Archive for the ‘General’ Category

And So It Continues…   Leave a comment

28 February 2019

Five months (and about $120k) into the big adventure… we’ve got almost all the new construction built out; the 2-story garage is framed, roofed, and mostly buttoned up, the whole-front bump-out is framed, roofed and insulated, the entirely-new sun-room is framed, roofed and insulated, the front dormers have been rebuilt and roofed with the rest of the original roof front, and the connecting mudroom between the original house and the new garage has been framed and roofed.  New siding has been installed on most of the new construction and some of the old (all exterior walls will eventually get new siding).  The windows have been ordered, delivered, and installed.  We’re waiting on the two new exterior doors (being painted), the front bay window (in-hand but the window cut-out is the only way into the bump-out area until they break through the existing wall), and the rebuild of the back dormer in the master bedroom.  A hell of a lot has been accomplished in 5 months, but there’s a hell of a lot more work to do.

At first we were able to stay in the house while work was being done (once the water got turned back on and the septic tank was re-attached after being moved), but the house became uninhabitable fairly quickly with frequent power outages and water shut-offs.  We were able to stay at some friends’ house while they were away for 2+ months, and after that we’ve been alternating between staying with Lynn’s sister who lives in Brunswick (about 28 miles south of the Ballot Box) or staying at the Cod Cove Inn in Edgecomb (about 5 miles south of the Ballot Box).

Lynn’s been wrestling with kitchen issues; layout, cabinets, appliances, lighting, and more.  Lots of moving parts here.  She’s also been grappling with what kind of floor we want; solid wood, laminate, etc.  Lots of decisions.

The outside rendering from the architectural designer is online here (yellow shows the original structure we started with), and progressive sets of photos of the progress can be seen on the website’s “Changes Are Afoot” page, that get’s updated every week or two when we drive up to check on progress or consult with the General Contractor or need to research fixtures or cabinets or need to talk with the electrician.

The GC is still saying the house will be able to host the tenth annual Lobster Feed that we throw for Lynn’s side of the family on Memorial Day weekend.  We’ll take him at his word.

Quiet Times at the Ballot Box… Sort of…   Leave a comment

14 APRIL 2016

Four months have quietly slipped past us since my last entry on this blog. Lynn and I have actually been up to the BB six times since I wrote the last entry, but nothing of interest has happened so I have had nothing of interest to write about… until now…

There was a mystery of sorts just before our last visit. I often check the webcam page on the Ballot Box web site each morning that I’m NOT at the Ballot Box, to check on the morning’s weather and to make sure everything is working as expected. It almost always is, except for Tuesday the 5th of April last. The last image captured and transmitted to the web site occurred at 12:36 AM on Tuesday morning. At 6 AM when I checked the web site while eating breakfast, I noticed the lack of recent updates (the system is programmed to send a new snap from each webcam to the web server every 120 seconds, every 2 minutes).

I checked again when I got to work, still no new images, so I hopped onto the Internet and checked Central Maine Power (CMP)’s web site to see if there was a reported power outage in the Ballot Box area. We get power flickers up in that part of Maine fairly regularly, so I have my webcams, my house server running the webcam security software, my router, and my cable modem plugged into a UPS that can keep everything running on battery backup power for about 20 minutes; long enough to skate through 99.9% of the momentary power outages we experience up there.

CMP was not reporting any power outages anywhere near the Ballot Box, but I was not able to connect over the Internet directly to any of the webcams, which usually means the cable modem has shut down, which usually means that we lost power for longer than 20 minutes, which triggers a graceful shutdown of my server which hosts the webcam security software, and power is still out. When power comes back on the UPS initiates a graceful startup of all the equipment, so within five minutes of the restoration of power my webcams begin transmitting images to the web server again. This had not happened yet that morning.

I called CMP customer support and chatted with a technician who tried communicating with my electrical meter over the power lines. No answer from the meter. The tech said that he would dispatch a linesman to our house to see if there was a problem with the power lines at the pole (we have underground utility connections from the pole to the house).

The linesman called me from outside our house and said that the main circuit breaker built into the electrical meter had been switched off, and because the breaker was on the house side of the electrical meter it was the homeowner’s responsibility and he was expressly forbidden to touch that breaker or anything electrical on the house side of the meter. He was also fairly precise in explaining that the breaker had been switched off and not tripped since when a breaker trips the switch ends up in the middle of the throw area, but when a breaker is switched off the switch ends up at the far side of the throw area.

