Testing your WiFi Local Area Network (LAN)

Sometimes you may encounter a problem with your wireless LAN and need to do some testing. The symptoms could be intermittent connections or needing to constantly re-authenticate to your network.

The usual Mac computer wireless network chooser in the menubar lists the local wireless networks, whether they have encryption activated, and provides a graphic “fan” whose number of bars gives some indication of the signal strength.

Some useful (free) Mac OSX tools for getting an inventory of your wireless access points and their signal strengths are KisMac, iStumbler, and APGrapher. These tools provide actual signal strength, noise, signal to noise ratio (SNR), what channel is being used, theoretical bandwidth, communication link quality, graphing, etc. Don’t bother looking for IOS (iPhone, iPad, or iPod Touch) wifi signal strength tools as apparently this type of app is prohibited in the Apple app store.

Wifi planet has recommendations for wifi signal to noise ratio which suggests that anything above 15dB SNR should provide a reliable connection. In my case the problem was not signal strength but that somehow two adjacent access points were on the same channel so they were interfering with each other. The solution was to connect to the admin interface of one access point and change the channel to eliminate the interference. Other potential sources of interference could be microwave ovens and cordless phones.

Keep in Sync with Dropbox

If you have more than one computer you will probably find it very useful to keep them in sync. As for me I have a multitude of computers from the desktop Linux, Windows, Mac OSX, laptop Mac OSX, iPad, and iPhone. Keeping these computers in sync would be much more of a challenge if I didn’t have Dropbox which can share files between all of these computers and also make them securely accessible on the Internet.

I love Dropbox since it has many features MobileMe should have. A key criteria for my evaluation of software is that files that are created can be synced between computers because my workflows include working on documents on many different computers before I am finished with them. More and more software is being made to be compatible with Dropbox because it provides a reliable set of syncing services. An example is keeping text files in sync between iPhone, iPad, and desktop computers. I use WriteRoom (on my iphone and iPad), TextMate, and Notational Velocity to write text files that are immediately available on all of my computers. It is a tremendous productivity boost to be able to update these text files on whatever computer I have available when I have a spare moment.

I have been happily using Dropbox for some time as these posts describe:

  • Get Dropbox, September 18, 2009
  • Dropbox Version Control, November 10, 2009
  • Reliable Syncing of Textexpander Snippets, January 12, 2010
  • Check out this article for a lot more things you can use Dropbox for.

    Even if you only have one computer you can use Dropbox for remote file access and file sharing for things like photos.

    You can have up to 2 GB of file storage for free and there are paid plans to store a lot more. Dropbox has a sweet deal for referrals that is Win-Win. If you register for a free Dropbox account using this link I get an extra 250 MB of storage and you do too! I heartily recommend Dropbox to keep your files in sync and share them with other people.

    eBook Reader Roundup

    Over at the technologizer blog there is a roundup of eBook readers. The plethora of new ereaders being introduced is indicative that this market is heating up but a consolidation of standards and device types is likely as a clear market leader develops. Which ereader is going to attract the greatest selection of titles and have the best content service? Which will best facilitate owner created content? Will a standard emerge that will allow users to choose from multiple services? Will an open alternative emerge or will a closed integrated hardware device service bundle be the winner?

    Get Dropbox

    If you have multiple computers (and multiple Operating System platforms) like I do it is very useful to sync folders between them so you can access current information from any computer. With Dropbox you can even securely access these files from someone else’s computer using the Dropbox web service. Another very valuable capability is immediately sharing files with others via a shared folder. For distributing photos for example, this sure beats sending multiple emails and is quicker than uploading to online services.

    Lifehacker has an article on even more things you can do with Dropbox including such innovative things as syncing passwords across computers and accessing shared portable applications.

    Dropbox is free so try it out using this referral link to get extra storage space. It is simple to setup with just an online registration and installation of software that works on Windows, Linux, and Mac.

    I am sure you will like it since it is easy to use and it just works. Simplicity is something we all can appreciate to reduce the complications and stress in our lives.

    Remote Support Made Easier

    TeamView has an application that makes remote support a whole lot easier. If you want remote support just go to the TeamViewer download page as shown below and click the (Windows) QuickStart button shown circled in red in the photo below (As you can see there is also Mac software available too).

    teamviewer_quicksupport

    When you are ready for your support session double-click the TeamViewerQS.exe file you downloaded and provide the id and password to the support person on your call. This will allow a connection to your computer so the support person can see your screen and remotely control your keyboard and mouse while you watch. The support person can also share their screen to show things from their computer. This sure beats trying to blindly explain how to use or fix a computer over the phone.

    PS. Just like batteries for most electronic purchases, the support person who uses the TeamViewer full software is not included. Contact me on Skype (glen.sharp) or email me glen@sharpinnovationsolutions.ca if you would like to be one of my supporter clients.

    Skype Beta for Screen Sharing

    I don’t usually recommend installing software Betas for regular use since at least some software in this category can be unstable. The latest Skype beta (Mac v2.8.0.438, Windows v4.1) however has a compelling feature, screen sharing, that could make it worthwhile to be ahead of the curve and dip into betaland to get this additional functionality before it is officially launched.

