The perils of monolithic building

It’s just over a week until I hope to raise my straw bale walls and plonk a roof on them to finish the final stage of my building work. My decision to build without a wooden frame was made on a lot of factors, but primarily because once the walls are done, I don’t need a wooden frame. Trouble is, when you plan this way, I forgot one key element;

Britain.

It’s a lovely country, but as any Brit will tell you, it’s bloody irritating when we have to rely on the weather. It’s one week until my straw will be arriving, and I couldn’t be more unsure about the possible forecast. It couldn’t be worse at the moment – snow, rain, wind and everything else except sunshine and those fluffy white clouds.

This is what this weekend looks like...

This is what this weekend looks like…

The long range forecast puts a tiny tiny bit of rain on the Saturday, and no rain on the Friday, so I’m keeping my fingers crossed that this stays this way, but here we discover one of the true flaws in building with straw bale – you need shelter on your building site and flexibility with your time. Two things I don’t have. If you are reading this, and you have a spare minute, please send a prayer my way!

Perhaps if I were to start this project again,I would consider a temporary roof, or a permanent structure that allows me to lower the roof onto finished walls, which would give me shelter whilst I built the straw. But for now, I just have to hold my breath and hope that I get two decent days where I can do the walls!

Going to Space! & Upcoming Volunteering

Despite the snow, I have commenced working on the garden this week – digging the back trench which will eventually be the back wall near my building.

I’m hoping I will be organising two volunteer weeks soon, one in the February half term (11th Feb – 15th Feb) and one in Easter (25th March – 5th April) where the straw bale will be going up! I’ll email a newsletter soon to confirm all of this.

In other news, I have joined a competition to go into space – this is not a joke! I need to be voted into the top 200 before I can enter the next stage, which is physical and mental testing. For this, I need your help. If you can spare one minute, vote for me here – http://bit.ly/WILszR

Your email won’t be used for anything other than the vote – my friends have not received any mail after voting, so please don’t let any worry about spam stop you from voting! Many thanks!

Post-Winter Blues

I had a few hours in the garden this morning, after a hours or so yesterday digging, and it gave me the chance to look at what needs to be done now that the days are once again getting longer and the evenings lighter.

I can’t remember when I last did a good days work on the garden, and the work we did yesterday was mainly clearing up after the very wet few months we’ve had – my telegraph pole wall could not stand up to the force of the water & mud, so that has collapsed, and the back walls where the shed will stand which I am building the tyre wall to cover have all collapsed into my rubble trenches. Fortunately, I saw the latter one coming, so I had prepared for it a little, and to an extent, the telegraph pole wall has not surprised me, but it can be a little crushing seeing the repairs needed.

Anyway, with the coming weeks, I will be hoping for a nice dry Spring, and looking forward to getting back to it! My arms ache after a tiny bit of work, and I need to work the muscles back into action! Hopefully I’ll get some photos up of the site as it looks currently.

Extracting Images from iTunes .itc or .itc2 files

All credit goes to Joe Walton for his rather handy Tools for iTunes Libraries (titl) Project – http://code.google.com/p/titl/

In the last post I looked at how you can find iTunes artwork for a track from the library persistent ID and the track’s persistent ID. But that isn’t much use unless you can actually get the artwork from the *.itc or *.itc2 file. Below is a java method that I wrote, using code from the above project, which takes an artwork file and returns a BufferedImage which can then be saved to the hard drive, or stored into the ID3 tag of a track however you like.

You will need the rest of the itil library to use this code.

import org.kafsemo.titl.Input;
import org.kafsemo.titl.InputImpl;
import org.kafsemo.titl.Util;

/**
 * A class to extract image data from an .itc2 file. Minimal implementation
 * using notes from <a href="http://www.falsecognate.org/2007/01/deciphering_the_itunes_itc_fil/">this article</a>.
 * 
 * @author Joseph Modified by Alun King to simply return the first image.
 *         Original code can be found at http://code.google.com/p/titl/
 */
public class ExtractArt {

	public static BufferedImage extractArt(File f) {
		Collection&lt;byte[]&gt; streams = extract(f);

