Adding Solar Power To Our Home

Throughout the years building our home, several people have commented along the way, “Yeah, nice house, but when are you going to add solar?” I finally have the answer. “Now!”

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Furnishing The Greenhouse

Now that the greenhouse construction is completed, it is time to furnish it!

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Home Network & Security Cameras

As I have said elsewhere, I am a carpenter. I have no business whatsoever telling anyone how to install security cameras or a home network. This is just how I have done it after watching many YouTube videos by people who don’t know either. My way may be wrong but it is working for me. Your mileage may vary.

We needed new security cameras. The old ones were, well, old, and resolution has improved dramatically over the past seven or eight years since we bought them. I watched a lot of YouTube videos (of course) and read a lot of articles weighing the pros and cons of each type and brand of camera and system.

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Looking Back Through Thousands Of Photos

I was recently asked by the YouTube channel, SHELTER MODE, if he could feature our container house on his channel. He asked for a short story about our build and for some construction photos. In sorting through thousands of photos, I thought, hey, why not make a post about it for him. And anyone visiting here for the first time could see some of the process we went through without plowing through all 200-plus posts. Here is the story. At the end are a lot of photos from the way-back machine. Continue reading

Greenhouse ~ Construction

Greenhouse Construction

To recap from my last post, I have for some years now wanted to try my hand at aquaponics. Aquaponics involves fish and vegetable growing. In short, the fish excrete ammonia, which is toxic to the fish. But bacteria process the ammonia and produce nitrite and then nitrate. Vegetable plants are grown in the water that is rich with the nitrates, feeding the plants, and then the water is returned to the fish. It is a nearly closed loop system, just needing input of fish food and an occasional small dose of, for example, iron. But to do all this at the scale I want, I need a greenhouse. Continue reading

Preparing To Plant A Pepper Plant ~ I Wonder How I Can Over-Complexify It?

PART I ~ A Very Long-winded Introduction To A Significant Project

Sorry, no pictures this post.

Time sensitive note: I’ve wanted to write this post for some time, but the COVID-19 pandemic kinda knocked the wind out of my sails. But today I determined to sit down and write. I hope you are all well. We are watching the world change in front of our eyes.

For some years now, I have wanted to grow our own veges. But our soil is rock hard and would need significant augmentation to be successful soil. And if the bugs flying in the air and/or the leaf cutter ants marching on the ground don’t eat the leaves, then the grubs underground will eat the roots. And then there are the rabbits. And the windy season would leave the leaves in tatters. And the dry season requires constant watering as the soil turns to stone. And the torrential flooding in the rainy season is no help either. And who wants to bend over and work the soil at 70+ years old anyway. The only dastardly thing we are missing here is deer! So I tabled the desire. Continue reading

We Love Our Home

Hi there. I bet you thought you would never hear from me again. Well I’m back with an update and possibly a reboot of this blog. For those who want more shipping container house building info, my future posts may be disappointing. The container part of the house build is done and it has been done for more than three years now. `

For the past three-and-a-half years, this shipping container/art house has been for sale. As in much of the world, the housing market here is absolutely flat. Only a couple of properties have sold here and they were priced well below what the sellers wanted and way below what we were asking.

Meanwhile, Cynthia and I have been living here. Real living and not just the five-year all-consuming exertion of creating and building this house. We’ve had time to be creative with our arts. We’ve had time to just sit and relax in the master bedroom porch and watch the birds. We’ve had time to know each other more deeply. As time passed, we explored other places to live when the house would potentially sell. Medellin, Colombia (we’ve been there five times now). Guanajuato, Mexico (wow, but stairs, stairs, and more stairs make it not a place for Cynthia with her new knee). Greenville, South Carolina (fair weather, progressive culture, health care, etc.) and Austin, Texas (Cynthia’s family).

But through all this time, two factors have become important priorities.

One factor is that we love the rich nature and relative seclusion of where we are. Every morning we wake to something we’ve never had before. Recently it has been a family of Aracaris (Toucan like birds). And the flock of wild parrots absolutely prevents sleeping in and missing these wonderful mornings. To start over somewhere else and miss a significant amount of time (years?) without just sitting and being has become a less inviting idea.

The second factor is really a matter of time and energy. We have created something here and it took a lot of energy and a lot of years: this custom house that is a joy to live in, a workshop that I have organized for the first time in my life, a new glass studio for Cynthia, a watercolor painting studio for me, and more is in the works. We want these things in our life and to start over with the diminished energy of age is looking more and more unlikely and un-enjoyable.

As an example of what I am doing when not building a house, here is a cabinet I built for my art supplies:

The wood is a tropical cedar with Purple Heart drawer fronts.
Diamond plate aluminum drawer bottoms save space and so far the termites don’t like it.

So with a substantial and significant amount of pondering, realizing, and talking, we have come to the “ah-ha!” decision to remove the house from the market. Not that it is selling anyway, but we have come to settle on all the good points of staying put.

