Archive for the Contribution Category

WordPress – Using it to manage websites

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I’ve been playing around with WordPress for about two years now.

http://wordpress.org/
http://coactlab.com/blog/projects/
http://how2pointoh.blogspot.com/2007/05/using-reblog-with-reblog-w-google.htmlI started off using it for typical blog posting, del.icio.us bookmark posting, and a host of other blog/social media type solutions.  I began looking into using it to deploy multiple users and blogs for a side-project I was working on with William Hodges call Resellr (private for now).  We checked out WordPress MU.  It allows for multiple users and blogs to be installed either as subdomains i.e.,  rob.collaborationchronicles.com or as directories within the domain i.e., collaborationchronicles.com/rob .  This is a great tool as it allows the domain admin to control any aspect of the WordPress install, such as themes, plugins, etc., all from within the WordPress MU admin screen. This was a great solution for allowing multiple users to login and post items, photos, etc. More recently I’ve been using WordPress to act as a stand alone website with all the functionality of a blog (time relevant post, heirarchy, tags, categories), but with the functionality of a website (newsletter, contact us, flickr photos).  We can use the power of WordPress as a dynamic webapp that can pull content from a variety of social media sources.  With the extensibilty of WordPress paired with the community of developers creating wonderful solutions WordPress really is a great fit for websites. I’ll give you a case example of how I used WordPress to create a fully function website on the cheap and in a hurry.
http://claremontfoodnotlawns.com/

Claremont Food not Lawns is a local community organization that help to spread awareness about food sources and help people convert their lawns into wonderful gardens.  I met them at a Wednesday night Green Market in Claremont.  They said they needed help to get a website up and running, as the site that they currently had was unfinished.  They had one of the vital components to making a sucessful website: content.  I met with Mary Beth and Todd to determine their budget and what they needed done.  As a community organization they were going to need the following:

  • Monthly Newsletter
  • Email contact page
  • An events page
  • Photos
  • A news page (this is where the newsletter content will come from)
  • Various information pages (how to volunteer, articles, etc.)
  • A Youtube video post
  • A link roll, resources, friends, etc.
  • A way track traffic
  • A way to automate the monthly newsletter

I determined that WordPress would be a great solution for their needs and began creating the framework for how the site would function.  I compiled a list of the plugins I would require to accomplish this task.

In term of functionality here are the plugins that I use to handle my needs.

Askimet – For comment spam, it comes installed with WordPress, simply active the plugin and enter your API key from WordPress.com

Google Ultimate Analytics – Google tracking for websites.  http://wordpress.org/extend/plugins/ultimate-google-analytics/
Tan Tan Noodle Toolkit – For handling remote Flickr set as  albums on the site.  http://tantannoodles.com/toolkit/photo-album/

Example: Claremont Food not Lawns Photos

Google XML sitemap plugin- To create XML sitemaps and auto submit to search engines: http://wordpress.org/extend/plugins/google-sitemap-generator/

Example: Claremont Food not Lawns Sitemap
Contact Form- To handle emailing from a form on the site: http://wordpress.org/extend/plugins/contact-form-7/

Example: Claremont Food not Lawns Contact Us

http://claremontfoodnotlawns.com/contact

Google Calendar- To pull events from a shared Google Calendar: http://code.google.com/p/wpng-calendar/

Example: Claremont Food Not Lawns Events Calendar

http://www.claremontfoodnotlawns.com/event-calendar
So with these plugins and a basic theme I was able to have a fully functioning website within a few days.
I created a screencast on how to install WordPress from scratch in about two minutes, you can check that out here or embedded below.

Sketch research trip to Jewel Lake, Berkeley

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My tax guy let me know that I have a little slack after paying the government more than necessary for the first 3 quarters of 2008. It seems like a good time to work on a plan I have to animate stuff for a new website. It will have a lake (ho ho, my last name), with a loch ness monster and etc. I felt like doing some field sketch for research. (Also, I always have concrete fatigue living in the Mission.) So I decided to take a few hours for a bike trip.