What he was effectively telling me was that someone had manually (and maliciously) switched my main electrical breaker OFF sometime around 12:15 AM that morning – 20 minutes BEFORE the 20-minute lag time for the UPS to drain and shut my server down. How’s THAT for a “WTF!!” situation!

So I’m 160 miles south of the unoccupied Ballot Box (~3 hr drive, one-way), at work, on a work day, thankfully not in the dead of Winter (but it can get cold in Maine in April), and I’m being told the Ballot Box has had it’s power shut off by a prankster and the linesman is not permitted to fix it. Think… think… think…

We had had a problem with our well pump about four or five years ago at the Ballot Box, and we hired Mid-Coast Energy Systems to fix it (I was *not* going to mess with a finicky well pump 408 feet down the bottom of a pipe-lined hole in the ground), which they did, so we had an account with them from that time. I called them, explained the situation to them, and they agreed to send an electrician out to the house (for a fee, of course) to investigate. The electrician picked up the house key we have held in escrow at our fuel provider, and inspected the house inside and out. He could find no problem, so he reset the breaker, re-inspected everything inside and out again to make sure there were no sparks or flames emanating from anything, and declared the problem solved. He was talking to me on his cell-phone in real-time as he was doing this, and as he was standing in our front yard the webcams resumed transmitting images to the web server at 12:48 PM.

Problem solved, sort of, but it was fairly disconcerting to think that A) someone bothered to sneak up to the front of our house around midnight to flip the breaker on our electrical meter, and B) my front-facing webcam didn’t detect the motion of someone in the front yard (the electrical meter is in the direct field-of-view of the webcam, and the webcam illuminates the entire area at night quite well with IR lighting). When motion of any kind is detected – day or night – I immediately get an email showing two still images and a 30-second video of what triggered the detection.

Once we got up to the Ballot Box that Thursday for a weekend visit I immediately checked the house server to see what had been captured around 12:15 AM on Monday morning, and I found… nothing! No motion-triggered archive that night at all. But what I *did* find later that day REALLY got me scratching my head for a bit. At 9:39 AM on Tuesday morning, motion-detection captured the CMP linesman driving up to our house in his bucket-truck. Video capture paused once the truck stopped, but picked up again at 9:41 AM when he drove back out the driveway to leave. That was about the time he called me.

THEN… At 12:46 PM (two minutes BEFORE the webcams resumed transmitting images) the Mid-Coast Energy Systems electrician shows up on the security archive, walking around the house.

Interesting. What scenario would generate these clues? Clearly we did NOT have a power outage that lasted from about 12:15 AM (~20 minutes before the last successful image transmission) until about noon that same day (when the image transmissions resumed), or else I would not have caught the CMP linesman at the house on the security video archive at 9:39 AM. What is most likely in my mind is that we DID have a power outage around 12:15 AM (the digital clocks were blinking in the house when we got there Thursday), and it lasted more than 20 minutes, triggering a graceful shutdown by the UPS. And then the power came back on sometime later, but well before 9:39 AM, causing a graceful startup of the security cameras and server, but NOT of the cable modem for some reason, which prevented the resumption of image transmissions every 120 seconds and email alerts when motion was detected (no Internet connectivity, no file transfer or emails). Furthermore, I believe the CMP linesman was mistaken when he said the breaker had tripped manually, and when the Mid-Coast Energy Systems electrician flipped the breaker switch later, THAT was enough to kick the cable modem back to life, and the image transmissions and email alerts resumed.

That’s my story and I’m stickin’ to it!

Posted 14 April 2016 by Gene Vogt in General, Home Ownership, Maine, The Ballot Box

A Quiet and Relaxing Turn of the Calendar…   Leave a comment

14 JANUARY 2016

Another “last week of the year” spent at our getaway in the meadow by the brook – our favorite way to ring in a new year.

