Saturday, December 13, 2008

Moving Blog to WordPress

Hey Lovely Followers,

I'm trying out WordPress for this blog about living in Tok. I'll try to continue posting here for a bit but hope you check me out in my new home:

The Fairbanks Package for Cars in the Alaska Cold

A typical block heater cord.
Image via Wikipedia

I was getting my brakes checked the other week at the Toyota dealer in Anchorage, and my husband suggested that I also get an engine block heater. It is pretty typical in Alaska to have an engine block heater (as it is in many cold-weather places). But as I spoke to the mechanic about the heater and told him we were moving to Tok, he offered an additional service.

"You may want to get our Fairbanks Package," he suggested.

What is the Fairbanks package, you ask? Basically it is the engine block heater PLUS an oil pan heater PLUS a blanket wrapped around the engine. Because when you're living in a place where 30, 40, 50, 60 and even 70 degrees Farenheit below zero isn't unusual, you probably want a BLANKET around your engine.

I opted not to get the Fairbanks Package right now. The way I see it, I'm not going to be doing a lot of driving in the dead of winter when I first get to Tok. And I'm hoping my car will fit in our garage just in case. But getting the Fairbanks Package is not out of the question. We'll see how my 4Runner fares.

Do you have the Fairbanks Package where you live?

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Wednesday, November 26, 2008

The Latest Internet News for Tok

AT&T Mobility LLCImage via WikipediaAfter several more calls with AT&T and then a conversation with AP&T (Alaska Power & Telephone), the word was:

"Yes, we service Tok and you can get an Internet card from us to access the Internet. We even have a tower there." (AT&T rep)

"No, we don't service Tok at all, andyou won't even be able to get any cellphone signal in Tok." (AT&T rep)

"No, we definitely don't service Tok. It doesn't even show up on my map." (AT&T rep)

"Yes, of course AT&T services Tok, at least in town. They even sell AT&T cellphones at the General Store." (AP&T rep)

So I called AT&T once and for all, explained all the conflicting reports, and finally found out:

1. Yes, AT&T services Tok but possibly through an agreement with another telecom which is why it doesn't show up on their computers and looks like they don't service that area;

2. Yes, if they service Tok with cell service, then I can also use their Internet card on my MacBook (but I luckily told the guy that MacBooks don't have card slots and he confirmed their USB version would work for me).

So this is my "only for special occasions when I need higher bandwidth" Internet access. It is $60/month for 500-800K upload and 600k - 1.4 Meg download with a 5 Gig monthly bandwidth limit. And if it doesn't work, I have a 30-day trial period where I can return it and get a full refund ($99.99 for the USB device).

This will supplement my 512K upload/download DSL connection with a 10 Gig monthly bandwidth limit ($169.95/month) which might be good enough for basic email without causing me to pull out large chunks of hair from my head.*

Still no call back from Starband. Two weeks, two calls, and counting.

Also found out from AP&T that is another satellite option. Will see what they offer, too.

Basically, I'm cobbling together several Internet access options so I can continue to work from Tok.

*And a ray of hope: AP&T is converting to fiber optic and hopes to offer 3 Meg upload/download speeds sometime late Summer of 2009. I'll be waiting with bells on!

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Sunday, November 16, 2008

Rural Internet: Stuck in the Slow Zone

U.S.Image via WikipediaA Twitter & SL friend, Becky McCray (@beckymcray), founder of Small Biz Survival, just pointed me to a post on the 37 Signals blog called Rural Internet: Stuck in the Slow Zone.

I still haven't had a chance to read all of the 159 comments, however, one person did mention Wild Blue as a satellite option. Well, I already checked into Wild Blue, and they don't service Tok, much less Alaska - according to the rep with whom I spoke.

Then I was struck with this suggestion, and I must admit, it made me want to cry as much as laugh:

Further alternatives:
- Messenger pigeons
- Smoke signals
- Pony Express

I've already looked into satellite with Starband, however, after being on hold for 1/2 an hour then leaving a voicemail message, their sales reps have yet to call me back (3 days and counting).

Right now, I have one cellphone with Verizon service so I should call them next although technically they do not service Alaska and run over ACS Alaska towers which don't work in Tok. I may have to transfer that number to another provider - that means, AP&T, the only local provider in the area as far as I can tell.

