Fiber to the home

If last week was momentous in lighting up our home with solar power, this week felt even more momentous in lighting up our home with a fiber-optic Internet connection. We’ve finally entered the 21st century!

One of the longstanding challenges of rural living is the dearth of high-speed Internet service. I remember when we moved from our home in Lyme, NH to the middle of Bangalore, India, we were thrilled to leave behind our dial-up 28.8kbps modem and finally have “high-speed” DSL service; that was 2008. On return, we bought into a local one-man start-up company that provided fixed-wireless Internet service – a dish antenna on the side of our house, aimed at a small tower on the opposite of the river. After some upgrades, that brought us up to 1Mbps, and even 2Mbps. But when it snowed heavily, the signal would degrade. Cellular telephones barely work in our neighborhood and most of the town is a dead zone. There simply aren’t enough towers to cover this hilly terrain.

So I have been following for years, with great anticipation, the tireless efforts of a set of dedicated Lyme townspeople who have been striving to develop a town-wide fiber-optic network. The broadband market has essentially bypassed our little town – there is no cable television (let alone cable Internet), virtually no cellular telephone network, and even DSL is only available only to the handful of residences located in the center of town. No ISP has ever shown serious interest in building out the infrastructure needed to provide Internet service to every home, let alone high-speed Internet service.

Retired experts like Steve Campbell and Rich Brown, who once built and operated Dartmouth’s campus-wide network through the early days of AppleTalk and later Ethernet and Wi-Fi, and who now live in Lyme, worked through the complex state regulations, and the creation of innovative community-focused business plans that can finance a town-wide infrastructure that can serve everyone for the foreseeable future. We are indebted to their tenacity and creativity!

The result is uniquely interesting – a community-focused corporation, with its top priority being service to the community.

After years of anticipation, we were excited to see the fiber truck pulling cable along River Road, and then to install the ‘drop’ to our house.

This week, we were visited by another technician who installed another fiber-optic cable from that exterior box, through the wall and into our basement.

I helped him string the cable through my existing cable chase across the basement to our switchroom, where he terminated the fiber-optic cable at their (provided) Wi-Fi router. They even provide a UPS to keep the router powered during short power failures.

Shortly after he left, I ran a speedtest and was delighted to see, even over Wi-Fi, an impressive 300 Mbps up and down. (I could have paid for more.)

From that router, I connect into our existing home Ethernet network.

High-speed at last!

For more information about LymeFiber see their FAQ.

Chilly November hike

The first day of winter?

Today is the first day of winter. Well, I suppose there are many ways to define “the first day of winter”: the first time snow falls, the first time snow falls and sticks, the first time you actually need to plow or shovel snow, or the astronomical date of the Winter Solstice. I’m going with a new definition: the first day the temperature never rises above freezing.

Although the higher NH mountains have already experienced some significant snowfall, and plenty of freezing temperatures, I’ve been staying close to home and enjoying the low-altitude hikes here in the Connecticut River valley – wearing lots of orange clothing, now that deer hunting season is fully underway.

Today I took advantage of a gap in my Zoom schedule to visit a trail network I’d never explored before – between the huge complex of Dartmouth Hitchcock Medical Center and the graduate-student housing over at Sachem Village. This big green spot fills the center of the triangle formed by the towns of Hanover, Lebanon, and West Lebanon. There’s an amazing variety of terrain, and a thorough network of trails used by walkers and mountain bikers.

For me it was a pleasant, if chilly, stroll through the quiet post-autumn forest, one that has laid down its blanket of leaves and is awaiting the big snows of winter. I enjoyed the opportunity to snap a few photos of the delightful details like the following. When mud freezes, the water expands and is pushed up through pores in the mud, leaving these fragile towers of crystalline ice. Check out the full-size photo, and three other scenes from the hike, in the photo gallery.

Extruded ice, which happens when mud freezes and the water in the mud expands.

Hike stats:
distance: 5km
time: 69 minutes
gain: 127m

A hike on the Indian Ridge trail, behind Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center.

Solar power

Now I can charge my car with the sun.

One of our other major summer projects was the installation of a solar-panel tracker from Solaflect Energy – a local company from Norwich, VT that designs, builds, and installs its custom solar-tracker system in households and small businesses around the Upper Valley. We’ve been interested in going solar for years, and finally decided to take the plunge. As an added bonus, it (indirectly) serves to fuel my new Tesla. Read on!

