Tetherless in Adelaide, Australia

I just got back from the Internet Engineering Task Force meeting in Adelaide, Australia, where I went fully wireless for the first time. This stuff actually works, but can be a great distraction.

IETF meetings have supported one form of wireless LAN technology or another for the past few years, but because I am a Mac user and the Mac drivers for the wireless cards seem to be too funky for me to deal with, I hadn’t previously been a participant.

But I recently bought a spiffy Apple Computer Inc. PowerBook complete with a built-in Apple AirPort 802.11 compatible wireless card. I walked into the Adelaide convention centre where the IETF meeting was being held, woke up my PowerBook, turned on the AirPort card (one click on a menu), selected the AirPort as the TCP/IP port (one click on a different menu) and I was fully connected.

Other than a few funnies due to a misconfigured Dynamic Host Configuration Protocol (DHCP) server on the first day, the connection worked flawlessly the whole week. And because the PowerBook can run for 10 hours on one set of batteries, I didn’t even have to plug it in to the power outlet and was free to roam. (Except for one day when I didn’t notice that the hotel housekeeping staff had turned off the little power switch next to the outlet, apparently a feature of Australian hotels, and my batteries did not get charged as a result.)

This is great stuff! Very fast connectivity — theoretically 11MHz — just like sitting at my desk at the office. I could sit in the sometimes boring working group meetings and keep up with my e-mail, check out what was happening in the real world at www.cnn.com or on Wall Street at www.wsj.com. (Note that I differentiate Wall Street and the real world). It’s the first time I’ve come back from an IETF meeting caught up on my e-mail. Great stuff indeed, although rather distracting.

If this is what it’s like to be always on-line, I may actually get less work done. It’s hard to pay attention to a meeting while engaged in a furious e-mail exchange on a mailing list or seeing what the market is doing to your stock portfolio. Networks based on 802.11 are beginning to pop up in all sorts of places, including office buildings and airport lounges. Because I expect to see more of this wireless technology, I should figure out how to balance the temptations.

Now I think I’m going to get a base station for the house so I can be in the living room pretending to be sociable while actually surfing away.