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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!

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.

Dial ‘M’ for ‘My God, You’re All Over the Road’

Dial ‘M’ for ‘My God, You’re All Over the Road’ published on 1 Comment on Dial ‘M’ for ‘My God, You’re All Over the Road’

I live in a place where they’ve recently banned the use of mobile phones while driving, with additional penalties for texting. And I have a lot of company: Six U.S. states have prohibited handheld mobile use by drivers, and 20 won’t be happy with you if you SMS from behind the wheel.

(It’s having an impact. I’m noticing a sharp reduction in “Totally just ran someone over” tweets from friends.)

While the focus is on safety, and rightly so, I do wonder if there might be another benefit: inspiring more people to leave the car at home and take transit. Don’t laugh (well, not until you get to the cartoon, at which point I’d kind of appreciate it if you would). A lot of us treat mobile connectivity as a compulsion, and the enforced hour-long severing from the hive mind for twice-a-day commutes is a genuine pain point. And the growing strength of everything from location-aware apps to augmented reality will only sharpen it.

For car drivers, the freedom of the open road, as illusory as it has been for decades, is about to get more so. Mass transit may at times be crowded and uncomfortable, but with the escape to cyberspace just a few keystrokes away, buses and trains may well eclipse the car as the homes of true mobile freedom.

Force me to choose between my mobile phone and my car, and I’ll do my best to hang onto the phone. Your mileage, of course, may vary; what choice will you make?