Some pictures of living in the truck over the last month (2017-05-03 to 2017-06-08).

#vanlife 🙂

(Click picture to see a larger version.)

Good news for my truck, it got MOT again ("TÜV") so I can move around a bit. Used the opportunity for a nice little tour. Including: buying some parts for my "living space" in a hardware store; overnighting under 380 kV; a visit to a hydraulics workshop (leaving 230 EUR for three new hoses for my truck's winch, phew!); and a nice afternoon of cycling in the forest. See pictures!

Speaking of forests: I had an idea how to make staying with the truck in forests less of an issue. Because officially, in Germany you're only allowed to overnight at one spot in your car for one night only, "to re-gain fitness for driving". Everything else is tolerated to some extent, but can cause you problems. (Which is mostly limited to being told to drive away … .) But when I saw a lot of trash at the entrance of the protected forest where I stopped for cycling, it led to this idea: I'll see what happens when I always collect some trash from forests I live in with the truck. When some forest ranger, police person etc. wants me to leave, I prove that I am beneficial to the place, and they might let me stay. Especially when I can show them from my blog that it's a habit. So, expect quite some pictures of trash in the future! laugh The first one is below, collected 2009-09-14 at this beautiful place (50.580852,8.731282). It's essentially a way of commoning: pay nature for a nice place by taking its trash.

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So I just finished another little project: my new entrance ladder. Ok, let's say it's finished except for a layer of paint, as always. All paint jobs pile up for when I have no urgent needs and will start to care how things actually look 😛

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This shows the truck's right side, with the door to the living area open. The new ladder is hooked for storage to the inside of the door and will only be in use (means hooked below the door) when the truck parks on the roadside or otherwise in confined spaces where the normal stairs cannot be used. Or, like now, where the normal stairs exist only in pieces laying around …

The reason I'm writing this is to illustrate how a few pieces of trash and a few hours of time, mixed in the right way, can become useful items for everyday use. Here are the ingredients:

  • ladder hooks on door: self-made, bent to shape from 3 mm stainless steel; originally this was a broken bumper bar at the truck's box body that I had to cut off, so it's free …
  • blue mounting plate: leftover pieces from big aluminium 2 mm metal sheets that I bought from the junkyard to create door and window frames; originally all this were commercial signs at a MOT station; maybe back then I paid 0.40 EUR for the amount used here?
  • steel ladder: basically free trash, since I cut it out from the leftover back part of a tractor trailer that I had to shorten for a friend
  • lower holder: tool holder from the wooden leftover body of a 1953 firefighter truck which I burned one winter in the wood stove of my truck
  • hooks below door (not shown): bent from 5 mm steel that came as a leftover 20 cm slice of a MAN truck frame
  • nuts and bolts below door (not shown): stainless steel nuts and bolts I sorted from a 5 kg package of mixed overstock material I bought on eBay for 20 EUR … let's say these are 0.20 EUR again all together
  • rivets: seven are found by sorting a big free bucket of nuts and bolts; five are bought (0.20 EUR each?); one of them I shortened because I did not have the right length at hand (how to? remove pull pin, cut off a bit of the rivet head, put in pull pin, remove grate with file)
  • PU sealing agent: used as glue behind the blue base plate and lower holder; bought, used amount might be worth 1 EUR
  • cutting and sanding disks: I used a 125×1 mm angle grinder cutting disk half, and a 125 mm sandpaper disk half … together about 1.40 EUR
  • electricity: the sun did not send me an invoice yet

Which makes for a total monetary investment of 4.00 EUR, or 4.55 USD. I'm still ok with that amount 😀

Of course I could also have bought an entrance ladder. Why didn't I? For one thing, it is difficullt to find something that fits here (I looked once, and only found fitting ones from yachting accessory for at least 100 EUR). And then: While this might be uneconomical in monetary terms for me now, I am learning and getting better at building my own stuff. It's an investment into the future, because I discovered that building your own stuff grants you a form of freedom. How so? Because you can always build some simple, useful items you need, and this way you can always cover some of your needs without a paid job. Just free trash and free time needed. Now what if we could build everything we need from trash? Would we still fear "unemployment"? Would we still accept hiearchies in the workplace, strict time regimes, uninhabitable and ugly offices, bad pay?

