Thursday, December 29, 2011

Living in Yurts.

Yurts were definitely not my first choice for shelter when I contemplated where we would live when we first arrived on our land. Discussions between my wife and I began quite some time before we had purchased any property - when she first asked me about where we would be living while I built a home, my initial thought was a large garden shed - indeed! I suppose in my mind's eye I could see myself stoking a tiny fireplace and sleeping on a cot, but then, the reality of having a wife and young son underfoot in even the largest shed (cabin?) quickly supplanted the romance of such a tiny space.

When my wife suggested "what about a yurt?" - I was internally hostile - visions of hippies and "new age" type people sprang to mind. I tried to be externally diplomatic and open though, which, in hindsight, is a useful attitude to take for such things. It allowed me to be able to take in more information, while not immediately dismissing something I didn't know much about.

As I learned more, it did make more sense. A yurt requires only the floor to be constructed, which would have been the case with my shed idea anyway. The yurt can be erected reasonably quickly, and is long-lived, if minimal care is taken.

With a little bit of coaxing, we took a family field trip to visit someone who actually was living in a yurt - David Masters of Lunatic Adventures and The Luna Project.  It was a really excellent experience, and subsequently, we have met David in other venues, and are always impressed with his enthusiasm and sincerity.

Once we had purchased our property though, it was time to really get serious about deciding upon our needs.  David recommended highly Pacific Yurts.  We tried to do our "due diligence" though, and also looked at yurtco.comgroovy yurts (interesting because they actually import genuine yurts from Mongolia), and yourte.ca.  

In the end though, we settled on yurta.ca - While the size of their yurt was worryingly small for us to contemplate (17' in diameter), the pleasure of working with Patrick Ladisa and his openness to our questions and concerns really set us at ease.  It's also comforting to know that Yurta places a very strong emphasis on using natural, healthy and sustainable materials in their yurts as much as possible.  As well, we were really relieved to see that their dome and three, large windows made the interior seem pleasantly bright, even on an overcast day.

Yes, the 17' yurt still seems to be too small for us, but Patrick had a very ingenious solution.  Yurta are considering manufacturing a 13' diameter yurt as well, and so he suggested that we could be one of (currently) three "guinea pigs" who all wanted or needed more room than a 17' yurt could provide.  Yurta will manufacture a door frame that can link the two yurts directly together - kind of like two soap bubbles kissing.  It will allow us to use the larger yurt as our main living quarters, and then go on to use the smaller yurt as our family "bedroom".  Due to the Yurta's designed-in ability to be quickly and easily dismantled and relocated, it should be possible to separate the two structures, if and when they are no longer needed in that configuration.  It's win-win-win for everyone I believe.

After a minor hiccough with our deposit cheque being refused at the bank (don't get me started on a rant!), we expect to take delivery of both of our yurts in the spring, just in time to transport them to the hundred acre wood!


Sunday, November 20, 2011

High-Tech Changes

So, now that the property has been purchased, I have already been working towards the (hopefully not very) dramatic change in lifestyle.

One thing that I thought I had already done a fair job of was downsizing our gadgets but there certainly was room for improvement!

Thank goodness for Kijiji! I was very surprised as I found myself selling off three computers, including four LCD monitors - most of which had been running 24/7 at our house. I think I will notice a reduction in our hydro bill - or at least I hope I do. Two of our computers were replaced by something that I really have been impressed with - an original Apple iPad with 3G coverage.

With a little finagling, I have been able to get the iPad to stand in admirably for our kitchen computer (used mainly for IM, email, and scheduling), and my desktop computer (used mainly for email, surfing, and accounting).

IM+ has handily replaced the Google Chat page that I left open with my GMail account.

For the GMail page itself, I simply use the AppleMail application that came with the iPad. I set up the iPad (and my iPhone earlier) to sync via exchange, and this works fairly well. Sometimes push notifications are dicey, so I have it set to poll for updates every 15 minutes. Donna uses iMailG HD so that we don't have to worry about switching accounts or anything confusing like that. I've recently downloaded the Google GMail app, but I don't see any compelling reason for me to use it.

As far as FTP access goes, FTPtogoPro is a great app that I was more than happy to pay for, as it allows me to easily upload my photos directly to my online backup.

