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October 2, 2003

Incommunicado. Every year Teresa and I come to Martha’s Vineyard to help teach Viable Paradise, a one-week workshop for aspiring science fiction writers. And every year, getting dial-up access to the net is a problem. But it’s been even worse than usual this year. Not for a lack of local dialup numbers, but because of the phone system in this inn, which makes getting even shell access to our email into an agonizing, slow-motion ordeal. As a result, chances are that if you’ve sent us email since Saturday, you haven’t heard a response. We’ll be home this coming Saturday evening; our apologies until then.

Frankly, I’ve about had it with stuff like this. I like to travel and I’m not averse to taking some time away from the net, but if I’m going to do that, I’d like to do it on purpose, and plan ahead accordingly. Certainly from now on I’m going to be asking more detailed questions about local connectivity before I make convention plans or accept teaching or speaking gigs. The hospitality industry is scrambling to catch up with modern travelers’ desire for easy net access and I intend to be one of those fussy customers who pushes them hard in this regard. Being so thoroughly out of touch this week is going to make next week seriously unfun. Life is too short for this kind of nonsense.

All that aside, this is an excellent workshop full of outstanding students, so now that I’ve got that off my chest, I’m going to go back to it. [09:08 PM]

Welcome to Electrolite's comments section.
Hard-Hitting Moderator: Teresa Nielsen Hayden.

Comments on Incommunicado.:

N.Z. Bear ::: (view all by) ::: October 02, 2003, 10:10 PM:

Amen, Patrick.

My one traveller's tip for remote connectivity is Kinko's.

Yes, Kinko's. You can walk into any Kinkos with a laptop, sit down and connect your laptop to their network, and use their bandwidth to your hearts content --- without paying a cent. I did this repeatedly on a few-week road trip I took last December, and never got hassled (or even had an eyebrow raised at me) by an employee once; they genuinely don't seem to mind.

You are of course right to prefer such features in your actual accomodations, but I found that where that wasn't possible, knowing I could at least do a morning stopoff to check mail & blogs was a happy thing...


Charlie Stross ::: (view all by) ::: October 03, 2003, 06:40 AM:

Just back from a five-day excursion to P-Con in Dublin.

Connectivity? What's that?

To be fair, there was a phone jack in the hotel room. But this was a fairly up-market hotel in the capital city. Go out of Dublin or stay in a small hotel or B&B and you'll be lucky to find a payphone in the lobby. (Same goes for Scotland.)

I wasn't too impressed by the Royal York at Torcon, either. Phone jack in the room (at hotel rates), broadband in the lobby ... but you had to use a web browser -- not just any browser, but a recent copy of Microsoft Internet Exploder -- to activate it, you had to pay serious money for it, and after paying via credit card it was a nightmare to get an iBook to actually recognize the service. If I was a business traveller, that'd be a big black mark against the hotel right there.

I am, in a week or two, about to upgrade my mobile phone to a Treo 600 (tri-band, GSM, GPRS, runs PalmOS, has a mail client and a web browser and a keyboard). Then I should be able to stay in touch anywhere I go that has mobile phone service, after a fashion. But most hotels haven't yet figured out that providing free WiFi and broadband to guests is becoming as important a feature to business travellers (and geeks like us) as laundry service or photocopying or voice mail.

Graydon ::: (view all by) ::: October 03, 2003, 05:40 PM:

They've figured it out, Charlie; what they haven't figured out is how they can charge for it, and until they figure that out they're for the most part very reluctant to install it. (In part becuase they don't understand liability issues, and don't want to be the precedent, either.) This has been showing up in the hospitality trade press since 1998 at least.

Kathryn Cramer ::: (view all by) ::: October 03, 2003, 06:26 PM:

I've mostly been surprised in the other direction in the past year: connectivity turning up where I didn't expect it.

I made it into Manhattan and even to the Tor offices today for the first time in a really long time today. I drove in David and his crutches (torn ligament -- you won't be seeing much of him in the next month) and waited in the office for him until with Elizabeth in tow until it was time to leave. I was vaguely wondering where you and Teresa were, though I didn't ask anyone.

