Feb 01

Raspberry Pi-powered Oil Tank Monitor, Part 4: Theory of Operation; Cost

By Rob Levandowski Electronics, Raspberry Pi Comments Off on Raspberry Pi-powered Oil Tank Monitor, Part 4: Theory of Operation; Cost

So how does the tank monitor actually work?

The sensor unit sends out an inaudibly high-pitched burst of sound toward the surface of the oil in the tank. When it hears the echo off the surface of the oil, it returns a pulse on the SIG line. That pulse is as long as the time between sending and receiving the echo. Continue reading »

Jan 31

Raspberry Pi-powered Oil Tank Monitor, Part 3: Basic Software

By Rob Levandowski Electronics, Raspberry Pi Comments Off on Raspberry Pi-powered Oil Tank Monitor, Part 3: Basic Software

Now that I’ve got a sensor unit for measuring the heating oil left in my tank and the interface board and Raspberry Pi needed to do something with it, it’s time to write software that can actually do something with all this hardware! Continue reading »

Jan 31

Raspberry Pi-powered Oil Tank Monitor, Part 2: Interface Board

By Rob Levandowski Electronics, Raspberry Pi Comments Off on Raspberry Pi-powered Oil Tank Monitor, Part 2: Interface Board

Now that we’ve built the sensor for our Raspberry Pi-based oil tank monitor, it’s time to build the interface and integrate the Pi hardware.

Proof-of-concept interface circuit on solderless breadboard.

Proof-of-concept interface circuit on solderless breadboard, attached to a Raspberry Pi Model B+.

The interface is pretty simple. For the I2C bus, it’s pretty much just wiring jumpers to terminal blocks. For the Ping))) sensor, there’s a bidirectional voltage divider to adapt the Ping)))’s 5-volt interface to the Pi’s 3.3-volt logic. (This board was a lot more complex when I was playing with the I2C bus extender!)

Circuit schematic.

Circuit schematic—click to enlarge.


  • J1: Six-pin male header. I chose a right-angle header.
  • J2–J4: Two-position screw terminal.
  • C1: 100nF ceramic capacitor (noise filter).
  • R1: 330-ohm 1/4-watt resistor
  • R2: 1.8k-ohm 1/4-watt resistor
  • R3: 3.3k-ohm 1/4-watt resistor
  • D1: 1N5226B 3.3-volt Zener diode
  • D2: 1N6263 Schottky diode

Except for the headers and terminals, I got these parts out of the following parts kits available on Amazon. They’re nice kits if you need an assortment of standard parts:


After testing the circuit on solderless breadboard, I wired it down onto a SparkFun Solder-able Breadboard. These neat little boards have internal traces that match solderless breadboard, making it easy to transfer designs over.


The completed circuit on solder-able breadboard, with the sensor wires and jumpers attached.

The back side of the breadboard. Note jumper routed on back to avoid blocking the header pins.

The back side of the breadboard. Note jumper routed on back to avoid blocking the header pins.

I used a spare length of Cat3 wire to make the jumper connections. I was careful to match the wire colors to the colors used on the sensor lead; this makes it easy to match up which wire goes to which terminal.

A set of female-female jumpers is used to connect the board to the Raspberry Pi’s GPIO connector. Any GPIO pin can be used for the Ping))) sensor, but I chose GPIO 4 to keep everything close together.

In the picture above, the jumpers connect to the following pins, in order of appearance:

  • RED: Pin 4 “+5V”
  • BLACK: Pin 6 “Ground”
  • BLUE: Pin 1 “+3.3V”
  • YELLOW: Pin 3 “SDA”
  • GREEN: Pin 5 “SCL”
  • BLUE: Pin 7 “GPIO 4″

I also connected a PL2303HX USB to TTL UART serial adapter cable to the Pi, for use as a console. The PL2303HX is cheap, so I’ll just leave it attached for convenience. It attaches as follows:

  • WHITE: Pin 8 “UART TXD”
  • GREEN: Pin 10 “UART RXD”
  • BLACK: Pin 14 “Ground”
  • RED: Wrap in electrical tape and zip-tie out of the way. This cable supplies +5V from the USB connection when the cable is plugged in; it’s of no use here.
Interface board and USB cable attachments to the Raspberry Pi's GPIO header.

Interface board and USB cable attachments to the Raspberry Pi’s GPIO header.

