Saturday, 26 July 2008

Now they're coming out of the walls!

Another sandwich panel system that seems would be good for filling in excess glass on converted buses.

cf Bondor coolroom wall panels.

Check your spam count.

I don't think this is good, even though theoretically the volume of spam should decrease.  It's sad though that he tried to take his family with him and in the process left trauma that will never leave his daughter whom he shot in the neck, and a series of questions that will haunt the baby boy.

It's not good that his frame of mind wasn't picked up on and he wasn't on any kind of suicide watch, that just shows a lack of attention by the authorities.  Although, of course, they might have been distracted by all that spam in their inboxes promising Russian brides.

Also not good is that it took four days to find him - after having collected his family, and found at a house he had obviously recently lived at - again, there's something seriously wrong here.  Even if he'd had 20 residences that's still 20 places you'd think the authorities would keep a watch on.  Or perhaps they were too busy ordering viagra or securing their share of $40,000,000 in state duties imposed on some Nigerian company...

Seriously, it seems to have been a lot of inattention, a lot of not very clear thinking, and a lot of laissez-faire attitude that led to this.  Also a tragedy that he killed or attempted to kill all his family. But he left his baby son, in what would appear to be a bit of a cheat to keep one successor alive after him.  It gives an insight into a slightly different mental process, and is vaguely disturbing. 

But deep down inside, I'm satisfied that a person who has driven millions of people to the edge of spam hell has now gone there himself.

Thursday, 24 July 2008

Reviewing Wittenoom - a case of Government once again stealing heritage.

There was once a little town called Wittenoom. At one time it was the largest town that far north in WA. I and a few hundred other people lived there in the late 60's and early 70's - and then began as shambolic a process of throwing those lives into disarray as has ever happened in totalitarian countries, let alone a supposed democracy.

As a kid growing up there, I should by now have died of mesothelioma. I'm not. Nor has even one of my contemporaries that I am aware of had the least bit of asbestos-related health issues, in fact I'd say we're in better shape than the national average.

I'll refer to this document in the WA Parliamentary files for some ammo, but first of all some personal experience and observations:

My peers and I played in the town's supposed "deadly" atmosphere, and that means kid style panting and if there was any asbestos fibre in the air we with our young lungs should have died by now. But we haven't. My personal experience with the asbestos fibres was that if you wet the broken fibres, they would seemingly stick back together. Don't know how true that is, but remember kids observe and don't judge, and I was a pretty inquisitive kid.

Then suddenly there was a government intake of breath, a kind of collective gasp of horror - look, have you read that .PDF yet? I suggest you do that, it makes stark and frustrating reading. The government was and still is not so much concerned for the lives of we the ex residents, as they were apparently scared that they would be sued for dereliction of duty of care...

We were told that our house was being reclaimed by the government, one way or another, and they were offering us the princely sum of $1000 for the house and land. Yes, we'd bought the place for that price, but had since spent tens of thousands rebuilding and renovating and refurbishing. I was young and didn't understand it all. I grieved for a place that had been more home than anyplace I'd lived before, and I was and still am saddened everytime I think about it.

But before that happened, Wittenoom rallied. Out of their own pockets, the residents installed air monitoring and wore air monitors. The quantities of airborne fibre measured were only slightly worse than the recommended maxmium, and certainly below that could have been measured (at that time, the late 70's early 80's) beside any major road in Perth - because vehicle brake shoes were still made of asbestos back then, and between those brakes and Super Six asbestos fencing, asbestos roofing, and asbestos wall claddings shedding fibres in a far more densely populated area, had the committee that took my home from measured those levels I think they would have been far more concerned to close Perth than Wittenoom.

Pages 13 and 14 of the document pretty much say it all - Wittenoom was "wound down" not because it was any less safe than any other place, but because once the government measured any amount of risk, they preferred to cut that limb off rather than risk being sued. This is an important point I will return to later - the government admitting that once they become aware of a risk, no matter that the risk is no worse than in unmeasured areas, they consider themselves liable if they don't eliminate that risk.

