Today was a watershed day. What started as a lark, a fun weekend idea, turned into a horrible, week long embarrassment. I was going to give it up today, if plan "N" hadn't worked. The worst part was that it wasn't technology that nearly stopped me: it was a hole.
Outside my window, I had hung a small feeder several years ago. When I kept it filled, huge crowds of birds would fill the tree around it. I tried to identify all the birds that visited, but with only a few seconds before they fly off, flipping through the Audubon book wasn't working.
Last Friday, I decided it was time to get an IP camera. I would set it up, aimed at the feeder, and would be able to take still images, short videos. Maybe I would even watch it when away from the house. I did some quick reviews and it seemed that $100 would get me a pretty snappy camera.
I ran up to Fry's and reviewed every IP camera they had on the shelf. Although most of them advertised HD resolution, none of them provided better than 30FPS at that price point. They also had a fairly consistent, cheap plastic construction that didn't promise to do well in an outside environment. Then, on the bottom shelf, off to the side, I found a couple of remaindered items pushed back into the shelf. It was a pair of old-school, hardwired cat 5, Toshiba IP "bullet" cameras. Built for outdoor use and ready to go, out of the box. So I got one. I found out later that my $125 purchase was worth $550 just a few years ago.
Saturday morning, I pulled the new camera from its box, plugged it in, and was immediately connected to the view through my web browser. The camera seemed to work perfectly, like a charm, straight from the start. The next day, I pushed a connected up camera out a window and played with a couple of mounting options on the porch, but wasn't happy with how far away the feeder was. Monday, I settled on a place that was great for the feeder, but pretty horrible for installation because it was so far from the router.
Just above the spot where I installed the camera mount was a long abandoned cable installation, with the wire snipped at the wall inside the house. Once the wire was removed, I had a tiny 1/4" hole drilled through the outside wall, teasing me about how easy it was. All I had to do was use a handy spade bit to widen the hole larger than the 3/4" wide data cable. What I didn't expect was having to drill through five solid inches of wood.
I started on the outside wall. The drill was a little cranky, but it pushed its way through nearly an inch of wood into the gap behind and I was elated that this would be so easy. Working on the inside was a different story. Drilling through several inches of frame wood meant that my spade bit ran out of length before the hole did. Home Depot trip number one resulted in acquiring a 6 inch spade bit extension and a 12 inch spade bit. Since my old bit plus the extension eventually did the job, I was able to return the longer spade bit unopened. Yay, me! Day one, and I had one, 7/8" hole through my outside wall where the cable wire used to be.
Once the hole was drilled, I discovered that it was too small and janky to be able to fit the nine different jacks on the end of the camera's cable tail. An attempt to shape the tail with foil failed for being too thick. A second attempt with cling wrap nearly ended the whole project in failure when the tips got stuck by the unraveling wrap when the tail got stuck going in, then refused to come out. I ended up drilling another 7/8" hole through the outside wall, into which I got a knife in to cut the plastic free. As the sun set, I was finally able to withdraw the tail, unharmed, from the hole. I admitted defeat for another day. Day two, and I had two (or one and a half) 7/8" holes, and still no camera installed.
Another day was spent trying to widen the hole, smoothing it out and clearing all the blocks. An effort to use a larger spade bit to make the hole bigger flamed out when I wore myself out after only a half-inch of change. It was time for Home Depot trip number two: for drill-mounted grinder bits that ultimately finished the job. The tails were remolded with cling wrap, but string was wrapped along the length to keep everything tight together and to give something to tug on. But the tail was still just a smidgen too wide right at the tip, so I knew it wasn't worth trying further in. Day three ended in defeat early, and I was most grievously pained about it.
Today, I thought about my options: I could remake the tail again, rearranging some of the larger components; I could drill another hole, this time one and a quarter inches wide -- but it would still require me to remake the tail. Or I could put everything back in the box, drive back to Fry's and admit defeat to the returns guy.
I started with the tail, with both my big and small spade bits on the table for measurable confirmation. By this point, I knew what worked well and what didn't when trying to wrap components. Thin strips of wrap, gathering sections at a time, until the whole thing was covered with a large sheet of wrap. All very thin, yet flexible. The string was wrapped all the way up, with a set of loops for a two-sided harness to guide the tail through the hole.
Once again, I sent the guide stick tied to the string through the hole, and Zoe grabbed it, pulling gently on the string as I guided the tail into place. We had developed a system of balanced tugging so that whenever it stuck, I would pull it back a little and twist, hoping to coax another bit of movement. The first several times we tried this, it was an exercise in frustration. But this last time, it all happened so fast, I was left in disbelief. She cheered, I cheered, we both lunged to grab our respective ends so it wouldn't come out again.
I mounted the camera, then unpackaged the tail before I hooked it to the fifty foot cat 5 cable that just stretched from the router, around the walls, to the camera. Back outside, I aimed and focused it, with Zoe providing image quality confirmation. I added a giant globs of silicon around the cables (and putty for the remaining hole), and all was complete.
After all the work to get this far, I was hardly able to believe it finally worked. Of course, by the time I was done, it was dark, so I'll have to wait until the morning to see how the birds look on it. But the feeling of having defeated the hole was righteous.