Van Life

I happened across some videos recently with a series title of “Van life”. This particular production seems to be a part of the marketing wing of a company called GoalZero, who make rechargeable battery packs and solar charging equipment for outdoors ..stuff. I was actually familiar with the brand because they have a store front on 3point5.com, a website that offers retail and outdoors industry professionals training and discounts on products in hopes that they will then promote the products to customers and other professionals. I end up buying a lot of stuff from that site.

The most interesting offering from GoalZero is their Yeti line, a 150-1250W solar powered battery pack, which you can see in the video below. I think these videos are a really great way of showing off the product. I think that when we consider a product like this, there are some simple connections that come to mind, such as being able to run your laptop while camping, but I think it is not as easy to visualize the lifestyle that such a product or tool enables. While this guy’s setup isn’t something someone in a house could probably immediately jump into, (ie: lack of a bathroom) it definitely gives a glimpse of a step that direction.

And another video from this series featuring a van that seems a little more livable.

As youtube is great at doing, it recommended me some other videos on related topics, including some from a couple running a website called where’s my office now. They have several videos documenting their van life. I think this series is really nice because this couple is in much the same situation as many of us considering smaller living. Emily does web design, and thus can work remotely, and also has a lot of student loan debt to deal with. In the below video, they breifly discuss the cost of van living. Check out their site for the other videos.

Cost of living in a van

In watching these videos and others, I came to realization that most of the people that are living the van life are making their living off of “the outdoors”. Many, as was the case with the second and third videos here, are professional photographers specializing in backcountry sports and nature shots, and/or athletes of some kind whether mountain bike racers or canoeing instructors. Deriving your livelihood from activities that take place in remote areas seems like a prime factor in living this lean. I mean, it’s largely just practical. I am curious though where the line is though. I think there is still a lot of benefit to mobile living even if you don’t have a specific reason to adopt that lifestyle. I think that – urban mobile living, is a picture that I would like to see painted in more detail.

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I like ecclesiastical art

I really enjoy ecclesiastical art; mostly stained glass, but sometimes other mediums.  I’m not religious in the least, but I think the history behind such work really gets at the part of religion that I’m most interested in. Being able to physically trace back the history and morphology of a philosophy is a lot more interesting to me than trying to commune with God.

As I started looking for inspiration for a Saint Burritus T shirt design I’m working on, I happened across the ikonograffiti blog, and really liked it. Having dabbled breifly with spray paint and stencils, on the #trikelala T shirt,  this video was especially interesting.

Bike stuff, Summer 2014 edition – Mountain

I’ve been spending a lot of time on the saddle this summer, and figure it’s about time I should write a bit here. After about 2 months of pretty good road volume, (more on this in a post to follow) I felt like I finally got a good base. At about this time the Indiana Summer heat ran me off the road and into the woods.

Gear stuff
I’m still riding the same bike as shown in my ’12 bike check post with a few changes. The first change was tires. I had been running Specialized Fast Track LK tires front and rear. After my first couple of weeks of riding this year, I started to rethink my whole tire situation. I’ve been running tubeless for a while, but still running pretty high pressure – around 50 psi. (about 10 over what stans recommends for these rims) I figured that since I’m over 200 lbs, and my riding style is a lot more BMX like than most cross country / trail riders, it made sense.. but ultimately it was stupid. I could drag my rear tire through fast corners easily, but I had an upper speed limit in the same turns because my front tire would slide. I’ve since put an S-Works “The Captain” in 2.2″ on the front and dropped pressures to 30psi rear and 25 psi front. The rear is still really high, and I am encountering problems with wet/muddy climbs. I figure it’s about 50% tire and 50% body positioning. Still, everything is working a lot better.

After experiencing some real traction from the front tire, I’ve been able to come into turns hotter and lean through them, which has led me to make some cockpit adjustments. Previously I had no drop. Bars were actually higher than saddle. I grabbed a used RaceLite stem from the shop that is a less aggressive angle, and also went to a flat bar – We had a FSA SL-K at the shop for a relatively inexpensive price so I put it on. (only to later find out that it is a carbon wrapped aluminum bar and not actual carbon) I’m going to gradually lower and ultimately flip the stem.  So far it’s working out, with the exception of the new bars being too wide. I hit too many trees, so I cut them down to 620mm.

I’ve also added a front brake (yep, I used to do rear only) and put my old Specialized Toupe saddle on. The saddle has been pretty great with the exception of the pointy plastic things on the back, and the front brake has been hit or miss. Sometimes I really appreciate it, and other times it makes me wreck. Speaking of wrecks, I’ve gotten pretty awesome at falling. Somehow, I only fall to the right side, so my right knee has taken quite a beating. Apparently I have enough muscle mass at this point to take the hits, because I’m not having any problems past skin abrasions.  

I’m still in gear head mode. Currently waiting on some new grips. I ordered a pair of Ergon GS-2’s and also a pair of their GE1’s. I still have the XO grip shift, and while I love it’s function, the shifter is huge, and is giving me a hassle as far as grip/lever location. I’ve also got some Shimano XTR skewers on the way. It may sound like a stupid thing to spend money on, but I recently noticed that both my road and mountain bikes have been having issues with the (probably DT swiss) skewers that came with my stan’s wheelsets. They just aren’t staying in the dropouts. The popular internet opinion is that Shimano or Campy are the best for skewers if you’re not being a weight weenie, so we’ll see how this goes.

Races
So far I’ve only done two mountain bike races. I raced Intro class at Muscatatuck State Park a few weeks ago and got first, and just raced Clydesdale at Versailles this past weekend and got third. There are two more races in the DINO series, and I hope to hit them both.