With projects like these, I'm exploring how much freedom there is in free trash. I know about efficiency issues with DIY building, the need for automation and so on. But it's just the start, and so far I cannot even see the end: open source tech solutions are getting more powerful every day. (Have a look at EarthOS if you are not convinced yet, it's my collectionf of "open source solutions for everything in life".)

So this is my home now, a 4×4 ex-firefighter truck from 1976. Bit older photo, but from the outside it still looks like this. Except it has a licence plate, means it's street legal now. It's misssing some creative lettering though. I plan to write "UM" on it's side in big black letters one day, to confuse some gangstas. I think they call it mimikri in the animal kingdom, and it's perfectly legal there laugh

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For introducing you to this little beast called "Erwe", know this: I have just this place to live and work now and these 9 m² just fit me (ceiling is 1 cm above my head). But I own this one, which is a relief: no rent, no interest, just a bit of vehicle tax. And while I say I live in it, don't expect a living room. It's more meant to be an expedition truck for the decades to come laugh So, you'll find lots of waterproof boxes instead of furniture, more truck tools than kitchen tools, and even a beautiful aluminium carpet (pictured below). Not sure where my expeditions will go and what my tasks will be – currently it looks like I want to go to the Balkans or Southern Italy and see what I can understand and do about the refugee situation there. More ideas are always welcome.

For the moment, my life in this setup works like this (going along the images):

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(1) Say it is winter, so fire up the wood stove first thing in the morning and go to bed for 20 min more until it's all heated up. Not much wood (or free pine cones laugh) needed, since I live in a former deep freeze box used for fish. Insulation is 10 cm PUR foam all around, equivalent to 20 cm styrofoam. In German winter, I needed a bit more than one Eurobox (60×40×30 cm) of wood per week.

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(2) Make hot water and have a coffee. Coffee machine is very simple yet, so not for coffeephiles for the time being … still looking for an oversized version of these stovetop espresso machines somewhere …

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(3) Put "bed" into workshop mode. Toolboxes are normally stored under the bed, in the middle of the four used Zarges A10 aluminium boxes on which the mattress rests. That seems like a strange choice for a bedframe, but I store everything in stackable boxes here so that moving without the truck to another place for longer is just about shipping my stuff on one pallet (ca. 80 EUR with a trucking company within Germany, or ca. 300 EUR half around the world in a container as LCL). Also note my little assortment of "clubbing utensils" visible to the right, fixed handy right next to the door for personal security. There's a large MagLite flashlight, basically the only heavy item you may carry when opening the door at night and find police in front (which I expect to happen a lot while travelling). And a bamboo stick, as used by the friendly Nepal Armed Police forces cheeky I brought it from Kathmandu last year, after the earthquake made our garden wall fall on the poor bamboos.

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(4) Work on some "home improvement" or "workshop improvement" project. One of my latest projects was creating "sun powered" 24 V power tools, as shown. I do not use an inverter to make 240 V AC from my 24 V DC solar system (because inverters are only ~85% efficient, quite expensive when sizing them for powertools – and worse, they break, and they produce electricity unsafe to touch … while my 24 V DC is safe for all my DIY purposes). So instead, I selected a series of cordless power tools with input voltage that fits for my 24 V DC, like the Milwaukee V28 series shown here. Then bought a defective replacement battery on eBay (ca. 7-12 EUR), removed the LiIon cells from it and connected a cable to plus and minus instead. Plug it into the socket and it will work – no need to connect the temperature sensor (the central pin). Just make sure your sockets are fused, and the fuses can take 35 A – the circular saw draws 800 W max., angle grinder 500 W max., power drill I have to see, did not use it above 150 W so far). If you want to replicate this, also note the cable and plug. Cable is 4 mm² copper cable, of which the cheapest and most available solution is buying speaker cable, and the plug is not a normal 12 V / 24 V cigarette lighter plug as they can's stand more than 12 A – instead I use SpeakON STX series plugs from PA / music equipment, which can stand 40 A normally and 70 A when using all four pins and a special cascading fuse setup ­– also these plugs are rainproof and made from sturdy aluminium, I really like them.

