Sunday, September 18, 2011

Decade-old memories

I passed up writing about a supposedly important anniversary last week. I didn't write about it because, honestly, it didn't really affect me.

I was in college at the University of Maryland, College Park, in the 2001 Fall semester. Since 11 September, 2001, was a Tuesday morning, I was in an early lab class. After lab I had the whole rest of the day open so I went back to the IEEE lounge in the basement of the engineering building. That's when another student, well known for being a bit of a cut-up, said a plane had crashed into the World Trade Center.

Of course I said, "That's a really bad joke, James."

But I still walked to the computer lab down the hall to find out the story. I sat down at an open computer and thought about where to find the information I was looking for. You had to do that in those days. Remember that Google was only a few years old and hadn't overthrown the top search engines of the day, Lycos and Alta Vista. As this story was supposedly happening in New York, my first stop was the New York Times, the first New York-based newspaper I could think of. Their site wasn't available that day, my first indication that there might be something to this story. So I tried the Washington Post, our hometown paper there inside the Beltway. Also unavailable that morning. Now I'm thinking I need to try for a server well outside the supposed area. The LA Times was showing news from the night before. They hadn't even woken up yet to update their website. I finally hit upon the Tampa Tribune, who was both awake and online. That's when the towers started falling.

In the following years, many whitepapers would be written about dealing with surge capacity for news websites and many more about continuity of operations. The University's administration was castigated for not evacuating the school to which their response was, "Where are the students supposed to go? All the flights have been grounded and anywhere could have been a target." There was a campus-wide memorial on the 12th and classes were cancelled that day. Looking up and seeing military fighter jets on patrol instead of the normal passenger jet contrails was the eeriest part. We were concerned about reopening the world's oldest continuously operating airport.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Chromebook 3

It's been a few months so I thought I'd take a moment to circle back to Chromebooks. In my last post, I made much noise about Verizon's 100 MB per month bandwidth cap. It's free connectivity with the purchase of every Chromebook so I can't complain too loudly. But it was still very annoying to burn through my monthly allotment in a matter of days. Each month, the battery nearly outlasted the bandwidth. But by shifting a few priorities around, and ponying up to open wi-fi whenever possible, I've finished this month with a few megabytes on the account. Okay, kilobits. But you get the point. I've actually made it to the end of the month with data to spare.

How did I manage this miraculous feat? Lots of wi-fi. There is no ethernet port on a Chromebook and it won't tether to an Android so unlimited data from other providers is not an option. This month, I stayed off the 3G network as much as possible and never used it for bandwidth intensive activities like streaming media. Even so, moderate web surfing, email, and social networking on the big screen (compared to my Android phone) used up almost the entire quota of data this month.

Because I work where I do, there's no wi-fi here at all. We have our own war-drivers roaming the halls sniffing out rogue access points. Even broadcasting cellphones get hunted down. Not a good place to have a misconfigured radio. I do have my own network(s) at home but the apartment complex nearby makes for very crowded airspace. But then the Elks Lodge where I'm a member has wireless. And no other access points nearby. Since those are the three places I spend all my time, and two of the three have wireless internet, I'm usually near enough to an access point to switch radios.

So that's my secret for making the shallow data pool last the month. Don't actually use it.