Don't worry, I didn't get rid of the truck.


My home is roughly 16' x 6', or 96 ft2. That makes it a little smaller than your average bedroom. In other words, it's in my best interest to optimize how I use my limited space. Two years ago, I talked about consolidating and defragmenting how I laid out my room. The diagram I used looked like this:

By rearranging my things (all three of them), I was able to clear up some space. Not that I actually used that space for anything, it just seemed like a good idea at the time. Though as time went on, my tidy arrangement kinda…fell apart. I shuffled stuff around to help people move, I threw things away, I loaded and unloaded everything to make room for repairs, and just generally accumulated some cruft along the way. If I were to draw the diagram again as of last week, it'd look like this:

There's still some space, but it's certainly not optimal. Plus, that diagram isn't really telling the whole story. For one, Bed is in pretty rough shape. The springs have lost most of their will to spring, and the box-spring cloth is torn to shreds from being dragged back and forth across the truck half a bajillion times.

And Dresser…well Dresser has seen better days. Dresser took a tumble or two on some particularly tight turns, which ripped out my arts and crafts straps. Those straps, I might add, had already been shoddily replaced a few times. Adding insult to Dresser's mortal injury, previous water damage meant that I had to rip out most of the back paneling, making Dresser pretty wobbly. I had attempted to brace it with a spare 2x4, but even that was starting to give way.

Unsurprisingly, Ikea furniture was not meant for the trials and tribulations of truck life.

Dresser was coming apart at every possible seam. The last picture was taken mere minutes before Dresser met its timely death.

And the cherry on my sad truck sundae: the cruft and clutter. I had a big box full of Random Stuff™: bike parts, unsorted Christmas gifts, a Motorcycle helmet, cleaning supplies, a pile of insurance and stock documents, and god knows what else. And my shoes had clearly been wandering, evenly distributing themselves around the remaining space.

Even still, it's not really that bad. At the end of the day, it's still perfectly livable.*

I think at the heart of it, I just enjoy being organized. It's probably a control thing. If my home is organized and clean, I feel like I generally have my affairs in order. Conversely, when the truck looks like a bomb went off in a shared Home Depot/Goodwill dumpster, I feel unprepared.

It's also about keeping up some semblance of appearances. I'm living in a truck, I need to do something to make it look like I have my life together. It's why I try to wear halfway decent dress shirts to work, and (attempt to) maintain this blog. I can't live in a truck and have it look like a war zone. I made a helpful chart to illustrate my point:

Given the irrefutable evidence of the above chart, it goes without saying that something had to change. So I formulated a plan, and last weekend, I threw away all two pieces of furniture I owned.

The Plan

  1. Buy things - I can't just throw away all my stuff and live in an empty truck. That's a bit hardcore for my tastes. I have to find suitable replacement things first. I tried to stick to my general purchasing strategy: Think about what I truly need, and then make a careful purchase of some high-quality, long-lasting items that satisfy those needs.
  2. Assemble things - If you want something done right, do it yourself. Plus, it's cheaper to buy things unassembled. And some pre-built things are harder to get delivered. And you usually learn some stuff in the assembly process.
  3. Throw out things - Complete the catharsis. Kick the old stuff to the curb. If it makes sense to donate it, do that instead.

Straight-forward enough. But, as always, the truck throws some interesting wrenches in the mix. Where do I get large things delivered? Where do I assemble these things? Do I have enough room for both the old things and the new things? How/Where do I even get rid of the old things? I started by buying things.

Buying Things

I went in with a clear idea of what I needed: a bed and a dresser. Nothing more, nothing less. I kept an eye open for ways to make better use of the limited space, and let that inform my purchases. I started with the bed. I knew I couldn't have a mattress professionally delivered to me, I don't have a "real" address, and I don't think they'd appreciate me giving them some random GPS coordinates corresponding to a parking lot somewhere in South Bay. So my options were either 1) shop online and have it delivered to my mailbox, or 2) pick one up in a store. Both options were fine, but after a bit of research it looks like you pay a pretty hefty markup for shopping at a brick and mortar store. Unless I wanted to spend several thousand extra dollars for fun, my choice was pretty much made for me.

I started researching and comparing online brands. I'm not going to link to them because I'm lazy, but I was looking at Purple, Casper, Tuft and Needle, Leesa, Amerisleep, and a few others. After a week of reading reviews and comparisons, I had narrowed it down to Casper and Leesa, based mainly on price and volatile organic compound (VOC) levels. Price is a pretty normal metric to use. As for VOCs, I figured the mattress would be in a much smaller area than the manufacturer intended, with less air circulation. I don't want to saturate my limited air supply with irritants and sadness. In the end though, it came down to which one was cheaper after all applicable discounts, and Leesa came in at a riveting $6 cheaper. Not much of a difference, but fine as a tie-breaker.

