Sunday, July 14, 2013

I really could have used some mesh communications gear last weekend

(Please also take a look at our crowd-funding campaign at

Last weekend my family and I stayed down at Second Valley, an hour and a half drive from home in Adelaide.  It is a popular beach holiday spot, with a variety of beach shacks, permanent homes and farm land.

We arrived Friday night in the rain, only to discover that the power was out.  There are a lot of trees around the area, and with the woolly weather it was quite possible that a one had fallen across the power lines somewhere, and so given the late hour we figured we would just get ourselves and the kids into bed in the dark, and worry about it in the morning.

What we didn't know until after, was that the problem was the power junction on the property filling up with rain water, and so no crew was going to be called out automatically:

This box should have been full of electricity, not water.

We soon discovered that our assumption that the local infrastructure would be available had caused us to be quite poorly prepared.  We only had our mobile phones and a laptop computer for light sources, and hadn't bothered to fully charge any of them.

This was a bit of a problem as our little people still needed story time, and some light in the room to get to sleep.

But electricity wasn't all we were without, because water makes its way from this tank:

The rain tank

 Through this electric pump:
The water pump

And into this rather vital household appliance:

The toilet
Fortunately we could use a bucket to fill the cistern from the water tank. Oh yes, and the septic system is electric as well, so even using buckets to operate the cistern we were only buying time before the manure hit the, well, lawn.

The gas stove also had an electric starter, but fortunately we had a gas lighter, and could at least boil water.

To add to the challenge, there is no land-line phone in the house, and the mobile phone coverage is of the kind that requires you to stand on the toilet seat and make a strange face, or stand outside facing 17 degrees NNW and hold the phone exactly three Royal Cubits above ground level to get signal.

This made it a difficult proposition to call the electricity network to find out when the power would come back.  So we weathered the night, but in the morning there was still no power.  But there was still rain.

After eventually making the call standing in the rain, we were informed that a work crew had been dispatched and would come as soon as they were able.

They did eventually turn up, but only after they had tried to call us, and as far as we can work out, didn't come immediately because they couldn't get in touch with us to make sure we would be home.

All in all, the lack of effective communications meant that we were without power for probably 12 hours longer than necessary.

So here I am running a crowd-funding campaign for mobile mesh telephony, and so I should be amongst the most prepared in the event of things going wrong communications wise.

But of course I hadn't bought any gear along with me, not a mesh extender, or even a mesh-cellular gateway made of duct-tape, so that I could at least have waited inside for the call back from the power company.

Maybe next time I go away, I will actually carry the tools I make.  

This is also why it is important that we make the Serval Mesh useful, even when things aren't going wrong, so that people are carrying it and know how to use it when the need arises.

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