Living the Digital Life

Both of my daughters are now taking dance classes near the University. My younger daughter’s class takes place on Saturday, and I do our weekly grocery shopping while she’s in class. The other class takes place at the end of the day on Wednesday, leaving me with not much to do for an hour.

Ukrop’s to the rescue! The grocery store at the Village Shopping Center has a wireless network. They set it up in their café, and the best part is that wireless access is free.

This past Wednesday was the first time that I brought my computer to Ukrop’s. I set up in the café only to find that while I was able to connect to the wireless network I wasn’t able to access any web site or service. Since I work in IT I thought this would be something I could troubleshoot but I seemed to get stuck when I tried to release and renew my DHCP settings. Nothing happened.

Seeking help, I went to the customer service desk at the front of the store. The person behind the desk didn’t seem to know much about the network. One of the area managers came over and I asked him if he knew anything that might help. He knew about it but wasn’t able to offer any assistance.

Depressed, I went down to the local Starbucks. Many Starbucks have a wireless environment and while I was pretty sure it costs money to use, I thought I’d at least find out. It turns out it’s $9.95 to have a single day of access, or $29.95 a month to have ongoing access.

Since I’m going to have dance class twice a week from now through May I decided Ukrop’s would be worth a second try. I brought my Mac back to Ukrop’s for Saturday’s grocery shopping trip. Once again I found myself on their wireless network but unable to access the Internet.

I went to the service desk determined to be more persistent this time. As before the person behind the counter had no real understanding of the wireless network, but one of the cashiers who is standing by mentioned that the wireless network had been down for some time. It turns out that the cash register station in the café uses the wireless network too. Another manager wandered by and listened to my story. He didn’t seem to know what to do but he suggested that the customer service person page another manager. Two managers were paged, and after a moderate amount of time neither of them showed up. After waiting for some time, the manager who had listened to my story reappeared and told me that he had unplugged and plugged back in their modem.

Sure enough, when I went back to the café the wireless network appeared and I was on the Internet at last.

Wireless is a new service at Ukrop’s as it is in many places. Creating a wireless network in a store creates the opportunity for the community to come together. It’s also a nice way to make some money. But I think many stores are like Ukrop’s, offering a service without having anyone on hand who knows how to manage it. In this time before wireless networking becomes ubiquitous, those of us who wish to use the services may find ourselves providing the technical support that these establishments need.

For now I’m simply looking forward to the next dance class and a the opportunity to get some work done in Ukrop’s Café.

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3 Responses to Living the Digital Life

  1. Gardner says:

    Very interesting story, especially the bit about the person who knew just enough to reboot the access point. I bet he has a wireless router at home.

    I think about the early Model-T drivers who had a complete toolkit alongside the running board, and who had to know almost enough to rebuild their engines in case they were ever out in the country with no service station nearby.

    Ah, service stations–but that’s another story.

    Is the model of support a service station, or truly sophisticated self-service? Or some combination?

  2. Kevin says:

    I think it’s a combination at this point. If I had control over an internet-connected WAP I would be more self-sufficient like the Model-T. In some ways I think I’d prefer that because I could rely on myself to make the connection work, and I would learn everything I needed to learn to make my one connection persist. I guess I could do this with one of those cards the cell companies sell.

    But it doesn’t scale very well, and a lot of effort (everyone paying for his or her own connection) is wasted. Instead of going it alone I’m going to rely on the kindness of others, and I’ll help them if I can too.

    So we’re moving away from the Model-T but I’m not sure we’re en route to service stations. I doubt I’ll ever see several people coming out to greet me, check my connection, rotate my logs, etc.

    Maybe we’re heading to the local motor club, where lots of enthusiasts share tips, tricks, and spare parts. Some of the folks at the club are selling stuff (I did have a soda at Ukrop’s this afternoon), but the majority are just interested in a good ride.

  3. Gardner says:

    Well, as they used to say at the Humble Oil Company, “Happy Motoring.”

    You certainly get the metaphor prize today. 🙂

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