For Internet connectivity, I added a Linksys USB10T Ethernet adapter I had sitting around. This interface is only 10Mbps, but that’s plenty for this use. The USB10T uses the Pegasus chipset and is supported out of the box by Raspbian Linux. Because my oil tank is a short distance from my home’s central Ethernet switch, it made sense to use the wired hardware. You could use a WiFi adapter, or use a Raspberry Pi B+ board with built-in Ethernet.

To hold all this stuff, I found an old electrical time switch with a mechanical clock movement inside. The clock movement popped right out, giving me a nice metal case with pre-drilled holes and wall-mounting brackets. I drilled a few holes and secured the boards with appropriate screws, nuts, and nylon standoffs. (I carefully used M3 screws, but it was a tight fit for the Pi. You should use M2 screws and standoffs.)

The Pi, interface board, USB cable, and USB Ethernet adapter in the repurposed time-switch case.

The Pi, interface board, USB cable, and USB Ethernet adapter in the repurposed time-switch case.

The Pi is mounted on two sets of 6mm standoffs to provide extra clearance for the USB cable over the interface board. The network adapter is attached to the lid of the case using a large piece of industrial-strength Velcro. I attached a three-foot Ethernet cable to the adapter and threaded it through the case, attaching a zip-tie to keep it from being pulled out too far. I will run an Ethernet jack next to the unit. In the meantime, an 8P8C modular coupler lets it attach to a longer Ethernet cable. The USB power cord and sensor cable are held in place by the standard electrical clamp.

The completed hardware, installed on the (cobweb-covered) wall near the oil tank with the sensor in place and attached.

The completed hardware, installed on the (cobweb-covered) wall near the oil tank with the sensor in place and attached.

Next: Basic software for reading the tank level.

Jan 31

Raspberry Pi-powered Oil Tank Monitor, Part 1: Sensor Unit

By Rob Levandowski Electronics, Raspberry Pi Comments Off on Raspberry Pi-powered Oil Tank Monitor, Part 1: Sensor Unit

My house is heated by an oil-fired hot-air furnace. The oil tanks are in the far corner of the basement. Occasionally, I’ll walk over and glance at the float gauge to see if it’s time to order more oil. Often, I forget to check for a while, and then it’s a panic…

Now that computing power and electronic components are cheap, I set out to see if technology could solve my problem! There are a number of commercial solutions, but they’re all quite expensive. Some of the commercial level sensors cost hundreds of dollars themselves, not including anything to actually display the level!

I drew inspiration from Mike Podruchny’s blog, where he describes building an ultrasonic tank sensor for an outdoor tank using an Arduino. As a professional UNIX geek, I’m partial to the Raspberry Pi instead—and with the new Model A+, the Pi can be a cheaper solution if you’re looking to use a ready-made microcontroller.

This sensor head unit uses an ultrasonic rangefinder to measure heating oil in a standard 275-gallon indoor tank.

This sensor head unit uses an ultrasonic rangefinder to measure heating oil in a standard 275-gallon indoor tank.

My monitor features:

  • Controlled by a Raspberry Pi running Raspbian Linux
  • Collects oil level data from a Parallax Ping))) ultrasonic distance sensor
  • Calibrates the Ping))) with temperature data from a SparkFun TMP102 temperature sensor

Continue reading »

Nov 18

Setting up S/MIME mail encryption on Mac OS and iOS

By Rob Levandowski Mac OS Comments Off on Setting up S/MIME mail encryption on Mac OS and iOS

Encryption software can do two things for your email: It can sign your messages, to prove that it was you who sent it and that the message wasn’t altered in transit; and it can encrypt your messages, so no one but the recipient can read the contents.

There are two standard methods for encrypting e-mail: PGP and S/MIME. Most security types like PGP (or its open-source clone GPG), because it’s been around for a long time. The problem is that PGP requires a certain amount of technical savvy to use safely, and it can be awkward to use. That’s especially true on Apple products. While a GPG plugin is available for Mac OS, in my experience it doesn’t work very well. It seems to crash a lot, it breaks with every new Mac OS version, and it’s no longer free.

The alternative is S/MIME, which is an official Internet standard. S/MIME has long been the bastard stepchild of e-mail encryption, largely because it’s more complex to set up and keep up. However, Apple’s Mail programs on Mac OS and iOS both support it, as does Microsoft Outlook on Windows. There are plenty of S/MIME compatible mail programs.

Setting up S/MIME for your Apple products isn’t that hard. Even if you normally prefer PGP/GPG, it’s a good idea to set up S/MIME as well.  Here’s a step-by-step walkthrough.

