. I remembered that my old sleeping setup was dangerous *because* of how amazingly comfortable it was. As soon as I would lie down, I would feel snuggly and sleepy and would have to fight to stay awake.The yurt bed didn’t feel that way, especially recently. I think there may be an element of a niggling back injury creeping back in, but something else was still a problem.

I tried sleeping the other way, which seemed to help. I had also been wanting to try the 11″ mattress again, so I rolled up my 5″ and raided the van to get it. But something still felt wrong. The extra portion of the bed that folds out to make the bed full-sized has adjustable legs for leveling. I still wasn’t able to fully level them with their current length, so I went and re-cut the ends to provide a larger range of motion. With a little twiddling, *that* portion of the bed was level.  But it still felt weird to sleep with my head toward the door.

Yurt platform frame complete and leveled.

When I made the yurt platform, I used 16 rock-and-block leveled feet and only 2×4 lumber to build it. I didn’t want to put any permanent pilings into my landlord’s ground, and even if I had, I don’t trust them not to settle a bit. I used RV levelers designed to hold 5000 lbs each, so I knew I was wildly over-engineering that part. But when most people build a deck platform, they use 2x6s or 2x8s on concrete pilings sunk into the ground. They would also use solid cross-members that span width of the yurt. Insteadt,my 2×4 frame was designed for maximum portability. It comes apart in about an hour and can be transported with an average mid-sized car. The yurt is also on an incline, with over a 12″ difference from back to front. One reason my rent is so cheap is that I’m using land that would otherwise be harder to build on. All this adds up to a certainty that, at some point, I would need to re-level the yurt. I put the RV levelers as close to vertical center as possible to allow for maximum wiggle room. As long as none of them bottoms out, it’s easy to simply screw them up or down using a level to get the platform itself level. To do this I knew I would need a laser level, which I’ve now purchased.

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And when I pointed the laser level at the bed, I found this:

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I took measurements of how far below level each corner was and made this diagram. The circled results underneath are how far below level each corner is:
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It looks like I’ve got over 3/4″ rise from the head to the foot of the bed, and all corners are at least 1/4″ vertically out of whack. I didn’t have the laser level when I installed the bed, but using a bubble level I was able to verify it was pretty close to level. The main part of the bed isn’t levelable, which is something that needs to change, especially because I desperately need that feature in the van. But in the yurt, if the bed isn’t level…

…it means the floor isn’t level.

Shit.

So the solution is to use the laser level to make a plane under the yurt, parts of which are too close to the ground to crawl under, and re-adjust the RV levelers so the platform is level again. It shouldn’t be too difficult, but it will probably be messy, time-consuming, and mosquito-infested. I knew when I chose this design this day would come, and if I only have to do it every year or two, it’s worth the price of the simple setup and ability to move on without violated the land underneath.

Time to find the mosquito spray…

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AC Upgrade Part 1 Results – 24 % Better!

Wow! It looks like adding a second hose to my AC unit reduced my power usage by 24%!

Here’s how I did the experiment:

First, I picked two days in a row that were going to be very close to each other weather-wise. In Texas summers, that’s pretty easy.

Monotonous Texas summer weather is great for AC A-B testing!In this case I chose Saturday, with a high of 97 o F and a low of 76 o F, and Sunday, with a high of 94 o F and a low of 77 o F. These two days aren’t identical, but I’m mainly looking for solid proof adding the second hose changed things. Naturally if I were being real stickler, I would want to run each configuration for at least three days, average the results, etc, etc. However, that would mean both having to *live* in the yurt at 83 o F for at least another week, having that many days in a row that were pretty close, delaying additional upgrades for the sake of data integrity, etc. If I can show a significant difference in testing each for one day, I’m willing to call it done.

Next I set up the AC with both hoses and set the thermostat to 83 o F. Why that temperature? Because I need something that the AC can actually *achieve* without running the compressor 24/7. I’m *not* recording the actual temperatures in the yurt while I’m doing this, so I need to pick a setting where I will *know* the temperature because the AC is able to reach it. I want the compressor to come on and off to maintain that temperature. Then the *only* thing I need to measure to do the comparison is how many electrons were eaten by the AC unit.
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I started with the two-hose configuration because it was already set up, and because I would be home most of the day and two hoses is *way* more comfortable! I started the AC at 7 AM Saturday morning, reset my Kill-A-Watt power meter, and let it run. I ended up at a fabulous party that was hard to leave and didn’t get home until 2 AM. While I was at the party, I *knew* that every minute I stayed was another minute I was committing to be up on Sunday night. Actually, the Kill-A-Watt meter *does* have a timer, so if I just want to have the unit turn off automatically at a certain time, I think I could do that. But the risk of screwing up the measurement was too high, and I only needed one more day.

