C-Realming with Dermot O


In fine C-Realm style, Dermot O’Connor and I wiled away over four hours discussing the overlooked primacy of class in politics, the dark side of “meritocracy”, American and British elections, how identity politics is a much shallower layer of the shit lasagna than class, and finally the progress on his upcoming comic novel on the history of inquiry and scientific though.

At some point, we ordered more coffee.


Dermot was rocking an amazingly convincing Peter Capaldi/David Tennant Doctor Who look, and it was instantly great to see him again. Dermot and I met when I gave him a ride to KMO’s Portland leg of the 2013 C-Realm Manifesting in Meatspace Tour, which I covered here.

We’ve both been on the show more than once, but have only exchanged a few words about our mutual interest in comics and illustration in the intervening years.

It was really refreshing to have conversation with someone as well-researched as Dermot, and he also brings a working-class viewpoint that helps fill in gaps in my middle-class experience. These kinds of talks make me realize how seldom I participate directly in the kind of deep conversations I want. Going deep in that way is, of course, a major reason I listen to the C-Realm in the first place, but having another guest around to talk to is even better!

The fun really went off the rails when Dermot asked if I’d like to see his progress on Continuum, his truly staggering comic book history of scientific thought and inquiry. These were his notecards for one small section of the project!


Even Dermot finds this overwhelming!

Talking to Dermot is a lot like I imagine talking to John Michael Greer must be — a constant state of amazement at the research, thoroughness, focus, and sense of humor. Not only are his illustrations amazing, fun, and clear, they’re also meticulously researched, frequently debunking conventional wisdom about scientific history. The idea that a single person could embark on and finish such an epic projects completely blows the mind of a dilettante like me, but, like KMO’s work on the C-Realm, inspires me to step up and do better myself.


In a wild synchronicity presented itself when I mentioned how much I liked the arty Arabic astronomy diagram on the wall behind Dermot. It looked vaguely familiar, but I figured it was just a pop-art appropriation with fake Arabic designed to look cool on a coffee house wall.

“Oh no!” said Dermot. “That’s Al-Biruni! I can show you the original!” He then proceeds to regale me with relevant history while bringing up THE SAME FUCKING DIAGRAM ON HIS COMPUTER that he’d used for researching his project.

This moment may have been my favorite in an afternoon of pleasures. 🙂


My cursory comparison revealed a near *exact* match in the characters that could only have come with knowledge of the language or a slavish devotion to precise copying.

Although I asked Dermot for suggestions about where to hold the meetup, he gave me several choices, and I was the one who picked Caffe Vita. Amazing.

We were hoping maybe another person or two, including the supposedly local Douglas Lain of Zero Books, might show, but while several other regulars said hi to Dermot in passing, I pretty much had him all to myself for over four hours.

And I’m ok with that.

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Supply Gathering and Cat Care

The kitchen countertop in my van is a little disorganized…


It works, but I’ve had some time to live in the space and decided I want a single long countertop instead. Time to find parts!


I headed over to The Rebuilding Center, one of my favorite places in Portland! They recycle building supplies from demolished building for reuse in new projects.

They have this amazing sculptured front door that really captures the spirit of the place:


First I found this interior door for $5 to to cut down and use as my new countertop. This is not meant to be the final result, but it will let me cheaply prototype the next step in my Permaculture-and-Agile-Style iterative design process. My friend Neil had two same-height countertops in one of his Sprinter conversions, and was able to put a bridge over them to make a bed, which sounds like it’s worth trying.


I also found these super heavy-duty adjustable Ikea table legs for $1 each! The only catch? They tops are angled, so if I want to use them straight I’ll have to find a way to correct the angle.


In the meantime I’m helping out Amanda and Paul by house and cat-sitting for them. This gives me access to a shower, full kitchen, storage space, room to work, etc., and their kitties get food, attention, and poop scooping. Thanks guys!


I took advantage of the kitchen to make this fabulous and tasty yard-tomato-and-Cheeto omelet!


In the process I always find these little Portland gems to keep things interesting!

Fabulous Wonder Woman Car

Amazing Reflections at East Portland Coffee Roasters

Another in a Deluge of Fabulous Thrift Store Chickens!

