Thursday, 25 November 2004

Moss Vale

After driving from Millmerran to Moss Vale via Perth (over 8000km) where all manner of changes were made to the electronics. I've not been happy with the comms box since we removed it from the back of the dish and in Perth we changed the way it fits together. Instead of having the two halves side-by-side, they are now back-to-back.

We sealed the two, the power and the electronics box, together and had to remove the connector to the wireless gear because it was located in the back of the power box. In doing that we decided to remove the external wireless gear, containing two base stations and a hub, and make it all integrated into the box.

Now we have two external wireless connectors, a better connector for the video repeater and easy access to the hub if we need to. We also brought along an old 85cm Foxtel dish, with some switching gear so we can point another dish to another location if we need to.

In re-organising the electronics box we found out that you cannot simply de-solder the RF unit off a Humax 5410Z because it won't boot afterwards. At this stage we didn't know if it had failed in transit, or not. Turns out it was happy when we gave it back the RF unit - which had been badly rusted due to salt water air in Dunsborough.

The plan was to setup in Perth, but a small yard and a big tree put an end to that, but it made us determined to reduce the size of the mount even further. For those who have been following this, we now are down from 26 bolts and 7 beams to 9 bolts and 3 beams and the observant will notice that this mount looks suspiciously like the travel mount we built during the Solar Challenge 2003.

Arriving in Moss Vale, the building of the mount took 20 minutes, the installation and alignment of the dish another 40 minutes (because there was a big roof in the way) and we were up and running.

The Bureau of Meteorology threw a Severe Thunderstorm warning with Large Hailstones at us and we decided after discussion with the BOC and the BOM, that it would be prudent to stow the dish, so we stored it in the Iveco, waited for a storm that never came and built it again in little time the next day.

The dish had a baby.

While in Moss Vale, I used some spare time to install some more satellite gear allowing the baby dish, which was kindly donated to us, to partake in the adventures and supply us with an additional Free To Air television feed for those days that there isn't anything good on the 'net.

I've also managed to get VoIP to work across the satellite link and after some fine-tuning, we may be on a winner there. The two CISCO ATA 186 telephone adapters are plugged into the network and each talks to my workstation which is running a copy of Asterisk. The Asterisk software in turn uses IAX2 to talk to Perth so we can talk to the world. I expect that soon we'll have some other VoIP connectivity which will allow people to phone us for the cost of a local call, where ever we are.

Monday, 31 May 2004


Setup in this location was started late in the afternoon and I'd forgotten how quick it gets dark by the time you get this far North. Fortunately I was ably assisted by the local home-owner who in a previous life was well acquainted with nuts and bolts. The whole frame was together in a matter of 30 minutes.

We waited until the next day to put the dish in place and the electronics now have a better spot with the feeder cables on the inside, going back up the centre beam like they used to. Alignment was simple and our cross-poll check with the BOC was great.

I'm not happy with the water proofing of the current setup, and the tarpaulin is stopping an airflow across the heat-sinks, but with overnight temperatures at 0°C, I suspect that cooking the electronics is not likely to be an issue. I do worry about the direct sun, but the temps only come up to 18° in the day, so direct sunlight is not nearly as severe as experienced in Crossing Falls and the rest of the top-end.

I need to replace one of the feeder cables which looks like it got pinched in transit and I'm trying to determine if it would be worth the effort to install the wireless gear inside the electronics boxes, or if outside will continue to provide the best solution.

I'm still looking for a nicer way to attach the boxes to the frame and suspect that some measuring and drilling may come to pass in the next few months.

Sunday, 2 May 2004

Bishop's Creek

Installing the frame was achieved in under an hour and placing the dish on the mount was done in no time flat with the help of some locals. Our electronics solution still hadn't found its way to a point where I could say that I was happy, so I spent some time playing with some ideas I'd had on the road.

Instead of attaching them to the post or the dish, I placed them on the cross beam and with a ratchet tie, tied them to the beam. The location was a little clumsy because the feeder cables were going around the outside and were quite tight, but an improvement was found in Millmerran.

We were getting no signal and it was getting dark, when I noticed that I wasn't going past a tree like I thought, but straight through it. Moving the frame back a metre solved the problem and we were live 15 minutes later.

Packing up was simple with the new location for the beams against the firewall in the van and the electronics box behind the rear wheel. I'm not sure about it's location for any accidents or dings, but I suspect we'll have other problems then if that was ever the case. I'm still looking for a better spot.

Thursday, 25 March 2004

Beaconsfield Upper

Our initial scout of this location had filled me with some trepidation. The owner wouldn't hear of defeat, but they'd be in South America when I needed to be on-line, so their level of concern was not quite the same as mine. Basically there were large trees between us and the satellite, but some gaps did exist and some planning was in order.

I improved the method used to construct the frame, this time bolting the three shorts together whilst it was on the ground, then attaching the centre beam and post. I did need to move the whole frame a few meters sideways to clear a tree after set-up, but apart from that, the whole thing is becoming routine.

The electronics boxes were mounted prior to the dish install, which required some fancy jiggling later on and an improvement was made at Bishop's Creek. We again used the dainty tarp to protect the electronics and left the dish to the elements. I made a concession by covering the feed horn with a rubbish bag.

Clean-up was swift and simple. The dish without the electronics boxes was much easier to handle for the two of us and it looks like it may stay separate from now on. Of course everything is lighter once you've lifted 160kg between two of you, now it's only 100kg :-)

Monday, 1 March 2004


We arrived at our new location only to find that the only location for any chance of a successful setup was on the side of a hill, overlooking a house. The frame comes with wheels, which were removed because I felt they would only hinder the process of actually putting the frame together in any meaningful or secure way. Besides, I felt that the stand-offs wouldn't be able to lift them clear off the ground either.

Unpacking was interesting because everything was on an angle and you needed to be very careful about dropping things or having things come out of drawers assisted by gravity.

I decided that the frame idea, separation of the frame and the dish was not going to work and I unbolted the red boxes from their home underneath the dish. Instead I bolted them together and with some wire cable I attached them hanging from the mount post.

The tarpaulin was minimised and only covered the red electronics in a dainty little cover, rather than the huge tarp we had used until then. A big concern was that the location was very windy and I even used chain and pickets to secure the dish, double pegging both chains.

After all the stress about the location, the actual setup was simple. I pointed the dish roughly and 15 minutes later we were online, tuned and cross-polled and all!

Packing up was slightly different. I'd determined that the frame would fit in a different location in the van, against the firewall, rather than in the back, making the weight distribution more even between the wheels. This freed up space in the back, so the red boxes now fit, bolted together behind the rear wheel.

Monday, 12 January 2004


Second time around at the Station in Barmera. This time I set it up closer to the Station itself, so it had more protection from the wind. We had help unloading the beast this time, so Frances and I could rest easier, but it was still pretty stressful trying to determine if anything had been permanently damaged.

We started experimenting more with the covering of the dish. In an attempt to stream line the cover we actually setup the dish and then lifted up the mount and slid the tarpaulin underneath the feet. The only result was that it was harder to remove the tarp when we had to pack up.

When we did pack up, Frances and I were alone again, and instead of repeating the dropping disaster at Kangaroo Valley, I decided to try to see if it would be simpler to just remove the fibreglass from the frame, rather than keep it all together.

So, I unbolted the fibreglass and we loaded it into the van. That was pretty simple. Now the only problem was, what do we do with the rest? We tied it down to the side of the van and crossed our fingers. I didn't like it for many reasons, the chief one being that it was tied up overhanging the dish and if the ties or the tie points failed, all hell would break loose.

Luckily they didn't fail.