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(Near) Constant Internet While RV'ing? 438

Neilio writes "What systems would Slashdotters recommend for staying connected while RV'ing across the US and Canada? While a 3G data plan seems obvious, the intrepid RV'er wants to get remote and into those parts of the coverage map that are usually gray (no coverage). But satellite can be expensive, includes high latency for VoIP and gaming, and requires a clear view of the southern sky. I've come across some intriguing products that use an amplified 2G/3G signal and bridge to WiFi, like WiFi In Motion, and CradlePoint's MBR1000 (I have no affiliation with either). Do folks have any experience with these, or can you recommend another approach (even homebrew)? While I am an electrical engineer by degree, you have to go back a few decades since I last expertly sported a soldering iron, so the less DIY the better. My wife and I now run a web-based business, so nearly daily connectivity is a must, no matter where we are."
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(Near) Constant Internet While RV'ing?

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  • Iridium? (Score:5, Informative)

    by jonbryce ( 703250 ) on Wednesday September 16, 2009 @03:04PM (#29444345) Homepage

    Very slow and very expensive, but as they have lots of satellites in polar orbit, you just need a clear view of the sky. Maybe use it only where you can't get a cellphone connection.

    • Re:Iridium? (Score:4, Informative)

      by ArcadeX ( 866171 ) on Wednesday September 16, 2009 @03:17PM (#29444577)
      There's now something called Iridium Openport, which is a satalite ISDN that's always on, but you have satalite expense. Works well enough the TS Kennedy.
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by mytrip ( 940886 )
      iridium is like $12/megabyte. Way too much.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by itwerx ( 165526 )
      Iridum is a good start. But take that, a generic WIFI card, whatever 3G service you like, and heck, anything else you can think of, and glue it all together with pfSense []. Only time you'll have trouble is if you're actually in motion and have a secure connection established (e.g. VPN or SSL), and you lose the active connection, the other end will see you on a different IP and you'll have to re-authenticate. (Oh, did I mention that pfSense is awesome? :)
  • Cat V (Score:5, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday September 16, 2009 @03:04PM (#29444349)

    Big spools of Cat V... it's cheap

  • Inmarsat (Score:4, Informative)

    by Virtucon ( 127420 ) on Wednesday September 16, 2009 @03:05PM (#29444357)

    Inmarsat BGAN performs well however it is pricey for the setup and monthly fee. The advantage is that you can get coverage basically everywhere. There's also setups that allow tie-in for a phone, fax etc.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by DarthBart ( 640519 )

      I agree. BGAN gets you 400Kbps of "best effort" service at $6/mb. Or dedicated "streaming" connections that will go up to 256K @ $22/min.

      Thrane & Thrane make a mobile unit that tracks the satellite as you move.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday September 16, 2009 @03:06PM (#29444375)

    I have been using them for almost a year and the speed is OK (~1 M), the latency a bit high (~100ms). It is a 3G wireless card, plugs into a PCMCIA slot. I created a home router, but you can buy one that fits the card. If they ever get their act together, they might bump it up to 4G. All you need is one of their cell towers. And they have a map.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by blincoln ( 592401 )

      But will it work outside of major metropolitan areas?

      I live in Seattle. Last month I drove out to Yellowstone and camped there for three nights. My G1 (T-Mobile service, of course) had only roaming coverage east of Spokane (Washington). That meant no data access* in Idaho, Montana, or Wyoming. None. Good thing I was always planning on using Streets and Trips on my laptop if necessary and not Google Maps, eh?

      Three years ago I went on a long loop drive that took me as far east as Ohio. I had a Nextel phone at

  • how about (Score:3, Insightful)

    by gandhi_2 ( 1108023 ) on Wednesday September 16, 2009 @03:07PM (#29444393) Homepage
  • Priorities (Score:5, Insightful)

    by loteck ( 533317 ) on Wednesday September 16, 2009 @03:07PM (#29444399) Homepage

    If you want constant internet access, you must not go where there is no signal.

    If you want to go enjoy remote places with no signal, you cannot have constant internet coverage.

    Pick one.

    • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday September 16, 2009 @03:10PM (#29444455)

      What kind of blasphemy is this, advocating common sense on Slashdot!?

