Basement – Old Floor, New Floor

Last year, we had all the floors in the upstairs main part of the house replaced. When purchasing the flooring, the store we purchased from was running a tiered rebate deal. Essentially, we could buy $500 worth of additional flooring than we needed for the upstairs, and tier up to the next rebate level, which was $500 additional savings. My point is, we basically ended up with a pile of free bonus flooring. The plan was to put some of it down in the basement. It wouldn’t be enough to cover the entire basement, or even half, but it would be a start.

Upstairs has doors and counters, and all sorts of things that make flooring tricky. The Basement, not so much. The basement is essentially just a square with some pillars in it. It’s also a basement, so it doesn’t need to be super perfect. I have put in some similar flooring a few houses ago when we converted the garage to a family room. I could easily do this.

This flooring job also has been sort of the kick off of actually doing a LOT of major work and rearranging to the basement. So I figured it might be useful to have a little map. The basement, essentially has 4 “areas”. My “Office area”, in the upper left quadrant. The “LEGO area” in the upper middle. There is the “TV Area” in the lower right corner of the map. Lastly, my son has an area that constitutes his room, though there aren’t any actual walls there. It is segmented off on one side by a build in bar/counter space and a couple of shelving units in the middle of the room against the support pillars.

FWIW, my son it an adult and spends more time living with his friends elsewhere than he does actually living in our house. Before anyone gets on my about shoving my kid off in the corner.

Also, the basement actually has two halves, one half is used for storage and isn’t particularly finished out in any real great way, which is why I installed the door.

The first step of this project actually wasn’t the flooring, technically. The first step was obtaining some IKEA shelving. I’ve wanted to get some Billy shelves for several years now but I don’t have an IKEA in the area. When I finally was ready to get them, I discovered that IKEA doesn’t deliver over long distances. Which wasn’t helped by well, the current Pandemic. Things seemed to be getting better as far as the Pandemic however, and a month or so ago, I had taken a vacation day to take my wife to a Doctor’s appointment, which got rescheduled. So we opted to drive down to St Louis and go to the IKEA store.

She really liked IKEA herself, being an organizing junkie.

Another step I needed to take before the flooring was prepping the floor itself. There were a handful of nail things sticking out of the concrete, presumably from some previous wall or floor that was once in the basement. Also around each of these was a divot int he floor. I took a chisel and busted off the nails and then filled in the divots with some concrete filler. You can see these spots in the before photo above, where the dark gray spots are on the floor.

The other large step was clearing out my collection so I could move the furniture around. Despite having quite a lot of room in the basement, I did a lot the shelf clear out while installing the floor. I put a lot of the more durable stuff (Transformers) carefully into a large plastic bin, and then places a lot of the other figures on a long folding table. Another minor issue, my son basically decided he was going to come live with us again, the same day I was starting to do my work. So my original plan of putting up more tables in his space didn’t really work out.

Basically, I started at the back wall, unloading everything to a table or a tote, and moved the shelf, glass cabinet, and photo station out 3-4 feet. I did a final clean and mop of the floor, then laid several rows of the flooring down. Once I had enough flooring, I pushed those furniture pieces back and stacked stuff onto them from the other shelves, so i could move other pieces of furniture.

I also assembled and stood up the 3 IKEA shelves as I went. The other purpose for shuffling the future this way was to help hold the flooring down. I don’t really have an easy way to add trim on the concrete basement walls. So the furniture around the perimeter is what I’ve got.

After everything was finished, I started reassembling my displays over the next few days. I also found that I needed to add a short 3′ extension piece to the power strip feeding my PC, because the new shelving is a little wider than the old combination, and the cord didn’t reach far enough behind the shelves. Other minor electrical change, the Glass Cabinet has a light in it, but the cord switch is a pain to use. I also have an Alexa compatible power outlet I don’t really have a use for. I set up this power outlet so I can tell Alexa to “Turn on the Display Light” and light up the cabinet.

I am pretty pleased with the end result. It’s not perfect but it’s a bit nicer than it was. This has also spawned several additional projects which I’ll blog about in the future.

Migrating Mail-In-A-Box to a New VPS

A few years ago, I started running my own mail server using Mail-In-A-Box. Four years or so actually, if the age of my old server was accurate. I have several different email addresses, mostly to better segment out content. I have done this with Reddit, and Twitter, and TT-RSS, and probably other things. In my Mail-In-A-Box I run email for 3 domains, two of mine, one for my wife’s. Overtime I may eventually migrate all of my email to it, at this point, I am a little worried about being blacklisted, so I mostly use it for secondary, receive only, email aggregation.

