Organic Design (blog)

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The tarantula in the well

Posted by Nad on 30 de outubro de 2015 at 15h21min
This post has the following tags: Our third year on the land
I was just doing my emails today when I noticed a movement in the corner of my eye, I thought it would probably just be our flatmate Fattie collecting stuff for his new apartment, but it wasn't - it was a huge tarantula! It came from under the house and made its way over to the edge of the vegie patch. She's about 25cm long with her legs stretched out! I got a photo and then went back to my email. Then a couple of hours later it was time to get some water from the well, so I lifted the lid off, and guess who's sitting in there! We carried on collecting out water keeping a close eye on her (actually I don't think they're poisonous or anything), but then she decided it was too much activity for her and she left for the swamp :-)
Tarantula in well.jpg
Tarantula leaving well.jpg

The super-hail is coming!!!

Posted by Nad on 16 de outubro de 2015 at 09h21min
This post has the following tags: Our third year on the land
Giant hail.jpg
What a week it's been! Beth had booked to do two courses at Arca Verde which is an alternative community just out of São Francisco de Paula. One course is about agro-forestry (more commonly known as "food forests" in the west) and the other is a clown course which is all about how to be yourself and find fun in simple things.

Two days before she was due to leave (cycling 50km with a heavy load) the weather turned bad - really bad! It kept pouring and pouring until the river was only a few metres away from our house. The night before we decided to go together to the hill to call our friend Vladimir in Barragem do Salto (the dam) to see if it was passable - we had to wade through a hundred metres of waste deep water to get out of our island to the hill first. Vladimir said the dam was definitely NOT passable, but that he had a boat and could give her a ride to the other side! So we decided not to let the rain beat her and to confront the rain and mud and go for it!

Luckily the next morning the rain was lighter, the river had receded and the path out through the forest was only a foot deep, so the bike could be wheeled out with the panniers all attached and ready. Then more good luck! Beth emailed a few hours after she'd left and said that Maneco (one of the locals) had passed by and gave her a ride with her bike in the back of the car - he took her to Canela and then she got the bus to São Francisco with the bike on board. So in the end she only needed to ride less than 10km from São Francisco to Arca Verde :-)

Beth said that the Agro-forestry course went really well and that she'd learned a huge amount and that the people there were really like-minded, always talking about things we're really interested in such as alternative currencies and alternative power etc. We've actually been there before when Mum and Dad came over for their holiday, but we didn't get much chance to get to know anyone then.

Then after the first course finished disaster struck! An intense storm rolled in with super-hail as big as eggs which badly damaged their roof causing water to pour in and soak every thing. The only reason they didn't cancel the course was because they needed the income from it to pay to fix the damaged roof! But last I heard they had all worked together and got tarps covering the roof and were drying everything out.

We had a hail storm the night before Beth left which was about the size of marbles with a few gob-stoppers thrown in. I was certain the solar panels would be completely smashed, but amazingly when I went up to check in the morning they were all fine! But we have to think of some way to protect the roof and panels from the super-hail, because apparently it's going to get worse and more frequent for the next few months due to el-nino :-(

Gold Bug is real!

Posted by Nad on 23 de setembro de 2015 at 08h38min
This post has the following tags: Our third year on the land
When Pete and me were kids we loved the Richard Scarry picture books such as Cars and Trucks and Things That Go. One of the common features was that may pages would have a tiny gold bug character hiding somewhere such as in the first picture on the below. He's still around these days and even stars in his own book!

We always thought that he was just an imaginary character but yesterday I found that he's real! And he followed Beth and I here to Brazil and has been hiding for four years! He would have stayed hidden too, but he must have slipped and fallen because I found him in the bowl of water in the bathroom :-( Fortunately he was ok and I scooped him out and put him on a piece of wood to dry out. Now he's gone into hiding again :-)

Gold Bug hiding.jpg

Server OS upgraded from Debian 7.4 to 8.2

Posted by Nad on 9 de setembro de 2015 at 12h02min
This post has the following tags: Server
Debian 8 has been the stable version since April, but I only just got round to upgrading the server today. Even then the main motivation was because of a sudden huge increase in spam which turned out to be due to two things. First we were being blocked from using the domain black-lists, and second because our version of Debian was using version 3.3.2 of [SpamAssassin], but it needs to use at least version 3.4 to make full use of the domain black-lists. Here's an example X-Spam email header showing that we're being blocked:
X-Spam-Status: No, score=-1.4 required=5.0 tests=BAYES_00,HTML_IMAGE_ONLY_32,
	autolearn=ham version=3.3.2

The first problem was happening because the black-list services run over DNS, but they will block requests from DNS servers that use their free services too much. We were using our server host's DNS servers which were being blocked because they relay requests to the black-lists from thousands of their clients, but they don't pay for the black-list services. This issue is easily fixed though, we simply needed to set up our own caching DNS server so that when SpamAssassin requests information form the black-lists they're going through our own server that makes only a minimal amount of requests. See Configure mail server for more details.

