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Just you, me and DHCP

Just you, me and DHCP published on

I think I’ve finally figured out all those times my MacBooks and PowerBooks refused to connect to coffee-shop WiFi. I’d thought maybe some low-level hardware incompatibility, or some difference in the way Apple and router manufacturers had implemented the 802.11 specs, or a strange electromagnetic field generated by my fillings… but no.

Those café networks just have a fear of intimacy. Maybe there was an “Is that all I am to you? A spam gateway?” conversation somewhere in their logs. For whatever reason, they had no interest in a long-term relationship — and certainly not long enough to give an IP address to every random laptop that swung by with DHCP on its mind.


Mystery SOLVED.


Workaround published on 1 Comment on Workaround

I usually like being at airports. The kid in me loves the big planes taking off and landing; the grownup in me likes the chance to sit down and get some work done uninterrupted in a big, bright area.

And in more and more airports, I can do it with free, fast WiFi. Enough of the airports (and coffee shops, and hotel lobbies, and restaurants, and…) that I visit have free WiFi, in fact, that I’ve started to take it for granted.

So last week, when I cleared security at an international airport and popped my laptop open with two hours before my flight boarded, I was thrown when I saw a login screen that demanded payment. And not just a token payment, either: they wanted $10 for an hour’s connection.

Now, I’m willing to acknowledge an over-developed sense of entitlement on this score. WiFi isn’t free, and if I’m not paying for it, then travellers who don’t use WiFi will probably be subsidizing me. (As opposed to, say, offering bathrooms, which are a universal need, except for those who have superhuman bladder control.) But $10 an hour?

I turned to my Twitter amigas and amigos for some sober second thought on the issue. Here’s a sampling of what they said:

[blackbirdpie url=”!/doriantaylor/statuses/71342290643337216″]

[blackbirdpie url=”!/BlackDogBrand/statuses/71342353666932736″]

[blackbirdpie url=”!/peterscampbell/statuses/71346196760895488″]

[blackbirdpie url=”!/Shatankiawaz/statuses/71364086939660290″]

[blackbirdpie url=”!/Ducksburg/statuses/71527280966500354″]

As for me, I finally hit on a solution that bypasses the whole issue:

[blackbirdpie url=”!/RobCottingham/status/71343422572728321″]

A big thanks to Alexandra Samuel, Tris Hussey, Lauren Bacon and David Eaves for their honest and highly useful feedback on the cartoon.

Hey, have you entered the caption contest yet? You could win two signed prints and a lovely mug. The contest closes in two days!

NTC: The usual WiFi hiccups

NTC: The usual WiFi hiccups published on No Comments on NTC: The usual WiFi hiccups

I spent last week in Washington, DC, cartoon-blogging NTEN’s 2011 Nonprofit Technology Conference. These are some of the highlights.

You can’t have a tech conference without WiFi becoming an issue, unless you take extraordinary measures. It really doesn’t help if the venue is underground, as a lot of large convention centres are, making it a lot harder to connect even to a cellular signal – my own Internet-of-last-resort. (Although it’s actually getting pretty tolerable. I’m tethered right now, and while there’s no question it’s slower, I can definitely get stuff done.)

Was it a blessing in diguise? Maybe. It freed us to look at the people right next to us, to really look at them, and to talk with them. To share our hopes (“Try deleting your network preferences”), our dreams (“I’ve heard of a conference where the WiFi was actually pretty good”), even our innermost spirituality (“Maybe the IP address gods will smile on us”).

Off to the 2011 Nonprofit Technology Conference!

Off to the 2011 Nonprofit Technology Conference! published on 1 Comment on Off to the 2011 Nonprofit Technology Conference!

There’s nothing like getting up while dawn is still having that weird dream where it’s back in high school and completely naked during a surprise math test… and stumbling bleary-eyed from shower into clothing up stairs out the door into taxi and into an airport…

…only to realize the first leg of your flight is domestic, and you could have slept for another hour.

Ah, well. What’s an hour’s sleep when NTC 2011 lies ahead?

Please wait for cartoon to load (55%…60%…65%….)

