Archive for the ‘The Ballot Box’ Category

“All God’s Critters Got a Place in the House!” *   2 comments

* with apologies to Bill Staines

17 June 2018

Baby SquirrelBack a couple of visits ago, we found a baby squirrel, dead, in the wastebasket by Lynn’s side of the bed when we first arrived at the Ballot Box for the weekend. To us that meant a mother squirrel had gotten in and had her babies somewhere in the house. We don’t have an attic in this house so we were (and still are) a bit puzzled about where the nest might be. According to some quick research, squirrels have 3-4 offspring in a brood, so there might be more. We were also a bit confused about *how* they might have gotten in. We have occasional trouble with Meadow Voles (a.k.a. American field mice) as the fall turns to winter, but mousetraps seem to be able to stem any possible tide of Microtus pennsylvanicus.

Our next visit was for a week-long stay in conjunction with the Memorial Day holiday. We throw a “Start of Summer” party for Lynn’s side of the family each year on the Sunday before the holiday, and this was the week. We got up on the Thursday before and began plans and preparations for the party. The next morning after Lynn had taken her shower, she went back to the bedroom from the bathroom (Au Naturale, of course) and grabbed a big canvas LLBean Tote in the hall that we often use as an overflow suitcase. She went into the bedroom and plopped the bag down on the padded hassock/bench in front of the window, and out jumped another juvenile squirrel that started running around the bedroom – with Lynn as naked as a jaybird. Needless to say she was a bit Victor Mouse Trapstartled and perplexed. So was Lynn! The squirrel retreated to under a half-height folding bookcase full of shoes in the corner, and Lynn got dressed quicker than she ever had before, giving the bookcase a wide berth! We moved the bookcase to see if he was still there, but the squirrel had apparently retreated from that hiding place to a different one. We set out a couple of mousetraps in the upstairs hall soon after that episode.

That night we heard some rustling and rummaging around upstairs while we were watching TV, and then a “SNAP!” and a wailing ruckus from upstairs, so I went up to investigate and a baby squirrel – we assumed THE baby squirrel – was thrashing around in the hallway. It was a bit too big for the mousetrap but still was caught by the leg. I tried to put a wastebasket over it but as I approached it got loose and scurried into the bedroom, again under the bookcase. We slowly moved away all the stuff in the corner near the bookcase, and then Lynn stood with a blanket poised to throw and I moved the bookcase to reveal the wounded squirrel. Lynn threw the blanket over the squirrel and I tried to stun it under the blanket to keep it from escaping as we tried to bundle it up in the blanket and take it outside. We tossed the blanket containing the squirrel into a trashcan and carried it outside. When I unfurled the blanket the squirrel fell out, dead. That was two…

During the rest of the week (after the party) I noticed mouse movement along the top of the foundation, emanating from one specific corner of the house, while I sat at my desk in the cellar working at my computer, so I figured that the critters had found a way in at that corner of the foundation, up under the trim-boards that box in each corner of the house and run up the side of the house to the roof. I went out to that corner during the daylight hours (ostensibly while the critters were out and about) and jammed a bunch of steel wool up into that trim-board corner to block re-entry with something that can’t be chewed.

The next trip up (two weeks later) we found a dead mouse in the upstairs bathroom wastebasket (they sometimes fall in and can’t get out, not unusual), but there was stuff askew and knocked around all over the house; a walking stick had been tipped over by the door, the umbrella in the corner of the downstairs bathroom was on the floor, a vase had been knocked off the kitchen counter, a greeting card had been knocked off the hutch, and the upstairs bathroom had been “ransacked,” the cup of toothbrushes knocked on the floor, all the accouterments in the shower (soap, shampoo bottles, a plastic pitcher for rinsing the tub after a shower, facecloths, etc.) had been knocked off their shelves and into the tub. So we started investigating… and also found a hole had been chewed in the inside fiberglass screen on one of the closed casement windows in our bedroom. We considered booking a room in a B&B for the night (we had arrived ~9 pm and it was getting late) but none of the B&Bs in the area were taking guests yet. So we went to bed, wondering if a squirrel was going to attack us as we slept.