In this example, I’m presuming you have a Mac and one or more iOS devices (iPhone, iPad, iPod). It’s possible to set up S/MIME directly on an iOS device, but I’ll leave that to someone else to figure out. Here, I’ll show you how to set up S/MIME on your Mac running 10.9 “Mavericks” or 10.10 “Yosemite”, and then transfer that S/MIME certificate to your iOS 7 or 8 device.

Getting an S/MIME certificate

To use S/MIME, you must obtain a SSL Certificate for your e-mail address. To be useful, you need a SSL certificate that is signed by one of the major Certificate Authorities (CAs). The “big” commercial CAs are already trusted by most operating systems. (It’s possible to generate a “self-signed” SSL certificate on your own, but that will generate “untrusted certificate” errors for your correspondents unless you make them do extra work.)

There are several CAs that will give you a “Class 1″ SSL certificate for your email address. That’s the minimum you need.  You can get “better” certificates that provide a stronger proof of your identity. If you don’t already know you need a better SSL certificate (and how to get one), you’re almost certainly fine with a Class 1 certificate.

StartCom offers a basic Class 1 SSL certificate at no charge. It’s good for a year. You can get a new one at no charge when it expires. For personal e-mail, it’s sufficient.

To get a StartCom SSL certificate:

  1. Go to https://www.startssl.com in Safari. (It’s important that you use Safari.)
  2. Click the “Control Panel” button at the top right of the page.
  3. Click “Sign-up”.
  4. Enter your name and address. Enter the e-mail address for which you want a certificate. Make sure you spell it correctly. Click Continue.
  5. A pop-up message will appear asking you to verify that you’ll comply with the StartCom policies. Do so.
  6. Your browser may seem to take a while to load. Don’t hit reload or quit the browser. During this time, your browser and the CA are negotiating your new key.
  7. A new screen will appear asking you to enter a verification code. Check the e-mail account you entered; it should be there. Copy and paste it into the field. You need to do this within 15 minutes, or you’ll have to start over.
  8. You’ll be asked to verify what grade of key you’d like to generate. I recommend you select “2048 (High Grade)”.
  9. After clicking “Install” on the next screen, Safari will download the new key and start the Keychain Access program. You may see its icon bouncing in your Dock. Click the Keychain Access icon in the Dock.
  10. You should see your new key listed under the “login” keychain, in the “My Certificates” category.

Getting more SSL certificates

If you have more than one e-mail address, you can get additional SSL certificates now. Go to the StartSSL Control Panel and click on Validation Manager. This will let you validate the new e-mail address. Once you complete the validation process, you can click Certificate Manager to create a new certificate for the additional address. When Certificate Manager asks you to choose between SHA-1 and SHA-2 (Advanced), select SHA-2.

Installing your S/MIME certificate in Apple Mail

  1. If you already have Mail running, quit it and restart it. That will load the new key (presuming the account is already set up in Mail).

Using S/MIME in OS X Mail

Any message you send from an account that has a valid S/MIME certificate will automatically be signed. In the new-message window, you’ll see a checkmark icon near the subject line. It will be dark (10.9) or blue (10.10) to indicate the message will be signed.

When you receive a message that is signed with an S/MIME SSL certificate, you’ll see a similar blue checkmark next to the sender’s name in the message. Mail will automatically remember that SSL certificate.

To encrypt a message, you must first have the S/MIME SSL certificate for each recipient. Click the padlock icon near the subject line so that it’s a closed padlock. This enables encryption. If you cannot click it or it is greyed out, you’re missing the SSL certificate for one or more of the recipients. The easiest way to get someone’s SSL certificate is to ask them to send you a signed message.

To see if you have a valid SSL certificate for a recipient, check the Contacts application. A checkmark-in-a-seal icon will appear next to each email address that has a valid SSL certificate on file.

Installing your S/MIME certificates on iOS

Once you’ve got your S/MIME certificate installed on your Mac, you can transfer it to an iOS device.

