sparr: (Default)
After waking up to some general announcement emails today, I decided that it's time to unsubscribe and unfollow various sources of information about Firefly. I won't be attending again in the near future, possibly ever, and being reminded of that loss has become more depressing than useful.

I never thought that Firefly was a popularity contest, but it seems that I was wrong. It was made clear to me last year that if more than one person is upset about where I'm camping or even just sitting, and they complain loudly enough, the board will force me to move, under threat of ejection from the event. I've been told that simply talking, in any place where someone who doesn't like what I'm saying might overhear me, is unacceptable behavior. I don't think there is anywhere I can exist at the event that there won't be at least intermittently two people upset with my presence, so any time / effort / money I spend on attending is now under the specter of risk of losing out on most of the best parts of the experience I would hope to have. I'm not going to spend a thousand dollars and take a week off work just to camp alone and watch my friends revel from afar.

I am disappointed in the people who lied to our camp, and me directly, about how such situations would be handled between us, about their support for plans and policies that they did not actually support, and in describing my own actions and behavior. If they had simply honestly told me they wanted me gone, rather than subjecting us to a year of discussion and meetings and policymaking just to discard it all, it would have been a much cleaner break. I am disappointed in the Firefly board for succumbing to the battle of who can cope least. It is poor leadership to choose the path of least resistance to mollify whoever complains loudest. I am disappointed in my friends who decided that keeping silent and avoiding the drama was worth more to them than my continued presence. Fortunately this has helped me reprioritize and filter people I thought were my friends.

This is more painful to write than the end of any other relationship has been for me.
sparr: (Default)
"Normal people don't need to ask that question, the answer is obvious to them."

I hear this a lot. I find myself needing to respond to it more often than I have time to, so I find myself writing this in the hopes of not needing to write it again.

I have two separate responses to this. They are independent, orthogonal, and stand alone. Either is sufficient to invalidate this statement in most contexts, but I present both in an attempt to be thorough and to preemptively avoid an argument with someone who accepts one of them but not the other.

First, I want to address "the answer" and "obvious".

In most cases where I hear this feedback, this simply illustrates the average person's lack of care or perspective regarding the issue in question. It's easy for an answer to be obvious if you only consider a small slice of the factors in the question or the consequences of the answer. Someone who is ignorant of those factors or consequences, or simply not mentally equipped to consider them all, will exhibit the Dunning–Kruger effect, thinking they have effectively made a decision that they aren't qualified or equipped to make.

In many other cases, it is plainly evident that different people come up with different, often contradictory and mutually exclusive, "obvious" answers, none of which are "the" answer. This can correlate to the previous paragraph, or it can indicate the use of different ethical or value systems. In that latter case, my mind automatically escalates the question to one of choosing between the two systems in question. The average person's tolerance for cognitive dissonance is something I lack; that doesn't make the answers any less obvious to me; if anything, I can see MORE of the obvious answers than someone who hasn't considered the values leading to their answer and the answers of others.

Second, I want to address my tolerance for causing harm.

I spent a long time in some really unhealthy communities, surrounded by hypocritical people who convinced me that everything I was doing was wrong, that I could never be sure I wasn't doing something bad. Those bad actions ranged from having sex to hugging people to sending messages to sitting next to someone on the subway. I am slowly escaping their influence, and sadly losing a lot of less aware but innocent friends in the process. Along the way, I've become a lot more aware of others' tolerance for unintentional consequences.

When you say that an answer is obvious, one of the things you're saying is that the risks of grave consequences from that answer fall below your threshold for worry/care. I am often, if not always, able to see that answer just as clearly, if not more clearly, than the average person. Where we part ways is in the decision about how acceptable the risks of that answer are.

I spent years afraid to engage in various sorts of actions and interactions with even a 1/1000 chance of causing another person physical or emotional harm. Those previously mentioned people were telling me that even that risk was too much, while also telling me that even attempting to discuss the acceptable amount of risk was itself emotionally harming to others. I have since come to realize that other people operate on risk-of-harm thresholds closer to 1/100 or even 1/20. In that context, it is easy to see how so many decisions would be "obvious" to them when they cause me consternation. The answer is just as obvious to me; I can see it just as clearly. I just don't take/accept it without having to think through an exception to my ingrained rules about risk of harm, or without changing those rules. If you told me an answer was obvious, then I pointed out that that answer had a 10% chance of killing someone, you'd rethink it, right? That's where I am with most of the answers that you think are obvious, albeit not as intense on the consequences.

I hope that reading this has shed some light on why decisions aren't as "obvious" to me as they are to you.
sparr: (Default)
Trigger warning: consent, rationality, emotion, subjectivity

I learn the details of another friend's experience of sexual assault approximately once per month. 8-15 times per year for the last 6-8 years.

I’m opening with that because I want it to make an impression, and to sink in. I have come to suspect that this piece of information, or its absence, is highly relevant to others’ accusations that I engage in hyperbole and hypotheticals, chasing edge cases and straw men.

How many victims’ stories do you know, to the level of detail of knowing who assaulted them, what was said before/after, and what happened between them? I anticipate that the average answer to that question among my social circles is 2, the average among people reading this post is around 5, and the average among people responding to this post will be around 10. I can’t even answer with certainty; the dozens have started to blur together over time. I predict the number would be much lower if I asked how many of the accused you’ve heard as much information from.

