Packet Rat | When hot dogs drain life from WiFi networks

The Rat

If there's one thing that drives the Rat batty, it's a lack of connectivity. That, or 10 hours of driving with his entire brood packed in the family suburban assault vehicle. Combine those two, and you're guaranteed to crack the cyberrodent's veneer of patience wide open.

'If anyone asks 'Are we there yet?' again, I'm going to go all Steve Ballmer on the lot of you!' he shouted over his shoulder as the Rat family crawled up the interstate toward the whiskered one's parents' house for the Fourth of July weekend.

The recent torrential rains hadn't helped much, washing out some major arteries in the Mid-Atlantic and forcing all the vacation lemmings onto the same cliff ' much like the stream of Microsoft executives headed out the door seem to be all headed toward Google. Vic Gundrota, Microsoft's general director of platform evangelism, celebrated his own Independence Day just days before the Fourth, splitting to go wait out his noncompete before working for the search giant.

While not necessarily responsible for Ballmer's infamous 'Developers! Developers!' rap, Gundrota was tagged with convincing developers to write code on Microsoft's products. He folded up his tent just as Microsoft archivists were Photoshopping Martin Taylor, departed corporate vice president for (anti-Linux) marketing, out of Ballmer's birthday party pictures.

After finally arriving at the ancestral homestead and exchanging the prerequisite family greetings, the Rat quickly broke out his notebook PC to get onto his parents' WiFi network. There was just one problem'the network was hardly responding.

To diagnose the problem, he opened up a browser and typed in the default IP address for the router. A Netgear log-in page came up. On a hunch, he typed in 'admin' and 'password.' And, lo, he was connected to the router setup wizard.

'Hey, Dad? Why didn't you change the password on the router after you hooked it up?'

'The instructions said not to!' Rat Sr. bellowed, as he retreated into the family room to return to the ballgame on television.

Finding everything else in order, the wirebiter started sniffing around for the router to reset it.

'Mom, where did Dad put the router when he set it up?'

'In the kitchen, next to the microwave,' she shouted from the kitchen, where she was defrosting frozen hot dogs for the ratlings in that very same microwave.

The Rat slapped his forehead. His eldest ratling looked up from his video iPod and asked, 'Uh, wouldn't that be a bad thing?'

In fact, it is. Nothing can drop bandwidth faster on a WiFi network'especially one running on one of the higher channels'than a running microwave, especially one six inches from the wireless router. Most microwaves leak radio frequency radiation within the same 2.4-GHz frequency band as IEEE 802.11b networks'making the nuking of hot dogs the equivalent of a denial-of-service attack on the network.

The furry one sighed as he considered the learning curve for new wireless users. 'Apparently,' he told the eldest ratling, 'your grandfather, the electrical engineer, never heard of radio frequency interference.'

The Packet Rat once managed networks but now spends his time ferreting out bad packets in cyberspace. E-mail him at rat@postnewsweektech.com.

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