Part One: Export the certificate from your Mac

  1. Open the Keychain Access application. If it’s not already open, you can find it in the Utilities folder of your Applications folder.
  2. Select the “login” keychain from the Keychains list on the upper left side of the Keychain Access window.
  3. Select “My Certificates” in the Category list on the lower left side of the window.
  4. On the right side of the window, a list of certificates will appear. Find the one that’s associated with your e-mail account. If there’s more than one, check the expiration-date column and select the one with the most recent date. However, do not select one that has a red X on its icon; such certificates are invalid.
  5. Choose “Export Items…” from the File menu.
  6. Select the “Personal Information Exchange (.p12)” file format. Give the file a suitable name, and save it someplace safe. I suggest that you do not save it to cloud storage (iCloud, Dropbox, etc.)
  7. You’ll be prompted to create a strong passphrase for the file. This will be used to secure your certificate while you move it. It’s important that you choose a very strong passphrase. I recommend using a random password that’s at least 20 characters long, or a phrase made up of six or more random words.
  8. Now that the .p12 file is created, e-mail it to yourself.

Part Two: Import the certificate on your iOS device

  1. Open the Mail app and find the message that contains the .p12 file. Tap the file icon to load it.
  2. An “Install Profile” popup will appear for the Identity Certificate. Tap “Install”.
  3. A warning that this is an unsigned profile may appear. If that happens, tap “Install Now” to acknowledge it.
  4. You will be prompted for your Passcode. Enter the passcode you use to unlock your iPad or iPhone when it’s at the lock screen. (You do have a passcode set, right?)
  5. You’ll then be asked for the password for the certificate. Enter the passphrase you came up with when you created the .p12 file on your Mac.
  6. You may see a note that the certificate is “Not Trusted“. That’s okay.
  7. Push the Home button. Find the Settings app and start it.
  8. In Settings, find “Mail, Contacts, Calendars” and select it.
  9. In the list of accounts, find the account for this e-mail address and tap it.
  10. Tap the “Account” line.
  11. Scroll down until you see “Advanced”. Tap it.
  12. Scroll down until you see the “S/MIME” section.
    1. Make sure “S/MIME” is turned on.
    2. Tap “Sign”. Make sure that the certificate for this account is selected, and that Sign is turned on. (If you tap on the (i) icon, you should see that the certificate is “Trusted“.)
    3. Tap “< Advanced” or “< Back” to go back to the Advanced screen.
    4. Tap “Encrypt by Default”. Again, select the correct certificate, and make sure Encrypt by Default is turned on.
    5. Back out until you’re at the Account screen, and then tap Done to accept the changes.
  13. Repeat the above steps for each additional iOS device you use.
  14. When you’re done with all your iOS devices, delete the email containing the .p12 file so no one can get a copy by hacking your e-mail account!
  15. Repeat the above steps for each additional e-mail account you need to set up.

Using S/MIME in iOS Mail

iOS Mail will automatically sign any messages you send from an account that has a valid S/MIME key installed.

Unlike OS X Mail, iOS Mail does not automatically remember the S/MIME certificate from a signed message. If you receive a signed message, you need to manually add the key to use it for encryption later:

  1. Tap the recipient’s name in the “From” header. (It will have the checkmark-of-quality indicating a valid S/MIME certificate.)
  2. When the recipient-address pop-up appears, tap “View Certificate”.
  3. Make sure that “Trusted” appears next to the Install button. That indicates that the certificate is valid.
  4. To install the certificate, tap “Install”.
  5. Tap “Done.”
  6. Tap outside the address pop-up to close it.

When you send a message, iOS will automatically encrypt it if you have the recipient’s S/MIME certificate. When you compose mail, you’ll see “Encrypted” at the top of the window. That will appear so long as you have S/MIME certificates for all the recipients. If you enter an address for someone for whom you have no certificate, the header will change to “Not Encrypted“. You’ll see blue padlock icons next to each recipient whose certificate you possess, allowing you to see who the insecure person is.

Oct 29

Critique of Granby, CT’s proposed excavation regulations

By Rob Levandowski Uncategorized Comments Off on Critique of Granby, CT’s proposed excavation regulations

At last night’s Public Hearing on the Granby Planning and Zoning Commission’s proposed revisions to the town Zoning Regulations, I submitted a written critique of the proposal.

You can find the existing regulations and the proposed amendment on the Town’s web site—although the amendment text isn’t exactly the same as that before the Commission last night. The copy they had includes paragraph numbers.

Granby Community Television posted video of the hearing on YouTube, including the comments I made.

The written comments I submitted are now part of the public record, and should be available for inspection at the Office of Community Development. In my experience, it’s not always easy to get to those public records, especially electronically. Therefore, I’m posting a copy of my comments here.

In PDF format, you can read the  cover letter enumerating my objections,  some revisions I proposed to address the objections, with annotations, and a page of annotations that were too long for the margins that Word decided to spit out as a separate document entirely.