As is our pattern and preference, Lynn and I spent Christmas down south with the family, and headed north the day after.  Christmas Eve was spent at Megan & Dan’s house in Lowell with the usual crowd (Dan’s parents Paul and Susan, sister Anna and her husband James, Audrey and Todd), and with new invitees this year; Gail and Cam came down from NH, Kris came down from Maine, Dylan came up on the train from Boston, and Megan and Dan’s friends Jessica, Ashley, Jeremiah, Brianna, Morgan, and Morgan Jr. joined us for a relaxing and enjoyable evening.  Good food, good drink, good company, good conversation!

Gail and Cam came back to the TreeHouse with us to stay overnight, while Kris and Dylan bunked out at Megan and Dan’s, and we all re-convened at our southern house for Christmas morning  stockings, breakfast, and under-tree presents.  The meal was a feast of breakfast pies (two quiches and a French-toast casserole) and our traditional Christmas breakfast treat of bagels and cream cheese with Nova Lox – and red onion for those that wanted it.  The overnight visitors departed for homes about when the girls and spouse/fiancée departed for in-laws/future-in-laws.  Later in the day we wandered down the street to my sister’s house for a while, delivering the grand-nieces’ and grand-nephews’ presents, then back to the house for a light supper.

Saturday morning we packed the car for eight days in Maine and aimed the CX-5 north.  Lunch at the Kennebunk exit rest area (mile marker 24) broke up the drive nicely (we – or at least I – have a soft spot in our palate for Popeye’s Fried Chicken, especially the biscuits). We stopped at the Shaw’s supermarket in Wiscasset for a first round of provisions (milk, eggs, salmon and a veggie for dinner, etc.), and got to the Ballot Box around 4:30 pm.  The salmon we bought was fresh farm-raised, and I grilled it in my usual way (grilled on very high heat, basting frequently with seasoned lemon-butter), but it just wasn’t as good as our usual Faroe Island salmon that we get from the fish market at the bridge in Damariscotta, but of course not as expensive, either!  That meant we’d have to be sure to do another slab of the good stuff during the week, which we did!

The rest of the week was relaxing and low-key.  We cooked all our meals at home until the last few days, listened to a lot of music, read books, watched TV, I did some tele-work, Lynn did a lot of quilting, I changed all the smoke-detector batteries on New Years’ Day (the replaced batteries had an installed-on date of March 2013 – shame on me!!), I worked on getting the daily noon snap image capture from the webcam working for the new exterior webcam rather than the window webcam, and then rewrote the display page to pull the image from the appropriate web site subdirectory based on the date (pre-2016, pull from the old webcam archive; 2016-and-beyond, pull from the new webcam archive).  I love JavaScript!

Thursday (New Year’s Eve) we met Jan and Joyce at Mae’s Café in Bath for lunch, stopped afterwards at the Reny’s in Bath to look for some specific items the Reny’s in Damariscotta didn’t have, discovered that the quilt shop in Bath appears to have vanished, and headed back to the Ballot Box to mix up our traditional New Year’s Eve clam dip (a can of chopped clams, a brick of Philly Cream Cheese, Worcestershire Sauce and salt to taste), and try to stay awake until midnight.  Ordinarily we would also watch our 20+ year old recording of Dinner For One, but we decided to loan our DVD copy to Jan and Joyce so they could experience it, so we watched a movie on Netflix and a PBS special, then flipped channels between the ball dropping and other stuff while eating chips and clam dip.

New Year’s Day was also pleasantly quiet.  We initially headed for Crissy’s Breakfast and Coffee Bar in Damariscotta for lunch, but they were closed (as were most shops in downtown Damariscotta) so we headed to Sarah’s Café in Wiscasset to enjoy their soup and bread bar – haddock chowder for Lynn, beefy chili for Gene.  Back to the house for more relaxing activities, then off to the Newcastle Publick House for a delightful New Year’s dinner – petite beef wellington to share as an appetizer, seafood pasta for Lynn, lamb rack chops for Gene, all from the daily specials menu.

Saturday was also quiet and relaxing. I got a second “noon-time web-snap” from the exterior webcam, which made me feel a bit more confident that I had cracked the code on how to capture and archive a noon-time snap from the hi-res exterior webcam to the web site.  I had had it working since 2 July 2011 on the low-res indoor webcam that looks out the front window over the front lawn and driveway, and I’ve made rapid-snap year-long videos of that view to watch a year go by in about 4 minutes (set to music, of course), but I wanted to transition over to the hi-res webcam on the first of the year; Dec. 31, 2015 and earlier would be low-res, Jan 1, 2016 and later would be hi-res.  To do that cleanly I needed to overlap for a short period of time; dual noon-time snaps, one from each webcam.  I cut it a little closer than I wanted to with the new webcam, getting it snapping at (or about) noon with just 2 days to spare.

