back to article When the satellite network has literally gone glacial, it's vital you snow your enemy

Welcome to On Call, The Register's weekly foray into the bag of disasters averted, or sometimes caused, by those brave readers on the other end of the phone. Today's wintry tale of how the highest tech can be brought down by the simplest things comes from "Dino", for that is not his name, and takes us back to the 1990s. Dino …

  1. TonyJ


    I was working in an insurance office about 10 or so years ago.

    They had two buildings seperated with a laser link.

    I was in one office when snow fell off the roof hitting one of the laser units and breaking one of the mounts.

    As I was wondering how to get a fast repair, the company maintenance engineer opened a window, leaned out with a length of 4x2 he just happened to have and oiked the unit up, propping said lump of wood on the window ledge....which to my amazement actually worked and the laser was back in almost the exact correct position.

    I still chuckle at that - the coincence he was in the right room, with a lump of wood the exact right length, etc etc

    1. SonofRojBlake


      "They had two buildings seperated with a laser link"

      Freudian. Shurely "*connected* with a [$kind of] link" - or is it?

      1. Jan 0 Silver badge

        Re: LOL

        >"They had two buildings seperated with a laser link"

        >>Freudian. Shurely "*connected* with a [$kind of] link" - or is it?

        Or maybe just a sticky comma key: They had two buildings separated, with a laser link

        1. maffski

          Re: LOL

          '...They had two buildings separated, with a laser...'

          To make four buildings? Must have have been a powerful laser.

          1. JJKing

            Re: LOL

            Must have have been a powerful laser.

            Please, please, please tell me that these lasers were attached to shark's heads (or even an agitated bass with attitude).

            Mine's the one with Mini Me in the left hand pocket and a henchman's eye patch in the right one.

      2. TSM

        Re: LOL

        Might just be some missing commas. They had two buildings, separated, with a laser link [between them]. It's actually a fairly reasonable interpretation IMO, because if the buildings weren't separated there'd be easier ways to connect them, so the separation is germane. Though "separated by [whatever]" would have been better for scene setting.

        1. ibmalone

          Re: LOL

          Separated by a laser fence.

          1. Jimmy2Cows Silver badge

            Re: Germane

            Sheriff Buford T. Justice: The God-damn Germans got nothing to do with it!


      3. JJKing

        Re: LOL

        Freudian. Shurely

        Und tell me, vhat zort off dreams do you haff about your Muzzer?

    2. Martin

      Re: Snow...

      All these comments about the use of "separated" rather than "connected", jokes about four buildings rather than two - but no-one has been picky about the spelling error?

      Well, I'll do it then. It's not "seperated", it's "separated".

    3. Mark 85

      Re: Snow...

      I see all the pedantic types are picking your post apart. Are the pubs closed or something?

      1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

        Re: Snow...

        "I see all the pedantic types are picking your post apart. Are the pubs closed or something?"

        Nah, they were trying and failing to work out a new and original way to bring Brexit into the thread.

        (Oh, damn!)

  2. Olivier2553

    Satellite in the 90's

    We operated a couple of satellite link in the late 90's, early 00's, I remember the power was in the order of less than 10A for 1 to 10Mbps. Luckily, the amp could not be tuned much more than that, no way to saturate the satellite. And I had been carefully briefed that any modification on any setting had to be approved by the satellite engineer first.

    1. Chloe Cresswell Silver badge

      Re: Satellite in the 90's

      We had one where the signal dropped due to a crow peeling away the feed horn cover like a milk bottle top and getting water into both the down and uplink LNBs.. The ISP didn't believe us till we sent them some photos...

      1. Stephen May

        Re: Satellite in the 90's

        One of our antennas here is VERY attractive to the feathered gits, they're always pecking in the feed window for some reason. Still, can't beat the story as relayed to me by an engineer from ViaSat. They'd installed one of their big Ka-Band antennas somewhere in South America for a customer. Now, the antenna wasn't due to go into service yet, so once the acceptance testing was complete, the customer shut it down. And by shut it down, they shut EVERYTHING down, including the feed system dehydrator. Birds then pecked in the feed window and the feed totally flooded, including the amplifiers. They were left with a rather large bill to replace it all......

        1. Francis Boyle Silver badge

          Re: Satellite in the 90's

          See that's the problem. Crows are very smart. You should have called it the F*E*E*D system.

        2. Paul Kinsler

          Re: One of our antennas here is VERY attractive to the feathered gits,

          Famously (well, famously if you're a physicist) the antenna that was used to discover the cosmic background radiation was inhabited by birds, who had added a quantity of an interesting "dielectric substance" to the interior. However, along with a variety of other maintenance actions, cleaning the unwanted dielectric off still didn't make the weird noise go away, and the rest is history....

        3. anothercynic Silver badge

          Re: Satellite in the 90's

          Talk to the SKA (Square Kilometer Array) people about that sometime... apparently sheep are the perfect size and mass to be exactly a half-wave disturbance. So when you have sheep toddling about amongst the antenna array, you have some funky signal variations. And the resident rodents also have taken a liking to the plastic insulation on the antenna signalling cables... and attract the local raptors that perch on the antennae and cause more... disturbance. :-)

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: Satellite in the 90's

            Clearly they need snakes to eat the mice, then gorillas to eat the snakes when they cause some sort of problem. Having a bunch of gorillas around will be fine, I'm sure.

