Dealing with Dial-Up


Sometimes there’s just no other option — no RJ-45 outlet, no WiFi, not even EVDO or3G.

The only way to get online is with a modem. For instance, right now I’m the town of Silverton, Washington (Population: 15 on a good day), and I’m posting this at 21 kbps. And that’s twice as fast as the old solution, which was through a Globalstar satellite phone. And I still have to charge the laptop battery while the generator is running.

When the town finally got phones a couple of months ago, the running joke was “Welcome to the 20th century, Silverton!” So what do I do to get the most out of the experience, short of installing the Lynx text browser?

First of all, turn off all the apps that check automatically for updates, or are constantly pinging the connection — Firefox, for instance, comes pre-configured to check for updates (as does Windows). I also shut off stuff like IM clients, and file-sharing apps, Last.FM’s AudioScrobbler, etc. — frustrating overhead when every kilobit counts. I also set Firefox not to download any images and use the Firefox bookmark engine instead of a web service like You can always right-click to download anything you just have to see. Another great app for lighter page loads is Flashblock, which will block any instances of Flash from loading, especially including flash banner ads.

Stuck in the boonies, it’s also no picnic trying to find local access numbers (most broadband ISPs have a list of local dial-up access numbers), and you may need to end up calling long distance. If that’s the case, bringing a stack of the cheapest pre-paid phone cards you can find can save you a phone bill hangover later.

To minimize the time you spend online if it costs money, try to get as much work done offline as possible — for instance, using Outlook or to read your GMail via POP access. Switching to text-only versions or other more accessible versions of web sites and services, such as GMail’s standard HTML view, can mitigate some of the issues with media-heavy layouts and flashy AJAX interfaces.

I’m going to be up here in the mountains for a while, so what are your tips for life in the super-slow lane? I sure could use ’em!



Could you possibly run a physical wire set to your neighbor across the river (so you can power a dish) or maybe up the mountain (are there any towers on top of a nearby mountain that you have LoS to that are used for radio? could you lease space and put a 5.8 GHz ISM WAP up there along with some sort of sat link?)?
Or, going a different route, maybe you could use one of those pieces of fibre and a network switch at each end, with the far end in a place with broadband access. Leave the far end on and just turn the near end on when you’re running the generator/using it.


I use dial up internet all the time while traveling! The service that I highly recommend called Maglobe, is a prepaid dial up service! No contract required, and works great anywhere in the world.


Hello! Very good post…. here in Brazil people still use dial-up a lot… there already more that 30 million people using the net by (if i am not mistaken) only some 5% of this use broadband…..

The good point is that broadband here is kinda cheap… i pay some 30 dolars for a 500 kbps connection… its cable from the tv company…. and at my office i use a ADSL connection which is 35 dolars for the same 500 kbps…..

Thank God, i left dial-up in 2003, and would freak out if had to use it again….

Good Luck!!


Anthony John

Well, don’t forget to visit Wallace while you’re there.
And take a jacket…it gets cold early, since the mountains are so steep. The sun “goes down” in the middle of the afternoon.

Have fun!

Jackson West

Yeah, my family has looked into the satellite option. Only problem is that we’re in a valley at 1,500′ above sea level and the mountains in our satellite sightline to the south peak at about 8,000′ feet about sea level. My dad and I have sat down trying to figure out the geometry a million times, but our math always adds up to no satellite access (even the satellite phone would only stay locked on a bird for about ten to twenty minutes at a time).

We even thought about negotiating roof rights with a friend across the valley, on the other side of the river, to place the dish and then bounce a directional wifi signal down to our place, bit with no access to the electricity grid, we’d either have to coordinate our generators or invest in a prohibitively expensive battery setup powered by solar.

The people who set up the phone access told us they wired fiber (or at least conduits to support fiber) all the way up to town, but there are no consumer fiber providers in Washington State,and even DSL is impractical thanks to our distance from the switch. Sigh. Still, modem access and voice calls are better than nothing at all, any day!


I recommend Skweezer at . Go there, enter the URL of your choice and uncheck the box that says, “Show Images”, and hit “SKWEEZE”. Your selection pops up, all text is displayed and links are shown in standard blue. Save an unbelievable amount of time if you’re cursed with dial-up.

Also, if the browser on your phone sucks as badly as mine, I suggest going to the Opera browser site at and get Opera mini for your phone. They also offer Opera Mobile, but Opera Mini works fine and is free, whereas Opera Mobile is $29 bucks. More bells and whisles, but I don’t use it often enough to require the extra stuff. Your choice. Opera mini is great for checking info on some websites, or reading your best friend’s blog when you’re sans laptop.

OR…get a mobile satellite link/dish. I live wayyyyyy out in the country where the dial-up max speed is 14.4kbs and there is no such thing as DSL or cable. I have a satellite dish on my house and one on my motor home. When traveling, even in the boonies, I’m never without high speed broadband.

Nakul Malik

well, you could telnet to a box that already has lynx installed.


you could use something like citrix to remotely access a box on a public ip.


you might have to learn to love textmode after all.


pool a couple of external modems together for a multilink connection.


As long as you have phone service and at least GPRS, I’d say ditch the laptop entirely. I have been known to read and write blog entries using a Nokia 3510i, a Nokia 9500, or other similar handsets. Works fairly well for that, if you’re set up for it.

Or, as the previous poster suggested, shut your laptop down and go outside.


Indispensible for times like these is Rabbit Proxy (http:// It works like those “dial up accelerator” services that ISPs sell, by compressing all your HTTP traffic: First by gzipping the HTML, and then by using ImageMagick to reduce the quality of the JPEGS on the page.

I use it to reduce the amount of data I transfer on my extremely limited 200mb/month 3g Data plan, but it’s great for dialup browing too, I’d estimate 40-50% faster browsing times. Turning off images isn’t really viable these days, as so many sites require images to navigate them properly.


Jackson West

Trust me, I’m not spending too much time on the laptop. One of the longest droughts in Washington just ended, and I’m waiting for the rain to replenish the river enough for the fish to start running again, not to mention all the mushrooms in the woods that’ll appear.

Charlie makes an interesting point. So many of the services which, back in 1995, would have been perfectly useful at dial-up speeds, now no longer exist or have ‘upgraded’ to the point where they’re broadband-only. Most of the tips and tricks are really just things that used to be standard operating procedure back in, oh, 1999.

Cell phones are a great way to check email, but responding can be kind of a pain. And up here in the mountains, it’s just not an option. Guess I’ll just have to go build a fire and crack open a book!

Charlie Brook

Turn off the laptop… you guys aren’t helping the stereotype that all us home workers spend our time skiving of from real work ;-) Interesting how the old systems (The Well, BIX, CIX etc) that used to work at those speeds via some sort of command line interface have pretty much disappeared now. Makes me wonder if there are still places in the world where they could still make a viable business.

Keith Kamisugi

On the few instances when I was forced to use dial-up and Outlook for POP3 mail, I changed my Send/Receive settings to “Download headers only” and then downloaded the complete item only for important messages. Speeds things up, especially when you get hundreds of emails a day.


As long as you have phone service and at least GPRS, I’d say ditch the laptop entirely. I have been known to read and write blog entries using a Nokia E70, a Nokia 9500, or other similar handsets. Works fairly well for that, if you’re set up for it.

Or, as the previous poster suggested, shut your laptop down and go outside.


Uh, turn off your laptop and go outside? Gotta be great up there this time of year…

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