THEY DO IT WITHOUT WIRES
by Leigh Lundin
It’s Friday and my broadband network has died. After following tech support’s rigmarole, which in this case I knew would be fruitless, they promised to have a guy show up. Sunday. Maybe. A maybe promise? Isn’t that also promising he might not show up?
But, I have a column due and no immediate way to send it. None of my neighbors have been considerate enough to install free WiFi, so I’ll have to visit a local establishment with a wireless carrier and piggyback onto their router.
For years, a group of us have met for lunch at a local restaurant, and recently they agreed to install a WiFi router for us, the latest in a growing number of laptop-friendly establishments. They follow in the footsteps of Panera’s, a popular provider of soup, sandwiches, and surfing. One of the more unexpected wireless hotspots is Krystals, a southern version of White Castles, for those who grok the tiny hamburger “belly bombs”.
Kinko’s has crossed my mind and another possibility is Borders Bookstore, but sadly, they charge a daily fee, not even a 24 hour fee, but one that expires the same hour every day.
I confess I found it seriously annoying when New York’s beautiful Roosevelt Hotel assured me they had internet capability, and I arrived only to learn that they had a hard-wired box in each room that you had to pay to connect to. That is no better than cheap motels that nickel ‘n’ dime you to death for local phone calls and charge you a quarter to make your lonely bed vibrate.
It’s possible I may meet with my friend Geri and persuade her to bring her MacBook. Bluetooth-equipped computers can sniff each other out and transferring a file is a snap, as long as the file size isn’t overly large.
With all this technical chatter, you may be a reader who thinks this wireless capability sounds vaguely nice and exotic, but just because you’re reading an on-line blog, we shouldn’t assume you know exactly how it’s done. We all have to start somewhere, don’t we?
True. So first, you have to learn if your laptop has wireless capability. In your manual, you may see mention of WiFi or 802.11 standard, both indicators you may well have the ability to connect over the air. If the technology isnâ€™t built in, you can buy a wireless card or a little adapter the size of those tiny solid state drives that plugs into a USB port.
To connect, you need to be in an establishment that provides a “wireless hotspot”, meaning a place that has a gadget in the back room capability of picking up signals from your laptop. The procedure differs between a Mac and a PC, but the general idea is that you open a system control panel or a “wizard” and turn your transceiver on. (Some Macs may call this “AirPort”, named after the Apple router of the same name.) If you come across a setting to locate signals automatically, choose it.
Once on, have your computer look for a signal. If this mechanism isn’t intuitive, a “wizard” or the “Assist me” button can be a big help. So far, we’ve mentioned free services, but if you want to use a password protected network, you’ll need to know both the password and whether the encryption is WEP or WPA, geek-talk for the level of protection.
Bluetooth, while wireless, isn’t considered WiFi. It’s a short-range, low-speed protocol for connecting simple devices, possibly a wireless mouse, a cell phone earpiece, or even two computers. If both computers have the capability, turn Bluetooth on, make one or both computers “discoverable”, and activate your Bluetooth transfer utility. Again, a wizard can help, but generally it’s a simpler procedure than wireless ethernet.
Finally, for those who don’t have a wireless router in your home but would like to get started, take a look at “fonera” at fon.com . You’ll need to have in place a broadband connection and modem, either DSL or cable. A Fonera router is hardly bigger than a pack of playing cards and connects to the broadband modem.
What sets Fonera apart from the myriad of inexpensive (and expensive) wireless routers, is that Fonera doesn’t charge for the router itself, but only enough to cover shipping. Their goal is to encourage WiFi sharing, and toward that end, their specialized baby routers provide two signals, a private one for you and a public one that anyone may connect to. Their antenna isn’t much longer than a pinkie finger, so you may want to invest in a bigger antenna, either a Fonera directional, or a D-Link, which I prefer.
Weird, Wired, and Underwired
When I read Melodie’s column, a scene I witnessed came to mind.
Not long ago, I watched two little girls playing with Barbie dolls. These girls were Mattel investors, possessing an astonishing array of Barbie “stuff”: swimming pools, motorcycles, Corvettes, SUVs, boats, and houses, not to mention a hundred wardrobes of clothes, almost everything in a bilious pink hue (technically called “vaginal pink”, according to my Aunt Rae, the art professor). Using pink plastic combs and mirrors, the girls groomed and dressed the Barbies and ensconced them in a pink carriage pulled (or not) by an oddly colored lavender horse.
Tossed to one side lay a single Ken doll.
The girls encountered a little difficulty setting up a card table for their Barbie Kingdom and Castle set. Evidently, they felt they needed brute force, a manly touch and a mallet. To my open-mouth astonishment, they grabbed Ken by the ankles and, using him as a ball-peen hammer, pounded the hell out of the recalcitrant table leg (and Ken’s head).
When done, they simply tossed him aside.
It was impossible not to see Ken as a metaphor and a harbinger of relationships to come.