A day before my 50th birthday, I saw an ad for a “party bus” on Craigslist. I sent a message to my wife that read, “Wanna get me a bus for my birthday?” Surprisingly, she agreed. We looked at it on the weekend after my birthday. We liked it. On my way back from Provo on the following Saturday, we picked it up.
The bus is a former school bus. I can tell from the yellow paint on the inside of the doors and the label that says “Vehicle Type: School Bus” on the driver side door. It has a 7.1L Deisel Engine, just like the Ford E350 that from which the bus was built. It can tow carry 9000 lbs and tow 7500lbs. It originally came with 5 bus seats and 4 captain’s chairs.
I’ve liked the idea of doing some sort of conversion for a while. My biggest reason for wanting to do a project like this is to customize the buildout for my ham radio installation. I want to be able to put an antenna on it for when I’m rolling down the road and for when it is parked for a short period of time. However, when I camp, I want to raise up an antenna mast and work HF. I want to load it up with batteries that have enough charge to last a week and solar panels so that I won’t need to worry about how much power I’ve consumed.
In the beginning, the camping build-out will be a small effort. I’ll add a bed and a toilet to get started, then add other conveniences later. Most power will be DC off of the ham radio batteries or LCD lights running off of AA or AAA batteries. I will have some room for appliances that I’ll plugin when I have hookups at a campground. Otherwise, it’s DC and camp cooking.
I had the mast up on the camper today. The camper came with a TV that runs off of a power inverter which pulls from the bus’ batteries. I hooked the TV antenna jack to an HDTV antenna that my mom sent me for my birthday a few years ago. I put that antenna on my masting solution for my old truck. My auto-scan for channels picked up 16 digital channels.
That solution was basically a trailer hitch mounted bicycle rack to which an affix a piece of fiberglass masting. On top of that piece, I place the rest of the masting, as one fits inside of the next. The masting, itself was used to hold up camo nets over fighter jets so that they would not be seen by aircraft flying above. I removed the net spreaders from the kit, and Just use the interlocking poles as my antenna mast.
I intend to use this mast for supporting a dipole HF antenna and possibly a VHF/UHF antenna at the same time that it is supporting a TV antenna.
When I was a kid, I spent a number of summers at my grandmother’s marina. I remember a free weekly newspaper called “The Beachcomber.” A number of years later, when I got my ham license, KC7NJB, my friend asked me what “NJB” would stand for. I replied, “New Jersey Beachcomber.” So, when it came time to name a bus / mobile ham shack that is going to be staying at campgrounds all around the Puget Sound, many of which are on the beach, “The Beachcomber” seemed like an appropriate name.
The next steps are to remove the carpeting and replace the flooring. Once that is done. I’d like to re-mount the captain’s chairs so that they are more firmly attached to the floor and can swivel around towards the back. After that, I want to install a twin bed and a closet that will hold the toilet.
My family lost my mother this past week. She’d been fighting cancer for over a decade. I flew back to our hometown last week while mom was in hospice care and back to Seattle on Saturday. On Friday, I flew back for the memorial service on Sunday. During these flights I found myself thinking of all the memories and lasting impressions that I have of my mom. I thought that I might write this entry to share some of them.
My mom and I are only 19 years apart in age. One of the things about having young parents is that you get to see them in their younger adult years. I got to see my mom as a single parent. We didn’t have a lot, and my mom worked (which was not as common back then as it is today). Even then, mom made sure we got to play little league, and be cub scouts. I remember my mom hurting her back when I was around 7 years old. She had fallen off a ladder while trying to put something up in the attic. It hurt her for years, but she still took a job in a law firm file room, moving heavy files to support us.
My earliest memory of my mom is from around 1971 when we were living at Fort Bragg in Fayetteville, NC. My mother and I were walking on the sidewalk by our apartment in bare feet, taking each step very deliberately while my mom sang the song “Bare-Footin'” in the deepest voice that she could. In my little two-year-old mind, I was hearing the deep voice and the word “bear” (rather than “bare”) and thinking that we were pretending to be bears. I remember giggling the whole time.
I remember camping, a lot. We went to Hershey Park, the Worlds Fair in Knoxville, The Catskills Game Farm, and all over the tri-state area, usually staying in a tent. I remember waking up one Easter morning, staring at a dark circle on top of the tent, which later turned out to be an Easter basket that my mom had hidden there. I remember us hiking on Bald Eagle Mountain and accidentally winding up on the Appalachian Trail. The hiking was progressing in difficulty, where we had to climb rocks to stay on the trail. Duane and I were having fun, but this signaled to mom that something was off. We finally figured it when we came to a road crossing that had a sign reading “Bald Eagle Mountain 5 miles” to which mom exclaimed, “I knew that trail was too hard to be the right trail.”
