Saturday, April 21, 2018


Reading that post title, many of my readers (maybe even all five of them at once) would wonder, "Why does she need a Lagun table?  She already made herself a custom computer table."
And what a beauty she is.  The blog post linked above describes how I repurposed all of Airstream's original hardware for this improved design. 
More accurately, I made a custom computer table top.  Which I am now free to deploy elsewhere in the van should it prove to suit my purpose.

And it might, because there is the infernal issue of the dismal ride quality in the rear of the Sprinter where this tricked-out table typically functions (for a tri-forum collection of ride-quality grousing, see discussion threads here and here and here, and I could go on with many more).  Try as I might, I have not been able to gain any "sea legs" to help me deal with the constant fish-tailing and pounding roughness of life on the road in our aft section.  Sitting back there usually makes me acutely ill inside of 30 minutes unless I spend my entire time staring out the window at the horizon to minimize inner-ear disruptions.  That approach, of course, would not be compatible with working on a computer.  

Ergo, if I want to be able to work when we are under way, and as a small business owner I very much want to do that, then I have exactly two choices:  Either find a way to retrofit rear air suspension to the van, or find another less-punishing place to work.

Air suspension is a pricey option - between $5,000 and $10,000, with the added complexity that out-of-the-box systems are no longer sold for the T1N Sprinter, which is now more than 10 years post-production.  Newer systems are not compatible because of chassis changes.  The one older system that has the potential to work is the Glide-Rite package sold out of the UK.  The problem there is that we would have to fabricate some of our own mounting hardware, as they no longer sell it.  That introduces a lot of work, and far more importantly, it introduces technical unknowns into the purchase decision.  What if we spent all that money and the installation proved to be more trouble than it was worth? (For instance, we never did confirm whether that system was retrofittable with our propane tank being located where it is). 

It dawned on me recently that there may be a workaround.  If I could find a way to work at the front of the van instead of at the back of the van, the issue of rear sway and roughness largely becomes moot.  

So I set about the process of experimenting with options in this regard.  My early efforts tended toward the conventional, and they proved to be unworkable.
For instance, I tried shrouding myself with a tent of light-gauge fabric in the passenger seat in order to cut the window glare well enough to see the computer screen, but this blocked the driver's line of sight to the curbside mirror.  That was plainly unacceptable.
And then I remembered -- we installed a seat swivel that we proceeded to hardly ever use.  What if I could work up front, but facing the rear insead?  
Remember Southwest Airlines' old lounge seating areas?  They were discontinued probably because they were unpopular - many people did not like the idea of flying backwards.  I was often the passenger who volunteered to sit in that row, because I did not give a flip which way my seat faced.
Image courtesy of  
Maybe that swivel seat could be used for a task more productive than map reading. 
The question then became -- if I were to use my computer table here, how would it be mounted?  

We really didn't like the idea of sinking two additional leg receivers into the floor at this location, right in the way of traffic.  They may be close to being flush with the floor surface, but those holes are a pain the ass, plus I find them unsightly.  
Nope.  I think it would require tapping into the chassis, which I absolutely do not want to do.
Image from this site.
I got the Lagun table idea from the forum poster known as GeorgeRa, whose self-built van is named Voila (see if this link to a photo album, and see also here and here).   The Lagun is sold by a company named Marine Teak.
Marine Teak's facility in the UK.  Notice that solar camper van near lower right.  Clearly, its presence was A Sign.
If you look at the installation pics that are available on those threads linked above, you will notice one regrettable design feature: the Lagun hardware has to be mounted substantially proud of any vertical surfaces that might otherwise interfere with the table's swivel function.
GeorgeRa's installation, with the table top and arm being in the stowed position.  Not too bad, but you can see that he extended his cabinet mount with what looks like a rectangular block of wood.
Another user's installation in a Travato, from the B Van thread linked above.  Holy frijoles - what is that huge block sticking out into the aisle of the van??  Both of my shins would get bruised to pieces if we had that in our rig!  (Head of the seated person chopped off for privacy, intending no disrespect). 
The reason why these bump-outs are necessary has to do with this:
The butt end of the horizontal hardware sticks out beyond the vertical support, especially when it's at a 45 degree angle.  Therefore, in order to have clearance to swivel to and fro, the receiver must extend outward, if this is to be mounted on a vertical surface such as the side of a galley cabinet.  
OK, so, this blocking issue is a necessary evil of the design, but lacking superior alternatives, I ordered the Lagun table support anyway.  Nothing is perfect.
It arrived from Merry Old England as an undisturbed bundle of joy.

However I was not impressed with the unwrapped quality of it. There were dings on both the horizontal structural member and this fastening piece.  There was no evidence to suggest that this happened during shipping.  It was packed up that way. 
If I have to concede the use of a mounting adapter, I at least want something a bit more elegant and a bit less bruising than some of the published variants.  So I fashioned an alternative with aspects of quality and appearance in mind.
Solid red oak, with a beveled edge.
But God forbid I should be able to purchase a single piece of oak thick enough for this job.  No - I had to get two and sandwich them as shown above.  This was the first of several successive First World miseries associated with this project.  I don't mind doing projects - in fact, I really enjoy projects.  What I do not enjoy is not being able to easily buy the basic feedstocks that I need for the projects.  

