Tips for life on a slow and expensive internet connection

So until I get my VSAT working I am stuck with dialup. I thought I would share a couple of the things I do to maintain an online life, without always having to be online.

Browsing the web is done in firehose mode. I connect to the internet, and then proceed to open tons of tabs (you do use Firefox, right?) full of pages that I need to read - but I don't read them until I am offline. Things like news, and essential blogs, all get loaded into various tabs that will be read later. I use Bloglines to read blogs - and I often open multiple pages to bloglines so that I can download various feeds at once. Reading blogs via RSS feeds is definitely a great way to be able to follow what is happening online without being online much yourself.

Email needs to be checked and sent regularly to assume any kind of online presence. Thunderbird helps out quite a bit by offering fairly decent offline support. So the first thing is obvious - read and write your email offline, then jump online only to send and receive. I receive and store all of my email on a server in London and then access it with IMAP. IMAP is great, even for offline use, but the one problem is it doesn't allow you to use compression. This is too bad because email is mostly text which compresses rather nicely. Zipping a text file often causes it to compress by more than 50%. So using compression could halve the time it takes to download email. How to do this? The solution is a bit complex, but I think the benefits are worth it. Ssh creates secure connections between two machines and also allows you to compress the data before it is sent over the network. Not only that, but ssh allows you to do port forwarding, essentially making ports on one computer appear as local ports on another computer. Here is the command I run whenever I go online:
ssh -N -f -C -L -l crazy
this makes a secure, compressed connection to London and my computer's port 143 actually forwarded to my server's ( port 143. Then in Thunderbird, instead of telling it that my email server is, I just tell it to look at the localhost. Voila, now any data sent or received with my IMAP server is done over a secure, compressed IMAP connection. Don't have ssh? Try putty or cygwin.

Skype is so killer (perhaps it will be killed by Google talk?), but until I have always on access, phone cards are a cheap way to do the voice thing. There are thousands of different plans available. Just google for one, and you can get a $5 card that will allow you to talk to Africa for hours. Skyping is too expensive for me, so instead I just email a phone card when I need to talk to someone instead.

As for blogging. Just figure out how to post to your blog via email - then you can do all of your writing offline and have it go out with your emails. Blogger makes it easy. I use the postie plugin for Wordpress. In fact, that is what I am doing right now. :-)

Rsync is another useful way to squeeze bandwidth and time online - see another one of my blog posts for more info.

4 Response to Tips for life on a slow and expensive internet connection

  1. Nice post and a very interesting blog all together :) I suppose you'll appreciate all this web standards stuff going on lately (less "fat", tables, etc.). I'm keeping my eye on this blog :)

  2. Nicolas says:

    Excellent post. For the Voice, I suggest you to buy a Voice-Over-Ip Box. It is cheap ($100) and communications cost around $0.03 for U.K!

  3. Nicolas says:

    Have a look at at the end of december. We will publish mor info about our VoIp service.

    How to can I read you blog via RSS?



  4. Mike says:


    I wish a VOIP box made sense, but the dial up costs are ridiculous and the quality of the internet connection is very bad. Someday though I will build an asterisk box and then the fun will begin.

    Here is a link to the RSS feed. Glad you want to subscribe!

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