If you have been drawn into a discussion about consent and community, violations and rules, right and wrong, and it was a single event, or just a few, that got your attention, you’re probably not well equipped to be making decisions and drawing conclusions. As terrible as it sounds to say it, and the impetus for the trigger warning on this post... this applies even if that single event was your own experience. Until you know the common and uncommon threads connecting a dozen rapes in your community, you aren’t qualified to say which causes are most likely, or which solutions most appropriate. You don’t have the perspective to understand which interactions were and were not consensual, or seemed consensual or not to the participants.

When someone accuses me of engaging in hypotheticals on this subject, I am most often making vague statements with the goals of protecting a victim’s identity and/or consolidating the common factors of multiple real events.

When someone accuses me of setting up straw men to argue against on this subject, I am most often referring to a significant number of real people whose views and/or behavior are detrimental to our community and safety.

There are other people who have more perspective than I do. People with more information, more experience, and/or more education on the subject. Trauma counselors. First responders. Educators of those groups. Reformed rapists. Etc. I’m not saying I’m the most qualified person to handle this topic. I’m just saying that on one important axis, I’m probably more qualified than you.

Finally, I am left to speculate on why I have all of this information. It’s obviously not my caring nature or interpersonal appeal or conversational savvy that’s drawing people to tell me these things. I have said it in the past, and I’ll repeat my hypothesis here. I expect that my public engagement on this subject, and my attempt to remain rational and fair, is what convinces so many people to confide in me. I maintain the principle that having more information about a problem makes me more effective at solving it, and I also think that being able to tell their story is good for victims, so I am doubly motivated to keep doing what I’m doing on this front, until someone convinces me that it’s hurting more than it’s helping.
sparr: (cellular automata)
Surely no one will let me win this boat with a bid as ridiculously low as $1000. Surely...

OK, so now I own a boat, and I’m out about $1000 total after paying $800 for the boat, some auction fees, and some DMV fees for the boat and trailer titles. It’s a Cruisers (Mirro Marine) Holiday 25, which is not an especially reliable set of terms to search for. Here’s what survey I could do while still at the auction facility. I’ll get my hands on it with tools and documentation in a week or so.

The interior upholstery and wood and plastic is all very aged. Sadly the previous owner and/or visitors to the auction site left the cabin open to the elements for a month or three during the SF rainy season. There’s a lot of probably-teak wood that hasn't been treated in years, maybe decades. Lots of stuff to clean there, lots to replace, but nothing in such bad shape that I was afraid to touch it.

The bathroom looks serviceable, as does the kitchen and dining area and the other padded sleeping areas. TBD if there is any mildew in/under the cushions and whether I need to replace them or not.

There are 4 sleeping berths. The dining table drops down to make one. The “couch” area converts into bunkbeds. And there’s a cozy wide but not-tall space under the stairs and pilot’s feet with cushions. All of them have lots of windows and natural light. Nothing inside feels trapped, despite a lot of it being cramped in the usual inside-a-boat way.

It has two batteries. #2 is totally dead. #1 reads ~11.5V, enough to run the bilge pump and make the volt meter needle on the dash rise. Turning the key to ignition causes a small voltage dip, no sound from the engine bay that I could hear. A future test will involve jumping 12V directly to the starter, probing the various places to see what’s getting power or might be disconnected, etc.

There are a few wasps. I saw a couple of detached/dead nests, one wasp flying, and one wasp starting a brand new single-cell nest. Maybe they will be lost during the transport, or I can deal with them soon and get the entrances sealed to keep more out.

The trailer tires are all holding air, some a bit low. The trailer itself looks to be in good condition, with significant surface rust around the more-often-touched parts.

The hull appears to be in decent shape, but I don't have much knowledge there. There are a few deeper-than-cosmetic scratches where I can see the not-surface layer of material. I expect I can seal those over with relatively simple off the shelf products. TBD whether there are any holes in places I can't easily see. I expect I'll need to clean and coat the whole thing, regardless.

If I can get the engine running, this will be my boat for Ephemerisle this year. If I can’t, it might still be, just towed to/from the site. Either way, it’s also possible we will park it at Buspatch for a month or three to work on it, and let someone live in it while we do.

Photos on Facebook:
sparr: (cellular automata)
Found while organizing old documents, a folder labeled "Memories". Some of the contents:

The tickets from my first trip by plane.

Various holiday cards from friends and family.

The unopened invitations to my sister's college graduation and two old friends' wedding.

The letter sent to me by my mother just after she won custody of myself and my sister, before we moved to live with her.

The letter sent to me by my father just after we moved to live with my mother.

A couple of school assignments to transcribe a poem from a book and add color/art, probably including the first and last time I ever tried to draw a bird.

A long letter from my aunt when I was 15, about my impending early graduation.

A few pages from a journal I was required to keep as part of a class when I was 11 years old, with writing prompts, as follows:

Read more... )
sparr: (cellular automata)
Prior to a few years ago, it never occurred to me that every artistic medium has as many unfinished / unpublished / unfamous works as are commonly associated with writing and painting.

A partner was involved in amateur screenswriting. Until she mentioned it, I had no idea how many people are out there writing the scripts for movies that never get performed, let alone filmed and published and distributed. She was part of a club where people met to discuss each others' work, almost none of which was ever published.

