At the end of the 2016 cruising season Wanderlust’s satellite Internet dish finally gave up the ghost.
The dish is built to self-acquire a satellite signal allowing us to connect to the Internet no matter where we are in Europe. At first it worked well. But after a couple of months of service a problem started to develop. Periodically the dish would search a perfectly clear sky without locking onto a signal. Eventually, after twenty minutes or so, the dish would give up and retract into its off position.
The fruitless searching happened often enough that Becky and I had a code name for the phenomenon; the dish was looking for extraterrestrial life. Perhaps our dish did have a part time job of looking for space aliens. Or maybe it just needed to take a break and chill out every now and then. Either way the dish did not work reliably.
Eventually the dish failed completely. The reason for the failure, and the instability of the dish that we’d seen earlier, was now clear. A fastening screw was loose. Ultimately the screw pulled completely free leaving a dish with no aiming stability. After consulting with the dish’s vender it was decided that professional attention was needed. The problem was not something we could fix by remote input from the vendor in the UK.
Wanderlust’s Oyster satellite dish was made by a German company ten Haaft and purchased in the U.K. In between, where Wanderlust was moored, is France. Though a service visit was possible in the UK or in Germany, there was no one in France that could come out to service the dish. I’m gathering that the French don’t do satellite Internet dishes. Perhaps the French wisely don’t feel the need to check in on the Internet everywhere they travel. Either that or they aren’t much concerned about having a satellite dish that independently decides that it needs to search for space aliens.
After several rounds over the phone with UK phone support, it was decided that our only option was to send the rather heavy and awkward mechanism back to Conrad Anderson in Birmingham UK. Thus after procuring a discarded bike box, the 50 lbs dish mechanism was removed from Wanderlust’ deck, carefully packed in the box, and wheeled over to La Poste, the French post office, in St. Jean de Losne. After the usual awkward exchange in French at La Poste the package was on its way to Birmingham, or so we thought.
Several days after we shipped the dish we contacted Conrad Anderson. Oddly, the dish had not arrived. We heard that the French postal system can be slow, but this was far slower than seemed possible.
Three weeks later there was still no word from Conrad Andersion. Then without warning the box appeared at the mailboxes at St. Jean de Losne’s port de plaisance. It was a surprise. I expected that the usually communicative person at Conrad Anderson would have let us know the repaired dish was on its way back to us. At the very least, I’d think that Conrad Anderson would have contacted us for a payment.
So I looked back at the box. Written in English on the top with a marker pen was “Missent to Myanmar”. It seems that our dish mechanism had been to the country formally know as Burma. According to the label attached to the box, our dish also had a stayover in Bangkok.
Bangkok? Now I was suspicious. Had our dish had gone on vacation, or as the French say, “en vacances” to Southeast Asia? Perhaps the stress of Becky’s downloading every dog picture on the Internet had been too much. Maybe such a sophisticated mechanism as a satellite Internet just needed a change of scenery. So perhaps it wasn’t searching for space aliens after all. Maybe the dish was searching Google for a satellite dish spa in Yangon.
I fully expected that if I opened the box I’d find that our dish arrived back in France with a difficult to explain suntan. But I chose to be discrete; I did not open the box. Instead I took the bulky package directly to La Poste, the French post office.
Feeling a bit lazy, and having rented a car, I thought I might as well drive the heavy box to the nearby French post office. It’s a short five-minute walk from the port in St. Jean de Losne to La Poste but the box was awkward, heavy, and difficult to move. So instead of walking I squeezed the box into the backseat of the small car in the process inadvertently squashing our confused canine Gigi into a tiny spot between the box and car door on the other side. Gigi sensibly quickly relocated to the driver’s seat. It took a moment to remind her that she could not drive and had to be in the passenger seat. Once a human-canine understanding was reached we headed the 400 meters to La Poste.
Thirty minutes later we arrived at the post office. Even small French towns can have a warren of narrow, one-way streets. The seemingly obvious direct route on foot was not quite as obvious in a car. It didn’t help that the two GPS devices in car disavowed any knowledge of the whereabouts of La Poste in Saint Jean de Losne. Indeed the GPS’s seemed to have only a casual familiarity with the roads in the commune at best and were indifferent to any coaching I tried to offer.
Once at La Poste’s office the big box was the crisis of the day. The first essential step was to explain to the staff where Myanmar is located. In English, explaining that Myanmar, formerly known as Burma, is between India and Thailand didn’t help. “Près de Bangladesh” only confused matters further. Many people don’t know where Bangladesh is located, after all. Eventually I pulled out the iPhone and showed where Myanmar is on the map. There were nods. Myanmar is in Inde. Well, not quite, but close enough. I wasn’t going to try to debate the fine points of Myanmar’s geographical situation in French.
Now the process of filling out the forms started. The office couldn’t directly refund postage. We’d have to fill out a form and a check would be sent sometime in the next few months to an address that we may or may not be at. The form was in French. The person behind the counter kindly filled it out for us. Thirty minutes later, the fifteen entries on the form were carefully completed and the refund envelope was ready for the mail. Now we could get back to mailing the large box again. An hour after I arrived at La Poste, the postal crisis of the day was resolved. The box was on its way to Birmingham, I hoped.
So how did the box end up in Burma in the first place? Fox News will undoubtedly remind you that Birmingham England is a “no-go zone” for non-Muslims, presumably including non-Muslim satellite electronics. By Fox’s reasoning, our satellite dish, agnostic by all accounts, was well within its rights to find another destination. No Christian person, or agnostic satellite dish, would think of landing foot in Birmingham, at least according to Fox News.
As attractive as the theory that our dish was avoiding Birmingham might be to some segments of society, the technologist in me believes there’s another, simpler explanation for its trip to Burma. We had a small choice of boxes to pack the awkward shaped dish. The box we selected, a shipping carton formerly used for bike, had several bar code labels. Learning to read bar codes ranks near the bottom of the list of things I want to do before I die. Nevertheless, I’d guess there’s a good chance one of the many barcodes on the repurposed bike box we used was coded for a Burmese address. By my theory, one of the scanners at La Poste caught one of these barcodes on our box and figured that our satellite dish wanted to go to Burma. After all, La Poste’s barcode detector had cause to exclude Birmingham as a potential destination; even postal scanners know that Birmingham is a “no-go” zone.
As a take home lesson I’ll plan on obscuring all of the leftover barcode labels on any box I use for shipping in the future. No sense taking any chance that a package might be misdirected. Besides, who knows what sort of subversive messages are hidden in the lines of the bar codes.
A few weeks later the box returned from Conrad Anderson. Once installed on Wanderlust’s deck it has worked like new. Becky was quickly returned to her daily routine of searching the Internet for dog pictures as Gigi lays mournfully at her side waiting for her next walk.
Simple things are often a big challenge living in a country where you don’t speak the language. I’m okay with that. In fact the challenge is a big reason why we live on a barge in France.
But the thing that bothers me most about this whole episode is that our satellite Internet dish got to visit Myanmar before I did. I’ve always wanted to go to Burma. It simply isn’t fair that our stupid satellite Internet dish got to go there first.