Please wait for cartoon to load (55%…60%…65%….) published on 1 Comment on Please wait for cartoon to load (55%…60%…65%….)

(Originally posted on ReadWriteWeb)

This week’s cartoon is inspired by working at a lot of cafés this week – cafés with very… slow… Wi-Fi.

I’m finding that decent broadband is common enough these days to make slower connections feel extra frustrating. I’m used to being able to download hundred-megabyte software upgrades in the time it takes the barista to pull shots for my Americano. And I’ve grown accustomed to genuinely streaming video; I’ll grind my molars to powder if that TED talk on the Western world’s addiction to speed has to pause for a few seconds midway through to buffer.

The folks at Angus Reid Public Opinion actually released a study back in June suggesting the majority of high-school and post-secondary students suffer stress because of sluggish computers. So I’m clearly not the only one.

Which is why I wish I could drop by the joint depicted below and knock back one of their signature cocktails, the Spinning Beachball. (Depending on your OS, you could also get straight vodka, served in an hourglass.) Their motto could be “Get loaded while you’re loading.”

Got a cocktail recipe of your own?

Wi no Fi?

Wi no Fi? published on 3 Comments on Wi no Fi?

(From my original post on ReadWriteWeb, where you’ll see a fun comment thread)

OSCON has wrapped in sunny Portland, and with it the most ambitious conference wireless networking I’ve ever seen. Yet even here I heard attendees complaining about sluggish Wi-Fi… and organizers asking them not to download large files.

Now, there’s little question that OSCON is an edge case. Get a few thousand developers and software engineers together and you’re going to strain the bandwidth.

But every conference I’ve been to – every single one in the last four or five years – has had issues with Wi-Fi. And for that matter, nearly every hotel I’ve stayed at has also had issues with Wi-Fi. And I sometimes wonder if the issue is often less one of conference overload than one of facilities that invest as little as they need to to be able to say they offer Wi-Fi.

Then again, every conference and hotel I’ve been to has had at least one person who insists on downloading an OS upgrade or a movie to watch on the plane home. That would be, um, me.

The question is, when does conference Wi-Fi stop being about just checking email and maybe sharing some notes, and start being about allowing people to continue doing the heavy wireless lifting they do at home and at the office? Ever?


ENJ_Y O_R FRE_ WIR_LE_S published on 3 Comments on ENJ_Y O_R FRE_ WIR_LE_S

Flaky wireless connections are a fact of life for bloggers on the move. If it isn’t tortoise-slow downloads, it’s a password that never seems to “take”. If it isn’t a connection that keeps dropping, it’s a router that refuses to give you an IP address.

Okay. So the connection’s too unreliable to let you post to your blog, and your mobile contract doesn’t include tethering. Don’t let that keep you from blogging. Here are five ways you can work on your blog, even when you aren’t connected to the hive mind:

  1. Outline your next blog post. Maybe you can’t do the research you want, find the URLs of the posts you’d like to link to, or hunt down the perfect Creative Commons image to illustrate your post. But you can sketch out the bare bones, and add the muscles, organs and stylish accessories once you’re back online.
  2. Clean up your hard drive. If you’re like me, you have little snippets of blog ideas and drafts all over the place. Bring them together in one folder, or one text file (your workflow will vary), and you’ll be miles ahead of the game next time you’re stumped for a post idea.
  3. Raid your subconscious. Break out the mind-mapping software, open up your Moleskine or just scribble on a napkin – but brainstorm ideas for your next five, ten or fifty posts. Don’t try to assess them at first; just get as many down as possible. Then, once the storm peters out, pick out the best and add them to your idea file.
  4. Make a to-do list. Chances are there are things you’ve been meaning to do for your blog: add a Delicious feed, check out an e-commerce plug-in, create a promo card to hand out at conferences. Set priorities according to the effort each task will require and the impact you expect each one to have, and you’ve just built yourself a development queue.
  5. Doodle. Draw something funny, or funny-ish. Then snap your doodle with your camera phone or digital camera. Once you’re online, upload it as a blog post. Hey – it works for me.