I’ve been thinking about wireless access a lot recently.

I first got involved with wireless via a cellular modem for my Palm III several years ago; I bought a cradle modem in 1998 or 1999 at a Palm Source convention in Santa Clara. Ah, the crazy dot-com days. Anyway, I ended up buying a second one for some reason and then canceling my contract since my local connectivity (Connecticut at that time) sucked. So I’ve got two of these monsters on the shelf that I never really used.

Oh, well.

Later, I was issued a laptop that had wireless, probably 802.11b, not sure. I never, ever used it.

My most recently issued laptop (about two years old) does not have wireless as the corporate IT folks have not yet decided about campus wireless policies (they are thorny, as will be illustrated below).

and I have had an 802.11b network in the house for a year or so. It connects the family PC with the head of the buried 100BaseT cable that connects with the office network. That has worked out pretty well.

Last month I bought a laptop to support my consulting activities (I can’t use my day-job laptop for obvious conflict-of-interest reasons). This little gem came with embedded 802.11g, fast wireless. At the same time I upgraded the household network access to ‘g’, as well.

I like wireless. It enables me to work on things at the kitchen table, in bed, or out on the deck without worrying about cables.

I had a meeting with a potential client several weeks ago. Before the meeting, I was in the parking lot and fired up my laptop to check some detail… Lo and behold, my laptop discovered the potential client’s unsecured wireless network. I was able to surf the web and review the potential client’s network resources. I went in to the meeting and used the vulnerability to illustrate some point I had to make. The client agreed to my proposed contract details on the spot… DTG’s first client.

I love wireless!

So, unsecured wireless networks are an issue. When you buy your wireless access point, take it home, and stick it on the network, the communication between it and your device is unencrypted and unsecured by default. You have to configure the access point and your device to secure the link. Most people do not do this, as I have found.

Is my home network secure? Not at present. Do I expect random wardrivers in my neighborhood? Not this decade. Will I secure our network anyway? Yes, real soon.

I have never had network access in my SF place. The roommates split the cost of a DSL connection for a single slow desktop machine; I use it to check mail from time to time, but that it all. The other night I opened my laptop in my room and discovered three separate wireless nets. Given the 500 – 1000 foot range and the residential apartment neighborhood I live in, these things could be anywhere in a five block radius. No way I can figure out who owns them.

Ethically, I know that accessing the Internet through a connection that someone else pays for is wrong. However, I went through an intellectual exercise to see if I could rationalize piggy-backing on someone else’s deal.

I tried to rationalize with a wasted bandwidth argument. Most connections utilize only a fraction of the allowed bandwidth at any given time, even as an average of the total connectivity. The rated bandwidth is typically used for short periods of time. If the bandwidth is not used, it is wasted. This is a sunlight analogy of sorts, in that the photons I do not absorb fall on the ground and are effectively wasted (a simplistic view, yes, but we are talking about information technology, not ecology). This breaks down as the amount of bandwidth I would consume limits the bandwidth available to the legitimate network user.

Yep. So, I can’t use my found networks. But it’s nice to know that if I’m trapped in my room, I will be able to order pizza on-line in a pinch.

It’s also interesting to think about places with free access. If I lived within RF range of a coffee shop, I could theoretically never pay for Internet again.

Here’s some things I haven’t done in a really long time.

– Dialed a rotary telephone (click-click-click)
– Tuned a radio with string-driven ganged capacitors
– Tuned a TV with shaft-drive ganged capacitors
– Pressed the button on an electronic watch to get it to display the time
– Used a pay phone
– Changed the direction of the roof-mounted antenna via servos to improve reception
– Dialed a telephone connection by hand and then manually initiated carrier signaling
– Entered the starting address for a program in binary-coded-octal
– Loaded program sources from punched paper tape
– Saved my program sources on a cassette tape
– Programed in BASIC, FORTRAN77, or FORTH
– Utilized a ‘dumb’ terminal except through emulation
– Used a ‘pocket calculator’
– Switched a diskette so that an application could read program instructions or data from a different floppy
– Used a floppy disk for program or data storage

As to that last point, my Atari 520 STFM had an external 360k single-sided floppy drive. I now have a stupid tiny 128M USB solid-state drive on a lanyard. The thing is smaller than a pack of gum, but holds the equivalent of 355 single-sided floppies. At the time my Atari was my primary and only system, I had a library of about 120 program and data disks. The diskettes themselves were probably worth $300 and were very sensitive to heat, magnetism, and dust. My $40 USB drive has three times that much space and I can wear it around my neck and go for a jog (if I want to… Not that I will). And that’s hardly cutting-edge technology.

Dude, I thought I had hit the big time when I added a second(!) external floppy drive. Then I didn’t have to swap disks as often. My second system, a 286-based thing, had a 20 Mb internal hard drive. I thought I had died and gone to heaven.

When I was a kid, the TV had glass tubes in it. I can remember my uncle coming to tune it up (you had to do that, you know, or the receiver would lose the signals) and opening the back of the set. I spent some time looking at all of the glowing shiny parts under the watchful eyes of my uncle… This must have been in ’70 or so. Sure, transistors existed, but they were rare enough in consumer deployment that if something had a transistor in it, it was considered a selling point.

It just amazes me. It all amazes me.

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