		/*
		 * This method actually can return more than one image if there are
		 * multiple images stored in the itc file. So this code will only return
		 * the first, but you can loop through and get them all.
		 */
		byte[] image = streams.iterator().next();
		BufferedImage trackArtwork = null;
		try {
			ImageIO.read(new ByteArrayInputStream(image));
		} catch (IOException e) {
			System.err.println("Image not read correctly.");
		}
		return trackArtwork;
	}

	private static Collection&lt;byte[]&gt; extract(File f) {
		Collection&lt;byte[]&gt; streams = new ArrayList&lt;byte[]&gt;();

		int remaining = (int) f.length();
		System.out.println(remaining);
		try {
			InputStream in = new FileInputStream(f);

			Input di = new InputImpl(in);
			while (remaining &gt; 0) {
				int bl = di.readInt();
				String type = Util.toString(di.readInt());

				if (type.equals("item")) {
					int ltd = di.readInt();
					di.skipBytes(ltd - 12);

					byte[] ba = new byte[bl - ltd];
					di.readFully(ba);

					streams.add(ba);
				} else {
					di.skipBytes(bl - 8);
				}

				remaining -= bl;
			}
			in.close();
		} catch (Exception e) {
			e.printStackTrace();
		}

		return streams;
	}
}

I hope that is useful! I’ll try and get the whole XML parser working soon and then I will be able to automate the artwork being embedded into the music file.

Merry Christmas

I’ve been quiet for a few months on here, as the nights have closed in and not a lot is going on in the garden. I’ve put a few paving stones down to make the path up to the shed a lot nicer, and laid some decking, so I do need to post but I’ll have to wait for a nice day to get some good photos!

Until then, I hope if you are reading this, you have the heating on, or even better a fire is lit and you are enjoying the warm feeling that being with your friends and family brings around Christmas time. Stay safe and don’t drink too much 😉

I’ll be updating with more posts as Easter approaches!

Winter is Coming

This weekend has given me some great weather, and it’s been a good opportunity to take stock of progress and look forward to wrapping things up for the winter. I’ve got half term approaching next week, and I’m hoping that I can finish the major work and have a well-earned rest over the winter, turning my thoughts towards the roof and walls design.

So, here is the progress that has been made. Lets start with a photo of the site back in July..

Coming forward three months, and lots of heavy work, the site now looks like this..

I’m actually a few tyres away from getting the site totally flat, and clear. Once thats done, I think I’ll have to have a little celebration! The tyres at the back will be six high, but for the moment, I’m doing them three high until I’ve got some rebar from the local steel company to strengthen the walls. They are solid enough, but to make sure they don’t wobble as the walls get higher, a solid bit of iron down the courses should do the job. I’ll post a blog on this when I add it.

Meanwhile I have noticed a problem with some of the tyres – no doubt an issue of rushing the first course. My piles of tyres which will act as retaining walls are ever so slightly leaning outwards, into the back wall. I’m not sure if this is an issue yet, but I am going to try and level it using some stone before putting the rebar in. The retaining wall will be filled with rubble so the tyres shouldn’t fall, but I need to make sure they won’t subside when the roof goes on, bearing in mind the massive weight that the roof will be.

One tier down from this, the first wall I built is pretty much completed, and looking good. I’m thinking about some creating finishes, but you can see here what it looks like.

So, I’ve got one week left now until half term. I’ll be sure to keep you informed about how it goes as I near completion for this year.

Rammed Tyre Foundations: Installing the french drain

So, this weekend just gone, I had another successful volunteer weekend. With a good lead up to the weekend, we had a scorching Saturday, and managed to get the materials in place for the french drain, which will serve the purpose of directing any run off away from the walls of the building, and prevent it from building up behind the retaining wall.

The general principle of a french drain is that you sit a perforated pipe in a trench, and cover it with gravel. Any rainwater will then filter down between the gravel, gather in the pipe and drain away. A good website showing how it is done well can be found here: http://www.nachi.org/french-drain-inspection.htm

What made my installation a little more complicated is that I wanted to add in a waterproof membrane to ensure one side of the drain didn’t let any water through to the tyre wall. So I had an installation more like this diagram:

Installing a drain looks so clean and fuss free on other websites, but I found the practicality of it to be much more difficult!

measuring out the length

We first out had to measure the membrane, which was 2m high. We rolled it out along the trench line and gave some slack to be sure everything would fit.

folding the membrane

With the distance cut, we folded the membrane in half and tucked it down into the dug out trench. Because we were going around corners, and, on the front of the wall especially, the trench was not evenly supported either side, this was a lot more difficult than first imagined!

Laying the pipe

Finally, we tucked in the pipe and started throwing stones on top to hold it all down. Work on this is currently ongoing, so I’ll post photos when it’s all done!

