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Paul Ruscher writes:
Haven't seen much traffic here lately, but we have noticed with increasing frequency over past few months problems with IDD Difax from Alden. Many times calls to report problems or request backups are futile, as we don't always get a response to our phone/email queries, which usually come from our weather station manager. At best, we seem to lose one complete upper air/model cycle per week, and often more than that. It often seems that Alden never gets the maps on their disk for backup and so we can never retrieve them. Difax is dying, I know...but for the time being it is still a service that is paid for. Are satellite users experiencing same kind of problems IDD users do? Is NWS having problems getting Difax products to Alden, so that they can't get them out to the Unidata sites? Are other IDD sites experiencing same kinds of data losses? We'd appreciate some comments from other sites on this one...David Knight's post helped prompt this request, and a visit to the IDD stats pages reveal that we are not much worse off than other sites.Paul Ruscher
Up until recently we were getting DIFAX via satellite. It was very reliable and the few times we lost maps were due to problems on our end like a jammed printer, etc. We've been on IDD DIFAX for a month or so now and the service has not been great. Some specific complaints: 1) Reliability: IDD in general has had many problems as of late that the folks at Alden and Unidata have been working very hard to solve. Many of the problems such as frequent network outages are well beyond what they can control. Despite this, IDD DIFAX tends to be less reliable then the IDD FOS data even though they enter IDD at the same site. This morning for example (while we were without maps for 10 hours) FOS data was getting thru just fine while I was not able to LDMping the DIFAX server, thunder. Part of this problem is likely due to the old slow machine they are running the DIFAX IDD on now with old LDM software. Hopefully this will improve a good bit as they most to a new system running LDM5 over the next week or two as I understand it.2) Alden's lack of interest in the service. As I understand it IDD DIFAX customers represent a rather tiny portion of Alden's customer base...and therefore recieve an equivalent portion of their attention.
The last several times I've called their service number to inquire about an outage, I've ended up having to explain what IDD DIFAX is to the person I end up talking to.... who isn't even aware that they offer such a service.. They often start by asking me if our dish is working, etc. even though I explain carefully that we get the data via the Internet.To be fair, when I've managed to directly contact Mark Franklin or one of the few others there that knows what's going on, they've been very helpful.
One might suspect that the less informed others I've talked to were the same people I spoke with several years back who could talk you through major surgery on the guts of one of those old wet paper chart recorders. I was always amazed at how well they really knew their stuff....perhaps its just that nobody there has bothered to explain the newer technologies to them. 3) While the satellite broadcast maps came in like clockwork, the IDD DIFAX maps come in much more at random....Sometimes there will be nothing for a few hours and then suddenly a burst of a dozen maps. They all still get there, but if you are looking at the hourly radar summary for example, its nicer to have it come in in the same hour it was issued in. As it was explained to me, the IDD DIFAX maps come from their system by which one can call up and request a map be sent to one's fax machine. This was logical for them since that system already stored the maps in G3 fax format. The problem here is though, that presumably, that system doesn't get the maps until they go out on the standard satellite broadcast. Then it has to crunch them for a while to get the in the correct format, etc. Then finally it has to be sent into the IDD system. Sometimes this takes longer than at other times.4) The new 2XXX numbering system is based on the product numbers in their telephone fax chart service rather than the traditional "D" numbers we're all familiar with. This would be fine except for the fact there are fewer 2XXX numbers used than the D numbering system had. Several D numbers map into the same 2XXX number. For example....the 9Z Radar Summary is issued as D099 The 10Z Radar summary is issued as D110. In Alden's 2XXX numbering system, they are come out as 2080. (In fact all 24 Radar Summaries, which all have seperate D#'s, end up as 2080.) The same is true for other types of products. This makes it more difficult to automatically identify specific products for special handling such as whether to print or not to print.
I attempt to convert back to D#'s here since our users are more familiar with them by using a simple lookup table....the problem is that it didn't work since one 2XXX number could be any of more than a dozen D#'s in some cases. Attempts to guess based on time have been unsucessful because of the irregularity at which maps are transmitted. (i.e Is that the 10Z radar summary coming in or just a late 9Z one?) I'm not arguing that we must go back to D#'s since one set of numbers is as good as another, but am rather asking for a finer granularity in distinguishing between charts. 5) I've had problems with edges of maps being cut off that I don't recall happeing on the old system. I also am having trouble getting the "wings" or "part2 extensions" on the sfc analysis to come out at the same size...though I've taken reasonable care to ensure that my printing process is not rescaling them. (Though I am not ruling this out) Please understand that I am not trying to just sit and complain. I understand that such things can be complicated. I've had just as many if not more problems that were entirely at our end during our first month on the new system while I try to iron out the bugs in our processing system. And certainly I will not blame any one but myself for that. The above are just some of the issues that I see beyond my realm of control...and offer them as constructive criticism. Still, we are paying for the service, so we should expect a certain level of comittment on Alden's part to provide it well and reliably. -------------------------------------------------------- David Wojtowicz, Research Programmer/Systems Manager Department of Atmospheric Sciences Computer Services University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign email: davidw@xxxxxxxx phone: (217)333-8390 --------------------------------------------------------