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Lightning Strike
(or how I spent my summer vacation!)

The Incident Begins...

On Sunday July 9, 2023 at 3:05pm a heavy thunderstorm front passed through the area. Lightning struck a tall (duh!) tree that is just on the other side of the driveway opposite the garage entrance. I can tell because a big section of bark at the ground level peeled off. My guess is that a huge current surge through the actual ground and/or induced voltages in house wiring was the reason for the damage. Here's the tally: my Home Monitor's burglar alarm siren was stuck on (and the entire Home Monitor essentially fried); many of my DC-controlled light circuits failed; dishwasher inoperational; HVAC/thermostat dead; internet Gateway/modem (which includes VoIP telephone service plus WiFi) dead; auxiliary WiFi router in the garage defunct; main desktop computer and monitor killed; television deceased; cable TV DVR non-responsive; Slingbox and associated Component converter bricked; the house intercom silenced; the garage door opener radio receiver was no longer listening; the road sign no longer illuminating; and my ham radio transceivers HW-8 and TS-850S incommunicado. I will entertain you with the tales of repairing or replacing all of this equipment! Any one of these failures would be an aggravation and something I'd routinely work on for a few days or a week or so, but everything broke at the same time! It's somewhat of a stressful situation.

I was out of state at the time and watching the Orioles via my home Slingbox. When that signal cut off I investigated my various remote controlled devices, and short story nothing was reachable. I knew about the weather situation and had been monitoring the radar. It is not unusual for such storms to take out my power, which is what I expected had happened. But my cameras have built-in batteries and so does the router, so I figured that Comcast/Xfinity had gone offline too (which also isn't that unusual). But BGE's website (BGE is my electric power company, Baltimore Gas & Electric) didn't show my power was out and Comcast's outage map didn't report my address (although it did show my modem as offline). Both of these companies have poor reporting track records so my working theory was that one or both were out anyway. Until I heard from my neighbors that my siren was on. It also has a battery, but that wouldn't last too long, so I pretty much knew then that my power at least was still on but my internet was out. Clearly the stuck siren was a problem and that told me that I had bigger problems. Normally it would only run for a few minutes before timing out, so the Home Monitor certainly was no longer in control. Of course under normal circumstances I have complete remote control over it, but with it broken plus no internet that was no help. What was unbelievable was that I still had power! Of all the times for BGE to not fail, this was a poor choice. Then the siren would have stopped blaring.

Short version, I talked a policeman into the house and told him how to unplug the cable that attaches to the siren. He was great.

I returned on Monday to face the music (or lack of it -- actually, my Best Buy stereo survived probably because I turn it off with the hard power switch). Two circuit breakers had tripped -- the dishwasher and one main phase (damn, the siren was on the other phase!). But I shouldn't complain, the refrigerator was on the untripped phase.

Lightning Tree on 2023-07-09 Lightning Tree on 2023-07-09

The tree itself didn't look particularly damaged, so I let it be. (A fateful decision as you will soon learn.) On to the repairs. First job was to triage and decide what order to attack everything. I had no air conditioning, but I live in the woods and it doesn't get too hot mostly. But this actually was during a heat spell. To backtrack slightly, for many years I hardly ever used the A/C because I have a whole-house attic fan; open the sliding door and a few windows, put it on its high setting, and in short order all of the inside air is replaced. The key is to do this early in the morning while it's cool outside and then close up. I stopped this practice in 2008 after my renovations included interior painting and bleaching; I had built up mold in the house because even though I wasn't particularly hot the fan method retained the moisture from the woods. So I hadn't used the attic fan since then. Turns out the high motor speed no longer worked, but the low speed did and that was sufficient. Then one night that first week the fan blade stopped turning properly -- I went up into the attic at midnight and tightened the set screw. So I could put off addressing the A/C. My desktop computer was a problem, but I had an HP laptop with Windows 10 that I had bought in March 2022 to tide me over.

Internet and Television

(Note: I use Comcast and Xfinity interchangeably as they are the same company. I also use Gateway, Router, and Modem to mean the same thing although technically they are different; the gateway is the entire box connected to the cable coaxial line; it includes a modem that converts the cable signal to internet data; the router section distributes that data amongst the ethernet ports and connected WiFi devices; and the terminal adapter which connects the voice-over-internet-protocol VoIP signal to a standard telephone line. The DVR -- Digital Video Recorder -- is the cable tv box that records and stores programs on its internal hard disk drive or equivalent.)


Television. My Sceptre U405CV-U 40 inch TV was dead. Rather than deal with that right away, on Monday I borrowed an older Vizio 37 inch TV; then visited the neighborhood Xfinity store with my broken X1 DVR for replacement. That was pretty painless as it is a rental. When I returned home it took quite a while to get it to work. I ended up replacing the outside cable splitter and I also had to go to the base of the utility pole and unscrew and re-attach the cable line (it looked great, but apparently it didn't think so). It takes quite a while for Xfinity's X1 box to download its software set, log me in, program remote controls, configure it, etc. Did this all after dealing with the modem but that's a longer story and I wanted to get this portion out of the way here. (As long as I had internet I could watch TV via my Roku and Xfinity account, so I could do without the DVR -- but one trip to their store for both anyway.)

Internet. I had purchased an Arris TG862G in September 2013, owning my Comcast Gateway and avoiding a monthly rental fee. It now was dead. I opened it up and didn't see any obvious component failures. I couldn't spare the time to research and purchase a replacement immediately, so at the Xfinity store I picked up their newest and greatest (rental) Gateway. I needed to get internet/WiFi/telephone active as soon as possible. The clerk was taken aback a little bit when I was opening the box before she had completed the transaction (which I had to subsequently sign for); but I wanted to see what was in the plain brown box and verify that it had ethernet ports, a telephone port, and WiFi before leaving. In the past it could be an exciting and aggravating operation to get this all activated properly. While I was at the store I asked what I needed to do so, and I was told nothing -- they had scanned it into their database. Of course this was not accurate.

Rental Gateway Back home after plugging the Gateway in I got the instruction to use their App to activate the modem. If I had been told that at the store, I could have used the store's WiFi to download and install their app onto my cellphone. Now I was back home without internet. I know I am a stick-in-the-mud about this, but I don't want to use my mobile data plan to install apps. I knew one of my neighbors had Xfinity too so I walked over to his driveway so I could access the Xfinity Hotspot they create whether customers want it or not. I installed their app on my phone and walked back home. I will admit that this process worked painlessly, all you have to do is take a picture of the Gateway's barcode, and after ten minutes or so the machinery configures everything. I still had to set up my home WiFi parameters, etc. but that's no big deal. It all was a little more trouble than I've described because the splitter replacement and fiddling with the utility pole connections I described above for the TV box needed to be done to get the Gateway online as well. But I had internet, WiFi, and telephone! Basically 24 hours after the lightning strike.

While I did have internet, WiFi, and telephone, I quickly learned that all was not well. I have a number of IoT devices that I remotely access (like the Birdcam and my cameras). I do this with a two step process: I define fixed local IP addresses for each of those devices (just to make it simpler to not have dynamically changing destinations) and then configure my router to port forward to them. This was straightforward and industry standard for my previous TG862G modem that had died. I was able to directly log into the new Xfinity Gateway modem and assign fixed IP addresses. But the menu option for port forwarding (and several other more advanced features) was locked out and instead displayed a message instructing me to go to a Comcast webpage to configure it instead. Going to that webpage displayed a message saying that the webpage was discontinued and to instead use the Xfinity app (which I did have because I had needed it to authorize the new gateway). The app did indeed have the menu option to get to port forwarding. However, it only displayed a message "We encountered an issue, try again." No matter how many times I re-tried I could get no further. I made three attempts to solve this problem via Chat with Xfinity. I was told that this was a system-wide issue and would be corrected soon. I could get no better definition for "soon." Didn't know if this meant hours, days, weeks, months, or years. One of the chatters actually closed our connection when I asked that very question!

This was a serious problem for me. I frankly didn't know what to do. The only alternative was to switch completely from Comcast/Xfinity to Verizon, which would be a massive change. I can install many devices on the ethernet side of their router, but that would serve no purpose if I couldn't get it to send received packets through. I tried various things, like booting the router with the cable unplugged hoping I could access its internal menu that way, but nothing worked. Xfinity had successfully blocked this customer from using standard internet protocols. I waited for app updates and immediately installed several; they changed the UI but didn't solve the problem. Out of desperation -- with little expectation of anything good happening -- I installed the Xfinity app on my old Walmart Onn Android 9 tablet. Believe it or not, tapping the menu item there WORKED! On Android 9, when my Android 11 Pixel 2 always "encountered an issue." BTW, online comments on the Xfinity app are overwhelmingly negative for many reasons including port forwarding. I made sure NOT to ever update the app on the tablet in case it would also stop providing port forwarding access. But I was terrified that at some point the app would stop running without an update and the update stop providing access to the port forwarding menu. It is unconscionable to only permit customers to configure their network via an app that is buggy. I can't count how many hours I wasted agonizing over this dilemma. Anyhow, I was able to successfully configure port forwarding that way, tenuous as it was. I was also fearful that the Onn itself would die; if so, what then?

This was July 18, the week after the lightning strike. I had the internet functions working, but I still had lots of other things to deal with, so I decided to keep the Xfinity Gateway modem rental until I got through more on my list. Here I'll jump forward to September 19 to stay on topic. The rental is a "gigabit" modem. I forgot to actually test its speed, though. It was quite fast and the WiFi seemed more powerful, too. I have no complaints about its performance (beyond the configuration restrictions and monthly rental fee). Now it was time to see about purchasing my own gateway to replace it. I also hoped that that might solve the port forwarding issue too. Comcast has a list of "compatible" and "recommended" modems one can buy. None in the recommended category had both telephone ports and WiFi. I certainly could add a separate WiFi router (I already have one such in the garage), but why do that if not necessary? Anyway, I identified a slightly older Arris model SVG2482AC gateway that had both and was on the compatible list. Reading user comments about getting various gateways activated with Comcast was not pretty. I decided to risk it and purchased it from Amazon Renewed (refurbished) for $98. I had had good fortune with their renewed desktop computer (below).

SVG2482AC Gateway I went through the process, moving the cable line from the rental to the Arris modem, powering up and using the app to activate the new replacement modem. This time I had to type in the MAC address instead of just photographing its barcode (!). Had to guess which MAC address listed for the Arris was needed, got it on the second (out of three possible) try. The modem provisioned and my telephone line came to life again. In the past phone access was the most difficult part of the process, I admit that their app and automation work much better. I could log onto the Arris and make my configurations for WiFi, dedicated device IP, and... Port Forwarding! Feeling good. But then strange things started happening. For one, sometimes port forwarding worked and sometimes it didn't. And two, I could log onto the new WiFi alright, but mostly there was no internet. This makes no sense. I reset the Arris to factory programming, and with the default WiFi SSID (name) it worked fine! But after I reprogrammed it to my normal SSID, same no internet problem. I was really baffled. I didn't know how to proceed. In my mind I was wondering if the "Renewed" modem had some problem.