Nothing happened during the night, and the next day (Friday) we started a deeper search of the upstairs. Eventually Lynn found a “lump” under the guest bed bed-covers so we carefully cleared everything off the bed and slowly peeled off the puff… to reveal the third baby squirrel… dead. Apparently there was still a baby squirrel IN the house when I plugged the entry/exit with steel wool, and it made a mess of the bathroom and other parts of the house looking for food and water and another way out. It finally died of starvation after tucking itself into bed in the guest bed. We bundled the mattress cover and the puff (with the squirrel carcass) into a trash bag and tossed it in the trash at the dump/transfer station, and peeled off the foam egg-crates that were on the bed under the mattress pad and put them out on the deck to get aired out or more likely pitched another day.

havahartOn the outside chance there’s yet another one still in the house we set a “small squirrel” hav-a-hart trap in the upstairs hallway when we left, to be checked when we return. Remember, our research revealed that squirrels broods are 3-4 in size… we found three…

Never a dull moment in the woods of Maine!

UPDATE 1 July 2018

On returning to the Ballot Box after two weeks away, the hav-a-hart trap was still empty, the bait carrot was dried up and wizzled and untouched.  We did catch one field mouse in one of the two baited mousetraps we left, but the 2nd one was untouched, so I’m declaring victory over the squirrels in the house, and a stalemate with the mice (which is all one can ask for).

Posted 18 June 2018 by Gene Vogt in Home Ownership, Maine, Newcastle, The Ballot Box

Tagged with

Welcoming Another Summer, and Beginning to Plan for the Endless Vacation…   Leave a comment

14 June 2017

IMG_7346The Memorial Day holiday offered a perfect excuse to head to the Ballot Box for nine (should have been ten) days. We celebrated the start to another summer season, with our eighth annual Memorial Day Weekend Lobster-Fest on Sunday for Lynn’s side of the family. ‘Twas a smaller crowd than in some past years, but what we were lacking in numbers we make up for in festivity. We had local beer (growlers and bottles) and wine and mimosas and seltzer, 3 dozen Glidden Point Select Oysters (fresh-shucked by yours truly, the amateur shucker) garnished with a choice of fresh lemon juice or Tabasco™ sauce or some locally-distilled horseradish-infused vodka, fruit salad, veggie salad, lobsters, Scottish salmon, hanger steak (for the seafood-averse), and a myriad of desserts. The weather, which had been borderline miserable for the days before, came through splendiferously for the actual day – warm (but not too warm), sunny, and light breezes to keep the bugs mostly at bay.  Pre-party photos (I forgot to take pictures during the party!) can be viewed here.

IMG_20170530_090715099_HDRWe all mourned the loss of our fencepost-mounted swallow-house, which was ripped off the mount the night before the party and raided – the eggs were destroyed. Mr. & Mrs.  Swallow were in shock and hung around the now-vacant fencepost for the rest of the week, looking forlorn. Images of 2014’s fledge-tending can be viewed here.

Our planned visit during the week with long-time friends who live year-round on Little-Sebago Lake in Gray ME was postponed when Lynn found an embedded deer tick on her body the day of the scheduled visit. We decided to visit a walk-in clinic instead and get the tick professionally removed. She got prescribed a dose of Doxycycline for Lyme Disease prevention but we missed a day visiting friends [Editor’s followup: no symptoms!]. We’ll visit another time; we know where they live! [Editor’s followup: and we did!]

The other notable activity during the week was the start of our getting serious about how we want to live up in Maine once retirement (aka The Endless Vacation) finally commences. We’ve had the Ballot Box as a vacation home for eight years now, with lots of weekend visits, some week-long visits, and a few extended (weeks into months) times with Lynn being in-residence. What we’ve come to realize is that the Ballot Box is a bit small (about 950 sq. ft.) for full-time year-round residence for the two of us. We need a bit more space (we both have a lot of toys). Not a lot, but more than what’s here now, so we’ve started exploring possible solutions to the dilemma, which include renovations, additions, or even replacement. We’ve started making lists of nice-to-haves and necessities, and we’re setting up appointments with architects and builders to pick their brains on what’s possible and practical. Nothing concrete yet, we’re in sponge-mode and trying to figure out what we really need. We crossed the swimming pool off the list right away! 😉

Posted 14 June 2017 by Gene Vogt in Maine, Newcastle, Summer, The Ballot Box

Winter Finally Arrived… WHAM!   Leave a comment

5 March 2017

2017-02-17_07-41-19-50pct20x_It was an uneventful start to the new year until recently.  Light flurries, not much snow, so little in fact that I kept forgetting to attach the snow measurement stake to the fence post so we could gauge the approximate snow depth using the webcam image.  Finally attached it on the 15th of January (first appearing on the next day’s noon snap archive) – still mostly bare ground.