FileBrowser works great for surfing my personal files on the downstairs server.

I am really impressed with "GoodPlayer" - after purchasing both Azul and CineXPlayer, I was annoyed to realize that GoodPlayer does everything they seem to do, only more. It can browse my server via SMB, and it can play .ISO files directly. It's basically the VLC of the iPad world.

For accounting, I finally weaned myself off of MYOB, which I have been using since I first began my business. In its' place, I opted for EasyBooks - and I'm really happy I did. It didn't take more than a half hour to get the accounts set up, and, so far, I haven't run into anything I wasn't able to undo and puzzle out. I'm sure that as I use it more, I'll become more familiar with the ins and outs of a different accounting package. We'll see what sort of accounting post I do next year after year-end. That may be a totally different story, as it's when the most "once a year" brainpower is required.

Even my server ended up receiving a makeover. Previously being super-happy with a DLink DNS-323, I realized that it used an unrealistic amount of power for future solar resources. I replaced it, and my EnGenius router, with an Asus RT-N16. Flashing the Asus to TomatoUSB was a bit of a challenge, but I prevailed, and it has the awesome power of dual USB ports - so I plugged in two 750GB Hitachi external hard disc's, and was off to the races. It took two days to copy the 750GB off of the DNS to the Hitachi drives, and I ended up connecting the DNS directly to my netbook and on to the Hitachis, rather than doing it through the network, as that was much faster.

In case anyone is wondering, I can confirm that I can stream 720p through this setup to my netbook attached to my 32" television.

I do want to replace the upstairs netbook though, and see if the iPad, through a dock, can transmit a good enough picture to the television to watch movies and television in that fashion - especially when we are on the homestead. That would allow us to downsize even more.

Oh, and I should add that one of my first purchases was a bluetooth keyboard. The on-screen keyboard is excellent, and I often switch to it if I want to be on the chesterfield or in bed (not recommended - it affects your marriage AND sleep), but for touch-typing, a keyboard is hard to beat!

Anyway, I just thought I'd fill people in as to my continuing technical evolution... If I don't write many more articles that are so Windows-centred, you'll understand :). I'm really trying to simplify my computing experience, so uniting many gadgets into one is helpful, especially when that gadget is something that I don't have to work hard to replace (Apple tracks the applications which I purchase, and so if I move to a new platform in the future, I simply have to re-download the software I need, and do not need to worry about purchasing it a second time... Awesome!)

If anyone else has any experience migrating to a different platform, I'd love to hear from them, or if you have iPad questions or suggestions, I'd be just as happy to hear from you!

Stay tuned, we're deep into conversations about yurts or alternatives, and I think I've got enough ponderings there to create one or two more blog posts...

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

The Entrance

Hello all!

I think this is about the sixth time I have attempted to begin this blog entry. It's notable I suppose because I'm trying to do it entirely on my iPad. I'll go through my trials and tribulations in a follow-up post. Suffice it to say that, as with anything this dramatically new, the learning curve is rather steep and at times unforgiving. Okay, I just checked. I can actually leave this application and come back where I left off without losing anything! Yeah!

So, last month, a week before we were set to head back up to Thunder Bay to put in our entrance (I have to catch myself from saying "driveway" all the time - the driveway will be another, large undertaking I'm sure...), I started making the necessary telephone calls. My first call was to fulfill the MTO's requirement for our culvert. 610mm by 9m. Ringing up my prime choice for a culvert, I was put out a bit when they said they were currently sold out, but that I could have one ordered in with their next shipment - in the SPRING! Ack! I quickly had to source out another supplier, and was very fortunate to find someone else who had them in stock, slightly different from my first choice, but still quite useable, and even a bit less expensive to boot!

The next fly in the ointment was that only my first choice of supplier was willing to deliver - now I was on the hook to try to get the culverts to our location on my own. Luckily my father-in-law has a small Mazda pickup, and he was willing to let us use it - we were back in business! I instructed him to get in touch with the fellow who was going to do the actual excavating, and delay him for one more day. I also called the gravel pit down the road and outlined my plans to them. With those three things co-ordinated, things looked pretty good, and we proceeded to hit the road, heading north once again :). Oh yeah, and this time, I was sure to have made reservations at our go-to motel - The Imperial Fireside Inn.

