Cloud Drip, Iguanas, and Wireless Coqui's


Well, we managed to get done before Turkey Day, so, with the 3 hour time difference between PR and Colorado, we managed to fly back Thanksgiving, most of the day, but arrive in time for evening dinner with families. With the added advantage that the American trip down there was so booked up we were given First Class, and so empty coming back I had three seats to myself. But the price of all this was, I was really tired and sore after three jungle and mountain days and THEN the jungle of Dallas airport.

But we got everything done, amazingly, including - thanks to Mike's roamable AT&T cell phone - rendezvousing with everyone we wanted to, including the head of the Puerto Rico government's Telecommunications systems - the guy, Leo Villegas - who is *aggressively* linking up every government office, right down to the counties, the courts, the schools to a super high speed (155Mbps) microwave backbone down the island's spine and going spread spectrum Solekteck radios from there! i.e. an entire state-sized government using no license spread spectrum the way I think it should be (bypassing and making the telephone company irrelevant for moving Internet data the last 5 miles). I am really pleased I had something to do with this initiative after a delegation of Puerto Rican's visited me 4 years ago, picked my wireless brain, and they then just went out and 'Did it.'

Would that any State's Government were so progressive!

We also, the second day, caught up with a really neat entrepreneur who started and owns 'Isla.Net' a wireless Internet service in Puerto Rico. Young Felipe Hernandez, whom I identified as one of the more wireless-savy radio engineers in Puerto Rico, whom we may want to contract with for certain on-the-ground tasks over the next three years. His business is growing ( and he offers wireless using the advanced 'Wiman' radios - designed in Germany, which can operate Frame Relay, and which he swears out performs through the *very* intense RF clouds over PR, everybody else's radios. Which is why, I guess, Bill Shraeder President of PsiNet, bought out Wiman, and offers his own wireless to corporate customers in the US. (PSI tried to buy out Isla.Net, but Felipe is not selling, having locked up by contract all of Puerto Rico with the Wiman class radios. Yet he has superb relationships with Wiman, who sold us a pair of them (PPP configured) in an earlier NSF Project. Felipe (we visited one of his offices - a good 25 high-energy young Puerto Ricans run the impressive place and business), offered, as did Bill Shraeder (when I renewed my acquaintance with him from years past at a Cato Conference two weeks ago), us any help we wanted. Carte Blanche. Which is great. Felipe even took our two Wimans - which apparently can handle the jungle better than most other 2.4Ghz numbers - and is upgrading them to Frame Relay - free. A neat young business RF engineer who will be a great help, knowing the Puerto Rican wireless scene cold - including whose radios will give us fits on what mountains.

That led me to make a suggestion to Leo Villegas, the PR Governments wireless man, whose thousands of systems will spread all over the island. He was startled by it, but sees the sense in it. I suggested that the Government of Puerto Rico create, for INFORMATION and COORDINATION purposes only - not regulatory - a total Part 15 unlicensed and Microwave licensed, data base, where ALL Part 15 radios on the island private or public are voluntarily listed, what radios, what frequencies, what power levels, what antenna orientations and gains, and point to point paths people want to keep operating. As a public service. So all those heading levels, what antenna orientations and gains, and point to point paths people want to keep operating. As a public service. So all those heading pell mell for the no-license wireless world can know who else is operating there. Avoiding costly mistakes as the RF density increases greatly over the next 25 years.

We even lucked out on the weather. One researcher had sternly warned us that the tops of the mountains around El Yunque are socked in by clouds and rain three out of four days. But it turned out the opposite, in the wake of Hurricane Lenny. Guess the Rain Gods were tired, and took a break for a week. The top of El Yunque, where we had to use the $30,000 spectrum analyzer to see how much radiation from other radios on the multiple towers up there were producing interference on bands we wanted, was clear as a bell. (The bands were congested!) And what a beautiful view in all directions - with the city of San Juan laid out white on green against the azure blue Caribbean in the far distance.

But when we really wanted to see the effects of rain on propagation, the weather cooperated when we were driven to top of Punto Del Este - the eastern high point, where on one peak the Navy has its' radar station, and on the ridge between two peaks is a technical weather station the El Yunque LTER (Long Term Ecological Research project run by Jess Zimmerman) wants us to link up wirelessly. It's the place that the importance of 'cloud drip' was detailed in years past. After a scientist claimed from his data that there was more water coming DOWN the mountains of Puerto Rico than fell ON them - as measured by the usual rain gauges!

Nobody believed him. Until someone rigged a mesh-like instrument where the cloud passing over the ridge at ground level (fog like) deposited so much water on the mesh, as it does on vegetation, that the difference was accounted for, i.e. cloud drip. So we will be communicating the scintillating information of how much the clouds over Puerto Rico 'drip' while passing over the high ridges, besides deluging them with plain rain. And they get plenty of that. Over 200 inches of rain (5 meters worth) annually.

They will appreciate our connecting up this station wirelessly (with the challenge being getting enough light via solar panels or something else - wind? - to keep the radio working). For right now someone has to drive the hour and a half four wheel route up there every two weeks to fetch the data manually. When the rain gets particularly heavy, the 'road' such as it is becomes a river, roaring downhill. Which it did on our way down.