Out of desperation, I moved the cable line from the Arris back to the rental modem and re-provisioned it through the app. But now I had the same issue with the WiFi sometimes not having internet. I had never had such a problem with this modem previously. Boom! I knew immediately what the issue was: stupid, stupid, me! While I had moved the cable line between the gateways, I had not powered the unused one down. So with power on, it properly put out its WiFi signal which was programmed to my home's name; but it was not connected to the internet. Connecting any of my devices to WiFi would randomly connect to either the router connected to the cable (and provide internet) or connect to the router NOT connected to the cable (and not provide internet). Both modems were configured for the same WiFi SSID and password. Powering the unused router down solved that problem. Okay, re-do everything: move cable line back to Arris and re-provision it through the app. Unplug the rental!

But not out of the woods yet. That didn't address the iffy port forwarding issue. It would work and then not work with me making no changes. I finally figured out that at seemingly random times Comcast would just stop port forwarding if the request came from the same IP address. Of course I was testing from home, using my home Comcast IP address. I could turn WiFi off on my phone and instead use mobile data (from a different IP address) and that would work. I could use on my desktop to force a different IP address and that would work. So really there was no actual problem. I don't really need port forwarding while I'm home (I can just use the device internal IP addresses there) and mainly I use it from home only to verify that everything is still working. A few days later Comcast began operating normally again. Occasionally it reverts to this odd behavior for spurts. I don't think that this has anything to do with the gateways at all.

All was well, but I did an internet speed test and I was getting 70-80 Mbps download speed to the desktop computer (which by this time had been upgraded). Now truthfully this is high enough speed as far as I'm concerned, but I should have lots more than that. I tested my phone on the 5Ghz WiFi and I had I think around 100 Mbps, which seemed strange. I still find this hard to believe, but I changed the short ethernet cable between my desktop computer and the router and now I get 773 Mbps downloads. Great! Going back to that recommended/compatible Comcast page, it said my Arris router should be good for 800 Mbps. Close enough for me. As a chuckle, before my old TG862G modem failed I would get periodic messages from Xfinity advising me to upgrade to their Gigabit modem because my modem was not capable of Xfinity's gigabit speed. I didn't care as 200 Mbps (at the time) was plenty. I stopped receiving those pleadings while I was on their gigabit rental modem. Now I'm getting them again with the SVG2482AC modem. I'm more than satisfied with 773 Mbps. I paid $98 one time to avoid the $15/month rental fee. BTW, I paid $119 for the TG862G in 2013 -- so I got my money's worth, saving ten years of $15/month charges. As a plus, the backup battery from the Arris TG862G fits in the Arris SVG2482AC modem (though that only provides telephone service anyway, plus the desktop and router are on a UPS too).

After double-switching the two gateways back-and-forth, the Xfinity app seemed to have gotten confused. It thought that I did not have working internet at home. Everything was working fine, so I didn't really care. I waited a week to make sure all was good before returning the rental gateway. After that, the app properly shows my actual gateway and says all is working. And now the option to get to the port forwarding and other advanced options has disappeared, as I use the gateway itself to handle that. I no longer need live in fear that the Onn will fail or the app will update and stop working to control my home internet settings.

Netis Router

Going slightly out of order, but staying on the internet topic: I have a secondary WiFi router in the garage. Most people nowadays use a WiFi extender, but years ago before those were so common I just ran an ethernet cable between the gateway and the garage to use another router there to provide its own WiFi signal. I can sit out on the patio with a strong signal instead of needing the weak main WiFi signal from the computer room. Well, along with most everything else, the lightning strike destroyed that garage router. I bought a replacement Monoprice router from Amazon for $11! I configure it for Bridge mode, so it essentially is an extension of the main router. Got that working on July 25.

Desktop Computer, Part I

My main computer was the one I had actually built in April 2010: 2.8GHz AMD Athlon II X4 630 processor, with 4 GB ram and a 320 GB SATA hard drive. I installed Windows 7 Professional 32-bit version on that because it runs 16-bit programs as well as 32; 64-bit Windows versions won't. This system was quite old now, but surprisingly was still fast enough for anything I did. I knew that eventually I'd have to replace it because Microsoft had stopped supporting Win7. But the only actual program I couldn't run that I cared about was Turbotax (refused to install on non-Microsoft supported O/S'). That was one of the reasons I had purchased an HP laptop running Win10 (64-bit). The Athlon machine was now dead. I thought that only its power supply was killed, but after swapping a few old supplies and boards back-and-forth, I came to the conclusion that the motherboard was now gone. This wasn't a situation where I had lost any data, I am pretty diligent about performing backups. Losing this machine certainly was a big inconvenience. Most files originate on my main desktop computer, even if I copy them elsewhere. And modifying documents, handling email, etc. on other machines would disturb the provenance of various source files that I'd have to keep track of to eventually get everything back in order. So I wanted to get my desktop running if I could.

HP-Pavilion I found an old retired HP Pavilion a1245c in my basement with WinXP installed. I pulled the hard drive out of the defunct Athlon and temporarily plugged it into the secondary SATA port in the Pavilion. I thought that the computer would boot into the resident WinXP O/S and then I would be able to access all of the files from the Athlon drive. I was surprised when instead it booted directly from the Athlon drive! Somehow the hardware had decided to boot first from the second drive. First, this told me that the drive itself was fine. Second, while I enjoy disparaging Microsoft at times, my Win7P-32 O/S did a commendable job in discovering that it was no longer running in a familiar environment (its Athlon motherboard) but had moved into an old neighborhood (the Pavilion's). Finding that the various drivers for the hardware didn't match, it found and installed necessary substitutes when it came back to life. I realize that I could have more intelligently booted into the BIOS and told it which drive to boot from. But now it was too late for that as the O/S had already modified the configuration. This wasn't a bad thing, I would have had it use the drive as secondary storage to be safer if I had thought about the BIOS before powering it up -- which wouldn't have changed anything on it that way. However, when the computer eventually booted to my familiar Athlon environment I smiled.

So close, yet so far... Now that I knew the Pavilion was serviceable, I needed to more permanently mount the Athlon's drive -- at this point, it was lying on top of the drive bays. No big deal, I have constructed very many such machines. But there was no way I could maneuver the drive to fit into an empty drive bay spot: the CPU's fan and heatsink assembly was in the way. I needed to remove those to make room, mount the drive, and then put the heatsink and fan back. I unclipped the fan/heatsink and tried to gently pull the heatsink off of the CPU chip. It was stuck and wouldn't budge, so I tugged harder and harder. Until it came loose and I thought, "Great." Until I looked at what I had done. I had pulled the whole CPU out of its socket! I was staring at the hundreds of pins on the underside of the CPU, some bent. The normal process is to take the heatsink off, then if one wanted to replace the CPU, unlatch the ZIF (zero insertion force) socket which frees the CPU. The heatsink compound between the heatsink and CPU had turned into glue after many years without disturbance. I truly gave myself a 10% chance of being able to restore this to working condition. Now I could separate the CPU from the heatsink and unlatch the ZIF socket. Carefully try to straighten out the bent CPU pins. It took some time to be able to get the CPU to slide back into its socket. Then re-attach the heatsink and fan. Of course mount the disk drive before putting the CPU back in. Turned power on, and shockingly it booted. Be thankful for small miracles.

Most things worked. Mainly the machine was exceedingly slow as compared to the broken desktop machine. I disabled many background tasks to speed things up. Including the Birdcam (its webcam was also broken anyway!). I quickly determined that while this wasn't a long-term solution, it was serviceable while I worked on repairing lots of other stuff in the house. My 22" Video 7 LCD monitor from 2009 was also dead, so I swapped in an old 15" Dell LCD monitor for the Pavilion. Lower resolution, of course. Got this all working on July 12.

Slingbox, etc.

I have to backtrack here to explain this section. In 2012 I bought a Roku and subscribed to MLB so I could watch Orioles games when away from home. That worked well although it required the paid subscription. However, there was no reasonable way to watch the Ravens (the NFL is more backward, or at least greedier than MLB) similarly. In 2015 I first purchased a Slingbox500; this attaches to the HDMI connection between the DVR and TV and connects over WiFi to the Sling server. This allowed slingbox owners to remotely watch their home DVR through a Roku, phone, or tablet app. (A number of years later they discontinued the Roku version and I was forced to cast my phone's screen to a big screen TV, which was not as convenient -- but it was okay.) The Slingbox500 worked, but digital rights management (DRM) on the HDMI signal blocked almost every channel from the DVR output. Which made the entire arrangement useless. I could have purchased an inline HDMI splitter that supposedly removed DRM from the HDMI signal, but I figured that would be a buy-it-and-test-to-see-if-it-actually-works situation. So instead I returned the Slingbox500 and purchased a Slingbox350 in its place. The Slingbox350 doesn't use WiFi -- it uses ethernet -- and doesn't offer HDMI interfaces, but uses Component inputs instead. The Component signal is high definition, but it is analog and not digital. Therefore no DRM. My DVR had Component output in addition to HDMI output, so no problem. I ran an ethernet cable between the Gateway and the Slingbox350. Connected the TV to the DVR via HDMI and the Slingbox350 to the DVR via Component. This worked perfectly, and I used it for quite a while. That is, until Comcast's DVR went bad in 2020 and I had to replace it. The new DVR didn't have Component output. So I bought an HDMI-to-Component adapter to connect the Slingbox350 to the DVR. That worked fine, too. This whole arrangement was good until November 9, 2022 when Sling -- bless their hearts -- took their servers offline. From the very beginning I did not like the fact that the slingbox datapath went from slingbox to their servers to the Roku/phone/tablet app to the TV. I wished it had gone directly between the slingbox and the Roku/phone/tablet app without an intermediate server. But Sling decided to abandon all of its prior customers and make every slingbox version worthless by deactivating their servers. True, we paid no subscription for the "service" but effectively we paid for a lifetime of usage through the equipment purchase price. They did provide a year's advance notice. I argued that they should post publicly their server software for us, but they would not. I figured that someone would reverse engineer how to make their own replacement server. That someone turned out to be Gerry Dazoo. His free Slinger software runs on your own server and effectively replaces the Sling servers. Not in exactly the same way. The original Sling app would play and offer remote control options on the same device window. Gerry's server plays to the VLC media streamer app, for example, but sends infrared (IR) signals to the DVR through a separate webpage. I had tested every IR code to the DVR and customized my own Remote webpage from his instructions. It was a little more trouble to use in that way, because if you take focus away from the VLC window the connection breaks. So you needed to use two different devices, one for VLC and a second for the Remote webpage. But it turns out that if you cast VLC to a Chromecast you don't need the VLC window open on the phone or tablet. So only one device (other than the Chromecast) is then needed (for the remote). This is the scenario I've been using since Sling shut us all out. I'd say it works even better than the original method! Main disadvantage is that I need to remember to leave Slinger running on a computer at home before leaving if I might want to avail myself of the Slingbox. Although Slinger can run virtually anywhere (through port forwarding), but then I'd need to have my laptop with me. One nice thing about the original setup was I never had to think about it, the Sling servers were always running if I wanted to watch TV -- until they weren't!

