Thursday, July 22, 2004

How Many Nodes Must A Man Walk To?

I am a hermit. A cave dweller. A migrant.

I have become... a wireless internet person.

Allow me to explain.

My wife is working in New York City this summer, and I'm visiting her for a couple weeks. Since taking a two week vacation is out of the question, I'm working while I'm here. I was out here for a long weekend back in June, and used my boss's T-Mobile Hot Spot account to log-in from a Kinkos & a Borders Bookstore.

In preparation for this trip, I signed up for a month-to-month Hot Spot account, figuring that I'd use it for the 10 working days of this trip. I've only weathered a few days Hot Spot hopping, but here are some of my observations.

  • Hot Spot of choice: Borders

    Unlike Starbucks or Kinkos, Borders doesn't open until 9 -- so you're not competing with the early bird crowd. Get there at 9 and be one of the first in the door and you're golden. Why am I worried about being first? Well, the ol' laptop doesn't exactly sip power, and only 4 tables have access to an power outlet. It's all about being near the plug-in. Sans plug-in, I've got about an hour of juice.

    On top of all that, talking on the phone in Borders is easy. Starbucks is too loud. Kinkos is too quiet. Borders is the perfect porridge.

  • I spent yesterday morning in the Kinkos near Bryant Park, seated at one of the laptop desks. I felt like I was stealing something. You see, Kinkos still charges people $6 an hour for internet access -- that is, people that aren't connecting through T-Mobile. I'm not paying Kinkos $6. I'm not paying Kinkos anything. The only nickels Kinkos makes off me are those sent their way as part of the T-Mobile deal.

  • ...which brings me to an important point. I'm nobody's customer. I'm not buying books. I'm not printing copies. At the Borders Cafe (my most frequent haunt), I feel obligated to buy a drink in the morning and in the afternoon, but would they kick me out if I didn't? Would I be a loafer if I was only using their wireless internet connection -- a connection that I pay another company to access? I don't see a posted policy. Should there be one?

  • Borders gets a lot busier in the afternoon, so you really can't get up to use the restroom -- that is, if you want one of those tables with access to a wall outlet. See, there are others like me: people dressed for business, typing on their laptops like Clark Kent shooting for a deadline. Also, there are some unfortunate souls who unintentionally saddle up to a table who aren't looking for a wall outlet.

    They are the objects of our nasty stares.

  • We mobile desk jockeys aren't quite clogging the cafe, but it's close. As work ceases to be a place and becomes an activity, anywhere with wireless internet is gonna be a like a bug light, drawing in these fireflies. But whose customers are we? Is Borders better off for providing this access, or are we detracting from the ambiance?

  • A great future cell phone feature for we techno-hermits: WiFi detection. Not necessarily the ability to do anything useful with the WiFi, but just to act as a WiFi divining rod, letting me know when an unprotected node is within reach. Since warchalking never really caught on, this is the best urban option. For optional humor effect, this feature would make submarine sonar noises.

  • Kinkos is a little depressing, since the business types working out of their computer center don't exactly exude success. I'd prefer to be among people thumbing through art books than grey suits between paying gigs.

Anyway, I'm here at the Borders on Park Avenue @ 57st Street. All the choice tables are now full, and the cafe has started to fill up. I clack away at my keyboard, one of the wireless internet people.


Andy said...

Migrated to Kinkos after a long morning at Borders.

I think their AC was on the fritz at Borders, as it was starting to get a little uncomfortable.

Kinkos is weird. There's only one laptop table, so I feel like I'm keeping paying customers away with my internet access.

Andy said...

Today is Day 10 of working from Manhattan -- it's also my last day of working here, as I return to California on Sunday.

All in all, it's been fantastic. I'm shocked by how productive it's been.

Some final points:

-- I've gone over on my cell phone minutes. Maybe 50 minutes over. Shoulda cranked up the plan before the trip.

-- I cheated this week, working afternoons from Steph's step-brother's apartment, where they have wireless and no one to steal my plug-in while I'm in the bathroom.

-- I kind of feel like I should tell the Border's cafe staff that I'm leaving, but I would only come off as a whacko.

-- Would I recommend this? Without a doubt. At the end of last week, I was beginning to think that two weeks was too long; since then, I've got my second wind.

Cheers to all. See you back in California.