            1. Phil O'Sophical Silver badge

              Re: Satellite in the 90's

              Clearly they need snakes to eat the mice, then gorillas to eat the snakes

              There was an old lady who swallowed a fly...

        4. This post has been deleted by its author

        5. Ken Moorhouse Silver badge

          Re: They were left with a rather large bill

          What happened to the rest of the bird?

          1. Lilolefrostback

            Re: They were left with a rather large bill

            I see what you did there. Well, toucan play at that.

          2. Nick Kew

            Re: They were left with a rather large bill

            Eliminated for an inappropriate tweet.

        6. Muscleguy

          Re: Satellite in the 90's

          New Zealand has a variety of native parrots. The Kea, the mountain parrot is famously inquisitive and has a very sharp and powerful beak. Tourists who stop their cars in mountain places can find the rubber seal around the windows peeled back.

          Communications tech which has to be on roofs etc has to be kea-proofed in areas they frequent.

          NZ uses poison bait drops to reduce the numbers of mammalian predators in the bush (rats, possums, cats, stoats) but where there are keas they have to drop non poison baits exactly the same doped with an 'I feel queazy' drug to teach the keas to lay off when they drop the real ones.

          Doesn't work for all of them but reducing predator numbers helps kea chick survival too and their breeding success is greater than the losses.

          I remember trying to sleep in a tent at Franz Jozef Glacier in Westland while two keas in different trees screamed at each other. But they are very, very protected so nothing could be done.

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: Satellite in the 90's

            As long as it's not the IoT version of that bird, the iKea...

            I'll get my coat.

      2. JJKing

        Re: Satellite in the 90's

        The ISP didn't believe us till we sent them some photos...

        Did they tell you then that you had something to crow about?

        I'm leaving before Alfred Hitchcock makes his usual cameo.

  3. Andytug

    Ah, those laser links....

    We had one between buildings that suddenly started having dropouts....cause, a pigeon landing on the window sill and breaking the beam.

    Solution - move the transmitter further up the window! (it had been installed near the bottom corner, which is also where pigeons like to sit it seems...…..).

    1. 's water music

      Re: Ah, those laser links....

      dropouts....cause, a pigeon landing on the window sill and breaking the beam.

      Solution - move the transmitter further up the window!

      Or just don't use vegetarian shark mountings

      1. The Oncoming Scorn Silver badge

        Re: Ah, those laser links....

        Usually pigeons have a different sort of dropout problem.

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Ah, those laser links....

        Or increase the power - cooked pigeon for supper!!!

    2. Giles C Silver badge

      Re: Ah, those laser links....

      I had one that was mounted 30’ in the air so to avoid traffic and other stuff.

      Worked fine until one day when it went down (the backup hard link had also failed) when arriving we couldn’t see either building from each other. There was thick freezing fog and the laser was bouncing off all the ice crystals in the air to somewhere.

      Mind you microwave comms doesn’t work in misty weather either

      1. Phil O'Sophical Silver badge

        Re: Ah, those laser links....

        Mind you microwave comms doesn’t work in misty weather either

        A village near me has one of those radar speedlimit signs that displays your speed and flashes Slow Down if you're over the limit.

        On quiet winter days it's not unusual to see it showing 8 or 9 km/h as it clocks the snowflakes drifting past...

      2. Imhotep

        Ozark Mountain Dare Devils

        This was told to me by my Father In Law, an EE for the utility involved, so I apologize in advance if I've misstated any part of his story.

        The electrical company he worked for was having the microwave comm to a power plant drop out in the morning, then come back on. They found out the problem was caused by a morning mist in the in the area interrupting the signal, so they raised the equipment. Which worked to a degree, in that communication dropped off later in the morning, and then came back on. Found out that the mist would form, then rise, so the solution was to duplicate the equipment at different heights on the same tower so they could switch from one to another as needed.

        This was probably for the Taumsauk power plant in Missouri, which is quite interesting in itself. They leveled off the top of the highest mountain in the state, drilled a hole down through the middle, and built a reservoir on top. At the bottom were turbines, so you had a giant battery. During the day, water flowed down from the reservoir spinning the turbines and generating electricity. At night, the turbines pumped water from the river below up in to the reservoir.

        We have some fascinating photos of the project in progress during the 60's and used to have some core samples. There is something unsettling looking at a huge sheet of water on top of a mountain stretching out in to the distance - like the world's largest infinity pool. FIL also had some great stories on building the plant - or battery.

        1. anothercynic Silver badge

          Re: Ozark Mountain Dare Devils

          Didn't that one have an upper reservoir failure??

          1. Imhotep

            Re: Ozark Mountain Dare Devils

            It did. They had sensors to monitor the water level. At one point through relays i the controls had been replaced by electronic controls, which failed. The combination of high water level combined with wave action - yes, it was that large a body of water - caused a breach. You can imagine what that much water coming down a mountain can do.

            My FIL had retired by then, and thought it was idiotic to replace the tried and proven relays.

            He may have had a point. I remember IEEE Spectrum having an article about the difficulties the NYC subway system was having in finding a suitable substitute for relays that had been in place for over a 100 years.

    3. Cuddles

      Re: Ah, those laser links....

      "Solution - move the transmitter further up the window!"

      Or get a more powerful laser.

      1. big_D Silver badge

        Re: Ah, those laser links....

        Pigeons with frickkin' lasers! Moaahahaha!