Googling led to the bay area hydrography wiki, which had a list of aquifers- bays, creeks, springs, and lakes. I wanted a small one that wasn’t landscaped and might have frogs and herons and seclusion. Jewel Lake looked good, and it was a 45-min. BART ride and a 2-mile bike ride into Tilden Park.

2 miles over a mountain- arrgh. Plus I’m slightly sick with a sore throat, so that was murder. Dragging myself out the door late also meant I didn’t get there until after 4pm. There was just an hour of magical sun over the mountain.

I wandered around taking pictures of mossy shit in the woods with my fancy new googleyphone (the 3mp camera is supposed to be good.) Then I sat on a log to have an orange for lunch. A berkeley hippie in all-white was there, and he started chatting. It was amusing at first, until he got into talking about liver cleansing and the alchemical properties of hallucinogens. It was harshing my mellow, man, so I just answered “mmhmm” and after a while he left to berate someone for smoking. I managed to squeeze in 1 sketch (no warm up) at twilight. The air suddenly chilled and I left, last out of the park. Next time I want to spend at least 3 hours drawing.

Opportunity Knocks… Strike while the iron is hot!

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Following my Nov. 8 Adventures at the abandoned storage auction:

Last night I was doing my regular home business stuff, and came across an ad for a sale that looked too good to be true. It was a private owner trying to auction 1 locker by 7PM, because he was leaving town in the morning. Could be a fishy setup but the ad promised treasure. I have no storage, but if I could unload it fast per piece, the work would pay off. There was lots of computer stuff- not up to date, true, but possible to make the money back on only a portion of it- it seemed.

I dropped everything because it was only a 15-min. bike ride away. When I got there I saw that the promised treasure was iffy-to-awful. I might have considered it based on 2 of the items, except the guy behaved like he was literally on crack. I wouldn’t have bought a locker full of gold bricks that way.

This happened to me once before, except the guy was sane (at first) and his stuff was good. I bought and made bank on re-selling, until 6 weeks later he emailed me from Prague begging for his stuff back. There was no business reason I should have replied, but there were humanitarian reasons. He got half back in return for my original investment. Each of us got half a loss, and half lucky. It was a pain to deal with.

Opportunities like this help learn about risks, hidden costs, and the importance of scoping out what you’re buying and who you’re negotiating with. I lost an hour out of my busy night last night, but you never know if you don’t try, right?

I Don’t Always Take the First Thing that Comes to Me

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I was thinking about ambition this morning and realized that sometimes slow and steady does win the race.  Picture 100 people locked in a room.  Someone comes in and says “You all have to prove that you’re worth a steak dinner.”  Since there were 100 people that had no food to eat, they all jumped at the opportunity.  Naturally, the best salesman won and got a nice steak dinner that held him over for another couple days.  The problem is, he didn’t share with the other 99 people.  So now there’s a good chance that a few of these people would have some serious problems.

The next day, that same person comes in and says “You all have to prove that you’re worth 100 nights of steak dinner in a row.  If you’ve won a dinner in the past, you cannot participate.”  If this person split up every dinner 50 times or so every night, and let them all eat, they could all survive, albeit very hungry all the time.   Would this person share, though?  The second  best person will probably follow the first and keep it all to himself.  

Where would you want to be in this line of things.  What if the dinners increased to 1000 days, or 2 a day for 100 days?  If you knew this before hand, where would you step in and prove yourself?

This is true for 100 job applicants in a new business, or a new business hiring employees, isn’t it?  So in a recession in whatever field you’re working in, where do you step in with a perfect resume and say “I want the job now?”

Servers (the computer kind)

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Last year I got everything I needed to make a Media Center server.  The goal was to put Linux MCE on it.  After reinstalling Ubuntu and Kubuntu no less than 10 times, I gave up and decided to use the server to store all of the music I had purchased and downloaded from the past.  I had 2TB of harddrive space, and if I set up a RAID5 array, I would have about 1.5TB of available space for media.

So I moved all of the music that was already digital to it.  Now I’m in the process of ripping all of my CDs, and then it will be onto ripping vinyl.

The funny thing about CDs is that I can only rip one at a time.  I’m ripping them into FLAC, because my server will convert them to MP3 when streaming, and FLAC is lossless in case I wanted to burn a CD from it again.

