Author Archives: Britton

Lizard Internet / Mango Wireless

Posted by Britton

Our normal morning routine is to wake up, make some coffee and zone out on the internet for a bit until we start our daily do-ings.  Lately however our internet setup hasn’t been working!!  So my routine started to include walking over to the other side of the property and checking out our wireless bridge.

I can usually check segments of our network from the cabin, but lately the cabin has been completely cut off!
Climbing the Pole
The higher the wireless router inside this little box on the utility pole, the better signal we get from our neighbor’s router that we share with.

The Problem

Pretty much every day there is rat poop on top of the box, with some leftover parcha or starfruit.  So I know the rats have been hanging out on top of the box.  But these wires are inside of the cage I built!  They can’t be getting inside?!

Another Possible Hacker

I saw this one on top of the goods one day too.  But again, it is waayyyy too large to get into the box and be able to chew the wires up!  So probably not the one I am looking for.

It wasn’t until the other day I finally saw the culprit!

Ah Ha!!! (click to enlarge)

There has been a small lizard living inside the box and eating the cables every night!  The power cables are pretty chewed up but power cables shock them once they eat all the insulation, so he stops.  With the Ethernet cables however, he just chews right thru them.

I’ve mended the Ethernet cable probably 5 or 6 times now.  I covered it in some really thick waterproofing tape and that seems to be working for the moment.  I also will be hunting this little pest.  He is fast and I found myself chasing him with a stick the other day!  It was really quite humorous.

The other idea I had was to electrify the wire cage so that it isn’t such a nice spot for critters to sit and hang out.  I don’t think it will take much to do, but something I’ll have to figure out!  Maybe in the next revision?!

Swiss Family Jungle Internet

Posted by Britton

Internet is one of those modern conveniences that is just….. so nice to have. Checking in on Facebook, paying bills or looking how to do things on youtube. We haven’t “hooked” up internet service here yet, but we’ve always had some signal of some sort to utilize.  It is probably more of a personal challenge to find alternate ways of connecting than any actual reason.  In the process you can learn all kinds of new things about networking and radios.

When we first arrived the only way to get an open signal was to be on top of the cabana on the corner of the house. Usually this was in the sun or rain! This is what I will consider internet v1.0. It was much easier than packing up and going to a cafe, plus we didn’t have to buy coffee or sit outside some place and look like moochers. We could mooch from our own home!

Rainy Internet
Version 1.0

I then figured out how to setup a repeater bridge by installing a Linux variant DD-WRT on a Linksys router.  The bridge would take the internet signal from yonder and repeat it so that we had wireless access from within the cabana!  It needed to be waterproof so I bought a plastic trashcan from the dollar store, drilled holes for the antennas and hung it upside down.  I had to hang it upside down to keep the rain from draining into the antenna holes.

Painting the cabana
Version 2.0

Version 2.0 worked really well, it was nice to sit inside the cabana and have access.  Of course with both 1.0 and 2.0 the speeds were pretty much dialup.  The Access Point we were using was pretty far away.  Eventually the trees grew tall enough to block our access.  We had to find another source!

We had been talking to our neighbor about the idea of paying for a share of his internet and in return he would put his wireless router in his window nearest our property to get a good line of sight link to our wireless bridge.  Well this worked out really well!  This was version 3.0 and I even made a little wood box for it out of scrap T-111 because the plastic trashcan disintegrated in the sun!!  The speeds were MUCH faster and it worked really well.

Forward to the cabin being built and wanting to have internet over there.  It is easily 500 feet and there is a forest between the router box, so no signal is going to make it over there.  We had already put in an electricity line and I did some research.

Apparently companies have figured out how to make a device that will transmit from an electric outlet to an electric outlet.  This is perfect!  It is called Ethernet over power in case you may want to use it.  One end plugs into the wireless router (Ethernet up-link) and plugs into the power outlet the router is plugged into.   The other end plugs into an outlet at the cabin.  Since they are on the same circuit they can talk.  The device at the cabin also has a wireless router built into it!  So now we have wireless internet at and around the cabin!

Version 3.0

The only problem I had now was that apparently wires and cables are fun to chew on.  So rats and iguanas have been chewing up the power and Ethernet cables inside the box and it quits working.

So here comes version 4.0 pictured below.  It is waterproof, chew proof relays a wireless signal from our neighbor to our concrete cabana AND sends a signal thru the electric line to the new cabin.  It isn’t pretty, but hey, maybe nobody will want to steal it?

4.0 is Ratproof!

It is fun to invent, design, build and test.  That is what we have been doing the entire time we have lived here in Rincón!  What can I say?  I’m a geek.

Construct It: Cabin Floors and Walls

Posted by Britton

I figured it was maybe time to do a little construction update.  One thing nice about doing things at your own pace is that you can take a step back when you start to feel overwhelmed or don’t have an answer to a “how to” and want to take some time to research.  A lot of building this house has required research because I’ve never done it before.  Like what screws to use for drywall and WHY?  What screws to use for cement board and WHY?  How do you construct a shower basin in a wood framed house?

The company that delivered the drywall delivered screws too.  They were black phosphate coated drywall screws BUT they were fine thread.  When I asked about it they claimed of course “It’s fine to use them in wood!” which isn’t really true.  Wood screws use a coarse thread for holding power.  Fine threads are used for metal studs.  Just an example of how a small thing can turn into a small ordeal when you are ready to start a project in the morning.

Using what are considered the “correct” fasteners might not matter to some people, especially if the fasteners are difficult to locate.  I have been called “Mañoso” (picky) a few times which is accurate I guess.

