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Archive for November, 2015
Balcony Scene (Or Unseen) Atop the World; Episode at Trade Center Assumes Mythic Qualities
Published: August 18, 2001
Called ‘‘The B-Thing” and produced by four Vienna-based artists known collectively as Gelatin, the book is demure to the point of being oblique. What little explanation it contains appears to have been scribbled in ballpoint. Among the photos and schematic drawings, there are doodles of tarantulas with human heads.
In short, the book belies the extravagance of the feat it seems to document: the covert installation, and brief use, of a balcony on the 91st floor of the World Trade Center, 1,100 feet above the earth. Eight photographs — some grainy, all taken from a great distance — depict one tower’s vast eastern facade, marred by a tiny molelike growth: a lone figure dressed in a white jacket, standing in a lectern-size box.
The contemporary art world, of course, is rife with acts of subversion followed by boasting, which is known as ”documentation.” In that context, the beauty of the balcony was that it so literally pushed the envelope. Yet since that Sunday morning in March 2000, when the balcony was allegedly installed and, 19 minutes later, dismantled, the affair has taken on the outlines of an urban myth, mutated by rumors and denials among the downtown cognoscenti.
Although the book appears to seek notoriety, the artists have gone coy. Their dealer, who witnesses say watched the event from a hotel suite, now claims it never happened. Either the balcony was an elaborate hoax meant to look real, or the inverse is true: it really happened, and the closer it comes to being found out, the more those involved would prefer for everyone to think it was a hoax.
In the spring of 2000, Gelatin and 14 other artists shared free studio space on the 91st floor, where the group’s artmaking appeared to consist of building a clubhouse out of cardboard boxes.
But Ali Janka, a member of Gelatin reached by phone in Vienna, said that the blindered view afforded by the narrow windows had inspired them to find a way to step outside. ‘‘After you have a certain idea, you can’t go back,” he said, ”because everything else seems very weak compared to it.”
Mr. Janka was happy to talk about the project, at least at first. After weeks of planning, he said, one night Gelatin — he, Florian Reither, Tobias Urban and Wolfgang Gantner — waited in the studio until dawn. At the appointed moment, the four, wearing harnesses, unscrewed the aluminum moldings that hold the window in place and used two large suction cups to remove the glass (air pressure adds about 300 pounds to the effort). As warm air streamed past, they outfitted the window with a cantilevered box, big enough for only one person at a time.
”The amazing thing that happens when you take out a window,” Mr. Janka said, ”is that the whole city comes into the building.”
Other artists in the studio have heard rumors of the balcony, but most are dubious. ‘I can tell you that it never happened,’‘ said Geoffrey Detrani, whose space was next to Gelatin’s. ‘‘To remove a window would be a pretty serious structural breach.”
But Gelatin, fearing expulsion from the country, had gone to great lengths to conceal their plot. The clubhouse afforded privacy and storage. By prior agreement, the group confiscated all film and video of the project taken by invited witnesses.
Still, how did a balcony escape the notice of one of the most security-conscious office towers in the world? An examination of the security system revealed that it was focused on the ground floor and basement, Mr. Janka said, adding, ‘‘There’s no surveillance on the facade itself.”
That is true, said Cherrie Nanninga, the director of real estate for the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which until recently ran the World Trade Center. Port Authority officials, shown a copy of ”The B-Thing” by a reporter, reacted with disbelief, then outrage. Although their own investigation turned up no evidence, Ms. Nanninga said, ‘‘we have no reason to believe it didn’t happen.”
Window removal is considered so dangerous that when it is done the streets below are cordoned off, she said. ”It was really a stupid and irrational act that in my view borders on the criminal,” she said, adding that the stunt had jeopardized the studio program, whose space is donated by the Trade Center.
Removing the window may have been dangerous, but according to Walter Friedman, the owner of Dependable Glass, which performs that service for the World Trade Center, it is not that difficult. All it takes is four guys, some readily available equipment — and nerve, Mr. Friedman said.
Nerve is not something Gelatin lacks. They specialize in projects that require participants to sign a waiver.
In a piece called ”The Human Elevator,” strong men on scaffolding hoisted people to the roof of a three-story building in Los Angeles. And patrons in Munich were greased with baby oil and invited to slide naked down an esophaguslike chute formed by the bellies of a crew of overweight Germans.