Here are the results for Saturday:
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So I used a total of 9.34 KWHs keeping the yurt at 83 o F on a 97 o F day.

I was going to be gone most of the day Sunday, so that was a great day to go back to *one* hose, which makes the yurt feel depressurized and uncomfortable. I woke blearily at 7 AM after not going to bed until 3:30 AM, grabbed the second AC hose, which is right next to the bed, and started pulling and tugging until I got all 9 feet coiled on the floor. Luckily there were no wasps this time. At that level of hangover, I would *not* have been willing to get out of bed simply because it was full of angry wasps, and the resulting contest for territory would likely have gotten ugly. I mumbled a prayer to Past Angry Scott for taking the time to annihilate Inconvenient Nature the night before. The second hose I added was now inside, which is what I started with. I reset the Kill-A-Watt, then collapsed back into bed and tried to sleep as the pressure in the yurt dropped and the temperature rose. Sometimes you have to suffer for science!

After getting back from an exhausting day of eating beignets at The G’ral Majal and swimming with hot naked people at Hippie Hollow, I barely managed to keep myself awake long enough to get my second reading, seen here:

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What a change! A total of 11.91 KWH on a day that the forecast said was 3 o F *cooler* than the day before! Plugging those numbers into the Percent Difference calculation, we see that adding the second hose provides at *least* a 24% improvement.

So adding the hose has drastically reduced my power usage in addition to equalizing the pressure in the yurt!

From a strict science perspective, there are a lot of things wrong with this methodology. I would be a lot more valid if I kept track of real-time temperatures and humidities inside and outside the yurt, etc. But, I’m happy with the improvement it demonstrates and am ready to move onto the next step.

The two remaining major upgrades are plugging the roof ring, which is currently still partially open, and adding the Relectix radiant barrier bubble wrap. At each phase I’ll try a similar test and see how much they help. What I’d eventually like to get is a measurement of how much power I’m using for climate control inside the yurt. From an absolute perspective, I want the bragging rights of knowing how much less power I’m using than an average American. From a relative perspective, I want to see how much it’s costing me on a cubic-foot basis for similar comparisons to, say, an average suburban home.

These kinds of discoveries are a big part of what makes this experimental lifestyle worthwhile!

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Yurt AC Upgrade – Part 1

It’s time to make the yurt more Brutal Texas Summer resistant!

The best solution to Texas summer heat is to leave. We should all GTFO, and arguments to the contrary are, basically, garbage. I leave proving that using mass transit to move the entire population of Texas to somewhere cooler actually uses less energy than air conditioning those same people for three months at around 100 o F as an exercise for the reader. Usually I go to Portland, which is better than Austin in every way but only in the summer, after which SAD reaches suicide-inducing levels.IMG_20180615_084940.jpg

That’s the point everyone there should leave Portland and come to Texas. Specifically, Abilene.

Despite this, I will be in Austin for most of this summer, so it’s time to upgrade the yurt’s hot weather abilities.

Because I haven’t been here, I haven’t worked as hard to make the yurt comfortable in the heat. Mainly I’ve used my Honeywell single-hose portable AC unit. I’ve worked for several days making diagrams, drawings, and cartoons to try to illustrate why it, literally, sucks. I’m not happy with any of them, so I’ll just try to explain in words, which will be even worse.

The air in the yurt gets sucked into the AC unit. Part of it goes into what I’ll call the Coolie Part that makes the air cooler and removes the water by using obscene amounts of my landlord’s free electricity. That air is then blown back out into the yurt, cooler and dryer than before. In the process, though, the AC unit generates a lot of its *own* heat. So if the air coming out the Coolie Part is cooler than before, where does the heat and water go?

The answer is what I’ll call the Hottie Part. The single hose you see in this picture carries the heated air and water out of the yurt. I wrap it up with something to insulate it so the heat doesn’t just radiate back out into the yurt.