Historically, my feet always flirted with the edge of the bed, so I ordered a Twin XL to replace my Twin. This meant I couldn't really reuse my tattered box-spring, even if I wanted to. I found a tall mattress base that looked good, and had the added bonus of giving me some under-bed storage space. I picked up new sheets and a memory-foam pillow for completeness.

To avoid annoying my postmaster with a 4 foot tall, 50+ pound package lingering around his shipping center, I picked it up within an hour or so of it being dropped off (according to shipment tracking). I did the same thing with the mattress base and the barrage of other packages. If there's any one single person I want to stay on good terms with, it's the dude who has complete control over my address and mail situation.

As for the dresser, I had failed pretty miserably with trying to make my own strap securements for the drawers, so I wanted something with a built-in locking mechanism. I guess I played it pretty fast and loose with my requirements, because I ended up getting a six-foot tall, welded steel garage storage unit, which I wouldn't really consider a "dresser".

28.5 ft3 of raw, storage-y goodness.

While unorthodox, this has a number of benefits over any dresser-based solution. For one, this thing is huge. Volume-wise, it's probably twice the size of the dresser I tossed out. That means I can fit all my clothes, and any remaining Random Stuff™ worth keeping. It's also made of steel, so it's more sturdy and durable than any wooden furniture I could have picked up. Even though I don't have any more water/leak problems, it's still nice to have something a bit more resilient to such things. Best of all, this thing locks, which means the doors won't be opening while I'm driving (provided I remember to lock it). It's also more secure, not that I'm worried about people stealing from me.**

Instead of having the 150+ pound unassembled cabinet shipped to me, I went to a local Home Depot to pick it up. Unluckily for me, the first Home Depot I went to didn't have it in stock, which was entirely my fault because I didn't check their handy online inventory system. Luckily for me, not only did the second Home Depot have them in stock, they had a display unit that I could look at beforehand to help figure out how I wanted to organize and store things.

Assembling Things

At this point, my truck has my old bed and box-spring, my new bed (in a box) my new bed frame (in a box), sheets, pillows, and an unassembled ginormous storage cabinet. It's getting pretty crowded in there. So right after I bought the cabinet, on a sweltering Saturday morning, I plunked the truck down in an unassuming, low-traffic part of the Home Depot parking lot and got to work.

I should note that, for better or worse, this isn't my first time assembling things in a Home Depot parking lot. I had done something similar for the Ikea dresser I was now replacing. Not that that makes it any less weird, but it ends up working out pretty well. For one, I'm always missing some tool or piece of hardware, but I never realize it until the assembly process is well underway. It's obscenely convenient to take a 30 second walk and go pick up the part I'm missing.

Case in point: I made nine independent trips into Home Depot that faithful day. The first one was when Home Depot that told me my storage unit was in another castle, but the other eight trips were picking up drill bits, repeatedly buying ill-fitting screws of different sizes, remembering I needed caulking, returning the drill bits I didn't need, buying plastic bins—you get the idea.

Assembling the bed was a breeze. Modern memory-foam mattresses come vacuum-sealed, setting them up is just unrolling them and gingerly evicerating the plastic casing. Bed frame assembly amounted to unfolding it and tightening four wing nuts.

Assembling the storage cabinet was harder, but still straight-forward. It required ~80 screws, which I lovingly hand-tightened with a small, provided hex key before realizing the other doodad in the box was a hex insert drill bit that would have made my work 1,000x more efficient. Such is life.

Throwing Things Out

Post-assembly, the truck was in far and away the most disheveled state it has ever been in. Sure, I had a bunch of shiny new furniture, but I also had all of my old furniture, plus a small mountain of garbage packing materials. On top of that, I had gone through all of my Random Stuff™ and tossed out everything I didn't need, like old building supplies, unnecessary documents, and parts of my now-defunct bike rack.

The truck was looking extra chaotic during (and after) assembly. At one point, large steel panels covered pretty much every available surface.

Which leads me to my previously posed question, where do I put all this trash? Conveniently, there's a public landfill in Santa Clara. It also happens to be a stone's throw from Home Depot…just not the Home Depot I had been assembling things at. Anyway, this landfill has a bunch of different rates depending on what you're dumping and whether or not you're a resident. Since my mailbox is in Santa Clara and that's what's on my license, I get the discounted 'resident' rate. I feel morally ambiguous about this, but not enough to actually stop me from continuing to use it.