HDMI to Component Converter HDMI Splitter

Back to the situation at hand. The lightning strike destroyed both the Slingbox350 (I did open it up and look for obvious blown regulators to no avail) and the HDMI-to-Component adapter. The original adapter had an HDMI-out jack in addition to the HDMI-in and Component-out jacks; I fed the HDMI out from the DVR to the adapter to the TV. I could no longer locate an equivalent adapter; they didn't provide that HDMI-out connection. So I had to purchase another HDMI-to-Component adapter plus an HDMI splitter that mirrors one input to two outputs (input from the DVR, outputs to the TV and Slingbox). Note that some "splitters" aren't really splitters; they are actually switches in that they route the input signal to whichever output is active -- but only one at a time. I didn't want to have to remember to move cables around or even move a switch to permit remote access every time I left the house. Sling no longer sold Slingboxes, of course, but they are available on eBay quite cheap -- because unless one uses Gerry's Slinger software the slingboxes are useless. So I bought a replacement Slingbox350 that way. Now there is a complication here (isn't there always?): the slingboxes use an external and internal password. Back when the Sling servers were operational, one created an online Sling account and set the (external) password. Invisibly, the servers created an internal password that the servers used to communicate with the slingboxes. Before the servers shut off, there were ways to glean that internal password from a computer connected to the Sling server. But after the shutdown, that couldn't be done. Word on the street was that if a factory reset was done on the slingboxes, the internal password was the actual external password, which was known. I hoped this was true before buying the Slingbox350 off of eBay!

It was true, and my new Slingbox with component adapter and splitter worked. But now I ran into a different problem. I had passively read about this but hadn't paid any attention to it because it didn't apply to my original Slingbox350. The Slingbox contains an output which connects to an infrared (IR) emitter that is placed in front of the DVR (in my case). The original Sling servers used this so the DVR could be controlled through their phone app, and the Slinger software worked the same way via a separate Remote webpage. But apparently, as the Slingboxes were released, they didn't have the internal software to be able to output to the IR port. When the slingbox was connected to the Sling servers initially the server updated the Slingbox software to implement the IR output. But performing a factory reset on the Slingbox (which I was forced to do because I didn't have the internal password from the former owner who didn't have it either) did away with the software in the Slingbox which activated the IR output! So it was now impossible to control the DVR remotely, making it all useless. There is a work around, i.e. buying a separate device to relay IR output remotely. But fortunately, I discovered that Comcast has their own webpage that enables me to control my home DVR remotely independent from the Slingbox hookup. Which frankly works even better than the original setup. It even offers voice commands. So now I am back in business (July 18) using the Slingbox350 with Slinger plus the Comcast Remote webpage.

I will mention that before I figured out the IR remote control situation with factory-reset Slingboxes, I thought I had a different problem. It turns out that Xfinity's remote controls really don't use IR signals any longer. They use RF (bluetooth or similar, maybe?) to pair the remotes with the DVR. But there is a way to enable the IR receiver in the DVR so it will listen to IR remote control signals. I went down a rabbit-hole working on that, enabling IR commands, and trying to use the Slinger Remote webpage for IR that worked with my original Slingbox. But that was a blind alley.

I can also add here that Xfinity does now offer a Stream app that finally works fairly well. We can remotely watch TV with that and even cast it to a Chromecast. But they lock out live sports events. You can watch recordings, but only after they are completely finished. This seems to be a deliberate decision, because when on the home network it is possible to watch while a recording is in progress just like on a DVR. If a game is chopped into smaller recording intervals, it is possible to watch each section after it completes recording before proceeding to the next. Turns out it is impossible to program that method remotely, but it does work if one remembers to program it that way on the DVR while home. That method is way too cumbersome to use on a regular basis, thus the need for a slingbox. Comcast occasionally blocks random programs or episodes from remote viewing via Stream for no known reason; the slingbox method always works because it is indistinguishable from being home!

Garage Door Remote Control, Part I

Wio Node The lightning strike also destroyed my Sears remote control receiver for the garage door opener. My 1967 Genie garage door opener didn't have an internal receiver (see below for follow-up on that); the original separate receiver had failed years ago when I had replaced it with the Sears unit. I temporarily wired a Wio Node IoT device so that I could use a webpage on my phone to activate the garage door. I had a hard time finding a receiver to replace the Sears one with, I guess because now all garage door openers include it as part of the system. Also, Teslas are compatible with the Homelink protocol, permitting the car to be programmed as a remote control device obviating the need for an actual physical device. So I was looking for a Homelink compatible separate receiver. I couldn't explicitly find one, so I purchased the Skylink MK-1 Universal Garage Door Remote Control Kit. It wasn't necessarily supposed to be Homelink compatible, but I hoped for the best and purchased it -- it was only $26.


It was a tiny, interesting gadget. It didn't require external power! Instead, it phantomly drained power off of the garage door opener's switch input which it parallels. There were no technical specifications provided. It actually worked. But I couldn't program the car's Homelink for it. I decided to just use the provided control unit until I figured out what to replace it with. It only comes with one remote, so I had to move it between the car and motorcycle (meant to be on a keychain). Got this working on July 18. Stay tuned for further developments below.


My thermostat wasn't displaying anything so I had to deal with the furnace/air conditioner situation. Because of my prior dealings with the installation company I dreaded beginning the process by calling them. My system is hybrid in that it controls a furnace along with a heat pump and air conditioner. I can't just go to Home Depot and buy a new thermostat for it. The Carrier thermostat actually consists of two parts: the upstairs portion which is really a remote, and the downstairs portion which attaches to the furnace. I checked the power supply section of the furnace board and thought I saw a problem; it is surface mount and I tried to replace one or two components on it, but was unsuccessful in accomplishing anything -- I might not have understood properly what I saw. I know that the thermostat was blown, but I didn't know if it was just the upstairs part, the downstairs part, or both; and I had no idea if the rest of the HVAC system had any problems, either. Worst case scenario, the outside compressor was blown. I couldn't diagnose anything until I at least had the thermostat replaced. So I phoned the service company knowing what I'd be told.

The system was still under warranty, so a replacement thermostat would be "free." However, they would have to send someone out to see it for $450. I asked if I could just bring the faulty unit to them for replacement and of course that answer is no. I had searched online for the model number and saw a few in the $300-$500 range, some on eBay. But I really didn't want to buy one from any supplier other than a Carrier distributor. So instead I inquired if I could just forget the warranty and simply buy one outright from them (I'd come pick it up). Clearly this wasn't something they wanted to do, but I pressed and was given a price of $450 for that -- sound familiar? So I asked where they buy them from (they had none in stock) and was told that would not help me because the supplier would not sell to me (which is mostly accurate). She didn't want to cooperate but begrudgingly mentioned some identifying information although not revealing a phone number. Now this service company probably goes over to the supply house several times per day because nobody stocks anything any longer. I did my best to be pleasant on the phone, because even if I managed to replace the thermostat myself I didn't know if that would fix the HVAC; if it didn't I would probably be forced to call them for a real (expensive) repair.

I got the supply house's telephone number from an internet search and called them. Immediately on hold. While I was waiting I found their website and searched for my part number. It showed they had local stock (good!) but they don't publish prices because they only sell to HVAC companies. I knew the story, so while I was waiting on hold I applied for my company to be a registered purchaser from them. But the end of that process simply told me that I had successfully applied -- I had to wait to hear back. Didn't know if this was an automated process or if a human had to get involved. After an hour I got through on the phone. Was told they had stock, I asked for the price. They're not supposed to reveal that but I pleaded with the fellow, telling him the truth that I had applied -- how long does that take? He thought maybe a couple of weeks. So kindly he gave me a "cash price" of $261 even though I couldn't purchase it. The approved buyer price (which I had to wait for) would be less than that for sure, though how much I didn't know. I already knew that my HVAC company was trying to make $450 - $261, though their price surely was less than that. At least I knew what I was dealing with, though.

I think my company's registration came through that evening, maybe it was the next morning. I was then able to place the order online from them for pickup. My price was $250. I was to wait for an email to tell me it was ready for pickup. Never received that. I could go online and view my account: the order showed as pending. It's about a half-hour drive over there and I didn't want to go there just to be told it wasn't ready yet. I waited all day with nothing. Next morning still nothing. Engaged in online chat that resolved nothing. Next day same thing. Second or third chat I was told it was ready for pickup -- which is good if true -- but the website still showed pending. I pressed on this matter but was reassured that it really was ready for pickup. So two days after placing the order I went there. It looked to me that there really was no package readied, but the clerk simply went to the stockroom and retrieved the item for me. Could have done that two days earlier.

Thermostat Furnace Board I looked in the box and there really were two boards. I thought that was how it was packaged but wasn't really certain. Can't buy just one of the boards anyway (didn't know if one or both had blown out). Back home, replacing the boards is really quite simple. All that need be done is take a picture or write down the wiring connections before removing the old board, and replacing with new one and duplicating the wiring. After doing so I turned the circuit breaker back on and nothing appeared. Pretty dejected, but then I remembered that I had removed the low voltage AC fuse from another board that powers the thermostat. Put that back and re-powered the system. Success!!! The thermostat came alive. There are about a hundred settings to address. Most of them are fine with the default values, though. A few are things that real HVAC service technicians would know but not necessarily me. Fairly simple, but first the thermostat has to be told what kind of system it is. I'm fairly sure about that and almost every other setting, but I am not an HVAC expert. Actually I had reviewed all of the settings years ago and I thought I had written them down. Of course can't do that after the unit is destroyed. Anyway, I tested the oil burner, air conditioning, and heat pump -- all okay (July 20). This was a big relief because anything more than what I had already done would be beyond my knowledge. So I didn't get to make use of the Carrier warranty. I've come to the conclusion that that is more or less worthless unless the compressor fails. You might think I just should have paid the installer their $450 to come out and do what I had done, but the board replacement really was almost trivial. Plus I didn't want to go through the aggravation of discussing with them my thermostat modifications. Turned out that both of the boards were bad.