Although Gelatin, which is representing Vienna in the Venice Biennale, has not shrunk from physical risk, they seem to think that merely discussing the balcony with a reporter was dangerous, perhaps because they are currently seeking permission to live on a vacant lot on Canal Street, as part of a forthcoming exhibition.
‘‘If you write about the balcony, maybe you can just not write about it too much,” Mr. Janka called back to say after the initial interview, the first of several calls protesting the appearance of an article, despite the fact that the artists had published the book.
To others involved in the project, it seemed reasonable that the appearance of ”The B-Thing” meant secrecy was no longer necessary. Josh Harris, the Internet entrepreneur once known for holding extravagant art parties, explained that Leo Koenig, the 24-year-old art dealer who represents Gelatin, got him involved.
The night before the B-Thing, Mr. Harris said, he rented a top-floor suite at the Millennium Hilton, across the street from the Gelatin studio, and invited people to what guests described as a night of decadence. Near dawn, he and several others took cameras and boarded a helicopter, communicating with Gelatin via cell phone.
‘‘We had to fly twice around the building before we could see them,’‘ said Mr. Harris, who is thanked in the book.
Afterward, Gelatin appeared at the hotel, where their success was toasted at a euphoric breakfast, according to five other witnesses, including Tanya Corrin, a video producer and writer, and David Leslie, a performance artist. ‘‘We just applauded the gutsy originality of it,” Ms. Corrin said. ”I think we all left feeling, wow, we just did something amazing, and nobody knows.”
Mr. Koenig now says the balcony never happened and, at any rate, he didn’t see it. The book, which costs $35 and was printed in a run of 1,200 copies, is meant to provoke questions about its veracity, he said.
At the suggestion that the project might have been faked, Mr. Harris seemed almost offended. He produced March 2000 credit card bills bearing charges of $2,167.44 from the Millennium Hilton and $1,625 from Helicopter Flight Service.
At about the same time that Mr. Harris was digging up proof, Gelatin was removing almost every trace of it from their Web site.
Moukhtar Kocache, the director of the studio program, insisted that the photos of the balcony were obviously faked. But digital manipulation experts disagreed. George Dash, the co-owner of Nucleus Imaging on East 30th Street, and a colleague, John Grasso, used magnifying loupes to examine a copy of ”The B-Thing.” Neither could detect inconsistencies. ”The angles are all too perfect,” Mr. Grasso said. ”It looks real to me. Absolutely. I’ve been doing this for 22 years.”
The balcony may be an art prank in the lineage of Yves Klein, who in 1960 disseminated a picture of himself leaping blithely out a window, an image revealed years later to be the product of deftly spliced negatives. But in its audacity, it seems more akin to tricksters who tested the limits of the World Trade Center in the 1970’s, including Philippe Petit, who walked a high wire strung between the towers.
‘‘This building needs things like that to happen, because otherwise it would die inside,” said Mr. Janka, who was under the impression that Mr. Petit had been deported for his action.
Although the Port Authority has not yet decided what, if any, action it will take against Gelatin, Mr. Janka might be relieved to learn that Mr. Petit, who still lives in New York, was simply required to give the city a free performance. He obliged by walking a tightrope to the top of the Belvedere Castle.
Photos: Members of Gelatin in 1998, when their exhibition at the P.S. 1 Contemporary Art Center included a 25-foot walk-up tower of discarded furniture parts. (P.S. 1); Photographs from ”The B-Thing,” a book produced by Gelatin, show someone on a temporary balcony on the World Trade Center, top; a drawing of the cantilevered balcony, above; and a view from inside the 91st-floor studio from which the balcony was hung, left. Unless the whole episode is a hoax, which some of those involved would prefer that people believe. So they say.
Source: News Spike: 9/11: Jumpers Inc.
Theranos, the Silicon Valley biotech startup founded by Elizabeth Holmes at age 19, is under close watch after a Wall Street Journal investigation was published in October.
The grassroots group Million Student March says affordable education is a human right.
New rules allow small investors to receive shares of a company in exchange for investments they make.
Entrepreneurs raising money through crowdfunding campaigns have typically rewarded their backers with early access to products and with tchotchkes like T-shirts and coffee mugs.
But under new rules adopted Friday by the Securities and Exchange Commission, they will be able to offer a prize that could be more lucrative: an equity stake in their business.