There she is, Miss America.  A woman's place is in the kitchen - baking parts that she fabricated in the garage.  That's the oak sandwich glued, cut, drilled out, and painted with Sherwin Williams oil-based enamel in "Iron Ore" color formulation, which matches our countertop.   
Here's the next pain in the ass where hardware was concerned.
The hardware included by Marine Teak was excellent quality stainless steel, but was not large enough to accommodate the adaptive fitting that many installers are obviously going to require for this project.
To make matters worse, in ordering this from Merry Old England, of course it came with metric hardware.  Metric stainless countersunk bolts, to be specific.  I might as well be seeking to buy a lock of hair that had been taken from Christ Himself.  
The problem with common retail stores that, upon downstepping from the OEM metric to its nearest English equivalent, which is a one-quarter inch bolt, I commensurately had to downstep to a three-inch long bolt.  Everything above three inches upstepped from four-sixteenths to five-sixteenths in diameter.  And five-sixteenths was too large for the bracket holes. 
The bolt length matters because of the backing plate that was delivered with the Lagun.  It was made of half-inch plywood so it was going to add considerable thickness to the overall fastener design.  Of course I could order the optimal hardware for this job off the internet, but if I did that every time I needed a specific item, it would be a month of Sundays before I got anything finished.  So typically what happens is that I make do with whatever crap can be located in big box stores.
I will show the half-inch OEM backing plate below.  Not being sure in the hardware store whether a 3-inch bolt would be long enough to extend through the whole kit and kaboodle, I brought home this piece of metal plate in case I had to use that instead of the plywood.  Some van owners, should they try to do this kind of installation, may have to substitute a thin metal plate as a backer, depending on where they are mounting the Lagun. 
But even the damned metal plate could not be sourced properly.
This is what Lowes hardware keeps in stock - quarter inch steel plate, and sixteenth inch steel plate. Nothing in between, absolutely no eighth-inch, which is what I (and every other hobbyist) really need.  
OK, enough howling about product availability.  Here are a few installation shots.  

This is what the OEM half-inch plywood backer looked like once I painted it and trimmed it sufficiently to fit in our space.
This is the view inside the cabinetry.  The installation kit did not come with the fender washers.  We added those.
In order to achieve an optimal height for the bracket mount, we had to bump down the location of the propane detector.  Here you see my husband Dremeling out that space.  And also you can see the bracket mount which looks like a finished piece that belongs there, I think.  I didn't want a squared-off design like the others I showed above because someone coming through the sliding door would hook something on the edge of it, a piece of luggage or whatever.  A sloped design like this is better, I think. Any items bumping up against it would tend to slide by rather than hook.  
And a few money shots of the installation:
You know a project was successful when you sit in the midst of it and you don't want to get back up again.
If you look at that pic above you'll notice something curious.  I've used one of the OEM pedestal legs as an additional support on the right side.  Most of the time, I don't think this will be necessary, but if we are pounding across really rough roads, I will probably slip this leg in there just for extra support, so as not to put too much stress on the Lagun.

Most importantly, the table does not impinge upon the dog's space.
View from the side.  Yes, I know I need a foot rest.  The swivel mechanism has the effect of raising the seat.  
In order to get up without removing the table, I just push it away, and then swivel it to the side.
I get a great view from this location, too.  And I get my dog's full attention when the dinner hour approaches.
The ratchet handles will bump the edge of the cabinet, preventing a full 180 degree travel distance.  But there is a workaround for that - simply flip the horizontal support over, placing the handle on the other side, and then swivel.  By this method, the table can be rotated left instead of right, including part way out the sliding door.  I can see this being convenient for BBQing and whatnot.   
And how do I store this lofty apparatus when it is not in use?
Same thing I did with the original table top - hang it on the outside of the wet bath door. 
If you look carefully at that image above, you'll notice that the Lagun base does not line up perfectly with the perforated aluminum sheet.  That's because the sheet is made to English measurements and the Lagun is, once again, metric.  I will need to add about two holes in the table base so that I can better align the tiny nuts and bolts that hold it to the aluminum sheet, but I want to do some road testing before deciding on the exact final position for the base, so for the moment, I'm holding off on that part.

Like I always say, our van keeps getting bigger and bigger.  I just doubled both my working options and my comfort level, because now I can sit in a full captain's chair instead of perching on the couch to do computer work.

Stay tuned for my road testing notes.
No, actually, I don't.  The office on wheels that I have is constantly on the improve.  
UPDATE 20180427 I'm pleased with the initial road testing I've done, with one caveat.  Working at the front of the van means the same thing as working anywhere else - office and computer clutter that needs to be controlled.  Here's a photo showing some of the organizational features I've added so far - a Container Store magnetic bulletin board with two magnetic mesh baskets, plus a wall pocket cut down to fit the left / front side of the galley cabinetry.

