Corvus brachyrhynchos

Corvus brachyrhynchos

I took a walk at lunch time today just to see if I could find something to take a picture of. That usually means flowers, but not in January in New Hampshire. Instead I was looking for animal tracks. That was not productive either, as the the snow on the ground now is basically ice. The only tracks I saw were those left by cats and dogs. So I looked for birds, and voila – found one.

In other news…

I finally found an alternate ISP fr our school. We’ve been using a satellite link from HughesNet, and everything about it has been horrible. It is painful to use. There are no wired Internet connections within a mile of the building, so the only options we have are over-the-air. We could have gone for a Verizon cell link, but they have a 5 gigabyte per month bandwidth cap which when exceeded costs 50 cents per megabyte. It’s not difficult to envision a five digit Internet bill with a policy like that in place. No thanks! Hughes also has a bandwidth cap, but it’s daily, and when it is exceeded, they simply clamp the flow down to less than a dial-up connection. We’ve hit it more than once, but it did not result in a five digit bill – only pain and suffering.

The problem with a satellite connection is that the satellite has to be in a geosynchronous orbit 22,300 miles (or so) up. Given that the speed of light is not infinite, that means it takes a little more than a tenth of a second for the signal to travel from the ground to the satellite. And then it has to go down again, which translates into a quarter second delay. And that’s just to get your request for information onto the Internet. It has to traverse the same path in reverse to get back again – so there’s a half second of delay for pretty much everything. That renders interactive web sites exceedingly painful to use – some become completely unusable.

But as I wrote earlier, I have found an alternative. My employer uses something like three ISPs, and one of them (SpectraAccess) provides a line-of-sight terrestrial radio link to our building. I knew they were in Manchester, so I assumed they would not be a possibility for our school. (We don’t have line-of-sight from the school to Manchester.) But I asked our IT guy about them anyhow. Apparently, though their offices are in Manchester, they have an antenna only two miles from the school – we have a direct shot at them.

Our company pays them an enormous (to me) amount of money each month, but that’s for a pretty hefty link. I called them expecting them to quote me $300/month or something like that, but instead they quoted $60/month. That’s less than we’re paying Hughes.

Our Hughes connection is 3Mbits/second down and 128Kbits up (which is pretty terrible). The connection SpectraAccess quoted is 7Mbits down, 2Mbits up. That is a pretty substantial speed increase. Further, they have no bandwidth cap at all, and the price includes a static IP address.


Having a static IP means I can log into the school servers from anywhere and do maintenance from home in the evening, or from work for an emergency. I can also move the library card catalog server out of my living room and into the network closet at the school. Since it’s web-based, that means I will also have a public-facing web server I can play with again.

All I have to do is get the school board agree to pay the installation fee of $200 or so. I don’t think that will be a problem.

One of the parents at our school donated a new server last month too, so I have that at home now and have been configuring it for the school. It’s a fairly hefty machine: Dual 3GHz processors, 6Gigs of RAM, and a 5 SCSI disk hardware-based RAID array. Nice. That should speed things up at the school a bit, but truthfully, I am far more excited about this new Internet connection than about the server. It will have a greater impact on the system’s usability.