Sunday, December 28, 2014

Photo-of-the-Week #191 - 25th Reunion, Merry Christmas, Clovis, California, December 25, 2014

This is a one of a kind photo. It, quite obviously, is different than my typical photo of the week. The photo illustrates the best Christmas gift I've had in years. It is a "double reunion."

Pictured, left to right, is my former wife, Cynthia, (and while I had two other long term relationships during my lifetime, one of them being to a second wife, I consider Cynthia my only wife), my 36 year old son, Pete, and yours truly.

The reunions? This Christmas is the first Christmas I've celebrated with my son in 12 years, he moved to the West Coast for the following Christmas. But, I said it was a double reunion. Indeed it was because it was the first Christmas in 25 years that Cynthia, Peter and I celebrated the holiday together.

We now live very different lifestyles. I, of course, have no fixed residence of my own any longer and consider wherever My McVansion is parked for an extended period of time as "home" for that particular period. Currently, my location is Clovis, California. Cynthia, although raised in Fresno, California (right next to Clovis), lives in a condo in Palm Springs, California. Pete lives in the "City of Angels," Los Angeles, California. Pete's home was in Seattle, Washington for just over nine years prior to his move to Los Angeles about two years ago where he rents a nice little house.

Palm Springs, Los Angeles and Clovis are all within about a three hour drive of one another. But, I, being an east coaster, born and raised in New Jersey and having lived the past 44 years in the Mid-Atlantic region (Washington, DC, Maryland and Virginia), have a continent between us since I still remain in the eastern U.S. much of the time.

This is actually a banner year for me. I had the opportunity to spend time with my son once during the summer of 2014 and now again, during the Christmas holiday. The last time I spent time with my son was during the summer of 2012.

This second photo is of Cynthia, Peter and Cynthia's mother (my former mother-in-law), BJ Gardner. The photos were taken in the backyard of BJ's residence. BJ worked with me for many years during the latter 70's, the 80's and part of the 90's. We've been spending time reminiscing about the many projects we worked on together, the people we worked with and met and all the places we traveled to record conferences for clients from coast to coast. During the early years, Cynthia, Pete as a child, pre-adolescent and teenager and I traveled and worked on many projects together.

I think the most important thing is that despite the fact Cynthia and I only spent about 20 years of our lives together, we made it a point to remain friends and to care about each other over these past 25 years. Unfortunately, I see many relationships that have ended in divorce where one or both parties are very bitter and often hate one another. I never felt that way about Cynthia and I don't believe she has ever felt that way about me. It seems such a shame when two people have spent such a significant part of their lives together and then throw all that away to bitterness and hatred, especially if there is one or more children involved.

Additionally, Cynthia's family, mother, brothers and sister, their spouses and children, all continue to embrace me as part of the family. This is a blessing and gift to be truly appreciated.

I hope you also had a very happy Christmas, Hanukah or any other holiday you may observe at this time of year, regardless of where you are or who you spent it with. I also wish you a happy, healthy and abundant 2015 and hope you realize your aspirations for the upcoming year.   

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Photo-of-the-Week #190 The Land of REAL Illegal Aliens, Walmart, Roswell, New Mexico, December 2014

I think this photo is pretty self-explanatory. Roswell, New Mexico has made quite a big thing about an event that occurred in 1947. A flying saucer supposedly crashed on a ranch outside Roswell (about 60 miles or so outside Roswell). There they found the bodies of extraterrestrials, obviously, depicted as the lanky green men painted on the windows at the Walmart Supercenter at the north end of Main Street. "Are these real "Walmartians?"

Well, I'm not sure that everyone has the same story. Some people see these denizens of outer space as green while others see them as an ashen gray or almost white. I guess it's all in the eye of the beholder. The city has made quite a small business out of these supposed visitors from some far away planet.

The remains of the supposed crashed flying saucer like flying vehicle along with the remains of the dead and any living aliens have been moved to the secret base known as Area 51 north of Las Vegas. Of course, everything about the 1947 event and the remains of the craft and its occupants is all conjecture. There are all kinds of conspiracy theories and I'm sure, like most events of this kind, it has been blown out of proportion. Do you believe?

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

2015 Trek #1 - California, Here I Come, #2 Georgetown, Kentucky & Cherokee Village, Arkansas

I left Huntington, West Virginia Tuesday morning, December 9, 2014, after a pleasant breakfast with Patrick Grace and a tour of his current office and book storage space in downtown Huntington.

My next stop was in Georgetown, Kentucky to meet up with another vandweller (part-time) currently, Dan Cordray. Dan has been a reader and commenter on this blog for some time, so we've had a relationship, but hadn't met before. Dan lives out in the country side not far from the Toyota assembly plant where he works as an automation programmer.

Dan is a seasoned camper and a very basic "prepper." By very basic prepper, I mean Dan has prepared himself with food and other necessities for minimally about a month should some kind of natural or human disaster occur. He's far from a full prepper as defined by many prepper Web sites. He's not expecting the "end of the world" as we know it. But, if something happens that forces him to leave his home for a short period of time, he's prepared.

Dan is also a good cook. He prepared a terrific dinner with salmon marinated and packed on a cedar board. All the fixings were with it including a salad. And in the morning, before I left to move on to my next stop in Cherokee Village, Arkansas, Dan whipped up a delicious omelet with bacon and biscuits. Great stop and great first meeting.

After breakfast, about 9 AM, I was on my way to Cherokee Village. This was a fairly long leg of the trip, about 500 miles. I arrived about 6:00 PM at the home of John & Sharon Abert in Cherokee Village, where I joined them for a delicious dinner, parked the van and chatted into the evening. I also spoke with my other Cherokee Village friend, Craig Hines (and his wife Julie) who has been the book designer for most of the books I published during the 12 years I operated my book publishing company, Oakhill Press. We made a date to get together on Thursday for lunch.

I expect to spend about a week in Cherokee Village getting to know John and Sharon better, talk vandwelling/nomading and await the arrival of Michael Tubbs, producer of the new YouTube documentary, "Without Bound," about the mobile lifestyle. Michael will arrive sometime on Monday, December 15th, to capture video footage of interviews with me and with John and Sharon about our lives and mobile lifestyles. The interviews will most likely be on Tuesday, December 16th. Michael will then edit the footage into a YouTube documentary about, yours truly and another about John and Sharon. Should be fun.