Then I got bored and decided to go in on a server with four VPS’s in a datacenter for a few bucks a month.  My VPS is running CentOS, while my home server now has Ubuntu.  Getting the package mangers confused happens often, but it’s nothing big.  The one thing I haven’t yet set up is a DNS server so I can host my own nameservers.  I was thinking about going with a free nameserver host, so that it could answer for me.

Once this server is up, I’ll be able to host sites on it.  It uses ISPConfig’s management panel and allows resellers.  I still have to get mod_ruby, mod_python and Django installed for development and for anyone who wants it.

The funny thing is, one of our competitors at Collab21 is looking for a new host, and has asked us.  I hope luck like this continues as we move forward with Workshop Wednesday.

Natural Nannies LLC — Cooperative child care visits Academy of Science

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Recently I have become a part of a local company called Natural Nannies. It started here in SF as a co-op of women looking to create a group to support each other in their childcare positions. It is now an LLC designed to teach and support its unique group of nannies.

penguin underwater

I recently went on some field trips with other nannies to local attractions with a group of children. Seeing the Academy of Science from the perspective of a child is a amazing thing to witness. Something as mundane as a school for fishes swimming by suddenly becomes a sight worth stopping for. And an albino alligator becomes a mysteriously pale creature worthy a hundred questions. The penguin show was also a great exhibit; a wall of glass revealing underwater tunnels full of curious birds bobbing up and down. So close to the glass that a small hand could almost stroke the tiny feathers shining under the false sun. Another surprise hidden on the delicately painted walls of an African exhibit was the miniature elephants. A family of ghostly elephants walking across a distant savannah magically appears from the painted bushes only to disappear in a stand of coloured trees. A fantastical illusion to a child becomes merely a technical mechanism to an adult, a projector placed out of sight.

All and all my second tip to the Academy of Science was a wholly different experience given the context of children. It is always refreshing to experience a new perspective on life, through different eyes.

A triple strategy for staying afloat with self-generated income

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A cash crunch isn’t the biggest worry if you get a regular paycheck, and your income generally meets expenses.  You can wait for the next check to fix it.

If you don’t get a regular check, a cash crunch can be devastating.  A lot of people have a very limited safety net.  If you fall through it, you might have to swim upstream just to get back where you were before.   Some people don’t make it.  Other people call parents for help.   Who wants to do that?  Even if there’s never a cash crunch, living on unreliable income can cause worry even when times are good.

Here are 3 things to do for more security:

1.  Have a portion of income be dependable, even if it’s lower-paid than other work.  If it’s passive income, great.  It could be a part-time job that doesn’t crowd out other things in your schedule.  Hopefully it can bring other benefits and synch up with other work.  Working-at-work can make time spent at a poorly-paid job even more valuable than time spent on better-paid work at home.  Night clerk jobs are decent for this.  Personally, I watch a lab at a college on weekends.  It allows very useful student discounts; free classes; access to resources for my animation freelance; U.I. (hopefully- I’ll find out on summer break); and a place to work that’s often more relaxing than staying home, where there’s always distraction.  Don’t mention this to my bosses (who are great), but I was also able to negotiate the most beneficial schedule possible, by mentioning my home business (that I work on at work).  I can call it a commitment if I want to, and it pays more than the part time job, so if they really want me to work there…

2.  Have some flexible income.  This work doesn’t need priority, and you can drop it if other commitments come up.   When you decide to devote a lot of effort, it can pay off well.  Maybe you don’t want to do it forever, or it’s not worth devoting too much energy to make it grow, but when it pays it helps a lot.  Personally, this describes my home book dealing business.  The main work is locating stock- after that it’s easy.  So, some weekend mornings if my calendar is free, I stock up to cover the next few weeks or months.

3.  Have a higher goal — a plan or a project to work on that might advance your career, expand your business into new areas, or lead to a higher level full time job you’re not ready for yet.  It can be something to work on when working is easy, like a personal project for the love of it.  Or it can be another kind of flexible income that you will want to do forever.  Personally, that’s animation freelancing.  In the past it has been full time employment- maybe it will be in the future.  If I get spare time I can work on personal film projects that help with skills.  It’s feast-or-famine and competitive, so I don’t expect it to come when I want it (unlike the book business), or know how long it will last.  But, it might have more long term career potential than the other work.

