After chasing pixels all these years, Jon catches some

The accidental art of storms across Texas caught on satellite

Jon Peddie

If it storms in Colorado I see it in Tiburon. Half way between HP’s workstation campus in Fort Collins Co, and Rocky mountain high Denver is Castle Rock Co.

DirecTV receives and compiles its satellite and fiber-optic transmissions at its Castle Rock Colorado broadcast center which are then uplinked to broadcasting satellites to deliver programming to individual users. DirecTV (AT&T now) has a fleet of 13 satellites in geostationary orbit at positions ranging from 95°W to 119°W.

DirecTV’s Castle Rock Colorado broadcast center

Using the latest MPEG-4 encoding technology, DirecTV uplinks over 315 channels of TV data in SD, 720p, and even 1080P with 7-channel sound using 500 MHz of spectrum to do it—that’s a lot considering an uncompressed SD channel used about 5.4 MHz.

However, whenever there is a storm in Colorado it can interrupt the upload, and the net result is you get MPEG block drop outs on the download. Not very annoying, usually goes away in a frame or two and usually just affects a portion of a frame.

The other night however, while watching my new favorite band LCD Soundsystem on Austin City Limits, the screen went totally nutsoid. The irony is LCD Soundsystem is a totally electronic (8-piece) band, and so I wasn’t sure if it was part of their show or a problem in Colorado. It was Colorado and the net result was surrealist art on my bigass TV.

When I showed this to my pal Peter Marks, he said, “Finally, after all these years of chasing pixels, it’s gratifying to know you've caught what looks to be a herd of wild ones.”  Indeed. 

So now that I’ve caught some, what do I do with them?

Well, being the kind of guy I am I thought I'd share it with you. I'm making poster sized prints and will have them for sale, suitable for framing, for a small but reasonable price. I'll even sign it if requested.


The signal from Austin is blasted over fiber optics and microwave towers to LA (2218 km), and then through more cable and towers to Castle Rock (1675 km), up to the satellite (35,786 km through the clouds), and then rains down (another 35,800 km) on North America, striking my roof, where it slithers down a coax cable and titillates the pixels on my screen. All that takes ~247 ms, literally less than a blink of an eye (single blink of a human eye is 100 to 400 ms.). — JP