        1. Andytug

          Re: Ah, those laser links....

          Sounds like you're trying to engineer some sort of military coup.....

          1. Outski

            Re: Ah, those laser links....

            Or a military coo...

            ok, not a pigeon, but still... ---------------------------->

            1. Charlie van Becelaere

              Re: Ah, those laser links....

              Or a military coop...

      2. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

        Re: Ah, those laser links....

        Or a 600W microwave backup.

        1. Jim Mitchell

          Re: Ah, those laser links....

          "What's the cafe serving for lunch today?"

          "Microwaved squab."

    4. Gnoitall

      Re: Ah, those laser links....

      The critter was just testing fallback to RFC1149 transport.

  4. DailyLlama

    Building to building WiFi

    We had two buildings separated by a busy road, and instead of an expensive cable being laid, involving stopping traffic, digging up the road etc, someone decided to install two line of sight wireless devices.

    Which was fine, until the car dealership next door had a delivery, and the triple decker car transporter parked in front of it...

    1. Kevin Lomax

      Re: Building to building WiFi

      Similar sort of thing. Two buildings linked by a (what was then a fast) 10Mbps line of site microwave link. Worked fine for years until they started building new student flats in the path. The flats weren't the issue - they were below the level of the link.

      But there were using a pretty big crane. And again that wasn't that' much of an issue as it wasn't directly in line (which is probably a good thing for the operator). But occasionally we'd lose the link, and what transpired was that they would be lifting 8 foot by 10 foot pre-cast concrete sections into place, however in true construction site fashion the crane operator would have to have his mandatory cup of tea every so often and he'd leave one of those sections hanging directly in line of the link.

      So we had our lucky industrial placement guy nip over and have a quick word with the foreman each time - and to be fair they were very good about it and just nudged the blockage out of the way.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Building to building WiFi

      Picture if you will a huge barn of a building with stcks of laboratories like postal cubies on the sides. Down the center was an overdized pick and place transfer room. Well more like an elevator that moved on the X Y axis for equipment and material transfer.

      Part of the design was s laser data link fom one side to the other since the lift didn't allow room for cables anywhere near it.

      System never went past commissioning since the lift rest position had it's vertical rails in line of sight of the laser.

      They only solution that didn't require major structural changes was to trench and route everything under the executives car park to reach the far half of the building.

      1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

        Re: Building to building WiFi

        "trench ... the executives car park"

        Ho what a shame!

  5. hplasm

    In a night shift NOC job-

    For a High St Bank (remember those?) with 'branches' in parts of Africa, way out in what we might consider The middle of Nowhere, I used to deal with a very laid back chap, whose very name escapes me.

    He used to roam about the localities,, tending to the remote branches that were served with a VSAT (tiny dish) satellite connection back to HQ via Goonhilly. on the low roof of the buildings.

    Anyway, his favorite outage tale concerned a branch that had gone down, so he jumped in his 4x4 and set off, only to discover the dish had been eaten by a giraffe...

    --> No giraffe icons...

    1. Anonymous South African Coward Bronze badge

      Re: In a night shift NOC job-

      Ahhh, Africa.

    2. Solarflare

      Re: --> No giraffe icons...

      To be fair, the idea of a 6m tall penguin terrifies me.

      1. hplasm

        Re: --> No giraffe icons...

        "To be fair, the idea of a 6m tall penguin terrifies me."


        1. Stevie

          Re: --> Tekeli-li!!

          Have this e-beer Iä!

      2. Alistair

        Re: --> No giraffe icons...

        6m tall penguin is terrifying to you, just think what the sheep would think.....

    3. Jan 0 Silver badge

      Re: In a night shift NOC job-

      Ah, Barclays: buying up Africa one indebted property at a time. They're still at it, but I think the Chinese are better at that game.

    4. Korev Silver badge

      Re: In a night shift NOC job-

      >Anyway, his favorite outage tale concerned a branch that had gone down, so he jumped in his 4x4 and set off, only to discover the dish had been eaten by a giraffe...

      You mean the giraffe necked it?

    5. Pascal Monett Silver badge

      Re: the dish had been eaten by a giraffe

      You mean to say that they had installed a vegan dish ?

      Right, I'm going, I'm going !

  6. ChipsforBreakfast


    Got at call in the office one day that a point to point link we'd installed across a fairly large river had gone down. Remote troubleshooting proved futile, both sides of the link were up and transmitting but there was simply no signal between them. Figuring that someone had probably walloped one of the antenna (again!) an engineer was duly dispatched to go and realign the link and 'educate' whatever individual had ignored the 'No work at height without clearance' notice yet again.

    Fast forward an hour or so... engineer arrives and immediately diagnoses the problem - one very large, grey battleship floating at anchor right in the middle of the beam path. Ticket closed with the immortal words 'Not allowed to move the battleship'....

    1. Chloe Cresswell Silver badge

      Re: Battleship!

      We had a client who put in a pair of dlink 802.11g waps with external antennas to link and old and new building. Was about 150 metres. We warned them, the site director warned them...

      Worked fine till we had a cold night after a sunny day, and the (slight) valley filled up with fog off the river. Both end points were working, but the actual signal that got though was close to zero till the sun came up and the fog burnt off.

      They argued for a month into the autumn. Then paid for a fibre.

    2. big_D Silver badge

      Re: Battleship!

