Sunday, April 24, 2011


Every step of the way I ask myself one simple question, "What's its function?"  What is it I want to achieve with this project?  The answer is simple.   I want to save money, eliminate the horrible Los Angeles commute and continue to live with all of the creature comforts of modern life.

I would think all of that sounds fine to just about anyone, but there are setbacks to every plan, no matter how well thought out.  In a motorhome, there will always be a finite supply of water available that must be replenished over time.  Waste must be contained and disposed of properly.  And, of course, one must take care when consuming energy, as the cycle of sustainability has its limitations.  But, isn't that okay?  Don't animals have to hunt every day for their survival?  Don't we have to tend our vegetable gardens often, in order to reap the bounty of wonderful produce?

But, what if the animal can't find food for a brief period?  What if a rain storm wipes out our crop?  It happens.  We adjust and we survive.  "Life is difficult," as quoted from page one of the best selling book, "The Road Less Travelled."  Modern society has given us so much in the way of freedom and comfort that if we have to work for any of it we just can't understand why.  It makes us mad when the electric company reports a "brown out," and especially mad when we're going to be penalized for water use during a drought.  But that's what we get when we rely on others to do things for us.  We become dependent.  My goal is to greatly reduce that dependency.  And, I'm not afraid to pick up the slack and do a little extra life work.

So, I've addressed how the vehicle should look on the outside, in order to disappear in the city.  Of course, there will be constant considerations with respect to parking, but that's fine.  The rabbit must operate on heightened awareness at all times to avoid peril.  Perhaps I'm being too dramatic, but you get the gist.  The Roving Home serves as a life tool with which I can live in the great outdoors, but in the heart of a civilized world.

My girl and I adore cities.  There, I said it.  I know that goes against everything generally associated with RV life, but don't get me wrong.  Spending a night at 8,000 FT above sea level, I will always gaze with awe into the remarkable expanse of a starry sky, fireside, inspired by the beauty of nature itself.  But I also enjoy a lovingly prepared, baked lasagna with a glass of red wine and the groove of a jazz tune, live from the band on stage.  I keep threatening to take my girl to the symphony - perhaps when I get back home.

So, I've got all of the basics handled, but what if I can't park close enough to where I'd like to ultimately crash for the night?  Well, I could walk.  But what if walking will take too long?  I could take public transpo -- not always available.  How 'bout a cab?  Good option for cities, but sometimes I want a little more freedom to head off the beaten path without feeling stranded and without having to call someone for every trip.

How 'bout a dingy?  Boats have them.  They're the little inflatable rafts with outboard motors that you'll see tied to the back.    

I need a dingy!

One thing I absolutely will not do is tow a car.  I already have a drivable vehicle, so I don't need two.  Then I thought about the scooter on some sort of rack on the back, but that just says, "Someone lives here!"  

Same with bicycles that are stored outside of the vehicle.  Kind of feels like the "Grapes of Wrath," packing up all of one's worldly possessions and moving to find a better life.  

Not to mention the vulnerability to thievery.

The package needs to be tight!

Since the inception of The Roving Home, the notion of storing my "dingy" inside of the vehicle, away from the elements and prying eyes, has proven to be quite the hurdle.  The dingy completes the "life tool" aspect of The Roving Home, and a place for it must be realized.  

Surfing the net for answers, I happened upon the website for a bicycle manufacturer, Dahon, an innovator of folding bikes.  "Hm, that's interesting."  I dug further - cost, $1,200.  Yikes!  Now, this was for the high and mighty "Urban Performance" line of folding bikes, models with full suspension and with names like "Jetstream" and "Speed."  Sexy!  Available only through catalog order, they weren't in the cards.

Cut To: 

A year later, I'm in Taiwan, bicycle capital of the world.  Now, this no joke.  Look at these things.

Yes, that SWISSBIKE is a folder.

And, how about that for your toddler?

And below, the ultimate folder.  But, not for The Ultimate Roving Home.  Seemed a bit cheap.

And, finally...

Serious business.  These are not your garden variety dime store souvenir "Made in Taiwan" trinkets.  This is the real deal and very high quality.  And the punchline to it all?  Many of them are roughly half the asking price for the same model in the U.S.  

So, now my "wheels were spinning."  Does Dahon sell in Taiwan?  After a little armchair legwork via the Internet I discovered half dozen outlets for Dahon bicycles in the capital city of Taipei.  Off I went, in search of the elusive Jetstream P8.   

Peggy Wu, my office assistant, set me up with a map full of stickies loaded with addresses and arrows, so any cab driver could get me to where I needed.

My first mission was to get to the Taipei main train station via the High Speed Rail.

The High Speed Rail Station

Good thing the sign switches from Mandarin to English!  Whew.

Not too shabby!

The Taiwan countryside at 290 KPH (180MPH)

Welcome to Taipei, a bustling metropolis...

...with cool side streets and avenues.  And, then, on to the local train for a trip way up north to the burbs.

