Offline Again

An update to a recent post.

Less than 12 hours after the unhappy Internet guy set me up with service in my camper at the golf course (as reported here), that service was disabled.

By the irrigation guy.

Here’s the strange but true story.

Since the Golf Course folks were paying for the Internet installation, it made sense for them to have an Internet connection at at least one of their computers. For simplicity’s sake, they decided to use the computer closest to the router. Although it looked like a regular desktop PC, it was actually a PC dedicated to the operation of the golf course’s irrigation system. A complex Toro software/hardware system enabled the golf course staff to activate any of its sprinklers by radio from anywhere on the course.

Wireless AntennaThe PC in question was connected to a simple antenna on the roof that was about 18 inches from the antenna the Internet guy installed. You can just about see it in this picture; It’s the white pole behind the pizza box antenna.

Well, as soon as the Internet was connected to that computer, the otherwise bored golf course employees decided it was time to go surfing. I don’t even think the Internet guy was gone before Explorer was launched and at least one employee was checking out YouTube.

I knew this was going on, but it didn’t really register that it could be a problem. I was oblivious, just happy to have my connection.

Around 9 PM, there was a knock on my trailer door. It was still light out — the sun doesn’t set until about 9 here this time of year — but I was in my pajamas, lounging in bed with a book. I threw on a pair of shorts and came to the door. It was the irrigation guy. I’ll call him Carl, even though that’s not his name.

“The Internet guy screwed up my computer,” he fumed. “I can’t get the sprinklers to come on. It’s all screwed up.” I could tell he was pretty angry. “Do you have his phone number?”

I handed over Pete’s card. He stormed away with it.

I didn’t think anything more about it.

Until the next day. My Internet connection still worked for a while, but the signal wasn’t very strong. Some rain on the camper sent me to the airport to pull the helicopter out, just in case I had to fly. When I returned at about 9 AM to keep myself busy until I got a launch call, the Internet was down. In fact, my computer couldn’t even find the wireless network.

I went into the golf course office. The router was gone. I later found it in a pile of wires and cables and transformer boxes on another desk.

I asked the guy at the desk what had happened.

“Carl couldn’t get the Internet guy on the phone and his sprinklers weren’t working. So he called his daughter out here and they disconnected the Internet.”

I later found Carl. He was still fuming. “That computer is for the irrigation system only,” he said. “If you touch anything on it, the system goes down. They shouldn’t have put the Internet on it. The Internet guy didn’t call and I had to do something so we disconnected it. I had to do a restore from last Tuesday. I think I got it working again.

I should clarify here. The only way “the Internet” was connected to his computer was via a single Ethernet cable from the router. That’s it. The computer was not doing anything to keep the Internet connection alive — although for all I know, Pete may have used its browser to configure the router the previous day. All Carl had to do was disconnect that Ethernet cable. But he’d pulled it all out.

All except the power to the Internet antenna.

I discovered this on Monday when I attempted to reconnect everything — except the irrigation computer, of course. I had Pete on the phone and he gave me a physical description of the box between the antenna and the router. Carl hadn’t disconnected it, so the antenna was still powered and operating.

I got the system all back up and running, then asked Carl to test his system. He went outside with a radio and tried it. “It won’t work,” he said.

I powered down the router and asked him to try it again. It still wouldn’t work, even though it was basically the same as it had been all weekend when it did work.

I unplugged the little box and asked him to try again. He said it still wouldn’t work. But now nothing was connected. When I pointed that out, he looked at his radio and said, “Well, maybe the radio isn’t charged up. It’s acting like it’s not charged.”

Patience, Maria. Patience.

“How about if you charge it all up and we try again later?” I suggested. “Maybe after lunch?”

He agreed. He put the radio in its charging station and I left everything unplugged.

Later, he came by my camper. “The antenna is too close,” he told me. “I called the irrigation support people and they told me the Internet antenna was conflicting with my system.”

I’d already explored this possibility with Pete. He didn’t think it was likely, but since we didn’t know the frequency of the irrigation system’s radio, we couldn’t be sure. Carl didn’t know the frequency.

After he’d driven off to look at something out on the golf course, I slipped into the office. A mousepad provided by Toro listed support phone numbers. I dialed one of them. Moments later, I was explaining the situation to a support guy. I asked him the frequency of the radio system. He said it was in the “400 range.” I had no idea what that meant, but figured Pete would. I asked him if he’d ever heard of the system conflicting with an Internet setup. He said he hadn’t. I also discovered, during the phone call, that Carl had not called their support number since the beginning of June. So that means that either Carl was lying or someone else had told him the two systems would conflict. Sheesh.

I spoke to Pete. We agreed that there was no conflict. But he promised to come by on Tuesday (today) to move the antenna farther down the roofline.

With luck, I’ll have my network backup by this afternoon.

What do you think?