There's feature creep in hardware, too...#

Okay, I admit it, I love toys. No, not little plastic whatzits (although they can be pretty cool too, I always had a softspot for transformers), but technology toys. I buy first, I buy often, and I have boxes and boxes of crap that didn't survive their first test runs. I like being on the bleeding edge and I have lots of blood to give.

Plus I'm pretty good at retaining what I see, so once I've looked into a toy once, I usually remember it. I think it was Steve Forte who first called me the Toy Master, when during a phone conversation about whether or not some gadget actually existed, I was firing links over IM to him without a pause in the chatter.

So when my friend Michele Bustamente asked me about networking her two demo laptops together, I knew it was going to turn into a toyfest. Its all about feature creep, y'know.

Besides asking me about the weather in Amsterdam (which was just about the worst I've seen in May yet), we also talked about networking her machines together, and we talked about crossover network cables, switches, point-to-point wireless and other good stuff like that. But, as with all “clients”, if you don't get to the heart of the matter, if you don't ask the magic question “So what do you want to do?” you really miss out on hitting a home run in terms of solving problems.

Besides just wanting to network her two demo laptops together, Michele was also thinking about her Web Services Interoperability Education Day on May 22nd, just before Tech Ed San Diego. There, she figured she'd have at least three machines involved, and possibly two projectors, and wanted to have all the machines talking to each other, possibly with Internet connectivity, and so on, and so on...

Crossover ethernet cables are fine, as long as you're prepared to live with fixed IPs and no additional connectivity. And it falls down as soon as there's three machines involved. Its a one-off solution, and you always need more.

For years I've been carrying around a little D-Link DI-713 whenever I was travelling to any form of geekfest, geekfest being defined as any place where more than two geeks are. Because as soon as you have more than two geeks together, you have connectivity issues. We all have laptops, we all want internet connectivity, and we all want to fire files back and forth between each other.

If you're in a hotel, you soon find out that hotel broadband, while nice, is really a per-machine product, and so if you have three laptops in a room, you end up hopping the wire from machine to machine and then arguing with the manager at the end of the day as to whether or not you should be charge $10 for the day, or $10 per machine per day...

The D-Link box solved the problem: its a NAT router, a switch and a wireless access point all in one. So you can plug the hotel broadband into it and everyone can share, as well as network, or use the wireless connection. It even provided DHCP support so we don't have to mess with the network settings.

Unfortunately, my little D-Link gave up the ghost a few months ago. It owed me nothing, having been the saving grace of many a geekfest, and having logged tens of thousands of miles in baggage, multiple irradiations and so on. It won't be missed though, it'll be replaced.

Meantime, it was apparent to me that Michele needed the same little gizmo for her demos. All those laptops are likely using DHCP, and they need to speak to each other, and could use some Internet access... so a quick sprint around the Internet (I have a great favorites section called Shopping) returned this list of products:

There's more, but they're essentially all the same: a NAT router, a four port switch and a wireless access point. These four all were 802.11a/b/g compatible too. There were a bunch that left out 802.11a, which is fine with me, in my experience it only takes a piece of paper to block 802.11a signals.

The non-a variants get as cheap as $50 US, the tri-mode units are $100-$200 US. They're all relatively compact, but the SMC unit is the smallest (a mere 5"x3.5"x1.25") and hey, if you're travelling, that's important. They all have decent web-based configuration, and they're all routinely updating their firmware. You couldn't go wrong with any of these units really, but I liked the SMC for its compact size and decent looks.

I see these gizmos as essential fare for anyone who's going to be working with more than one geek at a time. When we're all speaking at conferences, there's always a gathering somewhere, often the speaker who got the biggest room. This solves the networking problem.

 

Toys | Speaking | Travel
Sunday, May 16, 2004 6:38:22 AM (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00) #    Comments [1]  | 

 

Sunday, May 30, 2004 12:11:40 PM (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
I have to put a word in for Linksys.

We're ISP-challenged down here. Richard knows what kind of expletives Cable & Wireless are. They also ran out of circuits in West Bay, so no one could GET DSL, even if they could stomach $125 a month for a 256kbps connection.

I had a Netgear MR314 802.11b router for the last few years, and it was adequate. When I upgraded my laptop, I got a/b/g built in, and I was noticing that the .b card in my media hub didnt have the horsepower for streaming video, so I upped everything to .g The Linksys WRT54G is next door on the other side of a cinder block wall, and I get Very Good and Excellent signal strength. My neighbours on the other side just got on board out Wireless bandwagon (and now that there are four of us, it's only $25 a month) and they're getting Good to Very Good signal strength through TWO cinder block walls!

One thing that happened yesterday though, was trying to use an older Linksys WAP11 with a Linksys BEFSR41 4 port router to try and bridge my xbox, packet8 VoIP phone hardware and another machine that didn't have a wireless nic into my Wireless network. Eventually, Linksys support determined that the hardware was a 1.0 and regardless of the flash update, would not do what I wanted it to do.

Fortunately, one of my cyberluddite friends needed help on how to use webmail before going to a trade show in Houston this week, and in exchange for an on-site support call on a Sunday morning, he's going to mule back the Linksys WAP54G access point which WILL allow me to bridge my wired network with my wireless network. This will also give me the benefit of keeping the network almost entirely 802.11g. Now if I can just talk the 4th neighbour across the street (who picks up our wireless signal by his window) to upgrade to G, then the whole network will be be a lot faster (until it gets to the DSL modem) :)
Mark F
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