We arrived rather late on Friday evening at my in-laws, enjoying coffee time right away and then off to bed. It was Thanksgiving weekend, so nothing was able to be accomplished until Tuesday morning, when we were able to pick up our culvert(s).

A lovely, relaxing weekend, with lots of wandering around our land to try to get an idea of the lay of the land, and perhaps even dream of some building spots, was had by all. Kenny already declared his favourite spots, as did I.

Tuesday morning came quickly enough, and my father-in-law and I headed off for the 45 minute drive to pick up the culverts. We made a slight wrong turn (or rather, LACK of turn due to the highway having been rerouted recently), but still managed make decent time. We were definitely optimistic in thinking that we could get all three lengths of the culvert on the truck, and mildly reluctantly headed back north with only two sections on the first load. No big deal though, it was a nice day. Kenny was very excited to help us unload and assemble the culvert, but he provided mostly moral support, as they really weren't children's toys. It was quite a challenge to get the couplers open enough to slide onto the ends of the culvert, and then bolt the whole assembly together. We did fine, and rolled the culvert neatly into the ditch, just where we planned.

Our excavator was a really pleasant, laid-back fellow who showed up a day early just in case he misremembered our appointment. He showed up in a full size tractor with a bucket and excavator that looked like they had definitely served him well over the years. It didn't take long before our first load of gravel also arrived. "B" gravel, which is a little too rough for the average person to drive directly on, is a fair bit cheaper than the "A" gravel, so we ordered two loads of that to fill in the ditch and cover the culvert. It wasn't until he had just begun to level out the final, "A" load that I heard a loud "BANG!" and saw gravel flying up from his machine... I thought perhaps there had been a bottle hidden within the gravel that he had driven over, but actually, one of his rather worn tires had decided to go on to the great road in the sky. Of course, the superstitious amongst us would blame my father-in-law who had pointed out how worn the tires were before any work had begun :).

Work was halted, and our excavator was shuttled home to source out a new tire so he could continue his work.

It wasn't to be. He was unable to get a tire for a few days, and then it began to rain, which is likely poor weather for someone with a bad back to be slipping around in the mud, trying to change a tractor tire. It ended up with Donna and I spending the last working day of our time there shopping for tractors and solar panels. You see, we are thinking that we will try to put in the remainder of the driveway ourselves. If we actually attempt that, it should make for many stories, all on their own!

A few days after we arrived home, my in-laws contacted us to tell us that the driveway was finished. My mother-in-law, bless her, managed to compress and send us a number of photos, using her dial-up internet connection, that really whetted our appetite to get back there and see how things are playing out. From what we can see and hear, my father-in-law has certainly been very busy clearing brush and bush for us to follow up with a drive.

After having to finish the purchase from Kitchener, and then learn about the completion of the entrance from Kitchener, I'm sure we are eager to experience a task from start to finish on our new land!

 

Friday, October 21, 2011

Coming Around

   It's funny how sometimes things come full circle.
   When we first began actively looking for property in the Thunder Bay area, our first choice was a very secluded private lot on a small lake near my in-laws.  It wasn't actually listed as for sale, so we approached the owner and inquired if they were willing to part with it.  They weren't, but briefly considered severing a portion for us.  We were excited about that idea until it came to light that we would have been required to undergo a very, very expensive survey of the shoreline of the lake before the severance would have been granted.
   Discouraged, we gave up on that option, and headed instead to the real estate papers.  We scoured the real estate listings, and I gradually created pages and pages of bookmarks for realtors in the area which I would check every few days over the next few years.  There were a few properties that jumped out as being good contenders, but they generally ended up having one or more fatal flaws, and being priced just a bit higher than we were prepared to pay.
   Then, my father-in-law remarked that a logger had approached him about the possibility of getting an easement across his property, for the purposes of logging the property directly north of their land.  It seems the owner of that parcel was feeling out the possibility of parting with her 160 acres which we believed at the time was land-locked.
   My in-laws, to their credit, said that they were not prepared to grant an easement for loggers, but they would certainly be willing to do so for us if we could get the property!  I pulled up a few maps of that area, and saw that the section in question came very, VERY close to the road, so I began exploring the possibility of obtaining a tiny easement for the purpose of obtaining a driveway.  Imagine my surprise when I submitted my proposal to the MTO, and was told that according to the current survey, the property actually had 30 metres of frontage on the road!  And the MTO only required 15 metres of space - we were double the amount we needed :)!
   We were more than happy to contact the owner of the lot, and confirm that she wanted to sell, and at what price...  It was close to our guestimate of how much we thought it was worth (to us...), and after a bit of discussion with my wife and her parents, I called her back and offered 10% less, which she accepted and we roared off to our lawyer to have an agreement of sale made up!
   It's a little surprising just how much paperwork is involved in a sale of this nature, but I suppose I had to deal with the twin situations of the road access, as well as the purchase itself...  Thank goodness for email!  I did quite a bit of scanning and zipping of documents after we returned to Kitchener, and the final sale didn't occur until about a week after we were home, but at last - we had a place in the woods!
   Next post, I'll try to relate our little adventure in building an entrance from a provincial highway.
   And the first lake we wanted to be on?  Our property backs onto three and a half acres of it!

