Extreme teleworking: A Reg hack reports from the internet's frontier
SPB carves new cyberspace out of frosty mountain notspot
"You lucky, lucky bastard," was how a fellow Reg hack responded to my announcement back in 2004 that I was upping sticks and establishing a Vulture Central outpost in rural Spain, far from the rain-lashed shores of Blighty.
In September of that year, I was sardined in cattle class on a London-bound train packed with misery-washed commuters as we crawled at 30km/h through "vital engineering works" which had, according to local lore, begun in 1873 and were scheduled for completion some time before the heat death of the universe.
By mid-December, I was standing in the freezing cold of a Spanish mountain village, clutching the keys of the ancient house I'd just bought which had, according to local lore, been built in 1873 and, according to my missus, was unlikely to be entirely renovated before the heat death of the universe without the intervention of a team of builders endowed with superhuman powers of construction.
So, I'd given the expat-packed Costas a wide berth, resisted the temptation to spunk all the available cash on a newly built property, and landed in the province of Avila's enclave of Los Narros: elevation 1,100m, population 10, donkey to human inhabitant ratio 1.2:1.
Los Narros: Population 10
My first priority was to establish communication with the outside world via the internet - on which the whole success of the relocation rested. Fat pipes are a bit thin on the ground out in here, so I was obliged to rent office space in the local town of El Barco de Avila, and get in touch with the Great Satan of Spanish telecoms, whose name is whispered by trembling locals with a mixture of fear and contempt.
Yes, Telefónica, I'm talking about you. I still owe you one for forcing me to work in a cybercafe for two months, surrounded by shouty yoof playing Counter-Strike, while you tried not very hard to find a crack team capable of bridging the ten metres between the phone cable in the street and office's broadband modem.
Telefónica gives another customer a right seeing-to
Finally, two Ecuadorians in a white van rolled up bearing a ladder, a pair of pliers and some wire strippers, and the deed was done. With a net hook-up that only fell over a bit when it rained or was a bit windy, or during a full Moon or an unfavourable alignment of the planets, I was able to settle into the daily 16km round-trip commute between my delightful country residence and work PC.
My delightful country residence. Trust me, it's even colder inside...
I use the term "delightful" in the same way Brit estate agents might use "quaint" to describe a timber-framed cottage tortured by rising damp and deathwatch beetle, and built over a disused mineshaft filled with nuclear waste. With no central heating, the house's stone construction displayed the quite remarkable ability to maintain a interior winter temperature colder than outdoors, as if the walls were equipped with some kind of alien tech chill generator, perhaps developed by distant ice-world beings to keep their embryonic offspring at the optimum level of freeze.
The difference between life and icy death
We managed to bodge in a wood burner on the first floor, but to leave the one-room sanctuary where the mercury rose to a balmy 15°C on January nights was to take your life into your hands. "I am just going outside and may be some time," declared my son as he ventured downstairs to the kitchen to make a cuppa, only to return a few minutes later looking like he'd spent the time sitting outside with Kurt Russell in the final scene of John Carpenter's The Thing.
We survived, though, and as the frozen earth slowly yielded to the spring sunshine's gentle caress, I began to consider phase two of my grand plan for a pure teleworking experience: to get an internet connection in the village.*
I didn't much appreciate stumping for an office space when I could just as easily work at home, and enjoy the latest addition to my country estate: a 3000 square metre field next to the house where at some stage a garden and garage complex would rise from the earth in magnificent tribute to hardcore DIY.
Suffice it to say, I'm still working on the complex, and if it weren't for a chance meeting in town a few years back, I'd still be doing the day job in a rented space through Telefónica's "copper cable of uncertainty", as it had become known.
Next page: The coming of the WiMAX
Sponsored: Hyper-scale data management