Thermostat Hall Board In 2015 I had interfaced an IoT device with the thermostat so I ended up with a WiFi Thermostat. Look there and you will see my "modifications" were very simple; I only paralleled opto-isolators onto three pre-programmed buttons. I didn't interrupt any circuit paths. But I didn't really want HVAC service techs seeing that because inevitably they'd blame problems on me. The opto-isolators have thousands of volts isolation so I'm convinced that they had nothing to do with the lightning failure. If I were going to call service people out I would have to first remove my wiring, which wouldn't have been much to do, but I preferred to keep it intact until I had a replacement thermostat board. Which is another reason I did it myself instead of having them make a service call. In the summer I don't even make use of the remote control -- mostly in the wintertime I do use it to turn the heat down when away and back on when returning home since it can take several hours or more to bring the house back up to temperature. I wasn't in any rush to interface the replacement thermostat to my Home Monitor (I had not yet repaired that anyway). After a few weeks with no incident I addressed that. The replacement had a newer revision mod from the original, and the circuit board wasn't exactly the same. I had buzzed out the first one to locate the traces to connect to, but that didn't help much in finding the same spots on the new version. Seems quite simple, but I'm trying not to disassemble it any more than necessary, and didn't want to disconnect the LCD connections. It actually took me a few hours I think to locate the equivalent spots to attach my wiring to the Home Monitor's opto-isolators (above left). But I can report that all is well!

Road Sign

Sign Roasted It's not unusual for lightning to damage my LED Road Sign. Probably because the Romex power run to it is fairly long, so induced voltages are probably high. I do have fuses, limiting resistors, and surge suppressors in it -- but still sometimes the circuitry sustains damage. Apparently my design skills are insufficient! The July 9th incident wasn't alone in this. This wasn't that important, but on the afternoon of July 28 I took time out to fix it. This time both quarter-amp fuses, the V130LA20B MOV, P6KE200CA, and nine LEDs were blown. Put it all back together.

This would seem entirely unrelated, but my kitchen pantry has a doorswitch that controls an interior light. It was not illuminating. I mention this here because the pantry light and the Road Sign are on the same circuit breaker. The doorswitch wasn't activating. I tried to find a replacement switch but it seemed that nothing I could locate would fit in the same spot without lots of modifications. Then I had a brilliant idea: remove the switch, disassemble it, and clean it! Worked like a charm. I find it hard to believe that the lightning strike actually caused the switch to fail, but on the other hand the timing would seem to be quite coincidental.

Getting very slightly ahead in time, that very evening the fateful storm that damaged my roof blew out the Road Sign again! I was angry with myself -- if I had waited to repair it just one more day I would only have had to repair it once, and it wouldn't have had any additional destruction. Eventually I got around to fixing it again. This time it only took out one fuse and two red LEDs.

Smashed Roof

I was home the evening of Friday July 28. A rainstorm came through and took out the power. Turns out a tree farther up my road had fallen over the power lines, although a neighbor reports that the power was out just before the tree fell. Power was restored on Sunday. Anyway, when the power dropped I went out to my patio to start up the generator. It was dark and raining. Then I heard an ominous sound. I ran back away from the edge adjacent to the garage as I heard a tree falling. It was hard to see in the dark (with no power), but a tree had fallen across the driveway and smashed onto the very edge of the garage roof. This was maybe six feet from where I had been standing at the generator on the patio. I guess I should be relieved that I was not injured. It was very hard to determine what the situation was, but the whole garage entrance seemed to be filled with tree branches and leaves. Not much I could do at that moment, so I started the generator and switched the house power to it. Luckily Comcast continued to operate for TV and internet.

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I ventured outside 7am Saturday morning. The right half of the trunk of the tree damaged on the ninth had fallen down, to the right and away from the house. It conveniently protruded only about a foot onto the access driveway -- not particularly a problem, it is in the woods anyway. It was only a branch that had fallen across the garage entrance and lodged vertically on the roof -- but a very, very large branch! I have a small gas chainsaw but that had stopped running a year or two ago and I had given up working on it. I have an even older electric chainsaw, which is small and meant for branches. It is somewhat broken and the bolts that tighten the chain come loose too easily. The chain itself is dull at this point, too. But that is what I had. Of course with BGE offline I ran it off of the generator that was powering the whole house. I got to work at the garage entrance clearing away the debris until mostly there were a couple large branches left, including the one stuck on the roof. Around this time my extremely nice neighbor Michael came over and "helped out" with his decent gas chainsaw. (By helped out I mean he did most of the work!). The two branches remaining were quite large and heavy and we had to be careful they wouldn't fall on us in the process. I wasn't sure if we could handle this cleanup ourselves or if I would need to call professionals. But we persevered!

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I climbed onto the roof and tied a rope as high on the lodged branch as I could. Back on the ground we pondered what was going to happen: we guessed that when the branch came down it would further damage the gutter and probably take out the corner shrubbery (which is exactly what happened). We stretched the rope out pretty far to get ourselves out of danger, then played tug-o-war until we got it tumbling down to the ground. We (mostly Michael) cut up the big branches into smaller sections so that we could haul them into the adjacent woods. By mid-afternoon we had finished. I convinced him to cut off that last foot of the trunk that encroached the driveway.

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Inspecting the roof damage, I thought I might be able to repair it myself but I don't really know the proper way to treat the roof and would have to educate myself about that. Decided maybe I should hire someone who knew what they were doing. One Handyman company would only quote me an hourly rate plus unspecified materials sight unseen. Another company's owner came out and offered a fixed price for the whole job. They sent a man to do the job the very next week, pretty good I think nowadays. There were three parts to be addressed: the roof itself with plywood and shingles, fascia, etc.; the gutter; and the Gutter HelmetTM on top of that. The repair company offered to replace the gutter, but not with a seamless run. 20 years ago when I had the roof replaced I had used a fellow who came out and actually extruded the gutters with a machine in his van; I was quite impressed with the custom seamless system. Since he had done the whole house at that time I thought it better to see if I could get him to come out and replace the garage section. The phone number didn't work but I managed to track him down, and he was willing to do so. So I had the Handyman company repair the roof itself only. I had saved extra shingles from the original roof replacement, but the worker didn't think it would be a good idea to use them; the adhesive was no longer any good, so he went out and bought some generic shingles instead. The result is that the roof section is a color mismatch, but then again even if the saved shingles had been used they probably would not have matched the aged and worn roof shingles either. After that was done the edge of the new plywood was unpainted, and even though it was probably treated and would be covered with the gutter, I felt better painting it and the fascia edges. A small job with some leftover paint I found in the garage.


With the roof finished I called the gutter guy and they handled that lickety-split the following week. The new gutter was standard white and I had had the house painted light green. Being me, the housepaint was stored in the garage, and believe it or not was still good. So I painted the new gutter as soon as they left.

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The only thing left was the leaf protection coverings. I had saved them from being hauled away, but some of the sections were pretty bent up. I straightened them as best I could and re-installed them myself. I admit it doesn't look that great but it seems to work alright. I'm not particularly enthusiastic about the whole system: it does keep leaves out of the gutters (years ago I would have to clean them out, even with grates on top); but oftentimes, especially with a hard rain, the water just pours off of the edge instead of being routed into the gutters. I get lifetime cleaning and I call them probably once a year, but sometimes I think it is as if I have no gutters at all. But the repaired garage edge doesn't seem to be working any worse than the rest of the house. Perhaps I'll have some of those sections replaced in the future.

The only low-priority job left related to the July 28 tree falling was to clean up the fallen tree trunk and move it farther back into the woods. A few weeks after this incident my neighbor had a company clearing some of his trees, so I stopped over and asked the crew to look at my situation and give me a quote for the final cleanup. But they forgot me! I took that as a sign that I should handle it myself. I was in no rush, so I purchased a larger gas chainsaw and the week of October 10 I cut up the branches and sectioned the trunk into smaller pieces so they could be rolled more into the woods. Probably took 5-6 hours of work spread out over three days that week. Even split one section for the fireplace. Job complete!

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Garage Door Remote Control, Part II

CO-Z HomeLink Compatibility Bridge The Skylink remote control receiver was tiny and since I couldn't hear a relay click I assume 100% solid state. While I appreciate that, I think my 1967 Genie garage door opener used too much voltage and current on the control switch for it to handle. Now I believe this is coincidental, but while the power was out from the smashed roof event and I was running everything from the generator, the Skylink shorted out! I wasn't surprised. I wired up the Wio Node once again for temporary browser control. I returned the Skylink and was back to square one: looking for a Homelink compatible remote receiver. This time I was more successful: I found a CO-Z HomeLink Compatibility Bridge Smart Garage Door Controller for Home Door. To me it seemed disguised which is why I didn't run across it the first time I searched. It isn't advertised to control garage doors, but as an adjunct to control access gates. It was only $19 so I ordered it. This is really neat! I can hear clicking inside so it has relay output, plus the (one) remote has four different buttons that control four separate outputs. I just shorted them all together so it didn't matter which button I pressed. It did require an external 12vdc power supply (not included). And the Teslas programmed this Homelink compatible device just fine. Problem solved. Installed on August 3. Stay tuned for further developments with the garage door opener...

Television/Slingbox, etc., Part II

During the power outage from the smashed roof event I was running everything from the generator. This is nothing particularly out of the ordinary. I was lucky that Comcast was active at the time, so with the generator life is nearly normal except for periodic gasoline re-filling. (In retrospect, because of the gasoline expense it would have been cheaper to just have thrown out everything in the refrigerator and left the premises!) I was running my entertainment center as always off of the generator, which includes the television, DVR, stereo, Slingbox, etc. Also, I didn't previously mention that I eventually opened my dead Sceptre 40" TV looking for fried components; and was unsuccessful -- so I relegated that TV to the recycling pile. One thing I like about Sceptres is that they have a USB port; plug in a flashdrive filled with MP3's and you can play an entire music collection. The Vizio TV I was using didn't have that capability, so I had bought a Chromecast for that TV so that instead of using a flashdrive for music I could just cast my Pixel phone to the Chromecast/TV for music, since I have that collection stored on the phone, too. The Vizio has three HDMI inputs which I had connected to the DVR, Chromecast, and Roku, plus the splitter to the Component adapter connected to the Slingbox. Everything worked fine.

