Another Year Older…   Leave a comment

1 January 2017

Another New Year’s in Maine.  Lynn and I came up on the day after Christmas and will stay through until the 2nd of January – the best way to ring in the new year – after a peaceful lead-uimg_6974-1200x900p to Christmas and Christmas itself.  Megan and Dan hosted another great Christmas Eve party at their house, with parents and in-laws and siblings and friends, then we had Audrey and Megan and Dan over to our house Christmas morning for breakfast (Eggs Benedict and lox and bagels) and stockings and gifts.  Then Megan and Dan headed to Dan’s parents’ house, Audrey got ready to drive to New Jersey for the week, and Lynn and I headed to my sister’s annual open house down the street.  We did the same things we often do, but it seemed much less frantic this year – nice.

The next day we packed up the CX-5 and hit the road at noon for the ride up to the Ballot Box.  We stopped for lunch in Rowley, and got up here around 4:00 pm (4:06 pm, according to the webcam motion-detection video generated by the car driving into the driveway), unpacked the car, turned up the heat in the house, and headed out to an early dinner at the Damariscotta River Grill – one of our favorite restaurants in the area.

img_7067-1200x900We puttered around Tuesday and Wednesday and got ready for Susan’s and Paul’s New Year’s Eve visit starting Thursday afternoon.  Thursday night we grilled Faroe Island salmon for dinner, and Friday we had tickets for the Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens’ “Gardens Aglow” light show where they string about a half-million lights through the trees and let you walk around in the glow after sunset… spectacular.  2016-12-30-18-32-01-1200x675After the gardens, we had a reservation at the Boothbay Craft Brewery’s Watershed Tavern for the premier table in front of the fireplace – a great place to warm up and have a great dinner after admiring a half-million lights outside in the cold Maine winter.

Saturday, we drove north to Morse’s European Deli for a brunch-style lunch and some European food shopping, then we cooked six lobsters and a slab of swordfish for dinner.  Paul and Susan provided a giant 3+ pint bottle of Christmas/New Year Holiday Ale from 2016-12-31-17-49-56-1200x675Anchor Brewing in San Francisco to go with the seafood for our New Year’s Eve feast.  After dinner, we introduced Paul and Susan to the New Year’s Eve tradition that we acquired while living in Germany – watching the 18-minute Burlesque play that captivates German TV on the 31st of December each year: Dinner for One.  None of us lasted until the stroke of midnight.

New Year’s Day we all slept a little later than usual, had a good bacon-and-eggs breakfast with English muffins and coffee and tea, and bid adieu to Paul and Susan.  We’ll stay an extra day and head home tomorrow to return to the real world and begin another year’s trials and tribulations.  Back on the treadmill way too soon!

Frohes neues Jahr!

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Posted 1 January 2017 by Gene Vogt in Uncategorized

Dereliction of Duty… Again…   Leave a comment

8 NOV 2016

Sheesh!  Five-plus months since the last blog entry.  Every once in a while I drop the ball big-time!

It’s mostly been a quiet summer at the Ballot Box; we’ve been fairly consistent with our every-other-weekend visiting pattern.  The heat that stifled most outdoor activities at the TreeHouse down south was evident at the Ballot Box as well.  We broke down and finally bought a third window air conditioner for our bedroom (a small one in the quilt-studio/guest-room and a medium-sized one in the living room had served us for the past six summers).  It made sleeping much more comfortable.

Lynn headed up by herself on Tuesday the 14th of June, while I came up on the train on Thursday. We both drove down on Sunday the 19th.  Summer traffic hadn’t ramped up yet so the drive south was not bad.  We added an extra day to the long 4th of July weekend, heading up on Thursday the 30th of June and heading down on Tuesday the 5th of July.  That extra day kept us out of the usual end-of-the-holiday-weekend summer traffic heading south again.