Why is that important? Well, the government now advertises extensively admitting that cigarettes are deadly poison, and if you examine the records I am sure you will find that this was already known 20 - 50 years ago. So there is another form of risk that the government was made aware of but failed completely to act to eliminate. It's important to me because you know how I said I wasn't dying of mesothelioma or asbestosis or lung cancer? Well I AM dying of emphysema caused by cigarette smoking - which I had been doing for longer than the government had been trying to bury Wittenoom. Surely if they admit to concern over derelcition of duty of care, then they owe me for allowing tobacco manufacturers to advertise and sell tobacco products to a 12 year old kid?

And my last question is: Considering how much of my personal history the government has bulldozed along with my home, and considering that there is still a chance that one day Wittenoom will rise again - what will the government do to compensate those of us that they have displaced for what will have turned out to be no defensible reason? Is there anything they can do that actually will compensate us? They've pretty much stuck themselves on a cleft stick on this issue and I'm eager to see what bastardry they will get up to next. If there's one thing my contacts with the government has taught me it's that our government is not there for the good of the people...

I would love to see justice for all the people the government stole the history and heritage of. Pity that just like the Stolen Generations and the now famour Sorry, it will probably come too late for the people they affected the most.

Getting to the inevitable leaks

If you buy a second hand motorhome or caravan or whatever, you're likely to have inherited some leaks. The biggest sin of mobile living is not checking for these, and unfortunately, most previous owners have pretty much decided they didn't want the vehicle and have probably let this maintenance slide.

I've found two full on leaks, one through a cracked/rusted roof skin and the other through a very old and perished roof vent. The roof vent will get replaced (and sealed) the same time as the hot water system gets installed. The other - has been dealt with.

Here's a picture of the offending leaky spot. Sorry there was no before picture, but the long and short of it is that this Nissan Civilian bus has several seams in the roof, covered with a bonded-on plastic capping. This leak had obviously bothered the previous owners because there was some sealeant against one edge of the capping.

When I dug out the rust, there was a 2cm long, 0.5cm wide L shaped hole right through the roof. Sorry - I'd already hit the rust with passivator fluid so it's all turned black and hard to see. But it's there... And speaking of rust passivator, it, automotive body filler, and a can of spray paint form the backbone of your seek and eliminate mission.

Don't skimp on these - they don't cost all that much (about $8 for the rust convertor/passivator and $14 for the body filler) and will be all that stands between your belongings and a deluge. (The black duct tape was just there for emergencies, as the weather was varying between bright sunshine and rain showers, and if it had set in for rain I would have temporarily put tape over the spot.)

The first step is to remove the paint, the rust, and any flakes and crap around the "wound." I use a screwdriver for the first attack, then a hand wirebrush, and then a bit or emery paper or cloth if you're finicky. As long as the surface is clean and all the rust is exposed and the majority of it scraped off, you should be okay.

Apply the rust passivator with a bit of cloth, or a brush. USE RUBBER GLOVES. This stuff is generally a nasty acid like phosphoric acid, and you don't want to get it on your skin. If you have access to the leak inside, go inside now and remove the rust in there too, and also brush some passivator on this. Give the outside time to dry out completely, that takes a few minutes. Take a piece of wet paper towel or cloth and lightly wipe over the area to remove excess.

Dispose of the passivator-contaminated items responsibly. Washing out the brushes/cloths in water is perfectly acceptable as far as I'm concerned, you should not have used more than a few mils anyway, and water apparently breaks it down. Just don't get any on your skin nor let it go into your garden.

Mix the body filler (aka "bog" in bodyshop parlance) as per directions. This is important - don't try and hurry the setting by adding more hardener, or you'll end up with a less than ideal density of patch. I'd chiselled away a lot of the plastic capping so I elected to very roughly follow the profile of that capping, you can apply the bog as you like, as long as it's a little proud of the surface. That allows you to sand it back if you want to achieve bodyshop standards of finish.

I pretty much left it like that. I could have spent time sanding to profile and so forth but the rain was approaching and I just wanted to get finished before I had to tape over everything and then I'd have to probably start again...

Bog takes between 10 minutes and several hours to set, I go for the rapid cure type for preference. After 30 anxious minutes watching cloud banks scud to either side of me, the bog had set dry on the outside and was no longer flexible.

