Musings on living in the ditch beside the InfoBahn for five days

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New Year’s rang in here in my neck of the woods with an Internet outage. A winter storm blew in and we lost our wireless broadband service in the wee hours of December 30th, 2012. It was hard to fathom why it went down, since we never lost electric power, but something went kaput on the tower our antenna is aimed at.

Unfortunately, it turned out that a pole climb was required to rectify the problem. They don’t climb when it’s windy, and winds stayed moderate to high through New Year’s and the first days of 2013—five very long days with no broadband Internet. Regrettably, service outages are not uncommon, but most are caused by power blackouts, and self-rectify once power is restored. However, this one was attributed to an “equipment failure,” and due to a combination of the holiday weekend and January weather conditions in Nova Scotia, we didn’t get the service back until noonish on the 4th of January, rivalling our longest previous outage from Hurricane Earl in September, 2010, but that time we had a lengthy power outage, lightning damage, and even the telephone was down for a while.

Apple USB modem

Speaking of the telephone, I was able to maintain some Internet access via the good, old dial-up modem technology that Apple has been doing its best to abandon for the past seven years. Apple discontinued including internal modems in its laptops with the first Intel MacBooks in 2006, throwing a bone to users who had no alternative to dial-up in the form of a more expensive than it needed to be USB software modem dongle.

At the time I bought my current MacBook in early 2009, there was still no broadband Internet service available where I live, so I was obliged to buy an Apple USB Modem. We finally got high-speed service via a wireless network in September, 2009, and I booked an installation immediately, but have still frequently reverted to dial-up during outages, since not only is the landline telephone system reliable, it stays working through power outages, which the wireless broadband towers don’t, and of course neither do the power supply for the receiver antenna modem nor my wireless router. However, with my laptops and dialup I can still get online, power or not…at least if I boot into OS X 10.6 Snow Leopard or earlier; Apple perversely dropped driver support for its own USB modem from OS X 10.8 Lion and later.

Not helpful, and seemingly arbitrary, since I understand that other-brand hardware USB modems can still be made to work with Lion and Mountain Lion.

Here’s the thing. Dial-up is excruciatingly slow, especially with the 26,400 bps maximum connections speeds I can get over our ancient copper phone lines, but it’s vastly better than being without Internet access at all. Booting my MacBook back into OS X 10.6 Snow Leopard for the first time since updating to 10.8 Mountain Lion back in September (and, of course, my two old Pismo PowerBooks running OS 10.4 are equipped with excellent hardware phone modems), I was able to keep up with my email, and post content to Websites I write for, although I had to go light with images. Without dial-up I would’ve been out of business and lost most of a week’s work. Another reason I look askance at Apple’s apparently deliberate and arbitrary decision to cut off dial-up’s air supply in Lion and Mountain Lion.

My laptops were still usable, but my iPad was completely useless as far as the Internet was concerned. I was still able to use it as a portable typing platform, transferring created documents to my MacBook via a hard-wired cable link and iTunes.

I’m told that early revision Apple AirPort base stations can be configured to connect to dial-up networks and transfer an Internet connect to iOS devices via WiFi, but I don’t have one of those so I can’t report on the effectiveness of that workaround first-hand.

But in the meantime, here’s a salute to old, “obsolete” technologies. Not dead yet!

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