Testing at Burning Man

No pictures for this post. I actually didn’t take any pictures for the entire two weeks of my adventure. Sorry about that. I usually take at least a few pictures, but I was really engaged at the festival and I didn’t feel like carrying and electronics.

On the way out of Bozeman in a local Ace Hardware store I found a large enough hard-plastic wading pool to fit the shower base into to prevent leaking grey water on the playa. I tossed that on top of my pile of stuff in the cargo trailer and headed south.

I arrived at Funkytown (10&C) on Sunday and got my new Shift-Pod set up before dark so I had somewhere to sleep right away. On Monday morning I started setting up the shower. First I set down the wading pool, then I set the base in it and screwed in the braces for the PVC poles and the shower head mount. Next I clamped the hoses where they went and connected power.

It worked! Water ran for about 1.5 seconds, then it stopped. It had flowed, then very quickly it became a trickle, then drips. The ultra-fine nature of the playa clogged the silvered-ceramic filter right away. I took a moment to be sad about that then opened the filter canisters to remove the ceramic filter from the set and add another sand filter stage using the extra materials i brought with me.

The removal of the ceramic filter allowed water to flow, but it did mean that the filtered water was muddier than i was hoping for. Once I accepted that, though, I was ready to jump in. It was great! I used biodegradable camp soap and showered 5 times over the next several days. The particles in the water were remained very fine and the charcoal did a great job of eliminating odors.

Over the course of the week at the festival there were four other campmates that were willing to try it out and they all gave positive reviews! The first volunteers to use the shower both had long hair. There reviews of the shower focused on the utility of the high flow rate over time to really soak and clean their hair. They used traditional shampoo and conditioners, though, and after they were done the smell of the products they used were strong in the water.

I hypothesize that their chosen hygiene products contain a lot of compounds that saturated the sand and carbon filters. I had more charcoal on hand so I took the filters apart, washed the sand a bit and replaced the charcoal. There was still a bit of peppermint odor for another day or two, but it did eventually fade.

In conversation with a filtration expert in camp it was concluded that the sand filter is definitely where a lot of the filtration magic was happening, but that we should restrict the soap used to biodegradable products. To improve the effectiveness of the sand stage of the filtration, we guess that it needs to be bigger with higher ‘residence time.’ This means the water should spend more time in the sand filter before entering the next filter stage.

The plan, if I continue with this project, is to increase the volume of the sand stage dramatically. What I have in mind is a set of 4″ diameter PVC sewer pipe filled with sand and plumbed in parallel. This should reduce the velocity of water through the stage while maintaining the high flow rate.

Additionally, the free-hanging curtains only allow for a comfortable experience when the wind is very still. Any breeze causes the curtains to press up against a body in the shower; this is not pleasant. More rigid walls will be needed with some tie-down pins to anchor the structure in case of strong winds.

Overall, in spite of the ceramic filter being less than useless, I’d say the recycling shower for Burnin Man was a success. I’m pretty confident the project will continue to mature for next years event.

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Putting it together

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Final test assembly is working out!

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Time to pack it up and taking to Burning Man!

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Water heater stand

The water heater burns propane, so it needs to have some space between it and the vinyl shower curtains. A simple wooden stand with a screw to hand the heater from should do the trick.2017-08-22 18.04.39.jpg

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Fixing leaks

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With the new pump housing installed and a simpler PVC fitting used on it’s output, It’s time to test the plumbing for leaks.

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Success! The flow is very low because of the high resistance of the ceramic filter, but the Niagra showerhead makes a great spray. I’m not sure if that head will be used in the completed showere, though, because the on-demand water heater comes with it’s own head that may work well enough.

With the total flow proven to be a useable spray, it’s time to work on mounting the plumbing into the shower base. Unfortunately, while the barbs and tubing are convienient for development, they take up a lot of room and spread the filters apart so far that they won’t fit in the space they need to. The plan is to use short, straight PVC fittings that will bring the housings closer together but will also make the filter assembly more rigid. I’ll need to get the housings mounted to their metal brackets quickly or risk breaking things!

PVC fittings are not as nice to work with as nylon. To prevent leaks teflon tape is used.2017-08-17 15.41.07.jpg

With tape on all three PVC pieces, the filter heads all screwed into each other.

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This seemed like a good time to mark out where the brackets should be screwed on tot he mounting board. I was wrong though, because I should have tested for leaks first. Turns out I had another turn to go on all three fittings which changed the width of the assembly (and thus the position of all the wholes (facepalm).

