A rilly big issue here in Las Tablas – in fact, all over the interior of Panama – is good internet reception. Since mine had been OK for the past year or so (I was sharing a hard-wired wifi connection with a neighbor) I hadn’t been giving much thought to it. Then my neighbor moved, and of course his wifi went with him.
Zounds! My thunderstick (USB modem) was out on loan! Quickly I pulled it in and bought some time on it.
Ah, how quickly we forget the pain of the past. When I first moved to Las Tablas, I was referred to one of the big three ISPs here, so that’s where I had bought my stick. It took a month and a half of repeated hassle to get it (“Si, señora, they are still on order”), and when I finally was offered the opportunity, only the top of the line model (for – natch – top of the line bux) was available. So I had, to my mind, a significant investment in the stupid thing. It only took a month of using it (while steaming with frustration) for me to decide to try a change.
Actually, it only took a day, but I had paid for the month. And I was already seriously over my bottom-of-the-line budget because of the price of this top-of-the-line thing. So.
Now you have to understand that each ISP here sells its own version of thunderstick, with proprietary software that makes the stick work. The sales jocks try to make you think you need a different stick for each provider, that it’s like DOS was to Apple in the olden days, but, heh-heh, it’s not.
Stubborn creature that I am, I took my stick from Company A to a different provider, batted my eyes and said, “Pretty please, just try it.” There, a clever tech figured out that if he installed their software on my laptop, I could use their chip in the other outfit’s stick without issues. And, shortly, I was a happy camper for quite some time. Some days I could even get NetFlix.
Then I acquired the neighbor and the wifi. It was great. It was better than great – it was fabulous! Good Neighbor and his Techie Friend dealt with all the annoying hardware stuff and the reboots while I sat comfortably inside my separate, modem-free house contemplating my navel or writing or surfing. I forgot the pain of my initial experience and blissed out on NetFlix whenever it pleased me.
But Neighbor lusted for covered parking. So he moved away. And I was on my internet-access-seeking own again.
When my stick came home from its little visit, it had Company A’s chip in it. The month had gifted me with all sorts of unexpected expenses – flat tires, empty printer ink cartridges, the expectation of renewing my scooter license. So, Cheap-She-That-I-Be, I blanked out the pain of the past and bought a month there.
One of my friends calls Company A “The Useless.” Only a few minutes online reminded me why she took such joy in the nickname and brought to mind all my former electronic misery. Because it was just as miserable this time. Although I could get the dark blue LED (indicating terrific speed) when I turned it on, the minute the chip was asked to perform, the LED turned grass green (indicating next-to-no speed). Two hours later I had managed to pick up my email.
Well. That was certainly unacceptable. I realized it was as much a function of my location as anything else, but it was still unacceptable. So in spite of having stupidly, insanely, in total denial of the past once again paid for an entire useless month at The Useless, I sucked in a fortifying budgetary breath and betook myself once more to Company B.
The clever tech who helped me two years ago was long gone, and I had to walk the gentleman assigned to me through the installation process. (“Try ‘Tools.’ Here, let me help you with that. Now, here is the form. Please enter your company information that I would not know.”) Somehow, unlike the first time, we were able to make Company A’s software accept their competitor’s chip. But however delightful a win that was, it was still only a marginal improvement in my surfing experience.
I couldn’t tell whether the problem was hardware or software related, so I borrowed a more modern Company B stick from a friend to experiment a bit. Sure enough, I got better results with my chip on her stick. I got pale blue on the LED, which is medium speed. And her stick had installed the updated software on my machine. Hmm. If it had indeed been a software problem, it should be resolved. So I switched my chip back into my stick and tried it with the upgraded software.
Harmonic loveliness in pale blue.
OK, not really. It was pretty good, but I still couldn’t simultaneously open more than two windows on my browser before everything shut down. So I began researching. It was slow going with the pale blue, but I found all sorts of interesting stuff. Most of it applied to your usual modem/router setup, but there were a couple of things for thundersticks. Most notable was… WOK-FI.
Let’s hear it for MacGyver. Actually, let’s hear it for all the ingenious young kids with electronic lust and no money who have cooked this stuff up. I have always been a software kind of gal as opposed to a hardware geekess, but I consider myself an honorary member of Clan MacGyver. When I saw this one I heard a distinct “Yessssss!” from somewhere just above my third eye.
After all, it also involves cooking implements. And I love the name.
The technical explanation is that just as a satellite dish gathers and intensifies a signal, so will this. ‘This’ includes a Chinese dumpling strainer, a USB cable and some shiny tinfoil. The parabolic blah-blah of the strainer picks up and amplifies the blah-blah of the blah-blah as long as the hole size in the strainer doesn’t exceed blah-blah because the gigahertzes will do their thing under that size or you can just cover it all with aluminum foil or use one of those halogen floorlamp tops and you will triple your wifi speed.
