I love it when technology keeps me out of jail. Faced with the prospect of a business trip from San Francisco to Atlanta last week, I was sure I'd go bananas midflight and wind up in the gun sights of the air marshal. You see, I'm six feet, three inches, leggy at that, and CNET stopped doing Business Class back when the stock stopped doing $60. Atlanta is four and a half hours away. I figured that, after about three hours aloft in a cheap seat, I'd start to come completely unglued.
But I had the foresight to rent a portable DVD player kit from InMotion Pictures. At SFO, they handed me a player, two charged batteries, one DVD rental, headphones, and an AC adapter all crammed into a really dirty and too-small carrying bag. But it worked great and kept me out of that little room at Hartsfield where they ask you over and over if you've ever been to Pakistan.
The player was a Panasonic DVD-LA95, which has a good-looking 9-inch screen and plenty of headphone output and gets about 2.5 hours from a single charge. You don't need any bells or whistles for in-flight entertainment. I plugged in my own Sennheiser noise-canceling headphones and went to the movies.
While the poor slobs around me went quietly to pieces watching Along Came Polly, I studied Lost in Translation for the 17th time.
While the poor slobs around me went quietly to pieces watching Along Came Polly
(even the flight attendant rolled her eyes when she announced it), I studied Lost in Translation
for the 17th time, laughed obnoxiously at Play It Again, Sam
, and once again nodded off to A Man for All Seasons
When I walked off the plane back home at SFO, I just dropped the whole kit into what looked like an overgrown UPS drop box, and that was it.
The only problems with InMotion Pictures' service is that its rental kiosks are in only 21 airports so far, and many of those are in locations that will force you to go through security twice--once to get the DVD player and once again to get on your plane. Not amusing. They can ship the thing to you ahead of time, but that doesn't appeal to me.
If they can do a better job with locations, this would be a cool service for people like me who seldom travel with a laptop and can't justify buying their own portable DVD deck.
What's wrong with Wi-Fi
Realizing that my Wi-Fi rig at home was insecure (802.11b running WEP security), I bought a new 802.11g/b Wi-Fi router with WPA encryption. I connected it, fired it up, and immediately realized I'd just wasted $100.
You see, aside from that new router, all my Wi-Fi stuff is older 802.11b gear running WEP--and it doesn't support WPA. That means I had to dumb down the new router to run in WEP mode. I didn't need a new router to do that!
I'm willing to upgrade the cheap stuff, such as the adapter on the notebook and on the TiVo, but I'm not going to pony up $1,500 to replace the three Panasonic Wi-Fi video cameras. So I now have a very secure router running in a very insecure mode.
You're still reading. That makes you part of the 1 percent of computer users who can even understand this stuff.
A quick hallway chat with our resident network expert Allen Fear provided a workaround. He suggested that I connect my old 802.11b access point running WEP to a separate firewall, then connect that firewall to one of the ports on my new router by using channel 1. That little mess would communicate with my insecure Wi-Fi cameras, while not allowing them to be a backdoor into my PCs. The rest of my network would be secured under WPA and run on channel 11 for maximum frequency separation.
Here's the problem: You're still reading. That makes you part of the 1 percent of computer users who can even understand this stuff. The world's home Wi-Fi networks will be porous for a long time.
Attention Vietnam vets: I'm accepting applications for a door gunner. Been taking a lot of hostile fire for suggesting you might want to leave your PC on all the time. Touched a green nerve, I did.
If your e-mail messages were compiled into a Zagat-style review of me, it would read that I'm a "Hummer-driving" "idiot" with a "plush editorial job" who "doesn't get it."
I'm the first to admit that energy conservation is not a knee-jerk response for me, I have to think about it. And I do. I applaud the fact that as a group, you readers are out in front of this one. But I can also keep some perspective and see some useful benefits to leaving a PC on 24/7. Sorry.
And a correction (how exciting, my first): In that same column, I quoted you $120 per year as the ballpark cost of leaving a PC on 24/7--that included the power consumption of a monitor as well, which wasn't made clear. A typical PC alone is more like $60 per year. And I mean typical, not some 3GHz P4, but more like a 1.2GHz P-III. You know, the computers most regular people use.