The way the process works, they weigh your truck on the way in, and they weigh it on the way out. You're charged based on the difference, at a "general rubbish" rate of ~$20/yd3 for "residents", which usually means I pay like $10 to toss all my junk. Those units are kind of strange though. Cubic yards? That's a measure of volume, but they're charging based on truck weight, which means that they must have some idea of "average garbage density." I haven't the slightest idea what that would be, but I also don't care enough to try and calculate it from my receipt.

Tragically, I didn't get my rate of $20/yd3 though. This time, when I showed up, they asked me to open the back, which was definitely a first for me. The garbage was obscuring most of my actual living setup, so it probably wasn't immediately obvious that I live in there. Not that they would have cared, but I was there to clean out my closet, not to explain the skeletons in there. The only comment they had was that the two mattresses (old mattress and old box-spring) would cost $50 a piece to toss, which is at least 20x the normal rate for their weight. Not sure why this is the case, some sort of premium for not trying to sell them on Craigslist or something? Who knows. I paid my $108 and was on my way.

Good as New

When I got back to my usual stomping grounds, I did a quick sweep and tied up some loose ends, like finishing up some organizational matters and securing the cabinet to the wall. The black finish is so darn reflective it's hard to get a good picture:

Everything I own either fits in the cabinet or, for some of the larger things, under my bed.

Tallying up the cost of this home improvement project:

  • Sheets and Pillows: $79.54
  • Bed frame: $84.99
  • Garbage disposal: $108
  • Cabinet and accessories: $412
  • Memory-foam Mattress: $583
  • Not living in a disorganized truck dumpster: Priceless

*Naturally, this will depend on your definition of livable. The truck still doesn't have plumbing or electricity or anything normal like that.

**I'm always saying that if someone robbed the truck, they'd basically just be cleaning for me.


Source: I'm probably overdoing it with the icons at this point.
In the winter, I get questions about how I deal with the cold.

In the summer, I get questions about how I deal with the heat.

Being the more agreeable seasons, spring and fall are generally less concerning to people.

I've talked about dealing with the cold already. Just throw on a few of your favorite layers and cozy up with a comfy blanket. But winter is so last season. With Bay Area temperatures occasionally reaching triple digits, it's as good a time as any to talk about dealing with summer.

Normally, when trucks and temperature come up in casual conversation, I'll say something about how the Bay Area is one of the most temperate places around, and that's enough of an explanation for most people. But if we're being honest with ourselves here, it certainly has the potential to get a bit…uncomfortable in summertime Boxland.

And it's true, the truck is an absolute oven in the summer. If it's parked in direct sunlight, the temperatures in the box can reach nearly 150° F.

That sounds, uh…toasty?

Most definitely, especially if you're one of those people who doesn't like being baked alive in their home. I happen to be one of those people, so this would absolutely be a problem if I spent any time in the truck. Thankfully, I don't. As I've undoubtedly belabored, I'm only in the truck from around 9 PM until 6 AM. Even on weekends, I'm not generally one for sleeping in past 9 AM or so. I'm out of the oven before it heats up, and back in the oven after it's cooled down. And that's worked well for me for the past two years, enough time to try each season twice over.

Beating the Heat

So I survive the truck heat by…well, just leaving, but obviously my possessions can't do the same. They just have to sit in there and take the heat, for better or, more likely, worse. I figured it wouldn't hurt to do some due diligence and think about the kind of problems I could run into with a hella hot home. So that's what I'm going to do, think about the stuff I have and how the heat could cause any problems.

Bed

Aside from the truck, my bed is the largest thing I own. It's also one of the cheapest. It's your run-of-the-mill, twin-sized, coil spring mattress that I picked up for $99 (box spring included) out of a shady back road storefront somewhere in East Bay. The heat doesn't really affect it as far as I can tell, but it is starting to sag in the middle, so I'll be replacing it soon. And that's what makes this kind of interesting. A coil spring mattress might be fine, but if I want to replace it with a real bed made for people who value their sleep, I might be considering a nice memory foam mattress.

Does excessive heat ruin memory foam mattresses? The hell if I know. It's also extremely hard to search The Internet™ for answers, because when you type "memory foam heat", all of the results are about how memory foam beds feel warmer than other types of beds. Also, normal, high-functioning members of society generally don't worry about their home being 150° F and destroying their belongings, so there's not exactly demand for this type of information.

The closest thing I could find when searching around is people asking if it's safe to use a heating pad on a memory foam mattress, and the results were mixed. Some sources were saying it can degrade the mattress, others were saying the heat will just temporary reduce the elasticity of the foam, which is how memory foam mattresses work in the first place. In any case, any self-respecting mattress brand will have a 5-10 year warranty. If there was a problem, it'd likely be covered; I can't really imagine they'd realize I've been slow cooking their mattress in a truck-shaped oven for months at a time.

Dresser

It's made of wood, it'll be fine.