I then plan to leave Cherokee Village on Wednesday, December 16th to head westward towards my goal of arriving in Clovis, California on or before December 24th for the Christmas holiday. The next post will be about my visit in Cherokee Village through my departure.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Photo-of-the-Week #189 - American War Memorial, Ash Flat, Arkansas, December 2014

There are so many interesting finds as one travels the United States. This is one of them. My friends, John and Sharon Abert, currently of Cherokee Village, Arkansas (soon to be full-time road warriors and nomads) brought me to this park in a small rural town, Ash Flat, Arkansas. In this park is one of the nicest small community war memorials I've seen in my travels.

These are only a few photos of the site here, but the memorial was very well done. It represented the five U.S. military services and the men, women and service dogs who died and those who were wounded during numerous military campaigns including WWII, Korea, Vietnam, the first Gulf War, the Iraq and the Afghanistan wars.

As a veteran of the Vietnam era, while I can't say I enjoy visiting memorials to all my fallen and injured brothers and sisters at arms, I do feel it's almost a duty to show my respect to them. I was very impressed by this memorial. It was very well done and very respectful, especially for a very small rural town. But, then again, small towns are often better able to express their respect in this manner simply because they are small and the loss of individuals in service to their country is a much more personal event. Most people in these towns know or certainly are closer to everyone in town than are those in larger or very large cities.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

2015 Trek #1 - California, Here I Come, #1 Huntington, West Virginia

I FINALLY made it on the road yesterday, Monday, afternoon at 4:30 PM. Whew! It sure does take a lot of time and energy to get packed and rolling when planning on an indefinite period of time and a variety of climates.
Nothing exciting about the first leg. I left base camp in Keyser, West Virginia at 4:30 and arrived in
the Huntington, West Virginia area to meet up with my old publishing friend (from my book publishing days), Patrick Grace at 9:15 PM. I followed Patrick back to his home where I spent some pleasant time with Patrick and his wife, Paula.

Patrick threw me a power line and I powered up My McVansion for the night. Paula left for work very early this morning and Patrick had a church commitment to get to, but I meeting up with Patrick for breakfast in about a half hour.

Today, I move on to Georgetown, Kentucky to meet up with another vandweller, More to come.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Photo-of-the-Week #188 - The GRAND Canyon, Arizona, June 2010

Yes, indeed! It is a grand canyon. There is nothing special about this particular photo except I took it on my first (and so far) only excursion to the Grand Canyon. It's not an award winner and really not much more than the all too typical gratuitous photo of the giant chasm, but it's meaningful to me, because I took it, of course.

My plan was to make my second excursion to the natural wonder on this upcoming trek westward beginning tomorrow. But, I had planned to visit the northern side of the canyon that I'm told is much more scenic than the southern side from whence I took this photo. Unfortunately, due to the two month delay in my departure because of extraneous circumstances, it will be pretty darn cold in the Grand Canyon region already and the possibility of the access routes to the canyon may already be closed due to snow or snow that could fall by the time I get there.

So, this just allows for another opportunity to visit the Grand Canyon National Park and all the natural scenery and wonders therein. It probably won't be for at least another year or two. But, as General Douglas Macarthur was quoted as saying, "I shall return!"

Thursday, December 4, 2014

2015 Trek #1 Departure Date Is Imminent

The much awaited (by me) target date for departure on the first trek for 2015 is Monday, December 8, 2014. Yes, I'm calling it the first 2015 trek because it's so close to the new year and the vast majority of this trek will be during 2015.

The van preparation is coming along. It's been hampered a bit, unfortunately, by colder weather and a bit of snow and very cold rain, not to mention some serious wind from time to time. But, I keep progressing. A number of projects have already been completed (alterations, changes and additions) and while the current list of items still looks daunting - it's really quite doable.

Here's the list as of this morning, December 4, 2014:


Buy new larger drawer unit and 8" drawer units
from Walmart                                                               $  75.00

New Wiper Blades                                                        $  35.00

Complete the passenger side wheel well shelf - Ready to install

Raise the galley counter to fit in new larger drawer unit

Wire and install higher current capacity 12 volt sockets in galley

Install side door and rear door window curtains.

Cut and prepare acoustic foam for voice-over booth area in back of van
and install for fit

Mount flexible mic mounting for voice-over work

Build utility double deck shelf in rear storage under passenger side of the workstation.

Permanently mount and wire 12 volt sockets and USB sockets in cockpit

Carefully assign/reassign storage space
Mount meter and switch in project box then install and mount in van

Install 12 volt outlets in workstation

Install 7 USB port hub in workstation.

Wire 110 volt outlet in galley from new 1000 watt inverter

Wire 110 volt from 1000 watt inverter to rear power distribution panel

Mount RoadPro 12 volt water/liquid warmer in galley

Create hooks on trash basket to hook Walmart bags on for garbage

Install bubble wrap in windows for additional insulation

Trim green runner to fit

Acquire small throw rug for front section of van by side doors

Design way to mount 5 gallon water container
Everything that is crossed out has been completed and several of the other items have been partially completed. It's decent weather outside today so anything that involves work that must be done from outside the van is on today's agenda. The next couple days are scheduled to be rainy. Yuck! So, I'll be working on the interior projects.

Sunday is scheduled to be clean up and storage day. I'll be moving any of my excess belongings I have at my friend's house (my eastern base camp) into my nearby storage units. Most of it is stuff slated to be liquidated, YET! Completing as much, if not all, of my downsizing when I return sometime in the spring is my main objective at that time.

I will be posting some photos and maybe even a video walk around and walk through sometime after I get on the road. Meanwhile it's time to get back to work. 

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Photo-of-the-Week #187 Walking Through Trees, Kings Canyon National Park, California, May, 2009

Yes, I mean, literally, walking through a tree, not through the forest. This photo was taken at Kings Canyon National Park in the southern Sierra Nevada Mountains in central California, east of Fresno. It is north of and contiguous with Sequoia National Park. This tunnel bored through a tree giant sequoia. The person at the other end of the tunnel is my son, Pete, who is about 6' tall. That should give you an idea of the size of this tunnel.