Over the next while I will post Part II of the reserve water tank project, our studios, an orchid wall that I built, and a major project that is underway.

That’s all for now. Thanks for stopping by. Fred

April Is April Appreciation Month

I haven’t posted in a long time because I haven’t done anything much write-down-word-worthy lately. But I felt like writing this morning and cranked out the following bit about the month of April here in the mountains of Panama, and I thought I’d show you a little project that I have been working on.

As I do many mornings, today I was on our roof deck sweeping away a few dry leaves and watering the plants. From the roof deck I can see the woodpeckers that, as they do every year in April, are making new nesting holes (in preparation for babies and for protection in the rainy season) in the trees in the next lot over from us. It’s quite a show.

Every day I put several bananas in the dead tree stump in our front garden. We’ve covered this stump in bromeliads and orchids, and nesting birds have made the tree a bird condominium. They have a wonderful time darting in and out of the plants on their way to and from the bananas. There are black birds, black and red birds, black and yellow, green, and even blue birds. Robins, and the woodpeckers, too, come for the bananas. Small reddish-brown doves peck in the freshly-tilled garden and finish off the banana peels that fall to the ground. The bird banana buffet gives Cynthia and me hours of enjoyment as we watch out the kitchen windows.

The tall trees in our front garden turn golden-crested in April, and the loudly-chirping hummingbirds work the blossoms all day long. Soon, bees will arrive to take the nectar that the hummingbirds leave behind; their buzzing is very loud and reaches a crescendo in the heat of mid-afternoons.

I also love April because now, after several very dry months, we are starting to receive several rain showers each night. They don’t last long, but come down in brief sheets, signaling that rain is on its way. The fragrance of freshly-dampened soil smells good and I go back to sleep.

The other day our gardener, Armando, pointed out a loudly singing bird that was “calling the water,” he said in Spanish. I’ve really enjoyed learning Spanish so I can pick up these bits of local knowledge – such as when the breezes that start in November and December are called “brisas de Navideña,” — the breezes that bring on Christmas. Many of the local workers here may not have a lot of book learning, but they know the wildlife and the subtle rhythms of the seasons.

With everything so dry, the birds enjoy the three birdbaths that we made for them; keeping the water refreshed is a pleasant part of my daily routine, too.

Recently we noticed that the mango trees are in full-bloom in our area; we should be picking mangos fresh off of the trees in late June and July. Because we are in a micro-climate zone, our mango schedule is quite different from down in town or just down the mountain road a few kilometers.

There are distinct seasons in Panama, not as dramatic as, say in New England, U.S.A., but they are distinct in their own subtle way. I love April; there is a lot to observe and to appreciate here.

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Walking to friends’ house this morning I picked this seed pod off the ground. Oropendula birds live in the tree and will pelt you with these pods when you walk under the tree. Pretty cool, huh?

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In other news, the other day I got a call from a friend of ours. She has been taking care of the home of someone who had recently died, and she lost the keys! She asked me if I could get into the house. Of course I could, houses are my business, but locks, unfortunately, aren’t.

I did a survey of the exterior of the house and decided to remove the security bars on a small bathroom window (the window was small, and so was the bathroom, come to think about it). Fifteen-minutes with a hammer and chisel and I had the bars removed from the concrete block house. It would be minimal work to mortar the bars back in place. I climbed through the window, removed the screws from the two deadbolt locks, and opened the door. Our friend bought two new deadbolts and I installed them in just a few minutes.

But this got me thinking — how much easier it would have been on my senior citizen body if I could have just picked the locks and not had to mess with shoe-horning myself through the tiny window and making the high drop to the floor. YouTube to the rescue. Over the next couple of weeks, I watched a couple-hundred videos, maybe more, about lock picking. I now dream about picking locks.

So I thought that I would buy a set of lock picks. They can be had for twenty-bucks, or a high-quality set for under a hundred. But then again I thought, why not make them myself? There are lots of videos on YouTube showing how to make picks from hacksaw blades and the thin pieces of spring steel that sit under the rubber part of most windshield wiper blades.

Our car needed new wiper blades anyway, and a few bucks bought a handful of saw blades. A day or two later I had my very own homemade lock pick set (I still have a couple more picks to make…). I think they came out pretty well, all ground, sanded, and polished to a bright shine. Here are a few photos:

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I ground the teeth off the blades but left the notches that created the set of the saw teeth. It gives the handles a bit more grip.

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There are still a couple more picks that I want to make to more complete my set.

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I ground the hacksaw blades with my bench grinder, filed and then polished with emery paper. Some car polishing compound did the final polish.

So now it is time to see if I have what it takes. I have a pile of old padlocks that I am gearing up to practice on.