Sunday we reluctantly packed up and headed south; our 8-day-escape was over.  BUT… we get to go back up 15-18 January because I get MLK Day off!

Posted 14 January 2016 by Gene Vogt in General, Maine, Newcastle, The Ballot Box, Winter

Webcam Replacement Follies…   Leave a comment

1 SEPTEMBER 2015

Last May (Memorial Day week, to be specific) I finally got the prep work done to be able to do what I’ve wanted to do since I started using security webcams at the BallotBox, mount a weatherproof webcam up under the eaves on the outside of the house, aiming at the front yard and driveway area. I chose a Foscam FI9805E 1.3 Megapixel 1280x960p H.264 Outdoor Power Over Ethernet (POE) IP Camera. I use indoor Foscam cameras and like their functionality and software interface, and Foscam runs occasional on-line sales via directed email to their registered customers. I got it for less than half the list price.

Power Over Ethernet (or POE) is a common commercial and professional camera configuration that delivers device power over unused wires in a standard Ethernet cable, which for me means that I don’t have to wire a 120v 60Hz AC weatherproof outlet up under the eaves of the house along with an Ethernet signal cable (yes, I know they make wireless outdoor cameras but wireless signals get iffy over distance with lots of solid wooden things like floors and walls in between). I had the camera, I bought a POE injector (a power supply that injects 44-57v of DC power onto specific unused wires in a CAT5 Ethernet cable as per the IEEE 802.3af standard), I ran about 45 feet of armored direct-burial-rated CAT5 cable along the rafters in the cellar then out a hole in the sill then up a conduit to the location where the webcam would be mounted, and I spliced RJ45 connectors with sleeves on both ends of the cable. I was ready.

Disappointingly, Foscam chose to wire in multiple methods of connection for the FI9805E, so there was the black POE-capable RJ45 LAN connector I wanted hanging off the back on a 2 foot cord, ALONG WITH a black alarm connector, a black Audio-in connector, a black RS485 connector, a black audio out connector, a black power-only connector, and a black reset button, all on a 2-foot cord.  Seven cables with seven connectors, six of them I did not need or want. Sigh. I packaged up the unused connectors into an elongated bundle, let the RJ45 LAN connector hang a bit lower than the others, then mummy-wrapped everything in white electrical tape (to hopefully blend in with the white trim on the house), except for the end of the RJ45 LAN connector cord.  It looked like a small white snake had swallowed a large rat.

IMG_20150529_170458491I extended my Little Giant hinged extensible ladder up to the spot where the camera would be mounted and tied neck lanyards around my DeWalt 18VDC cordless drill AND the webcam so I could hang them around my neck to keep my hands free while climbing on and standing on the ladder.  I stuffed a screwdriver, screws, a Phillips-head bit, drill bits, pliers, and a hammer into my pockets for the vertical climb and headed up.

Slowly and meticulously I mounted the camera bracket and the camera to the side of the house. I plugged in the Ethernet cable, checked the “IP Cam Viewer” app on my phone, and VOILA! There was the side of my head on my phone!

20150529-1558-BallotBox1bI slowly (and gratefully) climbed down off the ladder, emptied my pockets, put away my tools and my ladder, and sat down at my server to finish configuring the new webcam in my Blue Iris webcam management software.  The high-resolution camera provided a delightfully crisp and detailed image.

In Blue Iris I can configure various things to happen based on triggers, and triggers can be motion-based or time-based; If something moves in the field of view, I can have Blue Iris send me an email – with still images and/or video clips of the triggering event – and/or I can have Blue Iris record video of the triggering event and archive it to the local server and/or a remote storage location via FTP.  I can also take a snapshot of the camera’s view every X minutes apart and store the images locally and/or at a remote storage location via FTP.  I can also have Blue Iris take a snapshot at the same time every day and store the images locally and/or at a remote storage location via FTP.  These three things I do.  I can also specify when during the day (8am – 8pm, sunup to sundown, etc.) these things happen, but I run surveillance 24×7.