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Looks good, but leaks.

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The problems were two-fold: Not enough teflon and not tight enough. Had to take it apart and really go to town with the teflon tape. I had only 1x wrap with just enough overlap of the tape that it held together as i put the part together. After reading a guide on dealing with PVC leaks, i chose 5x wraps.

2017-08-17 18.12.13.jpgThat did the trick. No more leaks! The new assembly will need new holes for the mounting brackets, but the days work was done. I’ll get those cartridges mounted another day.

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55 psi is lot!

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This pump is really doing a great job, but the pressure is more than my jiggered fittings can take. I thought I was about to win, but then I over-tightened the valve fitting… again.

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I’ll need a whole new upper assembly for the pump. $25 on Amazon and the part is on it’s way.

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Building the stand

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The stand is built! I’m not ready to cut the drain hole in it. I’m still not sure how to connect the tray drain to a pipe that goes down into the grey reservoir…

Next up for the stall is the walls. I’m thinking some kind of board-slat arrangement.

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Assembling the plumbing

Flow test for on the the filters was going ok, then I overtightened a fitting onto the pump and broke the plastic. It’s clamped with some JB Weld and some wishful thinking. I’ll have a better idea of the flow in gallons per minute (GPM) when that’s fixed. The pump produces a lot of pressure, but the 4 filters make a lot of resistance. The ceramic filter, especially. It won’t be a gushing flow but it should be enough to do the job!2017-07-29 16.20.42.jpg

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Filters have arrived!

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The three canisters for the canister filters arrived, alone with the filters and the activated carbon media, UV sterilization lamp, and the DC powered water pump.

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Building a Shower

As I approach another Burning Man adventure I have dug into a project I’ve been thinking about for years: a recycling shower. The idea is simple, use a pump to push drain water up through a filter so a body can spend a long time in the shower without actually using any of the precious resource. There are a few projects out there that show it can be done.

Water filtration is no small field, it turns. There are materials to dionize water, membranes for reverse osmosis, sand filters, ceramic filters, and filters with silver impregnation. There’s chemical and UV sterilization and of course all the plumbing and fittings to put a system together.

After reading and watching videos to build some confidence I started sketching up a drawing (using the formidable draw.io app) of what i think I need in terms of filters.

My goal is to bath at least a dozen people per day for a week without having to change any filters. I would like the water to be safe enough to drink if I can manage that, but since this isn’t intended to produce drinking water there is room to fail in that respect. With that in mind I settled on the following filter scheme:


The pre-filter will be for course materials (like hair) and be quick to clean if need be. Sand filters are also cheap and effective at removing debris. To conserve space and materials I’ve chosen to try a combination sand filter and water reservoir. The bottom couple of inches of a sand filled reservoir should help extend the life of the canister filters. Using an RV water pump, water is pulled from the bottom of the sandy reservoir and pushed up through a series of three canister filters. The sand filter is expected to be biologically active. If understand it correctly, the ecology in the sand contributes to the cleansing properties of the filter. I am very curious about this.

The first canister filter is activated carbon using bulk carbon and reusable carbon filter casing. This filter will act to remove dissolved components of the water. There is plenty of literature about activated carbon. Apparently brushing your teeth with it will give you whiter teeth. It’s certainly a good idea to filter your water with it!

The canister second filter will be a cheap 1 micron blown polypropylene filter to catch  the bulk of the suspended material that escaped the previous filters. It’s job is to be cheap to replace while extending the life of the last filter.

The third canister filter is a silvered ceramic filter. Ceramic filters do an excellent job of filtering water, but the addition of silver adds an anti-microbial component (much needed in this hygiene oriented project). This filter can be cleaned several times over the course of it’s life, but the filter material will eventually abrade away after many cleanings.

Following the filters is a UV sterilizing step. This component targets the tiniest of surviving biological material. Most likely viruses, these are the tiniest life forms. The UV light destroys the DNA of these things to render them harmless.

With these components I expect to produce clean, clear water from gross shower water for days and days!

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Device Lifestyle: Camera Phone Watch

Lemfo® S8 Dual Core 512M 4GB MTK6572 1.2GHZ Android 4.4 Smart Watch
Pebble Watch (Cherry Red), Kickstarter Edition
I wanted a Dick Tracy watch. In the colorful world of of the famous detective getting a telephone call on your wrist was part of an ordinary day. Today it’s the future, and I can get a call on my wrist, too.
When cell phones met the main stream, I was obstinate and refused to carry around a PDA (Personal Digital Assistance for age challenged readers out there) as well as a cell phone. That was too many gadgets in my pockets. Turns out i don’t like things in my pockets. If they are in my back pockets I sit on them all the time. If they are in my front pockets, they fall out when I’m sitting. Pockets just aren’t compatible with sitting. My first cell phone was the Kyocera 6035 smartphone. It wasn’t the world’s first smartphone, but it was my first cellphone. I still keep it in it’s original box.