After a super-grateful shower, I’m gonna head over to ADX and start building the new countertop! Free beer and power tools for the win!

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Shibari Storage at ADX

Storage in Junior, while plentiful, has been pretty chaotic so far. The bungie cargo nets above the bed have been Xtra Krazy.

Ugly cargo nets for overhead storage

They’re actually a fabulous idea, and I consider them Necessary Minimal Gear for small living. However, they’re also ugly, chaotic, and wear out. I wanted something that was still mostly open, but neater.

There’s more crap than storage, which means I have to move shit every time I want to drive or lie down. I have to walk carefully not to trip, which is terrible Fung Shui.

Transparent tubs are great, and I’m going for a Teahouse in the Forest theme for the van, so I decided to try a Shibari harness.

I claimed some space in the largely unused ADX jewelry room. First I tried some rough natural rope, because the shagginess fits the theme. However, it’s weak, hard to work with, and shits fibers all over my bed. However, I seemed to be onto something…

First try with sisal rope

There were definitely some problems with center sag, especially on longer runs, once inside Junior.


I proceeded to the Orchard Supply, a huge warehouse landscaping store, looking for bamboo. While they didn’t have any the right size, the green steel tubes covered with plastic are actually a pretty good stand-in, especially if they were painted to look like bamboo.


They’re light, strong, and straight like bamboo, but more uniform.


That fixed it!

The design is quite simple, and anyone could make it. The tubs stay put pretty well so far, I’ve only had one fall-out. The front and back rope for each tub slides toward the tub to tighten, and away to release. I think there’s an even better design where gravity will tend to hug the tubs, keeping them in place, in the manner of a slipknot.


What I would really love was a way to accomplish all this with one continuous rope that I never had to cut, without wasting a lot of rope doubling back, but I’m not that good yet.

Now that this has worked on one side, I’m going to add another four tubs on the other side, and may look at making them two-deep in some places. I could also put them short-side-on instead of long-side-on. Getting the smaller tubs into this kind of storage will allow me to use the space under the bed exclusively for the heavier, largely tubs that more frequently contain Ugly Shit like tools.

It seems like now might be a great time to research knots and storage techniques in the holds of sailing ships!

More design adventure at ATX coming soon!

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I Can’t Stop Licking The Lovecraft


I’m really digging the fact that Lovecraft has two dance floors now. If one DJ plays something one doesn’t like, it’s off to the other floor!

Despite having 7% ABV, the on-tap Marionberry Cider, while tasty, has little inebriant effect on me. I’m a notorious lightweight, and usually that much alcohol makes it mildly hard for me to walk. I’ve had two visits now starting with it, and both times I felt effectively nothing after finishing all 16 oz. I then moved on to the canned-but-still-local apple cider, and three sips in I was buzzing. Tonight, in the name of Science, or possibly Metaphysics, I will try the other order to see if makes a difference.


I’m hitting The Lovecraft Bar pretty much every Thursday night if anyone wants to catch me there.


So I had this bright idea that if I parked the van near the club, I would be able to stagger out to it, go to sleep, and completely avoid having to cycle home in the dark and cold while maybe not totally sober.

10 PM Thursday: Found a space nearby and parked. No problem after hours, no pay-to-park until 8 AM. Sweet!

10:30 PM Thusday: Drank, Danced, Flirted, Etc. Fun!

2 AM Friday) “This was a great idea! I can just walk two blocks and go to sleep!” *collapse*

7:30 AM Friday) “Fuck! I have to put on clothes? I HAVE TO DRIVE! Fuck. Fuck! *FUCK!*”

This lead to me to trapped in morning rush hour, sleep depped, uncaffeineted, and mildly fuzzy headed, weaving bleerily trough traffic trying to get Junior to somewhere I could immediately go back to sleep.

Which is more dangerous to myself and others, this, or wobbling home mildly intoxicated on my folding bike in nearly non-existent traffic at 2 AM? The difference in mass alone tells the entire story.


Tonight I’ll find the closest uncontrolled parking I can find and bike or walk from *there*.

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Doing Portland

So now that you’re in Portland, you ask, what are you doing?

I’m standing in line for 40 minutes for Salt and Straw Ice Cream. Three times.


Favorite weird flavor this trip? Bonemarrow and Smoked Cherries!


