Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Winter in an Armadilla

8 months on, and the office has bedded in nicely.  Blinds added to the porhole and door.  Wood burning stove working more efficiently with smaller dryer wood and careful damping.

Under floor heating does not keep the office warm when temperatures drop below -3, unless you leave the heat on 24hrs.  Even, then I think it struggles. The wood burner makes the difference.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Platform added

Work and other commitments have got in the way of posting further updates..... but following an afternoon of labour, I have managed to add the decking platform onto the front of my Armadilla

Looks straightforward from this photo, but actually involved twisting the office around, and re-leveling.  Also the steps were not square, so the platform had to be skew.

Anyway - now able to step into the office without gravel :)

One disappointment is that the door needs adjustment. It has slipped since it was moved... and before the deck was added.  Something easy I am sure for Archie and his chaps!

Still working on the challenge of adding blinds.   Only company I could find was  They are based in France... no reply from email. 

Monday, March 12, 2012

Armadilla Garden Office Installation Video

Looks precarious... but here is a 10 minute video of our Armadilla office installation. 

Music is courtesy of my son's band Little Men and Her

If anyone has any questions on how this all worked, feel free to drop me a comment.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Armadilla - IP Phone - BT HomeHub 2

Regular phones over Ethernet
(if you dont like tech geek stuff... stop reading now!...)

I decided to give Voice over IP (VOIP) a shot in my new garden office.  I also wanted to use my existing regular (POTS) telephone line for incoming calls.   I bought a Linksys (Cisco) SPA3102.  This box is designed to allow you to plug your phone sock in, and for the signal to be converted to IP traffic.  The protocol is SIP...

The S in SIP does not mean 'Simple'.

After a week or so of faffing around, I discovered that the BT HomeHub that I have has some 'partial' SIP server support, and as a result seems to block / catch my SIP traffic. So... calls coming into my Linksys SPA3120 don't go any further than my BT Homehub.   As I am using that as my router... it means the traffic getting out to my Ethernet over Power adapter.

BT used to provide a services called BT Talk. This was basically their version of SIP running over the broadband connection.   If you have a BT Homehub 1 or 2... you can still use it.  If you are on the Homehub 3... sorry it was removed from the device.

The phone number you get with this is different.  I have a regular phone number - that comes through my regular phone... and a BT Talk phone number.  They both start with the same area code... 

Anyway - I decided to switch this on... only problem is... that I want to use a device other than a BT IP phone... I want to use my iPad or Mac Book pro to send and receive calls...

After searching around the BT Broadband forums, I discovered that you can download the SIP settings to a text file... and that will give you all the information you need to setup your SIP client....  I am using Jitsi as a SIP client - that seems to work.  I have also managed to get X-Lite 4 to work... but it is not quite as solid as Jitsi as far as I can tell.

so... I now am able to make SIP calls from my mac book pro (or iPad).

For the geeks out there, this is how you find out your SIP Softphone Client settings.  This is for anyone that has a BT Homehub 1 or 2 (pulled from the BTBroadband Forums);

1. Sign up for BT Talk...

a) Enter your number and login details - they were sent to you when you registered,
b) Navigate to configure your setup, click the First Button "Configure Your equipment"
c) A Second button appears call "configure"
d) Right mouse click this and get properties
e) Cut and paste the whole URL into a text editor
f) To make it more legible put a carriage return before every "&" the remove the "&"

You will end up with something like this :-


2) The most important bit of information is SIPPassword1=QMXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX. This you will note is NOT the BT password BT gave you which you login into the site, which you might think is encrypted. It's plain text an is the password you need to use to authenticate against the proxy. Also understand that it's important you do not confuse the outbound proxy with the SIP proxy.

This translates to on a SIP Client - replace the values above in the <> entries;

Authentication or Authorization Name: <SIPPhoneNumber1>
Authentication password: <SIPPassword1>
Username: <SIPPhoneNumber1>
Display Name: <SIPPhoneNumber1>  without the leading 44
Proxy server address:
Proxy server port: 5060
Registrar server:
Registrar server port: 5060
SIP port: 5060
RTP port: 5004
Use random ports: No
STUN enabled: No
Outbound proxy mode: Always
Outbound proxy:
Outbound proxy port: 5060

If you want to use all this without a BT HomeHub.. I believe you can, but, you need to setup a nameserver lookup for the proxy... or something like that... 