The best way to fix the second problem was to upgrade the OS because Debian 8 uses SpamAssassin version 3.4.0 which is modern enough to properly support the black lists. Here's an example of what the X-Spam headers are looking like now :-)

X-Spam-Status: Yes, score=11.0 required=5.0 tests=ADVANCE_FEE_2_NEW_MONEY,
	URIBL_WS_SURBL autolearn=no autolearn_force=no version=3.4.0

Another thing that's much more up to date in the new Debian version is our web-server, Nginx. This was only on version 1.2 before but now has gone all the way up to 1.6! This is good news because versions prior to 1.3 had no support for WebSockets, so now our page comments no longer need to use Ajax-polling which is very unresponsive and wasteful.

Vege patch starting to look a bit better :-)

Posted by Nad on 4 de setembro de 2015 at 13h05min
This post has the following tags: Our third year on the land
Wow it's been a long time with no blogging! We were mainly focussing on our meditation practice, but then did our three monthly trip to Caxias to do our shopping which always takes a lot of both mental and physical energy out of us, and takes a few weeks to recover from and get back into our meditative state again. But nothing much has really happened that's worth post a blog item about, except that the vege patch has recently start looking a lot better, here's some pictures of it as of September 2015 :-)
Vege patch Sep2015a.jpg
Vege patch Sep2015b.jpg

Our flattie Fattie

Posted by Nad on 28 de junho de 2015 at 08h41min
This post has the following tags: Our third year on the land
Our flatmate Fattie.jpg
Fattie's got a nest somewhere under the south extension and wakes up about the same time as us making a lot of noise. He's very curious about yoga and meditation and he usually hangs round with us under the north extension when we do our practices. One time he even came down and sat on Beth's shoulder :-) Most days he goes off to work and comes back in the evening making a lot of noise to say good night. He often comes home briefly at lunch time as well, his main diet is bugs that he finds around the house. We think he's a Corruíra (Troglodytes Musculus), this is a better picture copied from the Brazilian Wikipedia.

Antenna 2.0

Posted by Nad on 10 de junho de 2015 at 06h12min
This post has the following tags: Our third year on the land
Well here it is, the long-awaited Antenna 2.0 blog post!

Our net's been getting worse and worse over the last year, not only slower, but also we have a long delay before connecting - sometimes more than an hour! And so I thought that a bigger antenna may help by enabling us to use 3G instead of 2G. Even though the problem is mainly with our provider, Vivo, because we often a perfect 5-bar 2G signal, but still have a very slow connection, we figure that a bad 3G connection will be a lot better than a bad 2G connection!

So the first step was to get the metal, thick copper tubing for the boom and thin copper for the wave-guides. Our friend Eduardo happened to have a load of six metre copper tubes - he builds apartments and has a huge "hardware store" below one of them where he keeps all the left overs and spare parts, there's rows of shelves full of pipes and cables and even areas with dozens of porcelain sinks and toilets! The new antenna is three meters, but unfortunately we needed to get it in two pieces to fit on the bus and in our little hire car. He didn't quite have thick enough single-core copper cable for the wave guides, so we went to a metal scrap yard for that and picked up ten metres of uninsulated 3mm diameter copper wire.

The first part of the construction job was to join the pipe back into a single three meter length. Unfortunately I still haven't bought an acetylene tank for my gas welding kit, so I had to make do with soldering instead of brazing. I cut the ends as shown below to increase the join length and filed the ends at an angle (not shown in the photo) so the solder would still be strong after filing the pipe smooth, and I also positioned the join exactly where a wave-guide would sit to further increase strength...

Antenna pipe join tinned.jpg
Antenna pipe join with director.jpg

...but all to no avail, the solder was just too weak to support the weight of such a long length. So I figured that the best way would be to have a section of slightly smaller diameter pipe that fitted inside the main pipe that would support the join from the inside and stop it from bending. But there's no way we'd be making a dedicated trip to the city and searching round for days for a piece of tube just the right size in the near future, so I figured that the project would have to be put on the back burner for a while.

But then a stroke of luck hit, one morning I opened the door, and there was the umbrella which had fallen on the ground and broken into three parts somehow - and you'd never believe it, but the tube that had somehow broken was exactly the right size to use for the antenna join! I quickly fixed the umbrella with a piece of wood as I sensed some rolling pin activity on the brew :-/

Antenna and umbrella 1.jpg
Antenna and umbrella 2.jpg
Antenna pipe join.jpg

So the next step was to drill the holes for all the wave guides. I needed to ensure that they were all on exactly the same plane without twisting so I clamped the pipe firmly onto a straight piece of wood and made a guide that would ensure that all the holes were in exactly the same position on the pipe.

