Friday, June 01, 2007

Going Wireless

My husband and I have lived in the Stone Age of networking for awhile now and it was only a failing (wired) router that pushed me to finally make a move to wireless. Part of the reason I resisted going wireless is that I'd heard that the signal strength was inconsistent or weak and the connection would drop out at not infrequent intervals. My guess is those sorts of problems are in the past now that wireless is far past being bleeding edge technology.

We'd been using a venerable basic Linksys 4-port router for quite some time but over the past 6 months, it had picked up the bad habit of dropping the connection at random intervals. While we figured it had developed a problem assigning local IP addresses, we weren't sure and decided quite some time ago to replace it with a router that would allow us to have the option of using a wireless connection.

I chose a router which was very similar to my old one because I was already familiar with the interface and Linksys has pretty good quality products. It didn't hurt that it was also relatively cheap (about $50 from Amazon U.S.). The only problem is that you cannot have electronic items shipped to Japan from Amazon U.S. and this particular model wasn't available at any of my usual haunts in Japan so we had to wait for my husband's trip to the U.S. to order it so he could carry it back.

Unfortunately, there was a problem. My husband didn't check the contents of the software and paperwork packets and I found that the disc had been badly damaged when it was shipped. Given my past experience with my router, I wasn't really too worried about configuring it without a set-up disc except for the fact that the back of the disc's sleeve says in big bold letters "Run CD First" (as you can see above). If that weren't enough to give me second thoughts about configuring the router manually, the router's Ethernet ports were taped over with a bright orange piece of tape shouting "RUN CD FIRST".

I started to wonder if Linksys knew better than me. Otherwise, why would they bother with all the warnings? Well, they bother because manufacturer's these days are designing their products for the same type of customer who needs several warnings on the cup of coffee they buy such as, "CAUTION: contents are hot","do not re-use disposable cup", "contents of coffee may contain coffee beans - do not consume if you are allergic to coffee" and "do not eat lid" . In other words, they assume the purchaser would probably lose in a battle of wits with a doorknob.

All those warnings are to prevent thousands of people who probably require Velcro on their shoes because the act tying a shoe is too great a mental challenge from just plugging in random cables and thinking the magic network fairy will tap her wand and make it work. In fact, there's a little troubleshooting guide which has some typical questions including something to the effect of 'I plugged my telephone cord into the router and I can't connect to the internet'. The Linksys answer booklet gently says, 'you can't dial-up using this router.'

To be honest, I don't have an issue with the fact that some people don't know about computers or how they work. In fact, I support anyone's desire not to learn something they have little to no interest in. I start to have the problem when all the things you buy have to be designed to accommodate those who can't be troubled to either read a manual or hire someone who is willing to read one to set-up their computer so they start plugging in random cables hoping for the best.

In the end, I threw caution to the wind (well, not exactly, I only did so after my friend, Shawn (who is insane but knows a bit about networking), and my sister, Sharon (who is sane and knows a lot about networking), reassured me that both of them felt there'd be no problem) and just did what I was inclined to do and manually configure it all. The only glitch was that I couldn't find the MAC address for my husband's notebook as it's not printed conveniently on the back of it (like my husband's more accommodating Palm T|X) and couldn't locate the right tab on the Linksys web-based configuration interface to scan for it. My sister managed to help me out though and now things are running smoothly. In fact, they are now better than smooth as my husband's notebook is running faster on wireless than wired. Previously, he used to top out around 600 kbps but now is getting a little over 1 Mbps on downloads (with other computers on the network also running). I'm not sure why that should be but he's pleased regardless.


Sharon said...

Sane? Really, Shari? You think I am sane? Or is that only in comparison to Shawn?

Anyway, I'm glad everything is working now, and look forward to no more dropped calls or disconnects when we are chatting.

CMUwriter said...

Thats funny that you bought that router. I had the very same one and sold it on Ebay a few days ago for 35 bucks. It's a very good router and I wouldn't worry about signal strength because basically you're never more than 25 feet away from it. You shouldn't have a problem at all I would think.

Leo said...

While I work in tech support, I'm ok with people not being "computer literate". At the same time, it is tiring to have to spend five minutes on how to make a bookmark and dealing with their rising frustration level. I used to think it was me being to technical, but from what I've been told, I'm fine. Oh well, some people just don't get technology like I don't get conjugating verbs in Japanese ;-) (for the time being)

Shari said...

Sharon: When my husband read what I wrote, he said that I should have said, "Sharon, who is slowly being driven insane." I think he knows both our mother and Shawn have been eroding your mental stability. ;-)

cmuwriter: I'm curious as to why you sold the one you had. Was the range too limited for your needs?

Leo: I do feel some people can't "get" it and that's fine. Just don't start taping over ports with misleading warnings to accommodate them. ;-) I've heard tech support is one of the most frustrating jobs on the planet. I'm surprised you have any mental energy left to study Japanese after such work.

Thanks to all for the comments!

terrance said...

cheers! out of all the computer problems i face, the router is the bane of my existance. For some reason it takes me hours to do what takes normal people about 5 minutes. Glad to hear your router problem was taken care of.

CMUwriter said...

There was nothing wrong with it, but I just don't need it anymore and I am currently "liquidating" unused stuff to simplify my life, and unclutter my apartment. I used it in college, and it powered five laptops, plus my desktop which was plugged into the back. I could take my laptop out into the street, which was about 75 feet from the location of the router and pick up the signal. The only reason we got the thing at the time was that it was easier to have the wireless router in the apartment, because if we didn't we would have to string cables all over the three floors. Don't worry, you've purchased a quality item.