Unfortunately, the Commission closed the public hearing last night after receiving comments from me and my mother, so they aren’t likely to accept additional comment at this time. However, if they make substantial revisions to the proposal—as I hope they do—they would likely need to open a new public hearing.

May 15

Site slow today

By Rob Levandowski Administrative Comments Off on Site slow today

Today’s a really bad day for WordPress spammers. My site is under a flood of bogus comments being sent in hopes that one will slip through and carry an advertising link someone will be dumb enough to click. As a result, it may take a while for pages to load.

May 13

Peck Orchard Knoll runoff pollutes Fox Brook

By Rob Levandowski Personal Comments Off on Peck Orchard Knoll runoff pollutes Fox Brook

On Saturday, May 10, 2014, a few heavy downpours made their way through North Granby. The result was a stream of sediment pouring down Peck Orchard Road from the Peck Orchard Knoll sand mining stockpile building site.IMG_0317Not only did this wash across the road higher up, but water poured down to the foot of the road. When the drainage culvert further uphill got clogged with sand, it reached the lower culvert…


…which empties directly into Fox Brook.


The brook, which was running clear above the culvert, turned brown from the runoff coming through the culvert.


This picture is only a few hundred feet upstream from where Fox Brook discharges into Salmon Brook.

How did this happen? The evidence was there on Sunday. It all starts with the gigantic funnel created by the huge mounds of sand that have been bulldozed up and left exposed. These mountains were created weeks ago, and have stood untouched since then. Notice the pile on the right, which extends far above the original topography of the site. There’s another on the left, hidden behind a hill.

DSCN2665That part in the middle? That’s a “road” dug into the sand. Rain from these hills sheds down into this new artificial valley. Despite R. R. Hiltbrand’s presentation at the special permit hearing, wherein their engineer claimed that this sandy soil was incredibly quick-draining and it could absorb the runoff from a hundred-year storm, this summer thundershower obviously created damaging runoff.


Looking closer at that hillside, you can see the deep gullies created from erosion. It’s obvious that a lot of water ran down that hill, and that it wasn’t being absorbed by the sand.


When it hit the bottom of the sand ramp, it left a huge pile of silt on top of the traprock apron that Simscroft-Echo Farms installed.


That runoff was then funneled off to the side of the driveway… mostly. POK had a small pit in the sand here to catch sediment; it filled up in the previous storm. This time, it didn’t help.


The runoff went out and around the silt fence and hay bales that were supposed to contain it. It washed onto the “bituminous” driveway apron: chunks of loose asphalt material packed into a firm, but not solid surface. Why didn’t the silt fence work?


It was full. The design of this “erosion control measure” was laughably inadequate to cope with a spring thundershower; one can imagine how it would perform in a serious summer thunderstorm. It will take a lot more hay to stop a pile of naked sand this size from washing away.


Besides,a few wooden stakes pounded not very far into the ground are no match for hydraulic pressure. Once the stakes flop over, the fence does nothing to control runoff. However, it does present a serious hazard to traffic.


Past that silt fence, there’s evidence of a large, erosive water flow. Possibly it was enhanced by runoff from the hillside that has been stripped of trees but not yet stripped of topsoil.


The result was a veritable river delta stretching across Peck Orchard Road. On Saturday, this part of the road was a brown mass of silty runoff. On Sunday, it was a potentially deadly hazard to bicycle and motorcycle traffic.


Remember that bituminous driveway material? Here’s a whole bunch of it, several hundred feet down Peck Orchard Road. It may be more permeable than pavement, but it’s not permeable enough to stop this much water… and it doesn’t stay put.

Then we come to the first storm drain on the side of Peck Orchard Road.


If you’re looking for it, it’s right near the construction sign. (The one that isn’t reflective, and therefore can’t be seen well at night—which is why Connecticut DOT requires reflective signs for state contracts.)


You still can’t see it? That’s because it’s buried.


A few leaves and a whole lot of mud make for a clogged storm drain…


…but not before the whole pipe fills with sediment, and the outlet swale loses a few inches of depth.


Cleaning out that drainage pipe and runout is going to be a time-consuming, expensive job for Granby Public Works. I wonder if Granby taxpayers will be footing the bill?

Having filled up the first storm drain, the water kept flowing downhill, carrying silt with it.



Very little of this is from winter salt-and-sand spreading. Most of this is fresh silt.