Kings Canyon National Park, as well as Sequoia National Park, is home to a grove of giant sequoia trees known as the General Grant Grove named after President Ulysses S. Grant. Most prominent of the giant sequoias found in the park is "General Grant," the third largest tree in the world, dating back some 1,650 years. It is 268.1 feet tall, 34.2 feet in diameter and 107.1 feet in circumference at its base. That is one BIG tree. It's actually less than 7 feet shorter than "General Sherman," currently ranked as the largest giant sequoia and tree in the world.

It is awe inspiring to stand amid these giants that have not only endured more than a millennium, but some have endured two or more millennia. There is actually one tree (not a sequoia) that is estimated to be well over 5,000 years old. This tree is in the United States, but it's location is a very tightly held secret for security and preservation reasons.

I imagine the National Park Service fears that if its location becomes known to the general public, the tree might suffer the same fate as the, somewhat, famous landmark single tree on One Tree Hill in Auckland, New Zealand. It was attacked twice by activists, once in 1994 and again in 2000. The tree did not survive the second attack, was removed and has yet to be replaced. I was fortunate enough to visit One Tree Hill and the tree in January 1991.

There are few places where you can walk through or drive through trees other than California. I also drove through a giant redwood once in the Pacific coastal redwood groves. Regardless of whether you walk or drive through a tree, it's an awesome experience. Just think of all that has happened in our world since some of these trees first sprouted roots.  

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Photo-of-the-Week #186 - Titillation or Natural, Bourbon Street, New Orleans, Louisiana, September 2003

No pun intended with the title of this Photo-of-the-Week, although, I'm sure many will think there is. I'm going to wax philosophic over the topic of, in particular, breasts, boobs, hooters and a plethora of other terms used for a natural part of ALL humans' anatomy, plus the human body in general. I'm sure some of you may be put off by this, however, I can assure you nothing perverse, lewd or lascivious follows. This will be fairly long and unusual for my Photo-of-the-Week post, but I'll reveal my motivation for this article near the end.


I took this and several other photos of women exposing their breasts on Bourbon Street in New Orleans in 2003. The question is WHY do women bare their breasts in public like this? The next question is, WHY do men  go crazy over seeing bare breasts? Is it because they get to see nipples? Interesting! Every time I take my own shirt off and look in a mirror, I see . . . guess what? Nipples! I've also seen men who have developed larger breasts than some women have. Yet, we don't get all crazy when we see bare breasted men.

Okay, maybe at my age, old enough to be a certified "dirty old man," I've seen enough women's breasts that they no longer (I'm going to use the word again) titillate me to quite the same degree they did when I was in my teens, 20's and 30's with my raging hormones. But, think about it, breasts or, for that matter, male and female genitalia are as natural parts of every human body as fingers, toes, the nose on your face and the ears on the side of your head.

We go to museums and see beautiful paintings and statues of the female and male body completely exposed. We even take our children there and expose them to, what we call, ART. Yet, we have turned the same parts of the human body that are part of this art, into objects of (again, I use the word) titillation, lewdness and worse. We even have laws against indecency for exposing these parts of the body in public.

Until relatively recently, the anatomical names of these body parts weren't even allowed to be used on television, radio or even movies. Even the press was loathe to use them in news stories. We called them private parts or private areas (and still do in many cases). A more recent slang term that's become somewhat popular, especially when referring to male genitals, is "junk." Sorry, I ain't got no "junk."

So, why is this? There are tribes of people around the world, still, who wear little or no clothing. We even show video documentaries of these indigenous people in their natural state on television. Nudity is as natural as sleeping and eating to them. Well, until we and, dare I say, missionaries, indoctrinate them in their shame. Shame they never knew.

There are countries, in Europe, South America, Africa, Asia and even Canada, not to discount Australia and New Zealand, where nudity (not public displays of sexual activities) is generally legal and/or tolerated. And, yes, there are private naturist resorts and some public beaches in the U.S. and places like San Francisco, Oregon and Key West, Florida where public nudity is accepted for certain situations and events.

Are There Rewards?

The women who expose their boobs in New Orleans are typically rewarded with a strand of cheesy plastic beads. I'm sure they don't put any greater value on those beads than any other cheap trinket. I believe they do it to express their own desire for personal freedom, freedom from being told or forced to conform to someone else's values, standards or definition of moral behavior. The more beads, the freer they feel.

And, where did this all start? Could it have been in the Garden of Eden when Adam and Eve discovered they were naked and ashamed? I won't even approach the topic of religious oppression and open a MEGA sized can of worms.

Standing around the woman in the photo above, who, by the way, does not have a super model body, but she does seem to be enjoying her opportunity of free expression, are both men and women ogling her. It's as if the guys have never seen boobs before. I interpret the expressions on some of the women as - "Geez, I'd like to feel the freedom of doing that," but they are remembering everything they have been taught and conditioned throughout their lives about how "good girls" should behave in public.

Follow The Money!

We can take another tact on this issue. Is this not about MONEY? Think about it. How much money does the clothing industry make every year designing and selling push-up and Wonder bras, see through blouses and dresses, mini skirts so short they more properly should be considered belts, sexy panties and thongs and bathing suits.

It amazes me that women, in particular, are exploited for huge amounts of money for sexy underwear, but don't want men to see it in public because the men are seeing too much of their bodies. Yet, the same women will prance around beaches in bathing suits that often expose more of their skin than the underwear does. Sometimes the tops barely covers the nipples and the bottoms, well, those have spawned another industry called "waxing" that's required to remove hair that would be seen peaking out of the skimpy bathing suits and bikini bottoms. There is even a name for that - the "bikini line." These bathing suits and the necessary "grooming" associated with them cost more than a full skirt or pair of dress slacks for business. And they cover so little, nothing is left to the imagination anyway. Why even wear them?

A Slap In The Face

As an aside, as a young teenage boy,  I had my face slapped one time. The assailant was a particularly cute girl in, believe it or not, my biology class, because I mentioned the cute birthmark she had on her inner thigh near her crotch. She wore the shortest mini skirts in the school of nearly 4,000. She accused me of looking up her skirt. Actually, I saw the birthmark during the preceding summer when a bunch of us went to the movies and she was wearing the shortest, tightest short, shorts, again, of any girl in the school. She didn't try to hide the birthmark then and it was obvious to everyone. I tried to explain, but got nowhere. Secretly, I think she was flattered and (here it comes) titillated herself that I (or any guy) would want to look up her skirt.