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(5) Have a meal right in the middle of your home construction site mess and wonder if it will ever be a "normal" place to live. Just in that last unsuspecting picture, there are some more not-so-normall things to observe when you look closely:

  • I might find a bench vise next to the food. Perfectly normal here. Because it is not fixed, it can move. I mounted it on a small base plate and it likes to move around a lot …
  • There are two boxes of small drills and milling bits for a rotary tool that I found, fixed and converted to be "sun powered" as well. Just use any adjustable 24 V DC-DC notebook adapter fitting for the input voltage of the rotary tool, and make a power tip adapter from an exchangeable tip of the notebook adapter which you don't need for your own notebook …
  • Then ther's my own notebook, and if you look closely to the back left of it, you see a DC plug that has been tampered with. I had to make my own DC tip because it was impossible to buy a 24 V DC-DC converter coming with the right tip … . But it works flawlessly now, means it's a "sun computer" (minuscle s!).
  • There's a PUR foam insulation block I use in the window over the winter and also as an improvised curtain in the evening. It helps, but I should cover it with something pretty I guess frown
  • There's a wood stove with an orange metal belt made from the roof of an old street roller, keeping it to the wall.
  • Fork and spoon are used ones from German Army, produced sometime in the mid 1960s. Very sturdy, available for cheap on eBay, and they can be neatly arranged for transport when travelling with a backpack.
  • There's a battered table that is at least 35 years old (I know becaus it's from my childhood … hehe), now featuring a line of holes at the back by which it holds on to the grid hole system I use in the truck (compatible with OpenStructures and Gridbeam).

Hope you enjoyed being introduced to some of the not-so-normal objects in my home … many more waiting in the line, it's literally full of them here. As you saw, I rather build something from trash metal or pre-owned stuff than spending money to buy it. And srsly, I don't care how these things look, just that they work, don't break, and don't cost much. To me, every alternative is so much better than forced labor in a nonsensical fulltime job just to have money for buying shiny new things.

I am back in Germany after four months in Nepal. First impression? Germany is well-organized, super quiet, and populated by zombies. The living dead, you know. (Oh and, Germany is so flat. Very strange. Why u not hilly?)

It just does not make sense. If something like Germany is the endpoint of developing areas' development, what is development for? It has no meaning at all. Essentially, after all the development, people in Nepal would be

  • just as unhappy as people in Germany
  • all their earnings will be used up for so-called "living"
  • people won't talk to people anymore
  • there will be just as few options for alternative lifestyles as in Germany, where this is systematically minimized by forcing people into consuming and paying
  • people will work in brainwashing, marketing, SEO etc. to force-feed each other the useless products of their industries … consuming up the world's resources …

Essentially, all the Germans (and Europeans and U.S. Americans, for that matter) do is keeping their country up and runnning, with insane amounts  of energy and worktime. Their countries are "optimized" to maximize the amounts of energy and worktime to invest for just keeping the country up and running. The first is called "economic growth", the second "full employment". And all these aspirations to "wealth" that is not wealth and "wellbeing" that is not wellbeing in people make them miserable. Directly and indirectly. They never have enough. They are brainwashed by advertising since decades, and the advertising comes from capitalist monopolies whom they serve with their lifetime and money.