I can also (thankfully) adjust the sensitivity of the camera to the triggering event, and the area of the field-of-view to pay attention to (motion in one area of the image triggers an event, but the same motion in another area of the image does not). Set highly sensitive, I get repeated emails (sometimes hundreds) when it rains at night and each individual raindrop gets illuminated in infrared as it streaks by. Some night-flying insects apparently also fluoresce under infrared light so I get emails when the bugs are out. The first few days after the initial end-of-May deployment of the under-eaves camera were quite rainy at night, so I got 6-8 HUNDRED emails per night. TOO SENSITIVE!!

BallotBox1a.20150601_041310_757147Also poorly-installed.  My white electrical tape bundling of the unused connectors inadvertently left the RJ45 connector jack on the camera facing UPwards, so the jack acted like a small rectangular rain gauge, collecting rain-water, which shorted out the 44-57 volts of DC power and damaged the camera. It lasted about 10 days.

Next trip up to Maine (19-21 June) I climbed back up on the ladder, unmounted the camera, brought it down for testing, and determined that it was dead.  It was still under warranty so I sent it back to Foscam for RMA repair.  It was returned to me mid-August.  I tested it out and it worked perfectly, so I re-taped the unused connectors into an elongated bundle again, making sure to arrange the RJ45 connector jack so it hung facing DOWN this time!

This past weekend, after spending most of the weekend priming and painting the (now not-so-new) new deck at the BallotBox, I got time to haul out my ladder and climb back up under the eaves and re-mount the repaired webcam.  The damn thing still didn’t want to cooperate. I got up there (up on a ladder is not my favorite place to be, as you may have guessed by now) and remounted the camera, plugged the POE Ethernet cable in, configured the RJ45 connector jack to hang DOWN this time rather than up like a rain gauge, taped the connection to keep any blowing water out this time, and fired up my cell phone webcam app (from up on the ladder) to re-aim the camera in real time… but no signal.  WTF?? I poked around a bit but finally decided I needed to access the feed from my computer in the basement.  Down the ladder… still no signal.  First I suspected the POE power injector so I swapped it for the injector I have on the twin camera aiming out the back deck slider.  The suspicious injector worked fine on the other camera, so that wasn’t the problem.

When I took down the camera a few months ago before sending it out for repair, I cut off the old RJ45 plug and re-crimped a new one while up on the ladder in case the water-based shorting damaged the plug, so I decided I had crimped the plug badly.  I loaded up my pockets with networking tools (crimper, wire cutter, scissors, blank RJ45s, and my color wiring diagram cheat-sheet) and climbed back up the ladder.  Slowly and meticulously I cut off the old RJ45 and crimped on a new one while hanging onto the ladder and trying not to lose my balance.

BallotBox1a.20150830_145335_757147Down the ladder… check the feed on my computer… still nothing!  I was getting annoyed now.  The camera was working perfectly when plugged into the POE injector with a short cable in the basement, so the source of the problem had to be the armored direct-burial-rated CAT5 cable run from the POE across the basement ceiling, through the sill, into the conduit and up the outside wall of the house.  One RJ45 connector (up under the eaves) had just been replaced, so I decided to replace the RJ45 connector in the basement. That fixed it.  Back up the ladder one last time to finally re-aim the camera, and got this lovely portrait of my left ear emailed to me in the process.  Motion-detection sensitivity was set low, but not off.

By then it was time to take a shower and scrape off all the dried paint on my hands from the deck work so I could catch the DownEaster train south to ARTC in Woburn.  Next weekend (going back up on the train Friday morning and down on Monday evening) I need to adjust the motion sensitivity – I set it off when my face was right in front of the camera when I was back up on the ladder and finally able to re-aim it in real time, but I had desensitized it back when I was inundated with rain-generated emails the first time, and cars pulling up the driveway won’t set it off now, and people walking around definitely won’t set it off. The every-two-minutes image capture is already being FTPed to the BallotBox web server for near-real-time viewing.

