Technology, climate, and economic justice.

Hi everyone,

If you follow my Twitter, you've probably seen snippets of some of my recent projects. Admittedly I do have a lot of them, so I thought I'd do a quick post untangling everything.

The van project

A while back I decided to spend the summer living and working out of my Honda Element. This was, without any exaggeration, the best summer ever, but the Element isn't a great vehicle for “full time” vanlife.

Fast forward and I now have a 159 EXT Promaster van sitting behind my parents' garage (thanks mom and dad, and also sorry lol). The plan is to convert it into a camper van, naturally, but having converted the Honda, I'm pretty familiar with how long it's going to take and how much money it's going to cost, which is to say a lot of both.

I have a lot of my money tied up in crypto, and you may have noticed that we've been in a bit of a slump in crypto prices lately. Luckily I analyzed my risk correctly and didn't get liquidated, but this downturn just means I've been focusing on paying off the van like a normal person in monthly installments, rather than dumping the lump sum into the bank like I planned to.

Anyway, the van conversion project is effectively on ice until I have more money and time, and when building materials aren’t so scarce.

The battery project

My battery project is a sub-project for the van. Like I outlined in this post, I’m not making another camping vehicle without extreme air conditioning, and that means extreme battery depth and extreme solar capacity on the roof of the van.

Unfortunately I let my impulsivity drive this project (like I do with all my projects), and I bought too many batteries too soon.

This is particularly unfortunate because half of my batteries are inside the van at my parents’ place, meaning they’re slowly dying from heat exposure. Li-Poly cells are actually capable of dealing with pretty extreme ambient heat if they’re not in use, but they do degrade faster.

TLDR: The battery project is also on ice for now.

Chia blockchain

Another reason why I put the van project on ice was because I wanted to get into Chia mining. Let me explain.

First a little history. A couple of years ago I got into Ethereum mining (you know, with graphics cards), but since I’m stuck in New York City (which has the highest per-kWh electricity cost in the country) that just wasn’t going to work out. So I sold my cards (at a huge profit I might add) and forgot about crypto mining for a little while.

Then Chia came along. To make a very long story short, you “mine” Chia (their PR prefers the term “farming”) with hard drives. You make files called plots that sit on your hard drive, and you get Chia for farming these plots.

This was, without question, a stupid fucking idea. I bought about $7,000 in hard drives and probably $3,000 in miscellaneous equipment and have, to date, mined about 3 Chia, which amounts to maybe $550 at current prices.

Now, again, we’re in the middle of a savage crypto slump, so those 3 Chia will (probably) be worth more in the future. In the worst case scenario I have a very tidy 280TB NAS.

Why did I do this to myself? Well, under the right circumstances crypto mining is great passive income, which you would need if you were freelancing from the back of a converted camper van…

Operation Fuji Pro 400H

Were you hoping for another seemingly random project that eats up a bunch of money with no obvious reward? Well boy have I got one for you.

First, I love photography. Right now I have 16 rolls of film on my coffee table from my childhood. About half of them are baby pictures of me, and the other half are probably terrible pictures I took when I was 10 and my parents didn’t have the money to develop my garbage shots.

Anyway, I have always liked the “film look,” and was absolutely devastated when VSCO announced that it was discontinuing its desktop film simulations. That devastation continues to this day.

I’ll probably explain this in more detail in a dedicated post, but the TLDR is that I’m working on a project to preserve the “look” of Fuji Pro 400H before it becomes impossible to get and develop. And critically, unlike everyone else, I plan to publish my methodology so that people can be sure I didn’t just eyeball it.

What now?

I’ll be honest, I overextended into Chia like a lot of other people did. However, let me give you guys a piece of advice: If you decide to yolo into a cryptocurrency with hopes of big gains, you should consider mining it.

Here’s a quick reason why: If you have $10,000 and buy into the hot new cryptocurrency and it loses all of its value, you lose everything and there’s no getting it back. If you throw that $10,000 into hard drives (or GPUs) and computer parts, you still have the hard drives and computer parts even if the currency collapses. Just something to think about.

So with that being said, my current attention is on the Fuji Pro 400H preservation project while we wait for crypto prices to recover. If you have a spare roll that you want to donate to a good cause, please let me know, and keep an eye out for a dedicated blog post on this topic.

