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Whining for Wireless
Jeff Pasternack
It started out like any ordinary, average Thursday, insofar as average being defined as a day when a brand new virus obliterates your home office network. It wasn't so bad that the good folks who make Norton AntiVirus failed to protect me, for AntiVirus software is, by its very nature, reactive. It cannot protect you from viruses that too new to be in the anti-virus definitions. What was bad is that the whole network was fragged and, with no time to wait for a fix-it tool to be made available, I needed to act quickly. The only good news was that Zone Alarm Pro prevented the virus from spreading to others through my email program.

I also decided that, since I had to rebuild all the computers, I might as well upgrade to Windows 2000 Professional (Win2k) and go wireless at the same time. Before I discuss the ensuing debacle any further, you should know that the upgrade to Win2k was largely flawless. Going wireless, on the other hand, was a ten-hour process exacerbated by absolutely abhorrent advice and service provided by CompUSA and Comcast. Truth be told, I expected poor service from Comcast and would have been shocked if they had not lived up to my expectations.

I went to CompUSA and used their Internet connection to perform some research on wireless systems and settled on equipment by NetGear. I spoke with a friendly sales agent who recommended that I buy a NetGear wireless access point, two network cards and two adapters. His logic was that the cable modem would plug into the computer and the wireless adapter would send the signal to the access point, thus connecting the other computers to the network. I asked about the need for a router, and he said that it wouldn't be necessary. Win2k's networking capabilities were far improved over those offered with older versions of Windows, he said. Like Charlie Brown running to kick the ball that Lucy was holding, I trusted his assessment of the improvements in Microsoft's Internet Connection Sharing utility.

Returning home, I followed his directions, plugged everything in, turned it on and…guess what? No connectivity. So I reinstalled everything and this time, I decided to follow the directions that came with the equipment. I turned it all back on and guess what? No connectivity. Here's how the system looked:

So I figured that the problem was with Comcast and that they could probably help me. Silly man…of course, no phone call to Comcast support goes unpunished. As expected, the music was terrible, but I was only forced to listen to it for 20 minutes. And then a support professional graced me with her presence.

"Thank you for calling Comcast support, may I have your phone number and name, please?"

"Happy day, my phone number is….and my name is Jeff Pasternack, but depending the system in which you are looking for me, your screen will show me as having a first name of Ternack and a last name of Jeffpas," I explained.

"Ok….Ternack…what an interesting first name. Where are you from?"

"Umm…my name is Jeff…look, can we just get on with it? I have 17 reference numbers from the past 5 months and each indicates that you'll fix my name and you never do, which is fine, I just need some help. I've just upgraded to Windows 2000 Professional and installed some wireless gear, but now I can't connect to the Internet and some of the modem's lights aren't on anymore. Is your system down?"

"Well Mr. Jeffpas--," She began.

"My name is Jeff…just Jeff," I interjected.

"Oh, well, it says here that you're name is Ternack Jeffpas," she said with puzzlement in her voice.

"Yes, I know, I've talked with many people at your offices and they said they'd fix that, but they haven't. Look, its fine, I just wanted to know if your service was down or if the problem I am experiencing is related to my upgrade," I said calmly. Really, I was calm. I've been through this before. A lot. Nevertheless, my seventh sense was tingling: I can hear stupid comments before people make them. I cringed.

"Oh, you can go online to our Web site and see which sections…oh…tee hee, you said your connection was down. Well, let me try to ping you….no, there's no problem at the hub, but I can't ping you directly. Did you say you were upgrading Windows?"

"Yes but…" I winced.

"I'm sorry, we don't provide Windows support," she stated.

"That's fine and I understand, but you just said you can't ping my modem…so is it safe to assume that there's a problem between my modem and your hub?"

"Yesssss…let's see…I don't have a bulletin about it, but I'm sure they're working on it and it should be fixed shortly," she replied confidently. "Can I help you with anything else?"