And then we have the audacity to call ourselves a "developed nation", to be imitated by the "developing nations" … . These "developed" nations do not contribute any significant amount to a better future for the planet. They are not engaged in any concerted effort to construct a meaningful and sustainable future. Instead, they just consume. And much more than their share. While villages in Nepal are much more sustainable, since most stuff is made from fieldstones and bamboo. In terms of our global future, that is more developed than the developed "nations" … . But currently, developed nations devour the planet, and fast. Wow. (Now the good thing about Nepal is, it has so many so remote places that global capitalism will not reach them in my lifetime cheeky Like Rolpa. It currently takes three days and nights of travelling by bus from Kathmandu.)

Ok … so if development according to the paradign of "developed" nations makes no sense, what makes sense?

  • Minimize resource and worktime usage in "developed" nations, to the levels in Nepal and below. No more economic growth, no more full employment. There is such a ton of interesting work to do for that, including medical research, frugality research, full transition to a minimal energy economy, etc. etc..
  • Real development has to be integrated. Like, set up and keep up a sustainably developed commune in a remote village in Nepal, or transform a whole village into such a sustainable model village with both low resource usage and a high standard of living. Serving as an example to be imitated in the thousands of other villages. It means for an educated group of people (from Nepal, from abroad, or mixed) to go there to live there. For the long term. To make that commune able to sustain itself through sustainable production. And help it minimize the resource and time efforts needed for that. (I collected a lot of relevant tech and knowledge for small-scale self-sustainable living in EarthOS already.)

Powerline is a technology for transmitting data over the AC grid. All devices provide an RJ45 Ethernet plug (and some also wifi and USB), so they support client devices of all operating systems. Basic configuration of encryption is likewise OS independent, as nearly all of them use a "pairing" button for that. However, to set the encryption key manually, to make more detailed settings, to read out speed statistics and to update the firmware most come with configuration tools that only work under Windows.

So, can we find a device that can be fully managed under Linux, ideally with free software? After a long search, this turns out to be a simple task. Just use any device that supports the Homeplug AV or Homeplug AV2 standard, and manage it with Open PLC Utils, a free software full-featured management tool developed by AV/AV2 chipset maker Atheros. It  allows full device configuration, info reading and upgrading for all INT6000/6300/6400/AR7420 devices, even tampering with the parameter set in the firmware. The only alternative are DS2 chipset based devices, since at least most of them can be fully configured via a built-in web interface (such as the COMTREND Powergrid 9020, their most modern device). However, a tool like Open PLC Utils is preferred here since it effectively replaces a part of the DS2 management software with free software, allowing scripting, modifications etc., and is more powerful in general.

Recommendable devices

It is said that it does not matter so much in terms of connection speed and quality which exact device you choose, as long as you choose the right chipse. Here, we focus on the Homeplug AV chipsets (INT6000, INT6300, INT6400) and there on the most modern one (INT6400). We avoid the Homeplug AV2 chipsets because they seem not yet mature (see below) and the DS2 chipsets because they are not as readily configurable under Linux.

Recommendation for Germany: Speedport Powerline 100. The best recommendation is so far: Telekom Speedport Powerline 100. It has the INT6400 chipset (most modern one for the Homeplug AV 200 Mbit/s devices), and it is dirt cheap (ca. 20 EUR incl. shipment for a pair of them, via ebay.de) because Telekom made Germany awash with these devices. It also is good quality, since it is a whitelabel product from well-known French brand LEA Networks – see also the very detailed test on tomsnetworking.de (in German). One can use the LEA-made software tool SOFTPLUG for settings beyond simple pairing for encryption, but it runs only under Windows. It is not needed however, as the free software tool Open PLC Utils can likewise be used, also running under Linux.

Discussion of alternatives: Devolo dLAN AVsmart+. These devices are quite nice, as they have an extended status display on the device – compare the manual. They are also readil available in used condition on eBay, but not as dirt cheap as the Speedport Powerline 100. However, they use the older INT6000 chipset [source], leading to a third less speed in long-range applications [source].