We used to stay in the cabins at Bass River State Forest. We had an inflatable rowboat that we used to use to get to the swimming area across the lake. My brother Duane and I were little, so mom did the rowing. It was usually the three of us and a small cooler that had our lunch in it packed into this little boat going across the lake. On one occasion, the sky turned grey prompting mom to get us headed back before the rain came down. We loaded up the boat and started back across the lake. About halfway across the lake, the rain started. Mom, who had been going at a pretty steady pace jokingly said, “oh, no!” and started alternating oars in the water. The boat might have moved faster, but the zigzagging that this rowing caused made the boat have to travel twice as far. By the time we got to the other side, the sky had opened up into a full South Jersey downpour. We were soaking wet, the boat was filled with water like an inflatable tub. We laughed about it for the rest of the weekend. Another time in the same cabin, I remember my mom chasing a bat around the cabin with a broom trying to get it to fly out so that we could go to bed.
On our trip to the World’s Fair in 1980, my mom put a watermelon in the stream behind our campsite, thinking that the water would keep it cool. We came back in the evening and cooked dinner over the campfire. After dinner, mom went to pull the watermelon out of the stream. When she tried to lift it, she almost fell over because the melon was much lighter than she expected. A beaver had chewed through the bottom and eaten all of the edible portions from the inside. This was another memorable laugh.
We used to go to Great Adventure in Jackson, NJ, where they had a drive-through safari. There were signs everywhere that said not to feed the animals. After all, they weren’t raised to be pets and could literally bite the hand that feeds them. There was a car in front of us that was feeding the baboons thought a slightly opened window. This was entertaining until one of the baboons realized that the vinyl rooftop could be pulled apart. So, in the baboon’s mind, here you have this object with delicious food on the inside, and peelable skin on the outside; in short, he’d just found the biggest piece of fruit he’d ever laid eyes on. Through some grunting and hooting, he soon had help from another 4 or 5 baboons. They proceeded to rip this guy’s roof apart. They never got inside, but they did do considerable damage to the car. I remember mom, repeating over and over, “This is why we don’t feed the animals.”
My mom had worked at a hospital when I was young. She’d once seen a wrestler who’d suffered a broken neck. When I wanted to wrestle in school, mom reluctantly agreed but told me that she wouldn’t be able to watch me. I wrestled for 2 seasons in junior high school and my sophomore year in high school. When I learned that I wouldn’t wrestle in my junior and senior years due to injuries, my mom came to my last wrestling tournament. We spent most of the day together in the stands apart from the couple of times that I was on the mat. I really appreciated that day because I knew how difficult it was for her to watch me wrestle.
When my daughter was 3 or 4, we went to visit the family in NJ. All week long my mom would tell Sunny that baby Brooke was coming out to the campground. Finally, we went to Christmas in July up at the pool. Sunny, knowing that Brooke would be there, was running around the pool deck, babbling “baby-Brooke, baby-Brooke, baby-Brooke….” My mom thought it was hilariously cute.
A lot of my memories are of funny things that we’d shared. However, there were also times when my mom was a great source of comfort, support, and advice.
I remember going to the movie theatre with John to see War Games, a movie about a computer hobbyist who accidentally hacks NORAD while trying to play an online game. When I got home, I had an instant interest in computers. My uncle told my mother that he had a TI-99/4A that he’d bought (thinking that computers might be big someday). If she didn’t mind, he’d bring it to my grandmother’s house so that I could play with it. My mother, who’d become a computer operator at the law firm where she’d worked in the file room, was supportive of the idea. While sitting on my grandmother’s floor that summer, I learned to program and became consumed by it. It became a passion. Mom could see the pivot that this day was in my life long before I did it. She supported me through it, even when it meant that I’d move away.
I remember feeling very conflicted in my senior year in college. My school had just dropped my major from its offered programs. I wasn’t taking this well. When I discussed it with my mom, she’d said, “You’ll figure it out. You always do.” And just like that, everything was different. The external situation hadn’t changed. But, something inside me did. I finished my major while working for the USDA. A short time later, I got a job in HP’s LaserJet R&D group and just kept going from there.
I remember visiting home from college one time. My mom was watching Ashley on the evening that I arrived. Mom was holding Ashley on one hip with the kitchen phone pressed on her shoulder while she stirred spaghetti sauce with her other hand. I remember thinking to myself that she’d done this before. It was the first time that I’d observed my mom as a mother (in this case, a grandmother) as a third party.
When I married my wife, I was worried about how my family would like her. I remember my mom coming to Boise for the first time after we were married. She and Kelley spent the day together and had a wonderful time. That night, as we were getting ready for bed, I looked at Kelley and joked, “You stole my mom.”
Back before cameras were digital and people had to pay for pictures to be developed, my mom used to have a belief that pictures that didn’t have people in them didn’t have as much value as photos that included people. It was a better memory captured on film if the people that you were with were in the picture. So, whenever we were taking a picture of a sunset, or a mountain range, or a grassy field, mom would either be in the photo or take a picture of us in front of whatever we wanted in the picture. In January 2019, I went to visit my parents in Florida. While I was there, I wanted to take a picture of a turtle statue. I had mom stand with the statue like we’d always done. That was the last picture I took of my mom.
I’ve known my mother for almost 50 years. These are just a few of the great memories that I have with her. As I got older and came out to visit, it didn’t matter what we did. I was just happy to have coffee with my mom and find out what was going on in her life. She still would plan to take me somewhere and make a routine visit a special memory. I am extremely grateful for those 50 years and lucky to have her as my mom.