      • advocating common sense on Slashdot!?

        Except it's not common sense. Common sense says a person doesn't need to be always connected. I know when I'm out hiking, with my camera equipment and laptop, I'd like to be able to upload photos and updates occasionally. I oppose being always available but connecting perhaps once or twice a day may be good.


    • by Migraineman ( 632203 ) on Wednesday September 16, 2009 @03:12PM (#29444479)
      But ... isn't RVing about getting away from it all (while still taking it all with you?)
    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by oldspewey ( 1303305 )

      OP doesn't say whether they need constant internet access even while mobile, or if they have the option of releasing a tethered repeater balloon which soars to a height of 10km whenever they've stopped - even a remote place.

    • As Ioteck mentions, if you rely on cellular internet, you need to remain within cellular range. Cell service in sparsely populated areas (like campgrounds) is pretty poor. My parents regularly get weak or no service when they go on vacation. You should look into getting an external cell repeater, or an access point that accepts external high gain antenna.
    • Re:Priorities (Score:5, Insightful)

      by timeOday ( 582209 ) on Wednesday September 16, 2009 @04:29PM (#29445701)
      What a dopey comment, why weigh in at all if your only thought is to accept the limitations of the most obvious off-the-shelf solutions, or nothing at all? The question itself already went far beyond your "coverage/no coverage" false dichotomy by identifying various technologies such as 3g range extenders and satellites that offer various tradeoffs. At the least, somebody with experience using these could weigh in on their utility, or lack thereof.
  • by 93 Escort Wagon ( 326346 ) on Wednesday September 16, 2009 @03:07PM (#29444403)

    You say "the intrepid RV'er wants to get remote", but you want to remain in constant internet contact. You claim it's about your business, but you worry about latency's effect on gaming.

    Why exactly are you heading out anywhere? Cuz it sounds to me you're not gonna to see anything that's not reflected in your computer screen...

    • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday September 16, 2009 @03:14PM (#29444511)
      Well, he lives in his Mom's RV's Basement and she likes to travel.
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward

      I agree - why would you be gaming while on a RV trip? This almost like asking how to picnic while snorkeling.

    • by BirdDoggy ( 886894 ) on Wednesday September 16, 2009 @03:24PM (#29444701)

      His web business is WoW gold farming.

    • I admin a number of servers and work from home most days. My wife and I would love to live further out in the countryside without all the noise and light pollution. Most people that I mention this too have an instant solution: satellite. The problem that most people don't understand, and the problem I find myself explaining, is the concept of high latency. As I use SSH for my livelihood, low latency is extremely important.

      Most people don't understand the negative effect of latency on interactive real-t

    • by aclarke ( 307017 ) <> on Wednesday September 16, 2009 @04:22PM (#29445589) Homepage
      As another self-employed person, I'll ask you what I view as a rhetorical question. If you had to work, would you rather work in your home office in some suburb of some city, or wherever you live, or would you occasionally like to spend a day/week/month working beside a quiet lake in the middle of nowhere, in a crowded foreign beach town, or wherever it is that you would like to head on vacation?

      I go on vacations where I don't take my laptop and don't work, but on the other hand if I want to go somewhere fun and work for a while, what's the problem with that? It's not an either/or situation.
  • freak (Score:2, Insightful)

    by joejor ( 578266 )
    most people (ie, non-slashdotters) take the RV to get away from the constant barrage of tech and telecom, to see sights not (web)sites, to look out the window and not at Windows.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      People use a piece of technology to get away from all the technology and then wonder why it isn't working...
    • Re:freak (Score:4, Insightful)

      by Torontoman ( 829262 ) on Wednesday September 16, 2009 @03:21PM (#29444661)

      This is a bit harsh. Often RV'ers are gone for long periods of time. I know someone who spends his winters RVing in Mexico. he runs a business and needs to also be in touch with people regularly.

    • You are being an asshole. A lot of people are losing their houses (or leaving them voluntarily ahead of someone making the decision for them, which is an unusually mature choice these days) and moving into an RV right now. Beats moving back in with your diaper-wearing parents. If you don't have any kids and are willing to get rid of all that crap you never take out of boxes anyway, it could even be fun.