      We were doing a software installation at a dockyard. The customer had ordered shielded terminals, for obvious reasons. The hardware supplier decided that shielded was overkill, pocketed the difference and delivered standard terminals...

      All went well until somebody on a destroyer decided to test the radar in port, after they had repaired it... Queue a stack of dead terminals lining the wall and the supplier having to fork out for shielded replacements.

      1. Danny 2

        Re: Battleship!

        We had a very arrogant salesman who parked his very expensive company BMW at the Rosyth naval base without permission in a restricted area. When he was inside trying to make the sale the MoD blew his car up. He drove an Astra for the next year.

        1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

          Re: Battleship!

          Strictly speaking it doesn't count as blowing up. They just use explosive charges to open the doors, boot and bonnet from a safe distance. The write-off is just collateral damage.

          1. Alister

            Re: Battleship!

            "You're only supposed to blow the bloody doors off!!"

          2. diver_dave

            Re: Battleship!

            Not if a candle charge goes in after the pigstick.


          3. Phil O'Sophical Silver badge

            Re: Battleship!

            I remember getting kicked out of our Belfast office by a bomb scare because someone had parked a Dublin-registered car in a restricted zone. Controlled explosion had revealed no problems, just a tourist who couldn't read the signs. As we were walking back to the office we saw the car, now looking worse for wear (roof bulging upward, no windows, no boot lid) and an upset-looking woman standing beside a policeman who was in traditional pose, with his notebook out. As we passed the only words we heard were "but what am I going to tell my husband? It's his car".

            1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

              Re: Battleship!

              Ah yes, the not leaving an unattended car parked. My children got a good few trips into town whether they wanted to or not.

        2. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Battleship!

          I inadvertently parked in a restricted zone on a nato base (no markings on the tarmac and a van was blocking the sign\0.

          I pity the next person to use that hire car to visit the base

        3. sofaspud

          Re: Battleship!

          Back when I was a shaggy-haired teenager, I had a job delivering electronics for a local repair shop. Picking up broken crap to be fixed (TVs, VCRs, etc) and dropping off repaired items for "high-value customers".

          Customers like an officer at the local airbase.

          So I pull up to the guard post in my shitty Ford Tempo, backseat and trunk crammed full of electronic odds and ends, and the soldier on duty takes one look in the backseat and tells me to step out while they investigate my vehicle. Guns were not -- quite -- pointed at me, but there was a lot of tension, you might say.

          A couple hours later my car has been disassembled and is sitting in pieces while they discuss what to do, when the officer who I was supposed to deliver to pulls up wanting to know where the hell his delivery is.

          "Delivery?" says the guard.

          "That's me!" says I, and point at one of the VCRs with a service tag attached.

          To be fair, it took the motor pool less time to reassemble my car than it had taken to disassemble it in the first place.

          These days I imagine they'd just blow it up (quite possibly with me in it), but back then things were a bit more relaxed.

        4. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Battleship!

          Or as my friends at $work say "Don't piss off customers with explosives... or nuclear weapons"

          Anon for good reason.

        5. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Battleship!

          Was he still in the car at the time?

      2. Paul Cooper

        Re: Battleship!

        I worked with a 300MHz ice sounding radar measuring the depth of the ice around DYE 3 in Greenland. DYE 3 was still active at the time, pumping out classified amounts of wattage at megaHerz frequencies. As we were operating so far from their frequencies, we didn't anticipate any problems, especially as we were on the surface of the ice and they were looking for things in the air.


        There was so much interference that the high frequency D to A kit we were using could only operate at all if we housed all the equipment in a foil-lined instrument cabin on the back of a sledge. And even then, it triggered at the wrong point (fortunately always the same point) several times during an acquisition cycle. I spent quite a while figuring out post-processing techniques to remove the problem!

        We were investigating potential variations in the Gravitational Constant, so we needed good data.

  7. J.G.Harston Silver badge

    Hold on, he'd driven over to the base station and he had to look out of the windows of the office to notice it was snowing?

    1. big_D Silver badge

      Yeah, that part didn't jive.

      1. Stevie

        Yeah, that part didn't jive.

        "jibe", surely?

        Oh what the hell. I understood what you meant. Thank Azathoth's nebular niftiness that English has so many redundancies built in.

        And when push comes to shove, I could care less.

    2. ibmalone

      My reading was that in the process of driving over he had acquired this crucial information which the technician in the building was oblivious to (because it's hard to see out of a brightly lit room at night).

    3. Pascal Monett Silver badge

      Agreed. I took that to mean that, when he looked out of the window, he realized that snow could have something to do with it.

    4. VonDutch

      It didn't say that Dino was unaware of the snow. It was the engineer inside the building that was unaware so didn't think to look for tripped dish heaters.

      Dino's superior knowledge of the inclement weather saved the day...

      1. Nick Kew

        It was snow joke. But only Dino saw.

  8. big_D Silver badge

    Wind and rain...

    I worked for a large UK conglomerate in the late 80s and through the 90s.

    Just before I joined, their Addlestone data-centre was in an old bus depot. One night it rained in Biblical proportions and the whole roof caved in. The ops were running round ankle deep in water and knee deep in rubble. The disaster recover procedures were well and truly put to the test that night.

    In 1989 the second big hurricane hit the UK and in our little 2nd world war wooden cabins in Titchfield, the walls were flexing in and out and the windows were bowing. We were seriously thinking about going outside and driving home as it would be safer than sitting in this contraption built out of matchsticks!