Though there is something to be said for the contents of the dresser. Clothes will also survive in the heat, but my entire bottom drawer is filled with all manner of tools, hardware, and sometimes, even a random assortment of chemicals. Here's what the bottom drawer looked like, circa 2015:

Rope, latex gloves, disinfectant wipes — definitely not a serial killer.

This was when I was preparing to fix "The Hole", so I had fiberglass resin and a few other heavy-duty chemicals rolling around in there. And a few months after all the hole-fixing shenanigans were done with, summer came around and a distinctly chemical-y smell permeated the truck on the warmer days. Rather than get secondhand contact high on a cocktail of vaporized paint thinners and resins, I tossed all that stuff out, and that solved that problem. I've been more leery about storing any chemicals in the truck now, especially anything pressurized. When in doubt, check the warning labels. If still in doubt, throw it out.

Laptop

Aside from my bed and dresser, the only thing of consequence I own is my laptop. It's normally with me, meaning it's normally not in the truck, but on rare occasions I'll leave it in there for a day or two. While it hasn't been a problem so far, I was still curious. So I looked up the spec sheet for my laptop, a Dell XPS 15 9550, and it does indeed list a storage temperature of 149° F, which is just shy of my roughly guesstimated 150° F truck temp. Given that I haven't had any problems yet, I'm inclined to believe it's fine. Plus, processors in modern computers have a higher power density than a nuclear reactor, which I put in bold because it still blows my mind even after every single engineering professor I had in college would mention it on the first day of class.

I swear, some variation of this graph was in the introductory slides of every electrical and computer engineering class I took. From Semiconductor Engineering

If my CPU can push more power per square centimeter than a nuclear reactor and handle it effortlessly, I'm inclined to believe leaving it in the truck for a few days is just fine.

Food?

Rule #1 of Truck Club: We don't talk about Truck Club.

Rule #2 of Truck Club: No Food.

Everything Else

And that's really it. The only things unaccounted for are small things like shoes and backpacks. I guess the only other place I've noticed the heat is on the insulation I put in last year, because the tape I used in between EPS foam panels will occasionally peel back around the edges. Not a big deal, but not something I thought about at the time.

Like I said, by the time I get back to the truck, it's normally 9 PM or so. Even on the hottest days, it's still perfectly manageable by then, and the sunroof is great for letting any extra heat escape quickly. Maybe it's just because I grew up in a place with actual seasons, but the truck life is perfectly palatable year-round here in the Bay. I can confidently say that if I ever do call it quits, it won't be the weather that does me in.


Source: The (tentative) poster design for my on-demand moving company.
Also, I bought royalty-free rights to a repository of icons, so expect a little less attribution in the future when I make my Frankenphotos.

I knew embarrassingly little about The Box™ when I bought it. I spent weeks obsessing over what kind of vehicle I wanted, but I purchased my current home of two years after only an hour or so of looking it over.

For example: I had the truck for nearly a month before I figured out it used to be a moving truck. More specifically, it used to be a Budget truck, and I just had no idea. I only found out by chance observation; if you look closely, you can still see the faded "Budget" logo, forever etched into the truck. Let me show you, with the help of my good friend science:


We start with a picture of the truck.

Then, we enhance the photo.

Enhance further.

Keep enhance-ing.

Very…nice. Now, we apply a binary low-pass reverse-osmotic filter.

Preheat oven to 350°. Build a Visual Basic GUI. Dash of paprika.

Utilize RBF back-propagation through inverse big data dimensionality reduction.

Boom. It appears to be the Budget logo.

Science aside, this isn't particularly shocking: most truck rental companies sell their moving trucks once they're done with them. Mine just went through a few more hands before it got to me.

I swear I have a reason for dredging up the truck's humble, Budget-y origins once again. The truck and I have helped heft, hoist, and haul people's junk around on no less than ten separate occasions. For somewhat obvious reasons, I haven't had to move at all since I relocated to California. I mean, I guess it depends on how you think about it. Sure, I've never had to pick up my stuff and move it to a new place, but every time I go get gas I'm hauling all of my belongings with me. Home is where I park it, after all.

On to the part I want to talk about: for at least seven or eight of those moves, I actually offered to help schlep stuff around. No prompting or anything. They mention they're moving, I offer my truck and services. As weird as it sounds, I legitimately enjoy helping people move, and that's what I'll spend the rest of this post discussing (both for my own bemusement and to try and indoctrinate you, dear reader, to do the same).

