Wirelan for Winterland

Post by WildSnow.com blogger | November 25, 2013      

Compared to last season’s dismal days of paper-thin snowpack, Central Colorado is off the hook. Local haunts around here are skiing like “mid-February” according to locals who suffered through last winter. About time.

We’ve of course been spending every day possible in the thick of it up at Wildsnow Field HQ. That sport plan is easier now that we’ve got satellite internet. Yeah, I know, “Why mess up your peaceful unwired days?” Answer: When you make your living as a blogger 24/7, you either have internet, or you stress out thinking about getting back online to defend yourself against hackers and get your work done. Relief has been found. I can report that our Hughes Net satellite internet installation has been working quite well. Now when we’re at 9,000 feet wading around in 14 inches of new Colorado cold smoke, why leave?

Doug, co-owner of Cripple Creek

While out and about we made a Doug Stenclik sighting. That is difficult because here is a man who is never still. It's either multiple fast-laps or he's running back to work as co-owner of our local backcountry shop, Cripple Creek Backcountry. He knows what he's talking about.

Construction zone.

To ski or to mod, always the dilemma at WildSnow. I'll admit that getting Hughes Net working off-grid was a challenge. The epic began with discovering a normal inverter didn't produce the correct power from our 12 volt PV system. So I ordered up a pure sine wave inverter, which then required a time consuming install to insure performance and make it safe. Beefy cables carry 12 volts to the inverter, cables in turn needed a rather large safety fuse, conduit, etc. The only place I could find to mount the inverter was on the wall above our battery box, so I made an enclosure for the inverter to cover the electrical connections and act as a fire shield. A sandwich of two lasagna pans worked perfectly, with vent holes here and there.

First job of the day, brush off the solar panel.

Fog shrouds the day. First job of the morning, brush off the solar panel.

Reception improves when the snow is cleaned off.

Hughes Net works amazingly well even with some dry snow on the dish, but (gently) cleaning it off improves performance. Wet snow or ice, not so good. The installer encouraged me to not do a roof mount. I'm glad we followed his advice. The dish is mounted on our tool shed reinforced wall. We'll see how well it stays aligned if the shed gets a few feet of snow weight shifting it around. One of the problems with Hughes is that dish alignment is critical. If it goes off by as little as 1/2 degree, kaput. It's possible but tedious for the owner to re-align his dish, better to just get an installer back to do the job correctly. But that's either expensive for a quick show, or a long wait for the service contract guy to show up. Better to do a bomber installation in the first place.

Beyond setting up the correct inverter, Hughes Net required a few other tweaks for what so far has been good performance. Our cable run is about 100 feet from the dish to the camping trailer, so we opted for thick RG11 coax instead of the meager RG6 that Hughes Net is usually installed with. Mounting the dish is key as well. I did a few hours of carpentry on our tool shed to create a reinforced mounting area. All that pales in comparison to the biggest part of the job. It was discovered while doing preliminary dish aiming that about twenty large aspen trees were in the way of the satellite data beam. Out came the logging hat.

I’ll admit that after spending hours googling Hughes, I was paranoid we’d be getting into a nightmare of poor performance and difficult tech support. Instead, other than the tedious install it’s gone well. For any googlers that land here looking for info on Hughes Net, here are a couple of tips to make your system actually work as advertised. First, ask around your area and find out who the good independent installers are. Use them, and only them. (In our case, thanks Jay!). Second, do a beefy installation. Don’t cut corners. Lastly, lower your expectations. Our Hughes has an above average connection quality but is still noticably slower than our home broadband.

Fog moves in but the skiing is goood.

Midmorning break, skiing down in the mist.

Career #1047, off the grid electrician.

Back at the Port-a-hut, I embrace career #1047, off-the-grid electrician. I'm attempting to lash up a webcam that doesn't require a human. We don't have enough power to run everything continuously, so here I'm wiring a timer to the inverter on-off switch. I got that working well. Challenge of doing a power lean webcam system seems to be Bill Gates, as in getting Windows computer to enter and exit standby mode and send webcam photos without human intervention. I'll work on this more in December and report back. Need to go skiing now.

The inverter in place.

Inverter in place.

Lou absconds our lasagna pan and mods it into a cover for the inverter.

Lasagna pan inverter cover, ANSI approved.

Now on to the next project.

Here I go, on to the next project.

And a shout-out to Steve at Sunsense Solar here in Carbondale, Colorado. As always Steve, thanks for helping out.



11 Responses to “Wirelan for Winterland”

  1. Charlie November 25th, 2013 10:37 am

    Awesome. Nice work!

  2. Max November 25th, 2013 11:10 am

    For your webcam project you could use this: http://www.foto-webcam.eu/wiki/
    It’s in german but the google translator seems to work ok on it.
    It should use much less energy than a windows pc. If you look on the linked webcams, i think the resulting images speak for themselves.

  3. Georg November 25th, 2013 11:31 am

    I am here comparing to BGAN system I’ve been checking out and intending to be used in an RV (parked one of two places annually, what I call static, no need for the mobile sat) and curious if you could provide a cost, hardware and sat service, as my RV setup is similar to your cabin. If you haven’t seen it, this is totally relevant to anyone living the RV/cabin life:
    takk så mye

  4. Jay November 25th, 2013 1:52 pm

    For the web cam may want to look into a rasberry pi. Small low power and cheap.

    Here is a tutorial on configuring it.

  5. kevin November 25th, 2013 6:00 pm

    Popular satellite dish mod in my neck of the woods, is a black garbage bag pulled over the whole dish/arm thingy.

  6. Lou Dawson November 25th, 2013 7:04 pm

    Heard about that, will give it a try. Lou

  7. Ben November 26th, 2013 8:00 am

    I’d 2nd the Rasberry Pi with webcam, low power and relativly easy to configure

    You could maybe also do an Aurduino with a USB shield and Ethernet shield. Way lower power consumption if you just want some low bandwidth still photos but it’s going to take some thought to setup

  8. louis dawson November 26th, 2013 8:29 am

    Thanks for all the ideas you guys! Sounds like this will be doable though I probably need somethin it help. The timer on the inverter does work well so at least we
    Have that going. Stranded at Vail airport at the moment!

  9. Joe John November 26th, 2013 10:32 am

    It is always nice to get some current conditions reports from you locals, and I look forward to seeing some web cam shots from the Wildsnow HQ. Have a great thanksgiving!

  10. Frame November 27th, 2013 5:52 am

    Photo 2, you look like you are about to get a warm left knee and melt a hole in your pants, or is this a new off grid gear test?

  11. Lou Dawson November 27th, 2013 9:08 am

    Frame, it’s the asbestos pant test! Actually, that stove is super efficient, air flow on exterior combined with heat shields makes it pretty easy to work around without burning or melting something!

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