Discussion of alternatiives: COMTREND PowerGrid 9020. This is not a Homeplug AB/AV2 device, but uses the non-interoperable DS2 chipset. Reviews on Amazon are good. However, it can be fully managed under Linux as all settings are available within a web interface, as argued for and against above. The Powergrid 9020 is the most modern Powerline device of Madrid-based manufacturer COMTREND so far, and avaible in UK and Europe type plug versions. The UK plug versions are very readily available online, as they are provided by UK based large ISP Britich Telecom (BT) to their customers. The Europe plug versions are quite hard to find though (but here are some). Also see the installation guide and the  full manual.

Discussion of alternatives: Homeplug AV2 devices. There are the even more modern 500 Mbit/s Homeplug AV2 devices (using the AR7420 etc. chipsets), however as of 2014-09 this generation of technology seems to not be mature still, often suffering from connection breakdowns, low throughput, the devices running hot etc. (as judged from reviews on Amazon). So we avoid them here, also because they are still more expensive on the second-hand market. But your priorities and mileage may vary. They also can be fully managed with Open PLC Utils.

Linux software for powerline adapters

While Open PLC Utils is clearly the winner, the following list is all the Linux-based powerline software I came across:

  • Open PLC Utils. As said, clearly the winner: full-featured and free software.
  • Faifa. A manufacturer independent, free software Homeplug AV/AV2 utility for Linux. Allows low-level functions such as control frame dumps. Considered to be the successor to the older plconfig utility, see below.
  • plconfig. An older, simple Linux based configuration utility. For download on Github. Superseded by Faifa now.
  • dlanlist, dlanpasswd. Open source software that can be downloaded and compiled under Linux and is meant to list (and set the password of) Devolo dLAN devices. Since these conform to the Homeplug AV/AV2 standard, the software might be used to also configure other devices, after some simple modifications.
  • devolo Cockpit. A large configuration softwre for Devolo dLAN devices. Seemingly not available as a source version, so adaptations to other devices are not possible.
  • Intellon device manager for 3.x firmware (Windows software). Allows full management of INT6x00 chipset devices when using a 3.x firmware version, incl. editing firmware parameters. Its use is described in this article.
  • Intellon device manager for 4.x firmware (Windows software). In contrast to the version for 3.x firmwares, this does not support full management of the of INT6x00 chipset devices any more.

Background information

The following in-depth articles provide relevant background information about Powerline technology and their successful use:

Modding and hacking powerline adapters

At 10 EUR for a used device or less, powerline adapters are so cheap that they offer themselves to several non-standard uses. At least teh following come to mind:

  • Powerline noise filters. Devices that include an AC plug with noise filter (such as the SpeedportPowerline 100 recommended above) are the cheapest option to use them as frequency filters to prevent contamination of the 50 Hz frequency from other digital devices, mobile phone chargers etc..
  • Powerline bridge. It is also possible to create a simple bridge by connecting two of them with a crossover Cat5e cable (or a bridge device in between, if necessary). This should allow crossing phase boundaries in the home cabling, if necessary.
  • VDSL P2P modem replacements. And then, of course, these cheap devices are a natural candidate for creating a cheap DIY replacement for pairs of VDSL modems (usually 150 EUR per piece!). It works by connecting twisted phone wire to the signal (via soldering) before it gets modulated on the AC mains power. It is possible to use this for transmitting data over several hundred meters at least.

 

This applies for example when you want to add a photovoltaics installation to your campervan, expedition vehicle, garden hut, off-grid house or similar. For having enough electricity year-round from photovoltaics alone, battery size and module size have to be properly dimensioned.

The best tool I found for this is the European Commission JRC's PV potential estimation utility. There, use the last tab "Stand-alone PV".

Note that that the tilting angle of the solar panels is important in winter. Differences of up to ca. 30° from the optimum have no large effect, but above that they get quite important. So having an angle of 0° (flat panels) while you should have an angle of 74° (Germany in winter for example) means you get only about 25% of the power you would get at a 74° angle. You can calculate the exact numbers for this with the SunAngle calculator.