Both sides of the road had torrents of water running down it. Here’s the erosion on the other side of the road. Fox Brook is about 25 feet to the right from this next shot.



By the time the water reached the second storm drain, it was still carrying substantial silt. It made a good start on clogging this drain, too.



You can still see the new layer of sediment in Fox Brook at the other end of that culvert.



But at least it’s not like there’s any environmental threat from this sand, is there?


I think that filling Salmon Brook’s tributaries with sand might have an effect on any juvenile salmon that might be present.

Since these photos were taken, Peck Orchard Knoll has dug out some, but not all, of the silt from behind their silt fence, and they’ve pounded those wooden stakes back into the ground. The road has been swept, but it still raises clouds of fine sand dust when people drive past. (The past few days haven’t been kind to the paint on cars traveling Peck Orchard Road!) Even so, if we get another fast-moving downpour like last Sunday, this will happen again. The same erosion controls are in place, and they are demonstrably inadequate.

And Granby still hasn’t gotten around to making it illegal to do this again.






Mar 10

Peck Orchard Knoll Sediment Heading for Fox Brook

By Rob Levandowski Personal, There Oughta Be A Law, Uncategorized Comments Off on Peck Orchard Knoll Sediment Heading for Fox Brook

When Michael Girard presented his Peck Orchard Knoll excavation proposal to the Planning and Zoning Commission of Granby, CT, he and his engineer claimed that there was no realistic chance of environmental damage. The proposal called for removing about 100,000 cubic yards of sand and gravel from the site, a hilly residential lot.

The proposal was withdrawn after the Commission showed reluctance to give Peck Orchard Knoll carte blanche to excavate… and because it turns out that they didn’t need a special permit to create what is, in essence, a strip-mining operation on a residential lot in Granby. A simple building permit, issued after pro forma inspection, suffices under Granby’s regulations. However, the plans submitted with the building permit application were substantially the same as the special-excavation plans.

A warm weekend, causing almost two feet of snowpack to start melting, shows evidence that Peck Orchard Knoll’s claims that runoff wouldn’t be a problem were… inaccurate.

While the plans call for Phase One to be a driveway with various sediment controls, the actual first phase of the project is using an old wood road that was cut illegally close to the adjoining property line, according to the town’s previous building inspector. The wood road has been “improved” with crushed stone, but without any inherent runoff controls.

Gravel access road into Peck Orchard Knoll showing muddy runoff leaving the property and heading down Peck Orchard Road

The “wood road” access road into Peck Orchard Knoll, Sunday, March 9, 2014.

The result, as seen here, is a river of muddy water, laden with sediment, running down Peck Orchard Road.

Peck Orchard Knoll access road, showing muddy, sediment-laden water entering the road and running downhill

View of Peck Orchard Knoll access road facing uphill.

Runoff does run down Peck Orchard Road for quite a ways, and a fair amount of water comes down the hill from above Peck Orchard Knoll. However, much of it leaves the road in the swale just uphill from the access road. On this day, the runoff that did come from uphill was practically clear. All of the brown, muddy sediment in these photos is coming from Peck Orchard Knoll. There is a fair amount of sand on the side of the road; Granville plows Peck Orchard Road, and they use a sand/salt mix. However, the sand mix is clean, and doesn’t create mud, especially not this long after the last snowstorm. In the next picture, you can clearly see how clean the “upstream” water (on the right) is, and how muddy the runoff from Peck Orchard Knoll (left) is.

Close-up showing contrast between practically clear water from uphill and deep brown muddy water from Peck Orchard Knoll's access road

Clear runoff in the center/right is from uphill on Peck Orchard Road. Mud at the left is entirely from Peck Orchard Knoll’s access road. Water is flowing downhill, toward the top of the photo.

What about the sediment control? Well, to be fair, Peck Orchard Knoll did install some sediment controls for this wood road. There are hay bales:

Crushed-stone driveway with muddy runoff; along the left edge of the driveway, there is a stack of hay bales neatly piled on top of the snow, completely out of the potential path of any runoff.

POK’s access road. Note sediment-control hay bales (stacked, on left).

And there’s also landscaping cloth:

A used, haphazardly-bundled section of black landscaping cloth, with wooden stakes entwined within, sitting on the snow beyond another landscape-cloth silt fence bordering the POK access road

This bundle of landscaping cloth was, at one time, placed across POK’s access road when they weren’t working. On Sunday, it was carelessly discarded, near (or possibly over) the property line.