As I get deeper into board game design, I'm getting a sense of just how many designs never make it past an idea, or a few playtests of a paper sleeved copy. I'm in a community now where people are putting hundreds of hours into game designs, including high quality artwork, that only ever exist as a PDF somewhere.

My exposure to makerspaces and burner culture has enlightened me about how many LED installations and steel sculptures and such get made, maybe shown zero or one times, then put on a shelf or scrapped or thrown away. This one hit me hardest, and is why I so rarely engage in the pursuit.

I'd love to hear about others' encounters with this phenomenon.
sparr: (cellular automata)
My Samsung Galaxy S7 can't keep its wifi and bluetooth turned off. I turn them off, they turn back on a few minutes to an hour later. I called T-Mobile support about this months ago with no result.

Recently, I called Samsung tech support through the support app built into my phone (this will be relevant later). They told me that they have to follow a troubleshooting script, and had me reboot my phone into safe mode. They gave me the steps and the ticket number and told me to call back in later after seeing if this resolved the problem.

I gave it an hour in safe mode and the problem didn't recur, so I considered it fixed. I booted back into non-safe mode and called them back. They correctly determined based on this experiment that the problem is an app. Then they told me I needed to uninstall any non-essential apps on my phone to see if the problem goes away. I refused, and told them the problem existed before I ever installed any apps on the phone. More specifically, I said that some online forum posts made me suspect the problem was the Good Lock app, from Samsung. They told me they don't do any app support, but that if it's a Samsung app then they have a department for that, and I was transferred to that department.

A nice Australian woman's voice on the automated system told me I'd reached a department I hadn't talked to before, which was comforting. I talked to the person on that end for a few minutes and they said they also didn't do app support. They gave me the phone number for a third (or so I thought) department.

Calling that number brought me back to the first department. This time I told the person I was tired of being sent in circles. They again insisted that I needed to uninstall a bunch of apps, or do a factory reset on the phone. I again refused. I said I suspected a Samsung app of being the problem. They asked if they could remotely control my phone to see what I was seeing.

Now, recall to my mention of there being a support app built into my phone. It's called Samsung+ and it does a lot of things, including phone calls and voice+video chat with tech support, and a feature called Remote Access that lets me enter a code so Samsung techs can remotely control my phone. This tech asked me, instead, to go get a new app from the play store called Smart Tutor. I asked why she couldn't use the Samsung remote access system already built into my phone. She seemed to have no idea what I was talking about. I called the situation ridiculous, but did install Smart Tutor, and she managed to get access to my phone.

Now she looked at my app list and again said I had too many apps and needed to uninstall many of them. I opened the Good Lock app and she asked where I got this app. I tried to show it to her in the Play Store, which was fruitless because I had forgotten that it wasn't from the Play Store. While I was looking there, she repeated that this wasn't a Samsung app. I eventually googled for it and got reminded that it was installed by the Galaxy Apps system from Samsung. I opened Galaxy Apps and found Good Lock marked as Installed. She said she had no idea what that was, and that she couldn't help me with it. She said she could give me the number of a department that could.

I called that number and got a familiar Australian voice. This time the person on the other end let me explain the situation, and they also told me they had never heard of Good Lock. They said they only support a few Samsung apps, and not that one.

I ended up figuring out how to uninstall it on my own. This didn't actually solve the problem, so I'm still on the hunt for tools that can help me do that. I either need to find an app that will tell me which of all my installed apps have the permission to turn wifi on, or I need to connect the phone to a computer via USB and use adb logcat to look at the logs to see what's happening when wifi gets turned on and hope there's something correlated that I can track down. However, I no longer expect T-Mobile or Samsung to give me any assistance with that.

What blows my mind is that four different people at Samsung would tell me they've never heard of Good Lock and that they don't support it. Good Lock is one of Samsung's promoted apps in their own store, a cornerstone of the advertised user experience of the Galaxy S7 and other newer phones.
sparr: (cellular automata)
Your brain is quite capable of performing tasks without you consciously thinking about them. You aren't making decisions along the way, your body just follows the instructions coming from the non-conscious part of your brain until the conscious part interrupts it. I call this your autopilot.

Read more... )

Who is responsible for actions that you take while you're on autopilot?

Read more... )
sparr: (cellular automata)
I follow a variation of consequentialism, filtered through the opposite of paternalism which doesn't have a more specific name.

My value system is how I decide which outcomes are better than which others. It is important to note that the philosophical concepts below are not dependent on that value system. Everything in the next few paragraphs holds regardless of what value system we are considering. Wherever you see "good", "bad", "positive", "negative", "better", "worse", etc below, those can mean whatever you want them to mean, especially if your value system is internally consistent and universalizable. I sometimes even prefer to operate in your value system, if we are discussing a situation where the positive and negative outcomes affect mostly to only you.

I apply a maximax criterion regarding the choices of other actors with agency. That's someone like you, in most cases. When I take an action that allows you to choose between two actions of your own, I am responsible for the most good outcome you could choose, and you are responsible for any less good or more bad in the outcome that you do choose. If I opt to not give you that choice because I expect you would choose the less good outcome, I am denying you agency in the situation, and that would be paternalistic. When I tell you that your dog is trapped in a burning building, you might decide to run inside; if the outcome of your choice is worse than if I had not told you then you are responsible for that outcome, not me. When the villain drops two people off a bridge and you can only save one, someone is responsible for the death of the person that you do not save, and it is mostly to completely not you.

