Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Long Day at the Office

Some days you win, some days you lose, some days you get 3hrs of sleep, work for twelve hours and learn all about what to do differently next time.  Today was showtime for Nick and John. While Tom and I have been hacking network configuration for the last week or so, Nick and John have had the responsibility of designing and building a permanent installation solution and working out all of the logistics for meeting node hosts.   Today we were scheduled to deploy three nodes, beginning at 7am. As Tom and I were glued to computers, John and Nick were left to make sure that when the tech was ready, the world would have waterproof housing, power and rigid mounting poles to accept it.

Having done this a couple of times already, I tried to be adamant about the importance of having EVERYTHING ready (and tested) in advance and thinking through contingencies in case something went wrong in the field, but I don't (yet) know the answer to every management problem and got a lot of yes, yes, yes, without the associated substance.  Not surprisingly, the team got sent straight to the headmaster of experience at 6:45am.

When I walked in at ten-of-seven (hoping that my own residual debugging wouldn't be critical path) I found Nick feverishly hammering away at a mounting box and John was nowhere to be found -- great for my moral high-ground but not for today's productivity.  By 9:30 I had sorted the network, but the hardware train didn't roll until after a shopping trip an hour or two of packing and a hasty lunch. We had to cancel our first appointment, got lucky that the second cancelled for us, and had to bail on the third for lack of time by day-end.

 As I look at what worked and what didn't, the importance of design and planning stand out strikingly.  The team did a lot of things right, but in neglecting the details undermined a lot of their own hard work.  Nick spent the better part of two weeks designing, sourcing, and finishing a mounting solution for the new Fabfi

In an unexpected move, John made an on-the-fly design mod to put the pole behind the bracket and the box on the front, cutting down the materials list and solving a tension problem with the pole attachments.  John also pounded the pavement to cobble together an effective power backup out of computer parts, solar charge controllers and UPS batteries.  Between the two of them, they created a beautifuly integrated, reasonably priced installation:

  • Mounting box: 250KES
  • Mounting bracket + HW:  600KES
  • Charge controller: 2900KES
  • Power supply: 800KES
  • Battery: 1000KES
  • TOTAL: 5650KES (=$70USD)
With all the components mounted in the box installation involves only drilling three holes and tightening a few bolts.  Power-in, ethernet/POE out, done (it's very clever) While the mounting was sturdy and simple to attach to the wall, by deciding to assemble the solution in the field, the team lost most of the benefits of a well-thought-out design.  During the four hours in the field today, more than three were spent mating the box to its bracket and mounting components inside.  The other four hours that could have been spent in the field were occupied by packing the field kit that could have been ready to roll the night before.  In all, what could have been an 8-hour workday was strung out to a 12-hour marathon where less than half the time translated to progress.

That said, the results for the one node that the team did complete were impressive.  As a mentor, I can only hope that wisdom is a better motivator of behavior than I am.

Note: the rig on the left in the picture is KDN butterfly.  As far as I can tell, nobody uses it, ever....

More nodes tomorrow.  


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