WiFi

Happy New Year

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For the past six years (2002-2007) we’ve spent New Year’s Eve in Richmond, VA. There are four couples there who get together each year and cook a very special (and sumptuous) dinner at each others houses (rotates each year), and we hitched our wagon to their tradition back in 2002. Of course, we were invited this year as well, and had originally accepted the invitation.

Unfortunately, our good friends in Leesburg, VA are going through a very rough time. The Dad has an aggressive form of cancer, and this week was undergoing a particularly aggressive round of chemotherapy. He was being treated daily, for a minimum of six hours of the life-extending poison being pushed (their term, not mine) through his veins.

As much as we knew we’d enjoy our annual New Year’s Eve get-together in Richmond, we also knew that helping our friends-in-need was the right thing to do, and we had no hesitation in offering our help. There were two things we could do directly:

  • logistics (driving the Dad to/from the hospital)
  • entertaining the boys, who clearly feel stressed worrying about their Dad

They have three kids, two boys ages 10 and eight and a girl, 2.8 years old. All three are adopted. We met the family when the 10-year-old was 18 months old, and they lived two doors down from Lois’ Mom’s apartment in NYC. We’ve remained very close to them even after they moved to VA seven years ago. So, we know the boys really well, and their various likes and dislikes.

We headed there Tuesday after working all day at Zope in Fredericksburg. On a whim, we stopped for dinner at Five Guys in Warrenton, VA. We’ve eaten at this Five Guys a number of times, because it’s roughly half way between Fredericksburg and Leesburg, and we occasionally meet our friends there on a weekend when we’re working at Zope. On Tuesday, it was just a convenient (and delicious) stopping point for us.

In an incredible small world story, a few bites into our meal, both Lois and I recognized a 10-year-old boy going over to fill up his drink. It turns out that really good friends of the friends that we were headed to visit had also stopped at Five Guys on their way to spend New Year’s in the Outer Banks! We were headed in opposite directions, with neither of us having planned to stop for dinner there. In another irony, they had visited our friends earlier that day!

Small World

Small World

On Wednesday morning, I drove the Dad to the hospital, and spent three hours keeping him company while he was undergoing the chemo. That turned out to be beneficial for him in another way. The hospital has free WiFi, but his work laptop needed to be coaxed to connect to it. In his condition, he was unable to get it going on Monday or Tuesday, but I was able to connect him, and he felt better about getting some work done on Wednesday.

Boys Only Moment

Boys Only Moment

At lunch time, I left him to join the rest of the family (Lois included) at our favorite local Chinese restaurant where we all enjoyed a buffet lunch. After lunch, Lois and I took the boys bowling. I haven’t bowled in years, but I love it every time I go. They had each bowled only once before (at a birthday party I think), and really liked it. We all had a blast and the boys played some video games afterward.

As you can see, all three boys had perfect form. Of course, my form is also over-flowing. I guess I need to get serious about that in 2009. So far, not so much…

Hadar Bowling

Hadar Bowling

8-year-old Bowling

8-year-old Bowling

10-year-old Bowling

10-year-old Bowling

A typical moment between me and the 8-year-old (this one, at the Bowling Alley):

Head Stand

Head Stand

Two best friends, sharing a moment:

Best Friends

Best Friends

We are prone to spoiling them over the years (often to the consternation of their parents), but we weren’t about to deny them much this week. So, after bowling and video games, we drove to Baskin Robbins (which is housed inside a Dunkin Donuts), and got them ice cream (well, one of them got ice cream, and the other one a smoothie). I had an excellent Lite Latte, quite delicious.

Chocolate Sprinkle Cone

Chocolate Sprinkle Cone

Smoothie Delight

Smoothie Delight

You’d think that this would be a jam-packed day, but you’d be wrong! From Baskin Robbins, we headed to the local movie theater to see Bedtime Stories. Of course, the four of us had to split a large popcorn. You gotta do what you gotta do. 😉

Keeper of the Popcorn

Keeper of the Popcorn

The movie is excellent. I highly recommend it. What sets it apart from most movies (including other kid-friendly ones) is that no one tries to sabotage anyone else. There is a nemesis (and you might even consider him an evil nemesis), but he doesn’t do underhanded things directly to Adam Sandler (our hero). It’s refreshing. The story itself is creative, while still being predictably formulaic. A very sweet movie. The boys loved it, so did we.

