Dec 27, 2010

Life in the slow lane

There's an arrogance that some develop when spoiled too long by state-of-the-art communications infrastructure. I see this sometimes in discussions with web designers or software developers who refuse to consider the situation of those with little or no access to broadband. I remember as a young man being able to read faster than the 300 to 1200 baud text scrolling down down my CRT, and I was never a speed reader. Download graphics? Sure, if you've got a free afternoon. Movies? In your dreams. Well, dreams do come true, though often they have a darker side. I'm sure that many of my translating colleagues have received some short job to translate with enormous uncompressed graphics that destabilize the file structure and give translation tools fits. The sort of crap that makes many of us spend more energy as technotweakers than as translators. All this is facilitated by widespread firehouse bandwidth, which also raises customer expectations for a rapid return. Please remember, people, that rapids are often full of sharp rocks and other risky elements, and though you may come out fast, you may come out in more pieces than you went in.

So when I moved to the Schloss a few weeks ago and faced a few tricky decisions on how to configure my new infrastructure for communications, I decided to "go slow" for a few weeks and see what life is like. There's no DSL offered here, so blowing off Deutsche Telekom for good, a dream I have had for a decade, has finally been possible. I spent a week on Vodafone's UMTS and found it good for all my data and voice communication needs, then I applied the brakes and used my FONIC stick, which in this area only gives me EDGE service, which is like GPRS. (FONIC is an O2 subsidiary - I'm told they advertise widely and humorously on TV, but since I haven't looked at a working television since my last visit to the US four years ago I wouldn't know). EDGE really sucks in some cases. I remember trying for nearly two hours last July to send a small file (2 MB or so), before giving up in frustration and going up into the third story of the inn, where a weak UMTS signal was available and the file could be transmitted in less than a minute.

But perhaps I'm stricken with a bit of nostalgia for my old farm in Oregon now that I've finally made it back to more livable, rural settings. The bandwidth in county lands outside Scio was very bad for a long time, which was very good for web page design for medical company clients whose physician customers often had 2400 baud modems with which to crawl the World Wide Web. "Optimization" was a very relevant concept with regard to communications. Another reason for the present experiment is that I have encountered difficulties too often with mobile communications while traveling, and I wanted to explore the possible scope of these and prepare solutions before they are needed. The low bandwidth also gave me an opportunity to test my online project management and communications environment, which was never consciously optimized for such situations, but which seems to work well nonetheless. Given that an iPhone and iPad interface is soon to be available (or perhaps already is - I don't use that stuff, so it's only of peripheral interest) I suppose I should not be surprised. Working a lot with a remote memoQ Server under these circumstances is not something I would recommend unless you remember to create an offline version of the databases for synchronization. I did that on my old laptop, but not on the new one, so I was stuck. Fortunately, the job I had to do was only a short page, so I could live with the delays to confirm segments.

Even at 96% signal strength, EDGE is utterly inadequate for viewing video clips of more than a few seconds length. Thus I missed out on Jon Stewart's successful satirical advocacy that brought needed relief to 9/11 responders and various links that friends wanted to share. Professionally, this had little meaning, though I was bummed out that I couldn't listen to the music videos linked on patenttranslator's blog while reading his posts.

Should the need arise, I can activate and use my Vodafone stick in minutes and get high quality UMTS. I discovered recently that there are now solutions available with UMTS and mobile SIM cards, which offer WLAN access and VoIP telephony, much like the little portable WLAN routers that various colleagues have purchased and rave about. So when this old tortoise is ready to stop crawling down the road, he can climb into an affordable hotrod and tear up the asphalt.

The image of the tortoise on the road from Arria Belli is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license. That's not really French Guinea, it's a road in Zehdenick in Brandenburg, Germany on Christmas Eve. Thus the promise of blooming landscapes made by Helmut Kohl has been kept thanks to Global Warming.

1 comment:

  1. Amazing new digs, Kevin -- how fantastic. Love the term "technotweakers" that you use; good stuff. Wow, that really is life in the slow lane. While slowing down is always on our list of New Year's resolution, we are not sure if we could do without high-speed at this point. Well, we probably can; we will find out when we head to South America for a month in March/April, even though we are told that our apartment in Santiago de Chile does have wifi. If it doesn't, we will call you and have you point us in the right direction. ;) How does that sound? And go tortoises, especially desert tortoises!


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