Good Exercise

This one's probably the most obvious. Moving is a great way to put all of those squats and deadlifts to good use. Lifting from your legs, maintaining a neutral lower back, keeping your core tight — all just as applicable for moving as they are for lifting. The more stuff someone has to move, the more intense and effective your workout gets. And this isn't your Dad's workout, it's much more dynamic than any boring old routine you can do in the gym. It's a full-on functional workout. It'll hit your posterior chain like a freight train. Worried you aren't working your stabilizer muscles enough? Carry a bunch of rickety furniture down a few flights of stairs and you'll be sore in muscles you didn't know you had. The muscular pump you get after a few hours of moving Ikea sofas around is a reward all its own.

Smug Self-Satisfaction

Wow, I have a lot of stuff.

-Pretty much everyone I've helped move, ever

I hear some variation of the above quote, without fail, every time I help someone move. And it makes sense, right? You never really acknowledge how much stuff you have until you have to shuffle it through a labyrinth of hallways and elevators. Step by sweaty step. Box by bloody box. Taking part in that experience is another one of the benefits for me, because it reminds me how glad I am to have so little. I love that I don't have box after box of who-knows-what packed away in my garage, because I don't need those things and I don't have a garage. It's kind of like my Couch Conundrum, just because I can have something doesn't mean I should. So I end up feeling more grateful for just how good and easy my life is after each move.

Being a Decent Person

Moving is one of those activities that people seem to legitimately dread. Maybe it's the prospect of attempting to tame and pack the always-growing piles of dusty knickknacks. Maybe it's the fear of trying to pick up the old bulky television that hasn't been moved since the Reagan administration. Maybe they just aren't looking forward to shelling out money for a truck or professional movers. For one reason or another, most people aren't overjoyed at the idea of hauling all their belongings from Point A to Point B. So if a someone mentions they're moving sometime in the future, offering your services might relieve a bit of their moving-related stress. In my experience, people seem to genuinely appreciate it. Helping people move has turned a few coworkers and "friends of friends" into friends — the bond created by a formidable move is not soon broken.

Free Food

You know what's really satisfying after a few hours of moving heavy stuff around? A hearty meal.

You know what's even better than that? Not having to pay for it.

While I'll always outright decline payment for helping people move, I'll gladly accept a post-move meal. Post-move meals are among the greatest small pleasures one can experience in life. Think about it: you're hungry, you're sweaty, you're sore, what could be a more perfect remedy than free, delicious food with friends? Food is good, the satisfaction of a job well done is good, and combining those is just the bee's knees.

The Way It Was Meant To Be

Plainly and simply: hauling crap around is the truck's God-intended manufacturer-intended purpose. The truck was made to roam the open highways, full of useless garbage packed into equally useless plastic bins, and it just wouldn't be right of me to deprive it of that joy. This magnificent piece of machinery was meant to meander down microscopic suburban side streets, narrowly dodging low-hanging branches and awkwardly parked minivans. And who am I to deny the truck its God-given manufacturer-given destiny?

Really Bad Jokes

If nothing else, I get to make the same terrible dad joke every time I help someone move. As we pack their boxes and floor lamps and TVs into the truck, alongside my bed and dresser, I'll say something stupid like, "Looks like we're moving in together, I didn't realize it would get this serious so quickly." And they'll chuckle halfheartedly, quietly wondering why they didn't just hire a professional mover.


Source: From 360 Logica, pretty much the first result when I searched "Web 2.0". It has virtually nothing to do with this post.

If this is your first time visiting the blog (or you use an RSS reader), this post won't really make a ton of sense. But the veteran Box Truck Buffs might notice that the site looks quite a bit different today. For reference, the old site:

The old layout, in all of its Bootstrap-laden goodness. May it rest in sweet responsive peace.

With the truck getting a makeover, I figured it was just about time the blog did the same. Over the past few months, I've been working on the redesign haphazardly and in random bursts whenever the mood strikes me, and I think it's ready (or close enough) for prime time. But why even redesign the blog in the first place?

In the Beginning

When I first "designed" the blog, I had just moved out to California and was juggling buying the truck, getting all my paperwork in order, starting a new job, and a bunch of other random things. With all that on my plate, I didn't have a ton of time to spend on building the blog. And since I hate CSS with a fiery, burning passion, I spent the vast majority of my time working on the backend. What all of this meant is that I basically slapped some Bootstrap on the frontend and stole utilized the Bootstrap blog template, more or less unaltered. Aside from a few minor tweaks and additions over the past two years, the layout of the blog hadn't changed all that much.

But it always kind of bothered me just how bland and uninteresting the blog looked. And at the risk of sounding like a self-involved faux-philosophical starving artist-type, I wanted the blog to look more like a reflection of my own ideals, mainly simplicity and minimalism. Not that the previous design was particularly ornate, but it didn't look anything like it would have if I'd made it from scratch.

