Aircard (July 2008)

It is amazing, the things we take for granted. Being a city-girl, I just assumed there would be no trouble getting a high-speed connection for my computer (so that I would be able to continue working from my home office).

But such is not the case in rural locations...

  • the cable companies don’t have lines out here (and don’t want to put one in just so I can have a cable modem)
  • the local telephone company doesn’t even have DSL out here
  • satellite service is designed for cheaply downloading from their service... uploading is a MUCH more expensive proposition.

I thought I was going to be stuck using dial-up or rent an office in the city. Until... I was speaking to a customer representative of one of the satellite service companies and he said the most unusual thing: “I’m not just here to sell you something, I’m here to help solve your problems. Have you considered using an aircard?” (The unusual part, if you didn’t catch it, was “not just here to sell you something”.)

So I looked into aircards. Basically, an aircard is a cell phone that is dedicated to data only, not voice. It lets your laptop be ‘wireless’ wherever you go... so long as there is a cell phone tower to connect through. The cost for the service was only $5 more a month than my old cable modem had been and the speed, while slower than a cable modem when no one else is sharing it, would be just about what I was used to. So, I am able to keep working from my home office.

Cell Antenna (July 2008)

The next hurdle was getting a strong enough signal inside of the house. We knew when we purchased PlayHaven West that we had a pretty good signal from Sprint outside. And when we switched our cell phone service to T-mobile, it was partly because the signal is good at PlayHaven West as well.

We had not used a land-line for several years and intended to continue using our cell phones as our primary phone service. The trouble arose when we purchased the house at PlayHaven East, with its radiant barrier exterior walls and metal roof. So the cell signal inside was almost non-existant in all but the 2nd floor, south bedroom.

Every problem is an opportunity... so I researched boosting signal strength and the hubby found out about cell antennas (put an antenna on the roof, run a cable inside the house and amplify the signal inside the walls/roof).

I was nervous about bringing the signal inside the house, but then I discovered that “The harder your phone has to work to get reception, the more radiation it emits.” Read more in Dr-Oz-Explains-Cell-Phone-Dangers-and-How-to-Avoid-Them (click here for the link to the article as a PDF). So, it is actually better for us to use the cell antenna from a health point of view (in addition to the other suggestions).

It took quite a bit of internet searching to find a business that would work with our situation (small business from a house in the middle of nowhere) and primarily the issue was that I didn't know enough to know what I needed.

Eventually, I had enough understanding of terminology to 'talk the talk' and came across an excellent resource with great customer service and so I purchased our cell antenna. The representative was amazingly helpful when it came to figuring out which model we needed for our situation. They even let us try different interior antennas (at their shipping expense) to figure out what worked best here.

Be forewarned, adding a cell antenna is not a cheap proposition. What it IS is an upfront investment that pays for itself pretty quickly (unlike expensive satellite data plans that cost a lot each and every month).

**Update: October 2011** We stopped getting the great signal strength we had been used to about six months ago. And I finally called customer service about it.

First, they told me that nothing lasts forever and two years was not an unusual lifetime. OK, not what I want to hear, but good to know.

They had me check the power adapter to see if it had gone bad... nope, not the problem. Then we checked the cable from the exterior antenna to see if it had a short... nope, not the problem.

Then we sent the amplifier (the only other thing that could go bad) back to them at their expense so they could test it... yep, that’s the problem. It no longer worked.

We had to purchase a new amplifier. Fortunately, I always ask about refurbished equipment because you can often get a perfectly good item at a reduced price (something that has been fixed or simply scratched, etc. that works fine). They had one and we saved $80 by getting that one.

The signal is back to where it was before. It’s not great everywhere in the house, but you learn to make due with what you need to.

4G LTE Repeater (September 2013)

When we purchased the original cell antenna set-up, the 4G capability was not available anywhere and we figured when it DID come to pass, that this rural area would not get it for a long time. After all, why would any business spend a lot of time and money making something available to a small number of possible customers when there are SO many possible customers grouped together in the cities?

We had a moment of excitement early in 2013 when it appeared that the local telephone company advertised that DSL was available in our area. That excitement was short-lived because CENTURY LINK is a business (and I use that word loosely) where the left hand doesn’t know what the right-hand is doing. After signing us up, they proceeded to tell us we are not in their area. They supposedly sent a person to our house to verify our location (this person never arrived at our house) and that we could not get service of any kind (even a land-line) -- but we still got a bill for the set-up and installation of both a landline and DSL. It took some doing, but THAT finally got resolved. FYI, the previous owner had a land-line and was a customer of Century Link. We will NEVER do business with Century Link for any reason ... ever... period. (End of rant.)

Anyway, in 2013, we both needed to update our cell phones. The hubby has had a ‘smart phone’ for a while because he uses it for work. I did not want to go there because I really just use my phone for talking. I didn’t text (tried it, didn’t like it) and while GPS would be nice, I can live without it. The thing I need is a good speaker because I HATE to hold the phone up to my ear. And the basic phones just don’t have a good speaker anymore.