Location 03: Hot Sulpher State Wildlife Area, CO

When I started this trip, I knew I would need above average connectivity to do my job on the road. I would very much not like to be fired, so connectivity was something I was more than willing to invest in. But how to do it?

Part 01: Modems & Service

Right now I have two active Verizon SIMs and two active AT&T SIMs. You might wonder why I have two of each, but we'll get to that in the bonding section.

Each SIM sits inside its own modem, which is just the device that connects to the carrier's service. On the Verizon side, I'm using two USB U620Ls, and on the AT&T side I'm using a Unite hotspot and an unlocked T-Mobile ZTE Linkzone (what a name), which I just happened to have lying around.

Or at least, those are the modems I started with. After a few weeks on the road, I switched to the following:

  • Verizon U620L
  • Verizon Galaxy S9 in Wi-Fi Hotspot mode
  • AT&T Unite
  • AT&T HTC U11 in Wi-Fi Hotspot mode

As you can see, I have two smartphones doing some of the connectivity now. As a general rule, smartphones with Qualcomm processors have the latest and greatest modems, far newer than those in the aging U620L and Unite, both of which are many years old now.

Having multiple modems gives me some redundancy and diversity, but they aren't a magic bullet for low-coverage areas, which leads us to...

Part 02: The Booster & Antenna

As a primer, signal is measured in dBm. It's not necessary to go into everything that dBm entails, just know that if your phone's signal is about 115dBm or higher, you're screwed. A dBM of 60 means you're basically sitting under a tower.

With that out of the way, let's talk about the booster. I'm using a Weboost 4G-X, a cellular signal booster that works with all carriers. How it works is pretty simple: there's an outside antenna that communicates with the tower and an inside antenna that communicates with all your devices (like the modems listed above).

In my testing you can expect to get around 20dBm of boost out of the 4G-X. That means that if you're absolutely at the edge of connectivity, say 115dBm as noted above, that'll bring you down to 95dBm, which is enough to at least communicate with the tower, if slowly and somewhat shakily. But if you've got a couple of bars and are at 95dBm and come down to to 75dBm, now you've got a very strong signal and can probably stream 1080p Netflix until the cows come home.

Now, the antennas are important too. I opted to get the OTR trucker antenna because it just looks mean as heck on the car, but honestly I have no idea if it's any more sensitive than the tiny little magnetic antenna that comes with the 4G-X. What I do know, though, is that you can raise it up much higher than the magnetic antenna, and that does really matter. Having a good spot in relation to the tower, at least in my experience, can yield 10dBm of signal improvement just by getting out of the way of a mound of dirt, or away from trees. And 10dBm plus the 20dBm that the booster provides is the difference between a stable video call and apologizing to your whole team about your connectivity.

There is more that could be done with regard to antennas. Weboost's OTR antenna is omnidirectional, meaning that it collects and transmits data in all directions. I could have opted for a directional antenna, which Weboost also makes, but for it to work at all, it needs to be pointed at a tower.

I decided not to go this direction because, as I sit here, I still have no idea where the tower is and trust me, I've looked. Plus, I'm not very keen on putting up an antenna and spinning it around every time I stop somewhere, so omnidirectional will have to do for now.

Part 03: Bonding & Routing

Once all the modems are online, the next trick is to combine them into one internet connection and pipe that out to a regular Wi-Fi router. To do this, I use a very cool little utility called Speedify. It'll basically take any internet connection your throw at it, be it ethernet, Wi-Fi, USB tethered phone, USB modem, whatever.

What Speedify does is break up your internet traffic across all your connections using a VPN then, at the VPN end-point, recombine it.

For me, Speedify serves several purposes. Most obviously, it will increase my internet speed but only if AT&T and Verizon modems can be combined. If only the Verizon modems have signal, for example, it doesn't really increase speed. But what it does do is smooth over any glitches with the modems. So, for example, using smartphones as modems / hotspots is kind of unreliable; they're just not really designed for that. Many times they'll just stop… hotspotting. Speedify will seamlessly drop down to the one working connection.

Once all the internet connections are combined, the next thing to do is to get that out into the router. For that I use Connectify Hotspot, from the same company as Speedify. I wish this app were as good as Speedify, but it's not. It's pretty glitchy and will stop working after a couple of days. Regardless, it's the only option for getting the Speedify connection out, so it's a must.

