Sunday, September 11, 2011

Searching for Signal

“Were you searching for ET?” a friend jokingly asked when I posted some of these photos on facebook this week.

Well, no, not exactly. We were searching the heavens for strong “RX” (receive) and “TX” (transmit) signals with our internet satellite dish. Strong signal = lock-on quality which makes the RX and TX lights on our modem go solid green = internet. But they have to be green, and solid. No flashing lights. And no yellow lights. Those aren’t so helpful.

So why all this? Well, it’s a long story. In short, about a month ago we decided to try a new satellite internet system. That didn’t go so well so we decided to switch back. Problem was, somewhere along the way our BUC (pronounced “buck”, and an essential component in the system) got misplaced.

The BUC is the part behind the "microphone" (my term)

Without a BUC, basically you have no internet. So the search was on. It took several weeks, many phone calls, much discussion, and finally a replacement was found. We knew our problems weren’t over yet. What we didn’t know was the degree to which they weren’t over. Connecting a complex internet system out here in the bush without the necessary technology or savvy isn’t very easy!

So this is how it went:
Day 1

Took us the entire day as we:
1. Replaced the BUC,
2. Downloaded the programming software,
3. Loosened and tightened bolts,
4. Tilted the dish this way, that, and the other searching for strong signal. (But no. RX was solid green, but TX was bent on flashing. You have to have ALL solid green lights to have internet.)
5. Phoned technicians far away for new ideas on what to try next.

Even so, dusk found us standing outside staring at the dish feeling rather perplexed and a bit defeated

while the TX light flashed on the modem inside.

The next day was supposed to be a stat holiday but we knew we wouldn’t spend it sitting around in the shade sipping coke.

Day 2
Took us the entire day, again:
1. Moving the dish into every possible position and contortion 1/16th of an inch at a time. (It was a long, hot day in the sun.)

When moving a satellite dish, there is Axis 1, Axis 2, Axis 3, and so on.
Side to side movement is "azimuth" if I recall correctly.

Turns out, a hair-line move here on earth translates into a miles-wide gap in space.

2. Re-running the software and carefully following all the steps.

Dwight and Rick in our "internet office"

Even so, dusk found us still searching for the illusive solid TX green light, but at least the software helped narrow down our search. While the guys pushed and pulled at the dish outside, I watched the monitor and shouted encouraging numbers out through the window.


The black space is, well, "no signal". Yellow is "better, but keep trying". Green is "good". Green peaks are better than green valleys. This is where we ended Day 2. Even though TX was still flashing, we felt we'd made good progress.

Day 3:
Took very little time at all. When the power came on, miraculously TX and RX were both solid green. Yay!

The modem.

Age-old lesson learned: If it’s not (real) broke, don’t mess with it.

In other news, here’s Celestino searching for the bridge we usually depend on to get supplies to the mission school. Oops...

There have been many fires in the area, as there always are at this time of year, and the bridge Dwight and some hard working staff built several years ago had burned to nothing more than a hole in the ground. Good thing it wasn't dark when they came upon this!

Celestino and Joao managed to move some of the burned logs into place to get through the dry riverbed.

We sure have our work cut out for us before rainy season comes along.

Before I sign off, a few shots of local wildlife.

We noticed a leaf stuck to one of our walls the other night.

A closer look revealed not a leaf, but a moth. Clever disguise, little fellow. But it would work much better outside…where all the leaves are.

African Black Sunbirds finding sweet nectar in my flowering aloes. The black one is the male and the beige/yellow one is the female. (Talk about opposites!)

Here, the male gives me a brief stare-down while I train my camera on him. Sorry to disturb you buddy, but really, it could be worse. It could be an internet satellite dish.

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