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Warm in Van, Trout Grilled, Killer Weather, Best Fishing Ever, Red Wine... Makes up for the Tough Days

As seen from the desk chair of my Mercedes Sprinter adventure van writing this post.

Some days I hike, and some days I prepare and publish inside the van, blacked out in order to judge color and contrast for images. But it sure beat commuting.

What life will bring me years hence (with little prospect of retiring) I do not know, but here and now I am going to live it for what it’s worth—I was done with conformity at age 6*.

Life is not a dress rehearsal, the challenge is grabbing it while you can.

* When my sunday school teacher could not explain God or origins to me, left speechless and incoherent by my precocious and penetrating queries. I left in disgust and never went back, and that set my life course. Here it is.

Office View
f11 @ 1/250 sec, ISO 100; 2017-11-02 10:37:51
NIKON D850 + Zeiss Milvus 18mm f/2.8

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Trout in the van

See Desert Springs Trout—Yum! for why I’m not a Bad Boy for being a take-and-eat fisherman.

On a whim at 4 PM yesterday (having worked from 5 AM to then), I bought some nightcrawlers and went fishin'.

One long appropriately hooked nightcrawler properly drifted with downstream resulted in one hard-fighting Onchorynchus mykiss 'Tasty Eatin'. Eight night crawlers, eight trout. Strong fighters—one swam valiantly upstream into stiff current over rocks as if heading to spawn. I let that one go—s/he deserved it.

These trout are tasty due to very high fat content, at least as much as a King salmon and just right now half way through a good cheap bottle of red wine in my Mercedes Sprinter photography adventure van at 9600' elevation and 80°F inside and 32°F outside, the trout is about done and ready for eating.

I can idle the ultra clean burning Mercedes Sprinter 6 cylinder 3.0L diesel for long periods*, and it heats the cabin and the Sprinter alternator gains charge on the 5 kilowatt lithum battery while working writing this and other stuff. It can put out about 1800 watts if it is cold.

* Carbon monoxide has never gone above 2 with my professional CO detector, but back-wind conditions could push CO into the cabin raising it much higher, so never idle an engine or operate any burning anything without a quality CO detector inside. A friend saw 30 ppm (dangerous) inside the bathroom of his RV because the water heater (venting outside) was having its exhaust come in through an open window.

Listening to Blondie on the crummy Sprinter stereo but I’m enjoying it anyway (not exactly Wilson Watt Puppies). Then The Cars** (yes I’m a geezer). Got in a mood for blogging and writing.

Stars are bright even with a full moon and no-one else wants to be here, so I get the whole place to myself.

Photography, clear idyllic weather 20°F warmer than normal, traveling ease compared to my (sold and gone) Cayenne, and trout like I’ve never caught before.

Next morning: with no wind, even though it got down to 23°F last night outside, the basic layer of insulation kept it at 30°F inside, and was a bit too warm for me. Around 9 AM, two cars have gone by.

* 'You’re all I’ve got tonight' seems appropriate for the trout, as well as (Don’t) Call Me... because I’m off grid. Next morning, The Three Tenors was more to my liking as I surveyed the view.

About 22 pounds of trout here (before gutting). I had to start catch-and-release (caught 8 total, limit is five). Largest was 5.5 pounds at 22+ inches. Youthful skills come in handy. 4 block ice in the Yeti Tundra 210 keeps them at 32°F—I don’t buy any meat on my trips..

Onchorynchus mykiss, about 22 pounds total before gutting
f1.8 @ 1/25 sec, ISO 40; 2017-11-01 18:58:28
iPhone 7 Plus + iPhone 7 Plus back dual camera 3.99mm f/1.8 @ 28mm (4mm)

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Seriously. Below, inside my luxury* Mercedes Sprinter photography adventure van. Bed visible at left, very comfy. Red wine bottle at right is getting low.

See Cooking Fresh-Caught Fish on a Portable Yakitori Grill.

* Luxury $129 table from 5-year-old days for my kids. Yeti Tundra 210 coolers for bed platform. Rubbermaid storage tubs, magnets for hang-hooks. Works great, though I’ll polish it up and finish it in the next few months (insulation, walls, airplane style cabinets on one side).

Grilled Onchorynchus mykiss while blogging
f1.8 @ 1/45 sec, ISO 20; 2017-11-01 22:12:26
iPhone 7 Plus + iPhone 7 Plus back dual camera 3.99mm f/1.8 @ 28mm (4mm)

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Comfy inside when it gets cold outside.

Mercedes Sprinter Adventure Van, mid-October, near Saddlebag Lake
f9 @ 1/100 sec, ISO 31; 2017-11-02 14:02:26
NIKON D850 + Zeiss Milvus 25mm f/1.4

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Warmer conditions.