Joe Francis, an entrepreneur of questionable character, amassed a fortune estimated at $150 million. He achieved this bounty by photographing and video taping thousands of young, mostly attractive, women, typically of college age, who would bare their breasts or drop their pants, or even perform sex acts in public places. He typically gave them a T shirt as payment and had them sign model releases. He then produced DVD's and later streaming videos by the millions and sold them to men.

Joe's company's name, started in 1997, is GGW, LLC (Girls Gone Wild). He went to college campuses, Mardi Gras, Spring Breaks, Fantasy Fest and similar events. The girls exposed their bodies willingly. The market, of course, was men of all ages.

But, Joe didn't want to be unfair, so he started another GGW for Guys Gone Wild using the same business model except he sent our female camera crews and the market was, you guessed it, women. Joe got himself into a lot of trouble over the years. He's no longer owner of the company. The company filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in 2013, but not because there isn't still a huge market for the product. 

I could go on and on with examples of both female and male strip clubs, so-called, high-class "Gentlemen's Clubs" where men could bring their dates (and the dates would actually be treated with respect), as well as, adult lingerie and "toy" stores and "glamour" photographers. The list could go on and on.

Idealizing The Body, Yet Oppressing Free Expression Of The Body

Here's the thing. As a species we have allowed ourselves to become repressed by religious doctrine, moral standards dictated by someone else and conditioned into us and laws enacted by people (unfortunately, often hypocrites) who determine what is legal behavior and legislate morals. I contend this has done two things.

First, it has spawned several huge, multi-billion dollar industries (hooray for free enterprise and capitalism). Second, it has turned something that is natural and beautiful into something considered by many to be lewd, dirty, sordid and tawdry, the nude human body.

We allow television producers to depict horrific scenes of violence and disembowelment in high definition. There is even a new category of actor in the Screen Actor's Guild, "Dead Body." Yes! Actors who play dead bodies. Meanwhile, it creates news of epic proportions and public outrage when Janet Jackson's nipple appeared on the TV screen for a fraction of a second during a Super Bowl full of violent gladiators attempting to rip each other's heads off. Because of this horrendous event, we now have millions of children who are scarred for the rest of their lives. Me thinks there may be a problem with the definition of "public indecency."

The Wrap Up

Okay, time to wrap up my philosophical diatribe on the breast and human body. But, first. allow me to explain my motivation for this article.

I have posted two other photos of women baring their breasts on Bourbon Street in past Photos-of-the-Week. They are, to date, two of the three most viewed photos on my blog, to the tune of thousands of views. They vie only with one other photo and God only knows why. It's a photo of the barracks I stayed in during basic training at Lackland Air Force Base. In those other two photos I blurred out the nipples and left the faces exposed and I'm sure all the viewers were disappointed. I may go back and reverse the blurring process as I did with this one.

I believe we are an unbelievably hung up society. I am as bad as the next person, male or female. I won't be a hypocrite. Actually, I think, and this is my opinion based on a very small sampling, that women truly want to be freer. Since Women's Lib, they have come a long way. Many choose to express their desire to be less confined by tradition, various forms of conformity and a male dominated society through opportunities to wear revealing and/or skin tight clothes or, even public nudity. Perhaps it is actually with the specific intent to titillate.

I've talked with any number of women who have said they would love to be able to walk around topless, as men can, especially at the beach and other social events. Some are comfortable with total nudity in public and social arenas. Some said they often wear little or nothing in their own homes because they are most comfortable that way. I don't believe it's because they want to turn men on sexually or titillate them in public. It's simply because they feel confined in clothing.

I honestly have not questioned men on the same subject. They may have similar desires and feelings. I'm personally turned off by men's baggy, long swim trunks. I'm, also, not into the Speedo swim suit (especially at my age). But, I keep looking for a decent swim suit that allows me freedom of movement. However, there is nothing like skinny dipping.

Obviously, clothing definitely serves an important purpose with regard to various kinds of weather. Certainly, that was a factor in humans creating clothing, after all, we are "The Naked Ape." Clothing in our current culture also defines who we think we are, how we want to be accepted, how we are feeling on a specific day and, certainly, for workplace safety in certain occupations. So, I'm not dissing clothes for women or men.

 I'm simply suggesting that if we weren't as hung up about the natural aspect of the human body and conditioned to be modest by some other individuals' standards, beliefs and values systems, perhaps we wouldn't experience the kind of guilt and exploitation we currently deal with and my New Orleans photos views wouldn't outnumber my other photos-of-the-week by magnitude of tens and hundreds.

Who knows, maybe, if we were all more "comfortable in our (nude) skin in public, it might even reduce, hopefully, by significant numbers, crimes against women. But, then again, maybe women actually do use clothes to purposely titillate men . . . for their own reasons.

 I keep forgetting that "Women Are From Venus and Men Are From Mars." Maybe in the grand scheme of things we're never supposed to truly understand one another. Meanwhile, I sure don't mind the Victoria's Secrets commercials and I enjoy Bourbon Street (and similar) when I can visit them.

I'm sure I'm going to get blasted for this post, especially, (or possibly) by women readers. But, at this age and since this is my "living free" blog, I feel completely free to express my thoughts, opinions and beliefs. I, of course, invite all feedback. Comment away.  

Friday, November 21, 2014

Pimping - Oops, Make That - Primping and Prepping My McVansion For The Next Major Trek.

Well, as the old saying goes (from Robert Burns poem), "The best laid plans of mice and men often go awry." And that's true of my plans to be on the road heading west by October 1st. I had a project from a very long-term and very good client come in about 2 months later than it was supposed to. So, while I could have managed the project on the road, I was dealing with at least one new vendor and that made me a bit more wary.

The project was the production of a new book. It was an informational book about metal roofs and the ultimate client (my client's client) for the project was the trade association representing that segment of the industry. So, everything shipped from the book manufacturing plant (the new vendor) this past Wednesday and most of the drop shipments reached their destination today. My invoice is out and I'll hopefully receive payment very soon.