      I'm planning on getting a truck camper to go with my 1992 F250 4x4 Super Cab Diesel with 4" lift (but firs

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by falconwolf ( 725481 )

      most people (ie, non-slashdotters) take the RV to get away from the constant barrage of tech and telecom, to see sights not (web)sites, to look out the window and not at Windows.

      Some of those people like to photograph, write, and otherwise document it too. Even when camping or hiking I like bringing my camera with me. When I was in the army my commanding officer made me the unit's photographer because no matter where we went to out in the field, my military occupation specialty or MOS was small arms speci

  • Get a 3G and a satellite. When you're within range of a cell tower (which is almost everywhere, these days) you get the high speeds you want. Outside, you still have basic Internet connectivity via the satellite.

    Or give it 20 years and I can almost guarantee you that you'll be able to pick up a high-speed, low-latency connection from anywhere on the continent.

  • My parents used a 3G card while driving around the country, but it had a built-in antenna. I'd look for a 3G device with an antenna jack and connect it to a directional antenna on the roof. There are rotating TV antenna devices for RVs which could be altered to hold a suitable directional antenna. Or might an RV satellite dish mount be adaptable to focus on a 3G antenna?
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Nerdposeur ( 910128 )
      Airlink Ravens [] are cellular modems with Ethernet jacks. You can attach any kind of antenna you want to it - mount it on the roof if you like. Run the signal you get through a cellular amplifier and that's about as good as you can ask for in the cellular world.
  • by Guspaz ( 556486 ) on Wednesday September 16, 2009 @03:09PM (#29444443)

    You don't want to use satellite and you say cellular coverage isn't good enough. What exactly are you expecting? If there's no connectivity, there's no connectivity. No amount of homebrew can fix that.

    You also seem confused by WiFi In Motion and Cradlepoint products. They don't amplify anything, they're just access points that you can plug your phone in to get wifi coverage. A laptop and a router can do the same thing.

    You have two choices:

    1) Pony up the dough for satellite coverage
    2) Get a cellular data plan and live with no connectivity in dead zones

    I don't believe there are any other alternatives.

    • by mcgrew ( 92797 ) * on Wednesday September 16, 2009 @03:31PM (#29444793) Homepage Journal

      He could become a ham radio operator and use his home base as an internet proxy server. I don't know what the latency would be, but I would guess it would be better than satellite.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Cato ( 8296 )

      WiFi in Motion does include a 3 watt amplifier and a high gain antenna, so it should get 3G signal at longer ranges than a normal mobile phone. However, it's not a panacea - satellite is the only way to get really complete coverage everywhere.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by falconwolf ( 725481 )

      You don't want to use satellite and you say cellular coverage isn't good enough. What exactly are you expecting? If there's no connectivity, there's no connectivity. No amount of homebrew can fix that.

      It's only impossible until someone does it. Take almost everything you take for granted now back 200 years and you may find yourself accused of witchcraft. Radio wasn't thought possible until Tesla came along, or TV with Philo Farnsworth [].


  • You might want to get a Starbucks gold card [] as a fall back plan. It costs $25/year. You can get 2 hours of wifi at any starbucks with it per day. (I don't work for Starbucks and I don't own any of their stock).
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by mcgrew ( 92797 ) *

      Screw Starbucks, any public library and many other establishments have FRE wifi. Hell, the bar I go to has wifi, and almost all its patrons are construction workers who don't even have computers, let alone laptops. I've never seen anybody in there use the wifi. McDonald's (at least the one on 6th street) has free wifi.

      Do you pay for your air?

  • by grasshoppa ( 657393 ) <skennedy@tpn o - c o .org> on Wednesday September 16, 2009 @03:12PM (#29444471) Homepage

    Product requirements;

    - Decent latency
    - Decent bandwidth
    - Available everywhere
    - Reliable

    Solution; none. There is no product out there that will meet all four requirements.

    It now falls to you to decide what your priority is. Given that you need to stay in contact because of business concerns, I'd guess you'd make the following priorities

    1) Reliable
    2) Low latency for voip purposes
    3) Enough bandwidth for voip/email/image uploads
    4) Available everywhere.