Mud, Tape and Ready for Primer/Paint

This past week have been getting the inside ready for paint and flooring.  Since we decided to go with tile, we needed to prep the sub floor.  We got 24 4×8 sheets of 3/4″ thick cement board.  Those weigh 136 pounds each!  It took a whole day just for us to move them over to the house.  It was actually easiest for one person to carry an entire sheet on their back than it was for two people to awkwardly try to move one.  So there was a lot of resting in between trips but we got it done.

While I do a lot of the research myself it is tremendously useful to have Waldemar help with each step. He propels us forward so much more than we can do alone. I really appreciate his help. He brings skills, experience as well as lots of energy and motivation when I just don’t have a whole a lot.

Britton and Waldemar floors
Installing Cement Board

We then cut and installed the cement boards (generically called plycem here).  Those things were ridiculously heavy.  The floors however are SOLID and we shouldn’t have any problems with tiles popping or cracking.  Under the cement boards we used thinset to fill any space between the 3/4″ inch plywood.  There are a few write ups about this online.  The professionals who sold me the cement board told me I didn’t need to use thinset, but again for me it comes down to the “why” and the write ups did a good job of convincing me that it should be done.

Waldemar and Cassie 2
Cassie brings over lunch for us and helps where she can

Our tile is on order and should be here in a week or so.  We wanted to get a natural feel instead of using ceramic printed tiles and went with a red clay tile almost like terracotta.  Again, Mañoso but what can you do?  If you want something, sometimes you have to wait.

Waldermar and Britton
¿Tu quiereme? Waldemar and I work together a lot and have gotten to know each other well, even with the language barrier.

We also used cement board for the shower stall.  Over top of the cement board I used aqua defense, it is a paintable rubber membrane that adheres well to thinset when dry so you can tile over it.  The paintable membrane will keep any moisture from seeping past the grout/tiles and cement board into the wood below.  One thing I have learned is that cement is porous and should be sealed if you want to keep water out.  There is also a 3 piece drain.

Blue bathroom
Green Water-proof Membrane

Soon we should receive some tiles.  Until then we will be painting the walls.
Cassie Painting
Cassie Priming the Drywall for Paint

So as you can see, we haven’t JUST been chinchorreando and having fun…We are making really good progress on the cabin too. Now that we can see the walls and floors taking shape we are super stoked to move in!

Sacar La Columna

Posted by Britton

Well needless to say building a house is hard. It makes it harder when you’ve never done it before. I suppose that is true of everything though and I love a good challenge. I haven’t ever worked with concrete besides putting in fence posts so there has been a bit of a learning curve. Here is a good example of this learning process….

We are working on building basement walls under the house. In doing so I had to build wood forms between the columns that support the house. We used concrete nails to attach wood forms to the columns. Normally this would be fine. What I noticed was one of the columns was very brittle. In fact when we were putting nails in, entire chunks of concrete broke off….

Wall constructionColumn wall
Building Forms Between Columns

We had been suspicious of this particular column since it was made.  We had a few people look at it and everyone said something to the effect of, “Oh it’s fine”.  I figured that if there was a problem, it would probably be apparent so we have been moving forward with other tasks.  When I saw the chunks break off though, I knew that it had become an apparent problem.

When we made the columns we didn’t have a concrete mixer.  Now that I do, it is much easier to keep the mix very consistent.  I can now readily notice concrete that has the correct level of cement and that was cured properly.

Bringing over the concrete
No Cement Mixer
turkeys and columns
Original Forms

So how do you replace a column that your house is resting on?  I did some research on jacking up houses.  It is something that is done from time to time so there is actually some information on the subject.  Usually people will lift an entire house off its foundation to do repair work.  I wasn’t sure how much weight I was dealing with or what kind of jack I might need.  After reading up, it turns out that a wood house isn’t really all that heavy (compared to a concrete house).  2x4s plywood, 2x8s and roofing panels.  So I settled on a 6 ton bottle jack.

I really only needed to lift the house about 1/8th of an inch off the corner column.  Just enough so I could whack the column out with a sledge hammer.  The jack worked well for this.

I have never liked being under heavy stuff.  Cars on jacks scare the living crap out of me.  I just never feel safe.  Being under a house on jack stands is even worse, especially when it starts to creek and moan.  Online forums had prepared me for this saying that the house will make noise.  Even just 1/8th of an inch.  Go slowly.

I then was able to pound out the column down to rebar.  It was at this point I knew I had made the right decision, it was ridiculously brittle.  It took no time at all to remove the column, it basically just crumbled apart.

Column Gone
Column Down to Rebar

I have learned a lot about concrete in a short amount of time.  The mix of rocks, sand, cement and water is extremely important to get right.  Curing is also important.  When we made these columns I had trusted that the guys had made concrete before and knew what they were doing.  And for the most part they did, the other 11 columns are fine.  It was just this first column that was poured that either didn’t have enough cement OR didn’t have enough water.  I think it was a lack of water.

Another part of working with concrete is making forms.  The forms are the molds.  You have to make them very strong because they will be holding quite a lot of wet concrete and it is very heavy.  I have heard of stories of forms busting and cement spilling everywhere.  Even a man in line at home depot told me a story of a form breaking.  Then you have a real mess on your hands.

I also had to think about how I was going to pour the concrete into this form.  The house rests on it so there isn’t any room above.  I also wouldn’t be able to pump the concrete in.  I decided to make a little scoop on the side of the form where I could pour concrete in.

Also important is to use a bonding agent when trying to join cured hard concrete to wet fresh stuff.  I used some bull bond on the existing walls where the column was going to be.  There is also rebar that joins them.  The connection should be sufficiently strong.

New Column and Half Wall

All said and done, the new column is fantastic compared to the old one, not that it looks all that different.  I have no worries about it now.  Looking back I can’t believe that I jacked the house up, took out the column and poured a new one.  It seems kind of crazy.  Its all done now and I have moved on to other problems, which is a good thing.