When we got home, we found out that another of the Dad’s friends stopped by to visit him in the afternoon, and was kind enough to bring him home. We had a lovely dinner together, followed by a little too much rough-housing between me and the eight-year-old (he loves to wrestle). I also played a ton with the little girl (more on that later).

Even though it was New Year’s Eve, we all went up to our rooms by 9:15, and Lois and I watched TV for 45 minutes, and hit the sack (completely exhausted)  at 10pm. No complaints about not ringing in the new year at midnight!

The clinic (attached to the hospital) was closed on New Year’s Day, so the Dad had to be checked in to the main hospital. I drove him in and watched in amazement as they couldn’t find him in the system, even though he was told in advance what room he would be in. The normal registration desk was closed so we had to navigate a maze to find the ER registration, which likely explains why they didn’t know how to do a normal admission.

I stayed with the Dad for two hours and then picked up Lois and the boys and we went bowling again! Everyone improved their scores from the day before, so it was a satisfying outing. We then headed to Cici’s Pizza Buffet. It was our first time (the boys love it) and we thoroughly enjoyed it (very tasty in addition to being a very good value!).

From there, we headed to the movies again. This time, we went to the giant multi-plex to see The Tale of Despereaux. On the way there, in the middle of a conversation, both boys excitedly starting yelling look over there. It took us a second, but when we looked at the divider, there was a hawk sitting on top of the wrong way sign. Very cool!

Hawk

Hawk

Of course, another round of popcorn for the four of us. We all enjoyed this movie as well, but all four heartily agreed that Bedtime Stories was significantly better. In fact, the 10-year-old claimed that Bedtime Stories was his favorite movie.

After the movie, we dropped Lois and the eight-year-old back at home, and the 10-year-old and I headed to the hospital. Originally, we were told that the Dad would have to stay in the hospital for two nights, not getting out until Saturday morning. During the day, they changed their mind and decided he could come home each night. So, we headed there to keep him company until they released him, and watch some bowl games in his room. Shortly after the Rose Bowl started, he was released, and we brought him home.

We had another excellent dinner together, followed by watching the second half of the Rose Bowl. It didn’t get exciting until the last seven minutes, but it was a good distraction nonetheless. I was strong and successfully resisted all attempts to wrestle again. I was quite sore from the bowling and the wrestling up to that point. I did end up playing a bunch with the little girl again.

Mother and Daughter

Mother and Daughter

Previous to this trip, she hadn’t been all that verbal. While we’ve spent a reasonable amount of time around her, she was more of a remote cutie (like a doll) than like a real person. I was completely blown away this trip by how verbal she is. Not only does she talk up a storm, but her vocabulary is extensive (it’s almost frightening, seriously). If she pronounced all of the words better, I would swear she had the conversational skills of a 13-year-old, no kidding!

How many nearly-three-year-olds do you know who can form the following sentence (I’m not changing a single word!)?

Ho-dar, can you come to the family room and play with me and my toys?

OK, so she doesn’t always pronounce my name perfectly, but otherwise, pretty incredible. Here’s one other example of an actual conversation between us:

her: Ho-dar, I have my own telephone!

me: Really? Do you talk to people on the phone?

her: No, it doesn’t have any batteries in it, so I can’t!

Wow. Pretty cool to watch a personality come to life between one visit and the next!

Here I am with the kids, right after breakfast:

Pajama Gangstas

Pajama Gangstas

This morning, I took the Dad back to the clinic. I stayed with him for a few hours again and then headed back to pick up Lois and the boys. We had lunch at Chuck E. Cheese (a first for the two of us). We had no idea what we were in for (of course, the boys knew exactly what the deal was). We were surprised that they wanted pizza two days in a row. As you all probably know (and we didn’t), it wasn’t about the pizza at all. Chuck E. Cheese is all about the games.