Paul Hoffman ::: (view all by) ::: October 03, 2003, 06:45 PM:

There is no way that a hotel on Vineyard can be without connectivity. They have an excellent local ISP (called vineyard.net, of all things) which was/is run by an ubernerd, Simson Garfinkel. Tell the hotel now that you expect them to have at least a pluggable-in hub, and preferably wireless in the lobby/bar, before you sign next years's contract.

Alan Bostick ::: (view all by) ::: October 03, 2003, 06:59 PM:

Graydon: They've figured it out, Charlie; what they haven't figured out is how they can charge for it, and until they figure that out they're for the most part very reluctant to install it.

Sooner or later, they're going to have to figure out that it costs them more to charge for it than to give it away for free.

Peg Duthie ::: (view all by) ::: October 03, 2003, 10:46 PM:

Given the exorbitant rates they're still extorting for phone calls (AFAIK - I've been using access codes for years), do they have to figure it out?

adamsj ::: (view all by) ::: October 04, 2003, 09:07 AM:

Peg has, um, pegged it--one model for hotels is to make money by reselling services at an exorbitant price. They can't decide whether wireless is a buck-fifty can of cola or a coffeepot in the room.

I'm a coffee-drinker, myself.

Joy ::: (view all by) ::: October 04, 2003, 09:38 AM:

Ah, that's good news. I'd been waiting to hear what you had to say on the Plame affair developments, and wondering a bit at the silence.

Joy ::: (view all by) ::: October 04, 2003, 09:38 AM:

Ah, that's good news. I'd been waiting to hear what you had to say on the Plame affair developments, and wondering a bit at the silence.

Claude Muncey ::: (view all by) ::: October 05, 2003, 11:27 AM:

Patrick, in the Bay Area a lot of hotels tried to charge for decent connectivity (10MB Ethernet) connections at $10 a day. Some of them (including the Holiday Inn Express in Castro Valley that I used to nearly live at -- tell them Claude sent you ;)) still have the charge but never turn off the connection -- just use you own cable. The only problem was that I often had firewall problems with these services and could not set up a VPN connection back to my employer's network -- back to dialup which worked.

My worst experiences were in old hotels, one in the Loop and the other in (of all places) Seattle. I could get a fair dial up there in Chicago to get some urgent mail (this was an old MS-Mail system at the time) and got stuck waiting for an enormous and unneccessary attachment to download while sweating over whether the connection would hold. In the Seattle hotel, I actually had to partially dismanle a phone and the wall jack to get a line out. (At least it was a simple analog line and not one of those funky digital hotel setups in the mid 90's that would ruin your modem). And yes, NZB, I used Kinko's a lot. For example there is a combination Kinko's/Starbucks in Las Vegas I have well marked on all my maps.

These days I am only an occasional road warrior (7 years of 50-100 nights on the road a year is enough) but I am finding Wi-Fi to be the answer in the most surprising places. There are a number of places (Baltimore is one that I have heard of recently) that are creating a public Wi-Fi net just to enhance their attractiveness to hi-tech travelers and tourists.

Alan Bostick ::: (view all by) ::: October 05, 2003, 08:17 PM:

Claude Muncey: And yes, NZB, I used Kinko's a lot. For example there is a combination Kinko's/Starbucks in Las Vegas I have well marked on all my maps.

I need to mark this on my map. Can you tell me where it is?

