Details of the Strawberry Cabin
Windows 98 Installation - Dec 1999 - July 2007
The Strawberry Cabin is located just east of the community of Strawberry on Highway 50, near the Twin Bridges chain-up area. (It is not associated with Sciots Camp or Strawberry Creek, which are located about 1.5 miles to the west.) The website is dedicated to providing information about the Highway 50 corridor west of Lake Tahoe, and Lake Tahoe proper. The focus is on weather, webcams, interesting photo essays, and Forest Service lease cabins.
Weather information is collected using a Davis Instruments "Weather Monitor II Complete" station and the Davis Weather Link data logger.* The station connects to the PC via the serial port. The temperature/humidity probe are mounted on the deck framing about 10 feet away from the cabin and about 12-15 feet above the ground (right-hand photo, click to enlarge). The anemometer and rain collector are mounted nearby. All instruments are in the shade most of the day, and all sit beneath the trees. The station is located to provide the best information practical and still comply with Forest Service restrictions.
TEMPERATURE AND HUMIDITY: Outdoor temperatue and humidity sensors are protected by a "solar shield" a white 'box' which protects the sensors from direct sun and the elements, while allowing free air flow. Because the sensors are well away from the unheated cabin, they provide a good estimate of actual values.
PRECIPITATION: The forest canopy catches light rain and snow, therefore total rainfall measurements are much lower than actual. Light rain can be seen on the deck before the rain gauge reports any precipitation. In June, 2003 I moved the rain collector to the West end of the deck, where precipitation reaches best. Not all snow is caught in the bucket, and captured snow must melt before it is recorded. The rain collector is also subject to fouling by the pine and fir needles that collect in it - and sometimes block the 'tipping' bucket inside. For all of these shortcomings, the instrument will tell you if it has rained more than a few hundredths of an inch - or when snow in the rain bucket is melting.
WIND: The proximity of the cabin and the forest itself affects wind speed and direction, snow will stop the anemometer for days at a time. However most of the time, the anemometer reports the actual conditions "on the ground" at my cabin.
SNOW: In the winter I install a snow gauge which is visible in the webcam view. It is attached to a telephone pole in a clearing 102 feet from the webcam. The markings on the gauge enable you to estimate local snow depth within 3-6". There are also small white marks visible on the post on the left side of the steps; they mark 1 and 2 feet of depth. The top of the rail is 3 feet (~90 cm) above the deck.
HARDWARE AND SOFTWARE: The website is updated by an unattended 400 MHz Celeron PC programmed to collect photos and weather information, then automatically upload them to my web site. The operating system is Win98 SE. (If I were starting from scratch, I'd probably use XP next time.) I use a hardware modem to take some of the workload off of the processor and provide a more reliable connection.
This website is more challenging than a site you might set up in your own home or business. The software has to operate continuously for many weeks -- or sometimes months -- without intervention. Problems arise with this system which the normal computer user never encounters. I've assembled a number of programs and hardware devices which can navigate the random pitfalls and provide (mostly) reliable service. The basic hardware and software used for the website are described below.
The Web Cam is a HomeConnect PC operating at 640x480 pixels. It connects to the PC via USB. The camera is located under the cabin eves and looks down the road toward Highway 50. This camera is no longer manufactured, but there are many good webcams out there. Get a high-end webcam. You'll be glad you did.
I have switched to a new Webcam Software program called Image Salsa. It provides amazing control over images, is more stable than Webcam32 and is designed to work with Virtual Weather Station. Think of it as Photoshop for your webcam. You don't even need a webcam to appreciate what it can do. You can create montage images while adding text and real-time weather data. I use it to create the images with weather data overlays, accurately labelled thumbnails, plus 'real time' weather stickers. (The two yellow stickers at the top of the page are made with Image Salsa). There is also a version of this software that creates time-lapse movies from still captures.
This site is set up to run unattended for long periods of
time. The programs typically work perfectly for long periods of
time. However, sooner or later a random problem arises, causing
the computer to misbehave and eventually, lock up. The causes
are related to the long-term instability of Windows 98, modem reset
problems, and random software quirks. The only way to ensure
that the system will run reliably is to power the system off and on
from time to time (a COLD boot). You would think that system
reboots (WARM boots) would reset everything, but they don't.
