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Technology Today October  2003
Robert Sanborn

I had a chance to work on several wireless networks lately and can honestly say, did not have that much fun. For a technology that is supposed to be getting as easy as a wired LAN to setup, it isn’t.  One problem is that quite often, you are upgrading a computer that has used a wired network to using a wireless network and the computer has a devil of a time to rid itself of the settings and ip addresses that it used for the wired network. Even if you go in, get rid of the devices, get rid of the networking services, you still will have problems with the imbedded IP and gateway addresses.  In Windows98, you can run the program “winipcfg”, point to the right adapter and tell it to “release” and “renew”, and you might find yourself pointing to the correct router and gateway. Then again, maybe not because sometimes, Windows will not release the addresses and you wait five minutes and give up and reboot the system. By the way, in WindowsXP, you would click on /start/ /run/ and type in ipconfig. There is another way to do this in Windows XP and that is to open “My Network Places”, and if you don’t see it, go to My Computer. Click on Network Connections, and then open up the LAN connection for the network connection that is for the wireless system you are using. Hit the support tab and then the “renew” button. Again, if you are lucky, this should solve your connection problem. 

But what do you do if you need to keep the other networking connections. One person I ran into had three different network cards on their notebook depending on what type of network they were using. Setting up the wireless on that computer was more trouble than it was worth! Finally, if you are running a software firewall like Zone Labs’ Zone Alarm, www.zonelabs.com, be sure that you tell it you have a new gateway to the internet. It probably had the old router in its Trusted Zone but now you will have to change that as well.  

As I mentioned last time (August), there are several things you need to do to secure your wireless network but if you do, it also makes it difficult for your own computers to connect to the internet. When a friend called Linksys to troubleshoot their network, they were actually told not to disable the broadcast mode and to just rely on the WEP encryption. Turning broadcast mode off is one of the best ways to keep other computers from finding your network.  It is also a great way to keep your own computers from finding your network especially if anything at all changes or you have to restart the router or cable/dsl modem. Then you have to turn the broadcast back on so the remote computer can see the network.  

I do see that working with Windows XP has made life both a bit easier and more difficult working with wireless. Linksys makes some really easy to use software with their cards and routers. For Windows98 and ME, their wireless desktop software easily tells you if it is connected or not and you can easily change all the settings like SSID, WEP encryption, and the like. But, their software doesn’t work with Windows XP so you have to use the native XP networking control menus to get in the settings to change them. What makes it worse is that both Linksys and Dlink has an easy method of setting the WEP encryption by using a pass-phrase that it translates into the actual WEP code. But with XP, you have to enter all those miserable codes. 

Another problem I hear about a bunch with wireless networks is that sometimes it just looses itself. Turn a computer on and it cannot connect to the internet or the network when you know it worked just fine the day before. Try the usual tricks above and still you find that the next solution is to turn off the wireless router, the modem itself, and then wait a couple of minutes before turning on the modem, then the router, then the computer.  

So what does that mean with all these new wireless hot spots being developed. I certainly hope that your local Starbucks or in-flight internet connection doesn’t need to be staffed by a technician to get you connected.  It should get easier but there are still some bugs to be worked out. 

Short Takes 

Found a really neat little wireless sniffer tool that is a great idea but that still needs some help. Kensington, www.Kensington.com came out with a WiFi finder, a little key fob type device with a button and three lights on it. You hit the button, and if there is a wireless network within 200 feet, will flash to let you know it found it. About $25. There are two major problems with it. First is that it doesn’t recognize my network. Mine is an 802.11g type based on the latest standard. According to their web site, it only recognizes the older pre-standard “g” networking protocol. Not the approved “g” standard. The other problem is that as it searches through the spectrum, it will only indicate that it found a network for two seconds so you need to keep an eagle eye on the device for the two minutes it does its search. However, for a quick and handy way of finding most of the networks out there, it should work just fine.  The problem is that it gives you no idea as to what they are. Was downtown at an office and tried it and wow, it lit up like a Christmas tree and kept going. Does that tell me that there were a dozen wireless networks to connect to or just kept finding the same one over and over. At least, it will tell you if there is something out there unless they have the latest g standard. 

UPS Update 

Uninterruptible Power Supplies are great to have around especially when you run the risk of power outages. Many of us have invested in them over the years and now we need to start thinking about investing in batteries. These units run on lead acid batteries, similar to what is found in your car, and with the ever charging that goes on to keep them ready for the black out, they do run down. Most units will start to give you warning signals when the battery starts to go but you known, from what I have seen, when the warnings come, the battery is pretty well shot at that time and there is no juice left in it to keep your systems running. The last few experiences I have had with these have shown that when the power goes off, the battery usually lasts less than a minute and with older computers, you need to move fast to shut things down in time.  What you might want to consider is testing your unit especially if it is more than three years old. Boot up your computer with a Windows98 startup diskette so that it goes to a DOS prompt. From there, when the power goes out, no damage is done to your software. Then, with all the devices connected and turned on, pull the plug from the wall and then time it to see how long it keeps your computer alive. 

Now, when I say all the devices connected. Most UPS units have two sides, one for devices that will be plugged in to run on battery, and the other just for convenience and surge protection. Take a close look at your unit to see what is what. For battery back up, there are only two things that should be connected; the computer tower unit, and the monitor. In my case, I also have my telephone answering system connected to it so that if power just blips, and we seem to have a bunch of them, I don’t have to keep resetting the darn thing. It is an electronic type so the drain is very low. 

Digital Camera Memory Cards 

The memory cards for digital cameras get bigger all the time and it is both good news and bad news. I have seen 4 gigabyte compact flash (CF) cards now offered by people like Lexar Media, www.digitalfilm.com, which is an excellent provider of equipment. But the bad news part of this is that memory cards are still fragile pieces of electronics and are subject to corruption. My advise would be that rather than buying a 1 gigabyte memory card for your pictures, you stick with say 4 256mb cards. A good chart that outlines the different capacities you can fill a card is on Lexar’s web site at: www.lexarmedia.com/digfilm/index_cf.html. For example, say you have a 64mb memory card. According to them, your two megapixel camera at the high setting would be able to store 71 pictures. A Five megapixel camera could only store 25 pictures. My point is, spread out your pictures over several memory cards and that way, if one becomes corrupted, you risk only loosing part of your pictures.  So one of the tips here is that if you won’t be able to download your pictures frequently while on a trip, make an estimate of the number of pictures you might take, and be generous, and then using the chart, try to figure out how much memory you will need before you go. If you are visiting cities, you probably wont have trouble picking up extra cards while you travel but if you plan on being off the beaten path, take care as I have been in some places you couldn’t even find a AA battery. Speaking of batteries, the best solution here is to bring rechargeable batteries for your camera and make sure you can plug in your charger so you might worry about adapters there as well. 

And if you are traveling, you don’t have to worry about airport scanners as the Xrays will not affect the media. Course, I wouldn’t put them too close to the conveyor belt magnets and electronics. Also, from what I hear, the postal scanners use a different technology that is not good for digital media so be wary of sending them through the mail. 

One of the better digital camera web sites I have seen is www.megapixel.net. Great stuff. 

Robert Sanborn is an Independent Personal Computer Consultant and a contributing editor for the Indy PC News. Reach him through the net at indypcnews@indy.rr.com

Last Update:06/26/2007


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