They had a blast playing a ton of games and won roughly 300 tickets between them. Still, they couldn’t find a single prize that they wanted, so they saved their ticket receipt for the next time. We had hoped to see Madagascar 2 after lunch, but it was no longer playing in any theater near them. So, we headed to Walmart and let each of them pick out a DVD to watch at home.

When we got home, the Mom told us that she was going to pick up her husband when he was done. We already knew we would be leaving today, since the boys had Tae Kwan Do tonight and tomorrow morning again. Given the updated schedule, we decided to hit the road while it was still light, and we stopped by the Zope office before heading to the hotel to settle in for the night.

All-in-all, a very successful visit in every respect. In addition to accomplishing our mission, our friend also received very good news that his tumors appear to be responding to the chemo. He is incredibly nauseous all the time, and he is weak as can be, but hopefully, he’ll start feeling substantially better soon. He’s completely bald as well, but we both think it looks pretty good on him. We’ll see if he chooses to keep it that way. 🙂

For us, ringing in the new year with such good friends is as good as it gets! Thanks for hosting us. 🙂

Cable Woes Resolved

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On December 13th I wrote about my long-standing cable Internet woes. At the end of that note, I mentioned that I would update everyone if my solution worked.

Today is the first day that we are back in the apartment, and I can now report that we’ve had zero drops in the past six hours. That seems to point the finger squarely at the old Netgear FVS318 ProSafe VPN Firewall. While it was working, it was also flaking out unbelievably.

Here’s a big bonus: the WAN port on the FVS router was a 10Mbps port, even though the eight LAN ports were 10/100. The Netgear WNR854T N router that I replaced it with has a 100Mbps WAN port, and GigE LAN ports (purchased re-certified for $40!). So, my download speed was topping out at around 8Mbps on the old router (when it wasn’t dropping packets), but the current one is reliably downloading at 18Mbps! Awesome!

The upload speed is still a very pokey 490Kbps, but you can’t have everything, at least not all the time. 😉

So, I’m now back to 60/40 as to whether I prefer the house to the apartment. Purely due to the Internet connection, I was closer to 90/10 for the past six months!

How little it takes to make me happy. 🙂

Cable Internet Woes

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A long time ago (I can’t remember when), we had a stable, reliable connection in the apartment (provided by Time Warner Cable). It was never super fast on the download (when it was stable, it was roughly 3Mpbs downstream). It was always pokey on the upstream (used to be roughly 360Kpbs). Now, it’s typically 7-8Mbps down, and 490Kbps up.

Unfortunately, while both up and down have gotten faster, the experience has deteriorated. I wish I could point the finger directly at Time Warner, but I can’t. Not because it’s not their fault, but because I have no idea, and that’s been hugely frustrating…

I may be slow to fix things at times, but I’m typically pretty good at diagnosing. I’m completely lost at the moment.

It’s been bad for such a long time, that I’ve come to accept it on some levels, and that’s just silly on my part.

Here are the symptoms: regular disconnects from the Internet. Those drops can last between a few seconds to a minute. The most sensitive applications (the early warning systems) are IM clients (Digsby for me, Trillian for Lois, but Pidgin used to behave identically before I switched to Digsby). Email clients hang if they are fetching or sending at the moment of the drop. When the drops last a bit longer, ssh connections are lost, but not on the short drops. The Poker client disconnects every 20-30 minutes.

Here’s my setup. I had (more on that in a moment) a seven year old Toshiba cable modem (provided by Time Warner). I have a Netgear FVS318 ProSafe VPN Firewall that connects to the cable modem. Years ago, I used it in VPN mode to connect to the office, but now it’s just a plain old router. Connected to that are three devices: an Asterisk server, VoIP ATA (Sipura) and a WiFi router.

After working great for years, when the trouble started, I suspected the wireless router (at the time, it was a Linksys WRT54G). I swapped it for a US Robotics spare that I had sitting around. The US Robotics device exhibited different problems. It went for longer periods without drops, but then would drop for longer periods (rebooting it seemed to always work). Since it was a bit older, and only a B router, I bought a Netgear WNR854T (an N router). I bought it re-certified.