Sadly, I have not managed to get my inbound telephone calls on my regular (POTS) line to route through this.  I know the SPA3120 can do it... but I think the BT Homehub is blocking this.  The BT Homehub cannot be configured to route this traffic as far as I can tell... even with a hack.

Armadilla living - 2nd week

As per my previous posts - I installed an Armadilla home office down my garden.

Now that I have been in it for a couple of weeks, I thought I should give others that are interesting in this kind of building some feedback. 

First of all, the heating.

The weather has been mixed.  With an outside temperature of, say 10'c the under floor heating is absolutely fine. It keeps the office warm at around 15-20'c without trouble.  However, you do need to keep some heat on overnight.  I made the mistake of lowering the thermostat over night to 5'c when it was frosty... when I arrived in the morning at 9am it was only 8'c after 1 hour of heating...

That said, this is where my wood burner comes in.  30 mins after starting, the office is back to a pleasant working environment.

I have continued to have issues with connectivity. Nothing to do with the office supplier, but, I made the mistake of only running a 3 core armoured power cable in... as a result, I only have power and no dedicated phone / internet.    Being a geek of course, solutions exist.  Archie suggesting using an Ethernet over Power solution.  I chose the Devolo solution that gives me ethernet ports and wifi in the office. It is mostly working, and performs fine (measured at 6Mb/s download).

Phone though has been less successful.   See my next post on this one!

Monday, March 5, 2012

Armadilla Garden Office - Post Install

Well, I have now been in my Armadilla Garden office for 1 week.   A few things to report, but first of all I want to show you why I put the office where I put it. Here is a picture of the view out my window this afternoon;

No buildings... people... etc... :)     I can only listen to mellow music now!

I have now put more content into the office - some pics of that;

I'm afraid I had to resort to Ikea...  budget restrictions...

Early evening, with porch and internal lights now working

Single door rather than double french door fitted due to extra space required for wood burning stove

The view... clutter arrives!

This might be small, but having run it a few times I can say that this is quite sufficient to turn the office into a sauna!

Monday, February 27, 2012

Armadilla Garden Office - First Day

Well, Monday 27th February, and I am in my new Armadilla Garden office.   Unfortunately, still no electricity, and the guys couldn't make it for the final work & snagging, but I decided with the battery life of my Mac Book Pro, and a wifi connection that was working from the office, I could work down here.

The wood burning stove fired up nicely. Only a 4Kw Windy Smithy LOUIS Clarke Thames 4KW unit, but plenty for this small office.  Just a small fire today to check it draws ok, and to take the chill away to work.  1 hour after lighting and the office is fine already.

The Armadilla still needs a bit of leveling.  It is down about 5cms front to back and 4cms left to right. That is easy to do with a jack and bits of wood.   For now, best work to one side of the office so as to avoid rolling sidewise while working!

Now.... to work...

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Garden Office - Lift into Garden and lowering exercise

Over the last week, Armadilla's team have been preparing our garden in readiness to receive a A12 Armadilla Garden Office.  Yesterday, Friday 24th Feb 2012 the base was completed, at around 8:30pm that evening, Ross arrived with the Armadilla securely tied to a trailer;

The task for the day was to move this 1600kg structure over our house, and down 2 tiers of our terraced garden;

The weather again returned to wet and miserable, making moving around on the grass difficult.

 I will post a video of the exercise in the next couple of days, but here are some photo highlights...

Rails for sliding office down slope
Office after lift over house

Pivot point
Safely reached destination.  Just use of the farm jack to lower it the rest of the way onto the gravel.
Level on gravel with wood burner and flu installed. 

Some snagging and tidying up to be done.  The electricity supply has to be connected, and a deck extension prepared.   The bulk of the work is now done.

The Armadilla is looking stunning.  Looking forward to setting up the office contents and getting settled in!

Many thanks to Archie, Ross and the staff at Armadilla.   An excellent job, and a perfect result.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Garden Office - Ground Preparation - 24th Feb 2012

Busy day preparing the base again. Weather was good. Dry all day.  

The 'we have done the pose before' photo...

The base is now installed with 2 tonnes of gravel shifted from the front of our house down to our platform.    Another 35 or so coach screws installed to secure the sleepers.  I will be adding a few more as soon as we find a supplier in Stirling!

Mid afternoon, Ross arrived with the equipment to help with the lowering of the office down the garden.  The drop from the middle to the lower tier is very steep...

Going from the grass on the left looks ok. A bit of work to lift the office onto the ramps... and then a lower job to get it above the pallets... Then.. the tricky part...  The slope doesn't look to steep from this picture...  Lots of help hopefully ensuring it doesn't slide too far down the garden.

