Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Dialing L-4235

There’s something to be said about mountain living. That unspoiled air, void of traffic noise, deer grazing idly on the property. I can blabber on about the positives of moving here. Even the water from our well is tasty enough to get me off my Diet Coke addiction. But, along with the gains come the concessions, I suppose. And being the technogeek that I am, nothing prepared me for the backwards step I was forced to take to remain connected to the outside world. The first thing I noticed was that my cell phone reception degraded from ‘full bars’ to ‘SOS’ as soon as I crested that last ridge about a half mile from home. So I researched a way to capture that fleeting signal. I bought the portable repeater station and the recommended external antenna for the frequency range of my cell service (Cingular/AT&T, whatever their name is this week). I found that the antenna needed a special adaptor to connect to the base station, so I drove to the local Radio Shack only to learn that I had purchased the wrong items for the frequency in my coverage area (I assumed it was in the 850 MHz range when it was in fact 1900 MHz). To make matters even more frustrating, there was no such adaptor, and I had to build my own from three other adaptors. Then I returned the base and the antenna and reordered the 1900 mHz gear, only to discover that I wouldn’t be able to get a signal after all.

Second was the internet. Aspen and I haven’t had a home phone in almost seven years, and since only DSL was offered in this area, we had to regress to a land line to get internet service. I had ordered the full package, assuming I would be able to drop the phone service down to a data line once I got my mini cell tower up and running. I didn’t volunteer our home phone number to family and friends because I was confident I’d soon be returning to cell service. Of course, the new carrier ensured that my first three bills wouldn’t total less than $400. Our names went into the local phone directory, and we began to receive telemarketing calls. We resorted to borrowing an old desk phone from one of our new neighbors just to receive calls. He had to dig through the attic of his garage to find it, and casually mentioned that this area had a party line as late as 1985 (back when the entire neighborhood had to share a single phone line). Finally admitting defeat, I picked up a phone with built-in answering machine at Home Depot for about $40.

Next was television. Most of our neighbors had ‘The Dish’, but we had just moved from an area with broadband cable TV, and our monthly bill was roughly $13. I was not about to get sucked into another package deal. Plus, ordering all those channels is like saying, “Yes, I’ll take some of that heroin, please.” Instead we chose the antenna route, hoping it would prevent us from whiling away our leisure hours in front of the boob tube. At first I employed the rudimentary method of making my own antenna out of speaker wire and aluminum foil, then Scotch-taping it to the large window of our living room, college-style. We received maybe three channels clearly, and one Sunday I was able to pick up the audio signal from FOX long enough to hear the Packers beat Minnesota. I finally relented and bought the last outdoor antenna ever made, spent an entire afternoon affixing it to our rooftop, then crawled through a fiberglass and fly carcass-infested attic to feed the cable through the opposite side of the house to the living room. The antenna only improved the clarity of the three channels we were already getting and could not yet harness my beloved FOX. Not to be outdone by the neighbors, I added a remote-controlled antenna rotor, and now we get seven channels in all their glory (still no FOX). Gone are the days where I could just plug the TV cable into a socket on the wall or retrieve email while on the throne. Here are the days of gravity-fed electrons trickling into my wannabe technofortress. Ah, the simple life.

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