Modems, for example, may not be fully reset during a warm boot.
PCI Watchdog Card. This card monitors the computer for
certain activities. As long as they continue, the card resets its
internal timer and waits. Once they stop (e.g. the computer locks
up) the card will cycle the reset pins on the motherboard -- basically
turning the power off and back on (a COLD boot). While the system
may last a week or more with periodic warm boots - it always locks up
eventually. Since installing the PCI Watchdog Card, the system
runs until it encounters a problem, then cycles the power on the mother
board, reboots, and continues merrily on it's way. What this
means to you or me is that strange behavior on the website usually
clears overnight (or sooner).
Weather information and web cam photos are updated at
scheduled times by Virtual Weather Station - Internet Edition made by
Software. This outstanding software package has the features
of programs costing much more and is constantly being improved by the
author. The website has an active support forum where you can get
the help you need.
Dial Up Networking (DUN) can be tricky from this location --
especially when I am not present to fix random problems. I use
DUN Manager to deal with
The best thing about DUN Manager is that it guarantees that the modem
will hang up (terminate the call) if something fails during the connection.
I use the Microsoft® Scheduler that comes with Windows 98 to run a couple of batch files. I probably could use ImageSalsa instead.
I use a surge protector, but not an Uninteruptable Power Supply at this site. Why? I tried it once. The batteries froze during the winter, converting the device into a frozen, tripped circuit-breaker. Perhaps more important, power interruptions in the mountains can last a day up to a week -- much longer than a basic UPS could handle, anyway. The computer is set up to load all programs and run automatically when the power returns. (Sometimes power failures can be your friend).
Data from this station is shared with several services, including Weather Underground and Weather For You. The Station ID is KCASTRAW1. I also provide "Weather Watcher" information to KXTV 10 and KOVR 13, both of Sacramento. The weather station software is programmed to email current conditions to these stations twice per day. It is possible for you to include a "weather sticker" with current Strawberry Cabin data on your web page (see examples at the top of this page). Contact me if you are interested.
WEATHER REPORTS BY CELL PHONE: If you have a cell phone which has a web browsing feature, you can dial up current weather reports. The URL is www.saber.net/~bagee/cabinwx.wml .... note that the .wml stands for 'wireless markup language. Click the URL link to see a simulation.
HOW IT STARTED: This website got started because I wanted to see if there was snow on the road before coming up to my cabin in the winter. It sort of grew from there.
COSTS: The entire setup, including computer, accessories, weather station, webcam, and software total approximately $1,200.00. (Hey, it a hobby). You could set up a similar system for a little less or a lot more. Example costs are a computer - $400, weather station $150-750, webcam $25-150, hardware modem $80-125. The PCI Watchdog card cost about $150.00 but has saved its value many times over by eliminating the need to drive 200 miles round trip to reset the computer. (If you use XP, you may not need one). Software will cost a bit, too. The current price of the Ambient weather software (internet version) is more than I paid, but you get lifetime upgrades. The monthly cost of operating the website is about $6.00 per month for electricity, plus the monthly cost of the ISP. There will be maintenance costs, too. In the summer of 2003 I lost 2 modems to lightening. Fortunately, the computer and weather station survived unscathed. Other costs (e.g. the phone) are costs that I would have regardless of the weather station. Another option is to set up a strictly webcam site like the one at Sciots Camp. This option can be a little simpler and less expensive to set up.
If you decide to try setting up a station of your own, you must be willing to commit more time to it than you think. Initial set up and trouble-shooting can require a lot of time, especially if travel is involved (my wife will attest to that). However, if you persevere, the site will reward you many times over. Start simply; don't expect to have the perfect website on the first day. In my case, my website evolved over several years. Learn more about setting up personal weather stations at Weather Underground and at Weather for You or visit the support forums at Ambientweather.com
If you want to know more about how my site works, feel free to drop a line.
* The original weather station, operated between December 1999 and June 2002, was a Davis Instruments Weather Wizard II-S, which recorded Temperature and Wind Speed only. The current weather station was installed on June 24, 2002.
E-mail me at .
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