Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Where Do You Go When The WiFi Goes Down??

On Sunday, a violent spring thunderstorm hit Hamden and Hampshire counties in Western Massachusetts, knocking down trees, powerlines and a heck of a lot more. I'd been gone most of the day, so when I finally got back to my hovel in Chicopee, I discovered that my telephone and dsl were completely knocked out--zip, zero, no dialtone, nothing. (My tv was also kaput, but that's another story.)

After talking with my neighbor, I found out that lighning struck something across the street, there was a loud boom! and a flash. Her phones and tv were fine.

The neighborhood I live in is incredibly congested. There are multiple lines criss-crosing the backyard, hooking up to a pole that looks like it's part of the backyard fence. The junction box outside the house still says "Bell Atlantic" on it, so you know how old that thing is.

When I called Verizon, they "tested the line" and found no problems. So it must be me. I told them about the storm, and that it probably isn't me--which, 5 hours after my initial call, they confirmed. Something outside had been hit, and the ETA for restored service is Wednesday...

Well, maybe Tuesday....more like Thursday...

Which leaves me where I am now--sitting in a Panera Bread restaurant, freezing my ass off, using their wifi. I was at Starbucks again this a.m., where the wifi is thru T-Moble, and I have to pay for it via some kind of plan. It's also where conversation and thinking are well nigh impossible because what used to be background music is now loud enough to be foreground music.

Yesterday I was not only at Starbucks, but the Woodstar Cafe in Northampton (free wifi but no outlets in case your batt goes down) and Barnes and Noble (with another pay for play wifi plan courtesy of AT&T.)

While I was at Starbucks this a.m, I tried to find where the wifi hotspots are for this particular geographic area--hoping one would be Max's Tavern by the Basketball Hall of Fame (where it might be fun to also flirt during lunch.) No such luck on Max's, but I can say that every single McDonalds "restaurant" (and I use that term quite loosely) *is* wifi'd.

There are a couple of things bothering me about this--one is that wifi is ubiquitous in all the Mickey D's in the area. The second is that each and every place has a different service. The wifi in a Starbucks in Northampton has a different wifi provider than the one in Chicopee. The third is that no matter where you go, you have to eat there (as well as sometimes pay for the wifi.)

Which lead me to belive, for some oddball reason, that wifi should be in our public libraries! (I was convinced even more of this when I called the Chicopee Public Library and asked the Ciculation Desk if they had wifi--and the person at Circulation couldn't answer my question because she didn't know what I was talking about! Even when I got the Reference desk, and got the "no(what are you, crazy?)" answer, I wasn't all that confident that the Reference Librarian knew what I was talking about.)

When I think about it, municipal wifi located in the public libraries makes a great deal of sense. First, there are, esp. in the Pioneer Valley, many folks who work online and where the Intenet is their commerce lifeline. When we're knocked out, we're forced to be vagabonds, roaming the streets, wigged out on too much caffiene (who really feels comfortable *not* buying a coffee in lieu of using the wifi) and getting very little done--mainly because the working conditions in these places is hardly optimum. (I am so freezing at the moment that I've got goosebumps. Seriously. and I'm shivering. Seriously. The air conditioner is set for later in the week when it's supposed to be 80, not today when it's, like, 54.)

Yeah, I can hear y'all saying all kinds of stuff about bums coming in and spreading viruses and searching kiddie porn and hacking and that muni wifi would aid only online predators...

How about if there was a policy where a patron would have to show an active library card and get a code (that changed every day) before logging in to the wifi network? Wouldn't it be great for people looking for jobs, who may have lost their home dsl, or only have dial-up? Wouldn't it be great for businesspeople doing research, or kids working on papers?

And wouldn't it be a service to the community when the phones went out in another part of town??

Oh, what's with me....I'm surely smoking something. When people working in a library don't even know what wifi is, how could I possibly think that municipal officials could see the need for it.

For now, I'm stuck in Starbucks, or Panera, or any other place I can drive to in order to find wifi (and that's the other thing--I have to drive everywhere to find it.) But I won't go to McD's. No way. Not for all the free wifi in the world...

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Average Jane said...
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Average Jane said...

Totally sucks having no internet. I really, truly think I'd *die*!