Got dustings that hung around for a day or two until the 7th of February, when we got about 6 inches that prompted a visit from my plow man. From then it snowed 6-8 inches every few days so that by the time we showed up on the evening of the 16th of February there was close to 2 feet of snow on open ground. My plow guy kept up with it all (six visits over eight days), but I didn’t contract with him to shovel a path to the door, so that was my job upon arrival… in the dark.

The snow density was significant. It didn’t fall light and fluffy, there was some moisture in it.  Then the temperature must’ve fallen because the snow ended up being a bit stiff.  The best technique for shoveling was to cut the snow into shovel-sized blocks first, then shovel the cut blocks off to the side.  The snow was deeper than a shovel-thrust, so I cut two levels of courses each time.  It took a while, but the blocks were stable so the shoveling only required lifting, not lifting and balancing.

The next morning was a workday for me (Friday telecommuting – thank goodness for the internet!), but about 6:45am there was a knock on the door and the propane delivery guy was there, saying the snow was too deep to drag the propane hose around the back of the house to fill the tank.  I asked if he could come back tomorrow morning and I would shovel a path around the back of the house for him by then. So every couple of hours I would take a break from the computer and go out to shovel more igloo blocks out of the snow in a path around the back of the house.  Lynn took care of shoveling off the deck so we could refill the bird feeders. It was a bit of work to hand-shovel the paths, but I know how to shovel with my legs instead of my back and I took frequent breaks (I had telecommuting work to do as well), so it ended up ALMOST being enjoyable – out in the bright cold air, getting exercise!  The propane guy delivered without a problem the next (Saturday) morning. A full set of pictures (it was pretty in spite of the work) can be viewed here.

Once we left and headed back south, Mother Nature teased the mid-coast area with 3-4 days of late-Spring-like weather (sunny, temperature hitting 65°F), so the ground is back to being mostly bare.  Perhaps winter is over, but one can never be sure.  I’ll put the shovels away sometime in May…

Posted 5 March 2017 by Gene Vogt in Maine, Newcastle, The Ballot Box, Winter

Ten Days of Relaxation…   Leave a comment

5 JUNE 2016

 We wrapped up ten straight days at the Ballot Box, and felt a bit melancholy about heading back south. All good things must come to an end, I guess.  Sigh!  The good news is that we’ll be back for occasional weekends throughout the summer and fall (and winter and spring, for that matter!).

We headed north a week ago Thursday (26 May) afternoon.  I left work a bit early to run the lawn mower around the yard before departing for a week-plus. Mulch-mowing is much faster than bagging as long as the grass isn’t too long (it was right at the edge of being too long, but…). I got the whole lawn mowed in a tad over an hour, mowing non-stop.

We got on the road a little after 4:00 pm. The ride up was amazingly easy; there was traffic, but nowhere near as bad as we suspected for the start of the Memorial Day weekend. We slipped off Route 95 at exit 7 in Maine (“The Yorks, Ogunquit”) just before the tolls to look for some place to stop for dinner and ended up at Wild Willy’s Burgers on Route 1 in York ME.  ‘Twas our first time there and a good find.  Turns out it’s a small chain with five locations; York ME, Rochester NH, and Worcester, Watertown, and Quincy MA. Very good burgers, definitely a place we’ll return to.  Back on the highway, we got to the Ballot Box at 8:31 pm (according to the time-stamp on the webcam-captured image), unpacked the car, aired out the house (a bit stuffy from being closed up), and settled in for some TV – our routine lately is to watch various episodes of British mystery shows (Midsomer Murders, Poirot, Vera, Crossing Lines, Wallander, etc.) on Netflix™ or Amazon Prime™ or Acorn™ via Roku™.

