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Network geek

Our relocation to a new campsite near Vergennes VT has reminded me that sometimes you need to be a bit of a computer handyman, if you are to get reliable Internet service while traveling. Our axiom is that the more desirable and beautiful a location is, the less likely you are to find Internet access. That means you need to get clever about getting online.

Vergennes is one of those spots in Vermont where Verizon has been unable or unwilling to provide decent service. The Governor of Vermont is on a rampage about this issue and has proposed that Vermont become an "e-state" with border-to-border cellular and Internet coverage. Unicell, a local provider, seems to be making an effort to fill in the many gaps, and so I'm hearing from a lot of people here that they've switched to Unicell lately.

Certainly, Unicell customers can make a decent call in downtown Vergennes without having it drop in a minute or so. That's not the case with Verizon, at least by my recent experience. But switching carriers isn't an option for national travelers, and besides, I have two Verizon accounts (one for voice and the other for Internet).

So here's where getting clever comes in. My first thought was to scan the local campground for stray wi-fi signals that I might pick up. No dice. My second idea was to go into downtown Vergennes and look for a spot where I could sit and work within range of free wi-fi. The public library doesn't have it, but eventually I discovered (by asking around) that I could get an open wi-fi signal when sitting in the front of a particular cafe.

Still, that wasn't my first choice for all-day work. Eventually the cafe would get busy and I'd probably be asked to move on. It's not a large place.

Then I talked to the campground owner. Turns out his wife has high-speed DSL in the house, and it's hooked to wi-fi. A quick roam around the area with my laptop open, and it is determined that by sitting on their front porch I can post this blog. OK, we have a temporary solution, but obviously that's not going to work long term. Also, her local Internet Service Provider blocks all outgoing email except from their email server, so we've got a second problem to solve.

Now I break out my tools. The key is the to extend her signal to my trailer, so I can work comfortably in my office. I'll set up my wi-fi repeater in a conveniently located barn, about mid-way between the house and my trailer. Hopefully that will bridge the gap.

Solving the email problem is easier. Based on our location, it wasn't hard to guess which telephone company provides her DSL service, and so I can easily figure out (with some web searches) what email server I should set my email program to use. One simple change in configuration, and voila! I am sending and receiving email just fine.

If the wi-fi router hadn't been "open" (unencrypted), I would have had a larger problem. In this case, the owners are friendly enough that they would have given me the passcode so I could at least get online from the front porch. My repeater is incapable of repeating an encrypted signal, however, so this would not have allowed me to get the signal in my trailer.

If I were really lucky, they might even have let me come in and fiddle with the router settings, once I'd proven I was trustworthy enough to disable the encryption and put it back when I was done. I don't push on things like this, because often people feel that letting a stranger play with their router is like giving me the keys to their car and a credit card. But once in a while this works. That's an advanced gambit and I wouldn't recommend you try it unless you are very familiar with how routers work and willing to pay the price if you screw it up.

In any case, if I can get Internet in the trailer and at least be able to make phone calls outside (which I seem to be able to do most of the time), we will stay here a couple of weeks. If not, we'll have to move -- which would be a shame since the setting is very pleasant and the camping is very affordable ...


You are so clever! Way to go!

You prob know all about this already, but do you use JiWire?

They offer a hotspot finder that they say can be used even when you have no connection. But my favorite thing is this:
"Text Messaging
If your phone does not have a browser, simply type your search into a text message -- for example, "hotspots san francisco"?and send it to 44636. 4INFO will send a text message back with your search results." I tried it out using the city where you are and got these results: Basin Harbor Club, Isley Public Library (which you already said didn't have Wifi.) So, it doesn't work all the time, but is fun to play with.

Hey there. Why does Vermont have coverage issues?

Well, I've worked with 3 (yup, 3) wireless carriers who tried to build in Vermont. The first was Sprint PCS. They use the same tech as Verizon.

Bottom line, our property acquisition folks and RF folks were chased out of the state with pitch forks.

Vermont was the worst NIMBY state I've ever seen (Not in my back yard). Zoning and acquisition that takes YEARS, legal issues, towns fighting, it becomes way too expensive to provide service to a small population.

So, after all this talk of living in a metal-shell home, when will you invest in a metal-can wifi directional antenna? Turns out that 'tin' cans working as waveguides do a better job than the Pringles-can designs. See
for e-z instructions, and also follow the link to read about the 802,11b Homebrew Antenna Shoot-Out.
The hardest part of the job may be getting Eleanor to let you buy some food based on it coming in the proper-size can!

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