The rules will allow small investors to buy shares of private companies under the provisions of the Jump-Start Our Business Start-Ups Act. Until the change, equity crowdfunding had been legal only for accredited investors, or those who met required levels of assets and income.
President Obama called the bill, better known as the JOBS Act, “a potential game-changer” for fledgling companies, when he signed it more than three years ago. But the law stalled as regulators struggled to write rules stringent enough to protect investors but flexible enough to allow for meaningful fund-raising.
A set of draft rules released two years ago was widely criticized and deemed almost unworkable by many in the industry, who said that compliance would be too costly and complex. The rules adopted Friday had been substantially revised to address some of those concerns.
The new rules allow companies to raise up to $1 million in a 12-month period through a crowdfunding campaign. Companies will need to provide their potential investors with financial statements, but some first-time issuers and those seeking less than $500,000 will not be required to have the statements audited — an important concession for those concerned about the cost of providing audited financials.
Companies will be able to advertise their offerings in a variety of ways, including posting them on Kickstarter-like portals for investors to peruse. (Kickstarter has said that it is not interested in expanding into equity crowdfunding, though one of its top rivals, Indiegogo, said it is considering doing so.)
Dozens of investment portals have sprung up in recent years, but until now, only accredited investors — those with an annual income exceeding $200,000 or a net worth of at least $1 million — have been permitted to invest in most of the deals advertised on them.
Some of those portals now plan to expand into the nonaccredited market. SeedInvest, a site that has helped 50 funding deals in the last three years, expects to begin offering deals next year to a wider pool of investors.
“There’s no question that there’s a lot of pent-up demand from ordinary investors,” said Ryan Feit, the site’s chief executive and one of its founders. “At the end of the day, that means there will be more capital available for small business.”
The amount of money backers will be allowed to invest depends on their income. Those with an annual income or net worth of less than $100,000 will be allowed to invest up to $2,000 in a 12-month period, or 5 percent of the lesser of their income or net worth, whichever is greater. Those with an income and net worth of more than $100,000 will be permitted to invest up to 10 percent of the lesser of their annual income or net worth.
The equity shares they buy will be risky, illiquid investments. Investors will generally be required to hold on to the shares for at least one year, and there are not yet many marketplaces for those seeking to sell shares in private companies, which are difficult to value.
Some critics are deeply skeptical about the quality of the investments that will be available. “Ninety-nine percent of these deals will prove to be unprofitable,” said Andrew Stoltmann, a lawyer who specializes in securities fraud. “This is a disaster waiting to happen.”
Others counter that the new rules will allow entrepreneurs’ family, friends, customers and professional contacts to invest in ventures that they want to support.
“I think it’s going to really make a difference for businesses that are not especially fashionable for professional investors,” said James Dowd, the chief executive of North Capital Private Securities, a broker-dealer that focuses on private fund-raising. “They want to invest in companies that have the potential to be disruptive to an entire industry. You don’t see a lot of capital flow into ordinary consumer and retail businesses.”
The S.E.C. on Friday also proposed changes to several other fund-raising rules, including those governing intrastate offerings. More than 25 states have adopted their own crowdfunding rules to let local businesses raise money from residents within the state, often with fewer regulatory requirements than the federal rules. The commission suggested striking down a rule that blocked those intrastate offerings from being advertised to out-of-state investors — a quirk that prevented companies from publicizing their fund-raising campaigns on their own websites or on social media sites.
“It’s an absurd thing, but that’s what the law said. It was horrifying,” said Kendall Almerico, a lawyer who specializes in crowdfunding issues. “Fixing this is huge.”
The range of ways in which private companies can raise money from nonaccredited investors has significantly expanded this year. In June, new federal rules took effect allowing companies to raise up to $50 million through a provision known as Regulation A. Those deals carry stricter disclosure and compliance requirements than the crowdfunding process outlined on Friday, which is intended to be much cheaper and faster for issuers.
Taken together, the new federal and state rules give entrepreneurs a much wider set of options for raising money from a diverse pool of investors.
“I’m surprised at how far the S.E.C. went to make it all work,” said Douglas S. Ellenoff, a securities lawyer at Ellenoff Grossman & Schole. “The entrepreneur now has a series of very interesting choices and lots of different options for how they go about their capital formation.”
The S.E.C.’s four commissioners voted 3-1 on Friday morning to adopt the new crowdfunding rules, which are expected to take effect early next year.