You may wanna invest in a new cool contraption - a WiFinder - it seeks for networks in the area you're in - and tells you if they're locked or free... oh, and it's a USB adapter - so voila - you have a connection right there with one little thingamajig!

http://tinyurl.com/8fwcs - link to Lyksys' website :)

PS... thanks for the link to my blog - you're a doll!

Tish Grier said...

thanks for the tip, Jane! oh, and it's my pleasure to give you the link. I'm a huge believer in cross-linking. it's like a courtesy and shows others that the people in your blogroll are not just folks you read, but folks whose blogs you *actually* communicate with!

Tom said...

Hey Tish,

You'll be happy to learn that many public libraries do in fact offer free wifi. Check this out:


You can do an advanced search and limit to libraries that offer wifi.

Sounds like Chicopee might be a bit behind the curve on this one, but don't let that sour you on latter-day librarians' ability to get with the times!

Tish Grier said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Tish Grier said...

hi Tom! thanks for the link! well, you'd know about that stuff, being a real-life librarian and all :-) and you're probably right about Chicopee...I bet, though, that it's not the *only* place like this.

Tom said...

Yeah, it's a very weird dichotomy. You have libraries which have totally embraced technology and now offer not only public wi-fi but online ebook checkout, podcasts, and rss feeds; while on the other hand you have places out there that have almost made a point of not staying up-to-date.

To be fair, in a lot of towns it's a budget thing, and the bugaboo of dedicating taxpayers' money to providing access to "teh Intarwebs" (gasp!) so that kids can hang out on MySpace doesn't help either. This is complicated by the fact that many traditional supporters of libraries are somewhat Luddite in their attitudes towards the latest developments in technology (and then of course in the other corner you have people like Jeff Jarvis telling us -- a la Dr. Egon Spengler -- that "print is dead" and the New York Public Library should be emptied of its millions of books to make way for something more useful).

Libraries are a really weird focal point of competing and often antithetical interests, from the First Amendment partisans to the Great Books Snobs, the technophiles to the technophobes, the people who think that libraries should be fortresses against the times and those who believe that it should be a mirror that reflect those same times.

Granted, I work in an academic library where at least we don't have to wrestle with the existential question of whether we need libraries at all in this modern era (Harvard will probably keep its 14+ million books and keeping adding print materials to its collection for centuries to come, regardless of what Mr. Jarvis predicts). But the debate of what libraries should be in the third millennium is unavoidable, and trickles down into the daily concerns of everyone who works in a library. It's a little frightening to watch in some respects, but thrilling to be a part of a field in the midst of such an unprecedented era of transformation.

Tish Grier said...

fabulous words, Tom. I have to agree with you re Jarvis. I don't know what's gotten into him these days, but some of his comments seem more ego-centric than they had been, and that's my sense of his "print is dead" mantra.

Whenever I think of losing books, I think of Farenheit 451, Orwell's 1984, and Nazi book burnings and the scene in Rollerball where Jonathan E couldn't check out a book from the "library." I think "what's going to happen if we have a crisis where there's no energy, or a war where the infrastructure is attacked and we can't access our beloved internet?" Without printed materials, we'll be sorely up a creek ...

Further, (if I'm right here) there's still lots of discussion on how libraries are going to preserve electronic media, decay rates, etc. There's no guarantee that what we're doing now on the 'net will be here in another 10, 50, 100 years. And I know from my friend Bill Anderson that there's some serious conversations going on regarding how to categorize, as well as give access to, some scientific materials now online (I think the discussion's part of a larger cataloguing problem.)

We don't have all the bugs of this tech stuff worked out sufficiently yet for us to be burning our books.

not to mention that you can't quite read a text on the 'net the way you can read it out of a book. and you can't use a highlighter on a podcast.

On the other hand, I'm really bothered how so many small communities seem to think of the internet as a place for predators and the best people to give them information about the internet are the State Police. That, in some cases, might be what ends up holding up funds for wifi--fear as much as lack of funds.

Almost American said...

Dunno about Easthampton, but Forbes library in Hamp has free wifi. Before I had broadband at home, I occasionally went down there with my laptop if I had a large file to download. No library card needed - I just went in and sat at a table. They even provide outlets, so no battery problems. No coffee though :-(