September Fires, Wild Winds and Subdivision Design

The weather is crazy here, there are two people dead, houses have burnt to the ground, people have been evacuated, and wild winds have whipped across the state as fifty bushfires remain burning at the end of the day. The temperature here in Newcastle was as high as 35 degrees this morning, we were in air-conditioned comfort for most of the day, but its still 28 degrees here at 7pm tonight, as we try to get the girls asleep.

Robyn quoted a news report today that said that it is predicted that this summer there will be twice as many days above 35 degrees Celsius compared to last year. This is a worrying statistic for bushfires, drought conditions, water supplies, and energy consumption for air conditioning.

We live in a hundred year old weather board house just kilometres from the coast. The house is sturdy, but not well sealed against this sort of wind, and these temperatures. Our house is typical of many in the city of Newcastle, poorly designed against increasing temperatures and severity of storm conditions that are expected with Global Warming.

Bushfires in September are rare, deaths and property loss from early bushfires are even rarer. The rural fire service planning regulations for prevention of fires are hotly contested by developers who feel that land dedicated to provide an asset protection zone against fires is land lost from sales potential.

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How to Run a Mobile Office for under $1500

I am a Bedouin, a Nomad deep down inside, I long to be freed from the constraints of the office, of the cubical, of the bondage of a desk and swivelling chair.  As a consultant and an Engineer, there are plenty of times that I do need to be in the office, but when it comes to crunch time and I need to get work done, there is nothing better than weighing anchor and saying farewell to cubeville. I’ve written about these desires deep within me before, but today I thought I’d offer a how-to on this.

Bedouin WorkshopBut, to do this you have to be prepared, these are my tips to keeping productivity high while out of the office.

The Tools:
A widescreen wireless laptop, with all the software needed to stay productive.   I usually pack a mouse and spare mousepad depending on the surface I’ll be working on.  If I’m going to be out for longer than my battery will last, I’ll either pack a spare, or a power cord.  I also pack a headset for VOIP with Wengo.
In my case my software list includes;

  • OpenOffice – opensource MS office equivalent, free,

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Native Title Ownership of Perth and surrounds

Aborigines win ownership of Perth – National –

THE West Australian Government will appeal against a Federal Court ruling that granted native title of Perth and its surrounds to the indigenous Noongar people.

No it’s not April fool’s day, but it makes you wonder.  Native title has been successfully argued in many remote, farmland or industrial areas as well as some National Parks, however, this seems to be one of the first times that a Federal Court has granted Native Title over residential land.

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Working With Your Hands

As a boy, I loved to watch my Pop working in his shed, he was a carpenter by trade, and a good one at that. The skilled handling of timber and tools to create usable or functional items, or homes for people to live in was a skill I was in awe of. The smell of the sawdust, the feel of the ear muffs, the whir of the table saw, it was a joy to watch this strong man use his hands to create. I loved the fat pencils used with a square to line up cut marks, and the fact that he would let me into his working world. I would travel to worksites, sitting in the old Kingswood stationwagon, ham sandwich in a bag along with my Pop’s, packed by his loving wife. He was great with his workers, everyone respected him. I never aspired to be a carpenter, but I respected his ability, and the skills of the trade. His skill was far superior to the labourer on modern day subdivision housing sites, which barely represents carpentry as an art, rather more like painting by numbers.

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Level Spreaders – Questions from an EIT

Today I was asked by a junior engineer, (EIT) if we had any details of a level spreader design. I told them, “Sure, we’ve got a typical detail, but I wouldn’t use it”. Of course an answer like that tends to raise more questions, (intentionally in this case!), so I dug out some of my notes that I’ve collected, and thought it might be useful to the world, if I published them here, I’m going to write them up in metric and modify them from my experience, so it’ll take a couple of days, but anyway, here’s the story.


LevelSpreader.Charlotte.JPGGenerally, engineers look for the lowest cost solution to themselves, like a typical detail or a cookie-cutter design template. Not bad in many situations, but you’ve got to know when you can apply the simple rules, and when you’re likely to need more detail. So what I’m going to say will probably annoy a lot of those type of engineers…

The design of a level spreader is a direct product of the downstream filter strip design requirements.

“Hang on, filter strip? You never mentioned a filter strip!”

(Yes this is a real conversation)

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Sit in a PARKing spot

Some cities have very little green space. The guys over a Rebar, a group of designers and activist in San Fransisco have started a day of action that you can read about here…


One of the more critical issues facing outdoor urban human habitat is the increasing paucity of space for humans to rest, relax, or just do nothing. For example, more than 70% of San Francisco’s downtown outdoor space is dedicated to the private vehicle, while only a fraction of that space is allocated to the public realm.

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The Fifty Dollar House

Today we made the second step in our commitment to building our first earth covered home. The first was a couple of years ago when we purchased the Australian Earth Covered Buildings book by Sydney Baggs, which after reading much US and European information on the web, gave an excellent Australian perspective of the types and forms of construction, and from their experience as Australia’s preeminent earth covered homes architects, give a great insight into the technology and its benefits in the Australian Climate. I would provide a link to Amazon, but when there is one available at $150 US, I think the provided link to the author’s website will set you in better stead.


Today we purchased another book, this time The $50 & Up Underground House by Mike Oehler which gets great reviews. We’ll blog a review of the book as we work through it, and probably provide some online sketches as our design ideas develop.

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First Flush Devices for Industrial Sites

ffwd_diagram_1.JPGIn the world of roof-water collection, first flush devices are about as technical as it gets from a collection cleaning or filtration perspective. Roofs are a good source of relatively clean, free water, generally suitable for outdoor use or for indoor use such as toilet flushing. However as with any surface, roofs and gutters accumulate debris ranging from leaves and dust through to bird droppings. Storing these contaminants within a rainwater tank can produce nasty odours and may require extensive cleaning of the tank after a period of time.

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