For a while I’ve been putting off migrating the system to a new VPS. It’s been running on Ubuntu 14.04 since it was created. Newer MiaB won’t run on 14.04 and I can’t distro update the machine. The only choice is to roll a new VPS and migrate the mail.

I use Digital Ocean for my online services, feel free to sign up with the link in the side bar if you want, I get a little kickback if you do. It’s easy to use and affordable. Plus in cases like this, I can spin up an extra VPS, then easily destroy it and spin up a new one, when I discover that MiaB only works up through 18.04, so 20.04, which I used initially, won’t work. Also having the extra server just means a temporary bump in my billing for the month.

The basic process for migrating Mail-In-A-Box is here, in the official documentation. I had a few hiccups along the way but I got them ironed out.

First step was creating the new machine. I mentioned above, I first made a 20.04 machine, but found that doesn’t work, so I killed that and made a new 18.04 machine. Before anything else, I did a few security based housecleaning tasks. The server was creating with Shared Keys log in set up, but it only had a root account. So I created a new user and made them a sudoer. I also copied the SSH keys from root to the user.

adduser Username
usermod -aG sudo Username
cp ~/.ssh /home/Username
chown Username:Username /home/Username/.ssh -R

Next step was to add the new user to the SSH users and secure up that access.

sudo pico /etc/ssh/sshd_config

Then edit:

#Port 22

To a custom port and change:

PermitRootLogin no

Finally add:

AllowUsers Username

Lastly restart the ssh server with sudo service sshd restart. Then test the connection using the regular user. If that works, then disconnect from the root session and continue on the regular user.

I was doing an upgrade but the fresh install guide is here. All I needed was the set up line really, which takes a minute to run but does an initial set up of Mail-in-a-Box.

curl -s | sudo -E bash

The next part was the trickiest bit. I linked the migration article above but I ended up trying to simplify things a bit. On the old machine, I stopped the mailinabox service, so no new mail would come in, then ran the backup python script as described int he article above. I found it was easiest to just connect to the server using Filezilla using SSH FTP, which meant importing my keys to Filezilla. It’s in the settings under SFTP. Something to keep in mind if you set a custom port is you’ll need to add sftp:// before the IP address.

Things are a little tricky here, since root owns the backup folder. I ended up doing a sudo copy into my user home directory, then a chown on the folder to give my user account access to the folder. This meant Filezilla could see the folder and download it to my local machine. There are way to directly transfer between the new and old server, but between custom ports and SSH keys and permissions, I found it was easiest just to download to my local laptop. Afterwards, I connected with SFTP to the NEW server, and pushed the backup folder to the new server. You need the whole folder with the “secret_key” text file and the encrypted folder and files. Basically, this is all the settings and emails.

Next step was to ssh into the New Server, go to the freshly uploaded backup directory, and import the old files, as described in the link. This is two commands run, separately.

export PASSPHRASE=$(cat secret_key.txt)

sudo -E duplicity restore --force file:///home/Username/backup/encrypted /home/user-data/

This takes a minute to run. The next step listed is to rerun the mailinabox set up with “sudo mailinabox”.

I had trouble here. Nginx would not restart. After sound troubleshooting I found it was an issue with SSL. Basically what seemed to happen was the restore, pulled the old SSL certs. Or maybe it was looking for the old SSL certs. Whatever the case, the fix was this process.

rm -rf /home/user-data/ssl/*

The fix was to delete the SSL certificates. then run “sudo mailinabox”. Everything started up. I verified I could log into the control panel and the mailbox using the UP address of the new server. I verified that all my custom DNS records existed, these are needed since the Glue Records point to the Mail-In-A-Box machine but because I host my websites on a separate machine, I have to have DNS records set up appropriately.

One thing I noticed was the SSL Certificates seemed to be wrong, which meant things worked, but would cause annoying security messages. I am not sure if this was related to deleting the certs above, or just that it was still looking for the old IP address. Whatever the case, I did a manual update with certbox for my MiaB Subdomain using

sudo certbot certonly --force-renewal -d Subdomain.Domain.comHere

Another minor issue I ran into, doing this needs to drop a file either in the webroot folder, or spin up a temporary web server to host it’s own file. I couldn’t find the webroot for the custom MiaB set up (it was not /var/www/html) so I temporarily ran “sudo service nginx stop”, then ran the above certbox command, using a temporary webserver option, then “sudo service nginx start” to restart Nginx. NGinx had to be stopped since otherwise it is using Port 80, and the temporary server can’t start to runt he certificate verification process.

Another note, I am not sure if the –force-renewal option is needed above. It didn’t throw out any errors and it fixed the issue, so I left it.

