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!