28578171592_5f55ef7f1f_hIn July a former MITRE colleague made good on her promise to come visit us in Maine.  Christine flew north to Logan Airport from the DC area on Friday morning, July 29th, and Gene picked her up and pointed the Cadillac northward (Lynn had headed up on her own on Wednesday the 27th).  We stopped at the best lobster roll shack in Yarmouth ME – Day’s Crabmeat and Lobster  – for the quintessential Maine lunch: Lobster Rolls (we added some fried clams to the feast as well), and arrived at the Ballot Box around 1 pm.  After introductions, delivery of luggage to the guest-room, and a leisurely afternoon decompressing from travel, dinner at the Ballot Box was 2 & 1/2 pounds of grilled Faroe Island salmon and six ears of local corn (for three, not each!).

Lunch Saturday was at Schooner Landing (lobster stew and lobster mac and cheese for Christine, clam chowder and smoked oysters and salmon for me, clam chowder and a Caesar salad topped with fried oysters for Lynn).  The view was spectacular (as usual), the weather was perfect, a great place to while away the afternoon. Lynn wasn’t feeling ship-shape after lunch so she stayed at the house while Gene took Christine on a whirlwind tour of the mid-coast area and Pemaquid Point. First stop was at a new distillery in town (Split Rock Distilling) that was in the midst of a soft opening.  We sampled their offerings, and 28606036871_71234c6548_bGene bought some horseradish-infused vodka and some 175-proof vodka/firewater. From there we headed down to Christmas Cove near the tip of the peninsula for the quaint Maine villages and spectacular viewpoints, and then to stops at some of our favorite lobster pounds to choose where to have a classic shore dinner for our evening meal.  And the winner was – twin lobsters, steamers, and corn for each of us at Muscongus Bay Lobster Pound.

Sunday was the trip back south to dreaded civilization (Lynn stayed up at the Ballot Box for a few more days).  We made a second stop at Day’s Crabmeat and Lobster for lunch, where I showed Christine the trick I figured out for avoiding the tourist lines AND getting more lobster for your dollar… attached to the touristy lobster shack (with touristy lines) is a lobster pound where you can buy live lobsters – AND – pre-picked lobster meat!  No lines at the lobster pound; all the tourists were in line for lobster rolls at the shack.  WE each bought a half-pound container of picked lobster meat for a little more than the price of a single lobster roll (enough meat for more than two lobster rolls in each container).  Then we grabbed plastic forks from the lobster shack, and sat out by the water on a picnic table, eating our lobster meat! Bliss!  We also consumed 18 self-shucked oysters over the weekend (some with some of that horseradish-infused vodka – an awesome combination)!  Clearly, seafood was a top priority on this trip!!  Traffic was better than anticipated so we got down to the Boston area in time to take a quick sightseeing tour of historic Lexington and Concord before heading in to Logan Airport for Christine’s departure.

30497579395_c20acc461a_hThe fourth weekend in October brought the sixth 2016-10-21-18-01-21aannual “Goods from the Woods” party at Oxbow Brewery in Newcastle – my fifth (I missed the first one).  Bob and I have gone to three Oxbow parties now (a tradition!), so this had been planned since before the summer.  Lynn headed up the Wednesday before (the 19th), and picked my sister Joanne up at the Kennebunk rest plaza on the Maine Turnpike.  Jo had been visiting a friend in Kennebunkport (not either of the Georges, or Barbara or Laura) and hitched a ride up for a weekend visit.  Bob and I headed up Thursday night after work.  We stopped at our usual dinner place – Buck’s Naked BBQ in Freeport, and got to the house about 8:30 pm.  Friday was a telecommuting day for Bob and I, and Lynn and Jo poked around the shops in town.  Friday dinner was six boiled lobsters for three of us and a slab of grilled swordfish for Bob. Saturday was the party at the Brewery (a great time, as usual – photos here) and Sunday was a southbound trek for three of us while Lynn stayed at the house for the next week, heading south by herself on the 30th.