So far, so good. But, you might ask, why does it suddenly feel like I’m living inside a sock inside a 747 climbing to 35,000 feet? If you do the math, you’ll realize that air is being sent *out* of the yurt, but there is no hose to bring air *into* the yurt. All that hot air being pumped out is drawn from *inside* the yurt, meaning the air pressure drops, giving one that ear-poppy unhappy feeling we all hate so much when flying. At this point I haven’t sealed the roof ring, which normally allows hot air to flow up out of the yurt. But with the vacuum action of the single-hose AC unit, hot, potentially wet air is being sucked back *into* the yurt instead. The AC unit then has to also cool and dehumidify *that* air, which means it uses even *more* of my landlord’s free electricity!

What we really want is for the Coolie Part and the Hottie Part to use *different air*. Specifically, we want the Coolie Part to constantly make the air in the yurt cooler and drier, but not touch any outside air. We want the Hottie Part to pull the air it needs from *outside* the yurt, preferably underneath where it’s cooler, and then squirt hot, wet air outside onto my neighbors where it won’t, at least directly, bother me anymore.

Why not use a simple window AC unit, you ask? Good question. Because the Hottie Part end hangs outside and the Coolie Part lives inside the house, window units don’t need hoses. I already have one I could be using, but the bottom line is that cheaper window AC units tend to be louder and shittier than my fairly high-end Honeywell, which is better built and also designed to cool an area nearly *four* times as big as the yurt with *only* the one hose.

Also, I have no windows. Yet. 🙂

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The Solution is to add a second hose, so, naturally, I got out the duct tape. 🙂

As you can see on the back of the unit, the intakes for the Coolie and Hottie parts are separate. Thank Fucking God. So all I really need to do is find a way to stick a hose on the Hottie Parts intake, and I should be golden. All of this is temporary to see whether it will work or not. The glue on this duct tape will make a huge mess if I leave it on too long.

I got 25 feet of AC conduit from Home Depot for my input hose. It looks like a 1984 Doctor Who special effect, but it’s not too expensive, is insulated, and will do the job. I taped a cardboard box over the Hottie Part input, vandalized a plastic to-go container to make a flange, and taped on first the inside and then the outside of the AC conduit. So far so good!

I fed the hose out through the yurt near the same spot where the Hottie Part output hose goes. I then went outside to figure out how far down I could get it without touching the ground. Touching the ground is bad, because Texas is basically a huge writhing carpet of fire ants and scorpions eating everything that moves, and cockroaches trying passionately to reproduce faster than they can be converted into more ants and scorpions. As I was adjusting the hose, I felt a sudden stinging pain in my left hand because of the yellow jacket nest I had inadvertently grabbed in the process.IMG_20180618_000010.jpg

After some Benadryl and hydrocortisone cream, and trying to figure out whether the bumps on my arms were fiberglass burn or anaphylaxis, I headed back outside with my Executioner zap racket. There were too many mosquitoes to fully savor my sweet vengeance as long as I’d like, but I did get some cool pictures of my beautiful violators in the resulting process of twitching electrical genocide. It was a small nest, so it didn’t take long. After zapping all the adults I knocked the nest onto the ground where the fire ants and scorpions could fight over who got to eat the babies, tucked the duct under a vertical rope so it would stay mostly in place, and then ran inside before I passed out from mosquito-induced anemia.

IMG_20180617_235615.jpgThe final result is *way* uglier than anything I’d tolerate inside my home for long, but *boy* does it work better! The depressurized feeling is *gone*, the unit doesn’t labor as much, and the yurt is *much* more comfortable. The insulation setup is also totally backwards here, because the white hose is the hot output hose. For now I’ve wrapped it in a blanket. I’m also seeing more mosquitos in the yurt because of the imperfect seal where the hoses exit. I’ve stuffed some towels in there for now, but this must be fixed airtight on the final version.

Monotonous Texas summer weather is great for AC A-B testing!

The next thing to do is some testing to see how much power the system uses on similar day. I have a Kill-A-Watt power meter that measures how much power an appliance uses over a period of time. My plan is to run it for a full day with both hoses while I’m here and see how much power the AC uses. On a day when I’ll be mostly gone, I’ll bring the input hose back inside and do it again. I’ll reset it first tomorrow, then maybe do the single-hose thing later in the week. One of the few good things about Texas summers is the brutal monotony, which is good for this kind of comparative A-B testing.

Next up, adding radiant barrier with Reflectix bubble wrap insulation!

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I’m Back!

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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.

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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. 🙂

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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.

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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.

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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:

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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!

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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.

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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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