I apply an expected value criterion regarding actions with random outcomes. When I play a game of Russian Roulette, the death of the loser is as much my responsibility as that of the person who made the unlucky trigger pull.

Finally, I do not recognize a fundamental distinction between action and inaction. If I tell you that pressing the button will do something and you press it, you're responsible for the outcome. If I tell you that not pressing the button will do that same something and you don't press it, you're equally responsible. Not pressing the button is just as much a choice as pressing it. This concern is most often illustrated with variations of the trolley problem where the two tracks are switched, which I don't consider to actually change the problem at all.

That's all I've got for now. This is my first real attempt to put this all together in a reference document. It will certainly be revised in the future, as I get a better grasp on the concepts that drive my decisions, and also continue to become better at describing them.
sparr: (cellular automata)
Put more money into savings. One year of 12.5% contribution to my 401(k) has made up for multiple years of low/no retirement savings. The first year worth of stock grant at my employer also just vested, so that's a start to my short/medium-term savings (so I can buy a house in a year or three, maybe).

Donate more to charity. Katarina inspired me to make recurring donations to the ACLU and Planned Parenthood already. My irregular EFF donations are going to be made regular, and I'm going to add some to that.

Buy more art. My friends make art and their time is not worthless. I also consume a lot of art/media/entertainment that I don't have to pay for. Thanks to Winter for the idea of making a bunch of $1/mo Patreon commitments.

Help my friends and acquaintances more, financially. I make more in a day than many of my friends make in a week. I think I can work at least one day a month for them. Starting today.

Do something more interesting for housing than just living in a bus. I have three buses. I am actively pursuing leads for a small building and parking lot somewhere in SF or Oakland, so I can invite 5-10 people to live with me and make something unusual happen.
sparr: (cellular automata)
I'm not actively looking for a new job. However, in my industry, recruiters just keep calling/emailing, and it's good practice to occasionally follow through. Even if they don't convince me to jump ship, new job offers give me data to use when I'm negotiating a raise or promotion with my current employer.

A recruiter at Uber approached me. I went through a few phone interviews and then came on site for a full day with a bunch of people. It went well. They made me an offer, in the form of an "offer agreement letter", which they needed me to sign and send back within a few days to them to accept. In this case, the offer was actually enough to convince me, if everything else had worked out.

I brought up three potential concerns with the agreement, directly to the recruiter who then brought them to the attention of their legal dept and my supervisor-to-be.

"without express written permission from a senior leader of your organization, you shall not render services in any capacity to any other person or entity"

The obvious intent of this clause is to prevent moonlighting. I don't have other employment or business endeavors, but I do a lot of volunteer and open source work that are the kinds of things people often get paid for (IT, development, management, etc). I offered to make a list of those things for a "senior leader" to sign off on.

"you have returned all property and confidential information belonging to any prior employer"

I told them I couldn't sign this part until I had returned the laptop owned by my current employer, which would happen in about 3 weeks.

"you are under no obligations or commitments, whether contractual or otherwise, that are inconsistent with your obligations under this Agreement. In connection with your Employment, you shall not use or disclose any trade secrets or other proprietary information or intellectual property in which you or any other person has any right, title or interest and your Employment will not infringe or violate the rights of any other person."

This one was the doozie. If you've ever worked in tech, or even visited a few big tech companies' offices, you've probably been required to sign an "NDA" at some point. Half the time you can't even get into the building to attend a meetup without agreeing to contractual terms at the door on the little kiosk that prints your visitor nametag. (search your email for 'envoy "document you signed today"'; kudos to Envoy for making it easy to keep track of SOME of these!)

A significant number of these agreements have some requirement outside of simple non-disclosure. As it turns out, the year preceding this situation was a pretty boring year for me, and I wasn't interviewing for a lot of jobs, so I only had two contracts that gave me pause.

The first was from interviewing at a healthcare IT provider. That contract said, in not so few words, that if I discovered someone mishandling HIPAA-protected information while using their system, I had to inform them.

The second was with my then-current employer, where I am required to notify them if I come into possession of their confidential information through a channel they have not approved. If you've ever seen the movie "Coming to America", this clause would be relevant if a McDonald's employee later worked at McDowell's and was handed the McDonald's operations manual by a McDowell's employee who wasn't supposed to have it in the first place.

I told the recruiter I had a couple of outstanding contracts that might be relevant. He asked for them, and I sent them over. Their legal team had a powwow for about a week. I had a phone call with my supervisor-to-be and he asked me what I would do if I found myself in the exceptionally unlikely circumstance of one of those contractual conflicts arising. I told him that after talking to him I'd talk to the company's legal dept to get official guidance. He asked what I'd do if they wouldn't provide any. That question left me stunned, and I ventured a guess that I would seek independent legal counsel. I suspect now that that was the Wrong Answer.

I originally expected their response to be simple and straightforward. "Hold off on doing tech/dev volunteering until your supervisor signs off on it. We'll amend the agreement to say you've returned the laptop by the time you start here. The contracts you sent are totally standard and nothing to worry about regarding the conflict clause." Instead, at every juncture I got strong implicit and weak explicit direction to simply sign the paperwork and stop making a stink. Of course, at the same time, my recruiter was praising me for reading the documents and being honest.