Having 3 (or more) occupations going on means that you can lose one and still be OK, or take time off when they get too demanding.  You can lose 2, and have some resources to look for another without too much worry (or wasted time standing in line for food stamps- it’s a lot of work to be poor.)   Or you can focus on one exclusively when a great opportunity comes.

Adventures at the abandoned storage auction

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For Collab21, we have been paying attention to the economic crisis and how it affects our chances to get space.

I have been noticing effects for my personal business as a book dealer.  Poor spending affects sales, but certain titles suddenly come into demand with the day’s headlines.  When people move and get rid of goods, it affects my sources for stock. Sometimes it makes good opportunities.  I wouldn’t intentionally profit from desperation, but people move all the time and simply have too much stuff they don’t want. Processing it through the secondary market is a service that often counts as recycling.

With so much flux in housing, I figured today was a good day to check out a possible source I have heard of from other dealers- an abandoned storage auction.

The ad said something like this- “By official notice under the law: these properties are considered abandoned due to failure to pay rent, and will go up for auction.  Owners can bid with the rest of the public, and ownership will pass to the winning bidder.” (List of properties and owner’s names). There were 10 storage units up for auction, plus a 4-unit lot holding the contents of an entire house. No owners came.

My destination was in the industrial area by Potrero Hill and Dogpatch.  On friday nights, when I go south for fun, I often bike by there on the way to the Caltrain station.  This storage place was a sprawled-out lot packed with shipping containers and prefab units, bordered by the overpass, paved over some train tracks.

I left an $80 deposit in the front office to get in- I guess that was to discourage frivolous bidders who didn’t really have money, and might wreck the contest.

This is the friendly auctioneer with his Harley jacket.  He had the fast patter of a guy who really enjoys selling, and wants to encourage you to buy.


(Sorry for poor photo quality- I wasn’t expecting to blog this.)

This is how the auction goes:  they crack open the door of the unit, and give everyone a quick look in from the doorway.  It’s an 8 x 12 space. It might be packed to the ceiling with neatly boxed goods, it might be total chaos, or it might be nearly empty with a lonely pile of junk in the corner. You can’t go in or touch it.  It’s as-is, WYSIWYG.  That’s an ooooh moment. People love it- it’s like opening Al Capone’s secret vault.  The way it’s packed always makes it a gamble.  Who knows what you might be bidding on…

“10 pounds of coke!”

“A box of playstation games.”

“You gotta get hazmat down here for some of this shit.”

“See that guy?  One time he got a real nice digital safe.  He was smashing it on the ground thinking it was fulla cash.  Guess what he found when he finally cracked it.  A passport!”

Bidding starts fast, and there’s an exciting few minute long contest.  It ends with laughs and people yelling “cha-ching!” or making fun of the winner’s silly gamble.

The lot of 4 was bid in a different way.  First people bid on each unit by itself.  Then there was a chance to beat the total price and take all 4 at once.  That part got the most silly.

It was 11AM on a friday, and 30 or 40 people were there.  They weren’t office workers. There were lots of working class contractor type guys- some of their wives- a few of their bosses, and small entrepeneur type people. Outside of those regulars, there were some younger hipster-looking guys- a rich looking lady who bid strongly on a unit full of furniture- and a russian lady I know as a yard sale regular.  She was casually scouting a new place like me.  Only a few people were there for a serious contest.  I imagine if you had a big truck, a warehouse, and maybe an employee or 2, you could do well at this.

Clarence was one of the small entrepeneur type people- an african-american guy perhaps in his early 30′s, with a jeans jacket and a small picture of Obama on a necklace.  He bid strongly on everything, and he didn’t seem to have a very specific business. He had cash to spend and was looking to get lots of stuff, cheap.

Mr. Auctioneer cracked open a unit that had a dismal pile of metal stuff, spray cans, old tools, and extension cords.  It looked like leftovers from some boat business.

“OK, we’re opening bidding on unit K-92.  Kayniner two, startyourownhomedepot!  Do I hear 50! SeventyfiveseventyfiveSeventyfiveONEhundred!”

