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Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Making the technology invisible setting up wifi

Maybe it's me; I liked Steve Jobs' comment about taking a problem, solving it with technology and, here is the important bit, also making the technology that solves the problem. Recently I've been trying to explain various solutions to people. I think I'm pretty good at explanations, I'm not your average geek. So people say. Well. I have had the displeasure recently of setting up someone's WiFi. Well they'd attempted it for some, hours, days, weeks and then called me. When I walked in I was happy about the fact it happened to be the exact same wireless router that I have. I would at least be familiar with the settings. The router in question is a little Belkin number. When I set mine up I was pretty amazed, it's for use with NTL which uses a MAC list in your set top box to only allow your computer online. The router then must spoof your mac address to work on the set top box. Well that all sounds a little complex for your average user, but Belkin bless them provide an install disk that you pop into your current internet computer an install program runs, gets your MAC address, then has a nice chat with the router which it's asked you to connect and sends it all the settings, when I did it boom it just worked. To be fair they had gotten their shiny new laptop on the web, the connection was awful, dropped every two to three minutes, then since they had DHCP running it was taking then a further 30-seconds to a minute to re-establish it. First stop was to statically assign the IP to try and reduce that. No I know all your network people out there are scream right now - static IPs, unmanageable, you've gotta remember them, normal people can't do that. Yes you're right but given the network has, like 3 machines... it's not really an issue. I've got maybe 8 machines on my network 4 of which have defined rule, file server, music server, web server. All my machines have static IPs and I'm just beginning to struggle to remember which is which. That helped it meant the network connection once back worked immediately. Making e-mail work on the new laptop was a pain too. They didn't know their passwords, most people forget their e-mail has a password because every e-mail client under the sun, except the one I wrote some years ago in Java, remember your password. This summer I oversaw the migration to Outlook from OE of all senior staff here at the Convent and non of them knew their e-mail had a password, and ended up guessing it or having me reset it on the server. You know, using good solid strong passwords like, "password", "email" or their names... I swear our firewall must cry itself to sleep sometimes. Anyway I managed to glean most of the setting from their current machine except passwords which we then had an hour long game of guess the password, partially because the NTL web-site for password recovery is abysmal ! Once it was all working I set about a further problem of making the printer that used to work shared, work again, they'd put up with it not working for months, because "Well computer networks never work do they" so after a major eye rolling session, which by the way is being noticed at work. I set to the printer, after making Norton firewall believe me that the incoming request to share the printer wasn't a Serbian terrorist trying to gain control of air traffic control or alter the obstacle management system of major international airports, it let the shared printer be discovered. A further few minutes begging of Norton, which also they hadn't updated in a bout a decade; people, if you're not going to keep your firewall and virus definitions up to date, take them off... it's a waste of resources to have them getting in way while they are out of date. Begging Norton to then believe the actual print job wasn't one of Osama Bin Laden's cronies attempting to subvert the British Governments new bill on paper clip management and thus allow the forces of terror to gain control of a major international resource. Can you imagine if this happened, how would any bureaucracy succeed ? It's not like you can just use staples, remember staples are for the strong willed. Norton finally seemed convinced that the print job should be allowed and began printing... woohoo. It only took two hours. To try and explain my actions I drew them a little picture with all the ips on etc. After wrestling with their access point, and their printers I began to contemplate whether this is easier on my favourite new platform. Now I can't comment on setting airport express up for internet access. For air iTunes, it was great, I plugged it in and it joined my network and showed up in iTunes. Although I'm wondering if I can give a true view, I thought the Belkin router was easy. So then I set to thinking about this idea of technology being invisible, the telephone I discussed the other day, you don't even think about it you just use it. How much computer technology is truly invisible, ironically the only one I think people don't need to think about when setting up is the monitor. Keyboards now often require extra software as do mice. Network cards often set-up without intervention, the network won't but the card will. Then recently I've been trying to convert all my family's CDs to iTunes, however, the laptop in the dining room is old and has no storage. So despite wanting to sit in the dining room and control the music flowing the airports, I wanted to store the music on the network machine upstairs. I also though wanted the same music to be in both the iTunes library on the laptop and the desktop upstairs where it all resides. I think it's easy just set both iTunes to store music upstairs and rip away, don't tell the RIAA, then once you've ripped a lot of disks go to the other machine and drag the files from the explorer window into the iTunes on that machine. The library updates and all music is searchable from both machines, it's not complex is it. Apparently it is and this could feasibly be the wrong board to post this as I'm sure my 2 readers are both technically literate, I cannot get my father to understand the difference between the files, the library on the laptop, the library on the main machine. how the data flows from and to machines. I think apple has done a great job with iTunes, it's clearly not invisible. Maybe it's a generational thing, young people are walking round with their iPods and syncing podcasts with iTunes and understanding what they're doing. Maybe that's it. They have to understand how it works, which isn't what you want from technology, most people don't understand how the telephone works it just does. We've had telephones for what a hundred years, so we might be waiting another 80 years maybe for our modern technology to become invisible. Bob Cringley wrote in Triumph of the Nerds that the computer would take 30 years to become ubiquitous, a similar length of time that the television took, and the telephone and he's about write, other than say some socio-economic factors nearly every home has a computer and maybe in another 20 years they'll have a network. Bring on zeroconf !


Dom said...

Just a minor note. Zeroconf.

ssh hostname.local

Also, you may be interested in:

For hosting an iTunes share from a headless fileserver.

12:11 PM  
M said...

12:20 AM  

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