Remote at One Year

31 Oct 2018

(Almost) exactly one year ago, I started a new job at Faithlife in Bellingham, WA. The wrinkle is that I live in Powell, WY. Another wrinkle is that until I took the job, I was living in Atascadero, CA. Going remote has been amazing for my family. We were living in a 1000 sq. ft. condo on the 101 and I was commuting 20 miles to San Luis Obispo every day for work. Now I work in a spare bedroom in our house on 2 acres outside of town and have a 10 ft commute downstairs. We also welcomed our second daughter a little over a month ago, so being close by has helped my wife a lot as I went back to work and she wrangles the two girls. Overall, I wouldn't trade my current life for anything, I'm so thankful to be able to live the life I wanted while working a job that I find interesting and challenging. This post will have a few anecdotes about some problems I had, but it doesn't diminish the fact that it's been a great change.

That You Would Have Internet, and that More Abundantly

Immediately after packing my wife and daughter and everything we owned into a car, a truck, and a U-Haul trailer and moving them 1200 miles, I took a business trip out to Bellingham to get set up and meet the team. Unfortunately, while this was happening my in-laws were also traveling and my wife was left alone with our 1 year old daughter and a menagerie of cows, chickens, guinea fowl and turkeys to take care of. In an ideal world, we would have planned this out better, but we didn't have the luxury of a lot of time between jobs, so we took what we could. The real problem came when I got back into town and we moved out of my in-laws basement and into our rental.

When we had known we had a job, we found a rental (next-door to my in-laws) and had contacted our neighbor who ran a WISP and had a tower on his property. He had assured me that he would leave the house connected since I was working from home and would need the internet as soon as I got home. Unfortunately I did not mention that my business trip would delay us moving in until mid-November so when I got home, I found that service had been terminated and he had rented our slot to somebody else. Turns out that the tower that he ran in his yard had very limited availability because of the age of the hardware and a long list of people wanting to get on. For an extra $200, I could get a point-to-point connection to his tower that would not interfere with his other customers, so we made a deal and he ordered an antennae and I commuted to my mother-in-law's studio where she graciously set me up ad an unused desk.

My mother-in-law had a nominally 1 Mbps connection that was effectively a 3 Mbps connection during the day when nobody was watching Netflix, so it was all good. I'm sure I annoyed her at times and I did use up a few bags of wood pellets keeping the studio warm when she would have just stayed downstairs, but she never complained. Plus, it was only going to be for a few weeks and then I'd have my own connection that I could pay to get a 5 Mbps or even 10 Mbps as I saw fit. The fact that you could hear turkeys in the background of my video calls was even a little endearing, I told myself.

Then the antennae came, and it didn't work. Apparently the company out in Texas that my WISP used was starting to have some QC problems because this wasn't the first time he'd got faulty equipment from them. It was a delay, but delays happen. I knew it was going to be rough and not just because installing a new antennae in the Wyoming winter was fraught. My neighbor ran this WISP largely so he could work remotely in Denver, so while he was willing to help me out, it wasn't ever his highest priority to add a new customer. Thankfully the thing with my mother-in-law was still working out and I like to think that between helping remove and install 3 wood pellet stoves due to faulty electronics and lending my truck to transport said stoves I at least paid her back a little for her hospitality. The last winter she had simply had to go without heat as my father-in-law was working in California when the heat failed.

Then the other shoe dropped. The man that my WISP contracted for the installs also happened to live on my block and had scoped out the location for the point-to-point on his way home. Apparently it was a no-go, absolutely not, ain't going to happen kind of situation. So basically I was up a creek. But I had come too far to let things go pear shaped now, so tried everything. Verizon has a new "unlimited" plan that has a secret cap of 20-ish GB per month, so I got a week of service by upgrading my wireless plan and tethering my work laptop. I also contacted the other WISP in town to see if I could get on their program, but due to the trees surrounding the property, I couldn't get proper line-of-sight to any of their towers. Finally, my neighbor called back and said that if I thought it would work, I could turn the antennae back on at the house and just use that to connect. I jumped at the opportunity to be back in my own house like I had originally intended.

We finally had internet. Slow (the most I could get was the same 3 Mbps) and flaky (with ping ranging between 100ms at the best and 2000ms at the worst), but on and at home. We even got cut a deal and got most of a month for free due to the long delay (3 months) between when I'd wanted internet on at the house and when I finally got it. All of this was also just in time for my wife to get very sick and effectively bedridden in her first trimester of pregnancy. I finally felt like I had successfully pulled off the new job, new state combo and was ready to go for the new baby hat trick. Then we started to look for a house.

Paradise Found

We found everything we were looking for in a house: three bedrooms on 2 acres outside of town that had a barn and shop and had been well taken care of. The only question was, would we be able to get internet out there. We put in an offer with the contingency that I be able to find suitable internet to do my job. There's cable in town, but we really wanted to be out in the country, we hadn't come all this way to live in another condo with nosy neighbors. Our offer was accepted and I had just a few weeks to find internet, so I started a search anew. I called the big WISP in town again and got the same answer, too many trees blocking line-of-sight. I started comparing satellite internet, but I knew that the increased latency would make everything that much harder I had just had a couple of days in a row with a > 2000ms ping that had made all of my video meetings almost unbearable, so the thought of a guaranteed 1200ms was not sounding like a good time.

I called my neighbor to tell him about the latency I was seeing and he managed to get it under control, but when I was talking to him, he asked if I was going to be staying in the rental because he was looking at moving his tower and would be able to get me on a point-to-point in the new location (his install guy had scoped it out on his way home again). I let him know I'd be moving soon (hopefully) and he asked who we were getting internet from. I let him know about the trouble and he let me know that the big mountain range view that I loved about the house also meant I'd have great line-of-sight to his tower out there and it was the latest and greatest gear capable of low latency video. It was some of the best news I'd ever had. We made a deal to get it set up when I closed and we decided to buy the house.

After we were in escrow, I called him back to schedule the install and he had a worried tone. Apparently he'd been getting reports from some people on the tower that the internet was slow and he wanted to know if the other WISP had been out to the property. I told him that he was my only hope and that I'd take my chances with the slow internet. He then let me know that his install guy was moving to Billings and he didn't have anybody to install the antennae, so would I be willing to do it. I was all-in at this point, so what was a little ladder work if it meant we could keep the dream alive?

He came by just after we'd moved in while I was still commuting to the rental daily for work and we set up the connection. I borrowed my father-in-law's chainsaw and had just cut back some tree limbs that were growing over the driveway and into the line-of-sight when he arrived. I got up on the ladder and installed the antennae without much ado, and when I went to try it out, I could barely contain myself. Even with reports of slow internet, I was getting 5 Mbps with 10ms to 50ms ping for the first time since moving to Wyoming. Every now-and-then we have trouble with low bandwidth because of congestion, but so far it hasn't been during business hours and my WISP isn't looking to add a ton of new customers to that tower, especially since he's got nobody to do the installs. So, while I wouldn't advise just anybody take a new job in a new state while buying a new home in a different new state and having a baby while they're at it, I'm thankful to say that we're making it work.