Notes from Windward: #71


Extending our LAN

a square LAN wifi antenna

     One of our goals is to use technology to collect and store data, calling one of us to check on things that are unusual, freeing us to spend that time on construction instead. One example would be to have a depth meter on our 3,000 gallon water tank, sending readings back to the main computer and sending out an alert when the level falls below a certain depth or falls constantly over an extended period of time‒like when a faucet gets left running.

     Last year we switched to for our Internet and phones, significantly cutting our monthly costs on those two services and decided to invest some of the savings on increasing our LAN, which is short for a local area network.

a tunnel through the trees
     Even before the switch to we had LAN lines connecting three main computing areas using the maximum run of CAT5 cable and switches at several stations to send the signal on to the next area. This expansion will allow more of our housing units to be connected to the web and each other. The problem is the distance between the housing areas and our current computing areas‒over 500 feet. That distance is too long for a single run of CAT5 cable so we started researching how to send a signal that distance without a switch.

     We decided to install directional panels at both ends and I started clearing a window through our forest. I got a chance to take my chain saw skills up a notch as I removed some oak trees then limbed the conifers to create the wifi tunnel.

the square LAN antenna installed
     With the forest opened up a bit I installed the directional panels and with some troubleshooting as well as help from our Away Team computer experts we now have wifi at five of our cabin sites. This connection will also allow us to run CAT5 cable to other areas as well.

     Oh, I also want to mention that the sheep are doing their part. Oak trees continuously grow from the roots so when you cut one down several come up around the trunk. The sheep are enjoying these tender shoots and reducing our spring task list.


     This project offers a good insight into the way we're weaving old and new technology to create a bridge from the consumer age we're coming from to an age of sustainable systems. Obviously, we'd never be able to build the components of a LAN system on site, just as we'd never be able to produce the neodymium magnets that form the heart of the axial flux alternators we'll be using to produce our own electricity.

     That doesn't change the reality that those components are available now, and that using them will enable us to move more quickly towards developing sustainable systems than we otherwise could. Our path involves leveraging current techonology in order to explore various ways to achieve a greater degree of sustainability down the road.

     Because of the research nature of much that we're doing, we have to be prepared to try a number of things that will ultimately turn out to provide unsatisfactory results; research being what you do in order to learn, and all too often, what you learn the most about are the limits of one's understanding. Leveraging technology of all sorts is a key way we "buy time and room" to try a range of things in order to keep what works better, and discard the rest.

     While our goal is to achieve a critical mass of sustainable systems such that we can take substantive control over our foundational systems, we understand that there are real limits to how self-reliant we can hope to become. And so, we're also working on systems which we hope will enable us to engage in trade with those who are likely to be able to produce things we can't.

ginseng coming up for its third year's growth

     For example, those neodymium magnets are made in China, a country with a long history of purchasing ginseng. And so, to ensure our access down the road to Chinese products, we're learning to grow ginseng. It's a plant that's well suited to our climate, and while it takes ten years to grow to maturity, the Asian market for it is huge. In 2011, mature gensing roots sold for over $700/lb.

Notes From Windward - Index - Vol. 71