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Embedded Systems September 2000 Vol13_10

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Repair or Replace? Scott and I trudged up the hill , our pace slow, not so much due to the incline, but more becau e of the trop- ical sun. It beat down relentlessly, turn- ing the quick walk of type-A people into an unhurried stroll . , Our goal was the 200-foot radio tower visible from every corner of Staniel Cay (pronounced "Key"), a mall island in tl1e Bal1amas' Exuma chain. I'd been searching for an Internet connection for weeks. Desperation reached a peak 111 Warderick Wells (no phone service at all; only one family lives in tl1e small group of islands) before I made friends with folks on a sailboat who transferred e-mail via single sideband radio. Though it was impossible to suck down my mail, I managed to send off a critical message that went through from my new acquaintances' computer, into their SSB radio, over the high frequency bands to a ham sta- tion a hore, that routed tl1e packets into the 'Net. No drug addict has worked harder at getting a fix. The guidebooks hinted that Staniel Cay was the center of Exuma civiliza- tion, offering all sorts of services. That suggested Internet to my too-long- unconnected brain, which, along with its attraction of havi ng tl1e caves used to film the James Bond movie Thunderball, brought us here from more remote places. The tower provided phone service to all 60 inhabitants of tl1e island by means of a microwave link to islands up the chain . Not a single wire connects thi remote bit of paradise to the world; even power is generated internally, by tl1e Cay' truck-sized diesel plant. Most islanders view Batelco (the Bahamas Telephone Company) with derision. In Nassau we learned it's not unusual to wait three to six month for a new phone, and that's in the very cap- ital of the Bahamas. Far more pay phones are broken than operative. Yet I was struck by the difficulty of the com- pany's mission in the out-islands. It's hard to believe that the minimal econ- omy of some of the more remote Cays age. We were fascinated by the sys- tem's equipment and the story of how Batelco keeps everything running. Phone service only came to mo t of these out islands within the last 20 years. Before that, before micro- processors made central offices small and cheap, elect.-on ic inter-island communication was non-existent or consisted of irregularly used radios. In the panic of getting products out tl1e An engineer's adventures in paradise: Jack shares what he's learned from watching engineers mal

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