Again, Clarence bid strongly and won.

“SoldsolsoldSOLD to the man with the fat wallet!”

“Man, Clarence just paid $250 for a bunch of bullshit.”

“That box mighta had high end power tools in it.”

“Hey Clarence!  Know what Obama stands for?  Oh Boy Another Mistake Again!”

“Yeah?  Guess what was in that box.  4 power tools!”

———

Next up was a ton of supplies for a plant nursery.

“Clarence, are you getting into the nursing business?”

“Get yourself some grow lights and you’ll be rolling in it.”

I talked to a few of the youngest guys. These weren’t even the hipster types- they looked like college guys.

“Are you putting in any bids today or just watching?”

“It’s our first time.  We just bought one for $75.  It didn’t look like much from the outside, but you never know.  We needed a bed frame.”

—-

One unit looked like a bunch of trash- just piled up cardboard- but people were intrigued.

“That’s recycling shit.”

“Look, this guy sold on ebay.”  There were some envelopes among the trash.

“That part’s from a vending machine.  There’s probably a whole machine taken apart in there.”  It went for over $200.

The 4-unit lot came up. This was the biggest part of the sale.

“Cash only!  No checks no credit no girl’s phone numbers no motorcycle parts!”

“You bid, you pay a month rent.  No 2 day renting, no prorating!  This is San Francisco, everyone’s gotta make their money.  I gotta rent these units out!  $280 each if you get them all, $360 for one! But I’m a negotiable guy.”  I imagine if someone could clear a household of stuff out of 4 units in one day, they might negotiate out of $1000 on top for a month’s rent.

“These people are crazy.  They’ll probably pay a grand for a bunch of firewood.”

“Take a look at the packing.  If you see a high end moving company, you know they paid to move it right. You’re going to get something.”

“$3000 for that, they’re crazy! ”

“I’ll bet they’re into the flat screen.”

“I hate looking at a unit full of boxes.  It makes me think, you could put empty boxes in there and write ‘Baseball cards, 50′s and 60′s’ on them.  Or ‘Comic books, 40s and 50′s.’  A guy I know paid $1000 for a unit at this shitty moving company, and the secretary whispered something to him about that.”

Me:  “Get some cardboard, some cargo containers and a vacant lot, post an ad, and you have an auction.”

“It would be cool if they pulled out 1 box and started at $20.  I’d go for that.”

Me:  “Me too.  I came down on a bike, and I’m not hauling a truck load.  I just do books.”

“I have a load of books to get rid of.  Have a card?”

Me: “If they’re the right kind, I might rent a car to pick up.”

“We got a $5000 bid!  Do I hear 5 and a half!”

A burly guy with a shaved head was sweating and tense. This was the part he was waiting for. He hadn’t bid on the individual units- he waited to bid on all 4. His opponent wasn’t going to take them easily. “He said he gotta go home for the money.  Cancel the sale!”

“Cash only, right here right now.  Back at 5! $5500…”

“Gimme that for 6.”

“$6000… goingoinggoing-lastchance, soldsoldSOLD for 6 big ones!” The burly guy won.

Who knows how much the household of stuff originally cost, or what happened to the owners… but that’s what happens to abandoned property.

————

As I was leaving, an older black gentleman in an Obama shirt was clearing out the first unit I saw when I came in.  It was one I liked a lot, with office chairs and file boxes. If I had the spare time and space, I might have speculated on the chance of finding good books. Legal books, maybe.

He was plunking file boxes outside and sighing.  “I just bought a bunch of paper.  $220 for a bunch of paper.”  They were labeled with titles like “Substance Abuse Legal Studies”, and full of folders and memos.

Me:  “If you find any books, I’ll help you find a home for them.  Here’s my card.”

He had a big cargo van parked by the unit.  “I’ll probably end up hauling this all to the recycler.  I might get $20.  All that time and gas.  But It’s gotta go.  If I took it to the dump they would charge me $30.”  The storage company probably took a rental deposit with the bid, to keep people from walking away from losing gambles and leaving them with trash again.

I didn’t find anything to buy, but it was a good show for my $80 deposit.