A while back, I was talking with a friend of mine who pointed out a podcast episode called, “The Ceremony.” It was about the launch of a new cryptocurrency. It reminded me of 2013 when I’d experimented with Bitcoin mining. I had some mining gear laying around, albeit old technology, and thought it might be fun to play around with some alt-coins.
I poked around online looking for a coin that I could mine without being outgunned by some of the monster ASIC mining rigs that were mining Bitcoin and other popular coins. I was amazed to see how the cryptocurrency world had changed. When I tried this a few years ago, the mining was all done with the original algorithms that started with Bitcoin. Since then, Bitcoin had suffered some criticism for not being as anonymous as it was originally thought and had its mining dominated by miners with a large enough investment to buy expensive hardware (the aforementioned ASIC mining rigs). As a result, new coins with different mining algorithms designed to make mining “fairer” and make spending more anonymous had been created. The number of coins had exploded as different groups were competing for their coins to be the next Bitcoin.
I found Z-cash (ZEC) which was based on an algorithm called Equihash. Equihash requires a lot of memory making it easier to do with a computer than with an ASIC. It had also originated as a Linux only miner, which gave an advantage to people with Linux skills. My Linux machine was a hyperthreaded dual quad-core Xeon machine with 48 GB of RAM, which I thought would be moderately better than what most miners were using. Lastly, ZEC was trading for over $200 per coin, making it a worthwhile return.
I found a set of instructions for setting up a CPU miner and set up a Z-cash mining node. It ran for a long time but didn’t find anything. I wasn’t part of a pool and mining on my own, even with good hardware, didn’t compete with the other miners out there. I decided that I would find a better mining software, and maybe a GPU (basically, using the computing power of a graphics card to mine).
While I was looking for better mining software, I found a set of installation and setup instructions that showed how to configure the miner for Nicehash. I thought to myself, “what is Nicehash?” Sure enough, Nicehash can be found at www.nicehash.com.
After a little reading and a couple of Youtube videos, I learned that Nicehash is a service that sells mining computing power. If you want to run a 5 megahashes per second miner. You pay a fee to Nicehash, declare where you want to mine, and they do your mining for you. Where do they get that computing power? They are also a site where people with mining software and hardware can sell their computing power. In simple terms, they buy computing power from me and sell it to someone else. The best part is this: whether I find a coin or not, no matter what coin the buyer is looking for, I get paid Bitcoin for my efforts.
This quickly became something that I had to try. I had given up on bitcoin a while back because I was frustrated with not finding anything. Now, I could create a stream of coin. The challenge now was to maximize that stream.
I downloaded the Nicehash miner, which is a windows program that can use your graphics card or CPU or both to mine coin. I started running on my two Xeons. Doing this brought in about $.67 cents a day. It was fun. I finally had some small amount of Bitcoin. But I wasn’t going to have any real income in this manner. In fact, with the minimum required amount to receive withdrawals being 0.001 Bitcoin, I could only get payouts once a week. I wanted at least a nightly payout.
For the next phase of the project, I bought a pair of GTX1080TI Graphics cards. They were listed as the best GPUs that I could get for NiceHash. Essentially GPUs are computing cores on a graphics card that the computer can ask to do mathematical tasks like hashing algorithms (which is most of the mining work). I built a computer to house the GPUs. This is a lot like a typical computer, but needs to spread the cards out wider for air flow, and isn’t as powerful, in terms of processor or RAM, because the GPUs do most of the work. Once the hardware was assembled, I started mining with the GPUs.
The GPU solution netted me around 0.0012 Bitcoin per day. This was enough to get me a daily payout of $5.00 per day. This doesn’t sound like much; however, I could earn $150 per month at this rate, which could buy something meaningful. I was happy with this, but still wanted to experiment with an ASIC miner.
I had played with some older ASIC miners that are cheap buys on eBay. This was fun, and allowed my to stock up on alt-coins. It wasn’t much good for Nicehash, because the pricing structure rewards speed. The speed of the pools on Nicehash is driven by other people with ASIC miners. So, to maximize payouts, I needed something big.
I settled on an L3+ miner, which is the miner that Nicehash shows as its most effective miner on their profitability calculator. These are simpler to set up: buy a miner, buy a power supply, plug them in, point it at Nicehash, and start mining. Once I got this going, it churned out ~ $20/day. The following chart illustrates the difference in mining equipment.
The first red line segment with the modest slope is the aggregated total of the CPU miner. It is a steady churn of coin with payments spread out over weeks. You can see this in the blue line where the two points on this line are just above 0.001 bitcoin (on the right scale). At the third point on each line, you see the effect of switching to the GPU miner. There’s a big spike on the blue line (as there was some residual from the CPU added to the first GPU payment), followed by a daily total over 0.001 bitcoin. This slope continues until late October when the slope turns upward and the payout line goes up to ~ 0.0035 per day. This is the payout from the ASIC miner. Lastly, the nearly flat line segment in the center was due to me switching the GPU over to another mining site, to experiment with Z-cash mining. The line isn’t flat, because the CPU miners were still running on Nicehash.