The Tesla can now be charged by Solar power.
Continue reading “Solar power”

Ethernet adventure

It seemed so simple at first.

This is not my usual sort of post – where I regale you with stories of adventures in the woods. This time it is right here at home, and explores the challenges of home networking. I know at least one reader who is eagerly waiting to hear the story. (Hi Steve!)

The arrival of a new Tesla led us to install a new electric circuit and new breaker box, so we could install a 50A circuit that could charge the car faster than a snail could walk from here to Hanover. In doing so, the original 1998 electric line to the garage was abandoned. All was well, and the Tesla was happily slurping power from the new feed.

But then the Tesla notified me it was time for a software update. Indeed, my car has seen three software updates in the 6 weeks since it arrived… each time adding more features, tweaking the performance, and adjusting the user interface. Great! Except it needs Wi-Fi to download those updates, and my garage only gets a weak signal from the Wi-Fi router inside the house.

So I had a bright idea… I would install a new Wi-Fi access point (AP) in the garage, and serve it by pulling an Ethernet cable from the house to the garage, through the underground conduit that carried the old (now dead) electric cable to the garage. Easy, right?

First, I had to find the ends of the conduit outside – one end on the house, the other end on the garage. That was easy; they are quite visible. Second, I had to find the cable inside the house; that was easy, the electricians left it dangling inside the mechanical room. However, it was unclear how the line ran from the mechanical room to the outside conduit, and it was even more unclear how I could get an Ethernet cable from the switchroom to that conduit.

To make a long story short, after a lot of poking around I discovered a blank wall plate on the ceiling of the basement bathroom – which happened to give access to that old electric line. From there I was able to reach the exterior conduit, and from there I was able to drill some holes to pass a cable to the switchroom.

The real adventure was outside. The electric cable would not budge when I pulled at either end, so I dug a trench to find out why. It turns out the conduit ended just a few inches below the surface; the electrician just laid the naked cable in the ground. 😦 And, because it runs under a brick walkway – one we built 15 years ago with great effort – I could not dig up the whole cable and install a new conduit. With my hand, I tunneled as far as I could reach under the walk and was able to loosen the soil just enough to pull out the electric cable and pull through a new Ethernet cable. This time I installed a conduit – as far as I could – to better protect the new cable.

Once the hard work of digging, pulling, and backfilling was done, I was quickly able to run the cable inside the garage to the point where I wanted it, install a new wall box and wall plate, and punch-down the cable to a new wall jack. Similarly, inside the house I was able to snake the cable through two walls and under some stairs to the switchroom – mostly neat and tidy, albeit with a bit of cable showing above the bathroom mirror.

I punched-down the cable on my switch panel – one of the few remaining ports on an extensive house-wide network. (At this point, some of you will wonder why I installed a 72-port switch panel and nearly as many CatV cable runs throughout the house. When we built the house, Wi-Fi did not exist yet; I was actually installing LocalTalk as well as Ethernet and telephone.)

Excited to have the cable finally in place, I plugged in an AP in the garage. Nothing; it could not see any Ethernet signal. Bummer! I was worried I’d torn the cable, or twisted it somehow, in the rough process of pulling it through soil and gravel. I borrowed an RJ45 continuity tester (thanks Rich!) and confirmed that all was well – but still could not get any Ethernet device (AP or laptop) to recognize a working Ethernet signal. So I re-punched both ends of the cable (thanks to Rich for lending me a proper punch-down tool!) – but still no luck.

Finally I replaced the wall jack, and it worked. Apparently, all my troubles boiled down to this $3 plastic part.

This CatV wall jack cost $3.27 at Home Depot; either the jack was faulty or my connections to it had damage the wires or the jack enough to make it unworkable for proper Ethernet devices.

Ok – not such an exciting adventure. But it’s always gratifying when a do-it-yourself project actually works out.

Mount Cube

The weather this week has been startlingly warm, almost as if summer has lasted into November. Yesterday’s high temperature here at home was 71ºF! It may have been the last ‘summer’ weather of the year – and also the last day before deer-hunting season fully opens – so I was eager to get out for a hike. I try to hike on weekdays to avoid the weekend crowds.

