opinion

A Change in Scenery

Stephen Yagielowicz
As Mick Jagger succinctly put it oh so many years ago, "You can't always get what you want, but if you try sometimes, you just might find you get what you need."

No mere trip down memory lane, these lyrics illustrate a basic optimism that things always will be all right, even if they are not perfect — a message that many folks struggling with today's economic woes or other life issues may find some comfort in.

You don't need to be struggling financially, however, to seek comfort in familiar music and the more positive messages it can carry — just ask my neighbors, or should I say, ex-neighbors. Yes, I'm in the process of hauling anchor and moving on — but not at all when, how or where I had expected (or hoped to).

You see, life has its way of telling you what to do, rather than the other way around, and now that the oldest child has graduated college and is married and working on her career, the middle child leaving to do missionary work and the youngest boy off to a prominent university two weeks after his high school graduation in June, my wife has decided that it's time for us to have a change of scenery, too. But rather than allowing me to become entrenched in a beachfront home on the New Hampshire seacoast, she acquired a home in the country, which will be closer to her parents — and along with it, a very different lifestyle than we have become accustomed to.

Don't get me wrong: It's a beautiful place with a stunning view, perched precariously on the side of a volcano, its massive spire seemingly so close that you can almost touch it from my new porch. Of course, the Google Earth satellite maps I looked at showed that one of the most recent eruptions had brought lava and mud flows to within a few meters of my new home — but hey, what's a little magma among friends?

It's a peaceful place and well suited to an "older couple" such as ourselves, and while my wife and I will still each have our own offices at home, my new office is smaller than the one I'm used to, which has its own full bathroom and storage — but my desk, a 12-foot-wide glass and aluminum superstructure covered with monitors and flashing blue lights that I like to call "the bridge" — will still fit in my new room.

I'm also up to five hours away from the airport, which is sure to put a crimp in my travel plans, and two hours away from shopping at Best Buy or other name-brand stores.

Small prices to pay, however, for a better quality of life. But there's a big price, too — one that brings my future ecommerce operations full circle to where they began: There's no real "high-speed Internet" out in the countryside. Hard to believe in America 2009 and especially given the affluence of the community we're moving to, but there's no cable (TV or otherwise), no DSL service and only two real options to dial-up access: a satellite transceiver or a radio. Forget a Verizon wireless card or some such; "nationwide" doesn't equal "way out in the country." Sure, T-1 is an option, but for me, it would cost $635 a month. No thanks, I'll wait a bit for my email to download...

I say this brings me full circle because my earliest Internet connection was an 11k dial-up (on a good day) that simply didn't support my growing online needs and was perhaps the main factor that got me to move from my home in the Virgin Islands — "I can make cash online if only I had a better connection!"

While it's not at all the fastest connection on the planet, my 10mb down/1mb up pipe has been most welcome, and the thought of dropping to dial-up is almost a deal breaker. But I wouldn't be much of a husband if I didn't support my wife, so it's off to find an access alternative.

Many folks in our new area use satellite Internet — the systems no longer requiring a separate phone line for upstream communications but now providing a true transceiver for two-way access. Top speeds tend to be in the 1.5mb down/300k up range (or so the different providers claim), but the latency of the signal (hey, it's going back and forth to space, too!) precludes the use of VoIP, putting an unfortunate end to my lovely wife's Skype and Vonage services — two things she relies upon heavily for work.

There also is the issue of "slower" and interrupted access during rain or snowstorms — and living on a snow-capped volcano, that's a concern. Oh, and the price of the ultimate high-speed satellite service (5mb/300k) is about what a T-1 would cost in the city. I ended up with a 3mb/300k plan for $189/mo.

There is one potential alternative, however, and that's wireless broadband access; which in the case of the local solution, involves a small radio system that uses a rectangular antenna about the size of a phone book and requires a direct line of sight to the transmitter. They just put a new tower in by the golf course down the road, so we may give it a try. At 1.5mb/512k, and with reportedly "no significant latency," the system, if we're able to make use of it, will allow for VoIP services. Rather than a modem, you use a radio, but other than that difference (and the slower speeds), we should be quickly back to business as usual — or perhaps not so usual.

You see, as a webmaster, you determine the user experience of visitors to your website — and it's easy to get tunnel vision when doing so. For example, just because you have a 40-inch monitor and 30mbs pipe, that doesn't mean your visitors do. Even today when folks think "everyone has broadband," they discount the growing numbers of mobile users who don't enjoy lightning-fast download speeds or full-featured browsers — and ignore the fact that silly country hicks, er, "gentleman farmers" like me, are trying to surf the web using two tin cans and a piece of string.

And don't think the "rural market" isn't worth catering to: As I said before, I'll be two hours away from Best Buy — not 10 minutes away like I am now — which is going to dramatically increase the amount of eshopping I do. The UPS driver is gonna love driving way out here...

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