The Primping And Prepping

During parts of the summer and the fall, especially during this two month delay in my departure, I've been getting little things done on the van, making a few changes and modifications and so on. It's like having a house and a vehicle. There's always something that needs to be done. The only difference here is that the house and the vehicle are one and the same. And, as I had some extra time, I'm doing some of the projects I planned for a little further down the road.

Here is a short list of some of the general things I needed to have done to the van itself to be ready to get back on the road:

*Oil Change
*Top off all the fluids
*New cable linkages for the side door and the back door
*Front end alignment
*Make a modification to the van so I could get to my spare tire
(I'll explain that more if you ever see My McVansion in person)
*New wiper blades

My mechanic also ran the OBD1 codes (sure wish I had OBD2) and found one code that should not impact anything

There are a number of modifications/improvements I'm making to the interior "house" part of the van. Here's a list of what's done or will be done before I roll down the road in the next week and a half or two:

*New 1,000 watt (though it will run 1,200 if pressed) inverter
(the 400 watt inverter remains and will feed certain electronics
when necessary)
*Changed the storage units for clothes, food, cooking/eating utensils and other sundries (thanks again to Walmart)
*Added an indoor/outdoor thermometer
*Raised the galley counter top about 2" to accommodate the new storage units
*Higher current capacity 12 volt wiring and sockets in the galley area
*Mounted the LED digital volt meter in a panel with an on/off switch
*Installed the side and rear door block out curtains (sides were done)
*Built and installed 2 extra shelves in the right rear storage under my workstation desk accessible from the rear doors of the van
*Wired 12 volt power sockets to the workstation to power both 12 volt gear and USB equipment (I have USB adapters for the 12 volt sockets)
*Ran an additional 110 volt circuit to the right side of the van behind the refrigerator to use to power electric space heater from shore power
*Permanently mounted multiple 12 volt power socket blocks in the cockpit to be used for 12 volt power or USB power (with adapters) also ran various wires to appropriate electronics in the cockpit.
*Acquired a new ceramic radiant space heater
*Acquired a new Mr. Heater Portable Buddy propane space heater
*Acquired a Fantastic Fan Endless Breeze high velocity 12 volt box fan
*Acquired mosquito netting for several windows
*Acquired Sirius satellite radio with an A La Carte service ($8/month)
*Prepared moveable acoustical panels for when I need to turn the van into a voice-over studio for a client's work or some of my own projects
*Acquired a new Bluetooth speaker system that is one of the best I've heard anywhere to use for monitoring while I'm working on audio editing projects. It doesn't come close to matching up to my studio monitor system, but it's too large and this is a very good compromise (and it will sound great for playing back music and movie sound)
*Acquired a 12 volt power adapter for my laptop computer (more  energy efficient than using the 110 volt adapter)
*Acquired a two burner propane stove
*Acquired a few new cooking and food prep utensils and repaired the 110 volt plug on my small smoothie/chopper unit

And then there are the works still in progress:

*Install a microphone stand mount on the workstation desk to accommodate either a microphone or one of my digital recorders for voice-over projects (I think I have everything I need)
*Change out the driver and passenger seats with another pair I have in storage
*complete a cover for the right side rear wheel well shelf - shelf in place just needs cover
*install a drop leaf counter extension on the side of the refrigerator enclosure for added food prep area (counter is ready to mount)
*Sand, remove rust, prime and paint a few rust spots on the right and rear rain gutters
*Acquire a new large capacity back-up hard drive
*Acquire a variety of SD Flash Cards
*Acquire a new GPS unit (almost bought one, but decided against it, still shopping for the right unit at the right price)
*Acquire a new dash cam to replace my great Kodak Zi8 (that I want to use for more video documenting - I acquired another dash cam, but I'm trying to send it back, totally disappointing piece of equipment)
*Acquire a new 2 meter amateur radio rig and 2 meter and 10 meter antennas (I seem to have misplaced the ones I had)
*Rethink what recording gear I need to carry with me, the least possible
*Reorganize and reassign storage space for maximum utilization

Projects still in the research phase:

*Find some kind of better sink or camping sink arrangement for the galley as well as finding a satisfactory gray water arrangement.

The Work Is Never Done!

Like I said earlier it's like having a house and a vehicle, they just happen to be one and the same. Sometime after I get back on the road, I'll take a batch of new photos showing the variety of improvements to the lifestyle in my particular tiny house on wheels.

Some folks keep things very basic, simple and almost primitive. They like the flexibility of being able to reconfigure whenever they choose to.

I prefer to have things laid out for my convenience and creature comfort. Don't misinterpret that last statement. My van is not a luxury unit like most of the $90,000 to $140,000 commercially converted vans known as Class B motor homes. But, my van is designed specifically for my needs and works darn near perfectly for me. It cost me many tens of thousands of dollars less than those classy Class B units. But, I haven't found a Class B that actually fulfilled my expectations. That being said, they are perfect for many other people and they are very popular.

A house (whether on a foundation or on wheels) isn't a home until you make it your home and that's what I keep working on with My McVansion. And there will always be one more thing, like, eventually, adding solar power to make it even easier to stay off the grid for longer periods. It's just a continual work in progress. For someone like me, I enjoy the challenge of using my creativity and the variety of skills and experience I have to create something that is my own designer original.

I will get more of these projects complete before I hit the road, however, the call of the open road is getting louder and louder. Stay tuned, the wheels will be turning westward very, very soon. 

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Photo-of-the-Week #185 Pride & Disappointment - Clifton High School, Clifton, New Jersey, September 2013

50 Years! Yes, it was 50 years ago in June of 1963 that I graduated from Clifton High School. And, here I am back at this school 50 years and three months from my commencement into adulthood. An interesting factoid is that my Class of 1963 was the first class to graduate from this structure or, as we termed it back then, the "new" Clifton High School.

A lot has happened during those 50 years. Clifton High School seems to have aged well. It is still a very pretty, clean and well manicured campus. The trees are now mature as opposed to the newly planted saplings in 1962 when we first walked on the campus. Other than a new wing being added sometime during those years, the structure appears to be much as it was 50 years ago.

