Bug Zapping, Texas Rainstorms, and Rocket Science

Date: June 10th, 2014
Time: 10:35PM
Location: Houston, TX

I am nursing a bottle of beer as I write this, so please pardon any lack of cohesiveness, though I don’t anticipate any issues greater than the average reader can handle.

Tonight’s entry comes on the day after a freak shower caused a scare involving the Mazda CX-5 that Justin has been driving to work. His workplace is a neat hour away in commuter traffic. The other day, I had suggested to Justin that he could keep the moonroof tilted up while the car was parked, such that hot air would rise up and out of the car while it was parked outside. Justin took my advice to heart.

At 2:26PM yesterday, I received a text message from him:

Sigh. Not sure if car top window is closed enough or not.

Funny, it had just started raining within the past half hour. I imagined that it must be raining all over Houston.

I responded, “Keep your fingers crossed,” to which Justin wrote back:

Well at this point if it isn’t then the whole thing is soaked through.

Outside the window, I could see that it was coming down pretty hard. The overcast sky of my morning had opened up in a spectacular rainstorm. I was happy that my own car was shut tight.

I assured him, “Usually there is some type of channel for water to drain through.” At least I hoped that this was the case.

Justin came back at his usual time. He walked through the door and said, grumbling, “Hmm. My butt is damp. I wonder why.”

I gave him a minute to put down his things before advising that we ought to assess the damage. I grabbed a couple of freshly cleaned microfiber towels — one for him and one for myself. Together, we combed through the interior of the CX-5. Water had filled the front cupholders about a quarter of the way. I instructed Justin to drop his microfiber into the cupholder so that it could soak up the water. He voided the cupholder. I lifted the insert at the bottom of the cupholder, revealing some more water for him to soak up.

I checked the front seats: a little damp towards the back of the seat cushion. The carpet floormats in the front were dry to the touch. Justin showed me some water that was hanging onto the grille that covers the cockpit microphones. I let my microfiber soak up the offending droplets. This done, I turned my attention to the thin film of dust that had built up on the dashboard.

The back seats were dry. I found the carpet floormats in the rear to be dry as well. The sun was still out, so I tilted the moonroof up, reasoning that the warmth of the sun would encourage any residual moisture to evaporate away. I stepped up on the doorsill and examined the moonroof: sure enough, there was a channel. Mazda’s engineers are good. Dad came by to look at the car and noted at a glance that there was a clear line on the front seats. We will revisit that at a later date.

This brings us to my next story. I was getting ready to call it a night when I looked outside of the window and found that the electronic bug zapper was dark. The unit in question is a Flowtron BK-40D Electronic Insect Killer, with 1 Acre Coverage. Flowtron makes two other models: the BK-80D for 1-1/2 acre coverage, and the BK-15D for 1/2 acre coverage.

I grabbed a flashlight and stepped outside. There is an outlet on the outer wall. The setup was as follows:

The Flowtron BK-40D is mounted to a pole in the back corner of the yard. It was plugged into a photoelectric switch, the function of which is to keep the electronic bug zapper zapping from dusk to dawn. The photoelectric switch was plugged into an extension cord, which terminates at the aforementioned outlet.

Something was wrong. I walked over to the Flowtron, flashlight on, and swept the area. Everything appeared to be holding fast, but the photoelectric switch’s status light was off. I unplugged the photoelectric switch from the extension cord and plugged it back in again. No change (no big surprise). I observed that water came out of the photoelectric switch when I moved it – so much for being rain-tight.

The Flowtron had definitely been doing its job, though. A little mound of dead mosquitos was beginning to form up on top of the mosquito bait. Meanwhile, I could feel more of the little bloodsuckers against my bare arms. I hightailed it back inside.

Next, I paid the breaker panel a visit. I checked inside for any indication of a switch that had been thrown. Finding none, I inspected the diagram within the panel to see which switch might correspond to the outlet that I was having trouble with. I found a mention of “outdoor”, so I toggled the breaker and checked back in on the Flowtron. Still not firing up.

I put on a long-sleeved shirt and a cap, grabbed some closed toe shoes, and stepped back outside with my flashlight. I pulled the photoelectric switch out of line and plugged the Flowtron directly into the extension cord. Nothing.

I took the photoelectric switch to the outlet. Droplets of accumulated rainwater issued forth from the gaps in the plastic as I shook the unit at arm’s length. I plugged it directly into the wall outlet. Still nothing.

I pulled some slack on the extension cord and plugged it into the nearest outlet indoors. Within a couple of seconds, the Flowtron sprang to life. Buzzzzat! It just got a bug. Delighted to see that it was still kicking, I closed the door and puzzled over my findings. Clearly, the outdoors outlet was not working at the moment, but why?

Quick, Google to the rescue. Surely, someone had encountered a situation like this before, where an outlet spontaneously stopped working after rain. I opened up the first three results and started reading. In one thread, a cash-strapped individual recounted a story about how the lights started flickering whenever they plugged a device into one outlet in their room. Someone else advised them to try calling the power company. I wouldn’t be having any of that – I needed my Flowtron working yesterday in order to suppress the local mosquito population.

At the next hit, I read about a situation where an individual had toggled the breaker panel (hey, I did that!) to no avail. Someone else wrote that it sounded like the outlet that wasn’t working might be linked to another GFCI outlet elsewhere. GFCI. Oh duh.

I started looking at the GFCI outlets, in search of one that had been tripped. My search came up empty, so I went back to the breaker panel, to the diagram. I found it: the one that I had missed was in the garage. Sure enough, it had been tripped. I reset it and headed back to check on my outdoor outlet.

The Flowtron was still lit up, happily buzzing. I unplugged the extension cord from the indoor outlet (the Flowtron died down) and plugged it into the outdoor outlet. The Flowtron came back online and resumed its mission. I could have left it like this for the evening, but I would have had to go out in the morning to unplug it. Then it dawned on me that I had been rigging up the Flowtron wrong all along.

You see.. The reason why I had left the photoelectric switch plugged directly into the Flowtron was because I had found the two units in the same box. Dad must have put them up this way. In the previous setup, I found the Flowtron would turn on and off intermittently, whereas I observed that it was now lit up continuously. Because the photoelectric switch had been dangling right next to the Flowtron, it must have been affected by the light from the Flowtron’s bulb. Suddenly, everything made perfect sense to me. Of course the Flowtron bulb was meant to be on continuously: it didn’t have any way of knowing when bugs were near enough to be zapped.

I plugged the photoelectric switch directly to the outlet and then plugged the extension cord into the photoelectric switch. Now with sufficient distance between the photocell and the Flowtron, things are working as they should.

There you have it — a couple of amateur mistakes. Systems require a regular rocket scientist.