    Just then, I happened to look out the window and looked on in awe as the roof of the new data centre next door lifted up in the air in one piece, lifting up from one end, going vertical, then landing, in one piece, on its back in the car park, making pancakes out of the cars parked there.

    We quickly rushed next door to see if anyone was hurt. The glass wall in the stairwell seemed to have been blown out and that caused an updraught that picked up the roof and smacked it down in the carpark. The data centre itself was still intact, but we found the office workers on the top floor still cowering under their desks. Luckily nobody was seriously injured, just very shaken. We took them back to our rickety structure and gave them coffee.

    I was then sent back to the debris strewn office to see if I could find any license agreements and other important documents...

    In the '87 storm, I was working at Portsmouth Station, on the pier, selling tickets from a porta-cabin perched on the waterfront, selling tickets for the Isle of Wight ferry. There were no trains to work that day (trees on the line), so I hitched a lift in one of the mail vans that was waiting at Fareham station to get over to Portsmouth station - we didn't realize at that time that it was a full blown hurricane with 112 Knot (~130mph) winds. Rescuing ferries and fastening loose pieces of buildings and walkways made the day very interesting.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Wind and rain...

      I and friends took the day off college and enjoyed being blown around the top of portsdown hill that day with our opened jackets as sails. Good times.

      1. Paul Kinsler

        Re: Wind and rain...

        Not IT or even UK related, but once upon I time I was out with a university club for what had been the worlds dullest, calmest possible day of sailing on any Brisbane reservoir known to man. Except later in the afternoon, a cloud appeared and the breeze picked up a bit. Hurrah! thought the more gung-ho sailors, who immediately commandeer all the boats they could and got back out on the water for a bit of speed over the water.

        Well, I say "cloud", and there was indeed only the one of them.

        Except it was not just any cloud, but a terrifyingly impressive cumulonumbus that had been marching eastwards from from the horizon, and so soon thereafter the storm driven horizontal driving rain kicked off, with an attendant lightshow. Apparently it was quite exciting out there on (and in) the water, until the sails, masts, and hulls left for pastures new. Pastures, as in no longer necessarily still anywhere near the actual reservoir, but visiting nearby livestock.

        I'd taken shelter under a boat up on blocks by the lakeside - I was probably rather lucky it wasn't one of the ones blown over, else I might have undergone an inadvertent kinetic slimming programme.

        Fortunately the club was insured, and I'm sure the claim laid out quite clearly how suddenly the storm had appeared. Out of nowhere, I imagine.

    2. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

      Re: Wind and rain...

      '87 we bodyshopees got into work (in my case after a long pause at Ruislip) but a lot of the staff didn't. '89 must have been the one that took the roof of one wing of my daughter's school. Like you, they watched out of the window while it sailed away.

      I can't remember which one blew down the lime tree in Euston Square. I intended to go out and pick up a few slices of it (SWMBO had taken up wood carving at the time) but it had all been cleared away. A pox on efficiency!

      1. Steve Kerr

        Re: Wind and rain...

        Somebody I used to know was such a sound sleeper, he heard nothing, he woke up in the morning to no electricity, bits of buildings and trees scattering the road and nothing moving. He thought he'd slept through a nuclear holocaust!

        I was 2 weeks into my first job, made it to Holborn on a bus to get into an office with no electricity. Got my introduction into powering up a VAX 8600 when the electric came back on. I was the only IT person that made it on site so started it all up with my 2 weeks of VMS experience.

        1. Imhotep

          Re: Wind and rain...

          We live in Tornado country and have a steel shelter in the garage. Every time we get an alert, invariably at night, my wife takes the dog and they go in to the shelter until all clear.

          I stay in bed because when I it's my time to go, I'd like to die peacefully in my sleep. Hope I don't ever have to find just how peaceful that particular exit scenario is.

        2. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

          Re: Wind and rain...

          We'd not long moved into that particular house in '87 so thought that maybe that particular whistling noise was an acoustic quirk of the building. Discovered otherwise in the morning.

    3. Boris the Cockroach Silver badge

      Re: Wind and rain...

      I was working at Whale island in portsmouth the day of the storm (I say working.. but employed by the MoD)

      There was a temp structure built for some big wigs show a couple of weeks before and they had not got around to taking it down.

      Then the '87 storm hit and helpfully piled it up at the east end of the parade ground ready for the scrappies to cut it up and take away.

      '89 storms were'nt as good ... I was way out in the boondocks struggling to keep the equipment going as the power spikes and dropouts rebooted everything every 5 minutes.....

      Mind you the blue sparks and flashes from where the 400Kv line crosses the downs were impressive...

    4. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Wind and rain...

      > little 2nd world war wooden cabins

      Well they WERE built to survive a world war... I'm sure the standard of construction was far better back then ("Good 'ol days" etc)

      Anyway, one of the things people here in Florida fail to understand is that your house will probably survive a hurricane (minus some roof shingles maybe) until a window gets busted. Then it pressurizes and blows to bits, resulting in the piles of matchsticks you see on the news.

      1. big_D Silver badge

        Re: Wind and rain...

        No, the huts were simple wood panel structures designed to meet the increased need for workers during the war. They were never designed to be bomb proof and not designed to have been left standing for over 40 years...

        To be honest, we were very lucky and our thanks should go to the guys who over-engineered these temporary buildings.