Powered by radios in trees, homegrown network serves 50 houses on Orcas Island
When you live somewhere with slow and unreliable Internet access, it usually seems like there’s nothing to do but complain. And that’s exactly what residents of Orcas Island, one of the San Juan Islands in Washington state, were doing in late 2013. Faced with CenturyLink service that was slow and outage-prone, residents gathered at a community potluck and lamented their current connectivity.
“Everyone was asking, ‘what can we do?’” resident Chris Brems recalls. “Then [Chris] Sutton stands up and says, ‘Well, we can do it ourselves.’”
Doe Bay is a rural environment. It’s a place where people judge others by “what you can do,” according to Brems. The area’s residents, many farmers or ranchers, are largely accustomed to doing things for themselves. Sutton’s idea struck a chord. “A bunch of us finally just got fed up with waiting for CenturyLink or anybody else to come to our rescue,” Sutton told Ars.
Around that time, CenturyLink service went out for 10 days, a problem caused by a severed underwater fiber cable. Outages lasting a day or two were also common, Sutton said.
Faced with a local ISP that couldn’t provide modern broadband, Orcas Island residents designed their own network and built it themselves. The nonprofit Doe Bay Internet Users Association (DBIUA), founded by Sutton, Brems, and a few friends, now provide Internet service to a portion of the island. It’s a wireless network with radios installed on trees and houses in the Doe Bay portion of Orcas Island. Those radios get signals from radios on top of a water tower, which in turn receive a signal from a microwave tower across the water in Mount Vernon, Washington.
“I think people were leery whether we could be able to actually do it, seeing as nobody else could get better Internet out here,” Sutton said.
But the founders believed in the project, and the network went live in September 2014. DBIUA has grown gradually, now serving about 50 homes.
“It wasn’t that hard”
Sutton holds a drone he used to analyze potential radio locations.
Back in 2013, CenturyLink service was supposed to provide up to 1.5Mbps downloads speeds, but in reality we “had 700kbps sometimes, and nothing at others,” Brems told Ars. When everyone came home in the evening, “you would get 100kbps down and almost nothing up, and the whole thing would just collapse. It’s totally oversubscribed,” Sutton said.
That 10-day outage in November 2013 wasn’t a fluke. At various times, CenturyLink service would go out for a couple of days until the company sent someone out to fix it, Sutton said. But since equipping the island with DBIUA’s wireless Internet, outages have been less frequent and “there are times we’re doing 30Mbps down and 40Mbps up,” Brems said. “It’s never been below 20 or 25 unless we had a problem.”
Unlike many satellite and cellular networks, there is no monthly data cap for DBIUA users.
Sutton, a software developer who has experience in server and network management, says he’s amazed how rare projects like DBIUA are, claiming “it wasn’t that hard.” But from what he and Brems told Ars, it seems like it took a lot of work and creative thinking to get DBIUA off the ground.
“The part of Orcas Island we’re on looks back toward the mainland,” Sutton said. “We can see these towers that are 10 miles away, and you realize, ‘hey, can’t we just get our own microwave link up here to us from down there, and then do this little hop from house to house to house via wireless stuff?’”
One of StarTouch’s microwave backhaul towers.
The DBIUA paid StarTouch Broadband Services about $11,000 to supply a microwave link from a tower on the mainland to a radio on top of Doe Bay’s water tower. The water tank, at about 50 feet, is the only structure that’s high enough to create a point-to-point link to the mainland. It is owned by the Doe Bay Water Users Association, which let DBIUA install the radios and other equipment.
Sutton and friends set up Ubiquiti radios throughout the area, on trees and on top of people’s houses, to get people online. Sutton used Google Earth to map out the paths over which wireless signals would travel, and then the team conducted on-the-ground surveys to determine whether one point could reach another.
Flight of the drones
The rural Orcas Island has a lot of hills and obstacles that could disrupt the wireless signals, and it would have been “prohibitively expensive” for DBIUA to install its own towers. As such, many of the radios had to be installed in trees. Sutton had a solution for this as well—DBIUA would use a drone to determine whether a radio on a treetop could reach other points of the network.
Initially, the drone was equipped with a camera to determine whether the treetop could “see” the next radio in the network. Later, Sutton added radios to the drone itself so he could test the wireless signal at the treetop. When they confirmed a tree would work, “we hired the person to climb up the tree and install the radios,” Sutton said.