The final step was to go to my Domain Registrar and update the name servers and Glue Records to point to the new Server IP. After a short bit of waiting, eventually the mail server URL connected to the admin and web consoles. I did some test send and receive of emails between my server and gmail to verify everything was working properly. One nice bit, the newer MiaB has a different interface for Roundcube webmail, so I could easily tell if I was going to the new or old server.

Once everything was satisfactory, i went back to Digital Ocean and powered down the old server. If everything is still working in a few days, I will destroy the old server, so I don’t have to keep paying upkeep on it. One thing to keep in mind, both the old and new servers require a specific hostname, so they will be named the same, so double check that you are powering down and deleting the correct server. some easy ways to verify are IP address, or server age. The old server is several years old but the new server is several days old.

Basement – Sliding Door Project

So, I’ve been doing a fair number of projects, but writing about them isn’t one of those projects. Some of it has been improving the basement a bit. Part of the slowness of the basement work is because it occasionally floods a bit. Not really “standing in water” flooding, but “there is a puddle that keeps coming” flooding.

It’s annoying, but I’ve been working to fix it. The house originally didn’t have any downspouts on the gutters, I added those. I’ve added extensions to the gutters to direct water away. I added a new downspout near the area where the water seems to come from to help direct it away more. I cut out some drywall in the underside storage area and pulled the bottom step off of the stairs to fill in some ugly crack-ish spots in the area where the water comes from. At this point, I am waiting for more heavy rain to see if some of this has made any real difference. So far the cement fill seems to have done the best. It’s tricky to describe but basically, the water still came in, but it came in waaaay less and in a slightly different place. So I’m getting there.

I’m not really here to discuss the flooding though. It has affected some decisions on how to make the basement nicer, like I am not going to add Drywall walls like I wanted to. And no carpet, though that was out anyway, because the cats are assholes (We also replaced all of the upstairs carpet with vinyl plank flooring).

One fairly simple project was adding a door. In this case, I put in a sliding barn door style door. My wife wanted to put in a real door but I wasn’t keen on that since there isn’t really a good place for it to open to. The door itself had a couple of motivations behind it.

One, the basement is divided into two halves. One half is semi finished and “nicer” and it’s where I keep my computer and collection of stuff and there is a TV and couch with game consoles and my son has a corner that is his bedroom area when he is around. The other half is under the “original house”, it’s rough, the ceilings are a little low, and there is more duct work and such hanging from the ceiling. We use it for storing all sorts of stuff. It’s really great for that.

The “underside” half is ugly though. I wanted the door to be able to block it out, mostly for aesthetic reasons.

The other purpose of the door is to be able to lock the cats in the basement when we have guests over. My parents and my wife’s parents are all allergic to the cats. We lock some of them in bedrooms, we also lock some of them in the small sunroom/office area upstairs. Sometimes we would lock them in the basement by blocking the stairs with a giant cork board we have that doesn’t really have a home.

Now, we can use the door. It slides between the two openings, stairs and underside storage to block off either one.

One concern was air flow from the storage area, so the door can also be positioned in the middle, which is where it usually sits, so air can flow in and out both sides. It also lifts off easily if I needed to remove it.

The door itself isn’t anything complicated. I could have built a door but I opted to just buy one, though the door was pretty pricey since it needed to be extra wide. The roller kit is a low profile barn door kit, easy enough to install and it nestles up into the floor joist ceiling. The tricky part was that the floor joist didn’t reach the edge of the opening, so I had to screw a couple of 2×4 stand offs to the floor joist to get the door to sit int he proper place. This also meant adding some 2×4 lifts under the stand off to support the immense weight of the door.

I also ended up with an issue of the door rolling slightly. I am not sure if it’s the house or if the rail is a little off (probably a little of both) but the door slides towards the stairs on it’s own. Not very quickly, but it does move.

I solved this with magnets, at the suggestion of my uncle. I didn’t really want an ugly latch that would also potentially end up in the way of the door sliding or people walking. I bought some block magnets and some double sided Gorilla tape (I originally used Command Strips but they were too weak). I stuck a larger magnet to the wall, then two smaller magnets on one end and the center of the door. This allows the door to hold it’s position when blocking the stairs or when positioned halfway.

This project isn’t quite done. I may also add an L bracket of some kind in the center of the door, to hold the door from being leaned outwards, and I want to add a roller on the backside to the whole action is smoother. the way things are, if the cats get determined, they can push the door enough to get it to release from the magnet and escape from the basement.

I also need to adjust that network cable because it’s kind of just there and ugly.