It behaves just like the Linksys did, more frequent drops, but of shorter duration, that always auto-correct. I know, it’s re-certified, but still, three WiFi routers in a row? Yesterday, while at the house, enjoying my fantastic Verizon FiOS connection (30Mbps down, 5Mbps up), it occurred to me that the only thing all three WiFi routers have in common is the port they share on the FVS318 router.

I was actually excited to have a theory to test. When we got to the apartment mid-morning, I fired up the laptop, and swapped both the cable and the port that connected the WiFi router to the FVS. No Internet connection at all! What? We were just here on Wednesday, and it was working (albeit with the stated problems).

Rebooting the cable modem indicated that the cable modem just decided to die. I marched to the Time Warner service center. The one thing Time Warner does extremely well (and, unfortunately, I’ve taken advantage of this good service way too many times!), is staff a service center and swap devices quickly, with no questions asked.

I got there at about noon on a Saturday, and there were roughly 15 people working the service desks. It took less than five minutes to have my number called, and less than two minutes to swap the cable modem. 15 minutes later, I was back in the apartment (at least I got a bit of exercise). The new cable modem worked right away (still using the new cable and new port from the WiFi to the FVS).

A quick speed test gave me the sense that all of my problems were done. I got 8Mbps down and 492Kbps up, but with no jerkiness in the numbers. A smooth connection, it seemed. All joy died about 20 minutes later, when I had my first IM drop out.

So, in theory, it could still be the cable modem (or the cable company, at the head end). But, I left out a major detail which makes me believe that this is not the case. All of our phone calls are VoIP, so they use the cable modem as well. Whenever we experience a drop on the IM client, if either of us is on the phone, there is no drop on the call. At least, it’s not discernible (which doesn’t mean that a packet isn’t dropped along the way).

I am at my wits end. I have two things that I can try. One is to bypass the WiFi with a PowerLine connection (the cable modem is not in the room where we work). That will work, but if there are any drops, it won’t be clear that it isn’t the PowerLine adapter. The second thing is more painful. I just did the second one this minute. I reprogrammed the WiFi router to completely replace the FVS318. Since we’re leaving now, I won’t know until the next time we’re back whether this will solve the problem. If it does, then it means that the FVS was flaking out in general, somehow.

While it’s possible that three WiFi routers in a row are all bad, in a similar (if not exact) way, somehow, I doubt it. It is ironic that the cable modem just up and died, but the new one is exhibiting the exact same problem, so I don’t think it’s the problem either. For completeness sake, I should report that we are both using brand new laptops, with built-in N WiFi cards. Before that, we were each using Netgear N Cards. Before that, we used different model B and G USB-based WiFi adapters (with the old Linksys and US Robotics), all with the same drops, so it’s most definitely not the client devices!

If any of you have any suggestions out there for what else I can try, I’m all ears!

Internet Connection Sharing

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Internet Connection Sharing (ICS) has been around for a long time (formally, and through hack-like methods). I have never had a need for it (slightly amazing) until now. Yesterday I wrote about our current hotel WiFi woes. In that post, I wrote that I wouldn’t need to worry about it today, given that I would only be in the hotel for two waking hours.

After a very early breakfast, I decided to try ICS for the first time, just for yucks. There are a number of ways that I could have set it up, each as easy as the next, but I had one specific scenario in mind.

I set up Lois’ old laptop on the desk in the outer room (we’re in an Embassy Suites, so we have two rooms). I pulled out my small Linksys travel router and plugged it in there as well. I set my laptop up in the bedroom.

On Lois’ machine, I turned on ICS (there is a simple wizard) and told it that the Sprint Broadband Connection (through the USB cable to her Treo) was the real Internet connection. I then told the wizard that the wired port was the shared connection. I then plugged in the Linksys router to the wired port, with the Internet (WAN) port on the Linksys rather than the Ethernet port. So, the Linksys would be getting it’s IP address from the laptop.

Since my laptop is already configured to connect to the travel router, I didn’t need to make any changes to my machine. I went into the bedroom, and poof, I was on the Internet! This time, the Treo had a better connection than the day before, and I was getting 757Kbps downstream and 124Kbps upstream. That’s a faster downstream connection than I had yesterday on the paid WiFi!