Claude Muncey ::: (view all by) ::: October 05, 2003, 11:08 PM:

Alan, this is the Starbucks and Kinko's at 395 Paradise drive in Las Vegas, just north of the intersection of Paradise and Flamingo. This would be just a mile and a half due east of Caesar's Palace. As I remember, the Kinko's is 24/7 and the Starbucks side follows the usual hours.

colleen @ del rey ::: (view all by) ::: October 06, 2003, 09:03 AM:

I'd like to say it's better elsewhere, but it ain't. Every summer, I attend and work San Diego Comic Con and one other major SF or gaming convention. This year was GenCon in Indianapolis. We stayed in four-star hotels both cities. In neither hotel could I get reliable dial-up service, and because my work-issue laptop does not have an ethernet card (long story, has to do with firewalls and VPN and all kinds of crap I don't understand), I couldn't use the broadband connection provided in-room. My dial-up connection was usually dropped after 45 seconds. (I timed it.) It was pretty miserable.By the time I got back to New York, I had nearly seven hundred emails waiting for me.

The funny thing is that I have no problem with dial-up from residences when I visit friends around the U.S.

So what's that about? (Other than me having a crappy laptop.)

John Farrell ::: (view all by) ::: October 06, 2003, 09:47 AM:

What I'd like to know is are there any ISPs that will give you an 800 number for remote dial ins when you need it. I'm cable-based, but since I didn't want to carry the cost of my old dial-up access, it means when we go up to the mountains, I can't access anything now. It'd be great if there was someone out there that let you dial in with an 800 number. I guess Earthlink used to, but discontinued it.

Sandra McDonald ::: (view all by) ::: October 06, 2003, 01:22 PM:

I attended the Stonecoast Writer's Conference in Maine this past summer and stayed in a dorm at Bowdoin College. I didn't think to do it for two or three days, but after contemplating the ethernet jack in my room and the ethernet connection on my beloved iBook, I went out and got a cat 5 cable for a few bucks at Radio Shack and -- voila! Instant access. College kids these days. They get everything. And only for, you know, 20K or 30K a year.

- Sandra

Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: October 06, 2003, 09:44 PM:

Ten bucks a day? Cheap. This place, which in previous years charged sixty cents per phone call, now wanted to add a sixty-cent surcharge for every minute after five minutes. Mercifully, they'd forgotten to give us the handout informing us of the rate change at the time we checked in. That plus suggesting to the hotel that we'd walk out on them got us the old rate.

And the connections were, as Patrick noted, unspeakably slow. It took me forever just to log out of Movable Type as Patrick, log back in as myself, bring up my Particles "Edit Entries" screen, flip that day's Particles links from "draft" to "publish", and save and reload. One morning, I literally cooked breakfast in the time it took to save and reload.

Yes, I had my links lined up in advance. And yes, I was using Power Editing Mode.

The hotel's view on it was that they only had twelve lines, and that if guests logged on and stayed logged on (the latest Bad Tourist Habit, I take it), the hotel would be unable to make or receive regular phone calls; so the sixty-cents-a-minute surcharge was just their way of getting us to not do that. We said that telling us that there were only twelve lines, and asking us not to camp on them, would get the same effect. Patrick added the observation that business hotels that charge by the minute usually charge ten cents a minute after you've been on for an hour.

Oh, well. Martha's Vineyard is the land of the eight-buck hamburger. Its simple fisher folk know you have to make your catch while the tourists are running. No doubt they go home in the evening and sing tourist-squeezing shanties with their mates down at the pub.

Claude Muncey ::: (view all by) ::: October 07, 2003, 02:21 AM:

That hotel could easily leapfrog into the 21st century for less than a thousand dollars in equipment and probably less than they are spending on voice line fees. The problem is that according to the Vinyard.net page, high speed connections are either 56k leased (ugh) or ISDN (faster ugh) which runs $300/month for 24/7 connection. ISDN is available in Oak Bluffs where the Island Inn is located (depending on precisely how far it is from the CO). (ADSL would be much better but is not available.) 802/11 B/G capable wireless routers which will handle either normal or the new higher speed Wi-Fi (it's very nice) run just over $100 and the signal does carry a ways, and through a couple of walls. Let's say four of them carefully dispersed and you should have decent connectivity with any decent wireless card anywhere in a small hotel. And no new wires in the rooms. The wireless approach is so nice, some of the cruise lines are looking at it as an alternative to retrofitting ethernet into their cabins.