The last stage is - PAINT IT. Don't leave body filler and raw metal exposed to the elements, that's just asking for a recurrence of the rust. I use an enamel type undercoat white, because this gives a good surface that I'll be able to spray tropical white over at a later stage, you could use touch-up paint matched to your vehicle if you prefer. Faster drying is better, but this is up to you. While I was at it I sprayed a short distance either side of the repair, on the theory that filling minute crazing and cracks in the plastic capping with paint would protect against further rust developing.

I just lightly keyed either side of the capping with sandpaper, maybe a centimetre either side, and sprayed on a few thin films one after the other. The undercoat enamel dried within minutes so it was quite easy to apply three coats in about 15 minutes.

And that was it - repair effected in about two hours, the rain actually came in an hour later and the leak is gone.

Sunday, 20 July 2008

Island Table for Motorhome.

Today's jobs: Finish off putting in the cat door for Ghostie, and make MkII of the offset island table for a bit of extra workspace.

The new table is over twice the surface of the original island table and weighs about 2/3rds as much. And it's fully braced underneath. I got a new cast aluminium dome to fit the tapered pipe island table leg at Camec, and pretty much fitted everything by eye rather than measuring.

Why cut to thumbnail measurements? Well, not all the angles in the bus are neat right angles, and this is one of those spots, the cupboard is on a slight angle and that needed to be allowed for, so holding a spare piece of chipboard against the side and then marking a line parallel to the cupboard supplied the angle for that cut, and while I was there I marked the cutouts for the vertical elements too.

A cordless drill with a drill bit and a philips driver bit, an electric jigsaw, and a small hand rasp (a Surform, about 6") were the only tools needed to complete the whole job. I used one of those work tables that clamps things but only needed to use it as a table in this case, so your outside table could probably be pressed into service if you're doing this on the road.

A piece of edge ribbon material and some contact adhesive finished the edge off, and the whole thing went together in about an hour and a bit.

Very worthwhile, as I can still fit three people around the table if I need to, yet have all that space for working with the laptop and it's also handy for cooking, fixing things, and what have you.

Time to have dinner. Have fun.

Saturday, 19 July 2008

Finding it at the right price is half the battle

I'm beginning to like the results. As I said, with any 2nd hand vehicle you have to do a few things to get it to your liking - heck, even in a new car you buy it seat covers or floor mats - and a motorhome is so much more than just a vehicle. For me, this is going to be home for one to infinity years, so I'm determined to make it as much like a home I'd want to be in as possible.

Well - there ya go - when you move into a home the first thing you do is put up your curtains and furniture, maybe buy a new rug for the hallway. So it's excuseable that I've found a number of things I want to suit to myself, and that's what I've been doing.

One thing I wanted to do was get rid of the sea of glass which is leaking all my heat out and adding untold weight to the overall load. Things that were stopping me: Complexity of reskinning a bus, and cost. Seemingly, both solved. I'm gonna name some names, so block your ears if you're sensitive.

Initially I read about efforts in the USA to convert buses, they generally revolved around sheets of aluminium, styrene foam, and plywood. On this steel-framed bus, that didn't make sense. Also, aluminium is expensive, and there is a lot of work involved. Scratch that idea.

Then I had a bright idea - I remember Scott Cam on some gardening show using a lightweight material which had styrofoam in the middle sandwiched between two sheets of.. of... - something... (Wish I'd paid more attention to Scott's bullshit instead of his gardener girl... Oh well...)

I eventually tracked down that Dow Corning does something like this, and emailed them. They actually phoned me. Bad sign, when they can afford to chat to you based solely on a single email contact... "Motorhome? Yes, we make insulating foam for that. It's closed cell blah blah blah and it costs $40-something per square metre. No - that's just the closed cell foam sir. The outer skin has to be blah blah blah material. What? Oh, about $73 a metre. And for the inside, - no, plywood just wouldn't do, it disintegrates. Umm we have blah blah blah. It's $40 a metre."

So for the bargain basement price of $153 a square metre (plus the special adhesive, a few hundred buck a tin, before I forget) I could replace the 7sqm of windows and it might (he wouldn't guarantee that it would work, mind - some manufacturers did use that sandwich to make caravans but that wasn't to say it would be suitable to your purposes Sir) even work. Needless to say there's no way I'm parting with almost $1300 just to put a few sheets of material over the windows.

