Last year I took on the task of putting in an Internet connection to the Project Somos site in the highlands of Guatemala. When I finished, the Internet worked way better than what Greg and Heather had had before and they were very happy. They were happy, but I wasn’t, for two reasons: at the best of times, it did not work as fast as it should; and second, at times it would hardly work at all. It was frustrating to try to figure out what to change while sitting in Vancouver unable to touch the equipment. Then, in May, something happened and the performance really deteriorated, going to half speed and sometimes not working all day. I instructed Greg to change the polarization of the antenna and it worked better, but clearly action was required.
I declared that the original system was merely the beta test and now we would design the real system. Heather decided to call it Internet 2.0, so a new project was launched over the summer, with the goal to head down in November to install it. To an engineer, it was frustrating not to be able to go on site with instruments and figure out exactly what was wrong and then fix the problem. Without that option available, it seemed best to just massively overdesign the system. More powerful equipment and a higher tower would be cheaper than another set of flights down there. We went ahead and designed the overkill upgrade. It was decided to:
- Put in a link as far as the Children’s Village with Rocket Dishes that had 16 times as much power as the old link
- Put up a 30’ tower in the Children’s Village
- Move the antenna on the Community Hall from the side of the building onto a 10’ pole on the roof
- Put an antenna on the tower at the Children’s Village that would distribute the signal to the Staff House, Community Hall and School (this meant the link to those buildings would be shorter and clearer of obstacles than receiving the signal from all the way across the canyon)
Once started, the four worst words in doing an upgrade came into play: “While we’re at it.” We decided to extend the Wi-Fi coverage from the Community Hall to the area around it, which would include the guest houses. Also, the antenna we would erect in the Children’s Village would cover the whole area, so the Learning Centre and Music Centre will have Internet when they need it.
I believe in setting low expectations and then exceeding them as it reduces the stress, so I asked Greg not to tell anybody we were hoping to make the Internet faster. Imagine my surprise when he announced in front of the whole audience at the Somos Fiesta that I was coming to put in a faster Internet. The theme was “Day of the Dead” – at that point, I didn’t know whether I wished I was dead or I should put Greg into that state.
In consultation with the same people that helped last year, Jordon Randall (IT Manager), Andy Wright and Alex Corbett (radio engineers), all the equipment was ordered. Jordon spent many hours helping me configure it and again I tested everything in Point Roberts on the lawn and then took it home, set everything up in my lab, with an antenna on the roof and one in West Vancouver, and thoroughly tested it all.
I found out Jordon was going to be halfway to Guatemala the week before I was going, so decided that he should come with us to:
- reduce my stress. If something wasn’t working, he would figure it out
- reduce the amount of time Greg would have to help me, as he is a busy guy
- give someone else the glory of climbing the tower to install the antenna, as I am past the macho stage.
On Monday, November 19th, Judy, Jordon and I arrived on site. Judy opted out of the geeky fun and went to work with Heather and the Mamas. Jordon and I unpacked everything and set up the first dish in the Children’s Village, and got it lit up in a temporary configuration.
Tuesday we went to Patzún, on the other side of the canyon. The old antenna was atop a 20’ pole and since we have a 12’ ladder, Greg merrily used bailing wire to fasten a second ladder to the first one. Jordon and I looked askance at this arrangement, quickly pretending that it would take both of us to take the readings to align the antenna. Greg would have to go up, remove the old antenna, mount the new one and align it. He agreed and spritely danced up the ladders. Jordon and I avoided watching by studying the computer readings carefully. We were getting fabulous results. We did quite a bit of clean-up of the installation at the firehall so it would be robust and not easily damaged. As we headed back, we stopped for a traditional Guatemalan lunch: Texas BBQ.
We spent Wednesday and Thursday remounting the other antennas and mounting all the brains of the installation in the new Systems Building in the Children’s Village (its main purpose will be to house the equipment for the solar electrical system). We did a lot of testing and the results were fantastic, getting speeds the same as we got on the other side of the canyon, which means that the system goes as fast as the Internet connection from the telephone company. One little glitch still to figure out, is that a couple of times it faded for 10 minutes and we could not find any reason for it. To get us off the hook, Jordon and I suggested it might be all the volcanic activity in the area. Alex and Andy pooh-poohed that idea, from Vancouver (“highly unlikely”), so we are still on the hook. We have three mini-PCs monitoring what is happening at various places in the system, so I plan to study it more once I get home
Friday morning, we went to the school and realigned their antenna and checked the existing computers donated by Paul Geyer and us. School is out for a couple of months so we took the laptops to upgrade with Windows 10, Office 2016 and other changes so they will be the same as the six new ones that Paul is donating.
Feeling good about all we accomplished, Heather, Greg, Judy, Jordon and I headed to Lake Atitlan for the weekend to have some fun (but for me, at least, not as much fun as doing geeky work).
I’m already planning phase 3, but not ready to promise it to anyone yet, although I am sure Greg will soon announce it as a done deal, putting the pressure back on me.