    If that's the case, then the obvious answer is to simply NOT travel anywhere without 3g coverage. No other solution you are going to find will match your requirements otherwise.

  • RFC 1149 (Score:4, Funny)

    by milgr ( 726027 ) on Wednesday September 16, 2009 @03:15PM (#29444535)
    Implementable anywhere an RV can go. Latency leaves something to be desired.
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by shakezula ( 842399 )
      Very well said...too bad the folks who mod'd this informative didn't read what RFC 1149 actually is.
  • by eldavojohn ( 898314 ) * <eldavojohn AT gmail DOT com> on Wednesday September 16, 2009 @03:16PM (#29444565) Journal

    intrepid RV'er

    I may have a different definition of "intrepid" than you but to me there's nothing intrepid about any location you reach by road unless you're talking about hostile countries or might-wake-up-without-your-kidney parts of Mexico. Especially if you're on your laptop having a conference call while your TV dinners cook inside the RV.

    Do yourself a favor and get out of the position where your business can't function without you. If you have you have to be a single point of failure I'm sorry you picked that profession in life and it's great that you make twice what I make but I would not trade places. If you want something moderately challenging then leave at home all your electronics and canoe/portage 50 miles into the Boundary Waters Canoe Area [] for an intrepid vacation. Trust me, to see land so pristine was a near religious experience and I definitely went back.

    Go white water rafting or mountain hiking or get dive certified. I'm sorry if your health doesn't permit this but I personally don't find anything intrepid about a recreational vehicle.

  • As one who has just returned from camping, Mammoth Caves NP and Blue Ridge, I can say that cell service is most definitely ubiquitous, neither are Star Bucks. We did find one coffee shop with free WiFi. Of course we weren't looking very hard. About the only thing I needed my laptop for was storage for my camera cards. Leave the internet at home, it WILL be there when you get back. BTW, ditch the RV too much more of an adventure in a tent.
  • Not many options (Score:3, Informative)

    by Stenchwarrior ( 1335051 ) on Wednesday September 16, 2009 @03:19PM (#29444605)
    I will have to continue the trend of most posters and say none. If you are wanting just basic connection to load a page or two in a browser, you can do satellite in the places where 3G is no an option, but if you need things like VoIP and gaming, then forget it. Even over 3G the latency is too high for gaming unless you are playing some turn-based RPG. VoIP might be ok as long as you turn up the compression on the codec, but over all I think your best option is to either stay put, or stop frequently to plug in your laptop to a wired network.
  • 3G with Repeater. (Score:3, Informative)

    by natehoy ( 1608657 ) on Wednesday September 16, 2009 @03:19PM (#29444609) Journal

    It won't give you 100% completely continuous coverage, but in areas where there is even weak 3G coverage outdoors but just not inside the RV, you could use a repeater. That allows you to put a really big antenna outside (it can even be directional) and the unit acts as a small local cell tower giving you full bars inside the RV.

    Of course, if you go outside of 3G coverage, your phone will fall back to an older technology which is slower, and if you get out of data areas altogether you're screwed. However, you can supplement this in a lot of areas - many parks now offer WiFi.

    I use a repeater at my house because, while I have half-decent signal outside, I have an aluminum-sided house and inside there's no signal whatsoever. I just use the included el cheapo antenna, but you can add some really powerful receiving antennas for some extra dough. My repeater cost about $300, and is a ZyXel unit, but Wilson and several other companies make various iterations of them with various antenna designs.

    You'll still have to stick to at least fringe areas where signal is actually available, but it would significantly increase your range at least. Short of satellite, which you've already said you don't want, that's about it at the moment.

  • random comments (Score:3, Interesting)

    by fred fleenblat ( 463628 ) on Wednesday September 16, 2009 @03:21PM (#29444641) Homepage

    2-way sat modems are very tricky to set up the dish. You can't just point them with a compass and azimuth guess like you do with have to get feedback about how well the satellite is receiving your uplink. And if you do get it pointed correctly, every time you walk around the RV you'll move the dish a little bit and lose the uplink. Also, the "flat" dishes you see on top of escalades that work in motion are receive only. You cannot use a 2-way sat modem while in motion, period.