Most homes in the network have a radio on the roof or the side of the house that points to one of about 10 relay points, which have multiple radios for receiving and distributing signals. Relay points themselves can be on a tree, a pole, or on the side of a house.
“For some people, like me, the signal comes to my tree, and then down into my house to service me,” Sutton said.
A relay point has one radio to receive a signal and a couple more radios to send it in different directions. Each relay point is similar to the setup on top of the water tank.
Network status map.
A tree will generally have a box with DBIUA equipment, and Power over Ethernet (POE) cables going up the tree to the radios. POE cable also goes from the box “back to the closest power source, usually in someone’s home, and we can then provide that home a connection to the network,” Sutton explained. “In the person’s home is the power brick that puts power into the Ethernet cable,” providing electricity to the outdoor equipment. The system uses low-voltage power, with each radio requiring about eight watts.
The network uses 5.8GHz and 900MHz frequencies, and a little bit of 3.65GHz, mostly avoiding the crowded 2.4GHz band. All the connections need line-of-sight, “especially for 5.8GHz,” since the higher frequencies are more easily blocked, Sutton said.
There are now about 200 radios spread throughout the coverage area, and each homeowner who pays for service has a Wi-Fi router in the home to access the Internet.
Listing image by Chris Sutton
It can be done
Though DBIUA’s Internet service is a rarity, there are similar projects elsewhere. Brooklyn Fiber in New York was founded by two brothers to sell Internet access to the community. A volunteer project called the Red Hook Initiative buys Internet service from Brooklyn Fiber in order to provide free Wi-Fi.
In Germany, residents of a small town called Löwenstedt built their own Internet service. One Ars reader who lives in Norway personally installed fiber lines to his own property.
Want fiber Internet? That’ll be $383,500, ISP tells farm owner
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“There’s actually a thriving global network of community wireless initiatives—many of whom stay in regular touch and swap information on recent software advances, promising hardware, and innovative business models,” Sascha Meinrath, X-Lab founder and Penn State telecommunications professor, told Ars. There are such projects in Austria, Spain, and Greece, and another that serves tribal reservations outside San Diego, he noted.
Just like on Orcas Island, these projects came into being because residents were frustrated with Internet access options from private companies.
Private ISPs have demanded as much as $383,500 from residents who want service and live in sparsely populated areas. Some cities and towns have built their own Internet services, but laws in numerous states make that difficult. A law in Washington state “authorizes some municipalities to provide communications services but prohibits public utility districts from providing communications services directly to customers,” according to attorney James Baller of the Baller Herbst Law Group, who has been fighting attempts to restrict municipal broadband projects for years.
While CenturyLink is the main ISP on Orcas Island, a company owned by Orcas Power & Light Co-op (OPALCO) is building out a fiber network in the San Juan County islands. That company says construction will cost “$1,500 to $6,000 on average” for each home, and residents would be responsible for anything beyond the first $1,500.
DBIUA charges much less, but even its low prices “can be significant depending on your income,” Brems said. The DBIUA customers include “lots of retired people and people living off the land. We had to convince people we knew what we were doing,” he said.
StarTouch installing a microwave link at the water tower.
DBIUA spent about $25,000 in total to build the network, and an anonymous resident provided the money in a 3-year, interest-free loan. Residents paid $150 to become members of the DBIUA and $75 a month for Internet service, which goes toward paying down the loan. The monthly fees also cover the $900 a month DBIUA pays StarTouch for bandwidth.
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DBIUA needed 25 customers to pay the bills and stay afloat. At 50 now, the organization is paying the loan off a bit more quickly. Sutton hopes to lower the monthly price residents pay after the loan is paid off.
“We’re not making any money here, we’re just covering our costs,” Sutton said. Besides residents, DBIUA also provides Internet access to the water plant and the Doe Bay Resort. The water plant uses very little bandwidth, and the resort also has a fiber connection to OPALCO, he said. (DBIUA talked to OPALCO about purchasing fiber backhaul, but was unable to get wholesale rates, making it more economical to go with StarTouch, Sutton said.)
To prevent Internet slowdown, DBIUA builds slowly
DBIUA isn’t adding customers as fast as it can. Customers who signed up from the beginning got first priority.
“You had people who committed up front to say, ‘we’re going to help you jump start this,’” Sutton said. “The system is up and it’s really great and it’s fast and then you get a whole bunch of people who come in later and say, ‘oh, I wanted to wait and see if this is going to work and now I want on.’”