I then located Bondor ( who make freezer wall panels. Colourbond tin sheets sandwiching a styrofoam core, they use this stuff to insulate coolrooms and ice houses, and it sounded like just the deal. Contact them (and LO! - they haveth a branch in Perth!) and they will cut panels to size for me and charge $32/sqm which includes the price of cutting. Much better! And yes, they do sell some of the material to motorhome enthusiasts.

Which is why I was prepared to drop the $240 or so to have the panels cut for me. Until.

I saw Welshpool Coolrooms and Ice Supply, on Welshpool road near Leach Highway, not far past Camec ( who BTW are pretty comprehensive caravan and motorhome suppliers and I have no hesitation in recommending them. I saw - and my eyes damn near popped, lemme tell you - MOUNTAINS of Bondor panel offcuts laying on pallets all over the yard. Nearly burned rubber turning off Welshpool Rd into their driveway, and grabbed the builder in his workshop, asked about offcuts. This conversation went a bit like this:

"... so lemme get this straight you want something wider than 730mm and longer than 1430mm? We have offcuts that are 800 x 2000, they should do ya. We generally charge $12 per sheet."

"wow! Only $12 per sheet? Cool!"

"Oh, okay then, ten bucks per sheet." (Obviously mishearing what I said as haggling, and who was I to correect him? hehehehe)

I loaded seven sheets on top of the Duckling roof (sorry, forgot the camera so no pictures of this - might pose them later on) and headed home. In one of the worst storms Perth has had in ages, so it wasn't long before I found myself almost blown onto two wheels.

But the price has gone from $1300 to $240 to $70. (Plus $17 to buy some metal cutting blades for the jigsaw. Don't try using an angle grinder and cutoff wheel, apparently that will just melt the styrofoam.)

Oh - for those people who have quite correctly picked up that I will have no windows after this - it's easy enough to cut portholes through the Bondor and put in panel van ports or oval windows. And they are better insulated than acres of single glass, and I can put them exactly where needed.

I'll post pics as I do things, it looks to be a pretty easy job though. Stay tuned!

Thursday, 17 July 2008

The Name Of This Beast

... is still unknown, but I'm electing "LoadsAWork" for one.  When I bought the motorhome I saw a few things that I figured I might perhaps want to change, nothing major.  Then I lived in it for a few weeks, and some things are becoming obvious.  There are heaps of little (and not so little) things that need to be done.  Once you start, the things pile up.

For a start, the front bunk.  Fair enough between it and the back bunk this sleeps two.  But there is also a just as comfortable double bed to be had.  You just have to convert the dining/living space.  Let me say this - they are damn clever bunks that roll up to the ceiling, but they are narrow and the high edges really hurt when you whack your elbow on them.  And you still have to raise and lower them daily as they take up space you need for living.

Plus, they are raised and lowered by thin wire ropes that inevitably fray - and you ain't lived until you've stabbed your pinky toe with a length of stainless steel wire.   So I don't use the bunks because it's just as easy to convert the seating area, truth be told.  And it has more room, and less spiky frayed wires...

Seeing that much space wasted got me thinking some more - the front bunk used to occupy space that is now a very much more practical hanging wardrobe and a freezer alcove.  I say that because I removed the front bunk, and the space I've recouped is more than worth it.  But it's been work to make the wardrobe and the alcove. 

Meanwhile, one of the 24V lights stopped working, and the 12V lighting sometimes gets weird flickering happening.  Tracing the 24V wiring for that light led me to something scary - when the builders had reworked the cavity for the front bunk, they'd fed existing wires through a roughly cut hole in a bulkhead - and it had been sawing its way through for a long time, and finally severed itself when I disturbed the area to remove the bunk.  Scary was that the cutting had been going on long enough to leave green copper stains, and there was a bright blue arc every time it touched... 

And that makes me worry about the rest of the wiring.  The three 240V outlets had to be fitted by a qualified electrician and certtified - the 12V power can be done by anyone, yet the consequences are likely to be every bit as lethal, if the wiring set the bus alight... So I've bought appropriate 50A low voltage wire and am in the process of rewiring all that too. 

