Saturday 19 December 2009

Christmas Message 2009

Happy Christmas and New Year to all I hope that wherever you are, however you celebrate Christmas that you are happy, warm, secure, amongst those that you love and like and at peace with yourself and the world.
For me Christmas is a time when I seek calm and quietness, a time to recharge the batteries and reconnect with myself after a hard and difficult year. A time to refresh my mind about what is important and re-prioritise what is not.
It also happens to be a time when I update my life story and tell friends, family and various others what I have been up to.
It is scaring me that 2009 is almost over and a year that seemed to start so slowly is now just about finished. I started the year literally on a plane back to Australia from Fiji. The future was not clear and the Global Financial Crisis (GFC) just beginning to bite. For me that set the tone for the year and I decided to bunker down and concentrate on debt reduction and getting finances back into control. That meant tightening the belt and paying off a chunk of the mortgage. Spending more time at home, less spending on entertainment and focussing on home related activities.
To that end I took some practical courses in Landscaping. Specifically I learnt how to build retaining walls, fish ponds, do basic concreting and build block walls.I put some of that into practice with a water tank stand, see a previous blog post.
In April I was offered permanent employment and so gained some financial security again. It would seem that the GFC is now behind us and my firm is busy with work, opening new laboratories and mergers and acquisitions.
So what else happened this year. A visit to Adelaide in March to coincide with my Sister's visit was the only holiday that I have had. Trips to Mackay and Gold Coast for work and that basically covers major events.
Of course there has been all of the normal social events, lunches, dinners, BBQ's etcetera. No other major milestones of note.
So I guess with hindsight I have met my objectives and had a quiet year. Certainly I focussed on the garden, digging up a section of garden to put in a new area of vegetable and herb garden. That was a big task, mainly due to a huge Golden Palm that proved difficult to remove with only muscles and hand tools. (Let me tell you there is a lot to be said for power tools, chain saws, "Dingo's and other labour saving devices.) At the moment however I don't mind using muscle power as it gives me the opportunity to exercise and learn how poor the soil is on my land. The contrast between work , which is all mental, organisational and social skills to physical labour in the back yard is therapy in it's own right for me. The ground itself is crap. We endure long periods of no rain, in that time the ground dries out and becomes as hard as concrete. Anything growing dies and only very tough hardy perennials survive. Generally these are weeds, although some succulents have done well.
The water tank has been blogged about previously.
Looking back over this message, compared to previous years it looks sparse, but it has been a full on year. A lot of time has been the "with friends" time that doesn't make headlines but is one of the keystones of a full life.
The year ahead is unknown to me. January is already busy with a holiday with my good friend Phil in Bali, then a work trip to Noumea (no that will NOT be a jammy!). Work-wise the first half of the year looks manic. That's kind of good. I like being on the edge. However I have made some bad mistakes at work this year, so it is a year to prove that I am competent and reliable. Another year to focus on debt reduction, but also a year to focus on friends and family.
So once again, have a very Happy Christmas and I hope that 2010 is a fantastic year.


It's raining. At last.
I am getting pleasure out of watching the gathered water from the roof coming out of the downpipes and trickling into the new water tank. I can hear the splash of the water in the bottom of the tank as it slowly fills.
Even to me this all sounds a bit pathetic. It is rain, It gathers on the roof. It flows to gutters. The gutters channel the water somewhere. In this case into a tank. The Romans managed to do this over 2000 years ago. The Bludger managed to do it in 2009. Big fat hairy deal.
Compared to what I have seen here it is a relatively light rain but already I have sufficient water to flow out of the taps in the tank. I would be able to test the pump tomorrow, except I won't be here. A quick work trip to Canberra has given me the opportunity to go there early and catch up with a couple of friends.
I think that I will celebrate this rain with a Vodka Martini, stirred not shaken. Mmm, maybe I better pack for the trip away before doing that!
The Bludger is looking forward to leave over the Christmas period.
Update 31/9/2009: The tank is basically full. I have a level of water security. And it is still raining occasionally

Monday 14 December 2009

Travel Itineraries

Way back in the past we had paper printed air travel tickets that we had to guard carefully, keep dry, prevent from being crushed or soiled or lost or damaged in any way. These had your travel details on them which was always a ready reference.
Of course there are many ways to achieve this, a diary or notebook, print out the itinerary, calendar or notes on your phone, on your PC etcetera. But I don't like doing things the smart or sensible way, all of the above can be lost or damaged and become unavailable. Not to mention that you have to carry them.
At the moment I have trip details on my personal e-mail calendar, wall calendar, my phone and my work e-mail. Plus copies in e-mails and no doubt I will print them before leaving.
What I wanted was something accessible via the internet, easy to get to and easy to manage. For the moment I have settled on tripit. It links to my LinkedIn account also Google and others, I haven't explored all of those yet. Naturally it is available as a web page. One of the great things is that I can e-mail my travel confirmations and it will extract the relevant information and create a travel plan including flights, airline, times and dates. Neat. It has trouble doing that with Hotel reservations, many of the larger hotel chains will work, but not the smaller ones that I typically use. I can manually add those however.
There are several competing sites, but this one works for me so far.
With a number of trips coming up I have been considering how best to manage my itineraries so that I don't miss flights.