Sutton and friends don’t want to oversell the network and go down the same path as CenturyLink, which wasn’t able to provide even the meager 1.5Mbps download speeds it promised. They decided to take their time to add capacity before connecting everyone who wants service, but they expect to get up to 60 homes served by the end of the year.
The network port on the mainland that DBIUA connects to provides 100Mbps. Tests at the water tank show that the DBIUA network has real-world bandwidth of about 70Mbps down and up across the whole system.
There are no specific speed limits for each home, but the system automatically manages the load to prevent one person from hogging all the bandwidth.
“We monitor all the connections and if someone is using a lot of bandwidth for a long period of time, we talk to them and figure out what they are doing,” Sutton said. “Often times it’s people watching Netflix and then falling asleep and then it keep auto-playing things all night long.”
In practice, customers get the speed they need—at peak usage times, total bandwidth usage across the entire network is 30Mbps or so, well within the 70Mbps available.
“It’s really those teenagers that consume all the bandwidth,” Sutton said, describing his two kids “in the living room, and both of them are on their screens watching YouTube with a big smile on their face.”
The microwave connection to the mainland is strong enough to handle more subscribers, but adding homes to the network requires bolstering capacity in specific areas, Sutton explained.
No “waiting around for corporate America”
Capacity can be boosted by adding radios—or with some tree trimming. If there’s “a location where there was a tree in the way,” Sutton said, they’d “trim the tree so now we have better throughput there to manage more people.” The StarTouch link uses burstable billing, with prices going up the more they use.
CenturyLink’s promises “never came to fruition”
Sutton grew up on Orcas Island before living in Seattle for a while. He moved back to Orcas about eight years ago, telecommuting to his job in Seattle. “When the Internet connection was crappy I couldn’t do my job,” he said. “So this is personal.”
CenturyLink promised better speeds over the years “but that never came to fruition,” Sutton said. “Just waiting around for corporate America to come save us, we realized no one is going to come out here and make the kind of investment that’s needed for 200 people max.”
When contacted by Ars, CenturyLink said it upgraded its fiber backbone on Orcas Island in May and provides “up to 20Mbps” speeds “depending on where you reside in the island.”
But in the Doe Bay area, CenturyLink confirmed to Ars that it offers speeds only up to 1.5Mbps. The company also confirmed to Ars that “we are not currently adding broadband customers in Doe Bay.”
Doe Bay residents still buy home phone service from CenturyLink since DBIUA provides only Internet access. And a few DBIUA customers have even kept their CenturyLink DSL Internet as a backup in case DBIUA goes down.
But overall, CenturyLink’s poor infrastructure in Doe Bay is reminiscent of AT&T, which has refused to hook up homes in certain DSL areas where it hasn’t invested sufficiently in network. CenturyLink has gone so far as to tell customers who cancel their DSL service that they will not be able to start it up again, Brems said. “CenturyLink said, ‘we’ll take it off, but you’re never going to get back on.’”
The rest of the team
Brems, who works in advertising and marketing and is now mostly retired, lived in Seattle for more than 20 years before moving to Orcas Island about 15 years ago. He has been struck by the “can-do” spirit of the community, which in the past built its own water plant and fire station, he said.
“They didn’t wait for someone else to come along and say, ‘I can come and save you guys if you want,’” he said.
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While Sutton spearheaded the DBIUA project, others provided important expertise. Brems, for example, used his marketing knowledge to help convince people that the project could work and get the word out by writing press releases.
The other founders are Orcas Island airport manager Tony Simpson, who previously worked for the Air Force and Boeing; lawyer Shawn Alexander, who specializes in real estate, land use, and contracts; and Tom Tillman, co-owner of a sporting goods store and a former CenturyLink installer.
Alexander’s legal expertise helped in drafting contracts the members of DBIUA need to sign. The agreements require homeowners to keep hosting and supplying power to DBIUA equipment even if they stop buying the Internet service later on. (The power costs are only about $12 a year, Brems said.)
“We needed agreements in place that if you were to sell [the house], that the person who bought it knew there was a responsibility to keep the service going whether they chose to take advantage of it or not,” he said.
A smooth ride—most of the time
The network has run perfectly for long stretches of time, requiring little more than basic maintenance. But there have been occasional glitches.