For a more in-depth explanation/description, see this link about WOK-FI – or Google it, because I’m still struggling to get out and can’t guarantee that link works . I write popular science, not the deep-foil stuff. (RF, RF, RF – that’s Engineer for hee-hee, I am told.)
Anyway, I hopped on my scooter and headed for town. First, I wanted that dumpling strainer. I figured with the number of Chinese folks living here, finding one would be a shoo-in.
I went to four different stores. Plastic strainers of the screened variety are easy to come by. Plastic colanders with large holes are equally plentiful. A set of biggish metal “soup strainers” with rather large holes, I could get. But Chinese dumpling strainers were not an option. Neither were metal mesh strainers, with the exception of one about three inches in diameter. I also found a flat, metal mesh “spatter-catcher”, but I needed a parabola.
Well, fooey. Then I remembered I had the front of a dead floor fan at home. (They have short lives here.) It was metal except for the middle, a definite parabola, and plenty big. Since some of the solutions I had read about used cardboard covered with aluminum foil, I thought perhaps the plastic middle of my dead fan front wouldn’t interfere with the function once my device was wrapped in foil.
I next betook me to an electronics store and bought a nice long (10m) USB cable. I wanted to hang it high, per recommends, so a long cable was needed.
Home again, I turned once more to kitchen implements to cut the hole in the plastic center and was quite pleased that I got it exactly the right size to perfectly support the USB. My little stick stood at attention quite nicely. And, yes, it looked like a wok – with a stamen. I then wrapped the whole thing with the foil, while saying “Uhhhhhh” as I discovered the foil I had bought was not only flyweight, but looked like it had been cooked in the middle. Only the ends were shiny.
But, oh well. I figured I would deal with that later. It was time to see if any part of this thing worked. I plugged the USB cable into my machine and then into the USB and…
The USB modem worked when plugged in directly, and it also worked when plugged into the hub. So it had to be my lovely new cable. Maybe it was too long? Or maybe…it was broken? Broken stuff gets sold here. Hmm.
I plugged my headset into it as a test. It was broken.
Oh, fooey. No WOK-FI for now.
It was then that I noticed how HOT my USB stick was. In fact, I burned my finger on it. Oh, no! What could be causing that?
Quickly, before the stick exploded and I never found out, I shoved it back into the old hub and went out on Google search again, questing for “overheating USB modem.”
Well. Would new uses for my limited funds never cease to be found? It would seem that I needed to upgrade my USB hub. The USB port on the computer is a 3.0, but the hub is (really old) a 1.0. And the stick is a 3.0. And the software is 3.5. And the laptop ports are so close together than I can’t plug the stick AND the mouse or the hub (or anything else) into the computer. Ow-kay. It had to be bought.
The literature gave some write-ups on MacGyvering heat sinks and such, but it seemed possible that the speed might be impacted by the elderly hub as well, and maybe if I got a new USB hub, I wouldn’t need WOK-FI after all. Or if I did go through with it, I’d have the equivalent of 10G. Hoo-ee.
So, back to town.
My electronics supplier had no 3.0 hubs, and only one 2.0. I bought it and a shorter USB cable and zoomed home to try them.
Being careful that the aluminum foil did not contact any metal on the modem, I put my stick into position Perky-1 on the pseudo-wok with the new USB cable plugged into laptop port 3.0. My bars shot up to max, the first time that has EVER happened. Wow, thought I, this is the bomb!
Alas. It was, but not in a good way. The software detected the device, I got mega bars, and then the remote server dumped me. Over and over.
Time to try the fancy new 2.0 hub. I took the device off the pseudo-wok and stuck it directly into my new hub which was plugged into the 3.0 port. Hmm. Still green as grass and slower than a sloth changing trees, but at least I wasn’t getting dumped. I switched the hub to the 2.0 port, figuring if the numbers matched better… Nope. Same story. I couldn’t even pick up email. I tried every hole on the hub. Nada (nothing) but green. I even tried putting the new hub in the middle of my pseudo-wok. More nada. I tried cursing, I tried praying, I tried weeping. But all I got was more nada.
Steam filled the room and began condensing on things, especially me. I said something like “Phoo…” (but in modified Engineer, as I had been taught), and plugged everything back into my elderly 1.0 hub.
The LED turned pale blue.
So the conclusion of this tale is, don’t come to my house for Wok-Fi or blazing fast anything. I can send and receive email; I can open two different websites at a time, but not three. I can grind my teeth and I have become skilled in making unpleasant noises.
But it all does no good.
I will probably lose my honorary membership in Clan MacGyver now.
I shall therefore probably be sullen for an hour or two.
I will also be open to suggestions. Please feel free to make one. Or three. Or ten. Please!!! As long as you aren’t selling something.
That would also make me sullen.