Friday, Saturday, and Sunday morning was spent preparing for our seventh annual Family Lobster Feed™, held on the Sunday before Memorial Day each May.  We had fifteen guests this year – Audrey & Todd, Megan & Dan, Marcia & Tom, Jan & Joyce, Gail & Cam, Kristine, Dylan, Mark, and of course Gene & Lynn. We provided Damariscotta River oysters on the half-shell and fresh tuna sashimi for appetizers, local Maine lobsters, grilled Faroe Island salmon, grilled rib-eye steaks for the seafood-haters for the main meal, and growlers of Oxbow beer (Farmhouse Pale Ale and Freestyle 35 – a dry-hopped German-style pilsner) to wash it all down.  Guests brought everything from work-of-art salad, spicy shrimp appetizers, wine, desserts, and other sundries. A fine time was had by all.  We managed to snap a few photos during the party, but we were a bit busy otherwise!

IMG_2018a 20pctMonday – Memorial Day – was a lazy day after the party. We mostly puttered with cleaning up and putting things away.  I had intentionally over-bought on the lobsters so we would have leftovers for lobster rolls and other things, and I made the most of it with a lobster “triple play”; a lobster omelet for breakfast, a lobster roll for lunch, and one-and-a-half lobster rolls for dinner!

Tuesday I started a long-discussed (and likely to be a long-in-process) yard project – thinning and clearing the young stand of trees on the street-side of the house into a contemplative birch grove.  There are lots of young trees over there, some poplar, some white pine, some unidentified, but there is a significant number of white birches in there as well.  We want to clear out all but the birches, lay down some walking paths, place a few benches at various locations, and make it a peaceful place for restful contemplation.  This will be a long-duration project for sure, but it becomes usable fairly quickly while the work is in progress, so we should be able to start enjoying it fairly soon.  I took down a few trees with my almost-a-toy $65 Homelite chainsaw (until the original chain finally wore out – it was heavily-used this spring) and also ordered a lever-based pry bar device called an UpRooter for pulling up small-to-medium saplings to clear out an area. I’ll report back on how it works when I get my hands on it and try it out.  Steak and salmon leftovers from the Sunday party were on the menu for dinner.

Lynn and I had made arrangements last week to meet up with old friends Martha and Gary at the Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens on Wednesday (Lynn and I are contributing members so we each get free admission and each of us gets to bring a guest in free as well, whenever we go). Martha was Lynn’s maid of honor at our wedding, oh so many years ago.  Wednesday turned out to be a gem of a day for garden-gazing… IMG_2087-©-20pct20xbright sun, no humidity, low 70s, light breeze!  We first ate lunch in the café overlooking the main lawn and central gardens at the visitor’s center, then we headed out.  Naturally, I slung my camera bag over my shoulder (didn’t need both flashes so I left one home).  Look what I found in the woods!

Lynn and I treated ourselves to breakfast out Thursday morning; we went to Crissy’s Breakfast and Coffee Bar in Damariscotta. The Eggs Benedict with hash-browns and a side of bacon spoke to us both.  It was another nice day so we worked some more out in the yard and set the first of many granite 5x5x9 edging blocks along the peony garden at the front of the house.  We’ll use the same kind of blocks to edge all the gardens and the to-be-built walkway from the driveway to the small deck at the door, eventually.

Friday ended up being a pretty nice day, weather-wise, so we puttered out in the yard some more.  We got an invitation to dinner and Parcheesi lessons at friends David and Betty Lu’s house in Damariscotta Mills.  Betty Lu made a delicious curry-based shrimp over rice dish for dinner – we brought a growler of Oxbow’s Freestyle 35 to contribute.

Saturday was another half-speed day (isn’t that what vacations are for?).  We lolled around in the morning, then I went out and got some mulch for the gardens in two 17-gallon muck-buckets (to be spread on a future weekend visit), grabbed a couple of Subway™ sandwiches for lunch, and we continued our yard-puttering and deck-flowers-puttering.  In the afternoon I went out and bought picked lobster meat and we treated ourselves to lobster rolls for our last dinner at the house this vacation.

Sunday was our last day on vacation.  We packed up and headed out to meet up with Jan and Joyce for lunch and a visit to the Bowdoin College Museum of Art which is celebrating the acquisition of a supposedly hauntingly lovely mummy portrait, made 2,000 years ago somewhere on the Nile River.

Posted 5 June 2016 by Gene Vogt in Maine, Newcastle, Summer, The Ballot Box

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