Obviously, the Simscroft-Echo Farms employees who are excavating the site didn’t think that it was critical to reinstall the erosion-control system before leaving the site the last time they were working. They aren’t working every day; they’re removing sand when they have a buyer for it. They certainly weren’t working this past weekend, when temperatures were as high as the mid-fifties.

The effect of this negligence is a new river delta in front of Linda Varcoe’s home on Peck Orchard Road:

Sediment lining Peck Orchard, with a broad swath of muddy runoff  crossing the width of the road

The sediment on the left is mostly dirt, mud, and stone dust from the wood road. Some of it is road sand, but notice the muddy texture: road sand doesn’t look like that.

The entire width of Peck Orchard is coated with runoff here. At night, when the temperatures drop below freezing, this will be black ice.

You can also see here that the road is starting to break down from the runoff, perhaps enhanced by the additional heavy truck traffic. Unlike Hartland, Granby does not routinely seal cracks on Peck Orchard Road. However, historically the road has been lightly used and has held up pretty well. This year, it’s a different story.

Muddy runoff pouring into a  two-inch-wide, long crack in the middle of Peck Orchard Road's uphill travel lane; asphalt debris is visible nearby. Muddy runoff fills half the travel lane.

It’s small now, but let’s see how it looks in a week after some freeze/thaw cycles.

This isn’t just a little extra runoff; it’s substantial sediment running the length of Peck Orchard Road.

Quick-flowing runoff traveling through thick muddy sediment covering one-third of Peck Orchard Road's uphill travel lane.

Some of the runoff continues all the way down the road. However, much of it enters a culvert near this road sign.

Fast-moving muddy runoff courses down Peck Orchard Road. Much of it flows into a culvert at the side of the road, hidden under snow. However, a stream of it continues down the road into the distance.

No small amount of sediment is entering this culvert, hundreds of feet downhill from Peck Orchard Knoll’s driveway.

A drainage grate is partially seen underneath a crust of ice and snow at the edge of the road. A thick layer of sediment—some of it road sand, some of it mud—creates eddies in a stream of very muddy water flowing into the grate. A discarded Nantucket Nectars bottle lies in the gutter.

Peck Orchard Road also has a litter problem. Unusually, this drink container isn’t for an alcoholic beverage.

This grate enters a culvert under Peck Orchard Road. It drains on the other side.

Covered with deep snow, a gulley in the downhill side of Peck Orchard Road leads toward Fox Brook, about 100 feet downhill of the culvert opening and currently covered with ice and snow. As such, the brook itself isn't immediately visible.

The culvert’s drainage channel comes out just uphill of Fox Brook, currently frozen over and covered with snow.

Click the photo to see a larger version. Because of the cold winter, Fox Brook is a bit hard to see; it’s in the floor of the valley seen in the background, currently covered with ice and snow. While you can’t see the runoff from this culvert in this picture, it is there, underneath the snow.

That river of mud is heading straight for Fox Brook.

And Fox Brook, a few hundred feet later, empties into Salmon Brook.

These are the wetlands that Peck Orchard Knoll said would be unaffected by their work. During the public meetings, there were those who scoffed at the suggestion that silt and sediment would enter the Fox Brook watershed.

Yet here we are, barely into snowmelt season, and it’s already happening.

We’ve still got a foot of snow to melt.

We haven’t gotten any spring rains yet.

And there’s the potential for so much more runoff, because—let’s not forget—this is a strip mine:

The Peck Orchard Knoll mining site, showing two- to three-foot deep raw cuts into topsoil, as well as exposed hillsides of fine light-grey sand, all unprotected from the elements and with no visible erosion-control measures. A large backhoe is parked on the hillside, where it was excavating sand. A large expanse of freshly-clearcut land extends uphill from these cuts, covered in snowfall.

This unprotected, raw topsoil is already washing down Peck Orchard Road just from snowmelt. What happens if we get a thunderstorm?

There’s nothing left to protect the land here. The topsoil has been scraped aside and piled uphill. There are raw cuts exposing feet of topsoil. A pit of sand is exposed to the elements. Notably absent from the work zone is any form of erosion control whatsoever. That pile of topsoil is wholly unprotected. The banks are unprotected, even as a thick pack of snow is exposed to direct sunlight thanks to the clear-cutting of the property. There’s nothing in place to keep it from washing down the road and into the creek.

Well, except those hay bales and that length of sediment fence.

You know, piled up where it won’t get dirty.