We were dripping wet when we came down. And know what a challenge it will be to protect the sensitive radios from water, mold, and all the other things that the jungle can do to equipment. We even saw moss on chain link fencing. But in the first mile, and while still pretty high in the ridges, we got a treat. A full sized, bright green Iguana was stretched out on the road. Looked to be four feet head to tip. I got a pretty close up digital picture of him. Fred Scatena, the Forest Service Scientist (collaborator with the U of Puerto Rico LTER project) who drove us up there said it was the first time he had ever seen an Iguana that high up - where it is colder than the hotter tropical climes below.

Fred is a wonderful scientist, who loves his job, and as we walk, hike, or drive, can rattle off endlessly every detail about the immediate area - old growth, new growth, Asian bamboo, the ONLY huge-trunk giant tree in the world - a 'pine' standing in the forest, and all the little variation in the grasses, plants, vegetation, that were caused by hurricanes past, or by, in the area purchased in the 1930's by the Forest Service where pitiful efforts were made to cultivate, how the rain forest reclaimed the areas totally, with huge trees, in less than 5 years.

Then the hard work. First climbing 3/4 mile long wet, muddy, trails to yet another weather station half way down the mountain, slipping, sliding (and wearying for this 71 year old), the end of which confronted us with the joy of climbing straight up (steps at least) a 120 foot tower to get above the canopy so the rain, wind, and light coming down can be measured there. And another tower 75 feet tall near El Verde research station which I scrambled up. Finally having spec'ed out all three weather stations they want us to link up wirelessly somehow, back to El Verde, then the Center for Tropical Ecological Studies in San Juan, thence to the Internet at large.

After which, next morning I was SORE! So will have to start into the training regime I knew was coming, to lose weight and get fit to clamber over those hills chasing the squirmy things and fat leaves, and dripping trees, in El Junque rain forest - the only one in the world controlled by the Federal government - a national forest - within which the rare Puerto Rican Parrots are protected and very slowly recovering from their reduction to only 13 pairs in the world in the early 70's.

Then we huddled with scientist Jill Thompson, who with her British accent, struggles with a tradeoff between science, technology, and costs, as she seeks to get reliable data from a series of 40 or so tiny light sensors on the jungle floor - the ones costing only $8 apiece, clouding over however, their tiny plastic protective film from, she thinks UV radiation, while the better sensors are $500 apiece.

THIS is a great challenge for us - to figure out ways to link the 40 spread across a plot, without using wires, and then feeding their data continuously into the data base back at the center a mile away, and thence to the Internet, where the chief scientist in Pennsylvania can see the data, real time, too. We may be trying to fabricate some super small radio circuits we know about for this task - which represents for us another 'typical' biological field science task - gathering data from many points in a small plot maybe 1,000 feet square. After the weather station linkups, we will tackle this one, in what we now call 'Phase II.' (Phase I being the three weather stations)

As we will trying to link a series of 'streams' data collectors, new ones being planned by researcher Doug Schaeffer who can see the possibilities for us connecting up his experiment on Sonadora Creek - using Campbell Scientific data loggers. On the other hand, Fred is using Sutron brand equipment, apparently a little more affordable by the Forest Service. Sometime being the difference between $2,500 and $5,000 apiece. But that's good for us, cause we will be experimenting with more than one line of scientific equipment.

But the challenge in communicating data from 'streams' here, being, streams in El Yunque are down in ravines, 100 feet below the canopy, surrounded by *very* thick rain forest vegetation which won't let those 902Mhz or 2.4Ghz signals through very far! So will we have to feed the tiny signals to a satellite? Stay tuned.

(It ALSO illustrates why, in remote and rural areas, the FCC oughta really rethink the way they 'regulate' the frequencies which can be used, no license. Here is a case - which will be duplicated ALL over the world, not just US - where scientific field censors in the most ecologically threatened areas, have to, at great labor-intensive costs, be read manually, because the frequencies allocated by the FCC are so high in the spectrum, that there is no way radios confined to them (902Mhz up to the 5.8Ghz levels) will ever 'penetrate' the jungle to bring monitoring data spectrum, out to the researchers and the Internet. Yet lower frequencies, even with low power *could* link the scientists and monitoring agencies with their equipment, without doing diddly squat to commercial radio signals in urban areas.)

Finally I was ecstatic when one of the researchers, Victor Cuevas, got the green light from his boss to work with me in hooking up not ONE but TWO subspecies of Eleutherodactylus (the tiny Coqui' frogs) on the top of Mount Toro - the Richmondi species which sings at dusk, and the much more elusive Eneidae species which sings only after midnight. So while I will have to huff and puff my way 4 hours up the muddy trail to the top of Mount Tori to set up the microphones, interface, wireless, and power supply, I can't wait until *you* can click on my web site, and, with real audio and a speaker at your end, listen to the chorus of the only place in the world the after-midnight Coqui live, and sing.

It will take Mike and I about a week to decode all our notes and post, illustrated by the many digital photos we took, and schematics and maps we collected, our Progress Reports from this November 1999 site and task survey trip to Puerto Rico. We will be back there in January, connecting up things, after we do the fabrication and interfacing to radios required.

The Wireless Coqui Chorus from atop Mount Toro and El Yunque Rain Forest is about to begin on the Internet. Stay Tuned!


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