Words cannot describe how happy I am that my Internet connectivity is no longer dependent upon my prowess with the bow and arrow.
Heiser Hollow has been in the family since 1972. Remote, but not totally isolated, for 30 years it has had a telephone, and electricity. We knew it wasn’t the best location for Internet access, but had grown attached to it over the decades, and have some family buried nearby, so Elizabeth and I decided to go ahead with the cabin building. We didn’t start until I demonstrated that Internet access was possible, booting up the Verizon Mifi, a small wireless Internet access device, on a cold winter day, sheltered from the snow inside our tractor shed.
Having only 1 mobile provider here, I switched my iPhone to Verizon, and for much of July, I happily telecommuned from a cheap folding picnic table, underneath a cheap Walmart awning, perched on the dam. I ran a 150’ extension cord. I only had a couple bars on my iPhone, but as long as I kept it plugged into the power supply, used the ear buds, and didn’t actually touch the phone, vocal quality was fine and service was reliable. The trouble started when the weather got cool, and I needed to move into the motorhome. Elizabeth bought a cell phone booster, a signal repeater that needs an antenna at least 10’ up in the air. Fortunately, there are no photos available of me using a toy bow & arrow and a fishing rod, but in a short amount of time, I had a length of twine over a high branch holding the antenna 30’ up, and we spent several months talking and Internetting from inside the motorhome.
While the cabin is higher than the dam, and there are far fewer trees than there used to be, Verizon’s signal is pretty weak. I hung the booster antenna out an upstairs window, boosting my iPhone to 2 feeble bars. Mifi kinda sorta works, but is not reliable. Which brings us to part 2.
In early March, a local HughesNet installer said that he could barely see his satellite, which inconveniently hovers over Texas, which is the wrong direction for a north-facing Heiser Hollow, but if we sunk a couple wooden posts in the ground, and put a 6’ board between them, he could hang his dish on it. Elizabeth didn’t like the idea of a baseball scoreboard in front of her new cabin, so she and Sam the Builder designed a sort of pagoda thing. With a conduit back to the house, a ground post, and some graceful angles, it cost…well, more than you’d expect. And it took a month to arrive. By this time, HughesNet had dumped our local installer, and the HughesNet 800 number could find no record of my install record. So I dumped HughesNet and called a local WildBlue installer, having learned that they had a new satellite (‘bird’).
WildBlue installed a dish on the side of the pagoda, and spent a couple hours fiddling with it without getting a reliable satellite connection. He finally gave up for the day, instructing me to cut down some trees between us and Texas, and promised to come back later in the week with a long pole to get some extra elevation above the top of the pagoda.
Elizabeth wasn’t too keen on my chainsawing down 60’ trees next to the new cabin, so she called Yoder tree service. 4:30 on a Friday afternoon, a young Amishman came tooling up the driveway on a JD tractor, a matched set of Stihl’s on a pallet on the front forks. In no time, he’d managed to fell the first tree, at which point he began a very authentic, and loud, yodel. I was treated to several more performances as he dropped several more trees and I dropped several hundred dollars.
WildBlue came back the following week with a ladder, a pole, and well, this is already turning into a long blog, so let’s avoid the trips to the hardware store, the delays, and several hours of ‘I can get a signal but just can’t lock on’, and the interesting fact that both Yoder tree fellers, father and son, celebrate a successful saw with Swiss style singing. The wild WildBlue guys decide to try attaching the dish to the chimney, on the theory that the cabin is blocking the view of the Tejano skyline. After bringing at least 4 different guys, making I don’t remember how many trips, and requesting the expensive destruction of a dozen cabin-shading oaks and maples, they give up for good.
At this point, I call HughesNet back, and they send a different person from a different local install contractor. He says that the first HughesNet contractor wasn’t following correct procedure at all, explaining that the Amish pagoda would wave in the wind. He dug a hole in the ground, sunk a metal post, filled it full of concrete, carefully leveled the pole, attached the dish, and had it successfully and reliably aimed at the satellite inside of a couple of hot and humid hours.
He did use the ground stake and conduit that Sam had installed at the request of the first HughesNet guy, but as it turned out, he didn’t need to mount the dish anywhere near as high as the first HughesNet guy wanted it mounted. Weeks earlier, DirecTV showed up and used the leftover WildBlue mounting bracket, so at least the pagoda isn’t going to waste. Elizabeth says its a nice place to sit, and small animals sometimes use it as a perch.
Five months after the start of this project, we’ve finally got a reliable Internet connection. It isn’t anything to brag about speed wise, but its fast enough to download a 2-minute warning from Chuck Norris that Obama is the anti-Christ, so at least we have access to vital political news. Techies may be surprised to know that I’m getting latency of 800 to just over 1000ms, and I’ve had my corporate VPN running for over 12 hours without a hitch. Internet access turned out to be a far more expensive and delayed farce than I ever could have imagined, but at this point, I think its good to go, and when you’re sitting in the middle of 55 acres, you don’t some pesky password for the WAP.
[If you want to see all the entries for the cabin building project, they start here. This is the latest blog entry in this thread.]