Finally, the router. This one's easy: I use the ASUS AC1300 router I already had. It's a cheap router that honestly works great. Before this trip, I was testing it using only the HTC U11 in USB tethering mode hooked up directly to the router's USB port, and that worked great.

Part 04: What's Next

As far as the booster and the antennas are concerned: A+. I shouldn't be able to have full video calls here at Hot Sulpher Springs, but because of the booster and the OTR antenna I totally can.

Modem-wise, the next step is clear: for my AT&T SIMs I'd really like to get a couple of Nighthawks, but they're expensive. I'm not sure what the upgrade path is for Verizon. There are newer USB modems, but I haven't loved my experience with the U620Ls. When they work, they're absolutely rock solid. But sometimes they just restart continuously and I have no idea why. The Verizon Wi-Fi hotspot I have (which I haven't mentioned until now, just to be clear) doesn't work reliably over USB like the Unite does, which is why I'm not using it.

The whole Speedify combining business? Honestly I'm not loving it because of the requisite babysitting, but it was affordable software and there aren't really any alternatives so ¯_(ツ)_/¯.

Location 02: Dominguez-Escalante National Conservation Area

I wasn't feeling very good when I decided to turn in for the night. I figured it was just the heat, maybe a little dehydration but nothing major. I rented a low-stakes movie I'd been meaning to watch, Dragon Ball Z: Battle of Gods, and by the time the purple cat man reached Earth I had headache in full bloom.

About 30 minutes later I was legitimately worried. I don't get headaches very often, so I don't have much frame of reference for how bad this pain should be. I knew I had a big bottle of ibuprofen in the car, so I clambered out of the tent and into the bright desert moonlight. Wearing only my Uniqlo boxer briefs, I stumbled immediately. The pain made it hard to move, and as I tried to walk toward the hut tent, I felt a deep nausea come up in gut.

At this point I began to think I'd been poisoned, maybe food, maybe water. As I crept toward the hut tent, clutching my head and moaning in pain, I replayed everything I'd eaten or drank. No, it couldn't be the water; not only was the water in the big tank from a city water supply, I had filtered it with a large RV carbon filter. I'd had a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, but surely that wouldn't have done it. Anything else would've shown symptoms earlier.

I'd ruled out any food or water poisoning by the time I'd reached the hut tent. But the pain was really booming now, and the nausea from walking was peaking. I stumbled in, grabbed the water jug, and took a few big gulps. Not a great idea, actually. I was going to throw up. No, I couldn't. I didn't have much water left. I had to keep it down.

I laid there for a while, crumpled in my hut tent, no pants, shivering in the cold of the desert night. “This is what you wanted,” the smug voice in my head said. “Don't be a dick,” I responded.

After a moment of recovery, I crept toward the car and grabbed the ibuprofen bottle. They're pretty tame at 200mg, so I choked back three of them. As I stood there squinting in the night, again, completely pantsless, clutching a gallon jug of water for dear life, the moonlit landscape looked beautiful to me.

This really was what I wanted.

===== THE NEXT MORNING =====

I'm fine, but fuck that headache.

Anyway, here are some pics of this spot in Escalante. Great internet here, but it gets a bit too hot during the day. I need more elevation.

I'm heading for a place called Gilbert Campground which, fingers crossed, will have water.

There was an atmosphere of tension in the car when my boyfriend Mert and I parked on Lovell Canyon Road. My Honda Element felt like it was on its last leg; the check engine light had come on, it felt weak, sluggish, and all four of the brakes were shrieking in pain. I stopped on the side of the road to check the engine after a burning smell seeped into the cabin. The coolant was boiling. It was getting dark, and I feared we wouldn't make it. We did, but only just.

This would be the last night before Mert flew back to New York, and while one half of my mind was deeply troubled by the state of the car, the other worried I wouldn't be positive and attentive enough to Mert in our last evening.

Naturally, I overcompensated. I doted over Mert (which isn't uncommon for me), but that night I was especially insufferable. Luckily the sheer beauty of the landscape eventually melted the tension.