Despite a dense fog clinging to the Connecticut River in the early morning, I hopped into the Tesla for an all-electric drive to one of my favorite trailheads – the Rivendell Trail up Mount Cube, only 30 minutes away. I’ve been up this two-mile route many times, because it gives one all the features of a “real mountain climb” without the temporal overhead of a long drive or a long hike… a stroll through leafy hardwood forests, a scramble up rugged rock-strewn trails, the pungent scent of balsam firs, and distant views from its granite outcrops and 2900′ summit. In the view below, from the summit you can see the foggy Connecticut River valley in the upper right and Smarts Mountain at upper left.

Seen from Mount Cube.

Sadly, the summit has poor views to the northeast, but if you stand on tippy-toes and peer between the firs you can pick out Mount Moosilauke. No photos worth taking, so here’s the summit trail sign, where the Appalachian Trail passes by.

Seen from Mount Cube.

Kearsarge

A sunny but short hike.

On Thursday morning I took a break from the post-election hubbub and drove down to the far side of Mount Kearsarge. I had only visited this popular peak once before, in November 2014, and recalled that it was a frosty and cloudy experience. Now, on an unseasonably warm sunny November morning, I decided to visit again. Somewhat accidentally (thanks Apple Maps!) I ended up on the far side of the mountain, where an auto-road allows one to park within a half-mile of the summit. I was the only car there, though I did pass a couple walking and an older man running the road.

There was a bit of haze, but otherwise impressive long-distance views to be had as I scrambled up the rocky Lincoln trail to the summit, then down the more gentle (but somewhat icy) Rollins trail back to the parking lot. Great views and I hiked barely more than one mile; it felt like cheating. I’ll have to come back someday and start from the base.

Fall foliage

A spectacular year for fall foliage.

This fall brought us some of the most intense fall foliage we’ve ever seen, in three decades of living in the upper valley region of New Hampshire and Vermont. When we had a seriously long drought this August, so many were concerned about a potentially disappointing fall-foliage season, but we’ve experienced quite the opposite! Don’t miss the full gallery.

The trees around our home in their fall foliage; Lyme NH.

Farnum Hill

A late-fall outing in a forest close to home.

This weekend’s outing was a mild hike across the ridgeline of Farnum Hill, in nearby Lebanon, NH. Its trails stroll along the rolling hilltop on an 820-acre reserve managed by the city as a space for wildlife and recreation. Here at the end of October (Halloween morning!) these hardwood forests were mostly bare, with a colorful carpet of fallen leaves covering the forest floor. I walked out and back along the spine of this ridge, enjoying the sunshine of a late-fall morning and the crisp crunch of barely-frozen leaves along the trail.

A late-October snowfall mingles with the fall foliage along the trail in Lebanon, NH.

The trail begins at a marker noting the historic King’s Highway, “the first planned colonial road in Lebanon”, and now a class-VI woods-road suitable for walkers and skiers.

The trail begins along the historic King’s Highway in Lebanon, NH.

A light dusting of snow on the fir trees recalled the early snow that drifted through the morning before.

A late-October snowfall dusts the fir trees along the trail in Lebanon, NH.

A small critter walked along top a snowy log, not too long before I did.

A critter had made its way along a snow-covered log.

Hike stats:
distance: 10.3km round-trip
time: 2h20m
gain: 367m

Pizza oven

Andy’s summer project.

Last weekend we held a launch party for Andy’s summer project, a Pompeii-style pizza oven. Andy has been dreaming about making a pizza oven for years, and it seemed like a good pre-college summer project. It turns out to be a lot more work than one might expect! We were fortunate to have expert advice and assistance from Doc, who has built several such ovens and whose YouTube video series has been viewed hundreds of thousands of times. We chose to simplify the process a bit, by using a kit from Forno Bravo. Doc’s advice was invaluable in making sure we ordered the right kit, used the right kind of mortar, the right kind of bricks, the right methods for construction, down to the right kind of flour and tomato sauce for the pizza. The results were outstanding!

Andy pulls out the first pizza.

Due to a back injury in early August, I personally helped very little in the actual construction. Andy and Doc did most of it, with help from Pam and Mara. Check out the photo gallery to get a sense of the many steps involved over two and a half months of effort.

Andy and Doc, proud of the new pizza oven.

Next summer Andy will complete the project, adding tiles and a countertop on the front, tiles on the dome, and structural-skin coating on the sides of the base.