I have heard that ICS on a Mac is brain-dead simple, and I have no doubt that it is. I can now confirm that it’s pretty darn simple on Windows too (Lois’ laptop that was serving the connection is Windows XP). You have to pick which network device is the real one, and which is the shared one, but other than that, nothing else to do.

I now don’t need to consider the hotel WiFi dilemma. Once Lois changes to the new laptop, I’ll have to consider getting an Express Card version of the modem, now that I know we can easily share that connection when necessary. It will still end up being an insurance policy, since we almost always have a free wired or WiFi connection wherever we are.

Victory! 🙂

Hotel WiFi

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This post is inspired by my current hotel WiFi woes. I’ve likely mentioned this gripe before, but since I’m living it at the moment, I’ll repeat it, vigorously. It’s insane that high-end hotels charge for Internet use (WiFi or wired), while their low-end chains (owned by the same company!) give it away for free!

Sure, some people pay for it (including me, last night), so you could argue that it’s smart. It’s not. It’s brain-dead stupid.

We are on a mini-vacation visiting our godson in Birmingham, AL for the long Thanksgiving weekend. We left the office on Tuesday and drove to Durham, NC where we stayed in a Hampton Inn for the night. We picked up a mutual friend the next morning and drove all day to Birmingham, where we are spending five nights in an Embassy Suites (owned by Hilton, which also owns Hampton Inn). We head back north on Monday morning.

Since it’s a vacation, we’re using Hilton HHonors Points to stay for free this trip. We stay in Hampton Inns nearly 100% of the time, both for business and for pleasure. We like them, they provide good value, a predictable experience, and free Internet access.

There is a Hampton Inn not too far from our godson’s apartment in Birmingham, but there is an Embassy Suites closer, and we’re having Thanksgiving Dinner at the Ruth’s Chris in that Embassy Suites tonight (getting closer, the mouth is already watering…), and, most importantly, it was the same exact number of points to stay there as to stay at the Hampton Inn.

So, I got on to the site, and thought I saw that the Internet Access was free. I was wrong… When I logged on last night, I paid the $9.95 for the 24 hour period. I was annoyed. No, I’m not cheap, but yes, I’m value oriented. Lois has a laptop too, so are we expected to pay $20/day for access? Yes. Never mind connection sharing strategies (which I can employ, but most people can’t).

I actually could go into great detail about that, and intended to, but I’ll pass and spare the poor readers. Our new laptops use Vista x64, and as I’ve noted in other posts, the only thing I don’t have working is the USB connection to our Treo phones (in fact, I can pair with Bluetooth, but I can’t get BT to work for syncing or phone-as-modem either).

So, I can’t use my Treo as a modem to connect to avoid the WiFi fees, which is what I would have done in the past. But, Lois hasn’t switched yet (another very long story), so I did whip out her Treo, and connected her laptop instantly via Sprint. That’s why I didn’t need to hassle with connection sharing. She was fine immediately.

Since I couldn’t use my Treo, I paid. But, whereas the average Hampton Inn gives me a 1.5Mbps connection, upload and download speed, this for pay connection was 537Kbps download and 236Kbps upload. Wow. Charge me, and give me an inferior connection. Real smart. Just for comparison, Lois had a bad connection (perhaps because we’re on the eighth floor), and she was getting 236Kbps download and 126Kbps upload (not much worse than my crappy WiFi connection!).

But, I paid (you say), so they are smart. Wrong. First, if I had realized that they charged, I would not have stayed there (forget that I’m using points, the same would have applied if I were paying with cash). If it wasn’t points, that could have put me in another chain as well, not necessarily a Hilton. Second, they are ensuring that my stay isn’t as pleasant as it might otherwise be. Tomorrow, I will only be in the room for two waking hours. No way I will pay, so I will be using only my Treo for email, and I will blame Hilton.

Next, while I made this mistake this time, I’m not likely to make it ever again. So, Embassy Suites has likely lost all future business that they might have gotten from me. Considering that I’m a Diamond VIP HHonors member, that loss might not be insignificant!