Another factoid about CHS is that when it opened in the fall of 1962 it was the largest single high school in the state of New Jersey. Fifty years later, it is still the largest single high school in the state of New Jersey. There are larger school districts in the state, but they have multiple, smaller high schools. Clifton is, also, still the 11th largest city in New Jersey.

I think most of us hold a certain pride in the schools we attended and graduated from. I certainly do. I'm proud to say I'm a CHS, the Fighting Mustangs, graduate. Of course, CHS was only 10th, 11th and 12th grade when I attended. The new wing that was added was for the 9th (freshman) grade. When I was in school, we were on the junior/senior high school plan. Clifton, like most boards of education have gone to the elementary - K-5, middle - 6-8 and high school - 9-12 model, necessitating the addition of a 9th grade, freshman, wing to the campus. But, I also felt some disappointment while I was visiting the campus. I'll explain that after this short montage of photos. Like the old saying a picture speaks a thousand words.

This is the main entrance to the school. The high, windowless brick section is the auditorium. I forget the seating capacity, but it's a lot of people and you can see it's pretty large, the small section with windows in front of the auditorium is the administrative offices. The covered portico area is the main entrance where the school buses discharge pick up their passengers. To the right of the administrative offices are dual gyms for the guys and gals. 

This is one of four classroom wings to the left of the auditorium in the photo above. The other three wings are lined up behind this one. I don't recall the order of the wings, but there is one for each of the four years of classes, freshman through senior. The classrooms are designed for classes taught in those particular years, though different grade levels may take classes in the different wings. 

This is the side view of the first wing shown in the photo above. There is our Mighty Mustang mascot on the side of the building. I don't know if it's still the same now, but when I attended, we could go out the side doors and migrate from wing to wing for our various classes. You can see on the third level there is a bridge that connects the various wings. I don't recall that bridge being there when I attended. Classrooms are on both sides of the doorway.
This shows just how large this campus is. I took the photo standing in the parking lot beside the first wing in the photo above. If you look carefully, you can see the three other wings. They are all identical on the outside. And if you look way up the parking lot across from the buildings, you can see My McVansion parked and it's not all the way to the end of the complex. It's a little more than midway. You can get an idea of how big this structure is. 
This is from the other end of that same parking lot. I'm standing near the fourth wing and looking vack down toward where I took the photo above. Again, you can see My McVansion in the photo and gain some perspective as to the size of the complex. Look at the number of the parking space - 276 - I wonder what the highest number was. Obviously, they are all assigned. 
This sign on the main entrance set me back a few paces. I.D.? I was looking to see if they had an eye retina scanner anywhere around the door. 

This sign also set me back on my heels a bit. Yeah! I know about Columbine and Sandy Creek and Virginia Tech and so on, but this just chilled my blood thinking we've reached this point in our society. Personally, I don't think as a species we've advanced. If anything, we've declined as a society.

So, there is Clifton High School. What you didn't see is the dual gyms, one for the guys and one for the gals. You also didn't see the library and what used to the home economics, industrial arts, art and music part of the structure that was in the back of the school. And, you didn't see the circular cafeteria located in the center of the school structure like a hub with the kitchen in the center feeding the four quarters of the cafeteria. There were halls that led off each quarter of the cafeteria to different parts of the school. It is quite a structure and was probably the most advanced public high school complex in the U.S. in 1962/63. Many community colleges have been modeled after the design of the CHS campus.

Now for my disappointment. First, the school is now locked like a fortress. And the doors are so solid they feel like they may be armored, probably not, but I couldn't even rattle them. I visited after school hours, but there was still activity going on and I could see workers in the administrative offices. I couldn't get in the building to stop in the administrative offices and see if I could walk the halls of my alma mater and relive some memories. There was an intercom outside the main entrance that asked for me to press the button and communicate with the "guards" inside (I was beginning to feel like the place had turned into a prison). No one replied to my repeated buzzes. Ultimately a gave up.

The signs on the front door were also jarring. Wear I.D. as a student when I entered the building? It also looked like there may have been metal detectors inside the door. It also felt like I had just driven up to a major airport with a sign saying if I was dropping off or picking up a passenger I had to remain in the car. And that if I didn't act appropriately I would be prosecuted. We had none of this nor did we know anything of this nature when I attended the school 50 years prior. Also, there were substantial gates at all drivable entrances and exits from the campus. Again, something unheard of when I was there.

I noticed a number of students around the school and they were of a variety of ethnicities, races and nationalities. This showed that the school population (as the city population) had become diversified from the working, middle class, "white bread" (my term because I'm one of them) community that populated Clifton and the school system 50 years ago.

So, is diversity good or bad? Yes! I embrace diversity. I love people. I do my best to be color blind, respectful of all religious beliefs, nationalities, gender preferences, ethnicities and socio-economic differences - EXCEPT, when someone else of another of any of these characteristics, other than my own, makes an issue of it. So, sure, I think diversity is good. But, I've also seen visual changes in my hometown, many detrimental and degrading, as well as the surrounding cities. These changes are in communities and neighborhoods that used to be well kept, quiet and peaceful. So, in those cases, maybe not so good.

As for good old Clifton High School? Well, I'm happy to see that 50 years has been kinder to it than to most of us from that first graduating class. We're now dealing with aches, pains, wrinkles gray or loss of hair and moving slower than we were back then. That is, those of us who are still alive from the original class of 1963 that numbered about 800+ (The Class of '64, had around a thousand, I believe).

I'm proud to say I'm an alumnus of the Clifton High School, Class of 1963 and the first class to graduate from the "New" CHS. I'm disappointed to see some of the changes that have taken place during those 50 years. Technology may be light years ahead of where it was back then, but I think, in many ways, society has declined. You may feel differently, that's your right. But, I calls it as I sees it. I felt like a stranger in my hometown.   

One final note to any of my classmates from the Class of  '63 who read my blog, especially those still living in Clifton or the nearby areas. Nothing I said here is a reflection on you or who you are or have become. Each of us left CHS to begin journeys as diverse as there are opportunities in the world. We each trod our own paths, experienced different things, lifestyles and parts of the United States and other countries. We are a now a product of all of these. I am only reporting my thoughts and feelings about Clifton and CHS from my perspective, as one who left Clifton in 1967 never to return to the area to live. Your views and feelings may well be very different from mine and I respect you and your views. If you care to leave a comment and voice your views, I welcome you to do so. 

