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I Am Skooter
So here's us, on the raggedy edge.
She used to work in a diner / never saw a woman look finer / I used to order just to watch her float across the floor
— Neil Young, Unknown Legend
March 7, 2007
I Am So Out of Tune With You

After deciding to hold onto my somewhat aged PowerBook G4 for a while longer, I decided to invest in a wireless network upgrade. It’s been a while.

It has, in fact, been a while since I’ve paid for Internet access. When I moved to my current location, there was a Linksys Wireless router in place. Tragically, it was an 802.11b.

All was fine until I recently purchased an Airport Express in order to get music from my computer to my stereo. Keen memories may recall that I had a Squeezebox to do this, but I think a power outage or breaker switch blew it. Sadly, there will be no more Pope Gravely Ill days for me.

The Airport Express is different from the Squeezebox—all of its control and input is provided by the computer. I could have bought an (as yet unavailable) Apple TV unit but this would have meant having the TV on to control music. Since I don’t like my TV anyway, I chose to go this route. It was also quite a bit cheaper.

Unfortunately, 802.11b was just not enough to feed the Airport Express. My solution?

Yup. I bought a new Airport Extreme to replace the Linksys equipment. The last Airport base station I bought was one of the first in Canada, served only 802.11b and is still in use some 6 years later in Toronto.

So how did the upgrade go?

The Airport Extreme is a very nice unit with substantially better industrial design than its alternatives. It also, out of the box, provided only about the same range as the old 802.11b.

After some initial attempts at pairing the Airport Express to the Extreme using a 13 character WEP password in compatibility mode I switched to WPA instead. By “some initial attempts” I mean about 12, and an hour and a half of my time. It was kind of furstrating at first.

The switch to WPA solve those problems, and the Extreme joined the network well.

Next it was time to try WDS mode, allowing the Airport Express to expand the network (rather than just join it) and virtually guarantee me one hundred percent signal strength. Apple’s Airport Utility (revised for the fourth time) makes this very easy, and in a few more minutes the network was created, rebooted and my signal strength was one hundred percent.

Best of all, my tunes were now streaming directly into the stereo at full 802.11g speeds, with no more hiccups or interruptions.

I’m now an iTunes music store addict, adding Wilco’s Being There to Neon Bible to my collection and streaming KCRW World News through iTunes into both sets of speakers.

I’m not pushing the Airport Extreme envelope here, and there have been some complaints about it, but I would recommend it highly as a home networking tool. It’s price compares favourably to the Linksys and D-Link alternatives (those alternatives to, apparently, deliver more range but sacrifice a significant aesthetic value.) In homes where 802.11n could be deployed the range issue is significantly less of a concern — I am, unfortunately, stuck with one client using an 802.11b PC Card—does anybody remember those anymore?—and there’s no money being thrown at that laptop.

All in all, I’m pretty happy and remain impressed with these things.

Posted by skooter at 9:14 PM This entry is filed under Music, Technology.
This entry is tagged: Airport, Apple, Music, WiFi, Wilco

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