Oh yeah - the annex.  It used to use this heavy truck canvas with a rope track along the gutter line, but not now...  I bought a wind-out annex awning and am in the process of installing that.  You see, rope track awnings need two people (or a clever system of pulleys and a trained octopus) to set up without damaging the rope edge of the canvas, one person has to feed the canvas the other has to pull it through.  Two things wrong with that are A) as Trish is working I'll be doing this solo more often than not, and B) I have emphysema and hoisting that amount of canvas at every stop is well nigh impossible.  Yet another gotcha.

Lastly, the hot water system - there wasn't one.  Is that really considered civilised?  Not this little brown duck, anyway.  I have a decent hot water system now, but before that it was all the old solar shower bags, and tough (and very stiff) tits if it was wet cold and windy - which is when, lets; face it, you NEED hot water...

So yeah - the last few weeks have been kinda busy...

Wednesday, 16 July 2008

The New Face of Cyberterrorism?

There's been a bit of concern lately that terrorists would switch to cyber-terrorism and disable vital systems by hacking into mission-critical routers and servers.  The USA defence dept has devoted considerable resources to exercises playing out vaious scenarios.  I believe even Australia (under Kevin07's leadership) is beginning to understand the importance of securing vital infrastructure. 

Then also there's an IT tenet that your greatest security problems come from within your LAN, and the biggest security risk is generally the IT staff themselves, as evidenced by a recent report that stated that a significant percentage of IT staff admitted to poking around in files they had no business in. 

Kevin Mitnick is of the opinion, borne out by his personal record, that most successful attacks on IT systems also involve a large dollop of social engineering, i.e. talking people out of critical information such as passwords and access codes. 

So while I'm the kind of system administrator that blocks viruses on the most common  ingress points, and trojans and worms at the firewall, I'm under no illusions as to where my biggest security risks lie - and it's always within the organisation.  People take sensitive data home on USB drive, PDAs, and laptops.  Some even email this to themselves at home and then email the updated drafts back to themselves at work.  (How do I know this?  I *am* a system administrator, and I *do* investigate suspicious emails that are thrown up by the email server filters...  The old saying "I'm a sysadmin - I read your emails" was quite close to the mark, but for different reasons.)

One of the things I keep an eye out for is users logging in from unusual locations or at unusual times.  My IT staff at my various positions have been like me though - we log in from wherever we are when a problem arises, and do what we can by remote admin where possible - so it's difficult to establish what's "usual" and what's "unusual" for the IT staff. 

That's why a scenario like this is my worst nightmare.  What can an IT department do in order to prevent something like this happening?  Well, there are some multi-tiered procedures that can reduce the risk, but they mean involving more staff in callouts, changes to basic SOP, and so forth - most IT budgets would constrain this level of security, and in no time at all unofficial "channels" would appear that bypassed the most onerous security restrictions, and you're back to the earleir situation, only now you don't know all the "usual channels" any more.

And the worst thing of all, is that this ties back to my first paragraph.  Why would I bother to laboriously hack through layer after layer of protocols and firewalled ports and IDS, when all I really need to do is convince one of the existing system admins that my cause is just?  And what better way to prove that, than by waving a large wad of Holy Currency under said sysadmins nose? 

The best thing, from the point of view of the theoretical terrorist, is that the IT staffer you buy off will already know all the unofficial ways to bypass security.  So I reckon instead of spending zillions learning how to block incoming cyber threats, learn to manage human nature inside your networks. 

Friday, 11 July 2008


Hands up the treechangers out there.  And the seachangers.  And the other "xxxxx"changers whatever you want to call it.  I noticed after I wrote my last post about becoming a Grey Nomad that it's not actually like that, not like "changing one's life."  Or at least, that's not how it feels to me.  It feels more like "getting back to life" after a hiatus of decades. 

Maybe cos I'm a Gypsy at heart, but I've come to realise over the last few weeks, while getting the motorhome ready to roll, that this is how my life was, originally.  Things to do, good times to be had, people to meet, life to live.  So hands up everyone who's not into "lifechanging events" and instead is all about "getting back to my real life," and see you on the road!

Okay that salutation being over, I'll let you all know that I have, and will upload as I take them, pictures of what;s going on to my Flickr (and hopefully Picasa) accounts, this blog will have articles and occasional podcasts, and I'll keep a Google Map or two which will hopefully tie all the lements together.  When I do, the side bar will change and I'll put another set of links there.