By the way, if you are the least bit interested in how insecure most of the locks that most of us use, here is a video by a man named bosnianbill. Locks are his hobby and he enjoys figuring out the puzzle of each lock he touches. Bosnianbill is part of an international group of people who consider lock picking a grand sport. They have competitions and swap locks and information among themselves, picking for the fun of it. Here is one of his 600-or-so videos:

Now, after a bit of practice, maybe I will be able to open a lock the next time I get a call from a panicked friend. I’ll “keep it legal” as these sport pickers say at the end of their videos.

That’s all for now. Thanks for stopping by.

EXTERIOR VIDEO!

I have been promising you, and promising you some more, that I would make a video of the house. With this post I announce that I am half-way there. I have completed a seven-minute video of the exterior of the house! I wonder if it will break any box office records as Star Wars has just done… ah, probably not, never mind, dumb thought. Here it is (full screen is better) :

This was no small task for me as I had to acquaint myself with my GoPro 3+ camera and the GoPro Studio editing software. I even built some equipment including a slider so I could get smooth side-to-side shots. Commercially-built sliders are available for a bunch of money, but I built mine for not-much with a couple aluminum shower curtain rods, a cut-up plastic kitchen cutting board, and some PVC pipe fittings. I bought the wheels online. Here is my slider. The shower rods were my idea and make for the lightest-weight five-foot slider in the Universe or anywhere…:

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The GoPro 3+ camera with an articulated extension arm is mounted on the dolly.

I saw the DIY PVC pipe fitting dolly on YouTube. I put an extra port on the dolly so that in the future I can mount an LED video light for closeup work:

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I bought a gimbal. Until recently, gimbals were only used in big movie productions and cost many thousands of dollars. Now they are available for the hobby market for just a couple hundred dollars. A handheld gimbal allows a video photographer to walk over rough ground, climb stairs, and even run, and the gyros in the gimbal keep the camera stable. I love what miniaturization is doing for tech. Here is Cynthia modeling my gimbal:

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That gold and black thing on the right side of the gimbal is one of the three gyro stabilizers. Yeah, I know the camera is upside down. I use it this way as our car dashcam because the power cable fits better on the right. There is a setup option in the camera to reverse up/down of the image… (Cyn was holding it tightly which is why her fingertips are so pink.)

Not counting building the slider, this shoot took me about twenty-hours to video, edit, find music on the Web, and add the audio track. I also had to diagnose and fix a problem with my computer — when I would download and play an audio clip, it sounded all garbled and fuzzy. The problem was that I had an older version of VLC Media Player. Once I uninstalled the program, the audio opened on Windows Media Player and sounded just fine.

I spread the shoot over a couple days to get the sun at its best advantage. Sorry, the sun doesn’t shine on the north side of the house at this time of year so this side is in shade — I’d have to wait another six-months to complete the video. I opted not to wait. Overall I had a good time, and especially enjoyed making the opening and closing credits. I learned a lot… I like steep learning curves!

I hope that you enjoyed my video. I’ll work on the interior shoot soon. I promise.

That’s all for now. Thanks for stopping by.

Birds Win Big

Three days ago I finished applying the Feather Friendly window dots on our large front windows. I am happy to report that not one single bird has even come close to colliding with the glass!

This past week in addition to finishing the bird dots on the windows, I’ve spent several days washing windows and making the house shine. Ramiro is still washing the house inside and out and touching up paint as he goes, and Armando has been cleaning the exterior rock work with the power washer. I still have a couple small tasks to do — install an electrical plug, tie some wires up under the house, install a plumbing vent — but everything is all but done. However I did want to show the finished bird-proofing of the windows.

Here are some photos:

This first photo is in progress. You tape two ruler guides (provided with the rolls of dot tape) to the window. Then you roll out enough tape to go across the window and cut it to length. Then, following the ruler, press the tape onto the window, one row every two-inches. Lastly, run a credit card over each dot to stick them to the window and then remove the carrier tape. Only the dots are left on the window:

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I took the next photos just after sunrise:

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You barely notice the dots from inside the house. Jabo does report, however, that he is seeing spots:

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As I get closer and closer to completing every little item on the punch list, Cynthia reminded me of what I said when we first met about eleven years ago. We met online, eHarmony.com. In our emails back and forth, I told her that I was in the process of doing a down-to-the-studs remodel of my 1920s Craftsman bungalow home in Colorodo. This was a Big Red Flag for her, as the photos that I sent to her were “ugly” as she says.

But I told her that, “I finish projects,” and I emailed her my resume, if you will, of other houses that I had completed. Well, that sales job sealed the deal. Cynthia moved from Ohio to Colorado and we spent the next three-years finishing the bungalow.

Here is the bungalow on the day that I bought it. It was pretty nondescript.

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And here it is just before we sold it, windows washed and everything:

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Now our shipping container house looks finished. It really feels good to have so much to show for our five-years of work:

Panorama -- 11 Nov 2015

That’s all for now. Thanks for stopping by.