If You Had to Choose Between WiFi and A Refrigerator…

“When you can’t think of anything to write, just start writing.” That’s the first line of most of my great works. It usually gets removed before being published. Actually, it’s never been removed from any of my works before they were published…mostly because none of my works have ever been published—that’s not to say they weren’t great. This time, I’ll leave it in here as a sort of disclaimer.

***

Growing up in the 20th century is very different than growing up in any other century. Technically, I guess I don’t know that growing up in the 20th century is any different from any other century since I didn’t grow up in any other century. My statement is largely based upon the fact that I grew up in a generation that had computers and internet and I’m told that previous generations did not.

“Would you rather have a refrigerator or wireless internet,” asked my landlady.

“That’s a tough question.” I replied. To most people, the answer would be simple—a refrigerator.  However, the fact that I already had a (sort of) working refrigerator, and absolutely no internet, made the decision difficult.

“I think I’d rather have internet…” And so begins the story of my summer in Texas.

***

“Can you remember a time before the internet?” The question was asked of me three years ago by my friend, John Bradshaw.

“I think so, but I’m not sure,” I replied.

Having grown up the son of a computer programmer, I’ve been around computers since I can remember. Though I didn’t venture on to the World Wide Web until I was 14, I had already owned several computers, and was very familiar with them. From the age of 14 until 18, my life consisted of web design, posting in online forums, and video games—lots of video games.

For those of you, like myself, that have grown up in the 20th century, you can understand my chagrin when I moved to Texas and found that I would have no internet whatsoever. This opportunity to have wireless internet was more than I could resist. In retrospect, I probably should have chosen the refrigerator…

It was about a week after the offer was made that a wireless router was installed, and another week before I had a computer, as mine was in for repairs.

***

“Darned mosquitoes,” I thought to myself as I scratched a cluster of about four bites on my ankle. I had multiple bug-bites covering my arms and legs. The reason I had so many bites was that I’d been sitting outside in the evening on my laptop checking my e-mail. “Why not go inside,” you ask.

My computer is several years old now, and probably needs to be upgraded soon. I bought it before wireless was being integrated into mainstream laptops. When I made the switch to WiFi, I bought an adapter. Unfortunately, an aftermarket adapter doesn’t have the range or stability of integrated wireless, and the router is in my landlord’s house 50 feet away. In a nutshell, it means that I have to go outside just to check my e-mail.

Of course, checking my inbox only takes about a minute, and it’s always the same—empty.  Imagine a five year old running downstairs Christmas morning to look at the presents under the tree, only to find nothing there when he arrives. That’s what it’s like for me to check my e-mail—every day…

Once I’ve confirmed that nobody loves me and that I’ve been forgotten, I have a moment of silence thinking, “There’s gotta be something else I needed to do…” Of course, I always find something else to do (like checking myspace.com to see if I got any messages—it’s like checking my e-mail all over again). Once that’s done, I go back to my e-mail, just in case. Sometimes, this cycle can consume hours.

By the time I’ve finished doing nothing online, the mosquitoes have been well-fed. Of course, it’s always worth it at the time, but the next day I think to myself, “I should have just gotten the refrigerator.”

Thinking I might be able to avoid the mosquitoes, I started checking my e-mail about mid-day. I soon found that I was getting just about as many mosquito bites at mid-day as in the evening—it’s just a little easier to see the mosquitoes.

“I’ve g2g, the keys are burning my fingers,” is how many of my messenger conversations and e-mails ended. 105F is pretty hot, and with the afternoon sun beating down on my black keyboard, the keys can get very hot. The one advantage to using the internet during the day is that the cars don’t interfere…

So long as I’m within about 70ft of the router, have line of sight to the window in which it sits, and point my “omni-directional” antenna at it, I can connect.

“Oh!  I have signal here!” I carefully adjust my chair and sit down. A moment later the dog starts barking. “Oh, great…there goes my signal.” Contrary to what you might be thinking, I do not lose signal simply because the dog barks. The dog barks because my landlord is almost home. Inevitably, my landlord parks his SUV directly between me and the router…

Even when I do get connected, the connection is slow. They have satellite, but it’s not as fast as they make it sound. There’s a delay—kind of like talking to someone on the phone in England.

“Hello?”

*silence*

“Hi!”

*silence*

“How are you?”

*silence*

“Fine…”

When observing the traditional moment of silence during these conversations, it takes forever to get anything said, and the silence can confuse things. The same is true with this connection. I may think a page isn’t loading, when, in reality, it is. But I didn’t realize it, so I hit refresh, and it started over again. Eventually I give up and go in for lunch.

Now, there’s a way around all these nuisances. It’s called a “cantenna.” Unfortunately, I’m being perfectly serious. It is possible to use an empty Pringles can and a bit of wire to extend your wireless range. Using a special mathematical algorithm you can determine the optimum placement of the wire inside the can so as to get the best signal. It only costs about $5 to make. Being the sensible, budget-minded individual that I am, I saw the potential in this and decided to go for it. I began collecting the necessary parts immediately (that was nearly a month ago). As of today, I’ve collected the empty Pringles can (it wasn’t empty when I got it, in case you’re wondering).

Ideally, I would be able to attach the cantenna outside, running the cable through a window where I would connect it to my wireless card, thus increasing my signal strength, and enabling me to connect inside my trailer. “So why haven’t you done it,” you ask.

It takes too much time. “Doesn’t it take more time and cause you more discomfort in your current situation?”

I suppose it’s not as bad as I make it sound, or else I would give up on the internet, right? Or am I that desperate? Maybe it’s just part of my culture (sounds like a good excuse…) I don’t know.  What I do know is that at home in Colorado, I get good signal strength, DSL, and it never gets above 90F. Here’s a question even Google can’t answer: “Why on earth did I come to Texas?”