Chromecast After power was restored (the house is still connected to the generator) I was quite conservative: with the generator running, I turned power off on the entertainment center's powerstrip for a clean disconnection. Switched the house power from the generator to BGE, and turned the powerstrip back on. If I'm home and remember, I do this to avoid any power surges when BGE re-activates power. This is insane, but the Xfinity DVR died! Something must have gone bad on its HDMI output because it broke that HDMI input on the Vizio TV! Troubleshooting, I moved HDMI cables around and ended up damaging a second HDMI input on the Vizio. My HDMI splitter and Component adapter connecting to the Slingbox350 and the Chromecast were also dead. Stuff I had just bought! I am convinced that the DVR burned out whatever was connected to its HDMI output. Back to the Xfinity store (I showed up at 9am and found a line of people waiting -- they open at 10am). Got a replacement DVR, bought new HDMI splitter, Component adapter, and Chromecast devices. These aren't expensive, but still... The Vizio now has one remaining working HDMI input. I was moving HDMI cables around just to switch sources and grew tired of that. I was about to buy an HDMI switcher, but thought again -- why waste money on that, just get a new TV! So I bought a Sceptre X435BV-F 43" TV which just barely fits on my entertainment console. Back to the preferable music flashdrive. Plus this has about half the power consumption of the old Vizio. Got this done on September 25.

Xfinity's X1 DVR box can be used to access other platforms, like Tubi, Prime, AppleTV+, etc. I have a Roku which can do the same thing, but using the DVR has some advantages like it keeps track of what movies you've watched. The DVR I had prior to the first lightning destruction handled this fine. I found that its replacement sort of worked, but wouldn't work for Apple: it displayed a message to order a free different DVR for that streaming service. This wasn't that important to me, but I was irritated that the newest DVR I got from their store didn't include what the prior one did. So when I had to go back to their store for the second DVR, I specifically asked if they would just give me the one that worked for those streamers. They assured me I was okay. Once again, LIE, LIE, LIE! I don't want to be swapping gear around unless I really have to and I can use the Roku anyway.

Home Monitor

My Home Monitor that I'm so very proud of was pretty much utterly destroyed by the lightning strike. It was the first thing broken that I was aware of with the siren blaring continuously. A glance at the furnace unit showed charred components, and I knew it would take some time to repair it. That's why I worked on getting internet, TV, computer, HVAC, etc. operational first, plus I was rudely interrupted by the smashed roof. I did feel naked without the Home Monitor, but I also had to order some parts before I could get to work on it as well. All of the peripheral hardware needed fixing, but first I addressed the microcontroller mounted in the upstairs hallway.

The Electric Imp module plugs into a breakout board, which I have mounted on another perfboard that is next to the (slightly modified) thermostat. I had a spare Imp and breakout board, so first I just plugged in the spare Imp (after hooking up a 5V power supply temporarily because I unplugged it from the downstairs board that supplies power). That didn't work either (can't access its webpage), so I started to troubleshoot the breakout board. The 3.3V regulator on the breakout board wasn't working. I could have just swapped it out with the spare breakout board I had, but then I'd have to re-wire a few components -- so I thought maybe I can instead repair the malfunctioning breakout board? The regulator is a switching device, but since I'm powering a 3.3V regulator from a 5V DC supply, there's not that much power loss with a linear regulator. So I just cut a couple of traces disconnecting the internal regulator and soldered an L4931CZ linear 3.3V TO-92 regulator that I had on-hand to the board as a replacement. The new Imp worked and the original didn't, so the strike had destroyed the microprocessor and damaged the breakout board. I was good for the moment with these, but neither the April breakout board nor the Imp001 are manufactured any longer. New versions are compatible with my software, but are physically larger and would be less convenient in my application (plus cost more!). But they still had some of the old stock (not sure where in the world they were actually sourced from) so I ordered two Imp001 CPU's and another April breakout board for the future (so I have two spares of each). Took quite a while to receive them, but these are only backups anyway.

Home Monitor Lightning Components Home Monitor Lightning 7805

I got around to identifying which components needed replacement and placed orders on July 28; that evening the tree would smash my roof. Not every semiconductor was destroyed, but very many were. I had spares for all of them, but not in the quantity required. This was complicated because the 8-bit 1-wire port chip DS2408S+ was not available at any of the main distributors. Digikey showed it as on backorder, but delivery dates for such backorders are notoriously suspect. I found an alternate supplier that actually had a few in stock, so I simultaneously ordered some from them at a high price as well as backordering them from Digikey. I intended to cancel Digikey's backorder after receiving the more expensive chips, but it turned out that Digikey got and shipped them four days later. I could have returned them but I didn't, so now I have even more spares.

I'll skip the details, but I ended up replacing a lot of components on the furnace (Main I/O) board, including protection diodes that valiantly sacrificed themselves without necessarily saving others. But when I can see chips that had their plastic housings blown off it may be too much to ask those diodes to be sufficient. Similarly repaired the Basement and Bedroom boards plus the X1 power strip. Even the Basement Watchdog that I use for water detection was blown! I replaced its CD4069 IC -- not sure if these boxes are even available any longer. All six DS18B20 temperature sensors were bad, too. Not too surprised about that since they are directly connected on the long 1-wire cable throughout the house -- probably a big surge on it. I received the parts on August 4 so I probably got the whole Home Monitor rejuvenated on that day or maybe the following week. Quite a relief!

Everything was working, but then a few weeks later the Imp went offline a few times. I couldn't figure out why. Eventually after corresponding with Electric Imp I was told that the modules are sensitive to overly strong WiFi signals. I already had the Imp log the WiFi signal level upon boot (I knew it was strong because the thermostat is only maybe ten feet from the router). I added an option to read it on demand. Then I wrapped the Imp module itself with aluminum foil which successfully lowered the signal strength. But why now after eight years? I had mentioned that the interim rental Xfinity gateway seemed to have a strong signal, right? Guess that was the culprit. After I swapped that out with my SVG2482AC gateway the signal level did go down, but for now I've left the foil on -- but probably no longer necessary.

House Lights

RR7 Light Switch Coil Many of the lights in my house are low voltage controlled by GE RR7 modules -- which are latching relays. After the lightning strike, many of those were no longer working. A quick check determined that several were shorted together. I knew that was probably from the diodes I had put in the wall switch to let the Home Monitor turn five on and off when the alarm is tripped and disabled. I pulled that messy assembly out of the wall and replaced the bad 1N4007 diodes -- which took care of the shorted circuits. Now I could see which ones were malfunctioning. One light I use constantly is above the kitchen sink, but luckily it was stuck in the ON position. So temporarily I just screwed in a pullchain adapter there and used that for a while. The bedroom ceiling lights and a few others that didn't work were not that much of a problem because I had other lamps with switches in those rooms anyway. An easy circuit to get to is the one that operates the Road Sign because it is in the garage. I removed the RR7 out of the electrical box and found that both of the windings were open. This was mainly an exploratory situation, I just wanted to see how I could approach repairing all of them. So I disassembled the solenoid to see if the windings could be easily fixed. Started unwinding the magnet wire, but after a while I figured the opens must be nearer the interior of the coil making it impractical to just repair the coils themselves. Since this particular circuit is one I no longer turn off (I did way back when it was an actual floodlight), I just removed the RR7 and hardwired it ON. Simple enough, but this meant that I was going to have to find replacement RR7's for the rest of the house!

But first I had to locate all of the GE RR7's! Many of them are in the attic. I went up there with a voltmeter and had a friend push buttons throughout the house so I could locate them. I found a number, but several eluded me. Did I mention that this was during a heat wave? Before I repaired the HVAC, but that wouldn't have mattered anyway in the attic. I came back down drenched in sweat. In retrospect I should have run the attic fan a bit prior to climbing up there. I kind of put repairing the lights on the back burner because I couldn't find them all and I also had to figure out what to replace them with. Of course GE no longer manufactures any parts in this line, but I did manage to locate a supplier with a replacement. These would work, but they cost $43.50 each. They are only latching relays, but they are rated for 20 amps (which is quite a lot). I thought I could find similar bare relays, but I could not! I came up with Kemet EC2-12TNU ($2.55 each), which is a DPDT 12vdc latching relay good to switch 2 amps at 250vac. I am slightly confused, though, because it also states a maximum of 60watts. Since the relays have two poles each, paralleling them provides 120watts per relay. Far less than the RR7's 20amps. But in 1967 all we had were incandescent light bulbs -- which are now outlawed in the good old USA. So really, for most of the house switches, 100watts would have been fine. But since they are all now replaced with LED bulbs which draw far less than 20watts, the Kemet relay should manage no problem. There were a few exceptions: three circuits control sets of outdoor floodlights -- which I may or may not have swapped out with efficient bulbs -- and some also had general purpose outlets on them (and who knows what could be plugged into them). I put the Kemet relays in all of the circuits that only powered a light outlet (and made sure LED bulbs were there). For those that I wanted higher power capability, I removed some working RR7's from light outlets, replaced them with Kemets, and re-purposed the good RR7's for the broken high power spots. With several more attic explorations I managed to locate all of the affected electrical boxes.

RR7 relay Kemet Replacement
(Above left the original GE RR7 relay -- the cylinder protrudes from the electrical box. Above right my replacement -- the plastic tube protrudes)

The patio light circuit additionally provided low voltage feedback to illuminate an indicator lamp on the inside switch, plus it ran two lamps, so I used two Kemets there with one pole for the feedback and three poles for the lamps. 180 watts is plenty for the two lights which I replaced with LED bulbs anyway. One funny thing: one interior lamp circuit was broken, and I found an RR7 in the attic that it controlled, and it worked. But it wasn't controlling the inside lamp socket because there was another RR7 right there (which I replaced with a Kemet). But I cannot figure out where the attic control goes. I can hear it switching but there are no outlets in its vicinity. So two RR7's were paralleled and I still don't know what the one controls. Perhaps it was a mistake and never implemented? I think I repaired nine circuits because I bought 13 relays and have three left (but I used two for the patio circuit). Got this done around August 10. The RR7's make an audible click when switched, but the Kemets are effectively silent. I prefer the click sound over nothing, but they work fine. Also, I'm somewhat surprised that the lightning surge took out so many relays -- these are electromechanical devices and it must have taken quite a surge of current to melt the internal wiring. Not like semiconductors which can be destroyed with microseconds of over voltage.