I was an original Kickstarter backer of the Pebble watch, which in my opinion was responsible for kick-starting the entire smart-watch industry. Those Pebble guys knew what they were doing, and did it well. I used to wear a Casio calculator watch, but when I started carrying a PDA it was nice to leave that behind. The Pebble is a piece of technology that made me want to wear a watch, again. Reading texts on my wrists on an E-Ink display and rejecting phone calls without getting my phone out (handy during office meetings) are fantastic features.Pebble made the wrist-watch cool again, but they go far enough? Enter: the Hong Kong cellular phone wrist watch industry. Always quick to chase after a market, the Chinese have been busy. The selection of wearable phones is daunting. It is also, in a word: ugly. The devices with a 2″ screen (240x320px) are tiny Android bricks with wrist straps. The other class of of wearable phone is the 1.5″ screen (240x240px). It is a square form factor, and the variety of features and aesthetics seems endless.

I settled on the Lemfo S8 because it was both the least ugly and the most featured. It supports SIM cards for both CDMA and GSM networks, runs Android 4.4, and has 2 compute cores. Android 4.4 allows users to switch to the new ART (Android Runtime) which is much faster than ; I enabled this before I ran AnTuTu Benchmarch, and it scored about 10k. For perspective, the Motorola Droid RAZR from a few years back scored about 13k. A Samsung S3 Note scores closer to 60k. So for a teeny tiny phone, the Lemfo scores pretty well.

In terms of computational power, it dwarfs the Pebble by orders of magnitude. The Lemfo can handle email, SMS messaging, navigate maps, record and play back video, etc, etc. The Pebble can vibrate when your phone receives a message, and maybe play a game of snakes.
After spending several weeks analyzing the available options among wearable phones, I chose what was in my opinion the only watch that would not be a behemosoaurus strapped to my arm. As a proud nerd I am willing to tolerate a certain level monstrosity but only the Lemfo was sufficiently aesthetic to risk my money on. It shipped by boat from China, and arrived on schedule.
When the Pebble Kickstarter launched, it soaked up 100x the response they were hoping for. It was the biggest Kickstarter campaign ever, at the time, and the news stories about it drew me in, got me excited, and I threw my money into the mix. It was so popular that the creators balked at their original schedule and decided to spend their pile of cash in less of a hurry. The features and assembly decisions led to a 13 month time to deliver, rather than the 6 months they were intending on before their campaign was so successful.
Allow me to summarize these devices. One watch is a dual core computer with cellular data access, a camera, and a touch screen. It can stream Bluetooth stereo audio and play movies. It’s battery can last a day on your wrist, and to save power the screen turns off. This turns out to be a big deal. When you want to know what time it is, you have to push a button and wait a better part of a second for the screen to light up. It may not seem like a long time, but staring at your watch that long can communicate unintended messages to your peers in an office meeting.
The other watch is barely even ‘smart.’ It has a Bluetooth connection to your phone and can display data that you would otherwise need to reach into your pocket to get to. It doesn’t take pictures, it doesn’t play games. It doesn’t have a touchscreen, but it is E-Ink, which doesn’t need to be ‘turned off.’ When you want to know what time it is (because hey, you’re wearing a watch) you glance at your wrist. It’s battery lasts between 5 to 7 days, depending on usage, the face is easy to read in bright light, and there is a motion sensor that lets you shake your wrist to enable the back light. It is simple and easy.
When the Lemfo came in the mail I was excited to experience mobile data on my wrist. I can tell you now, the novelty is real, but it wears off very quickly. Where the Pebble became a part of my life, I find myself looking for a situation where it is a better solution than pocket phone.
After my first smartphone, a frequent question I would have was ‘is it good at being a phone?’ I had a Windows phone that did lots of neat tricks, but being a phone was almost an afterthought. My Treo 650 is still my favorite smartphone of all time. It was an excellent phone first, and a fancy computer second. The Pebble is an excellent watch first and a fancy gadget second. The Lemfo is a fancy gadget that is also a watch. I guess this means my phone will still be falling out of my pocket when I sit down.
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