The View From Here: A long, strange trip

    The View From Here: A long, strange trip

    on island travel

    ……………………………………

    The View From Here: A long, strange trip

    September 1995

    This article is late. Very late. It wouldn’t have been written at all except for Apple’s Personal Interactive Electronics division; I’m (literally) writing this on my Newton. Why? Because every other piece of computing hardware I took on my trip to

    or expected to receive en route  has been waylaid.

    The article I’d promised for the September issue was to be about the Internet experience in other places. (We’ll get to that later.)

    Given my itinerary and this article deadline, it looked like a good match. I’d arrive in Eivissa, get connected, write about it, and email my article back to Sirius. Things didn’t work out quite as I’d planned.

    What I later diagnose as incredibly poor-quality ungrounded electrical power destroys the serial port on my PowerBook died, so I can’t connect to my Spanish ISP. My PCMCIA modem connects but seems to go no further. PowerBook sent to Barcelona. I blow up the AC power supply for my IBM ThinkPad because it handles only 120 volt input. (Apple’s portable products all have travel-ready 120/240 volt power supplies. I got spoiled and assumed that IBM expected people to travel with their laptops.) One of my backups – I travel with four separate copies of my hard drive – goes bad (due to being ungrounded). The latest-and-greatest Apple PowerPC laptops, the

    5300, which was to have been shipped to me immediately upon manufacture, is delayed because testing has uncovered a disconcerting tendency to burst into flame once the batteries are fully charged. Customers will notice. The spare Powerbook I’ve ordered arrives in time, but I have to pay US$350 in customs fees because DHS has incorrectly filled out the paperwork.

    So here I am, writing on my Newton sitting in the village’s watering-hole, Fernandito’s, and sipping a caf√© con leche. When one or another machine is returned to me I’ll connect to the Net and deliver this article. In the meantime l’ll describe my Internet experience abroad thus far.

    Before leaving the USA, I gave “Yahoo” the search parameters “spain AND internet”. I found a Web page entitled “Internet Service Providers in Spain.” I sent email to all the ISPs asking about rates and services. Some ISPs offered little but asked much. One reply had that certain brash “can do” attitude that attracted me to Sirius. I was set up in minutes, over the phone, payment to be arranged later. John Broomfield, the kindly system administrator, said they had the largest connection of any ISP in Spain to the Internet: 128 kbps. (In contrast, that’s the bandwidth I have to my apartment in San Francisco. Sirius has multiple T1 connections.

    Upon my arrival in Eivissa I was ambushed by the state of the telephone system. (I’ve already mentioned the electrical system.) Many homes in the hilly northern part of the island have no phones. The government program for bringing radio-phones to rural homes has a two-year waiting list. Luckily, my uncle’s office has phones; I re-wired one of the lines with a single strand of good wire (the existing circuit had ten splices, way too many) and I was able to connect — at 9600 kbps. The quality of the connection between the island and the mainland is barely adequate for voice calls. Data calls are a nightmare for the future.

    And the call itself costs money, unlike the free local call to Sirius that I enjoy at home. The special-rate very-late-night call costs US$16.88 per hour. (Telefonica, the Spanish phone company, promises a very cheap rate for Points of Presence, but that’s to start on the mainland sometime in 1996; nobody knows when that will reach the Beleares or the Canary Islands.) At 9600 kbps it’s easy to chew up money just getting and sending email, not to mention surfing newsgroups or downloading software.

    The performance I’m getting is much inferior to what I get at home; there’s a big real-world difference between 9600 bps and 14.4 kbps (or 28.8 kbps). The bottleneck imposed by the relatively low bandwidth of John’s connection to the outside world, network overhead (including TCP packet retries), and other users sharing this part of the Internet combine to make my email software’s real-time dialogue with Sirius’s email server an excruciating experience. I negotiate with Sirius to forward my mail to my Spanish ISP’s POP server.

    After six weeks in Eivissa I’m all used up. Gran Canaria, off the Saharan Desert in Africa, is a welcome change. Tropical weather, a quiet place to stay, and phone lines capable of sustaining 28.8 kbps connections to Encomix. Ahhhhhhh. There’s still the matter of the call costing money, and the not infrequent dropping of the phone line by Telefonica, but staying in touch with friends, business partners, and publishers is almost a realistic goal. (Of course, I have to take a siesta in the afternoon so that I can take advantage of the cheap connection rates from 11 PM to 6 AM.)

    By the time you read this,

    will be two-thirds through his working vacation to . His first book, , will be released by SAMS/Macmillan well before the Christmas gift-buying frenzy. (Please ask your local bookstore to stock it – M.) When he’s not walking along the sand dunes or drinking “Cuba Libres”, he’s writing another book, this one about computer security, privacy, and electronic mail.

    Have you found errors nontrivial or marginal, factual, analytical and illogical, arithmetical, temporal, or even typographical? Please let me know; drop me . Thanks!

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