Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Wireless Fun

As an engineer and a reasonably tech-savvy person, one would think that a task like setting up a wireless router wouldn't be that big a deal. I, at least, would like to think that a wireless router would be well within my capabilities after five years of engineering training, three degrees, and several years' work experience.

History, however, would tend to prove me wrong. It is not that I am incapable of or daunted by the task - it's something quite simple that I could walk anyone else through. It's just that, for whatever reason, this overwise simple task has too often turned out to be anything but.

There was the time, several months into Hilary's first year, I was asked to configure a classmate's Linksys WRT54G (the most ubiquitous wireless access point in the world). Two or three hours later, however, I think we concluded that the router needed to be returned, and the classmate's laptop's network settings had to be re-imaged by the school.

Then there was the time I tried to get my sister's wireless set up, about two years ago. Again, failure.

Or the time about six months ago when my in-laws asked me to set up an Apple Airport Express to extend their existing wireless network (which I had also struggled to set up, and have occasionally had to debug by telephone). I managed it, but it again took two or more hours and several start-to-finish attempts. I'm still not convinced that there isn't still some conflict between the two base stations that causes laptops' connections to drop out periodically.

About the only network I've had total ease and success with was my first: the one I set up back before we even came to Minnesota. That setup was with another Airport Express, back when they first came out. That was a cinch, truly. We brought it with us to MN, plugged it in as soon as the internet service was activated, and were set to go in about 30 seconds. I brought that handy block with me each time I visited Hilary and Arizona - just plug it in and go.

However, that trusty router, all set up just the way I liked it, is no longer here in MN. I overnighted it to Hilary in New Hampshire because it seemed the easiest and quickest way to get wireless set up in the new apartment. Why we didn't think to bring it with us I don't know. Given the history I have just described, I didn't relish the idea of walking Hilary through the setup of a new, out-of-the-box router. So, off in the mail it went. They received it this afternoon and have done just fine.

Anyway, this left me with a problem: either live chained to an ethernet cable for the next 2+ months or go out, buy, and configure a new wireless router for myself. Despite my foreboding about an evening wasted in frustration, it should come as no surprise that I opted for the latter. I simply couldn't abide the hardship of a wired connection.

I am currently cruising craigslist for a used Airport Express, but didn't feel like waiting. Desiring more instant gratification, I bought a different router this evening - another Linksys WRT54G, in fact. If craigslist pans out in the next week, I'll return the linksys. If not, then, well, the WRT54G certainly works and is immanently hackable.

And wouldn't'cha know, at long last, this time I had success setting it up the first time. No problems.


Chaosbeana said...

I actually think I'm OK with technology. I don't have degrees in it, but I'm not a total moron. My wireless was so hard to set up that I DID use an Ethernet cord for several months and just waited until Andy came to NY to fix it. It was embarrassing, but I just couldn't do it. Thanks be to God for my systems administrator. (Ha, he'd hate that!)

John Murphy said...

I have frequently heard of conflicts between routers (particularly linksys routers) and cable/DSL modems. For example, I was just talking to a friend of mine about an MTU mismatch between router and modem that was nearly impossible to figure out (the router was sending packets longer than the modem would accept, so that some traffic would go through, but nothing transmitting large files) I myself have had problems where the modem and router each assigned themselves the same IP address -- all kinds of fun!