The Auxiliary Building

As much as I know we need a project management system to build the Geek Ranch I will leave that discussion for another day. But, my current experience illustrates a case when project management software doesn't solve the problems.

The first building we are going to construct is what I will call the Auxiliary Building. This is a 4 meter square building that will house a backup generator, batteries and inverter and act as storage for extra chairs and such when the main building is open. During construction, it will serve as a storage space for tools and equipment.

The building will be constructed from concrete block with a concrete floor and metal roof supported by metal 2x4s. All of one side and half of a second will be built using "decorative block"—one foot square blocks with a bunch of opening in them. This will serve to allow free air flow for the generator and batteries.

Sounds totally normal for Nicaragua and probably even fairly normal if you were doing the same thing in the U.S. But, we have a few local twists to make this at least amusing. Here goes.

  • We need to get the road repair work done so trucks with building materials can make it to the building site.
  • To repair the road, we need water to mix concrete.
  • We need electricity to run a pump to get the water.
  • The electric utility won't hook up the power until they see construction in process.
  • We can't bring in the generator until we have a building and a road.

Now, if you know of a project management program that can solve that problem, let me know. If not, I will make Gixia, my business partner, solve it. Her job is to do the impossible.

In any case, in her absence (she has been in the UK for a month) I have been trying to get some things sorted out and designed. The Auxiliary Building design was a good example. I can't say I went overboard with Linux on the design but it was used. First, I had to make a decision about roofing material. The choice was between Nicalit, pretty much like cement with fibers in it, or metal, commonly called a "zinc roof" here.

Nicalit offers a better thermal barrier and looks nicer (you can get it in red so it almost looks like clay tile) but it weighs more, costs more and, most important, requires a greater pitch. The greater pitch means taller walls on one end of the building. KCalc to the rescue.

In a past life I had a scientific calculator—in other words, one with trigonometric functions. Even my wife had one. But, mine has vanished and hers has gone to calculator heaven. KCalc addressed the problem just fine and I did remember enough trig to actually solve the problem. Zinc it is.

The next problem was to make some drawings so a bricklayer could actually make what I have in mind. Now, to give you some background, the only class I ever failed in my life was Mechanical Drawing in high school. While I think the major problem was a distraction in the classroom—I forget her name—it is still pretty clear that something other than me doing the drawing work was the best answer.

Enter CYCAS3, a program for doing drawings which includes great support for architectural drawings. It is available for download as a DEB, an RPM or a tarball and you get your choice of the English or German version. I uneventfully downloaded the DEB package and a quick sudo dpkg --install cycas3-en_3.80-5_i386.deb installed it. It appeared in the Graphics menu and all seems well.

Now, before I go into my specific experiences, let me talk about the license. What I downloaded for free is "CYCAS public". This is for non-commercial use. More important, it has no import filters, only supports one drawing layer, only exports to POV-Ray, PDF, EPS ans SVG and has a maximum print/export size of A4 or US Letter. The basic version is only about $100 and offers support for up to 1000 layers, DXF single-layer and 3DS import and a print size of A3 or US Tabloid. The final step up is the professional version that will do, well, most anything.

While I prefer Open Source software, after looking at the other Linux-based choices for doing the kind of drawing I need, CYCAS was the best fit. Should I actually need to do more drawings I will purchase the basic version.

While drawing lines and boxes in any program will be relatively easy, if you want to do a real architectural drawing, it gets a bit harder. For example, walls are not things with no thickness. Well, CYCAS knows about walls and even about different types of walls. Better yet, there is a tutorial which even includes an example of doing a garage plan. The building I am doing is not that far from building a garage. Quickly going through the tutorial is well worth it. After that, a few lookups in the reference guide and you should be well on your way.

This description is from the beginning of the tutorial.

CYCAS is used in a step by step, point to point mode of operation which gives you total control over every detail. The input of data in CYCAS is done by confirming each step and you have several input options. In order to illustrate this philosophy we urge you to try the following examples. The examples "Triangle" and "Square" are designed to briefly demonstrate the input of drawing elements in CYCAS. The third example "Garage" illustrates how you draw walls and openings and it shows up how to combine the input options in CYCAS. Finally we will guide you how you can create a perspective view of the garage easily.

Now, I have never used AutoCAD because it isn't available for my computer system so I don't know how much work drawing this building would be in AutoCAD vs. CYCAS. But, I do know that CYCAS works, did what I needed and didn't cost me anything. So, it gets a gold star in my book.

That's it for now. I'm still looking for that project management answer. I'll keep you posted.

Oh, one followup on LimeSurvey. The survey I wanted it for is about what a Gringo might want in the way of housing if he were to move to Nicaragua. If you have any interest, that survey is available here. On the list for the future is a survey of non-Nicaraguans who have lived in Nicaragua for two or more years. This was suggested by one of the people that took the first survey.

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