Volunteering Weekend in September

I can’t believe how long it’s been since the last volunteering weekend. I assumed I would be able to do plenty of volunteering over my holiday, but I was so busy, it didn’t happen! I’ve had some time to plan ahead now, so I’m setting the date for the next weekend and hoping for some decent weather!

Dates: 22nd & 23rd September
I will possibly be free the weekend before as well, but I will be carrying out some repairs on my house which may take all weekend. However if you want to come down, and can’t make the date above, please let me know and if there are a few of you, I can see if I can switch dates.

Work To Do
Hopefully, for the final time, we will be ramming tyres! I hope to have finished the trench for the building by the time the weekend comes around, so we will be laying the drainage pipe, installing the waterproof membrane around the outside of the tyre wall and putting as many rammed tyres into the wall as we can!

I also have some decorative dry stone walling to do, and earth sifting to create some garden patches, so if you don’t fancy swinging a sledgehammer around for two full days there is work which will allow you to rest the arms!

Accomodation & Food
As with previous times, I should be able to put most people up in my house. For food, I’ll supply sandwiches and an evening BBQ/Meal for both Saturday and Sunday. So far, no one has stayed in the garden in a tent, but it depends on how many people attend! Which brings me to the last bit of the email…

If you are interested
Give me an email at alun<dot>king<at>gmaildotcom and I will send you all details, like location and times and anything else that crops up between now and the date. I’ll then keep you up to date with information on that specific date!

Summertime!

Sorry I haven’t updated the website in a while! I have only just settled down from my crazy summer and work is feeling like a break, rather than a chore :-)

In July, we hit Secret Garden Party with Green Stewards and had a great time working over the four days. It was almost a washout, but the Saturday and Sunday shined down a treat, and everybody packed up in dry weather, thankfully!

Straight after that, we hit the road with the mighty VW Polo and drove 3300 miles from Crosskeys to Bratislava and back. The trip was organised by Student Adventures and we had a cracking laugh completing challenges across Europe in a adventure along with about 60 other cars.

As soon as we got back, it was packing the bags for Greenman Festival in Brecon, which never fails to amaze. Chilled out atmosphere and a good Saturday and Sunday’s weather meant 2012 was another great festival year!

I have been looking at my calendar for September, and I’m hoping for an improvement in the weather. If things go the right way, I’m making a determined push to finish the foundations and groundwork for a straw delivery in March/April. So, expect a newsletter soon, probably on the coming weekend!

June Volunteering Weekend

With the weather in the last few weeks taking a more depressing turn, I’ve not had a lot of time to get much done in the garden. A month ago, I planned the dates for the volunteering weekend to take place on the 9th & 10th June. I was quite concerned that the weather would force me to call this off, but, as if mother nature was watching over the weather herself, a window of no rain and gorgeous sunshine fell on the very days I was planning!

The friday before the arrival of the volunteers was absolutely horrible. I was assured by Derek (the local weatherman) that Saturday would be the opposite, and I wasn’t let down. By the time the volunteers had arrived and unpacked, the sun shone on the back garden, and smiles were firmly fixed on faces.

I was fortunate to have some very hardworking people helping me this weekend. My mum and dad were on hand to help out with gardening and feeding, and some of my friends came up to help out with the tyre ramming. My volunteers had come from all around the UK, and attacked the work with enthusiasm and seemingly unstoppable energy. It wasn’t long before all the tyres I had were rammed and sitting in the ground waiting for the next course. To ensure I had more to do, I had to change my plans and do the last course of my wall with 155’s, otherwise we would have been out of tyres completely!

Saturday evening was spent relaxing near the Cwmcarn Visitors centre. We found a spot where we could dip our feet in the freezing cold water! Those who dared took a dip, but it was far too cold for that in my opinion!

A small spot of rain on the Sunday morning threatened to put a stop to the work being done, but without hesitation, the volunteers threw on their rain coats and marched out, tools in hand to do the work. I was mightily impressed at the positive attitude on show. We were rewarded with retreating rain clouds and a nice warm, cloudy day to work through.

With the tyres being rammed, I managed to get some more work done on my dry stone wall, so my little pond area is coming along nicely too. The trench for the foundations of the north side of the building have also been started, so given some more time in the garden, I should soon have one ‘L’ of the wall done! Only two more trenches to dig then and I will have a building outline! Exciting times.

Many thanks to Chris, Nicola, Sarah and Tom for coming along on the weekend. Your enthusiasm will be hard to match!