No sitting in the dark during a power cut with our UPS

My desk lamp running on battery power
My desk lamp running on battery power

When I returned home from St Andrews this evening the whole of Anstruther was in darkness. There was a town-wide power cut. It turns out the power cut extended right down the Fife coast, as far as Leven, someone reported.

It was really quite eerie. Most houses were in complete darkness, a few had the flickering glow from candles at the windows. A couple of people were walking down the street using torches (‘flashlights’ for American readers).

The sky was spectacular: a blanket of pin holes. I had never seen so many stars while standing outside my house.

I walked into the house and found everyone walking around with torches. There were a couple of candles lit on the dinner table.

“We can’t find your bike light!” a tiny voice exclaimed in the darkness.

“It’s under my bed,” I replied. “I charged it over night.”

I handed Reuben and Isaac my keys and they went racing up the stairs to find it. The small LED torch on my keyring lighting the way. (I always carry a torch with me!)

I walked upstairs, ducked under my desk for a moment and then asked Isaac to switch on my desk lamp.

Suddenly the room was bathed in light from a 7.5 watt 3000K LED bulb.

“How did you do that?!” Isaac quizzed.

“Aha!” I said, “I have an uninterruptable power supply. It’s like a giant battery.”

We saw out the rest of the power cut sitting in my study: the only room in the house with any electric light.

I opened my curtains to show off to the neighbours that we had electricity.

Uninterruptible power supply

Uninterruptible power supply
Uninterruptible power supply

A few years ago we experienced quite a few power cuts here in the East Neuk. I got fed up of my PC suddenly dying when the power went out, even just with short blips in power. So I bought myself a UPS, an unterruptible power supply.

As I said, it’s like a giant battery into which you plug your equipment. It monitors your power supply and if the voltage suddenly drops out then the UPS immediately kicks you over to battery power. It announces it with a satisfying ‘click’, and sometimes even a ‘beep’.

The UPS I have — the APC Back-UPS ES-700VA — which cost me about £80 a few years ago, doesn’t have a massive amount of power but it does give me a few minutes to save my work and shut down my PC safely.

But this evening it occurred to me that I could simply plug in my 7.5W desk lamp into it and get maybe over two hours out of it.

I certainly recommend getting a UPS or two, not just to safeguard your data but look how handy it is in a power cut.

New website for Pittenweem Properties

Pittenweem Properties: self-catering in the East Neuk of Fife
Pittenweem Properties: self-catering in the East Neuk of Fife

Over the last few months in the evenings and at weekends, I’ve been working on redesigning the Pittenweem Properties website for friends here in Anstruther. The site launched a couple of weeks ago.

Pittenweem Properties offers high-quality self-catered holiday accommodation and property management services in and around Pittenweem. They currently manage properties in Carnbee just outside Anstruther and Pittenweem. But their portfolio is growing and for good reason — the properties they own and manage are to a very high standard and in a beautiful part of Scotland: the East Neuk of Fife.

WP Booking System

The site was quite fun to build.

We used Trello for communication and project planning, WordPress (of course!) as the content management system, and the Divi theme from Elegant Themes which allowed me to very quickly design and build the site. I also changed the built-in projects custom-post-type to properties using the method I blogged about in March: changing the Divi projects custom post type to anything you want.

For the booking calendar we turned to a premium theme: WP Booking System which we found intuitive and offered most of the features we needed:

  • Multiple booking calendars.
  • Submit booking requests via form.
  • Display anywhere (on page or within widgets) using a shortcode.
  • Customisable display features, including splitable legend for check-in and check-out).

If this plugin had also allowed online payments, say via PayPal, then it would have been absolutely perfect but as it is we’ve been really happy with the functionality and usability of this plugin.

There is a free version of the plugin, but it offers only one calendar and has customisation limitations. The premium version costs only US $34 (approx. GBP £21.50).

Next…

While the site is now live there are still a few bits and pieces to do, such as keep an eye on analytics data and try to improve search engine rankings.

Websites are never really finished, are they?

It was a fun project to work on. Time to focus on optimising family finances and admin, and cracking on with writing my book.

Boats and tractors

RNLI Lifeboat launching at Anstruther
RNLI Lifeboat (“Kingdom of Fife”) launching at Anstruther

This weekend is the Lifeboat Gala Weekend organised by Anstruther RNLI Lifeboat Station.