UPDATE 20180510:  Those sharp corners were proving to be a pain now that the table is mobile and swiveling, so they were trimmed and the edge re-bound as follows, which I expect will furnish a significant ergonomic improvement:

Sunday, April 1, 2018


This post is a one-off published in the hopes that someone will raise a hand and tell me what I'm doing wrong, resource-wise and procedure-wise.
It wasn't working for us:
That white object extending upward from the rear of the vehicle is a Wilson Yagi directional antenna pointed toward a known (i.e., location-published) cellular source and cabled into the market's best booster which ultimately received absolutely nothing in the way of usable signal from this exercise and investment. 
After re-reading a couple of cellular troubleshooting forum threads, including this one in which the merits of this directional antenna are debated, my husband and I decided to get down to brass tacks and see if we could begin constraining the question with some actual computations, just as a first measure.

We know that cellular transmission functions largely according to line of sight principles.  There are some diffraction and reflection and other effects incorporated into the mix, but line of sight is the best bet, particularly as distances from the tower increase.

Tower details are public information and are published in both the United States and Canada.  The same is true of topography.  Theoretically, then, it should be a simple matter to determine a priori whether line of sight exists at any given location.  And here's the endgame:  If line of sight does not exist, how tall would a user's antenna mast need to be in order to achieve it? 

I'm primarily interested in determining these facts with precision within the context of a property that we own in rural eastern Canada.  However, for various reasons I will omit for brevity, that is a more complex determination, so I thought I would start off with a simple example where I've experienced cellular signal failure - Monahans Sandhills State Park in Texas.
It's a unique environment where the unprecedented small-scale topographic features play hell with connectivity.  This is an aerial photo of the camping loop where I stayed.  
I'd like to coin a new term:  Cell-bogged.  
The Sandhills are particularly frustrating place to to get cell-bogged because we know that so many towers are nearby, both in the City of Monahans to the west and throughout the Midland-Odessa metro area to the east.
Good grief.  Starving in the midst of plenty.
Screengrabbed from 
So here's the basic procedure for making this determination.

You can see on the map above that there is one tower north of Monahans that is due west of the state park's campground.  I chose that one upon which to base this analysis.  Here are the stats on that tower according to Antennasearch.

This is where Hillmap comes in.  This blog post by the site's creators describes how to use Hillmap, but I didn't find any reference to the source data, and that's important, as we shall see below.

Here's a close-up of that tower's location on Antennasearch.

And here's the same close-up on Hillmap.
The blue line is tracing eastward toward the camp site.
For those of you not familiar with Texas, all those squares are drill sites.  This area is within the Permian Basin, an incredibly productive oil and gas reservoir.  
You can see from those two images above that I'm clearly assessing the same feature via Hillmap as I'm viewing on Antennasearch.

Now, here's a summary of the resulting topographic profile between this particular tower and the referenced camp site (map and resulting topographic profile produced by Hillmap, as annotated by me):

Tap this image to expand for clarity. 
Obviously we have major database problems here.  Just for starters, the two websites are in significant disagreement regarding the elevation of the land surface upon which the referenced tower was constructed.  That part of it should not be rocket science, but I can't determine the source of the discrepancy from the information that is readily available.  I will note that the tower in question was reportedly constructed in 1992.  That predated the commercial availability of high-quality GPS services, and maybe the available elevation data were much poorer back then - I don't know.

Hillmap was designed primarily as a backcountry hiking reference.  High degrees of accuracy are not necessarily needed for the fulfillment of their mission.  Again, I didn't find a statement regarding the source of their baseline elevation data.

I do realize that I've predicated this assessment on one tower that I wasn't able to confirm in the field as my actual source tower.  There are other factors that can influence line of sight, such as, the position on the tower of the cellular equipment.  The higher up a tower, the more expensive the placement.  Just because a tower is stated as 2,972 feet tall does not mean that the equipment itself has been placed on or near that height.  My carrier is the cellular giant Verizon, though, and I would expect their equipment to be commanding premium spots on towers.

Lastly, it's important to incorporate ground truth into any assessment such as this.  The ground truth in this case suggests that there is not necessarily sufficient resolution in the Hillmap database to accurately reflect fine-scale reality.  Here's a view to the west with my rig visible at intermediate range - in other words, looking generally in the direction of the referenced tower.  The highly-localized topography suggests that the rig may indeed fail where line of sight is concerned - there's a large sand hill to the west of it.
The camp sites are at the bottom of a sandy bowl. 
I picked this location for this blog analysis because the distinction between cell-bogged and cell-enabled was so clear.  All I needed to do to get good reception was trudge up to the top of the sand dune from which this photo was taken.  At that point, I was clearly line-of-sight.

In sooth, we need better data than what I've shown here if we are to do this type of analysis with accuracy sufficient to justify purchase decisions (which antenna, which mast, etc.).  If anyone has any source material suggestions or procedures that are superior to what I've presented here, please email me via -at- gmail. Thanks, and I will update this post in the future if I identify better evaluation methods.
My non-sand-bogged pooch enjoying the Monahans dunes at sunset.