Wednesday, October 6, 2010

I fought the dish and the... dish won

We are at a Wal-Mart in Chesapeake, Virginia (map). Tuesday night we were at the other end of the parking lot, in front of the Sam's Club. I had hoped to be long gone from here by now, but circumstances have conspired against us.

To start with, I got an email from UPS Monday morning saying that my package had arrived from Boise, Idaho. A quick check of the UPS web site revealed that the box containing our mail, from Kennewick, Washington, had also been delivered. So we packed up the bus, went into the lodge to pay our $30 for two nights (the first time they had been open since we arrived), and headed over to the UPS store in a shopping center here in Chesapeake.

Sure enough they had our mail, but only one of the two boxes from Boise containing the satellite gear. This was odd, since both boxes had left the UPS warehouse at the same time and presumably on the same truck, but since the missing box was the large and heavy one we figured maybe it was inaccessible until more of the truck was empty. So we trundled over to a nearby parking lot to wait, figuring it would be on the afternoon delivery.

The afternoon delivery came and went without the missing box, and it did not show up until quarter till 7, just 15 minutes before the UPS store closed. By this time it was dark, and so after wrestling the enormous box up the stairs, we came straight here, the closest possible parking spot. My original plan had been to pick up the boxes in the morning, then head over to the Wal-Mart closer to our satellite dealer across town. At least there was a Carrabba's a short walk away, and a nice glass of Montepulciano helped wash away the anxiety that had built up all day waiting for the box, which of course contained the piece I needed first.

There is a Home Depot next door to a Lowe's right across the street from here, and so yesterday morning we drove over to their parking lot to work on the dish, reasoning that if I needed tools or parts, we'd be right there. I would guess that the replacement mount was on the roof deck and I started unwrapping it at about 11am. I was still on the roof at 7:30, having taken a short break for lunch and made no fewer than four trips into the store.

Once I had the "new" mount open, I discovered that it still had the old-style "Rev. 1" motors and electronics. Our mount, while even older than this one, had been upgraded at the factory in Utah on a visit there, and I'd either need to move all the upgrade parts to the new mount, or just scavenge the part I needed out of the mount and move it to our existing setup. When the part I needed came off the new mount in under ten minutes, I figured I had it made. It was a simple matter of removing ten machine screws to detach the elevation arms from the axle, then loosening two set screws to slide the rotator/stop assembly off the keyed axle shaft.

Thus lulled into a false sense of confidence, I set out to remove the broken piece from our mount. The first problem I encountered was that the set screws on our mount were corroded beyond repair. My ball-end hex keys were a poor choice to try to remove these badly frozen screws, so Louise went into the store to get me some straight-end ones. Even after liberal application of WD-40 to both set screws, all I was able to achieve was to strip one of the hex drives out completely, and twist the 5/32 hex key into a corkscrew on the other.

Knowing I was going to replace this piece anyway, I decided to drill out the recalcitrant set screws. This is easier said then done, as they turned out to be stainless, even though the piece they are set into is mild steel. After breaking two of my general purpose high-speed bits, I went into the store again for a set of cobalt bits, about the only type that will make progress in stainless. Even so, the screws eventually deflected the bits into the softer steel of the rotator, and I had to side-drill the ends off the set screws to release them. OK, so that took way longer than I expected but now it should all be downhill.

Ha. The rotator would not budge. I ended up using one of the rotators from the other dish, a grade 8 bolt, washer, and nut combination, and a set of machine screws and nuts from the store to fashion a "gear puller" of sorts to try to remove the stuck plate. The force ultimately stretched the ungraded machine screws and then popped the nuts off the end, so back into the store I went for three 800-lb C-clamps. Those held their ground, and the end plate started to move perhaps a millimeter. At this point I noticed, however, that the pot metal spacer and the broken stop were not moving with it, in spite of them being firmly bolted together as an assembly. At this point I realized that the pot metal had, in fact, corroded onto the axle, and the bolts holding the spacer to the rotator plate were starting to give.

The broken elevation stop.

To make a long story just a tad shorter, I ended up having to destroy all these parts with a combination of the new cobalt drill bits and a metal-cutting blade in my reciprocating saw, followed by a pry bar, to get down to the bare axle. Even then, the slot key was corroded permanently into the axle slot, and the new assembly would not slide onto it until I filed it down somewhat. All's well than ends well, and, courtesy of the ample parking lot lights at Home Depot I managed to get the whole thing back together before 8pm. I had hoped to take some pictures along the way, but I confess that I was so frustrated, sore, tired, and irritated that I just did not have it in me to do anything more.

I managed to bungee the bulk of what's left of the new mount to the deck well enough to drive back over here for the night, and we stumbled over to El Patron for some tasty fajitas and a welcome margarita. This morning I am so sore from the unnatural positions I had to assume on the roof that I can barely walk.

Today's project is replacement of the dish controller. The new controller wants to calibrate the mount, which moves it to the stop limits several times, which is why the broken stop had to be replaced first. As I type this, off-line into a text file, the new controller is searching the sky for our satellite. It's been at it for over an hour now, painstakingly stopping at every glimmer of a signal in the sky and trying to match it to one of the known satellites. I suspect this unit has not had the satellite tables updated in well over a year, and even the software appears to be out of date. I am hoping this behavior will be a one-time problem, gone after the controller understands the relationship of the sensors to the sky. That said, I will also be updating the firmware and satellite tables at the earliest opportunity.

To be honest, I don't expect this to solve all our satellite problems, as I believe the culprit is the modem. I have two working HN7000 satellite modems here as well, but they would not work with our older D2 controller, so getting the new D3 controller in and working is a prerequisite to changing modems. With any luck the new modem will be the final answer to our troubles, but until it is all resolved we plan to stay right here in Chesapeake, where we are only a short drive from our provider, Mobil Satellite Technologies. We have a service appointment with them on Friday, in the event I can't get all this working on my own.

We don't want to overstay our welcome here, so no matter the outcome of today's D3 installation, we will head over to a different spot tonight, closer to Mobil Satellite. First we need to stop back at Home Depot for some returns -- I was too tired and hungry last night to just walk in and handle it -- and at a gas station here in Chesapeake reported to have some of the cheapest diesel in the state.

Photo by x-ray delta one, used under a Creative Commons license.


  1. Sean,

    When I read about your mechanical miseries, my knuckles suffer stigmatic sympathies.


  2. Sean, you could probably position your hot tub among the outdoor displays there and get a good soaking without them ever knowing. Steve

  3. I must say, after a day like that, I'm truly impressed that you not only have the wherewithal to write about it, but then go on to regurgitate all the sordid details.

    I'm humbled by your blogging prowess.

    I've also be a firm believer in something called "Absorbine Jr.". Stinks like hell, but works wonders on sore muscles. You can be all considerate of your significant other and use something like "A5-35" (I think that's what it's called, and the active ingredient is masked with some sort of perfume smell ) but Absorbine will call attention to the fact that you are hurting. Kinda gives off that aroma of soreness...or something.


  4. re: Your high-speed drill bit bit issue

    Instead of cobalt or titanium coated bits, try picking up some pipe thread cutting oil in the plumbing department. Don't use, motor oil, 3 in 1 or WD-40, they have no sulfur content and wear out your bits. -=JD=-


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