    I think 3G is your best bet. I'd go with a cradlepoint and have a tetherable 3G phone (on a different network) as a backup. ( Possibly, you can plug two different providers' USB modems into the same cradlepoint and make handoffs seamless; you'd have to ask them to be sure.)

    If you can park near someplace near civilization you'll probably spot an open wifi in about 30 seconds.

    Final thing is if you're running a web-based business and can afford an RV and 3G phones and stuff, perhaps you can afford some employees to run the business for you while you go on an actual vacation.

  • You just need really long cord, and plenty of repeaters.
  • It won't help if there's NO signal, but in weak signal areas, signal boosting equipment can give you better cellular reception.

    I work in the cellular industry, and Wilson Electronics' stuff is well-respected.

    Disclosure: my company is a dealer. We have been told by carrier engineers that the carrier itself recommends and uses this equipment, though. And notice that I'm not giving you a link to our site.

    This kind of equipment is expensive - somewhere around the $600 range - but you can get one setup that will

    • Also - yes, Cradlepoint makes good routers. Some of them can load-balance between two cellular data cards and effectively give you twice the bandwidth. Extra bonus if you're in 4G coverage and 4G-capable cards (which in your case is extremely unlikely, as 4G isn't even in most major cities yet). But again, you have to have signal.
  • Wifi (Score:3, Interesting)

    by WPIDalamar ( 122110 ) on Wednesday September 16, 2009 @03:25PM (#29444707) Homepage

    Nationwide wireless internet sucks.

    Stay at campgrounds that offer Wifi, problem solved.

    KOA has tons. []

  • Packet radio (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Ironchew ( 1069966 ) on Wednesday September 16, 2009 @03:26PM (#29444727)

    If speed and latency aren't priorities and you can deal with unencrypted transmission, I'd recommend getting an amateur radio license and operating a packet radio [].

    • Replying to myself here. I forgot to add that the FCC also forbids the use of amateur radio for commercial purposes. Stick with the existing infrastructure for your web business. If you need daily connectivity, forget remote areas. Satellite internet is the only thing I can think of.

    • by zentec ( 204030 ) *

      What good are 300 baud and 1200 baud transmissions with latency measured in the tens of seconds? The email he seeks is to remain in touch with his business (not exactly kosher on amateur radio). He wants low latency for VOIP. Packet isn't going to do that. And considering the decline of packet radio within the hobby, there isn't much chance of being able to digipeat somewhere to actually *find* an internet gateway. There's Winlink, but then he's likely to have to pack HF communications gear.

      More of a p

  • The first RV stops at the edge of 3G connectivity. The 2nd goes on into the bush and uses WiFi and cantennas on masts to achieve connectivity to the 1st RV and thus the 3G network.
  • by maharb ( 1534501 ) on Wednesday September 16, 2009 @03:35PM (#29444851)

    Half the comments have some portion dedicated to criticizing the idea of RVing and "being connected'. Why is it so hard to understand that liking the outdoors/road and having internet are not opposites. Everyone that is asking why he even needs internet should ask themselves why they want phone service when not at home. The internet is just as much a tool as a frying pan or a tent these days, and having access to it at all times is very useful. Not to mention that one could spend all day hiking around and doing activities outside only to retreat back to camp and want an hour or two of connectivity. Not totally insane if you ask me. As for how to do it? Well I am not an expert in that area so I will let someone else help out.

  • I have a Sprint MiFi and like it but you should know Sprint and Verizon do not have data everywhere they have voice. AT&T does but I dont think they have a MiFi right now. The mifi is from novatel and gives you a wireless hotspot that provides data for up to 5 devices. Way cool and no software to install. I just love mine.
  • Loft your 3G bridge with a tethered balloon or kite.
  • I just spent a week driving through rural Wyoming, Idaho, and Montana, with two friends. When we weren't on the Interstate, we had, during the entire week, a grand total of less than an hour when any one of the cellphones could pick up enough signal to talk. When we *were* on the Interstates, we had cellphone coverage less than half the time. In any of the towns of under 2000 people, I never saw any wireless access using kismet and the standard laptop pcmcia card antenna. In larger towns, like Bozeman o
  • by UttBuggly ( 871776 ) on Wednesday September 16, 2009 @03:47PM (#29445059)

    My wife and I are considering an RV next spring and plan to take 1-4 week trips all over North America.

