Archive for the ‘Rural issues’ Category
When someone puts new communications infrastructure in a data-poor rural place like northern Stokes County, it’s a big deal. Verizon is finishing up a new tower in the Lawsonville area, and it’s exciting for the folks around here.
When cellular towers started popping up in the countryside 10 and 15 years ago, I scorned them for their ugliness. Now I overlook the ugliness, because in rural places where we’ll probably never see fiber optic or cable, wireless services are our best hope. Those of you who live in places with good celluar coverage don’t need to care about where the towers are, but here in the sticks we need to know.
My present Internet connection draws on a Verizon tower about 4 miles away. I have a directional antenna in my attic that is aimed at that tower. The antenna plugs into a Verizon “air card,” and the air card plugs into a WIFI router. On a good day, I can get speeds of 1.25 Mbps down, enough to stream a Netflix or Hulu movie on the Apple TV. At other times, the connection is slower, around .75 Mbps down. This is much, much better than it used to be, after Verizon bought Alltel and continued to expand its rural coverage. But that is pathetically slow by urban or international standards, and it also costs more than much faster service in urban areas.
The new Verizon tower is about 15 miles away over the crooked roads we have in these parts. Yesterday I went out on a mission to have a look at the new tower and record its latitude and longitude, so that I can calculate its actual distance and make a guess about whether the new tower will help me get faster Internet. I also hoped to catch some engineers at work so that I could annoy them with questions. I’ll also make this into a little tutorial on how to find your nearest tower and calculate its precise distance from you.
First of all, you have to know where the towers are and which carrier the towers belong to. It may not be easy to get this information. Here in northern Stokes, the easiest way to track new towers is to follow the meetings of the county commissioners. Permits for new towers are always on their agenda. At last Monday’s meeting of the commissioners, it was mentioned that the new Verizon tower is expected to “light up” in a couple of weeks. If you don’t have local political intel on where the towers are, you often can identify them by searching the Antenna Search database. That database may not always be up to date, but it’s a start.
Then you drive to the tower and use your iPhone or a GPS device to record the latitude and longitude of the tower. The coordinates of the new Verizon tower at Lawsonville are longitude 80.223695 west, and latitude 36.496175 north.
A word about the notation used for latitude and longitude: There are two ways of doing this. There is a decimal format, which I used above and which your GPS device probably uses by default; and there is the traditional format that uses degrees, minutes, and seconds. You must always be aware which notation is being used and convert between them if necessary. There is a calculator here for doing this conversion. The Lawsonville tower’s coordinates, converted to traditional notation, are longitude 80 degrees west, 13 minutes, 25.302 seconds; latitude 36 degrees north, 29 minutes, 46.23 seconds. This can be represented as -80° 13′ 25.302″, +36° 29′ 46.23″.
Once you have the coordinates for the tower, get the coordinates for your home. For convenience, record the locations in both decimal and traditional notation. Now you can use a calculator to derive the distance and the direction (also called the azimuth) between the two points. Here is a link to the FCC’s calculator. The FCC kindly puts these calculators on line because calculations like this are often done in radio work. Use the FM-type calculation, since we’re talking about FM radio. (Digital brats still wet behind the ears like to quarrel with me and say that cell phones are not radios — they’re phones. Digital brats also like to deny that there is anything analog in the process. Wrong, wrong, wrong. It’s radio, and radio is always and forever analog, even when carrying signals that are digitally modulated. Digital brats like to think that radio is obsolete. They are laughably wrong. Their digital lifestyles are dependent on radio.)
When I did these calculations for the new Verizon tower, I found that it is 7.6 miles from me. That’s a good bit closer than I had expected, and it’s probably close enough to improve my Internet and cell-phone coverage, even though there’s a second Verizon tower about 4 miles away. One nice thing about Verizon’s CDMA technology is that a single device such as a smartphone can actually pull from more than one tower to increase its data bandwidth. I am not absolutely certain that this is true of Verizon’s new LTE 4G technology, but the engineer I spoke with yesterday up at the tower seems to think it’s also true of LTE 4G.
Speaking of LTE 4G, Verizon continues to say that their rollout of LTE 4G nationwide will be complete by the middle of 2013. The engineers I spoke with yesterday said that the LTE 4G cabinets for the new tower have been ordered but that they have not yet been received or installed.