Sprinkled in amongst those extra-long weekends and occasional visitors were a bunch of our usual weekends where we head north on a Thursday afternoon, I work by telecommuting on Friday for some or most of the day, we have Saturday to ourselves, and pack up and head south on Sunday.  We’d often squeeze in some favored rituals; puttering in the yard if the weather cooperated (cobblestones being placed around the gardens as edgers, slowly clearing out the future birch grove of anything that’s not birch, attempting to reclaim the meadow on the street-side of the front yard, etc.), grilled Faroe Island salmon for dinner Friday or Saturday night, serial BBC TV shows (Midsomer Murders, Poirot, Broadchurch, Winter, Miss Fisher’s Mysteries, Crossing Lines, Inspector George Gently, Foyle’s War, etc.) on Netflix or Amazon/Acorn at night, and an occasional lobster dinner at Shaw’s or Muscongus or Pemaquid Co-op.

The summer and most of the fall has passed by quickly at the Ballot Box.  Snow stakes and outdoor Christmas lights will be placed on the next visit.  This is the time of year that the line from the Clement Clarke Moore poem comes to mind…  “As dry leaves before the wild hurricane fly, When they meet with an obstacle, mount to the sky.”  In case it’s another five months before I get around to adding to the blog, we wish you a Happy Thanksgiving, Merry Christmas, Happy New Year, and Happy Valentine’s Day!!

Posted 9 November 2016 by Gene Vogt in Uncategorized

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

And So Begins the Winter Prep Chores…   Leave a comment

20 OCTOBER 2015

Summer is over, Autumn is well underway, and winter is beginning to spread it’s tentacles out over the mid-coast area, so the annual Ballot Box winterization chores have bubbled up to the top of the never-ending to-do list.  Deck furniture has been put away in the cellar (it will be nice once I get a shed built so the deck stuff can live outside all winter), the deck portion of the sound system has been disassembled and packed away for the winter, first floor window screens have been taken down and put away (second floor screens will get their turn next visit) and the screen insert for the storm door has been swapped out in favor of the glass insert. Hanging flowers have come down, replaced by bird feeders on the deck posts. Cellar windows have been closed, and snow stakes have been placed along the edge of the front lawn to demark the edge of the driveway for our plow guy, hopefully avoiding the disaster of last winter when I didn’t get the snow stakes out in time (I was otherwise engaged) and the plow guy had to guess where the driveway was.  He was close, but not perfect, so part of the plowed path went over the meadow after one of the turns, and another part of the plowed path went over the front lawn.  This was fine while the ground was frozen solid, BUT when early spring came and the ground thawed (before the plowed snow banks fully melted), the propane delivery truck bogged down in the mud that was the front lawn and had to be towed out of the mire by a big wrecker.

We had the first hard frost (down into the teens) while we were up here last weekend, so all the colored leaves fell off the deciduous trees (no more fall foliage) and all the goldenrod turned grey.  The grass and the evergreens are holding on to their “green-ness,” but not much else is.

In addition to the winterization chores, the toilets started to act sluggish on flushing, so I interpreted that as an indication it was time to pump the septic system tank for the first time.  The septic system was new when we bought the house six years ago, which is a long time to go between tank pumps, but whereas we only occupy the house part-time we figured it would last longer than the recommended 2-3 years.  This is not something I want to risk over-estimating, so I unburied the tank plug out in the side yard last Sunday morning so I could schedule a visit this week.  I triangulated on where to dig based on the measurements from the corners of the house on the original septic system plot plan and found it right where I was digging, about 18 inches under the surface.  The honey wagon is scheduled to stop by Tuesday or Wednesday.  I’ll get to watch remotely over the security camera.

Still left on my to-do list are the second floor window screens and the interior plastic sheeting we spread over the inside of the drafty three-section arched window in the gable of the master bedroom.  That should keep the house snug for the winter.  We plan on visiting more often than last winter, during which the frequency was not-at-all with Lynn’s recovery.

Posted 20 October 2015 by Gene Vogt in Uncategorized

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