Mercedes Sprinter Adventure Van, mid-October, Lee Vining Canyon
f1.8 @ 1/5300 sec, ISO 20; 2017-10-15 08:24:17
iPhone 7 Plus + iPhone 7 Plus back camera 3.99mm f/1.8 @ 28mm (4mm)

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OWC Easy SSD Upgrade Guide
MacBook Pro and MacBook Air
iMac, Mac Pro, MacMini, more!

Mercedes Sprinter Alternator is a Champ: Real Data on What it Can Actually Output for Amperage at Low Idle

Mercedes Sprinter alternator: 133 amps @ ~960 rpm idle

There is a lot of invalid and context-dropping information out there about how many DC amps the Sprinter alternator can deliver at idle.

I am pretty darn thrilled with what the Mercedes Sprinter Alternator can do under load, such as providing about 1500 watts (DC) at 960 rpm idle, almost enough to run a 1440 watt space heater*, at least under cool/cold conditions.

The bad news? It’s a smart alternator and won’t output that kind of power for charging. It ups its game for a space heater but not for charging. Must be some kind of sensing thing that differs between the two types of loads.

The really impressive thing is that these figures showing the high output were taken at an elevation of 10,600' and confirmed all the way to 11,800' elevation. That turbo is apparently doing its job.

See all the data I measured:

Mercedes Sprinter Alternator

* 1440 watts AC requires about 1670 watts DC, due to conversion losses. But in the case of a space heater, it is not an issue because that waste heat heats up the cabin also.

Mercedes Sprinter alternator can produce up to 133 amps @ ~960 rpm idle
at 10600' elevation (and higher)
Sprinter at 11,800' elevation (before upfitting of any kind)
f2.8 @ 1/1500 sec, ISO 20; 2017-08-09 15:20:20
iPhone 7 Plus + iPhone 7 Plus back camera 6.6mm f/2.8 @ 57mm (6.6mm)

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Carbon Monoxide is a Serious Risk, How to Detect and Prevent so as to Not Wake up Dead

Carbon Monoxide (CO) can kill you. Many tragic deaths have occurred from it. The elimination half-life of CO is 4-6 hours, so steady exposure at significant levels will bind nearly all Hb (hemoglobin) to CO—after a time you die from lack of oxygen. Somewhere round 30 ppm becomes extremely dangerous (e.g. sleeping with that level or higher). Lower levels are not safe either and can be problematic (headaches and other side effects, greatly reduced mental and physical function)

There is the saying: “trust, but verify”. My advice as to safety is “don’t trust and verify first”.

I’ve been researching heating for my Sprinter photography adventure van, and I’ve concluded that a diesel heater is non functional for my purposes (won’t work at high altitude). It was down to 23°F inside my van a week ago in Yosemite at 9600' when that cold storm blew through.

Mercedes Sprinter: Heating the Cabin in Sub-Freezing Weather (Propane and Diesel Heaters)

I had turned to a propane catalytic heater marketed as being safe to 12000' / 3657m. On my current trip, one goal was to test the Camco Wave-3 catalytic propane heater. My test at 10200' elevation on the high setting showed a dangerous amount of CO being released, building up to 6 ppm within 20 minutes of use at the rear of the van, well away from the heater (7 ppm at about 6 feet away). The CO level would have climbed much higher with continued heating, but I was not keen on measuring the rate of buildup inside the van while making and eating dinner.

High carbon monoxide (CO) emissions as measured by
Sensorcon CO Inspector for
Camco Wave-3 catalytic propane heater on high

The next day, I tested two Camco Olympian catalytic propane heaters, the Camco Wave-3 and the Camco Wave-6. Both emitted high levels of CO as measured about 5 inches above the heater using the CO Inspector Industrial by Sensorcon.

At 10,200', the Camco Wave-3 model was emitting up to 135 ppm CO at 5 inches or so above the heater. All that CO then dissipates into the van interior. A slightly open window (for fresh oxygen for the heater) does nothing to stop that buildup. CO is lighter than air and the CO is hot to start with, so a 'blanket' of CO builds up inside starting near the roof area. But even two feet below the roof, the level had reached 7 ppm within 20 minutes.

Additional tests at 6100' with both a Camco Wave-3 and Camco Wave-6 showed that both were emitting dangerously high CO levels on the high setting (low setting produced much less CO). It seems clear to me that these heaters cannot get enough oxygen to burn the propane properly when at their high settings at high altitude—and I do not consider 6100' high altitude since I spend nearly all my time in the mountains at 9000' and above, precisely where heat is needed the most starting in September.