My other cellphone - my iPhone - is with AT&T - and one AT&T rep recently told me that yes, they not only service Tok Alaska but actually have a tower there so I could get connected to their Internet card package. More on that in another post.

In the meanwhile, I will scour the 159 messages on the 37 Signals blog post to see if I can find some obscure but effective way of accessing the Internet at a reasonable speed and for a reasonable price. I'm already resigned to the fact that I'm looking at about $200/month. But for only 10 Gigs allowance and 512k transfer speed, it still pains me.
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Saturday, November 15, 2008

No Daycare in Tok

Besides a high-speed (and affordable) Internet connection, the other thing I wanted to make sure of in Tok was some kind of daycare for our 2-year-old. She is currently enrolled in a full time daycare in Anchorage and attends from around 9am to 5pm Monday through Friday. She loves it, and really seems to thrive with the interaction and routine.

I called around the other day to find out what would be available for a 2-year-old in terms of day care. First, I called the Tok School, however, they start at Kindergarten for 5-year-olds.

They referred me to Head Start but I soon learned that Head Start begins at 3 years old. I was beginning to feel discouraged, however, the woman at Head Start - who has a 2 and a 4-year-old - said she would put the word out that I was looking for someone to care for my toddler. I told her I'm willing to have someone come to my home to watch my daughter while I work - and that I pay well.

"Day care is one thing that is lacking here in Tok," she admitted, much to my dismay. However, after speaking with her a little more, I was excited to have my first contact with a mom of toddlers in Tok.
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Monday, November 10, 2008

Internet Connectivity in Tok

Southeast Fairbanks Census Area mapImage via WikipediaI've been preparing for my move to Tok, looking into Internet connectivity which is an essential part of my work as well as my life. So far, I've found out that the main way to connect to the Internet in Tok is through Alaska Power and Telephone (AP&T). And they only offer DSL.

I spoke with a rep from AP&T and this is what I found out:

I can get the 10 Gig DSL account - 512k transfer speed - for $199.95/month ($2400 a year). Each additional Gig over is $30.

Or I can get a 24 Gig DSL account - same transfer speed - for $469.95/month.

For comparison, I currently have GCI in Anchorage - their Extreme package - For $69.99/month. This comes with a 3 MB transfer speed and a 20 Gig allowance.

I asked the guy at GCI about my average usage. It broke down as follows:

July 08 - 17 Gigs
Aug 08 - 11 Gigs
Sep 08 - 11 Gigs
Oct 08 - 21 Gigs - and the overage of 2.5 Gigs cost me about $12.78
Nov 08 - 9 Gigs before mid-November

I have to rethink what I do on the Internet each day to try to keep my bandwidth activity to 10 Gigs. Based on my monthly average, this means immediately cutting out my Second Life usage - which comes to about 2-3 hours per week but clearly requires high bandwidth. This means giving up my Second Life TV shows and events - cutting out one of my favorite parts of my work.

"I'm very impressed with your bandwidth usage. What do you do?" asked the rep at AP&T.

When I told him about my Second Life projects, he laughed.

"There's a guy in Tok who's on Second Life," he said and promised to give the guy my avatar name next time he called in for tech support.

Someone else in Tok is on Second Life? I hope to meet him and find out some anecdotal information about how Second Life works in Tok, how much he uses it and how much he is paying.

I'm also looking into AT&T coverage in Tok. Will report back on that soon.
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Thursday, October 16, 2008

Yes, I'm moving to Tok

I've been in Anchorage, Alaska for 3 years now.

Just last week, my husband told me we are moving to Tok, Alaska.

He was offered a great job for his field: wildlife biology.

I'm lucky because my work is totally portable: Internet and writing. Otherwise, I'm not sure what kind of job opportunities there would be for someone like me.

The big challenge will be finding reliable, regular childcare for our 2-year-old. I need to be able to work at least 6 hours a day straight. Maybe we'll go back to having someone come to our home to play with her and care for her while I'm working. That worked out for her first year. I'm just sorry to have to take her out of her current daycare because she really thrives there and has made friends.

Just one of the things we'll have to work out as we move to a new place. It just might be a little more challenging in a town of less than 2000 people. I don't want to even think about leaving my friends here in Anchorage and trying to make new ones in Tok. I don't know what I'm going to do.
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