Intensive Gardening – Part II

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I finished planting the lettuce today, which means that my side of the garden is totally planted. I laid out a 6′x16′ area originally, but there is a 1′x14′ pathway, so I have about 82 sq. ft. of garden planted. Anders and Anna haven’t yet planted their side, but we’ve added about 2 yards of organic compost to the whole 16′x16′ plot so far.





This is a view of the entire garden. We’ve fenced it off because of a neighbor who uses the back yard for her dogs. We agreed to let them use a 2′x20′ strip of land which we flattened for them. I plan to plant some native grasses which (hopefully I can find) are resistant to dog urine.


Next steps are to get a better irrigation solution, make some gates and possibly redo the fencing to something better. If we keep up the soil, this stuff could be very fertile. I’ve read that it may take a couple years, so I’ve asked my landlord if I could lease just this plot of land for gardening if I move out. I haven’t heard back.


In other news, my friends and I have started a gardening site/blog to share information, tips, and ideas about gardening, seed sharing, and other issues related to feeding yourself. Please check back, we’re just getting going with this.

Intensive Gardening – Part I

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After a friend sent me a link to Freelance Farmers website, and after all of the talk of the Slow Food Nation event that happened last weekend in San Francisco, I was inspired to search and find out more about this French Intensive gardening method I was hearing about.  After reading about it a bit on the internet, I found a reference to this book, which led me to a garden supply store in Palo Alto.

When I measured my garden, I realized that I had attempted to garden on about 400 sq. ft. of earth to very limited success.  Yeah, I got a lot of lettuce, but I couldn’t keep up with the supply!  Also, I found that I hadn’t dug down deep enough, added any nutrients or compost, and over watered my seeds before they even germinated.  This was bad news.  I only wanted to try this method on 100 sq. ft., and I had a 16′x16′ plot which could easily be fenced off, raised a bit, and shared with someone else.

So I called my friend Anders, who was looking for land in the city that he could garden on.  His back yard is a porch with some home made containers.  We surveyed what we needed to buy in terms of irrigation, fencing, raised box wood, nails, tools, etc.  We also talked about seeds, plants, and fertilizer.  We decided to check out Common Ground in Palo Alto to see what they had to say about soils, seeds, etc.

Saturday morning (before the Slow Food Nation event I had tickets for), Anders, his girlfriend Anna and I went down the Peninsula and met some really happy people.  I bought the book everyone was talking about, looked at fertilizers, talked about methods and what to do at this time of the year.

Anders and I spent about $400 total on fencing, hoses, fittings, nails, 1″x2″ “fence posts”, seeds, and fertilizer.  The only thing we didn’t get were tacks for the fence, and compost (which we should be able to get for free from the Alemany Farm).

Sunday morning (not so bright and early) I started double digging.  I thought we could get through the whole 16′x16′ plot in a few hours.  Boy was I wrong.  After trying different ways to get 1′ of topsoil out of the ground, I traded tilling and digging until I got that far down.  Then I started using a pick axe.  Then Anders showed up, and after two hours of really intense digging, I removed 4 cubic feet of soil…1/4 of one row.  We had 16 total rows to get through.  Later on, we realized that the corner I was working in was the most compacted soil in my back yard.

Anyway, after using different tools, we found out that Anders was better with a shovel, and I was better with the axe.  Neither of us liked the other tool, so we traded off running down the rows digging or removing soil.  We finished three rows, got some lunch, came back to finish another three rows, and my original 16′x6′ plot that was for me to use was dug.  We still have 10′x16′ to do, but Anders says he probably won’t double dig that part.  Eventually, I’d like to.

What we had after the first day (we added stones and bricks to the walk way).

What we had after the first day (we added stones and bricks to the walk way).

Then we put up some fence posts and 6″ wood I got for free on Craigslist to make “raised bed”.  Now I have to get compost, spread it, spread fertilizer, hook up irrigation hoses, and plant some seeds before I can make any more progress.

To-do’s beyond that: build another compost heap for the winter; finish tilling/digging the rest of the plot; clean up the path ways so we can make gates and doors in the fence, and; build an automated irrigation system which is connected to a weather station that can water the garden automatically.