‘GATR in the wild’ or ‘Star Wars and GATR’s’

by Jon Thompson on January 30, 2009

A GATR in Afghanistan

I apologize for the extended absence but I’ve been getting hammered by a cold and while I did manage a few posts earlier in the week I haven’t bothered to check if they are actually readable.  I apologize if they are incoherent babble.  I have an appointment with a doc today so I am home for a bit before heading to the hospital.  Hopefully, they’ll give me something to kill whatever I’ve got.  Weird thing is I am pretty sure my new doc is the husband of a childhood friend.  Strange how small the world gets as we get older.

I remember once sitting down at a table outside of a shwarma shop in Jerusalem next to a nice looking guy with a camera who was clearly a tourist.  It was the early 90’s and I was visiting a friend who was studying at the university in Tel Aviv.  I had just made my way to Israel from Yemen through Eritrea, Sudan and Egypt.  Come to think of it I passed through Rafah at one point and just remember the intensity of the border check process on the Israeli side.  They seemed like Disneyland employees with guns with their blue and white uniforms and incredibly serious demeanor.  Nice enough people just don’t ever leave your bag unattended when filling out the necessary forms.

So, I am sitting at this table and start chatting with this guy while waiting for my friend to come back with the shwarmas that I had forgotten to pack with pickles and all the other good stuff.  It turns out he lives two doors down from my grandmother in the town I grew up in and, to top things off, I saw him again at the county fair the following year.  That was too much so I just avoided him but I still remember him standing there, silhouetted by the Star Wars exhibit with cardboard cut-outs of Stormtroopers and Chewbacca towering over him.  Ok, I am completely off my rocker.  How did I manage to mention Chewbacca and Disneyland in a story about VSAT’s in Afghanistan?  Ok, what the hell, I just saw this and it is the perfect cherry for my nutty sundae:

WTF!?

So that I don’t crucify myself with post I’ll just get to the point.  I was reading this Danger Room post and decided to click through on the links to the Fab Lab website.  I noticed in one of their posts that they are using GATR‘s, the VSAT beachballs, and did a searched for all related posts.  What I found was a pretty good collection of real life experiences with the GATR system.  I have been critical of GATR’s in the past.  In all fairness to the GATR team I have never had to use the system.  However, I am not sure these posts paint a very rosy picture of the system.  For example:

The plan is to test out the new LNB (and modem) on the existing small ball, which is probably fine though really looking bedraggled.  Inshallah with pretty much a brand new everything (LNB, BUC, modem) we’ll find the s/c and ping the world… then take a deep breath and dismantle the feed to move it to the big ball and hope we find the s/c again.

GATR thinks the LNB might have been damaged when the entire feed fell off the ball in a big windstorm.  It’s perplexing because this thing – about the size of a piece of “sidewalk chalk” – is just a solid rectangle, no moving parts and it doesn’t have an obvious ding or scratch marks on the surface.  We’ll ship it and the smaller ball back to Alabama for a post-mortem.

Shipping pieces to Alabama?  Ugh.  Here’s another gem:

As far as I know that has been the only ball-related outages but there are other humans here with knowledge of the ball and as I mentioned I haven’t been here during the day for the past few days.
Due to visa and flight issues with our inbound travellers, I have been making trips to Kabul and haven’t gotten a chance to call the NOC to do the Tx peaking.  I’ll do that tomorrow AM; I got $40 in phone cards today so I should be able to sustain a few minutes’ call to the NOC.

$40 for a few minutes?  I remember sitting in the Chadian desert burning Thuraya minutes talking to Australia while trying to figure a problem with our Inmarsat RBGAN.  Not a lot of fun.  I am wondering if there isn’t a competent VSAT installer in Kabul, or even Jalalabad, who provide service and who you could call for tech support.  (Anyone? Anyone?)  Seems like a legacy system might still be the best bet if they are available.  I’ve never worked there so I’ll rely on local wisdom.

I am hoping that Amy will somehow magically find this post and let me know if there are other VSAT options in Jalalabad.  Kudos to her and her team for fighting the good fight.  One thing is for sure, if you don’t have someone on your team as technically competent as Amy it looks like you are going to be up a creek if you just dropped $50,000 on a GATR and lugged it out to the field.

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The folks at Fab Lab really like their GATR! | Aid Worker Daily
February 1, 2009 at 8:24 pm

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