    5. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Wind and rain...

      I was a mainframe operator on the overnight shift that day. I could hear the wind howling outside but wasn't unduly perturbed until dawn when I could see the occasional roof slate whipping past horizontally. This could make walking back to my flat interesting, I mused. I then received a 'phone call from my boss asking if I'd mind working the next shift as well, as neither of the operators due for that shift could get in. Why no, don't mind at all, said I!

    6. Martyn 1

      Re: Wind and rain...

      I was contracting for a bank in London in the '87 storm. The only people who made it into the office were us contractors 'cos a day off costs money. All the permies took one look out of their bedroom windows and rolled over to go back to sleep, so there were no managers in. There was a power failure so we spent most of the day in "The Banker" (pub) with instructions to the nightshift ops (who had to double shift 'cos they couldn't get home) to come and get us when/if the power came back on.

  9. Danny 2

    Bug fixing

    I was on call and kept getting called in for a burglar alarm at my work 35 miles from my home. Took weeks to find that an insect or whatever had taken up home in one of the PIR sensors.

    Same job, all the computer comms went down to one office fairly often. Swapped out all the kit on both sides, tested the link, got BT in to test their ISDN line. Tested the links with an oscilloscope, a tone generator and a lovely meter. Nothing.

    Turned out some local citizen had shot into an overhead line with an airgun pellet, and it only shorted out the cable when the wind was blowing. That was three months on my life wasted, although I did eventually get a written apology from BT, probably the first time they ever apologised.

    1. Hans Neeson-Bumpsadese Silver badge

      Re: Bug fixing

      Took weeks to find that an insect or whatever had taken up home in one of the PIR sensors.

      Yeah...I've had a few times when it's taken me weeks to track down a bug in a system.

    2. phuzz Silver badge

      Re: Bug fixing

      I don't think we ever got an apology when the SDSL line we had in my old job went down. This was around ten years ago, and apparently ours was one of only three SDSL links left in the south west at that point.

      A few days after we put our fault ticket in, the line came back up with no explanation. After some shouting by my boss, they eventually told us that an engineer had been working on someone's ADSL line in our local exchange, and had seen our SDSL line all wired up "wrong", so helpfully he rewired it to look like an ADSL circuit.

  10. Pascal Monett Silver badge
    Thumb Up

    I love reading On Call comments

    You learn the damnedest things.

    1. sbt

      You learn ...

      ... for example to ask the question "What have you tried already" before calling it fixed. That way you find out about the on-site chap turning up the gain.

    2. Killfalcon Silver badge

      Re: I love reading On Call comments

      I log the time as Continuous Professional Development.

  11. Alister

    Transmission Bus

    I think I've posted this before, but it seems relevant:

    Back in the early eighties, I worked on communications links for radio repeaters for public utilities and emergency services radios.

    We had a rural repeater site on top of a hill, which had a microwave link to another repeater site on another hill about ten miles away. in between the two were a number of other ranges of hills, but all just low enough that line-of-sight was maintained.

    This microwave link worked fine for a number of years, and then suddenly began to fail intermittently but always around the same time on a Thursday afternoon. It didn't happen every week, but say every two weeks.

    After a lot of investigation, and a complete replacement of equipment at both ends, it was discovered that on one of the intervening hills was a small country lane which went over the brow of the hill more or less in line with the line-of-sight link.

    Off that lane was a sort of lay-by or turning circle, which was used by the local bus service to turn round at the end of one of their routes.

    The buses would drop off at their last stop lower down the valley, and drive up and turn round, and then wait for half an hour before starting the next run.

    Turns out that most of the time, they used a single decker bus on that route, but Thursdays were market day, so they used to put a double-decker on the route on that day. If it happened to park at a certain spot in the lay-by, it used to neatly break the line-of-sight between the two repeater towers.

    The only reason we found out about this was that we set up a temporary intermediate link (a van with a couple of dishes on it) in that lay-by whilst we were testing, and the bloke saw the bus come and park up whilst he was there, otherwise we could still have been looking!

    The microwave antenna on both of the masts was at the very top of the mast, so couldn't be raised, but we managed to build an extension for the antenna on the other mast, and re-align the path just enough that it would be above the possible obstruction.

    1. Cian Duffy

      Re: Transmission Bus

      I was asked to figure out why a point to point link between two sites of a medical centre - roughly 150m down and across a city street - were dropping out a few times an hour with "no discernible pattern".

      After sitting on the roof beside the link for some time waiting to see what happened, I found that the person seeing no pattern was either comparing hour to hour or not applying any level of fuzzing to what could be seen day to day. There was a railway overbridge between the two sites, and the drops were when a train got in the way. Trains run a bit off timetable all the time so there would be slight variance in times.

      Raising the masts permanently would have needed planning permission; but we did it temporarily while ordering cable internet to both sites

  12. Stuart Castle Silver badge

    Ahh, Microwave links

    We used to have them where I work. Been long since replaced with all buildings (AFAIK) being linked by fibre now.

    We have a building in Chatham that was linked to our buildings in London via Microwave link. Actually, IIRC, it was two, with the link from woolwich actually ending up somewhere on the other side of the Thames, which boosted and re-transmitted the signal to London. Something to do with buildings in the way.

    One of the network techs used to joke you could work out the route the link took by looking at the piles of dead sparrows.

