SpectraAccess came to the school today and got us hooked up with an antenna and modem. We now have much faster access to the Internet. As soon as I saw that it was working, I called HughesNet and cancelled our satellite Internet feed. This is sooo much better. With no satellite latency to suffer through, double the download bandwidth, no bandwidth cap (daily, monthly, or otherwise), it is about like going from dial-up to broadband.

Our new connection comes with a static IP address, so I will be able to remotely log into the servers at the school and make any necessary adjustments without driving out to the school. I have a very long list of things to do to the network now, including migrating to a new server, and repurposing the old one. I can move the card catalog off a PC at my house and onto a server at school. The possibilities this opens up are manifold!

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.