Electric heat bypasses CO risks—I’ll be sticking with the Sprinter built-in engine heater and a 1500 watt space heater, the Aerus Apollo 2000 (claimed to do 1800 watts but but can really only do 1440 watts). It turns out that the Sprinter alternator can push out a whopping 120 amps at idle when a high load is present, so the space heater has minimal battery drain. Plus, the 5 kilowatt 400-amp Lithionics lithium battery can deliver 130 amps / 1600 watts for about 2.6 hours.

Water heaters, propane stoves, engines, etc all produce lots of CO. Idling the Sprinter engine with favorable wind conditions (wind blowing past the side and front of the van), carbon monoxide from the tailpipe infiltrated the cabin to the level of 4 ppm. I would say that idling any engine very long is a Very Bad Idea, particularly if wind might push exhaust around the van. Get a carbon monoxide detector and make sure this is not happening.

In testing, I also found that a cheap CO detector did work—eventually—it is very slow to respond whereas the CO Inspector Industrial by Sensorcon detects CO immediately.

Carbon monoxide detector

Playing Russian roulette with CO is foolish. It is why I went with a pro-grade carbon monoxide detector, the CO Inspector Industrial by Sensorcon. And I bought a 2nd one for my home so as to be able to diagnose any CO leaks near the water heater and/or kitchen.

Beware all Heaters and Engine Idling: Carbon Monoxide Detectors

Sensorcon CO Inspector Industrial Tough, Waterproof
USA Made: Certified Intrinsically Safe Carbon Monoxide Detector / CO Met

My Mercedes Sprinter Photography Adventure Van: Wiring and Power Now in Place

Very soon I’ll be heading to the mountains, now with my Sprinter photography adventure van fully armed and operational (so to speak), albeit without insulation and walls and still with a temporary desk/table. But if it’s good enough for the Darth and the Death Star, it’s good enough for me.

This has chewed up some time lately, taking two trips to Los Angeles (640 mile round trip, each). But things are now good to go and I’ve got just what I envisioned all along. May that Nikon D850 now show up please. But I have other things to cover too, so I’ll be shooting and publishing soon.

The iMac 5K travels well using the Gator Cases Creative Pro 27" iMac Carry Tote.

With this electrical setup I can work for about 20 hours on battery power with an iMac 5K and a NEC PA302W wide gamut professional display, my display of choice for all my work where evaluating sharpness and color matter. Usable power from the 5120 watt hour Lithionics battery is about 4100 watt hours, or up to 4600 watt hours in a pinch (a Macbook Pro 15" has a less than 100 watt hour battery).

With skid plates now installed and robust offroad tires, the Mercedes Sprinter Photography Adventure Van is ready to rock. The Cayenne is sold and forgotten.

I feel smug about skipping solar charging; it’s useless for my needs (but honey for foolish bees); all day on the summer solstice baking in the sun (I like shade) with dual 160W panels would produce less charging than one hour at idle from the alternator. Not only that, at idle I can easily run a 1400 watt space heater with minimal effect on the battery. I will make use of that now that it is turning colder, though I will be testing a catalytic propane heater very soon, at high altitude.

Image below is before replacing the Xantrex Freedom SW 3012 with the Xantrex Freedom XC. That change gained a ton of critically important space under the desk for legs/feet and stowage of camera bags and similar. I also moved the battery closer to the wall and to the left, gaining even more space. Table is temporary until I decide on the exact shape and height. Curtains are also temporary and the walls are not insulated or finished yet.

Lithionics 12V400A-5D-CTRL400 400 amp-hour battery and wiring panel and Xantrex Freedom SW 3012 inverter/charge in Mercedes Sprinter van

See Mercedes Sprinter: Battery, Wiring Panel, Inverter as Installed for details.

Lithionics 12V400A-5D-CTRL400 400 amp-hour battery and wiring panel and Xantrex Freedom XC inverter/charge in Mercedes Sprinter van

Below, Mercedes Sprinter cargo van, maiden voyage before any upfitting, first usage.

Mercedes Sprinter cargo van, maiden voyage before any upfitting
NuGard KX Case for iPhones and iPads
Outstanding protection against drops and impact!
Excellent grip for wet hands, cycling, etc!

Mercedes Sprinter Stock Alternator Rocks: Up to 1400 watts At Idle, Can Nearly run a 1500 watt Space heater

Everything I’ve heard about the stock Mercedes Sprinter alternator is that it is rock solid. That’s what I want way down a dirt road (reliability), what I want for charging my 400 amp battery (fast reliable charging), and for running a 1500 watt space heater (delivers enough power at idle to almost run the heater on its own).