Enlarge / Chris Sutton.
Early in the network’s life, Sutton got an alert at 2 am that a relay point was down. An in-person investigation determined that a sheep had disconnected an extension cord that was sitting in the middle of a field. Battery backup kept the radio running for about six hours; the 2 am alert arrived when the battery ran out.
To make sure the cord would be weather- and animal-proof, “we decided to just dig a trench through the field” to bury the line, Sutton said.
Another, more serious problem came just a few weeks ago. The radio installed by StarTouch on the mainland broke late on a Friday, and no one could fix it until the next week.
That meant there was no Internet service from DBIUA, but a backup plan was cobbled together. On Saturday, Sutton climbed the water tank and pointed a Ubiquiti radio at a different StarTouch tower on the mainland. The Ubiquiti radio only provided about 10Mbps, “which got us back going, but it was obviously limping along.”
On Monday, StarTouch replaced the radios at both ends, on the mainland and on top of the water tower. But Sutton was on a business trip and couldn’t get back to the water tower until Wednesday to switch the network over to the new connection.
During outages, customers can call a help line number to hear a message with the latest information on the network status. People on the island understand that this is all a volunteer effort and that there will be occasional problems.
“They really appreciated us just being up front with what was going on,” Sutton said.
The weekend outage was a learning experience, and now Sutton is considering leaving the backup radio on the water tower permanently in case the system needs to fail over to the second radio on the mainland. The router that DBIUA has at the water tower could then automatically switch to the second radio if the primary link goes down.
A true patriot
This past summer, Sutton was named the Doe Bay Community Association Patriot of the Year at the Fourth of July celebration. “In the past 18 months, he has literally driven every back road, climbed countless tall trees and run hundreds of sight lines…,” Brems said on his friend’s behalf. “He has unpacked, inventoried, programmed, and installed dozens of pieces of equipment. He has scaled the Doe Bay water tank multiple times.”
While Sutton has been the driving force of DBIUA, he is looking to impart some of his knowledge to other members of the association so they can fix problems when he can’t. Using Slack, they set up a training channel where Sutton is teaching them how the system works. He’s given members limited access to the monitoring system so they can get familiar with it, and he will eventually provide administrative rights so they can manage the network.
The group is also thinking up new ways to troubleshoot the network. One idea is to “put a Raspberry Pi at the different relay points to do speed tests [to the water tank] and log that over time,” Sutton said. That way, if people call and say Internet access is slow, DBIUA can check to see whether the problem is within its own network or in the connection to StarTouch.
Raspberry Pis could also monitor voltage on batteries to determine whether a radio has switched to backup power. That information could provide several hours of warning before a radio goes out completely.
While there’s room for growth and improvement, the current benefits have been obvious for service members. In mid-August, a few weeks before the DBIUA outage outlined above, there was a major outage affecting both wired and wireless broadband providers caused by a car crashing into a major utility pole on the island.
“I think so many other communities could do this themselves.”
Just about everyone was down for nearly an entire day—but not DBIUA.
The crash “took out a major fiber line,” Sutton said. “Almost all Internet in San Juan County (Orcas, Lopez, and San Juan Island) went out. AT&T, T-Mobile, [and] Sprint cell phone service went out. The only Internet that continued to work was the school, library, and the DBIUA, all of which were using StarTouch microwave for their backhaul. I did a little bit of gloating for sure.”
With all the success, people in other parts of Orcas have since asked Sutton to set up networks for them. “I’m like, ‘no, but I can tell you how to do it,’’’ he said. So although networks like DBIUA’s remain rare for now, Sutton believes it can be duplicated in more places than you’d expect.
“I think so many other communities could do this themselves,” he said. “There does require a little bit of technical expertise but it’s not something that people can’t learn. I think relying on corporate America to come save us all is just not going to happen, but if we all get together and share our resources, communities can do this themselves and be more resilient.”
Of the identifiable viruses, the most common skin cell-invading variety was the human papilloma virus, which can cause warts and is linked to some cancers. But the vast majority of identifiable viruses were phages—viruses that infect only bacteria.Some phages can kill off specific types of bacteria, thus altering whole bacterial communities that inhabit the skin. The viruses can also embed themselves in bacterial genomes and share genes, including those for thwarting antibiotics. These activities could help maintain a healthy microbial population or give disease-causing bacteria a hand.