I wasn't planning on spending a week at Lovell Canyon Road, a discreet little recreation area on the other side of the western mountain range around Vegas. The plan was to spend Friday night here, get Mert to the airport on Saturday, then drive to Colorado on Sunday. The timing was just too tight.

Before Mert's flight, we squeaked our way into My Mechanic Auto Repair. It was about 2PM when I called, holding no hope for real repairs before their 5PM closing time. Through some miracle they said they could do it, so I handed over the keys and we waited.

Right at 5PM, the manager called my name. On his screen was a $2,024.17 bill for all new brakes, rotors, two front struts, and a new serpentine belt. Did it hurt? A little, but the car needs to run for this to work. And this was a lot better than the quote I got at my parents' favorite mechanic in Nashville.

When I got back on the road, it was night and day. The Element ran like a dream, and my fear of a total failure was dispelled. A weight had definitely been lifted.

But then it was time to drop Mert off. I did not like the feeling that came.

On my way back to the campground, I hit up the water station and filled up about 6 gallons of water. As I write this, I've used about 4.5 gallons. I need to uproot and refill, but that's for another blog.

Once I was back, I found a place to setup for a few days. I still need to work after all. Here the car is a bit messy, but the setup is pretty good. The hill blocks the wind, allowing me to leave the awning up over night. Once I was set up, I was able to walk around and shoot some photos, like this:

The plan is to head to Colorado this weekend. It should be a bit cooler mid-day, and I like the landscape a lot better. Besides, it's easier to deal with cold nights than it is to deal with the hot desert at noon. There are some systems I need to write about, like the solar system and the water situation, but that'll come soon.

See you next time ✌️

by Evan Rodgers

Here's a question: where am I going to store all my shit?

Want to have a bad time while backpacking? Bring too much stuff. Last year I hiked a very challenging trail with what I'll call a robust camera kit. I'm talking steadycam, battery packs, gimbal, the whole works. About 1/5th of the way up the trail I realized I had made a terrible mistake.

My Honda Element is not that big. In pictures it seems pretty big, but it isn't, so I won't be able to take all that much with me.

I'm going to be making a rear cabinet like all the other Element campers (see the Fifth Element design above), but there's a lot to account for:

  • Food / cooking gear
  • Clothes
  • Hygiene supplies (including towels, which are huge)
  • Bedding
  • Work / connectivity gear
  • Video gear
  • Recovery stuff (winch, straps, mudboards, etc)

When you really break it down, it'll be a real moonshot to fit all this into a mid-sized SUV, even with a genius cabinet design. And I need to keep things packed pretty well, since I plan on shooting a lot of videos in and around the car. Car owners: you know the struggle.

So if you can't fit all your junk in the car, you need to put it outside the car. And down the rabbit hole we tumble.

Roof rack

There's really only one platform-style roof rack out there for the Element: the Gobi Ranger Rack. It looks super cool and comes with a neat ladder, but it costs $1,595 before tax. I love it and I want it, but I can't afford it. What to do? Make your own.

This guy has a great custom setup, but I need something a little different. First, those Kee Klamps (the bar connectors) are surprisingly expensive. Also, the steel bars that he's using look like they're ¾ of an inch, and my roof tent weighs about 160lbs, so I'd be worried about the rigidity of those bars.

Instead, I'm looking at something called aluminum extrusions from a company called 8020.net. You might be thinking: but steel is way stronger than aluminum!? And that's true, but strength is different from rigidity, and I need both. The extrusions and their corresponding connectors are cheap, too, which is great.

Yes, it'll be much uglier than the delightful Gobi rack. Alas.

Back to the storage angle: not only do I need to stash that giant roof tent up there, I need a storage box. I'm planning on putting the battery and the cellular equipment in the roof box and slapping the first 100W solar panel on top of that.

Trailer cargo

For the city people reading: the square metal thing you see coming out of a car's ass is called a trailer hitch. You hitch a trailer to it. However, you can also use it for storage.

What I'm grappling with is how to spend less than $600 to put some storage space on the caboose of my ride. Let's lay out the parts:

Can you believe how expensive this is?

I'm planning on keeping my fridge in there. Sidenote: the fridge I bought is way too large. Food is good though.

The cost to store

All told, getting the car outfitted with just exterior storage (so not counting the interior cabinets) is probably going to cost me around $1,000.


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