Making it from Scratch

The first thing I did was delete the Bootstrap CSS and JavaScript, which are over-engineered for my needs anyway. Then I spent a few months attempting to do and redo the site in a variety of CSS frameworks. It turns out there are quite a few to choose from, each with their own set of features, benefits, and drawbacks. Personally, I just wanted something basic: a CSS Reset, a grid, and maybe some consistent form and button stylings. Eventually, I settled on Skeleton, which was pretty simple and straight-forward. I didn't realize that it hadn't been updated since 2014 until I was already in too deep. Oh well. The world of frontend development moves nauseatingly fast.

What Actually Changed?

Death of the Savings Clock

The Savings Clock was one of the first things I added to the site. It served as a symbol for my progress, and gave me some fun milestones to watch for. It did a good job of showcasing how ridiculous rent prices in the Bay can be — for example, I had saved more than the total cost of my student loans after only a year.

But it had some problems too. For one, it wasn't accurate, and it never could be. There are just too many dynamic factors to consider (rent price, insurance costs, depreciation, etc), so the numbers mean less and less over time. On top of that, having a savings clock doesn't send the message I'm trying to get across. An always-ticking money counter on the side of the blog says, "Hey, I'm forcing myself to live in a truck because I'm some sort of Mega Scrooge™, look at the fruits of my unrivaled cheapness and mental instability." As I've surely beat to death in other posts, that's not what this is about.

Anyway, as a part of the redesign, the savings clock has kicked the (Bit)bucket. It served its purpose admirably, but its days of countin' are done.

"About Me" Page

As it turns out, I'd never actually explained anything about who I am, except in little random tidbits disbursed across a hundred or so posts. Not very accessible. I figured a brief intro wouldn't hurt, so, it's hiding under the "About" section at the top.

"Ask A Question" Page

I've long had a place for people to ask questions, which is great. But I get the same set of ~10 or so questions over and over again, which is less great. So I added a short FAQ with answers to a few of those common questions, and strategically moved the question box over there. If I'm lucky, maybe people will stop asking "Where do you go to the bathroom?" with the same frequency I actually go to the bathroom.

The Little Things

While Bootstrap is built to be responsive, I hadn't done anything special for the mobile-version of the site before. This time around, I made sure I was paying attention to all of the little stuff that gets annoying on mobile. Hopefully this new site makes good use of screen real estate on mobile, without being too crowded.

A small feature people had asked for was the ability to view higher-resolution versions of inline images in posts. Now, you can click on images to "zoom" in, though I make no guarantees on how well this actually works.

What's Next

Webpack

Not only is Webpack a useful tool, it has a cool and trendy logo, too.

Webpack is a technology I'd like to add to the mix at some point. Basically, it takes all of the assets in a site (JS, CSS, Images) and smooshes them into one file for each type, nicely minified and stuff. Removing Bootstrap was a good start, loading the post index now requires 11 requests and 81 KB, where it used to take 16 requests and 184 KB. Webpack and gzip can likely shrink that way further.

Comments

I've mentioned this before, but I'd really like to add comments to the site and allow for some discussion. I have a working integration with Disqus, but I'm considering rolling my own solution, for maximum flexibility and minimal external dependencies.

RSS/SEO Improvements

While the RSS feed works, it's not as fully-featured as it could be, particularly around things like images. Similarly, there are some <meta> tags I could add to posts to make it clearer for search engines and screen readers what's going on in a given page.

Build Your Own Savings Clock

When one savings clock dies, another is born. I've been working on a new page for the site that allows people to track progress on something they care about, whether it's dollars saved, calories burned, tacos eaten, you name it. It's not quite ready for prime time yet, but I'll definitely post when it is.


Brief aside: Like all projects I work on in my spare time, I expect there to be a few hiccups and bumps with the updated site. As always, send me an email or a question to let me know about any problems with the site.


Source: Truck eternally from Clker, Egg from Clipart Kid, BandAid also coincidentally from Clipart Kid, and various cracks from CanStockPhoto

Once upon a time there was an ugly truck.

He was a lonely soul, a poor mess of rust and twisted metal, left to idle all alone. While certainly a sad state of affairs, it hadn't always been this way for him. In his youth as a rental truck, he'd helped families move every which way. Later, he became a work truck, the lifeblood of an independent carpenter. As fulfilling as his past had been, it had also left its fair share of chips and dents and scrapes and scratches, which he wore like badges of honor.

In his present life (though one could hardly call it "living"*), home was a used-car dealership along the side of a small expressway in Fremont, California. With his mangled bumpers, duct-taped roof, graffiti'd paneling, and rusted roll-up doors, he was hidden far away at the back, but not far enough to mute the mocking jeers of the newer trucks at the front. With their lower mileage, more recent model years, gleaming, uncracked paint jobs, and complete lack of leaks, they were much more appealing and were quickly swept off to their new exciting lives. After a while, the ugly truck had lost all hope that he would ever have a purpose in life again, and he resigned himself to decay in silence.

