As those of you following me on Facebook or Twitter would know, the big news this week is that Serenity Valley has Internet! In the previous post, I said I was going to get an iPhone, but I changed my mind. I went into town just after midnight on the night of the 2nd (early the 3rd) to pre-order a Verizon iPhone, but failed to do so because I have a pre-paid account which isn’t eligible. By the time I was able to switch my account to post-paid later on the 3rd, the first batch of iPhones had already sold out, and I would’ve had to wait until the 9th to get in on the 2nd batch. That, I decided was too close to my planned Day Zero for Project 31, so it was time to switch to plan B. Additionally, I decided that I didn’t really need an iPhone. I have a first generation iPhone that was given to me for free as an award when I was working at Yahoo!, but shelling out $200 for a new one? And get locked in to a 2 year contract where I have to pay $75/month? I eventually decided that was too rich for me right now.
So, I decided to get a Verizon MiFi. With a 1 year contract, it’s $70 + tax (came out to a tad over $90 with various fees), and $35/month for 3GB ($10/GB after that). If I also have a pre-paid phone, that will only cost me about $15/month, so for $50/month, I can have internet & phone service. Plus, I can keep using my old iPhone as a mobile internet device by using the MiFi’s wireless connection.
For those of you unfamiliar with the MiFi, it is a thin, credit-card sized device that does one simple thing: it connects to the internet via Verizon’s wireless network, and turns into a WiFi base station (you can see it in the photo above, where it hangs near a window). To put it in simpler terms, I push a button on the MiFi, and then I hop on my laptop, connect to the MiFi’s wireless network, and presto, I’m online! And, I have to say, it works beautifully. The connection is fast enough to deserve the label “broadband,” though it probably doesn’t hurt that nobody else in my area is using that network (so, ironically, connection speeds may be lower in the city).
The speed is really a mixed blessing. Because it’s so fast, I can use the internet as I would on any broadband connection. Except, I have a 3GB cap (or, rather, would have to pay if I exceed the cap). On the one hand, this is somewhat frustrating. The connection is fast enough that I could watch TV shows on Hulu. But I have to restrain myself if I don’t want to exceed my limit. On the other hand, I think this works well for me. I have a finite amount of resources on my property, including a finite amount of electricity. It only makes sense that I have a “finite” amount of internet as well. When I’m in the city, I’m horrible at regulating my internet consumption behavior, so I’m actually glad that my electricity and bandwidth limits will force me to restrict my internet usage, at least when I’m on Serenity Valley.
Also, Hut 2.1 has electricity! By which I mean, I got a 100ft extension cable to draw AC power from my “power station” (solar panel + battery array + inverter, located in a clearing) all the way to the cabin. In the picture above, I’m using a 13W CFL bulb, but I’ll be switching to the LED bulbs soon. I also recently got battery-powered LED spotlights, but I’ll write about those in a separate post.
In other news, I’m getting better with the stove. In the last post, I wrote about how I was having a hard time keeping a small fire going. This problem has now effectively been solved, by doing two things. The first was to fill in a big hole in the stove with aluminium foil, so that the only place where air can get in is the actual air intake. So, now, I can actually control the air flow, which helps control the fire. The second thing I did was to put some rocks in the combustion chamber. What was happening before was that, as soon as a “log” (in my case, a peice of mountain mahogany 2-3 inches in diameter and 6-8 inches long) finished burning, the remaining hot coals would scatter over a large area, and the dispersed heat would be insufficient to burn the next log. By filling about a third of the combustion chamber with rocks, I am forcing the glowing embers into a smaller area, and the concentrated heat is sufficiently hot to get the next log going.
With these two changes, I can now keep smaller fires burning longer, and keep the hut at a comfortable 65F (18C) degrees. The one remaining issue is that, while it may be nice and warm up in the loft (which is great), it’s a good deal colder downstairs. This may be less of an issue once the floor is insulated, but I’m also planning on running some ducts and fans to circulate the air and even out the temperatures. (Question: should I blow hot air down, or cold air up?)
With Project 31 approaching, and with this strange spell of sunny weather bound to end with it (I mean, it just has to), I’ve been thinking about how much firewood I should store up. After all, if the weather gets wet, I may not be able to harvest more fuel for a while. But how much wood is enough? Well, that depends on how much I burn. So, to get an estimate of my burn-rate, after I got a couple of backpack loads (second load was less than full, so call it 1.75), I split the wood into smaller piles of 5 pieces each, with each pile weighing probably 4-5 pounds. I ended up with 13 such piles, which lasted me 4.5 evenings (though, a few of the evenings were pretty warm), burning 2.5-3 piles per night. So if 2 backpack loads give me 5 evenings’ worth, for 31 days, I should have 2x(31/5) or about 12 backpacks’ worth.
Having done all that work, though, I can’t remember exactly how many backpacks’ worth of wood I have right now… But I’m out of space under the hut, so, well, I hope what I have is enough. The nice thing about this mountain mahogany I’ve been harvesting is that its bark is usually stripped, leaving the hard wood, which doesn’t seem to soak up much moisture. So even if it snows (or rains), I should be able to find reasonably dry fuel, especially from trees that are dead but still upright (and therefore won’t accumulate much snow).