Wednesday 9 December 2009

A labour of love

The backyard has recently been transformed from this

into this.

It's been a slow process with lots of hard work, the best part of 3 months work on weekends. A long time because I am slow, I am unfit, I was juggling weekend courses and playtime so I have not had lots of free time to dedicate to the work and I am learning as I go along.
I started out by clearing the vegetation away. This went quickly as the plants did not have deep roots. That left me a bare area to start working on.

I left a few plants there as I didn't have the heart to pull them out and believed that I could work around them. I wanted some vegetation to grow back afterwards under the tank to stabilise the ground.
Marking out the ground was more difficult than I thought, I didn't have a helper and was working with water levels and hindered by my lack of experience. Eventually however I had the site marked out and a string guide that I could use as a reference point.
I decided to dig the holes by hand and ran into my first of many problems. The ground was hard and I didn't have the right tools, I was also not fit. After purchasing post hole diggers and crow bars I was able to dig the post holes. It was hot work, often done in the full sun and I soon found that my fitness level could only achieve one hole per day. As I went on I muscled up and while I never achieved more than one hole per day I was able to do other things as well without the need to collapse in a chair. In all I dug 9 post holes.
The ground turned out to be a layer of top soil on top of shale. As I dug down through the top soil I encountered lumps of shale until eventually I encountered a layer of shale that I could simply not dig through. Fortunately this was at about the depth that I wanted to go to anyway. As I was going to be concreting the posts into the ground this was in a way comforting as I know the tank is effectively resting on bed rock or at least a layer of rock so strong that it will be stable.
Concreting in the first post was difficult as I had no alignment marks and reference point but it was done. For the next 2 posts I used the first as a reference and suspended the posts in their allocated place and then poured concrete into the hole until full. The picture below shows the left most and middle post hanging from the beam after I had filled the holes with concrete.

If you look carefully you can see that I misaligned the middle post. I still have no idea how I did that as I measured and checked measures and calculations several times.
I Started on the next row and the left hand side next. The left and middle centre posts are in place and I have roughed in the right hand side post. It is being held in place and upright ready for concreting. I have also placed the bearer on the left hand side. The lower most post of the bearer is actually suspended as I was given a tip to suspend the post at the level I wanted it rather than trying to place the post and cut the timber upright to shape and size. This worked remarkably well.

Aligning all of those posts was the challenge. Even with string lines and multiple checks I never quite got it right. Maybe I am a perfectionist or there are other tricks that I have to learn.
The bearers were heavy and I struggled to carry them on my own. I am guessing each one weighed close to 100Kg. Drilling the bolt holes straight and in the correct position was also a challenge with a hand drill. Still not sure what the correct procedure is.
Eventually I had the bearers in place and much to my surprise remarkably level and stable.

Next came the joists and I was able to rip through those, I used a wood fixing arrangement to hold them in place. This added stability and prevented them moving.

The difficulty here was getting the joists straight as they all had small curves and would not sit evenly across the bearers. Eventually it occurred to me that if I arranged them so that the slight curve was up towards the middle, the weight of water in the tank would tend to flatten them out. Suddenly it was a design feature to compensate for the weight.
The council regulations are that wooden tank stands must be made from hardwood, so all of this is done with structural quality hardwood. There is about $800 of wood alone in this stand. The stand is over engineered and could support a much larger tank, that is an option for the future. The current tank is 5600 litres I could easily go to 10,000 litres.
The final step was to get a deck on top of the joists. I was lucky here as I happened to walk into Bunnings one day and they had a batch of suitable hardwood decking at a good price and almost cut to size. I didn't need to transport longer lengths and cut them in situ, I could simply buy the amount I needed and trim the excess of when finished.
The shot below shows part way through the process. The boards are nailed in and I predrilled each hole first and sometimes had to use a nail punch to keep them flush with the deck boards.

Once nailed down I was in a rush to treat the boards with a preservative before the tank was delivered. They received several coats of a 50:50 mix of linseed oil and Mineral turps. At the end of this the deck looked fantastic, if slightly sticky from the oil that had not yet seeped in to the wood.

I call this a labour of love, but the reality is that it is a form of therapy and has been used to develop Deck building skills. I have a dream of a large deck at the rear of my property. I know that I can do the deck now.
The tank was delivered December 2nd and plumbed in the following week. Now I sit and wait for rain. This week it has been cloudless blue skies, temperatures in the 30's and no chance of rain. Storm season is behind us it is summer here.
The Bludger