I was shocked at what I found, meaning delighted:

Mercedes Sprinter Alternator Behavior

Mercedes Sprinter Photography Adventure Van: Light Bars Have Implications for the Turbo Intercooler

My 2017 Mercedes Sprinter cargo van came with the halogen headlights, which are not particularly bright. In the 6th decade of my life, my eyes just don’t see as well at night, and I do not find the halogen lights adequate for driving.

In particular, a dark asphalt road at night at 55 mph is too risky in not seeing a deer in time. At 65 or 70 mph on a concrete or grayish freeway it is not too bad because the road surface is medium-tone (not black), but still on the edge of acceptable out of the city, where suicidal deer often graze right at road’s edge.

So I settled on installing the Rigid Industries RDS-Series 20" light bar near the front bumper. But while this looked great, it is not without implications in blocking the airflow to the turbo intercooler. I ultimately proceeded, but only after some research as to the impact

Mercedes Sprinter: Exterior Lighting / Light Bars

Rigid Industries RDS-Series 20" - Spot
OWC Thunderbolt 2 Dock
Review of Thunderbolt 2 Dock

Sprinter Photography Adventure Van: Tradeoffs in Installing Window

The 2017 Mercedes Sprinter cargo van has three areas in which pairs of windows can be installed: side windows, rear side windows, and rear windows.

Sprinter Van: Windows

Windows are not necessarily desirable everywhere in the van, and come at extra cost too.

2017 Mercedes Sprinter cargo van: Interior sheet metal cutouts for side windows behind seats
f1.8 @ 1/170 sec, ISO 20; 2017-08-27 09:10:41
iPhone 7 Plus + iPhone 7 Plus back dual camera 3.99mm f/1.8 @ 28mm (4mm)

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Sprinter Photography Adventure Van: Installing 17-Inch Moto Metal Wheels with BF Goodrich 265/70R17 K02 All-Terrain Tires

The 17-inch Moto Metal wheels with BFGoodrich K02 all-terrain tires are installed.

Read about installation and ground clearance with 17 inch wheels on the 2017 Mercedes Sprinter 4x4:

Mercedes Sprinter: What I Chose for Wheels and Tires, Ground Clearance

Next up in Phase 1 upfitting: windows, roof fan, Lithionics battery.

Better pictures coming once I’m in the field on some dirt roads.

America’s Tire of Redwood City California mounted BF Goodrich ALL-TERRAIN T/A KO2 LT265/70R17 onto Moto Metal M0970 rim for 2017 Mercedes Sprinter 4x4
NuGard KX Case for iPhones and iPads
Outstanding protection against drops and impact!
Excellent grip for wet hands, cycling, etc!

Sprinter Photography Adventure Van: Maiden Voyage Photos with Test-Run Setup

The maiden voyage for my Sprinter photography adventure van went great (aside from the hassle of having to drive 800 miles before smog would pass).

A key goal of my Mercedes Sprinter photography adventure van is to allow me to work on photography in the field as efficiently as at home (well, reasonably close). That involves taking along the NEC PA302W wide gamut display, my workhorse for image processing and evaluation, shown below as the real deal in the field as I actually worked for about 20 hours on the last trip.

The main limitation was power using the van auxiliary battery, but in early September I am getting the Lithionics 400 amp lithium battery installed, which will render all power concerns moot. That should be done by September 8, the same day the Nikon D850 arrives. I plan on heading for the mountains with Phase 1 upfitting in place so I can report right from the field without delay.

Mercedes Sprinter photography adventure van before upfitting, with temporary workstation and bed setup, doors open
f1.8 @ 1/4000 sec, ISO 20; 2017-08-09 15:13:45
iPhone 7 Plus + iPhone 7 Plus back dual camera 3.99mm f/1.8 @ 28mm (4mm)

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For the moonlight shot below, I used the Cineo Matchbox with a 3200°K panel at about 1% output to illuminate the interior of the van; it has a 160° beam spread, perfect. Here it was powered by the optional 12V adapter; just plug into the vehicle socket and it can run a very long time, taking only 13 watts at 100% power. The Cineo Matchbox and related products maintain color consistency from 1% to 100% with a CRI of 98 and TLCI of 99 for the 3200°K panel. It uses remote phosphor technology, which is far superior to ordinary LED technology, not just for color quality but for the diffuse nature of lighting. It is very well built and extremely compact for its light output—perfect for a van if it fits into your decor—I will make it fit as the light quality is so good.

Mercedes Sprinter photography adventure van by moonlight at 11,500' elevation
f11 @ 448.0 sec, ISO 64; 2017-08-07 21:07:16
NIKON D810 + Zeiss Otus 1.4/55 ZF.2

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SSD upgrade that takes full advantage of APFS

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