A week after that call, I was told by my recruiter the job offer was being rescinded and we would "part ways", due to the company not wanting to "take the risk" of hiring me.

The punchline of this all is that at various points in the process I was told, first and secondhand by and through multiple people at the company, that I was the first person to ever bring these issues up. At a company with ~8000 employees, apparently not a single other person has ever mentioned any of this when signing their employment agreement. I am confident that most of them were in at least one of the three situations I described above (including some people I know have signed the exact same contracts, having interviewed or been employed at those same places), and I'd wager that many of them were in all three of them. None of these concerns seem outlandish at all to me.

I post this both to warn future Uber applicants to either bail out early or be prepared to lie as required on the documents, and to ask my friends what I should do in the future in these situations.

Should I be reconsidering how honest I am with people asking me to sign things like this? I've only lightly questioned this policy in my life in the past, but this time it cost me what was probably a few hundred thousand dollars, possibly much more. To be told that thousands of people in the same situation have lied on these documents and I am the only squeaky wheel is giving me significant pause.
sparr: (cellular automata)
After buying the buses and tag team driving them from Iowa to California, the next step was to get them registered ASAP so that I could park them on the street. To a first approximation, there are two major requirements for registering a bus as a motorhome in California.

First, you have to remove most of the seats. There are laws about how many seats a vehicle can have and not count as a "commercial" vehicle even if it's not being used commercially. There's a lot of nuance and variation between different states, and in some cases specific cities. As far as I've narrowed it down, the punchline is that 10 seats is legal everywhere in the US, and 15 is legal most places and doesn't draw much attention in the 10-seat states if it's registered in a 15-seat state.

Fortunately I don't actually want my bus(es) to have a lot of dedicated seats. One thing I learned on the road trip to Burning Man last year is that with so much open space, passengers are much more likely to be comfortable on the sleeping surfaces than the sitting surfaces, given that the beds are cushy and the seats are not. They even spread out on the floor with cushions and sleeping bags. That might change if I had comfier seats, which could happen when I add a sofa. For now, simply ripping out every seat in the rear section and half the seats in the front sufficed. The remaining seats are the fold-up seats near the wheelchair securements, as well as the few seats that have bolts through the floor and require someone under the bus to remove. I got one bus that far on my own on Sunday night and Monday morning, and it was the first that I drove to the DMV in San Francisco.

Along the way, I stopped by my old bus to get the kitchen cabinet, with sink and stove, a water tank, and the toilet. Along with a bed, which we already had from the trip, those things comprise the general unofficial guidelines for a motorhome conversion in CA. The actual law just says "permanently altered ... and equipped for human habitation", which gets interpreted by various DMV inspectors in different ways. So far I'm 3 for 3 on big vehicles with a raised mattress, self contained toilet, foot pump sink, and propane stove. People get by with less sometimes, including as little as a bed and a camp stove, but that tends to be much riskier to try.

On the way to retrieve the second bus from its parking in Oakland I also picked up J and D from their hotel. J was already on the hook for a day of work, since our original negotiation had him still full-time driving through Monday. I extended my deal with D for drive time to include wrench time.

The first major wrinkle in the plan developed shortly after I got the second bus to the DMV parking lot, while I was still making logistical plans with J and D. While I was inside the DMV, J and D were going to be busy removing and stacking seats from the second bus. Interrupting that planning, a DMV employee came out and asked me to move my buses out of the parking lot. I said that I couldn't, in not so few words. Her manager came out shortly afterward and repeated it as a demand, to which I calmly and politely responded that I couldn't drive them on the street again until they were registered. I offered to move them to other parts of the lot, but she didn't like those ideas (those parts might still be needed for DMV operations later in the day, like motorcycle driving tests). In the end she said she would call California Highway Patrol (the lot is technically state property, being the DMV's) and I went back to planning.

When I had a free minute, I found someone in line just keeping a friend company. I talked to that person and gave them $10 to stick around in line to the end, with promise of $20 more at the end. They were happy to take it, and seemed incredulous at the deal. Overall, that $30 saved me about 2 hours in line, and is probably what made the difference in success or failure for the day. With that settled, I went back to getting the first bus ready. I cleaned it up a little and rearranged the living facilities.

While doing that, two CHP officers arrived. I greeted them outside the bus and they seemed friendly. Apparently someone had implied to CHP that I was somehow driving "both buses at the same time", which they repeated with incredulity. We talked about my options, and one of the officers went inside to talk to the DMV manager. Some fuss was raised about the second bus not being qualified for conversion yet, and the lead officer did not believe I could have it ready in the ~4 hours we had to get through the other process. In the end, he negotiated for me to move the buses to the positions I had originally offered to move to, with the caveat that I must get them out of the lot by closing time, and a promise from the DMV manager to sell me another one-trip permit to move the unconverted bus without plates (the same way I moved them from Iowa).

After a couple of hours I met my proxy near the head of the line and got some paperwork and instructions to get the bus inspected after filling it out. I had to ask a few questions; the form has changed in the last 8 months. I got it filled out pretty easily after that, then waited about an hour for the inspector. This is the same person who checks car VIN plates, and multiple cars came, waited, and gave up waiting while I was there. Eventually both inspectors on duty came out; apparently an opportunity for the senior inspector to do a motorhome conversion was a teaching opportunity for their junior counterpart. He was a little dubious that the kitchen cabinet wasn't bolted down, but happy about its general heftiness, and everything else looked good. He didn't ask me to demonstrate the toilet, which is sad because I love showing it to people.