Looking forward to the big lift with the crane tomorrow morning!

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Peter Green - Blues Guitarist

I have been a fan of Peter Green for many years.  In my mind, for a short period of time during the last 60's he was the best rock blues guitarist ever.   Back then, he played for the pre-Rumours Fleetwood Mac.

He was at his best playing guitar and singing solo.  One of my all time favourites is a rather rough, black and white youtube recording of him strumming his famous Les Paul guitar, and singing the blues;

The guitar he is playing here is the famous gold Les Paul that he later gave to Gary Moore.  The guitar was famous partly due to a manufacturing fault that gave it a unique sound.  One of the pickups was wound in reverse giving it a particular sound when played with across 2 pickups.  Having said that, the real reason for the unique sounds was Peter Green himself.  He had a unique ability to adjust the volume of his playing - a sort of less is more thing.

Watching him in this clip, it is hard to believe that only a few years later, he would be committed to a mental institution.   Sadly, the guitarist who played with Peter at the gig in the above video - Danny Kirwan-  dropped out of music and was homeless for a while. I have read he is now happily living in Sweden. Anyway, here is another video with Peter and Danny playing awesome dueling guitars;

Notice that during this video, Danny breaks a string mid way through.  You would hardly know. He manages to work his way around the string.  Peter Green mentions this as his reason for playing solo later.

This last video is a more solid blues number that shows off Peter's pure blues guitar.  Enjoy.

Garden Office - Ground Preparation - 23rd Feb 2012

As the song goes, 'what a difference a day makes'.   Today, Archie and his son Ross were up with 5 men to help complete the leveling work.   Once again, the weather was pretty awful, but at least it was warm - 14'c and the heavy rain stayed off.     We were short of coach screws - those muckle great M10 x 15cm things.  Unfortunately, Stirling as a whole was only able to supply 20 (screwfix).   More arriving tomorrow morning.

As before here are a few pics of the progress made today.

A base prepared to take the office on its way to is actual destination.

Looking up at the top side of the new tier showing the existing sleepers, and the new arrivals. More coach screws to be added to finish.  The soil was level with the top of the lower sleeper this morning.
Before the digging today, the decking step on the left was slightly below the earth level here.. now it is clear by over a foot.  I will be putting in something to support the earth below the decking once the office is in place. 

Soil moved from left to right. It was previously up the level of the top of the sleepers next to the barrow.  Lots of digging. As you can see the whole tier is now quite a bit wider due to the pushing back on the right side. 

Look across from the other side of the garden.  Both rows of sleepers are effectively new. The previous set were to the left and not high enough.  Materials were re-used.

You can see the scale of the work above and below.  By putting the shoring up across 2 levels, it provided a means to spread the load, and the single drop.   6 sleepers on top of each other would have had required very very deep posts!

The lads did a great job today.  Tomorrow, just a case of further leveling - possibly adding some more soil, and then putting the gravel down to create the actual office base.

Saturday morning is the lift.  All going well - I should be sitting in the office Saturday late afternoon!

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Garden Office - Ground Preparation - 22nd Feb 2012

Another miserable day for the lads.  All of the posts are now fully in, and the first of the sleepers have been been taken down from the old retaining wall, and is ready to attach to the new posts;

2 rows of posts in to make 2 levels of retaining sleepers. 

 The sleepers will be coach screwed onto the posts tomorrow - Thursday, and then on Friday, the big job of leveling the ground with 2 tonnes of gravel will start (and finish).  Ideally the sleepers would go on the inside... but, as all of the other retaining walls are the other way round, it would look odd.

At least the weather for Friday is looking better, and for the lift on Saturday morning.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Garden Office - Ground Preparation - 20th Feb 2012

Weather not so good today, but Archie's men were out none the less.  After some discussions it was agreed on the best approach to tackle the nasty slope - go deeper! and spread the drop in height across 2 retaining walls at the top and bottom.

Another 1 sleeper deep

Despite the rain.. not filling up (yet)

Lower end... notice the position of the posts - this is where the lower level retainer is going in.  Rather than having a single high retaining wall of sleepers, the plan is to have 2 separate levels - both at the bottom and at the top.  It will be 3 + 3 tall at the top, and 2 + 2 t the bottom.  We are using cheaper Jewson sleepers, so the new ones will be 200mm as opposed to the 225 or 250mm used previously.
Lets hope the weather improves for tomorrow. The forecast doesn't look great until Friday when the office is due to be craned over the house.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Garden Office - Ground Preparation - 17th Feb 2012

Ok - here is the first of my 'progress' postings on the installation of my Armadilla Garden Office.