There is no fiber optic connection to the new tower — it’s too remote, just as I am too remote for fiber or cable or even DSL. For “back haul” of the data, the engineers tell me that a microwave link will be used to another Verizon tower that does have a fiber connection. The other end of the microwave link is almost certainly the Verizon tower that is 4 miles from my place (on Mission Road), since that tower does have a fiber optic connection to “back haul” the data to urban civilization.
The engineers I spoke with yesterday were hard at work, finishing up the job of installing equipment on the new tower. Two or three guys were actually up on the tower, working on the antennas. Other guys were working in the equipment shack and even doing landscaping work. I’m glad I drove the Jeep yesterday rather than the Smart car. The tower is up a steep hill on a ridge, on an access road newly cut. Verizon has done an outstanding job of doing erosion control on the new road and around the tower site.
It’s nice to see Verizon spending money here, since I’ve spent so much money with them in the last four years.
Verizon plans to make money, of course with the new tower and the LTE 4G rollout. In rural areas which have been converted to LTE 4G, Verizon is offering a new service called “HomeFusion.” It will be pricey but fast. As I have learned, you can’t get decent Internet over wireless out in the sticks without a good antenna, properly placed. The Verizon HomeFusion service will include professionally installed outdoor antennas.
My data bill is now my highest bill — higher than my health insurance, higher than my county taxes, twice as high as my energy bill. Out here on the fringes of the digital world, there’s no other way.
I bought an iPhone 5 today. But there’s a story there.
For the past four years, I’ve used a cell phone that weighs 10 pounds. This is because, when I first came here to live in the woods, nothing else would work. A powerful phone with a real antenna was required to get a signal. At the time, Alltel was the best option in local cellular service. Two years ago, Verizon bought Alltel. Things have been slowly improving after a new Verizon tower came on line about three miles away. Then finally a fiber optic cable was brought in to that tower, and things got even better. Those of you who live in populated places have no idea what rural people go through to get decent cell phone service, not to mention broadband Internet.
I had no choice but to retire the 10-pound Motorola digital bag phone. Verizon sent me a letter saying that all the old Alltel devices would no longer be supported after the first of the year. The timing coincided nicely with the release of the iPhone 5. I was the second person in line this morning at the Verizon store at Madison-Mayodan. I had guessed that there would not be an insanely long line at a rural Verizon store, and I was right. The nice guys inside even opened half an hour early at 8 a.m., which was the official release time for the iPhone 5 on the East Coast.
Here at the abbey, my Verizon signal strength fluctuates from one to three bars. However, I’ll mainly use the iPhone when I’m out and about, so the middling signal I get at home is not a big deal.
The iPhone 5 is cute as a bug. Did you know that the release of the iPhone 5 will actually cause a noticeable boost in our slow economy? By some calculations, the billions of dollars generated by the iPhone will add a .33 point boost to this year’s GDP growth.
Is it surprising that servants of the oil industry continue to deny climate change, even though they aren’t really fooling anybody? A poll last year found that 83 percent of Americans believe the world is warming, including 72 percent of Republicans.
But ask the farmers. They know. Just recently I overheard a group of elderly Stokes County farmers talking about what they used to be able to grow that they can’t grow any longer. In Canada, some polls have found that only 2 percent of the population deny climate change.
But the propaganda is getting results. Some polls have found a slight rise in climate-change denial in recent years. But the most important thing the propaganda accomplishes is shutting down any hope of our having a national conversation about climate change, and doing anything about it. And of course that is their goal.
Meanwhile, as Washington fiddles while the heartland burns, we must each think about our own water security. One of the reasons I gave up on the idea of retiring in California is that the future of water in California looks terrible, particularly to the south of the San Francisco Bay Area.
Here is a link to a chart showing expected changes in rainfall, by season, for the entire country.
Lucky for me, northwest North Carolina appears to be in a bit of a sweet spot. It’s not far enough south to be at high risk of dryer winters and springs. In the summer, it appears that it’s beneficial to be east of the spine of the Appalachian chain. Fall on the east coast is little changed from today’s normal. The models I checked before deciding to buy land in northwest North Carolina showed a slight increase in expected future rainfall, from about 44 inches per year to 46 inches per year.
However, as I have mentioned many times in the past, the summers of 2009, 2010, and 2011 were terrible. In retrospect, I believe — or at least hope — that this was because of an unusual persistence of La Niña. This summer, La Niña is gone. What a difference it makes.
Last September 1, I started keeping very careful rainfall records using a gauge on the back deck. As of midnight last night, I’ve now collected exactly one year’s worth of data. The total comes to 54.5 inches. This is a stunning amount of rain. It probably is never going to get any better than this.