Desktop Computer, Part II

Dell Optiplex 9010 SFF Desktop Computer My Athlon desktop computer reincarnated into an HP Pavilion body was temporary at best. I had procrastinated getting a new desktop machine so long before all of this happened because I knew it would take a lot of time and suck every hour from my life for weeks. Microsoft is ending support for Windows 10 on October 14, 2025. I didn't want to go through the aggravation of re-building my main desktop computer with an O/S that would become obsolete in two years. I figured that I better go directly to Windows 11 instead. I similarly had gone through much of this with my HP Laptop a year ago for Windows 10. I didn't install everything on the laptop that I'd want on the desktop, but the major programs were handled. Looking around, computers with Win11 installed were fairly expensive. I found a Dell Optiplex 9010 SFF Desktop Computer on Amazon Renewed (refurbished) for $172. This actually is a 2012 model, but I really liked its specs: 32 GB RAM, 1000 GB solid state equivalent hard drive, four CPU cores. It came with Windows 10 Pro. Microsoft is quite restrictive on the hardware requirements for Windows 11, and I didn't think this model was listed as upgradable to that -- but I thought I could manage to get Win11 on it anyway. So I ordered it and planned to just return it if I couldn't get it to run Win11.

Most of this was done on August 22, but the process of program installation and fine tuning continued for a few weeks beyond that as expected. Maybe never to end! Short story, the Optiplex/Win10p machine worked fine but didn't want to upgrade to Win11 per Microsoft's restrictions. A little Googling and I managed to force it to upgrade to Win11p against its will. Notwithstanding Microsoft's warnings, it seems to work fine. I'll never know for any problems I encounter whether the reason is somehow due to this forced upgrade or simply endemic to Win11 in general. I tend to believe the latter. On to program installations and configuring. Most people have little difficulty with a new computer because all they use their machine for is websurfing, email, and the like. While I certainly have programs installed that I use nearly everyday, I have lots more that are very occasionally used. And I have developed shortcuts and procedures so that I don't have to re-invent the wheel whenever I want to perform some task. I'm capable of locating and installing equivalent programs, but inevitably there are often quirks that might make them not useful or at least time-consuming to figure out. But I don't want to spend those hours in the infrequent times that I might execute a little-used program. Which is why I dreaded configuring an entirely new desktop computer.

Monitor. My 22" Video 7 monitor from 2009 was dead; I had been using its DVI digital interface with the Athlon. The Optiplex has a DisplayPort interface via a PCI plug-in card plus inherent VGA capability. The Amazon Renewed vendor had provided a DisplayPort to HDMI converter/adapter with the Optiplex. I used a small television with its HDMI input connected to that while I pondered the Video 7's fate. The TV worked fine but I didn't get the full 1920x1080 resolution I had been getting on the Video 7 and somehow expected. This was temporary anyway so I attributed it to the television's capability.

Video 7 insidesMeanwhile I pulled the Video 7 apart to reveal its control board. Didn't find any obvious components blown up and every diode I tested checked out okay. A web search located what appeared to be the identical board for $20. I knew that a replacement monitor wouldn't be all that expensive, but figured that a $20 risk would be worth it because I was perfectly pleased with the Video 7. Waited a long time for the board to arrive (I think from China) and then swapped it in. To my surprise the monitor didn't come to life -- for some reason I had been optimistic. Then I noticed that there was another small board in it as well -- probably that is destroyed (again, no obvious bad components). Either I couldn't find a replacement for it or it cost too much. (The original yellow control board is at the left, the replacement is in the middle, and the other small board is at the right in photo.)

So I abandoned the Video 7 and bought a replacement Element 24" monitor from Best Buy (on August 30) for $72. It offers only VGA and HDMI inputs; first I connected it to the HDMI/DisplayPort output. That worked but not at full 1920x1080 resolution. Certainly this monitor was good for that. So instead I connected it to the VGA interface. In order to do that I first had to remove the Optiplex's video DisplayPort card in order to re-activate VGA ability. But I couldn't remove the HDMI adapter from the video card's connector (which has to be taken off in order to get the card physically out of the computer). I pulled and pulled and eventually broke the connector on the HDMI adapter in the process. Left that to address later. With the Element monitor on the VGA output I did get full 1920x1080 resolution. It actually looked great, but I am an engineer and looked down at VGA: it's analog! At some point I telephoned Amazon Renewed support on the Optiplex system. I was going to purchase a new video card and thought I may as well get their opinion on my selection. Rarely do we get useful support any longer, but may as well try... Well, I was pleasantly surprised that the fellow I was talking to there was knowledgeable and helpful. He assured me that the video card they had provided with the Optiplex could indeed handle 1920x1080; but I had to install a driver to get it. I couldn't do that at the moment anyway because I had destroyed the HDMI adapter. He credited me $10 for that and I ordered another one for $4. When I got that it and the video card did work, at the lesser resolution. I installed the video driver and obtained 1920x1080 resolution just like he advised. It looks great, but I don't think I could distinguish a difference between that digital interface and the VGA analog interface if you A/B'd it for me.

Trackball. People like to make fun of me about this, but I have used a trackball (most recently on the Athlon) over a mouse forever. Your hand never falls off of the mousepad with one! Most important to me, however, is that the five-button trackball permitted me to configure one button for Copy and another for Paste. Almost anything I do entails copying and pasting rather than typing. (I'm doing a lot of it right now!) And being able to do that one-handed makes program changes and many other things quite simple and fast. You know what's coming: I could not get my trackball to work with Win11. I had the driver for it but it is 32-bit and I needed a 64-bit driver. Didn't think that would be so difficult to garner. At some point Microsoft had bought out the company that made my trackball and became responsible for posting drivers -- they never did post a 64-bit one! I wasted a lot of time searching because I came up with lots of links to drivers, which I had to download (from suspicious websites, too) just to find out if they were 64-bit. Exactly zero were. It is true that my trackball was now quite old and I had repaired it multiple times; and cleaned it on a regular basis -- it wasn't optical, either. I hate replacing hardware just because I cannot obtain software to run it, but there wasn't any other choice. So I purchased an Elecom Deft trackball for $34. At first I was satisfied, figuring I just had to re-train my hand to automatically control the new positions of the various buttons from the old. Now I'm not so sure. It does seem to work okay, but sometimes it just does not respond properly to pointer motion. I cleaned it (not much to clean as it uses optical detection for the ball, which I don't understand how that works) and that didn't seem to accomplish anything. But the next day it was okay again. Sporadic operation, the jury is still out on it.

Birdcam. My Birdcam is just a modified normal webcam (I have to disassemble it, pull out the imaging board plus filter and mount it to a bigger lense). The lightning strike destroyed the webcam and I bought another. Over time webcam resolutions have skyrocketed, and the new webcam had too many pixels! I use the Yawcam program and it does provide a choice of resolutions, but only pre-defined ones. And you cannot crop the video stream. I thought I could probably find a replacement for Yawcam that would offer those options. I wasted a number of hours searching and trying candidates, but for different reasons I couldn't get any of them to work. Actually I did this early on attempting to temporarily move the Birdcam to my HP laptop which had the horsepower missing from the Pavilion. I had given up on that for the time and delayed the task to whenever I actually replaced the Athlon with a new desktop computer.

Well, now I had done that so I picked up the search. Luckily, in the meantime a newer version of Yawcam was posted and it did work on Win11. But there was nothing new as far as camera resolution or cropping. I ended up using Manycam as a virtual webcam driver: it uses the actual webcam, crops it, and offers a virtual webcam that Yawcam can utilize. The combination is not perfect (the cropped stream is still the original pixel size); they offer a paid version but I don't even know if that would correct what I consider deficiencies. Plus it's a $49/year subscription rather than a one-time purchase. I'm satisfied with my configuration at least for now, so the Optiplex/Win11 is serving bird videos.

Scanner. I have a UMAX flatbed scanner that I occasionally use, not on a regular basis. Same problem as the trackball: I had a 32-bit driver but not a 64-bit one. Wasted a lot of time once again searching for one. I did find one company that had software that worked with it. The download let me install and test it with a watermark. But their software price is much more than simply buying a new scanner that comes with a 64-bit driver. I realize buying a new device is surely the simplest solution and one that most anybody would choose. I just hate discarding old hardware for new only because of a missing driver! And I only use it infrequently.

My solution was to install Oracle's VirtualBox virtual machine (VM). I created a WinXP machine under Win11 and used the 32-bit UMAX driver I had. Once this is set up it doesn't impose much of a time penalty on scanning. Maybe 30-60 seconds to bring up the VM and get to the scanning option in WinXP. File transfers between Win11 and the WinXP VM are quite easy. I know this sounds stupid and if I needed to scan everyday I would take the simpler route of buying a new scanner. And I needed the VM for other reasons anyhow.

Printer/Parallel Port. This will seem a long way to get here... The Optiplex comes with a serial port but no parallel port. I had been using a parallel port interface for my Brother laser printer, but I discovered that the printer had a USB port too -- so I switched to that no problem. I have a device programmer for ST6 chips that uses a parallel port interface. I could probably purchase a different more modern device programmer, but I'd rather not switch my working process for this that has had no problems over quite a long time. I don't really want to test out new programmers on one-time-programmable parts that I can't buy any longer, either. First step was getting a parallel port onto the Optiplex.

Purchased a PCI plug-in parallel port. For reasons you'll see in a few seconds, I just wanted to test it with my Brother laserjet to verify it worked properly. Maybe I did something wrong, but I wasted at least an hour trying to get the laser driver to access the laser through the new printer port. Never got Win11 to succeed at it. It looks like Win11 doesn't really want to use parallel ports to talk to printers; I manually configured the interface options but it just didn't work. I don't know if the problem is Win11 or the new hardware just doesn't work! I found a program that some guy had written to test parallel ports. It outputs whatever you enter and reads out signals on the input pins. I successfully looped a signal around through it, so I know the hardware is operating just fine with Win11. So far, so good.

On to the programming software. It is Windows-based, but it seems to be 16-bit code. Which will run on 32-bit Windows but not 64-bit Windows. Ahh! I have a WinXP virtual machine which does execute 16-bit code because XP is a 32-bit O/S. The programming software executes perfectly fine on the WinXP VM.

VirtualBox permits various hardware peripherals on the host Win11 machine to be allocated to the VM (WinXP). This includes optical drives and USB devices. But not parallel ports! Eventually I found a post explaining the process to configure the VM for a parallel port. I tried but could not get WinXP to recognize the port. Posted a question about it, still waiting for a response. I have no doubt that if I can get WinXP to see the parallel port, the programmer will work. For now I have to use the Pavilion to program these chips. I've tried to avoid the necessity of keeping around old machines just for single-use purposes like this.


When I was setting up the Optiplex I had the Pavilion running simultaneously. Set up filesharing so I could see the Pavilion's hard drive on the Optiplex and just drag folders over. I was unsuccessful in getting the entire source C: drive to share properly, but I could configure any selected folder for sharing. Which I did after wasting too much time trying to provide permission to the drive as a whole.