Antenna pipe ready for drilling.jpg
Antenna pipe drill guide.jpg

Then next I filed and tinned the holes and soldered the wave guides in. I actually found that soldering them by holding the joins over the gas oven element was easier than the soldering iron because the pipe sucks all the heat away - again brazing them would be by far the easiest and strongest solution. I made sure the metal I soldered in for the wave guides was a few millimetres too long so that I could cut and file them perfectly to length afterwards.

Antenna pipe tinned hole.jpg
Antenna assistants helping.jpg
Antenna cutting directors.jpg

The most difficult part to get exactly the right size and shape is the folded dipole, the bit that the cable joins to. But after a couple of attempts I made one that was accurate to about half a millimetre. I attached it to the boom in a piece of PVC pipe as shown below.

Antenna folded dipole 2.jpg

And then the final steps, painting it and putting it up on the hill! Beth's much better at painting than me so she took care of this part :-)

Antenna painted by Beth.jpg
Antenna 2.0 completed.jpg

And so what was the final result?!

Well.... kind of mixed results really... it can only get a two bar 2G signal whereas the small one gets a full five bar signal. It picks up a zero or one bar 3G signal which is about the same as the small one, but the 3G connection seems to consistently work, whereas the small antenna's 3G connection is very intermittent. More testing is needed, and there's a few tweaks that can be made to improve performance, but overall the results are rather disappointing :-(

Update: Well I've spent a few days reading, talking to radio engineer friends and doing some adjustments and the result, while not awesome, looks like it has at least achieved the goal of getting us into consistent 3G. First I replaced the metal bolt that was used to mount the folded dipole with plastic, then I mounted the whole thing onto a large PVC pipe so that the antenna can be held very straight since it was bending under it's own weight when not supported.

Antenna 2.0 installed 1.jpg
Antenna 2.0 installed 2.jpg
Antenna 2.0 installed 3.jpg

We've had some very rainy days and misty mornings and our 3G connection has continued to function throughout it all which the small antenna could never have done, so although it's unable to get a decent 2G signal, it's definitely performing more consistently on 3G, and that's the most important thing. We seem to be getting between 500 kilobits and one megabit most of the time, which means we should be able to do voice and maybe even video now :-)

Kitchen gets real

Posted by Nad on 22 de maio de 2015 at 15h20min
This post has the following tags: Our third year on the land
On out last visit to Caxias and Canela, Beth decided it was finally time to bite the bullet and get a proper oven! our little blue camping over has been with us right from the start and done a really good job, but Beth felt it was time to move on. We arrived back at the land about a week ago, but just got round to installing the new oven today, and now our place looks like a real kitchen! This is our third kitchen renovation since we started living here on the land :-)
Cooking on the fire.jpg
Proper oven.jpg

Giant kumara!

Posted by Nad on 20 de maio de 2015 at 09h57min
This post has the following tags: Our third year on the land
We thought the Kumara looked pretty big and healthy as you can see from the photos of the leaves a few posts back, but we couldn't see any actual kumaras. Our neighbour Ziza told us that after the leaves turn black when it starts getting cold that's the time to harvest the kumaras, and we should see their tops poking out of the ground. But when the leaves turned black we couldn't see any! We dug around a little, but to no avail.

Then later Beth was clearing up one of the garden beds ready to plant some more things, when she suddenly came across a giant kumara! We searched around for more but could only find a few tiny ones. It looks like all the healthy leaves and vines spread everywhere were all supporting this one giant vegetable! Even though there was only one, the fact that it's so big and healthy is another really good indication that the soil's getting much better.

Beth dug it up and I grated it and then we fried it with an onion and ate it. It was really nice and was more than enough for two - in fact we didn't need anything else for dinner that night :-)

Giant kumara 1.jpg
Giant kumara 2.jpg

New loft ladder

Posted by Nad on 10 de maio de 2015 at 15h44min
This post has the following tags: Our third year on the land
Loft ladder breaking.jpg + Rolling pin.jpg = Aluminium loft ladder 3.jpg

Yep that's right, our nice looking loft ladder wasn't all it was cracked up to be, and a step broke on it almost leading to an accident :-(

Beth's been really scared going up and down it, especially when tired in the middle of the night and the mornings, and after a few weeks of procrastinating, the rolling pin finally came out! So I quickly got some aluminium tube (thanks Eduardo!), adjusted the size of the holes in the wood to fit it and replaced all the dowel.

Another problem that had begun and could have lead to trouble was that some of the screws holding the steps tight were getting loose and allowing them to spin when stepping on them. So I've accounted for that problem with the new aluminium steps as well:

Aluminium loft ladder 1.jpg
Aluminium loft ladder 2.jpg

To hold the hole thing together, there's a long threaded-rod through every third tube bolted on each side.