How Does Your Garden Grow…in Tok?

IMG_0893I used to have a brown thumb. I’m not really sure if my thumb was actually a brown one or if my brain just wasn’t tuned into plants, and therefore I forgot about them, and therefore they died. As I child, I had a vegetable garden and loved plucking fresh veggies from the vine. But looking back now, I realize that in the same way parents end up taking care of a child’s first pet, my folks took care of that garden to make those vegetables happen.

Fast forward to today. I have a beautiful yard here in Tok, and the woman who lived here before me had the greenest thumb. There is evidence of extraordinary plant-life and edible things all over now that the snow has melted. And I’m intimidated. No, I’m afraid. Very afraid. Because I just don’t think I can live up to any of it.

I got a call the other day from a lovely woman who asked about the greenhouse in my backyard.

“Yes, I have one. Did you need to use it? You’re welcome to it!” I offered, feeling very neighborly.

Awkward pause.

IMG_0894“Well, I was going to see if you’d like some tomato plants. I’ve started some, and you could put them in your greenhouse…”

I was at a loss. Me, tomato plants, greenhouse? I couldn’t make a connection. Yes, I saw that cute little greenhouse in the back yard but hadn’t even thought of using it. In fact, when my husband started cleaning it out, pulling last year’s dead things out of it, I asked him why he was doing it.

“So you can use it,” he replied, all proud in that “I’m checking things off my To-Do list” sort of way.

“But why? I don’t…want to use it,” I confessed. Using it meant doing stuff with plants that I just don’t know how to do and am not sure I have time to do or the memory to remember to do. Or the energy.

“What? I cleared out this whole garden for you! I thought you wanted a vegetable garden!” He was visibly dismayed.

“Honey, I think I want the IDEA of a vegetable garden. I want the fruits of the labor of a garden without the labor,” I explained, just figuring out the truth myself at that very moment. I explained how the fantasy of a vegetable garden has been with me since childhood but that my parents probably did all the hard work.

“I thought you wanted it,” he said, now thoroughly confused.

“Well, I did plant seeds!” I reassured him. “Although I can’t remember what I planted or where.”

And that was the truth. I spent several hours carefully digging holes and putting seeds into the ground then meant to write down what I was planting and where but after a few hours, I had completely forgotten. So now I have a Mystery Garden.

I’m also noticing that my garden beds are covered with a green something – probably a weed, maybe chickweed – that will most likely choke any of the great things I’ve planted putting all that effort (and it was effort as I strained, panted, sweated, and cursed) planting seeds. I’m completely paralyzed since I don’t know what it is or what to do about it.

Yes, I know, probably just pull it out. But look at the picture!! It is like a blanket already! Then again, I do love pulling weeds. I could pull weeds for hours. I find weed pulling to be a very zen activity, and my brain is in constant and desperate need of zen.So maybe I really do have it in me to do this gardening stuff.

P.S. We have those tomato plants plus a pepper plant I purchased from Patsy’s on Borealis. Hubby is “hardening up” the plants (a new term I learned last night while reading The Edible Garden), and they should be in the greenhouse in a few weeks).

IMG_0892  IMG_0891

Anyone know what that green stuff is and how best (without bad chemicals) to rid my garden of it? And if it is edible, how best to harvest and prepare it?

Fiber Optic Coming to Tok?

Optical fiber provides cheaper bandwidth for l...
Image via Wikipedia

A little birdie told me a few months back that Tok would be getting fiber optic as early as the Fall. Well, now rumor has it that it may be much sooner – like sometime in the next few months!

Anyone who has been following my quest for high speed – and affordable – Internet in rural Alaska knows that “high speed” and “affordable Internet” are not usually used around these parts. I’m currently paying close to $200 for my monthly Internet access, 512k up and down, 10Gig bandwidth allowance, $30 each Gig over. (Waiting for your eyes to pop open and jaw to drop. There it goes.)

I got a peek at some numbers for the new service that will bring Tok onto the Information Superhighway instead of the rural side road and my own eyes popped open and jaw dropped. For the same connection speed, the Gig bandwidth allowance is doubled and the price is about one-fourth of what I pay now! Heck, I could afford the truly high speed connection at those rates. (more…)

Interview with Rick Thoman from NOAA

After “The Great Tok Weather Controversy,” Rick Thoman from NOAA stopped by to talk about the weather. Here’s a video of him up on mDialog (click on link or video image to go to site and play – QuickTime required).

Play the video…

rick-thoman-from-noaa-by-aliza-sherman-mdialog-11Also received the attached PDF files and following note from Rick that may be of interest.

Read on for a note from Rick Thoman…


Oh, My Aching Gigabytes

In only 6 days I’m already at nearly 3 Gigs into my bandwidth allowance.

At $30 per gig over my 10 Gig limit, I’m already seeing that I will have to change my evil bandwidth hogging ways if I’m going to keep my Internet access bill under control.

Any tips? Advice? Can I get someone’s unused bandwidth allowances like carbon offsets?


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Satellite Internet in Tok or HughesNet Might Save My Ass(ets)

Partial map of the Internet based on the Janua...
Image via Wikipedia

Just spoke with a rep from HughesNet this week after repeated unanswered calls and messages to Starband. Here’s what I found out:

1. I can get a faster Internet connection via satellite than DSL in Tok. 3 meg download compared to 512k on DSL. That speed, of course, doesn’t include the latency of satellite Internet connections which take getting used to because that pause feels like a lack of speed.

2. I will have to buy a $699 satellite dish to get the service (with a $100 rebate so technically $600).

3. I will probably want the largest commercial account – 1250 MB for $180/month. That is compared to DSL for $195/month for 1/2 the speed but only a $50 deposit and $50 modem cost to get up and running.

Yes, I’m going to invest in the dish. Nothing says “I’m surfing the Net from rural Alaska” better than a satellite dish on top of our house.

Have you had any experience with satellite Internet? Any advice you have to offer?

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The Latest on Internet Connectivity in Tok, Alaska

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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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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Internet Connectivity in Tok, Alaska

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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