So, after looking at what was available, I spent a couple months telling myself I would be buying a computer with a phone application. It was the only way I could justify the price-tag. We ended up staying with T-Mobile and getting Samsung. I have a ‘phablet’ and the hubby got what he wanted. This means we can use the 4G LTE signal, but because of where we live, we hardly ever got that.

It is very frustrating to have an expensive phone and still not get your calls because of the signal. Especially in emergencies and we had one of those a couple months ago. It got us off our whining butts and the hubby started complaining to T-mobile. After a couple months of his complaints and their promises... it paid off! They gave us a credit for those months and now the cell tower in Oak Grove is 4G LTE and we can get that signal outside on the roof.

Inside was still bad and that told us the repeater needed to be upgraded. We bit the $$$ bullet and found that much has become more standardized in this area of cell phone techology. You can actually shop around for the equipment that just a few years ago was hard to find anywhere!

The folks we had gotten our original setup from had moved on to bigger and more lucrative clients and I had to find a different source. Finally, I found a business to work with and we decided to add a 2nd interior antenna (in addition to getting the new Wilson repeater) so that signal would be good throughout the house. Let me tell you how HAPPY I was with the customer service! (Have you figured out by now that I consider customer service to be the most important part of choosing a business to work with?) This business would sell a kit or just components. We thought we needed components and so I emailed with them about our particular needs since we already had the antenna (exterior and interior), cables, etc. It turns out we probably could have just replaced the whole thing because the cables and indoor antenna we figured we could reuse were not ‘standard’ sizes anymore. So the hubby ended up visiting his favorite electronics store several times to buy adapters. LOL Oh well. Thanks to the excellent customer service, I saved some money and got the right components.
We got the whole thing installed this week and now we have 4G LTE at -75db (or so) throughout the house: basement, first floor and 2nd floor. Using a splitter we put an omni-directional antenna on the 2nd floor and reused the directional interior antenna on the 1st floor.
All in all, the cost upfront was still less expensive than one-year of satellite internet using the wi-fi for the phones. If we get two years out of the repeater, we will have saved even more!
The down side here is I’m spending too much time with my phablet in my face checking facebook and playing games. LOL! Ah well, I’m sure that I can control myself (in time).

Hot Spots, New Repeater and Antenna (January 2021)

Wow, looking back at this page, I guess that Wilson repeater was a REALLY good purchase! It's predecessors only lasted about two (2) years each but the Wilson lasted a whole seven (7) years. Good thing, too... many things have changed here during that time.

Since I told you about my air card, the technology has come to be known as a "hot spot". The difference primarily being that the aircard was a USB device that plugged into your laptop whereas the hot spot is a wireless device that can be used by multiple laptops/devices. I have been through several incarnations of aircard/hot spots over the last 13 years and I won't bore you with that information. Let's just say that I bow to the expertise of my hubby when it comes to computer stuff... he started out as an IT guy and while that is not his "day job", he will ALWAYS be MY IT GUY.

The hubby started working from his home office part of the time back in 2017 and that made our internet access setup VERY important. He already had his own aircard from his employer to use when he traveled for work and they provided a stipend for his home office use. Then his employer decided his position was "redundant" and let him go in March 2019, so the hubby suddenly became self-employed (as many people have told us... it was the best thing that could have happened) and his home office became his ONLY office. Gratefully, he is highly respected in his field and has plenty of work coming his way which allowed him to upgrade his office set-up to accommodate his needs including a new hot spot (works in his office and his world-wide travels).

In March 2020, travel stopped because of the pandemic. The hubby could do ALL of his work out of his office because he was already adept at meetings/teaching/etc. via the internet. The difference was the AMOUNT of data usage generated and, once again, gratefully, T-mobile came through making data available at reasonable prices. And, since my data usage is minimal, he could switch to my device if he ran out on his plan. We got along OK until the Autumn.

That is when we realized that the Wilson repeater was not working very well. This time, the hubby did the searching for a replacement that would work with our antennae. And surprise, surprise! In 2013, just after we purchased that Wilson repeater, government regulations went into place that STOP the ability to replace components in the cell antennae/repeater technology. If you want to replace your existing equipment, you MUST purchase a kit. Interesting, eh? If you haven't read the previous entries, you may have missed this comment I made (copied from above): "It turns out we probably could have just replaced the whole thing because the cables and indoor antenna we figured we could reuse were not ‘standard’ sizes anymore."

Therefore, our replacement for the no longer functioning repeater is an entire kit. Since we had such good fortune with the Wilson, we opted to replace it with a newer Wilson brand kit. Since the cables are all in place, and the hubby has lots of adapter connections, he was able to use what we already have and simply connect the new interior antennae to the repeater. He did have to climb onto the roof to replace the exterior antenna, but it too was easily connected to the already in place cables.

Fingers and toes crossed that we are good to go for several more years.

Computer Equipment (January 2021)

I'm always a bit nervous when I think about whether or not to share information about stuff we have in our house/offices. Maybe I'm getting a bit paranoid "in my old age" (LOL). Anyway, this website isn't about computers, so this entry will just share the broad issues of keeping connected and being able to work from a sustainable point of view and not get into the technical/specific information about what we are using.