I’m definitely not fast by any means, and I’m sure that if I was doing Cat3 I’d be at the very bottom of the pack, but I feel pretty strong compared to my past fitness levels. Weight is still an issue, and climbing sucks, but I can do it. I do better on dry trails because I can stand up and climb as you would on a single speed; wet trails I’m just burning out. My handling has been steadily improving, and I’m having a lot of fun on flowy stuff. I can tell I’ve got a lot more control over the bike as well as the strength to really push it around. There’s room for improvement though. I suck at tight turns. I usually come in too hot, or can’t force the wheel to turn as tight as I need it to go.

Greasers Palace – Lafayette bands of yesteryear

I’ve been on something of a sabbatical for the last few months. Partially I just couldn’t stand to think about academia anymore, and partially I needed to take a time out to try to figure out who I am as a person at this point in my life. (Perhaps I’ll touch on this in a later post)

During this time of self directed listlessness, one of the things I’ve picked up on is how important music is in my life despite my self-imposed absence from participation in it the past several years. Part of this has involved catching some of my favorite bands of olden times who are now re-activated, like Braid, who I saw in Chicago recently in support of their new record and Failure who seem to be giving it another go. Additionally, I do a fair amount of reminiscing about Lafayette bands that I knew personally.

A week ago I was poking around youtube, and happened to find a pile of videos from Greasers Palace, a band that was active in the 2002-2005 ish timeframe. When I first met these guys, it was during the era of “Tazzma’s Rock ‘O Rama”, a sketchy venue in the spot on 6th street that has hosted Luckey’s, Mixerz, Downtown Records, The Venue, and most recently an installation gallery show by Purdue Visual and Performing Arts grad students. At the time, their music was a weird amalgam. There was a lot of Marilyn Manson influence; an element of shock showmanship, and offbeat instrumentation like theremin and Q Chord. At this point there was also a hint of John Mellencamp influence, which later became more prominent. The music was interesting, but a little chaotic. At the time, it was kind of a high point for me in terms of a happy, networked music scene, and these guys played a big role in that, I think. They were friendly with most of the other bands they encountered, and cool to me as well, so we became friends.

Here’s an audio recording of one of their sets at Tazzma’s around this time:

Over time their sound evolved, and more of the typical punk rock influences came in. The Mellencamp vibe came in more too. While it’s worth mentioning that Seth and Elijah, the two brothers in the band were from Southern Indiana, and the ‘Coug could be counted as a role model, I was never quite sure if the Mellencamp thing was tongue in cheek or serious. I think initially, I viewed it as a joke, but it caused me to go a little deeper into his catalog, and I eventually found myself taking him seriously. I guess it’s similar to the way people view Journey? Anyway, as a hoosier, I now have a pretty good appreciation for Mellencamp’s perspective even though I still laugh at him from time to time. A few selected hilarities:

“But you must believe that when I walk down the tracks
All those young girls fall back and say
There goes that sleek young silhouette
He don’t drive no Corvette
But he stings just like a Sting Ray”
Chestnut Street Revisited

“I’ve seen lots of things
But I have not seen a lot of other things”
You’ve Got to Stand For Something

At about this point I started helping them record. This was more an element of convenience for everyone than a business transaction. I think they’d recorded at a studio somewhere and didn’t like it or it was hard to schedule or something, and there also wasn’t a lot of money flowing around.. Plus, they had some decent equipment including a little BOSS recording workstation, I think it was a VS-890. I may be wrong, but I think my payment for recording them was getting to use the BOSS recorder to do a Jim-Jims album later which ended up being “Here it comes!“, probably my favorite album that I recorded. At the time, I think John Gordon had moved on to Boston, meaning the usual recording space that we had been living in was gone, but I think I still had some of the equipment around, so we set up in the living room of Casey, the drummer’s house that the band was practicing in.

I ran the session in what became my standard documentary style. We set up live, with amps semi isolated in different rooms, and the drums in the living room. Micing was all pretty basic. I don’t think I had anything fancy. I remember that there was a good balance on the two guitar tones. Their bass player had disappeared at some point prior, so they went with a two guitar/vox/drums arrangement that really worked for them. Elijah was using a bandmaster set to an almost muddy tone; lots of low end. he played mostly drop D barres, and the tone fit the style. I can’t remember what Seth was playing through.. Something a little more high gain with a slight harshness. Maybe the tubeworks or a marshall of some kind. I think we got everything live. Vox and guitar solos may have been overdubbed, but I don’t think so. I remember that the band was adamant that the vocals be low in the mix and they wanted a little distortion on them. I think I used a terrible ART TubeMP for that task. I didn’t realize it at the time, but Elijah didn’t have lyrics for all the songs and Seth didn’t have guitar leads/solos. In more recent listens, I’ve been able to catch some mumbling where the words weren’t done, and for one of the solos, I recommended that Seth just play the tapping part from AC/DCs thunderstruck; which he did, and I think it sounds ok.

I guess it’s all a little fuzzy at this point. I feel like I did two 4 song sessions with them, but I really only remember one. Maybe we recorded something at Tazzma’s during the day? I don’t know. Four of the songs ended up becoming the Tatonka EP – Brown Bottle Blues, Transmission, Straight Shooter and 9” Chamber. A few more ended up being their “Going to Arizona” demo – Road to Damascus, Immortal Class, and Battle Flag. I really enjoy that I was around to see the evolution of what these guys were doing, and I’m also really glad to have known them. They were great friends. Once Seth and Elijah graduated, all of them moved to Arizona, and they continued on as a band for a while, but I think it petered out as everyone established adult lives. The last time I heard from any of them, Casey was still playing in a band, but that was admittedly many years ago.

Here are youtube videos for some of the songs I did with them: