Thursday, August 14

St. Paul Island Part I

I got a contract with an old boss to head out to Saint Paul Island, AK. The job is to do say hi to old employees and get a wireless backhaul installed between townside and the airport 3.5 miles away. Not too difficult for most wireless guys to install, however Saint Paul Island (a.k.a SNP) has some amazingly dense fogs and blizzards that make fun of wireless signals and kick sand in their face. I needed strong equipment and decided for an all-in-one inexpensive solution that can be replaced easily enough when it either A: Blows away, B: Rusts off, or C: Falls victim to crazy SNP antics.

Yesterdays flight out to SNP was kinda relaxing. I played "Flight of the Amazon Queen" on my laptop via ScummVM. Ironic since the game is about the survivors of a small crashed plane. I also tossed back a few episodes of "Flight of the Conchords: Season 1".. I love those guys.

I landed, met the old boss at the airport (called poss camp) grabbed keys and booked it to their office to grab the wireless equipment I ordered and configure it for tomorrow. I dropped the equipment off at 106 (the house number I'm staying at) and dragged all my luggage into the house.

By this point, you're bored reading this.. let's spice it up a bit.

While I was at the office I inadvertently got signed up for the Softball game that night. The Company vs the Coneheads. Coneheads? oh.. they wear silly hats.. gotcha..

There was a white dense fog illuminating the area which didn't seem quite right for a game where a hard white object falls out of the sky randomly like a surprise hail ball from hell. But nobody cared so we played our silly little game. I'm a horrible catcher and all the spare gloves were preteen sized so I got immediately picked on for not being able to catch. The team coach, obviously not seeing how poor at softball I am, made me catcher. Last time I played catcher in softball the pitcher did such a poor job I was practically jumping to reach each ball before it bounced past me. Of course they thought I was a horrible catcher then too.. sigh..

I cought a few foul balls that headed my way, I panicked at a few balls that simply hit the ground right in front of me. It didn't seem right so I just stood there.. go me.. I finalyl redeemed myself by getting up to bat and putting the whomping on the ball a bit. I like to hit things. By the end of the night my legs were killing me.

This morning I woke up a bit late.. 10am.. and expected to work till around 9pm to make up for those hours. I configured the wireless devices and headed out to install one of them on a radio tower I needed to take a few things off of first. The fog outside was incredibly dencse, I had to use a GPS to draw a line between the two radio towers and find a visual reference between the two that I can use to align the first antenna with. It doesn't need to be accurate.. but it needed to be close enough so I could read the signal strength from the far radio tower.

Me showing off some fog.

Once I install the far radio and align it as best I can then it's a simple matter of heading back to the near radio and adjusting it's initial alignment until I get the best signal. I've had to use this trick often on SNP due to fog/hail/blizzards/etc.. I remembered an old trick when I was on the tower, trying to align a flat and wide panel antenna to a far off point. Since it has no point to it you have to use symmetry and the pole it's mounted on for the initial visual alignment. you focus past the pole and see where you want to aim it, making sure the symmetrical points on the back of the antenna have an equal distance to their side of the pole. In my case I had two screws on the back of the antenna to use. This gave me a 2 inch reference (between the pole and the middle of the back of the panel antenna) to use as a pointer toward wherever I was aiming. You focus far and see two poles then put the target between the poles. Then focus on the pole and make sure the antennas screws have an equal distance from the poles sides or center, whatever. The error factor is huge, but it works wonderfully for rough initial alignment. Go go magic geometry.

Years ago I installed some really huge radio antennas on the radio towers that made up the wireless backhaul a long time ago.. I had to take those down and the bolts holding them tot he tower were completely rusted.. a perfect oppurtunity to play with my rock climbing harness. I climbed up, crimped in, and froze my butt off while forcefully wrenching the rusted fasteners into submission. My hands and wrists are killing me. It took like.. 20 minutes. I know.. I'm a wussie.

I lowered the hardware to a co-worker and we fastened the new radio in place then headed to the far side. The guy I was with was having fun aiming the panel around while we drove around. I had a dc inverter in the truck so we powered it on and checked signal quality at a few points of interest between the two radio towers. Once we got to the far side we were happy to see, even at ground level, that the antenna was aligned well enough to link up with the far side, woot.

Tomorrow I will be doing the same thing to the far radio tower, stripping it then adding the new radio to it, aligning it the best I can, then realigning the near radio. I'm very confident that I can get 12mbps out of it.

Think about that kids, 12mbps between two locations, no hard line, no need to pay the telephone company, no monthly costs... It's a beautiful thing.

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