    I did some research and concluded that a combination of satellite, 3G, and a WiFi repeater would give us reasonable results. The difference is that we DON'T have a business to mind, don't need low-latency links for gaming, and don't plan on going to the middle of nowhere. I figured that even the TiVO would work while driving, with a $2500 mobile satellite antenna rig on the roof.

    You're asking for a "perfect" solution, which is your case, does not exist.

    The simple solution is the 7P rule; "Proper prior planning prevents piss poor performance".

    Decide which is more important on any jaunt...going where no man has gone before OR grinding some quests in WoW.

    Put another way...and most technology adheres to THIS rule; the three variables are GOOD, FAST, and CHEAP - pick the two that are most important for YOU to have.

  • by dhickman ( 958529 ) on Wednesday September 16, 2009 @04:54PM (#29446099)
    There will be several modes that you will have use. As with anything else a fulltimer faces, no single solution will work all of the time.

    Stick with 12volt hardware. This should be obvious. You will not need to run your genny to have internet access.

    Pending where you are going to be this is what I have found to be the most flexible.

    Buy a cradlepoint or something similar that can take multiple brands of 3g cards/dongles, with a secondary ethernet wan port. Make sure the 3g cards/dongles have external antenna connectors.

    Buy an outdoor directional wifi CPE that has power over ethernet. Try to make sure it is 12v.

    Buy a wilson outdoor antenna, extension cable ( if needed) and connector dongle for each 3g card. I prefer makeing a custom mount that attached to the ladder, than penetrating the roof, but that is your choice.

    Buy a wilson amplifier, this is critical.

    Buy a motorola cable modem, and a at&t wired dsl modem.

    Locate a spot in the cabin that can wall mount the router, amp, and router the cables. I installed a separate lighted power switch for each of the 12v supplies, to make sure that the system had power and that I could cut it off and make it wife proof.

    Install the wifi CPE on a pole and make a mount that will mount to the ladder or other strong point. I would not bother will any fancy ethernet jacks on the outside, just have the cable go through the basement into the cabin.

    The problem with 3g is their 5gig limit. I would have a sprint and AT&T card. This should give you 3g over most of the US.

    The reason for the WIFI, is that almost all decent parks have some form of either pay wifi or free wifi. Turn it on, turn off the 3g and you win.

    All major truck stops have wifi, traditionally I always spent the night at flying J. I think their yearly price is not that bad.

    If you plan on spending more the two weeks at a single spot. Look for parks that advertise cable television. So far all but one of them, I found that I could get my cable modem working. None of the parks will be aware of this. All you do is plug the modem up and if it gets sync, try to surf. Usually there will be a redirect to the cable companies customer disservice line. If not call the customer service line. Usually you give them the mac and you will be online in minutes. Make sure that there is no contract since they are not supplying a modem. Cancel service when you leave.

    You can do this also with DSL on site supplied phone lines, but it takes days to weeks for the line to get turned up. I usually use dsl as a last hope.

    While on the road use 3g, for the parks, plan ahead and call the parks office. They usually will know if they have wifi and sometimes will know if their cable supports cable modems. Always have 2-3 parks ready, and pay the daily rate until you have verified which park is the best for a fulltimer.

    Good luck.
  • by AugstWest ( 79042 ) on Wednesday September 16, 2009 @08:44PM (#29448813)

    The only technology that blankets the planet is satellite. No other signal has the reach. It's that simple.

    It isn't just HughesNet anymore, there are other companies in the space (get it?) now too, like WildBlue [], Skycasters [] and some others.

    I would highly recommend picking up a portable satellite setup like you'll find by clicking on my signature. I'm not really shilling for it, it's my father-in-law's hobby business, but he has come up with some pretty cool stuff.

"I don't believe in sweeping social change being manifested by one person, unless he has an atomic weapon." -- Howard Chaykin