Quality-of-Life Tip: Muffle Your Phone’s Ringer

The various phones around the house have been bugging me. As a writer, I don’t like being interrupted anyway, since writing is one of those things where it’s really hard to get going and too easy to stop. I let calls fall into voicemail a lot. But the ringers make me jump out of my skin.

So I’ve turned some ringers off and muffled others. To muffle an electronic ringer, find where the ringing noise comes from and put a piece of tape over it. End of problem. On an older phone with mechanical bells, take the cover off the phone (look for the screws on the bottom) and put a piece of tape on each bell where it’s struck by the clapper. This will give a lovely muted ringing.

Portable phones with a built-in speakerphone feature tend to use the same speaker for both the speakerphone and the ringer, so you’ll muffle the speakerphone if you muffle the bell. “Well worth it,” I say. I hate being on the receiving end of speakerphone calls because the voice quality of the speakerphone user is alwayso bad, so I avoid using speakerphone when talking to other people.

If you have a phone in your bedroom (why?), you should probably turn off its ringer altogether. I hate being awakened by the phone, and the call is always meaningless.

This is part of my quality-of-life campaign, where I try to limit other people’s ability to distract me from my otherwise pleasant life. I don’t watch the news and I usually don’t pick up the phone. I’m trying to cut back on how often I check my email. These things help put me back in charge of both my time and my brain. I recommend them.

Are New Econoboxes Better Than Old?

I still have the car I learned to drive on — a 1975 VW Rabbit. I like it, and Karen likes it better than I do. It’s a classic economy car, one of the first modern subcompacts. Way back when, it got over 30 MPG pretty regularly.

It hasn’t run in the past couple of years, but I got it running well enough today to get it onto the grass where I could wash it and check it over.

My 1975 VW Rabbit

It has an undiagnosed problem that’s making it run ragged, which I’ll take to the mechanical geniuses at the Independent Auto Werks in Corvallis if Karen and I can’t figure it out, and it needs to have the rust fixed and a new coat of paint. And a new stereo. Other than that, it’s as good as it ever was, which was pretty good.

I don’t really see the point in buying new cars. Cars last forever (at least, they do in areas where they never salt the roads), and newness lasts hardly any time at all. Nothing to get excited about. And if you want to impress your friends and neighbors, it’s cheaper and more fun to do it with a classic car, which by now has acquired some personality. Not that my Rabbit is turning any heads right now — or not in a good way. But I can fix that.

I was comparing the payload capacities of my various vehicles, and I was startled to learn that, while my Isuzu Trooper has a payload of 975 pounds and 18 MPG on the highway, the 1975 Rabbit has a payload of 715 pounds and 38 MPG! The difference between a subcompact and an SUV is only five sacks of feed? Unreal!

Gas mileage hasn’t really improved all that much since 1960, when a Ford Falcon could get 30 MPG and seat six. So there’s a huge range of history to choose from if you’re in the market for a thriftier car. No one’s holding a gun to your head to buy a new car that will never save enough money on gas to make the purchase sensible. The only important leap in automotive technology since my 1975 Rabbit was built was cupholders. But we lost 10 MPH bumpers somewhere along the line, so I’m not sure it was a fair trade.

Rural High-Speed Internet

My satellite TV signal is going south on me, so I’ve ordered a new antenna. The old one is an ancient Hughes “DirecPC” antenna, which got me thinking about rural high-speed Internet.

When I first returned to Oregon, I used dial-up. It was painfully slow and consumed a phone line. I quickly switched to DirecPC (now HughesNet), which was a huge improvement. No comparison. I got satellite TV at the same time, using the same antenna for both.

Satellite Internet works in places that have no phone service, which is useful for people who are way out yonder. This doesn’t apply to me, though.

While satellite Internet is a lot better than dial-up,it’s a lot worse than DSL. The reason is that a signal going up to a geosynchronous satellite and back again has to travel over 50,000 miles, which adds a delay amounting to a significant fraction of a second to everything you do. If your phone lines can support DSL, that’s what you want. This is true even if the local DSL service is slower. That is, a 768 kpbs satellite link is a lot slower in practice than a 768 kbps DSL link.

People in town can also opt for cable Internet or various forms of wireless Internet served by local antenna towers, but these are typically not available in rural areas.

DSL piggybacks onto an existing phone line in a way that’s invisible to your telephone, so you can use your phone and Internet at the same time.

No one is allowed to use my computer but me. This means that I have to provide the kids with their own computers. With high-speed Internet, everyone can connect to the Internet simultaneously, without fighting over the use of the link. I have Ethernet cables running all over the house to hook everything up. Wireless is easier, though it may not give adequate coverage over the whole house. Inevitably, the room that’s the most impossible to reach with a cable is the one that can’t receive a wireless signal, either. My recommendation for DSL: get a DSL modem that supports both wired and wireless access between itself and your PCs.

Modern computers all have Ethernet ports as standard equipment; just plug in the cable. For wireless, you need a wireless adapter that plugs into a USB port into a slot in the PC.

Speaking of PCs, folks in the country are often subjected to frequent power outages. The most convenient way to deal with this is to use a laptop computer rather than a desktop system. Laptops have batteries and will continue running for a couple of hours after the power fails. This is far more run time than you get with a desktop system and an affordable UPS (uninterruptible power supply). This may not be practical for anyone interested in state-of-the-art games on their PC. Laptops capable of such things aren’t very affordable.

I have found that both desktops and laptops work well off a generator. If you want to combine a UPS and generator use (which makes sense, since it means your desktop systems won’t crash when the generator runs out of gas), I recommend the APC Smart-UPS line, which is better-suited to generator use than other UPS systems. Other UPS units I’ve tried freak out at the least little voltage deviation and switch to battery, exhausting their batteries even when the generator is running. The Smart-UPS doesn’t do this.