Start Menu. I never liked the menu system that Win7 provided, and had installed a Classic Start Menu on it that looked more like WinXP on the Athlon computer. So you know what my opinion of the Win10 start menu is. Win11 is different than Win10, and like many of its user interfaces, the Start Menu is kind of a cross between a standard desktop O/S and a phone or tablet interface. But I don't really mind Win11's inherent start menu -- you can customize it to some extent. Overall, each iteration of Windows that Microsoft comes out with hides more control options and tries to automatically guess what you want and do it with less interaction. I guess eventually the user won't input anything and the O/S will simply do whatever it believes you should be doing. I certainly don't approve of this evolution. Similar comments about the Settings and Control Panel transitions. It can be hard to find familiar settings and we have to search for them.

Some things just seem to be buggy. I made extensive use of keyboard shortcuts on the Athlon. Win11 is supposed to handle these, but some work and some don't for no known reason. Particular shortcuts work sometimes and not at other times. Wasted too many hours trying to track this down; solutions fixed nothing. Getting programs to run at startup also has restrictions. For example, I always had the Task Manager boot up so I could see its usage icon in the notification area. I don't think there is any way to get it to automatically execute. Simply dropping links in various locations just doesn't work. Microsoft knows best and won't let the user do various things. What is most aggravating about that is there is no indication of what the restrictions are -- you just have to try and see what happens.

Mozilla. I use Firefox as my web browser and now was using the 64-bit version instead of the 32-bit version. No problem at all. I just copied the Firefox profile folder from the Athlon to the Optiplex and my browser was identical with saved websites, forms, passwords, etc. Great!

I use Thunderbird for email. Exact same process copying its profile, and email behavior is nearly identical (I had been using an older Thunderbird version, the changes had to do with the newest 64-bit version).

File Explorer, etc. I can't quite put my finger on it, but Win11's File Explorer just wastes a lot of screen space and seems harder to quickly find things than prior versions. I installed Explorer++ to replace it, which is better. Still, sometimes it doesn't seem to operate the way I expect. When using a USB flashdrive the notification area icon to release the drive refuses many times to do so; but right-clicking the drive letter in one of the explorers and selecting eject works. I've stopped bothering to even try the icon and just go directly to the eject option.

Even Notepad works a little differently! I use it fairly frequently because it basically does nothing, acting on pure ASCII characters without formatting. They've added tabs to it which makes it harder to copy and paste between documents. Yes, we can select Open in a new Window but that gets tiresome after a while. I've searched and made configuration changes to put much of this behavior back to how it was. Similarly, the context menu defaults to displaying a subset of the possible choices; I was constantly clicking show me all which simply adds an additional click every time. I managed to change the O/S' configuration to default to the full list.

Windows used to save the user's last setting for each program, i.e. selecting to maximize or display a normal window: re-sizing it works fine, but closing and re-opening might activate it with another display setting.

Microsoft Office. (I know what you're going to say.) I have a copy of Office 2000 which I've used and have become quite familiar with. Maybe it's just a question of familiarity, but I prefer it to newer versions plus I know where all of the options are. I know it is old but it installed perfectly on Win10 and operates exactly the same as on predecessor Windows. Well, it does install on Win11 but I have to run it in Compatibility Mode. And every time it comes up Win11 asks my permission to run it due to the compatibility setting. Believe it or not, there is no option to permanently bypass this prompt. I did track down an obtuse and weird method to get it to stop begging and just open each time. There are two problems remaining, and I don't know if they are due to the need to choose compatibility mode for it. File associations don't work; so, for example, double-clicking an .xls file does bring up Excel, but the filename apparently isn't passed to it. I have to use Excel's open file selection to get to the desired file anyway. Because the keyboard shortcuts sometimes work and sometimes not, plus this inability to open with the actual filename, I instead created a top level folder with shortcuts to the files often accessed. So I'll open Excel and go to Open, select the shortcut folder, then choose the actual file I'm interested in. The second problem is the newer .xlsx and .docx file formats. Office 2000 doesn't know about these, but a number of years back Microsoft offered a free file converter which works well; it is integrated so just clicking an .xlsx file automatically runs the file converter extension and then opens it in Excel seamlessly. Same process for .docx Word files. First, Microsoft removed the ability to download that Office file converter, but I have it saved. Works on Win10. It installs okay on Win11, but either it just doesn't work or the file association bug won't pass the converted file into the application. So essentially the file converter becomes useless.

This is very strange: if I use Control-C and Control-V to copy and paste within Office 2000 they work normally. But the trackball's buttons which are mapped to those keyboard codes don't! I cannot comprehend how this is possible. It is inconvenient but not a deal-breaker.

I expect that if I purchased Microsoft Office Home & Student 2021 it would work with Win11 normally. Not sure what "normally" means since they have changed the user interface from the one I'm used to. I see that I could buy it outright for $150; I had thought it had been converted into a subscription service. I shy away from suites like Office 365 because it becomes unclear to me what exactly is being done on the physical computer and what is being done in the cloud. And I want my software to run without it phoning home via an internet connection to check my permissions. Here I'm displaying my Old Man biases.

So I installed Open Office. It seems to be compatible with all of Microsoft's file formats, works without problem and opening via file extensions works. The user interface is its own, of course. I haven't used it extensively yet. I use Excel for many purposes and some files are fairly sophisticated. While simple straightforward Excel structures work with the Open Office version, complex ones do not. Probably could tame them with a little work. But why bother when I have Excel 2000 anyway? I really don't use Word unless I have to collaborate with people using it, but so far Open Office seems to work fine with those documents.

Word Perfect. I can hear you groaning through the internet! I have been a Word Perfect fan all the way back to MsDos days. No, I did graduate to the Windows versions. Eventually Corel ended up with it. I have their Suite 8 version (I think it dates from 1997) and have used it for decades. I have hundreds, if not thousands, of Word Perfect files. Corel Suite 8 installed and ran perfectly on Win10. I thought it did the same on Win11... until I clicked the Print icon. The program immediately crashes. This was quite upsetting -- what about all of those files? But then I remembered that I had bought a newer version at some point: Corel WordPerfect X7 (which I think is from 2014). I had encountered some bugs in Suite 8 and had purchased the X7 version hoping it would fix those; it didn't really, although it provided a maintenance program which could repair messed up files. I never saw any advantage to the X7 program so didn't use it and had forgotten I even had it. So I installed it on Win11 and it does print without crashing. Problem solved. They are selling new versions, but I don't know what advantage that might offer.

Print Shop. If you were groaning over my Word Perfect predilection, I'm sure your stomach is rebelling thinking about Print Shop! I have Broderbund's Print Shop Deluxe version 6 (copyright 1998). I don't think I ever tried it on Win10, but it definitely works fine on Win7-32p. Again, I have a multitude of files in that format. And no, I don't particularly want to play with each one to get it to actually appear the same. When I have the program still. But it wouldn't even install on Win11. Probably 16-bit. I used it way back in WinXP days, so you know what I did! Already had the virtual WinXP machine running under Win11, so installed it there. This is one of those programs that I might run a few times per year, so the virtual machine is plenty good enough.

Maybe you can empathize with my avoidance of upgrading my Athlon desktop computer now that I've gone through some of the machinations necessary to get my various programs running on an upgraded operating system. This Optiplex with Win11 definitely runs fast and has some advantages over the Athlon. But overall, I would say that almost everything is just a little bit worse than it was in Win7. I can do almost everything that I had worked out on the Athlon, but with one or two or three intermediate steps added. A little bit more inconvenient than before. Some of that is simply my intransigence to changing my mode of operation, but not all.

Usually I shut down the Optiplex at night and power up in the morning. It boots quickly and everything is finished within 60 seconds. Plus I enabled the hibernation option and sometimes use that if I want to save the work session -- it also is very fast to close and re-open. When I go away for a few days I run Slinger to enable access to my Slingbox. I was surprised that after a day or two or three the machine just turned itself off. Powerup restored the session as if it had automatically hibernated. My only hypothesis was that maybe the CPU got too hot and shut the O/S down. Wasted a lot of time looking into that with error logs and the like. But nothing came from that exploration. In the first month or so even when I was here I randomly saw the machine just shut itself down. No explanation. I guessed and paused Windows updates while I was away. It hasn't shut itself down since, but that might be a coincidence because I haven't seen it turn off while I'm here, either. Still a mystery. Perhaps one of the updates fixed something in Win11?


The lightning strike had tripped the dishwasher's circuit breaker. When I turned that back on, I could hear its internal motor running -- but the appliance wasn't even turned on. I had a fairly good idea of what was probably broken in it, but the dishwasher isn't that important to me (except on Thanksgiving!). I don't usually run it more frequently than once every couple of weeks or so, and I don't mind hand washing. So addressing it was pushed to near the end of my repair list.

I had actually installed this Frigidaire dishwasher myself, plus had not that long ago needed to repair a pipe leak behind it. I expected to find a shorted triac that drives the motor on the control board, but I had to find that control board first. Without thinking too hard I just pulled the dishwasher out from under the counter. I don't really like doing this because it takes a little adjustment each time to get it properly back in place afterwards, but certainly I'd done this previously so that's what my starting procedure was from rote memory. After getting it out I quickly realized that the board wasn't there. If I had given it a little more thought maybe I would have remembered not seeing a board the other times I had extracted it! Realized that the board was inside the front door, which makes more sense because that's where the controls and display are. Put the unit back under the counter and disassembled the door, revealing the sought-after control board.

Removed the board for exploration. Very quickly located a shorted triac as I had predicted. Hoping for the best, I had a spare triac used for my Home Monitor's X1 powerstrip and replaced the bad one with it. I knew the triac was damaged, but didn't know if anything else on the control board was also damaged. Checked all of the diodes etc. and couldn't readily locate any other components that were similarly destroyed. Crossing my fingers, I plugged the control board back in and turned the circuit breaker on. Unfortunately I heard the motor running! Just like before the "repair." On to the next phase.

I hoped that I could just purchase a replacement control board from Frigidaire and performed an internet search for the control board's identifying number. Found a few expensive ones out there, but not from any authorized Frigidaire distributors so I was wary. There was one fellow in Calgary who had one such board on eBay, but it was listed as "no returns." I messaged him back-and-forth a few times: he could not guarantee his board was for sure good because he had obtained it in a larger buy of parts. But he said that all of the other pieces from that lot had been okay. I couldn't convince him to provide a return option if it didn't work. He (not unreasonably) said it was sold AS IS because his price was so low. I did negotiate the total price, which originally had inflated shipping and handling costs, down to $33.74. Took close to two weeks for it to arrive via postal mail from western Canada.