Here are the totals by month:
September 2011: 6.03
October 2011: 3.35
November 2011: 5.35
December 2011: 3.20
January 2012: 2.10
February 2012: 2.15
March 2012: 3.95
April 2012: 2.50
May 2012: 6.65
June 2012: 5.15
July 2012: 6.01
August 2012: 8.10
I have never seen such lushness here. The abbey is surrounded by green. All the young trees have grown like crazy this year. I have a certain amount of survivor’s guilt, because America’s agricultural heartland has been scorched this summer. That may be the new normal. Maybe for winter wheat it won’t be so bad. But the future of corn is not looking good.
Speaking of corn, a few months ago, 25 pounds of chicken feed (which is only partly corn) cost $6.50 a bag at my local mill. It has risen steadily all summer. Yesterday I paid $8. Though the corn in my chicken feed is local corn, commodity prices are global.
One of the frustrations we’ve dealt with in fighting fracking in Stokes County — and in North Carolina — has been getting the attention of the Winston-Salem Journal. The potential fracking areas in Stokes and Rockingham counties are right in the Journal’s circulation area. We’d been trying for weeks to get the Journal to tell its readers that there are potential fracking areas right in their back yards. But other than a lukewarm editorial that did not even mention Stokes County, the Journal has ignored us — until today. They wrote quite a decent story today, and the were sensible enough to put it on A-1.
This venture into community organizing has been very interesting. Fracking — once people understand some basic facts — is a nonpartisan issue. Everyone is against it. People are grateful that you’ve let them know what’s going on, because the popular media have done such a terrible job.
The local politicians are really starting to feel the heat.
It’s been over a month since I posted. The abbey has been caught in a whirlwind of spring projects, spring farm work, and community organizing. I really appreciate the emails from those of you who have written to make sure everything is OK. Retirement is not supposed to be like this.
I think I’ll try to catch up with a bulleted list of items, stealing a bit from the way the late Herb Caen used to do things in the San Francisco Chronicle.
But in the important ways, I don’t think I have ever misunderstood Ken or the deal we have: Acorn Abbey is about leveraging his freedom, not about tying him down. It’s a place to write, a place to winter over, even a place to be needed — but not needed so much that leaving feels like shirking a responsibility. Ken is an adventurer. I have always understood that. I believe his next project will take several months and stretch into the fall. I’m sure he’ll talk about that on his blog when the time comes. But I do hope he’ll be back and that Acorn Abbey will be his home base as he starts the publicity tours for his book after Thanksgiving.
The protests in Wisconsin are growing, and now the farmers have joined in. The Crooks and Liars blog mentions this telling commentary from a Fox News shouting head who thank goodness I’ve never heard of, Jay Townsend:
TOWNSEND: I take away this. Number one, elections have consequences. Number two, unions will never have any trouble renting a riot, and number three, when you gore that pig and wound it, it can make a lot of noise, and that’s the message I would take out of this.
So Townsend would have us believe that these 100,000 people, including the farmers, were rented, the way a few busloads of Tea Party protesters were rented by the Koch brothers. He also reveals that he believes that working people — or at least unionized working people — are pigs. He calls it a riot, which it wasn’t. And he reveals his hypocrisy about elections: Elections have consequences when Republicans win them, but elections are illegitimate when anyone else wins.
What I take away from this is that right-wing propagandists are angry, frustrated, and even a bit scared, because they’re forced to face the fact that their state-of-the-art propaganda doesn’t work on everyone. This must truly frighten the right wing, because they know that they can’t win elections without deceiving large numbers of voters. Having overplayed their hand in Wisconsin, they now face the possibility of recall elections and a massive, reality-driven backlash in which their propaganda has stopped working.
Sometimes I have survivor’s guilt. I got in my Jeep, I drove and drove and drove, and I escaped the corporate life. Not only that, but many people struggling to get closer to the troughs in the corporate feedlots tried to eat my lunch back then, but I beat them back. It was self-defense, but my hands are stained.
I even cleverly managed to keep Wall Street from tricking me out of the secret stash I’d hoarded while in the feedlots. With that stash I built my little refuge in the woods. I had gotten too old to fight anymore. I am as far as I can afford to be from everything that is corporate, where the top dogs rake it in and leave the rest of us to fight over the scraps.
The U.S. Census bureau released numbers yesterday for population growth in North Carolina for the 10 years between the 2000 census and the 2010 census. The population of the Raleigh area grew by a horrifying 43.5 percent. Stokes County’s population grew by 6 percent.