Then one day, a boy appeared at the dealership, nervous and apprehensive. He looked lost and out of place as he ambled around the parking lot, passing diffident, fleeting glances at each of the trucks. Eventually his ambling brought him to the back of the lot, where the ugly truck had been half-halfheartedly watching, not wanting to get raise his dejected spirits for nothing. But it wasn't for nothing! The boy looked hopefully at the ugly truck, his eyes full of future plans. As they drove around the dealership for the first time, the ugly truck knew that things were going to be alright.

[The End]

[...or the beginning, depending on how you want to look at it]


Poorly shoehorned children's stories aside, the truck has been an important part of my life ever since that fateful day, nearly two years ago. Neither of us has metamorphosed into a beautiful swan by any stretch of the imagination, but I'd like to think that we're both improving as time goes on, with each passing project. Not that improving was particularly hard, I mean, look how low the bar was set:

Our sorry protagonist, the ugly truckling.

I only dredge up the truck's roots to highlight how far it's come. I'd previously alluded to some of the work I wanted to have done, and I'm happy to report I just got it back from the shop, shiny and freshly improved.

Truck 2.0

When I first talked to the body shop, I asked them for quotes on a whole gamut of repairs and improvements, ranging from replacing and resealing the entire floor to swapping out the roll-up backdoor for some swing doors. Independently, I researched how much these repairs should cost, and kept a spreadsheet of the maximum price I was willing to pay for each individual unit of truck work. The quote I got back was more than twice the cost of the entire truck, and then some ($21,600!). While the raw magnitude of the price tag was initially shocking to me, it actually wasn't outrageous given the laundry list of improvements I had asked for. I simply said no to each thing that was out of my budget and quickly crossed them off my wishlist. For the remaining, in-budget items, I gave them the proverbial green light. In the end, I ended up having the top radius and corner caps replaced, getting a new driver's side fender, and getting an inner door installed.

No More Leaks

Shiny new top radius and smooth, uninterrupted fiberglass.

By far the biggest problem I had with the truck was the leaks. Not "leaks" in the White House sense of the word, I don't think I have any truck secrets to hide. Rather, "leaks" as in, if I did nothing about it, I would wake up in a dank truck swamp after a rainy night. The increasingly obnoxious and unsightly hacks I had put in place to mitigate the issue weren't going to work forever, it was just a plain ole fact that I needed something more permanent. So I had the cracked, scratched, and dented fixings around the perimeter of the truck-top replaced, figuring that the damage there was causing the leaks. I also had all-new clearance lights installed in the front and back, for good measure.

The good news is that the truck-top was indeed the problem. The bad news is that there is still the slightest of leaks. Like, a multi-hour downpour last week only resulted in a few drops. I'm still on the fence as to whether or not I want to bring it back in and have it looked at, or if I should just throw marine sealant at it until it gives up.

Shiny New Headlight

Driver's side headlight, good as new.

I swear, that is an actual, real-life picture of my truck, though I hardly recognize it myself. The fender is all new, as is the headlight and the header panel assembly that everything slots into. You may (or may not) remember that it was damaged early on by some unexplained phenomenon.

Something I realized way after the fact: the headlight may have actually been dislodged earlier than I noticed, maybe even before I bought the truck. My tentative hypothesis is that it just got worse and more noticeable over time, the more I drove it. This is pretty believable because I'm extremely unobservant. And looking at some of my old, grainy, potato-quality photos I could find of the truck, it looks like the headlight may have already been knocked out of its mount. In any case, it's a 1,000% improvement: shiny, new, correctly attached, and forbidden from coming into contact with anything ever again.

Super Stealth Mode

My new gateway to and from Narnia.

This was probably the least practical piece of work I had done, but also my favorite. Ever since I first got the truck, I've always had to think very carefully about where I park it. I only had one entrance/exit, and it was a giant, gaping square void at the back of the truck. If I parked facing a busy area, it meant my comings and goings were laid bare for all to see, which is awkward when I need to grab something from The Box™ in the middle of the day when I'm out and/or about.

But "awkwardness" and "social stigma" aren't things I've historically been concerned about. Arguably more importantly, my singular door meant that I couldn't lock the back gate while I was in the truck, so anyone could come in…while I was sleeping (and at my most vulnerable). This was never actually an issue, except for one time, when my friends "broke in" at midnight on my birthday with beer and cheesecake. And if being force-fed Smirnoff in a hazy half-slumber is the worst thing to come out of my willy-nilly approach to security, I think I'm doing alright.