But even if it were in place, is it reasonable to think that such a rudimentary structure would suffice?

Would it hold up to an April thunderstorm?

Just a few months into this excavation—which Girard said could take years to complete—and already, these promises of environmental responsibility appear to have fallen by the wayside. I’m scared to imagine what damage will be wrought to the neighborhood by the fall.

In the meantime, the Town of Granby can’t even scrape up enough people to make a quorum to meet and discuss possible drafts of potential changes that might get enacted to change Granby’s zoning regulations to stop this sort of thing. From my point of view, it simply doesn’t seem to be a priority for Granby’s land-use-governance officials.


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Jul 05

An open letter to Verizon about VoiceLink

By Rob Levandowski Consumer Advocacy, Doing It Wrong Comments Off on An open letter to Verizon about VoiceLink

Lowell C. McAdam
Chairman and Chief Executive Officer
Verizon Communications
140 West Street
New York, NY 10007

Dear Mr. McAdam,

I can’t understand your strategy behind pushing Voice Link as a replacement for landline wireless. It seems to be a major misstep, of the kind that should lead prudent investors to short Verizon.

I understand that your revenue from traditional landline services has declined. As you sell it today, copper landline service is mostly noncompetitive with the alternatives, and that has hurt its market share in your service area. But that’s not the whole story.

Yes, copper landlines come with many regulatory restrictions, require considerable maintenance, and do not support competitive broadband data speeds. From a consumer point of view, they only work in the home and they’re expensive.

But, from Verizon’s point of view, I think you’re missing something important: Copper landline technology has a substantial benefit that differentiates it from all of your competitors, a benefit Verizon has failed to market properly.

It’s reliable.

Or, at least, it used to be reliable; in your service areas, your failure to maintain copper plant and infrastructure has weakened that reputation considerably… but it can still be regained.

With a copper landline, properly implemented and maintained, service remains up until the line is severed, and that generally takes considerable damage. If commercial power is out, landlines generally remain up. If you need to call 911, it’s going to work best from a landline, which will have the capacity and power to complete the call, and will reliably connect you to the correct PSAP on the first try, with accurate location data even if you can’t speak. If you need a medical alert device, a landline is the most likely to work when you need it. It won’t turn out not to have a generator, or be overloaded by many calls, or fail due to radio interference. It doesn’t depend on having commercial power to the home to charge batteries or power base stations.

In short, the key differentiator of the venerable copper landline is that it’s suitable for life-critical communications.

Consider: Once you transition a customer to Voice Link, they are now on your wireless service. That’s a commodity product, and it lacks that key differentiator. For a consumer, Voice Link is not substantially different from AT&T’s fixed-wireless service available at Target, or similar offerings from Sprint, T-Mobile, or their MVNOs. It’s also not substantially different in terms of reliability or price from numerous VoIP providers.

By moving people to Voice Link, you’re inviting them to drop Verizon entirely and move to competitors that offer the same service with better features or a better price… because you can’t use your key advantage, the unmatched reliability of a regulated copper landline.

Investors should shy away from companies that willingly surrender a key market differentiator in the name of short-term profit.

Already, Verizon has surrendered the Internet market to its cable competitors by abandoning FiOS. Verizon’s DSL offerings are pathetic compared to cable’s low-cost, high-speed Internet; fixed wireless LTE is so expensive that it’s solely a last-choice alternative.

I am currently a Verizon landline customer. I pay for the service because I value the reliability, even though Verizon’s landline service costs more than a VoIP line even without services now seen as basic, free features on every competing technology: caller ID, call waiting, voicemail, unlimited long distance… If Verizon were to stop providing this landline service, I would not purchase Voice Link. I would move to one of your competitors, where I would get a better value for less money.

My advice to you: Abandon Voice Link as a replacement for copper landlines. Market it as a low-cost alternative for those who need seasonal service, or service where installation of the last mile would be prohibitively expensive to the customer… or as an additional-line alternative to VoIP. Reinvest in your copper landlines to restore their reliability. Market that reliability heavily. Bring the feature set of a basic $35 landline in line with that of a $20/month prepaid cellphone: caller ID, call waiting, and basic voicemail at no additional charge. You can then use affinity programs to sell landline consumers on your wireless offerings by providing a discount.

The alternative—eliminating your inherent competitive advantage, the last advantage of the old Bell monopoly you’ve been allowed to retain—makes no business or social sense.



Robert A. Levandowski

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