Saturday, April 23 2022
location: 800 feet west of Woodworth Lake, Fulton County, NY
When I awoke this morning, I realized the cabin was essentially out of non-decaf coffee beans. So, a little before 8:00am, I decided to make the shortest possible trip to buy them. After first unloading all the bluestone from the Bolt, I started my drive. Instead of taking a left off Woodworth Lake Road onto Route 309 to go down the Adirondack escarpment to the small rustbelt cities of the Mohawk Valley, I took a right and headed down a gentler hill to Bleecker, the small sub-hamlet near the southwest end of Lake Edward. (Lake Edward being the lake we rented cabins on twice, in 2012 and 2013.) There's not really anything in Bleecker except a small store that also includes a rustic restaurant/bar once called the Sawdust Café. This morning, though, when I looked through the window on the obviously-closed establishment (now called "Mountain Hut") it looked to be consoidated into just a restaurant. I got back in the car and drove back southward, down the Adirondack escarpment, and then, on a whim, east on Phelps Street, which seemed to pass just north of Gloversville. There were a couple rights I could've taken off it to go into Gloversville, but I was enjoying the scenery of the suburban landscape just beneath the forested massif of the Adirondacks. I ended up driving all the way out to Route 30 and then backtracking into Gloversville from there. The first place I attempted to buy coffee was at a gas station/convenience store. But their options were terrible and they didn't sell unground beans. The next place was a Rite Aid and had somewhat better options, though the only actual beans (if there even were any) would've been Starbucks-branded. I would drink that, but I didn't want to deal with the look Gretchen would give me if I brought a Starbucks product to the cabin (before the rise of Amazon, Starbucks was one of the chief foci of her anti-monopolist ire).
Next I tried a the Family Dollar, and their coffee options were nearly as bad as they'd been at the gas station (I shouldn't've been surprised). I ended up having to drive all the way to the Gloversville Walmart (Walmart being another principle focus of Gretchen's pre-Amazon anti-monopolist ire) before I managed to find a coffee I felt good about bringing back to the cabin. It was rather expensive but claimed to be super strong. (I couldn't find anything on the packaging about it being fair trade, but it turned out that it was.)
Back at the cabin, it was about 9:00am, and it was time to have our usual Saturday morning routine, complete with a roaring fire in the woodstove (we were burning compostable dishware from her parents' seder, among other things), coffee, and the New York Times Spelling Bee.
At a certain point, I turned my attention to the big project I wanted to complete at the cabin this weekend: implementing a means to automatically reset the Moxee cellular hotspot whenever it became confused or otherwise stopping providing internet access (something that would happen, for example, if it ran out of battery power, shut off, and then later power was restored). A better hotspot would have a built-in watchdog or perhaps some other mechanism to make sure that it would work whenever power was available. But I suspect the Moxee is designed this way to limit the amount of internet it can provide, which is why it is approved by a budget cellular provider like Cricket.
To get started, I first had to make sure Gretchen's Duolingo Spanish lesson was happening over cellular, not WiFi. So she had to relocate to the loft, the only place in the cabin with a reliable cellphone signal. I then popped open the Moxee and had a look inside. It appeared to be held together with six tiny phillips-head screws. Unfortunately, none of the screwdrivers in the cabin were small enough to remove them. So I had to make a second trip into civilization. This time headed straight to the TrueValue Hardware in Gloversville and stood a long time in front of their screwdriver selection trying to figure out the best kit of tiny screwdrivers to buy. All of the phillips screwdrivers in these kits seemed a little big, but I ended up selecting a $12 "electronic repair kit" that also came with suction cups and spudgers. While there, I also got the tiniest screw extractor they had (in case things came to that) and a bag of bird seed. (The seed I'd added to the birdfeeder back in January is now nearly gone, and chickadees are actually able to wriggle inside and eat what little remains on its floor.)
Back at the cabin, I refilled the birdfeeder and soon there were four or five chickadees gathered around it. The new feed includes rasins and sunflower seeds, which are a little big for chickadees, but I later saw them holding such things with their feet and pecking them apart like woodpeckers.
One of the new screwdrivers was perfect for disassembling the Moxee, and I'd soon moved on to the next problem: where to attach wires that a microcontroller could bridge to restore functionality? I'd determined that all I would need to do was simulate presses to the power button to achieve what I wanted. But the button itself seemed to be covering up the places I would need to solder wires to. I wanted to keep the button so I could continue using it and add wires to allow an ESP8266 to "push" that button as well. But to figure out where I could solder wires to simulate pressing that button, I had to peel off that button (it was a little brass dome held on by plastic tape) and do some tests with the multimeter, using it as a continuity tester. In so doing, I eventually found a couple test pads on the Moxee that were some distance away from the button but were electrically identical to the two lines the button bridges. So I soldered wires to those test pads and used a hot nail to melt the plastic in the Moxee's chassis that allowed me to run the wires out of it. I obviously also confirmed that by touching these wires together, the effect was identical to the one I would have by pressing the power button (which I'd put back in place).
Next I had to figure out how to make an ESP8266 activate a relay. I'd done this sort of thing with an Arduino and a Raspberry Pi, but never an ESP8266. It turns out that it's just as easy as with an Arduino. Before long, I had the ESP8266 turning a relay on and off in series as a sort of "hello world" test. I found that the relay board I used had to gave 5v power, not 3.3 volt power, but fortunately that is available on one of the ESP8266's pins.
Before long, I'd written a little routine that reboots the Moxee. All it does is depress the power button for 7 seconds, releases it for 4 seconds, and then presses it for 4 seconds and releases it again. This doesn't always work; sometimes it puts the Moxee in a mode where it is off and charging. But then if the ESP8266 detects this and runs the routine again, the Moxee is put into a usable state. Here's that function:
By this evening, this was all set up and seemingly working. To test what would happen during an internet failure, I'd looked for some aluminum foil to enclose the Moxee hotspot and block all wireless signals. But there was no aluminum foil in the cabin, and a better way to create a quick and effective Faraday cage was to put the hotspot in stainless steel mixing bowl and then cover that with another such bowl, as if the hotspot were inside a metallic clam. This immediately compromised the hotspot's ability to communicate with the cellular phone network (and probably also with WiFi), causing the rebootMoxee function to trigger, which both affecting an LED's status and making satisfying clicking sounds from the relay.
To celebrate, I
cracked open a beer and then played two games of Bananagrams with Gretchen (and she won both of them).
Gretchen had also made us a dinner of fetuccini with leftover spaghetti sauce from that Ethiopian restaurant in Silver Spring and Impossible-brand "chicken" nuggets.
In other news, our neighbor Ibrihim was up at his parcel today with an enormously fat gentleman operating an excavator. It looked like he was trying to have a foundation dug in the only available spot in his building envelope. Unfortunately for him, that spot is next to a large protruding mound of solid granite, and the available spot looked to be kind of small and forming a basin that might be difficult to drain. It's possible it can be fixed with a little blasting, but that might get expensive.
Inside the Moxee cellular hotspot, showing the power button and the two test pads that can be jumpered to simulate a press of that button.
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