Our Link to the Stars… Or at Least an Army of Satellites Marching Across the Sky

Our roof now has a new addition, a Starlink satellite.

If you live out in the boondocks, like Peggy and I do, communication can be something of a challenge. Our only solution has been to reach up into the sky and hope that the sky gods are listening. As a result, our house is starting to look like a military installation out in the Nevada desert.

Searching for signals from the heavens. On the far right, a booster to enhance Verizon signals which our son-in-law Clay installed for us. It definitely improved our Verizon service but we still have to depend on a landline for most phone conversations. Next, in order, satellite dishes for our TV, Hughes, and Starlink connections.

This past summer I was becoming increasingly irritated at the service we received from Hughes. Slow to start with, it was getting worse. Several of our neighbors had switched to Viasat and argued it was much better. I did my research and was prepared to make the leap. That’s when Clay suggested that I check out Elon Musk’s Starlink. If it served our area, I might be able to sign up as a Beta tester. It promised internet services at speeds several times faster than either Hughes or Viasat at a similar cost. Plus it included unlimited data. I went online and discovered that our latitude was one of the first to be served. So I signed up, made a deposit, and waited.

A few weeks ago, a large box showed up on our doorstep. Unlike Hughes and Dish, who sent technicians out, I would be on my own with Starlink. I was a wee bit nervous. As you may recall, things mechanical and I don’t get along. It isn’t that I can’t do them. Owning a house in the woods for 11 years has certainly taught me that; its just that I prefer to do other things like writing, photography, cooking, traveling, reading, watching movies, hiking, backpacking, kayaking, pulling star thistle and scrubbing out toilets— you get the picture. People like Clay and my friend Tom, on the other hand, take great joy in fixing things. When Tom comes to visit, he brings a tool box with high hopes of finding something. Clay insists that I have a list for him. Even Peggy gets a gleam in her eyes when she is holding a power tool.

The big box, other boxes from Starlink, and the stand to use for placing my dish on the ground.

Before the box arrived, our first chore was to download an app to our iPhone and wander around the yard with the camera on and the phone pointed toward the sky to find the best, obstruction-free place to set the satellite. Did I mention we live in the boondocks, in a forest, with lots and lots of trees. South was fine. It’s where our other satellite dishes are pointed. The Starlink dish, however, likes north. Heres what our north looks like:

It includes lots of white oaks and very tall Ponderosa pines.

The app was not happy. It kept telling me to move to another location until I ran out of locations. I talked with my friends Bryan, who lives up the hill from where we live, and Jeff, who lives down the hill. Both had received Starlink dishes a couple of weeks before we got ours. Both told me that the app had told them the same thing. They had ended up placing their dishes in the least obstructed locations they could find. I decided to do the same thing:

And I found this. Call it a window of opportunity. A small window. To take advantage, I would have to place our dish up on the roof.

Now—to backtrack a little— I opened the box. The dish came with a stand, a hundred foot long ethernet cable, a modem and a router. It was designed to be placed on the ground. It even came all plugged together, almost idiot proof. All I would need to do was drill a hole in the side of our house, which was scary enough, but was something I could handle, or sic Peggy on.

Did directions ever come more simple? Find your location, set down your stand, pop in the dish, drill the hole in your house, plug the modem and router into your electrical outlet, log in, and woohoo! You have super-fast (for the boondocks) internet.

It was drilling holes in the roof that I found disturbing. They can be injurious to your house. Water can seep through and and do all sorts of nasty damage. Some people might also question the wisdom of a 78 year-old wandering around on a roof. They are probably the same people who questioned my wisdom in celebrating my 75th birthday by backpacking 750 miles on the Pacific Crest Trail, much of it by myself. No, I was not worried about being up on the roof. Try perching on a narrow trail by yourself with a thousand foot drop below you in a strong wind with a forest fire rapidly approaching.

I did what any modern fix-it person does and went looking for YouTube videos. There were plenty, of course. The secret was simply find the roof studs for screwing the mount into and seal the hell out of the holes. Okay, I could handle that. I bought extra outdoor sealant just in case. But I also opted for back up if needed. I called Joel, a roofer and really nice guy who had replaced a skylight for us. He quickly volunteered. He’s also waiting for a Starlink dish. And I checked in with Bryan, our uphill neighbor, who had already installed his Starlink dish on the side of his house and is quite handy. And then I waited again. Starlink had sent us everything we needed for the ground version, but it had another package for roof installation.

It arrived a few days ago and included a roof volcano mount, six large screws and (lo and behold) a tar-based super sticky sealant and directions how to use it. Elon Musk leaves little to chance. Okay, I said to myself— “Self, you can do this.” I gathered all of the tools I would need, loaded them into a garden apron Peggy loaned me, and up I went, like Santa sans reindeer. Peggy held the ladder and did whatever worrying that needed to be done. I am pleased to say that my mounting effort was a success. At least so far. Next, I affixed the cable along our eaves and came to my last scary task, drilling a large hole in the side of our house.

Check out the volcano mount! What fine work. Grin. I’d used a silver spray paint so I would know exactly where to place the large screws. BTW, each end of the cable came with the round thing-a-ma-bob you see here. It’s what required the large hole in our house.
The next major challenge was drilling a hole large enough to accommodate the ethernet cable. Would you trust this man and his big drill? Neither did my wall. I admit, it was a bit too much.

This drill exactly matched the size of the hole I had to create, but my first problem was that I needed to drill smaller holes before the large bit would enter the siding. Whatever. Except the sky was darkening, the wind picking up, and a possible downpour about to erupt. I drilled my smaller holes and quickly realized that my bits weren’t long enough to make it through the wall. Even the big bit. Measurements were called for as to where we would need to drill from the other side. Peggy demanded her turn with the drill and eventually, we had holes on both sides that would accommodate the cord. A wire that I had adapted for the purpose showed our two holes were exactly aligned. Exciting huh? Well, it was for us. Believe me.

Here’s the ironic part. Just as I was finishing up, a Fed-Ex truck drove down our road. It delivered another package from Starlink. It included everything I needed to drill the hole in our wall. At least I was able to use the patches it sent to cover the holes and the silicon sealant.

Star link kit for drilling hole in wall for ethernet cable. Note the extra long bit for reaching all of the way through the outer and inner walls. Number 1 was the bit designed to drill a Starlink size hole. At least I got to use the sealant and the caps.
Here’s a shot of how I often looked when dealing with Hughes. Fortunately, you can’t hear my language. Peggy would agree.
Here’s my standard expression on Starlink. Yes, I have obstructions.My Starlink monitor reported 8 seconds in the last nine hours. There were another 42 seconds of downtime due to other issues. So far, our speeds have normally been 7-10 times as fast as we have on Hughes. There is a reason for the big grin.