Friday, March 11, 2011

Context switching is more expensive when bandwidth is limited

This post is just made up of more idle musings and could really be shortened to a tweet, but while on the road this week with access to the office via questionable and/or slow internet connections, I've noticed that context switching, both literal and figurative, is much more expensive with low bandwidth.

This applies across all sorts of situations. I get a lot of IMs from co-workers, for example. Normally I don't notice their impact much, since I have two big monitors worth of screen real estate and I can switch back and forth between IM windows and coding or testing quickly. But with less screen space (1280 x 800 instead of 3840 x 1080), the IM windows take up more space and I have to move them around frequently, which takes up more time.

Also, with slow internet connections, actually switching between windows is sometimes difficult, as redrawing a bigger chunk of the screen causes the whole connection to freeze for as long as several minutes at a time. And as upstream bandwidth is always more limited than downstream, sometimes my typing or clicks don't get transmitted for extended periods of time. It's very frustrating, to the point where I'm planning to get a mobile internet solution of some kind very soon. The travel has also cost me quite a few mobile phone minutes, as I can't use VOIP over the sketchy internet connections.

In other remote working news, I've noticed two startups in the space mentioned recently on TechCrunch: LiquidSpace and LooseCubes. I'm hoping that one or both will help provide the co-working experience I've been seeking and not finding in DC (and potentially elsewhere).

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