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Photo-of-the-Week #184 - Remembering Our Veterans, Fort Sumter, Charleston, South Carolina, December 2004

I want this photo to stand on its own. It was taken at Fort Sumter in Charleston Harbor in South Carolina. It was at this location that the first shots were fired of what became the bloodiest war in U.S. history. A civil war that pitted brothers against brothers and fathers and sons against one another.

There is not much more to say except that I'm proud and glad to be an American despite all our problems as a country. As a Vietnam Era, U.S. Air Force veteran, I'm proud to be one of those who took the oath to defend our Constitution and serve our country during one of, if not the most, unpopular wars in our history.

As an American and as a veteran, I salute every American man and woman who took that oath and served our country regardless of whether they are alive today or passed on or suffered disabilities or made the ultimate sacrifice, from the Revolutionary War through our current strife. It doesn't matter what branch of the service, whether a member of the Union or the Confederate military, what war they served in or what their job was. Everyone deserves our undying gratitude and I hope everyone reading this who is a U.S. citizen will remember that on Tuesday, November 11, 2014, Veterans Day, especially my fellow veterans. I'm sure there are citizens of other countries who are grateful for our veterans' sacrifices on their behalf, too.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Photo-of-the-Week #183 The Hills Are Alive With The Sound Of Music, New Creek, West Virginia, September 2010

The musical genre known as Bluegrass is alive and well and moving people around the country. This photo was taken at a small bluegrass festival in a small, unincorporated area of West Virginia called New Creek, probably named after the creek of the same name that runs through the area.

As you can see, there are hills in the background and this site was actually up on a hill. It doesn't take much to set up and bring people together for events like these. Bluegrass musicians seem to be as plentiful in the mountains of West Virginia, Virginia, Maryland, North and South Carolina. Of course, many current bluegrass musicians come out of city locations like Washington, DC, Baltimore, Nashville and so on.

What I like about these musicians is that most of them are home grown, most have never had any formal musical training or lessons and they most often have full-time jobs ranging from hard working blue collar occupations to the professions, often with multiple degrees and certifications.

I've been to a number of these festival gatherings over the years and you not only get to enjoy the musicians on stage, but often there are jam sessions with many equally talented and capable musicians in the parking lot or camping areas. As you can see from this photo, some of the musicians at this festival take this business seriously and do it full-time as evidenced by the tour buses in the background.

You meet some mighty fine folks at these events and they are family events the entire family takes part in. The music basically originated in the mountains and was one of the main ways mountain folks, often of Scotch and Irish ancestry, entertained one another. The list of country musicians who came from these humble roots is long.

So, if you've never been to a bluegrass festival, I highly recommend you avail yourself of an opportunity when it arises. If, like me, you have been and enjoy going to these musical events, just jump on that Orange Blossom Special and join me for some great music.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Photo-of-the-Week #182 - My Head Is In The Clouds, Somewhere Over The Southern U.S., October 2014

If there were a rainbow in this photo I'd burst out into a rousing chorus of "Somewhere Over The Rainbow." But, don't fret, no rainbow and I'm not singing. All is good in the world.

I was flying back from San Antonio a week ago yesterday and, while I usually prefer an aisle seat when I have to hurtle through the sky in a big silver (or whatever color) tube, on this trip back to Dulles International, I had a window seat (my second choice). This photo was taken on the Dallas to Dulles leg of the trip.

I honestly don't know where we were at the time I pulled up my window shade and glanced out. But, this cloud formation was below us. I'm not sure if these were altocumulus or cirrocumulus clouds. They look very much alike, but the altocumulus are lower level and the cirrocumulus are higher altitude clouds. You can usually differentiate from the ground because the altocumulus will have visible shaded areas and the higher cirrocumulus will not. I was over the top of the formations looking down, so I couldn't tell. The plane was probably at about 30,000 to 32,000 feet at this time and frankly, I couldn't tell if these were higher altitude altocumulus clouds or lower altitude cirrocumulus clouds.

What intrigued me was I don't believe, in the hundreds of thousands of miles I've flown over my lifetime, I've ever seen this kind of cloud formation from above. You can see the Earth below the clouds, but I knew the ground was at least 6 miles below the plane. The other thing that really grabbed me was the stark contrast of the sky above the clouds as it became a very deep blue toward the top of the photo. Being at this altitude I knew I was looking into the outer fringes of the atmosphere of this remarkable biosphere we call the Earth that is our home.

Beyond that blue is the stark blackness of the universe. It's a place we know, to the best of our knowledge, to be stark and inhospitable to our kind. Yet, here we sit, this tiny particle of space dust and us believing we are all so important. Interestingly, we can also dive into the oceans and find places that are so far beneath the surface that light doesn't penetrate there, either. It is equally as stark and inhospitable.

It made me think of just how insignificant each human actually is and how simple the basic truths of life are. As far as we know, Earth is the only place in the universe where life, as we know it, is supported. But, IF, just if there is life somewhere else in the universe, is it anything like ours and are their lives as complicated as we've made ours?

Hey! Is there anything more interesting to do while hurtling through the sky in a miraculous creation of human ingenuity with all kinds of digital devices around you clicking, binging, whirring, playing music and so on than to wonder at the wonder of it all.    

Saturday, October 25, 2014

The Apparent Demise of Millenicom

Boy, wasn't that a shocker about Millenicom? Something very unsettling there. I used the word "apparent" in the title of this article because no one knows what really is going on and if Millenicom might move in a new direction.

I don't know if they were doing something that violated their agreement with Verizon or if Verizon, being the typical greedy fire breathing behemoth dragon they are, with their new promotions, decided to confiscate Millenicom's business - which wouldn't surprise me in the least. Personally, I've never been a big fan of Verizon - wireless or otherwise. I also wonder if Verizon "bought" the accounts from Millenicom or is just pirating them.

