Darn it! Someone else wrote a FTA book

I’m deeply envious of Dennis C. Brewer. He’s written Build Your Own Free-to-Air (FTA) Satellite TV System, which is like the free-to-air beginner book that I had been promising myself to write for years. When I saw it, I asked myself, How did he do it?

The most important factor that Brewer no doubt employed was persistence. He did the work, he got the photos, and he convinced McGraw-Hill to publish it. That’s quite an accomplishment, and it shouldn’t be understated.

But another obstacle that I encountered when I was trying to put a book together was length. I mean, I’m able to explain all the necessary steps for setting up a FTA system in five web pages, maybe 10 if you count glossary and troubleshooting and all that. With this new book’s index, it runs over 260 normal-sized pages. So how did he do it?

  • A long chapter on tools and equipment. “First of all, do not let this chapter on tools and equipment frighten you away,” it begins, then it rolls through at least eight different categories of tools, illustrated by over 20 photos. Large pliers, small pliers, hex key wrenches, a keyhole saw, a tubing cutter, a drill and bolt gauge card, a reciprocating saw with assorted blades, circuit testers, a soldering gun, a multimeter, and a rivet gun. The chapter covers all of these, with photos, and I’ve never used any of them in my years of FTA satellite work. The tools I did use are also there, and at least the chapter begins its conclusion with “You might not need every tool covered here …”
  • The book takes a break for a broad list of some of the networks and stations that “you might find on FTA” including, for example, all those great old Equity Broadcasting channels that haven’t been on satellite for years and at least one call sign that no longer exists. The book is copyright 2012; maybe Brewer was working on it longer than that.
  • A very long chapter that painstakingly describes how antennas work, then thoroughly illustrates the step-by-step process of assembling a dish. I had glossed over this part on FTAList because each dish is a little different, but this was a good way to add pages. There’s also a shorter chapter that includes a great guide on how to crimp a cable connector.
  • Ten pages on satellite receiver selection, with each possible feature and what it means. Ten more on switches with charts showing how to set them up.
  • A chapter on aiming the dish and setting the LNB skew with a cute homemade device. I always go by the algorithm that you can’t get it perfect to start, but you just need to get it close enough to pick up signal, then adjust manually until signal quality is maximized. Other folks want to get it precisely accurate the first time. Maybe they’re right.
  • A chapter on picking up local over-the-air TV stations. See, here is the wisdom of a true author of books. When I was thinking about putting together what I know about FTA into a book, it never occurred to me to add a section about terrestrial reception.
  • Five chapters about choosing a TV set, hooking up FTA to your set and DVR and stuff, adding a speaker system, watching video over the internet, and “putting it all together” for a home theater. Wow. I never would have thought to include any of that. That’s why I had a pamphlet, and he has a book.
  • A chapter on installing a FTA satellite card in a PC. This one I had considered, but nothing like the 14 pages of detail this book devotes to the topic.
  • A chapter on mobile FTA installations. Now that’s fun, because I think it’s one of FTA’s best uses – something to set up in a dozen places during a long-distance RV trip.
  • No summary, but a couple of appendices. The first is Product Sources, but it doesn’t list dealers, and that’s what I think most folks need, not manufacturers. The second lists FTA web sites, and includes Lyngsat but not FTAList. That hurts.

So there you have it. I’m a little concerned that the book doesn’t mention choosing a site for the dish; it seems to just jump in with assembly and pointing without first checking line of sight. And I also wonder how many readers will buy the book and get started because of the now-bogus list of networks available on Ku-band FTA. But for most readers, if they buy this book and don’t get too scared by the tools list, they can put together a FTA satellite system.