As mentioned in my earlier post I have decided to invest in a Garden office.   This is/was scheduled to be delivered this week (w/b 19th Feb 2012).

In preparation for this, Archie Hunter sent out a couple of chaps to help prepare a base for the office, on our tiered garden slope.

This is looking down on the target level of the office.  On the left is a trench dug.  This is the anticipated ground level, with posts and sleepers used to shore up the earth.  This might be a bit too high... to be discussed 20th Feb 2012!

Closer look at the trench with the posts ready for  setting.

Looking up from lower in the garden. This shows the height that is being tackled!

This the lower side of the tier. If you look closely, the sleepers have already pushed out due to the weight of soil above them.   placing more earth, and a 1.5tonne office is probably too much for them... so plans needed to further support this.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Just bought one of these Ethernet over Power adapters.  Works nicely.    In fact, better than nicely.  Plugged in the device that sits next to my ADSL router... connected it via the supplied network cable...  Then.. find a spare power socket somewhere else in my house.  Started my Mac - found the Wireless network... entered the WIFI key.. and away I am!

I went for the Devolo starter pack.  Worked out at about 90GBP / 140USD.   We will see how well it works at a greater distance once the office goes in (hopefully next week!)

Sunday, February 5, 2012

HSBC - World Bank - US time

Well - I have found a bank that seems to, sort of.. work.  No bank is perfect.   That especially applies when attempting to work globally.

As the HSBC representative from the Philadelphia branch greeted my business partner (and I quote) -

"Welcome to HSBC where nothing is easy"

So - personal and business bank accounts open - after making a trip in person to the HSBC bank in the US.

So - 10am. Sunday... accessing internet banking to perform a global transfer...  I discover the first thing that is not easy.

Sorry, you are temporarily unable to transfer funds from this country/territory. Please try again later or Please contact call center. (Ref 5128)

So... I dig out the call center information.  I decide to dial the US call center as I cannot find my UK call center information.   I turns out that the systems are down until 6am New York time on a Sunday.  I should try again at 11am UK time...   Mmmm... so, the system is always down until 11am Sunday... Wouldn't it have been nice if it had told me before I keyed in all my transaction details...  and then wasting my time calling the call center.

On the plus side - I am able to see all of my funds in all of my accounts - UK and US at the same time.   And, excusing the problems of systems availability above, I am able transfer funds between the US and UK the same day for no fee's (premier).   I am dinged for currency exchange charges - but that is the norm.

Anyway - HSBC seems to be the best of a poor bunch.. so I am going to keep working with HSBC.


Saturday, February 4, 2012

Nick Drake

A young Nick Drake

I have been a fan of Nick Drake for about 7 years. Strange, considering the fact that he committed suicide in 1974.

This evening, I am listening to a BBC Radio program recorded by Brad Pitt in 2005. Obviously Brad is a big fan, together with other famous folk such as Heath LedgerPaul Weller, Norah Jones and Kate Bush .

I first became hooked on Pink Moon. There is absolutely nobody else like him.  He has a strange haunting voice that has deep feelings. For anyone that has any kind of aspirations to play acoustic guitar, then they will find the skills and beauty of his playing difficult to fathom.   I cannot think of a better acoustic guitarist.   Most guitarists play specific chords in standard sequences, plucking notes etc.   Nick Drake seems to play songs that you wonder how they ever developed.. but after 2 or 3 listens, they just work so well. 

Unfortunately, no videos exist of Nick Drake - all we have are his 3 albums, some compliations and a few youtube videos made up with collages of his photos.    One of my favourites is Road;

For those that want to attempt to play this, I believe the tuning is DGDDAD with a capo on the 4th fret.   His most well known songs are Pink Moon itself and Riverman -->

Hope you can enjoy his music as much as I do.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Shed Working

I have worked from home for over 15 years.  Although, yes, until recently I did travel a lot.

 One of the disadvantages of working at home is the fact that the boundary between work life, and home life becomes increasingly blurred.  In some ways, it becomes less stressful to travel where at least at the end of the working day, I would actually leave the office.

To counter this, and to coincide with a restructuring of my business, I made the decision to invest in a garden office.

Mine will not be blue, but rustic... but it will be similar in shape and size.

This is scheduled to be installed mid February 2012.  I intend keeping a diary /vlog of the installation. Check back for further info!