I'm sure I've share with you information about "planned obsolescence" before... but just in case here is the link to The Story of Stuff (www.storyofstuff.org). I bring this up because many aspects of computer/electronics technology is just that: planned obsolescense. As much as we try to avoid the trap, eventually even we have to upgrade our equipment. (And it is nice, on occasion, to have the latest and greatest technology.)

This time it is because of Windows 10. Neither the hubby or myself has any issues about using one platform/operating system over another. We simply both started working in computers that operated on the Microsoft system and it was cost effective to stay there. We, like many users, think Microsoft's Windows XP was the best of their operating systems and have tried to avoid being forced away from it. Now that they are no longer supporting Windows 7, we have been forced to join the Windows 10 era. Harrumph.

The other issues here are internet connectivity AND security.

INTERNET CONNECTIVITY: Because it is (even with the new plans from T-mobile I mentioned already) expensive for us to spend much time connected to the internet, we prefer to store our data on our own hard drives than on the "Cloud" and only upload things that do not need security so we can share them with family, friends, customers. Even this website is not a Cloud-based item... it does not require heigthened security (therefore it doesn't have a "certificate") because there is nothing that uses YOUR data at all and I don't put anything here that will threaten my digital footprint.

I have a STONG aversion to "subscription" software/apps. I don't mind paying for what I use, but I want to download the software to my computer and use it while I am NOT connected to the internet. And once I've paid for it, I don't want to pay for it monthly for however long that may be...especially if I don't use it every month and am paying for access to it.

SECURITY: I remember watching a sci-fi show on television in the 1970s about a futuristic house where everything had computerized controls. Someone hacked that house and suffocated the person living there by messing with the ventilation system and locking closed all the windows and doors so they couldn't get out. It really struck a nerve and I will never forget it. I have watched our society take computerization for granted and getting hacked for granted. Encryption technology has evolved and is very sophisticated... but there is always someone working on how to get around it.

Since we cannot do business without being connected digitally, we take every precaution and use security software to protect our digital footprints and personal data. In fact, the only subscription software that I LIKE is our security software.

Yes, I'll log onto my bank to check my account info, make transfers, etc. BUT I don't interconnect my accounts, my financial software, tax info, etc. That just seems like asking for trouble. And we have been victims of Identity Theft. Gratefully, because of my risk aversion, there was very little damage to our financial existence.

My favorite security system is the switch that turns off the electricity to the entire room with the computer and accessories. When there is no electricity, there is no way for someone to access and turn on the system remotely.

So, now we have upgraded to Windows 10 devices (basically: laptops). BUT, because I am perfectly happy with my CPU and Adobe Creative Suite (translation: OLD) software, I decided to continue using it as a stand-alone system (remove access to internet connectivity from that device) which is connected to my scanner with a cable. The hubby (being the IT guy) installed a router many years ago so he could create a network with a backup data storage system (having your own business requires extra care about your records) and a battery in case of outages. We did upgrade to a wireless printer that works with Windows 10 (because while my 15 years old Okidata laser printer still worked great, it is not longer supported and even the ink cartridges are being phased out).

I did splurge on a tablet this year. It is an Android like my phone so I can now play games and actually see them (my latest phone is pretty tiny, LOL).

Recycling (January 2021)

As you know, I am a HUGE advocate for reducing waste. Electronics are particulary problematic because of the materials that are used to make them; so it is especially important to keep them out of landfills.

Whether you donate or recycle your electronics, be sure you start by REMOVING ALL YOUR DATA from the devices. You will need to investigate each device to figure out how to do that so nothing is left in a cache somewhere. Deleted things can often be retrieved because the link to find the data may be removed, but the data itself could still be there. Don't put yourself at risk of identity theft -- get your data off those devices.

Before you recycle, repurpose! Many not-for-profit organizations (especially those that work with children) will accept your old phone, tablet, laptop, etc. that they can erase (be sure to remove ALL your data before you donate OR recycle) and reprogram it to give to someone who can use it. If you want to get a tax credit for a donation, you will have to ask about that with whichever organization you talk to. Key words to search for places to donate are: donate electronics.

It is much easier to recycle electronics than it used to be. During the pandemic, some places have put their programs on hold BUT don't rely on what it says on their website; call them and find out if they have some work around in place. Some places do both repurposing and recycling in that if what you bring in is repurposeable, they will get it into the hands of someone who does that (be sure to remove ALL your data before you donate OR recycle). It never hurts to ask. Key words to search for places to recycle are: e-cycle, recycle electronics.

Most computer equipment does NOT cost you to recycle it (there are precious metals in it that can be retrieved). However, old CRT (cathode ray tube) monitors/tvs etc. usually DO have a fee involved. Be sure to ask about the specific items you are wanting to recycle if they are not listed as free to recycle on the website.

More information can be found at https://www.epa.gov/recycle/electronics-donation-and-recycling.

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