We took Reuben and Joshua down to the harbour after their lunchtime sleep today.  I don’t think I’ve heard the words “BOAT!” and “TRACTOR!” used quite so often and with such passion in one afternoon than I did today.

Reuben sitting on a tractor
Reuben sitting on a tractor
Joshua sitting on a tractor
Joshua sitting on a tractor

How to lose an £80 car key …

Renault key card
Renault key card for Mégane — and yes, the image is mirrored because the original was from a left-hand drive car!

A couple of days ago I did something I’ve never done before, and I’m not really proud of this: I lost a car key; an expensive car key too.

The magic key-card

Jane has a Renault Mégane Sport Tourer (the estate version) which has a magic key-card system for locking, unlocking and starting the car.

For my Vauxhall Astra I’ve got a button on the key that will lock and unlock the car from a distance. As I approach the car I press the button and CLUNK! the car magically unlocks. You’ve probably got something similar on your car too.

Well, Jane’s key-card is even more impressive than that. You don’t even need to press the button, you just need to have it somewhere on your person and using magic the car senses that you are in the immediate vicinity and the doors unlock when you pop your hand into the handle to open the door.

And it doesn’t stop there!

You don’t even have to slide the key-card into its slot for the engine to start. When you press the START/STOP button the key-card just has to be somewhere inside the car.

Or on the roof, as I discovered.

What happened next?

In fact, lets say that you accidentally left the key-card on the roof and then drove off to … well, an example might be to St Andrews, and while negotiating a right-turn at a roundabout, lets say on the A917, the key-card calmly slid off the roof. What would happen then?

In that situation you might expect the car to make a bit of a fuss about it. You might expect that it sounds an alarm. Or the lights flash a bit. Or the engine comes to an abrupt stop even … although that would be a dangerous option, thinking about it.

But no, it didn’t. The first I knew that something was amiss was when I pulled into a parking space on North Street in St Andrews and was politely invited to press the START/STOP button twice to confirm that I did indeed wish to stop the engine.

“Hmm … that’s a bit odd,” I thought to myself while obliging the car’s seemingly random whim. A few minutes later it all became clear.

So there I was standing beside the car frantically and fruitlessly checking every pocket. Passers-by might have been forgiven for thinking that I was on fire. The anger that I was directing at myself certainly was. I sat back in the car, pressed the START/STOP button and … “Card not detected” flashed the message on the dashboard.

Oh, right! So now you’re happy to flash a warning message!

Jane: the fifth emergency service

I phoned Jane. There was panic in my voice. “I’ve lost the key-card!”

“What key-card?” Jane asked calmly.

Calmly?! This was no time for calm. She clearly didn’t understand the severity of the situation. This was clearly a time for swearing. This was exactly the kind of situation that swearing was invented for.

“THE KEY-CARD!” I said louder, using the same logic that British tourists have employed for years while abroad, that if you say things loud enough people will be forced to understand. “THE KEY-CARD! THE FECKIN’ KEY-CARD!”

Swearing didn’t help Jane understand any quicker, but I like to think that it helped prevent me from crying. At least at that point in the conversation!

Thankfully Jane’s mum and sister had just arrived at our house so they took over Operation Twins Feed and Jane jumped into my car and drove the 10 miles as quickly and safely as she could to St Andrews to deliver me her key-card, while I stood guard and rehearsed over and over how this could possibly have happened. This is not the sort of thing I do.

The simple answer is that it happened because I was over-tired. But at the time, that didn’t seem quite enough to justify losing an £80 key-card. I was really angry with myself.

Lost and found

But thankfully I had scripture to hand to help me. In the New Testament there is more than one parable about losing things and finding them.

When I got back — I’d gone to St Andrews, by the way, to get emergency supplies of nappies and infant formula — I parked on our drive, got out my torch and went searching. I retraced the route on foot, scouring every inch of the road and pavement. In the dark.

I reasoned that if I’d left the key-card on top of the passenger’s side (the left), while loading bags into the car, then it would most easily have come off when I was turning right. I made an extra careful sweep of anywhere that I’d had to turn right.

And then I found it, about half a mile down the road.

To be honest, it was the clack-clack! sound of another car driving over the key-card that alerted me to its location. But praise the Lord! there it was. And when I returned home I was even more delighted to discover that it even worked!

It was lost, but now it’s found. All that was left to do was to kill the fatted calf and celebrate. After I’d unpacked the formula and nappies, of course.