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Finally!

   We finally have property!  156 and a half acres, north of Thunder Bay...  No road, no buildings, but it hasn't been logged in forty years, and it backs onto a private, quiet little lake :).
   Details to come!  Feel free to ask any questions...

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Emergency Blanket Experiment...

   Hi friendly readers, long time no see!
   Hope that some of you are still around - I'll try to get some posts up again and see if I can't get back into the swing of things.
   Anyway, this summer so far has sure been full of great camping trips!  Everything has been awesome, both with friends, family, and friends and family - and, as always, I like to assess what worked, and what didn't, after each trip.
   Lately we have been camping quite a bit with my parents, who have the luxury of a tent trailer, and one of the real nice features, is the small propane/electric fridge.  It does a great job of keeping the really critical items cold, but, sadly, beer is never considered one of the critical items.
   This last trip, I tried freezing about 4 litres of water and packing it in with my already cold beer, but, from Friday midmorning to Sunday night (when the beer finally ran out), the ice too ran out, and the beer was at best, optimistically able to be called "cool".
   I had been inquiring with my brother about his "5 day" cooler which claims to keep ice for up to 5 days.  He said that was stretching it, but that it did work better than an average cooler.  Rather than plunk down the big bucks that would be required to purchase one of these monsters, I decided to see if I could punch up the performance of my own coolers a little bit.  Of course, an emergency blanket can keep you warm, but I figured that it was just a mechanism for slowing down the movement of heat, and, as such, it should also help to keep things cool.  Just how cool, that was where I decided to do a little bit of experimenting...
   First off, I froze two 650mL yogurt containers of water.
 Mmmm, red hots!


   Then, one gets wrapped in a single layer of my emergency blanket, with the extra blanket simply rolled up on top.  The other was just in the container, and then both were placed in the cooler. 
   I'm not sure what my son was thinking, and the "I love you" hands were a really funny and pleasant surprise.  Where do they learn these things?
   By the end of the first day, you can see the difference in how much the two containers have melted.  No blanket had lost 300mL of ice to melting, while the blanket was more like 100mL.
   The next day, you can see that no blanket was completely melted, while blanket still had a fair size chunk of ice left.
  I didn't bother measuring mostly because I was lazy, and felt I had already established the power of the emergency blanket.

   Finally, tonight, the ice was completely melted.  I checked the temperature of the meltwater, and it was 10 degrees C - a few degrees more than my fridge.  If I could keep my beer at that temperature for a day and a half, that would still be a real step up!
   Anyway, I have to say I don't understand why all cooler manufacturers don't already include a liner of this stuff between the inner compartment, and the insulation of the cooler - it would cost a pittance, and easily double the R value of the cooler itself!  Or, maybe this is the miracle breakthrough of the five day cooler...  For further thought would be buying two of the cheap styrofoam coolers and nesting them, with an emergency blanket in between.
   In the meantime, I'll certainly be packing one in my cooler all the time now, as they are easily large enough to cover the bottom, sides, and then fold over the top - I'll let you know if I come up with any other thoughts to add to this!
   Let me know what you think in the comments, or if you have any other ideas on the subject!