Details of the Strawberry Cabin Website
New! Pentium D Processor, WinXP

 

Instruments

Hardware and Software

Cell Phone Weather

How I Started & Costs


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. 

Davis Weather Monitor II Click for larger view. 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.   Note that this model is no longer available(!).  Everyone wants wireless now.  That's too bad.  Batteries have to be replaced on wireless systems - and don't always work well in the cold.  I think that wired stations make more sense in remote situations.

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.

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HARDWARE AND OS:  The website is updated by an unattended Dell Dimension E520n computer running Windows XP SP2 on a 3.0GHz Pentium D (Dual Core) processor installed late July, 2007.  This computer is very quiet and quite stable compared to my original system - and of course much more capable of running all of the software.  The setup of this kind of system should be within the reach of many more aspiring weather station owners.  (My previous computer was a 400 MHz Celeron running Win98SE (Nov 1999-July 2007).  That system was also very reliable, but only because I utilized a large number of tricks - including a PCI Watchdog Card - to keep it going.  Click here to view how the original system was set up. )

 

NO LEGACY PORTS:  The Dell has absolutely no legacy ports - only USB ports - but the Weather Station requires a legacy RS-232 (Serial Port) connection.  I added a PCI serial port card, which works perfectly.   Caution:  I originally installed a TrendNet TU-S9 USB to Serial converter.  However this device stopped working with the weather station after about a year.  My advice: invest in the expansion card instead.

OPERATION STRATEGY:  The computer is set up to load the necessary software at bootup - and automatically run.  This is accomplished by either selecting the "Automatically Start on Bootup" option if it is available on the software - or - adding the program shortcut to the Startup folder of the Start Menu.  Currently I run VWS, Image Salsa, and Hamachi (free VPN software), that's it.  (I'm still trying to get Hamachi to work - but it is promising.)

The BIOS has been configured to automatically turn the computer back on when power returns after a power outage.  That way once power is restored, the software will load and the system will return to service automatically. 

Daily Reboot:  My previous system had to be rebooted daily in order to work at all - this setup appears to run for much longer periods of time.  However, I have decided to do the daily reboot, anyway.  Even in XP things can slowly stop working correctly.  Hamachi - in particular - appears to stop working without a reboot after a week or so.  So reboot it is.

No Automatic Updates:  The killer of remote systems are all of those helpful automatic updates.  They pop up and ask you if you want to update now - and make everything stop until you click OK or Cancel.  Just say "No" to automatic updates - update manually.  Note it may take a while to discover them all - one day you'll return to your system only to find that there is another update waiting.  

Kill the Anti-Virus, Anti-spyware, and Firewall:  I know this is blasphemy - but in my case I do dialup - and my traffic is out-bound.  Anti-virus and Firewalls require routine updates, which can cause problems - not to mention those automatic subscription renewal warnings.   Of course, don't be stupid if you use your browser without protection.  If you decide to use a firewall, etc - turn them on and update them when you are present and browsing - then turn them off when you leave.  Don't let them auto-start.

3 Com Webcam The original Web Cam was a HomeConnect PC operating at 640x480 pixels.  The camera served faithfully from Dec. 1999 through May 2010 when it got a well-deserved retirement.  

 

My current webcam is a Logitech QuickCam 9000.  It connects to the PC via USB.  The camera is located under the cabin eves and looks down the road toward Highway 50.  The logitech has a potential resolution of 1600x1200 pixels - but I'm currently using it at 800x600 pixels to limit file size for upload purposes.  I've enclosed the webcam in a Radio Shack project box - to make it easier to mount.  The Zeis lens provides an excellent image - but the camera is near-sighted.  i.e. it is designed for close range focusing typical of indoor webcam use.  

I solved the webcam myopia by purchasing an eyepiece correction lens intended for 35mm cameras.  I believe the lens I used is -6 diopters - but a -4 or -5 may work as well - you'll need to try it out.  I attached the eypiece (backwards) to the front of the camera lens using fine wire wrapped around the webcam and the eyepiece.  It sounds crude - but it works.  I've also seen diopter correction lenses for swim and dive goggles, which might work, too.

ImageSalsa WebCam SoftwareI use a Webcam Software program called Image Salsa.  It 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.

  Check out Virtual Weather Station  Weather information and web cam photos are updated at scheduled times by Virtual Weather Station - Internet Edition made by Ambient 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.


REMOTE ACCESS SOFTWARE:  I'm testing remote software for this computer system.  That way I may be able to transfer files directly without having to physically drive up.  Right now the program I'm considering is called Hamachi - it establishes a VPN (Virtual Private Network) between this computer and my home PC.  This (free) software works (slowly) and appears to be stable.  As an alternative I'm also considering using a program called DUN Manager - a dial up networking program I used with my previous system.  In addition to forcing dicipline on the modem - DUN Manager can be set up to automatic duties such as downloading updates to the main web page only when they occur.  Either may work - but I probably won't use both.  I'll let you know how that works out.

POWER PROTECTION:  I use a surge protector, but not an Uninteruptable Power Supply at this site.  Why?  Well, I tried it once.  The batteries froze during the winter, and destroyed the device.  Perhaps more importantly, 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.  (If there is an unexplained lockup, 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.  \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.

Click For ExampleWEATHER REPORTS BY CELL PHONE:  (TEMPORARILY DISABLED) 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 current setup, including computer, accessories, weather station, webcam, and software total approximately $800.00 - parts of it were purchased long ago so it's hard to be exact.  One thing is for sure, equipment is better, faster, and usually less expensive now.  You could set up a similar system for less ... or a lot more.  Example costs are a computer - $300-$800, weather station $150-750, webcam $25-500, modem $20-125.  Software will cost a bit, too.  The monthly cost of operating the website is about $7.00 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 internal modem cards to lightening.  Fortunately, the computer and weather station survived unscathed.  Other costs (e.g. the phone line) 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 some time at first.  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.  (So far, my Pentium D computer running XP has been extremely stable and far less trouble to set up than the old Windows 98 system.)  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.

Please drop a line.   E-mail me at .

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Revised 10/10/07   Bruce Agee