To be clear, everything else about our stay is very nice. The people are delightful. The breakfast was wonderful, The room is gorgeous. And yet, instead of making me want to pay up a little in the future (over a Hampton Inn), they are guaranteeing that I will be running back to Hampton Inn (at least they have won my business for their other chain) rather than spending more for an Embassy Suites stay. That’s why it’s dumb.

Aside from the above, there is a business center downstairs, and also two Internet Kiosks. I didn’t check, but it wouldn’t surprise me to find out that the Business Center offers free Internet usage (for browsing on their machines). If that’s true, it makes it even more stupid to charge for the use in the rooms.

In this hotel, and others, there are other opportunities for the hotel to charge money (typically food, via restaurants or room service). If you encourage me to stay in the room, then I’m likely to use hotel amenities. If I feel ripped off, I’m likely to avoid anything that’s in that specific hotel. Free WiFi will tend to keep people engaged in their room, and therefore hanging around in the hotel.

Anyway, once this trip is over, and definitely once Lois switches to her new machine, I’ll be canceling the phone-as-modem options on both of our Treos. That will be a big loss for Sprint. We pay a huge premium (yes, it’s purely insurance, since we rarely use them in this mode). Since we rarely use the service, this is essentially free money to Sprint. But, since they haven’t pressured Palm to support Vista x64, and haven’t done anything about it themselves, they will lose this revenue.

Second, since the phone will no longer be a multi-purpose device, it will be slightly less useful to me. Also, since it doesn’t sync with my laptop any longer, it will be even less useful. That means that in the next few months, I’ll be in the market for a new phone, even though I like my Treo 755p a lot, and I am perhaps the only happy Sprint customer, and I pay them a small fortune every month, and I use next to zero services.

Yes, I’m an idiot, but I’m a happy idiot, and they are driving me away! More stupidity, but this time, not by a hotel chain… I believe that my next phone will likely be an Android-based one, on Verizon. I might have to wait six months to see a model I’ll be happy with, but once it exists, I’ll be switching.

I’m reluctant to go the extra step and get an express card data modem (or USB one), because I now know from experience that I will use it 3-4 days a year. It’s just a stupid premium to pay for that small amount of usage, but that too could still happen…

Wake up people, in this economy, these kinds of customer alienations will be even more damaging than they otherwise might be…

Internet Connectivity Update

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In this post, I discussed my emergency backup system for when my house or apartment Internet connectivity goes down. In that report, I mentioned that my WiFi connection in the apartment was getting reasonably flaky.

We’re in the apartment all week this week, so I was bracing for the experience. As I mentioned before, the WiFi router wasn’t far from our laptops, roughly 21 feet. There is a bathroom in between the two rooms, so there are two walls for the signal to travel through. Still, most of the time, it works well.

When the link is up, tests show an average download speed of roughly 3.6Mbps. Upload speeds of roughly 364Kbps.

On Monday and Tuesday, we had a few drop outs, but they were relatively short lived. Yesterday morning, we lost connectivity, and it didn’t come back within five minutes. I could have put the emergency plan into action, but I decided to try something else.

I have tons of extra (mostly ancient) networking equipment. In both the house and apartment, I have a pair of old Netgear XE602 Powerline Adapters. The pair in the house never get used, because the one place I could have used them yielded a near-zero signal. In the apartment, I have used them on rare occasion, but they worked reasonably well.

So, yesterday morning, I grabbed the pair, plugged one end in next to the main router (in the remote room) and brought the WiFi router into the bedroom, and connected it to the other XE 602. We immediately had a connection. It’s possible that the reboot of the WiFi router (even remotely) would have corrected the problem.

More important, when I did the speed test, I got 5.2Mbps down and 494Kbps up. After a while, even though I didn’t have a problem, I switched to a wired connected (since the WiFi router was close enough to my machine to just plug in directly). Lois remained wireless the rest of the day.

We never lost connectivity, but at least two times, there were instantaneous blips that would be unnoticed by humans (normally), but occasionally cause my SSH client to drop the connection to the server. I think it’s the Powerline devices (they are no longer sold new, and perhaps newer generations ones wouldn’t exhibit these problems). No worries though, this is way better than what we were experiencing.