Fun fact: the CA DMV website gives average wait times at each station, but those times start when you get a number. So, after 2 hours of my proxy standing in line, and another hour waiting for an inspector, I finally got a number and my official "wait" started, advertised to be about 30 minutes. As this was going on, J and D were finishing the seat removal (on which they did an amazing job) on the second bus. I asked them to swap the two buses positions and discreetly move the kitchen and toilet between them. I did the paperwork on the first bus, got its plates, and then went back to the "get paperwork" step for the second bus. Thankfully not the "get in line" step.

Inspection and paperwork for the second bus went smoothly. The DMV closes at 17:00, but handles everyone in line by 16:59, so we weren't even close to the last ones out at about 17:30. We drove the two new buses to the same block where I park my old bus, did a little bit of tricky maneuvering, and declared an end to the bus handling for the day. After dinner at a local pub J and D both went their separate ways, towards overnight plans and/or the airport.
sparr: (cellular automata)
I bought two buses at online auction, from the Des Moines Area Regional Transit Authority (DART). I made plans with some friends to meet up in Chicago and drive them back to SF. There were some hiccups along the way, but (spoiler alert) we made it.

On Thursday and early Friday we all started to travel towards Chicago. I flew in from San Fransisco along with Z. D took a train from New York, and J drove up from Indianapolis with his friend M. I had breakfast in Chicago with Z and an old friend there. D, M, and J showed up shortly thereafter and we started driving west in the late morning.

The drive from Chicago to Des Moines was uneventful. We stopped for provisions outside of Chicago and made good time across Illinois and Iowa.

Once in Des Moines we were on a somewhat tight schedule. We went to the DART offices first. I filled out paperwork and the maintenance manager there gave me a walkthrough of the buses and their controls. We all spent about half an hour looking them over and testing various things. D was our resident mechanic for the trip and he poked at things under the hood. Sadly all of this took place after dark, so I postponed taking photos. After deciding both buses were roadworthy, we sent M back to Indianapolis with J's car. There were some contingency plans in place if one of the buses deserved to be scrapped at that point, but we didn't need them. We then went to a UPS store, where I'd had packages shipped ahead of time, and retrieved a bunch of logistical needs (mattresses, ratchet straps, 12V outlets, etc). The last stop in Des Moines was at an OReilly to get spare fluids and such, at D's direction.

After Des Moines we picked up some folks who responded to a Craigslist rideshare post that I had made. A family of five and their two dogs and 2d3 rodents. They had gotten stranded in western Iowa due to a family problem and wanted to get to San Francisco and Tucson. I offered to drop off the Tucson-bound folks in Denver, but they said they'd rather just all go to SF if I wasn't going any further south than Denver.

The next 1500 miles went by in a ~30 hour blur, trading off drivers and stopping for food and fuel and bathrooms every 4-6 hours. Along the way we discovered some mechanical problems with each bus. One was losing coolant at a manageable rate (4 gallons over the whole trip). One bus reports low oil pressure despite having apparently full oil. We also had occasional confusion about why a bus wouldn't go into gear or respond to throttle, although it's probable that we were just missing some interlock conditions rather than anything being wrong. My notes were not as good as they might have been, so it was only later that I narrowed down which bus had each problem.

As we drove through Nevada, we hit a bit of bad luck with timing. Donner Pass (the path through the Sierra Nevada between Reno and Sacramento) was experiencing freezing rain turning into snow, and CalTrans had declared a snow-chains-required condition. I spent 6-9AM calling truck stops and auto part stores and mechanics as they opened (what few were open at all on a Sunday) and in the end we found exactly four chains that would fit on the buses' ridiculously large tires. $550 later and we had the bare minimum number of chains that might get us through the pass, two per bus rather than the 4-6 per bus that might be required in certain conditions.

As we left the clear weather in Reno things got progresively worse on the way up the mountain, until we were in moderate snowfall and a few inches of accumulation at the top. At the agricultural inspection station we got a little card explaining which wheels needed chains on different vehicle shapes. There was no bus, so we decided to go with the 6-wheel 2-axle truck diagram. We pulled over along with all the other cars and trucks just before the chain checkpoint and spent ~30 minutes getting four chains installed. I learned a lot, and I think I could do them in 3-5 minutes each by myself next time, as long as I only had to do outer wheels. If I ever have to do my inner wheels, I'm just going to pull over and camp out if the storm isn't expected to be days long.

We saw a few idiots spin out, mostly people who had lied to CHP about having 4WD/AWD, or been too stupid to enable it at least. No disasters, just short delays as they righted themselves. Traffic was generally 20-35MPH through the pass, and this was one of our few chances on the trip to not be the slowest vehicle on the road.

About an hour later we pulled over again and removed the chains, another ordeal where I learned some tricks. Someone had abandoned a single chain-link tire chain for a large tire right where we pulled over, so I grabbed that. That much heavy duty chain and fasteners has a lot of potential uses, even if I don't use it as a tire chain.