Posted 1 September 2015 by Gene Vogt in General, Home Ownership, The Ballot Box

Where’d the Sign Go??   1 comment

27 JULY 2015

IMG_9646For those who are local and who notice these things, the “The Ballot Box” sign out at the end of the driveway has been removed from the post. Don’t panic, nothing’s changed.  The sign has been up for almost six years and is showing a little weather-related wear-and-tear along the edges, so it’s in the basement undergoing minor R&R (Repair and Renovations).  I had originally gone out Saturday to attach a shim under the sign bracket since the 4×4 post it’s attached to has developed a distinct curvature towards the road and the curvature affected the levelness of the sign, but when I got up close I could see the paint peeling a bit along the top and side edges so I took the bracket and sign down to do the work.  Since we’re only up on occasional weekends I’m guessing it will take about a month to complete the work.  It’ll be back in no time at all!

UPDATE 15 AUGUST 2015

img_20150815_112732264a-25pct20x-BAnd now the sign is back!  I repainted the edges of the sign that showed wear-and-tear, restriped the black border trim, repainted the bracket, took down and refinished the brass post numbers, repainted the black band on the post, replaced the hanging hardware with stainless steel eyes and s-hooks, coated the sign and the numbers with spar urethane, replaced the brass screws on the numbers, and remounted everything today.  Good as new!

Posted 27 July 2015 by Gene Vogt in General, The Ballot Box

Lupine Season is Here!!   Leave a comment

(click on any thumbnail to see the full-size image)

16 JUNE 2014

Lynn’s efforts to encourage the proliferation of what SHOULD BE the Maine State Flower(*) in the vicinity of the Ballot Box are really showing results this year! The first image to the left is a shot of Lynn’s garden by the door of the Ballot Box, which proves that the local folklore myth that you can’t transplant and cultivate lupines is just that – a myth!  The other image to the left is a perspective shot of the largest segment of the lupine field that is right beside the driveway and can be seen from our dining area table.  It’s important to note that there were NO lupines in that spot five years ago! The image on the right shows the new lupine field-in-training Lynn is starting just across the driveway from the first field.  We even tried transplanting some of the “cultivated” lupines by the house out to the end of the driveway by the road this spring, and those are healthy and blossoming merrily too!

The lupine “season” is fairly short so it’s nice that we caught it in peak this year.  Once the flowers bloom and go by, and the seed pods along the stalk dry out (July? August?), Lynn picks the pods and lets them dry out more (in a paper bag, I think), then cracks them open in October or so and scatters the seeds before the snow flies, along the edge of the driveway by the existing field and in other places around the property.  They’ve set up pretty well by the driveway, but the meadow along the front lawn closer to the house is being a bit more finicky… there’s a single lupine stalk standing proudly but alone in that meadow so far.

(*): What IS the Maine State Flower??  The White Pine Cone!      Really??      Isn’t that a TREE???

Posted 16 June 2014 by Gene Vogt in General, Maine, Newcastle, Spring, The Ballot Box

Swallowing Hard…   Leave a comment

16 JUNE 2014

Every year in late winter (before the snow is gone from the yard) Lynn and I pop the post cap off the far left picket fence post in the front yard up in Maine, and replace it with an identical post cap that has a swallow birdhouse mounted on it, in preparation for the migratory arrival of the house swallows to the area.  Swallows eat bugs, including mosquitoes (that’s a GOOD thing in Maine), and they like their nests/houses to overlook their hunting grounds – a meadow or front yard, or BOTH!

This year being no exception, a family of swallows occupied the birdhouse (can’t beat the rent!) and raised a brood.  Last Saturday in the late afternoon, I set my camera with telephoto lens up on a tripod inside the house and aimed it out the picture window at the fencepost where the birdhouse was.  Both parents were hunting and delivering the mosquito-sauce meals continuously, so the brood was probably big and on the verge of fledging.

I got some good shots – and one video – of the process [click here for all the images], which wasn’t easy because the birds were so fast (luckily I had a cable release on the camera so I didn’t have to keep my eye pressed to the viewfinder).   AND… my wife caught the babies fledging this morning!  She snapped a picture (with her camera-phone, the last photo in the set) of one of the fledglings hanging on to the roof of the birdhouse for dear life – must be an acrophobic bird!!

Posted 16 June 2014 by Gene Vogt in General, Maine, Newcastle, Spring, The Ballot Box