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The hardest upgrade

The hassle of moving is nothing next to getting rewired.

I consider myself a reasonably technical guy. When I open up a computer and install a network card, it sometimes actually works. I can set up the surround-speakers for a home theater so that the discreetly hidden wires are exactly six inches too short. I can even–be prepared to be awed–program my VCR. (True, I can’t do anything more complicated with a car than drive it, but cars were invented before I was born and therefore are complex and inscrutable. Besides, their insides are greasy.)

But nothing could have prepared me for the technical challenges of moving to a new home, and with that a new home office. Last week I moved out of my house of 17 years so I could finally cohabitate with my wife of one year (don’t even ask). Packing involved going through closets I hadn’t opened in years. I should have hired an organizer–or better yet an archeologist. What I did hire was a chiropractor; things change a lot in 17 years–the last time I moved the Internet didn’t have a backbone, but I did.

Speaking of the Internet, my new abode needed broadband. It also needed a separate phone line for my office. The obvious solution was to get the new phone number with DSL. But to my phone company, issuing a new number and DSL simultaneously is as unthinkable as manning the help desk with competent technicians. Adding DSL to a new number requires a two-week waiting period–more than you need when buying a gun.

DSL is a very different beast than when I first acquired it at my old home years ago. Back then, someone came to your house, drilled holes in the wall, connected cables, and altered Windows beyond recognition. Now the phone company says, “OK, you’ve got DSL; deal with it.” Dealing with it involves a splitter, a filter, and some software, all of which are part of a special package that the phone company, depending on who you talk to, either will send you, has sent you, or will never send you.

As it turned out, I got the later option. However, if I had ordered DSL a week earlier, I would have been entitled to a special offer: “Buy DSL today and get the ability to use it.” Luckily, I didn’t need the splitter, thanks to the electrician I hired to set up the phone line (whose biggest job, it turned out, was finding where the phone company had hid it). And the software, as it turns out, isn’t necessary if you know how to configure a network and can live without the phone company’s choice of home page.

The filter is another issue. You see, DSL goes out over the same line you use to talk to people. And while your broadband connection doesn’t object to casual conversations, people have a hard time talking with Web pages noisily downloading in the background. So if you don’t buy a filter for every phone on the line, your calls will sound like an angry duel between a fax machine and a modem.

Why less wireless

Once I got the DSL going, it was time to set up the network. I’ve done it before and it’s pretty easy: Plug the DSL modem, and the computers, into the router, fiddle with a few settings, and you’re ready to debug. But this time there was another factor complicating matters: my wife. She wanted Internet access too, and his-and-hers DSL connections tend to be pricey. But hooking her up to the router required that both of our computers be in the same room. That’s taking the togetherness of marriage just a little too far.

So I decided to create a wireless local-area network, or WLAN. I bought a wireless network card and something called an access point, both manufactured by G-Dam. I plugged the card into my wife’s computer, and the access point (which looks like a modem with antennae) into my router. I then proudly told my wife she could get online.

That’s when we discovered how much a wireless network is like that special communication between two lovers during a long and romantic kiss–it doesn’t work unless you’re very, very close. Yes, there is more to hate about WLANs than the unpronounceable acronym.

Through trial and error, I discovered that if the computer and router were three rooms apart, there was no connection. If they were two rooms apart, my wife could get on the Internet long enough to be told that the connection just died. For her to get something resembling a network connection, she had to be in a room adjacent to my office.

Unfortunately, the only room adjacent to my office is the bathroom–which we needed for other purposes.

To make a long story short, I’m moved in, somewhat unpacked, and getting my bones straightened. We have DSL up and running, and have gotten used to strange noises on the telephone. I managed to get the wireless network working–and thus avoid the hassle of laying Ethernet cable throughout the house–by drilling several large holes in the walls. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to set up the home theater.

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