We made it all the way to the bay area without further incident. Then, in the home stretch, one of the buses shut down and wouldn't restart. We got the nasty surprise that it had lost all of its transmission fluid. I drove one bus down to Hayward to drop off our Craigslist passengers while the folks in the other bus took a carshare to a store to buy fluid and fill it up. They got back on the road around the time I finished my detour, and we met up in Emeryville.

The end of the road trip proper was in the Home Depot parking lot in Emeryville. I've parked there before, and have a minor level of rapport with some of their security, all of whom are quite friendly. They seem to have no problem with overnight parking, possibly contingent on my actually doing some shopping there before or after, which I've always done.

Z caught a ride back home. I put J and D up in a nearby hotel, where we all used the shower. I left them there and went back to Home Depot. Along the way I'd started removing some of the bus seats, and that work continued on Sunday night.

Thus ends the story of retrieving the two buses from Des Moines. My next post will cover Sunday and Monday, getting the buses ready and registered at the DMV and into parking spots.
sparr: (cellular automata)
As mentioned previously, the bus that I bought 9 months ago has developed an engine failure that will be slightly to extremely prohibitively costly to repair. This has led to me shopping for a replacement.

As part of the shopping process, I re-evaluated my priorities from last time, and re-considered the pros and cons of different sorts of vehicles. Most of those conclusions remained the same, and I won't re-cover them here. There were a couple of significant departures, though.

I was under more time pressure this time. Last time I had my ambulance in good running condition for the duration of my quest. This time, my bus was mostly stationary and I'd lost a lot of the perks of having a home that is mobile (not to be confused with the idiomatic "mobile home"). The net result here was a loosening of some of my criteria.

Owning a bus from an uncommon manufacturer proved to be a mistake. I had trouble finding mechanics who would work on it, and found little to no information online about it. I eventually secured an operator's manual, but never managed to find a service or maintenance manual. Operations as trivial as finding and removing the air filter were painfully time consuming and difficult. My strong preference this time was to go with a "household name" brand.

I started the process by re-creating my email notification rules on and, the two biggest government property auction consolidation sites. Although I did occasionally check individual city and county and university sites, the bulk of my leads came from those two. I asked for emails about newly listed buses across the country, and bus auctions that were about to end, or as close as I could get with each site's notification settings.

Then began a waiting game. Most used buses sell for "reasonable" prices, which make commercial sense for a buyer with plans to recoup their investment, but not as much for an individual who just wants the vehicle. I saw and sadly ignored many auctions that ended, or even started, in that fashion. Anyone with a $10-40k budget can buy a much nicer bus at a more convenient sale than I need.

Along the way I pursued a few leads to some significant degree.

The Oakland CA airport sold off a small fleet of buses they no longer needed. I went so far as to schedule an in-person inspection and take a staggering number of photos in an attempt to locate the one I wanted. In the end it didn't matter; a local bus refurbishing company bought up almost the whole lot for $8-9k each.

The Livermore transit agency sold their old fleet, but I ignored it because the buses were longer than I wanted. I regret that now, and wish I had gone to see them.

A small town in Georgia had a bus that I was very interested in, with minor damage that would be inconsequential to me but require costly body repairs for a reseller or commercial user. I paid a friend who lived a few hours away to drive down and get photos and video of it. That one sold for an amount just slightly higher than I had bid. I would have enjoyed a cross-country road trip with friends from Atlanta.

I finally struck gold in Des Moines, Iowa. Their transit agency is in the process of replacing a whole 12-15 year old fleet, and opened the process with two bus auctions in parallel, and a third ending a few days later. The buses are longer than I wanted (same size as the Livermore buses I passed up), but otherwise a good match. I watched the auctions eagerly, and as they came to a close I jumped in and got the first two for $1520 and $2000 (plus taxes and auction fees totaling about 20%). I had hopes to win the third one, and placed a bid on it early, but got outbid with a few days left. This was actually good news; the later unit being bid up gave me a good idea that I had gotten a steal on the earlier ones.

While watching those auctions I had corresponded with some old friends about working together to road trip them back to San Francisco. Plans were made for the 2 or 3 bus eventuality, some plane and train tickets were bought, and I started laying logistical plans for RV conversion and registration once we got back to CA.

After winning the auctions, I pulled the trigger on the tickets and plans, and my next post will pick up with a flight from San Francisco to Chicago, proceeding through the retrieval and road trip back to the west coast.
sparr: (cellular automata)
I put out some inquiries online about getting a new door. Quotes came back in the $600-750 range. I decided to pursue self-service junk yards instead. is a website for searching those yards, so I found a few that had multiple compatible vans. Unfortunately all the photos are from the driver's side, so I didn't know ahead of time if they had a sliding door or not. Three junkyards later and the ratio turned out to be 2 sliding doors vs ~16 double doors. I did consider switching to the double, but that would be a non-trivial task involving a lot of new precisely placed holes in the interior and exterior of the vehicle.

The first sliding door I found had severe rust and weld-ripping damage, but the hardware was decent so I picked up those pieces in case I ended up repairing the door I have. The second sliding door I found was good enough (my standards having been lowered by the low frequency of finding such doors). It has a window, which is a mixed blessing. Between my old door, the new door, and the hardware from the first junkyard I was able to mix and match a significantly better set of individual hardware pieces. I need to lubricate a bunch of bearings and hinges, and some mechanical part rust needs cleaning more urgently than the general body rust elsewhere, but otherwise I think those mechanical bits will long outlast the rest of the van.