Since Millenicom is a no contract wireless data reseller, there is no guarantee that any or all of Millenicom's customers will stay with Verizon and for those who do, will they be bullied by Verizon? I guess we'll find out the answers in due time. Millenicom is pretty silent on the whole thing though I've heard (hearsay) they've let their staff go. So, I guess they don't have enough business left to sustain full-scale operations.

Still With AT&T

I am still with AT&T, so I'm not personally impacted by this change, though I could have been had I followed through on my plan to set up a Millenicom data account. Here's the story and the rationale I used for staying with AT&T.

I've been with the AT&T service since about 1999 when they were under the Cingular brand. A few years later they dropped Cingular and went back to using the AT&T brand, supposedly for better name recognition and credibility. Cellular One was also part of this mess. It's a very confusing and incestuous series of mergers and takeovers. Suffice it to say that it's all now AT&T Mobility and I've heard rumors they may go back to using the Cingular brand again. I think they're just playing head games with us customers.

At any rate, Early this year, February, I believe, AT&T offered me a chance to early terminate my last two year contract about 5 months early with no penalty and switch to their no contract Family Share Plan. So, checking my usage and overage charges with the 5 GB of data I had on my contract plan, moving to the no contract share plan doubled my bandwidth to 10 GB per month.

Additionally, it gave me unlimited calling to replace the 450 minutes (with roll-over minutes) cell phone service and added unlimited texting to my plan. This was nice since I had no texting on the contract plan and paid $.20/text - sent or received. My monthly cost actually went down a little. So, double data, unlimited phone, unlimited text and lower cost - it was a no brainer. 

Until then I was seriously considering going with Millenicom for their 20 GB data plan and just moving to a $45/mth Straight Talk plan for unlimited phone, text and data. I only considered the Straight Talk data as standby since after the first 3 GB, they the data speed is throttled back to 2G or slower and I couldn't tether or create a personal wifi hotspot.

When I ran a spreadsheet on it, even though I had half the data on the Share Plan - it was more cost effective to stay with AT&T - and I guess, now, under the current circumstances, I'm glad I did. 

I'm taking advantage of the special promotion this month of adding 20 GB of data for an additional $30/mth. I end up with 30 GB of data (3X as much as I currently have and I've already run over the 10 GB several months paying $15/extra GB or fraction their of). My total bill will cost me $160 (or maybe a little less) for unlimited phone, text and 30 GB of data compared to $126 for the unlimited phone, text and 10 GB of data. These costs include the taxes and little extra fees that are added on.

So, in reality - that cost will only be about $20/mth more than the $90 Millenicom 20 GB plan and the $45 Straight Talk plan for phone and texting. I have 10 GB more data AND only have to use one device, my smart phone, for phone and tethered modem (or wifi hotspot). I think I'm coming out ahead on this deal. Advantage, Ed!

AT&T Service And Coverage

Despite all the naysayers and AT&T haters (they actually aren't loved or hated anymore than Verizon - they're just another behemoth bully corporation), I'm generally pleased with their service overall. That's why I've stayed with them all these years. Are there cell hell holes in their coverage? Yep! But, if you come to Keyser, WV, where I am right now as I write this article, with your Millenicom (or any Verizon phone or) jetpack you'd have no service here since Verizon, Sprint and T Mobile have zero coverage in this region.

When you look at the coverage maps of AT&T and Verizon, they really aren't all that different. Both companies claim services, 4G and LTE and coverage areas that don't meet their advertising (always read the small fine print). It's all marketing hype. Additionally, I like AT&T because they use the GSM service and not the CDMA service that Verizon uses. GSM is pretty much the worldwide standard. It allows you to be on the Internet AND make phone calls and text at the same time. CDMA you can only do one or the other.

When everyone finally goes LTE (which is still mainly in the future) both providers should be pretty compatible, finally. Also, with GSM you can take your phone overseas and simply buy a local SIM card in most places and you have local service in that country. That's a nice plus for anyone who travels outside the U.S. very much. My son has done this all over the world during his global trekking.

There is one other aspect of my telecommunication plan. I plan to buy a very inexpensive prepaid phone service (they call them "burner phones" in the spy and cops & robbers movies and TV shows). I only require minimal minutes that can be used during a 12 month, 6 month or 3 month period before the minutes expire and the account has to be refilled.  The longer the period, the better. The service must be on the Verizon network.

I'll use this phone as a standby and for emergencies in situations where I have no AT&T service, but need to make a call or receive a call. The formula is simple - cheap phone - least calling cost - most minutes - over the longest duration. Lots of compromising to be made. But, since this phone will mainly be for standby and emergency use, lowest cost is the most important element. I'll be sure to use up whatever minutes I have on it before I "recharge" it.

In Conclusion

So, thar she blows. My plan won't be right for everyone, but it's the most cost effective plan for my specific needs. And, with the 30 GB of data, I'll be able to download (and upload) plenty of YouTubes as well as movies and TV shows when I'm in an area where there is no wifi available.
I just set up my friend, where I have my base camp in Keyser, WV, with a new, economical (is there any such thing with cable TV companies?) Comcast basic cable TV service with cable Internet. She is also on an AT&T Share Plan, but decided she finally wanted cable TV and high-speed Internet now that she's in the process of retiring. I bought and installed a cable modem and wireless router for her.

This Comcast service offers a pretty neat on-line streaming service. It provides a reasonable selection of movies and most current, plus vintage TV shows and series as part of the service package. So, I can stream them wherever I am off my AT&T data or local wifi. Of course, I can also reinstate my Netflix subscription and stream from them as well. So, I'll pretty much have plenty of entertainment choices on the road almost anywhere I might be without having an off the air TV capability or resorting to Red Box at the Walmarts I may overnight park at. 

Apparently, no one knows what Verizon is going to do or offer the former Millenicom customers. It's my guess they are holding everyone in the air until after the 10/31 promotions end - thus, taking away one major option. 

This is MY plan. Hopefully, it gives you a significant amount of information if you are considering the AT&T option or need to create a comprehensive wireless telecommunication and Internet plan. BUT, remember, the AT&T 30 GB promotion ends on 10/31 - so, you'll have to do some quick homework.

I also suggest you keep up with Chris and Cheri, the Technomadia couple who continually research and update everyone on this kind of information. Also you can check with the folks at the 3G Store who were Millenicom resellers and are doing their best to keep up with the transition.