    Depending on the software developer, beta software could crash frequently and have missing features or be almost production quality like Google’s endless betas. Skype betas appear to be mostly stable from my experience since they do frequent incremental updates.

    Here are the links to skype beta software downloads:

    Skype Beta (Mac)

    Skype Beta (Windows)

    Opportunity: A brief history of software platforms

    “A quick history of software platforms: How we got here, and where we’re going”

    (Via Mobile Opportunity: A quick history of software platforms.)

    This article provides a brief history of software platforms as a context for describing the trend towards a distributed software platform that includes both cloud and end device computing. The challenge is to have an open environment in which many players can contribute but to have standards and frameworks so the loosely coupled system can continue to work and evolve.

    Skype Me

    If you have been following along with previous posts you know that Skype is the most popular international instant messaging client and it is the closest thing to a multi-media, multi-platform universal calling client.

    Skype Universal Calling Client (Windows)

    Skype 4.0 for Windows

    Skype has lots of features (some examples listed below) and the Mac, Windows, and Linux client software is updated regularly.

    Skype is also developing integrated screensharing in the latest beta software for Mac. Yugma SE (Skype Edition) is an addon that provides multi-platform screensharing.

    All these features are free.

    SkypeOut calls from the users computer to regular phones costs $29.50 per year for unlimited Canada and US calling and it includes voicemail.
    A skype number and SkypeIn capability is also a chargeable feature for receiving calls but unfortunately it is not available in Canada.

    Skype has been featured regularly on the Oprah show to allow remote guests to participate in video calls from their home or business. Many podcasters use Skype to conduct and record interviews with people in other parts of the world.
    One example of audio/video recorder software is the ecamm Skype recorder for Mac. Not to leave Windows users out, read about a free skype audio call recorder.

    The popularity of Skype is sure to get a boost with the release today (in the US) of Skype for iPhone.
    A summary of Skype for iPhone news is on the iPhone Canada (iphoneca) site. There is also the bad news that skype for iphone may not be available in Canada until some unspecified patent licensing issues get resolved.

    A feature that doesn’t appear to be very well known is the availability of free larger scale conference calling for meetings also known as skypecasting

    Download the Skype client and addons, plugin your headset and webcam, and .

    Multi-platform Multi-media Calling

    Wouldn’t it be terrific if you could use one integrated client software/service to do instant messaging, voice, video, and screen sharing (multi-media calling) across Mac, Windows and Linux (multi-platform)? Well we aren’t there yet but progress is being made.

    Most multi-media calling capabilities use instant messaging (IM) as the foundation and interoperable solutions are available for IM chat. Multi-platform voice, video, and screensharing are still a challenge.

    If you want to just interact with other Mac users, iChat does it all. It even does voice and video but not screensharing with Windows users who have AIM accounts. AIM is not the most popular client software/service*, however, so finding buddies could be difficult if you can’t convince them to subscribe to yet another service. I would like to hear from people who have thoroughly tested the x-platform interoperability to see if it is worthwhile trying to convince people to get AIM accounts. The probable deal breaker though is that the most useful feature, screensharing, is not supported X-platform.

    * From wikipedia figures the current market share of IM services is approximately as follows:
    1. Skype 309M
    2. Windows Live Messenger 300M
    3. Yahoo Messenger 248M
    4. AIM (used by iChat which also has MobileMe) >100M
    5. Jabber (used by Google Talk) 90M
    (Tencent QQ has 783M active accounts but most of these are in China)

    iChat windows showing video screensharing of a photo, instant messaging, and buddy list

    Apple - Mac OS X Leopard - Features - iChat

    Google Talk can use the iChat client on the Mac for instant messaging but that service doesn’t support voice, video, and screen sharing using iChat. X-platform (Mac and Windows) voice and video can be done within the Gmail service by installing the Google voice and video software and screensharing can be done by installing the Yuuguu software. Below is an interoperability matrix for Google Voice:

    Google Talk Client choice

    Google Talk client choice

    Google Talk supports standards and native client choices on each platform which works well for instant messaging but voice calls only work between the Goggle Talk clients.

    Skype is another popular online calling choice which is multi-platform (Mac, Windows, Linux) for IM, voice, and video. Yugma Skype edition is a Skype addon that provides multi-platform screen sharing. Skype is starting to offer integrated screen sharing through beta software (as opposed to using an add-on) but right now you can only share screens from a Mac to Mac or Mac to Windows and not from Windows. However, Skype is the closest thing to a full featured multi-platform multi-media client that is currently available.

    Skype 4 for Windows

    Skype 4.0 for Windows

    Some day all of this will interoperate so you don’t have to use multiple redundant clients/services.
    Until that day comes users who want multi-media calling to buddies on multiple platforms will probably need at least two or three clients:
    – iChat (for Mac users)
    – Google Talk
    – Skype

    Right now, Skype is the closest thing to a full featured multi-platform client, iChat offers the best integration for Mac users, and Google Talk is an up and coming contender that is particularly suitable for people that collaborate using Google applications.

    Glossary:
    Multi-platform = Mac, Windows, Linux
    X-platform = more than 1 platform (usually Mac and Windows)
    Multi-media = instant messaging, voice, video, screensharing