I’m breaking shit in the van:


I’m drinking coffee:


I’m saving lives through basic personal hygiene:


…and being the only sober person at dance venues:

(only in moderation)

I’m riding around on my undignified folding bicycle nearly every day:

…and learning new ways to strap things to it.

I’m heating objects by converting photons gathered from Heaven first into electrons, then into directed microwaves inside a plastic box inches from my body:


This is the biggest draw on the power system so far, 100 amps.

I was going to go hiking, but the forest burned down. 😦 Instead I went to a class where I learned how to tie people up, which was fun.

I’m having a great time! The weather is beautiful, I can easily park near any part of town I want, and can then bike anywhere within four miles or so and back. Some friends have been very responsive, others have been harder to nail down. So far I’ve had precisely zero drama around living in my van, which is less than I expected. I have to wonder how it will be once I get back to Austin.

I was going to go do some laundry, but Robert pointed out this great on-the-road method used by John Steinbeck that I might try instead.

Finally, after looking into several options, I decided to join ADX, that amazing co-workshop, for the two weeks remaining. I’m ready to make some upgrades to Junior, and there are already three other Sprinter conversions happening there, so I should be in good company. More details to come!

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Battery Death and Accidental Crotch Welding


I don’t like having enough power to weld flowing through a twice-defective part located directly between my legs.

While on deadline recently I discovered the car battery in Junior was dead. “No problem!” I thought. “I can connect to the house batteries and start right up!”



I have a set of Big Wires running between the car battery and the house batteries. By flicking a switch, I’m doing exactly the same thing one normally does with jumper cables — connecting the bad car battery to a running alternator and good battery to charge it up and provide starting power. Except that, while I could *hear* the relay clicking, no power was flowing.


It turns out the Mercedes-branded relay itself was physically broken due to shitty construction (gory details here on my Sprinter Source build thread) for the *second* time.


I had the good fortune to connect with a local DIY Sprinter van converter named Neil, and he had offered me access to a driveway and workshop while his friend was out of town. After we had lunch at Off the Waffle, with its fabulous disco bathroom, I took him up on it. I helped him get his new counter legs swapped out, then removed the driver’s seat from Junior to examine the relay situation.


Meanwhile, it started raining fried forest as the Eagle Creek Fire got into full swing, burning through the only two trails I’ve ever hiked in the Gorge. Not only was this awful for the loss of beautiful wilderness, but the ashy skies meant that my solar panels weren’t working very well. The first backup for this kind of situation is to use the relay interlink to charge the batteries from my engine when I’m driving, but, as I already mentioned, it was fucking broken.

There was a tiny, crappy plastic tab that had broken inside the relay, and I welded it back into place with my butane soldering item. It works again now, but I really want a different relay. It’s hard to imagine one being shittier than this one from any major manufacturer. I should have returned this one the first time it broke, but I was broken down in Abilene and *really* needed it to work right away.

Neil has this crazy Rainbow vacuum that is actually half bong. It sucks all the air through a water bath, making its output nearly dust free. They’re Dyson-level expensive, and their design seems to have been *planned* to make them look hopelessly outdated, but otherwise it was really cool.

This cutie lived at the house we were working at. Despite being part Poodle, my Least Favorite Breed, he was pretty snuggly and lovable.



I’ve been using a variety of inferior vacuum solutions in the van, but since I have at least three Dyson stand-up vacs at home in various states of almost-working, I might actually install one in the van as a central vac.

The ash has decreased now, though the fire is much bigger. I squeegeed off my solar panels at Costco, and while they’re not completely keeping up with usage, the functional interlink is helping the batteries in safe territory until the weather improves. If I have the opportunity, I may use my 30A Dewalt wall charger to top them off.

Neil has been a huge source of van conversion and living information, and a great host. I’m super grateful to him for turbo-charging my van life experience. Thanks Neil!

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TLDW: State of The Junior Report

I made this long, rambling video to capture what Junior has been like in his first three weeks of service as my pimp mobile house *before* I make any major changes. I discuss a lot of the design issues en-route, so although it’s long, it’s also quite dense. I cover all the major systems, including the solar and electrical, sink, cooking, storage, bed, water, stealth, lighting, etc., for this first fully functional incarnation of my mobile home.

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