  13. Jimboom

    2 Buildings with PTP link between them.

    One building was the head office and the other was a warehouse. After a weekend of torrential rain we got a call to say they had no signal on the warehouse end. Checked the PTP unit on HQ end, seemed fine but no other end showing. As I was realatively new I hadn't a clue where the other side was plugged in other than being told "it's up on that side of the building".

    So after much running around and being shouted at by people for the outage (as well as a quick trip around the warehouse on a cherry picker) we finally found the box that the unit connected back to, only to find a rather wet port. Turns out that it was using POE but when it was installed nobody has installed a loop in the cable.. so when the rain came down it ran straight down the cable and into the POE adapter. Took out the unit as well as the adapter.

    Fun times.

    1. Ex-PFY

      Re: 2 Buildings with PTP link between them.

      That loop at the bottom should be more common knowledge/practice. I imagine PoE getting more popular with IoT and gigabit everything.

  14. W4YBO

    Intermittent interruptions

    Reposted due to relevance...

    I tried for several weeks to diagnose an intermittent interruption in a Scientific Atlanta digital satellite receiver. Usually only on Fridays before lunch, but occasionally randomly throughout the week. Worked out to be two causes. First was the guy with a spark transmitter cleverly disguised as a Weedeater brand string trimmer. It generated every frequency from DC to Light and would swamp the LNA on the dish antenna. Had the disk jockey on duty flag the guy down just before the top of the hour to give him a ten minute break, so we could get through the top-of-hour newscast. The second cause (random throughout the week) was a private plane at the local airport that just had a radar altimeter installed. When he would fly over, his radar's outgoing pulse would overload the LNA and knock a three second hole in the received audio.

    1. DBH

      Re: Intermittent interruptions

      I'm curious how you discovered the plane one?

      1. W4YBO

        Re: Intermittent interruptions

        We were installing a new three meter dish on the roof and had several outages that week. Chatting over a few pints of ‘brain lube’ and including a cohort that was familiar with aviation electronics got me on the trail. Then asked the boss to make inquiries at the local general aviation airfield.

  15. Oengus

    Down Under experience

    In the 90's I worked for a major bank. We had our main data centre in the 'burbs some 20km away from the backup data centre. We had a microwave point to point link on the top of both buildings. This link had proved to be very reliable for a couple of years and one day we started to get irregular short term issues with the link. The link would drop out for a short period and then start operating normally. By the time the support team could respond to the fault the link would be operational again. The ops team logged the issues and it was found that the outages only happened between 08:00 and 16:00 on most "regular" work days and never at night. After a couple of months they noted that there were also no outages every second Friday but didn't think much of that. One day there was an extended outage. This time the support team was able to get on site while the outage was happening. One of them went up to the tower and looked towards the backup site. lo and behold they saw a crane on a building site that was crossing the microwave path. This day it was "parked" at lunch time in just the correct position to interfere with the link. The reason that there were no outages every second Friday - that was the builders rostered days off. We arranged to have the crane raised and had no more issues with the link.

  16. Antron Argaiv Silver badge


    I'm a radio ham, and when I was a member of the local club, we got a call from an acquaintance at the FCC, who told us about a very angry older woman who thought we were jamming her TV. A couple of us with RF troubleshooting experience went over to her house one evening to (a) convince her we were on her side and (b) witness the problem, which was as she had described it: the TV was totally unwatchable on any channel. For about a half a minute. Then, perfectly watchable for the next hour and a half.

    Broadband interference, we thought to ourselves. But no idea as to the source. Eventually, we talked her into allowing us to watch the TV one evening and quickly cycle the circuit breakers in her basement. It took several hours of waiting for the interference, trying a breaker or two, then waiting for the next bout of interference....

    And the culprit was...the thermostatic controller for the electrically controlled valve on the gas feed to her hot water heater. The contacts were arcing, making an excellent spark gap transmitter. Gas company notified, new valve installed (at no charge), and the lady became a huge fan of those strange "ham" radio people. And thanks from our contact at the local FCC office for clearing the issue off their books.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Jammers

      We moved next door to an older couple, who were very nice at first. Then the old lady was made to retire from her job at the local school, and became very bitter. One day she complained (amongst other things) that we were causing interference to her television with our CB radio. We told her that we didn't have a CB radio, but that didn't make any difference. To punish us, she tuned a radio to a quiet station and placed it with the loudspeaker against the party wall with the volume turned up to 11, so that every ten minutes, we were subjected to a ten second roar of interference. One day her granddaughter remarked "What's that awful noise in your front room?" Her reply was "I have to put up with that 24 hours a day". My brother in law, an electronics engineer, brought a Radio Direction Finder round and plotted where the signal was coming from. It appeared to be coming from halfway along the wall in their front hall, so I informed her husband and son, but she didn't believe them, and continued to rant at us. One day, we received a visit from an inspector from the Environment Agency, apparently she had made an official complaint, and they had sent him round to remonstrate with us. He was very surprised to be cordially invited into our house and offered a cup of tea. I explained what was going on, and where the interference was being generated, and I demonstrated that, even with our incomer main switch switched off, and the house electrically dead, we were still getting the roaring noise every ten minutes, so it couldn't have been generated by anything we were doing. He went round and told her that she was breaking the law by having the radio so positioned, and made her disconnect it and remove it from the wall. He then told her that it was her thermostat that was the culprit, and he then left. We then heard her say in a very loud voice "You may have been able to pull the wool over his eyes, but you can't fool me". Some while later, while she was in town, her son surreptitiously replaced the thermostat with a new one, and the interference ceased. Her comment was "Thank goodness you've stopped using that %*&^%$ CB radio".

