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 Del.icio.us. 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 Mail.app 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!

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