Why do I use the word horrifying? Everything looks different when you’re no longer a poor hunk of pork getting the life rendered out of you in today’s pressure-cooker economy. Once upon a time when I was of working age, I too had to go somewhere where the money was, and I went to San Francisco. But that was then, and this is now. When you finally get to step off the corporate treadmill, you want to be as far from the corporate feedlots and kitchens as you can possibly get.
I have not been to Raleigh in decades, but I have been to Charlotte. What 43.5 percent growth has done to Raleigh can only be worse than what 32.2 percent growth has done to Charlotte. Charlotte is hideously ugly. It has no focus, no center, no charm, no style. It has sprawl, traffic jams, and people who, having gone where the growth is, are always in a hurry. Charlotte seems unaware of what has happened to it. The story in today’s Charlotte Observer is self-congratulatory and cheers this population growth, taking for granted that it’s a good thing. But to my eyes, what growth has done to America’s regional inland cities is as horrifying, ugly, and unhealthy as what steam-driven industrialization did to 19th-century England.
As I see it, the dog-eat-dog dynamic of today’s working environment is only going to get worse. There’s a story going around the blogosphere. It’s about David Koch, one of the billionaire oilmen who have financed the tea parties and the “think tanks” that produce the right-wing propaganda that Fox News disseminates. The story has many variations, but it goes like this:
David Koch and a tea partier are sitting at a table. On the table is a plate with a dozen cookies. Koch grabs 11 cookies, then looks at the tea partier and says, “Watch out for that union guy. He wants a piece of your cookie.”
Maybe Americans are finally starting to figure out who it is who is eating their lunch (and their cookies). And does anyone (other than those who live in the fog of Fox News lies) think that corporate America cares any more about workers in general than it cares about unionized workers like teachers and firemen? The effectiveness of the propaganda on Fox News is really quite terrifying. It can cause Red State Americans of very modest means, and who would be hard up but for Social Security and Medicare, to vilify government and not only vote for, but also cheer for, the interests of the rich.
For those of you who are still working, I hope you’ve found one of those rare safe spots in this globalized Brave New World that Wall Street is creating.
And I hope that someday you too will be able to find a place where the growth is not.
Though I try not to be too gloomy, I, like many others, am afraid that there’s a significant chance that there may be hard times in our not-too-distant future. In fact, I’m afraid we may be in for a double whammy. Whammy No. 1 would be a long period with a weak economy. Whammy No. 2 would be the end of cheap oil.
As for the economy, Steven Pearlstein, a columnist at the Washington Post, summarizes it pretty well today in Enough with the economic recovery: It’s time to pay up. Pearlstein says: “The controlling reality is that the global economic system is rebalancing itself after years in which the United States was not only allowed but encouraged to live beyond its means, consuming more than it produced and investing more than it saved. Now the bill for that is finally coming due — all the clever and seemingly painless ways for postponing that day of reckoning have pretty much been played out. The only question now is what form that payment is going to take. Will it be an extended period of subpar growth and high unemployment, inflation that erodes the purchasing power of our income and the value of our assets, a deflationary spiral that grinds down wages and salaries and increases our debt burden — or, as I suspect, some combination of all three?”
As for the end of cheap oil, Jörg Friedrichs, a social scientist at Oxford, has an article in the August issue of Energy Policy about possible responses to the end of cheap oil. Miller-McClune Online also has an interview with Friedrichs.
Friedrichs sees three likely responses, two of them quite negative, and one of them positive:
1. Attempts by nations to take oil by military predation, as Japan did from 1918 to 1945.
2. Attempts by elites to preserve their rich lifestyles at the expense of the rest of the populaton, as North Korea did during the 1990s.
3. Socioeconomic adaptation, which is what happened in Cuba after the fall of the Soviet Union, when Cuba’s fuel imports dropped by an estimated 71 percent. Cubans adapted by turning their apartment terraces and urban vacant lots into gardens, and by helping each other out. Because Cuba has never been a rich country, traditional knowledge (of such things as farming) was still common. Family and community networks were still strong.
As much as I loved my 17 years in San Francisco, I certainly would not want to be in any city during hard times. I’d rather be in farmland, places where people still have barns and pastures, places where people remember the skills that supported their parents and grandparents.
Did you know that the federal government provides billions of dollars in subsidies to millionaire and industrial growers for producting animal feed? And that fruit and vegetable farmers get only 1 percent of these subsidies? That’s one reason the Big Mac is so cheap — government subsidies pay part of its cost.