  17. Anonymous South African Coward Bronze badge

    Early 1990's had a client in Centurion. Anybody who'll know Timber City, will know them.

    Anyways, they had a big shop and a 2-storey building separated by a roadway which trucks was using for deliveries.

    A CAT5 cable ran from the server room (on the 2nd floor) all the way down to the road, then underneath it, crossing over to the shop section, then up and then through the wall, terminating in a wall box, and a 16 port switch.

    Can't recall when, but one evening we had a lovely thunderstorm, most possibly the same one Bilbo and the dwarves were stuck in going over the Misty Mountains.

    Anyway, next day the shop manager phoned us and asked us to come out and take a shufty at their network, nothing is working.

    So off we toddled, and on arrival we found some impressive traces of arcing inside the wall box, and a dead switch. The server, surprisingly (Netware 3.12) only lost one network card and was fine otherwise.

    A new cable was duly pulled (fiber this time) and we never had any repeat of lightning strikes.

    Lightning is a weird beastie.

    1. Antron Argaiv Silver badge

      Ethernet is *supposed* to be transformer isolated on the cable. Supposedly.

      I live on a hill. Occasionally, lightning pays a visit. It has never come in, but it has stopped by to say "hi".

      I have lost well pump controllers, garage door openers, VOIP boxen and several network switches (my house is hardwired).

      Basically, you want to buy a used commercial grade rack-mount network switch off the 'bay, rather than one of those 8-port consumer models in the plastic case with the plug-in wallwart. Because the plastic ones don't have sh*t for isolation between the cable and the delicate electronics, while the commercial grade ones were actually designed to meet the isolation spec. I'm currently running an HP Procurve discarded from work. So far, so good.

      Can't help you with garage door openers. Seems to be a collusion between the manufacturers and the repair people. The surge is picked up on the long wires (which act as excellent lightning antennas) to the photobeam that watches for kids and pets.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward


        Lighning arcs for a mile or two over the air, transformers aren't much help for a direct hit. Good transient suppression design can help out with indiced currents from nearby strikes.

      2. H in The Hague

        "The surge is picked up on the long wires"

        I'm not an expert in this area, but using a cable twisted pairs (i.e. networking cable) might reduce the induction effect (smaller loop area to pick up EMF). You could also try using shielded cable or putting the cable in metal conduit and earth/ground. But undoubtedly other Commentards will be better educated in this area.

    2. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

      "Lightning is a weird beastie."

      Our phone line is buried. The neighbours all have overhead lines. Back in mechanical dial days one of them got the phone fried due, presumably, to an induced current. I say fried because the dial was whitened & thickened rather like a fried egg.

    3. Cheshire Cat

      Lightning on phone lines

      Back when I was about 20, has a lightning strike on the local phone lines. The local BBS had 4 modems explode, and a huge blue spark leapt out of my USR 14k4 modem ... which then continued to work fine. The PC was undamaged too.

      1. Corp-Rat

        Re: Lightning on phone lines

        Got sent to a report of a customers phone not working. As I approached the address I noticed the main overhead cable hanging low and stopped for a look.

        Lightning had hit the cable and blown all the wires out the side of the sheathing.

        They were so neatly spaced, it looked like the lightning had got halfway through prepping for a splice joint then gone for a tea break.

        As I stood admiring the mess, other repair vans started turning up in response to the 100 customer fault reports.

        I passed my job back for attention of the cable gangs and cleared off.

  18. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    100w xmitter

    Given a bit more time, the 100w setting would have melted the snow off the dish...

  19. Annihilator


    I suspect we've all had similar issues with our satellite dishes on the sides of houses. I've certainly had signal issues in heavy snow - even without it settling fully on the dish.

  20. hayzoos

    Close the barn door

    On a visit to my dad's cousin's farm, I was asked to look at the issue with their modem. They would lose connection periodically. The phone company had already checked their lines. I was forewarned and came prepared with a spare modem and cables, including a 50 foot long RJ-11 POTS cable. When I started, it was not acting up. We chatted perused the net and such. My dad's cousin said he had to get some chores done out at the barn and went. We still saw no issues. We noticed the horses were out in the pasture and then the connection was getting flaky and dropped. I proceeded to troubleshoot, using my modem, my serial cable, using my 50 foot cable to connect directly to the outside phone box to eliminate the house wiring as the issue. No change, connections still failed. As I was disconnection the 50 foot cable from outside, I noticed their overhead POTS service line crossed the pasture diagonally on two poles. When I came inside I asked about the pasture fence, and when it was electrified. We shut off the fencer and modem connection was fine, problem found but not solved.

    Dad's cousin was an electrician. Instead of re-routing the service line around the pasture, he added a ground line to the poles about a foot below the service line. It worked like a charm.

  21. Keith Oborn

    Early days of UK commercial internet-

    A certain very early commercial ISP in the UK had a single backbone link that happened to include a microwave hop. Same problem: snow. Their first ever trouble ticket read "All connectivity lost. Cause: wrong sort of snow on the Internet".

  22. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Brushing snow off a large dish

    Did that once myself with the dish set to low elevation (to make it easier) and after a few times brushing I was knee deep on the snow that fell off it.

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