Cheesecake and beer aside, I eventually wised up and implemented a simple, somewhat secure solution, suggested to me by a few readers. The solution was this: Once the door is in a mostly-down position, clamp vice grips over each of the roll-up door tracks. This way, the rollers will get caught on the vice grips if someone attempted to open it. With enough force, someone could probably still open the door, but they'd make a real racket in the process. It might not be a coincidence that I started doing this right after some strange happenings in my neck of the woods asphalt.

But vice grips and surprise cheesecake are both things of the past, because one of the new truck improvements was an interior door leading from the driver's compartment into my pleasantly prismic pigsty. When I told the body shop I wanted an interior door installed, I was expecting a simple sliding door or something on a hinge. What I got was way more interesting, and hilariously over-engineered. As I understand it, they had this really nice roll-up door sitting around not doing anything, and they were like, "Yeah sure, that'll do". So they measured and cut and welded and eventually this functional Franken-door came into being. They didn't charge me for the door (which they said was worth $2,000+), so I certainly wasn't complaining.

I've been using the door for a few weeks now, and I have to say that I'm thoroughly enjoying it. It's taken some getting used to though; it must weigh nearly 50 pounds and doesn't have a conventional garage door torsion spring, so it's kind of unwieldy to work with. I've figured out an awkward little dance to close the door behind me when I get out in the morning, but there's still definitely room for improvement. The big benefits are that I can keep the back gate locked shut all the time, park in whatever orientation I damn well want, and come and go whenever I damn well please. Very liberating indeed.

What's the Damage?

Moving on, it's clear I had a good chunk of work done. And as it turns out, people and labor and truck parts and stuff don't come cheap. In total, the repairs cost me a healthy ~$3,800.

Brandon, that's an obscene amount of money! And in my humble opinion, you're an idiot.

It's definitely not a small sum of money, but hear me out: I know that I plan on selling the truck eventually, even if I don't know when. Since it's already fairly old (2006) and I don't drive it a lot, it's not going to depreciate much further, as long as I keep it in decent shape. Letting the wood rot from the leaks, or the headlight fall out completely wouldn't exactly be "keeping it in decent shape". Plus, since I plan on selling it as a super-secret-stealth-hardcore-camper-truck-type-thing, improvements like the interior door make a lot of sense. So the benefit is two-fold: I get to take advantage of all the improvements now, and they make the truck more valuable in the long run. But even if the repairs and improvements didn't add any value to the truck whatsoever, $3,800 isn't that expensive when you phrase it as "two months rent".

And another question, where did you stay when the repairs were being done? Did you just roam the streets?

First question: Alaska!

Second question: No.

A sunset along the Seward Highway, and the top of Mount Alyeska.

Both images were carefully selected to highlight how philosophical and mysterious I am.

In total, the truck spent like a week and a half in the body shop. Luckily, this happened to somewhat coincide with a trip my friends and I were taking to Alaska. So I drove the truck to the body shop, caught a ride 10 minutes to the airport, and off I went. When I got back from Alaska, I spent a few days at my non-truck-homed girlfriend's place.

Why the Ugly Truck?

Reading over the allegory of the Ugly Truckling, there's a question that naturally leaps to mind: why didn't I pick a more reasonable vehicle, like an RV, or even just one of the newer, nicer trucks?

I've touched on some of this in the past, but I didn't want an RV because I was worried that would be too comfortable and I would forget why I was even doing this in the first place: because the world outside my four walls is infinitely more interesting, and that's where I want to spend my time. I didn't pick a newer, shinier truck because I liked (and still like) the idea of a fixer-upper. I wanted to be able to rip apart the interior without worrying I was doing damage, and attempt little repairs on my own. Thus far, I think it's been a pretty solid learning opportunity.

I certainly had a few ulterior motives too. Older trucks are naturally cheaper, and like I mentioned above, they also leave less room to depreciate. Less logically, a silly anecdote from my childhood might explain why I gravitated to the Ugly Truckling:

When I was little, I spent a lot of time at my grandmother's house. She had this set of ceramic-handled silverware, and from looking at them, you could tell they'd been around since The War. Which war it was, nobody knew for sure. But anyway, a bunch of the spoons had chips in their ceramic handles, and I was always careful to avoid those ones. One day, my grandmother caught me carefully picking my spoon and asked me what I was doing. When I explained that some of the spoons were broken, this is what she said to me:


"Broken spoons need love too."


And it's stuck with me ever since.


*Partly because it was a sad excuse for an existence, and partly because trucks are inanimate objects and don't "live" in the way that humans and other animate organisms do.



Subscribe

If you want to get emailed when I write a post, add your email here. Don't worry, you can always unsubscribe.