Installed the replacement control board into the dishwasher and activated the circuit breaker. Damn, that motor was running! There really isn't any other circuitry between the powerline and that motor, and I couldn't believe that this board was somehow bad in the same way as my original. So I just waited to see what would happen. After a few minutes the motor stopped! Good sign. The control switches worked. There is a small indicator display on the front which normally shows the dishwasher's status, like "Washing", "Drying", "Time Remaining", and "Clean." Which is kind of nice. And with the door ajar, that display operated perfectly. Until the door was closed; then it was simply blank. This makes no sense to me, because clearly the control board could communicate and drive that display properly. It just chose not to display anything if the door was closed. Microprocessor code, probably. Maybe there is a slight difference in the coding options between the two boards. Ignoring the lack of a useful indicator display, the dishwasher performed its functions properly. I could use it alright this way. So a partial success.

Dishwasher Control Board

But then I thought: wait a minute, the only problem I had seen with my original repaired control board was the motor running after power is first applied; and the replacement board had acted the same way. Maybe the repaired board is okay? Removed the replacement and installed the first board. Motor ran, but this time I waited a few minutes and it stopped. Everything worked, including the indicator display with the door closed. In fact I had repaired the board but didn't realize it! Now normally this dishwasher doesn't willy-nilly run its motor after power failures, but after a cycle or two now it powers up idle just as it should. So I must allocate that $33.74 as educational expense for me. Had it restored and running on August 24.

Dishwasher Display - Washing, 97 minutes remaining Dishwasher Display - Washing, Heat Delay Dishwasher Display - Clean but Drying, 14 minutes remaining Dishwasher Display - Clean
(Above: Dishwasher successfully and successively displaying Washing, 97 minutes remaining; Washing, Heat Delay; Clean but Drying, 14 minutes remaining; and when cycle complete simply Clean.)

Ham Radio Gear

HW-8 and TS-850S Transceivers

Coax burned On the day of the lightning strike I turned on both of my transceivers: Heathkit HW-8, and Kenwood TS-850S. Neither powered up. This was a bit strange because they share a 12v connection to a battery which is float charged. And the battery was okay. I was unhappy over this but put them to the back of the repair list.

I finally got around to looking at them on October 17. I can't explain what happened, but after fiddling with things the HW-8 had power, the Kenwood didn't. Took me longer than it should have, but I discovered that a jumper coaxial cable had the shield opened up at one end (clearly charred). After replacing that, the HW-8 worked and now the Kenwood powered up. The Kenwood receives but can't match any load while tuning for transmit. Working on this, I unscrewed the antenna's PL-259 and then it powered down! I found out that the minus power lead on the 850S' power jack was open. The radio was getting its ground return from the coaxial cable with the normal path disrupted. So I opened it up to investigate.

Kenwood power traces

I found the ground trace on an entry circuit board blown away and on further inspection the +12v path between that board and the final amplifier board vanished. So I repaired both. Now the Kenwood will power up without a ground through the coax, but no improvement on transmit. I downloaded the service manual but find it quite confusing. Maybe I can repair it, maybe not -- but I have no experience working on Kenwoods. Did a quick internet search and found the only authorized Kenwood repair firm. Called them and they no longer will accept the TS-850S. Searched some more and located a fellow who repairs transceivers, Kenwoods included. He told me he would look at it and quoted an inspection price. But not any idea of expected actual repair fees. I inquired but never heard back from him. Maybe I'll try him again, maybe I'll venture into a more detailed examination myself. To be determined...

Garage Door Opener

Genie401b Genie401a

Genie401 Control This section really doesn't belong on this Lightning Repair page because it really is not the result of the lightning strike nor the roof smash. But it occurred during the same time period that I was doing those repairs, plus is related because of my prior discussion of the Skylink and Smart Garage Door Controller devices earlier. I had a 1967 Genie401 garage door opener (above). I vaguely remember repairing it once in a while. I had to replace the AC motor start capacitor, and cleaned some control contacts once or twice. It uses an AC motor and has no real control electronics. There is a thermal delay timeout circuit for the attached light bulb, but other than that there is only a rotary cylinder contraption that clicking the button rotates 1/8 around on each click via an electromagnet. The arrangement of the nubs and the four contactors that it drives is the entire control system! Quite impressive, actually. From time to time I have noticed anomalies when pressing the button (which is the same as pressing a remote's button); sometimes needing to press it again or changing the depression time to get it in sync. But the week of October 17 it started giving me trouble again. I cleaned the contacts but that didn't seem to do much. For the first time I actually disassembled the cylinder assembly; I saw clearly that one of the nubs apparently had broken off. I cleaned it thoroughly and in the process a second nub broke off. I attempted to repair it by drilling and tapping #2-56 threads and screwing in matching bolts. After taking the above picture I filed the bolt heads down somewhat because it was getting stuck in the paws. It seemed to work alright but I knew it was certainly going to be temperamental. Over the next few days it got stuck once or twice. There is no chance I can locate a replacement control. The thought crossed my mind to design a simple microprocessor control that drove a few output relays, but I know that really would be somewhat foolish. (Or use a 3D printer to construct a replacement plastic cylinder.) The motor works perfectly and it pains me to abandon it, but I had reached the end of my rope and decided to replace the entire garage door opener because it was too aggravating not knowing if the door would open or close when I asked it to. Also, this ancient unit does not have electric eye sensors to stop the door coming down if something is in the doorway (but it would detect overpressure and stop itself). The Genie401 is a screw-driven system.

Genie1035a Genie1035b

Reading the online comments about various garage door openers wasn't too encouraging. I was somewhat concerned, too, that there might be a problem controlling my heavy wooden door; modern openers are used only for lightweight aluminum doors. But the countersprings effectively balance out that weight. (I have replaced those maybe four times, a challenging and dangerous operation.) I had to complete the entire job 100% before I would know if it worked with my door, though -- hope for the best! First I thought that another screw-driven opener might be better, but the comments I read were bad about those. So I bought a Genie chain-driven 1035 and hoped for the best. In order to install it of course I had to remove the old opener first. I didn't rush the job because I didn't want to assemble anything incorrectly and have to revisit it. This operation took almost an entire day. Can't say that I ran into any particular trouble, but to mount the opener itself on the garage ceiling is a customized task for each environment. I can report that it is working great. It operates a bit slower than the original, but I'm okay with that. The chain bangs the channel a little raising the door, but the chain is not loose. The electric eye works as it should.

To come full circle, this (and all current) opener incorporates a radio receiver for the remote control. It is Homelink compatible, and the Teslas programmed without problem. So I removed the Smart Garage Door Controller that worked so well. If the Genie's receiver didn't work I could have just used my second remote receiver, but that was unnecessary. So the first two remote systems (plus the Wio Node) I had used after the lightning strike killed the predecessor Sears receiver ended up being unneeded. Installed on October 24. And now I am more in the modern age!


Intercom Main Intercom Remote 1

Emerson Electric Intercom Manual My 1967 house has an Emerson Electric Intercom, with a speaker/control panel in most every room. I've never used it as an actual intercom. One useful feature, though, is that it contains an actual chime driven by an electromagnet with an electrical pickup -- so activating the doorbell "rings" all over the house. There is a separate doorbell chime in the basement which is somewhat audible throughout the house. Still, the intercom doorbell is kind of nice. Although in 2023 someone ringing the doorbell is a pretty rare event! The Emerson Electric contains an AM/FM radio and Phono inputs, too -- neither of which I've ever used. It does, however, also have an Aux Input which I've connected to the stereo. The stereo has its own AM/FM receiver superior to the Emerson's and is also connected to the TV's DVR. So among other things I can play a recorded (or live) television program from the DVR through the stereo to the intercom to every room in the house. Truthfully I don't need to use this feature all that much in recent times because I also have separate stereo speakers in the office/computer room, workout room, and basement. Also have a bluetooth speaker box for my phone. The only places I sometimes use the intercom's Aux input any longer are the laundry room and maybe the workbench in the basement or even the electronics assembly/Ham Radio Room, plus the patio. I can even use my phone or tablet with the bluetooth speaker on Xfinity's Stream app to accomplish the same thing. So there's not much utility left for the Emerson Electric intercom. But habits die hard.

Intercom Disassembled The lightning strike killed the intercom. When I got around to inspecting it towards the end of my repairs I found its fuse(s) blown. And the output transistors and one driver transistor for the output stage. The hardest part is disassembling the various modules. I have the service manual for it, and in those days service manuals were actually useful with schematic diagrams and circuit board photos included. Not surprisingly all of the transistors are germanium. I am old enough to have used those early transistors in my youth. Foolish me, I thought that even though nobody would design anything with germanium transistors now, they'd still be available to some extent. But I couldn't find them except for one site storehousing the finals at high prices. The two output transistors were PNP 2N457A TO-3's and the driver transistor a PNP 2N404A. I couldn't find any germanium transistors in my junkbox, so I tried some silicon ones. I had a pair of medium power output transistors in TO-220 form and I used an unknown PNP I had for the driver transistor. Removed the TO-3 sockets(!) and bolted the power transistors to the chassis. Re-assembled and plugged it in. It worked! Sounded okay to the ear. Then I turned the volume up somewhat and it blew out the same transistors and fuse again.

I eventually ordered some higher power PNP silicon MJF15031 output transistors and found an MPSA92 silicon driver from my pile. Replaced them again and tried it on October 25. This time it didn't blow up. But the audio gain is way higher than previously (had to turn the volume control almost all the way down) and more importantly the sound is very distorted to the ear. I had verified that the idle voltage on the output was somewhat mid power supply, but I probably need to re-adjust the bias. I'll eventually get around to this, but will have to put it on an oscilloscope on the bench for analysis. Taking a positive view, the first batch of interim transistors seemed to maintain the normal gain and sound -- and they were silicon. So don't know exactly what I'll find whenever I get back to this particular project.

Electronics Cemetery

Electronics Cemetery Cemetery Parts

There are more destroyed parts and devices, but I think I have photos of them elsewhere. Lightning strike repairs mostly done!

(During this same time period I also had some plumbing leaks to fix, a broken J-pipe under a sink, plus replaced three original faucets. But none of these were lightning strike related.)

The first thing people say to me about all this is "Well, insurance will cover it!" But my policy has a $2500 deductible. My tally totals to $3235, although that includes the new chainsaw which I figure was less than I'd have had to pay someone to do the tree cleanup -- but I doubt that would be covered. I still don't know if I'm going to end up paying to have the Kenwood repaired. Since I did almost everything myself who knows how difficult it would be to get insurance payments approved. The bulk of the expense was the roof repair, but that was under $2500 by itself. Don't know if a claim would affect future rates. At this moment the maximum I could even ask for would be $735. Will think on this. (December 28, 2023 update: talked with insurance agent -- the deductible applies per incident and the lightning strike and tree falling are considered two separate events; since my costs for each are below $2500, insurance wouldn't cover anything.)

I see that I've written over 19,000 words here. Hopefully they elicited a smile or two from you along the way (:>).

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