And, there it was, right out of the box, a Dahon Jetstream P8, at a little neighborhood bike shop.  The owner lives behind the shop and his whole family is there with him on the weekends.  His 4 year old daughter asked me in flawless English, "Do you speak Chinese?"  I was floored.  He didn't speak that much and she didn't know very many phrases, but before I left she asked if I'd stay and play with her and her sister.  It was quite charming.  I was flattered!  Heck, I don't even speak her language!

And, voila!  Here's my new acquisition beside the riverfront bike path that stretches from the burbs,  heading south into town.  

So, it's a full suspension, 8 speed folder with a Shimano derailleur and a Sram trigger shift -- all quality components.

Break it down...

...bag it up and stick it on the train.  A couple of these will go nicely in a custom drawer beneath the bed of The Roving Home, accessible from the rear of the van.  


Now, that's a Roving Home Exclusive.  

Saturday, April 2, 2011

The Roving Home World Tour - "Thank You, Taiwan!"

Determined to keep this blog pure and true, I have refrained from posting general nonsense about my stay, here in Taiwan.  However, not too long after my arrival, I suspected that something or someone must have seen to it that I spend time here before sealing up the walls of my van.  This place rocks!

Wandering through the markets of Taichung, the city I've called home since November, I have feasted my eyes on the most wonderful and amazing gadgetry and gizmos for 12volt systems.  First of all, LED is king on this island, with fluorescent tailing at a close "second."  

This market is a long alley loaded with vendors of anything and everything you can imagine in the world of tools and hardware.

There's the spring guy, yes, just springs.  There's the wire guy, the tool guy, the pulleys and chain shop, "Nuts And Bolts Are Us," and my favorite, the chicken lady, where you can choose your live bird and bring it home ready to cook.  By the way, I wouldn't recommend watching the process of slaughtering a chicken, for if you're not inclined already, you may turn to the ways of a vegetarian.

My Bounty

This is a momentary switch.  When activated, it will either close the circuit or open it, depending upon how you wire the screws on the back side.  I searched for something like this, back home, to no avail.  The Internet had slim pickings as well, but low and behold, the market is full of these babies.  They're great for sliding doors and cabinets.  

Once that spring is depressed, the switch will react.  

Another variation

And, it just goes on.  I'll be placing these behind every cabinet door in The Roving Home - energy efficient task lighting at it's best.  

When I open a cabinet, a light inside will pop on.  No need for flipping switches in the dark, and energy conservation will be as tight as possible.  

Now, on to the electronics district!  

You're looking at four shelves of electronic meters.  I've never seen such a gathering!

These stores carry every electrical switch imaginable.  

I found these for around 50 cents a piece.  Back home, if I were lucky enough to track these down, they'd be about 3 bucks.  Believe it or not, these aren't readily available at Radio Shack or Frys or Auto Zone in the staggering quantities you can find, here - bins of them in aisle after aisle within the stores.  All this stuff is designed for use in the high tech consumer toys they make here. 

Now, if you remember way back during the infancy of my grand van-building scheme, I manufactured a wall sconce out of LED ribbon, some wood and plexiglass.

Once again, I tried to find some nice architectural supports that would hold that plexiglass away from the wood with a finished look.  I've seen exactly what I want, featured in glass signage in building lobbies, all over the place.  But to find those little chrome supports is like finding a needle in a haystack.  And, I couldn't get them online, either.  They're some kind of coveted item that only designers get access to.    So, I had to use threaded bolts and some dumb looking dome hex caps from Home Depot that you see in the corners of the light fixture, pictured above. 

Badda bing!

Picked them up in four different sizes, just in case!

And now, the moment you've all been waiting for...

One of the greatest challenges of this whole thing, for me, has been the selection and proper installation of lighting fixtures.  Illumination can make or break any architectural creation, no matter how big or small, because it sets the mood and the comfort level, especially in an environment that's going to be dark most of the time.  I need the lighting to be right!  

So, after much testing and hoopla surrounding my previous lighting selection, I'm proud to say that none of that is going to work!  

Yep, I'm ditching, all of my previously purchased ceiling fixtures.  I'll probably be offering them for sale, deeply discounted, very soon.  

None of it will suit my purpose as well as what I've found, right off the shelf, at Home Depot, Taiwan.  I almost wept when I saw it.  My translator couldn't care less, so I was on my own, standing there in the middle of a store with people who can't understand a word I was saying.  But, then again, none of what I was saying would be discernible to an English speaker because my words were smothered beneath sobs of joy.  

I proudly introduce to you the 12 volt, 5 watt, pivoting eye, recessed ceiling light fixture complete with a frosted lens that focuses the beam while offering a nice tapered "fall off" of light at a most pleasing color temperature of 3000k, and has a structural depth of a conveniently compact 1.5 inches !!!!  Yes, there is a God, ladies and gentlemen!

I could pinch myself!  

As a matter of fact, these fixtures might just be too bright.  Imagine that.

Excuse me?  Never fear!  Look at what Taiwan has to offer in a 12 volt LED dimmer switch!  

Just over six bucks!  Ridiculous.  Bought eight of those, too.  

The fun will be over in June, when The Roving Home assembly line kicks back into gear.  My girl and I have made the laundry list of travel locales several pages long, already.  Sheesh, I'm going to have to get crackin' fast so we can have a proper summer vacation!