I didn't have the heart to respond beyond a mumble. Fortunately, I do have a dialup account with ShadowLink and I accessed the Internet that way, intent on at least getting prepared for when the cable modem came back online.

I spent a considerable amount of time at a wonderful web site, J.Helmig's World of Windows Networking ( trying to get Microsoft's Internet Connection Sharing up and running, but this architecture and ICS just weren't working. At 3am on Sunday, I decided to call NetGear, and, to their credit, their customer support answered right away. Within 5 minutes of describing my architecture, the support professional stated that the easiest way to bring my network live was to return the access point, one wireless card and an adapter and purchase a wireless router. He correctly reasoned that the less I tried using Microsoft tools, the happier I would be. He was also perplexed that I did not have a router.

Later on Sunday, armed with new knowledge, I returned to CompUSA and was told that while I could return the unneeded equipment, I'd lose 15% for a restocking fee. I kindly stated that I was given misinformation and was my argument was rebuffed. Frankly, I was far beyond the point of exasperation and uncharacteristically relented without so much as a witty remark. I figured that the pleasure of ending this debacle was worth the $40 restocking fee. Armed with my store credit, I raced over to the wireless aisles to snag a NetGear router and…the shelf was empty.

I privatized the public space with some well-placed curses and commandeered an employee.

"Happy day. I need a NetGear Wireless Router. The front shelf is empty. Are there any in the back?" I queried.

"Well sir, if the front of the shelf is empty, you can look in the back of the shelf yourself," he helpfully responded.

My brow furrowed in consternation. "That's not what I meant…I looked over the shelf, the entire shelf is empty. Do you have any in the back?"

"I don't know," he replied. Blink. Blink. "Well, I could go back and check for you, sir."

I smiled. "That sounds like a great idea. I'll wait here for you. Oh, before you go, what would you recommend if you don't find any in the back?"

He grinned (evilly?) and, for a moment, I am sure that he sprouted horns and flicked his forked tail. "Oh, all the routers work with each other. There's a standard, you know, so any will work, really."

I could see where this was going and decided to play along. "Really. Huh…well, while you go back and check, I'm going to do some research over there," I said as I waved my arm in a direction far away from him. "See you in a few minutes."

Not to be tricked out of another 15% restocking fee, I surfed the Web and, sure enough, everyone agrees that there is a standard and that, honestly and truly, the routers work with any wireless cards. No longer adverse to risk and smelling success, I grabbed a Linksys wireless router and, by way of the cash register, bolted for home. I quickly opened the box and followed the directions. Here's how the new system looked:

The good news is that once the router was in place, I had the wireless network up and running inside of 15 minutes. Three tips to going wireless:

    1) On a wireless network, your neighbor could use your bandwidth. To protect against this, change the ESSID setting on the router from its default setting of "Wireless" or "Linksys" to something unique to you, like "Jeff's Taco Heaven." Make sure to change this setting on the other computers in the network as well. Alternatively, go next door and offer your neighbor access to your bandwidth for $25 a month…there's no reason why several households can't share the bandwidth.
    2) On a wired network, the security protecting the data transmission is the wire itself. On a wireless network, you'll want to enable Wired Equivalent Privacy (WEP). Linksys, NetGear and others allow you to set the security to 128-bit encryption. The Linksys router came with easy instructions and setting up WEP was a 30 second exercise.
    3) The Linksys router allowed me to easily integrate my firewall, Zone Alarm Pro. All I had to do was type in my registration key and now my network is protected at the router as well as on the individual boxes.
When it was all said and done, had I received the right advice when I bought my gear, I probably would have gone live in about one hour. Of course, the downside to that is I'd have nothing to write about this month.

Jeff Pasternack is the president of Dynamic Consulting Group, a franchise partner of 1-800-GOT-JUNK? and author of the TechnoPeasant Review.
If you have questions or comments about this column, please write to him at