Assuming the new door is still in its original shape, the body of the van is bent just a little where the latch is. I'll be applying a jack and hammer and some more creative forms of leverage there in an attempt to get everything to line up cleanly. Right now I've got to apply some specific attention to the latch area when closing the door.

Along the way I picked up a replacement seatbelt for the driver's side, an upgraded model with adjustable shoulder height. I also grabbed a door handle and lock knob and linkages for the rear door, which the police had removed to stop prisoners from opening the door from inside. And I nabbed a full set of larger fuses and relays out of one of the junk vans. I didn't have the time/patience/motivation to follow through with the idea, but I noted that it would not be too hard to swap the front doors out for later models with power windows and locks and vent windows. If I keep it, I'll do that on my next, less urgent, junkyard expedition. I didn't think to grab the mechanism that holds the rear doors halfway open; that will come next time around as well. I did see some spare tire mounts for the rear door, but they were all too rusty considering that a new one online is just ~$70. I'll get one when I get a spare, before I make any long trips.

I discovered that the three rear sections are not quite the right size for a twin mattress. The rear two sections are each a few inches too narrow, and the front section (sideways) is a foot too short. If I decide to do a live-in conversion with the cage structures mostly intact, a non-rigid twin mattress (foam or stuffed) shoved into one of the rear sections is probably in order.

I put tape over all the holes in the roof. The inside of the ceiling and walls has stopped collecting water now, and it seems to have mostly drained out. I am annoyed that the previous owners didn't think to cover those holes after removing the light bars, or to put a rubber pad between the steel light bar mounts and the roof to avoid having big patches of rust. The roof needs some sealing attention sooner rather than later.

I put tape over most of the holes in the doghouse (engine cover in the cab). There were dozens of screws and bolts attached to it previously, and every one of them was allowing engine compartment air to blow into the cabin. I need to find some plastic filler or flexible epoxy or similar to plug them permanently, something I can sand down flush.

I ran the fuel tank down to the bottom of the gauge, then put ~31gal in the tank. If the tank is 35gal like it should be, then that means I've got a comfortable buffer at the bottom of the gauge. My vague estimate for that first half tank was 11MPG; I'll know more when I've run this next full tank through.

Next on the agenda is a complete looking over and routine maintenance by a competent mechanic. Fluids and filters and lubricant, examination of the problematic suspension, etc.
sparr: (cellular automata)
I am slowly shopping to replace my bus. This involves email notifications from a few auction sites, not all of which can filter results as narrowly as I'd like. So, I get notifications that include other interesting vehicles sometimes. Last week one of those notifications led me to an auction with 15 minutes left, bidding at $499 with the reserve met, for a van with a good engine and transmission. That got my interest. I quickly discovered that it was the longest body Dodge made, in a model I've owned before (1994-2003 Ram Van B3500, specifically the 1997 rather than my old 96), and that it was a police prisoner transport van with all the interior reinforcement that implies. The only major problem was serious damage to the sliding door, and not enough photos to make the extent of the damage entirely obvious.

Read more... )
sparr: (cellular automata)
Read more... )

I will continue living in this bus for now. I aim to drive it back to San Francisco, probably at night for a cooling bonus. I'll keep parking it in my 3 favorite spots near work, moving it every 3-7 days. I've got my fingers crossed that it will start and run for those few minutes every week for a while.

I will look for opportunities to get rid of this bus. I'll be taking some photos to post on Craigslist and elsewhere. Maybe someone wants it for a stationary tiny home. Maybe someone wants to keep it in their driveway and rent it out on AirBNB. Maybe some enterprising diesel mechanic wants to spend a few weeks and $10-20k and get a well-running bus out of the deal. I'm going to ask a few scrappers what they would give me for it, as a last resort, and that should be a decent amount because it's mostly aluminum.

Read more... )
sparr: (cellular automata)
It's been a while since I posted about the bus. I was working on it a lot for the first month or so, then I slowed down a lot. I didn't stop, and things picked up before Burning Man, and they have taken a turn for the worse recently. Here's what's been going on.

Read more... )
sparr: (cellular automata)
My second year at Burning Man was better and worse than my first. Most of the notable details of the experience were different, although the large scale view of camping in the desert for a week or two with 70k people partying remains the same. Overall, my view of Burning Man remains similar to before I went, and after my first year. It's a lot of fun, and worth the effort and cost if both are lower than average. I'll probably keep going as long as I'm on the west coast. From the east coast, I'd probably go back to spending the same money and effort and work vacation days on 3-5 regional burns instead.

Read more... )
sparr: (cellular automata)
Previous post:

Last month I heard the following rumor about myself from a bay area acquaintance:

"[a friend who runs a camp at a large event] let me know that someone had complained to him that you were insufficiently respectful of sexual consent boundaries [and that's why you aren't welcome to join his camp]"

Read more... )

I still don't have enough information to confidently say what I think has happened. I continue to seek information on all of these fronts. This line of inquiry has spawned numerous side quests, all of which I hope to follow to completion in order to make amends, better myself, help others better themselves, or help others make informed decisions about me. Posting this, and following those leads, means I can never again know if an accusation is new or based on the same thing as this round of rumors or even just based on someone having read this post. I can live with that, if it means doing something good with this information.

(cross posted to Facebook, Livejournal, Google+, Fetlife)


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