For now, I’ll leave it set up this way. We have company coming in tonight, and staying the weekend. I don’t know if they will bring their laptops, but if they do, I may need to relocate the WiFi back outside, to give them a workable connection. We’ll see…

Internet Connectivity Insurance

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In the house, we have Verizon FiOS service (triple play, Phone, Internet, TV). In the apartment, we have Time Warner Cable (Internet and TV). Both services are very reliable (in terms of availability). Beyond that, Verizon FiOS is so dramatically better, I keep praying for when they’ll figure out how to deploy it to large apartment buildings in NYC.

The biggest difference in the service is the speed. On the FiOS link, I have 30Mbps downstream, and theoretically, 5Mpbs upstream (though no site seems to accept data at that rate, so it’s somewhat meaningless). On the TWC link, it’s between 4-5Mbps downstream, but a poky 364Kbps (yes, K, not M) upstream. Most of the time, that’s OK, but when sending large attachments, or updating a large blog posting 😉 it can be reasonably painful.

The other difference (for me, not between the services) is that at the house (on FiOS), I’m wired the entire way. At the apartment, I use WiFi. Lois uses WiFi at both places, and it’s rock solid at the house.

At the apartment, the WiFi is often flaky, even though we’re not all that far from the access point (it’s in another room, and there’s one wall between us, but it’s not more than 20 feet away). At some times, it’s rock solid, at others, it can drop out completely.

It’s possible that the router itself (a Linksys WRT54G) is flaking out. On the other hand, sometimes, it can go for days on end without a problem. Slightly more likely is the fact that we live in a heavily populated area, and there is likely a crazy amount of interference of all types on the 2.4ghz band.

So, this past Wednesday we drove in from the house to the apartment because we had tickets to see Keith Urban and Carrie Underwood at MSG that night. (Completely unrelated to that post, here is my review of that concert…)

We got to the apartment mid-morning and immediately logged on. The weather was horrible outside, and it’s possible (though I can’t imagine how) that it affected the WiFi signal as well. Within minutes of being logged on, we were experiencing tons of dropouts on the WiFi. The TV signal was fine, and I was able to make VoIP calls (which bypass the WiFi) without a problem, so the basic Internet service was definitely up as well.

After about an hour of complete frustration on our part, I decided to put the backup plan into action. As the name of the post implies, I have insurance for just such situations. For a few years now, I pay for an unlimited data plan with Sprint to use each of our Treos (I have a 755p, and Lois has a 700p). It’s not cheap, and I would probably save a ton of money if I paid only when I used it (because it is, after all, just for emergencies), but I really hate metering, and getting smacked with out-sized bills, even if overall, it would be cheaper.

Years ago, when few hotels had free WiFi, it was a very good deal, as we often both used our phones as modems for hours on end. Now, it’s actually rare that we stay at a place that doesn’t have free WiFi. Therefore, it’s also rare that we use the Treos to connect our laptops to the Internet.

On Wednesday, I pulled out both phones, connected them with USB cables, and connected via Sprint. We both stayed connected for at least six hours, never had a single drop of the connection, and neither of us felt that it was sluggish in the least. I didn’t measure the speed that day, but in the past, in the apartment, it has averaged roughly 400Kbps downstream and 100Kbps upstream.

I would hate to see what that one day bill would have been, which is I pay the set amount each month. Ironically, this is the second time this month that we’ve used the service. When we were visiting my folks on February 6th, Lois needed to do a ton of work (thankfully, I didn’t). She was using the WiFi in their apartment, and it was working fine for everything, except sending mail. Obviously, it was critical that she be able to send emails.

I realized fairly quickly that Bellsouth (excuse me, AT&T) was likely blocking outgoing SMTP that wasn’t going through their servers, but I wanted to visit with my folks, and I didn’t want to dork around with her machine, or my server. So, I just plugged her in to the Treo, and connected to Sprint, and she was fine for hours.

The next day, I just changed her settings to send through Bellsouth and that worked fine too.

So, while I’m definitely overpaying, I’m very happy to report that at least on the rare occasions when I need it, it not only works, but it works flawlessly, and provides a very satisfactory experience in terms of speed as well. That’s exactly how all insurance should work. 🙂